President-elect Joe Biden spent the evening before his inauguration at a ceremony honouring the 400,000 Americans who’ve died from COVID-19. It’s seen as a signal that he will make fighting the pandemic his top priority in the White House.
President-elect Joe Biden spent the evening before his inauguration at a ceremony honouring the 400,000 Americans who’ve died from COVID-19. It’s seen as a signal that he will make fighting the pandemic his top priority in the White House.
LOS ANGELES — Tiger Woods was seriously injured Tuesday when his SUV crashed into a median, rolled over and ended up on its side on a steep roadway in suburban Los Angeles known for wrecks, authorities said. The golf superstar had to be pulled out through the windshield, and his agent said he was undergoing leg surgery. Woods was alone in the SUV when it crashed into a raised median shortly before 7:15 a.m., crossed two oncoming lanes and rolled several times, authorities said at a news conference. No other cars were involved. The 45-year-old was alert and able to communicate as firefighters pried open the front windshield to get him out. The airbags deployed, and the inside of the car stayed basically intact and that “gave him a cushion to survive the crash,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said. Both of his legs were seriously injured, county Fire Chief Daryl Osby said. They said there was no immediate evidence that Woods was impaired. Authorities said they checked for any odor of alcohol or other signs he was under the influence of a substance and did not find any. They did not say how fast he was driving. The crash happened on a sweeping, downhill stretch of a two-lane road through upscale Los Angeles suburbs. Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, who was the first to arrive at the wreck, told reporters that he sometimes catches people topping 80 mph in the 45 mph zone and has seen fatal crashes there. “I will say that it’s very fortunate that Mr. Woods was able to come out of this alive,” Gonzalez said. Woods was in Los Angeles over the weekend as the tournament host of the Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club, where he presented the trophy on Sunday. He was to spend Monday and Tuesday filming with Discovery-owned GOLFTV, with whom he has an endorsement. A tweet Monday showed Woods in a cart smiling with comedian David Spade. According to Golf Digest, also owned by Discovery, the TV shoot was on-course lessons for celebrities, such as Spade and Dwyane Wade, at Rolling Hills Country Club. Woods, a 15-time major champion who shares with Sam Snead the PGA Tour record of 82 career victories, has been recovering from Dec. 23 surgery on his lower back. It was his fifth back surgery and first since his lower spine was fused in April 2017, allowing him to stage a remarkable comeback that culminated with his fifth Masters title in 2019. He has carried the sport since his record-setting Masters victory in 1997 when he was 21, winning at the most prolific rate in modern PGA Tour history. He is singularly responsible for TV ratings spiking, which has led to enormous increases in prize money during his career. Even at 45, he remains the biggest draw in the sport. The SUV he was driving Tuesday had tournament logos on the side door, indicating it was a courtesy car for players at the Genesis Invitational. Tournament director Mike Antolini did not immediately respond to a text message, though it is not unusual for players to keep courtesy cars a few days after the event. Woods feared he would never play again until the 2017 fusion surgery. He returned to win the Tour Championship to close out the 2018 season and won the Masters in April 2019 for the fifth time. He last played Dec. 20 in the PNC Championship in Orlando, Florida, an unofficial event where players are paired with parents or children. He played with his son, Charlie, who is now 12. Woods also has a 13-year-old daughter. During the Sunday telecast on CBS from the golf tournament, Woods was asked about playing the Masters on April 8-11 and said, “God, I hope so.” He said he was feeling a little stiff and had one more test to see if he was ready for more activities. He was not sure when he would play again. Athletes from Mike Tyson to Magic Johnson and others offered hopes that Woods would make a quick recovery. “I’m sick to my stomach,” Justin Thomas, the No. 3 golf player in the world, said from the Workday Championship in Bradenton, Florida. “It hurts to see one of my closest friends get in an accident. Man, I just hope he’s all right.” Crews used a crane to lift the damaged SUV out of the hillside brush. The vehicle was placed upright on the street and sheriff’s investigators inspected it and took photos. Then it was loaded onto a flatbed truck and hauled away Tuesday afternoon. This is the third time Woods has been involved in a car investigation. The most notorious was the early morning after Thanksgiving in 2009, when his SUV ran over a fire hydrant and hit a tree. That was the start of shocking revelations that he had been cheating on his wife with multiple women. Woods lost major corporate sponsorships, went to a rehabilitation clinic in Mississippi and did not return to golf for five months. In May 2017, Florida police found him asleep behind the wheel of a car parked awkwardly on the side of the road. He was arrested on a DUI charge and said later he had an unexpected reaction to prescription medicine for his back pain. Woods later pleaded guilty to reckless driving and checked into a clinic to get help with prescription medication and a sleep disorder. Woods has not won since the Zozo Championship in Japan in fall 2019, and he has reduced his playing schedule in recent years because of injuries. The surgery Tuesday would be his 10th. He has had four previous surgeries on his left knee, including a major reconstruction after he won the 2008 U.S. Open, and five surgeries on his back. ___ Ferguson reported from Jacksonville, Florida. Stefanie Dazio And Doug Ferguson, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is moving slowly but surely toward reengaging with the Palestinians after a near total absence of official contact during former President Donald Trump’s four years in office. As American officials plan steps to restore direct ties with the Palestinian leadership, Biden’s national security team is taking steps to restore relations that had been severed while Trump pursued a Mideast policy focused largely around Israel, America's closest partner in the region. On Tuesday, for the second time in two days, Biden's administration categorically embraced a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something that Trump had been purposefully vague about while slashing aid to the Palestinians and taking steps to support Israel’s claims to land that the Palestinians want for an independent state. The State Department said Tuesday that a U.S. delegation attended a meeting of a Norwegian-run committee that serves as a clearinghouse for assistance to the Palestinians. Although little-known outside foreign policy circles, the so-called Ad Hoc Liaison Committee has been influential in the peace process since Israel and the Palestinians signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. “During the discussion, the United States reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to advancing prosperity, security, and freedom for both Israelis and Palestinians and to preserve the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution in which Israel lives in peace and security alongside a viable Palestinian state,” the State Department said in a statement. “The United States underscored the commitment to supporting economic and humanitarian assistance and the need to see progress on outstanding projects that will improve the lives of the Palestinian people, while urging all parties to avoid unilateral steps that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve,” it said. U.S. participation in the meeting followed a Monday call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israel’s foreign minister in which Blinken stressed that the new U.S. administration unambiguously supports a two-state solution. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is close to Trump, has eschewed the two-state solution. Biden spoke to Netanyahu last week for the first time as president after a delay that many found suspicious and suggestive of a major realignment in U.S. policy. Blinken, however, has spoken to Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi twice amid ongoing concern in Israel about Biden's intentions in the region, particularly his desire to reenter the Iran nuclear deal. In Monday's call, Blinken “emphasized the Biden administration’s belief that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said. The Trump administration had presented its own version of a two-state peace plan, though it would have required significant Palestinian concessions on territory and sovereignty. The Palestinians, however, rejected it out of hand and accused the U.S. of no longer being an honest peace broker after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital, moved the U.S. embassy to the city from Tel Aviv, cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority, closed the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington and rescinded a long-standing legal opinion that Israeli settlement activity is illegitimate under international law, Matthew Lee, The Associated Press
Sun Peaks may not be able to celebrate Pride Week like in years past, but Tourism Sun Peaks is still hoping to make this week special for the community’s LGBTQ+ guests and residents. Pride Week starts Wednesday, Feb. 24 and carries on until Wednesday, March 3. And while the Peak Pride Festival is unable to come up to the resort and organize events as it has in years past, Tourism Sun Peaks is asking local businesses to create welcome window displays if it is feasible, which may be highlighted on social media channels throughout the week. The organization has also teamed up with Sun Peaks Resort and GK Sound to light up the Clocktower in pride colours for the week. Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.
