Former caretaker accused of drinking over $100,000 of employer’s rare, historic whiskey

Jordana Divon
Contributing Writer
Daily Buzz
Photo by: Amazon
Whiskey Ball Mold
Create ice ball molds that melt very slowly so your whiskey has the perfect taste and chill.
Buy it for $12.86 at Amazon.
Related: 7 things ALL women want in bed

The spirit of Prohibition is alive and well in the liver of John Saunders.

The Pennsylvania man has been charged with drinking more than $100,000 worth of rare, historic whiskey belonging to his former employer.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, Saunders, the former live-in caretaker of a Scottdale, Penn. mansion, stands accused of drinking 52 bottles of 100-year-old Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey.

When owner Patricia Hill purchased the mansion last year with the intention of turning it into a bed and breakfast, she discovered nine cases of the whiskey behind the walls and stairwell during the renovation process. Each case contained approximately 12 bottles of the alcohol that Hill believes had been purchased by the home’s original owner – a wealthy industrialist named J.P. Brennan – in anticipation of the strict U.S. alcohol regulations of the 1920s.

"My guess is that Mr. Brennan ordered 10 cases pre-Prohibition," she told the paper. "I was told by his family that family members used to greet him at the door each day with a shot of whiskey."

[ More Buzz: Actress Tilda Swinton sleeps in a glass box for art ]

This treasure trove of aged amber liquid would be poised to bring in a pretty penny at auction. Its historical value gives the discovery a highly valuable cachet for collectors of early 20th century Americana.

“Those bottles were distilled in 1912 and bottled in 1917 — that's pre-Prohibition. The fact that those bottles survived, hidden in a wall of that estate and discovered during renovation, gives it some historic value,” Joseph Hyman, whiskey and rare spirits specialist at Bonhams, told the Tribune.

For collectors, Hyman continued, the history and quality of the packaging, bottles and labeling, and not the whiskey inside, “is the allure.”

“If the condition is pristine, a bottle of that era can command $1,000 and the whiskey is still drinkable,” he added. “But once that seal is broken and the bottle is opened ... the value is pretty much nil.”

That’s all irrelevant to Saunders’ kidneys, however, as they allegedly processed gallons of the stuff before he moved out of the mansion last March.

It was upon his departure that Hill discovered four cases-worth of her prized whiskey had magically evaporated inside their bottles. She suspected her former caretaker and went to the police.

[ More Buzz: Photo of pit bull surrounded by chicks and bunnies goes viral ]

“The corks were removed or a hole punched through the bottom half to get the whiskey out. The labels were pulled off many ... bottles and are now in the bottom of the cases,” read the court documents.

Police confronted the 62-year-old, who denied the charges and suggested the whiskey had likely “evaporated,” and besides, it was probably rancid anyway, he told authorities.

He would know. A DNA analysis found traces of his saliva on three of the empty bottles.

Saunders will appear before the court on Wednesday for his preliminary hearing. Meanwhile, there’s $102,400 in lost, valuable whiskey currently coursing through the Pennsylvania refiltration system that a conviction will never recover.

Want the latest buzz before it goes viral?
Follow @ydailybuzz on Twitter!

