Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw during yesterday’s COVID-19 news conference in Calgary (Photo: Government of Alberta).

COVID-19 has arrived in Alberta.

But first, we need to talk about how the United Conservative Party Government has found a nearly perfect formula for dealing with science when it reaches inconvenient conclusions running counter either to the ruling party’s ideology or its political calculations.

Jason Luan, junior minister of mental health and addictions (Photo: Twitter).

It strikes a committee of sympathetic folk, calls it an expert panel, and instructs them not to consider anything that might divert them from the conclusions Premier Jason Kenney desires.

This was demonstrated yesterday with the release of the report of the UCP’s Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee, chaired by former Edmonton police chief Rod Knecht, which was charged with looking into the social and economic impacts of the supervised consumption clinics set up by the previous government in response to the opioid crisis.

Lots of people don’t like the clinics in their neighbourhoods, understandably enough, but they are known to be effective at saving lives. The UCP wants them gone.

Supervised Consumption Services Review Committee Chair Rod Knecht in his days at Edmonton police chief (Photo: Source not identified).

The problem for the government was how to get a committee to reach conclusions that support closing the clinics when the facts show it’s a reasonable certainty human beings, people’s sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, will die as a result.

The solution — easy-peasy for the Kenney government — was to use the dodge it always uses when it strikes an expert panel, or, in this case, an “expert-led,” panel, perhaps because there weren’t enough experts willing to play along with this charade.

The government simply ordered the panel not to examine questions like whether the clinics reduce harm, have a medical benefit, whether more are needed, if funding is sufficient, or whether providing housing for people living in poverty might help.

The panel was mandated only to study the effects of the sites on crime, social order, property values and business. Given that, the clinics came up short, and the Kenney government now has what it needs to shut some or all of them down.

Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Twitter).

In a news release, Jason Luan, junior minister of mental health and addictions, called the report a “wake up call for Albertans.” He told a Calgary news conference, “I’m deeply troubled with some of the findings of the report.”

Doug Schewitzer, Alberta’s justice minister, said “crime grows in areas where illegal drug use is on the rise” — pay no attention to the fact the Edmonton Police Service says it’s noticed no increase in crime or disorder at any of the city’s four sites. “We’ll continue to ensure law enforcement and the justice system have the tools and resources to protect community safety,” he vowed.

So you can see which way the wind is blowing.

Even this seems not to have been enough for committee vice-chair Geri Bemister-Williams, a “human behavioral scientist, post-secondary instructor” and “interventionist,” according to her potted biography on the Alberta government’s website, who got into a testy exchange with reporters asking questions she didn’t want to answer.

Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

She appeared to accuse front-line medical professionals who staff the clinics of lying about their success rates. “In many cases, ‘adverse events’ — even if non-life threatening or minor — are reported as overdoses, and the term ‘reversal’ is used when the response was a simple administration of oxygen.”

Unlike UCP politicians and the experts that staff their panels, however, medical staff are mostly members of regulated professions who would risk their ability to practice if they engaged in such antics, so they are highly unlikely to do so.

Committee Vice-Chair Geri Bemister-Williams (Photo: Screenshot of Government of Alberta video).

The nasty tone was set earlier, when UCP political staff took to calling the clinics “NDP drug sites” on social media, and Premier Kenney himself waded in, anticipating the report, declaring the clinics to be “just illegal drug sites.”

So never mind the facts, people. It is all but certain the UCP will close some or all of the clinics. People will die as a result and there’s not much that can be done about it.

Perhaps the government will offer treatment options that may not save lives, but which can be provided by private contractors.

Meanwhile, not long after the committee’s newser, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health confirmed at another news conference the province has now recorded its first presumed case of the COVID-19 coronavirus illness.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said that a woman in her fifties is recovering at home somewhere in Alberta Health Service’s Calgary Zone. “The affected individual had recently returned from travel on board a Grand Princess cruise ship in California,” a government news release stated.

Edmonton physician Don Wilson (Photo: Screenshot of CTV News broadcast).

