COVID may be contributing to increase in 'random assaults' in Vancouver: experts

New data reveals that, on average, four people are assaulted by complete strangers in Vancouver every day. Police analysts combed through hundreds of crime reports to uncover the startling figure. They call these unprovoked and random attacks concerning and a starting point to help solve the problem. Jordan Armstrong reports.

VANCOUVER – An uptick in random assaults highlighted by Vancouver police could point to bigger problems that may be magnified by the pandemic, say experts.

Vancouver police said in a series of posts on social media last week that there were 1,555 “unprovoked, stranger assaults” involving 1,705 victims reported between Sept. 1, 2020, and Aug. 31 this year.

“The majority of victims were simply going about their day: running errands, walking, or visiting our city,” said a post.

Const. Tania Visintin said an assault is defined as random when there’s no relationship between the victim and the suspect, and no event led up to the attack.

“Meaning there was no verbal communication or no physical interaction,” she said. “It’s completely random. Out of the blue.”

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‘Alarming’: Vancouver police say city averaging 4 random assaults per day

Police began to notice the increase when officers compared notes at morning meetings to discuss overnight events, Visintin said.

“We need to collect this data,” she said. “And that way we know how we can use our resources to make the city safe.”

Experts say there could be a range of reasons for the rise in random assaults, including the COVID-19 pandemic.

Colton Fehr, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s school of criminology, said COVID-19 has put “a lot of different and significant pressures” on people.

“And it’s understandable, I think, for more emotion to be kind of coming to the surface and in those types of circumstances we might see more irrational types of actions, such as assault,” Fehr said.

“That might be one speculative consideration.”

Statistics Canada said in a report released in July that while there were “fairly widespread declines in many types of crime” in 2020, the country saw increases in the “rates of various criminally harassing and threatening behaviours” compared with 2019. It said those included uttering threats, criminal harassment and indecent or harassing communications.

Statistics from three other major Canadian cities show different trends on the number of assaults, although none of them have tracked random or unprovoked attacks.

Toronto reported 17,323 assaults in 2019, which dropped down to 15,203 last year. So far this year, 15,737 assaults have been reported in the city.

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Edmonton police spokeswoman Cheryl Voordenhout said the city has seen a three per cent increase in assaults in its downtown area this year compared with the same time in 2020. But the number of assaults from across the city dropped by about four per cent during the same time period.

Edmonton police reported a seven per cent increase in “mental health-related occurrences” in the downtown area and a two per cent increase citywide for the same time period last year as compared with 2021, she added.

Earlier this month, police Chief Dale McFee addressed what has been happening in the city’s downtown, saying police are working with the provincial department responsible for mental health and addictions.

“We need some supports and some investments made in some of these spaces,” he said.

Const. John MacLeod of Halifax Regional Police said the city saw 2,371 assaults in 2019, 2,379 last year and 1,906 this year.

“As you can appreciate, the number of reports vary from month to month and year to year due to many factors and as such we would not be able to speak to specific trends,” he said in an email.

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Police release video of latest random assault in downtown Vancouver

Vancouver police released examples of the kind of unprovoked assaults officers have investigated.

In one case, a woman was walking with her elderly father when a girl who appeared to be around 12 years old punched her in the nose. The suspect has yet to be identified, the police department said on social media.

In another, a man was running errands when someone came up behind him and cut his throat, police said. Witnesses helped the man, who had “significant injuries,” police said. A suspect was arrested and charged.

Fehr said mental-health conditions could be exacerbated during the pandemic.

“So really, those who may otherwise be treated or may otherwise be able to cope with their conditions, they’re under a lot more stress in the context of a global pandemic,” he said.

“And one of the things that could happen, depending on the nature of one’s mental illness, they might do something that we would otherwise think is irrational, such as these random sorts of assaults.”

Robert Gordon, a professor at Simon Fraser University’s school of criminology, said the assaults could be a result of a combination of different factors, including drug addictions, homelessness or mental health problems.

“It’s a cocktail that’s quite toxic and not one that we should be surprised about. And it’s taken the COVID situation, I think, to bring it to a bit of a head, because people are scared. Some of that fear pumps up, amplifies the issue of random attacks on the street.”

Visintin said while COVID-19 could be a contributing factor, there is a bigger picture that includes mental illness and drug addiction. Vancouver police intend to continue collecting the data.

Fehr said the information is important because a lot can be learned from the figures, and not just in Vancouver but by comparing it with other jurisdictions as well.

“This sort of data is very valuable for learning how to best govern in times that are akin to emergencies,” he said. “There’s a lot to be gained by collecting this data.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Police make arrest in hit and run that killed 16-year-old boy north of Montreal

Quebec provincial police confirmed the arrest of two individuals in connection with a deadly hit and run in Saint-Lin-Laurentides, about 60 kilometres north of Montreal, in September.

