Shelling kills 10 children in Aleppo as Syria violence rises

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BEIRUT – Ten children have been killed by rebel shelling on Syria’s largest city this weekend, as the U.N. warned of “desperate” conditions inside a war-ravaged Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus. The violence underscores the fragility of the cease-fire in Syria, which has unraveled in the north despite ongoing peace negotiations.

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Rebel shelling killed sixteen people in Aleppo – including six adults, and three young siblings – a monitoring group said Sunday. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that airstrikes killed another six people in the opposition-held parts of the city’s old quarters.

Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said at least five of the sixteen dead in the government-held areas were killed by rebel snipers and said a further ten were injured.

READ MORE: Syrian refugees give Heritage Minister Joly an earful over difficulty finding jobs

Syria’s warring factions have returned to violence in recent weeks, spoiling a period of relative calm brought about by a partial cease-fire that went into effect in late February.

The U.N. warned that humanitarian conditions are “desperate” inside a Palestinian refugee camp home to about 10,000 civilians in the capital, Damascus.

WATCH: Pope takes Syrian refugees back with him to Rome

The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, said violent battles between extremists have left residents of the Yarmouk camp without food or water for more than a week.

“Civilians in Yarmouk are facing starvation and dehydration alongside the heightened risks of serious injury and death from the armed conflict,” said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

The camp, a built-up neighbourhood once home to an estimated 150,000 people, has been ravaged by fighting between the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, while government forces regularly shell it from outside.

Air strikes near Jisr al-Shughour in opposition-held Idlib province killed three civilians, the Observatory reported. Pro-government forces intensified their shelling and bombing on an opposition-held pocket north of Homs, the country’s third-largest city, according to the Local Coordination Committees, an activist network.

Government and opposition delegations have been engaged in indirect peace talks in Geneva since Wednesday as the U.N. looks for ways to bring an end to the country’s five-year conflict, but the opposition’s chief negotiator urged insurgents to strike at pro-government forces. “Don’t trust the regime and don’t wait for their mercy,” Mohammad Aloush wrote in a post on 老域名怎么购买 Sunday.

More than 250,000 people have died in the conflict, which began in 2011 as a popular uprising demanding government reforms.

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Aaron Sanchez quiets Boston’s bat in Blue Jays’ 5-3 win

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BOSTON – Aaron Sanchez allowed two hits in seven innings of one-run ball, and Jose Bautista drove in two runs with a solo homer and a double to lead the Toronto Blue Jays over the Boston Red Sox 5-3 Sunday.

Edwin Encarnacion added two singles and an RBI for the Blue Jays, who had lost two straight and were 1-4 against the Red Sox. Kevin Pillar had three singles and made two nice catches in centre after being dropped from leadoff to eighth in the batting order.

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Travis Shaw hit a two-run homer off closer Roberto Osuna for Boston, which had won three straight.

READ MORE: 5 things to watch for this Blue Jays season

The teams meet in the finale of the four-game series on Monday in Boston’s annual Patriots’ Day game, which is scheduled for an 11:05 a.m. EDT start and coincides with the running of the Boston Marathon.

Sanchez (1-0) held Boston hitless until Marco Hernandez’s broken-bat single with two outs in the fifth, his first major league hit. Sanchez struck out seven and walked four.

Steven Wright (0-2) had his second good start against the Blue Jays in eight days. The knuckleballer gave up two runs and six hits in six innings, struck out six and walked none.

READ MORE: Toronto Blue Jays superfan has been there since day one

After scoring just five run in the previous two days, the Blue Jays took a 2-0 lead in the first.

Bautista’s homer caromed off the left-field foul pole and rolled behind the infield, where it was picked up by third-base umpire Angel Hernandez. They followed with three straight singles, with Chris Colabello driving in a run.

Hernandez, making his major league debut, had his soft liner drop into left in the fifth when his bat shattered and went back into the new protective screen along the first-base line. He stole second, advanced on catcher Russel Martin’s throwing error and scored on Mookie Betts’ single.

Josh Donaldson’s RBI double off the Green Monster made it 3-1 in the seventh. Encarnacion had his RBI single in that inning.

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Air and ground crews search Trout Creek for missing 33-year-old man

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TROUT CREEK — A major search is underway in Trout Creek in the Faulder area.