There will likely be more cases, of course, because other passengers from the same ship have also returned to Alberta. AHS, presumably, would very much like them to spend the next couple of weeks indoors at home.

“We take this extremely seriously, and are doing all we can to minimize risk and to keep Albertans safe,” Dr. Hinshaw said in the news release. “While some may be concerned, I remind Albertans that the risk is still low in our province. We are already taking the necessary precautions to prevent the infection from spreading.”

“Alberta’s health-care system is ready and already taking swift action,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro added in the same document. “Measures to protect both the public and front-line health-care workers have been in place for weeks.”

You can find this more or less reassuring, as you wish, in light of the government’s willingness to choose aspiration over analysis in the matter of how best to deal with the opioid crisis, which killed 746 Albertans in 2018.

Plus, there’s this: One hour and nine minutes before Dr. Hinshaw’s news conference commenced, CTV reported, a group representing 1,600 Edmonton physicians accused the government of “lack of readiness” for a COVID-19 outbreak and “putting Albertans at risk.”

Dr. Don Wilson of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said in a press release that “we’re being forced into the front line without being engaged in the process.”

“They’re not helping us get the equipment we need to provide the care we need to provide to our patients,” he said. “We need masks too. We need face shields, we need eye protection, and hand protection. And it has suddenly become extremely difficult to get this for ourselves and for our staff.”

Join the Conversation


  1. Wow. Just as the health care system is being gutting, ripped apart, and blown up, there’s a pandemic. CONs are falling over themselves trying to fix their own damage. Or, better yet, keep the damage, let everything fail, and then denounce the public health care system. Private health care would not only serve the public better, it would have seen the pandemic before it happened. Take that, Never-Trumpers.

    Besides, there will be a miracle and it will all be over by April. POTUS_45 says so.

    1. Funny, I made a comment to this effect on the CBC website and was immediately accused of politicizing this very hard time we’re all going through.
      Funny how it’s politicization whenever Cons are called out over the deleterious effects of their misguided policies. And only then.

  2. This not politics. This is the imposition of fundamentalist Catholicism with a garnish of evangelical woo woo on a secular state. Think the Ayatollahs in Iran or the Catholics in Northern Ireland. Apparently Mr. Kenney wants blood and ours will do.

    1. The Catholics in Northern Ireland imposed fundamentalism on a secular state? What colour is the sky in your world?
      ‘Oh God,’ he cried into his church’s three microphones, one of which is linked to a recording studio. ‘We call upon Thee, we pray this night, that Thou wouldst deal with the Prime Minister of our country…

      ‘In the name of the Blessed Thyself, Father, Son and Holy Ghost – we hand this woman, Margaret Thatcher over to the Devil that she might learn not to blaspheme. We pray that the world may learn a lesson through her fall and through the igonominy to which she shall be brought. Oh God, in wrath, take vengeance upon this wicked, trecherous, lying woman.’

      Earlier, he had given a speech calling Thatcher a ‘Jezebel.’ The ‘Jezebel speech,’ as it has become known, is selling strongly among Protestant followers at a non-profit price of $2.10 per copy.”

      “Ulster’s inflammatory preacher-politician Ian Paisley, who earlier had stormed out of the House of Commons after branding Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher “a traitor and a liar,” scorned concern over the affair as “a little bit of etiquette.” With thinly veiled satisfaction, he warned that the mob scenes at Dundonald Presbyterian Church in East Belfast were “a storm signal—we’re over the edge.” Later he issued a direct challenge to the British government over the worsening security situation. His supporters, he said, will make the province “ungovernable” unless Unionists are assured of a mas-
      sive blitz against the IRA. With his typical touch for melodrama, Paisley threatened to mobilize a “third force” of vigilantes. “We either remedy the situation or we die in the attempt,” he declared. Unimpressed by a further 600 British troops flown in last week, he backed up his threat with newspaper advertisements blazoning a call for action—“for God and Ulster.”