The two men, aged 20 and 21, hail from Terrebonne and Sainte-Sophie, respectively. They are expected to appear in court Wednesday afternoon in Joliette to face charges in connection with the death of a 16-year-old boy on Sept. 29.

Police said the teen was struck and killed while walking along the side of route 335 by a driver who did not stop to help him.

At the time, Émile Martineau’s death sent shockwaves through the community.

“Everyone is angry,” said Zachary Tessier, Martineau’s friend. Tessier added Martineau was killed near a daycare where his mom works.

“Émile was a good boy who had a lot of joy,” said Lyly Boisvert Delarosbel, another one of Martineau’s friends.

At the beginning of the month, the SQ said it had located a truck in a parking lot in Saint-Lin-Laurentides that they believed was involved in the death but were still looking for the driver.

Police did not indicate how the two individuals arrested were involved in the fatal incident.

Read more:
Quebec police find vehicle believed to have killed teen in hit-and-run

Nonetheless, news of the arrests comes as a relief to Martineau’s family.

“It won’t bring Émile back but at least justice will be served,” his stepmother Julie Léveillé told Global News in a written statement.

She said investigators worked hard to build a solid case and knowing that brings comfort.

“We’ll be able to start grieving the amazing teen that Émile was.”

The SQ is inviting anyone with information to contact the Centrale de l’Information Criminelle or call 1 800 659-4264.

— with files from Global News’ Olivia O’Malley and Alessia Marratta


© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Snow expected to continue to hit the Coquihalla on Wednesday

More snow is expected to fall on the higher elevations of the Coquihalla on Wednesday, Environment Canada says.

The national weather agency’s special weather statement for the Coquihalla Highway, from Hope to Merritt, is continuing Wednesday with 10 to 20 centimetres of snow forecast between the day and the evening.

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“An unstable westerly flow will bring snow near the Coquihalla Summit today through tonight,” read the special weather statement on Wednesday.

“The snow will be at times mixed with rain near the summit, and remain as rain over lower elevations of the route. Snowfall accumulations will depend greatly on the exact snow level, but could range from 10 to 20 cm by Thursday morning.”

Since the start of October, winter tires have been required for all highways in the Interior and North, sections of some highways on the South Coast, including the Sea to Sky Highway, and sections of some highways on Vancouver Island, including the Malahat and highways 4, 14 and 28.

Approved tires carry either the M+S (mud and snow) or mountain/snowflake symbol and must have at least 3.5 millimetres of treads.

Drivers caught without the proper tires on designated routes could face a fine of $121.

READ MORE: Winter tires mandatory on most B.C. highways starting Oct. 1

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Lost, missing hiker didn't answer rescuers' calls because it was unknown number

“I’m not answering that!” is a common refrain nowadays when an unknown number pops up on our phones. But then, most of the time we haven’t been missing in the wilderness for 24 hours.

Authorities say a man, who remains unidentified, became lost while hiking on Colorado’s tallest mountain, Mount Elbert, and ignored multiple phone calls from rescue teams because they came from an unknown number.

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Lake County Search and Rescue (LCSAR) claims it got a report last week that a hiker hadn’t returned from the mountain — he had set out at 9 a.m. on Oct. 18 and wasn’t back by 8 p.m., said the organization on its official Facebook page.

“Multiple attempts to contact the subject via their cell phone were unsuccessful,” reads the LCSAR statement.

Five rescue team members were deployed later that night to search “high probability areas,” but they failed to locate the man by early the next morning.

A second team of rescuers resumed the search at 7 a.m. on Oct. 19, but they were soon notified that the hiker, who didn’t know he was being searched for, had already returned to where he was staying.

“The subject stated they’d lost the trail around nightfall and spent the night searching for the trail, and once on the trail, bounced around onto different trails trying to locate the proper trailhead, finally reaching their car the next morning, approximately 24 hours after they’d started their hike,” LCSAR said.

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The lesson here is to answer your phone — no matter what the number is — if you’re not where you’re supposed to be at a certain time, particularly if you’re out hiking alone.

“The subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognize the number,” LCSAR said. “If you’re overdue according to your itinerary, and you start getting repeated calls from an unknown number, please answer the phone; it may be a SAR team trying to confirm you’re safe!”

LCSAR also emphasized that when someone is in a difficult situation, it can be hard to be logical or make the right decision.

“Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking,” it said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Item containing radioactive material stolen from vehicle: London, Ont. police

The London Police Service has issued a public safety warning after an item containing radioactive material was stolen from a vehicle earlier this month.

Police say a citizen contacted them Oct. 19 to report that items were stolen from his vehicle on Dundas Street, between Adelaide and Lyle streets, overnight.

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Among the items stolen was a Troxler 3430, a moisture density gauge.

