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Canada’s oil sands linked to adverse health issues

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Interview with John O’Connor, a doctor who first shed light on health problems near Alberta’s oil sands.

Fort Chipewyan, Canada – Dr. John O’Connor is the first physician to speak out about a possible adverse link between the oil sands and human health. While working in Fort Chipewyan, he became increasingly concerned about the growing number of rare cancers he saw among his patients in Fort Chipewyan.

Fort Chip, as it is more commonly known, is the oldest settlement in Alberta province. Located on the north shore of Lake Athabasca, it’s a community of fewer than 1,000 mostly First Nation and Metis people, also resides directly downstream from Fort McMurray’s renowned oil sands.

When in early 2006, Dr. O’Connor suggested that cancer could be caused by the oil industry’s polluted runoff from the oil sands, “all hell broke loose”, as he put it.

He was accused of misconduct by Health Canada, and spent the following 2 years and eight months trying to clear his name and reputation. In the end, he was cleared of all charges. He has not changed his opinion and remains determined to find out what is making his patients sick.

This month, the Mikisew Cree First Nation and Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in conjunction with the University of Manitoba, publicly released a report that shows an association between environmental contaminants from the oil sands and the declining health and well-being of people living in Fort Chip. Specifically, it shows the extent of heavy metals and other contaminants in country foods harvested by indigenous people in the region.

We spoke with him at the clinic in Fort McKay.

Question:  What is your latest reaction to this report?

John O’Connor: This is yet another scientific report, this time paid for by the community itself, that confirms again that the tar sands mining industry is having a severe adverse impact on Fort Chip, on traditional foods in this instance and with the cancers. The numbers have increased since the last tally was done. And it begs immediate action.

Q: What came to your attention at first and why? 

O’Connor: I started medical care in Fort Chipewyan in 2000. [Over time] I got to know the community, the stories I heard especially from the elders, about the changes in their environment over the past 15 years, were quite striking.

Then I got to know what their health was like, and from very well kept charts from the nursing station in Fort Chip, it was obvious that there was a sort of burden of illness in the community that I didn’t expect.

I began to accumulate test results that were of concern. Issues related to auto-immune diseases for instance, quite a bit of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which I didn’t expect, but also cancers in numbers and of types that I really couldn’t explain.

I talked to my colleagues in Fort McMurray, some of the specialists about this issue and if in their experience, they’d seen what I was seeing.

What I got back from the specialists who I deal with on a regular basis was that yes, there is a burden of illness in the community, you’re right, and I brought it to the attention of the authorities, as is my duty.

Q: You faced a bit of a fight back then 

O’Connor: All hell broke loose, media-wise, which in the end was a blessing because I’d definitely stirred the pot and made the people in authority react. The initial reaction was really bizarre. In March of 2006, three physicians from Health Canada came up to Fort Chip; they landed and came to the nursing station. The senior physician came into the nursing station, grabbed a mug, filled it with water from the tap, took a big mouthful, put it down and turned to the station staff and the reporter and said, “you see, there’s nothing wrong with the water here in Fort Chip”. And from that point on, there’s been sort of a stance taken – there isn’t an issue.

In early 2007, I got a letter in the mail, complaints from Health Canada and Alberta Health about my activity. It was a series of 4 to 5 charges, including “raising undue alarm” in Fort Chip. So I answered those charges, provided the evidence. It took two years and eight months to deal with those and in the end the College of Physicians felt that I was not reporting the information the way I should have been. Sort of siding with Health Canada and their contingent yet if I was guilty, I should have had some sort of sanction but I didn’t.

Q: In the meantime, what’s been done?

O’Connor: In response to continued pressure, the Cancer Board in Edmonton decided they would do a study of cancers in Fort Chip. It took a year to produce the report that indicated quite clearly that indeed there was a burden of cancer in the community that would warrant investigation, so they recommended a comprehensive health study, as well as monitoring.

A scientific team was put together, comprised with representation from First Nation, from the feds and the province, myself and another doctor. The chair of this committee suggested that industry should be part of the management oversight committee, which was really weird. Potentially, industry could be the cause of some of the illnesses in the community, given the traditional knowledge of impact, of the environmental changes that clearly seemed to suggest that it was related to the expanding industrial area upstream.