Penticton RCMP and search and rescue crews are looking for a 33-year-old man who was thrown from an ATV into the fast running waters on Saturday.

Police were called to a report of a man that had been thrown from an ATV and into Trout Creek shortly after 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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“The man was the passenger of an ATV being driven across a bridge at the 15 km mark of Princeton-Summerland Road, when the male driver lost control and the quad flipped over,” said Cpl. Dan Moskaluk.

“The passenger was thrown into the creek and was immediately swept away by the fast moving water.”

Ground and air crews attended the scene Saturday and searched for the man until about 9 p.m.

“The RCMP helicopter was able to make two passes of the area prior to darkness, however they did not locate the man,” said Moskaluk.

“With the existing light on Saturday evening, Penticton Search and Rescue completed a detailed search in the area along with the Police Service Dog. The ground search also yielded negative results for any sign of the man.”

Investigators are looking into whether alcohol consumption on the part of the quad operator may have been a factor.

“The driver was released from police custody on Saturday without charges,” said Moskaluk.

“As of 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, the man had not been located and may have drowned after being swept away.”

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Calgarians rally to show solidarity with Attawapiskat youth

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CALGARY – The serious situation on the Attawapiskat First Nation has struck a nerve with people across the country, including in Alberta’s largest city.

On Sunday afternoon, a protest was held at Calgary’s Olympic Plaza to call attention to the epidemic of suicide attempts on the northern Ontario First Nation community.

READ MORE: Crisis team dispatched to Attawapiskat after state of emergency declared over suicides

Last week, the chief and council for the Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency as a shocking number of suicide attempts continues to grip the reservation, including 11 attempts in one night and approximately 100 since August.

On Friday, there were five more suicide attempts in Attawapiskat and a 10-year-old child was among the 11 people who tried to kill themselves last Saturday.

Dozens of people came out to the event in downtown Calgary which included several speakers, drummers and singers and an open discussion about possible solutions to issues aboriginal youth face, including suicide, poverty, violence and systemic racism.

“I hope that Calgarians take notice because this is a society issue, it isn’t just that one specific nation. This is our youth our future so we need to take care of them,” said organizer Nancy Diane Simmons.

Brodie Gomez, a 13-year-old boy, read a poem to the crowd and children just like him.

“I know you feel there is no hope for you. I know you feel that there’s only one way out. You must know you are part of something bigger,” Gomez read.

“They’re poor and they don’t have much water or food. They don’t have libraries, they can’t go to school much,” said Gomez.

READ MORE: Attawapiskat: Jean Chrétien says ‘sometimes’ people on First Nations reserves ‘need to move’

The Attawapiskat First Nation on James Bay is home to about 2,000 people. The community has been plagued by suicides and attempted suicides for years. More recently, in March alone, there were 28 suicide attempts. Since the start of April, there have been 15 attempts.

But even parents raising children in the province of Alberta know all too well the struggles they face.

“He (Brodie) went to school in Kainai in grade 1. It was really difficult getting him there. The buses weren’t working, or some days the roads weren’t cleared or sometimes the teacher was sick.  There were no backup plans. Luckily, we were able to move to the city and he has a really good education now,” said Pamela Beebe, Brodie’s mom.

Change is something the children of Attawapiskat will hopefully live to see.

The youth of Attawapiskat have put together a list of things the community needs, including a youth centre with programming, more recreation and sports.

Health Canada has dispatched two mental health counsellors to the community of Attawapiskat as part of the NAN crisis response unit.

The Mushkegowuk Council said northern communities don’t have the resources to deal with a crisis at this capacity.

With files from Tracy Nagai

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3 N.B. fun runs kick off National Organ and Tissue Transplant Awareness Week

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Over 400 people participated in a fun run aimed at increasing awareness for organ and tissue transplant awareness this weekend in New Brunswick.

The Transplant Trot originally started in Moncton over a decade ago. Fredericton came on board just a few years later but this year Saint John became the newest city to host it.

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“It’s all about the idea of making awareness to the cause of transplant donation,” said John Acheson, who helped organize and also serve as the MC of the Fredericton run. “This is a great way to emphasize that through an event like this and promote it a little bit more and make people aware.”

