Global's Keith Baldrey has more on where in B.C. the latest 16 COVID-related deaths were recorded and what we can expect Dr. Bonnie Henry to say about school safety on Friday.
Global's Keith Baldrey has more on where in B.C. the latest 16 COVID-related deaths were recorded and what we can expect Dr. Bonnie Henry to say about school safety on Friday.
WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation Thursday to be energy secretary, joining President Joe Biden's Cabinet as a leader of Biden’s effort to build a green economy as the United States moves to slow climate change. The vote was 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting yes. Granholm, 62, served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry and devastated by the 2008 recession. She has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Granholm, who was sworn in late Thursday, is just the second woman to serve as energy secretary. She tweeted her thanks to senators and said, "I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results. Now let’s get to work!'' Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Granholm has the leadership skills, vision and compassion needed at the Energy Department to “develop innovative solutions for the climate challenge'' while preserving jobs. Granholm is committed to working every day “to ensure that we don’t leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future,'' said Manchin, D-W.Va. During her confirmation hearing last month, Granholm pushed her plans to embrace new wind and solar technologies. But her position caused tension with some Republicans who fear for the future of fossil fuels. “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America,” Granholm told senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark, or we can make them in America.'' Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, said Biden “seems to want to pull the plug on American energy dominance. So I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy.'' Barrasso and other Republicans have complained that a freeze imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands is taking a “sledgehammer” to Western states’ economies. The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said. He and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Granholm assured lawmakers that creating jobs was her top priority — and Biden's. “We cannot leave our people behind. In West Virginia, and in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here, and to look at other ways to diversify,'' she said at her Jan. 27 hearing. During her introduction as Biden's nominee, Granholm described arriving in the U.S. at age 4, brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity.” She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank. “It’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed ... with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy,” she said. In other action Thursday on Biden's Cabinet nominees: SURGEON GENERAL Surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy said Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the intense national focus on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at a hearing that “we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” After dipping slightly, opioid deaths have risen again, the result of street formulations laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Murthy told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the overdose rescue drug naloxone should be even more widely available and that medication-assisted treatment must be expanded. Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel notions that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that while he supports government studying the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder.” TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as "reengaging with international institutions? to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.? Tai did not address whether the Biden administration would drop former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or whether it would revive the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific trade deal, which Trump killed. BUDGET DIRECTOR Another key Republican lawmaker came out against Biden’s embattled pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, raising further questions about her viability. Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters he won't support her nomination. He and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were two Republicans seen as potentially gettable votes for the White House, as Grassley had previously said he’d had good conversations with Tanden. Murkowski has yet to say how she'd vote. With a handful of other key centrist Republicans coming out against her in recent days, Tanden’s path to confirmation hinges largely on Murkowski and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., neither of whom have made their positions known. The White House was forced to search for a Republican to support Tanden after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition last week. Lawmakers have largely cited Tanden’s controversial and at times harshly critical tweets about members of both parties in explaining their opposition to her. ___ Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report. Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
(Victoria Police - image credit) Victoria Police are investigating after a statue of Queen Elizabeth II was discovered beheaded in Beacon Hill Park Wednesday. Police are trying to determine whether the discovery is connected to two recent violent attacks — and numerous acts of vandalism that saw an area near the statue, as well as public and private property spray-painted with graffiti Wednesday morning. "A lot of the messaging ... was focused on Beacon Hill Park as well as some city staff," said Bowen Osoko with Victoria police. Osoko said a man was arrested recently after attacking bylaw staff with a shovel in a local park. "He was actually arrested at gunpoint," said Osoko. "We certainly don't arrest people at gunpoint everyday." On Tuesday morning, police made another arrest after park staff were attacked by a man with a sledgehammer. The statue of Queen Elizabeth II before the vandalism. Mayor Lisa Helps says that defacing public property is "completely unacceptable." "Whether it's the beheading of a statue or writing on the wall or etching of glass or anything, it's just completely unacceptable and it's completely unnecessary," Helps said Wednesday. The statue, now covered in a wooden crate, was erected to commemorate a 45-day cross-Canada tour by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in 1959. Victoria Police Chief Del Manak said the incidents are unfortunate. "We have beautiful parks in the City of Victoria here and it's really, really important that we all work together to protect these green spaces," he said. Osoko said the head has not been recovered — and repairs to fix the statue could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. A wooden box now covers the decapitated statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park.
