It was a historic ceremony in Washington, as Joe Biden was sworn in as president and Kamala Harris broke barriers as the new vice-president. But amid all the pomp and ceremony, Biden pledged unity and also got down to work and made changes.
It was a historic ceremony in Washington, as Joe Biden was sworn in as president and Kamala Harris broke barriers as the new vice-president. But amid all the pomp and ceremony, Biden pledged unity and also got down to work and made changes.
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
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
Dysart et al council expressed concerns with a Places for People proposal to turn Lakeview Motel into a new affordable housing development. City of Kawartha Lakes (CKL) housing program supervisor, Michelle Corley, presented to council Feb. 23 about the proposal to rehabilitate the motel into 15 affordable housing units, including 12 bachelor suites. As part of the CKL-Haliburton affordable housing program, Corley sought approximately $45,268 from Dysart in waived building fees and exemptions. But council delayed approval for staff to review the plan further. Mayor Andrea Roberts said they only have about $10,000 that could be used for affordable housing in the 2021 budget under economic development. “Very large contribution. We don’t have any reserves for that,” Roberts said. The proposal is part of an overarching Affordable Housing Target Program, spurring development with government incentives. Corley said the project is also contingent on a $150,000 interest-free forgivable loan from the Ontario Priorities Housing Initiative. The project is separate from an affordable build Places for People is also proposing on Wallings Road municipal land, which Dysart council provided in-principal support for. Coun. John Smith said the Wallings Road project is more aligned with the municipal vision. He said he takes issue with converting the motel, given the need for summer tourism accommodations. “I struggle with, on a conceptual level, how this really advances the wellbeing of our community,” Smith said. Roberts said they cannot get into that philosophy and council’s responsibility is to examine what Dysart’s contribution should be. The Lakeview Motel went on the market in November, with its owners planning to retire. Coun. Larry Clarke said he was concerned about whether the development would provide for locals versus being taken up by people from outside the community through the housing program, which has a waiting list with both County and CKL residents. “To have it targeted for people looking for affordable housing, that are not going to be part of our economy here, to me is a concern,” Clarke said. Corley said people on the waiting list often choose communities they are familiar with, but it is not a guarantee. She further said council should keep in mind they plan to have a quarterly intake, with more projects to come. The County aims to create 750 new affordable units within the next 10 years. “We are really trying to work hard toward meeting and achieving these targets,” she said. “There’s the hope we can eventually have a plan within budgets or other planning and development policies that when it comes to affordable housing, there’s kind of a clear standard on what incentives could be offered.” Roberts said she wants to get clarification from staff around the equivalent residential unit (ERU) calculation. The development is requesting an exemption for adding seven additional ERUs, amounting to $32,900. Council voted to receive the report. Roberts asked staff to bring it back to the next committee of the whole meeting March 9. Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander
After pivoting the popular Pig Out festival due to the pandemic in 2020, Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country is bringing back the new Pig Out Trails format to keep the event safe and fun as it marks 10 years in the community. On May 28 and 29, Pig Out Trails returns as attendees cruise down a curated trial of wine tasting experiences guided by some of the region’s most established winemakers in outdoor settings. The event’s format is again designed to be flexible in order to accommodate the fast-changing nature of the pandemic health and safety regulations. “Flexible” has been the key word for event organizers recently. Last year, the event was moved from May to October, and the team at Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country put together a modified event with groups in separate pods, touring and tasting outdoors at different venues. While the weather was briefly uncooperative last year, the response to the new format from attendees was very positive “I had emails in my inbox in November asking what we were doing for Pig Out for 2021 and what the format was going to be like,” said Jennifer Busmann, executive director of Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country. Many guests at 2020’s Pig Out Trails were happy to simply be attending an event at all in a year that didn’t see many. “It was really heartwarming for all those Pig Out attendees who came in October. Just due to the restrictions and the numbers and how we safely move people through our region and what we were permitted to do. We had about 540 guests total attend in these small little groups. They were so thankful and so excited that it just gave you a little pep in your step to see that,” Busmann said. Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country will be using the work they accomplished to create a safe event in 2020 as a foundation for this year’s Pig Out event. Working with the local health authority, developing health and safety plans, contact tracing, keeping guests spaced out and outdoors are all foundational building blocks for putting on events as case numbers and public health restrictions are liable to change at any moment. “We’re a really small team of people that put all of this together. So we’re using that framework as a basis, which was really a lot of work to put together and understand all of the pieces, all of the changes and all of the regulatory bodies,” Busmann said. “We’re using that as a foundation to build and brainstorm and put all of our pieces together. Then we really just have to wait and bend and flex and see what happens within the province.” On Saturday, May 29, 2021 Pig Out Trails attendees will board a dedicated bus adhering to recommended safety protocols including mandatory face masks and hand sanitizer, before heading to the first of four winery stops. The event’s “Escape the Pen” theme will be interpreted in different and unique ways at each of the 40 wineries that feature along 10 different trails, as they create outdoor tasting experiences, aimed at showcasing their wines as well as educating guests in farming and grape growing practices and the art of winemaking. Each stop will also feature a delicious dish prepared by Oliver Eats Ltd., visiting guest chefs, or from select onsite restaurant partners including Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, the culinary team at Phantom Creek Estates and Masala Bistro at Kismet Estate Winery. A popular addition to last year’s Pig Out Trails, Vancouver’s Paella Guys, will return in 2021 as well. On Friday May 28, two iconic wineries, one on the Black Sage Road Bench and one on the Golden Mile Bench will host “guest chef dinners,” small, outdoor, multi-course feasts prepared by the Paella Guys alongside other notable local and guest chefs and paired with a range of wines from vineyards nearby. Tickets for the Pig Out Trails ($99 per person plus tax) and the Pig Out Guest Chef Dinner ($129 per person plus tax and gratuity) are now available on the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country website: www.oliverosoyoos.com. Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle
On Thursday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller responded to an auditor general report from earlier in the day that stated AG Karen Hogan was "very concerned and disheartened" that the Liberal government was unable to meet its commitment to ending all boil water advisories for Indigenous communities. Miller accepted the AG's recommendations and went over the water advisories that have been lifted, as well as the finances secured to work ahead to end all the advisories.
