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In brief

Local and national news

Credit: Muayed Istifo


The two men facing manslaughter charges in the 2001 beating death of Aaron Webster will be tried together before a judge alone.

In recent weeks, there had been a possibility of separating the two cases, but the trial date of Nov 15 is confirmed. It starts two days before the third anniversary of the 41-year-old photographer’s late-night death in Stanley Park.

Both Ryan Cran and Danny Rao had initially elected trial by judge alone but Rao’s lawyer, Jim Millar, had suggested last month that he would like a judge and jury trial.

Cran is on bail while Rao remains in custody.

Two youths also accused in the case have already pleaded guilty and received three-year sentences of mixed jail time and house arrest.

The trial starts Nov 15 at 10 am, in BC Supreme Court at Nelson and Smythe Sts in Vancouver.

-Jeremy Hainsworth



Despite public outcry and a recent report from BC’s information and privacy commissioner urging Victoria to proceed with caution, the BC Liberals signed on the dotted line with Maximus last week. Health Minister Colin Hansen announced his decision to hand the administration of BC’s medical services plan (MSP) and pharmaceutical insurance plan (Pharmacare) to the US-based multinational, Nov 4. Hansen says tough privacy provisions in the contract will protect the personal information of British Columbians. But his critics aren’t so sure. David Loukidelis, the privacy commissioner, found that “provincial actions alone are not sufficient” to eliminate the risk of US authorities accessing British Columbians’ personal information. The USA Patriot Act “knows no borders,” he warns.

The Patriot Act gives US law enforcement agencies unprecedented powers to access data banks from all US companies-including, it seems, the banks that will soon hold BC’s medical information. Though Loukidelis stopped short of recommending a full ban on contracting out, he urged the government to put more safeguards in place.

Hansen says he already put safeguards in the contract to make sure Maximus keeps its BC files on Canadian soil and only employs Canadians and people willing to sign non-disclosure agreements. His critics, including the BC Persons with AIDS Society and the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA), say that won’t cut it.

“The privacy commissioner has outlined a comprehensive set of 16 recommendations for protecting personal information when outsourcing to US-linked companies,” says Micheal Vonn of the BCCLA. “The government hasn’t implemented a single recommendation and yet it is signing a contract to outsource our confidential medical information.

“The government is dismissing the privacy commissioner’s report and jeopardizing the medical privacy of British Columbians,” Vonn says.



Saskatchewan became the seventh Canadian jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage, Nov 5. Ontario led the way in June 2003, followed quickly by BC, Quebec almost a year later and, more recently, the Yukon territory, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. Neither the federal nor the provincial government opposed the case. Meanwhile, Canada’s eighth gay marriage challenge began working its way through Newfoundland’s court system last week. That leaves just New Brunswick, PEI, Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. And of course, almost every jurisdiction south of the border (except for Massachusetts and a couple of rogue municipalities whose initiatives were promptly squashed)-11 of which expressly amended their constitutions Nov 3 to outlaw gay marriage.



The BC Liberals closed their fall session by passing the contentious, Lorne Mayencourt-inspired Safe Streets Act, Oct 26. But the act won’t go into effect until the government figures out how to enforce it. Though the act criminalizes “aggressive” solicitation, it doesn’t say how convicted panhandlers and squeegee people will be punished. Attorney General Geoff Plant says he’ll consult police and others and draft some regulations later this year. The regulations will likely be sent to caucus for approval and won’t be voted on by the legislature.



The US Centers for Disease Control is urging North American doctors to be on the look-out for a rare sexually transmitted disease spreading among gay and bisexual men in Europe. The CDC says the disease (called Lymphogranuloma venereum or LGV for short), is often misdiagnosed in industrialized countries because doctors rarely see it and often don’t recognize it when they do. Caused by specific strains of chlamydia, LGV is usually marked by genital ulcers, swollen lymph glands and flu-like symptoms. But most of the men recently infected in the Netherlands developed gastrointestinal bleeding, inflammation of the rectum and colon and other problems not often associated with sexually transmitted diseases. The Netherlands usually gets fewer than five cases of LGV per year; since 2003 they’ve had 92. Belgium, France, Sweden and Britain have also reported cases. Once detected, LGV can be cured by three weeks of antibiotics. Dutch doctors say many of the men they treated had unsafe sex before contracting LGV.



A lesbian activist in Nunavut has won this year’s Governor General’s award for her “outstanding contributions to the quality of life for women in Canada.” In addition to being a founding member of Iqaluit Pride, Allison Brewer recently led the campaign to include discrimination protection on the basis of sexual orientation in Nunavut’s new human rights act. According to her official award bio, she “has worked tirelessly for equal rights for all people, particularly those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered communities.”