24 Nov -

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil ‘not embarrassed’ by 2016 reversals

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says he is “not embarrassed” by his government’s policy reversals in 2016.

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The Liberal government sparked controversy when it tried to overhaul the seniors’ pharmacare program. Within one month, it halted its plan to triple premiums for some seniors. It also pressed pause on its marquis accessibility legislation after a blistering critique from the people it was supposed to help.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia’s top 5 political influences of 2016

“I’m not embarrassed by the fact that I am one of the few governments in the history of this province that actually has listened to public — that’s what happened,” McNeil told Global News in a year-end interview.

“It’s only those that get caught up in the process of the legislature that see that as a failure… when in actual fact it’s the process working.”

The government still went ahead with lowering pharmacare premiums for low- income seniors and McNeil says that despite the speed bumps, “there will be some news” on plans to make further changes to the seniors’ pharmacare program “early in the new year.”

WATCH: 2016 year-end interview with Premier Stephen McNeil

The government also withdrew offensive legal arguments made during the Alton Natural Gas Storage project court challenge, and McNeil apologized to Mi’kmaq chiefs for the briefing.

“Part of the brief did not reflect who I am as human being, did not reflect the values of our government,” he said.

His government also shelved a plan to legislate a contract on teachers.

The government hasn’t removed the possibility of legislating a teachers’ contract in the future but McNeil says the December announcement to introduce legislation “was never about legislating a teachers contract.” Instead he says it was the only way to ensure a proposed work-to-rule campaign wouldn’t jeopardize students safety.

McNeil noncommittal on next election

More than three years into his mandate, McNeil wouldn’t give any hints on when he plans to go to the polls or what he wants to accomplish before he drops the writ.

Nova Scotia is the only Canadian province without a fixed election date. It’s also the only province that allows a government’s mandate to go as long as five years, meaning an election could be held as late as 2018. But he also won’t say whether a five year term is what he’s looking at.

“At some point Nova Scotians will get an opportunity to pass judgement on our government,” he said. “I’m looking forward to that campaign when it comes.”

The Liberals have nominated more than two thirds of their candidates in preparation for the next election.

24 Nov -

Nine arrested after 3-year-old girl found locked inside wooden box

Indiana police arrested nine people last Wednesday at a home in Pulaski County after they discovered a three-year-old girl being kept inside a plywood box in the living room.

According to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Department, police executed a search warrant on Dec. 14 after they received a tip regarding a possible case of child abuse and neglect at a home in North Judson, Ind.

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    According to a police press release, the tip involved information that a child was being kept inside a wooden box in the home, and that she was “locked in the box during the evening and for extended periods of time.”

    “During the execution of this search warrant a three-year-old female was located inside of a plywood box found in the living room of the residence,” police said.

    WATCH: Amateur video offers shockingly close view of deadly cargo plane crash in Colombia

    Sheriff Jeffrey Richwine told local media it was one of the most disturbing cases of child neglect he has seen.

    “It’s one of those deals, you go there and think, ‘hopefully this is not true.’ And you go there, when they say it, you just don’t believe it, you’re thinking, ‘my God, who would do this?’” Richwine told WNDU News.

    The little girl, whose name is being withheld, was taken into the custody of Pulaski County Department of Child Services. A spokesperson for the organization told WNDU that they are attempting to locate a relative of the girl’s to care for her, before considering a foster home.

    Police arrested a total of nine people: three, including the girl’s father and stepmother, were charged with neglect of a dependent. The remaining six were charged with failure to report child abuse.

    “Nobody spoke up about a little girl in the box. Even as we were taking them out of the house, no one spoke up and said, ‘Hey, there’s a little girl over here in the box,’” Richwine told WLFI News.

24 Nov -

Edmonton bus drivers have faced ‘public backlash’ after 2 fatal pedestrian collisions: union

The president of the Amalgamated Transit Union said Edmonton city bus drivers have faced backlash amid recent charges laid against two operators in connection with two fatal pedestrian collisions.

“There’s some trepidation on the part of operators as they slip behind the wheel. These things are in our minds,” Steven Bradshaw, president of the union, said Wednesday.

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  • Edmonton bus driver charged in fatal pedestrian collision

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    On Tuesday, police charged 62-year-old Edmonton Transit driver Judith Jackson with one count of failing to yield to a pedestrian in crosswalk under the Traffic Safety Act. The charge stemmed from a collision in the area of 137 Avenue and 40 Street on Nov. 26.