      The UVF, one of a number of Protestant terror gangs operating in NI during the troubles was essentially an arm of the British state:
      “A former RUC officer has alleged that British intelligence tried to persuade the Ulster Volunteer Force to attack a Catholic primary school in Co Armagh in retaliation for the Kingsmill massacre, in a new documentary to be premiered in Belfast on Thursday.”

      “In the latest revelation on collusion between Loyalist terror groups and the British state during the Northern Ireland troubles (1968-1998), it has been revealed that a former Loyalist terror leader collaborated with both the police and the army.”

      “As an arms stash and bomb-making site, the farm gave its name to the Glenanne Gang, run by British security force members who were linked to the murders of 120 civilians.”

      Belfast – Loyalist mural on Carnan Street, memorial of the UVF ‘For God and Ulster’

      1. I’m sorry but I don’t see the point of your interjection. My point is very simple: when the religious start imposing their religion on others through control of the state, dysfunction and worse happens. Which is exactly what we are seeing with the interference with public health measures like supervised consumption sites or the wrecking of the super lab in Edmonton by the religious running the UCP. Sooner or later things go badly. How badly? Look at the history of religious wars in Europe between Catholics and Protestants which are still smoldering today.

        The UCP should keep their religious values to themselves and then let their personal gods get back to the job of stabilizing NGC 6946. Perhaps they might even start paying attention to people who actually have enough scientific training to understand that opinion is no substitute for data.

        1. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that you do not see the point of my interjection. I’ll spell it out for you: You made a preposterous claim as to the nature of the Northern Ireland state and the position of Catholics within that state. The IRA was a secular movement in the latter half of the twentieth century, with the Official IRA being overtly Marxist, and as such, atheistic. The Provisional IRA, which split from the socialist IRA in 1969, was completely penetrated by the British state, with it’s most notorious killers, and it’s leadership, composed of British agents. So at no time did anyone see “Catholic values” being imposed on anybody in Northern Ireland. The Ayatollahs were imposed on Iran by the United States once a determination was made that the Shah could not hold and the spectre of socialists in concert with nationalists appeared to threaten US control of the unforunate petro-state. Khomeini spent his exile in France, and was in communication with Carter’s White House in prepation to removing the Shah and installing the American’s favourite puppets, Islamic fundamentalists. Carter’s people worked very hard to keep the Iranian armed forces on the sidelines during the “revolution” in order to ensure that Khomeini and friends took control, rather than, say, some socialist lawyers and university professors.

          1. Bill M: I usually find your posts useful and interesting. But this one is both a patronizing and an angry response to a reasonable observation. I’m so glad you have enough evidence to feel entitled to trump so rudely but perhaps your evidence is not a strong as you feel.

            For example, you may recall abortion and birth control were illegal in Ireland for most, if not all of the 20th century. I would take that as an imposition of Catholic doctrine on everyone resident on the island and more than sufficient provocation for the non-Catholic, who colonized the place 350 or so years ago, to offer resistance. Perhaps with Brexit, the Irish will at last get to run their own show free of imperial powers, including The Church and the C of E British.

            If you think Premier Kenney and his “Flying Fathers” backers along with the evangelicals are not using religion as the mainspring of their movement, you’ve obviously never read an Alberta Report magazine or been to a Stockwell Day nomination meeting. Kenney is actively sabotaging our secular health care system and moving to restrict access to birth control and abortion, including sex education. The UCP are a collection of religious bigots and frustrated autocrats manipulating a bunch of people frightened for their once lucrative jobs in the face of profound technological change.

            Your intemperate response is not the best way to win friends and influence people.

          2. Apologies “Bill M,” I intended to address my response to “Murphy.” “… I usually find your posts useful and interesting…”

  3. Well, they sure hadn’t let lab techs know anything a couple of weeks ago. I asked. Staff aren’t wearing masks. They hadn’t been told anything. In fact, the only action taken was to remove masks from areas where the public can take them, because people were stealing them by the handful.

