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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

Timeline of Kenney’s seesaw COVID-19 protocols

Kenney announces Alberta returns to a state of emergency. After many promises from the premier that Alberta will not introduce a vaccine passport, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will now be mandatory for participating businesses and social events.

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On the heels of new lockdown measures in Alberta, The Western Standard reviews Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s seesaw approach to dealing with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

March 20, 2020 – Four days after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic, Alberta cities including Calgary declared local states of emergency and shut down most non-essential businesses and serviced. Alberta also declared a provincial public state of emergency and closed all schools.

May 13, 2020 – Alberta enters a Stage 1 re-opening plan allowing businesses, like restaurants and retailers, to reopen with social distancing restrictions.

June 12, 2020 – Stage 2 is introduced earlier than expected, allowing theatres, massage therapists and hair salons as well as libraries to open. Alberta’s state of emergency ends after nearly three months.

August 4, 2020 – The province mandates back-to-school mask use for students in grades four to 12.

October 26, 2020 – Alberta introduces a limit of no more than 15 people for social gatherings.

November 12, 2020 – Tighter restrictions are introduced in restaurants and bars, including an earlier last call for alcohol.

November 24, 2020 – The province announces new and even tighter restrictions banning social gatherings, limits attendance numbers in churches and funerals and closes Alberta high schools.

November 25, 2020 – A Facebook post from Kenney states “We decided not to proceed with a lockdown because of the profound damage it would cause to Albertans, thereby deepening the mental health crisis and leaving many to despair. We will not let political pressure or ideological approaches cause indiscriminate damage to people’s lives and livelihoods.”

December 8, 2020 – Despite Kenney’s announcement less than two weeks earlier, the province is plunged into another full lockdown. All indoor and outdoor social gatherings are banned and non-essential businesses are forced to close including restaurants.

January 14, 2021 – Restrictions on outdoor gatherings are eased and personal service businesses, including massage and hair salons, are allowed to reopen.

January 29, 2021 – Premier Jason Kenney announces “The Path Forward” framework, allowing for an incremental easing of restrictions over three stages. Benchmark metrics were set based on hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients and a minimum wait period of three weeks between each phase.

February 8, 2021 – “Step 1” of The Path Forward plan begins with Alberta easing some restrictions on restaurants, kids sports and indoor fitness.

March 1, 2021 – Kenney announces “Step 2” phasing in low-intensity fitness classes; however, earlier benchmarks were ignored and the remainder of Phase 2 was delayed until March 8 when libraries, retailers, banquets, etc. were permitted to resume at varied levels of capacity. Sports programs were also allowed to resume with limits on participants and social-distancing measures.

March 22, 2021 – Again ignoring previously-set benchmarks, the province announces, due to a surge in COVID cases brought on by variants of concern, “Step 3” would be paused until COVID patients are under 300 and declining.

April 6, 2021 – Premier Kenney rolls Alberta back to “Step 1” until further notice moving the goalposts yet again, stating restaurants in the province were only allowed to offer outdoor dining service.

April 29, 2021 – Kenney announces targeted heath measures specific to regions where there were higher numbers of COVID cases. Schools in those regions were to switch to online learning, indoor gyms were to close and all indoor sports activity were to be suspended. This would last for two weeks.

May 4, 2021 – New restrictions are announced again province-wide. All schools including post-secondary institutions were moved to online learning, indoor recreation activities were shut down and in-person dining was prohibited as of May 10. In those areas with high case counts, gatherings were limited to 5, retail stores went to 10% capacity, personal care services were closed and outdoor gatherings were limited to immediate family members only. 

May 25, 2021 – Students were permitted to return to in-person learning. The next day, Kenney announced he was replacing his “Plan Forward” strategy with the “Open for Summer” plan, based on vaccination progress and hospitalization numbers.

June 18, 2021 – Kenney announces “Step 3” would be implemented July 1.

July 1, 2021 – Kenney announces Alberta is “Open for Summer” and nearly all remaining public heath orders are lifted including mask mandates, self-isolation requirements, scaled back testing and contact tracing.

July, 2021 – Kenney, while attending a Calgary Stampede pancake breakfast, is recorded saying he swears to God the province is “open for good.”