A new educational resource looks at British Columbia’s long history of racist policies and the resiliency of the many Indigenous, Black and racialized people who have been affected. The open-source booklet Challenging Racist British Columbia: 150 Years and Counting was released today by co-publishers the University of Victoria (UVic) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The 80-page document is being made available as Black History Month wraps up and as B.C. approaches its 150th anniversary of joining Canada this July 20. “In 1871, this province joined the Canadian federation and, ever since, communities of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized peoples have waged protracted struggles against the dispossession of Indigenous lands, institutionalized discrimination, and the politics of exclusion,” the report begins. “They have won many victories, yet, 150 years later, we are witnessing yet another uprising against systemic racism.” The booklet was written by a group of academics and activists from diverse communities, who link historical events to recent anti-racism movements — around Black Lives Matter, the Wet’suwet’en blockades and more. One of the report’s authors Christine O’Bonsawin, a historian from the Abenaki, Odanak Nation, says the goal of the report is to educate people in so-called B.C. about the many injustices that haven’t been widely discussed in schools. O’Bonsawin is faculty of UVic’s History and Indigenous Studies departments, and the university’s former director of Indigenous Studies. “An important role of historians is to connect the past with the present,” she tells IndigiNews over the phone. “No doubt it’s a booklet about justice, and it’s about racism and oppression, but we wanted to prioritize activism, resistance and resilience.” The booklet’s authors say it’s meant to be utilized by teachers, scholars, policymakers and others doing anti-racism work. O’Bonsawin says those behind the report are doing outreach to provincial education organizations to ensure that it does. “One of our guiding objectives was that we hoped this would be useful for teachers to support the K-12 Indigenization process,” she says. “We wanted to make sure this was a public document that was accessible to all.” The document is divided into six sections covering various stories from the Indigenous, Black, Chinese, South Asian and Japanese communities. It spans from 1871, when B.C. joined Canada, to the present day. It includes historical photos, poems, and profiles of key people and organizations. Another of the report’s authors Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra — coordinator of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley and co-curator of exhibits at the Sikh Heritage Museum — says it counteracts inaccurate information about B.C. history. “This book offers a bold, honest, historical correction to the false narrative that Canada is exempt from white supremacy and racist nation state formations,” Sandhra says in a statement. “And for that reason, this book is the exact resource needed in this pivotal moment where an anti-racist movement continues to take shape. It is a resource for activists, students, educators, community professionals — it is a resource for all.” President of the BC Black History of Awareness Society, Sylvia Mangue Alene, says the booklet showcases how racism must be challenged. “In this booklet, subjects have answered in a very clear way what needs to be challenged, and that is racism,” she says in a statement. “Racism is challenged because we believe that there are better ways to treat people and that is with respect and inclusiveness in all aspects that life has to offer.” With B.C.’s 150th anniversary approaching, report co-author John Price, a historian at UVic, adds that it marks the ways in which activists and communities have been standing up to racism since the province’s formation. “Hopefully it serves as a wake-up call to governments that no longer should they engage in divide-and-rule policies. 150 years is long enough,” he says. The booklet’s other authors are Nicholas XEMŦOLTW̱ Claxton, Denise Fong, Fran Morrison and Maryka Omatsu. According to the resource website and accompanying press release, an interactive digital version of the resource “providing direct access to primary and community-based sources,” as well as an accompanying 20-minute video, will be released sometime this spring. Cara McKenna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A former Canadian soldier who killed three family members and himself in 2017 received sporadic mental health treatment immediately after he left the military in 2015, a fatality inquiry heard Thursday. The provincial inquiry in Nova Scotia learned the Canadian Armed Forces had arranged for therapy to continue for Lionel Desmond after he was medically discharged. But the lack of structure outside the military created new challenges for the mentally ill veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd, who worked at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton, was tasked with providing the former corporal with treatment from June 2015 to October 2016. The psychologist said there were problems from the start because Desmond, then 32, often cancelled appointments or didn't show up. Plans for therapy were derailed by the fact that Desmond spent much of his time travelling between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where he was trying to re-establish a relationship with his wife, Shanna, and his young daughter, Aaliyah. "In terms of commitment and engagement, it was interfering with the therapy process," Murgatroyd testified. "We were concerned with this inconsistency." Murgatroyd said it was clear Desmond needed help. In 2011, while posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Desmond was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. That was four years after he served as a rifleman during a particularly violent tour of duty in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, mental health professionals contracted by the military told the inquiry that Desmond initially responded well to treatment, but that he suffered a relapse in May 2013 when military colleagues subjected him to racist comments about his African Nova Scotian heritage. Murgatroyd testified that Desmond appeared guarded and distant when they first met in June 2015 at the federally funded clinic, which receives referrals from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP. "Based on his presentation, the risk was more elevated in terms of spiralling down," Murgatroyd said. As well, he said Desmond made it clear his relationship with his wife, Shanna, was in turmoil. "There were moments when they seemed to be doing better, but for the most part, strained," he said, adding that Desmond had increased his alcohol consumption to deal with stress. Murgatroyd recalled that during their first treatment session, Desmond complained about nightmares, night sweats, daily intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, chronic pain and "homicidal thoughts without intent." "He hardly gets out of his house because of his paranoia," Murgatroyd noted after an early therapy session in 2015. Desmond said he had suffered a number of head injuries while serving in the military, and that he worried about a possible brain injury. The inquiry has heard the former corporal did not disclose this concern while he was in the military. Though Desmond was under Murgatroyd's care for 16 months, the psychologist said his therapeutic plan never got off the ground. "We were just putting out fires rather than working on any real intervention," he said. He said it appeared Desmond's source of psychological distress eventually shifted from his combat-related PTSD symptoms to an angry "fixation" with his wife's handling of their finances and concerns that she may be cheating on him. Murgatroyd said Desmond told him about gruesome nightmares he had that suggested his wife had been sleeping with another man, whose head was later found on the floor. The psychologist agreed when asked if Desmond's dreams were having an impact on his perception of reality. Murgatroyd said that helped explain why Desmond would later revoke his consent to allow the clinic to share information with his wife. Eventually, staff at the clinic decided therapy