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TOP STORIES-EXPANDED: Muslim cemetery rejection, massive evacuation, more


Published on July 17, 2017

Smoke and fire retardant is seen along a neighbourhood in Lake Country, B.C., Sunday, July 16, 2017. Over one hundred wildfires are burning throughout British Columbia, forcing thousands of residents to be subject to evacuation orders or alerts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

©THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Five stories in the news for Monday, July 17

1.) QUEBEC VOTERS REJECT MUSLIM CEMETERY PROJECT

A plan to establish the Quebec City area's first Muslim-owned and run cemetery was defeated in a referendum Sunday by a vote of 19 to 16. Voters were deciding whether or not to allow a zoning change for the proposed site in Saint-Apollinaire, 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City. The plan for the cemetery was developed after January's deadly mosque shooting, but the issue was sent to a referendum after enough people came forward to oppose the project.  TO READ MORE ON THIS STORY, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN.

2.) RESOURCES STRETCHED AS B.C. WILDFIRES RAGE

Fast-moving wildfires in the B.C. Interior are posing serious challenges for crews fighting to keep the flames from more than a dozen communities. As many as 37,000 residents have been forced from their homes and are flooding into crowded evacuation centres amid a provincial state of emergency that officials say could last many weeks. More than 160 wildfires are burning, including 15 that pose a danger to nearby communities, and there's still no significant rain in the weather forecast. TO READ MORE ON THIS STORY, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN

3.) COUILLARD TO DISCUSS QUEBEC AFFIRMATION

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has contacted several of his counterparts to discuss his constitutional initiative and says he wants to raise the topic at the Council of the Federation meeting in Edmonton. The council members will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday. They were scheduled to meet with Indigenous leaders today, but that meeting is up in the air. Three of the five First Nations groups have said they'll boycott the meeting because they believe they should be part of the full Council of the Federation.  TO READ MORE ON THIS STORY, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN

4.) TRUMP TO REVEAL HIS NAFTA OBJECTIVES

After campaigning and complaining about NAFTA for two years, Donald Trump is about to start doing some explaining: the U.S. president is poised to release a list as early as today revealing how he wants to change the deal. American law requires the administration to publish a list of its objectives entering trade negotiations. The reason this could happen any day is because the administration hopes to start negotiations around Aug. 16 and the law requires this list be posted online 30 days in advance.  TO READ MORE ON THIS STORY, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN

5.) DOCTORS SAY MORE HELP NEEDED TO REDUCE OPIOID USE

An addictions doctor in Saskatchewan says physicians need more help to treat people with chronic pain without prescribing them opioids. Dr. Peter Butt says new national guidelines released in May make it clear that doctors should only use opioids as a last resort for people with chronic, non-cancer pain. The problem, Butt says, is that some physicians will think that “all of a sudden they have to dial everyone back” as opposed to doing it on a case-by-case basis.  TO READ MORE ON THIS STORY, PLEASE SCROLL DOWN

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Expanded coverage of the stories above:

1.) Voters reject Quebec City-area Muslim cemetery project 19 to 16

THE CANADIAN PRESS

SAINT-APOLLINAIRE, Que. - It was by the slimmest of margins that a plan to establish the Quebec City area's first Muslim-owned and run cemetery was defeated in a referendum Sunday by a vote of 19 to 16.

Voters were deciding whether or not to allow a zoning change for the proposed site in Saint-Apollinaire, 35 kilometres southwest of Quebec City.

The plan for the cemetery was developed after January's deadly mosque shooting, but the issue was sent to a referendum after enough people came forward to oppose the project.

In the end, the outcome came down to the 35 people who cast valid ballots -- a tough pill to swallow for the man who led the project.

“How can it be that 19 (people) can stop a project by several thousand people? It doesn't make sense!” said Mohamed Kesri, the man mandated by the Quebec City mosque to lead the project.

Saint-Apollinaire Mayor Bernard Ouellet also said he was disappointed by the result, which he chalked up to “fear and disinformation.”

“I think there needs to be more understanding when it comes to Muslims,” he said. “I've said this from the beginning, I think what turned people against (the project) is a lot of misunderstanding about that group,” he said.

But another resident, who was involved in the campaigning, said she and many others believe a multi-faith cemetery would be a better choice for the city.

“Multi-denominational is the future,” said Sunny Letourneau, who lives outside the voting area but says she would have voted 'no' had she cast a ballot.

“Young people under 50 are more and more numerous in not wanting to attend any church at all.”

Letourneau said various other solutions were proposed, including an Islamic section in a multi-faith cemetery.

Far from being a victory, she said the referendum results were sad for everyone.

“People are extremely divided,” she said through tears. “Some families are being driven apart by this.”

Ouellet says he doesn't have a “Plan B” now that the initiative has been rejected.

