Vaccine Rollout Brings Hope to Maimonides

Dec. 17, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL—Every December, Beverly Spanier has organized a Hanukkah party for her friends. That celebration, held in a favourite restaurant or hotel, continued even after she moved into Maimonides Geriatric Centre five years ago.

Planning the party was a project the retired high school teacher worked on for weeks in advance. A paraplegic, she got to the site via the city’s adapted transit service.

That, of course, did not happen this year. Spanier, 75, has not left Maimonides since the pandemic began in March except for three hospital visits. In fact, she has been confined to her room for the past nine months, save for some time in its garden during the summer.

Beverly Spanier
Beverly Spanier

For the first months of the pandemic, all visitors, including paid caregivers on whom Spanier relied, were barred from Maimonides, and remain restricted.

For Spanier, Hanukkah has been limited to looking at the menorah in a municipal park from her fifth-floor window.

When Maimonides was selected as the first site in Montreal for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine rollout, she didn’t hesitate to consent. On the afternoon of Dec. 14, Spanier was among the first of the first in Canada – and indeed the world – to be inoculated.

Maimonides, a long-term care institution in Cote Saint-Luc, and a Quebec City nursing home, Centre d’Hébergement St. Antoine, received the first vaccine shipments to Quebec. The highly anticipated cargo landed at Mirabel Airport north of Montreal on the evening of Dec. 13.

Maimonides took delivery of two boxes of 972 doses each, and 150 residents and staff received their first shot on Dec. 14. Almost 95 percent of Maimonides’s approximately 350 residents have agreed to be inoculated, as have, at time of writing, 40 percent of its roughly 500 employees, according to CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the regional health authority that administers Maimonides.

Surplus doses from this initial batch will be made available to workers at other health care facilities in the local network.

The day after the first of her two shots, Spanier said she felt fine, with only a little redness at the injection site on her arm. Although she has much faith in medicine – her late brother was a doctor – Spanier was nervous about any adverse reaction and wondered if Maimonides had sufficient medical support on standby should a problem arise.

(CIUSSS officials reassured the public that it does have a trained team in place and precautions, such as a “crash cart,” to treat anaphylactic shock.)

“It is miraculous how the scientists and pharmaceutical industry have been able to produce an effective vaccine in such a short time, but you do worry,” Spanier said. “We are still, in a sense, in the midst of an experiment.”

On balance, she realizes that her risk of catching COVID is far greater than any associated with the vaccine. The consequences for Spanier, who has respiratory issues, could be fatal.

She also has a sense of responsibility toward society. “I think that we all have to do what we can to overcome this terrible disease and allow the world to return to normal.”

The psychological toll of the pandemic has been brutal, she said.

Maimonides has been hard hit by the coronavirus, twice. In the first wave, a third of residents were infected and 39 died, according to government information. It took the assistance of the Canadian Armed Forces and, after that, the Canadian Red Cross to help overwhelmed staff get the outbreak under control.

In early October, Maimonides was proud to announce there were no more active cases. But within weeks, the numbers went from zero to over 50 and, after trying to care for the sick in an isolated ward, transferred many to hospital.

On Dec. 16, Maimonides site coordinator Jennifer Clarke made public that, in the second wave, a total of 88 residents have had COVID and 19 have died. There are currently nine active cases, she reported.

Spanier compares her life to being on a “battleground,” with its fear, disruption and grief.

“We are a community here. I knew some of the people who died, or know someone who knew them,” she said. Her hope today is tinged with solemnity because she can’t forget the havoc the virus wreaked.

Much hoopla surrounded the rollout at Maimonides, with Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé and federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on hand for a ceremony held outside the building just before the first shot was administered to resident Gloria Lallouz, 78.

The politicians hailed it as a historic occasion. Hajdu, who did not hide her tears, said, “I see this as the first step toward the light.”

Spanier is more cautious. The first battle to be won is ending the pandemic, but the definition of victory in the long term, she believes, is changing society’s disregard for the institutionalized frail elderly.

“If any good has come out of this, it is that light has been shed on what is happening in chronic care places. We can’t just dump people, and the resources have to back that up. One orderly for 35 patients at night is not feasible anymore.”

