WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr's decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won't have an easy transition.The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, who hasn't been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department's new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It's the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president's legacy.But the manoeuvring over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they've derided as tainted. Now there's little the new administration can do about it.“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.But Barr's decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she's connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfil his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden's leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.___Miller reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Growing up in Canada as a young woman from India, Sheetal Vemannagari struggled with embracing her name. The now 20-year-old Ivey Business School student went through what thousands of Canadians experience when their name is deemed "tough" to pronounce for the average anglophone — from accepting a shortened version to trying to anglicize it in an attempt to avoid embarrassment."I hated the way that my culture hindered me from sort of connecting with my peers, especially my name, because I feel like everyone would just call me just 'shit-all' ... [When mispronounced], my name sounds harsh, kind of unfeminine and so that further dissociated me from my identity."In Hindi, Vemannagari's name, pronounced as 'SHEE-thul,' means 'cool breeze' and was chosen by her grandmother.It wasn't until a trip to India two years ago when Vemannagari started to reclaim her name after receiving many compliments for it. The remaining challenge is getting people to pronounce it correctly, but Vemannagari is hopeful that a new online tool will help with that problem, at least in the classroom setting.Western University's Ivey Business School in London, Ont. is one of four Canadian post-secondary institutions, along with Ryerson University, the University of Guelph and Simon Fraser University, to adopt NameCoach, according to the company's CEO Praveen Shanbhag .The auto-name pronunciation tool allows people to make an audio recording of their name which is then made available on their academic profile, allowing classmates and professors to play the recording and learn how to pronounce the person's name correctly.Why it's important to get names right"The name is really a symbol of your identity. It's a kind of stand-in for the person, so if I'm calling your name, I'm really calling you ... so getting it right has to do with that level of respect for the person," said Karen Pennesi, a linguistic anthropologist and associate professor at Western University. Pennesi said people with uncommon names tend to have different relationships with their names throughout their life, including changing it and then coming back to it at a later point in life, but regardless of where people are at it's important to get their preferred name right."It's a kind of a challenge to their sense of self [when you start anglicizing or shortening their name]. That makes them not be in control of their own identity, their own self." For marginalized people the mistreatment of their name can have long-term implications, Pennesi added. "They're constantly being made to feel that they don't belong or that they shouldn't be here and that their contributions aren't worthwhile."After reclaiming her name, trying to ensure it was pronounced right caused Vemannagari frustration, embarrassment and even made her feel like she was asking for too much."I didn't want to make a big deal of it, especially in a class, but one day I corrected my professor. Ever since I did that, every time they called on me, I don't think they meant to do this, but they just made it a really big deal and would be like, 'oh, wait, what's your name?,' 'It'll be the end of the year and I still have to pause to say your name' ... It made me feel like I was being demanding." Vemannagari said her professor eventually stopped asking for her input and it led to her not wanting to try to participate either, which impacted her mark at the end of the term.It was feedback similar to Vemannagari's experience that prompted Ivey to make a $10,000 annual investment in NameCoach this October, said Stephanie Brooks, the school's chief administrative officer."It matters that we get the most personal aspect of a student right, which is how to pronounce their name. When you take the time to get it right it confirms to a student that they matter and that they belong here. When you don't, it's easy to see how it can unintentionally signal the opposite," she said. Respect for a person's name an important step toward inclusivity, students sayWestern University's Ethnocultural Support Services (ESS), a group that advocates for the appreciation of different cultures on campus, highlighted the issue of the mispronunciation of names at the beginning of the school year through its own social media campaign."We've heard from an overwhelming influx of students speaking about the importance and significance of their name and how it connects them to their culture, their heritage and their ancestors," said Matthew Dawkins, a second-year student and the ESS coordinator. "I think if we started to view names as this badge of honour, then I think we can go along with respecting that a lot more and to make the conscious effort to pronounce it right and to learn it right." > It's these little things about cultural and racial sensitivity that teaches other students and staff how to be cognizant of people who are from different backgrounds. \- Mubasshira Khalid, Ivey Business School Master's student.Allan Muriuki, the third-year student who led the campaign, said getting a person's name right is one of the first steps to creating an inclusive campus."When we talk about inclusively we talk about using the correct pronunciation of people's name because we know those names mean something to people," he said. "Not using their name correctly leads them to feel belittled or not included when going about their lives." Mubasshira Khalid, a Master's student at Ivey who is often asked by people if they can shorten her name, said that while institutions often look for radical ways to address racism and discrimination, it's meaningful and necessary to address smaller items like names."Often it's these little things about cultural and racial sensitivity that teaches other students and staff how to be cognizant of people who are from different backgrounds, so I think addressing the need to get names right is an excellent step forward."
