World AIDS Day: Saskatoon’s HIV rates more than twice the national average

In conjunction with World AIDS Day taking place on Dec. 1, the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) released a report that reveals the city’s HIV infection rates and what is being done to decrease the numbers.

The Saskatoon Health Region’s updated ‘Better Health For All’ report shows the city’s 2015 HIV infection rates were more than twice the national average, breaking a five-year downward trend:

Saskatoon: 14.6 in 100,000 in 2015Canada: 5.8 in 100,000 in 2014 (latest national data available)

READ MORE: World AIDS Day put spotlight on high Sask. HIV rates

Deputy health officer Dr. Johnmark Opondo said there was a 55 per cent increase in reported cases this year.

“We had come down to about 31 cases a year but last year, we went up to 51 cases,” he said from the Saskatoon Health Region office.

The increase in reported cases is mainly due to people not using clean needles for injection drug use and unprotected sex:

Injection drug use (IDU) accounted for 65 per cent of transmission in 2015Heterosexual sex accounted for 16 per cent of HIV transmission in 2015Male sex with other males also accounted for 16 per cent of transmission in 2015

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    According to the SHR, the key to decreasing infection rates is to educate the public on the importance of regular testing and providing those in need with access to ongoing treatment.

    “You can imagine if we’re able to do this across a large number of individuals who are HIV-infected, we’re reducing the amount of HIV that’s circulating in the community,” Opondo said.

    “This combined effort in testing and treatment probably explains the downward trend in the Saskatoon Health Region.”

    Seven out of 10 HIV-positive individuals identify as First Nation or Métis in Saskatoon, with contaminated injection drug use as the number one cause of infection.

    “We look at the mental health of the people and what is happening to them. Why are they self-medicating and using drugs?” All Nations Hope Network CEO Margaret Poitras asked.

    “It’s all (part) of the trauma that’s come from the residential schools and from colonization.”

    READ MORE: South African HIV vaccine trial could be ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the disease

    She has been working to find the root causes for the high rates of HIV among indigenous people for 17 years.

    However, HIV rates are now decreasing. Only 35 cases of new infections have been reported in 2016 and the Saskatoon Health Region said it believes that is due to an increase in testing, education and long-term treatment.

B.C. woman kills baby before writing university exam and stuffing body in box

A mother who drowned her newborn son in a sink before leaving her home to write a university exam has avoided time behind bars, though a judge described her actions as “abhorrent.”

Courtney Saul, 19, was sentenced to two years’ probation in provincial court in Kamloops, B.C.

READ MORE: Woman charged in death of her newborn

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Saul was a student at Thompson Rivers University when her baby, George Carlos, was born on Dec. 15, 2011.

Court heard Saul gave birth alone in the bathroom of a basement suite where she was living.

“She held the baby for some time, but she had an exam that day,” Crown lawyer Will Burrows said. “Because she had the exam, she didn’t know what to do. She finally decided she should drown the baby. She did that in the sink and then she went to her exam.”

Afterwards, Saul wrapped the baby’s body in a T-shirt and a shower curtain and placed it in an empty computer box. She put the box inside a backpack, which she placed in the trunk of her car.

Saul would later tell investigators she hoped to bury the baby in her hometown of Lillooet.

The body was discovered three weeks later, when she loaned her car to an acquaintance, who was involved in a collision.

Firefighters opened the trunk to cut power as a safety precaution. A police officer noticed a backpack in the trunk and opened it, revealing a computer box with an odd bulge. He opened the box and found the baby’s body.

Saul was later arrested. While in custody, police recorded a conversation she had with her mother.

“During her meeting with her mom, Ms. Saul admits she’d had the baby,” Burrows said. “She said she didn’t know she was pregnant until very late in the pregnancy.”

Saul confessed to police and was charged with infanticide. Court heard the charge was stayed a short time later and, in 2015, Saul was charged with second-degree murder.

In August, following a decision from the Supreme Court of Canada earlier this year, Saul’s charges were downgraded back to infanticide.

She told police the pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault. She said she’d passed out at a party and woke up without her clothes on.

“She believed someone had sexual intercourse with her while she was unconscious,” Burrows said.

Saul and her mother cried in court as the offence was detailed.

Defence lawyer Murray Armstrong noted the circumstances.