Many taking part in the run do so because they know first-hand how desperate the need for more organ donors is.

“At any one time there’s always about 4,500 people waiting on the transplant list in Canada,” said Kristen Wheaton, Canadian Transplant Association’s regional director. “And about a couple hundred of those will die waiting. There’s just not enough organs out there.”

Wheaton encourages everyone to talk to their family about becoming an organ donor.

“We would love to see people register on their medicare card in New Brunswick to be an organ donor,” she said. “If your family know that’s your wishes it can really bring them comfort in a time of tragedy.”

Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside agrees with the need for more people to become donors, however he thinks the process is backwards.

Organ and Tissue Donation flag raised at Fredericton City Hall

Jeremy Keefe

“I know the system we have on drivers’ licences now says check off if you want to be a donor,” said Woodside at a flag raising ceremony at city hall. “I think you should have to check off if you don’t and I think that leaves a lot more opportunity.”

Woodside says he will bring the idea to city council on Monday night and if there’s support for it the next step will be to propose it to the province.

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‘Better Call Saul’ Season 2 finale: Michael Mando on what’s to come

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There was an initial reluctance to embrace AMC’s Breaking Bad follow-up Better Call Saul; understandably, many viewers didn’t want to sully their experience with a potentially weak sequel.

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It’s been a pleasant surprise, then, to watch Better Call Saul, along with its stellar cast, sustain and in some aspects even exceed the memory of Breaking Bad, while taking the work of Vince Gilligan in a whole other direction. With scenes reminiscent of classic theatre (except replace a musty stage with a blue-skied, wide open desert), Better Call Saul has been a mesmerizing delight as it’s grown over its sophomore season.

READ MORE: The Walking Dead Season 6 finale may be the last straw for fans

Canadian Michael Mando, who didn’t return to his role on Orphan Black to play the Nacho character on Better Call Saul, is right at home in his snakeskin shoes and rattlesnake earring. Ever sincere, he’s overjoyed and proud to be a part of the ensemble, and says the finale is a game-changer. Global News spoke with Mando over the phone from Los Angeles.

Global News: First off, how proud are you to be a part of this show?
Michael Mando: If I’m going to use one word, it’s going to be “gratitude.” I’m grateful to the universe for making my career so interesting. Going from a video game, Far Cry 3, to a webseries, then to a hit Canadian show Orphan Black, then to Better Call Saul. I always feel the responsibility to give back as much as possible. I try my best to shake everybody’s hand and listen to their stories. When you’re blessed with being successful and you keep it in, you’ll self-destruct. You’ve got to share that out.

In Season 2, you don’t have that many scenes with Bob [Odenkirk].
I didn’t have a single scene with Bob this season! It’s the complete opposite of last season. Last season was all Bob, and up to this point, it’s been all Jonathan Banks. I get to work with a lot of recurring characters from Breaking Bad —; Mark, who plays Hector, Luis and Daniel Moncada [“The Cousins”], and Max, who plays Krazy-8 —; and I immediately fell in love with these people as actors. We became close friends, and we do a lot of stuff in Albuquerque when we’re together.

READ MORE: Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston stops by Halifax pub

How was shooting all those intense scenes with Jon?
Jonathan Banks has been acting twice as long as I’ve been alive. He’s extremely experienced, and it’s a real treat to share the screen with him and to see our characters grow off of one another. I’m surrounded by people who’ve done incredible work for generations. I’m blown away.

The writers should be thanked too. They write such beautiful, three-dimensional characters. They pay so much attention to detail. No word is in there by accident.

Do any of you ever have an emotional, visceral reaction to the story and your characters on-set?
There have been points where any one of us could be overwhelmed by something, either professionally or personally, and we were always there for each other. We’re shooting out in the desert, and there’s nothing there. There’s breathtaking skylines and sunsets, but it’s an unfamiliar city to all of us, and that bonds us together in a very strong way. The desert also has a very spiritual effect on me, it has a very interesting energy.

Has that had an effect on the show as a whole?
I know for a fact that the city, the skyline and the desert are all characters in the show. Nacho wears boots that are made out of crocodile skin, and he has a rattlesnake earring. These are all idiosyncracies and attributes that wouldn’t happen if this took place in another city.

