The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 9:52 am | Story: 393210
Photo: The Canadian Press
Public Health Ontario says the proportion of the new BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 Omicron subvariants in the province is growing twice as quickly as the dominant BA.5 strain.
The health agency says that while not a lot is known yet about the BQ subvariants, there is a high risk of increased transmissibility, reinfection and lowered vaccine effectiveness.
Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease expert at Queen’s University, says Ontarians should not be “overly worried” at this point about the BQ subvariants, though the growth rate is a cause for some concern.
Public Health Ontario says COVID-19 activity in the province is generally stable, though it has been gradually increasing since early September.
A report today comparing the week ending Oct. 22 to the week prior says the percentage of positive tests is roughly the same — 15.8 per cent, down slightly from 16.1 per cent — though that’s higher than the July peak of 14.8 per cent.
Hospital admissions and deaths were down, though the health agency notes those are lagging indicators, so they may well start to increase soon.
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 9:48 am | Story: 393209
Photo: The Canadian Press
Canada’s top court says parts of the national sex offender registry are unconstitutional
In a ruling this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada says mandatory registration of all sex offenders with more than one conviction goes too far.
It also concludes that keeping offenders on the registry for the rest of their lives violates the Constitution.
The ruling came in the case of a 19-year-old Edmonton man who was brought to a party publicized by an explicit ad on Facebook and sexually touched two women.
He pleaded guilty, served six months in jail with three years probation and is considered a minimal risk to reoffend.
The court is giving Parliament one year to rewrite its law on mandatory registration, although the Edmonton man has been struck from the registry.
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 9:45 am | Story: 393208
Photo: The Canadian Press
Ottawa’s former police chief is defending his reading of intelligence on the protest convoy that descended on the national capital last winter.
Peter Sloly is testifying today at a public inquiry into the federal government’s use of the Emergencies Act to clear “Freedom Convoy” protesters in heavy trucks who blocked the streets around Parliament Hill for weeks, as well as several border crossings.
Sloly resigned the day after the act was invoked in mid-February amid widespread criticism of his handling of the Ottawa protest.
The former chief told the commission he was reading intelligence reports Ontario Provincial Police were providing and had been receiving briefings from his deputies.
Sloly says based on what he was reading and being told, he believed the “Freedom Convoy” would largely be a weekend event, with some protesters setting up a “tent city” afterwards.
The former chief says there wasn’t just one “Freedom Convoy,” but multiple ones that descended on the city, and he questioned why he wasn’t receiving intelligence from federal agencies on what was coming.
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 9:43 am | Story: 393207
Photo: The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada is imposing sanctions on 35 more Russians and issuing bonds that individuals can buy to support the Ukrainian government.
Trudeau says the group being sanctioned includes leaders with Russian state-owned energy company Gazprom and six energy sector entities.
The five-year Ukraine Sovereignty Bonds are to be offered to investors through Canadian banks and the money will be channelled directly to Ukraine through the International Monetary Fund.
The prime minister is in Winnipeg, where the Congress of Ukrainian Canadians is holding a three-day meeting.
He’s also likely to hear a request from the Manitoba government for more money to help Ukrainians who are fleeing the war.
Premier Heather Stefanson says Manitoba is happy to have welcomed almost 12,000 Ukrainians since the Russian invasion began last February.
But she says the province needs federal money to help pay for housing, health care, education and other needs of the new arrivals.
Stefanson says Manitoba has welcomed more than 10 per cent of all Ukrainians who have entered Canada and has less than four per cent of the country’s population.
“They’re not declaring them as refugees and giving them refugee status, and normally with that comes federal funding,” Stefanson said of the federal government in an interview Thursday.
“They do have a role here. They should have a role. And we have been in discussions with them, but that’s not going to stop us from doing what we’re doing (in supporting Ukrainians).”
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 9:42 am | Story: 393206
Photo: The Canadian Press
The federal government posted a surplus of $3.9 billion for the first five months of its 2022-23 fiscal year.
In its monthly fiscal monitor, the finance department says the result for the April-to-August period compared with a deficit of $57.2 billion for the same time last year.
Government revenue for the period totalled $177.2 billion, up from nearly $149 billion a year ago, helped higher by broad-based improvement.
Program expenses excluding net actuarial losses amounted to $154.5 billion compared with $190 billion in the same period last year.
Public debt charges totalled nearly $14.8 billion for the period, up from nearly $9.7 billion.
Net actuarial losses totalled nearly $4.1 billion, down from $6.4 billion a year earlier.
