Canada Notes

April 3 2000

Canada Notes

April 3 2000

Canada Notes


A Canadian rescue on the high seas

Two Sea King helicopters plucked 13 survivors from life rafts after a cargo carrier sank in heavy seas 700 km north of Bermuda. The Sea Kings were from a flotilla of five Canadian warships that happened to be sailing south from Halifax for training exercises in the Caribbean. Zodiac boats were deployed from the ships as part of the search operations. Six bodies were retrieved.

Pricking a finger for AIDS

Ottawa has approved an on-site blood test for the AIDS virus in which results are available in 15 minutes. The screening unit, an airtight plastic cartridge with a chemical that can analyze a pinprick of blood, is approved for use only by certified health professionals, such as doctors, dentists and some therapists. Developed by BioChem

Immunosystems of Montreal, the kit reduces the current two-week wait for results. But AIDS activists say this in itself may pose a problem: the kits are said to be 99.92-per-cent accurate, but like other HIV screening tests, can also produce many falsely positive results. Consequently, activists say, some people may become unduly alarmed by the test, not realizing it is only a screening that has to be confirmed. U.S. regulators have approved a home-test kit for HIV that costs about $60.

‘Urge to kill’

Michael Wayne McGray,

a 34-year-old drifter from Yarmouth, N.S., with a long and contorted rap sheet, may turn out to be Canadas worst serial killer. McGray, who pleaded guilty last week to the 1998 murder of a Noggin Cove, Nfld., woman and is serving life in prison, now says he has murdered 16 people in

Canada and the United States because of what he says is an uncontrollable

“urge to kill.” Police in Moncton, N.B., Montreal, Halifax and Toronto are all investigating his claims. He is to be in court next month for the 1991 murder of two gay men in Montreal. According to the RCMP officer investigating his claims, McGray is “well-mannered” and “articulate,” and shows no remorse.

A big week for big tobacco

Cigarette manufacturers enjoyed a rare run of good news last week. In the United States, the Supreme Court rejected President Bill Clinton’s authority to restrict tobacco marketing aimed at young people. In Canada, the B.C. Supreme Court tossed out a section of the provincial government’s ban on smoking in pubs, prisons and other public places, its second rebuff to antismokers in a month. In Toronto, the du Maurier jazz festival was cancelled, then rescued with a renewed donation from Imperial Tobacco Ltd., du Maurier’s parent. Tobacco firms are still required by federal law to wind up their $60million arts and sports sponsorships over the next three years. And British Columbia is promising to rewrite a law the court previously rejected to confirm the province’s right to sue cigarette makers for health-care costs.

Denies killing Reena Virk

Victoria teenager Kelly Ellard denied she was the one who fatally assaulted and drowned 14-year-old Reena Virk in a group frenzy in 1997. Testifying in her own defence, Ellard, 17, admitted punching Virk, but said she was not the last person with her and denied boasting about the murder later, as a stream of Crown witnesses have testified.

No to gay marriage

The federal Liberal government wants to amend its own bill granting pension and other rights to gay couples so as to specifically exclude the possibility of same-sex marriage. The terms marriage and spouse are to be limited to heterosexual couples, the new definition says. Justice Minister Anne McLellan had earlier insisted these definitions were not necessary. She changed her mind after more than a dozen Liberals voted against the bill on second reading.

Harris and handguns

Ontario Premier Mike Harris is pushing ahead with his campaign promise to expel any student who brings drugs, alcohol or weapons on to school property. But he says he has no problem with school libraries being given a manual on handguns, among other things, by the Ontario Federation of Anglers

and Hunters. School officials in large centres reject both ideas: they fear automatic expulsions will drown them in lawsuits; and a handgun how-to book will give some kids the wrong idea.

Drug-resistant TB

Toronto has been designated a World Health Organization “hot spot” for multi-drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis. They now account for three per cent of the 450 to 500 new cases in the city each year; the Canadian average is 1.2 per cent, low by world standards. Drug-resistant TB requires extensive treatment costing up to $500,000 per person.

The patronage game

The age-old issue of government patronage reared its shaggy head as PE.I. Conservative Premier Pat Binns called a quickie election for April 17. Binns, with a lead in the polls and enough money in the kitty to offer tax cuts, has tried to rationalize the provinces longstanding system of government patron-

age. His Liberal and NDP opponents say the new rules are just an excuse to secure the jobs of well-placed Tories.

Lost pups

Thinner than usual pack ice in the Gulf of St. Lawrence is preventing sealers from Prince Edward Island and Quebec’s Magdalen Islands from reaching the harp-seal herds. The same thin ice, however, combined with a late winter storm, has also separated nursing pups from their mothers. As a result, both the annual hunt and the number of new seals are expected to be dramatically reduced this year.

More for health and Inuit

Newfoundland is trying to use its burst of wealth from offshore oil for a bout of healing. The big winners in last week’s budget: the province’s hospital system, mired in cost overruns, and Labrador Inuit, reeling from a recent spate of teenage suicides. The Inuit received $23 million to help build roads, sewers and houses in five remote communities.

Musical torture

After being bombarded with syrupy music from groups like the Backstreet Boys, students occupying University of Toronto president Robert Prichard’s office ended their 10-day protest. The students, who were demanding a ban on school merchandise made in Third World sweatshops, said they had achieved their goal of publicizing the issue. The idea of musical punishment seems to be blowing in the wind. A Detroit judge sentenced a teenager who’d been playing his rap music too loud to two hours of Wayne Newton songs.

Fraud case collapses

More than 60 charges of fraud against flamboyant Ottawa-area developer Jose Perez and a handful of associates have been dropped after the Crown acknowledged it did not disclose some evidence to the defence. Perez was a mover in Ottawa political circles until his spectacular $270-million bankruptcy in 1994. The RCMP had been probing his companies’ finances for five years.