for Desmond wasn't an option until he was properly stabilized. They recommended he should take part in an intensive treatment program at Ste. Anne's hospital in Montreal, which has an in-patient operational stress injury clinic. By April 2016, Desmond had agreed to go to Ste. Anne's, having recognized that his relationship with his wife was deteriorating amid talk of divorce, Murgatroyd said. The following month, Desmond reached "an all-time low," Murgatroyd said, adding that his patient was distressed about the state of his finances and the idea his wife was manipulative and could not be trusted. "With things spiralling down, he was looking for help." Desmond arrived at St. Anne's on May 30, 2016, but he left less than three months into a six-month program, even though he had reported he was enjoying his stay there, Murgatroyd said. The inquiry has heard that Desmond returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., in August 2016. Evidence presented to the inquiry has shown Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Murgatroyd and Veterans Affairs Canada were making arrangements for treatment in Nova Scotia. Staff at Ste. Anne's had recommended Desmond receive an in-depth neuro-psychological assessment and more treatment, but that never happened. On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a semi-automatic rifle. Later that day, he fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in the family's home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press
The fence outside of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School is decorated with colourful cardboard signs bearing messages of support for the school, which is closed amid an outbreak of COVID-19. The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board reported a new case of the virus at the west Mountain school on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases at the school to 10 — six students and four staff. “Obviously, it has been a difficult time,” chair Pat Daly said. “Our staff have been working with the principal and our health and safety staff and others to make sure that everything is being done to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff.” An outbreak was declared at St. Teresa of Avila on Feb. 17 after five positive cases were found. The school is closed as a result of the outbreak — a first in the Catholic board. In-person learning is expected to resume on Monday. COVID-19 testing was offered to all staff and students at St. Teresa of Avila on Saturday. The HWCDSB said 60 tests were conducted — 23 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests among those self-isolating and 37 rapid tests for other staff and students. The HWCDSB said all 37 rapid tests came back negative. As of Feb. 24, the board was still waiting on the PCR test results. The HWCDSB is “thoroughly” investigating the outbreak, Daly said in a Feb. 19 interview with The Spectator. Daly said on Thursday there is “nothing confirmed” to explain how transmission at the school occurred. The Catholic board has two additional outbreaks: St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in central Hamilton and St. Eugene Catholic Elementary School in east Hamilton — each with three outbreak-related cases. There is also an outbreak at the public board’s A.M. Cunningham Elementary School, where two students are infected. As of Wednesday, there had been a total of 78 cases — 37 in the Catholic board and 41 in the public board — since students returned to school on Feb. 8. “We definitely expect to see cases occurring in the schools, and there are going to be instances where there is transmission that happens within a school,” Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, said at a media briefing on Tuesday. “The key piece is to keep these absolutely to a minimum as we go forward.” Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
TORONTO — Proposed changes to Ontario's election laws introduced Thursday by the Progressive Conservatives were slammed by the Opposition as an attempt to silence critics amid mounting failures in the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government said the election law reforms were aimed at limiting third-party advertising and boosting voter participation. Attorney General Doug Downey, who introduced the bill, said one of the proposed changes would extend the $637,200 spending limit placed on third-party advertisers from six months before an election to a year. “Ontario is the only place where we count third party in the millions (of dollars) instead of in the thousands,” he said in an interview. “And we've heard from Elections Ontario that they have concerns with that dynamic.” Third parties, such as the conservative group Ontario Proud and union-led Working Families Coalition, have played a significant role in recent provincial elections, launching extensive advertising campaigns in bids to sway the vote. The province said more than $5 million was spent by third-party advertisers before and during the 2018 election. The next provincial vote is set to take place in the spring of 2022. The bill also proposes to limit what the government calls “collusion” between those third parties and political parties. “We just want transparency and fairness,” Downey said. “When we talk with third parties spending their ($637,200), we want to make sure that there's rules around them sharing information, common vendors, common contributors, use of funds from foreign sources.” The amount individuals can donate to a party, candidate or constituency association would also double from $1,650 to $3,300 a year. New Democrat legislator Taras Natyshak slammed the proposed limits on third-party advertisers. “At a time when long-term care advocates, organizations of health leaders, and the families of nursing home residents are speaking up about the horrors in long-term care, it looks like Ford is trying to silence his critics,” he said in a statement. Natyshak said doubling the individual contribution limit will drag the government back to the days of "cash-for-access" fundraising. Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said while he supports some measures in the bill, like continuing the per-vote subsidy, increasing donation limits is a problem. "My biggest concern is that they're slowly opening the door back up to pay-to-play politics," he said. "How many regular Ontarians can afford to contribute that much to a candidate, constituency association and a party?" University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said the rule changes on individual donations will benefit both the Progressive Conservative government and the Liberal party, but stressed they won’t be the sole factor in deciding the 2022 election. “When the current government came to power, defeating the Liberals wasn't because of money,” he said. “It was because people essentially wanted a change.” Wiseman said the new limits placed on third-party advertisers might be a way the government thinks it’s giving itself a leg up, but the groups will find ways to maximize their message. “This is changing things at the margins,” he said. “Most groups will just try to spend the money as close as they can to election day.” The bill also proposes to extend the number of advance polling days from five to 10. "Ultimately, we want to make it easier and safer for people to vote," Downey said. The legislation will, for the first time, clarify the use of social media accounts by provincial legislators. It will also give Elections Ontario more enforcement powers, and the ability to fine individuals or groups it deems to have violated election rules. Currently, the province's chief electoral officer must report infractions to the Ministry of the Attorney General, which then decides whether to prosecute. Downey said the change would align Ontario with federal practices. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version, based on information provided by the government, said the spending limit placed on third parties six months before an election was $600,000.
