Here's the latest for Friday February 19th: Senator Ted Cruz says Mexico trip was a mistake; Millions in Texas get power back; Weather disrupts COVID vaccination efforts; US to allow some asylum seekers to cross border from Mexico.
Here's the latest for Friday February 19th: Senator Ted Cruz says Mexico trip was a mistake; Millions in Texas get power back; Weather disrupts COVID vaccination efforts; US to allow some asylum seekers to cross border from Mexico.
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
NEW YORK — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern. The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighbouring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week. But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves. “Most are not of particular concern,” said Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute. However, he added, “Noticing them early, flagging them, raising concern is useful." That's because some genetic tweaks can be worrisome, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are a potential problem. New York City health officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday sought to tamp down worries about the new variant, emphasizing that the new research is preliminary and little is known about the variant. “Some variants are just that, they’re variants.” said Dr. Jay Varma, senior health adviser to the mayor. WHAT DID THEY FIND IN NEW YORK? Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers this week describing their findings about the new variant. Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists. The Caltech researchers found that the new variant showed up in about a quarter of the 1,200 virus sequences they looked at this month. The variant has also shown up in New Jersey and Connecticut and has made “isolated appearances across the country,” said CalTech's Anthony West, a co-author of the paper. On Thursday, Columbia University researchers released their research that scrutinized about 1,100 virus samples from patients treated at the university's medical centre, dating back to November. During the second week of February, the new variant was identified in 12% of the samples, they reported. They also found patients infected with the mutated virus were more likely to be older and have been hospitalized. Both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines — a mutation seen in other worrisome variants. “There is clearly something to keep an eye on,” Balloux said. HOW MANY OTHER VARIANTS ARE THERE? New variants have been showing up throughout the pandemic, but three are considered the most worrisome — they've been designated “variants of concern." They were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries. The one identified in the U.K. late last year has since been found in 45 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strain is concerning because it has so many mutations, nearly two dozen. Some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells — and that current vaccines and antibody drugs target. One of the spike protein mutations is seen in the variants discovered early on in Brazil and South Africa, and, now, the new variant in New York. A variant that has been spreading in California is also getting attention. It's been found in 40% to 50% of samples examined by the Los Angeles Count Department of Public Health, according to Director Barbara Ferrer. But there isn't enough rigorous research to determine what, if any, effect its mutations might have. WHAT'S NEXT? After what many described as a slow start, the federal government in recent weeks has ramped up its genetic sequencing to look for and study virus variants to figure out which ones might be a problem. In the meantime, Ana S. Gonzalez Reiche, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, urged caution. “Without evidence, we don’t need to alarm ourselves about every variant detected,” she said. Studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a variant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions. In response, drug companies are already figuring out how to modify their vaccines. Experts say that in the meantime, public health measures like social distancing and masks will reduce opportunities for the coronavirus to continue mutating and run rampant. “Emerging of variants will occur," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC on Thursday. "The trick is when they do occur, to prevent them from spreading.” ___ 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. Marion Renault, The Associated Press
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
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
(CBC - image credit) A second worker from the Olymel meatpacking plant in Red Deer has died after a weeks-long battle with COVID-19. Henry De Leon, 50, worked at the plant for 15 years. His family told CBC News he died from COVID-19 on Wednesday night, after three weeks on a ventilator in an Edmonton hospital. A father of two adult children and grandfather of three, De Leon tested positive on Jan. 28, his family said and the company confirmed. He was hospitalized first in Red Deer, then transferred to Edmonton, where he died. His death has not yet been linked to the known outbreak at the plant, which ceased operations earlier this month in an attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19. The city of Red Deer hit a new record for COVID-19 cases this week, with 574 active cases as of Wednesday. Alberta Health Services declared an outbreak at the plant on Nov. 17. A spokesperson for Alberta Health said the department has only been notified of one death linked to that outbreak, the Jan. 28 death of Darwin Doloque, 35. "If a second death is reported to Alberta Health, we will publicly report it," spokesperson Tom McMillan said in a statement. He was always happy De Leon's daughter described him as "the happiest and most caring guy," and said he was "the best dad we could ever ask for." Like Doloque and many other employees at Olymel, De Leon immigrated to Canada. He came from the Dominican Republic, and his friend and former neighbour, Patricia Marcado, said he dreamed of returning there in retirement. Marcado said his friend was full of joy and love for his family. "He was a very happy guy," she said. "He cooked, he cleaned. He did everything for his wife. He was the best husband ever, the best dad ever." Patricia Salazar worked with Le Deon for 15 years and spent lunch breaks with him at the same table with other friends — some Canadian, some from El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. De Leon's wife, who also works at Olymel, would often join them. "We always sit together at the same table with his wife and other friends," Salazar said. "He was very, very happy all the time." She recalled De Leon showing off photos of his grandchildren, and said De Leon and his wife were "all the time together, wherever they go, in the plant or outside."