    Mariama Sillah, 13, was walking home from grabbing dinner at Subway when she was struck by the bus while in a marked crosswalk. Sillah died at the scene.

    “The union sends along its deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the victim of this terrible tragedy. It can’t be good for them either,” Bradshaw said.

    READ MORE: Family of teen hit by Edmonton bus shares grief over devastating loss

    Bradshaw said Jackson has a good, long-standing record as a driver with Edmonton Transit.

    “She’s a great driver and she’s very popular among her fellow operators. So it’s difficult for those others of us out there knowing that if it can happen to her, it can happen to anyone in the blink of an eye.”

    Jackson was the second city bus driver in recent months to be charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

    In October, 42-year-old Kellie Rowe was charged in connection with a fatal collision in the area of 87 Avenue and 169 Street. On Oct. 4, an 83-year-old woman was struck by a city bus while walking in a marked crosswalk. She was treated at the scene and taken to hospital where she died of her injuries.

    Bradshaw said the collisions have been top-of-mind for drivers over the past couple months.

    “Our membership are professional operators and they will do their jobs the way they’ve always done them – safely and carefully. However, they are deeply affected by charges being laid against a fellow member and it’s a deep concern to them,” he said.

    “There’s been some public backlash against drivers and with that in mind I would ask people to consider the millions and millions of kilometres that our 1,600 operators drive every year safely and without incident.”

    READ MORE: Edmonton pedestrian killed by bus remembered as ‘devoted to her family’

    After the October collision, Bradshaw voiced concerns that issues with blind spots on city buses may have played a role in the collision.

    “At the front corner of the bus, to the operator’s left, there’s a sizeable pillar that causes a blind spot and in addition to that there’s a sizeable mirror – the rear-view mirror is right beside it – and at its widest point, that can be as much as 14 inches wide, depending on the orientation of the driver and the size and position of the seat,” he said. “So that constitutes a significant hazard.

    “Every 10 days, somewhere in North America, a pedestrian is severely injured or killed because of these blind spots.”

    Watch below: Global News gets a firsthand look of just how blind a blind spot can be for Edmonton bus drivers. The issue was raised in the aftermath of a tragic crash that took the life of a city senior who was crossing the street. Vinesh Pratap has the story.

    Bradshaw said the union will stand by both of its members as their cases move through the courts.

    “A charge is just a charge. It’s not a conviction. This hasn’t been to a judge,” Bradshaw said regarding the most recent charge. “Let’s find out what the judge has to say about it and go forward from there.”

    Follow @CaleyRamsay

24 Nov -

Berlin, Turkey attacks prove restrictions on Muslims warranted: Donald Trump

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump called the attacks this week in Berlin and Ankara “terrible” on Wednesday and said he has been proven to be correct about his plans to impose curbs on Muslims immigrating to the United States.

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    “What’s going on is terrible, terrible,” Trump told reporters, when asked about the truck attack that killed 12 people at a Christmas market in Berlin and the killing of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey by a gunman in Ankara.

    READ MORE: Berlin attack: German police on manhunt for ‘violent and armed’ Tunisian asylum-seeker Anis Amri

    Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Berlin killings and the assassin in Turkey shouted about the war in Syria as he gunned down the envoy from Moscow, which has aided Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against rebels in that country’s long civil war.

    WATCH: Photojournalist recalls capturing dramatic images of assassination of Russian ambassador to Turkey

    Trump was asked by reporters outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, if Monday’s violence would affect his consideration of a ban on Muslims entering the United States or of a registry for immigrants from Muslim countries.

    “You know my plans. All along, I’ve been proven to be right. 100 per cent correct. What’s happening is disgraceful,” Trump said on Wednesday.

    At one point in his election campaign Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country as a means of fighting terrorism, drawing widespread criticism at home and abroad. He later rephrased this to propose temporarily suspending immigration from regions deemed as exporting terrorism and where safe vetting cannot be ensured.

    On Monday, Trump immediately blamed the Berlin attack on Islamic State and other Islamist militants who “continually slaughter Christians in their communities and places of worship as part of their global jihad.”

    WATCH: Global News reporter recounts Berlin attack

    Asked about his reference to Christians, the president-elect broadened his response on Wednesday, “It’s an attack on humanity, and it’s gotta be stopped.”