  • Thousands still flying into Canadian airports amid COVID-19 restrictions

    Thousands still flying into Canadian airports amid COVID-19 restrictions

    While U.S. and other international flights coming into Canada have been significantly curtailed since the outbreak of COVID-19, thousands of passengers are still arriving each week at the country's airports.It's an issue that at least one infection control epidemiologist believes is cause for concern."The fact of the matter is this pandemic arrived everywhere in the world through travel," said Colin Furness, who is also an assistant professor with the University of Toronto's Faculty of Information."We should be closing our borders as much as we can. We can't bring [the number of entrants] down to zero but we should get as close as we can."According to the Canada Border Services Agency, 356,673 air travellers came into Canada from the U.S. last year during the week of May 11-17. In the same time period this year, there was a nearly 99 per cent drop.Yet 3,691 people still entered Canada that week.As well, other international travel in that time period saw a 97 per cent decrease from last year's total of 374,775. This year, during that same week, 10,845 people arrived at one of the four Canadian airports that accept international flights — Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.In total, since March 23, 76,072 passengers from the U.S. and 193,438 other international travellers have arrived in Canada.Travel-related cases droppedTwo months ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that for air travel specifically, as of March 18, the government was barring foreign nationals from all countries except the U.S. from entering Canada.But an order in council later that month exempted a number of individuals, including emergency service providers, temporary foreign workers and international students.The ban came at a time when the vast majority of COVID-19 cases were deemed to be travel-related. Since those restrictions have been implemented, travel-related cases of COVID-19 have dropped significantly. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, as of May 25, 81 per cent of all COVID-19 cases were related to community transmission. Meanwhile, 19 per cent of cases were the result of someone becoming exposed while travelling or being exposed to a traveler coming to Canada. Nine per cent of cases were those who reported to have travelled outside of Canada."The data from PHAC suggest that since the borders were closed, international travel is rarely a cause of cases in Canada — the biggest category by far is domestic spread," said Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, in an email. "I don't think the risk [of international travel] is zero but it is much lower than it used to be, especially since international arrivals must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival."But Furness said some countries that seemed to get the virus under control have experienced small flare-ups because of infections related to travel."It may well be that we're not seeing a large number of travel-related cases, but one case can then spawn one more, which then spawns a whole ton of community spread," Furness said.'Trusting people to self-isolate'Anyone arriving in Canada by air or land must complete a contact tracing form to help PHAC monitor and enforce the 14-day quarantine or isolation requirement. Failing to comply with the Quarantine Act can lead to a fine of up to $750,000 and/or imprisonment for six months."Those that aren't [self-isolating] I imagine are in the minority," said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist and researcher based at Toronto General Hospital."I think it's safe to assume the vast majority of those individuals are adhering to the 14 days isolation."Last week, PHAC revealed to CBC News that police officers have made nearly 2,200 home visits to make sure Canadians are complying with the self-isolation rules when they return to Canada.PHAC said there have been no arrests under the Quarantine Act since the pandemic restrictions began.Still, Trudeau told reporters last week "we need to do more to ensure that travellers who are coming back from overseas or from the United States ... are properly followed up on, are properly isolated and don't become further vectors for the spread of COVID-19."He said conversations were ongoing with the premiers regarding potential monitoring tools for those arriving in Canada.Stringent policiesRecently, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced his government was implementing more stringent measures at the province's two international airports in Calgary and Edmonton to screen incoming passengers from outside Canada for symptoms of COVID-19.Travellers arriving from destinations outside Canada will undergo temperature scans and provide provincial officials with details of their 14-day mandatory quarantine plan. That includes where they will stay and how they will get there. Travellers without such plans or private transport to their destinations will be isolated on site, Kenney said. WATCH | The future of flying:In April, the federal government announced that all air travellers would have to wear face masks while in transit and whenever maintaining two metres' separation from others is not possible.Passengers arriving in or departing from Canada have to prove they have a non-medical mask or face covering with them during the boarding process. If they can't, they can be prevented from continuing their journey.Some airlines have capped the number of tickets they sell, or ensure that the middle seat is kept empty.However, the International Air Transport Association, in an effort to restart commercial flights, suggested this month that it was time to end some of the in-flight physical distancing rules.

  • Half of Canadians say governments are hiding something about COVID-19: poll
    The Canadian Press

    Half of Canadians say governments are hiding something about COVID-19: poll

    OTTAWA — Half of Canadians believe they're not getting the whole truth from their governments about COVID-19, a new poll suggests, and some also believe conspiracy theories about where the novel coronavirus began.The most recent survey from Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies found 50 per cent of respondents felt governments were deliberately withholding information about the pandemic of the novel coronavirus, which has killed thousands and ground the economy to a halt."It's staggering, in a period where I believe trust has never been as high," said Leger vice-president Christian Bourque.The poll also asked respondents about their satisfaction with the measures governments were putting in place to fight COVID-19. Sixty-eight per cent said they were satisfied with what their local government is doing, 74 per cent with the federal government's actions and 78 per cent with their provincial government.Bourque found those numbers quite high, considering the results suggest people also seem to believe they are not getting the full picture.The misgivings were greatest in Quebec, where 60 per cent of those polled believe governments are keeping secrets about the virus.The province is also home to nearly 48,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, as well as just over 4,000 deaths — the highest number in Canada.The poll asked questions of 1,510 adult Canadians selected from its online panel between May 22 and May 25. Because of the way participants were recruited, the internet-based poll cannot be assigned a margin of error.Respondents were also asked whether they agree with nine theories circulating online about the coronavirus and how, or why, it came to be."It's basically stuff that's been sort of thrown around the Internet," Bourque said of the theories put forward in the poll. "It's stuff we saw go by and we started to make a list."Few of those polled — 15 per cent or less — believe stories that philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, that there's a link between the pandemic and 5G networks, or that COVID-19 never existed in the first place.More than a third of people, however, believe the virus was created in a lab, or by the Chinese government. Nineteen per cent of respondents also said they believed the number of deaths related to COVID-19 is exaggerated.More than half of respondents agreed with at least one of the nine theories put forward.Openness and transparency have been the "watch words" of the federal government's response to the pandemic from the beginning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said during his daily briefing Monday."But we recognize there's always more to do in terms of openness and transparency and we will continue to demonstrate that with Canadians because we know fundamentally there is an issue of trust and confidence."He said if Canadians trust that their government is being open and truthful, they'll be more likely to continue to follow public health advice to curb the spread of the virus.This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020.Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