(Google Street View - image credit) An argument over physical distancing in a Nanaimo mall parking lot quickly escalated into a stabbing late Wednesday afternoon. RCMP say a 50-year-old man, his wife and daughter were standing at their car outside the Dollarama in the Port Place shopping centre on Terminal Avenue, when the suspect walked in front of them. The wife reported to police that her daughter, 25, told the suspect he was too close to them and should maintain a six-foot separation, according to a police statement Thursday. "The suspect took exception to this comment and yelled some obscenities at her," the statement says. RCMP say the suspect then struck the father with a metal cup, and when a struggle began, the father was stabbed. He was taken to hospital with minor injuries. The suspect managed to run away but was spotted about an hour later on Gabriola Island where he was arrested at his home, the statement says. The suspect, whose name police are not releasing, is expected in Nanaimo Provincial Court on May 25, to face a charge of assault with a weapon.
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 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
Grey County council meetings will soon be more accessible to area residents. “Following the last council meeting, I was approached by the station manager at Rogers TV out of Owen Sound. They are interested in picking up the stream of council and committee of the whole on Thursday mornings,” said Rob Hatten, communications manager for Grey County. Rogers TV provides coverage to Owen Sound, Georgian Bluffs, Meaford, and The Town of the Blue Mountains. Currently, county council meetings are being held virtually via Zoom and are streamed live through YouTube and the county's website. “This will be positive for increasing our reach through more traditional means that we haven't been a part of before,” Hatten said. The meetings will be streamed on Rogers at no cost to the county. And, in the instance of closed sessions of council, Rogers would be removed from the broadcast. Hatten added that Rogers will only have the availability to stream the meetings until 12 p.m. “So, on a day like this where the meeting does go long, they would simply just leave the meeting," he explained. "This is something that we will be able to continue when we get back into council chambers since we have already equipped ourselves with that recording equipment in there as well." Rogers TV will begin live streaming Grey County council and committee of the whole meetings on March 11. Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca
NEW YORK — Christian Siriano opened his second show of the pandemic Thursday with two ladies in bed, models who emerged flawless in black one-pieces, then dressed for all to see before hitting the runway. It was a dreamy, colour-saturated show during a tough time for fashion inspiration, Siriano said. He created an alternate reality inspired by a recent jaunt to Aspen, Colorado, to visit family for the first time in a year. While most designers have gone fully digital during an expanded New York Fashion Week that has stretched the traditional calendar, Siriano remains committed to the runway. “If you take this away, and the glamour, then it's like I'm just at the office talking about money all day, and that's not what I want,” he told The Associated Press after the fall-winter show attended by about 75 in-person guests. “I wouldn't want to do this job if I couldn't have this world.” In this world, shared on Instagram Live, there were looks for hidden parties and cocktail hours in the Colorado mountains, and silky evening dresses in fuchsia and chartreuse. There were cutouts, and ruffles and lace for ombre and peekaboo impact. And there was Siriano muse Coca Rocha camping it up for the cameras in a voluminous black gown with a plunging neckline — after she woke up to start the show. Siriano included two thrifted pieces he previously designed and found on the site thredUP, including a black fringe coat he made about seven years ago. He was pleasantly surprised it held up, both esthetically and through its well-worn years. The other look was a plunging silk crepe dress in fuchsia washed many times. “You shouldn't do that because it's silk, but it looked so cool. It looked worn but new. Hopefully it will show people we can do this in fashion,” Siriano said of the growing reuse