A new study of Kamloops restaurant owners provided a glimpse at the new (and challenging) business climate they have been forced to navigate due to COVID-19. The report found that local restaurants are having to spend more money on everything from personal protective equipment to cleaning products and plastic barriers, while simultaneously making less money. On top of that, their indoor seating capacities have been dramatically cut. Around 30 businesses took part in the survey. Overall they reported their revenues were down nearly 65 per cent, on average, from March to May 2020 compared to the same time period in 2019. The study was spearheaded by Thompson Rivers University (TRU) business student Josh Parker. Having worked for years in the restaurant industry in Calgary prior to university, Parker decided to carry out the research project when his co-op fell through. “I just wanted to do anything that I could [for the industry], to work with my school and the chamber in any way to see if we can help them out,” he explained. Parker worked on the report with his faculty advisor, Terry Lake, and Jamie Noakes, his co-op advisor. The team also partnered with The Chamber of Commerce and Mitacs BSI (Business Strategy Internship). The study found considerable differences between how independent business and chains addressed layoffs. On average, chain restaurants laid off more than 70 per cent of their staff during a 2.5 month period between March and May. In comparison, local restaurants laid off just under 50 per cent of their staff over this period. Parker added smaller restaurants were better placed to pivot to takeout when the pandemic hit. “They could figure out what they wanted to do, pivot operations and utilize their staff quicker,” said Parker. Chain restaurants were, however, able to get back to full employment rates quicker. “They’re able to kind of use their corporate entity to get all the requirements they needed to open up safely,” he said. Overall, employees at independent restaurants rated their employer’s response to the crisis higher, giving it a 4.1 out of 5, compared to 3.5 out of 5 for chain restaurants. The team also surveyed 160 customers who had ordered take-out in recent months. The survey found that the most common negative experience was the cost of take-out, with many expecting the cost to be lower given that they weren’t dining inside an establishment. At the same time, an overwhelming majority of customers said they would support local restaurants if prices had to be increased by up to 15 per cent to cover costs related to COVID-19 safety protocols. “It was kind of something we put out there that we noticed people were kind of contradicting themselves about,” said Parker. He added that it puts restaurants in a difficult position, as a meal costs roughly the same to make, whether it’s consumed in a restaurant or at home. Going forward, Parker said the public should accept that restaurants will have to marginally increase prices to maintain profitability in this difficult period. The survey also found some interesting findings on tipping culture, with just over half of participants stating they would tip both the delivery driver and the restaurant when they make an order. The survey stated the pandemic can create an added challenge for business owners to retain their employees, as servers are no longer receiving their normal tips, which effectively subsidize their salaries. As part of the survey, Parker asked customers whether they would support a no tipping policy—or more specifically, a scenario where tips were included in the final price of an order. About 32 per cent of participants said they would support this, with 44 per cent saying no and 24 per cent unsure. Another issue that restaurants brought up with Parker was the issue of online ordering services, such as SkipThe Dishes and DoorDash. Such organizations traditionally ask small business owners to hand over 20 to 30 per cent of total sales on top of partner fees. In December, the province temporarily capped the fees delivery companies can charge restaurants at 15 per cent. The rule will be in place until three months after B.C.’s state of emergency order is lifted. Skip the Dishes soon responded with a 99-cent “B.C. fee.” Parker said he found it curious to watch expensive 2021 Super Bowl ads for such companies during a time when so many small restaurants are struggling. “Without restaurants no one would need a delivery service, so I think they need to kind of work with local restaurants a little more closely,” he said. The report concluded with thoughts on how restaurants are faring overall, and calls for a more robust government response help it out. “We are in a completely unprecedented situation which has caused the government to take extraordinary measures,” it stated. “These measures have been put in place for the good of all Canadians, but they seem to impede certain businesses more, such as restaurants. “The government has forced closures and maintained 50 per cent capacity restrictions for over nine months, and local, small restaurants are in a fragile state…Many owners are unhappy with how the government has helped small businesses through the pandemic and rightfully so. There have been rent subsidies and other financial support to help these businesses, but it isn’t enough when their livelihoods are essentially put on hold.” Joel Barde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Sun Peaks Independent News Inc.