(Al MacCormick/CBC - image credit) The classroom never looked so good, as COVID-weary students contemplate a return to in-person learning this fall at the University of Prince Edward Island. "I would definitely love that. I do prefer in-person classes more," said Vadya Singh, a third-year chemistry major. Singh was among the few and scattered students on campus Thursday. Mid-term exams now underway have turned the already quiet campus into an even emptier bastion of solitude during COVID-19 shutdown. "We did pretty good online learning. It was an adjustment for the COVID-19 but I would definitely love to go back to in-person," said Singh. 'A lot of hope' A ray of hope has arrived. University administrators announced Wednesday via email to students and staff that UPEI's fall academic semester will see a return to a "more normal academic experience with as much in-person, on-campus learning as possible." What that means come September, remains to be determined. "Those are questions we really don't have an answer to," said Kathy Gottschall-Pass, interim vice-president academic and research. "With what's been happening in the world with vaccines, we obviously have a lot of hope. When we think that there are variants out there that gives us less hope. "Our goal is to be somewhere between true, normal, the way the world used to be, and where we are right now." UPEI's interim vice-president academic and research, Kathy Gottschall-Pass, says it's important for the school to try and return to normal. Administrators have yet to pin down how large classes will be and how risk reduction strategies, including physical distancing and the wearing of masks, will be applied to the campus's widely divergent classrooms, lecture halls, seminar rooms and laboratories. Plans include a continuation of online learning for some courses, in-person classroom instruction for others, and "hybrid" combination of the two, as needed. But the push is on to get people back in the classroom. "The goal is to see where we can move," said Gottschall-Pass. "We know what normal has looked like in the past. We were always an in-person institution. So we know how to do that." 'Move in the right direction' UPEI's student union has raised concerns that students from off-Island will shoulder the cost and stress of being required to self-isolate for 14 days when they return to class in the fall. "It's a positive move in the right direction," said Malak Nassar, student union vice-president academic and external. "But we have huge concerns around students from off-Island." With help from the province, UPEI said it may put students up in residence rooms or in a local hotel, if required to self-isolate. "We'll take our guidance from public health as to what we need to do in order to keep our students safe," said Gottschall-Pass. UPEI's summer sessions will remain primarily online, the statement says. Universities across Atlantic Canada are looking at more in-person learning, according to the Gottschall-Pass. "Because things have been so much better here than in other parts of Canada, it's a little easier for us to be thinking more optimistically this fall." Holland College said its plans for the fall semester will be announced next week. 'In class is better' Outside the W.A. Murphy Student Centre on Thursday, two members of the UPEI Panthers men's basketball team were talking about what September might hold. "We're still here training and working hard for next year," said Kamari Scott. "Hopefully it'll be a season next year." "Being in class is better," said teammate Glen Cox. "You learn a lot more." The school's course catalogue for the fall semester will specify which courses are delivered in-person, online, or as a "hybrid" combination. New and first-year students are able to register for fall classes starting March 9. Returning students can register beginning June 1. More from CBC P.E.I.
(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.