Families Protest Possible Admission of COVID Patients to Nursing Homes

Oct. 28, 2020

By JANICE ARNOLD

MONTREAL— Families of residents of the long-term care institutions Maimonides Geriatric Centre and Jewish Eldercare Centre, which were hard-hit by COVID this spring and summer, are pleading with health officials to halt a plan to admit outside patients with the virus to recuperate in those facilities.

Jewish Edlercare

“My initial reaction was, ‘What are they thinking?’” Helen Adam, president of the users’ committee at Maimonides, told the CJR. At the outbreak’s worst, one-third of Maimonides’s 380 residents were infected and 39 would die, in addition to the staff members who tested positive. It took reinforcement by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and then the Red Cross to get the situation under control.

Eldercare had an even more difficult time from the outset of the pandemic in March, and lost more residents.

On Oct. 19, CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the government health agency that administers Maimonides and Eldercare, informed families that there were no longer any COVID cases among residents and that the “hot zones” at both sites would, if necessary, accommodate certain people with the virus who live in the geographic territory served by the CIUSSS.

The email, signed by Barbra Gold, director of the CIUSSS’s Support Program for the Autonomy of Seniors, states that these beds would be for “COVID-positive patients who are medically stable (do not require hospitalization) but require a greater level of care than what is being offered at their current locations, such as private seniors’ residences, intermediate resources or those recovered in hospital who are not strong enough to go home.”

To date, no such transfers have been made and Gold noted that “every effort” is being made to keep such patients where they are. She added, “We are confident that this approach will not compromise the health and well-being of our residents and is in the best interest of the community we serve.”

Adam said families are flabbergasted that after waging such a lengthy battle to contain the virus – which included stopping visits for months and moving residents to different rooms and makeshift spaces to separate the infected from those who were not – the two institutions are now being opened to ill people from the community.

At Maimonides, the hot zone is located in part of the uppermost seventh floor. Adam said she is fearful that staff will inevitably move to other areas of the building despite the best intentions.

“I think Quebec has gone out of its mind. They try one thing one week and another the next. Now it looks like they are setting us up as an adjunct to the hospitals. People are so scared and confused,” said Adam.

Asked by the CJR to respond, the CIUSSS emailed a statement that those with COVID will be moved “only as a last resort” and with extra precautions.

“If and when any COVID-positive individuals arrive at the facility, they will not come into contact with uninfected residents. They will be put into designated hot zones that are separated by permanent walls from the other residents and the other units,” it said.

“They and the staff who care for them will also use designated elevators that will be unavailable to other residents and personnel. As well, they will receive care from dedicated members of the staff—in other words, the COVID-positive person or their health care provider should not have any contact with the other residents, caregivers or health care teams at Maimonides or Jewish Eldercare.”

West-Central Montreal adds that, “like every CIUSSS throughout the province, we are required to provide residents in our area with emergency spaces in a non-traditional site, such as a long-term care centre.”

This is not reassuring to Maimonides resident Beverly Spanier. The retired high school teacher is afraid of another COVID outbreak and has little confidence in the institution’s ability to deal with it.

“This is supposed to be our home, not a hospital,” she said, still traumatized by the upheaval that took place earlier this year. “We’ve already been through hell. I don’t want to live in a war zone again.”

In a letter to Premier Francois Legault, the users’ committee says a “highly vulnerable population” is being put at risk and suggests an alternative. “There are many virtually empty hotels, who would probably welcome the work. Why not use them?

“We appeal to you M. Legault to rethink this directive.”

The committee has also reached out to the Conseil pour la protection des malades, a group defending the rights of users of the health care system.

Adam’s mother, who lived for six years at Maimonides, died in May, but not of COVID. Adam thinks many residents’ passing, including her mother’s, was due to the loneliness and stress caused by the pandemic restrictions. She did not see her mother in person from mid-March until just before her death when she was allowed to visit on compassionate grounds.

She does not want that to happen again to any other residents or their relatives.

By the official count, more than 6,100 people in Quebec have died of COVID, the great majority of them residents of nursing homes or seniors’ facilities.