NEW YORK — Is it Mr. Potato Head or not? Hasbro created confusion Thursday when it announced that it would drop the “Mr.” from the brand’s name in order to be more inclusive and so all could feel “welcome in the Potato Head world.” It also said it would sell a new playset this fall without the Mr. and Mrs. designations that will let kids create their own type of potato families, including two moms or two dads. But in a tweet later that afternoon, Hasbro clarified that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still live on and be sold in stores, but under the Potato Head brand. In a picture posted on Twitter, the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” names are less prominently displayed at the bottom of the box, instead of the top. “While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD,” the company tweeted. The tweet came after news of the brand name change exploded on Twitter, with people asking if Barbie will change her name next. “I think Hasbro needs to drop the “Bro” and just be “Has,'” another person tweeted. Hasbro appears to want to have it both ways: expand the brand, while not killing off its most iconic characters, which appeared in the “Toy Story” films. “They are looking to broaden the franchise,” said Robert Passikoff, founder of marketing consultancy Brand Keys. “You take the focus of what is essentially one character and now allow it to be a platform for many characters.” Kimberly Boyd, a senior vice-president at Hasbro, said the intention of the brand name change was to be more inclusive and to have the characters still live within the Potato Head universe. “It created a lot of excitement," she said about the reaction. GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, applauded the more inclusive Potato playset. “Hasbro is helping kids to simply see toys as toys, which encourages them to be their authentic selves outside of the pressures of traditional gender norms,” said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s chief communications officer, in a statement. Many toymakers have been updating their classic brands in recent years, hoping to relate to today’s kids and reflect more modern families. “It’s a potato,” said Ali Mierzejewski, editor in chief at toy review site The Toy Insider, about the new playset. “But kids like to see themselves in the toys they are playing with.” Barbie, for example, has tried to shed its blonde image and now comes in multiple skin tones and body shapes. The Thomas the Tank Engine toy line added more girl characters. And American Girl is now selling a boy doll. Mr. Potato Head first hit the toy scene in 1952, when it didn’t even come with a plastic potato — kids had to supply their own vegetable to poke eyes, a nose or moustache into. Hasbro, which also makes Monopoly and My Little Pony, bought the brand and eventually added a plastic spud. Joseph Pisani, The Associated Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at easing many of its COVID-19 restrictions as the province's pandemic indicators continue to improve. A set of proposed changes released Thursday includes doubling capacity limits in stores and restaurants, as well as for personal services, to 50 per cent. Seating at restaurant tables would still be limited to members of the same household. Indoor religious services could operate at 25 per cent capacity instead of the current 10 per cent. Indoor arcades and outdoor amusement parks could reopen with capacity limits. The few facilities that would have to remain closed include theatres, concert halls and casinos. The cap on outdoor gatherings would rise to 10 people from five. And instead of households being permitted to only designate two people as visitors, the province could allow two-household bubbles so entire families could get together. "Manitoba's case numbers, test positivity rate (and) health-care-system admission rates continue to trend in the right direction, which allows us to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer. The proposed changes could take effect as early as March 5 and are subject to public feedback before any final decisions are made, he said. Changes could also be phased in. Health officials reported 70 new COVID-19 cases and one death Thursday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction for a net increase of 67. The province's case count has dropped sharply since a severe spike in the fall when Manitoba led all the provinces in the per-capita rate of new infections. The strain on intensive care units has eased and the test positivity rate has dropped from 13 per cent to 4.3. The proposed changes could also mean big shifts for sports enthusiasts and players of video lottery terminals. VLTs would be allowed to operate again as long as they were two metres apart or separated by physical barriers. Indoor gyms and fitness facilities could offer group classes again, although with a 25 per cent capacity limit. Roussin said there is a risk in such indoor settings. "There is risk involved with all these things and we're weighing the benefit ... to having businesses open, the benefit for people (of) physical activity," he said. "It's very cautious and 25 per cent capacity, I think, gives us that ability to have people spaced out quite a bit." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak (MKO) Inc. Grand Chief Garrison Settee wants to see more First Nations health experts on the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI). On Wednesday, Settee wrote a letter to Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, to request Dr. Barry Lavallee, CEO of Keewatinohk Inniniw Minoayawin Inc. (KIM), be invited to take part in the NACI. He explained during a press conference that a First Nation representative from Northern Manitoba would provide great value to the important work of NACI to strengthen fairness and substantive equity in setting guidelines. “I always felt decisions being made on behalf of First Nations are always done by people that don’t know the geographical locations of these First Nations, they don’t know the demographic, their situations and they make these decisions,” said Settee on Thursday. “It is better to have First Nations people on the committee so then these decisions would be done in a way that is supportive of First Nation’s culture and community values as well as to make sure it is done in a way that is satisfactory to the people.” In the letter, Settee wrote having a First Nations representative on the committee will also help to advance the federal government’s reconciliation strategies, address the gaps in developing Indigenous health legislation, and work towards addressing anti-Indigenous racism in health care. Settee concluded the letter saying that he wanted to partner with Tam to ensure Manitoba First Nations people are prioritized and protected during the pandemic. “Throughout our history with government entities, many if not all decisions were made with the exclusion of Indigenous expertise in that conversation. At times, those decisions have been detrimental,” he said. “I think we have reached a point in time where we have enough expertise in our Indigenous communities that can offer guidance and advice that could allow First Nations to have access to the proper medical care.” The Grand Chief has written a letter to Manitoba’s Premier as well to express the need for collaboration on strategies with the MKO to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Strategies to address the COVID-19 outbreaks in Northern Manitoba could include plans for vaccine distribution, including improved communication to First Nations about when they can expect to receive their vaccines. “While our provincial partners have made assurances to be transparent to First Nations, offering better communication of current and anticipated vaccine supplies for both First Nations and Manitoba, MKO will continue to work closely with the provincial government and hold them accountable regarding the vaccine rollout,” said Settee. Recently, public health officials have announced that appointments can now be made to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations for First Nation people aged 75 years or older. Planning is underway for the second phase of the expanding First Nation vaccine rollout, with First Nations being engaged to review options for surge capacity. “Access to the COVID-19 vaccines remains top of mind as we near the one-year anniversary of living with the COVID-19 virus,” said Dr. Michael Routledge, medical advisor to MKO and KIM. “We encourage everyone to become informed about the vaccine and to strongly consider accepting your vaccine once you become eligible. Although there is evidence that case numbers in Northern Manitoba are starting to improve, it is important for everyone to follow public health recommendations to prevent new outbreaks.” — Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada Nicole Wong, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Sun
