Canada NOTES

May 25 1998

Canada NOTES

May 25 1998

Canada NOTES



The Virginia Hills fire forced the 2,200 residents of Swan Hills, northwest of Edmonton, to flee their homes for the second time in just over a week. Then, finally, it rained. “The more showers we get, the more confident we’ll be," said Mayor Gary Pollock. With forecasts for more rain, officials allowed the evacuees to return home.


Ontario said it will cancel a controversial permit that would have allowed Nova Group of Sault Ste. Marie to export 600 million litres of water from Lake Superior to Asia. Environmentalists and Ottawa had condemned the plan. Newfoundland, meanwhile, supports a plan by the McCurdy Group to export 52 billion litres of water a year from Gisborne Lake, near Fortune Bay. The proposal still needs final approval from the province and the federal department of fisheries and oceans.


The federal government, in an apparent effort to crack down on leaks to reporters, asked the ROMP to look into how inside information about two contentious federal policies got into print. The inquiries centre around breach of trust allegations arising from news reports about the TAGS compensation program for East Coast fishermen and reforms to the Young Offenders Act.


B.C. Premier Glen Clark recalled his two representatives from the Pacific Salmon Treaty talks in Portland, Ore. Clark said the federal government is “prepared to sacrifice the fish in British Columbia for bigger political reasons to keep the relationship with the United States, to not rock the boat.” The provincial representatives returned a day later. Since 1992, negotiators have been unable to reach agreement on renewing several treaty provisions.


Former Quebec Liberal leader Daniel Johnson said goodbye to the national assembly. Johnson, who briefly served as premier in 1994, was facing almost certain defeat against Premier Lucien Bouchard in the next election. But he announced in March that he would step down as leader. Former federal Conservative leader Jean Charest took over on April 30.

The impasse over hepatitis C

The meeting began and ended badly as federal and provincial health ministers gathered in Ottawa last week to discuss extending the hepatitis C compensation package. Ontario Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer, in her opening remarks, read from a text that reiterated Premier Mike Harris’s previous statements: all victims should receive compensation—and not just those who contracted the disease from tainted blood between 1986 and 1990 and are subject to a $ 1.1-billion federal-provincial package announced on March 27. (Harris has committed his government to paying for Ontarians left out of the deal.)

Quebec’s Jean Rochon, whose province also wants the package extended, left after a few hours of discussions. Others, such as Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, remained opposed to extending the package due to budgetary reasons. In the end, all that the ministers could agree on was to refer the issue to a federal-provincial panel, which will examine a range of options to help tainted blood victims, including the negotiation of a new package. “Whatever is done, it should be done in unison,” fed-

eral Health Minister Allan Rock told reporters.

Meanwhile, the nasty rhetoric continued. Rock has been on the firing line for his refusal to extend the compensation package, and has repeatedly claimed that many provinces, Ontario among them, were resolutely opposed to any hepatitis C compensation when talks first began last summer. Last week, he took aim at the “theatrical behavior of Mike Harris and his crew.” Ontario’s Conservative government, Rock said, was making up complex public policy “in the scrums and at microphones and in press conferences.” Harris, who is now in the middle of an effort to soften the provincial Tories’ image, blasted right back at the federal health minister. “Rock has spent 99 per cent of his time and effort spinning to all the groups about how good he was and how bad everybody else was,” the premier told Maclean’s in an interview last week. “Now, he is calling for a common united approach and to let bygones be bygones. But I had to bring the provinces, kicking and screaming, because they didn’t want to do anything. I’ve been a good guy.”


Forced to butt out

Quebec introduced legislation to restrict smoking in public places, clamp down on tobacco advertising and curb smoking among young people. The bill bans smoking in schools, recreational facilities and taxis. As well, pharmacies will no longer be permitted to sell tobacco. Separate smoking areas in shopping centres and bus terminals will be allowed. The province, meanwhile, gave restaurateurs up to 10 years to establish separate areas for smokers. Afterwards, they will be required to devote at least 60 per cent of seating to nonsmokers. The law also prohibits smoking in public areas frequented by teenagers under 18. Two years after the law is passed, tobacco sponsorship for sports and cultural events is to be eliminated. Smoking will be allowed in bars, bingo halls and casinos. “It is the most complete anti-tobacco legislation in Canada,” said Louis Gauvin of the province’s anti-tobacco coalition.

Sentencing a doctor

Ontario Court Judge Charles Scullion sentenced Maurice Genereux—the first doctor in North America convicted of assisting suicide—to two years less a day in provincial jail. Defence lawyer William McDowell, who had argued for a suspended sentence, appealed, allowing Genereux, 51, to be freed on $5,000 bail. Crown prosecutor Michael Leshner, who had wanted a six-year sentence, is also considering an appeal. “This case has nothing to do with mercy killing,” Leshner said after the sentencing, “and everything to do with a doctor not being a doctor.”

Last December, Genereux pleaded guilty to prescribing lethal doses of the barbiturate Seconal to two gay men in Toronto who had contracted the AIDS virus. At the time, neither Mark Jewitt nor Aaron McGinn had developed symptoms of the disease, though both were depressed. Jewitt survived his suicide attempt after a friend found him, but McGinn died. Genereux is a familiar figure to medical authorities. From 1984 to 1987, they barred him from prescribing medicine and required he take drug-addiction treatment. In 1994, his licence was suspended for two years for sexual misconduct involving six male patients. Last week, Dr. Philip Hébert, a medical ethics expert, denounced Scullion’s decision. “It’s an extremely light sentence for a very, very serious charge,” Hébert said.