TORONTO — Making paid sick days and relief for businesses kick in when regions are placed in certain tiers of Ontario's pandemic restrictions system could help mitigate a third wave, the top doctor for a COVID-19 hot spot said Tuesday. Dr. Lawrence Loh, the chief medical officer of health for Peel Region, said resistance to strict public health measures often stems from lack of relief, and that could be addressed in policy. The province should consider looking at how supports could be part of its restrictions system, he said, suggesting that could help residents better follow pandemic rules. "If the issue is that you don't want to do (paid sick leave) on a permanent policy basis, then maybe within a certain zone or within a certain colour, then you actually put that in there. That's one thing that could be looked at," Loh said at a discussion hosted by the Ontario Medical Association. He noted that "a lot of the disquiet among businesses" that have suffered during shutdowns comes from lack of relief, suggesting that could be brought into the framework on a sliding scale based on the level of restrictions for a community. A spokesman for the Health Ministry said residents could apply for funds available through a federal sick leave policy, and that provincial grants were available to businesses seeking relief. David Jensen also noted that local medical officers of health can introduce orders to target specific issues in their regions. The Ontario Medical Association has called on the province to maintain, and in some cases tighten, COVID-19 restrictions in light of more infectious variants spreading in the province. Association president Dr. Samantha Hill reiterated the group's concerns about the variants on Tuesday, saying the more contagious strains need to be considered in the province's pandemic response. "The government framework developed last fall was for the original strain. It does not reflect the new variants which ... are more infectious, and that's a concern," Hill said. The group representing physicians has recommended banning indoor restaurant dining and other non-masked indoor activities for regions in the red tier of the province's pandemic system. Loh and his counterpart in Toronto sought to extend strict shutdown measures and a stay-at-home order for their regions last week, arguing the spread of variants and recent reopening of schools made it too risky to ease restrictions. The province granted their request, extending the strictest measures for those two regions, as well as North Bay, Ont., until March 8. The COVID-19 hot spot of York Region, however, saw restrictions ease as it was moved to the red, or second-strictest, tier of the province's pandemic response system. York's top doctor had sought the loosening of measures, saying his region was not seeing “explosive growth" of variants that were first detected in December. Dr. Karim Kurji said last week that there was a "reasonable handle" on variant cases, and argued that strong measures needed to be balanced with economic and mental wellbeing. The province's economic reopening began earlier this month. The government has said, however, that it has created an "emergency brake" measure that allows it to swiftly move regions into lockdown if cases spike. On Tuesday, the Opposition called for the Progressive Conservative government to clearly define what would trigger the use of that brake measure. NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government loosened public health restrictions too soon, without a clearly defined plan. Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca and Green party Leader Mike Schreiner also expressed confusion over the parameters of the measure. Health Minister Christine Elliott said the measure considers a public health unit’s increase in case numbers, variants of concern and health system capacity. She argued the brake was used when the province decided last week to keep Toronto, Peel Region and North Bay under the stay-at-home order for two more weeks. Horwath called that explanation "troubling." "It sounds like they're just making it up as they go along," she told reporters. "All they're relying on is this emergency brake, but they can't describe what that is and when it will be utilized. That's really, really troubling." Ontario reported 975 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and 12 more deaths from the virus. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Josh Norris scored the shootout winner to give the Ottawa Senators a 5-4 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night at Canadian Tire Centre. Tim Stutzle also beat Montreal goalie Carey Price in the shootout. Ottawa's Brady Tkachuk opened with a miss and Senators netminder Matt Murray stopped Corey Perry and Jonathan Drouin. It capped a wild and entertaining game between the two rivals. Both teams had excellent chances in the overtime session. Stutzle had two glorious opportunities but couldn't convert and Montreal's Tyler Toffoli was stoned on a breakaway with about a minute to go. It looked like Montreal's Brendan Gallagher had scored the winner with 2.1 seconds left in regulation but the goal was waved off after a review due to goaltender interference. Tkachuk scored twice for Ottawa with Drake Batherson and Erik Brannstrom adding singles. Shea Weber had two goals for Montreal. Drouin and Toffoli had a goal apiece. After a slow start, the last-place Senators have picked up their play of late. Ottawa (6-14-1) entered with three wins over its last five games, including a 3-2 overtime victory over the Habs last Sunday. The 9-5-4 Canadiens, meanwhile, were 5-1-2 last month but entered with just one win in their last five games to drop them into fourth place in the North Division. The Senators needed just 96 seconds to open the scoring. Derek Stepan delivered a low saucer pass to Batherson, who extended his goal streak to three games by beating Price with a high backhand. Ottawa was rewarded for its steady power-play pressure at 9:57. Tkachuk flipped the puck under Price's arm on a shot the veteran goalie would no doubt like to have back. With Tkachuk and Montreal's Ben Chiarot off for fighting, the Canadiens caught a break to halve the lead at 16:03. Weber fired the puck toward the net from the boards and it deflected off Nikita Zaitsev's skate and past Murray. Tkachuk was in on the action again early in the second period, catching a high stick to the face that resulted in Weber being sent off on a double-minor. Ottawa restored its two-goal cushion as Brannstrom's low shot from the high slot went through a maze of players and between Price's legs at 3:41. It was his first career NHL goal. The Canadiens quickly answered as Thomas Chabot mishandled the puck and Drouin swooped in to collect it before beating Murray at 4:52. Weber then tied it at 10:06 with a trademark rocket from the point. Toffoli gave Montreal its first lead of the game at 8:06 of the third period. He fooled Brannstrom on his way in before snapping the puck past Murray on the short side. Tkachuk pulled Ottawa even with a softie goal less than two minutes later. He steered the puck towards the net and it fooled Price at 10:11. Chabot returned to the lineup after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Defenceman Brett Kulak drew into the Montreal lineup with Victor Mete sitting out as a healthy scratch. Ottawa will continue its five-game homestand on Thursday against Calgary. It will be the first of three straight games against the Flames. Montreal visits Winnipeg on Thursday. The Jets will also host the Canadiens on Saturday. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — The Trudeau government has agreed with the Senate that Canadians suffering solely from grievous and irremediable mental illnesses should be entitled to receive medical assistance in dying — but not for another two years. The two-year interlude is six months longer than what was proposed by senators. It is one of a number of changes to Bill C-7 proposed by the government in response to amendments approved last week by the Senate. The government has rejected another Senate amendment that would have allowed people who fear being diagnosed with dementia or other cognitive-impairing conditions to make advance requests for an assisted death. It has also rejected one other amendment and modified two others in a motion that was debated Tuesday in the House of Commons. Justice Minister David Lametti told the Commons he believes the response to the Senate amendments is "fair and realistic." The Bloc Québécois announced it will support the minority Liberal government's response, assuring it will pass. Once approved by the Commons, the bill will go back to the Senate, where senators will have to decide whether to accept the verdict of the elected chamber or dig in their heels. Bill C-7 would expand access to assisted dying to intolerably suffering individuals who are not approaching the natural end of their lives, bringing the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling. As originally drafted, the bill would have imposed a blanket ban on assisted dying for people suffering solely from mental illnesses. A majority of senators argued that the exclusion was unconstitutional, violating the right to equal treatment under the law, regardless of physical or mental disability. They voted to impose an 18-month time limit on the exclusion, which the government now wants to extend to two years. Lametti told the Commons he still believes the exclusion is constitutional and he "does not believe we are entirely ready" to safely provide assisted dying for people with mental illnesses. Nevertheless, he said the government has heard the concerns of Canadians who fear the exclusion may never be lifted and will, therefore, support a two-year sunset clause. "We think 24 months is still an ambitious timeline to implement such an important change in Canada's MAID (medical assistance in dying) policy, but it still provides a fixed timeline in the relatively near future," Lametti said. During the two-year interlude, the government is also proposing to have an expert panel conduct an independent review of the issue and, within one year, recommend the "protocols, guidance and safeguards" that should apply to requests for assisted dying from people with a mental illness. Sen. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatrist and member of the Independent Senators Group who proposed the 18-month sunset clause, said he can accept that an additional six months may be needed. He also welcomed the creation of an expert panel to develop safeguards. The Canadian Mental Health Association, however, was "deeply disappointed" by the government's response. "Until the health-care system adequately responds to the mental health needs of Canadians, assisted dying should not be an option — not now and not two years from now," the association said in a statement. If the two-year sunset clause is approved, the association said the government must commit to "a substantial increase" in funding for mental health care to help alleviate suffering. In rejecting advance requests, the government motion argues that the Senate amendment on that issue "goes beyond the scope of the bill" and requires "significant consultation and study," including a "careful examination of safeguards." Sen. Pamela Wallin, a member of the Canadian Senators Group who proposed the advance request amendment, said its outright rejection by the government "only serves to perpetuate the catch-22 that punishes those with cognitive impairment or dementia and all those who simply want some choices knowing that a diagnosis of Alzheimer's is inevitable." Lametti said he knows many Canadians will be disappointed. But he said the issue of advance requests should be examined during the legally required five-year parliamentary review of the assisted-dying law, which was supposed to have begun last June but has yet to materialize. The government has agreed to a modified version of a Senate amendment to finally get that review underway within 30 days of Bill C-7 receiving royal assent. It is proposing to create a joint Commons-Senate committee to review the assisted-dying regime, including issues related to mature minors, advance requests, mental illness, the state of palliative care in Canada and the protection of Canadians with disabilities. The committee would be required to report back, with any recommended changes, within one year. The government has also agreed to a modified version of another Senate amendment to require the collection of race-based data on who is requesting and receiving medical assistance in dying. It is proposing to expand that to include data on people with disabilities and to specify that the information be used to determine if there is "the presence of any inequality — including systemic inequality — or disadvantage based on race, Indigenous identity, disability or other characteristics." That's in response to the strenuous opposition to Bill C-7 from disability rights advocates who maintain the bill sends the message that life with a disability is a fate worse than death. They've also argued that Black, racialized and Indigenous people with disabilities, already marginalized and facing systemic discrimination in the health system, could be induced to end their lives prematurely due to poverty and a lack of support services. Some critics have also raised concerns about unequal access to assisted dying for marginalized people, rural Canadians and Indigenous people in remote communities. The government's response did not satisfy either the Conservatives, who largely opposed the original bill, or the New Democrats, who object in principle to the unelected Senate making substantive changes to legislation passed by the Commons. NDP MP Charlie Angus criticized the "unelected and unaccountable Senate" for expanding assisted dying to "people who are depressed." Conservative MP Michael Barrett moved an amendment to the government motion that would delete the proposed sunset clause on the mental illness exclusion. He further slammed the government for ignoring the concerns of disability rights advocates and signalled that his party will not go along with the government's "fevered rush" to pass what he called a "deeply flawed" bill. The government offered late Tuesday afternoon to extend the debate until midnight, but the Conservatives denied the necessary unanimous consent — despite having called for additional time to thoroughly debate the government's response to the Senate amendments. It was unclear when debate will resume. The government had hoped the bill could be passed by both parliamentary chambers by Friday to meet the thrice-extended court-imposed deadline for bringing the law into compliance with the 2019 ruling. But it is also poised to ask the court on Thursday to give it one more month — until March 26. Lametti admitted he's concerned the Conservatives, who dragged out debate on the original bill last December, are intent on blocking it altogether. He appealed to Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole to show leadership and allow a vote on the government motion. "This is not the time to relitigate old battles, not with the Quebec Superior Court deadline looming, not with Canadians suffering while they wait for medical assistance in dying," he told a news conference later Tuesday. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — Nova Scotia is reporting three new COVID-19 infections today as well as three more cases of a novel coronavirus variant. The three cases of the variant B.1.1.7 — first identified in the United Kingdom — involve two people in the Halifax area who had travelled together, and one person in the western zone who is not connected to the other two. Health officials say the three people were tested earlier this month and their cases are being reinvestigated. The new cases reported today include two in the Halifax area: one related to travel within Atlantic Canada and the other involving a close contact of a previously reported travel case. The third new case is in the western zone and is under investigation. Officials have identified a total of six U.K. variant cases in the province; Nova Scotia has 20 active reported infections. "With more variants identified in the province, I want to thank Nova Scotians for their continued efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19," Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, said in a news release. "The best way to protect one another is by following all public health measures." Health officials also said that as of Monday, 27,966 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered, with 11,532 people having received their required second dose. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. The Canadian Press