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 9:33 am | Story: 393202
Photo: CTV News
Policy say an officer has been wounded and a suspect is dead following a shooting in Calgary.
Police had received reports about a suspicious vehicle with a person blaring loud music and behaving erratically.
They say when the officer arrived, a man shot him in the leg.
The officer returned fire and the man ran toward a nearby park, where he then killed himself.
The officer was taken to hospital in stable condition and later released.
The Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, the province’s police watchdog, is investigating.
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 6:49 am | Story: 393170
Photo: Warner Bros.
The discovery of two dead great white sharks washed ashore in Atlantic Canada in less than two weeks is a mystery to researchers.
Fred Whoriskey, executive director of the Ocean Tracking Network at Dalhousie University, called the beaching of two of the ocean’s apex predators abnormal.
“In the course of my lifetime — and that’s a lot of years — there have been fewer than five white sharks that I have heard of beaching anywhere in the North American area,” he said in an interview. “So, this is a highly unusual event.”
The Marine Animal Response Society said in an Oct. 21 social media post that a great white shark had been found dead in Kouchibouguac National Park in New Brunswick the previous weekend. The organization studies marine animals and helps with rescues and investigations.
The 3.4-metre mature male was found on the beach and samples were collected to help in the study of the species.
Whoriskey, who is not involved in the necropsy of the animals, said a second great white found dead Wednesday in North Sydney, N.S., was a juvenile.
The great white shark is endangered under the federal Species at Risk Act. There are no estimates of the size of the population in Atlantic waters, according to the federal Environment Department’s website. There are around 100 records of white sharks being spotted off the Atlantic coast since 1874, although sightings are increasing, with more than 40 since 2009, the website added.
The deaths of two sharks within such a short span could be a sign that the number of these animals is increasing, Whoriskey said. Most of the sharks seen in Canadian waters tend to be juveniles, which is one of the indicators of a growing population.
“It might very well be that we would expect to see more frequently things like natural mortalities, because, like it or not, things go wrong in biology.”
Whoriskey said white sharks do not have any predators in Atlantic Canadian waters. “So, we’re probably looking at natural causes for both of these animals. Which is kind of an interesting phenomenon.”
Pictures of the sharks, he said, don’t suggest that they were killed by a ship strike or rope entanglement. The animals could have died from a virus or bacteria, which could be investigated in the necropsy process, he said. But that isn’t straightforward because scientists don’t have a good idea of the types of diseases white sharks get.
“If we don’t know what we’re looking for, we don’t have a probe to pick it up yet. It may be a disease organism that hasn’t been identified yet by science. So that could be kind of intriguing,” Whoriskey said.
Boris Worm, a professor in marine conservation biology at Dalhousie University, said great whites are found all the way up to Newfoundland. They are usually in Canadian waters in late summer and fall, he said, “probably chasing some prey species into our region, like mackerel.”
The greatest risk to the species, Worm said, is humans.
With fishing trawlers, a shark on a hunt might not notice the trawl net and get caught, which could lead to its death, he said.
And longline fisheries put out baited lines with hundreds of hooks. Sharks with their remarkable olfactory senses can smell this from a distance and are attracted to it, he said.
“These fisheries typically have a large bycatch of sharks,” he said. “They would not often bring aboard white sharks because the white sharks would bite through the line if they get caught and escape. But they have occasionally been reported in longline fisheries.”
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 6:33 am | Story: 393166
Photo: The Canadian Press
A shift towards environmentally friendly materials and new digital engagement strategies are among new initiatives the Royal Canadian Legion is hoping will breathe fresh life into the 2022 national poppy campaign.
The annual push to honour fallen soldiers officially launched on Friday and is set to run until Remembrance Day, and organizers say they’re hopeful the features introduced this year will help re-engage Canadians in the act of paying tribute to veterans both past and present.
The Legion has scaled back the number of traditional poppy boxes at locations across the country where people can donate cash and receive a poppy pin, rolling out just over 27,000 compared to around 34,000 in 2021. But the new campaign will feature the introduction of biodegradable poppies and wreaths made of natural materials such as paper, moss and bamboo.
It will also include “Poppy Stories,” an initiative allowing people to scan a lapel poppy with their smartphone and be presented with information about real Canadian veterans, including anecdotes about their lives, their roles within the military, where they served and what their passions were.
“The various initiatives are a way to engage more Canadians from across generations, to engage younger people in the act of remembrance,” said Nujma Bond, communications manager for the legion’s national headquarters.