CANSO --There’s some good news coming out of the latest meeting of the Canso & Area Stakeholders Group held on Nov. 30, 2020; in this second wave of COVID-19, there have been no positive tests in the Eastern Zone. This news comes from notes provided to The Journal by group co-chair Susan O’Handley from the meeting Monday night. She also wrote that physician coverage will be supplied steadily up to the end of December at Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso and the hospital is now fully staffed with nurses. In the continued effort to recruit permanent physicians to the area, a webpage is under development and housing has been located in Philips Harbour, if needed. The process for booking lab appointments has changed from calling the Eastern Memorial Hospital to calling a central intake number (1-855-867-8821) or booking online at booking.nshealth.ca. This system was adopted, wrote O’Handley, to reduce the amount of time lab staff were spending on the phone making appointments instead of being in the lab. The next meeting of the group will take place in mid-January. Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal
“It was a really bad year,” said Ann Marie Bagnall, chair of the Guysborough and Area Board of Trade, as the organization assesses 2020 and looks forward to the year ahead. In an interview Nov. 27, Bagnall told The Journal that the pandemic, and resulting restrictions, hit each of the 35 members of the organization differently, depending on which sector of the economy they belonged. But,overall, everyone struggled. “For every member it was difficult because it was so full of uncertainties. And there were so many changing protocols. Some of our members – like the restaurants, accommodations and retail that depend on a lot of tourist volume—they were very hard hit. And, it was difficult to plan; not knowing if you would be open the next day or week,” she said. The focus of the board this past year has been keeping the members abreast of the constantly changing programs and protocols. That was made a little easier when the board started to have weekly online meetings with Cape Breton-Canso MP Mike Kelloway, who represents the area covered by the board. That line of communication, said Bagnall, was critical. The board was able to give feedback about programs and make suggestions, which were used to adapt and modify some programs, such as the wage subsidy program and student job grants, to fit the needs of local businesses and non-profits. “That was what was so key about those meetings (with MP Kelloway); it really did result in changes. The programs themselves – the government was just trying to get them out so quickly – it was trying to address the majority. But, once you got into those details and you look at (board) members particular circumstances, they can’t qualify because of ‘X,’ but they should qualify. It was bringing those issues up and getting them addressed,” said Bagnall of the meeting outcomes. While it has been a very trying time, Bagnall said, unlike other boards she’s heard of, none of their members have had to close their doors permanently due to the impact of the pandemic. Nor have they, to the best of her knowledge, had any difficulty finding workers due to government programs such as CERB; a problem that was anticipated by some in the business community nationally. As we head into the second wave of the pandemic, Bagnall said she thinks board members are prepared to deal with the disruptions that may lie ahead. “I think we’re positioned to deal with it – it’s just a question of uncertainty. If you go into lockdown, how much inventory should I have beforehand? It’s the unknown; you gotta just roll with it, whatever happens. From the board’s perspective, we’re continuing to look at the support programs…. We’re going to keep following the same track we’ve been on.” That being said, the board has made a change regarding this year’s ‘Buy Local’ campaign. “The ‘Buy Local’ draw has been going on for quite a few years now and even last year we talk about the need to change it. This year we looked at it and said it was really impractical with COVID restrictions to have a draw done with ballots and people writing; there were a lot of issues if we were going to try to do that,” said Bagnall. So, instead of a draw, the board of trade has decided to donate half of the budget they have traditionally used for the ‘Buy Local’ campaign give-away, and “reinvest that in a charity in the community,” said Bagnall. “Major fundraisers for a lot of organizations have been so disrupted,” Bagnall said, which helped fuel the board’s decision to donate $250 to the Guysborough Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. “The work that they do, and the importance of the hospital,was highlighted this year,” said Bagnall, adding that,while the amount was not huge, “It could help in a small way. And show that we really do appreciate their effort.” While the pandemic has few silver linings, one of them might be the increased realization that we need local businesses to thrive, and – in order for them to do that – they need community support. “Buy local; that is key and that will continue to be key, even more if a lockdown occurs again…. I think it (lockdown) highlighted the services we have in Guysborough. Can you imagine if you had to go further afield to go grocery shopping, get drugs or gas,” said Bagnall, adding, “It was a year that really highlighted supporting those merchants and making sure that we kept them.”Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal
As the death toll from illicit drug overdoses continues to mount unabated in B.C., advocates want more specialized services and harm reduction measures to help protect young people. Another 162 fatalities occurred in October due to toxic drug supply, for a total of 1,386 deaths in 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service's most recent figures. Of those killed this year by the overdose crisis, 19 per cent, or 269 deaths, were young people aged 29 years old or younger, with 14 of the dead under the age of 19, the coroners service figures show. Kali Sedgemore, a youth outreach worker and peer harm reduction advocate in Vancouver, said the ongoing public health emergency is in its fifth year, and COVID-19 is only exacerbating the harms. “We don’t even have time to grieve because we know we will hear about another (death) the next day,” Sedgemore said. The dangers of the toxic illicit drug supply are being compounded as people following pandemic protocols use illicit drugs alone and as harm reduction services have been reduced, or wait times have increased at overdose prevention sites (OPS) during the pandemic, Sedgemore added. Youth do not make up the largest number of fatalities, but all overdose deaths are largely unnecessary and preventable, Sedgemore said. In 2020, 70 per cent of those who have died from the toxic drug supply fall between the ages of 30 and 59, and males account for 80 per cent of the deaths to date. Most overdose fatalities involved people dying alone indoors. One immediate way to reduce the harms from toxic illicit drugs to youth is to provide harm reduction and OPS services dedicated strictly to their demographic, Sedgemore said. “Youth are vulnerable to manipulation by adults,” Sedgemore said, adding young people are at risk of being exploited sexually or for money or other reasons. Specialized harm reduction services are already hard to come by in urban areas such as Vancouver but are even more scarce in smaller communities and rural areas, Sedgemore said, noting they originally came from a small community from the northern part of Vancouver Island. Plus, young people — especially those under the age of 18 — are often deterred from using harm reduction services or supplies by providers due to their age, or can come under increased scrutiny from staff at these locations, they said. Both of these situations make youth uncomfortable, Sedgemore said. It’s also critical that medical professionals, social workers or other service providers don’t push youth into treatment before they