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Expert: Comatose woman may not have shown signs of pregnancy

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PHOENIX — A doctor examined an Arizona woman in a vegetative state nearly nine months before she gave birth but did not find that she was pregnant, and medical experts said Thursday that it’s possible she displayed no outward signs that workers who cared for her every day would have noticed either.

Police are looking for her rapist and say it appears none of the staff members at a Phoenix long-term care facility knew about the pregnancy until the baby was born Dec. 29, a notion that has drawn skepticism. But the 29-year-old woman, who is described in a medical report as having tubes to feed her and help her breathe, may not have had a swollen belly, according to a doctor of fetal medicine.

While factors remain unknown, such as how far along she was, someone who is fed the same amount from a tube every day might not show any dramatic changes that would be noticed, especially by staffers who don’t work with pregnant patients, said Dr. C. Kevin Huls, a clinical assistant professor and maternal-fetal medicine fellowship director at the University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix.

The mother could actually lose weight in other places like her face or arms if a fetus is consuming nutrients, Huls added.

“A good way to understand it is that really, the baby’s going to continue to grow even at the expense of the mom’s nutrition,” Huls said. “So, her weight may not change because she’s not taking in additional calories. There may be changes to her body that are going to go undetected in a chronic care condition or at a facility like this.”

The revelation that an incapacitated woman was sexually assaulted inside a care facility has horrified advocates for people with disabilities and the community at large. The provider’s CEO resigned this week, and the state said the centre has made safety changes.

A doctor examined the woman on April 16 and found “no change” in her health, writing that the exam was external only, according to Maricopa County Superior Court documents. Her mother submitted the results of the physical as part of an annual report that state law requires of legal guardians.

Phoenix police learned of the situation when they received a call on Dec. 29 about a newborn in distress at the Hacienda HealthCare facility. Officers launched a sex crime investigation when it was determined the mother was in a vegetative state, police spokesman Tommy Thompson said.

“She was not in a position to give consent to any of this,” Thompson said.

The baby and the woman are recovering at an area hospital, and their conditions were not released.

It’s possible the woman won’t have any additional long-term complications from giving birth. Women in a vegetative state after accidents or strokes have successfully delivered babies, Huls said.

Her family, who are members of the San Carlos Apache tribe in southeastern Arizona, said in a statement through their attorney that they will care for the baby boy.

Phoenix police, meanwhile, have not ruled out any suspects in the sexual assault. They are gathering DNA samples from the facility’s male staffers and have appealed to the public for any information.

It remains unclear to investigators if the woman was raped more than once.

“I know at least once she was sexually assaulted, which is way too many times,” Thompson said.

The Hacienda intermediate care facility specializes in providing around-the-clock care for infants, children and young adults with developmental disabilities or who are “medically fragile.”

Since the birth came to light, Hacienda HealthCare has implemented increased safety measures, including more than one staff member being present during patient interactions and more scrutiny of visitors.

The company has said it welcomes DNA testing of its male staffers and is co-operating in the investigation.

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Follow Terry Tang on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ttangAP .

Terry Tang, The Associated Press

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How proceedings in the House of Commons during pandemic differ from normal

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OTTAWA — Canadians who tune in to watch proceedings in the House of Commons during the COVID-19 crisis may wonder why Conservative and Bloc Quebecois MPs continue to accuse the Liberal government of shutting down Parliament.

At a glance, it looks very much like regular proceedings in the Commons, although most MPs are participating virtually, their faces beamed onto large screens on either side of the Speaker’s chair. Other than that, it may look relatively normal. Opposition MPs are grilling Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers four days a week — and get twice as much time to do it.

Although the proceedings are taking place in the Commons, it is actually a special COVID-19 committee, in which all 338 MPs are members, that is meeting for several hours Monday to Thursday. It operates under very different rules.

No votes (at least for now)

There are no votes on legislation or motions. Among other things, that means no chance for an opposition party to move a motion of non-confidence that could bring down Trudeau’s minority government.

When the government has needed to pass legislation to allow billions in emergency aid to flow, it has recalled a skeleton House of Commons for a brief sitting. It has negotiated details of each bill with opposition parties in advance to secure unanimous consent to pass it within a matter of hours. That skips the normal, lengthy three stages of debate, committee study, amendments and votes. The government has not so far attempted to use this expedited process to pass any legislation unrelated to the COVID-19 crisis.

The unresolved issue of how to allow MPs to vote electronically from remote locations was cited by Liberals and New Democrats in rejecting calls for a full return to normal House of Commons business, with a reduced number of MPs in the chamber. They opted instead to expand the special committee meetings, that have become the routine over the past month.

However, Speaker Anthony Rota told a Commons committee Tuesday he’s confident there are now several secure options for electronic voting which could be adopted as soon as MPs choose which one they want. Under the current agreement with the NDP, that could be in place to have the Commons return to business as usual, using the hybrid model, on Sept. 21.

Fewer tools for MPs

There are no opposition days, in which an opposition party can trigger debate on a subject of its choosing and force a vote on motions that could embarrass the government or even defeat it. The Conservatives, for instance, used an opposition day late last year that forced the creation of a Commons committee to examine Canada’s fraught relationship with China.

Opposition MPs cannot table written “order paper” questions, to which the government is required to give detailed, written answers within 45 days.