“This is certainly a tragedy in all senses of the word,” he said, adding Saul remains troubled by the events but is moving forward.

“Nothing is going to change what happened, but certainly now Ms. Saul is not a risk to anybody,” he said. “In terms of punishment, there’s no punishment greater than the guilt and remorse she feels.”

When asked by Judge Len Marchand whether she had anything to say, Saul, who has since moved back to Lillooet, managed six words before crying.

“I know I made a mistake,” she said.

Marchand noted Saul’s remorse, but also the seriousness of her offence.

“It is an abhorrent act and it was inflicted on a vulnerable and completely helpless person,” he said.

But Marchand said mitigating factors — including Saul’s lack of a criminal history and the circumstances of how she became pregnant — were powerful.

In addition to her two-year probation term, Saul was ordered to surrender a sample of her DNA to a national criminal database.

Alberta government setting up all-party committee to examine child’s death after being in kinship care

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story originally indicated Serenity died while in kinship care. However, on Oct. 6, 2017, Alberta’s Ministry of Children’s Services clarified that although it was through the kinship care program that she was put in the care of the man and woman now facing charges, they were later given permanent guardianship, meaning Serenity was no longer in kinship care. It was at some point after this development that Serenity died. 

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    The Alberta government is setting up an all-party committee to explore the circumstances surrounding the death of four-year-old girl who was in government care.

    Human Services Minister Irfan Sabir says the panel will look for ways to prevent a recurrence of the fate that befell the young girl, named Serenity.

    “It’s a deeply concerning issue for everyone in this house,” Sabir told the legislature during question period Thursday.

    Sabir said he met and talked with Serenity’s grandmother earlier this week.

    Serenity’s case became public last month when Child and Youth Advocate Del Graff urged better safeguards in kinship placements after the malnourished, bruised, and severely underweight girl died in 2014.

    READ MORE: Alberta’s child advocate calls on province to do more to protect kids

    Subsequent media reports detailed medical records that were denied to Graff and revealed the girl’s body showed signs of physical and sexual abuse and that she had suffered a massive brain injury.

    Progressive Conservative Leader Ric McIver, who had been pushing for an all-party inquiry, said there is no more important purpose for governments than to take action to protect children in care.

    He said it’s an issue that crosses party lines and is one that defies easy solutions.

    “If it was easy to fix, it would’ve been fixed,” he said.

    “Maybe it’s time we all put our heads together, made a team effort out of it, and did something for the kids that are actually in our care.”

    Serenity died while under kinship care, which places children not in foster care but in the care of other family members.

    Premier Rachel Notley told the house last month that since the death changes have been made to the system, and more resources are available.

    READ MORE: Wildrose calls for emergency debate on ‘secrecy’ surrounding death of child in care

    Watch below: A rare emergency debate was called in the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 21, 2016. MLAs discussed how to protect children in the care of the government. Sarah Kraus has more and explains what sparked the debate.

    Graff’s report, issued Nov. 15, stated that the girl was born to First Nations parents and placed in kinship care on a central Alberta reserve after her birth father was found to be abusive to the birth mother. The birth mother was a drug abuser at the time.

    The main guardians underwent security checks, but not other adults in the home.

    Soon after, said Graff, there were reports that Serenity was not well, was undernourished, and had bruises.

    The birth mother asked that Serenity, and the two half-siblings with her, be moved out to foster care, but a caseworker could not substantiate her concerns and the case was closed.

    In September 2014, medical reports released not to Graff but leaked to the media last month said Serenity was taken to hospital in central Alberta with dilated pupils, severely underweight, hypothermic, and with multiple bruises, including around her pubic area.

    She had a massive brain injury, was put on life support and died soon after.

    Her guardians said she fell off a swing.

    A police investigation remains underway.

Blind kitten rescued in Regina

Oracle isn’t a typical kitten. She was born blind without any proper eyes.

The eleven-week-old cat was diagnosed with microphthalmia, which means her eyes are underdeveloped and not visual, Brie Hamblin, Regina Humane Society’s veterinary care director said.

Oracle was found outside in an industrial yard and brought to the Regina Humane Society a couple of weeks ago.

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“Basically, she does have eyes, but they’re very, very tiny and for all intents and purposes, she’s blind,” Bill Thorn, Regina Humane Society’s director of marketing and public relations, said.

“When she came in, she was very fearful, and she would hiss at any movement, any sound, in a defensive way,” Thorn said.

