News Briefs

NO POT FOR PAIN

Carey Heilman is a long-time sufferer of debilitating back pain from a workplace injury. After trying several different prescription drugs (most of which were ineffective or caused severe side effects) to control his pain and muscle spasms, Heilman and his physician hit on the combination of an implanted pain pump and medical marijuana.

That was in 2002. And it’s proven to be an effective therapy for Heilman. But when he petitioned the Workers’ Compensation Board to reimburse him for the cost of the marijuana he obtains from a licensed provider, he was denied.

With the aid of pro bono lawyer Nicole Sarauer, Heilman appealed and obtained a Queen’s Bench judgment in September ordering a rehearing on the grounds the WCB relied excessively on a blanket policy against medical marijuana and didn’t consider Heilman’s specific case.

The rehearing was held on Feb. 27. In a 10-page decision released on March 8, the WCB again denied his claim.

“I was very disappointed,” says Sarauer. “We presented several pieces of scientific evidence, along with strong approval from his medical team, as well as Carey’s own personal experience. We could not have presented a better case.

“It would have taken courage for the board to step up and they choose not to do that.”

Instead, the WCB characterized Heilman’s medical treatment over the last 11 years as “risky” because variables like dosage and potency were difficult to regulate with marijuana. Sarauer disagrees with that assessment.

“It’s not risky because he’s been using it for over a decade with no detrimental side effects in comparison to the drugs he’d been on previously,” she says.

Despite being denied a second time by the WCB, Sarauer says Heilman’s legal fight may not be over.

“At the beginning of its decision, the board states it feels it has the ability to determine whether it will fund any type of medical aid,” she says. “What I feel is that’s effectively rendering a health care decision for a client. And that’s not something they should be able to do.”/Gregory Beatty

 

REGINA RENTS: STILL OUT OF CONTROL

Tenants at 2221 Robinson St. are presumably heaving sighs of relief after they were informed on March 12 that their rents wouldn’t be going up by 77 per cent.

After loud public outcry and much media attention, their new landlord — Castle Mountain Properties of Calgary — who had informed them of the astronomical increase on March 1, made an announcement that they were withdrawing the increase. A written statement by the Saskatchewan Rental Housing Industry Association said that the decision was arrived at after consultation with the landlord on what is considered a “typical” rental increase in the province.

While this might be good news for these tenants in the short term, there’s still nothing legally stopping any landlord in Saskatchewan from raising rents as high as they want.

“Up until this point, all we’ve seen is changes to the notice period — how much notice must be given before a rent increase,” says Peter Gilmer of the Regina Anti-Poverty Ministry. “But what we really need on top of that are annual caps on the amount that rent can be increased in any given year.”

And to those who claim rent control will have a disastrous effect on the development of affordable housing, Gilmer points elsewhere in the country.

“The reality is we haven’t had rent controls for over 20 years, and we’ve had a housing market that has been out of control — so certainly, rent controls can’t be blamed for the lack of development [of affordable housing],” he says. “And 80 per cent of Canadians live in jurisdictions that do have rent control legislation — yet we in Regina are in the worst urban rental market in the country.” /Vanda Schmöckel

 

A CONTRADICTION IN THE CONCEPT

The fate of Cathedral’s Connaught school is now in the hands of the provincial Ministry of Education, but considering the Regina Public School Board voted to rebuild the school instead of restore it, it seems likely that the 100-year-old Connaught — which made the Heritage Canada Foundation’s top 10 list of endangered buildings last year— will be demolished and built anew.

And based on recent history, it also seems likely that the design of the new Connaught will be along the lines of an “open concept” school. It’s an architectural model of which Regina Public seems enamoured of late. Take for instance the new Arcola School which recently opened and features what’s called a “flexible learning environment.”

In other words, new schools in Regina will likely be light on walls between rooms and heavy on wide open spaces.

Like it or hate it, the board’s turn toward open-concept architecture seems at odds with an announcement by Education minister Russ Marchuk in February that his office will institute standardized testing in Saskatchewan by 2016.

University of Regina education professor Marc Spooner says these two things don’t play well together.

“Open concept schools are designed to be collaborative, to reflect the collaborative nature and social part of learning. And those are all things that standardized tests are anathema to,” he says.

“[Standardized tests are] individualized, non-collaborative and demand sequestered problem solving. It doesn’t reflect a modern approach to pedagogy,” says Spooner.

It seems then that the school board and the Minister of Education are stepping on each other’s toes.

Spooner thinks the province should walk away from the dance because, he says, standardized tests just don’t work.

“Minister Marchuk was saying how he wants to combat our dismal graduation rate for aboriginal students. But the research on that shows that [standardized tests] will only exacerbate the problem. What happens with standardized tests is they push students out,” says Spooner.

He also notes that a province-wide standardized testing regime will be very costly to implement and maintain, and that will drain crucial resources away from instruction.

And it doesn’t seem likely we’ll see that funding pressure offset if recent comments from Premiere Brad Wall are any indication. On March 13, Wall indicated that there will be no increase this year in education property taxes.

And when the costs of education are soaring due to inflation and ballooning class sizes, holding the line on education taxes is the same as cutting education funding. /Paul Dechene