After the latest transition between in-person and remote learning, there are approximately 465 more students — 418 at the Catholic board and 47 at the public board — in Hamilton classrooms. Hundreds of Hamilton students switched learning models at both boards this week, some moving to virtual learning and others returning to their home schools. By Thursday, about 680 students at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board returned to classrooms across the city. A similar number — approximately 636 students — chose to switch into a remote learning program. These students made the switch earlier this month, as of the Feb. 8 return to school. “Families are making choices for many reasons,” spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email to The Spectator. He said frustration with technology, isolation, difficulty motivating their kids and changes in circumstances are among the reasons parents are choosing to send kids back to the classroom. Families who took their kids out of classrooms cited concerns about kids’ safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, in-school enrolment at the Catholic board is up at the elementary level and down at the secondary level. As of Monday, 15,970 students are learning in-person — compared to 15,552 in the fall. Monday was the last opportunity for HWCDSB students to transition between learning models. Virtual learning at the secondary level increased by about 1,500 students — from 1,942 in the fall to 3,412 as of Feb. 23. Board chair Pat Daly said he believes age has “a lot to do with it.” “A high school student is able to stay home alone,” he said. “With elementary-aged children, a lot of parents would not have that option.” He said some parents may have realized that being in school is “really helpful” for kids’ mental health and socialization. To support the latest transition, boards were required to shuffle — and, in the case of the public board, hire — teaching staff. The public board opened seven classrooms, adding 8.4 full-time equivalent teachers to the elementary roster, as well as three full-time dedicated early childhood educators, as the board welcomed back a number of full-day kindergarten students through this transition. No new teachers were hired at the Catholic board as a result of the latest reorganization. “The change would have been teachers moving from a virtual classroom to in-school,” Daly said. “So we didn't have to hire additional teachers to keep the class sizes low.” Daly said the board hired approximately 65 teachers at the beginning of the year “to lower class sizes,” and have maintained those hires throughout the year. Current in-person class sizes, which are similar to those in the fall, range between 12 and 25 students. Virtual classrooms have between 16 and 32. Josie Pini, principal at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School, said the 16 students who returned to in-person learning should have covered the same curriculum in their virtual classrooms. But, as with any time a student changes classrooms, teachers would have to do a “gap analysis” to determine the level of each individual student. “In any one class, you'll have students of all different levels anyway, so it's just a matter of finding out which level they're going to fit into and then teach them from there,” she said. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
After pivoting the popular Pig Out festival due to the pandemic in 2020, Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country is bringing back the new Pig Out Trails format to keep the event safe and fun as it marks 10 years in the community. On May 28 and 29, Pig Out Trails returns as attendees cruise down a curated trial of wine tasting experiences guided by some of the region’s most established winemakers in outdoor settings. The event’s format is again designed to be flexible in order to accommodate the fast-changing nature of the pandemic health and safety regulations. “Flexible” has been the key word for event organizers recently. Last year, the event was moved from May to October, and the team at Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country put together a modified event with groups in separate pods, touring and tasting outdoors at different venues. While the weather was briefly uncooperative last year, the response to the new format from attendees was very positive “I had emails in my inbox in November asking what we were doing for Pig Out for 2021 and what the format was going to be like,” said Jennifer Busmann, executive director of Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country. Many guests at 2020’s Pig Out Trails were happy to simply be attending an event at all in a year that didn’t see many. “It was really heartwarming for all those Pig Out attendees who came in October. Just due to the restrictions and the numbers and how we safely move people through our region and what we were permitted to do. We had about 540 guests total attend in these small little groups. They were so thankful and so excited that it just gave you a little pep in your step to see that,” Busmann said. Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country will be using the work they accomplished to create a safe event in 2020 as a foundation for this year’s Pig Out event. Working with the local health authority, developing health and safety plans, contact tracing, keeping guests spaced out and outdoors are all foundational building blocks for putting on events as case numbers and public health restrictions are liable to change at any moment. “We’re a really small team of people that put all of this together. So we’re using that framework as a basis, which was really a lot of work to put together and understand all of the pieces, all of the changes and all of the regulatory bodies,” Busmann said. “We’re using that as a foundation to build and brainstorm and put all of our pieces together. Then we really just have to wait and bend and flex and see what happens within the province.” On Saturday, May 29, 2021 Pig Out Trails attendees will board a dedicated bus adhering to recommended safety protocols including mandatory face masks and hand sanitizer, before heading to the first of four winery stops. The event’s “Escape the Pen” theme will be interpreted in different and unique ways at each of the 40 wineries that feature along 10 different trails, as they create outdoor tasting experiences, aimed at showcasing their wines as well as educating guests in farming and grape growing practices and the art of winemaking. Each stop will also feature a delicious dish prepared by Oliver Eats Ltd., visiting guest chefs, or from select onsite restaurant partners including Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, the culinary team at Phantom Creek Estates and Masala Bistro at Kismet Estate Winery. A popular addition to last year’s Pig Out Trails, Vancouver’s Paella Guys, will return in 2021 as well. On Friday May 28, two iconic wineries, one on the Black Sage Road Bench and one on the Golden Mile Bench will host “guest chef dinners,” small, outdoor, multi-course feasts prepared by the Paella Guys alongside other notable local and guest chefs and paired with a range of wines from vineyards nearby. Tickets for the Pig Out Trails ($99 per person plus tax) and the Pig Out Guest Chef Dinner ($129 per person plus tax and gratuity) are now available on the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country website: www.oliverosoyoos.com. Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle
On Thursday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responded to an auditor general report from earlier in the day that stated AG Karen Hogan was "very concerned and disheartened" that the Liberal government was unable to meet its commitment to ending all boil water advisories for Indigenous communities. Miller accepted the AG's recommendations and went over the water advisories that have been lifted, as well as the finances secured to work ahead to end all the advisories.