“We hope that when we modernize how we remember, and the materials we use to remember, it will also carry on the tradition of remembrance in Canada.”
For the third year in a row, the organization will also have boxes that can accept payments from tap-enabled devices or cards. The legion said 1,000 such boxes will be in place this year, the same number as in 2021 when large swaths of the country were still operating under public health restrictions intended to curb the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadians can also make a donation towards the campaign at mypoppy.ca, where they can create a digital poppy, add a customized commemoration to a veteran and share it on social media.
While there are still regional restrictions in place that will need to be heeded, fewer public health measures means more volunteers will be physically present at poppy boxes to engage with those passing by and encourage donations.
“It is a chance to share more stories, for people to meet veterans, to have positive conversations, to learn a little bit more about those who have served us,” said Bond.
This year’s supply of poppies will consist of both the traditional and environmentally friendly versions, the Legion said, noting it hopes to deplete old stock before switching exclusively to sustainable materials for future campaigns.
The organization doesn’t have final figures for the amount raised from last year’s campaign, but Bond said the legion typically raises close to $20 million from its poppy campaign on any given year to support veterans, their families and communities.
Brent Craig, veterans’ service officer for the Legion’s Westboro branch in west Ottawa, said those funds go directly into a range of programs that help veterans with a host of needs, including assisting with paperwork when applying for benefits from Veterans Affairs Canada or peer support programs.
“I’ve had the privilege of working with a number of veterans who help out with the poppy campaign and also come up to the box, and they’ve all been very appreciative of the fact that the poppy campaign exists,” said Craig, whose father served in the Air Force and grandfather served in Europe during the Second World War.
Ronn Anderson, 78, served for more than 38 years in the Canadian Armed Forces, with stints in Europe as an artilleryman and as part of the Air Force. This is his 22nd year running the poppy campaign for the legion’s St. James branch in Winnipeg, and he said he hopes to see spikes in volunteer numbers, public engagement and donation totals by the end of the campaign compared to the last two years.
He said the return of traditional poppy boxes is particularly welcome among veterans, adding he and his fellow former soldiers have more meaningful interactions with the public and receive more thanks for their service when they don their uniforms and volunteer for the campaign.
“That means a lot to me to be able to support these veterans that need our help,” said Anderson. “Nobody likes to be in need, but through necessity, through circumstances, people do become in need and we’re happy to help out our veterans with our poppy monies that we’ve earned.”
The Canadian Press – Oct 28, 2022 / 6:13 am | Story: 393160
Photo: Therm?a Spa Village
An Ontario woman says she wants accountability from a Toronto-area spa after she and others experienced health problems following visits to the new facility where staph bacteria was found in a saltwater pool.
Nicole Warren is one of dozens of guests seeking damages from Thermëa Spa Village, located in Whitby, Ont.
More than two weeks after her visit, Warren said she is still seeking treatment for a rash that has covered most of her body and made it painful to sleep, sit or wear clothing. While the rash has become less painful, she is now concerned about the possibility of permanent scarring.
“I want them to be held responsible,” she said in an interview.
Two legal notices dated Oct. 21 and 26 advised the spa’s CEO, Martin Paquette, that a number of clients intend to advance a civil action to “recover damages arising from their exposure to contaminants at the spa.”
Justin Linden, the lawyer representing the group,said the claim will be issued in the coming weeks.
He said 28 people intend to participate in the lawsuit and he expects more will join. His clients have experienced similar symptoms including skin outbreaks, ear infections, hearing loss and other symptoms, and some are still suffering weeks later, he said.
“All of them have suffered pretty brutally,” Linden said in an interview. “I think the most important aspect of the lawsuit is accountability.”
Groupe Nordik, which runs Thermëa Spa Village, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But the spa addressed the situation in a Oct. 20 social media post, which shared the details about the staph bacteria detection.
The statement said the spa had traced the source of the problem to malfunctioning UV lamps and disinfectant. It said it had been inspecting all its equipment and all pools had been closed since Oct. 14.
“Over the last few days, we have gotten to know some of you that have experienced symptoms of a staph infection. We are devastated to hear that this has been your experience of our village,” the statement said.
“Please be assured that we took every step we could to ensure that the pool was fully inspected, approved and certified by public health authorities, and regularly tested and staffed by experts.”
Warren visited the spa for a friend’s birthday on Oct. 9, three days after it officially opened. The next evening, she noticed a rash that looked like small bites all over her body, prompting her to panic and search for possible causes before consulting with her doctor.
