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Health

Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

“The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

“It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

“Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

“It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

“Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

“Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

“Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

“I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

— with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press



Alberta

Alberta seeing spike in syphilis cases

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Syphilis rates way up in Alberta

Rates of syphilis in Alberta on the rise

Infectious and congenital syphilis rates have escalated across the province over the past five years, with a sharp increase in 2018.

The rapid increase in syphilis cases has spurred Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, to declare a provincial outbreak and encourage Albertans to get tested and protect themselves.

“We need to emphasize for all Albertans: Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are a risk to anyone who is sexually active, particularly people who have new sex partners and are not using protection. I encourage anyone who is sexually active to get tested regularly. Anyone in Alberta can access STI testing and treatment for free.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health

In response to the sharp rise in 2018, a provincial outbreak coordination committee composed of Alberta Health, Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other provincial health officials has been activated. Over the next three months, the committee will develop a coordinated strategy and determine concrete actions to increase STI testing, promote public awareness and reduce the overall number of syphilis cases in Alberta.

“Sexual health is an important part of overall health. We are working with community partners to remove stigma and increase awareness about STI testing services throughout Alberta. If you are sexually active, make regular STI testing part of your health routine.”

Dr. Laura McDougall, Senior Medical Officer of Health, AHS

 

A total of 1,536 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in 2018 compared to 161 in 2014, almost a tenfold increase. The rate of infectious syphilis has not been this high in Alberta since 1948.

Congenital syphilis, which occurs when a child is born to a mother with syphilis, is a severe, disabling and life-threatening disease. While congenital syphilis cases were rare before the outbreak, there were 22 congenital syphilis cases between 2014 and 2018, one of which was stillborn.

Consistent and correct condom use is important protection against STIs such as syphilis. Like other STIs, the symptoms of syphilis may not be obvious. Health experts recommend sexually active people, regardless of gender, age or sexual orientation, get tested every three to six months if they:

  • have a sexual partner with a known STI
  • have a new sexual partner or multiple or anonymous sexual partners
  • have previous history of an STI diagnosis
  • have been sexually assaulted

Prenatal care including syphilis testing is available for all Albertans. It is critical that anyone who is pregnant seeks early prenatal care and testing for syphilis during pregnancy.

Anyone experiencing STI-related symptoms should seek testing through their local health-care provider. Call Health Link at 811, visit a STI or sexual health clinic or speak to a family doctor to find testing and treatment options.

 

Quick facts

  • 2018 case counts for infectious syphilis by AHS zone:
    • South Zone: 31 cases, an increase of 138.5 per cent compared to 2017
    • Calgary Zone: 206 cases, an increase of 7.3 per cent compared to 2017
    • Central Zone: 88 cases, an increase of 266.7 per cent compared to 2017
    • Edmonton Zone: 977 cases, an increase of 305.4 per cent compared to 2017
    • North Zone: 208 cases, an increase of 324.5 per cent compared to 2017
  • For further breakdown of STI 2018 numbers, see the 2018 STI and HIV Summary Report.
  • Alberta Health works with AHS and community organizations towards prevention, health promotion, outreach testing, education, harm reduction, and addressing stigma. Previous actions include:
    • Grants to the Alberta Community Council on HIV to support community organizations across the province to prevent and reduce STIs, reduce harm associated with the non-medical consumption of substances and support health in their own geographic locations.
    • Alberta Health has provided three one-time grants totalling a combined $2 million since 2017 to combat the rising rates of STI, including syphilis, focusing on raising awareness and education, reducing stigma and increasing testing and treatment.
    • Since 2016, Alberta Health Services and Alberta Health have been working with over 100 provincial partners to develop innovative approaches to increasing access to STI services across the province.
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Health

Manitoba university cuts ties with Ebola researcher pending RCMP investigation

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Manitoba University severs ties with researcher during RCMP investigation

WINNIPEG — The University of Manitoba says it has cut ties with an Ebola vaccine researcher pending the results of an RCMP investigation.

A spokesperson says the school is ending the non-salaried adjunct appointments of Dr. Xiangguo Qiu and her husband Keding Cheng.

Qiu, a renowned virologist who received her original medical training in China, helped develop a vaccine for the Ebola virus at the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Cheng also worked at the lab as a researcher.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said on Monday that it was taking steps to address an “administrative matter” at the lab after it advised the Mounties of possible policy breaches.

The laboratory is Canada’s highest-security infectious disease research facility dealing with deadly contagious germs.

Public Health said there is no risk to the public and the work of the lab continues.

The Canadian Press has been unable to reach Qiu or Cheng for comment.

The RCMP in Manitoba has confirmed it received a referral from the health agency, but has not confirmed whether Qui or Cheng is being investigated.

The Canadian Press

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