And a protest highlights tunnel-drilling in Burnaby Mountain as part of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion
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BREAKING BIG NEWS SCOOP: Listen, I’ve got nothing for you, I just hoped that would wake you up a bit on this Monday morning. Take a minute to get some coffee or tea or, I dunno, Red Bull if that’s your jam (do people still drink Red Bull/is Red Bull still a thing?). What I really want to talk to you about today is a book recommendation. I’m a bit over halfway through Don’t Call It A Cult by local journalist Sarah Berman, and it’s a fascinating read. If you listened to and enjoyed the Escaping Nxivm podcast by CBC, or if you followed the Nxivm coverage in general, the amount of detail in this book will blow you away. It really draws a portrait of a modern cult—one that is less defined by mysticism and more by boosting the virtues of reason and personal responsibility insofar as they benefit the leader, Keith Raniere. Truly a cult for our times.

But I want to know what you’re reading these days. Send us your book recommendations!

Dustin Godfrey, reporter

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16 advocacy groups have signed an open letter calling on the BC government to ensure full MSP coverage for people on "maintained" immigration status, waiting for their work or study permit applications to be processed. 📷 Province of BC / Flickr
Advocates calling for full MSP coverage for BC residents waiting for renewal of work/study permits
People under "maintained" status waiting for permits to be renewed aren't eligible for MSP outside the pandemic

16 advocacy groups have cosigned an open letter by grassroots community group Sanctuary Health, calling on the Ministry of Health to ensure continuous access to healthcare coverage for people who are awaiting renewals of their work or study permits.

The issue revolves around people who are in Canada on temporary permits, who are waiting for their new applications to be processed—but applied before their previous permit expired. When there’s a delay in processing those applications, the federal government puts newcomers under what’s known as "maintained" immigration status—previously known as "implied" status.

"These are people [whose] status has not lapsed at any point in time," said Usman Mushtaq with the BC Health Coalition, one of the letter’s signatories.

"They have the right under the Immigration and Refugee Regulation Act to continue to work and study and live in Canada under the conditions of their previous work permit, while that new application gets processed," Omar Chu with Sanctuary Health told Burnaby Beacon.

"And as processing times have gone way up at the federal level, more and more people end up on maintained status for a longer time."

In BC, however, you are only eligible for MSP coverage if your work or study permit is active. The provincial government’s website cautions people to apply for a new permit as soon as possible to avoid a lapse in coverage, and possibly high medical bills if they have to receive care.

"In most cases some people [have] had to purchase private insurance. … But a lot of people can't afford that. And so they're just going without care."

Chu said a previous policy that granted people under maintained status 9 months of coverage was axed in 2017 in favour of a reimbursement program, where people have to pay upfront for medical care and can apply to be reimbursed once their work or study permit application is granted.

"[That’s] if the new permit is issued within 9 months of expiration of the initial permit, if there's no lapse in the individual's immigration status, and importantly, only if they request this," Chu said.

The letter’s signatories, which include the Hospital Employees’ Union and the BC Government Employees’ Union, along with the Migrant Workers’ Centre and Pivot Legal Society, say the provincial policy is not line with the language laid out by Immigration and Refugee Citizenship Canada, which says online that anyone who has applied to extend their stay in Canada before the expiration of their previous permit has maintained their status.

Chu said the reimbursement policy is hard to find and access, and said many of the people he talks to in the course of his work don’t even know about it.

"But the point is that it’s making people pay upfront for services that they should have. As people who have the right to work, live, and study in Canada, they should have the right to healthcare as residents, clearly defined in Canada."

Access to healthcare coverage has been an issue for years, Chu said. But in the middle of a pandemic that’s laid bare the inequities experienced by vulnerable people, including newcomers to Canada, it’s a matter of even more urgency.

BC has put some temporary measures in place during the pandemic for people on maintained status, who "may'' be eligible for temporary MSP coverage. Chu said those measures last a few months before they are reviewed and then extended.

At the moment, people meeting the criteria for eligibility have to contact Health Insurance BC to request temporary coverage, which will expire on October 31. A new addition to the criteria means temporary work or study permits had to have expired after December 1, 2020.

The Ministry of Health told Burnaby Beacon that between November 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021, 6,857 people in BC were provided with temporary coverage under the COVID policy—and said it would continue to monitor wait times with Immigration and Refugee Citizenship Canada and adjust the timelines as needed.

The ministry said everyone in Canada is able to receive a COVID vaccine, regardless of their immigration status or MSP eligibility.

Chu said in general, people with temporary immigration status access primary care less than people who have Canadian citizenship, but they’re also more likely to be impacted by COVID.

Public health officials have repeatedly said over the last year that you should stay home from work when sick. That’s already proven difficult for essential workers who don’t have access to paid sick leave programs.