July 29, 2021 – The province announces major changes to the COVID-19 protocols on testing, self-isolation and contact tracing. Testing would now only be for the symptomatic; self-isolating is no longer mandatory and AHS would stop close-contact contact tracing.

Sept 4, 2021 – Alberta brings back mandatory masking for all indoor public spaces and work places. Restaurants are ordered to end alcohol service at 10 p.m.

Sept 15, 2021 – Kenney announces Alberta returns to a state of emergency. After many promises from the premier Alberta will not introduce a vaccine passport, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will now be mandatory for participating businesses and social events. As of September 20, restaurants will have to shut their dining rooms and only provide service on their patios or take-out meals until they have a vaccine passport system in place which will then offer them exemptions. The province will also continue a curfew of 10 p.m. for liquor sales. Forced social distancing returns and it will be illegal for unvaccinated people to attend social functions in homes. Vaccinated families can have friends come over from one other vaccinated house to a total of 10 people. Along with other restrictions, mandatory work from home orders are also back in place.

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MAKICHUK: TOP SECRET – Meet the real-life James Bonds

“We haven’t had a female Bond in the films, but there are already lots in real life.”

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Like James Bond, they cross borders with fake identities and passports.

They operate in small isolated teams and have access to the full array of 007 gadgets designed by the spies’ Q section.

Its members are famed for not always looking like soldiers. Some speak different languages and can pass as foreign nationals.

The standing joke is that they could fit in at an embassy party or a whorehouse in Istanbul.

And just like Bond, they are all highly trained in firearms and hand-to-hand combat.

In fact, their training is considered “amazing even by SAS standards.”

But unlike the fictional 007 character, these assets don’t work for MI6, the famed British Secret Intelligence Service.

They are an elite section of the SAS, known as “The Increment.”

According to a report in the UK’s The Sun, the existence of the secret unit, “E Squadron,” was inadvertently confirmed this week when bungling Army top brass leaked the personal details of more than 70 Special Forces troops.

Buried deep in a spreadsheet of 1,200 soldiers’ names, trades and military units was a single reference to “22 SAS E SQN.”

It was the first written proof that the unit exists.

E Squadron is the fifth and newest limb of 22 SAS, the world’s most famous Special Forces regiment, whose motto is Who Dares Wins.

But its work is so secret that its troops are kept apart from the other four Sabre Squadrons, A, B, D and G, at their headquarters in Hereford, the Sun report said.

The squadron’s main task is to work with MI6 on top missions all over the globe.

SAS legend Andy McNab spent three years with the unit from 1991 to 1993, after his patrol in the first Gulf War which he wrote about in his book Bravo Two Zero.

He said the unit — which was hand-picked from the SAS — was “the closest to what James Bond does” of any British secret service.

But almost 30 years after he left, he said his work was still too secret to reveal, the Sun report said.

Another former member, who asked not to be named, said: “We were moving in and out of countries on different passports. Always in civvies, overseas all the time. It was busy.

“It was the James Bond stuff — use your imagination.”

The ex-member added: “You had to be able to blend in. People were picked for their ability to do undercover work.”

While some MI6 officers are firearms trained, it is never to the same level as their counterparts in E Squadron.

The former soldier said: “MI6 and MI5 are always distancing themselves from James Bond, saying they aren’t really like that. It’s true — spies aren’t like James Bond, they’re eggheads. Give them a gun, they wouldn’t know what to do with it.

“E Squadron solves that problem but they do a lot more as well.”

The places where they often have to work, using civilian cover identities, make it impossible to be armed, so they are all trained in deadly hand-to-hand combat, the Sun report said.

SAS author Chris Ryan served with Andy McNab on the 1991 Bravo Two Zero mission, in which a SAS patrol was deployed into Iraq during the first Gulf War to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s war strategy.

Says Ryan: “To be in the Increment is to be the best of the best.”

According to SOFREP.com, The Increment are strictly black ops — deniable missions that would be disavowed by the British government if compromised.

These could include:

  • Secret military assistance to foreign powers
  • Clandestine insertion and extraction of intelligence agents
  • Covert reconnaissance/intelligence gathering

Today E Squadron’s members are drawn from the three Tier One Special Forces units — the SAS, the SBS and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, the Sun report said.