are ready, Sedgemore stressed. Doing so only puts youth at increased risk, forcing them to be more secretive about any illicit drug use and increasing the unwillingness to use harm reduction services or call emergency services in case of an overdose. Research shows abstinence education, or the "just say no to drugs" approach, is not as effective as talking openly about illicit drugs, the associated risks and, if youth should choose to use them, how to do it safely, Sedgemore said. However, there is also the need for more youth treatment beds and shorter wait-lists for youth seeking help, Sedgemore said, especially closer to their own communities. “I don’t think it’s great sending a youth away from their own hometown and the people youth are used to seeing every day.” The B.C. government plans to double the number of treatment beds for youth aged 12 to 24 who are struggling with substance use. A total of 60 young people under the age of 24 lost their lives to fentanyl poisoning from toxic street drugs from January to June 2020, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. The province committed $36 million to create another 123 treatment beds for young people, in addition to 20 beds recently established at a new youth facility in the Fraser Valley. Prior to the recent announcements, B.C. had 103 treatment beds for youth. The new beds are part of a broader continuum of care the B.C. government is planning for young people that will include culturally safe, youth-specific services in both rural and smaller city centres, the ministry stated. Building on its network of youth-specific mental health and substance use services, the province will develop eight new Foundry centres, for a total of 19 youth hubs. Foundry centres provide primary care, youth and family peer supports, walk-in counselling, mental health and substance use services and social services all under one roof. Steve Ayers, program manager for the Foundry located in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, agreed that youth benefit from specialized services and being in charge of any decisions about their drug or alcohol use. “If a counsellor is going to really be impactful, they have to let the client drive the process of making changes around substance use,” Ayers said. “The objective of substance use counselling is to help youth have a better life, and what are some concrete ways that might happen, depending on their choices of course,” he said. Many youth use substances to deal with trauma or anxiety, so alternate tools or strategies need to be developed to help young people deal with that suffering, he added. It’s dangerous to assume youth overdoses due to illicit drugs are only a big-city problem, Ayers said. “It’s absolutely a misconception,” he said, adding the issues that fuel youth substance use exist in every community across Canada. However, youth generally don’t tend to be as entrenched with illicit hard drugs as some other age demographics, especially in rural areas where supply might be limited, Ayers said. “If there’s no supply (of illicit drugs) kids will find other things to do to cope with what they are struggling with,” he said. However, kids and families in rural or remote communities such as the Discovery Islands or small communities across North Vancouver Island can face additional challenges or gaps in accessing supports, Ayers said. Many Foundry services are now available online to try to mitigate the challenges for youth living in more isolated communities who need support, especially with travel limitations due to the pandemic, he said. The youth hub also works with schools to meet with students during class time for those who have to bus in and out of Campbell River. Young people and their families just need to reach out and the Foundry will try to find a fix for any stumbling blocks to service, Ayers said. “We always seem to be able to find them and reach them with help,” he said. “Unless they're just not reaching out at all. And honestly, those are the people that we’re scared for most.” Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National ObserverRochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
BRUSSELS — The European Union is grasping the imminent arrival of the Biden administration as a key moment to reset relations with the United States after four years of trans-Atlantic acrimony. With a series of initiatives, the 27 nation bloc is seeking to rekindle the spirit of co-operation that has long defined global diplomacy. But the EU but also acknowledges that future relations will have to adapt to a multi-polar world where China is an ever bigger player. EU partners are seeking a change from Trump’s go-it-alone credo and back a multilateral approach to better deal with global crises. The EU has already invited President-elect Joe Biden to visit Brussels at the earliest opportunity next year.Raf Casert, The Associated Press
La Société de sauvetage profite du début du mois de décembre pour rappeler à la population l’importance de respecter les règles de sécurité lors de déplacements sur les plans d’eau gelés. Chaque année, environ sept Québécois perdent la vie par noyade durant l’hiver. La majorité de ces décès touchent des personnes qui marchaient, jouaient au hockey, pêchaient, faisaient de la motoneige ou du véhicule tout-terrain sur un cours d’eau gelé. L’organisation croit aussi que davantage de citoyens sortiront à l’extérieur cet hiver en raison des ventes importantes effectuées dans les magasins de plein air et de véhicules récréatifs à l’automne. Afin de prévenir d’éventuels accidents en motoneige ou véhicule tout-terrain, la Société de sauvetage a émis une liste de 10 conseils à suivre : Par ailleurs, plusieurs cours d’eau ne gèleront pas convenablement et resteront risqués tout au long de l’hiver en raison des grandes variations de température. On estime qu’une glace de 12 cm peut supporter le poids d’une motoneige, seulement si elle est neuve et transparente. Un plan d’eau gelé peut être dans un tout autre état le lendemain. Il est donc recommandé de se renseigner auprès des autorités locales pour connaître les plus récente conditions et sécurité de la glace dans la région. Rappelons qu’un total de 93 noyades ont eu lieu depuis le début de l’année. Il s’agit d’une augmentation de 66 % par rapport à 2019, et ce, même si l'année n’est pas terminée.Nicholas Pereira, Initiative de journalisme local, Courrier Laval
Don’t travel over the upcoming holidays. But if you must, consider getting coronavirus tests before and after, U.S. health officials urged Wednesday.The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the best way to stay safe and protect others is to stay home.The agency also announced new guidelines that shorten recommended quarantines after close contact with someone infected with coronavirus. The agency said the risk in a shorter quarantine is small, but that the change makes following the guidance less of a hardship.The no-travel advice echoes recommendations for Thanksgiving but many Americans ignored it. With COVID-19 continuing to surge, the CDC added the testing option.“Cases are rising, hospitalizations are increasing , deaths are increasing. We need to try to bend the curve, stop this exponential increase,” the CDC's Dr. Henry Walke said during a briefing.He said any travel-related surge in cases from travel would likely be apparent about a week to 10 days after Thanksgiving.The virus has infected more than 13.5 million Americans and killed at least 270,000 since January.“The safest thing to do is to postpone holiday travel and stay home," said Dr. Cindy Friedman, another CDC official. "Travel volume was high over Thanksgiving,'' and even if small numbers were infected, that could result in ’’hundreds of thousands of new infections.”‘’Travel is a door-to-door experience that can spread virus during the journey and also into communities that travellers visit or live," she added.For those who decide to travel, COVID-19 tests should be considered one to three days before the trip and again three to five days afterward, the CDC said. The agency also recommended travellers reduce non-essential activities for a full week after they return or for 10 days if not tested afterward. And it emphasized the importance of continuing to follow precautions including masks, social distancing and frequent hand-washing.The revised quarantine guidance says people who have been in contact with someone infected with the virus can resume normal activity after 10 days, or seven days if they receive a negative test result. That’s down from the 14-day period recommended since the pandemic began.The change is based on extensive modeling by CDC and others, said the agency's Dr. John Brooks..___Follow AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner at @LindseyTanner.___The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.Lindsey Tanner, The Associated Press