    “What’s happening is disgraceful,” Trump said, adding that he has not talked to President Barack Obama since the Berlin and Ankara attacks.

    Trump has been critical of Obama, and of his Democratic rival in the November presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for what he says is a reluctance to clearly name Islamist militancy as a threat.

    READ MORE: Berlin attack: Germans share messages of strength after Christmas market attack

    Trump on Wednesday did receive a President’s Daily Brief, the most highly classified and closely held document in the government, his transition team said.

    The real estate magnate and former reality TV star, who has publicly cast doubt on some conclusions of the intelligence community, is receiving the briefing about once a week, far fewer than most recent presidents-elect, according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

    Reporting by Melissa Fares and Susan Heavey; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Frances Kerry

24 Nov -

Crown says he didn’t mean to imply wrongdoing by Ontario energy minister

TORONTO – The Public Prosecution Service of Canada says remarks made last month by a Crown attorney were not meant to imply any wrongdoing by Energy Minister Glenn Thibeault.

Vern Brewer, the federal prosecutor in an Election Act bribery case involving two Ontario Liberals, said outside court in Sudbury, Ont., that Thibeault “sought certain benefits” to run for the provincial Liberals.

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Thibeault vehemently denied the Nov. 21 allegation and noted he hadn’t been charged with anything. His lawyer had said Brewer sullied his client’s reputation.

READ MORE: Ontario Liberal bribery case adjourned amid discussions about Crown’s comments

In a statement Wednesday, the Public Prosecution Service said Brewer wished to clarify that he never “suggested, nor intended to suggest” that Thibeault acted corruptly.

Thibeault said in a statement that he was “pleased that the issue arising from Mr. Brewer’s statements has been resolved,” adding that he would not comment further as the matter is before the courts.

The charges against the two provincial Liberals stem from allegations they offered a would-be candidate a job or appointment to get him to step aside in a 2015 byelection in Sudbury for Thibeault, who was Premier Kathleen Wynne’s preferred candidate.

Thibeault was then the New Democrat MP for Sudbury. He ultimately won the byelection for the provincial Liberals, and then was promoted to energy minister earlier this year.

READ MORE: Ontario energy minister says he never asked for a bribe to run in byelection

Thibeault is named in one of the charges against Pat Sorbara, who took a leave of absence from her job as Wynne’s deputy chief of staff to become the Ontario Liberals’ CEO and 2018 campaign director – posts she resigned from when the charges were laid. She is alleged to have promised to get Thibeault “an office or employment” to induce him to become a candidate.

Sorbara denies the charges, as does her co-accused, Liberal fundraiser Gerry Lougheed.

Sorbara and Lougheed’s case has been adjourned to Jan. 18 for a judicial pre-trial.

New Democrat MPP Jagmeet Singh had asked the Chief Electoral Officer in early November to relaunch an investigation into the events leading up to the 2015 Sudbury byelection.

Elections Ontario, in an email dated Dec. 12, says the allegations in Singh’s complaint “do not constitute an apparent contravention on the Election Act.”

“Furthermore, we understand the OPP have already conducted and concluded an investigation into the circumstances leading up to the 2015 Sudbury byelection,” the email states.

24 Nov -

Donald Trump holds court with Boeing, Lockheed CEOs weeks after public spat

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump met on Wednesday with the chief executives of two major defense companies he has singled out for criticism over project costs, part of his push to save taxpayer money on high-profile contracts.

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The Republican met with Dennis Muilenburg of Boeing Co and Marillyn Hewson from Lockheed Martin Corp at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where he is spending Christmas.

Since winning the Nov. 8 election, Trump has complained about the companies for costs he said are too expensive, sending defense shares tumbling.

READ MORE: Why did Donald Trump take a shot at Boeing?

“Trying to get the costs down, costs. Primarily the (Lockheed Martin) F-35, we’re trying to get the cost down. It’s a program that’s very, very expensive,” Trump told reporters after meeting with the CEOs and a dozen Pentagon officials involved with defense acquisition programs who he said were “good negotiators.”

WATCH: Dennis Muilenburg met with the President-elect Donald Trump for about an hour to discuss Air Force One’s possible budget and timeline, among other undisclosed topics. No set budget plan was relayed to the media, but Muilenburg did say Boeing is ready to begin production right away. 

Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has vowed to address government procurement costs as part of his industrial policy, which also includes taking a hard line on Chinese trade practices and renegotiating multilateral trade deals.

“It’s a dance, you know, it’s a little bit of a dance,” he said. “But we’re going to get the costs down and we’re going to get it done beautifully.”

Also on Wednesday, Trump named economist Peter Navarro, an economist who has urged a hard line on China, to head up his White House team on industrial policy

He also appointed billionaire investor Carl Icahn as a special adviser on regulatory issues, and said Icahn would help him choose the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

‘PRODUCTIVE’ MEETING

Boeing’s Muilenburg, whose company was caught off guard by Trump’s broadside earlier this month on the costs for replacing aging Air Force One planes, called his meeting “productive” and spoke admiringly of Trump’s “business head-set.”

Trump has said Boeing’s costs to build replacements for Air Force One planes – one of the most visible symbols of the U.S. presidency – are too high and urged the federal government in a tweet to “Cancel order!”

READ MORE: Lockheed Martin shares tank after Donald Trump tweets F-35 fighter program ‘out of control’

Trump has said the planes, which are in the early stages of development and are not expected to be ready until 2024, would cost more than $4 billion. The company is currently under contract for $170 million to help develop plans for the planes.

“I think we’re looking to cut a tremendous amount of money off the price,” Trump said on Wednesday.

Muilenburg said he gave Trump a “personal commitment” that costs would not run out of control.

“We’re going to get it done for less than that, and we’re committed to working together to make sure that happens,” the CEO said.

Trump has publicly pushed other corporations to change tack.

READ MORE: Donald Trump wants to cancel Boeing’s Air Force One contract, says it’s too expensive

He has taken credit for forcing United Technologies Corp and Ford Motor Co to alter plans to outsource jobs abroad. Ford, however, said it had no plans to close any U.S. plants.

Hewson left the Mar-a-Lago meeting without speaking to reporters. Trump has said Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jet program was “out of control.”

WATCH: Trump calls Boeing’s new Air Force One deal ‘totally out of control’

The costs of the F-35s, used by the Marine Corps and the Air Force, and by six countries, have escalated to an estimated $400 billion, prompting it to be described as the most expensive weapon system in history.

Among the Defense Department officials who met with Trump was Lieutenant General Chris Bogdan, the F-35 program chief for the Pentagon.

24 Nov -

Calgary Stampeders re-sign Charleston Hughes

Defensive end Charleston Hughes signed a two-year contract extension with the Calgary Stampeders on Wednesday.

Hughes, who had a CFL-high 16 sacks this season, was eligible to become a free agent in February. He also registered 47 tackles and three forced fumbles in being named a league all-star for the third time.

“Charleston is a cornerstone of our defence and 2016 was another great season for him,” Stampeders president/GM John Hufnagel said in a statement. “He has maintained a high level of play since he first came to Calgary and I look forward to more of the same in the future.”

Watch below from Nov. 19, 2015: Calgary Stampeders defensive end Charleston Hughes teaches Global Calgary’s Amber Schinkel his signature “sack attack” before the big Western Final game this weekend.

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    Hughes joined the Stampeders in 2008 and led the team in sacks in helping Calgary win a Grey Cup title as a rookie. He returned to the squad in ’09 after attending training camp with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

    Hughes has 88 career sacks to stand second in Stampeders history behind Will Johnson (99). Hughes has appeared in 10 playoff games and three Grey Cups with Calgary.

    “I’m glad to get the contract taken care of,” said Hughes. “I’m very happy to be back with the Stamps and I look forward to us having another great season.

    “We have a lot of unfinished business and we just have to focus on getting even better as a team.”

    Watch below from Oct. 19, 2016: Calgary Stampeder Charleston Hughes and Murray Gibson of Purolator join Global Calgary with details on the Purolator Tackle Hunger Game Day Food Drive.

24 Nov -

Is Bill Gates the best Secret Santa ever? This Redditor thinks so

The richest man in the world also turns out to be an excellent gift giver, according to a Reddit user who found out her Secret Santa was none other than Bill Gates.

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The Redditor, who goes by the screen name Aerrix, posted a gallery on imgur which showed the presents Gates sent her as a part of the Reddit Secret Santa gift exchange.

A spokesperson from Bill Gates’ office confirmed to Global News that the Microsoft founder has been participating in the holiday gift exchange for the past few years and verified Aerrix’s story.

