Concerns Over Proposed Blood Test Law in BC

BC Liberal MLA Norm Letnick’s Private Member’s Bill M-210, the “Emergency Intervention Disclosure Act”, is drawing fire from BC AIDS organizations and the BC Civil Liberties Association.

An editorial in the Victoria Times Colonist describes the intent of the legislation as follows:

Suppose you are involved in a car crash, and some of your bodily fluids spill onto an ambulance attendant. Emergency medical technicians wear protective clothing to guard against such spills. But occasionally, perhaps due to a tear or puncture wound, the safeguards fail.

In these circumstances, a private member’s bill drafted by Letnick would empower the EMT to demand a blood test, with or without the victim’s consent. The results would be disclosed to both parties. The test would focus on communicable diseases, like hepatitis or HIV.

The bill is being strongly supported by the Ambulance Paramedics of BC. It’s understandable that EMTs would be concerned about the spread of communicable diseases as an occupational health and safety issue. Many say that  currently they’re forced to go on medication after coming in contact with bodily fluids because they can’t trust patients to reveal (or even know) if they have a communicable disease. As their letter to members on the Act states, “Too often Paramedics suffer exposures such as needle stick injuries or blood splashes from patients who are unwilling or unable to disclose blood borne illnesses. Such exposures can result in unnecessary prophylactic drug treatment, anxiety and stress to you and your family.”

But groups like YouthCo AIDS Society are concerned that forcing people to undergo unnecessary blood tests would jeopardize patients’ right to privacy and bodily integrity guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and only increase stigma and hysteria around the transmission of HIV and Hep C.

The Times Colonist editorial sees the concern of EMTs as legitimate, but questions the penalties imposed for non-compliance with the bill:

Physicians fear this kind of legislation destroys the essential element of trust between doctor and patient.

Not only does the bill compel an invasive medical procedure in circumstances where the victim may be blameless, it criminalizes a refusal. You can be fined $10,000 and spend six months in prison for declining to co-operate.


The existing situation is imperfect. But at a minimum, a more reasonable balance must be found between competing interests. Patient rights must be protected. And the criminal provisions should go.

The other part that may cause concern is the authority M-210 would give the Lieutenant Governor in Council to make regulations on: prescribing circumstances when confidential information under this Act may be disclosed; designating diseases or conditions as communicable diseases for the purposes of this Act; respecting the handling, retention and destruction of samples of bodily fluids; and designating other exposure situations under which an individual may be allowed to make an application for a testing order.

But even if the bill didn’t look likely to compromise patient rights, would it even be effective?

The BC Civil Liberties Association in an open letter to Norm Letnick and Christy Clark is the doubt around mandatory testing’s effectiveness in actually helping prevent the spread of disease. Given imperfect testing procedures and the time it might take for a compelled subject to provide a blood sample and for a sample to be processed, the BCCLA argues many emergency responders would still need to take medications immediately upon exposure. The standard for treatment is to commence anti-retroviral therapy within 2-4 hours of exposure. YouthCo also points out that the bill doesn’t define what would need to occur to be defined “contact” with a bodily fluid, and that not all types of contact actually carry the risk of disease transmission.

It still remains to be seen whether the bill will be amended to fix some of the ethical issues (it’s currently awaiting second reading, which can’t happen until the Legislature is recalled) or whether the bill will die altogether in the case of a fall election. But for now YouthCo  has started collecting online signatures for a  Change.Org petition directed to BC Members of the Legislative Assembly, asking them to vote against the bill.



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The Round-Up: July 12, 2011

And we’ll finish off with this new movie from, based on the Australian version: “What Have the Unions Ever Done for Us?”


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When Age Really Matters

Gerald Hodge is Jarrah’s Dad, and a former director of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Queen’s University. He lives on Hornby Island, BC. He has had two heart attacks, a quintuple bypass, and now lives with Pulmonary Fibrosis, a lung disease for which there is no known cause or cure. He thanks his wife Sharron for help “massaging” this article.

“Can you imagine old age? Of course you can’t.” Like Philip Roth’s character in The Dying Animal, I couldn’t. And at four score years I still do not know how it will all turn out; I only know that I will come to an end.

Oops! I almost used the “D” word, the one featured in the title of Susan Jacoby’s new book, Never Say Die. In it she unleashes a passionate attack on current myths about growing old that essentially say you can defy old age. These myths are propagated by, among others, Big Pharma and various marketers of longevity. Think of the TV commercials you’ve seen touting “anti-aging collagens” in makeup or enhanced sex lives courtesy of Viagra et al.

Moreover, Jacoby asks, if you’ve ever seen the old people portrayed with “thinning hair, flabby skin, jowls, skeletal-looking hands, liver spots, obvious osteoporosis…?”  And notice too that the word “old” is never used by these marketers, much less “old age”.