Do you and the rest of the cast still do your desert walks?
I haven’t hiked for a long time, but we’re all due. I saw Bob and the gang yesterday, and we’re planning to do it really soon.

READ MORE: Aaron Paul: Breaking Bad fans totally crashed my wedding

People inevitably draw comparisons between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad. Would you say the shows are the same, or different?
I’ll tell you my analogy for this. [Laughs] It’s like Vince Gilligan bought this really beautiful corner plot of land. On one side of it, he built this fantastic piece of art of a building called Breaking Bad. Then he decided on that other piece of land, he would build another work of art called Better Call Saul. Everybody who was a big fan of the first building said, “You’re going to ruin the first building by building a second one next to it.” They ended up making another building that not only stands on its own, but complements the first. There are a lot of tunnels and shared rooms, some connected underground parking. What I envision, in the next few years, are these two pieces of art standing next to each other, and you’re going to be able to get lost in either one of them.

What does the future hold for Nacho?
So, Nacho’s full name is Ignatio. I can tell you that. When Saul Goodman has a gun to his head from … Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, Jimmy asks, “Did Paolo send you?” The answer he gets is, “It wasn’t me, Ignatio did it!” So … whatever that means, is some kind of insight into who this character is. [Laughs] In this season, Nacho came of age. He’s been under the rule of a very irrational boss, and now wants to take arms against a sea of troubles.

What can you reveal about the Season 2 finale?
All you Breaking Bad fans: Vince Gilligan wrote and directed this finale. When I read it, I had to put it down because I started laughing … about what it could imply. Yeah, it’s amazing. The last episode takes the show to another level.

I can also tell you that there’s something huge that will happen. I think it’ll be enough to have people talking through the entire off-season. It’s been six months since we wrapped, and I don’t think a single one of us can wait for this finale to air. It’s a fantastic cliffhanger.

Catch the Season 2 finale of “Better Call Saul” on AMC on Monday, April 18 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

Follow @CJancelewicz
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Border agency audit uncovers shoddy screening of incoming rail shipments

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OTTAWA – An internal audit has uncovered numerous gaps in the federal border agency’s efforts to prevent dangerous cargo and people from entering Canada aboard freight trains.

The Canada Border Services Agency review found inadequate managerial oversight, a lack of timely information on which to base decisions and shoddy targeting of incoming rail shipments for scrutiny.

The auditors made several recommendations to remedy the shortcomings, all of which were accepted by the border services agency.

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“Improved strategic direction, infrastructure, information for decision-makers and targeting would help reduce the risk of non-compliant goods and/or inadmissible individuals from entering Canada through the commercial rail mode,” says the newly released audit report, completed in December.

Rail shipments worth tens of billions of dollars – everything from auto parts to fertilizer – arrive annually through 27 entry points.

READ MORE: Drugs found in cracker box at southern Alberta border crossing

Many details of the risks and problems in managing the huge flow – and what the border agency was doing to address them – were considered too sensitive to make public.

For instance, figures on border agency examinations of rail shipments over the last three years were stripped from the report prior to release.

The auditors found there were structures in place to manage the border agency’s commercial rail program. However, there had been “minimal discussion, strategic direction, analysis and oversight of the commercial rail mode at key agency oversight committees.”

A 2012-13 national border risk assessment included short- and long-term solutions but there is “no evidence” the plan was ever approved by senior management, the audit report says.

The border agency is supposed to use advance information to identify high-risk people and goods that might endanger national security or public safety if allowed entry to Canada.

WATCH: Charlotte’s Web stopped at Canadian border

The targeting process begins with a review of the data provided by the rail carriers, including destination province and city, the origin state and city, and a description of the goods, the report says.

Although targeting activities were carried out, there was “no evidence of a documented methodology” in the form of policies, procedures or guidance documents.

Cargo examinations in rail yards can be dangerous due to the movement of locomotives and freight cars.

While the border agency provides mandatory health and safety training to all employees, it had not developed training programs specific to rail yard examinations or health and safety awareness in this mode, the report says.

The Railway Association of Canada, which represents more than 50 freight and passenger railway companies, has no comment on the audit findings, said spokesman Alex Paterson.

