Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Fed plans inquiry into disappearance of B.C. sockeye

OTTAWA – Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Thursday the federal government will convene a judicial inquiry to investigate the disappearance of millions of sockeye salmon from B.C.’s Fraser River fishery.

Trade Minister Stockwell Day, who is also the regional minister for B.C., will be in Vancouver Friday to name the judge who will head the inquiry and to announce the inquiry’s terms of reference.

The government will ask the inquiry, which will have the legal power to compel witnesses to testify, to begin its work early in the new year and report back to the government by May 2011.

B.C.’s salmon fishery has been devastated by the mysterious loss of sockeye salmon. Just 1,723 tonnes of sockeye were harvested as the fish returned from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in the Fraser River.

In 2000, more than 8,800 tonnes of salmon were harvested.

The disappearance of the B.C. salmon is all the more mysterious because, while B.C. stocks have declined, other Pacific fishing grounds in Russia, Alaska and Japan are reporting higher-than-expected harvests.

Fishers in B.C.’s lower mainland have been at a loss to explain the disappearance, suggesting the contributing factors could range from overfishing – aboriginals and Alaskans are often blamed, frequently for no reason – to federal conservation policies, to a natural disaster.

In convening the inquiry, the Conservatives say they are fulfilling a campaign promise made during the 2006 general election.

The federal New Democrats, who are the chief competitor to the Conservatives in many B.C. ridings outside of Vancouver and Victoria, say they’ve been calling for an inquiry for weeks.


Canucks seek H1N1 vaccine in U.S.

ST. PAUL, Minn. - Vancouver Canuck winger Steve Bernier has flu-like symptoms and been isolated from teammates, but the National Hockey League team doesn’t yet know if it’s a case of swine flu.

Bernier, absent from the Canucks’ morning skate ahead of tonight’s NHL game against the Minnesota Wild, has been given his own hotel room and will return to Vancouver on Friday, general manager Mike Gillis told The Vancouver Sun.

“There are other types of flu, too,” Gillis said, aware of the hysteria over H1N1. “We won’t know until he has a throat swab and a full examination.”

The Canucks have been playing without as many as eight players due to injury – the expected return tonight of checking centre Ryan Johnson still leaves six players out – and can ill-afford a flu outbreak.

The Calgary Flames’ queue-jumping for H1N1 vaccinations this week sparked widespread outrage, and Gillis insisted the Canucks have no intention of doing the same in B.C.

He said, however, the team will explore the feasibility of getting vaccinated during the Canucks’ five-game, 11-day road trip through the United States, where H1N1 vaccine may be more available through this country’s private, for-profit healthcare system.

“Obviously, there’s a limited supply, so it may be unrealistic,” Gillis said. “We’re going to look into it.”

Several weeks ago, the Canucks scheduled flu shots for their players during the week of Nov. 15, when Vancouver has five days between games after its road trip ends Nov. 14 in Denver. But there is no guarantee vaccine will be available to them in B.C., which is why the Canucks will try to get H1N1 vaccine in the U.S.

Ideally, players should be vaccinated at least a couple of days before playing to allow time for short-term side effects. After playing Friday night in Dallas, the Canucks do not play again until Tuesday in St. Louis.

If vaccine can not be obtained, the Canucks will wait their turn in Vancouver, Gillis said.

“We’re in line with everybody else,” he said.


Ontario minister angry as pro athletes jump H1N1 queue

TORONTO – Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews is unsure whether professional hockey and basketball players who jumped the queue to receive their H1N1 flu vaccine broke any rules.

Matthews says physicians and public-health officials have been asked to "respect the science" behind a decision to immunize certain groups before others. She was unclear, however, whether doctors who allowed professional athletes the vaccine ahead of priority patients could face sanctions.

"When it comes to the queue-jumpers, that’s one of the questions that I’m exploring right now," she told reporters. "I need to better understand that. And when I better understand that, I’ll share it with you."

Reports surfaced Thursday that some members and staff of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors had received the H1N1 flu shots ahead of other priority patients.

Earlier this week, it was revealed members of the Calgary Flames hockey team had been vaccinated en masse; the Alberta government fired a health official in response.

The Ottawa Senators report that they’re waiting in line like other non-priority patients.

It is unknown exactly who on the Toronto teams received the vaccination.

Last week, public health officials announced a sudden shortage of the vaccine and issued an edict that only priority groups are to be vaccinated.

The priority groups include people under 65 with chronic conditions, pregnant women, children between six months and five years, health care workers, people in contact with children under six months old and people living in remote communities.

Matthews said she was upset to hear pro athletes – and possibly the people who treat them – had decided not to abide by the province’s request.

"I don’t care who you are, how rich you are, how famous you are. If you’re not in the priority group, get out of line and let the people who are in priority groups get their vaccination," she said. "We will be expanding access to vaccine as quickly as we have the supply available. In the meantime, the priority groups have got to go first."

Ontario will open vaccinations to a second group of target patients as soon as supply permits.

They include school-aged children between 5-18 years old, medical first responders like ambulance personnel and firefighters, as well as swine and poultry workers.


Current vaccines provide good protection against H1N1 pandemic: WHO

GENEVA – The H1N1 swine flu virus has picked up steam in the northern hemisphere and is expected to cause more serious infections and deaths as cold weather sets in, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Thursday.

But the virus is not known to have mutated, including in people infected in a large outbreak in Ukraine, meaning that the current pandemic vaccines are expected to confer "good protection", it said in a statement.

Mexico is reporting more H1N1 cases than early in the pandemic, which began in April, and the United States shows higher levels of flu-like illness than in past years, top WHO flu expert Keiji Fukuda said. Swine flu is also on the rise in Europe and Central Asia.