A proposed class action suit has been launched against Dell Technologies on behalf of thousands of Canadians whose personal information was compromised in a data breach.According to a claim filed in a Nova Scotia court, the suit's proposed representative plaintiff is seeking compensation for two years of scam calls and emails he received after a 2017 data breach exposed information about him and more than 7,000 other Dell customers.In response to Wednesday's announcement of the suit, filed Oct. 1, Dell issued an emailed statement saying it "places the highest priority on the protection of customer data.""The Office of the Privacy Commissioner's related investigation found that we improved our 'security safeguards along with (our) complaint handling and breach investigation practices.' "According to the suit, which hasn't been certified as a class action, its proposed representative plaintiff suffered through years of inconvenience and anxiety as a consequence of the breach, which occurred at a call centre in India that provided customer support services for Dell.It says Dell tech support collected and stored information about the plaintiff, including service history, warranty information and model numbers as well as personal information, after he sought assistance with his computer.It says he began to get harassing calls from individuals claiming to be Dell employees, starting in January 2018.After taking steps to get Dell to deal with the problem to his satisfaction, the man filed a complaint in February 2018 with the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner.The OPC reported earlier this year that the man had a well- founded complaint. It also uncovered additional detail about how the breach occurred.In the meantime, according to the statement of claim, the plaintiff "received five to 10 scam calls per day, seven days a week, at all hours (from January 2018 to early 2020)."The calls would wake (him) from sleep, and constantly interrupt his life. (He) was eventually left with no option but to change his work phone number used by countless clients, work contacts and employers."After the phone number changed, the suit claims its main plaintiff began to get numerous emails per day requesting that he call a number to resolve a Dell computer issue."(He) continues to suffer anxiety and distress over the materially increased risk of identity theft, being the target of additional scams, and further cybercrime," the claim says.His lawyers are asking the court to recognize him as a representative for other Canadian customers of Dell that were affected by the 2017 breach,The Wagners law firm in Halifax said in a Wednesday press statement that the suit claims that Dell Canada and its parent company were negligent and didn't sufficiently protect the privacy of its customers.The suit doesn't specify how much money the plaintiffs should get, but asks the court to award damages for breach of privacy and negligence and other compensation.The defendants named in the suit are Dell Technologies Inc., headquartered in Texas, and its Canadian subsidiary in Toronto.The federal privacy commission said in a July 2020 report it investigated two complaints from people with Dell computers and found them well-founded.One of the complainants, who the OPC didn't identify by name, fit the description of the law suit's plaintiff. The other case involved calls received by a complainant and her father, starting in July 2017."At the time of the complaints, Dell used a service provider to deliver support for its customers in a call centre located in India. Two employees of the provider inappropriately disclosed Dell customer data lists in June and November of 2017," the OPC report says.It added that "Dell is unaware what information was disclosed in the June 2017 breach, but both complainants had their personal information breached in November 2017."The report also concluded that certain safeguards "were insufficient given the sensitivity of the personal information at issue. "We also found that Dell failed to adequately investigate the circumstances of the June 2017 breach and failed to adequately respond to customer complaints."However, the privacy office said Dell made numerous changes in response to its recommendations and it considered the matter resolved.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020David Paddon, The Canadian Press
Residents of a Lambton County township dealing with a massive outbreak of gypsy moth caterpillars will be left on their own to fight the tree-destroying critters. Lambton Shores, located along Lake Huron, won’t spray private properties to control the pests next summer but has agreed to take “control measures” on some municipal land. Council voted unanimously to support a contentious gypsy moth action plan Tuesday night, adding a new recommendation that funds be included in the 2021 budget to undertake spraying on municipal land adjacent to private properties. “Where the people are going to spray theirs, we'll spray ours,” said Coun. Jeff Wilcox, who proposed the added recommendation. “It’s a good first step.” Other approved recommendations include creating a webpage to advise residents of resources to tackle gypsy moths, a $10,000 mail-drop to create awareness and not objecting to any spraying on private property. The gypsy moth citizens' action group, a coalition of some 4,000 residents across 12 subdivisions, lambasted the plan, arguing it doesn’t go far enough to protect the region’s trees and environment and calling it a “do-nothing approach.” They were pushing for the municipality to take the lead on a targeted aerial spray, as has been done in other municipalities, such as Sarnia and Pelham, and parts of Toronto and Hamilton. Romayne Smith-Fullerton, a group spokesperson, said their option wasn’t considered and felt the report wasn’t fully discussed at council. “The appearance of (our group) being heard wasn’t even met,” she said. “How many people need to speak up?” Wilcox called the added recommendation a compromise, adding staff will need to monitor how well this approach works next year and adjust for any future outbreaks. “It’s a tough situation . . . I can see why some people would be upset. They have every right to be,” he said. “We’re at least trying to get something done, and at least council now has acknowledged that we are responsible for our property.” The gypsy moth report was originally sent to council Nov. 10, but was deferred until Dec. 1 to receive more public feedback. More than 300 pages of correspondence were submitted to council, most advocating for more municipal involvement in tackling the outbreak. Smith-Fullerton was denied a presentation request to council, with officials citing COVID-19 safety protocols. Lambton Shores’ procedure bylaw disallows public presentations at electronic meetings. Tuesday night, councillors and staff met in person in Thedford. A written delegation was accepted, but not read aloud at the meeting. “I was honestly disappointed that they couldn’t come and speak,” Wilcox said. “I’m a firm believer that we need to listen to the people. In a democracy, you may not get your way, but you need to get your say.” Wilcox said he's submitted a motion for the next council meeting to consider amending the procedure bylaw to allow some form of public