(Maggie MacPherson/CBC - image credit) British Columbia will permanently allow restaurants, bars and tourism operators to buy liquor at wholesale prices, a move that industry hopes will help revive the struggling sector. The provincial government made temporary changes in June to allow the hospitality industry to buy alcohol at the same price as liquor stores, and it has now made that decision permanent. Previously, restaurants, pubs and tourism businesses with liquor licences paid full retail price — the wholesale price, plus a markup set by the government — on most alcohol purchases. Solicitor General Mike Farnworth says in a news release that the government is making the change permanent to give businesses certainty and to help the estimated 190,000 residents who work in the sector. Trevor Kallies, beverage director for the Donnelly Group, which owns several bars in Vancouver, says in the release that wholesale liquor pricing will help alleviate some financial pressures so businesses can focus on other areas, such as the health and safety of staff and customers. Al Deacon, owner of Fox'n Hounds Pub and Fox'n Hounds Sahali Liquor Store in Kamloops, B.C., says the extra savings his business will earn from buying alcohol at lower prices can be used to keep his staff members employed. "In the pub last week, for instance, we were down 12 shifts out front on the floor compared to the previous week," he said Wednesday on CBC's Daybreak Kamloops. "[This] is huge for people who are there, students or single moms or someone who's got a parent or has a mortgage." Restaurants Canada says in a statement that the move fulfils a long-standing recommendation from the industry group and it thanked the B.C. government for levelling the playing field between the province's retail and hospitality sectors. "This move will go a long way to help British Columbia's hard-hit restaurant sector transition from survival to revival," said Mark von Schellwitz, the organization's vice-president for Western Canada. Tap the link below to hear Al Deacon's interview on Daybreak Kamloops:
(Laura Meader/CBC - image credit) The Opposition health critic says the province's planned phone line that will act as a single point of contact for mental health and addictions services needs to be staffed with people on P.E.I. Trish Altass said it's important people from the community are handling the requests for help. "This phone line will really need to have trained P.E.I.-based staff who are able to refer people directly to services, like detox and the Hillsborough Hospital and counselling supports," Altass said. Premier Dennis King announced the phone line during his state of the province address to the rotary clubs on P.E.I. Monday night. He said the 24/7 line will have a "real human being" answer the phone, and will be able to help callers navigate the process to get the appropriate treatments and supports. Opposition health critic Trish Altass says it will be important to have staff and beds on hand to help ensure Islanders get the help they are looking for when they do make the call. There were not a lot of details given about how this new phone line will work or what the number will be, but he said it will be ready to go by March 1. There are no details yet on who will staff it or where it will be based. Positive step While getting people triaged quickly is important, Altass said making sure staffing levels are adequate to help the people seeking assistance will be critical. "If people are being referred to services and still have to wait for weeks or months to access those services then really we have not addressed the root causes of this issue," Altass said. Ellen Taylor, a mental health and addictions advocate, said it's wonderful to see government committing to the single point of access. Ellen Taylor, a mental health and addictions advocate on P.E.I., says it's important to reduce barriers for people seeking help and the single point of access phone line could be a good way to do that. "People will rethink getting into recovery if they find out it's a one call thing and people are going to be there to help them," Taylor said. "If people really knew there was help out there then, I think, that's the ideal thing." Taylor said it can be difficult for people who are seeking help to navigate all the different options. "If more people use it, then people will know about it because … people don't know where to call or go online or know what's available," Taylor said. "The people who are accessing the services, I think, it will make them feel more comfortable and feel successful and that is so important for recovery." More from CBC P.E.I.
BUCHAREST, Romania — Olivier Giroud’s bicycle-kick goal awarded after video review gave Chelsea a 1-0 win against Atlético Madrid in the first leg of the round of 16 of the Champions League on Tuesday. It took nearly three minutes for Giroud and his teammates to be able to celebrate the important 68th-minute away goal that was initially disallowed for offside. Giroud was clearly in front of the defenders when he pulled off his acrobatic shot, but VAR determined that the ball came from Atlético defender Mario Hermoso, thus annulling the offside. Atlético was the home team but the match was played in Bucharest, Romania, because of travel restrictions preventing visitors from Britain entering Spain. The second leg will be on March 17 in London. In the other round-of-16 match on Tuesday, Bayern Munich defeated Lazio 4-1 in Italy. It was the second consecutive loss for Atlético after a seven-match unbeaten streak in all competitions. It was also the eighth straight game in which the Spanish club has conceded a goal, extending its worst run without a clean sheet since coach Diego Simeone arrived in late 2011. Chelsea is yet to lose in its eight matches since coach Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard at the helm. It had been a lacklustre match until Giroud’s goal, with neither team managing to create many significant scoring opportunities and with the goalkeepers not having to work too hard. Chelsea controlled possession and looked a bit more dangerous, but both sides appeared to be satisfied with the scoreless draw and didn’t take too many risks. Hermoso was trying to clear the ball from the area and ended kicking it backward in a ball dispute with Mason Mount. Giroud reached up high with his left foot send the ball toward the corner of Atlético goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Mount and Jorginho were shown yellow cards and will miss the second leg because of accumulation of cards. Simeone had to improvise with midfielder Marcos Llorente as a right back against Chelsea because of several absences on defence, including Kieran Trippier following an English betting investigation. The teams had played in the group stage of the Champions League in the 2017-18 season, with Chelsea winning 2-1 in Spain before a 1-1 draw in London. Atlético eliminated Chelsea in the semifinals in 2014. It was in Bucharest that Simeone won his first title with Atlético, the 2012 Europa League. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's Cabinet is starting to fill out, with nominees for agriculture secretary and United Nations ambassador gaining Senate approval Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer says he intends to wrap up the remaining nomination votes quickly. “At a time of acute national challenge, we need qualified leaders atop our federal agencies — and fast,” he said Tuesday on the Senate floor. “And that’s what we intend to do.” Schumer couldn’t resist a jab at former President Donald Trump, saying that all Biden’s nominees are “undoubtedly qualified for their positions, a stark departure from the calibre of nominees the Senate was made to consider during the previous administration.” But one of Biden's nominees, Neera Tanden to lead the White House Office of Management and Budget, is clearly in trouble in the evenly divided Senate. