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SLOBODIAN: Winnipeg mother who lost two children to overdoses speaks out

In 2020, drug-related overdoses claimed 372 lives in the province, a disturbing increase of 87% over 2019.

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Winnipeg’s Janis Gillam vividly recalls walking into her daughter Phoebe’s Grade One classroom on the parent-teacher night and seeing a wall decorated with pictures of turkeys, coloured by the students. One rainbow-coloured turkey stood out. She immediately knew it was Phoebe’s.

With so many colours, there was no need to just use brown, orange and black like everyone else, explained Phoebe. Admiring her own creativity, she added: “So beautiful, it can’t help but make you smile, mommy.”

So, what happened to the joyful little girl who coloured a rainbow turkey all those years ago? She grew up to become a statistic in the grim findings recently released by Manitoba’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

In 2020, drug-related overdoses claimed 372 lives in the province, a disturbing increase of 87% over 2019. The majority of these deaths involved opioids, including fentanyl. Death by methamphetamines came in second.

These are preliminary findings. The number of deaths in the age 10-19 category is pending confirmation. One victim was over 81.

Manitoba’s hike was particularly sharp, but drug deaths in 2020 increased across Canada. Experts agree that COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions, coupled with increasingly toxic street drugs laced with fentanyl, contributed to this crisis.

The ravages of addiction took Gillam’s daughter away from her, long before last July 26, when mother of two Phoebe Wilson, 31, died of a fentanyl-related overdose in the apartment of someone she’d met hours earlier – one day before she was scheduled to enter treatment.

“This addiction takes over and they aren’t your child anymore. She wasn’t my baby anymore. She was a different person,” says Gillam.

At 18, Phoebe injured her back and used opioids to ease the pain. When the prescriptions stopped she fed her addiction with easily available street drugs.

It didn’t take long for the personality of the beautiful, bubbly, gifted artist, who won an art award in her senior year, to disappear. Her abstract works became dark and sad, then ceased when she could no longer use her hands to draw.

Those with loved ones struggling with severe addictions pray, try to help, cling to hope, yet fear the day that dreaded phone call may come.

Police didn’t call. They arrived in person to tell Gillam her daughter was dead and handed her a Ziplock bag with Phoebe’s ring in it.

“She led a torturous life because she was using. Someone looked down on her and said enough,” says Gillam.

“Phoebe fought hard. She was a warrior. She fought a tough battle with addiction and mental health issues. She was in and out of programs and rehab many times. She was a crash-and-burn type of addict. She could be clean for a year or longer, then use.”

Still reeling from Phoebe’s death, another drug overdose death shattered Gillam’s family last December when her stepson Chris Read, 37, a father who lived in B.C., died of a fentanyl-related overdose. No one knew he was using drugs.

Chris Read

“He was at a party. They were in a circle, drinking and having a gay old time. He just collapsed. We lost two children in less than five months,” says Gillam.

On holidays, Gillam decorates a tree in her front yard and sets up a memorial for Phoebe and Chris. Many people stop to talk about someone they know battling addiction, or someone they’ve lost to overdoses. So, the 87% increase in deaths in 2020 doesn’t surprise Gillam.

She belongs to Overdose Awareness Manitoba, a support group lobbying the province to offer medically-assisted detox and long-term treatment, as well as, set up safe consumption sites.

Premier Brian Pallister recently said the province is investing more resources into dealing with wellness and healing, but safe injection sites are not planned for Manitoba.

The government isn’t alone in its opposition to safe injection sites. Many argue they support drug use and infringe on the rights of area residents, posing a threat to their safety by attracting drug users and predators.

More resources are definitely needed to help people heal their emotional wounds enough to find the hope and strength to beat addictions.

More police resources are needed to crack down on the thriving illegal drug trade.

Until greedy dealers, who lace drugs with fentanyl and other synthetic opioids to increase their profits, are mercilessly hunted down, the problem will prevail.

Until then, more current addicts, as well as innocent little ones now safe in classrooms, will eventually become statistics on a medical examiner’s report.

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Political Columnist for the Western Standard

Linda Slobodian is the Manitoba Senior Columnist for the Western Standard. She has been an investigative columnist with the Calgary Herald, Calgary Sun, Edmonton Sun, and Alberta Report. lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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  1. Left Coast

    May 12, 2021 at 10:36 am

    “Safe” injection sites are a disaster!
    One only has to look at the outcome of Canada’s first in Vancouver.
    After it opened in 2003 . . . the addict population went through the roof. Allies near Main Street in Chinatown that once held a few dozen addicts became populated with 100s.
    The saddest joke was how the Injection Site measured their success . . . no one died a sidewalk section on each side of their building . . . and they deemed that a success!