WASHINGTON — Stacey Abrams, whose voting rights work helped make Georgia into a swing state, exhorted Congress on Thursday to reject “outright lies" that have historically restricted access to the ballot as Democrats began their push for a sweeping overhaul of election and ethics laws. “A lie cloaked in the seductive appeal of election integrity has weakened access to democracy for millions,” Abrams, a Democrat who narrowly lost Georgia's 2018 gubernatorial race, said during a committee hearing for the bill, which was introduced as H.R. 1 to signal its importance to the party's agenda. Democrats feel a sense of urgency to enact the legislation ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when their narrow majorities in the House and Senate will be at risk. The bill, which good-government groups have championed, is advancing against a backdrop of Republican-controlled states seizing on former President Donald Trump's false claims about a stolen 2020 election to push legislation that would make it more difficult to vote. Democrats argue that voters of colour, a key constituency for the party, would be disproportionately affected. It also comes on the cusp of a once-in-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts, a highly partisan affair that is typically controlled by state legislatures. With Republicans controlling the majority of statehouse, the process alone could help the GOP win enough seats to recapture the House. The Democratic bill would instead require that the boundaries be drawn by independent commissions. “Every political player knows what’s at stake,” said Fred Wertheimer, the president of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan good-government group based in Washington. “There is a race between what is going on in Republican state legislatures, and this effort to pass federal rules to protect the right to vote of every eligible citizen.” To Republicans, the proposal amounts to a massive federal intrusion in locally administered elections. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blasted the measure the last time it was up for debate in Congress, calling it the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.” “If this bill were to become law, it would be the largest expansion of the federal government’s role in elections that we have ever seen,” said Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill. “The harm to the states’ electoral process outweighs the minor burdens imposed on the rights to vote.” The debate over the measure comes in the tumultuous aftermath of the 2020 election, which saw record mail-in voting because of the pandemic. After losing the White House, Trump repeated ad nauseam a false claim that the outcome was due to widespread voter fraud as he sought to overturn President Joe Biden's win. But there was no widespread fraud, as has been confirmed by election officials across the country and then-Attorney General William Barr. Dozens of legal challenges to the election put forth by Trump and his allies were dismissed, including by the Supreme Court. Republican-controlled state legislatures, spurred to action by Trump’s claims, have nonetheless moved to put in place new voting restrictions in dozens of states, including Abrams' Georgia. That's where congressional Democrats' effort comes into play. Citing Congress' constitutional authority to set the time, place and manner of federal elections, Democrats want national rules that they say would make voting more uniform, accessible and fair across the nation. The bill would stymie state GOP efforts by mandating early voting, same-day registration and other long-sought reforms that Republicans reject. The 791-page measure, which was first introduced two years ago, would also require dark money political groups to disclose anonymous donors, as well as create reporting requirements for online political ads. It would appropriate nearly $2 billion for election infrastructure upgrades. And in a rearview nod at Trump, it would obligate presidents to disclose their tax returns. Despite staunch GOP opposition, the bill is all but certain to pass the House. But daunting challenges lay ahead in the Senate, which is split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. On some legislation, it takes only 51 votes to pass, with Vice-President Kamala Harris as the tiebreaker. On a deeply divisive bill like this one, they would need 60 votes under the Senate’s current rules to overcome a Republican filibuster — a tally they are unlikely to reach. Under pressure from the party’s left flank, Democrats have proposed eliminating the filibuster but lack the votes to do so. It’s an open question whether Democrats will find ways around that hurdle, potentially by mustering the votes to change the filibuster rules to exempt specific types of legislation — including those that deal with voting rights. Given the closing window to pass legislation before 2022, many in the party remain hopeful it will be signed into law by Biden, whose administration has said the bill is a priority. “We may not get the opportunity to make this change again for many, many decades, so let's not miss that window,” said John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat who is the bill’s lead sponsor. “Shame on us if we don’t get this done.” Brian Slodysko, The Associated Press
The City of Terrace is reaching out to the Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson in the wake of councillor Jessica McCallum-Miller’s resignation and allegations of systemic racism. At a Feb. 25 committee of the whole meeting, councillors unanimously agreed to direct staff to review its current policies and pursue an independent review by the ombudsperson’s office, which investigates complaints about public agencies in B.C. Should the B.C. Office of the Ombudsperson decline the invitation, city staff have the flexibility to look into other bodies to conduct an independent review. “We unfortunately live in a society where systemic racism exists, accusations of systemic racism need to be taken very seriously, I think that having a conversation about systemic racism and the ways we can all improve and work towards diversity is important and timely,” said councillor Sean Bujtas during the meeting. McCallum-Miller, the youngest and first Indigenous councillor in Terrace’s history, resigned on Feb. 22. She said in a Facebook post that she questioned whether truth and reconciliation was a priority for council. “It is my personal belief that systemic and internalized racism as well as sexism had played a role in the inability of my colleagues to respect and understand my personal and diverse perspectives,” McCallum-Miller said in the post which was addressed to the City of Terrace. In the post, McCallum-Miller said she attempted to have council partake in cultural awareness training twice, and felt unheard and spoken over. Carol Leclerc, Terrace mayor, said during the committee of the whole meeting that council voted unanimously to partake in cultural education training from the Kitimaat Valley Education Society, which operates the Kitimat Valley Institute (KVI) on March 9, 2020 but that the COVID-19 pandemic scuttled the session. “Right after that, COVID came, we did not know how long COVID was going to be, we wanted to do this face-to-face so we thought we would just hold off on our cultural awareness training and it wasn’t able to take place,” she said. In January 2021, councillor James Cordeiro proposed the training again and staff arranged for council to take Diversity and Inclusion virtually through KVI on March 18. Diversity and Inclusion is a six hour workshop with an instructor using the Microsoft Teams platform. “It wasn’t long after that councillor McCallum-Miller decided that she would like to put out to the rest of council that it be a Tsimshian cultural training session and there was some discussion that happened over email about the notice of motion that was going to come to our Monday meeting on February 22,” Leclerc said. “Unfortunately councillor McCallum-Miller brought in her letter of resignation on February 22 and the notice of motion for the Tsimshian portion did not reach the council table at that time.” Terrace council is committed to participating in cultural education training on March 18 with the Kitimaat Valley Education Society if the time slot is still available. Leclerc said she has reached out to Kitselas First Nation Chief Councillor Judy Gerow and Kitsumkalum First Nation Chief Councillor Don Roberts about McCallum-Miller’s resignation. City staff are working with Saša Loggin, project director at the Skeena Diversity Society, part of the Resilience BC Anti-Racism Network, to bring a presentation to council at an upcoming meeting. Ben Bogstie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Interior News