He doesn’t know how Oracle ended up outside by herself, but he suspects somebody dropped her off.

“She was found by herself, that’s all we really do know. She may have been dropped there by somebody,” he said.

“It’s possible she was from a litter nearby, although typically if there was a mom with some kittens hiding in a shed she wouldn’t let the kitten wander off like that.”

Thorn said it was concerning that Oracle was found outside in the cold.

“The dangers from traffic, from people, from toxins and this time of year the cold. We get a lot cats in that have frozen ears, sometimes worse, sometimes deceased because they’ve literally frozen to death,” he said.

Oracle is now in a foster home with a staff member who has experience rehabilitating feral kittens.

“So far she’s responded quite well to her environment, starting to learn that the world isn’t as scary as it seems and starting to play a little bit more like a kitten,” Thorn said.

Oracle needs to have her tiny eyes removed, Brie Hamblin, Regina Humane Society’s veterinary care director, said.

“They’ll build up debris and be at risk of infection and whatnot for later in life, so we’re just waiting for her to get bigger so we can perform those procedure,” she said.

Blind animals usually have heightened senses such as hearing and touch, Hamblin said.

“In her case I imagine she hears very, very well,” she said.

“She will develop a blind map of her environment eventually in the future and be able to navigate around whatever home she goes to quite well.”

Hamblin said it’s common for animals to have one eye affected by micropthalmia but not both eyes.

“Animals usually do quite well without sight,” said Thorn. “We’ve seen them here at the shelter on a somewhat regular basis. They come in and they can’t see or there’s some sort of infection, but they do tend to be very resilient.”

The Regina Humane Society estimates it will cost almost $4,000 for Oracle’s surgery and care if there are no unforeseen problems. The Regina Humane Society is hoping donations to its faith fund will help cover Oracle’s costs.

Reserved seats being offered at Country Thunder Music Festival

Concertgoers hoping to score the best seats for the Country Thunder Music Festival no longer need to wait in the gopher run.

The country music festival, formerly known as the Craven Country Jamboree, is now offering reserved seats.

Festival-goers willing to pay up can skip lines that often start the night before.

The gopher run will still happen and 2,500 wristbands will be handed out, which is 500 less than last year, Kim Blevins, Country Thunder Music Festival’s general manager, said.

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    “So now we offer options for everyone,” Blevins said.

    “We offer standing room for those kids that like to party and dance. We have a reserved seating area for somebody if they want to have that seat for the weekend. We have an upgraded, more of a VIP experience and the platinum experience, and we still have that tradition of the gopher run.”

    Those that purchase the $600 platinum experience will have access to a special bar area, private washrooms and different food, Blevins said.

    Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Toby Keith and Dallas Smith are just some of the performers scheduled to take to the stage at next year’s festival.

    Tickets went on sale at noon on Thursday.

    Country Thunder Music Festival will be held in Craven, Sask. from July 13 to 16, 2017.

Saskatoon to get new French immersion program in its west side

The Greater Saskatoon Catholic School (GSCS) division plans to add an eighth French immersion program next school year to meet the demand of the city’s growing west side.

Division officials determined that St. Peter School in Dundonald would be the best location for the new program, since it’s located near a number of Saskatoon’s growing neighbourhoods.

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    READ MORE: Saskatoon school boards experience rapid student growth

    Currently there are only two schools that offer French immersion located in Saskatoon’s west side.

    “If you look at the growth of our city and you look at the west-sector growth with the four phases that are outlined … that will house around seventy-thousand people,” Darryl Bazylak, a GSCS education superintendent, said.

    “With that comes more families, more interest in different programming and French immersion is no different with that.”

    Enrolment at École St. Gerard, one of the two west side programs, has grown from 380 to 575 students in nine years according to the school’s principal Gisele Jean-Bundgaard.

    “It’s been steady throughout every single year,” Jean-Bundgaard said.

    “We have a lot of newcomer families, especially from the Philippines and from Vietnam, joining our St. Gerard family.”

    READ MORE: New Saskatoon joint-use schools on schedule to open next fall

    GSCS officials determined that extra capacity created by the new joint-use schools opening in 2017 will allow them to move students from École St. Gerard to St. Peter. So far 119 students have confirmed their plans to move to the new program, while 25 others are undecided.