READ MORE:
Secret Santa pays off thousands of dollars in layaway accounts at Pennsylvania Walmart

It appears Gates looked at Aerrix’s past Reddit activity to determine her preferences. The 30-year-old Nebraska woman described herself as a lover of “all things Internet and video games” and expressed a specific love for the Legend of Zelda series, Nintendo and Harry Potter.

Gates’ gifts included customized Zelda-themed mittens and a matching set for her dog, an Xbox One Minecraft Edition with special edition controllers, and a Cajun cookbook, because she’s originally from Louisiana.

But she said when she opened a box to find that he had also sent her a classic edition Nintendo gaming system, she “started screaming like a little girl!”

He added a personal touch to several of the gifts by adding handwritten notes and Photoshopping himself into a picture. He said he even went to the popular clothing store Hot Topic to pick out a pair of Harry Potter-themed slippers.

“I’m just blown away by his generosity, which went even further than all these gifts because he submitted a donation to code长沙夜网 in my name to give more students the chance to learn computer science,” she wrote.

Now Aerrix said she’s just trying to figure out how to send Gates a thank-you note.

Follow @jennynotjen

24 Nov -

B.C. woman advocates for genetic testing after sister nearly dies of adverse drug reaction

After a severe drug reaction that almost killed her sister, a Vancouver woman is fighting to bridge the gap between researchers and policy makers to make genetic testing part of the Canadian health care system.

In 2010, Amani Saini’s sister, a 19-year-old anthropology student at the University of British Columbia (UBC), came down with a common cold and went to see a doctor at the university hospital.

The doctor told her to get some rest and gave her a sample of Advil Cold & Sinus to ease her symptoms.

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She went back to her residence and took the pill. When she woke up the next day, she had massive blisters all over her body and her eyes had turned red.

So she went to see an eye doctor at Vancouver General Hospital, who tried to find a dermatologist to see her, but there was none available. The doctor, however, reassured her it was not a big deal.

She went back home but got even sicker overnight.

With her condition getting worse, she was rushed back to the ER, where doctors finally realized she was experiencing an adverse drug reaction to Advil Cold & Sinus. It turned out she was suffering from something called toxic epidermal necrolysis and she likely had just days to live.

The family was shocked by the news.

“This is somebody who is 19 years old and really healthy,” said Saini. “Somebody who should have been studying for her mid-terms, but is now in intensive care, and we are being told she is going to pass away soon.”

Saini’s sister spent the next three weeks fighting for her life in the intensive care unit, but some health practitioners at the hospital still advised the family to start preparing for the funeral.

Miraculously, her sister beat the odds and made it through the ordeal.

However, she is still dealing with the side effects.

“It destroyed her tear ducts,” said Saini. “She now has to see an eye-care specialist at least once a month and put really expensive drops into her eyes.”

READ MORE: Canada’s seniors face high rates of hospitalizations from adverse drug reactions

After her sister was released from hospital, the family was told there was nothing that could have prevented her condition from developing — an answer that was not good enough for Saini.

She started reading up on her sister’s condition and found out that adverse drug reactions are the fourth-leading cause of death in Canada.

By definition, an adverse drug reaction is a noxious unintended consequence of taking a normal dosage of a drug, usually prescribed to an individual by a medical professional, that was properly administered and which was supposed to be beneficial for the patient towards curing a disease or sickness.

The consequences of an adverse drug reaction can include damage to the proper functioning of a patient’s body, prolonged hospitalization, significant disability or incapacity, life-threatening injuries and even death.

Recent research indicates adverse drug reactions claim anywhere between 10,000 and 22,000 lives in Canada every year.

“And that’s just the official number,” said Saini.

Health practitioners can use the Canada Vigilance Adverse Reaction Online Database to report adverse drug relations, but it’s not mandatory, which, Saini says, means many cases go unreported.

A 2011 UBC study found that in B.C. alone, hospital emergency departments treat an estimated 210,000 patients each year for adverse drug events.

The research team estimates that the cost of treating these patients is 90 per cent greater than the cost of treating other patients. The added cost could be as much as $49 million annually.

Treating adverse drug reactions is estimated to cost the Canadian health care system anywhere between $13.7 billion and $17.7 billion overall each year.

From a personal story to policy making 

After her sister got better, Saini did not think much of her medical condition until last year when she came across an article that talked about genomics, a branch of molecular biology that deals with the structure, function and mapping of genomes.