WASHINGTON — The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops. The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. “This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, John Kirby, said in announcing the strikes. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.” Kirby said the U.S. airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian- backed militant groups.” Further details were not immediately available. Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq. Kirby had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack. “Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical details of every bit of weaponry used here," Kirby said. "Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.” A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for the Feb. 15 attack. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone appeared to target the U.S. Embassy compound, but no one was hurt. Iran this week said it has no links to the Guardians of Blood Brigade. The frequency of attacks by Shiite militia groups against U.S. targets in Iraq diminished late last year ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, though now Iran is pressing America to return to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S. under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks. Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last year. Trump had said the death of a U.S. contractor would be a red line and provoke U.S. escalation in Iraq. The December 2019 killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the country to the brink of a proxy war. U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group. Lolita C. Baldor And Robert Burns, The Associated Press
TORONTO — TD Bank Group topped expectations as it reported its first-quarter profit rose 10 per cent compared with a year ago. Yet the bank's Toronto-listed shares fell nearly 1.7 per cent to close at $78.07 apiece on Thursday, after fellow Canadian banks this week also reported better-than-expected earnings growth. "TD did not benefit from capital markets, wealth management and cost controls to the same degree as its peers," wrote Barclays analyst John Aiken in a research note. "What stood out in the quarter from our perspective was the ongoing struggles in its U.S. retail banking platform." Profits fell in TD's U.S. retail business, after Charles Schwab Corp. finished its acquisition of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. in October. TD said Schwab contributed $209 million in earnings, compared with the contribution of $201 million from TD Ameritrade in the first quarter last year. TD’s U.S. business is closing 82 branches, said Greg Braca, head of TD’s U.S. banking, as it looks to "optimize" redundant locations. Climbing premiums, insurance sales and uptake in digital term life applications lifted insurance profits by 22 per cent, the bank said. Teri Currie, the head of TD’s Canadian personal banking, said TD has been investing in its insurance business, focusing on unique aspects like collision centres for auto insurance borrowers. "As an online insurer we have, I think, the business model, capabilities and customer experience for the future. And in Q1, we had record earnings in that business," said Currie. TD said its wealth management business's profits rose 55 per cent in Canada amid higher transaction and fee-based revenue, while there were also strong mortgage originations and chequing account growth. "On the wealth side there was strength across the board, and we did have the highest wealth asset levels on record," said Currie. "We've been adding advisors for wealth... to help our customers who are often, right now, sitting on more liquidity than they had planned for." Overall, TD earned net income of $3.28 billion or $1.77 per diluted share for the quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $2.99 billion or $1.61 per diluted share a year earlier. Revenue totalled $10.81 billion, up from $10.61 billion. On an adjusted basis, TD says it earned $1.83 per diluted share, up from an adjusted profit of $1.66 per diluted share a year earlier. Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $1.49 per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv. Provisions for credit losses amounted to $313 million, down from $919 million a year earlier. "While TD did come in well ahead of expectations, the entire quantum of the beat can essentially be chalked up to lower than expected provisions," Aiken wrote. Currie said that customers have been paying down credit cards amid COVID-19 lockdowns, and that January tends to be a slow month for the credit card business. The bank has a split of customers focused on travel and luxury cards and cash back and everyday spending cards, and Currie said TD is well-positioned for an economic rebound in its partnerships with Amazon and Air Canada, and a presence in the buy-now, pay-later market. TD chief executive Bharat Masrani in a statement that the bank has been investing in training for thousands of workers during the pandemic. "(We) also continue to work with governments to facilitate access to relief programs and introduce new initiatives to help those most impacted by the pandemic," Masrani said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Companies in this story: (TSX:TD) Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A former Canadian soldier who killed three family members and himself in 2017 received sporadic mental health treatment immediately after he left the military in 2015, a fatality inquiry heard Thursday. The provincial inquiry in Nova Scotia learned the Canadian Armed Forces had arranged for therapy to continue for Lionel Desmond after he was medically discharged. But the lack of structure outside the military created new challenges for the mentally ill veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd, who worked at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton, was tasked with providing the former corporal with treatment from June 2015 to October 2016. The psychologist said there were problems from the start because Desmond, then 32, often cancelled appointments or didn't show up. Plans for therapy were derailed by the fact that Desmond spent much of his time travelling between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where he was trying to re-establish a relationship with his wife, Shanna, and his young daughter, Aaliyah. "In terms of commitment and engagement, it was interfering with the therapy process," Murgatroyd testified. "We were concerned with this inconsistency." Murgatroyd said it was clear Desmond needed help. In 2011, while posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Desmond was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. That was four years after he served as a rifleman during a particularly violent tour of duty in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, mental health professionals contracted by the military told the inquiry that Desmond initially responded well to treatment, but that he suffered a relapse in May 2013 when military colleagues subjected him to racist comments about his African Nova Scotian heritage. Murgatroyd testified that Desmond appeared guarded