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has said he opposes her confirmation. Here's what happened Tuesday: UNITED NATIONS The Senate voted 78-20 to approve career diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as United Nations Ambassador, a Cabinet-level position. A 35-year foreign service veteran who resigned during the Trump administration, Thomas-Greenfield will have to address multiple international relationships that were altered by Trump's erratic and isolationist style. “This confirmation sends a message that the United States is back and that our foreign service is back,” said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., who chairs a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa, global health and global human rights. “We as a country and as a world are safer with Linda Thomas-Greenfield serving as the United States ambassador to the United Nations.” During confirmation hearings, Thomas-Greenfield faced some criticism from Senate Republicans who labeled her soft on China, citing a 2019 speech she gave to the Chinese-funded Confucius Institute in which she praised China's massive infrastructure and influence program in Africa. She said the speech had been a mistake and was not intended to be an endorsement of Chinese government policies. She said of China, "They are a threat to their neighbours, and they are a threat across the globe.” ___ AGRICULTURE The Senate voted 92-7 to confirm Tom Vilsack for a return engagement as agriculture secretary. The former Iowa governor spent eight years leading the same department under former President Barack Obama. In his testimony, Vilsack, 70, heavily endorsed boosting climate-friendly agricultural industries such as the creation of biofuels, saying, “Agriculture is one of our first and best ways to get some wins in this climate area.” Vilsack received minimal pushback or criticism during confirmation hearings. One of the few “no” votes came from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. Sanders said he would have liked "somebody a little bit more vigorous in terms of protecting family farms and taking on corporate agriculture.” Vilsack also heavily backed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — commonly known as food stamps, or SNAP — as a key instrument in helping the country’s most vulnerable families survive and recover from the coronavirus pandemic. His Trump-era predecessor, Sonny Perdue, had sought to purge hundreds of thousands of people from the SNAP-recipient lists. ___ HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Health and Human Services nominee Xavier Becerra told senators that “strong federal leadership” was needed to confront the coronavirus pandemic. He also pledged to work to expand health insurance coverage, curb prescription drug costs and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in medical care. Currently California's attorney general, Becerra appeared Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He has a second confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Finance Committee, which will vote on sending his nomination to the Senate floor. On Tuesday, he pledged to work to expand the Obama-era Affordable Care Act, though he's previously supported a government-run system like “Medicare for All.” Although Democrats have backed Becerra, Republican opposition has grown louder. “I'm not sold yet,” Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the health committee, said, addressing Becerra. “I’m not sure that you have the necessary experience or skills to do this job at this moment.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has called Becerra “famously partisan.” As California attorney general, Becerra filed 124 lawsuits challenged Trump administration actions. ___ INTERIOR Rep. Deb Haaland, Biden's nominee to lead the Interior Department, fielded sharp questions from Republicans over what some called her “radical” ideas that include opposition to fracking and to the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The New Mexico congresswoman said she was determined to “strike the right balance” between conserving public lands and energy development. If confirmed, Haaland, 60, would be the first Native American to lead a Cabinet agency. Haaland's hearing centred on her and Biden's intentions regarding the future of fossil fuels. Her hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was adjourned after nearly 2 1/2 hours and will resume Wednesday. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., displayed a large chart featuring a quote from Haaland last November, before she was selected as Biden's nominee. She said then: “If I had my way, it’d be great to stop all gas and oil leasing on federal and public lands.” Manchin, the panel's chair and a Democrat from coal-dependent West Virginia, has said he is undecided on Haaland’s nomination. In response to questions from Manchin and others, Haaland said the U.S. will continue to rely on fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas even as it moves toward Biden’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by mid-century. The transition to clean energy “is not going to happen overnight,” she said. ___ Associated Press writers Matthew Lee, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report. Ashraf Khalil, The Associated Press
MONTREAL — Police are still seeking a suspect in the slaying of a Montreal-area woman on Sunday who had told authorities days prior about being the victim of alleged death threats. Provincial police said there have been no arrests in the killing of Marly Edouard, 32, known in Haiti's music scene as a former manager, producer and radio host. A command post was set up near her home in the Montreal suburb of Laval on Monday; a police spokeswoman said Tuesday she had no new information to provide. Djimy Ducasse, who lives in the Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, and co-owned a music agency with Edouard, said in an interview Tuesday the community to which Edouard was closely tied is taking her death hard. Edouard came to Canada in 2016 and, two years later, set up Symbiose509, a Laval-based promotion, marketing and events agency with Ducasse, which operated in Haiti. Ducasse said he met Edouard in 2013 when she was managing rap stars in Haiti and he was hosting a radio show. It was a friendship that would continue with the pair becoming business partners. “We became good friends, we spoke all the time, we spoke about business, we spoke about everything and nothing,” said Ducasse, who last spoke to her on Friday — the same day she reported alleged threats to local police. Ducasse said they spoke about some tasks she wanted him to do and some recent health problems she'd encountered, but she never mentioned anything about threats on her life. He said he had tried calling her Sunday but Edouard never responded, which he said was unlike her. On Monday, Ducasse was alerted to Montreal media reports that Edouard had been killed. Quebec provincial police have classified Edouard's death as a homicide and have said her body bore marks of violence when it was found Sunday in the parking lot of her condominium building. Meanwhile, Quebec’s police watchdog is investigating the Laval police's response to the alleged threats Edouard reported last Friday. The Bureau des enquetes independantes said Edouard had called 911 to ask for help from Laval police on Feb. 19. The call was placed about 12:40 p.m. to police; officers met with her and left, according to the watchdog agency. Less than 48 hours later, Edouard was found dead. Edouard was described by Ducasse as kind and driven. She had been involved in the music scene in Haiti at a very young age and had worked with many artists in the country. Some artists took to social media to pay their respects to her. “Marly isn’t someone that went unnoticed,” Ducasse said. “Everyone who was part of the rap scene in Haiti, it was nearly impossible to not have worked on at least one project with Marly Edouard. It’s why her death hits hard for a lot of people in Haiti." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. The Canadian Press
La crise de logements dans les communautés, dont celle de Uashat mak Maliotenam met en lumière les besoins criants liés à la surpopulation au sein d’une même maison, mais également de l’itinérance. De bonnes nouvelles viennent enfin d’être annoncées. Un projet visant l’aboutissement de plus de 200 logements abordables, sur une période de 5 ans, a été confirmé grâce, à l’aide de Services Autochtones Canada. L’étape, actuellement embryonnaire, permettra d’entreprendre des démarches afin de construire des maisons supplémentaires dans les communautés. Les constructions sont évaluées aux environs de 45 M$, sur 5 ans. Il s’agit, en moyenne, de 40 maisons par année. «La surpopulation dans les maisons et la difficulté d’accès à des logements sociaux qui conviennent aux besoins des familles sont au cœur des préoccupations de plusieurs communautés des Premières Nations partout à travers le Canada. La construction de nouvelles unités de logements et de maisons adaptées chez nous permettrait de combler une partie de nos besoins.», mentionne le Chef Mike Mckenzie. Karine Lachance, Initiative de journalisme local, Ma Côte-Nord