It also mentioned genetic testing for rare medical conditions.

Having no background in biology, political science major Saini delved into scientific literature on genomics and toxic epidermal necrolysis, the condition that almost took her sister’s life.

She came across articles from researchers in Thailand and Singapore that talked about a gene variant in people like Saini’s sister, who have experienced an adverse drug reaction and genetic testing that could be used to detect that variant.

“What that meant for me was that her disease could have possibly been prevented if she had been tested to see if she was carrying that gene variant,” said Saini.

So she started digging deeper and found out that Taiwan has actually made genetic testing part of their health care system, which means before a patient receives a new drug, they have to undergo genetic testing to determine if they are allergic to it.

“That’s something Canada has not done yet,” said Saini.

Through her research, Saini noticed both the United Kingdom and United States have already started to implement policies related to genetic testing.

So she decided to put her background in public administration to use and drafted a policy proposal that could be implemented here at home.

Saini put together a proposal that recommends that any child born at a Canadian hospital should be administered a genetic test for possible drug allergies along with a battery of other tests that newborns get subjected to.

Saini suggests parents should be asked if they would like to have their newborn tested and told about the consequences of an adverse drug reaction.

“That way the family knows from Day one what drug reactions their child can potentially have,” she said.

She also recommends that any Canadian, who gets prescribed a new drug which they have never taken before, should be given the option of taking a genetic test to determine which gene variants they carry and this knowledge should be used by their health practitioners when prescribing new drugs.

“Just like any other blood test, I think the provincial government should be funding that,” Saini said. “If you have never had this drug before, you could go and get a test done and that would determine if you would have an allergic reaction to it.”

Mark Kunzli, a pharmacist and pharmacogenomics researcher, says Saini’s proposal is feasible and can be cost effective, considering there are far greater societal costs beyond the health-care spending required to treat adverse drug reactions.

“Not only was [Amani’s sister] hospitalized, but she now has to have ongoing care and her economic productivity is affected for the rest of her life because of this adverse drug reaction,” said Kunzli. “When you start adding up all these costs, it makes total sense [to fund genetic testing.]”

“At the end of the day, we are getting to a point now where someone’s DNA can be incredibly informative in a health care setting. We are getting to a point where you can’t really make the argument that [genetic testing] doesn’t make sense from a cost perspective, because if you prevent even one of these in 1,000 or 10,000 people that’s very severe, those costs are a significant amount of money and they don’t just go away after that person leaves the hospital.”

READ MORE: Privacy risks lurk in DNA tests, experts warn

Saini reached out to MLAs in B.C. and spoke to them about her proposal.

While no promises have been made yet, the B.C. Ministry of Health told Global News advancements in genetic testing and genomics research are evolving rapidly, and there are many tests and technologies that have emerged, providing new scientific research opportunities and information for health-care practitioners in B.C., Canada and internationally.

“The policies presented by Ms. Amani Saini in her report are good examples of policies that B.C. is exploring within a broader and evolving science and research sector,” said Lori Cascaden, a spokesperson for the ministry.

Cascaden says the Ministry of Health is currently working with Canadian and international partners, including Genome BC, the U.K. and Australia, to understand best practices in genomics and learn from other jurisdictions that have implemented national and local government genomic policy frameworks.

“B.C. health authorities currently undertake genetic testing across the province, for example, in areas of cancer, infectious disease, prenatal screening, newborn screening, medical and hereditary disease,” Cascaden said.

The ministry also says there are a number of individuals who have made similar recommendations to Saini’s.

“As we move forward, we will consider all the recommendations that we have received to determine what testing may be publicly funded,” said Cascaden.

Why is Canada lagging? 

Kunzli says while genetic testing for adverse drug reactions is being actively looked at in a number of countries in Europe, Asia and the United States, there seems to be a gap when it comes to Canada.

While many Canadians turn to private providers like 23AndMe to learn more about their DNA, Kunzli says the government has to worry about privacy concerns.

“But there is a disconnect between what the government is worried about and what the people want. I don’t think it’s been explained properly,” Kunzli said.

“If a pharmacist knows that you have a variant that may potentially make you react to drug A, and drug B is an equal therapeutic alternative, why wouldn’t they use that information? Patients are coming up to doctors and pharmacists every day saying their 23andMe results suggest they should not be using a certain drug, and their health practitioners end up using something else instead. So why don’t we do that in a formalized way that actually helps our health care system?”