“I don't have another step in sight,” he said.

Due to a Quebec law permitting referendums on zoning matters, only 49 people who live and work around the proposed site were eligible to vote.

Thirty-six of 49 registered voters cast ballots. One was rejected.

Kesri previously indicated he wouldn't give up the project, saying the Muslim community deserves the same rights as all other religious groups, which have their own burial grounds.

“There are Catholic cemeteries, Protestant cemeteries, Jewish cemeteries - we aren't inventing anything here,” he told The Canadian Press last week.

In June, Quebec adopted a law allowing municipalities to forgo referendums on land projects in order to give more power to local authorities.

Kesri said Quebec City's Muslim community was considering pressuring politicians to have the new legislation applied - if need be.

Quebec City's Muslims have been looking for a cemetery for two decades, but made a renewed push after they completed the payment for the city's main mosque, in 2011, Kesri said.

It was there last January that a gunman shot dead six men in the main prayer hall and injured 19 others. The bodies were sent overseas and to Montreal for burial.

-- By Morgan Lowrie in Montreal

2.) Officials 'scrambling' to meet needs of B.C. wildfire evacuees: minister

THE CANADIAN PRESS

KAMLOOPS, B.C. - Fast-moving wildfires in British Columbia are posing serious challenges for crews fighting to keep the flames from more than a dozen communities, officials said Sunday.

As many as 37,000 residents have been forced to leave their homes and are flooding into crowded evacuation centres amid a provincial state of emergency that Transportation Minister Todd Stone said could last “many weeks.”

More evacuation orders were issued Saturday night as winds picked up in the Interior, jumping highways and threatening to cut off escape routes.

Thousands of residents who were told to leave the central Interior city of Williams Lake headed south to Kamloops, which has already become a temporary home for thousands displaced by wildfires this year.

Stone said resources in Kamloops are “approaching the point of being a bit stretched,” but no evacuee will be turned away.

“Officials in Kamloops are scrambling to pull together any and all resources we can to meet the needs of all evacuees who show up here,” he said during a conference call.

“We are going to get through this. We are resilient.”

British Columbia last declared a state of emergency because of wildfires in 2003, when more than 50,000 people were evacuated from Kelowna and the surrounding area.

Robert Turner with Emergency Management BC said this year's fire season is unique because there are so many fires spread across the province and it's still early in the season.

“The difference this time is the geographic scope and that we're seeing multiple communities throughout (the province), and that it's earlier in the fire season so the possible duration of this is different,” he said.

Kevin Skrepnek, B.C.'s chief fire information officer, said there were more than 160 wildfires burning on Sunday, including 15 that pose a very real threat to nearby communities.

“We were seeing violent behaviour out there on many incidents. In some cases we did have to withdraw our own personnel from the fire line to ensure their safety,” he said.

Hot, windy weather has also caused a fire that started burning near Ashcroft to balloon and fire officials estimate it has now burned through 423 square kilometres.

Fire information officer Ellie Dupont said that blaze has gone through a few towns, but she could not say how many buildings were destroyed.

She said the fire is burning very aggressively because of the weather, the dry fuel and the region's topography. Every specialist who has come in to work on the fire over the past week has made a comment about how “nasty” the fire is, she said.

Another fast-moving fire raced through brush and forest above Okanagan Lake in the community of Lake Country on Saturday, destroying eight homes.

The fire escalated quickly, fanned by strong winds and it moved uphill fast, said Steve Windsor, Lake Country's fire chief.

“I want you to know we did everything possible to save and protect everyone's homes,” he told a news conference on Sunday.

“We never want to lose property. It's against our basic nature as firefighters. But given the behaviour of the fire and how quickly it was moving, we did our best.”

Forests Minister John Rustad said on Sunday that 2,900 people are battling blazes across B.C., including 415 from out of province. There are 203 aircraft assisting in the fire fight.

An EC130 helicopter working on a blaze west of Williams Lake crashed on Saturday, injuring the pilot. Rustad said the pilot, the only person on board at the time of the crash, was in stable condition on Sunday.

Williams Lake Coun. Jason Ryll said his truck was already packed and ready to go when the alert was issued late Saturday.

He said the drive out of town was surreal.

“The lineup of traffic, of people, leaving the city was incredibly long. It was a long ribbon of red tail lights, all headed in the same direction,” he said. “It was almost dreamlike. A scene of a movie, almost, to be leaving in such numbers from your hometown.”

Ryll made it to Kamloops and stayed the night, then headed north on Sunday to meet with the rest of his family members who left for Prince George before the evacuation order was issued.

The roads were much less busy after the evacuation order, and the streets are still blanketed in smoke and ash, he said.

“It's thick, thick smoke. You can taste it in the air,” he said. “It's hard to comprehend.”

As a city councillor, Ryll said he's frustrated that preventative action wasn't taken earlier.