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — The psychiatrist who diagnosed Cpl. Lionel Desmond with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2011 told a fatality inquiry Tuesday that the soldier had great difficulty dealing with major life stressors, even after four years of treatment. The inquiry is investigating why Desmond — a veteran of the war in Afghanistan — killed his wife, mother and 10-year-old daughter before killing himself in their rural Nova Scotia home in 2017. Dr. Vinod Joshi, who works part-time at Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, told the inquiry that Desmond was suffering from moderate to severe PTSD when the psychiatrist first assessed him. Joshi, a civilian contractor with the Canadian Armed Forces, said the infantryman had been subjected to traumatic events during a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2007. "He was extremely distressed," Joshi said. The psychiatrist's assessment, completed Sept. 28, 2011, noted that the young rifleman told him about having to carry body bags, witnessing the deadly impact of an airstrike and having flashbacks about seeing the remains of a man's torso after an explosion. Last week, a member of Desmond's platoon in Afghanistan told the inquiry the group engaged in intense firefights with the Taliban on almost a daily basis. Orlando Trotter, a former corporal, said he knew of eight soldiers from their battalion who had committed suicide after serving in Afghanistan. The inquiry has also heard that Desmond suffered three separate head injuries while serving in the military and was suspected of having a traumatic brain injury. Joshi, however, testified that in 2011, Desmond said he had never injured his head. Joshi said Desmond's symptoms included night sweats, avoidance of crowds, hyper-vigilance, anxiety, angry outbursts and thoughts of suicide. But the doctor said Desmond displayed no psychosis or any plans to actually kill himself or hurt others. The assessment also noted that Desmond had not sought any mental-health treatment until almost four years after he left Afghanistan. "Many (military) members try to manage their symptoms on their own," Joshi testified, adding that Desmond's symptoms were considered common among soldiers diagnosed with PTSD. As well, Joshi confirmed Desmond was dealing with marital difficulties throughout his course of treatment, which ended when he was medically released from the military in 2015. "He wanted to have a relationship with his wife," Joshi said, noting that Shanna Desmond had at one point texted her husband to ask for a divorce. "He was worried she might leave him." That was the first time the inquiry heard evidence that the Desmonds had experienced long-running marital problems. "This undercurrent of marital difficulty was there throughout," Joshi said. Despite these challenges, Joshi said his patient seemed to respond well to his initial treatment, which included trauma-focused therapy and prescriptions for various drugs, including an antidepressant, a low-dosage antipsychotic drug and sleeping pills. However, Joshi told the inquiry that Desmond's progress fluctuated. Again, the psychiatrist said that wasn't unusual for soldiers with PTSD. The military considered having Desmond return to regular duty in 2013, but Joshi said his patient experienced a significant relapse in the fall of that year. Desmond, who was Black, was apparently subjected to a racist comment while working with colleagues, he said. Desmond continued with treatment, but Joshi came to the conclusion that life stressors would continue to lead to setbacks. "It appeared to be a long-term pattern," Joshi said, adding that it was clear Desmond could not return to regular duty. On April 16, 2015, Joshi included the following comments on a form that summarized his last meeting with Desmond: "Normal anxiety about future job prospects, money, etc.," the note said. "His wife has started working in ... Halifax. He is not sure of her intentions about their relationship." Joshi told the inquiry that at the time it appeared Desmond was coping well, despite the big changes he was facing. "He was still managing," Joshi said. "A lot of it was normal anxiety." On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a rifle and later that day shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter, Aaliyah, and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in their home in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S. In the months and years that followed, friends and relatives openly complained that after Desmond returned home to Nova Scotia in August 2016, his attempts to seek help for his mental illness led him nowhere. Evidence from the inquiry confirmed that Desmond received no therapeutic treatment in the four months before the killings. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax. The Canadian Press
Tiger Woods is in hospital after he was involved in a single-vehicle collision in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning. Erica Vella reports.
City staff are recommending $500,000 be allocated to repairs and debris removal along the south dike at Gilbert Road. Funding will come from the city’s drainage improvement reserve fund, staff said in a report. Councillors were unanimously in favour at this week's city council meeting. A king tide event on Jan. 13 caused damage to the rip-rap—rocks placed along the shoreline for protection—as well as the accumulation of a large number of logs and other wood debris. The repair work includes reinstatement of rip-rap along a 300 metre stretch as well as debris removal along a 750 metre stretch. Staff described the work as urgent in their report, and recommended it begin immediately. Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden says the United States will work together with Canada to secure the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig from China. Biden says human beings are not bartering chips, and that the two countries won't rest until Spavor and Kovrig are home. The pair were swept up two years ago after Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou, who faces U.S. charges of violating sanctions against Iran. Biden's words were likely one of Trudeau's top demands when the two leaders sat down today for the president's first bilateral meeting since his election. They also vowed to move in "lockstep" in their collective fight against climate change, and to work together to defeat COVID-19. Today's meeting had to take place virtually, with Biden in Washington and Trudeau in Ottawa, due to the pandemic. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Crown prosecutors are asking that a Manitoba man who rammed a gate at Rideau Hall before arming himself and heading on foot toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s home last summer be sentenced to six years in prison, minus time served. The request came during sentencing arguments on Tuesday in the case of Corey Hurren, the 46-year-old sausage-maker and Canadian Ranger who pleaded guilty this month to eight charges in relation to the incident at Rideau Hall last July. Crown prosecutor Meaghan Cunningham told an Ottawa courtroom that Hurren’s actions "were far from benign," and posed a serious threat to public safety while setting up a potentially dangerous situation. “The RCMP officers involved were able to de-escalate the situation and eventually arrest Mr. Hurren without any shots being fired,” Cunningham told the court. “But that doesn't change the fact that Mr. Hurren’s deliberate actions on July 2 were incredibly dangerous. They created a risk of harm or death to anyone that might have been caught up in what he had planned.” Cunningham also asked that the court order a DNA sample be taken and that Hurren be banned from owning any weapons for life. During his own submission, defence lawyer Michael Davies said he was seeking a sentence of three years less time served. He argued that while his client made a series of bad