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How an outreach worker uses photography to create a real-life Facebook for Montreal’s homeless

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Ten years ago, Ammisee Papialuk travelled to Montreal from Kuujjuarapik, a village at the mouth of the Great Whale River in Quebec’s Inuit territory of Nunavik.

Papialuk had come for medical treatment after breaking her shoulder, but she says the doctors weren’t able to help.

“I just walked out of the hospital.”

She never left Montreal, leaving her five children — four boys and one girl — in the north.

“Yes, I love them, but for me, it’s hard to get back home,” she says.

“Spring, fall, summertime, you name it, I live outside.”

Papialuk spends much of her time in and around Place-des-Arts Metro station, hanging out with a close-knit group of friends — fellow homeless people.

Ammisee Papialuk and two of her friends look at pictures of themselves in one of James Galwey’s photo albums. (CBC)​ Papialuk and her friends sit on the floor inside the station, flipping through a photo album.

The album is packed with pictures of people she knows who hang out inside Place-des-Arts station.

She stops at a photo of a grinning old woman she knew who died of cancer.

“That’s Winnie. We called her Winnie the Pooh.… She was always nice to everybody,” she says.   

Exeko outreach worker James Galwey, left, shows Claude Prenovost his camera, with which he takes photos of the marginalized people he meets in Metro stations. (CBC)

The photo albums were created by James Galwey, an outreach worker with Exeko, a Montreal non-profit organization that uses art and philosophy to inspire creativity in marginalized people.

Galwey asks to take pictures of the people he meets. He then prints them and puts them in the albums, creating a book for each station. 

“Each Metro station’s got its own community,” says Galwey.

He says it’s important for marginalized people to have access to what he calls a “physical Facebook.”


Watch ‘The physical Facebook’

The ‘physical Facebook’ 2:55

“They haven’t got access to the internet; they haven’t got iPhones and cameras. And so I think it’s an important way for them … to know what their friends are doing, as one would do with Facebook.”

Papialuk, whose photo appears several times in one of Galwey’s albums, says every picture has meaning.

“I love his photographs. It’s for memories, you know?… Every photograph means something.”

Galwey says his photos help capture a transient way of life, and often, the albums contain the last photos ever taken of a homeless person.

“We get pictures of people that we love, and we lost a lot of those people,” says Marie Blacksmith, a woman living on the streets who’s had her picture taken by Galwey. 

“I don’t want these people to be forgotten,” says Galwey. “Everybody exists.”

“In a way, these photographs are proof of their existence.”

James Galwey took this photograph of a woman he knew only as Cathy, who has died since this photo was taken. (James Galwey/Fliker)

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‘Too soon to celebrate’ Ottawa’s low case count, says Etches

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Ottawa Public Health (OPH) logged just 11 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, the lowest daily total since Sept. 1.

Because of the lag between testing and reporting, the low number could simply reflect low turnout at the city’s testing sites on weekends — all month, new case counts have been lower on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. 

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, the city’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches said she doesn’t read too much into a single day’s report.

“I don’t think we can make too much of 11. Actually, it could be a lot higher tomorrow — I would expect that, on average,” she said. “It’s too soon to celebrate.”

Provincewide, public health officials reported 1, 249 new cases Tuesday.

OPH also declared 62 cases resolved Tuesday, lowering the number of known active cases in the city to 462. Two more people have died, both in care homes currently experiencing outbreaks, raising the city’s COVID-19 death toll to 361. 

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Santa Claus isn’t coming to Ottawa’s major malls this year

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Santa Claus may still be coming to town this Christmas, but he won’t be dropping by any of Ottawa’s major malls, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Friday, Cadillac Fairview said Santa won’t be making an appearance at any of its 19 malls across Canada, including Rideau Centre in downtown Ottawa. On Tuesday, Bayshore and St. Laurent shopping centres confirmed they, too, are scrapping the annual tradition.

“Due to the evolution of the situation in regards to COVID-19, we have made the difficult decision to cancel our Santa Program and Gift Wrap Program this year,” Bayshore spokesperson Sara Macdonald wrote in an email to CBC.

Macdonald said parent company Ivanhoé Cambridge cancelled all holiday activities “due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases across the country.”

Macdonald said families that had already booked an appointment to visit Santa will receive an email with more information.  

Virtual visits with Santa

Rideau Centre said based on customer research and discussions with public health officials, its North Pole is going online this year.

“Children will be able to have a private chat with Santa,” said Craig Flannagan, vice-president of marketing for Cadillac Fairview. “You’ll also be able to join a 15-minute storytime with Santa over Facebook Live.” 

At Place d’Orléans Shopping Centre, visitors are invited to take a “selfie with Santa” — actually, a life-size cutout of Santa Pierre, the man who’s been playing Santa at the east end mall for years.

“We understand that this is not ideal, but in lieu of this tradition we will be doing what we can to maintain and encourage holiday cheer,” according to a statement on the mall’s Facebook page.

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Ottawa Bylaw breaks up two large parties in Ottawa over the weekend

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Bylaw is investigating social gatherings of more than 10 people in private homes across Ottawa last weekend.

Mayor Jim Watson tells Newstalk 580 CFRA that Ottawa Bylaw broke-up two house parties over the weekend, with 20 to 25 people at each party.

“That’s the kind of stupidity that angers me, that’s where the bulk of the transmissions are taking place, if we exclude the tragedy of the long-term care homes; it’s these house parties with unrelated people,” said Watson on Newstalk 580 CFRA’s Ottawa at Work with Leslie Roberts.

“The message doesn’t seem to be getting through, particularly to some young people who think they’re invincible.”

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Bylaw and Regulatory Services Director Roger Chapman says, “There are still ongoing investigations from this past weekend that could result in charges.”

Chapman says recent investigations led to two charges being issued for social gatherings of more than 10 people in a private residence in contravention of the Reopening Ontario Act.

“In one case, up to 30 individuals were observed attending a house party in Ward 18 on Oct. 24,” said Chapman.

“The second charge was issued following a house party in Ward 16 on Oct. 31, where up to 16 individuals were observed to be in attendance.”

The fine is $880 for hosting an illegal gathering.

Alta Vista is Ward 18, while Ward 16 is River Ward.

Ottawa Bylaw has issued 24 charges for illegal gatherings since the start of the pandemic.

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