Forests in the Interior “are tinder-dry, waiting for fire,” he said. “We've gotten too good at fighting fires .... This is a problem that is not going to go away.”

More than $81 million has been spent fighting wildfires so far this year.

- By Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver, with files from Nicole Thompson and Maija Kappler

3.) Couillard wants to talk about his constitutional document with other premiers

By Caroline Plante

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard has contacted several of his counterparts to discuss his constitutional initiative and says he wants to raise the topic at the Council of the Federation meeting in Edmonton.

“I'm quite happy about the public and private reaction of my colleagues,” Couillard said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press. “All of them see very positively the desire from Quebec to explain its point of view and also to participate in an even stronger way in the Canadian federation.

“I'm not expecting any conversation in Edmonton about a constitutional conference. I'm going to be there to maybe explain the document to my colleagues but also show them how we can work even closer together.”

Couillard said the premiers' meeting will actually focus on topics that “are much more important in the daily lives of Canadians and Quebecers,” including security issues, the legalization of cannabis, softwood lumber and free trade with the United States.

The document outlining Couillard's thinking about Quebec's place within Canada was released six weeks ago and is entitled, “Quebecers: Our Way of Being Canadians.”

He has said the goal of his government's proposal is to “start a dialogue” about Quebec's place in the country, which he hopes will lead to the eventual reopening of constitutional negotiations and to Quebec finally signing the 1982 Constitution.

While Couillard eventually wants to secure recognition of his province's distinctiveness in the Constitution, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been adamant he will not reopen the highest law of the land.

Moreover, the Quebec premier's initiative did not exactly get a ringing endorsement from his counterparts.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall recently put his own constitutional demand on the table: fixing the equalization program he says takes $500 million a year out of his province while providing $11 billion annually to Quebec.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne adopted a more conciliatory tone at the time, but nevertheless appeared to indicate that reopening the Constitution is not among Ontarians' priorities.

On the cannabis front, meanwhile, Couillard said he has certain concerns about the federal government's plan to legalize the drug for adults, as of next July 1.

“There are a significant number of medical reports that show young people, late teens up to young adult age, can have detrimental effects from significant consumption of cannabis, in terms of mental health,” he said.

“I'm quite concerned but I also tell myself, 'Be realistic.' Young people will still use it even if the legal age is 21.”

Couillard said he understands each province will not have an identical approach to cannabis but added, “we cannot have vastly different frameworks, particularly for provinces that are neighbours.”

The Council of the Federation will meet on Tuesday and Wednesday.

On Monday, the premiers are to convene with Indigenous leaders, but that meeting is up in the air.

Three of the five First Nations groups announced Friday they will boycott the meeting because they believe they should be part of the full Council of the Federation.

4.) It's show time: Trump to reveal his hopes for NAFTA

By Alexander Panetta

THE CANADIAN PRESS

WASHINGTON - After campaigning and complaining about NAFTA for two years, Donald Trump is about to start doing some explaining: the U.S. president is poised to release a list as early as today revealing how he wants to change the deal.

American law requires that the administration publish a list of its objectives entering trade negotiations. The reason this could happen any day is because the administration hopes to start negotiations around Aug. 16 and the law requires this list be posted online 30 days in advance.

Expect the Canadian government to say little in response to the list.

“I can't imagine that we would start negotiating before the negotiations actually start,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday. “We're going to be responsible about this, to be thoughtful and responsible in how we engage the administration.”

That tight-lipped approach stems from the Canadian government's overall strategy: Make the Americans lay out their cards first, given that they asked for these negotiations and in the parlance of trade talks are the “demandeur.”

The U.S. has signalled wildly conflicting approaches.

Trump keeps threatening to rip up the trade agreement in the absence of a major renegotiation. His vice-president just delivered a speech exuding collegiality and promising a new NAFTA that would be a “win-win-win.”

The signals to Congress have been equally contradictory.

In a leaked draft of a letter to lawmakers, the administration showed at a desire to play hardball and seek changes that would be deemed non-starters by the other countries. It later released a bare-bones, modest version of that letter.

It was with this letter that the Trump administration formally declared its intention to enter trade negotiations with Canada and Mexico. Those mixed messages are due in part to philosophical differences within Trump's team about how aggressive to get on trade.

A veteran of U.S. trade negotiations suggests this upcoming notice will fall somewhere between the two versions of those letters to lawmakers: more detailed than the final version, less expansive than the draft.

“It will be more specific but I think still broad-brush bullet points on what they want to accomplish,” said Welles Orr, a senior U.S. trade official under George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

“So no surprises. I don't expect we're going to see anything that pops out as 'Oh, wow, we didn't see this coming.' So I think it'll be kind of perfunctory.”