    “[There was] getting to be a lot of modulars there, smaller playgrounds and smaller green space, so it was time and our community was saying that by their enrollments,” Bazylak said of École St. Gerard.

    Bazylak added that the division is sympathetic to the fact that change can be hard for some students. He said officials “can work on a transition plan between the two elementary schools.”

    “[Students] can still do some things together because their friends of five or six years will still be at École St. Gerard,” Bazylak said.

World AIDS Day put spotlight on high Sask. HIV rates

For the past ten years, rates of HIV diagnosis in Saskatchewan have been consistently higher than the national average in Canada.

Saskatchewan compared to Canada in HIV diagnosis rates.

Saskatchewan Ministry of Health

Since 2009, rates trending were trending down but last year saw a dramatic spike. According to Saskatchewan’s deputy chief medical health officer, Dr. Denise Werker, the spike is due in part to the use of needles.

“In Saskatchewan, intravenous drug use is a very important driver of transmission… [it’s] one of the most efficient ways of transmitting HIV,” Werker said.

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    Of the 160 new HIV cases last year, 129 people identified as aboriginal.

    Jann Ticknor with the Saskatchewan Indigenous Strategy on HIV and AIDS said the stark contrast can be linked to a number of complexities like residential schools or injection drug use.

    “The most common piece that people who inject drugs share is they were abused sexually as children and so when we start to put pieces together about why people inject drugs…  we start to understand HIV might look like here,” Ticknor said.

    “People call it an epidemic, people call it a pandemic, people call it a state of emergency. I call it time to act.”

    According to the province, testing for HIV in Saskatchewan has increased —; an average of six per cent —; since 2006.

    Now, being diagnosed with HIV is no longer considered a death sentence.

    “It’s easier to manage living with HIV than it is to manage with diabetes. Our message is know your status, get tested,” Ticknor said.

    Dr. Werker said there is treatment for HIV that can help a person who is infected lead a near normal life with a normal life expectancy.

    “For the last couple of years we’ve been spending more efforts and expanding outreach and testing in these rural and remote communities,” Werker said.

    In October, the Ministry of Health joined forced with about 180 partners, including indigenous leaders, clinicians, and health regions, to implement a multi-year plan to address HIV.

    Flash Mob

    A group of grandmothers also hoped to bring awareness to the prevalance of HIV and AIDS by holding a World AIDS Day flash mob.

    The Grandmothers 4 Grandmothers group danced to The Eurythmics’ “Sisters are Doing it for Themselves” at the University of Regina’s Riddell Centre.

    The flash mob was playful way to draw attention a serious problem.

    “Just remind people that AIDS is very prevalent. There are hundreds of thousands of people on the continent who have the disease, who are dying of the disease… this is an awareness event.”

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Alberta Art Gallery’s upcoming exhibit buoyed by record-breaking Canadian art sale

The Art Gallery of Alberta says the record-breaking sale of a Canadian painting last month is building quite a buzz around Canadian art and history just as the gallery gets set to unveil a new exhibit featuring some of the country’s most celebrated landscape artists.

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    “It’s one of the exhibitions we’re putting on to celebrate the sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of confederation,” Catherine Crowston, executive director of the AGA, said Thursday. “It’s really a celebration of Canada through the seasons and across the country.”

    The coming exhibit, set to open to the public on Saturday, is buoyed by the fact it will feature a painting by Lawren Harris – “Athabasca Valley, Jasper Park.” That’s because the art world is abuzz with the Nov. 23 sale of Harris’ “Mountain Forms” piece, which broke a new barrier for the most expensive Canadian artwork ever sold when it was snapped up for a cool $9.5 million, $11.2 million when you factor in the purchaser had to pay an 18 per cent buyer’s premium, an auction house fee.

    READ MORE: Lawren Harris painting ‘Mountain Forms’ smashes Canadian art record at auction

    Watch below: The Lawren Harris painting “Mountain Forms” set a new Canadian record for most expensive art piece when it was sold at an auction in Toronto on Nov. 23, 2016.

    “When something like that happens… I think people stop and look and maybe think more about, ‘Look at these paintings and how can they be of such value and what were the artists thinking about when the created them?’” Crowston said.

    “It actually makes people stop and think Canadian art has value.”