    There is a very real danger that if a family doctor encounters a Covid-19 patient in their office, that doctor and their office staff will have to shut the practice and go into quarantine for two weeks. It’s not just about deep cleaning, but about spreading the virus to the patients via person-to-person transmission. Think about that, if you will. There are consequences for every person who gets sick for any reason at all right now. People will begin to die from treatable conditions due to lack of access to care, not “just” Covid-19.

    It’s a shame Canada sent medical supplies to China a couple of weeks ago, when we don’t have those supplies for doctors and nurses here. It’s a shame that Alberta’s chief medical officer of health is not getting information and limited supplies out to health care workers on the front lines. Plan? What plan? Knowledge is power, but lips are zipped on this one, the biggest public health crisis in a century.

    Is the chief medical officer of health under a gag order? It seems so, unfortunately. Do no harm, but doing nothing is not an acceptable option. Is the high-profile job worth more than human lives?

    April 1 will soon be here. Does Tyler Shandro have that box of docs waiting to jump in and save the day? He promised. Promise made.

    It’s a mess. We’re on our own, folks.

  4. Albertan’s confidence in this current government continues to be eroded, while they play fast and loose with the facts. Let’s seriously hope their response to the coronavirus isn’t: “Go Home. Wash your hands. And die.”

    The UCP and Jason (I’ve-Got-An-Expert-Panel-For-That) Kenney mistakenly refer to supervised consumption services as merely “drugs sites.” This, despite an overwhelming consensus by medical experts that they save lives, decrease the spread of HIV and hepatitis and lead to an increased probability that users will seek and get drug and medical treatment.

    1. Let’s face it. All of those International Democratic Union members under the guidance of Stephen Harper have washed their hands of the coronavirus crisis.

      For leaders like Scott Morrison of Australia and Britain’s Boris Johnson, the response is exactly the same. Wash your hands. Go home. Die. They also blame every economic woe on the virus, especially the woes they have caused directly, before the virus.

      Wash your hands while singing happy birthday twice, as Bojo said, and hope that you’ll make it to your next one, as The Guardian said. They also point out, “Because if there’s one thing Boris knows something about it’s washing his hands. Over the years he’s washed his hands of almost everything: family, children, friends, colleagues, morals, scruples.”

      Why would Harper’s Helper here in Alberta be any different?

  5. The Committee is composed of eight members, two of whom are directly linked to the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre. One, Ray Baker is a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and provided AARC with a testimonial in one of the unlicensed facility’s earliest attempts to obtain Alberta government funding.
    “Dr. Ray Baker, B.Sc., M.D., CCFP, Certified in Addiction Medicine, Director AMIR, University of British Columbia, in a letter to Diane Mirosh dated August 30, 1993. “I am writing to support a program in Alberta which may very well be one of the best models of treatment of substance use disorders in this whole country. The program is AARC…I believe that this type of care is both cost effective and treatment effective, while at the same time achieving objectives sought after during this process of health care reform in our country, namely: early prevention and intervention in ambulatory patients by an interdisciplinary team offering community based care.”
    ASAM is a powerful political entity in the US that emphasizes faith-based approaches to treating “the disease of addiction”.
    Why Baker was so enthused about AARC given that AADAC had done everything in it’s power to avoid turning on the cash taps for AARC after the group’s nature was exposed in the Legislature by NDP MLA Marie Laing is anybody’s guess.
    Joan Hollihan, another committee member, is on the Board of Directors of AARC. Her son graduated the program operated by the sect, and promptly died of fentanyl poisoning.
    The rehab industry in the US, a massive fraud with a scientific basis that is slightly less legitimate than was that of phrenology, is valued at $35 billion or so. It is almost entirely faith-based, and the pillars of Alberta society, particularly those in Calgary, have been champing at the bit to wet their beaks in it since the Alberta Government began paying to send unfortunate guinea pigs down to the US behaviour modification progams in the mid-eighties.
    Tailgunner Jay’s own brother got caught in BC operating one of these scams, and by all acccounts, simply pulled up stakes and started up again in Ontario.
    “Certificate: Amen Clinics – Amen University / Brain Health Coach Cert.”