movement. He partnered with thredUP after creating the universal logo for thrift, in the shape of a coat hanger. As for his newly created clothes, there was an “homage to the lodge” in plaid lames and cashmeres, melting into sunset-drenched oranges and pinks inspired by his Colorado vacation. He threw in some creams in a snakeskin print and bright winter whites, including a white jacket worn with loose fuchsia trousers for day. Siriano carried his check lame print from a trouser set to a strapless cocktail gown to a loose, long-sleeve top with a plunge. There were psychedelic swirls of orange and brown in a pantsuit and an evening dress with a high slit. What if, heaven forbid, he's forced to design a third collection in a pandemic come the September show cycle, trying to wrangle staff working remotely while sourcing materials. “Honestly, I don't know," Siriano said, "because I love doing this but it's very hard to do in a pandemic. The logistics are a challenge, but we're just going to move on and hope for the best.” Leanne Italie, The Associated Press
Privacy concerns about government-acquired tracking devices are being raised in light of Ontario's $2.5 million purchase.
(Doug Husby/CBC - image credit) A B.C.'s babysitter's conviction in the 2011 death of a toddler may have been the result of a miscarriage of justice, according to a special prosecutor appointed by the province. Tammy Bouvette's Charter rights may have been breached by the non-disclosure of documents rejecting a medical examiner's conclusion that the injuries to 19-month-old Iyanna Teeple were intentional, Vancouver defence lawyer Marilyn Sandford has found. "There is a strong case to be made that Ms. Bouvette did not receive disclosure of significant, relevant materials," a news release from the B.C. Prosecution Service states. "Her conviction may, accordingly, represent a miscarriage of justice." Sandford has recommended that the case undergo an appeal to determine what happened. Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder in the toddler's death, but pleaded guilty to criminal negligence in order to avoid an automatic life sentence and was sentenced to a year in prison with credit for time served in 2013. The charges stem from May 2011, when Bouvette was caring for Iyanna in a Cranbrook home. She found the little girl unresponsive in a bathtub and called 911. Iyanna was airlifted to Calgary for treatment, but she could not be saved. Iyanna was found face down in a bathtub on May 26, 2011, while being babysat by Bouvette, who was 28 at the time. Last year, a retired B.C. Mountie told CBC's The Fifth Estate that investigators originally considered the death a tragic accident. Bouvette told police that she had left the child to attend to a spill in another room. But medical examiner Dr. Evan Matshes told prosecutors there was "no benign" explanation for some of the injuries on the toddler's body and identified bruising that was "typical of child abuse," according to court documents obtained by CBC. 'Unreasonable' conclusions about injuries An investigation by The Fifth Estate found that three forensic pathologists were later asked to review the autopsy in response to concerns about some of Matshes's other findings. The panel of medical experts stated in their report that the comments Matshes made to the prosecutor about "intentional injuries" on the body and prior abuse were "unreasonable." Bouvette's lawyer, Jesse Gelber, has said he never received a copy of that review. By law, prosecutors must provide defence counsel with all relevant documents in a criminal case. In an interview last year, Bouvette told CBC that the conviction has had a profound effect on her life, and she cannot forgive anyone responsible for withholding potentially exonerating material. "I am not a baby-killer.… People just look at me differently like I was some type of monster and I'm not," she said. "I'm a loving person and a loving mom." Sandford was appointed to review the case in January 2020 in response to CBC's inquiries about the apparent lack of disclosure in the case. She has now recommended that Bouvette's legal team be provided with all of the evidence uncovered during her investigation. The prosecution service says that if Bouvette applies to the B.C. Court of Appeal for an extension to file an appeal and the right to file fresh evidence, the Crown will not oppose those applications.