and distant when they first met in June 2015 at the federally funded clinic, which receives referrals from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP. "Based on his presentation, the risk was more elevated in terms of spiralling down," Murgatroyd said. As well, he said Desmond made it clear his relationship with his wife, Shanna, was in turmoil. "There were moments when they seemed to be doing better, but for the most part, strained," he said, adding that Desmond had increased his alcohol consumption to deal with stress. Murgatroyd recalled that during their first treatment session, Desmond complained about nightmares, night sweats, daily intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, chronic pain and "homicidal thoughts without intent." "He hardly gets out of his house because of his paranoia," Murgatroyd noted after an early therapy session in 2015. Desmond said he had suffered a number of head injuries while serving in the military, and that he worried about a possible brain injury. The inquiry has heard the former corporal did not disclose this concern while he was in the military. Though Desmond was under Murgatroyd's care for 16 months, the psychologist said his therapeutic plan never got off the ground. "We were just putting out fires rather than working on any real intervention," he said. He said it appeared Desmond's source of psychological distress eventually shifted from his combat-related PTSD symptoms to an angry "fixation" with his wife's handling of their finances and concerns that she may be cheating on him. Murgatroyd said Desmond told him about gruesome nightmares he had that suggested his wife had been sleeping with another man, whose head was later found on the floor. The psychologist agreed when asked if Desmond's dreams were having an impact on his perception of reality. Murgatroyd said that helped explain why Desmond would later revoke his consent to allow the clinic to share information with his wife. Eventually, staff at the clinic decided therapy for Desmond wasn't an option until he was properly stabilized. They recommended he should take part in an intensive treatment program at Ste. Anne's hospital in Montreal, which has an in-patient operational stress injury clinic. By April 2016, Desmond had agreed to go to Ste. Anne's, having recognized that his relationship with his wife was deteriorating amid talk of divorce, Murgatroyd said. The following month, Desmond reached "an all-time low," Murgatroyd said, adding that his patient was distressed about the state of his finances and the idea his wife was manipulative and could not be trusted. "With things spiralling down, he was looking for help." Desmond arrived at St. Anne's on May 30, 2016, but he left less than three months into a six-month program, even though he had reported he was enjoying his stay there, Murgatroyd said. The inquiry has heard that Desmond returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., in August 2016. Evidence presented to the inquiry has shown Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Murgatroyd and Veterans Affairs Canada were making arrangements for treatment in Nova Scotia. Staff at Ste. Anne's had recommended Desmond receive an in-depth neuro-psychological assessment and more treatment, but that never happened. On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a semi-automatic rifle. Later that day, he fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in the family's home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press
The 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
Seniors in Canada's two largest provinces are facing significantly different timelines for vaccinations, as increasing spread of COVID-19 variants causes concern for health officials across the country. Quebecers 85 years and older were able to register for COVID-19 vaccinations starting Thursday, while seniors in Ontario must wait weeks to book in that province. "We're very happy with what we've seen with the vaccinations," Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said. He added that there were some minor technical issues, but close to 100,000 people had signed up for appointments the first day. Some doses were already being administered in Laval, just north of Montreal. Inoculations for the greater Montreal area are to begin Monday. Ontario’s vaccine distribution committee, blaming a lack of supply for the delay, has said seniors there won’t be able to book appointments until March 15. Provinces are moving forward with their vaccine distribution plans as federal officials assure the disruptions that have plagued supply lines have been rectified. Kerry Bowman, a bioethicist with the University of Toronto, said he is concerned that seniors' access to vaccinations will vary wildly based on the province where they live. He said the pandemic, particularly vaccination distribution, is putting a spotlight on issues with the country's fractured health-care system. "What’s becoming very, very clear is that the interventions are highly variable from province to province," Bowman said. While all regions are under immense pressure, Bowman said Ontario's delayed rollout should have been avoided. "People's lives will be damaged or even lost because of these delays." There's also worry that differing strategies across the country could leave people confused about when they are able to get a vaccine, he added. In Saskatchewan, health officials reversed earlier advice to people 70 and older to wait to be contacted for vaccinations, after reports some were confused by the process. The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it will launch a tool to book vaccinations online once more doses become available. Also, the first day Albertans could book vaccine appointments left many frustrated when the government's online portal crashed Wednesday after more than 150,000 people tried to get access to it at about the same time. The next day, because of long lineups at vaccination clinics in the province, officials issued a plea for people to wait in their cars. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, who is in charge of the federal vaccine distribution program, said he understands that provinces may not have a lot of confidence in dose deliveries after a disappointing performance this month. But supply is already ramping back up, he said. The largest number of doses yet was delivered this week — 643,000 across the country. "Provinces are now in a position to fully deploy their immunization plans," Fortin said. More than 40 per cent of seniors over 80 have now received one dose of the vaccine. About 5.5 per cent have received a second dose. But Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, cautioned it is not time for people to let their guard down. "COVID-19 remains a serious threat.” Increasing spread of more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus in Quebec prompted officials there to require primary school students in red pandemic-alert zones, including the greater Montreal area, to wear masks starting March 8. The B.1.1.7 variant — first detected in the United Kingdom — has become a significant issue in Montreal, where there is still widespread community transmission. The variant is making up eight to 10 per cent of new cases. Dr. Mylene Drouin, Montreal's public health director, said 40 per cent of cases linked to variants in the city have involved children. Hospitalizations, however, are declining provincewide. Health authorities are reporting 858 new infections and 16 more deaths. Ontario's science advisory group predicted Thursday that the more contagious variants will likely make up 40 per cent of new cases in the province by mid-March. Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, co-chair of the group, compared the weeks ahead to a "minefield" and urged vigilance of public-health orders. The group said vaccinating high-risk communities and seniors will drive down hospitalizations and deaths. Elsewhere, Alberta reported 32 more variant cases and British Columbia had nine. Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said the province is ramping up screening for variants. "We need to keep cases low and slow," she said. Across Canada, there has been a total of 20,945 new cases over the past seven days. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. — With files from Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal and Stephanie Taylor in Regina Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian 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
VICTORIA — British Columbia's provincial health officer says the province isn't at a point where restrictions can be lifted due to concerns about the potential for rapid spread of COVID-19. Dr. Bonnie Henry says she understands the desire from B.C. residents to see restrictions lifted, such as the limit on social gatherings, but it can't happen yet. There are 395 more cases of COVID-19 and 10 new deaths. Henry says B.C. has seen its rolling seven-day average of cases rise, and there's potential to see rapid growth in the number of cases if residents "are not careful." On that front, B.C. is ramping its screening for variants of concern, with the aim to test 100 per cent of COVID-positive samples to see if they are likely variants that should be sent on for further testing. Henry also spoke of the challenges she's faced during the pandemic, including death threats and the impact they have had on her family and co-workers. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — A standalone Peppa Pig theme park is set to open next year at the Legoland Florida Resort, park officials announced Thursday. The new park, based on the popular preschool animated television series, will be located near the main Legoland theme park, but will be separately ticketed, according to a news release. Annual passes to the Peppa Pig theme park will be available as standalone memberships or multi-park passes that include the Legoland theme park and water park. The Peppa Pig theme park will feature rides, interactive attractions, themed playscapes, water play areas and live shows, officials said. Families will also be able to meet Peppa and her friends. Details about rides and attractions are expected to be announced this summer. Merlin Entertainments, which owns Legoland, filed plans with state and local officials last year to add about 4.5 acres (1.8 hectares) to its central Florida resort. A rendition of the new area showed at least six rides or attractions and a large building, possibly a restaurant. The Peppa Pig theme park will be operated under a licensing agreement with Hasbro, which owns the character. Legoland Florida has expanded repeatedly since opening in October 2011 on the former site of Cypress Gardens. The park unveiled its first hotel in 2015, added the off-site Legoland Beach Retreat in 2017 and opened Pirate Island Hotel last year. Legoland operates eight other theme parks around the world, including in Denmark, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Japan, California and Dubai. The Associated Press
Tay residents were unanimous that council is putting the cart before the horse by including a short-term rental accommodation (STRA) definition into its zoning bylaw. About a dozen residents expressed their thoughts, either by attending a recent public meeting or by sending in prior written comment, of which all but one aligned with the general sentiment that it was premature to include a definition before the ad hoc committee had completed its process. The proposed definition says STRA “shall mean the use of a main building containing a dwelling unit, or any part thereof,that is operating or offering a place of temporary accommodation, lodging or occupancy by way of concession, permit, lease, license, rental agreement or similar commercial arrangement for any period of 31 consecutive calendar days or less, throughout all or any part of a calendar year. "Short Term Rental uses shall not mean or include a motel, hotel, bed and breakfast establishment, cabin rental establishment, tourist lodge or similar commercial or institutional use.” Tay resident Patrick Hawkins was first in line at the virtual public meeting. "I oppose the definition of STR as I indicated in my written submission," he said. "With the greatest respect to council and staff, it puts the cart before the horse. It assumes there is something to regulate before the ad hoc committee does its work. It assumes council can decide on the definition and what has to be regulated before it has done the necessary work." Hawkins said the basic problem is the lack of definition around the problem. "This council needs to address whether this is a problem that can actually be fixed by new regulation or is it a problem that needs to be fixed with better enforcement and stiffer fines under current regulation," he said. Pavan Sharma was of a similar view. "There are a lot of bylaws that exist in the toolbox, so by trying to regulate STRAs right off the bat, versus trying to enforce existing bylaws, it causes more complications," said the Victoria Harbour resident. "It will end up potentially costing more because you still would have to enforce STR licensing versus dealing with the root problem." The next resident, John Rose, had an issue with the exclusion of bed and breakfasts from the definition. "I heard Mr. Farquharson talk about B&B in the usual definition, one of the hallmarks is that the owners residing are residents," he said. "Unfortunately, from what I see in the zoning bylaw definition, both the current zoning bylaw of B&B establishments and the draft from May 2018, neither requires the owner to be a resident at the dwelling at the time. "There can be some real confusion about whether someone is operating a B&B or STRA. Someone trying to avoid regulations that apply to STRAs could simply say, 'I meet the definition of the B&B so I'm operating a B&B and not an STRA.'" When another resident also raised a similar question,Steve Farquharson, general manager, protective and development services, manager of planning and development services, had to reiterate the section of the zoning bylaw that deals with B&Bs. "Section 4.4 of the zoning bylaw has regulations in place for B&B," he said. "The use shall be carried out by land owner who resides in the dwelling unit. It's not in the definition, but there are policies in place within the existing bylaw for B&Bs." Resident Kate Tagseth