A THUNDER Bay police officer accused of using excessive force to subdue a girl on an ambulance gurney allegedly faced a situation that is becoming more and more common — spitting. The officer is accused of slapping the unruly girl, telling her not to spit on her, after paramedics had placed the intoxicated teenager on a stretcher in preparation for a trip to the hospital.

Police, security personnel and paramedics say spitting happens a lot when drugs and alcohol are involved. It’s become so prevalent that agencies are implementing tactics to protect their personnel.

Superior North EMS is among them, and spitting is not the only problem. Over the past two and a half years, EMS says its paramedics have been assaulted 52 times — punched, kicked and spit on 17 times.

These are people in the help business. Their only concern is the well-being of people they’re called to assist. That so many of those people attack paramedics is indicative of the trouble that is growing on Thunder Bay streets.

Among steps being taken to protect paramedics is training in self-defence and co-operation from police who’ll provide warnings when an ambulance is called to a known trouble spot. It’s so bad that paramedics have asked for ballistic armor to be issued.

EMS won’t go that far, yet, but it has authorized the use of spit hoods. The mesh hoods are placed over the heads of patients who spit on paramedics.

Winnipeg police say the intentional target is often the officer’s face, not just the uniform.

“There’s a considerable hazard that goes with that,” said George Van Mackelbergh, vice-president of the Winnipeg Police Association.

Manitoba’s public health department says you’re at risk of getting something like Hepatitis B or C or HIV if you get spit on and it goes into a cut, your eyes, nose or mouth. When that happens, officers are required to undergo a two-week treatment with a cocktail of drugs. That’s what happened with the Thunder Bay officer. It would be like receiving preliminary diagnosis of a serious illness and having to wait for test results.

What has the community come to when things have come to this? Police and now paramedics are under siege while at the same time are under the eyes of a variety of boards, commissions, agencies and do-gooders who fail to appreciate the real life-and-death challenges they face every night trying to maintain law, order and safety among a growing segment of society without an ounce of respect for anyone wearing a uniform.

This week’s cabinet shuffle puts women in many of the federal government’s top posts. Thunder Bay’s Patty Hajdu moves up from Labour to Health where she’ll oversee federal policy on issues starting with pharmacare, an election promise.

Canada, strangely, is one of the only countries with universal health care that does not include prescription drug coverage. Health Canada estimates that one-in-five Canadians do not have prescription drug coverage or are underinsured. Three million Canadians choose not to fill prescriptions because they can’t afford to, while one million Canadians cut spending on food and heat in order to afford prescription drugs, the agency says.

Hajdu isn’t hampered by the Liberals’ minority status. The NDP also wants pharmacare and the Bloc is on board since Quebec already has a form of it. Only the Conservatives are opposed to universal drug coverage — including Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott — so Hajdu can count on enough Commons support for the concept, if not the specifics.

Hajdu spent nine years as a health planner at the Thunder Bay District Health Unit. And for technical advice she can always turn to her Thunder Bay seatmate in Parliament, physician Marcus Powlowski.

Hajdu is not the only female Liberal with an important new assignment this week. Jane Philpott, the former Indigenous Services minister until she quit the Liberals over the SNC-Lavalin affair, and a physician, will be a special adviser in health care to Nishnawbe Aski Nation that represents 49 First Nations in Northern Ontario.

It’s a perfect fit for an urgent situation. With only one hospital in its vast territory, in Moosonee, and precious few health care resources on reserves, physical illness often goes untreated and without mental health care, youth suicides are alarmingly common.

Philpott says she agrees with NAN Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler that is it time to build a health system in the North that’s run by First Nations and wrest control of health care funding away from Ottawa. For that to happen, Philpott must negotiate with Hajdu who was the first cabinet minister to publicly defend Prime Minister Trudeau against allegations by former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, joined eventually by Philpott, of interference in SNC-Lavalin’s legal troubles.

In the U.S. impeachment hearings Thursday, diplomat David Holmes said he was able to overhear President Donald Trump ask U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland in a call about getting Ukraine to launch a questionable investigation because the president’s voice was so loud that it made Sondland hold the phone away from his ear.

Trump turned to Twitter to try to debunk the allegation. “Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speaker phone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I’ve even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!”

So CNN’s Chris Cuomo did just that. On the air he pulled out his iPhone and called his mother. He held the phone away from his ear and asked her to talk to Dana Bash sitting next to him. They had a short conversation and the evidence was clear — much like the mountain of direct evidence piling up against the president. About the only thing left in question is whether Republicans will finally accede to it or continue to deny reality, especially that of growing Russian interference in American elections.

(Ian Pattison is retired as editorial page editor of The Chronicle-Journal, but still shares his thoughts on current affairs.)

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