delegations at future meetings. In the months leading up to council’s report, many neighbourhoods already had been planning to spray their properties with a bacterium — bacillus thuringiensis subspecies kurstaki, referred to as Btk — but said that was their fallback approach. “That is what we are going to have to do because we have no choice,” Smith-Fullerton said. Gypsy moths are an invasive species, the larvae of which can cause rapid defoliation. An environmental assessment on the extent of the damage the insects caused this year was never ordered by the municipality. The 2020 outbreaks were most severe in the Port Franks, Deer Run and Pinery Provincial Park areas of Lambton Shores, a region that’s home to some rare ecosystems, such as oak savanna and pine barren. Many residents said beyond destroying trees, the moth larvae devastated their quality of life this summer, with the sheer volume of caterpillars making it impossible to be outdoors. “It’s like head lice in a public school. It spreads like wildfire,” Smith-Fullerton said. “Why are we not caring about this as a community?” MaxMartin@postmedia.com Twitter.com/MaxatLFPressMax Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A noontime boom that was heard and felt from southern Ontario to Virginia was likely caused by a disintegrating meteor, according to an organization in western New York that keeps track of such phenomena. Witnesses across the area reported hearing the boom or seeing a fireball in the sky shortly after noon on Wednesday, said Robert Lunsford of the American Meteor Society in Geneseo. By 5 p.m., the organization had recorded 90 reports of the fireball seen in Maryland, Michigan, New York, Ontario, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Police agencies and fire departments around central New York received 911 calls reporting a boom that shook windows, but clouds prevented sightings in much of the area. Since most reports of the boom were around Syracuse, that's likely where the meteor blew to bits, Lunsford said. On the society's website, an observer in western New York reported the fireball was bright white with shades of yellow. An observer in Hagerstown, Maryland reported a fireball with red and orange sparks, smoke and a persistent train. A report from Welland, Ontario, described a long, bright green train. “Sunny day so it looked like a gold metallic flash against the blue sky,” said a report from Winchester, Virginia. “Astonishing, amazing, still get goosebumps talking about it,” wrote an observer in Port Dover, Ontario. “The train was flaming white, wide and long, no smoke.” “We tend to notice fireballs more at night because they stand out better, but it's not terribly unusual for very bright ones to be noticed during the day. It happens several times a year over populated areas,” said Margaret Campbell-Brown, a member of the Meteor Physics Group at Western University in London, Ontario. All fireballs, which are bright meteors, produce sound waves, sometimes detectable only by sensitive microphones, Campbell-Brown said by email. A large one may produce a thunderlike sonic boom with possible extra bangs from fragmentation, she said. The Associated Press
Homicide investigators say a fourth person has been charged in the Remembrance Day shooting of a man in Surrey, B.C., last year.Andrew Baldwin, 30, was killed Nov. 11, 2019, at a house in the 10700-block of 124 Street. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced Wednesday that Munroop Hayer has been charged with first-degree murder.Supt. Elija Rain with the Surrey RCMP said Hayer is well known to police in the Lower Mainland.Jordan Bottomley and Jagpal Hothi have already been charged with first-degree murder in the case.Jasman Basran, 21, was charged in May with being an accessory to murder.Baldwin was gunned down just weeks after his younger brother, 27-year-old Keith Baldwin, was shot and killed in Chilliwack, B.C. Both men were known to police.Sgt. Frank Jang with IHIT read a statement Wednesday from Baldwin's mother, Julie. "Andrew was a caring, giving person and his loyalty to his family, friends, loved ones and co-workers was unwavering," the note read. "We will all miss him, every moment of every day."
The recommended quarantine time for close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case is being reduced by up to a week in the United States, but while some of Canada's health experts say a similar approach could be useful here, others aren't so sure. The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday it had shortened the recommended length of quarantine after exposure from 14 days to 10 — or seven days with a negative test result. Health Canada was still recommending a 14-day quarantine period as of Wednesday, but Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University, says cutting that time in half would be beneficial. "It would be super important for the sake of incentivizing people to actually quarantine after exposure," he said. "And there's a lot of different things that could theoretically open up — getting health-care workers back to work, getting kids back to school — a lot of ways where this could ease the burden of potential exposure in society." The CDC had previously said the incubation period for the COVID virus could extend to 14 days, but the organization now says most people become infectious and develop symptoms between four and five days after exposure. Chagla says the 14-day window was likely inspired from SARS data, where the incubation period was longer. While isolation and quarantine are sometimes used interchangeably, Chagla says there's a difference in the terms. Isolation is for those who have tested positive, while quarantine is for people who may or may not actually have the virus, like close contacts of positive cases or those travelling into Canada. Isolation recommendations for positive cases vary, but are typically 10 days after symptom onset. Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says a change in quarantine guidance reflects our evolving understanding of COVID-19. "If you're exposed, it takes a couple days for you to become infectious, so (seven to 10 days) should be enough to tell whether you've got the virus," Tuite said. "But of course, that's assuming your experience is reflective of the typical course of infection." The key to the CDC's new guidance for Tuite is having the option to end quarantine at seven days with a negative test result. She suspects that's in place to stop people who have the virus but no symptoms from ending the quarantine period too early. A positive test at Day 7 would mean that person should continue to isolate, Tuite said, while a negative result would mean they could safely end quarantine, knowing enough time has passed since exposure to confidently assume they won't still get sick. Dr. Don Sheppard, the founder and director of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4), says the CDC's plan makes sense scientifically, but there would be logistical issues in testing every COVID contact in Canada who wanted to end their quarantine at Day 7. "It's impossible to do that," he said. "It's either 14 days of proper isolation, or it's seven days with a negative test, and right now our system cannot offer seven days plus testing to the public at large." Testing capacity does exist in certain situations, Sheppard said, like for health-care workers and other front-line staff that need a quicker quarantine to get back to work. He cautioned, however, that taking a test on Day 7 still means isolating for an extra day or two while awaiting results. Quarantine also needs to be done solo in order to work, Sheppard added, warning that the CDC guidance isn't meant as a loophole for holiday gatherings if your family isolates together for seven days before an event. He used an example of military recruits in the U.S. who were told to quarantine for 14 days before reporting to camp. A handful of positive tests (0.9 per cent) were caught upon arrival, suggesting true quarantine hadn't been followed. Those recruits were sent home while the rest underwent another group quarantine. When tested again two weeks later, the positivity rate had grown to 1.3 per cent. "Why? Because there were people incubating and they turned positive. And those people infected others in their groups," Sheppard said. "So if you don't do strict, single-person isolation, you don't actually break the cycle of transmission, you just pass it around in your group." Tuite says that further illustrates the usefulness of a shortened quarantine period. A mother with young children, or someone who shares a small apartment with another person will find it harder to properly quarantine for longer periods, she said, as will someone who can't afford to take a full two weeks off work. "It really comes down to having the means to do it," she said. "Can you survive for two weeks if you're not getting income? Can you isolate in a household with multiple people? "We need to have support in place so that people can quarantine, and that doesn't change whether it's for a week or 14 days. But it becomes much more challenging when it's for longer periods." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020. Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