took it further. "The zoning covers commercial uses and we know AirBnBs are commercial," she said. "They're a multi-billion-dollar corporation. The houses we've been looking up in Victoria Harbour are listed as AirBnB accommodations. "I would agree with some of the earlier speakers that at this point a definition of a short-term rental is a little premature because you can't legislate something that is illegal. Our zoning already alludes to the fact that businesses in residential areas are illegal." Another resident said regulating STRs would affect the township's economy. "One of the reasons is that I think by having a definition which may lead to regulation could stifle economic development to the township," said Tiere Sharma. "If it were to be regulated in some fashion going in the future, I think it would prohibit tourism to the township and affect businesses. I would recommend any current STRs be grandfathered in and be exempt from future rules." Mara Burton said supports the definition if the addition would help bylaw enforce the current illegal use of short-term rentals. "These are neighbourhoods and we want to make sure we know our neighbours," she said. At the beginning of the meeting, Farquharson had said that all comments received will be compiled and presented to the ad hoc committee for further consideration before anything is brought to council. "We understand it's a very hot topic within the municipality, as well as other municipalities within Simcoe County, especially those that have waterfront property," he added. "We are just proposing to add the definition in there." Later in the evening, Tay resident James Pedretti questioned Farquharson's use of the term "hot topic." "The intent of my comment is that we're not the only municipality that's dealing with this item," clarified the latter. "We've had sessions at the County of Simcoe. The comment of it being a hot topic item is that we're not alone in dealing with this. It's not a revenue generating stream the township is looking at." Cathy Graham had questions about the types of properties to be included in the definition. "When you're defining your STRs, will you also be including the difference between single-family dwellings (and larger units) in the STRs?" she asked. Farquharson said the proposed definition currently does not distinguish between building structures. "It does say dwelling unit," he added. "If it's something we need to have in there, we can look to address that when we report back." All comments and feedback around the addition of a definition will be compiled and presented to an ad hoc committee, which will comprise of two council members, Coun. Paul Raymond, chair, and Coun. Mary Warnock, vice chair, of the protective and development services committee, Farquharson, township planner, the municipal law enforcement officer and any other staff as designated by Farquharson. Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
(Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press - image credit) The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an application for leave to appeal on a long-standing dispute over government funding for Catholic schools in Saskatchewan. Thursday's decision from Canada's highest court ends a 16-year court battle between Public Schools of Saskatchewan — an organization that represents 15 public school boards in the province and advocates for public education — and the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association. The dismissal of the public school organization's application for leave to appeal means that non-Catholic students in the province will continue to receive government funding to attend Catholic schools in Saskatchewan. Tom Fortosky, executive director of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association, says the Supreme Court's decision comes as a relief. "[It's] a very emotional moment.... Really what we want to do now is just get back to doing what we do best, which is educating children," he said. Tom Fortosky says Catholic school board officials are grateful for the government's decision. The saga began in 2003, when the public Good Spirit School Division decided to close the only school in Theodore, Sask. The school had served both Catholic and non-Catholic students. In order to keep their school, local parents decided to start a new one under a separate school board. That new school division bought the existing school in the village and renamed it St. Theodore Roman Catholic School. The majority of students switched to the Catholic school system, despite not being Catholic. The Good Spirit division took the matter to court in 2005, arguing that the constitutional protection of Catholic schools does not include the right for those schools to receive government funding for non–Catholic students. Fortosky says that line of thinking is problematic for families. "From our perspective, this was about parental choice," he said. "If the funding didn't come with the child, there would be a practical barrier for parents who wish to choose a Catholic faith-based education for their children." The court battle launched in 2005 led to a landmark decision in 2017, in which Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled it was unconstitutional for the province to fund non-Catholic students at Catholic schools. Funding "non-minority faith students" in faith-based schools violated both the Charter of Rights and "the state's duty of religious neutrality," Layh wrote. The case made its way to Saskatchewan's Court of Appeal, which delivered a unanimous decision in March 2020, saying separate schools could receive provincial government funding for students who are not Catholic. The appeal court said the trial judge made "fundamental errors of law," and said considering the matter as one involving funding for non-Catholics in a Catholic school was too narrow. The question should be considered in the context of two publicly funded school systems, the appeal court said. "It is an effect of this parallel public system of education that non-Catholic students may attend public, separate schools, but it is also an effect that Catholic students may attend public, secular schools," the 2020 decision said. Public Schools of Saskatchewan was seeking leave to appeal that decision at the Supreme Court. Dismissal Thursday's dismissal of the application came as a disappointment to Norm Dray, executive director of Public Schools of Saskatchewan. "What's happening is wrong for education in Saskatchewan.... We don't believe that there should be two systems that get government funding for all students," Dray said. Catholic schools are set up to educate Catholic students, he said, "and we have no trouble with with Catholic schools existing for that purpose." "What we don't accept is that they have a mandate to teach all students … [including] non-Catholics. And we don't believe they should get government funding for that." In a statement on Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said his government is pleased with the Supreme Court's decision. "Our government strongly supports parent and student choice in education, including Saskatchewan's public, separate and faith-based schools," said Moe.