“I was just spiralling because I didn’t know what it was, and then as the days went on it was getting worse,” she said.
Health inspection results on Durham Public Health’s website dated Oct. 14 indicated the Kalla Pool at Thermëa Spa Village was ordered closed. It said the pool may be a health hazard and the operator failed to ensure the public pool was “free from every serious condition.”
Other public health inspection records showed issues with the spa’s facilities. An Oct. 5 routine inspection of the Kalla pool found the operator failed to maintain required levels of bromine, a sanitizer used in pools.
In the Oct. 20 statement on social media, Thermëa Spa Village acknowledged that it was contacted by public health on Oct. 14 to inform them that pseudomonas and staphylococcus, or staph, bacteria was detected in the Kalla saltwater pool.
But Warren said she is frustrated that the spa did not share that information with her when she contacted them about her symptoms. Instead, she said the spa offered her a free voucher for a return visit. She said she learned about the contamination and public health action through speaking with other guests on social media.
More transparent communication would have helped her seek appropriate treatment sooner, she added.
“It’s just a little mind boggling to me that they withheld information,” she said.
Warren said she is left feeling anxious about visiting spas or public pools again.
“I’m scared now. I don’t want to go into another public pool, hot tub, spa, nothing. Knowing that this can happen, no chance,” she said.
The Canadian Press – Oct 27, 2022 / 6:37 pm | Story: 393127
Photo: The Canadian Press
The Peace Tower is seen through the front gates of Parliament Hill in Ottawa in Ottawa on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Public Services and Procurement Canada says it’s investigating what led to a Parliament Hill language interpreter needing an ambulance ride last week, adding that it’s the third hospitalization in recent years.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Public Services and Procurement Canada says it’s investigating what led to a Parliament Hill language interpreter needing an ambulance ride last week, adding that it’s the third hospitalization in recent years.
“The translation bureau is extremely concerned by this accident,” wrote departmental spokeswoman Katherine Proulx.
At the Senate environment committee on Oct. 20, two witnesses testified over video conference with poor sound quality and did not wear the recommended headphones with a microphone wand.
During questions from senators, a buzz could be heard as the first witness spoke, similar to a smartphone vibrating on a table. As the second witness answered questions from senators, there was a sudden moment of loud feedback.
“Feedback occurred in the sound system and an interpreter suffered an acoustic shock. The interpreter subsequently received emergency care,” Proulx wrote.
The department added that interpreters have needed emergency care two other times in the last five years, both before the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020.
Acoustic shocks are when inner ear muscles are startled by sudden noises, such as someone tapping a microphone or suddenly speaking much louder when an interpreter has been straining to hear them.
Experts have testified to Parliament of multiple staff on leave with concussion-like symptoms, loud ringing in the ears or vertigo. With so many absences, officials have started hiring contractors with lower accreditations to fill gaps.
The Canadian Association of Professional Employees argues last week’s meeting should have been halted at the time of the injury.
Instead, a translation bureau supervisor took over as the freelancer was escorted out of the room, where she collapsed.
In advance of virtual appearances, the Senate asks witnesses to use a proper headset, offering to reimburse up to $100 in pre-tax value to buy one. The House of Commons caps this at $175.
“Each participant is required to use a wired headset with an attached boom microphone to ensure optimal sound quality for simultaneous interpretation,” reads the Senate’s January 2021 instruction sheet, which specifically says not to use earbuds.
And yet, the injury occurred at a sitting where one witness wore earbuds, and the other had headphones with no microphone wand.
“Senate Administration staff and committee chairs make decisions regarding committee functioning, including witness participation,” wrote House of Commons spokeswoman Amélie Crosson.
The office of Sen. Paul Massicotte, who chaired the meeting, diverted questions to the Senate administration.
“When interpreters indicate that sound quality is preventing them from interpreting, witnesses are told that they are unable to continue,” wrote Senate spokeswoman Alison Korn.
She said that was the case at last Thursday’s meeting, yet the official recording shows the testimony continued in full.
The House of Commons audiovisual team maintains some Senate equipment, including in the room where the incident occurred.
They inspected the room after the incident, and “concluded that the consoles are performing normally and offer interpreters hearing protection,” House spokeswoman Amélie Crosson wrote.
Proulx said the translation bureau “will also conduct an internal investigation, and will share its findings with key stakeholders when they are available.”
Crosson added that the House audiovisual team does recurring checks to make sure all systems meet international safety regulations.