It’s even harder to seek care if you have to pay a large bill upfront, Mushtaq said.

The BC government website says treatment related to COVID will be provincially insured, regardless of a patient’s MSP eligibility.

But Mushtaq said he’s heard stories from people who have had different experiences.

"I've had people reach out to me who did have maintained status saying ‘I was in the hospital for COVID,’ or ‘I have a family member in the hospital for COVID.’ And they came out of hospital either with large amounts of money owing or, or they were actually contacting me and saying ‘they told me I won't have MSP coverage. I don't want to go to the hospital; what do I do?’" Mushtaq said.

"Even if they're not going to the hospital, just the peace of mind that comes with knowing I can isolate at home. ... And if things get worse, I do have access to public healthcarethat peace of mind is so important," he said.

Mushtaq said so much of the work being done by groups like Sanctuary right now is on a case-by-case basis, with people like Chu doing their best to help newcomers navigate the system individually.

He said there’s a better way.

"This really is a systemic issue. It's a policy issue that needs to be actually addressed."

Chu agrees.

"The easiest way to talk about how all these issues are interconnected is: we shouldn't be basing medical coverage based on immigration status, it creates all of these issues," he said.

"In the end, … the clear message is that we need [permanent] healthcare for everyone who's living here, regardless of immigration status."

—By Srushti Gangdev

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Banners drawing attention to tunnel-drilling in Burnaby Mountain, part of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, were hung from the Drummonds pedestrian bridge over Hastings Street. 📷 Dustin Godfrey / Burnaby Beacon
Demonstrators rally against TMX tunnel drilling
Trans Mountain gained approval recently to drill a tunnel through Burnaby Mountain as part of its expansion project

A group of demonstrators hung banners on a pedestrian overpass over Hastings Street in a statement against Trans Mountain's tunnel-drilling through Burnaby Mountain.

Environmental group Climate Convergence drew about a dozen people to the Drummonds pedestrian overpass, which crosses over Hastings just east of Sperling Avenue, on Friday afternoon.

Thomas Davies, an organizer with Climate Convergence, said the demonstration was to draw attention to a 2.4-km tunnel set to be drilled through Burnaby Mountain, after the Canada Energy Regulator (CER) gave Trans Mountain a permit in recent weeks.

That tunnel is part of the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, a project Climate Convergence is opposed to overall, "but specifically, drilling through the mountain is a really dangerous thing to do, especially because it’s about expanding the tank farm on the mountain."

Davies said expanding the tank farm "puts a lot of students, and the residents on the mountain and below the mountain at real risk."

Residents opposed to the pipeline have long expressed concerns about the potential for a fire or a leak in the area and what that could mean for the local environment and community—namely what kind of damage that could do to the surrounding neighbourhood.

"We’re saying nobody knows what’s going to happen if there’s a big pipeline explosion or a leak, and their fire safety plan is totally inadequate, as pointed out by the Burnaby fire chief," Davies said.

Fire Chief Chris Bowcock recently called on the federal government to provide funding for more fire protection on the mountain in case of such an event.

The call came just a few weeks after a news release from the CER conducted a fire drill at the tank farm and found Trans Mountain could get crews onsite to tackle such a fire in about 2.5 hours—"well within the 4-hour target," according to CER.

But Bowcock told Burnaby Now that 2.5-hour window would be crucial and could come with "immediate life and safety impacts," as the fire burns unrestricted.

Davies said he believes Trans Mountain is "trying to do as much of this work as possible in secret," while he and other activists are seeking to keep people apprised of the work that’s being done.

"We’re hopeful that the more people know especially about the risks directly to them, the more they’ll mobilize," Davies said.

Even as progress continues to be made on the pipeline—albeit with delays related to tree encampments in the Brunette River area and, in that same area, a work stoppage due to nesting hummingbirds—Davies said he’s still hopeful that the project will be halted entirely.

"The endgame is to stop the pipeline. How we get from A to Z is anybody’s guess, but the most important thing for us is that the public is educated and informed and that they have an opportunity to get active," Davies said.

"During COVID-19, I think that’s really limited the amount of public action we’ve been able to take, but we’re hopeful we’ll be able to do more and more and more, and be more and more effective because Trans Mountain has definitely taken advantage of the situation."

—By Dustin Godfrey


Remains of 215 children discovered at former Kamloops residential school: In a news release, Chief Rosanne Casimir of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed that the remains were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was once the largest school in the Indian Affairs residential school system with more than 500 students enrolled in the 1950s.

Casimir said the discovery was confirmed last weekend with the assistance of a ground-penetrating radar specialist.

"We had a knowing in our community that we were able to verify. To our knowledge, these missing children are undocumented deaths," she said.

"Some were as young as 3 years old. We sought out a way to confirm that knowing out of deepest respect and love for those lost children and their families, understanding that Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc is the final resting place of these children."