READ MORE: British man jailed 6 days by CBSA for drug test on friend’s ashes

Esme Bailey, a border agency spokeswoman, said the agency was taking steps to implement the audit recommendations by:

– Renewing its focus on rail through internal committees and outside forums where it engages with rail industry partners;

– Identifying the highest risks to the commercial rail mode by early summer;

– Developing management controls, to be fully in place by December of next year, to address risk assessment and targeting, examination processes, security and regular monitoring.

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Emergency aid arriving in Attawapiskat, but what about long-term solutions?

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Teams of mental health workers have travelled to Attawapiskat to help the remote northern Ontario reserve contend with an epidemic of suicide attempts among its young people.

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But can short-term therapeutic interventions, especially when delivered by outsiders, be effective in stemming the tide of self-harm? And what is needed to sustain any beneficial effects such intercessions may have once these emergency workers go home?

The Cree First Nation community declared a state of emergency just over a week ago after 11 youth attempted to take their own lives this month, followed by 28 others in March. Community leaders also subsequently thwarted a suicide pact by 13 other young people, including a nine-year-old child.

Chief Bruce Shisheesh said Saturday on 老域名怎么购买 that another five children attempted suicide on Friday evening in Attawapiskat.

WATCH: Chief of Attawapiskat says 5 more suicide attempts made

Dr. Laurence Kirmayer, founder and director of the Network for Aboriginal Mental Health Research at McGill University in Montreal, says crisis counselling and other supportive interventions are critical for stopping this so-called “suicide contagion.”

“The analogy would be like an emergency room in a city,” Kirmayer said. “And there is definitely a place for that.

“If somebody is acutely suicidal, then having emergency services available, having somebody be in a safe place … having a chance to assess what’s going on and to give some support and maybe begin some kind of treatment, it can all be helpful.

“However, if people are seen in the emergency room and they’re suicidal and you return them to exactly the same circumstances that led to that problem, then they may still be at risk.”

WATCH: MPs discuss mental health crisis in Attawapiskat, across Canada

Such suicide contagion among youth is driven by a sense of despair, the legacy of white European expansion policies that took away indigenous populations’ autonomy and sought to destroy their native cultures and traditional languages. The trauma of sexual and physical abuse from residential schools continues to reverberate within many families, often leading to widespread substance abuse.

For many living on remote or rural reserves, poverty, inadequate housing, contaminated water and a lack of educational and employment opportunities add to the sense of hopelessness felt by many aboriginal youth, who may see death as their only escape.

Rod McCormick, a Mohawk psychotherapist and researcher at Thompson River University in Kamloops, B.C., said it’s “important and necessary” for Attawapiskat to have help from fly-in teams – both to ramp up the response but also to give respite to mental health professionals already on the reserve, who have been burned out trying to contain the crisis.

Still, given the long-standing Third World living conditions and deeply embedded emotional pain that are the daily realities of life on the reserve, such temporary aid – though welcome – may only provide a Band-aid solution, he suggested.

WATCH: Emergency debate over Attawapiskat crisis

“They can stop the bleeding, so to speak, if they’ve got enough people there to do it, but it won’t fix things,” McCormick said.

Psychotherapy, for instance, involves building a trusting relationship between therapists and their clients – a process that takes time, especially when those mental health workers are coming from outside the community and if they’re non-aboriginal.

“That in itself would probably take a couple of weeks,” he said. “And then if you know they’re not going to stick around, you’re much less likely to open up to them.

“So I don’t think they’re going to be able to address any of the root causes of the problems … The underlying causes, whether it’s a lack if sense of hope or emotional pain they can’t deal with – they’re still there.

“It’s like a powder keg. It can go off pretty quickly.”

WATCH: Concerns about suicide pact in Attawapiskat

The Ontario government has sent in an emergency medical assistance team (EMAT) to offer relief to full-time nurses and other primary-care providers at the Attawapiskat Hospital, who are part of the Weeneebayko Area Health Authority, or WAHA.

“I would say they had reached the max in their ability to deal with the situation, for sure,” agreed Deborah Hall, vice-president of clinical services for WAHA, which covers a massive territory around James Bay and Hudson’s Bay.

“They needed time to care for themselves, so EMAT’s offered us 30 days of respite,” she said. “So at the end of 30 days, our team will be in a much better place to support the community in whatever way the community needs our support.”