    Meanwhile Union Gospel Mission, has over the decades saved 1000s from Drugs & Alcohol doing it the old fashioned way . . . redemption & personal responsibility!

    In my opinion . . . Injection Sites are ENABLERS . . . they coddle and enable addicts to continue to destroy themselves . . . after almost 20 years in Vancouver . . . they still cannot point to a single person they have saved!

    Manitoba total Covid deaths 997 to date over 14 months . . . drug deaths over that period likely very similar . . . Almost ALL the fentanyl comes from China.

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Features

Alberta’s cross-border quarantine gong show

What she experienced, and shared in an interview with the Western Standard, is not something Jen wants to happen again.

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Jen thought it would be a breezy five-hour drive from Montana back to Alberta last Saturday.

She could not have been more wrong. Instead, it was what she called “one gong show after another.” Her name has been changed and the name of her hometown and small manufacturing business withheld.

After what she went through, she wants no cause for further hassle at the border. What she experienced, and shared in an interview with the Western Standard, is not something she wants to happen again.

SIX MINUTES BECAME TWO DAYS

When Jen pulled up to the border crossing at Sweet Grass, Montana just days ago, she didn’t expect any problems. She had taken the border crossing, 100 km southwest of Lethbridge, a few times before without incident.

“I’m a trucker and I can bring my product back across the border. An import number and licence gives me the ability to do that as often as I need without having to have the testing done and the quarantine,” Jen said.

The process normally takes six minutes, but not this time. When the border guard found out the Canadian woman had been in Montana for ten days, she decided that was too long, and declared her a non-essential traveller.

“I asked her what the time limit is so I know for next time, and she said, ‘Well there really isn’t one.’ …That was at her discretion.”

The border agent sent her to the nurse. Jen had not done a COVID-19 test within the previous 72 hours because essential travellers do not need to do so. Having been arbitrarily denied that status, she now had three choices.

“One option was to go back to the United States and get a COVID test and wait and then re-enter. My second option was to do the quarantine hotel. And my third option was to claim non-compliance, in which case they would come to my home and give me a $5,000 to $10,000 fine. So I chose the hotel.”

Jen recalled how the nurse laughed and said: “’This is so ridiculous. I can’t believe I have to make you do this, but I do.’

So she gave me a little square of paper and it said, ‘Go directly to the airport.’ The address was on it for the airport in Calgary, drive to Gate 17…Do not exit your vehicle. Phone this number, someone will come. They’re waiting for you. And they will escort you to the quarantine hotel.”

Because the drive was three and-a-half hours, Jen was given four hours to get there. Any later than that, and she would have faced penalties for non-compliance. She made it in time, but five attempts at the phone number gave the same message: ‘This number is not in service.’ Was it because she had an American phone?

At some risk of defying the rules, she walked out of the car and into the airport where she found 10 police officers assembled. She explained her problem and they phoned on her behalf. The number worked for them, and it was the Red Cross. They told her to return to her vehicle and someone would pick her up.

Fifteen minutes later, a man in a large black van rolled up and asked for her name.

“Then he said, ‘Follow me.’ You know, my mama taught me not to follow strangers in a van, but whatever. So I followed this gentleman. We pull up at a hotel. Now this is very odd. There was no markings on this hotel whatsoever.

“This is now 11:30 at night in a rainstorm. There’s three men dressed in full PPE. They had a mask, they had goggles, they had a shield, they had rubber gloves, they had booties on their shoes, and they had a white gown. And I get out of my car, and they say, ‘Get whatever you need out of your car put on this cart because you will not be allowed out of your room after this point.’”

QUARANTINE HOTEL

The hotel looked like a work in progress.

“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a project that is they’re going to be sanding or something and so they mask everything off and there’s plastic everywhere. And that’s what the hotel was like. You go in a back door escorted by two men, and it’s a very sci-fi movie – sneaky, everything’s sneaky, sneaky … I couldn’t have found my way out of that hotel if I would have tried because it’s like a haunted house. Everything masked off and broken.”

A Red Cross employee got an item from the front desk, took her to her room and put the item on the metal doorframe of the door. When she asked what it was, he claimed it was a colour-coded item that clarified the age category in each room. 

“I said, ‘That one’s green. What category is green?’

“‘Oh, middle aged.’

“I said, ‘How old am I?’

“‘Well, I don’t know that.’

“That doesn’t make any sense. Like what’s that? Clearly your b.s.’ing me to death.”

She took a picture of it and sent it to her son who is a sheriff.