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
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers pressed the acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Thursday to explain why the force wasn't prepared to fend off a violent mob of insurrectionists even though officials had compiled specific, compelling intelligence that extremists were likely to attack Congress and try to halt the certification of Donald Trump's election loss. Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman conceded there were multiple levels of failures that allowed hundreds of pro-Trump rioters to storm their way into the U.S. Capitol, overwhelming outnumbered officers and breaking through doors and windows. However, she denied that law enforcement failed to take seriously warnings of violence before the Jan. 6 insurrection. Three days before the riot, Capitol Police distributed an internal document warning that armed extremists were poised for violence and could invade Congress because they saw it as the last chance to overturn the election results, Pittman said. Her testimony drove home a seeming disconnect between the intelligence and the preparation. Lawmakers, who were witnesses and potential victims last month as well as investigators now, are trying to get answers to why this symbol of American democracy was overrun so quickly by a mob whose plans were online and known. Reports aside, the assault was much bigger than expected, Pittman said. “Although we knew the likelihood for violence by extremists, no credible threat indicated that tens of thousands would attack the U.S. Capitol, nor did the intelligence received from the FBI or any other law enforcement partner indicate such a threat,” she said. Later, under questioning by the House subcommittee’s chairman, Rep. Tim Ryan, Pittman said that while there may have been thousands of people heading to the Capitol from a pro-Trump rally, about 800 people actually made their way into the building. Pittman's testimony provided the clearest and most detailed picture so far that Capitol Police were so concerned by the intelligence that they took extraordinary measures, including giving assault-style rifles to agents guarding congressional leaders and having other officers waiting with evacuation vehicles for top lawmakers to flee the Capitol, if needed. On Jan. 6, however, as the invaders wielded metal pipes, planks of wood, stun guns and bear spray, the vastly outnumbered rank-and-file officers inside the building were left to fend for themselves without proper communication or strong guidance from supervisors. The officers weren't sure when they could use deadly force, had failed to properly lock down the building and could be heard making frantic radio calls for backup as they were shoved to the ground and beaten by rioters, with some left bloodied. Five people died, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman that police shot. While Pittman said in her testimony that sergeants and lieutenants were supposed to pass on intelligence to the department’s rank and file, many officers have said they were given little or no information or training for what they would face. Four officers told The Associated Press shortly after the riot that they heard nothing from then-Chief Steven Sund, Pittman, or other top commanders as the building was breached. And officers were left in many cases to improvise or try to save colleagues facing peril. One officer said the department did not hold planning meetings with rank-and-file officers prior to Jan. 6 as it does with routine events like holiday concerts. The officer and others who spoke to AP were not authorized by the department to speak publicly and were granted anonymity. Thursday's hearing highlighted specific intelligence failures. Lawmakers focused not only on the Capitol Police force's own advance assessment of threats but on why senior department officials never reviewed a report from the FBI that warned about concerning online posts foreshadowing a “war” at the Capitol. That warning made its way to investigators within the police force and to the department's intelligence unit but was never forwarded up the chain of command, Pittman said. Even if it had reached the top officials, Pittman argued, Capitol Police wouldn't have done anything differently. Before she was named acting police chief — Sund, the former chief, resigned after the riot — Pittman was the assistant chief in charge of intelligence operations. “We do not believe that based on the information in that document, we would have changed our posture, per se," Pittman said. “The information that was shared was very similar to what U.S. Capitol Police already had, in terms of the militia groups, the white supremacist groups, as well as the extremists that were going to participate in acts of violence and potentially be armed on the campus.” Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, said the internal report that the protests would be focused on the Capitol, and then the FBI memo firming that up “should have elevated the response, and it didn’t.” “And that’s where, you know, leaders get paid for judgment. And that was some bad judgment,” Ryan said. “And they also get paid to have nerve, and courage, to make the tough decisions when those tough decisions needed to be made.” The panel’s top Republican, Washington Rep. Jaime Herrera-Beutler, said the top Capitol Police officials “either failed to take seriously the intelligence received or the intelligence failed to reach the right people.” The issue was also raised of whether police were hampered by a reluctance by higher-ups to call for National Guard troops to help. The police force is overseen by a separate body — the Capitol Police Board — which includes the sergeants at arms of both houses. Sund said at a separate hearing on Tuesday that then-House Sergeant at Arms Paul Irving was concerned about the “optics” of the guard defending the Capitol, a contention Irving denied. In her testimony, Pittman denied that race played a role in the failure to heed warning signs. Images of white rioters moving unimpeded through the Capitol evoked comparisons to the far more heavy-handed response of law enforcement to Black Lives Matter protests and other marches and rallies. Pittman noted that she became the department’s first Black chief when she replaced Sund. Pittman is not only facing pressure from congressional leaders, but also faces internal criticism from her own officers, particularly after the Capitol Police union recently issued a vote of no confidence against her. Ryan stopped short of saying Pittman should be fired but said there are “some real questions about the decision making that was made.” He said there are “a lot of concerns” among Republicans and Democrats on the committee about her leadership and noted the lack of trust on her force. ___ Merchant reported from Houston. Michael Balsamo, Mary Clare Jalonick And Nomaan Merchant, The Associated 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
REGINA — Saskatchewan's top doctor says the presence of more contagious variants makes testing even more important to stem the spread of COVID-19. Dr. Saqib Shahab says the province needs to keep its daily cases low and people must follow public-health advice to try to prevent more infectious variants from taking over. "We need to use testing more, even more now, because of the variants of concern," he said during a briefing Thursday. The province says thousands of rapid-testing kits from Ottawa will be deployed into long-term care homes, schools, detox facilities, shelters, as well as to first responders. The province is also looking to hire a third-party provider to help any groups that may be unable to use the kits themselves. Shahab says some people have delayed getting tested and gone to work with symptoms, which has led to outbreaks. Testing will help the province's caseload decrease because tests can help break chains of transmission, he said. Cory Neudorf, a public health and epidemiology professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said provinces are at a critical point in the pandemic. He said vaccine rollouts for the most vulnerable are in their early days and the risk is that variants could drive up spread before many older residents are immunized. Two weeks ago, the Saskatchewan Health Authority gave an update to physicians that included a discussion on community spread with some point-in-time modelling. A senior medical which warned that confirmed cases in the province could double to 50,000 by mid-April, if certain indicators didn't change, such as the reproductive figure for how many people one person with COVID-19 infects. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said Thursday that calculation was based on an earlier case count. It said as of Feb. 20, the reproductive figure has been below one. That means case growth is less than it was when the town hall estimate was given. “It’s a slightly less possibility than it was a few weeks ago, but it’s still possible that we would be seeing a resurgence by mid-April. Whether or not it gets to 50,000 cases, I don’t know," Neudorf said. Neudorf does point out that caseloads have begun to stabilize and drop in the past few weeks in parts of the province, including around Saskatoon and in the south. The province on Thursday reported 211 new infections after only 56 on Wednesday — the lowest count in months. The total number of confirmed cases since the pandemic took hold last March sits at slightly over 28,000. Shahab said it's a positive sign that pressure on the health system has dropped. There were 165 people in hospital and 18 in intensive care Thursday. But Saskatchewan, with a population of 1.1 million, still reports having the highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada. It also has two cases of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom with no known links to travel. Shahab has said this is the third week in some time in which seven-day averages of new daily cases are below 200. He also said the province's test positivity rate is about seven per cent, down from 10. Still, health officials say more testing is needed because it's higher than five per cent. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
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.