    There is big money backing these shennanigans in Calgary, and these people are tied directly into the legitimate healthcare system:
    “Addiction Treatment and Shame. As addiction is a
    complex disease with a chronic, relapsing course, the
    healing approach for addiction should be based on caring
    rather than curing. Shame-based, traumatized addicts
    need care, while at the same time they must be held
    accountable for whatever physical, emotional, or spiritual
    damage they may have caused. The components of
    effective treatment include detoxification, re-humanization
    therapy, 12-step recovery groups, and monitoring of
    recovery and relapse over a five-year period. Although
    treatment of shame-based disorders can be considered
    from a number of different perspectives, the 12-step
    approach (such as Alcoholics Anonymous) is a highly
    effective shame-reduction modality for alcoholics and
    other addicts.”
    “Addiction does not meet the criteria specified for a core disease entity, namely the presence of a primary measurable deviation from physiologic or anatomical norm.2 Addiction is self-acquired and is not transmissible, contagious, autoimmune, hereditary, degenerative or traumatic. Treatment consists of little more than stopping a given behaviour. True diseases worsen if left untreated.”
    “Having examined the existing studies, the author concludes that AA’s results, 5-8% of ex-drinkers remaining sober after a year, is no better than spontaneous remission, or stopping drinking on your own.
    AA was based on a Christian model: addiction could only be replaced by religion, or “surrender”. Bolstered by the public support of an heiress, and then by EM Jellinek, who created the disease model of alcoholism (and later rejected it), AA went from strength to strength.”

    “In 1995 Dr. Michael Kaufmann became the founding Director of the Physician Health Program of the Ontario Medical Association. He received certification in Addiction Medicine from the American Society of Addiction Medicine”

    “Dr. James Montgomery, from Pine Grove Behavioral Health Center, is a psychiatrist certified in addiction medicine by American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and a Diplomate of the newly formed American Board of Addiciton Medicine.”

    With regard to AFWI and AARC, the former is the manifestation of the Palix Foundation, which was originally the Norlien Foundation:
    “The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) was
    created in 2007 by the Norlien Foundation, a proactive private foundation
    with offices in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta.”

    Ralph Strother controlled the money for Norlien, and sat on the Board of AARC while doing so:

    “Dr. Ralph Strother MD, CCFP (SEM), FCFP DSM is a Medical Doctor practicing as a Family Medicine Specialist with Special Expertise in Sport Medicine. He was Chief Investment Officer and Senior Board Officer with the Max Bell Foundation and the Norlien Foundation for a decade; responsible for leadership of the organizations including grant making and endowment management.
    He has served as Chairman of The Calgary Foundation and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and as well as a Director of other nonprofit Boards including Alberta Mentor Foundation for Youth (AMFY), Ester Honens Foundation, the Alberta Adolescent Recovery Centre (AARC)”

    The Palix Foundation is the project of Coril holdings, and as such, so is AFWI:
    “In 1997, Ron Mannix founded and endowed The Norlien Foundation (re-branded Palix Foundation in 2015), a private charitable foundation which continues to work in the areas of early childhood development, addiction, and mental health. Norlien also established The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, centered on connecting and integrating the science, policy, and practice communities within a framework of epigenetics and developmental and behavioral neurosciences.”

    When Strother left AARC’s board, Ken Wilson of Coril took his place:
    “Ken Wilson
    Sr. Vice President
    Coril Holdings Ltd.”

    AFWI itself operates directly with AARC:

    “Welcome – The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative
    Keynote Dr. Amelia Arria
    – “Risk Factors for Underage Drinking and Drug Use:
    What does the research tell us?”

    Amelia Arria, a faculty member of AFWI, has worked with AARC since at least 2012, and was still involved as of 2019:
    Jackie Smith is a member of the AARC sect, and when she is not having promos for AARC published by the University of Calgary, she is busy purusing government money for AARC. Mader is likewise a sect member and “graduate” of the behaviour modification program operated by AARC.