“He says, ‘Oh, that’s a sensor so that when you open the door, it’s sending somebody a signal that you’ve opened your door.’”

She made a phone call of her own for a COVID-19 test. The company would only serve her if she named the hotel she was at. “You got to choose your meals for the next day on the menu and really tiny print is the name of the hotel.” Having told them, a COVID-19 test was scheduled for 4 p.m. the following day.

Door sensor or not, Jen said she got calls every 45 minutes to confirm that she was still in her room.

“They don’t even put like latches on windows. The windows don’t open. No getting out of there.”

Although staff got close enough to take her temperature, they wouldn’t come in the room.

“When they bring you your food, it’s in a brown paper bag and they just set it on a plastic bucket outside this green tape square and bang on your door. And then they leave and then you can come out and get your food.”

Jen had bad experiences with nasal swabs in the past, saying she “sounded like I had snorted fiberglass.” When someone arrived to do her test on Sunday, she chose the throat swab instead. During the interview on Tuesday, her throat was still sore.

“My throat is, it’s like cut. And I’m gargling with salt water. I don’t know what are on those swabs, but there’s something horrible on them.”

COVID NEGATIVE AND STILL CAPTIVE

Sunday night turned to Monday morning.

“I have all my test results back the next morning at 7 a.m. Now you’d think you would be able to go, right? My tests are negative? No, you can’t go. So when you get your tests, you phone this Red Cross number. So I phone the Red Cross number I start phoning at eight o’clock. No answer. Leave messages. But all circuits are busy. I must have phoned 15 to 20 times.”

Jen had had enough.

I thought I’m going to cause a nuisance until they let me out of here. So I just went out in the hallway. The guard stood up and he came at me and he said, ‘Get in here. Return to your room immediately.’

“I said ‘No, I will not actually. My test results come back and I need to leave now.’”

The guard tried to phone the Red Cross.

“So this went on three times. I had to go out in the hallway three times and upset the guard. Finally someone from the Red Cross phoned me. She said, ‘Listen, the quarantine officer who has to sign off to let you out is at the airport. And she’s busy because three airplanes full of people have just come in internationally and she needs to deal with all of them. So it could be up to 48 hours before she can get here.’”

The idea of a detention until Wednesday for a Saturday trip did not sit well with her.

“I got a little upset and caused some grief and this made a nuisance of myself because I thought that’s how I’m gonna get out of here. And so I’m about four hours after that someone knocks on my door and I don’t know who it is. They say we’re so and so with the Red Cross. The quarantine officer can’t leave the airport. So she sent us to just get a picture of your results to text to her.”

After two hours pass, Jen created another hassle and called again. Someone knocked on her door with signed discharge papers and orders to self-isolate for 14 days.

“Doesn’t say anything about taking any more tests. And it says, ‘To remain from getting bored, we suggest getting your neighbor or friend to bring you sidewalk chalk so that you can doodle on your sidewalk inside of your property or make an obstacle course in your backyard.’”

Monday night at home gave way to Tuesday morning.

“I get a phone call this morning at 7:30, which I don’t answer because it comes up on my phone as spam. And the message says, ‘This is the Alberta Health District whatever, blah, blah, blah. You are required to answer our phone calls and you are required to take a test on day eight.’ 

“Well you didn’t give me a test. You gave me a discharge paper with nothing in it except making an obstacle course in my backyard!”

AMERICA, LAND OF THE FREE

Back in Canada, home sweet home is not so sweet now. America has spoiled her.

“I’m Canadian, I’m but I had just come from Montana. And I spent six months there in the winter time, and it’s just so free and open and their numbers are almost nothing. So to come from that back to this. There’s just such a, like it’s opposite. Night and day. People’s attitudes are different. I mean, just five days ago, I was sitting at a ballgame in a ballpark with 90 other people watching a ballgame, not one mask. I was in a band concert with 500 other people, no masks and then you come here and you can’t get out of your car without fully masking outside.

“I know the truth. And it’s good. It’s sweet. You can talk to people in the grocery store because they don’t have their masks on. Yeah, and you never hear of a vaccine. Nobody talks about it, nobody. I don’t know anybody that’s gotten it there. I know lots of people here but I don’t know one person there who’s got it.”

The contrast between Canada and the U.S. is something she still struggles to get over.

“There’s no COVID rules there. It’s as if COVID didn’t exist, there’s no masks. There’s no rule. There’s nothing. It’s 100% open, has been for about four months now. And the COVID numbers drop about 10 to 15% a day, and they have almost zero cases now. So you go there and you’re free to live your life, morally, right up until that border. And then two feet past that, you’ve got to mask up, gown, up. COVID is everywhere. It’s gonna kill you. You’ve got to go in these quarantine hotels.”