"We anticipate seeing continued or increased activity during the winter period in the northern hemisphere. This also means that we expect to see continued reports of serious cases and deaths," Fukuda told a news conference. "At WHO we remain quite concerned about the pattern that we are seeing."

Most people recover without specialised medical care for symptoms such as fever, cough and sore throat, but pregnant women and people with underlying chronic conditions like asthma are at higher risk of potentially fatal complications, he said.

At least 5,712 people worldwide have died from swine flu, which is now present in virtually every country, according to the United Nations agency. Most serious illness and fatalities occur in patients younger than 65, a different pattern to seasonal influenza, which traditionally strikes the elderly.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said that as of Wednesday, some 500,000 cases of acute respiratory illness and 86 related deaths had been reported in Ukraine.


Pandemic vaccines given to millions of people in some 20 countries in recent weeks have shown them to be "very safe", providing protection with no unusual side effects, Fukuda said.

However, the WHO has yet to receive some 200 million vaccine doses donated by 11 countries, which are intended for distribution in 95 poor countries lacking supplies, he said.

"Vaccine companies out there are producing as much vaccine as quickly as possible. Much of the vaccine has been allocated to different countries on the basis of contracts," he added, referring to deals between drugmakers and governments.

GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi-Aventis are among some 25 companies producing pandemic vaccine.

The known cases of resistance to antiviral drugs have been "isolated and infrequent", according to Fukuda.

"We see no evidence at all that there is widespread occurrence of antiviral resistance," he said.

Antiviral drugs such as oseltamivir, marketed by Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding as Tamiflu, are considered the frontline drug against the H1N1 virus.

Norway’s decision to allow over-the-counter sales of the drug so as to relieve stress on primary health-care systems appears to be "innovative and prudent", Fukuda said.

H1N1 has caused a small number of infections in swine herds, turkeys in Chile and Canada and a few domestic pets in the United States, but these isolated events pose no special risks to human health, WHO said in the statement.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Lynn in Geneva and Kate Kelland in London; editing by Philippa Fletcher)


Neighbours of alleged U.S. serial killer smelled something foul

CLEVELAND – Neighbours of alleged U.S. serial killer Anthony Sowell had apparently complained about a foul smell for years, but many believed it was coming from a sausage factory next door.

The 50-year-old convicted rapist was arraigned Wednesday on a string of murder charges as investigators examined the gruesome remains of up to 11 bodies unearthed at his home in Cleveland, Ohio.

Local councilman Zack Reed said he would push for an independent investigation into why complaints about the smell didn’t lead to an earlier discovery.

"Residents are mad and they have every right to be mad," he told AFP.

Reed said his office called the public health department about two and a half years ago after a neighbor reported the smell. He wondered whether an earlier detection could have prevented some of the murders.

"I know darned well that our health department should have been able to tell the difference between the smell of a dead body and the smell of dead meat," he told AFP.

At the arraignment hearing, defense lawyers argued unsuccessfully that Sowell should be granted bail as he had a heart condition that required him to wear a pacemaker and had other undisclosed medical problems.

Prosecutors were adamant the alleged serial killer, who has already served a 15-year stint behind bars for a 1989 rape, should continue to be kept under lock and key.

"The state believes he is an incredibly dangerous threat to the public," assistant county prosecutor Brian Murphy told the hearing.

A frail looking Sowell stared straight ahead at judge Ronald Adrine as he was ordered to remain in jail pending trial on five charges of aggravated murder. Police said they expected further charges to follow.

"After 26 years on the bench, this is without question the most serious set of allegations I’ve ever faced," said Adrine, refusing bail due to the "gruesome nature" of the crimes and the defendant’s criminal history.

The horrific murders came to light last Thursday when police went to Sowell’s house to arrest him on unrelated rape and assault charges for a September attack on a woman who survived.

Sowell was not in but instead police discovered the decomposing bodies of six women over two days in the house and yard.

Four were reportedly found rotting in the back garden with other remains inside the house. Investigators unearthed four more bodies and a skull at the property on Tuesday, bringing the total number of victims to a possible 11.

"We have located 10 bodies and a singular skull," Cleveland police spokesman Thomas Stacho told AFP. "It is not known yet if the skull is an 11th victim."

The first six bodies have all been identified as African-American women and coroners are working on the sex and race of the rest with the help of an anthropologist from a local museum. At least five of the women were strangled.

None of the victims have yet been formally identified and earlier in the week worried family members clasped photos of missing loved-ones outside the Sowell house, fearing the worst.

Local ministers met with the city’s police chief Wednesday to offer their support for families and friends of victims once they have been identified.

Sowell was arrested on Saturday after a local resident recognized him walking down the street and notified police. He did not try to resist arrest.

Neighbours said his family had lived for many years at the relatively well-kept house in Imperial Avenue, where he had returned in 2005 after being released from prison.

On unemployment benefits after being laid off from his job about two years ago, Sowell lived on the third floor and liked to sit on the concrete front steps at the front of the house.

He was often spotted rolling a shopping cart down the street collecting cans and scrap, said residents in the poor Cleveland neighborhood, which is dotted with vacant and boarded-up buildings.

"It’s a hard pill to swallow," said Wanda Thomas, who has lived in the neighborhood for decades. "People used to look out for each other. Now people are scared," she told AFP.

Police said they planned to search vacant buildings within a half-mile radius of Sowell’s home, looking for additional bodies.

Sowell’s case will now be forwarded to a grand jury. He faces a possible death penalty if found guilty.