South Peace communities are considering re-opening discussions to establish a regional handi-bus service. Wembley mayor Chris Turnmire sent out letters to councils in neighbouring municipalities inquiring about the interest in returning to the project, which was put on hold two years ago. “The focus was to identify opportunities to improve mobility options primarily for seniors and disabled residents to attend to basic needs, including medical and dental appointments,” Turnmire said. In 2017 Wembley applied to the Alberta Community Partnership program and won a grant of $67,500 to study the feasibility of a regional service. The town partnered with Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Hythe and the city and county of Grande Prairie in the project, Turnmire said. Wembley and its partners then contracted Watt Consulting Group to conduct the study. Turnmire said $61,324 was spent on the study and the remainder was refunded to the Alberta government. In 2018 municipal councils decided to put the project on hold due to the launch of the County Connector, he said. The county-based transit service had space for wheelchairs but ended in August due to low ridership. “A regional handi-bus service would have a different focus,” Turnmire said. “This isn’t a money-making project; this is a service to individuals who may not have access to transportation to get to appointments or other places they need to go. “I suspect it’s going to have a cost attached to it, that each municipality would have to look at and (determine) what the proportional share would be.” In early November South Peace mayors and CAOs attended an intermunicipal meeting and the leaders discussed possibly renewing handi-bus talks, he said. None of the mayors rejected the idea outright and due to Wembley’s lead in the project two years ago, it was decided Turnmire would write a letter to all councils, he said. Early work completed In April 2018 Watt Consulting Group held an open house in Beaverlodge discussing plans for a regional handi-bus. The draft policy presented in 2018 called for a round trip running two days per week. Under the program, the bus would travel along the western and northern corridors connecting the city to each town and village, along with Clairmont, La Glace and Valhalla. Plans may change If the councils decide to re-open the possibility of a regional handi-bus, Turnmire said some of the 2018 plans for the service may change. The councils would establish a working group, with each appointing a councillor or staff member to re-examine the study, he said. Turnmire said with council meetings slowing down during December, he doesn’t expect the working group would be established until after the new year. Some of the municipalities have existing handi-bus services, and Turnmire said the working group would also have to consider how to avoid duplication of service and keep things efficient. COVID-19 poses another question as to how service will be affected if the health crisis is still ongoing, Turnmire added. During a recent regular meeting last week Sexsmith council approved Coun. Jonathan Siggelkow’s motion to express interest in the project. At Beaverlodge council’s last meeting Coun. Terry Dueck expressed interest in representing the town in the group. Mayor Gary Rycroft said joining the working group would allow for an exploration of various considerations. Coun. Judy Kokotilo-Bekkerus’ motion to express interest was carried.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the priority list for the first COVID-19 vaccines is being refined because there won't be enough doses available in the first round to cover the initial groups recommended.
The County of Grande Prairie launched its newly redesigned website recently, intended to be more mobile-friendly and easier to navigate, according to county communications. The website serves as “a digital one-stop-shop for information about county programs, services and initiatives,” according to county communications. “Council approved the development of a new external website for the County of Grande Prairie to better meet the evolving needs of residents and the public,” said Allison Richels, county communications advisor. “The new website (will) ensure visitors to the site will have the best experience possible when engaging with the county online.” The previous version of the website was created in 2012 and a survey on a new design was open in January and February, she said. The survey drew a response from 90 people and an additional 10 participated in focus groups in March and April, Richels said. The focus groups discussed what the website should offer and how it should be organized. She said the feedback given had an influence in “every stage of the website development.” Users can continue to give feedback by scrolling to the bottom of the page at www.countygp.ab.ca, where “Website Feedback” can be clicked. To celebrate the website launch, the county is holding a ’Tis the Season contest now until noon Dec. 14 on the website. Residents of the county and the towns and village within it, the City of Grande Prairie and Greenview can enter by subscribing for events calendar updates and filling out their contact information. Four vouchers worth $100 will be awarded to those whose names are drawn, and Richels said these gift cards can be used at any business that accepts credit cards. Community groups can also enter by submitting an event to the county calendar, with two vouchers worth $150 available.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
PASADENA, Calif. — It was a rare sight after Los Angeles County restaurants were restricted to takeout to reduce the spread of the coronavirus: tables and chairs set up outside the Pie 'N Burger shop in Pasadena.Owner Michael Osborn explained to two men who approached him Monday that the city famous for its Rose Parade had marched to its own beat and kept outdoor dining open.“God bless Pasadena!” the two exclaimed, placing their order and taking a seat at one of the sidewalk tables, Osborn recounted.Pasadena has become an island in the nation's most populous county, where a surge of COVID-19 cases last week led to a three-week end to outdoor dining and then a broader stay-home order that took effect Monday.The decision by Pasadena health authorities to buck Los Angeles County has been a relief to restaurateurs who have struggled to stay afloat amid closures, ever-changing rules and attempts to keep workers on the job and money in the till. Even Pasadena has made changes, mandating that only people in the same household can gather starting Wednesday, which applies to outdoor seating.