There is also no opportunity for MPs to introduce private members’ bills. These bills, without government backing, have a much lower chance of getting through the multiple stages of debate and voting to become law, but they can be a way for an opposition MP — or a Liberal backbencher — to raise awareness of an issue.

Fewer committees

While nine Commons standing committees, including health, finance and procedure and House affairs, are meeting virtually, 15 other standing committees, plus several joint and special committees, are not meeting at all. Speaker Rota said last month that the Commons does not have the technical resources to get any more committees up and running virtually. The committees that are meeting have focused largely on the federal response to the COVID-19 crisis but the agreement the Liberals reached with the NDP last week means they can now delve into any topics they choose.

Fewer tactics

The special committee proceedings are tightly focused on giving opposition MPs a chance to hold the government to account. Other than raising points of order or points of privilege, there is no opportunity for MPs to use procedural tricks to hold up proceedings or make a point. For instance, they cannot force multiple standing votes with bells ringing for 30 minutes between each one, or move concurrence in a Commons committee report, a tactic often used to force several hours of debate and disrupt the government’s legislative timetable.

Summer meetings

The House of Commons does not usually meet during the summer. This year, under the agreement struck with the NDP, the Commons will meet in “committee of the whole” — essentially the same format as the special COVID-19 committee — twice in July and twice in August. That will give opposition MPs a chance to question the Liberals about any developments in the pandemic and the government’s response to it.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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Running for Conservative leadership not about ticking boxes: Leslyn Lewis

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OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis is the only woman in the race, the only immigrant, the only visible minority.

Though she could seize on those qualities to differentiate herself from her three white male opponents, or to hammer home a point about the party being a big blue tent, she isn’t.

For her, the campaign is not about ticking boxes.

“My presence alone sends a very strong message,” she said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press.

“I don’t think I need to articulate the obvious.”

The Canadian Press asked for a follow-up interview this week, to discuss the protests and violence linked to the death of a black man in police custody in the U.S. last week.

But Lewis declined the request, saying she had no more to add to an email she’d sent to supporters on Friday.

In it, she wrote about how she’s been unable to watch the video of George Floyd’s treatment, as it makes her physically ill.

“The riots, the anger and fear, it’s all brutal,” she wrote. 

Lewis linked his death to that of a young black woman in Toronto who died after falling from a balcony while police were at her apartment, an incident currently under investigation. She said dealing with hatred, racism and mental health requires speaking about them plainly.

Lewis, who turns 50 this year, moved to Canada from Jamaica as a child.

She’s the first black woman to run to lead the Conservative party, creating a controversy last month when a relatively new group called the Association of Black Conservatives endorsed her rival Erin O’Toole.

In a subsequent email to supporters far longer than the her traditional policy pitch, Lewis railed against them, accusing them of being a Liberal-lite organization testing out tactics to bring her down if she wins the leadership.

Among the things she pointed out: a candidate questionnaire from the group that included questions like “What steps have you taken to address the under-representation of the black population in national politics?”

If they were true conservatives, Lewis argued, they’d know identity politics is a dangerous game for the party.

“To focus on what makes us different, whether that’s race, gender or religion, rather than what we have in common, has never served to bring people together,” she said. 

Some black leaders spoke out against the endorsement, and eventually O’Toole walked away.

“Engaging the black community and other communities in Canada that have largely not traditionally supported our party is going to be key to our path towards electoral victory,” he said on social media. 

Winning a leadership race, though, is also about courting traditionally supportive groups within a party. For Lewis, there have been some easy links and others harder to forge.

As a suburban mother of two, she’s not personally close to the debate around guns.

But firearms associations are among the best-organized groups in the conservative landscape.

Lewis, who says she sleeps somewhere between four and five hours a night, put her academic training to work. She has three postgraduate degrees and works as a lawyer.

“Because I understand the Constitution, I understand democratic ideals and our parliamentary system, it’s an easy transition to then say ‘OK, what are the principles that tie into these ideals?’ and that’s basically how I approach my policy,” she said.

Socially conservative groups in Canada — a faction whose political clout is also significant — have had her back from the beginning.

Lewis is part of a huge evangelical church group, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

In a rare personal glimpse into her life, she sent an email last month reflecting on her decision not to terminate a pregnancy while she was in law school, despite significant pressure to do so.

Questions about her positions on social issues have followed her throughout the campaign, given how spectacularly current leader Andrew Scheer was hammered for his, and whether in turn she could win a general election.

Lewis said her beliefs aren’t the problem, but that the propensity of many Conservatives not to clearly articulate their own views makes opponents’ claims that they have a “hidden agenda” too plausible for voters.

By making her plans clear — include banning sex-selection abortions and increasing funding for centres that counsel women against terminating pregnancies — she said she hopes she can convince Canadians to accept them and move on.

Lewis pointed to her past legal work advocating on behalf of gay HIV-positive inmates as proof she can — and will — fight for everyone’s rights if she’s elected.

“That’s what Canadians want to see in a leader,” she said.

Whether or how that would extend to women’s rights to access abortions, or the expansion of LGBTQ rights, she wouldn’t say.

Breaking into the club of elected Conservatives has been another challenge for her:  Lewis has never held elected office, and yet is trying to vault straight to the top.

She has secured endorsements from several social-conservative MPs, despite one of their own also running in the race — Ontario MP Derek Sloan.

Even if she loses the leadership race, she said, she intends to run for a seat as an MP in the next election.

“I think that I have a very unique role in the party to play.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 2, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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