“The House of Commons, working with its partners, has taken efforts to ensure that any sound issues are addressed proactively or as they are identified, to enhance the remote participant experience, improve the quality of hybrid proceedings, and protect interpreters.”
Sen. Michèle Audette, who was in the Oct. 20 committee meeting, recalled hearing a loud sound through her earpiece and in the room.
She said she was startled and then noticed the woman who was doing the translation had jumped too. She went to check on her and eventually accompanied her out of the room, where Audette said the interpreter said she was in pain.
In an interview Thursday, Audette described how translators are needed to help senators understand complex testimony and legislation, but also more generally, to bridge the divide.
She described the role they can play when it comes to relations between different Indigenous Peoples in Quebec where, along with their Indigenous languages, the Mohawk population speaks English and her own Innu community speaks French.
“They allow us to communicate and it doesn’t become a gulf between two nations,” she said in French.
“They are the ones who do the magic.”
Audette said she believes in hybrid Senate proceedings to make them accessible, but that the interpreters needed to make that happen must be well equipped.
“These are human beings,” she said.
Jon Perez / SaskToday – Oct 27, 2022 / 6:18 pm | Story: 393125
Two relatives of the Sept. 4 stabbing victims hold a banner that bears the photos of their loved ones as they were joined by Chakastaypasin Band Chief Calvin Sanderson, right.
Chief Calvin Sanderson said the tragic events in the James Smith Cree Nation almost two months ago still cast a lingering shadow on their community, with the survivors of the attacks still recovering from the trauma.
Myles Sanderson was the main suspect in a stabbing spree on Sept. 4 that took place at the James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby town of Weldon, which resulted in the death of 10 people while injuring 18. He was arrested on Sept. 7 near Rosthern but later died in the hospital
“Our community went through a lot after the tragedy of Sept. 4. We have numerous First Nations all over Turtle Island, like mental therapists, that are helping the families heal and overcome the trauma,” Chief Sanderson told SASKTODAY.
“Therapists were assigned to each one of the families of the victims. As I have said, we need more mental health professionals and traditional knowledge keepers to come and help continue our sweat lodges and other ceremonies.”
Sanderson is the head of the Chakastaypasin Band, which is part of a Council that includes James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns and Peter Chapman Chief Rob Head.
A sweat lodge is a purification ceremony performed by many First Nations communities in Canada, while Turtle Island is the traditional name some Indigenous groups use for North America.
He added that the families of the victims and those injured have a long road to healing and recovery from the emotional trauma of losing a loved one. It will be a slow process with the help of mental health professionals and the support of other First Nations communities.
“The families are taking things gradually. The healing process will not happen overnight. It will take months or even years. Some of our [injured] members are still [recovering] in the hospital. We have one band member recently released due to the seriousness of her injuries,” said Sanderson.
“After all these, we plan to meet with the victims and expect them to continue to mourn and grieve. We will be organizing a mental wellness gathering for everyone and even their extended families that were also affected by this tragedy. It is not going to happen overnight.”
Sanderson said the tragic event had their leadership looking into how to ensure families in their respective communities remain safe and avoid future incidents.
“We still have many things to do back home. We are not taking this lightly and are seriously looking into that incident to ensure the safety of our community. Our security and safety are important. We have people controlling the community at large,” added Sanderson.
“They are making sure the houses are safe. Making sure the members are safe. Our Elders and each and everyone are safe. Make sure each individual in and out of our community is safe.”
Sanderson said they are also grateful for the assistance provided by the leadership of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and other communities by taking care of food rations and other donations for the grieving families.
“[First Nations communities] in Prince Albert, Melfort and Saskatoon, wherever they are located, were always there providing the needs of our members. They stayed at the hospitals, visited the families of the victims and survivors, and just let them feel safe,” he said.
“That helped a lot because few of our members can’t visit their loved ones. We are grateful for all the help and outpouring of love and support from all over Turtle Island and the world. Our community is going through a lot and it is very emotional.”
Saskatchewan Lt.-Gov. Russell Mirasty said the James Smith Cree Nation community — including the tribal bands of Chakastaypasin and Peter Chapman — still needs everyone’s support even almost two months after that tragic day.
“We need to continue to stand by beside them [their communities] while all of the members continue to heal as we all do. Given the tragic circumstances, a lot more assistance must be provided to them. We need to be there for them as their healing journey continues,” Mirasty told SASKTODAY.
FSIN Fourth Vice Chief Aly Bear said the James Smith Cree Nation community faces a long and hard road to recover from the tragedy, but their community showed courage and strength to move forward and heal as one.