Getting to the land of the free may not be smooth. Jen has advice for those crossing the 49th parallel.

“Be prepared for anything because it all depends on who you get at the border. There are no rules that go steadfast.

“If it wasn’t for that one woman who initially stamped my paper [that] I’m non-essential, it would have been a breeze and a wonderful experience. And I would be on my merry way and doing my job now.”

Harding is a Western Standard reporter based in Saskatchewan

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ANALYSIS: New seat projection shows big shake-up in Alberta

Martin & Kioussis’s projection shows the UCP facing two battles: one against the NDP in the big cities, and another against Wildrose in the countryside.

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new poll conducted by Mainstreet Research for the Western Standard shows Alberta’s political landscape quickly evolving toward a three-party system. 

If an election were held today, the NDP would likely form a majority government, the UCP reduced to official opposition, and the Wildrose Independence Party would be on the cusp of entering the Alberta Legislature. 

In the poll of 1,010 Albertans, the NDP had the support of 35% of respondents, and the UCP 28%. Support for the Wildrose has risen from 9% in January to 16% of decided and leaning voters.

According to a Leger poll conducted at the end of April, Alberta’s provincial government is the least popular in Canada. Jason Kenney’s approval rating has dropped from a high of 63% in July 2020 to just 30% in May 2021.

Our modeling at LeanTossUp.ca projects how this all would break down into seats if the poll was translated into an election today.

Due to the large NDP gains from 2019, it now completely sweeps Edmonton, including winning many exurban ridings, and makes deep gains into Calgary. Our model projects the NDP is likely to win four seats in the communities surrounding Edmonton, and will expand their current Calgary caucus from three members to 18, more than enough to secure a majority government.

Even traditionally “safe” conservative seats in Calgary are now in play. Jason Kenney’s own constituency of Calgary-Lougheed, has tightened considerably, as his lead has slipped to only 17.2%, down from his 41.2% win in 2019.

The UCP is facing challenges on two fronts, with the NDP pressuring them in the cities and suburbs while the Wildrose have become serious alternative in rural and small-town Alberta. The COVID-19 pandemic has effectively positioned the UCP as a centrist party within Alberta’s political landscape, with one side believing COVID-19 restrictions were too lax, and the other side believing the restrictions went too far. 

The same Mainstreet Research poll for the Western Standard showed 52% of Albertans supported continued lockdowns, and 45% said that they should end immediately, however, the intensity of those opposed to lockdowns was more than twice that of those in support. 

The UCP attempted to walk a tightrope between the two sides, and essentially pleased no one, which is reflected in its low approval rating. 

The Wildrose is building a sizeable base of support without a permanent leader in place. The party has announced it will hold a leadership campaign from June 5 to August 27. The final vote is scheduled for August 28, 2021. Once a new leader that people can identify is in place, the party should continue to see more gains.

Under Alberta’s first-past-the-post electoral system, third parties need to target specific ridings where they can win first place. By averaging out the historic performance of the old Wildrose Party from 2012 and 2015, and smaller right-leaning parties in 2019, we were able to forecast how the Wildrose Independence Party might perform in different regions of the province today. 

Our results point towards success in Medicine Hat, the rural south, and Fort McMurray. The following map shows the best and worst ridings for the Wildrose, respectively. The ridings are shaded by rank for the Wildrose: its best riding is the darkest green, while the worst is the darkest blue.

Highlighting the best and worst ridings for the Wildrose shows their main competitors are the UCP, as the ridings that are strongest for the NDP (Edmonton, Northern Calgary) are among the worst for the Wildrose. Additionally, the Lethbridge and Red Deer seats are on the weaker side for the Wildrose, while the NDP currently only hold one of the four of them. In 2015, the NDP won all four. This shows while there are many UCP/NDP battles — the universe of UCP/WIP is also large — but are being waged in completely different constituencies. 

Using the Mainstreet Research numbers, we project the Wildrose would win Brooks-Medicine Hat – currently held by Michaela Glasgo of the UCP – in a near-tie, with 35% of the vote. The Wildrose would also take over 30% in Chestermere-Strathmore, Drumheller-Stettler, and Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills. That would be sufficient to win a three-way race, but these are the most conservative ridings in the province, where the NDP is expected to win only around 10% of the popular vote. 

In order to send multiple representatives to Edmonton, the Wildrose will need to pull even more conservatives away from Kenney’s UCP. 