WASHINGTON — Days after marking a solemn milestone in the pandemic, President Joe Biden is celebrating the pace of his efforts to end it. On Thursday, Biden marked the administration of the 50 millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine since his swearing-in. The moment came days after the nation reached the devastating milestone of 500,000 coronavirus deaths and ahead of a meeting with the nation's governors on plans to speed the distribution even further. “The more people get vaccinated, the faster we’re going to beat this pandemic,” Biden said at the White House ceremony, noting that his administration is on course to exceed his promise to deliver 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office. “We’re halfway there: 50 million shots in 37 days," Biden said. "That’s weeks ahead of schedule." All told, more than 45 million Americans have been administered at least one dose of the approved vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna since they received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in December, with more than 20 million receiving both required doses. As part of the ceremony, four front-line workers — a pair of emergency medical technicians, a school counsellor and a grocery store worker — received vaccine doses on live television, part of the White House's efforts to build confidence in the vaccination program. Biden predictions that by late spring there will be enough vaccine to administer to anyone that wants it, but that hesitance of the vaccine will limit the number of people who want it. “We’ll have the vaccine waiting,” Biden said, predicting that point could come within 60 to 90 days. He promised a “massive campaign to educate people” about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, in hopes of stimulating demand as the nation aims to vaccinate about 80% of adults to reach herd immunity and end the pandemic. Biden said he planned to tour a U.S. military-run mass vaccination site in Houston on Friday, one of several ways his administration is aiming to speed injections, particularly once supply increases. Biden noted the promise of a third vaccine receiving approval as soon as this weekend, as Johnson & Johnson's single-dose candidate undergoes review by the FDA. “We have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make it," Biden said. Meeting with governors, Biden appealed for their help in passing his $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan," which provides funding to expand vaccination and testing as well as economic relief for people struggling during the pandemic. “The economic toll of this pandemic continues to tear through our country as brutally as the virus itself,” Biden said. Biden also warned that variants could continue to spread, leading to more cases and hospitalizations. He appealed to Americans to keep up with social distancing measures and wear face coverings. “This is not the time to relax,” he said. Zeke Miller And Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
The top doctor for the Thunder Bay, Ont., area is recommending all schools move classes online for the next two weeks due to rising COVID-19 cases. Dr. Janet DeMille made the recommendation in a Thursday memo to school boards in the region. Lakehead Public Schools shared the memo on its website and announced classes would move online starting Monday, with further instruction from the health unit to come. The school board had called for the move to virtual school this week amid outbreaks that had already forced four schools online. The board said COVID-19 cases and exposures have led to a staffing shortage and sent hundreds of students into isolation. Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the situation in Thunder Bay schools is related to rising COVID-19 transmission in the broader community. "There's actions being taken to reduce that ... at the community level which ultimately will help ensure schools can reopen and stay safe in the province," Lecce told reporters on Thursday. He said testing resources will be deployed to school communities Schools elsewhere in Ontario were dealing with cases of more infectious variants of COVID-19 on Thursday. As of Thursday, 11 schools in Toronto had detected at least one case of a more contagious COVID-19 variant. Affected individuals and cohorts have been sent home based on their risk level, according to the local public health unit. The Toronto District School Board said Earl Grey SPS, Edgewood PS and Pleasant View MS were added to the list on Thursday. A spokesman for Toronto District School Board said the public health unit has not advised schools to take any additional health and safety measures at this time. "But at the same time, they're reminding everyone of the importance of the existing health and safety measures," said Ryan Bird. "While concerning, we have received assurances from public health officials that there are no additional precautions that need to be taken." Variant cases have been found in Toronto's public and Catholic school boards, as well as two private schools. Lecce pointed to new provincial requirements that students with one COVID-19 symptom must now isolate for 10 days to illustrate the province's stronger public health measures for schools light of the new variants. "The province has stepped up the requirements, both on the system and on families, just to be absolutely vigilant that we don't see variants of concerns spreading and creating challenges for our kids, for our staff and just for the healthcare system that we're trying to protect," Lecce told reporters on Thursday. On Wednesday, public health officials dismissed students and staff from two Sudbury, Ont., schools following five confirmed cases of COVID-19. All five cases have been identified by Public Health Sudbury and Districts as variants of concern. Provincial data as of 10:30 a.m. on Thursday reported 18 schools closed due to COVID-19 and 430 schools with a reported case, representing nearly nine per cent of schools provincewide. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Denise Paglinawan and Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
(NIAID/NIH via AP - image credit) Northern Alberta continues to see an increase in COVID-19 infections, with more than 1,000 active cases across the health zone. The province reported 399 new cases on Thursday, a slight decline from the day before, while hospitalization numbers dropped below 300 for the first time in many weeks. Alberta Health also reported another 32 new cases of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom. The province has now confirmed 348 cases of variant B117, and continues to have seven cases of B1351, first identified in South Africa. There were 4,484 active cases in the province, with 280 people were treated in hospitals for the illness, including 56 in ICU beds, according to the latest update released by Alberta Health. Another eight deaths were reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours, including four that dated back to January. The three most recent deaths, which happened during the past week, involved a man and a woman in their 40s and a woman in her 30s. The regional breakdown of active cases on Thursday was: Calgary zone: 1,510, a decline of 54 from the day before. North zone: 1,016, an increase of 74 from the day before. Edmonton zone: 897, a decline of 28 from the day before. Central zone: 737, a decline of 22 from the day before. South zone: 319, a decline of 34 from the day before. Unknown: five, an increase of three from the day before.