It is the irrationality of these claims she attacks. Claims such as: if one takes care of oneself  ̶  with these products of course   ̶  a long and healthy life is assured. The “miracles of modern medicine” are often cited to back up such claims, although many advances have been made, the marketers continue to mislead us that the medical reversal of aging is imminent. And this despite the fact that we are far from having cures for the serious diseases that commonly beset women and men in old age  ̶  think cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, or pulmonary dysfunction.

Central to her argument is that by propagating the myth of a young old age we obscure the real old age and ignore the needs of the millions who are already old and suffering through the disabling and restrictive phases of their lives.

An especially poignant and significant chapter deals with age-related dementia. These diseases, of which Alzheimer’s is the most common, leave their victims “defenseless and the slayer of all wisdom, all memory….” Dementia is a disease of old, and the older you get the more likely it will affect you. For those 85 and older, close to half are afflicted.

Unlike most diseases of old age dementia affects others more directly; caregivers in particular come to know that the only aid they can give is “essentially palliative” and that memories of their relationship with the victim can no longer be shared.  Many of those affected will be able to function with help, but they cannot be left alone and unsupervised for very long. The alternatives for them are few; the nursing home becomes their default option, their last home.

Moreover, nursing homes are inhabited “almost entirely [over 75%] by women.”  For, as Jacoby stresses several times, “old age is primarily a women’s issue.” They are the survivors in our culture; they outlive men by a substantial number of years. As a consequence, women are “two-and-a-half times more likely than men” to suffer the severe illnesses and disabilities of old age. If they are able to avoid the nursing home, women will tend to live out their days alone, without a long-term partner for support, and often in near-poverty.

Although her focus is on U.S. elders, my own work regarding Canadian seniors concurs in almost every respect. The one major difference is our universal health care system that neither discriminates by age nor forces families into bankruptcy to receive medical attention for their elderly kin. But before any more pats on the back, Canada still has far to go in establishing hospices for end-of-life care, in providing adequate local transportation options for the one-third of seniors who do not drive and cannot walk long distances to often-unsheltered bus stops, and in building affordable, alternative kinds of housing in towns large and small for seniors who have to leave their homes.

Most readers of this blog, I suspect, are not soon bound for retirement and the vicissitudes of old age, but a thought to the issues Jacoby discusses could pay dividends as you and those around you age. And, if ever considering retirement, you’ll not go wrong on her advice to seek “a place that forces you to stay on your feet and look for work wherever and whenever you can find it.”

-Gerald Hodge

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Women’s Worlds Report: Day 4

My closing Women’s World report focuses on Norwegian feminists and their successful struggle to pass a law that penalizes the client in prostitution. This was a ‘hot topic’ at the conference as there were three different sessions dedicated to discussing the steps taken within Scandinavian countries to combat prostitution – therefore, I felt it warranted its own blog post.

I went into this session fully open to listening to experiences and work of these feminists; but in the interests of full disclosure, my own personal view falls in support of decriminalization of prostitution. I have blogged on this issue before, specifically looking at Iceland and the strip club ban.

The session which I attended was given by Ana and Ana from Ottar, a radical feminist group which uses direct action to achieve political gains. They have been very active in Norway for the past ten years working to further their agenda which includes abolishing prostitution and the sex industry. It’s also worth noting that their neighbours in Sweden share a similar philosophy as they’ve had laws in place penalizing the client in prostitution since 1999. Further, Iceland has passed legislation banning strip clubs.

As Ottar does not lobby politicians, it was very interesting to learn about some of the tactics they have employed to further their agenda. Some examples:

To draw public attention to the buyers of sex acts, they would have one feminist pose as a sex worker and while she was distracting the client in his car, another feminist would run up and with a stencil and spray paint onto the car I pay for sex” (the media loved this tactic).

In another campaign they made posters with faces of prominent male politicians and in large letters wrote: “Does this man pay for sex?”, then at the bottom in smaller letters wrote: “probably not” (and then went on to describe their mission). The objective here was to bait politicians into getting angry and going to the media so then Ottar could have a platform to explain their agenda to Norwegians.

Ottar also blocked off roads leading to red light districts with huge banners which explained their agenda – a good way to get attention of both the media and the police (they were all arrested).

They also held demonstrations outside of strip clubs where women would dress up in skeleton suits holding signs which read: “Why go inside, we are baring it all out here?” They were actually successful in closing down one strip club by scaring the clients away.

Over time the result was that Ottar was able to form a grassroots movement which, in turn, put pressure on politicians. Ultimately it was in 2009 that their hard work paid off and Norwegian Parliament passed legislation criminalizing the buyers of sex acts – offenders faced either jail time or a steep fine. However, while there was a lot of celebrate for Ottar, the hard work wasn’t done. Currently they are organizing to push for legislation banning strip clubs in the country.

For me, leaving this session I was very inspired by the way in which Ottar was able to organize to affect change. However, my main criticism is that it appears there was little to no consideration of the impact of their agenda on sex workers. This came up in the Q&A session and the presenters said that very little has been done by the government to create exit strategies for sex workers. To me, this is extremely problematic as the state is cutting off the livelihood for these women without providing any kind of support.