Based on our analysis, that will start happening once 20% of decided voters support the Wildrose. Then more than a dozen ridings across the province would start to become competitive. Additionally, 20% of the vote is when local effects can start to matter. If the new party leader has a strong following and runs in a riding we’ve highlighted as being strong for the Wildrose, it’s very possible they would, even at current levels of support. 

The two-party system heralded by the 2019 election that saw all parties but the UCP and NDP shut out appears to be headed for an end if current trends hold up. 

Guest Column from Robert Martin & Nikos Kioussis
Robert Martin is the Founder and CEO of LeanTossUp.ca 
Nikos Kioussis is the Communications Director of LeanTossUp.ca 

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Features

Weightlifting mama rallies Regina freedom movement

“I’m just heavy in it with them as they’ve been for a whole year. So I may have came late to the party, but I came in blazing,” said Jazmyn RayAnn.

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In life and in activism, it took time for Jazmyn RayAnn to apply herself. Once she did, no one could stop her.

Except maybe the police.

Weeks before teenage COVID-19 vaccinations raised the ire of some parents, RayAnn and others tried in vain to approach the school board on masks. When the Regina school board had a scheduled meeting, it was time to make their presence felt.

“We decided to show up to join, thinking, they’re not gonna let us in, but we might as well try, right?” RayAnn said in an interview with the Western Standard.  

“A police officer came up to me and said, ‘They’re not allowing anyone in there. It’s a closed gathering…So here’s what I can do for you. I can go in there and talk to them for you. What was your name?’”

Against her better instincts, RayAnn said who she was. After the officer was unsuccessful at arranging an in-person meeting, he left.

“About 30 minutes later, it went from one cruiser to two cruisers to three cruisers to four cruisers to five cruisers, six cruisers. And he rolls up with all his friends with a ticket in his hand for the [April] 24th rally. And I said, ‘You bugger! You identified me with this whole different regard. And now you’re giving me this ticket because you knew who I am?’ And he’s like, ‘Yep,’ 

“What is the point in that, seriously? But at least they didn’t come to my house.”

Building a home got RayAnn’s life on track.

“After high school, I fell into some bad habits: drinking, partying, and overall wild. I didn’t care about myself. I didn’t have much for standards and I knew I was disappointing myself and my loved ones. It wasn’t until I met Sean that I started cleaning up my act. I got out of the party life, starting making and building a home with my man, and was trying to be the best me I could be,” she wrote on her LinkedIn profile as a fitness coach.

RayAnn has a son, and for the first year of COVID-19 restrictions, she followed all the orders.

“I played the game, I played it safe. I stayed home for two weeks, I pulled my kid out of school, I started doing school from home,” RayAnn recalled.

Her willingness to comply began to unravel after she put her son back in school in the fall.

“The guidelines and the restrictions and the mandates that they have in their welcome package – it was just unnecessary. And that’s when I was like, ‘Hey, this isn’t gonna work. I’m not going to be able to take my kids to school feeling confident that teachers have their best interest when they’re masking them and they can’t even tell me why.’

“I actually asked his superintendent to provide us with information that Sask Health Authority was giving them that made them decided to mandate the masks. And he was like, ‘Oh, we don’t have it, nor can we give it to you.’”

By January, RayAnn had had enough.

“I started losing sleep. I wasn’t looking forward to the future. My kid’s birthday was coming up…and this was now a year since we’ve complied… I was just like, ‘You know what? I’m done with it.’ So I started coming out to these rallies.”

RayAnn’s participation in freedom rallies has already earned her nine tickets. Although her total is three less than that of Tamara Lavoie, RayAnn has been recognized as a leading “freedom fighter” in her own right.

“I’m just heavy in it with them as they’ve been for a whole year. So, I may have came late to the party, but I came in blazing,” she said.

RayAnn has a trainer of her own and is growing her biceps as she learns to lift at the gym. She knows not all she encounters share her passion or perspective.

“I don’t want to convince anyone. I want to educate and have them just open their minds to the idea that there is a second side to the story, a side that they’re not getting told through the media, through the radio, through the schools, through the emails that they get from work….” she said.

“Don’t go get the vaccine, don’t go get tested just because they tell you to. Go look into it first, make that decision for yourself based on your own independent research…

“History repeats itself. And the only way we get into these situations that we’re in now is when they gain the trust of the public, and then put fear into the public to keep them in compliance. And they’ve done it in previous years. Hitler did it, right? So that’s where I’m at.”

Jazmyn RayAnn is the online handle for the subject of this article. Her real name is withheld for professional reasons.

Harding is a Western Standard correspondent based in Saskatchewan

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Petition: No Media Bailouts

We the undersigned call on the Canadian government to immediately cease all payouts to media companies.

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