Police say the service was contacted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on Tuesday and that officials warned police that the device contains a radioactive material, though it is “considered to be low-risk and unlikely to be dangerous.”

According to police, the commission added that “although it is very unlikely that anyone would be permanently injured by the amount of radioactive material contained in the stolen property, unshielded radioactive material could temporarily injure someone who handles or who is in contact with it, or who is close to it for several weeks.”

If anyone has information about the theft, or if they locate the device, police ask them to contact the service at (519) 661-5670 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

$25,000 donation supports campaign to renovate Peterborough’s new opioid response hub

An additional $25,000 has been donated to support a campaign to renovate the future safe consumption and drug treatment site in downtown Peterborough.

On Tuesday, Fourcast — one of the organizations to serve in the opioid response hub at 220 Simcoe St. — announced a $25,000 donation from the Brian and Lynne Kelly Family Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough. The funds will go directly to the Light the Way to $160K campaign launched in September to renovate the hub in the former Greyhound bus station.

Initially announced in October 2020, the opioid response hub in June received approval from Health Canada to provide a safe, hygienic space for people to use drugs under the supervision of health professionals to prevent opioid poisoning deaths.

Read more:
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“We hope this donation encourages others to learn about the opioid crisis and make their own contributions to the Light the Way Campaign,” stated Brian Kelly.

Community Foundation co-executive director Jennifer DeBues says the funding will help provide services to combat the effects of the opioid crisis and provide access to counselling, programming, housing and income supports for clients.

“Brian and Lynne recognize that the opioid issue is destroying lives, shattering families and taking its toll on the entire community,” said DeBues.

With the donation, the campaign has surpassed $72,000 of its $160,000 goal. The public can donate to the project at the CFGP’s site or drop off cheques made out to the “Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough” (include “CTS Fund” in the memo) at 261 George St. N. suite 202, K9J 3G9 in Peterborough.

The campaign runs until Nov. 30.

The opioid response hub will feature programs and wraparound services from Fourcast, PARN, the 360 Degree Nurse Practitioner-Led Clinic (NPLC), Peterborough County-City Paramedics and the Mobile Support Overdose Resource Team.

In the most recent available data, from Jan. 1 to June 30 this year Peterborough County-City Paramedics responded to 244 suspected opioid-related calls — the highest number of calls since monitoring began in 2018. There were 36 suspected opioid-related deaths in Peterborough city and county.

“Supporting the opioid response hub is an active step towards creating solutions to the opioid crisis in Peterborough,” said Fourcast executive director Donna Rogers. “On behalf of Fourcast and all the partners involved at the opioid response hub, I’d like to thank Brian and Lynne Kelly for showing such generosity and compassion with this donation.”

“Along with all others who have donated to our Light The Way campaign, it’s clear that many people support our vision to transform 220 Simcoe St. into a place that serves those in our community who are most in need.”

Read more:
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Rogers notes the consumption and treatment site is still awaiting additional funding from the province and no timeline has been set to begin offering the services. However, renovations continue.

“While reopening the site with CTS funding approval would be best, we remain committed to using this perfect location to improve the level of access and response to those who rely on our community partners for support,” she said.


© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

N.B. to hold briefing to update investigation into mysterious neurological syndrome

A new committee is takin a closer look at the dozens of cases of a mysterious neurological syndrome in New Brunswick. Health officials have yet to identify a cause or a way to treat it. Tim Roszell reports.

New Brunswick is providing an update on a cluster of residents with an unknown and potentially new neurological syndrome on Wednesday afternoon.

The briefing — which will include Health Minister Dorothy Shephard, Dr. Natalie Banville, vice-president of medical affairs for Vitalité Health Network and Dr. Susan Brien, vice-president medical, academic and research affairs for Horizon Health Network — will take place at 2 p.m. AT.

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The event will be live-streamed here.

In March, New Brunswick health officials alerted the province’s doctors, nurses and pharmacists about the cluster. The cluster involved around 50 cases, and eight people have died in that group since 2019.

Symptoms are described as being similar to those of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

The New Brunswick government launched a website in April to update the public on what it called a “neurological syndrome of unknown cause.”

A study led by Dr. Gerard Jansen of the University of Ottawa has since suggested that the original cases were “misclassified clinical diagnoses.”

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Queen's University expert says pandemic blurred line between work and rest

WATCH: A Queen's University business professor says taking time away from work is necessary for mental health.

For many workers and businesses across Ontario, working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic has become the new norm.

Kitchens and dens have been transformed into remote offices, which is said to have made “unplugging” difficult.

According to Matthias Spitzmuller, an associate professor at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business, the line between work and time off has been blurred.

“We’ve seen an increasing trend in organizations to expect employees to be reached after hours, and that emails that are sent in late afternoon hours/evening hours will indeed be replied to same day,” Spitzmuller explained.