decisions, “ultimately, he made one correct decision: the decision to put those guns down.” “I'm not here to say you should be congratulated on that decision,” Davies said. “But if he's to be held accountable for his decisions, and he should be, your honour also has to take into consideration that ultimately, at the end of the day, he put the guns down.” Justice Robert Wadden is expected to deliver his sentence on March 10. In asking for a lesser sentence, Davies described his client as a hardworking member of society who enjoyed his work as a Ranger and was involved in his community’s Lions Club before financial challenges started to crop up in late 2019. Those challenges were exacerbated by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Davies said, and led Hurren into a state of depression. “COVID has dealt many of us blows, some more than others,” Davies said. “In his particular case, it took away his remaining livelihood. … And so now Mr. Hurren is getting into this downward spiral of no money coming in but money still has to go out.” Davies added that Hurren is already facing fallout from his actions besides the prospect of several years in jail, including the start of divorce proceedings by his wife and the military’s move to permanently discharge him from the Rangers. Cunningham, however, said that Hurren had not expressed any remorse for his actions or an "appreciation of the gravity of his conduct.” She added that his actions were not impulsive, but that Hurren had planned and thought about them for at least several days. “Corey Hurren was prepared to die for his cause. He believed his message was that important,” Cunningham told the court. “The motive behind his actions was not suicide. He wasn't doing this in order to die. He simply recognized that being killed might be an unavoidable consequence of his actions. … Mr. Hurren’s motive is clear: It was to send a political message.” Hurren drove a truck onto the grounds of the Governor General’s official residence on July 2 last year and rammed through the gate, which caused the vehicle to stall and its airbags to deploy. He then set out on foot toward Rideau Cottage, where Trudeau and his family are living due to unresolved questions about costly repairs needed at the prime minister’s traditional official residence at 24 Sussex Drive. Trudeau was not home at the time. Police were able to talk Hurren down and arrested him peacefully after about 90 minutes. He was initially accused of uttering a threat to “cause death or bodily harm” to Trudeau. But in an agreed statement of facts read in an Ottawa courtroom on Feb. 5, Hurren told police he didn’t intend to hurt anyone, and that he wanted to arrest Trudeau to make a statement about the government’s COVID-19 restrictions and its ban on assault-style firearms. He said he had hoped to make the arrest during Trudeau’s daily pandemic briefing outside Rideau Cottage. Hurren, who told police he hadn’t qualified for emergency aid benefits, was angry about losing his business and his guns. He believed Canada was turning into a communist state. Hurren also told police at the scene that he wanted to show Trudeau “how angry everyone was about the gun ban and the COVID-19 restrictions” and said the prime minister “is a communist who is above the law and corrupt.” During a police interview after his arrest, Hurren said “he’s not a bad guy for doing this and he did not want to hurt anyone.” Asked what his plan was, he replied: “I don’t think there was one.” Asked if he had any regrets, Hurren, who’d spent two days driving from Manitoba to Ottawa, said he wished he'd stopped to see the Terry Fox statue near Parliament Hill. Data retrieved from his cellphone, Facebook and Instagram posts included exchanges with friends about “conspiracy theories related to the Canadian government,” as well as a “sacrifice theory” related to the date of the mass shooting in Nova Scotia last April and suggestions that COVID-19 is a hoax. Police seized five firearms from Hurren at Rideau Hall, including a restricted revolver, a prohibited pistol, a prohibited rifle, two shotguns and a prohibited high-capacity magazine. Eleven more long guns were seized from his Manitoba residence. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Judges peppered a federal lawyer with questions Tuesday as the Canadian government argued a refugee pact between Ottawa and Washington is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada's lawyers contend the Federal Court misinterpreted the law when it declared in July that the Safe Third Country Agreement breaches constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security. The court's declaration of invalidity was suspended for six months and later extended, leaving the law in place while a three-judge panel of the Federal Court of Appeal examines the issue. The two-day hearing is slated to proceed through Wednesday. Under the bilateral refugee agreement, which took effect in 2004, Canada and the U.S. recognize each other as safe places to seek protection. It means Canada can turn back a potential refugee who arrives at a land port of entry along the Canada-U.S. border on the basis the person must pursue their claim in the U.S., the country where they first arrived. Canadian refugee advocates have steadfastly fought the asylum agreement, arguing the U.S. is not always a safe country for people fleeing persecution. Several refugee claimants took the case to court along with the Canadian Council for Refugees, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International, who participated in the proceedings as public interest parties. In each case, the applicants, who are citizens of El Salvador, Ethiopia and Syria, arrived at a Canadian land entry port from the U.S. and sought refugee protection. They argued in court that by returning ineligible refugee claimants to the U.S., Canada exposes them to risks in the form of detention and other rights violations. In her decision last year, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald concluded the Safe Third Country Agreement results in ineligible claimants being imprisoned by U.S. authorities. Detention and the consequences flowing from it are "inconsistent with the spirit and objective" of the refugee agreement and amount to a violation of the rights guaranteed by Section 7 of the charter, she wrote. "The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty." In a written submission filed in advance of the appeal hearing, the government says the court's decision should be overturned because the refugee agreement does not breach the principles of fundamental justice. The government argues McDonald made serious legal mistakes in striking down the pact. Federal lawyers say that in finding detention makes it more difficult for asylum claimants in the U.S. to access legal counsel, McDonald ignored evidence that about 85 per cent of asylum claimants in the U.S. are represented. During the appeal hearing Tuesday, Justice David Stratas questioned the notion the judge's findings were in error. "You would admit, wouldn't you, that there is a risk that someone is turned back at the Canadian border and encounters the U.S. system, including detention, without counsel? That's a possibility?" he asked Martin Anderson, a lawyer for the government. Anderson replied that when one looks at the "totality of the evidence," it tends to support the notion more people have access to counsel in detention than not. The government argues the evidence before the Federal Court showed that neither U.S. asylum law nor practice means automatic detention for those determined to be ineligible to claim refugee status in Canada under the bilateral agreement. The U.S. asylum regime has "many safeguards to protect against inhumane detention" and Canadian law provides "safety valve mechanisms" to exempt someone from being returned to the U.S., should they face a likely risk of unlawful detention, the federal filing says. In their submission to the court, the refugee claimants and public interest parties say the federal immigration and public safety ministers have not identified a reviewable error of law. Even so, they say, the government asks the court to accept "bald assertions that purported 'safety valves' at the border found 'illusory' by the Federal Court are nevertheless sufficient to save the unconstitutional regime." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press