Hall, who has travelled to Attawapiskat, said WAHA has also sent in a new team to care for people who come to the hospital, including two traditional healers, two mental health counsellors and a social worker who speaks Cree.

WATCH: Mental health team lands in Attawapiskat after suicide attempts

While emergency aid given by fly-in mental health workers has a critical role to play, Kirmayer said longer-term solutions are needed.

For instance, his network is in the midst of setting up a culturally based, family-centred mental health promotion project called Listening to One Another to Grow Strong, which will provide a tool kit for indigenous communities to build their own programs, aimed at pre-adolescents.

Designing such programs based on their own traditions also helps empower communities, eliminating the sense that solutions are being imposed from outside, he said.

“The aim is to use culture and identity to strengthen youth awareness … (to give them) a proud sense of where they come from.”

McCormick is setting up a centre at his university called All My Relations, which is examining what healing practices from the past could help bolster mental health within indigenous communities today, especially among their young people.

WATCH: Attawapiskat could be ‘any northern community’

Among them are naming ceremonies, in which a community member who is struggling and at risk is given a traditional aboriginal name – often that of an ancestor – and family members stand up and take responsibility for watching over the person and helping them to live up to that name.

“It connects them at so many levels, and it puts responsibility on people as well,” he said.

“So I think healing has to come from within the community, both at the individual level through resilience training and through the community being re-empowered … to realize that you do have solutions.

“They might not look like the ones that exist in mainstream Toronto or Vancouver, but they worked for your ancestors for thousands of years and we just have to bring them back.”

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Mothers of drug victims head to United Nations

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VANCOUVER – Nearly four years after her daughter died of an opioid overdose, Donna May will share her story of loss and learning at the United Nations.

May’s daughter Jac, 35, died on Aug. 21, 2012, after overdosing on pain medication prescribed to help her cope with a flesh-eating disease she’d contracted after years of addiction and life on the streets.

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“From the time she passed away until (now) all I’ve done is advocate for drug policy reform and to have other people receive the education I was given so they don’t face the situation the same way I did. And that’s my daughter’s legacy,” May said in an interview from Mississauga, Ont.

May and three other mothers whose children lost their lives to drugs have been invited by the Canadian government to attend a three-day United Nations session that begins Tuesday aimed at addressing the world’s drug problem. May is slated to speak at a side event on the final day of the conference.

Other groups from around the world are expected to travel to New York to ask that the UN and governments end the war on drugs.

Last year, the women helped found the group Mothers United and Mandated to Saving the Lives of Drug Users, or mumsDU for short.

It advocates for harm reduction and drug-policy reform, and has since expanded to include about 400 parents of children whose deaths are in some way linked to drugs.

“There are too many victims to the war on drugs,” May said.

“And it’s not just the victim that you see. We are the victims, (too).”

Fellow co-founder Jennifer Woodside of Vancouver lost her 21-year-old son Dylan Woodside two years ago after he took oxycodone laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. He was one of the earliest to die in a series of fentanyl-linked deaths that is still claiming lives across Canada.

“This is a big epidemic. … These are everyday people with everyday stories,” Woodside said. “I think we’ve got our head in the sand if you think it can’t affect you.”

Her personal goal for the upcoming UN session is to give her son a voice and to make sure he didn’t die in vain, she said.

MumsDU has made inroads in its advocacy, successfully lobbying the government to make the overdose-reversal medication naloxone available without a prescription.

Leslie McBain will travel from her home on Pender Island, B.C., to New York on behalf of the group. She would like to see international drug policy move away from a punitive approach and toward a system that places more emphasis on health and social care.

A successful outcome from the UN meeting would be a clear declaration that the war on drugs has failed, McBain said, pointing to Portugal and its decriminalized approach to drug control as a model to emulate.

Her son, Jordan Miller, died of an oxycodone overdose in Victoria in early 2014.

“The war on drugs has been a war on our families,” said Lorna Thomas, another mumsDU co-founder from Edmonton.

“The starting point for it, that we were going to punish people out of using drugs has failed. People will continue to use drugs and we need to acknowledge that reality and keep people safe.”

One consequence of the recent spate of fentanyl-related overdoses is the changing dialogue around addiction and drug abuse, given the sheer number of deaths linked to the illicit substance, said Thomas.