CALGARY — A judge has sentenced a man with a benign brain tumour, who lost consciousness while driving and killed a Calgary woman, to 27 months in prison. James Beagrie, 48, was originally charged with criminal negligence causing death after his truck hit Anjna Sharma, a mother of three, who had been on a walk during a work break in May 2017. Beagrie pleaded guilty last fall to a lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death. Court heard he had been told by his doctor not to drive and, three months before killing Sharma, blacked out and got into a single-vehicle crash. "I would describe this offence in two words -- tragic and senseless," Alberta Court of Queen's Bench Justice Richard Neufeld said in his sentencing decision Thursday. "Mr. Beagrie ignored all of those warnings and drove anyway, and he will live with that for the rest of his life. It's exactly that type of behaviour that must be denounced and deterred so other lives can be saved." Neufeld said Beagrie deserved a sentence of 30 months, but he lowered it to 27 months because of the man's "precarious medical condition." "In my view, justice without compassion is not justice at all ... he is on borrowed time himself. A sentence of 2 1/2 years may turn out to be a life sentence," said Neufeld. The Crown had asked that Beagrie serve 2 1/2 years in prison. His defence lawyer suggested two years. The judge also ordered Beagrie be banned from driving for 7 1/2 years after his release. "If you do recover, as I hope you will, you will have served your debt to society and will deserve a chance after a period of time to return to normalcy," Neufeld said. "This ordeal does not need to define the rest of your life, just as I truly hope that it will not define the rest of the lives and happiness of the Sharma family in the years to come." On Monday, Beagrie apologized in court and promised not to drive when he get out of prison, unless it's a matter of "life and limb.'' This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. -- Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
(Lars Hagberg/The Canadian Press - image credit) The outbreak at Joyceville Institution in northeast Kingston, Ont., is over, the Correctional Service Canada (CSC) says. In December, CSC said the medium-security prison was dealing with a serious outbreak that saw dozens of inmates and a handful of staff infected. In an emailed update Thursday night, CSC declared the outbreak over and said all 160 Joyceville inmates who tested positive for COVID-19 have now recovered. CSC also said there are zero active cases at federal institutions in Ontario. The department also said there have not been any deaths from the illness in any of the institutions. "While the current situation is certainly a positive step for our correctional institutions, to continue protecting our staff and inmates, we will maintain the rigorous health measures we've implemented," CSC wrote in the update. CSC says it received help from the Canadian Red Cross at the beginning of the outbreak at Joyceville Institution. At the time, inmates and family members issued a press release saying some prisoners didn't have access to N95 masks and face shields, so some were using makeshift curtains to limit the spread of the virus.
OTTAWA — The Canadian Judicial Council says a Quebec judge has resigned after the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear his appeal. Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner says Michel Girouard's decision to step down from the Quebec Superior Court "narrowly avoids his removal from office by Parliament." A 2012 complaint alleged that Girouard, while he was still a lawyer, had bought illegal drugs from a client. An inquiry committee rejected the allegations but cited contradictions and implausibilities in Girouard’s testimony. A second complaint about Girouard’s credibility during the initial proceedings led a majority of judges on the council to recommend he lose his job. The Federal Court and the Court of Appeal dismissed Girouard's attempts to overturn the recommendation, prompting his application to the Supreme Court. In a news release Thursday as chairperson of the judicial council, Wagner said Girouard's resignation "is the last chapter in a prolonged saga that has undermined expectations of access to justice and has cost Canadians millions of dollars." Wagner said Canada benefits from outstanding judges who demonstrate the highest ethical integrity but the Girouard matter shows that the disciplinary process that deals with instances of judicial misconduct must be re-examined. "In the matter of Michel Girouard, proceedings have been going on for eight years now. Throughout this entire period, Michel Girouard has continued to receive his full salary despite not sitting, and he will now receive a pension for life, all at the expense of Canadian taxpayers," said Wagner. Earlier Thursday, Justice Minister David Lametti said he would seek parliamentary approval to remove Girouard from the bench. Lametti said Thursday on Twitter that as the "lengthy process has unfolded, I have made it clear that I fully intended to act if Justice Girouard exhausted his avenues of appeal and the revocation decision was upheld. That moment has arrived." Lametti said he intended to proceed with Girouard's removal by seeking the necessary approval of the House of Commons and Senate. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press