The excuse we got was that industry may well be asked to fund the study, which was totally unacceptable. The community said no, take industry out of the equation or we’re not doing it. And the province and the feds walked away. And there’s been nothing but denial ever since.

Q: Why is this being ignored?

O’Connor: The fact that the communities are aboriginal, I think, is very significant.

A sacrificial zone as we call it.

If this industry was sighted downstream of Edmonton, or upstream of Edmonton or Calgary, guaranteed there would have been an uproar.

There are sort of two levels of care and aboriginal communities are not even in the equation.

If anyone in public health cared a whit, if they were doing their job at all, they would have said a long time ago, stop. We can’t allow this to go on. We have to figure out what’s going on. It’s our duty to investigate this.

I’m often a voice in the wilderness. My duty as a family doctor is to advocate for my patients. I simply stood up and said “what … is going on?” And I got shot down.

Q: Do you feel like no one is listening? 

O’Connor: No I don’t. The people that know what’s going on and actually caring and willing to stand up, those numbers are increasing. The government and the very persistent and very inappropriate reaction – ignoring the message and the messengers and turning the other way all the time – it has served to unite people. And in unity, there’s strength. The amount of support that’s out there is huge.

Q: What do you think it would take? 

O’Connor: At this point in time I am thoroughly convinced, and I am not the only one, that an independent public inquiry is needed about this whole attitude and the way the community has been treated.

~By Jet Belgraver [ Source ]

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Ontario to reopen province, guiding principles unveiled

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Ontario to reopen province, guiding principles unveiled

THE Ontario government on Monday released A Framework for Reopening our Province, which outlines the criteria Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and health experts will use to advise the government on the loosening of emergency measures, as well as guiding principles for the safe, gradual reopening of businesses, services and public spaces.

The framework also provides details of an outreach strategy, led by the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, to help inform the restart of the provincial economy.

Details were provided by Premier Doug Ford, Rod Phillips, Minister of Finance, Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health.

“Our top priority remains protecting the health and safety of the people of Ontario and supporting our frontline heroes as we do everything in our power to contain and defeat this deadly virus,” said Ford. “At the same time, we are preparing for the responsible restart of our economy. This next phase of our response to COVID-19 is designed to help us map out what needs to be done, and when, to get us back on the road to recovery.”

The government is planning a stage-by-stage approach to reopening the economy to ensure there are appropriate measures in place so workplaces can open safely. Public health officials will carefully monitor each stage for two to four weeks, as they assess the evolution of the COVID-19 outbreak to determine if it is necessary to change course to maintain public health.

  • Stage 1: For businesses that were ordered to close or restrict operations, opening select workplaces that can immediately modify operations to meet public health guidance. Opening some outdoor spaces like parks and allowing for a greater number of individuals to attend some events. Hospitals would also begin to offer some non-urgent and scheduled surgeries, and other health care services.
  • Stage 2: Opening more workplaces, based on risk assessments, which may include some service industries and additional office and retail workplaces. Some larger public gatherings would be allowed, and more outdoor spaces would open.
  • Stage 3: Opening of all workplaces responsibly and further relaxing of restrictions on public gatherings.

Throughout each stage, continued protections for vulnerable populations must be in place, along with the continued practice of physical distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene, and significant mitigation plans to limit health risks.

“Recent public health indicators show us that we’re beginning to turn a corner in the COVID-19 outbreak, while economic data, feedback from businesses and insights from our communities are outlining how we need to plan for economic recovery,” said Phillips. “Turning on an economy after an unprecedented shut-down is not as simple as flipping a switch. We need to plan this out carefully to ensure we do not spark a sudden outbreak, undo the progress we have made and put the safety of the public at risk.”

To reopen the economy, the government will consider factors such as the risk of the spread of COVID-19 and the ability to implement protective measures to keep workplaces safe. The Chief Medical Officer of Health and health experts will provide advice to the government about easing public health measures using a range of set criteria, including:

  • A consistent two-to-four week decrease in the number of new daily COVID-19 cases;
  • Sufficient acute and critical care capacity, including access to ventilators and ongoing availability of personal protective equipment;
  • Approximately 90 per cent of new COVID-19 contacts are being reached by local public health officials within one day, with guidance and direction to contain community spread; and
  • Ongoing testing of suspected COVID-19 cases, especially of vulnerable populations, to detect new outbreaks quickly.