Kunzli says ultimately it’s about demystifying an easy scientific concept.

“Looking at it as this exotic technique and this new thing, I mean, it’s really cool, but it’s no different than the things we already do,” he said. “It’s just got all these other social connotations, so people get nervous, and especially government, because that’s the last thing they want to be seen meddling with. That’s where I think the holdup is. It’s being looked at as this unique beast, but really we are just refining our view of who you are.”

What’s next?

In November, Saini’s policy-drafting efforts were recognized at the Canadian Science Policy Conference in Ottawa, an event that bridges the gap between scientists and policy makers. 

She became the recipient of the 2016 Canadian Science Policy Award of Excellence, which recognizes an individual who developed an innovative and compelling evidence-based policy that will make a positive difference to Canadians. 

By utilizing genetic testing to identify people who could potentially have life-threatening adverse drug reactions, Saini says thousands of lives could be saved and the Canadian health care system could save billions of dollars.

But first, an important gap in communication needs to be bridged.

Saini says while she was working on her policy, she consulted with a number of pharmacology experts, like Kunzli at UBC, finding out in the process that the majority of researchers working in the area are not familiar with drafting public policy.

“I was really astonished that one of the professors I talked to said they were aware of how other countries are using genetic testing, but nobody has really advocated for it here, because they don’t know how to do that,” she said. “It is a huge problem in the scientific community. There is all this research that’s done, but it never gets translated into policy.”

READ MORE: The genetic test you couldn’t get in Canada, until now

In the next several months, Saini is hoping to put together a group of stakeholders to address that gap.

“I really think we need to bring together researchers with patients and their families, like me, and individuals who actually know how to write policy,” she said. “These people never interact with each other. Scientists never really talk to policy makers and policy makers never really approach scientists and ask them if they have any new research that can actually save lives.”

Kunzli agrees it is a matter of having the right discussion.

“It’s going to make people healthier, it’s going to make drugs safer and it’s going to save money in the end,” he said.

“A lot of people see DNA as something that will tell you all the ways you will die. But we look at DNA as something that can tell you all the ways in which you can be healthier. If we change that perception, then I think we are going to be miles ahead.”

To learn more about Saini’s policy proposal, go here.

24 Nov -

Saint John adds another medical marijuana dispensary

Legislation to legalize marijuana has yet to be introduced, but medical marijuana dispensaries continue to open at a regular pace across New Brunswick.

HBB Medical has opened a second location in the Saint John area to service a customer base in the Kennebecasis Valley. There are now five HBBs in operation, four in New Brunswick and one in Dartmouth, N.S. with plans to expand more across the Atlantic provinces.

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READ MORE: Medical marijuana dispensaries ‘a pebble in our shoe’: Saint John Police Chief

Company president Hank Merchant said he’s not in it for the money.

“If you could spend one day in my shoes and watch the people come in and go in any one of our dispensaries, it’s amazing,” Merchant said. “People have two words to say to you and they are, ‘Thank you.’”

The legalization of marijuana is coming according to the Trudeau government, but it’s not here yet.

Currently, Moncton-based OrganiGram is the only licensed marijuana dispensary in New Brunswick. The others are unlawful according to the province.

Police chiefs have recently been told if they want to bring a file forward to the Crown, it will decide if prosecution is viable.

READ MORE: Government to cut how much medical marijuana veterans can get for free

“For all prosecutions in the Province of New Brunswick our prosecutors review files and determine if there’s sufficient evidence and if it meets the public interest test,” said Luc Labonte, New Brunswick’s assistant deputy attorney general and director of public prosecutions. “That’s our threshold test. It has to be more likely that charges can be proven or not.”

Labonte uses alcohol as an analogy.

“If I was to open a beer store in downtown Saint John tomorrow it would not be permitted,” he explained. “So you can only sell alcohol in certain places, in certain manners and you can only possess alcohol in certain manners. Well the same thing will happen with marijuana.”

READ MORE: 53% of Atlantic Canadians support marijuana legalization: poll

Merchant said he’s willing to take the legal risk to service his clients but his goal is to be officially licensed in the future.

“We don’t want to operate outside the law,” he said. “I’ve always advocated, I’m a law abiding citizen and we want to continue being that way”.

There’s been no indication how police will respond to the matter in the immediate future

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