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‘Thank God we created this,’ says Edmonton judge and architect of mental health court

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A lanky young man with thick glasses steps up to the front of the courtroom. He is charged with shoplifting and failure to appear but just finished a mental health therapy program.

“It sounds like you did a great job,” provincial court Judge Janet Dixon says warmly. “Because of the work you did (the Crown) is withdrawing the charges.”

The man pulls himself up a little straighter. “OK, thank you,” he says, before striding out of the courtroom.

It has been eight months since the launch of Edmonton’s mental health court, designed to help ease the backlog in the justice system and respond to the growing number of cases that involve people with mental health problems.

Since April, more than 2,340 accused have appeared on the docket.

The court draws on the collaborative expertise of dedicated judges, duty counsel, Crown prosecutors, healthcare and social workers, sheriffs and community agencies.

“At the end of every day I come away from that court saying, ‘Thank God we created this,'” Assistant Chief Judge Larry Anderson, one of the architects of the mental health court, told CBC News.

“Every day there’s at least one or two of the matters where I say, ‘You know, we could never have done this in another courtroom.’

“Chances are it just would have gone over for a longer period of time and come back without anybody ever actually having been able to sink their teeth into it.”

Criminal cases up 90 per cent

Since 2012, criminal cases in Edmonton have shot up by 90 per cent, putting significant pressure on the court system and especially docket court, said Anderson.

He cites the province’s justice system database which shows that in the 2012-13 fiscal year there were 24,113 new criminal cases. The current fiscal year, 2018-19, is on track to see nearly double the number of new cases, at about 46,000.

Anderson estimates at least 10 per cent of those charged with crimes in Edmonton have mental health problems.

He said while accountability is part of the equation, the goal of the court is to reduce the likelihood that someone will re-offend by tackling the mental health issues that put them there in the first place.

Without a mental health court, it would be “very difficult to identify and then promptly and properly respond to the underlying needs of those who enter the justice system due to mental health problems,” Anderson said.

Unlike conventional courtrooms, mental health court moves at a slower pace. Judges can make quicker, more informed decisions based on access to the real-time expertise of a forensic psychiatrist and mental health nurse, and computerized medical files — all of which provide a more holistic view of the accused.

The orders are going to be much more meaningful to the person and are much less likely to be breached.– Assistant Chief Judge Larry Anderson

“The orders are going to be much more meaningful to the person and are much less likely to be breached,” said Anderson. “That’s one of the problems that many people face when they have mental health challenges is that they just find they’re back into the system because they can’t meet the expectations that are placed on them.”

Judges may also ask someone to check in with the court after sentencing to monitor their progress.

“It’s rewarding to the individual who recognizes that courts actually care and want to see the person succeed and want to be want to be a part of their successes,” said Anderson.

Family matters

Back in court, a sheriff removes a young man’s handcuffs and takes him to the prisoner’s box for a brief appearance as he beams a gap-tooth smile toward the gallery.

“I see your dad’s here,” says Dixon, as a man waves a hello from the row of wooden benches. “Thank you for attending.”

Family members are playing a more significant role than anticipated, Legal Aid lawyer Amna Qureshi said in an interview. For instance, family members weigh in on the suitability of bail conditions and the availability of supports. Sometimes they help the court better understand the family’s overall struggles.

“If the ultimate goal is to stop recidivism … then why not involve the people that are going to be there when they’re not in conflict with the law?” said Qureshi.

Legal Aid lawyer Amna Qureshi says mental health court is breaking down barriers among groups who have a historically traumatic relationship with the justice system. (CBC/Peter Evans)

But there are other benefits too. Qureshi said the informal nature of the proceedings is reducing barriers among groups such as Indigenous people who have a historically traumatic relationship with the justice system. Elders are given a voice in the courtroom.

“That is important in terms of reconciliation and being culturally sensitive to what type of sentences are appropriate,” said Qureshi.

While the court is still in its infancy, future plans include a practicum in the new year for law students at the University of Alberta. They will take on the duties of the social workers, officially called “justice navigators,” who help connect clients with supports.

There are also plans to study the economic impacts of mental health court and measure the extent the court is achieving its objectives such as reducing recidivism, creating healthier lives and increasing respect for the justice system.

“The likelihood of those outcomes increasing is pretty high because you simply see the way people react,” Anderson said.

In court again, Dixon is sentencing a pregnant woman who pulled a fire alarm.

The woman, in a yellow sweatshirt, appears via closed-circuit TV from the Edmonton Remand Centre, where she is being held. Court hears about her family history, which includes residential schools. She struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction after growing up in foster care.

The woman says she wants to get help to take care of her children. She is looking for a place to stay after her release.

The Crown agrees to drop a charge of uttering threats and the judge hands down a short jail sentence along with some advice.

“The best thing you can do is take care of yourself,” Dixon tells her. “Good luck to you.”

“Thank you, your Honour,” says the woman. “Have a great day.”

andrea.huncar@cbc.ca
@andreahuncar

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Canadian Tech Calling: Moon and Mars and Mobile Phones

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Canadian technological know-how is helping develop reliable mobile communications for next-generation space missions, including manned missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond.