“We’re not out of the woods yet, but every day that goes by is a blessing that we can keep the outdoor dining open,” Osborn said.Infections and hospitalizations in Los Angeles County have been rising sharply in the past few weeks, hitting an all-time high Tuesday of more than 7,500 new confirmed cases and the rate of positive tests rising to 12% from 7% a week ago.The county's health order, which only allows restaurants to prepare food to go, applies to about 10 million residents in the region except those in Pasadena or Long Beach — cities that have their own public health departments and can set their own rules.Long Beach, a city of about 460,000, also closed outdoor dining. It implemented a stay-home order Wednesday that mostly mirrors the county's: urging people to stay inside as much as possible, further restricting capacity in stores and banning all public and private gatherings except for protests and religious services.Closing dining at 31,000 county restaurants created a backlash among owners and some politicians who say there's no evidence eating outside is a big risk. Health officials counter that not wearing a mask while eating raises the threat of transmission.Owners argue it will force more people to gather indoors, where the virus is known to spread easier and no one is enforcing rules.A divided LA County Board of Supervisors rejected a measure Nov. 24 that would have kept outdoor dining open. The Los Angeles City Council passed an urgent resolution last week asking the county to rescind the order, and Beverly Hills took similar action Tuesday. Restaurants went to court to stop the restrictions, but a judge denied their request.Pasadena, a city of 140,000 at the foot of the San Gabriel Mountains, has mostly followed the county's lead during the pandemic.But the home of the Rose Bowl and California Institute of Technology decided to chart its own course last week. Because it's smaller and can more closely monitor its 600 restaurants, officials said they chose more aggressive enforcement.“We literally have seen COVID cases in a large percentage of businesses across the city,” Pasadena spokeswoman Lisa Derderian said. “To single out restaurants was unfair.”County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said she couldn't predict whether Pasadena's decision would have an impact on the county's infection rate. Given the city's size, it may be able to ensure safety measures are followed, she said.But she noted that a lack of compliance was not the reason dining was shut down.“We are closing restaurants for outdoor dining for three weeks because people who are there are not able to wear their face coverings,” Ferrer said. “There’s much greater risk of transmission both to workers and to other people at your table and other people that are eating at the other tables.”Over the weekend, seven Pasadena restaurants were closed after inspectors found violations ranging from staff not wearing plastic shields over masks to seating people indoors, Derderian said. All had been approved to reopen after correcting errors.Inspectors also shut down a car show, broke up birthday parties and soccer matches in parks, and warned people exercising that they had to wear masks, she said.If the city doesn't stop outdoor dining altogether, it could be forced to do so by Gov. Gavin Newsom, who suggested Monday that a more “drastic” stay-home order could be in the works as the state tries to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.At Lucky Baldwins, a pub in Pasadena's Old Town, business picked up Monday around happy hour. A patio that was expanded into an alley was about half full, and servers wore masks and face shields.Anthony Angulo, who had driven from nearby Altadena to meet a friend, was glad he had an option to get a bite and some beers.“A lot of these business owners are struggling, and they don’t need to be hamstrung. They’re doing the best that they can,” he said. “Nobody is going inside standing shoulder to shoulder.”Owner Peggy Simonian said she was relieved Pasadena allowed two locations to stay open. She had to close a sister cafe in nearby Sierra Madre under the county order.“I feel stuck,” Simonian said. “I can’t move forward, can’t move backwards, can’t do anything. I can’t make this situation any better.”___Melley reported from Los Angeles.Brian Melley And Christopher Weber, The Associated Press
Great Enlightenment Buddist Institute Monks at the campus in Heatherdale received more requests for food box donations this month than ever before. “They really pulled through,” said Venerable Dan about the group of monks who spearheaded the project. Enough funds were raised to offer 332 food boxes compared to the usual 200. Venerable Dan said the monks were unsure if they would be able to roll out so many boxes, each filled with 10 of their signature puffy rolls, an assortment of dried goods and organic vegetables. To raise funds they got creative. On top of fresh baked buns, they sold homemade apple sauce and eloquently decorated pen holders to support the initiative. In the end the group was able to bake about 1,000 extra fresh rolls and provide a full box to each Islander who requested one. Venerable Dan noticed more people seemed to reach out this year because they were impacted by the pandemic. He also saw more young people and single families requesting food boxes. The monks have been donating and delivering food boxes for about two years now. They try to offer food boxes every one or two months through the winter as Islanders seem to struggle a bit more this time of year. Venerable Dan said the group is looking to offer more food boxes this December. Anyone looking to request a box should fill out an application which will be posted on the Facebook page ‘About Monks’ in December. Venerable Dan said, after delivering so many this month, some additional funds or donations will be needed to support the December deliveries. The monks were unsure if they would be able to go ahead with the project at all this year as they have, for the most part, been in a form of lockdown following strict policies to mitigate possible spread of COVID-19 within their residences. Thanks to about 40 local volunteers they were able to organize the initiative without breaking their contact and isolation policies. Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic
TORONTO — Ontario's hospitals are warning that the rising number of COVID-19 patients in their wards are making it increasingly tough to continue other procedures. The Ontario Hospital Association urged residents Wednesday to follow public health measures in an effort to help address capacity issues, particularly in intensive care units across the province. That came as the province reported 656 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 183 in intensive care, and 106 people on ventilators. Health experts have previously said having more than 150 patients in intensive care could lead to cancelled surgeries. "Ontario hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain access to vital surgeries and procedures with COVID-19 cases rising," the hospital association said in a statement posted on social media. "Hospitals are doing everything they can, but they need your support. Help stop the spread by making better practical choices every day."The OHA has been warning of capacity issues for months as hospitals are pressed to fulfill all of their regular duties while also caring for COVID patients, running testing centres, and assisting some long-term care homes.Hospital capacity has been an issue in COVID-19 hot spots, such as Peel Region, for weeks, but those pressures have also spread to other areas. The Grand River Hospital in Waterloo Region paused elective surgeries this week after its intensive care unit reached capacity.In Windsor-Essex, the Windsor Regional Hospital said high patient numbers were challenging the entire regional health-care system and had made it necessary to impose strict visitor restrictions in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus. NDP Legislator Catherine Fife, who represents a Waterloo riding, pressed the government Wednesday for further resources to bolster hospitals."What is the premier going to do to ensure that our hospitals have the support they need to get through this crisis? Do it now, we're at the tipping point," she said. Health Minister Christine Elliott insisted that