  • Trudeau says military members saw 'extremely troubling' things in Ontario long-term care facilities

    Trudeau says military members saw 'extremely troubling' things in Ontario long-term care facilities

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that Canadian Armed Forces members deployed to long-term care homes have reported witnessing "extremely troubling" incidents in Ontario facilities.Trudeau did not detail the incidents reported by the CAF members. Two military sources tell CBC's Vassy Kapelos that military members deployed to the facilities found instances of severe neglect."We are going to ask the province to investigate the instances of neglect and do something about it," said one source. "We found no rules, a lack of staff training and medical equipment and instances of staff reusing syringes on seniors.""Members witnessed people dying and not being taken care of adequately and felt compelled to put it in writing," said a second source.Sources told CBC military members deployed to long-term care homes saw cockroaches and residents left in dirty diapers or left unbathed for weeks.Trudeau said he was saddened, shocked, disappointed and angry to learn of the incidents. He said a report detailing what CAF members saw has been shared with Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who will provide more details later today."On reading the deeply disturbing report, I had obviously a range of emotions of anger, of sadness, of frustration, of grief," Trudeau said. "It is extremely troubling, and as I've said from the very beginning of this, we need to do a better job of supporting our seniors in long-term care right across the country, through this pandemic and beyond."Watch: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 'deeply disturbing' reports out of long-term care homesTrudeau said the report underscores the need to improve standards of care for seniors in long-term care homes across the country, and said the federal government will support the provinces to do that going forward. Long-term care falls under provincial jurisdiction."We need to do a better job of caring for the people who built this country," Trudeau said. "The greatest generation saw us through World War Two. We need to be there to support them properly through this global crisis." Trudeau said there have been requests from Ontario and Quebec to extend the CAF deployment in long-term care facilities.

  • Alberta Energy Minister Says Pandemic Gathering Ban A ‘Great Time’ For Pipelines
    HuffPost Canada

    Alberta Energy Minister Says Pandemic Gathering Ban A ‘Great Time’ For Pipelines

    Energy Minister Sonya Savage said bans on gatherings like protests makes pipeline construction easier.

  • 14 women report sexual assault, harassment by male Ottawa police officers in past 3 years

    14 women report sexual assault, harassment by male Ottawa police officers in past 3 years