TORONTO — Proposed changes to Ontario's election laws introduced Thursday by the Progressive Conservatives were slammed by the Opposition as an attempt to silence critics amid mounting failures in the province's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The government said the election law reforms were aimed at limiting third-party advertising and boosting voter participation. Attorney General Doug Downey, who introduced the bill, said one of the proposed changes would extend the $637,200 spending limit placed on third-party advertisers from six months before an election to a year. “Ontario is the only place where we count third party in the millions (of dollars) instead of in the thousands,” he said in an interview. “And we've heard from Elections Ontario that they have concerns with that dynamic.” Third parties, such as the conservative group Ontario Proud and union-led Working Families Coalition, have played a significant role in recent provincial elections, launching extensive advertising campaigns in bids to sway the vote. The province said more than $5 million was spent by third-party advertisers before and during the 2018 election. The next provincial vote is set to take place in the spring of 2022. The bill also proposes to limit what the government calls “collusion” between those third parties and political parties. “We just want transparency and fairness,” Downey said. “When we talk with third parties spending their ($637,200), we want to make sure that there's rules around them sharing information, common vendors, common contributors, use of funds from foreign sources.” The amount individuals can donate to a party, candidate or constituency association would also double from $1,650 to $3,300 a year. New Democrat legislator Taras Natyshak slammed the proposed limits on third-party advertisers. “At a time when long-term care advocates, organizations of health leaders, and the families of nursing home residents are speaking up about the horrors in long-term care, it looks like Ford is trying to silence his critics,” he said in a statement. Natyshak said doubling the individual contribution limit will drag the government back to the days of "cash-for-access" fundraising. Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said while he supports some measures in the bill, like continuing the per-vote subsidy, increasing donation limits is a problem. "My biggest concern is that they're slowly opening the door back up to pay-to-play politics," he said. "How many regular Ontarians can afford to contribute that much to a candidate, constituency association and a party?" University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman said the rule changes on individual donations will benefit both the Progressive Conservative government and the Liberal party, but stressed they won’t be the sole factor in deciding the 2022 election. “When the current government came to power, defeating the Liberals wasn't because of money,” he said. “It was because people essentially wanted a change.” Wiseman said the new limits placed on third-party advertisers might be a way the government thinks it’s giving itself a leg up, but the groups will find ways to maximize their message. “This is changing things at the margins,” he said. “Most groups will just try to spend the money as close as they can to election day.” The bill also proposes to extend the number of advance polling days from five to 10. "Ultimately, we want to make it easier and safer for people to vote," Downey said. The legislation will, for the first time, clarify the use of social media accounts by provincial legislators. It will also give Elections Ontario more enforcement powers, and the ability to fine individuals or groups it deems to have violated election rules. Currently, the province's chief electoral officer must report infractions to the Ministry of the Attorney General, which then decides whether to prosecute. Downey said the change would align Ontario with federal practices. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version, based on information provided by the government, said the spending limit placed on third parties six months before an election was $600,000.
NEW YORK — 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
TORONTO — Some of the most active companies traded Monday on the Toronto Stock Exchange: Toronto Stock Exchange (18,223.54, down 260.99 points.) ClearStream Energy Services Inc. (TSX:CSM). Energy. Up six cents, or 171.43 per cent, to 9.5 cents on 38 million shares. Manulife Financial Corp. (TSX:MFC). Financials. Up 17 cents, or 0.66 per cent, to $25.76 on 22.1 million shares. Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU). Energy. Down 86 cents, or 3.19 per cent, to $26.06 on 17.1 million shares. Baytex Energy Corp. (TSX:BTE). Energy. Down 10 cents, or 7.52 per cent, to $1.23 on 14.5 million shares. BlackBerry Ltd. (TSX:BB). Technology. Down 84 cents, or 5.94 per cent, to $13.31 on 12.9 million shares. Whitecap Resources Inc. (TSX:WCP). Energy. Down six cents, or 1.01 per cent, to $5.87 on 10.7 million shares. Companies in the news: Toronto-Dominion Bank (TSX:TD) Down $1.33, or 1.67 per cent, to $78.07. TD Bank Group topped expectations as it reported its first-quarter profit rose 10 per cent compared with a year ago. But its shares fell along with other Canadian banks that also reported better-than-expected earnings growth this week. "TD did not benefit from capital markets, wealth management and cost controls to the same degree as its peers," wrote Barclays analyst John Aiken in a research note. "What stood out in the quarter from our perspective was the ongoing struggles in its U.S. retail banking platform." TD said its wealth management business saw higher transaction and fee-based revenue in Canada, while there was also strong mortgage originations and chequing account growth. Climbing premiums, insurance sales and uptake in digital term life applications lifted the insurance business, the bank said. But profits fell in TD's U.S. retail business, after Charles Schwab Corp. finished its acquisition of TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. in October. TD said Schwab contributed $209 million in earnings, compared with the contribution of $201 million from TD Ameritrade in the first quarter last year. Overall, TD earned net income of $3.28 billion or $1.77 per diluted share for the quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $2.99 billion or $1.61 per diluted share a year earlier. Revenue totalled $10.81 billion, up from $10.61 billion. Provisions for credit losses amounted to $313 million, down from $919 million a year earlier. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (TSX:CM) Up 16 cents, or 0.14 per cent, to $118. CIBC chief executive Victor Dodig credited the fast-paced mortgage market and new cash-back reward credit cards as factors behind the bank's better-than-expected first-quarter profit growth, as the bank also slashed its provisions for credit losses despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Dodig also said Thursday the bank had record flows into its mutual fund sales business, as the bank beat analyst expectations, reporting its first-quarter profit grew compared with a year ago before the pandemic started. On an adjusted basis, CIBC said it earned $3.58 per diluted share, up from $3.24 per diluted share in the same quarter last year. Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of $2.81 per share, according to financial data firm Refinitiv. Provisions for credit losses amounted to $147 million, down from $261 million a year ago, as the bank improved its economic outlook. Canada's other big banks this week announced similar reductions after increasing the amounts set aside for bad loans last year in case the pandemic drove borrowers to default. "Overall, government support programs continue to help blunt the economic impacts of the pandemic, and our clients continue to exhibit disciplined behaviour in view of the economic uncertainty," said Shawn Beber, the CIBC's chief risk officer, on a conference call with analysts. The bank said Thursday that nearly two-thirds of its outstanding loans are to consumers, the majority of which are mortgages. Overall, the big bank says it earned net income of $1.63 billion or $3.55 per diluted share for the quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $1.21 billion or $2.63 per diluted share a year earlier. Revenue totalled $4.96 billion, up from $4.86 billion. Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) Up 49 cents, or 1.54 per cent, at $32.41. Quebecor Inc. raised its dividend as it reported its fourth-quarter profit rose compared with a year ago. The company said Thursday it will now pay a quarterly dividend of 27.5 cents per share, up from 20 cents. The increased payment to shareholders came as Quebecor said it earned net income attributable to shareholders of $159.8 million or 64 cents per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31. The result compared with a profit of $145.1 million or 57 cents per diluted share a year earlier. Quebecor chief executive Pierre Karl Peladeau said prudent management of the company's operations and balance sheet served it well in 2020. Revenue for the quarter rose to $1.15 billion from $1.14 billion in the fourth quarter of 2019. The overall increase came as telecommunications revenue rose to $940.9 million, up from $908.6 million a year ago. However, Quebecor's media division saw revenue fall to $185.8 million from $208.0 million a year ago and sports and entertainment revenue dropped to $48.8 million compared with $54.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. For the fourth quarter, Quebecor reported a net increase of 43,000 "revenue‑generating units" — made up of subscriptions to its internet service, television and Club illico services, and connections to its mobile and wireline telephone services. Loblaw Companies Ltd. (TXS:L) Up $2.17, or 3.6 per cent, to $63.03. Loblaw Companies says it's ready to play a key role in Canada's vaccination effort, noting that the company's pharmacists are capable of administering a million shots a week. Loblaw president Sarah Davis says the grocery and pharmacy retailer's supply chain is able to deliver vaccines and begin administering the shots the day it receives them. She says the company's 1,300 Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmaprix drugstores across the country are within 10 minutes of most Canadians. Her comments came during a conference call with financial analysts Thursday as Loblaw reported its fourth-quarter profit and revenue rose compared with a year ago amid the pandemic's continuing positive impact on food retail sales. Davis says the company's pharmacies have administered seasonal influenza vaccinations for years and are well positioned to do the same with the COVID-19 vaccines. Yet she says Loblaw has not been given the rollout strategy across all provinces or the timing yet. Davis says the company's pharmacists in Alberta will start offering the vaccine in some stores next week. She says Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have all indicated the company will be part of the vaccination process, but that Loblaw hasn't received more details such as the exact timing. In British Columbia and Quebec, meanwhile, Davis says it appears pharmacists could play a role at the mass vaccination sites, but not within the drugstores themselves. However, she says the vaccine will likely be around for a long time and it's possible the scope of the pharmacy's role in some provinces could expand over time. Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO). Down 47 cents, or 1.62 per cent, at $28.57. Imperial Oil is cutting one billion barrels from its inventory of oilsands bitumen following a year marked by low oil prices and budget cutting amid the COVID-19 pandemic and a global price war between major oil producers. In a regulatory filing on Wednesday, the Calgary-based company says its proved plus probable bitumen reserves fell to 4.46 billion barrels as of Dec. 31, 2020, from 5.45 billion barrels on the last day of 2019, with most of the change due to "technical revisions." Its reserves of upgraded synthetic crude from the oilsands fell to 583 million barrels from 623 million after it produced about 25 million barrels in 2020. It says in the report pricing, exchange rate and inflation assumptions used to evaluate reserves are based on the average of values provided by two third-party reserves evaluators, adding those numbers will fluctuate and "are not relevant to the company's investment decisions." The reserves report was filed the same day that Imperial's 69.6 per cent owner, U.S. giant Exxon Mobil Corp., reported its worldwide proved developed and undeveloped oil and gas reserves fell from 22.4 billion oil equivalent barrels at the end of 2019 to 15.2 billion as of the end of 2020. The majority of the revision was attributed to its bitumen inventory, where reserves were all but eliminated, dropping from 3.86 billion barrels to just 81 million barrels. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press