    1. I have to make a correction. All three physicians on the committee are ASAM pals.
      “There is a growing body of literature that supports the use of the 12 steps for recovery from substance use disorder as well as behavioral addictions. With the new definition of addiction from ASAM including the fact that addiction is a biopsychosocial spiritual disease, it is imperative for clinicians working in the field of addiction to become adept at referral to these programs as well as understanding the basic concepts involved in twelve step recovery.”
      A biopsychosocial spiritual disease, you say? My spirit caught it from a toilet seat!

      “In the Belly of the American Society of Addiction Medicine Beast”

      As there are about 500 000 Albertans who meet the criteria for DSM diagnosis for a “substance abuse disorder” of one sort or another, it is not an insigniciant thing for quacks and cops to be alligned with cult members in determining drug abuse policy in this province.

    2. “With a year of psychopharmacology research, a half-day per week moonlighting at the MBTA medical clinic giving drug tests to bus drivers and another overnight moonlighting job giving medical clearance to patients at a local psychiatric hospital detox unit I satisfied the first requirement. For the latter I looked through the last five years of morning reports, noontime lectures and grand rounds I went to and added them up and, falling a little short supplemented the CME credits with some online modules.

      And with that I was given a date at Pearson to take the test.

      I have absolutely no training or education in the field of addiction medicine. I didn’t pick up a book or study anything. I did not prepare at all. I did not even get a good night’s sleep the night before and stayed up until 2:30 a.m. Nevertheless I went to the testing facility the next morning and finished the test within an hour and a half. My score is below. Aced it. Passing score was 394 and I got a 459

      An interest in something does not an expert make. If we allow this then the ASAM 12-step chronic brain disease model not only swallows addiction medicine but tarnishes all of medicine. An imposition by force and the deep pockets of the billion dollar drug and alcohol testing, assessment and treatment industry.

      ASAM is not a true medical specialty. It is a special interest group.

      I received my ABMS certification without meeting a single person. It was all done by mail. This fits the very definition of “Diploma Mill.” This is not to besmirch those with a sincere interest in helping others with addiction. Many if not most of those involved are sincere. But this is not expertise. This is not authority. And, as we have seen, this low bar opens the door for some very bad apples.”

  6. Ask your MLA. “Why does Trudeau want us dead?” You’ll get an invite to the next UCP virus party!
    Don’t ask about policy or heaven forbid strategy. They are haram!

  7. Jason has a cunning plan. Keep a close eye out for a individual that goes by the name “Baldrick”.

  8. I get the sense the UCP is looking for a good distraction from the somewhat self created economic quagmire it finds itself in. So lets talk about sate consumption sites or anything really to get people’s attention away from the languishing economy.

    Attacking consumption sites works well for the UCP because this mobilizes the social conservative base, but is more politically safe than say attacking GSA’s or making right to life initiatives. It also plays to the law and order crowd and those concerned about the effects on business in the area. Never mind the acience, as this is all about politics for them.

    There is a recurring sense of distain for science in current conservative parties, both in Canada and elsewhere in the world. If the facts or evidence is inconvenient, ignore it, challenge or dispute it. It should not be a surprise given this, their eagerness to cut health funding and throw the health care system into chaos, that they will probably not handlre the corona virus crisis well.

    However, at least Kenney now also has his latest scapegoat for his economic achievement shortcomings – the corona virus. Apparently it may now prevent him from reaching his goal of balancing the budget as previously scheduled.

    I don’t think that’s quite the case, but it was getting tiring hearing him blame Trudeau and Notley for every problem for the last few years. However, it would be even better if he finally took responsibility for things, like you know, a real leader would.

  9. I almost hope Jason KeK Kenney gets corona virus so he can get educated in behaviour modification. Or will he be like that medieval Pope who surrounded himself with the fiery hobs of Hell to avoid contracting the bubonic plague, praying all the while?

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