    The Ontario-born Harris, who passed away in 1970, was part of the venerated Group of Seven, an iconic group of Canadian landscape painters known for their prolific artwork in the 1920s and early part of the 1930s. According to Crowston, the work done by Harris and the Group of Seven represents more than just beautiful artwork but also helped to define the story of Canada.

    READ MORE: Rare Lawren Harris oil sketch sets record at auction in Toronto

    “Artists like Lawren Harris, the Group of Seven and many of the artists in this exhibition, help us really to form what our idea of Canada really is,” she said. “You get kind of a breadth of the different types of landscapes across Canada.”

    Crowston points out that the Group of Seven, and Harris in particular, was captivated by Alberta’s mountains which feature heavily in the AGA’s upcoming exhibition.

    While it remains to be seen whether Harris’ record-breaking sale is an anomaly or the beginning of a curiosity for all things Canadian in the art collection world, Crowston says she hopes it serves as a catalyst for the country’s creative class to build a wider audience for its work.

    READ MORE: 3 Lawren Harris paintings fetch over $3 million at auction in Vancouver

    “Wonderful Canadian artists like Lawren Harris are breaking into the U.S. market and hopefully that’s something where we might build bridges with U.S. museums and have Canadian art spread around the world.”

    -with files from Fletcher Kent.

Calgary couple’s car slapped with stolen licence plate while they slept

Calgary police say vehicle licence thefts are big business, with an average of 7,000 stolen licence plates a year.

Last month, Alyssa Julie and her boyfriend noticed the plate on their car was loose. Then, they noticed it wasn’t their licence number.

READ MORE: Calgary drug trade behind rise in licence plate thefts

It turns out their legal plate had been replaced with a stolen one.

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    “I never check my licence plate when I go out to the car,” Julie said. “He only checked it because he was putting something in the trunk and just noticed it was rattling.”

    Calgary Police Det. David Bailey works with the Auto Theft Unit and says thieves use legal plates on stolen vehicles or sell the licence for drugs or money.

    “A vehicle is a commodity. The actual theft of a licence plate is a crime itself and then a lot of them are then used in further offences.”

    There are products you can buy to secure your licence plate, like tamper-proof screws, which need a special tool to remove them. Another option is to attach a frame over the licence to make it hard for thieves to remove it.

    “The more screws the better,” said Jody Blood with Auto Value Parts in northeast Calgary. “Licence plates do require four screws, so if you could put in all four, it would take more time for thieves to take them off.”

    Julie and her boyfriend bought the anti-theft screws.

    READ MORE: Calgary woman’s stolen vehicle quickly recovered thanks to viral Facebook post

    Police say to avoid being a target, park in a well lit area, park so your plate is always visible and walk around your car before you get in to check it.

Nestle promises products with 40% less sugar are just as tasty

Nestle, the world’s largest packaged food group, said it had devised a new technology that has the potential to reduce sugar in some of its confectionery products by up to 40 percent without affecting the taste.

The maker of KitKat and Aero bars said its researchers have found a way using only natural ingredients to change the structure of sugar particles. By hollowing out the crystals, Nestle said each particle dissolves more quickly on the tongue, so less sugar can be used in chocolate.

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READ MORE: How much sugar should you be eating? How to follow WHO guidelines

“Our scientists have discovered a completely new way to use a traditional, natural ingredient,” the company’s chief technology officer, Stefan Catsicas, said in a statement late on Wednesday.

The announcement comes as a global obesity epidemic ramps up pressure on processed food makers to make their products healthier. Nestle and its peers have all been working to reduce sugar, fat and salt, as consumers increasingly opt for fresher, healthier options.

Nestle said it was patenting its findings and would begin to use the faster-dissolving sugar across a range of its confectionery products from 2018.

Nestle is not the first company to experiment with designer molecules.

READ MORE: No M&M’s in McFlurries and Blizzards? Mars may be removing its candies from fast food desserts

PepsiCo in 2010 piloted a designer salt molecule that it said would allow it to use less sodium without affecting the taste of its snacks, which include Walkers crisps and Cheetos.

The World Health Organization updated its sugar recommendations in 2014: sugar intake should be just five per cent of your total calories, half of what the global health agency had recommended years ago.

For an average woman who eats about 2,000 calories a day, that’s roughly 25 grams of sugar – less than half of a can of pop, about two portions of yogurt or an entire Caramilk bar.

*with files from Carmen Chai