hospitals are not in crisis because the province has allocated money for new beds. She said while Ontario's numbers are nothing to brag about, the province is flattening the curve."Ontario is not in crisis right now," Elliott said. "You want to speak about who is in crisis ... we're taking a look at Alberta where they're doubling up patients in intensive care units. We're not doing that in Ontario."Liberal House Leader John Fraser slammed Elliott for the remark, and said the province should be focused on its response at home."What's she going to do next, compare us with South Dakota?" he said.Meanwhile, the province sent two dozen contact tracers to Windsor-Essex as the region grapples with numerous outbreaks of COVID-19. Earlier in the week, the region's top doctor warned that Windsor-Essex was "at risk of going into a lockdown.""Given the increasing case counts ... we will be on the verge of collapsing the public health capacity and also the acute care system capacity now that we have two outbreaks in the hospital system," said Dr. Wajid Ahmed.Elliott acknowledged the situation on Wednesday and said the province was working with the region. "We are aware that there is a considerable concern regarding public health resources in Windsor-Essex," she said. "There is some more significant community transmission there, which is why we've been putting further restrictions in that area."The region entered the red level of the province's tiered, colour-coded pandemic response framework on Monday -- just two weeks after advancing from the green level to yellow, and then to orange. The red level is one short of a lockdown.As of Wednesday, there were 17 active outbreaks in the region, Ahmed said, noting that the public health unit was sending regular updates to the province.Of particular concern, he noted, is the impact on schools, with two elementary schools currently closed due to outbreaks.At one school, 29 students and nine staff tested positive for the virus. "When you have more background cases in the community, it does pose risk inside the school system," Ahmed said, adding that more schools could be forced to close. The Windsor-Essex Public Health unit recorded 41 new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday, along with two new deaths. The province as a whole, meanwhile, reported 1,723 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and 35 new deaths due to the virus.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020. Shawn Jeffords and Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press
ISLAMABAD — The U.S. envoy who brokered the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban said Wednesday the two sides have overcome a three-month impasse and agreed on rules and procedures for the negotiations.The development is significant as it means the warring sides are getting closer to actually starting to negotiate the issues that could end decades of fighting in Afghanistan and determine the country's post-war future. But first they must decide on the agenda for the negotiations, which is the next step.In a series of tweets, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said there was a signed document and urged both the Taliban and the government to get down to the business of negotiating a “political roadmap and a cease-fire.”The three-page document lays out the rules and procedures for the negotiations, which are taking place in Qatar where the Taliban have long maintained a political office.Afghans “now expect rapid progress on a political roadmap and a ceasefire. We understand their desire and we support them,” Khalilzad tweeted.A cease-fire, rights of women and minorities, and constitutional amendments are expected to top the agenda. But the list is likely to be long and contentious, with issues such as safety guarantees for thousands of Taliban fighters who disarm, as well as for disbanding the heavily armed militias loyal to Kabul warlords, many of them allied either with the government or opposition politicians.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who on Feb. 29 signed a Taliban-U.S. deal that paves the way for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, welcomed the agreement.“As negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will also work hard with all sides in pursuit of a serious reduction of violence,” he said.Khalilzad’s announcement was not unexpected — last month, the Taliban said the rules and procedures were settled and the U.S. said last week it was all but wrapped up. But then the Afghan government said it had concerns with the some of the words in the preamble that set off accusations that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was holding up the deal. His spokesman denied this.There were no details about the document, but Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem said the two sides have appointed a committee to hammer out the agenda items.Since the Afghan-Taliban talks started in September, violence has spiked significantly. The Taliban have staged deadly attacks on Afghan forces while keeping their promise not to attack U.S. and NATO troops. The attacks have drawn a mighty retaliation by the Afghan air force, backed by U.S. warplanes. International rights groups have warned both sides to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.In Washington, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military’s plan for reducing American troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 by mid-January has been approved by the acting secretary of defence, Christopher Miller. Milley declined to discuss the plan beyond saying that the smaller U.S. force would operate from “a couple of larger bases,” along with several smaller ones, in order to continue its current missions of combatting extremist groups like al-Qaida and training and advising Afghan defence forces.Milley asserted that the U.S. has achieved “a modicum of success” in Afghanistan after more than 19 years of war, given that there has not been a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland. Noting that President Donald Trump made the decision to reduce the U.S. force to 2,500, Milley said, “What comes after that, that will be up to a new administration; we’ll find that out on the 20th of January and beyond.”In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the breakthrough on the Afghan-Taliban talks, amid uncertainty over the alliance's future in Afghanistan and urged for rapid progress on cease-fire and establishing a political road map.“You can discuss whether it is a big or a small step, but the important thing is that it’s the first step,” Stoltenberg said, after chairing a videoconference of NATO foreign ministers. “It’s the first time actually that the Taliban and the Afghan government are able to sign a document agreeing on the framework, the modalities, for negotiations addressing a long-term, peaceful solution.”NATO has roughly 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, but under the U.S.-Taliban deal, all foreign troops would leave the country by May 1 if conditions allow. Stoltenberg has said that NATO faces a “difficult dilemma” over what to do.A decision on its future in Afghanistan, where NATO has led international security efforts since 2003 in the hope of keeping extremist groups at bay, is expected to be made in February after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.The Taliban today control or hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled their regime over sheltering al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.Many Afghans, particularly in larger urban areas fear a return of their repressive regime that harshly punished those who defied their strict Islamic edicts. Unlike when they ruled, the Taliban now say they will allow girls to go to school and women to work and hold public office, though they will not allow a woman to become president or a chief justice of Afghanistan's Supreme Court.___Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Ken Guggenheim in Washington, Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press