Here's what he expects in the new NAFTA: modern chapters on digital commerce, modelled on those in the now-dormant Trans-Pacific Partnership; changes to auto-parts import rules that all three countries can live with; and a bruising fight over dairy.

He predicts the dairy issue will come down to the final wire: “That's the hotbed issue that's hanging out there that will be the last issue to get resolved. But if that's resolved, I don't see a whole lot of contention on the Canadian side.”

The reason the administration has to publish this list, and release letters to Congress, is because of a deal between the legislative and executive branches of the U.S. government, enshrined in what's known as a fast-track law.

Under the terms of that deal, U.S. lawmakers relinquish their power to amend an international agreement, as is their right under the U.S. Constitution; in exchange, lawmakers are consulted throughout the negotiating process.

That process includes public hearings - on Tuesday, for instance, the House of Representatives committee in charge of trade will hold a hearing on NAFTA, how it's worked, and how it could be modernized.

It was Orr's job to act as a liaison to Congress as the deputy assistant U.S. trade czar.

He believes the administration will deliver more specific marching orders to the negotiating team in the upcoming public notice, including a desire to work quickly. That desire for a fast negotiation could be hindered by the fact that the U.S. trade czar's office still has numerous positions unfilled.

But he believes it can be done this year: “I think what is going to play out is a relatively short negotiation. Meaning a deal can be probably hatched by December... I think there's a more expedient need (for Trump) to get a win, that would put a lot of what might be seen as controversial issues to the side for the sake of getting this win.

“This is one of his hallmark campaign issues. He has to have a win. He has got to show that he's done something. I think he can make some modest improvements - necessary improvements, that brings (NAFTA), frankly, into a more 21st century agreement,” said Orr, now a trade adviser at the Washington law firm Miller & Chevalier.

5.) Doctors say more support needed to help patients reduce opioid use

By Jennifer Graham

THE CANADIAN PRESS

An addictions doctor in Saskatchewan says physicians need more help to treat people with chronic pain without prescribing them opioids.

Dr. Peter Butt, addictions consultant for the Saskatoon Health Region, says new national guidelines released in May are clear that doctors should only use opioids as a last resort for people with chronic, non-cancer pain.

“Which means that there needs to be better access to physical therapy, massage therapy and transcontinuous nerve stimulation,” Butt says.

“A lot of non-pharmacological interventions, which aren't readily available in the health-care system, need to be made more accessible to people that are struggling with chronic pain.”

Butt says it's about improving function.

“If you constantly chase ... chronic pain, it'll just keep on coming back, and the dose of opioids will escalate and escalate to a point that there's a problem,” he says.

Butt says the new guidelines are better than what existed before in terms of dosage.

They say opioids such as oxycodone, hydromorphone and the fentanyl patch should be restricted to less than the equivalent of 90 milligrams of morphine a day, and ideally to less than 50 mg.

A previous guideline suggested doctors could use a “watchful dose” the equivalent of 200 mg of morphine daily.

The problem, Butt says, is that some physicians will think that “all of a sudden they have to dial everyone back” as opposed to doing it on a case-by-case basis.

Butt, who is also on a provincial committee addressing fentanyl and opioid deaths, says that could put some patients into withdrawal.

“Without a good transitional strategy, you may have people who revert to street fentanyl or street heroin because they're not getting adequate medical care for their pain,” he says.

It's not known how many Canadians are hooked on opioids, but the highly addictive drugs were responsible for an estimated 2,500 overdose deaths across the country in 2016. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, told The Canadian Press last month that if the current trend continues, there could be more than 3,000 deaths in Canada this year.

The principal investigator for the 2017 Canadian Guideline for Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain says the guidelines include a weak recommendation to taper opioids, meaning gradually reducing the dose.

Jason Busse, a researcher for the Michael G. DeGroote National Pain Centre and an assistant professor of anesthesia at McMaster University, says a weak recommendation means doctors should recognize that different choices will be needed for each patient.

Busse says the threshold of the equivalent of 90 milligrams of morphine a day “should not be viewed as an absolute” and some patients may not get there.

There are risks to over-aggressively weaning patients off the drugs, he says.

“And as Dr. Butt states, there's at least a chance that in some cases the symptoms of withdrawal may be so unmanageable for patients that they might look to supplement their opioid through going to illicit sources and this obviously can have catastrophic consequences.”

Busse says if the tapering recommendations are followed, there need to be a lot of safeguards in place against rapid, inappropriate reduction as well as better access to other therapies.

But doctors can't deliver services that aren't available, he says.

“If the resources aren't available, that can be a very difficult recommendation to implement and particularly in rural areas ... where perhaps resources are quite limited.”

Chronic pain is complicated, Busse adds.

“It often requires taking a fair bit of time with patients ... so I do think that physicians in many cases would benefit from greater access to resources, from greater support.”