Racist Sailor Prompts Calls for Reform in Forces

Aug. 19, 2020 – By Steve Arnold

A racist has been unmasked in Canada’s military, prompting new calls for the Armed Forces to get tough with members who don’t represent the country’s values.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network (whose Chair is CJR publisher Bernie Farber) and the Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center want action after a Royal Canadian Navy reservist in Calgary was revealed to be a member of an online neo-Nazi hate group.

Boris Mihajlovic
Boris Mihajlovic

Initial anger grew even hotter after Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic was accused of trying to sell military-grade weapons to another hate group. There is no evidence a deal was ever completed and Mihajlovic was later reinstated to the navy after claiming he has been rehabilitated and no longer holds racist views.

In 2019 Kurt Phillips, now a director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, was among the first to raise an alarm about the alleged arms deal. Mihajlovic was later identified by alternative media site Unicorn Riot.

“(Mihajlovic) is a person who kind of stood out for me,” Phillips said in an interview. “The big concern here is the Forces and their reaction to this. Our concern now is, what is the Canadian military doing about this?”

Phillips said the Canadian Armed Forces have a long-established pattern of side-stepping such issues by slapping the wrists of members caught making racist statements or being involved in demonstrations.

“It’s in the nature of institutions like this to just want controversy to go away,” he said. “They will circle their wagons and say what they need to.”

That’s what he said happened in 2017 when five Canadian sailors were identified as part of a crowd that disrupted a Native protest in a park named for Lord Edward Cornwallis. A founder of Halifax, the British officer is also the author of a policy of genocide against the area’s Indigenous population.

Four of the sailors faced a period of probation but were returned to active duty. The fifth left the military.

“The military seems to treat these incidents as an exercise in public relations,” he said. “It’s a case of saying the right things but not taking the extra step.”

In the most recent case, leaders of FSWC met recently with Vice-Admiral Art McDonald, commander of the Royal Canadian Navy, who promised a “command-level review” of the investigation into the allegations and the decision to keep Mihajlovic in the Forces.

In its new release following that meeting, FSWC said it asked the admiral to “ensure that (Mihajlovic) faces justice for his participation in neo-Nazi terrorist organization Blood & Honour; for his efforts to foment a ‘race war’ against Jews and others, and for his attempts to offer for sale military-grade weaponry to other white supremacists.”

FSWC said McDonald also told the group that the Navy is committed to combating discrimination, racism and antisemitism within its ranks and to reflecting the values of Canadians by promoting diversity and tolerance.

Mihajlovic’s racist activities were revealed by Unicorn Riot and CBC in December. CBC reported his hate group activities include serving as an administrator of the now-defunct Iron March forum, a neo-Nazi website. He was also involved with Blood & Honour for at least four years and its armed branch, Combat 18, a group the Canadian government identified last summer as a terrorist organization.

Mihajlovic told the public broadcaster he hasn’t been involved with such groups since Iron March shut down in 2017 and now he realizes he was wrong and rejects racist views.

“I want people to know that I’m a very different person than I was,” he said. “I just want people to know that the people in these groups really need mental help and therapy.”

He said his military experience, as well as a course he took at the University of Calgary in 2017, made him question his radical beliefs.

“During my time in the military, I met people from different races and cultures and realized I was wrong,” he said. “I realized I was hating people without any reason. I believed in a really elitist world view.”

For Phillips, words like that are a good start, but more is needed to show Mihajlovic has truly recanted his former views – actions like a sincere apology to the communities he offended and helping law enforcement identify and deal with other groups and extremists.

The military itself has work to work, including reforming a culture that attracts people with right-wing views. A frequent theme for such people, Phillips added, is to use the military to gain training in weapons and tactics for what they believe is a coming race war.

Mihajlovic mouthed those very words in some of the hate group postings identified as his by CBC.

“They pay you to teach you the methods you need to destroy them,” he once wrote, saying his rationale for serving in the military was to gain combat experience for an eventual “race war.”

Phillips added an important step for Canada would be to restore Section 13 of the federal Human Rights Code. That’s the section that allowed individuals to pursue groups espousing hate speech.

The section was repealed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government on the grounds it restricted free expression.

Canadian law enforcement also needs to make better use of Criminal Code provisions against hate speech, Phillips said.

Under the current system, provincial attorneys general must sign off on turning an allegation into a hate crime – something too many have been reluctant to do for fear of being accused of constraining free speech.