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Ontario government introduces omnibus labour legislation, including right to disconnect

According to an online poll conducted in April by accounting firm KPMG, nearly half of the 1,000 Canadian employees surveyed said their workload is heavier than it was pre-pandemic.

More than 30 per cent said they’re so overworked they are or close to burning out.

To help workers achieve a better work-life balance, Ontario’s labour minister introduced new “right to disconnect” legislation on Monday.

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The legislation would require businesses with 25 or more employees to develop disconnecting-from-work policies, which could include workers no longer replying to emails after hours, and encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they are not working.

“What the initative is trying to address is precisely this expecation that employees have to be online, have to respond in a very timely manner, and protect some family time,” Spitzmuller said.

Spitzmuller also adds that sleeping patterns have been greatly affected, as more and more people spend the time they should be in bed recharging, on their phones.

In 2016, France adopted right to disconnect legislation — and if Ontario does the same it will be a first of its kind in Canada.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Beijing Winter Olympics: 100 days to go until opening ceremonies

Building for Beijing: Alpine skier Erin Mielzynski

With the dust barely settled on the recent Summer Games, a reminder came Wednesday that the next Olympiad is fast approaching.

The opening ceremonies for the 2022 Beijing Olympics are 100 days out, and the Games will likely have some similarities to Tokyo last summer.

The presence of COVID-19 restrictions will again be a constant theme. And just like Tokyo, athletes will participate after enduring dramatic changes to their training, travel and overall preparation for the Games due to the pandemic.

The Beijing Olympics will begin Feb. 4, just six months after the closing ceremony capped a Summer Games that was postponed a year because of COVID-19.

Read more:
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“This is a very, very quick turnaround for us,” said Canadian Olympic Committee CEO David Shoemaker. “That’s by and large behind the scenes but it also means that there’s a group of athletes who are qualifying for the Games still that have their Olympic dreams.

“Their pursuit is to be realized in February and we have to work very quickly with them in a very short period of time to help them realize those dreams.”

Events in Tokyo were held in mostly empty venues. Fans will be allowed in Beijing but spectators from outside mainland China will not be allowed to attend.

Organizers plan to use a so-called bubble setup for athletes, media, officials and Games workers to try to limit potential infections. The Olympics will run through Feb. 20 and the Paralympics are set for March 3-14.

“It’s definitely crazy, it’s totally crept up on us,” said Canadian ski cross racer Brady Leman. “Like it is right around the corner now so it’s time to get to work with the early-season World Cups.

“I’m definitely fired up and I love the pressure and the buildup to the Games and that feeling like you’re building up to something bigger every race.”

The Olympic flame arrived in Beijing last week after activist groups disrupted the flame lighting ceremony in Greece, accusing the International Olympic Committee of granting legitimacy to rights abuses in China.

Human rights activists have said that China’s oppression of political critics and minority groups should prompt athletes and politicians to shun the Games.

IOC president Thomas Bach has said the Olympics must be “respected as politically neutral ground.” That likely won’t silence the critics, who aren’t letting up with their boycott calls.

“My point of view is that sport is an incredibly powerful and important tool,” Shoemaker said. “Canadian athletes can do a heck of a lot more good by showing up to these Winter Games than they would by not showing up.”

Read more:
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Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic athletes must be vaccinated to compete in Beijing. The Canadian team was over 95 per cent fully vaccinated in Tokyo.

Gracenote, an international data analytics company, is forecasting 21 medals for Canada in Beijing: five gold, eight silver and eight bronze. Norway is pegged to lead with 25 gold medals and a total of 41 medals overall.

“The 100 days out (mark) is really stressful because it really solidifies that it’s going on, we’re going to Beijing, we’re going to compete, the Olympics are happening,” said Canadian freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe.

“It’s a really exciting time and we’re all just so excited to get back to an event this big and be able to compete on the world stage.”

Canada won 29 medals (11-8-10) at the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Beijing also hosted the Summer Games in 2008.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Moose Lake man charged with drug offence after incident in The Pas

A man from Moose Lake has been charged after Manitoba RCMP found drugs and gang paraphernalia during an incident in The Pas.

The Pas RCMP said they were called to a possible stabbing on Dufferin Street in the northern community just after 5 p.m. Saturday. They were given a description of the suspect.

When they arrived, police said they found an injured 26-year-old man and the suspect, 30, who was arrested. He was found to be in possession of 28 grams of cocaine, 20 grams of crack cocaine (individually wrapped), and a Manitoba Warriors gang patch.

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The victim, police said, hadn’t been stabbed, but didn’t want to give a statement to officers. He was treated by medical personnel and released.

Tyler Ballantyne, 30, of Moose Lake, has been charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, possession of property obtained by crime and failure to comply. He was scheduled to appear in court on Tuesday.

The Pas RCMP continue to investigate.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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