The SBS provides specialist frogmen and mini-submersibles which can be used to insert teams undetected on foreign shores.

The SRR, whose soldiers specialize in plain-clothes surveillance operations around the world, provides a large number of women.

The unit was formed out of 14 Intelligence Company, which was known as the Det, and operated undercover in Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles.

A source said: “Women are often the best at this sort of work. If a group of blokes turns up, it always looks suspicious.

“We haven’t had a female Bond in the films, but there are already lots in real life.”

The Increment’s troops were among the first British soldiers in Afghanistan, ahead of the US invasion in 2001.

They were also involved in the 2011 uprising in Libya which toppled Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Sun said.

A former E Squadron soldier said the unit was heavily involved in Iraq in the run-up to the 2003 invasion.

He said: “E Squadron are military people. They have rules of engagement.

“Is it a licence to kill? It is certainly not carte blanche. But the nature of soldiering means it’s sometimes necessary to take life. Everyone is trained in deadly force.”

Dave Makichuk is a Western Standard contributor
He has worked in the media for decades, including as an editor for the Calgary Herald. He is also the military editor for the Asia Times.
makichukd@gmail.com

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Features

Why does this BC area have the rudest postal code in Canada?

The area of Canada that easily takes the title for most unfortunate postcode has to be a street in Delta East Central: V4G1N4 (VAGINA). 

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A U.K. online business — apparently with buckets of time on its hands — has researched and unveiled what it calls “Canada’s rudest” postal codes.

Research by Money.co.uk shows the most unusual and awkward postal codes (the wacky Brits called it a “postcode”) in Canada and the UK and looked at the potential it can have on house prices.

As every maple-syrup blooded Canuck knows, Canadian postal codes contain a six-digit string of numbers and letters to create the final outcome, if one ignores the hyphen that splits the codes 

Using numeronyms —words where a number is used to form an abbreviation — the Brits discovered some odd pairings.

For example, in Timmins, Ont. you’ll find the postcode P4N-1C5. Nothing too eye-popping there until you dissolve the hyphen and are left with P4N1C5 (PANICS).

M4X1M5  (MAXIM) is more associated with a mens’ mag, not a vibrant area of downtown Toronto.

In another example, one area of Winnipeg sports the R3L1C5 (RELICS) code. 

However, the area of Canada that easily takes the title for most unfortunate postcode has to be a street in Delta East Central: V4G1N4 (VAGINA). 

The Brit release noted with the average Canadian house price currently around $716,828, living in a postcode such as V4G1N4 may actually effect your house price. However, no proof of the claim was offered.

Here are the top 21 most unusual/amusing postcodes in Canada:
• B3G1N5 (begins) Eastern Passage, NS;

• B4N4N4 (banana) Kentville, NS;

• L1V1N6 (living) Pickering Southwest, ON:

• L3C3L5 (levels) Orilla, ON:

• L4G3R5 (lagers) Aurora, ON;

• M4G1C5 (magics) East York (Leaside), ON;

• M4L1C3 (malice) East Toronto (India Bazaar / The Beaches West), ON;

• M4R1N3 (marine) Central Toronto (North Toronto West), ON;

• P3N1L3 (penile) Greater Sudbury (Val Caron), ON;

• P4N1C5 (panics) Timmins Southeast, ON;

• R3J3C7 (reject) Winnipeg (St. James-Assiniboia SE), MB;

• R3L1C5 (relics) Winnipeg (River Heights East), MB;

• R3M0V3 (remove) Winnipeg (River Heights Central), MB;

• R3T1R3 (retire) Winnipeg (Fort Garry NE / University of Manitoba), MB;

• S3N1L3 (senile) Yorkton, SK;

• S7R0K3 (stroke) Saskatoon Northwest, SK;

• T1R1N6 (tiring) Brooks, AB;

• V1C4R5 (vicars) Cranbrook, BC;

• V1K1N6 (Viking) Merritt, BC;

• V1X3N5 (vixens) Kelowna East Central, BC;

V4G1N4 (vagina) Delta East Central, BC.

Mike D’Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief for the Western Standard.
mdamour@westernstandardonline.com

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