“We see our leadership behind their community doing everything they can to develop strategies for this never to happen again. On that day, young and old were victims. We need to look within ourselves, in our own homes wherever we are and think about what we can do to put an end to the violence, put an end to the hurt and put an end to the grieving and put an end to the fear,” said Bear.
“We should all feel safe when we’re in our communities, when we’re in our homes and when we are at work. This [event] sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. To the James Smith community, we lift you, saying that you don’t need to carry all that burden. The healing will come, and your community will be stronger.”
A touching tribute was held on Sunday, the last day of the Spirit of our Nations powwow event, with everyone present at SaskTel Centre showing their support to all the families and other relatives of the victims. They even paraded with a banner with the photos of those who died.
The Canadian Press – Oct 27, 2022 / 6:10 pm | Story: 393122
Photo: The Canadian Press
Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Lawrence MacAulay rises during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, March 25, 2022. A union representing thousands of Veterans Affairs Canada employees is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to replace MacAulay.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A simmering battle between Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay and a union representing thousands of Veterans Affairs Canada employees has led to the union asking for MacAulay to be fired.
The request is contained in a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from the Union of Veterans Affairs’ Employees, whose national president says her members have lost faith in MacAulay for repeatedly refusing to meet them to discuss their concerns.
Those include a $570-million contract the department recently awarded to an outside company to provide rehabilitation services for veterans, as well as the department’s continued reliance on hundreds of temporary staff to address backlogs.
“We have lost confidence in this minister and urge you to appoint a new minister who will work with the employees and their union for the betterment of veterans and their families,” UVAE national president Virginia Vaillancourt wrote to Trudeau.
In a statement, MacAulay’s spokeswoman Erika Lashbrook Knutson disputed Vaillancourt’s version of events, saying the minister has met with Veterans Affairs employees, the union and its senior leadership on numerous occasions.
That includes a meeting last week with case managers to discuss the contract.
“The union should be meeting with senior officials on contracting issues such as this one, as that is most appropriate in dealings between the department and its employee union,” Lashbrook Knutson added.
The call for MacAulay’s resignation represents a significant escalation in a dispute between the minister and union that has been building for months, as Veterans Affairs has struggled to make good on repeated promises to better assist former service members.
Much of the union’s current frustration can be traced to the department’s contract with Partners in Canadian Veterans Rehabilitation Services, which was awarded in June 2021 and will start to come into effect next month.
Veterans Affairs says the contract will help overworked case managers while ensuring veterans have access to a national network of psychologists, physiotherapists, social workers and other help across the country.
“The new contract will cut the administrative burden on case managers, allowing them to spend more time with their veteran clients and less time on the paperwork,” Veterans Affairs spokesman Marc Lescoutre added in an email.
“This will mean fewer steps for veterans and the case managers that serve them, allowing for more time to focus on the rehabilitation itself.”
Veterans and their advocates have long complained that case managers across the country are overwhelmed. The Liberals promised to reduce the caseloads to an average of 25 veterans for every case manager, but that promise remains unfulfilled.
The union alleges the contract will have the opposite effect by adding another layer of bureaucracy with which veterans will have to contend, while dramatically changing the role of case managers without proper consultation.
“The big fear at this point for us is the fact that we don’t know what the case managers’ role is going to look like after this contract,” Vaillancourt said in an interview. “And this adds another layer another level of burden, if you will, to the clients.”
Vaillancourt said the union wrote to MacAulay three times since June to request a meeting to discuss the various issues, but that those requests were largely ignored.
“Veterans deserve better, and if we want better for veterans, then they need a minister that’s actually going to work for them,” Vaillancourt said. “We are just done.”
Vaillancourt also took issue with the department’s continued reliance on temporary staff as it struggles with a massive backlog of disability claims. Most case managers also have an overwhelming number of veterans in their caseloads.
MacAulay last week announced $43 million in new funding over three years to extend the contracts of 50 temporary case managers along with a number of other non-permanent staff.
The announcement came despite auditor general Karen Hogan’s call earlier this year for a long-term, permanent staffing plan for the department, where about half of those processing disability claims are also temporary employees.
Lashbrook Knutson suggested the union’s main concern is that case managers will lose work, adding that won’t be the case.
“Case workers have told us that they feel overworked, so we are reducing their administrative burden and increasing the quality time they have with their veteran clients,” she said.
“No work that is within case management will be usurped by this contract. Case managers are not clinical experts in physiotherapy, psychiatry, or vocational training, and they have never directly provided these services to veterans.”