With many eyes here on Earth now focused on Mars, following the successful journey of ‘Percy’, the roving space exploration vehicle more formally known as Perseverance that is now cruising the Martian landscape, the continued role of Canadian researchers and technologists in space exploration has also drawn more attention.

A team of researchers at Simon Fraser University is working to make LTE/4G and Wi-Fi communications systems on the Moon a reality, along with others in the U.S. and Canada, under the umbrella of the Artemis Program at NASA.

That project will see the return of human beings to the Moon by 2024, and then to the surface of Mars after that.

As part of those efforts, NASA selected Nokia Bell Labs to build a test network and communications infrastructure to build interoperability standards among future cellular and Wi-Fi networks, so that all types of devices can be connected and support Artemis.

The network must provide critical communication capabilities for many different data transmission applications, including command and control functions; real-time navigation and remote control of surface rovers; as well as the streaming of high definition video, applications that are all vital to long-term human presence on a lunar or planetary surface.

“It sounds like far-out stuff, building networks on the Moon, Mars and even further out in our solar system,” says Stephen Braham, the director of the PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking at SFU. “But we’re actually testing Nokia’s technology right now.”

SFU’s PolyLAB for Advanced Collaborative Networking is doing some of that work at its Exploration Wireless Communications testbed at Vancouver’s Harbour Centre, in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

“(This is) what will allow us to build the ladder of technology standards needed to get cellular networks off Earth and into the solar system,” Braham said in a statement.

NASA and the CSA handed that critical testing to Braham and the scientists at PolyLAB, the Canadian component of what’s called the Exploration Wireless Communications (ExWC).

“Before space agencies can adopt these technologies, we need to prove we can operate between multiple vendors and different agencies, which is why NASA and CSA supports the ExWC testbed,” he continued.

The ExWC testbed launched back in 2018, testing high-speed wireless communications systems for space use, including 5G-forward LTE solutions and advanced Wi-Fi.

The SFU radio transmission systems, in the lab and on masts in the mountains in B.C. and the Yukon, are tested with various vendors and leading telecom providers, such including Vancouver-based Star Solutions and Sierra Wireless, another local company, as well as international telecommunications firms like Nokia.

Braham and associate professor Peter Anderson, who directs the SFU Telematics Research Laboratory that includes PolyLAB, both have extensive track records working on communication systems for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

It includes extensive research on very early cellular and Wi-Fi networks in the Canadian High Arctic, where advanced field communications systems were set up to support the SETI Institute and Mars Institute-lead NASA Haughton-Mars Project (HMP) up on Devon Island. 

That’s where Braham and his team tested the technology (developed in Canada) that became a big part of modern Wi-Fi, LTE, and now 5G technology, in order to meet up-front needs on human lunar missions if not all manned space flights.

From those early beginnings, the SFU team has now worked with other collaborators for the ongoing design and development of Canada’s prototype lunar/Mars surface communication networking systems, specifically the ExoMars rover, including Canadian space technology company MDA and the Canadian Communications Research Centre.

Braham is also an Associate Member on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems (CCSDS), supporting CSA during discussions and development of international standards for computing, networking, and communications in space. He also worked for many years as a member of the CSA’s nine-member Space Exploration Advisory Committee (SEAC), providing community leadership and representation in aspects of human space exploration in Canada.

But, when space agency officials announced recently that a Canadian will be aboard when NASA returns to the Moon in 2023, well, Braham was not named as that astronaut.

Nevertheless, with his and his team’s help, that astronaut will make Canada the second country in history to have someone travel into deep space and fly around the Moon.

And maybe use a mobile phone to call us and tell us all about it.

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Canadian Consumer Coalition Calls for Affordable Internet on National Day of Action

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Tomorrow, Tuesday, March 16, a national day of action will be staged by Canadian consumer advocates, social justice groups, telecom policy experts, digital activists, and independent ISPs, or Internet Service Providers.

In a series of scheduled virtual events, there will be calls for the federal government and telecom regulators to take action and ensure affordable Internet and wireless services are available to all Canadians.

The free online event is open to the public, and planners and scheduled participants in the Day of Action for Affordable Internet hope consumers themselves will them in urging a range of actions be taken by the federal government, the CRTC and the country’s Competition Bureau.

Advocating for a more affordable Internet will be: ACORN Canada; Brookfield Institute for Innovation + Entrepreneurship; activist and author Cory Doctorow; Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law Michael Geist; The Internet Society Canada Chapter; OpenMedia; Public Interest Advocacy Centre; Ryerson Leadership Lab; Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic; and TekSavvy Solutions.

And while a lack of competition has long been cited as a reason for high prices in Canada, the fact that a majority of subscribers stick with the ‘Big Three’ is also a stumbling block to leveling the playing field, at  least price-wise.

Canada’s Competitive Network Operators, a trade organization made up of Internet and telecommunications service providers that own/operate telecommunications networks across the country, is also fighting for a fair Internet pricing and accessibility structure.