For those who are interested in learning more about the work of Ottar, they have written a book entitled The Nordic Approach. I bought it at the conference and look forward to reading it, stay tuned for future blog posts.

-E. Cain

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Alberta Anti-Abortion Billboard Campaign Backlash

Via the Airdrie Echo:

One Airdrie resident is outraged at a graphic anti-abortion campaign that came through the city June 27 on its way to Edmonton. The national pro-life group displayed graphic billboard-sized images on the side of an 11-metre long box-bodied truck.

Carolynn Olsen said her daughter saw the graphic images. “The posters were insensitive, inappropriate and damaging in nature,” she said while addressing city council Monday night. “No child should have to see what my child saw.” Olsen asked council to look into a bylaw that would prohibit such demonstrations.

“The posters she saw brought her to tears,” Olsen added.

The campaign was run by the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, which also runs the infamous Genocide Awareness Project. They displayed their controversial signs on Canada Day and throughout the weekend in Edmonton. (Warning, do not visit their site unless you want to see their graphic anti-abortion imagery and insulting comparisons of abortion to the Holocaust and US Civil Rights Movement).

The CCBR’s site states they also oppose abortifascient birth control and stem cell research. Their “Position Statement” on their site is as follows:

CCBR focuses on making the killing of unborn human beings unthinkable. Societal misperception of the unborn has lead to widespread acceptance of activities, such as abortion and embryonic stem cell research, which treat the unborn as commodities rather than as human beings. This particular group is endangered in a way few other groups are.

In order to change this misperception, there must be a concentrated focus on injustices directed towards the unborn. There are many injustices directed towards born people as well, but CCBR’s limited focus can be compared to that of organizations which combat cancer to the exclusion of other diseases: in order to find a cure, these organizations devote all of their resources and refine their expertise on cancer even though there are other life-threatening diseases such as AIDS.

The Genocide Awareness Project has faced huge opposition during its years of touring Canadian University campuses.

Have you seen CCBR or GAP advertising in your communities or on campus? How did you react?


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Women’s Worlds Report: Day 3

On day three I attended a double session focusing on incarcerated women. This is an important issue for me because I’ve always found it disturbing that as a society we put women in cages. And that the institutions where these cages are located – prisons – aren’t transparent, making them the perfect setting for all kinds of abuses.

The session was hosted by the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a feminist, prison abolitionist organization. Their main concern centers on human rights abuses against women in Canadian prisons. And let me tell you, these abuses are rampant.

In the session we had the opportunity to hear from a young woman who was sentenced to several years prison as a young offender. Recently released and working for CAEFS, she recounted her experiences as a youth in prison, she dealt with: multiple people being shoved into cells meant for one; security over-classification which led to her illegally being transferred to an adult maximum security prison; lack of access to health care and counselling; withdrawal for days on end of access to basic necessities such as showers, clean laundry.

But what was most striking about her story was that she went into prison having no knowledge of her rights. They were not explained to her. Further, when she did stand up for herself and file grievances against wrongdoings she became known as a trouble maker –not a good thing when your release is dependent on how others assess your behaviour.

This is a rampant problem and CAEFS has been doing some great work in collaboration with women prisoners to ensure that women know their rights. Together, they have put together a handbook called Human Rights in Action they available for women both in the federal prison system, as well as provincial.  Regrettably, they are not easily accessible to prisoners as they are considered contraband.

In the session we also learned about a similar Australian organization called Sisters Inside (SIS). The presenter, SIS founder Debbie Kilroy, has a remarkable life story which includes incarceration and being witness to Queensland’s only murder in a women’s prison. In addition, for her work with SIS she has received the Order of Australia.

SIS is currently running a campaign on strip searching as sexual assault. This is based on the argument that strip searching is a brutalizing and degrading practice which is often committed against women who have histories of abuse, particularly sexual assault and/or incest. They argue that strip searches have also failed to prevent illicit drugs and contraband from entering institutions.

In first year Political Science I learned the quote “rights are rights are rights are rights”. And there are serious violations of human rights going on in prisons daily. As Canadians we need to be aware that these problems are only going to get worse as the federal government has plans to force through an omnibus crime bill in the fall featuring a slew of tough-on-crime policies.

Interesting tidbit of information: all Members of Parliament can tour federal prisons, so I encourage you to write to your MP and encourage them to go look at the conditions within prisons and speak to the prisoners. In addition, the organization Canadians for Fiscal and Social Responsibility is running a postcard campaign encouraging MPs to vote against this legislation, you can print the template here.

-E. Cain

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FFFF: iPad

As a new iMac user, I am now allowed to make fun of Mac users without seeming like I’m just jealous. I love this video from 2nd City Network, showing how a girl responds to a guy who’s trying to use how cool his iPad is to hit on her.

FYI, I’m not condoning destruction of property, even if the person is a jerk.

Happy Friday!


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