OTTAWA — The federal government was granted one more month Thursday to expand access to medical assistance in dying even as its efforts to do so stalled in the House of Commons. Quebec Superior Court Justice Martin Sheehan agreed to give the government a fourth extension — until March 26 — to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 court ruling. But he suggested this will be the last one. Given that the government is close to finally reforming Canada's assisted-dying law, Sheehan said "it is appropriate to grant a final extension to allow it to end." But he added, if the government can't meet the new deadline, "it must be deduced that this incapacity results from a lack of consensus on the sensitive issues raised rather than exceptional circumstances justifying an extension." Sheehan's decision came just one day before the previous deadline was to expire. The 2019 ruling struck down a provision in the law that allows assisted dying only for those whose natural deaths are "reasonably foreseeable." Bill C-7 is intended to bring the law into compliance with the ruling, expanding access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the ends of their lives. However, the bill is stalled in the Commons, where the Conservatives refused for the third straight day Thursday to facilitate debate on a motion laying out the government's response to amendments passed last week by the Senate. Conservative MPs talked out the clock on the motion Tuesday and then refused the unanimous consent needed to extend the debate until midnight, despite calling last week for extended hours to allow thorough debate on the issue. They refused unanimous consent again Wednesday to allow the Commons to sit into the night to wrap up debate on the motion. And they refused unanimous consent again to sit Thursday night. The Bloc Québécois offered to give up its opposition day Thursday, an opportunity for it to set the agenda in the Commons, to allow debate on the motion to continue. The minority Liberal government decided that would be pointless, given the Conservatives' stalling tactics. "Conservatives have twice blocked our proposal that the House sit late to debate this important issue, despite claiming that they want extended hours," Mark Kennedy, a spokesman for government House leader Pablo Rodriguez, said late Wednesday. "Based on this, we now know that Conservatives will continue to obstruct, and cancelling the Bloc opposition day tomorrow will not change anything." The Conservatives were largely opposed to the original bill and object even more strenuously to the amended version the government is now proposing. The bill originally would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses. The government is now proposing a two-year time limit on that exclusion, six months longer than the time limit approved by senators. The government has rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed advance requests for assisted dying, as well as an amendment intended to clarify what constitutes a mental illness. It has accepted a modified version of two others. The Bloc has said it will support the government's response to the Senate amendments, assuring the motion's eventual passage. But until Conservatives agree to wrap up debate, it can't be put to a vote. Once the motion is passed, the bill will still have to go back to the Senate for senators to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected parliamentary chamber or dig in their heels on their amendments. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
LOS ANGELES — Rebel Wilson is going to the dogs. And it’s not the first time. The Australian actress comes from a family with a long history of handling and grooming dogs and will return to her roots as host of ABC’s “Pooch Perfect,” an eight-episode series featuring 10 dog groomers and their assistants competing in challenges. She said Thursday that her great-grandmother began a beagle club in Australia and that her mother judges dog shows internationally. As a child, Wilson travelled in her family’s yellow van to shows and sold grooming products despite being allergic to dogs. “My mom was devastated when I chose not to continue the family legacy,” Wilson said in a virtual call with the Television Critics Association. “When I told her I wasn’t going to continue in the family business and try to be an international movie star, she cried. I had to tell her in a public place so she wouldn’t do anything too crazy.” In the show, Lisa Vanderpump, dog groomer Jorge Bendersky and veterinarian Callie Harris will vote on creations from dog groomers and one team will be sent back to the doghouse — or eliminated — each week. The remaining teams square off in a grooming transformation. The top three teams will compete for $100,000. The show debuts March 30 and is based on an Australian version. “Pooch Perfect” is Wilson’s first project after undergoing her own transformation. She lost 60 pounds during her self-proclaimed year of health last year. “I’ve been showing it off on Instagram a bit too shamelessly,” she said. “I get two looks per episode, and I like to work with my stylist and show off the new physique because still single. So this is my prime-time opportunity to just really put it out there.” Wilson worked without a studio audience because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, the seats are filled with stuffed animals. “I do try to bring the comedy in the show,” she said. “I also do what's called ‘dogography' in the show, which is a new term I invented. We dress the PAs (production assistants) up in dog costumes, and I work out little dances. I tried to lighten it up.” Beth Harris, The Associated Press
MONTREAL — As Quebec began booking appointments Thursday for its expanded COVID-19 vaccination campaign, the province's health minister said he's in favour of vaccine passports for those who have been fully inoculated. Christian Dube was asked at a news conference whether such passports could be used to allow access to entertainment venues or restaurants. He said yes, drawing a parallel to the time of the H1N1 flu when people were required to provide proof of vaccination before boarding flights. "We're in digital world, I do not see why we could not have a QR code, like on a boarding pass when we fly," Dube said. “For me, a digital vaccine passport is normal, and we have teams that are looking into it." He said he has heard from businesses that would like to be able to check for proof of vaccination before letting people in. The notion of vaccine passports has been debated around the world as vaccinations have increased, but it has also raised ethical issues about possible discrimination. Quebec solidaire member of the legislature Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois criticized Dube's response and urged the government to tread carefully. “The potentially discriminatory effects of a 'vaccination passport' are considerable," Nadeau-Dubois wrote on Twitter. "It's not just about taking a plane or dining out, serious questions arise about access to housing, the right to work, to name just these two examples.” Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said he would not want such a passport to be seen as a free pass. “One of the dangers is that we say we’re vaccinated and we end up in a free-for-all,” Arruda said. "We know it'll protect you, it'll decrease your risk of complications, but it won't necessarily stop transmission to someone else." So far, only about four per cent of Quebecers have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Dube said Moderna has confirmed a shipment for March and the province expects to receive 700,000 doses in total, so it will be able to begin providing second doses as of March 15, falling within the 90-day limit the government set out in January. Inoculation is set to ramp up next week with vaccinations for anyone 85 and up in the Montreal area beginning Monday and elsewhere on March 8. In the Montreal suburb of Laval, some people in the designated age group were already getting shots Thursday. Dube tweeted at the end of the day that close to 100,000 people had signed up for appointments on the first day, and he said there were just minor issues with the online platform and phone booking system. Also Thursday, Quebec announced it will require elementary school students in regions hardest hit by COVID-19 to wear masks when they return from next week's March break, as the cases of the more transmissible COVID-19 variants continue to rise. Across the province, the number of suspected cases of coronavirus variants jumped to 772, an increase of 170. The number of cases confirmed through sequencing increased to 34, including 30 of the B.1.1.7 variant first detected in the United Kingdom. Arruda said that during the fall, outbreaks were seen mostly in high schools. But since Christmas more cases are being detected in primary schools. The Health Department said students in Grades 1 to 6 will wear pediatric procedural masks at all times inside classrooms and on school transport in Quebec's red pandemic-alert zones, which include Montreal and Quebec City. The new health orders comes into effect March 8, when students return from break. The province will be providing masks to the students, as it has done since Jan. 18 in high schools, where masks are mandatory. In elementary schools, only students in Grades 5 and 6 were previously required to wear masks in class. Health officials said certain students with special needs will be exempt from the new health order, and it won't apply when children are outside playing. On Wednesday, Montreal's public health director said 40 per cent of cases linked to variants in Montreal involve children, with another 20 per cent involving people in their mid-30s to mid-40s, believed to be parents of young children. As of Wednesday, there were 2,403 active cases in schools and 907 closed classrooms across the province due to COVID-19. Twelve schools were listed as closed or partially closed. Meanwhile, Quebec reported 858 new COVID-19 cases and 16 more deaths attributed to the virus. Hospitalizations declined by 22 to 633 and there were eight fewer patients listed in intensive care, for a total of 122. Quebec has reported 285,330 confirmed cases and 10,361 deaths attributed to the virus, with 266,879 people listed as recovered. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press