She pointed to the cost of convicting and imprisoning people, noting that money could be spent on harm-reduction strategies instead.

“There has been a lot of stigma and judgment around people who use drugs,” Thomas said.

“If you judge people you have no time to love them. We need to stop with the stigma and judgment and open our hearts and help people to make better choices.”

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‘The fear is how dry will it get’: Lesser Slave Lake fire chief on Alberta’s tinder-dry conditions

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EDMONTON – Albertans are used to coping with dry conditions and a wildfire season every year, the consequences of which have occasionally been catastrophic like when a wildfire ripped through the northern Alberta town of Slave Lake in 2011.

But following an incredibly mild winter by provincial standards, there is concern that Mother Nature’s passiveness over the past few months may result in a particularly long and dangerous wildfire season this spring and summer.

“I’ve seen it dry – and drier than this – but never this time of year. So the fear is how dry will it get,” Jamie Coutts, Regional Chief of Lesser Slave Lake Fire Services, said on Saturday. “We try to stay positive, it could rain or snow or whatever still and we hope for that, but it would probably have to be a long steady rain for many days to make a difference at this time, so for us, we’re kind of on high alert.”

Currently, much of Alberta – particularly in the central and southern part of the province – is under either a fire ban, fire restriction, or fire advisory due to tinder-dry conditions.

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    During wildfire season, crews often use a technique called a prescribed fire or prescribed burn where they scorch a particular area in order to protect a larger area.

    According to Coutts, his team is already well underway with prescribed burns in an effort to stave off larger, uncontrollable blazes and that in the Slave Lake region, his firefighters, along with government forestry crews, have already scorched 100 hectares of land with prescribed burns, up from the 85 hectares burned in that area during all of last year’s fire season. By the end of this year’s season, he expects his crews will reach 150 or 160 hectares.

    “Last weekend, on Saturday night, it poured rain – like poured – for two hours, from midnight til 2 a.m. And then Sunday morning, we started burning at 10 a.m.,” Coutts said. “The fine fuels, the grasses, the top layer of dirt is really, really dry and so it carries fire really well and it’s hot, it’s volatile and it makes it dangerous for firefighting and so that’s why at this time of year, because it can carry so far so fast, we have to be careful how we fight it.”

    READ MORE: ‘I could feel the heat impinging on my shoulders’: St. Albert firefighter jumps into river to escape flames of grass fire

    Watch below: Following an unseasonably warm winter, Alberta is experiencing dangerously dry conditions this April and most of the province is currently under either a fire ban, fire restriction or fire advisory. Late Saturday night, St. Albert Fire Local 2130 tweeted a new video of a grass fire that broke out Thursday afternoon at Ray Gibbon Drive near Big Lake. The blaze forced Vincent Pashko of St. Albert Fire Services to jump into the Sturgeon River to avoid the flames. Luckily, he suffered only minor burns.

    Fire crews across the province are reminding Albertans of the danger posed by improperly discarded cigarettes, sparks coming off a quad or just people acting irresponsibly with the fire hazard being what they are. But Coutts suggested residents of the Slave Lake area, thousands of whom were displaced in 2011’s devastating fire, are generally well aware of the risks.

    READ MORE: Two years later, cause of Slave Lake fire still not known

    “I think in the entire Slave Lake region, people understand the risk, they’ve been around it a lot- not just five years ago but there’s been fire in this neck of the woods for a long time,” he said. “So when they see us out burning grass, they start to realize what’s going on.”

    Coutt’s said the dry conditions are forcing him to be flexible with how his firefighters are deployed. Just this weekend, his crew was working on a prescribed burn when a grass fire broke out nearby and half the firefighters had to be moved to attend to that. He added that his firefighters have seen some unique situations because of the unusually dry April conditions.

    “Yesterday, the guys were digging down, trying to make sure that the ground fire was out and they’d go down five or six centimetres and run into frozen ground in some of the areas in the trees.”

    Coutt’s bio page on the Town of Slave Lake’s website says he has over 23 years of firefighting experience and so while it is concerning for him to never have seen conditions this dry, this early in the year, he suggested the job will go on as usual.

    “It’s northern Alberta, it’s forest fire season so we’ll deal with this grass hazard and then we’ll move right into regular forest fire season.”

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