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Forces needs more info on perpetrators of sexual misconduct, centre says

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OTTAWA — More information is needed about perpetrators of sexual assaults and other sexual misconduct in the military if the Canadian Armed Forces wants to eliminate such behaviour from the ranks, says the head of the military’s sexual-misconduct response centre.

“If we’re going to address this problem writ large, we have to look at every part of the problem,” Denise Preston said Tuesday. “And the people who are committing this behaviour are central to the cause of the problem and to the solution of the problem.”

The Forces has spent the past four years wrestling with how to eradicate sexual assaults and other inappropriate behaviour by establishing new support services for victims, educating service members and promising severe consequences for perpetrators.

Yet assaults and harassment continue, much to the frustration and anger of senior commanders and normal service members given the damage to the military’s reputation and its effectiveness.

The military’s response to the sexual-misconduct “crisis” since 2014 has been largely reactive, Preston said, which was to be expected as the Armed Forces scrambled following a series of media articles and a searing independent review.

Now, however, the focus needs to turn toward prevention, she said. That includes not only changing the military’s culture, which it is trying to do, but also cultivating a better understanding of who is responsible for such behaviour — and why.

“The vast majority of people exist within this culture and don’t commit this kind of behaviour … There’s a small number of people who commit this kind of behaviour,” she told The Canadian Press.

“So what is it about this small number of people that encourages or promotes them or causes them to commit this behaviour even though there are all kinds of rules and (messages from senior leaders) and directives against it?”

That doesn’t mean the military should stop focusing on victims, said Preston, whose response centre recently started providing case workers to help those affected by sexual misconduct find counselling and other supports.

The ongoing need for victim support was underlined in the response centre’s latest annual report, which said the number of people who contacted the institution last year grew by 20 per cent to 484.

Preston sees the fact more people called the centre last year as a sign that it’s becoming better known and appreciated within the military community since it was established in September 2015, independent from the chain of command.

“We certainly don’t interpret that as an escalation in this as an issue within the Forces,” she said.

The increase did coincide with what the Canadian Armed Forces says has been a steady decline in the number of complaints lodged by service members with their commanders over the past three years.

Yet a report from the Canadian Forces’ military police released late last week said there was a marked increase in number of reported sexual assaults: 230 such complaints were filed with military police last year compared to 183 in 2017-18.

Preston acknowledged one of the main gaps in the military’s efforts to fight sexual misconduct is that different parts of the military have different numbers and information about incidents, which are often not centralized and contradict each other.

The issue has been flagged in the past as a concern and impediment, out of concern the military can’t act if it doesn’t really know what is going on inside its ranks.

“Where we’re weak as an organization is having good, robust, reliable, centralized data,” Preston said. “And that is definitely a priority for the organization, is figuring out how we do that.”

—Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press is a national news agency headquartered in Toronto, Canada. It was established in 1917 as a vehicle to permit Canadian newspapers of the day to exchange their news and information. For most of its history, The Canadian Press has been a private, not-for-profit cooperative, owned and operated by its member newspapers. In mid-2010, however, it announced plans to become a for-profit business owned by three media companies once certain conditions are met.

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‘The pain didn’t stop:’ Study looking into slow concussion recovery in youth

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CALGARY — Kailey Lang mostly remembers the blinding headaches after a carefree trip down a waterslide at West Edmonton Mall in March left her with a concussion.

The 14-year-old from Calgary was making her second trip down the giant slide when something happened.

“It kind of went around in a loop and shot you out of the bottom. When I came out, I had this throbbing, kind of pounding pain in my head and I felt a little dizzy at first. And then the pain didn’t stop for a while,” Kailey says.

“I don’t really remember hitting my head at all.”

There was no quick recovery for Kailey, who was plagued with symptoms after she got home.

“I started to get the headaches almost daily for a few weeks. And then I started taking this medication for seizures and then the really, really extreme headaches went away.”

Kailey missed a full three weeks of school and gradually returned to class. Even then, she wasn’t allowed to participate in physical activity, says her mother, Jill Beaton.

“When she talks about her pain, it was excruciating — it was 8 or 9 out of 10. We had multiple hospital visits.

“It wasn’t until we actually went to the children’s hospital that, instead of just being sent home with regular concussion protocol, they started saying, ‘OK, there’s something going on.'”

Kailey is part of a clinical trial by Dr. Michael Esser, a pediatric neurologist who has seen plenty of concussions at the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

He’s trying to determine why some patients who get hurt while playing sports or falling off their bikes get better right away, while others have symptoms that hang on beyond the normal recovery period.

“Kids will come in with almost exactly the same stories,” Esser says.

“One will not get better or suffer longer. And the others basically come in because they were told to, but they have no symptoms.”

Esser hopes the study’s results will lead to better treatment.