Pandemic Pressures

Affordable Internet activists point out that, throughout the current COVID-19 crisis, reliable and affordable connectivity became even more essential. So did many things, in fact: many we had never deemed as so important, relevant or even as noteworthy as high speed Internet.

“The affordability and accessibility of the [I]nternet has never been more critical,” says Franca Palazzo, one of the event participants and the executive director of the Internet Society, Canada Chapter. “More than ever, we are being asked to work, learn and connect online.”

While it is true that many of our fellow Canadians are struggling to make ends meet during this pandemic, and they struggle, the coalition says, to pay some of the highest telecom bills in the world (while others can’t even get high-quality reliable connections), it is also true that many of us are using our high-speed connections more than ever with no increase in cost or decrease in service as a result of our pandemic-related stay-at-home, work-at-home or school-at-home activities.

The big three providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers and Telus – are among those companies that lifted data caps on cable and fibre-based residential Internet services; it’s a corporate goodwill gesture made as a result of pandemic and public pressures. The caps have been lifted until the end of June, where and when possible. (The Liberal government has directed the country’s largest telecom providers to cut specific cellphone prices in general.)

Not everyone is eligible for the pandemic discounts, however: some folks still using cellular (where, for example, high speed networking is not available) for their Internet connections are unable to get discounts because, the telecoms say, bandwidth and capacity would be threatened if caps were removed from cellular service.

“The digital divide in Canada is sometimes portrayed as exclusively a rural-urban divide,” says Sam Andrey, the director of policy and research at Ryerson Leadership Lab, where research and analysis into Internet usage is conducted. “But even in Canada’s largest cities, there are persistent gaps in access to digital services, devices and affordable [I]nternet at sufficient speeds that map onto other socioeconomic inequities, including income, age, race and ability,” he adds.

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Brim Financial Raises $25M Series B to transform the way people bank and shop

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TORONTO, March 16, 2021 /PRNewswire/ – Brim Financial (Brim), a Canadian next-generation Fintech company and certified credit card issuer, today announced the close of a $25M Series B, co-led by Desjardins Group and US-based EPIC Ventures with strong participation from Canadian and US based investors including goeasy Ltd., White Owl and Impression Ventures.

Brim’s state-of-the-art technology stack and credit cards infrastructure leverages the company’s ability to directly access the payment rails as an issuer, enabling Brim to deliver a fundamentally transformative ecosystem of financial products for consumers and businesses.

The Series B financing will bolster Brim’s Platform as a Service (PaaS). Brim’s B2B2C strategy enables any bank, credit union, fintech or large commercial partner to seamlessly roll out Brim’s financial products platform, credit cards and integrated buy-now pay-later solutions, mobile and digital banking, and behavior-driven customer engagement, all embedded with a best-in-class globally open loyalty and rewards ecosystem available in real-time at all merchants worldwide. With Brim’s Platform as a Service, partners have the ability to customize every element of the platform and leverage Brim’s end-to-end services, on a modular and turnkey basis.

Our technology stack powers banking, loyalty and integrated e-commerce on a single platform, with the customer experience at the center of it all” said Rasha Katabi, CEO and Founder of Brim Financial. “Today’s digital environment has brought a new sense of urgency for institutions to assess how they will interact with their customers. We are well positioned to be at the forefront of this transformation that’s shaping the way we live, connect and engage for decades to come, and we’re excited to be working with investors who share the same vision.”

Brim has expanded beyond the direct-to-consumer space enabling large partners to leverage their digital first platform, suite of credit cards and financial products, and a globally open rewards and e-commerce ecosystem. Brim seamlessly integrates buy-now pay-later capabilities in all of its revolving consumer and business credit card products, providing ultimate flexibility for customers with a uniquely and strongly differentiated ecosystem.

“We’re thrilled to be part of Brim’s next chapter. There is tremendous potential in the industry, both in Canada and in the US, and Brim is uniquely positioned to deliver a significant and much needed transformation.” said Ryan Hemingway, Managing Director at EPIC Ventures. “Brim is combining banking and commerce like we haven’t seen in North America.”

Merged with its scalable technology platform, Brim has the largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem as Brim’s technology stack directly leverages the global payment network. Brim’s Loyalty and Rewards are live at all points of sale globally, both in physical stores and online.  Any merchant can be live and part of the ecosystem in less than 3 minutes.

“Brim’s platform delivers industry-leading payments technology to their customers at an astonishing pace,” Martin Brunelle, Vice-President, Growth, Acquisitions and Development at Desjardins Group.  “Desjardins has earmarked $100 M to invest in technology companies and investment funds who can support our different business units in their digital transformation needs.  We’re very excited to be partnering with Brim.”

With its platform built entirely from the ground up and directly on the global payment network, Brim is positioned to transform the future of the credit card industry and digital banking products with the world’s largest open loyalty and rewards ecosystem. Brim has notably on-boarded hundreds of merchants to its rewards ecosystem since its launch, and rapid expansion will continue to be a key focus for the company going forward.

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