“We really have to press our elected leaders to make better use of the laws we already have,” Phillips said.

Prioritize Victims of Hate When Confronting Extremism in the Military

July 29, 2020 – By ELIZABETH MOORE

On July 19, the Canadian Armed Forces announced they are taking an important and, as critics have noted, a long overdue step to more effectively deal with hateful conduct in their ranks. The new orders finally define “hateful conduct,” make reporting incidents mandatory, and will include ongoing training, entrance screenings, and incident tracking.

As Maj.-Gen. Marc Gagne of the Forces’ chief of military personnel’s office put it, “the idea is basically as soon as you join, it’s crystal clear, and we’re going to keep reinforcing through education and training as you move through the ranks and as you assume more responsibility.”

While there is reason to be optimistic about the potential for positive change in the future, the military is clearly still struggling when it comes to handling cases of hate group members in their midst.

The U.S.-based media collective Unicorn Riot reported that Leading Seaman Boris Mihajlovic returned to active duty aboard HMCS Tecumseh on July 15, 2020, following an investigation into his ties to racist extremist groups. Mihajlovic claims he is reformed and has not been involved with hate groups since 2017.

In a video by Mihajlovic’s Commanding Officer, Joseph Banke, sailors were called upon “to find a way ahead together.” Banke emphasized his belief that rehabilitation should be chosen over retribution, concluding that “we need to build forward together, we need to rehabilitate together, we are going to support this member together.”

This approach would perhaps be warranted if the person in question was passively consuming hateful content online but otherwise not deeply entrenched. But that is not the case with Mihajlovic. He was a moderator on the now-defunct racist forum Iron March, claimed to be connected with Blood and Honour, a hate group that was classified as a terrorist organization by the Canadian government last year, and he tried to carry out illegal arms deals.

While it is wholly possible to leave racist extremist groups and change one’s worldview, doing so within the Armed Forces carries additional responsibilities, particularly when internet posts discussing the sale of “handguns, assault rifles, grenades and grenade launchers,” come to the public’s attention. At this time, it appears neither Mihajlovic nor the leadership at HMCS Tecumseh have issued an apology. No explanation of the ways Mihajlovic has grown or changed has been released, despite Banke’s acknowledgment that some sailors have “felt very victimized by this.”

It is unfortunate that at a time the Armed Forces are attempting to address both extremism and systemic racism, Banke seems to be asking those who felt victimized to do the emotional heavy lifting of supporting a former extremist without a proper explanation or support in return.

This is likely not an isolated incident. A 2018 military intelligence report identified 30 service members who belonged to hate groups or otherwise engaged in hateful conduct. In November, it was reported that 16 of those identified were allowed to remain within the Forces after being warned or disciplined.

Gagne noted that part of the problem was that the military took “a reaction kind of approach” instead of being proactive in addressing such matters. However, in order to ensure that sensitive and challenging situations like Mihajlovic’s are dealt with fairly and effectively, the Forces needs to move beyond the reactive/proactive dichotomy to embrace a holistic approach that remains ever mindful of past and current incidents of extremism in their ranks.

To illustrate the range of events affecting the current situation, former Master Corporal Patrik Mathews is facing U.S. charges related to possessing and transporting a firearm and ammunition while plotting to trigger a race war with members of the violent white supremacist group, The Base. Meanwhile, military police are investigating a racist meme targeting Black people that was circulated in Quebec last month.

If a person who engaged in hateful conduct is allowed to stay in uniform after a case has been investigated, the wellbeing of those who felt victimized must be prioritized over that person’s desire to resume their duties. No one should feel that they must literally soldier on without understanding how certain decisions were reached or why, especially since hateful conduct continues to occur.

It is unfortunate that those who need to issue apologies or explanations have more power and latitude about whether to provide them than those who feel such words are necessary. And it is these imbalances that must be addressed for the military to truly be able to “rehabilitate together.”


Elizabeth Moore
Elizabeth Moore

Twenty-five years ago, Elizabeth Moore left The Heritage Front, Canada’s largest hate group. Since then, she has become an anti-hate educator, writer, and social justice advocate. She is currently a member of the Enhancing Social Justice Education Coordinating Committee and Parents for Peace’s Community Network.