Part of the study relies on a technology that uses brain waves to study brain function changes after children are injured.

“It’s pretty sensitive in picking up when kids’ brains don’t appear to be working or they’re complaining of feeling foggy-headed or have difficulty focusing and they may have a headache,” Esser explains.

The 100 participants wear a device that looks like a swimming cap on their heads and listen to tones and words.

“The speed or the size of the waves tells us if those are normal … or if they don’t seem to be what we would expect them to be, and if that could be related to your symptoms,” he says.

“The hope is that it will actually help to tailor therapies when we’re trying to get them to recover.”

Dr. Ryan D’Arcy in Surrey, B.C., who helped develop the technology, says the brain remains a medical mystery.

“My favourite question when I’m in front of audiences is: ‘Do you know how your brain is doing today?’

“Our mission has really been around the idea that for all brain conditions — for children, for adults, for seniors, for dementia, for concussions … you need a vital sign, so we got to work and invented one.”

The National Ambulatory Care Reporting System says that between 2016 and 2017 about 46,000 concussions were diagnosed in children five to 19 years old in hospital emergency departments across Canada.

Concerns about pediatric concussions recently prompted the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to issue a guideline for diagnosis and management.

“Prior recommendations used to demand that children simply rest, which was often misinterpreted as home jail,” Dr. Nick Reed with Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto said in a release.

“We now know that to improve recovery, it is important that children remain physically active and engaged in school as they recover from concussion, while ensuring their activities remain as safe as possible.”

The release said there are at least 35,000 pediatric hospital visits related to concussions each year in Ontario.

— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press



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Premier Doug Ford filmed Ontario News Now videos at least 100 times

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TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford took time out of his work days to film taxpayer-funded videos that have been criticized as partisan propaganda on at least 100 occasions during his first year in power.

A Canadian Press analysis of a year’s worth of Ontario News Now videos found that Ford filmed with them on close to a third of the days in his first year as premier.

The premier’s office said he usually spends less than five minutes at a time on ONN filming and defended the use of time and did not dispute the estimate.

“Ontario News Now is a creative way to communicate the government’s message in the modern, digital world — no different than a video press release or a digital householder,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.

One of the differences, said NDP critic Taras Natyshak, is that Ontario News Now styles itself as journalism. The spots are formatted like a TV news report, with a woman posing as a reporter interviewing the premier and cabinet ministers.

“Delivering your message on policy will always be an exercise that parliamentarians embark on and it’s an important way to communicate through all facets,” Natyshak said in an interview.

“However, trying to make it seem like this has the aspect of journalism and that he’s being questioned by a legitimate journalist, sort of, is disingenuous. He’s not receiving the hard questions that true media outlets would give him, given the opportunity.”

In Ford’s first year he held formal media availabilities, in which he takes a variety of questions from reporters, about two dozen times. He also did a handful of one-on-one interviews and called into talk radio on several occasions.

Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said it is a “shocking” amount of time for the premier to spend on his “personal propaganda network.”

“Rather than filming partisan videos disguised as independent media, the premier could have spent this time speaking with students, educators, and municipalities affected by his cuts,” Schreiner said in a statement. “I suggest the premier spend less time in the ONN echo chamber and more time listening to the people being hurt by his cuts.”

Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford “should be spending his time answering the tough questions from the media rather than filming vanity spots on his own private news network.”

Ford has previously said that mainstream journalists have become irrelevant because he is “circumventing the media through our social media.”

Ontario News Now is produced and funded through PC caucus services. All recognized parties in the legislature — currently just the Tories and the NDP — get caucus service budgets for research, communications and associated staff. The total earmarked for the parties for 2018-19, the latest figures available, was $13.7 million.

“As leader of the PC caucus, the premier is responsible for helping to get our government’s message out through new and engaging content,” Yelich said.

Peter Graefe, an associate professor of political science at McMaster University, said the videos are probably not a good use of the premier’s time, but it also isn’t clear that they are helping the government — rather they may just be fostering cynicism.

It is important for all governments to communicate with citizens, he said, but there is a line between information and partisan self-promotion.

“Normally, you would expect communications to be not through the government caucuses,” he said.

The videos are not subject to government advertising rules that the auditor general oversees.

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for the rules to be changed so that public money for caucus services cannot be spent on partisan advertising.

Interim Ontario director of the CTF, Jasmine Pickel, said Ford should also restore oversight powers of the auditor general.

The former Liberal government changed the criteria for what is deemed partisan advertising, and the auditor general has complained that doing so reduced her office to a rubber stamp and removed her discretion to veto ads as partisan.

The Progressive Conservatives frequently slammed the Liberals over government advertising that they said was partisan and promised during last year’s election to restore the auditor general’s powers.

But they now won’t commit to keeping that promise, only to review it.

Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

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