“It is because of the collective efforts of all Ontarians to stay at home and stop the spread of COVID-19 that we are able to consider plans to move into the next phase of our battle against this virus,” said Elliott. “The Chief Medical Officer of Health has outlined some criteria he will use to advise government on when we may begin to slowly and safely ease public health measures and restart our economy. To be able to do so, w e need everyone to continue their extraordinary efforts so that we can meet these thresholds and begin to move forward.”

Supporting the next phases of Ontario’s Action Plan, the new Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, chaired by Minister Phillips, will be consulting with key sectors in all regions to assess the impact of COVID-19 on the provincial economy and develop a plan to move forward. The government and Members of Provincial Parliament will lead discussions with business associations, chambers of commerce, municipal leaders, the postsecondary sector, corporate leaders, small business owners, community and social service providers, Indigenous partners, Franco-Ontarians, entrepreneurs and others.

The work of the committee will build on Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19, the first phase of the government’s $17 billion response, that is delivering targeted relief for businesses and families across Ontario.

“The COVID-19 outbreak has had far-reaching economic impacts for businesses and communities across Ontario,” said Fedeli. “In the face of these challenges, businesses and individuals have stepped up to support our frontline workers, produce essential equipment and keep our supply chains moving. Our plan to carefully and methodically reopen Ontario’s economy will ensure that businesses are supported on our path to renewed economic prosperity.”

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Stephen Lecce, Ontario education minister appoints investigator to examine Peel District School Board

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Ontario education minister appoints investigator to examine Peel District School Board

ONTARIO’S Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, on Tuesday announced he has appointed Arleen Huggins to conduct an investigation into the Peel District School Board’s compliance with the Minister’s binding Directions to the Board issued on March 13.

“We expect our school leaders – trustees, senior administration, and educators – to ensure all students are learning in safe and inclusive classrooms,” said Lecce. “This is why effective, transparent, and accountable school board governance is essential to the success and well-being of students in Ontario’s publicly funded schools.”

Huggins is a practising lawyer with 30 years experience in employment law, human rights law, workplace harassment and discrimination investigations and commercial litigation. She is a former President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers and a Former Chair of both the Canadian Bar Association Standing Committee on Equity and the Ontario Bar Association Equal Opportunity Committee.  Huggins was also on the founding Board of the African Canadian Legal Clinic and has served on the Doctors Without Borders Human Resources Committee and the federal Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee (JAAC) for the GTA.

With the issuance of 27 binding Directions to the Board on March 13, the minister provided clear direction with specific timelines and deliverables to address systemic discrimination, particularly anti-Black racism, as well as dysfunctional governance, leadership and human resources practices within the PDSB.

“When it comes to confronting racism and discrimination, I will not accept delay or inaction,” added Lecce. “The message I am sending is — do better. Our kids deserve better. And I will do whatever it takes to ensure these issues are addressed immediately and effectively.”

The Ontario Government said it is committed to ensuring PDSB complies with the minister’s binding directions so that parents, students and the community get the positive change that they need and deserve.

Huggins will deliver her report to the minister on or before May 18.

The PDSB is responsible for 257 schools in Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon, and over 155,000 students representing a rich array of racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds.

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COVID-19″ More Indo-Canadians returning are from India

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More flights carrying Canadians leave India

CANADIAN High Commissioner in New Delhi, Nadir Patel, tweeted on Wednesday morning that the 15th special flight from India to Canada – had left Mumbai, bringing home more Canadian travelers stranded in India.

He added: “More special flights taking place in the coming days, thanks to all for your patience while we work through the complexities.”

On Tuesday, the 14th special flight with Canadians took off from Kolkata and Patel tweeted: “Huge thanks to our colleagues Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell & his team for collaborating to make this happen.”

The 13th special flight with Canadians had departed from Bangalore on Monday, covering six states in the south.

And last Sunday (April 26) the 12th special flight from India departed from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, with nearly 300 Canadians aboard.

More flights carrying Canadians leave India

More flights carrying Canadians leave India

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