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs said in a press release that the mourning they felt as First Nations people at the news was beyond words.

"These were children—all belonging to a family and community, and a nation—who were forcibly stolen from their homes under the authority of the Canadian government, and never returned," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip said.

"We call upon Canada, and all of those who call yourselves Canadians, to witness and recognize the truth of our collective history. This is the reality of the genocide that was, and is, inflicted upon us as Indigenous peoples by the colonial state."

At least 4,100 children died after attending church and government-run residential schools in Canada between the 1870s and 1996, when the last school closed in Saskatchewan. The true number is likely much higher, according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Children were forcibly taken from their parents from coast to coast, with the intention of assimilating them to the "dominant Canadian culture." The system, which has been called a "cultural genocide" against Canada's Indigenous Peoples, was implemented by Canada's 1st prime minister, John A Macdonald.

"When the school is on the reserve, the child lives with his parents who are savages; he is surrounded by savages. … He is simply a savage who can read and write," Macdonald told the House of Commons in 1883.

Children were subject to horrendous sexual and physical abuse, overcrowding, poor sanitation, and disease. Thousands ran away or were never returned to their home communities; the TRC says it's likely many of them were buried in unmarked graves, their deaths undocumented.

"The devastating effects of the residential schools are far-reaching and continue to have a significant impact on Indigenous communities. The residential school system is widely considered a form of genocide because of the purposeful attempt from the government and church to eradicate all aspects of Indigenous cultures and lifeworlds," reads a 2009 UBC article on the residential school system.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the discovery in Kamloops a "painful reminder of that dark and shameful chapter of our country’s history" Friday, while BC Premier John Horgan said he was "horrified and heartbroken."

—By Srushti Gangdev

  • 317 new cases. Total 143,581
  • 2 new deaths. Total 1,692
  • 3,441 active cases. 292 people in hospital, 79 in ICU
  • 7-day rolling average of new cases down to 315
  • 3,106,269 vaccine doses administered to date, 160,885 of which are 2nd doses. 67.2% of adults/62.7% of people 12+ in BC have received at least 1 dose
  • 163 new cases in Fraser Health (51.4% of BC).

  • NACI now says 2nd vaccine doses should be administered as soon as possible: The National Advisory Committee on Immunization said Friday that while it still recommends prioritizing as many people for 1st doses as possible, provinces should aim to start innoculating people with their 2nd vaccine, starting with the elderly and most vulnerable. It comes after several provinces, including BC, reduced the interval between 1st and 2nd doses based on a more reliable supply. Earlier, NACI had said delaying the 2nd dose to the "upper limit" of 16 weeks was safe and effective in providing a population-level protection against COVID.
  • Federal modelling shows decline in cases across most of Canada: Data from the Public Health Agency of Canada shows a 27% drop in new cases reported in Canada over the past week, along with a 10% decrease in deaths. Nationwide, the test positivity rate has dipped slightly to 4.7%. Chief public health officer Dr Theresa Tam said now is not the time to ease up on restrictions—however, she said in a modelling presentation that cases and hospitalizations are still very high in some areas.
  • Mayors in Fraser Health part of friendly race to immunity: Several mayors in the Fraser Health region—including Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley—are taking part in a friendly challenge to see which community can achieve 70%, 75%, and 80% immunization thresholds first. "Fraser Health has seen the highest case numbers in our province and it is all hands on deck as we work to provide COVID-19 vaccines to everyone in our region that wants one. As an interconnected region, vaccines are important whether you live in a larger city or a smaller community area," said Dr Victoria Lee, president and CEO at Fraser Health in a statement. Everyone ages 12 and over are now eligible to register and book their vaccine in BC. Read more here.
🥪 Grab a bite at The Gray Olive Cafeteria - If you're looking for a cozy cafe to grab some brunch, lunch, or a cup of coffee, we recommend The Gray Olive Cafeteria. This Hastings St spot offers up a delicious selection of freshly made soups, sandwiches, bennies, pancakes, and more. The Gray Olive is located at 4190 Hastings St Find out more here.

💪 Try the Burnaby Velodrome Trail - Last week managing editor Simran Singh asked what Burnaby's equivalent to the Coquitlam Crunch is, and you told us about the Velodrome Trail. With over 500 steps, readers let us know this is a much more challenging workout than the Crunch. We're up for the challenge (well, maybe just Simran) but we encourage you to give it a go as well. More info here.

🥳 Virtual Hats Off Day -
Although Hats Off Day won't be celebrated in person this year, the virtual celebrations are still going ahead. On June 5, local businesses will be offering plenty of Hats Off Day specials, which can be found here. Support local, and here's hoping we can all be back celebrating in the Heights next year.
A rogue pigeon joins in on a party with the ducks at Burnaby Lake. 📷 Brian Funk / Submitted
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