    Fourteen women have come forward to report that they were sexual assaulted or harassed by male Ottawa Police Service (OPS) officers in the past three years.The figure emerged from internal statistics released at a meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board on Monday.Since 2018, OPS has launched internal investigations into two reports of sexual assault committed by members and six reports of sexual harassment.In his presentation Monday, Chief Peter Sloly said he is looking at all measures to eliminate sexual violence within the force."I am willing to consider anything, including heavier penalties and more direct punishment, against those who continue to wilfully ignore and flout the rules and oath of office," he said.But Sloly said he's learned that heavier punishment doesn't always solve the problem and will also try "other tools such as mediation, restoration and truth and reconciliation" depending on the circumstances.Police board chair urges transparencyThe chief did not reveal what discipline the officers faced nor did he say if the women involved are still working within the organization.He also insisted unless women outside the police service were impacted, the names of the officers found guilty of wrongdoing against female counterparts should not be identified because it's an internal matter.The acting chair of the police board said the more transparency there is, the better it will be for the force.Sandy Smallwood wants police to regularly report the number of internal sexual misconduct investigations. "The default [position] should be to expose, to shine a light on it. Often when you do that you create upheaval, but that can lead to change and that's what we need," he said.3rd party reporting on the tableSloly acknowledged it's likely there are many other incidents of sexual misconduct by officers against other OPS employees that have gone unreported.He has tasked acting Deputy Chief Joan McKenna with creating a plan that will encourage female officers to come forward with complaints without fear of reprisal.Although complaints can be made through the force's current respect in the workplace policy, McKenna said complainants may be reluctant to come forward to another officer.The new strategy involves giving an outside agency the ability to investigate internal sexual misconduct allegations.  "A third-party reporting agency may encourage people to come forward and protect them from any repercussions they may fear would take place," said McKenna, who took over Deputy Chief Uday Jaswal's responsibilities after he was suspended for allegations of sexual misconduct. McKenna hopes to have the updated sexual violence policy implemented in some form within six months. It's currently a draft awaiting consultation with officers and outside advocates for survivors of sexual assault.The Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women (OCTEVAW) applauded the idea of a third-party investigator."A police service that is serious about gender equity and human rights cannot tolerate such behaviour from its own members and leadership," said executive director Erin Leigh in a statement."Survivors within the OPS have few places to turn for support — sexual harassment, violence, and its trauma has significant and far-reaching consequences regardless of the perpetrator, but can be deeply compounded when perpetrators hold institutional power and public authority."

  • U.S. withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty presents Canada with a 'serious' challenge, says expert

    U.S. withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty presents Canada with a 'serious' challenge, says expert

    Washington's pending withdrawal from a confidence-building international treaty that permits member nations to conduct observation flights over each other's territory is going to present Canada with a difficult strategic challenge, according to one Canadian defence expert.Rob Huebert, who teaches political science at the University of Calgary, said the Trudeau government could be faced with an awkward choice between sticking to Canada's decades-long policy of supporting international arms control treaties and running the risk of looking "like a toady to the United States" by following Washington's lead and withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty.Huebert said the treaty, which was signed in 1992 and came into effect in 2002, permits each of the 34 treaty members to conduct short-notice, unarmed reconnaissance flights over the entire territories of other treaty members to collect data on military forces and activities.Canada is one of the original signatories to the treaty, which gives it the right to conduct two reconnaissance flights a year over Russia — and the obligation to allow two Russian flights over Canadian territory annually."It's a form of verification. You don't have to necessarily like someone or trust someone, but you can see for yourself if they're doing what they say they're going to do," Huebert said.Claiming that Russia is violating the pact, the Trump administration informed other members of the treaty last Thursday that the U.S. plans to pull out in six months. The White House also says that imagery collected during the flights can be obtained quickly at less cost from U.S. or commercial satellites.'[A] very serious political challenge'"If the Russians pull out, then we'd sidestep one potentially very serious political challenge with our American neighbours," Huebert said."But if the Russians decide to stay in the treaty, then it means we either have to say yes, we're in the treaty and Russians and us, we can still have the overflights, and that means flying over the Canadian part of North America. One could imagine what the Americans' response to that will be."Syrine Khoury, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne, said Canada views the Open Skies Treaty as a key tool of global arms control."We understand and share many of the U.S. concerns regarding Russian non-compliance with the Open Skies Treaty," Khoury told Radio Canada International."Nonetheless, we continue to believe that if Russia returns to full compliance, the treaty could continue to serve as an important tool for promoting military transparency, building mutual confidence and reducing misunderstandings."Canada will consult with other state parties to determine the impact of the Trump administration's announcement on the treaty's continuation, Khoury added.Trump suggested Thursday that "there's a very good chance" he'll come to a new agreement with Russia if Moscow adheres to the treaty."So I think what's going to happen is we're going to pull out and they (the Russians) are going to come back and want to make a deal," Trump told reporters at the White House.'Everything changes'Huebert said a U.S. withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty must be seen in the context of a new American strategic doctrine and the Trump administration's broader moves to withdraw from arms control treaties."If one starts reading the latest American strategic policies — they're now, for example, putting low-yield nuclear weapons on their ballistic missile submarines — it's almost as if the Americans are going towards a greater possibility of a nuclear warfighting environment," Huebert said."If that's true, everything changes."While Trump's assertion that Russia is cheating on its obligations under the treaty is correct — particularly when it comes to allowing overflights of breakaway Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia — few Canadian experts agree that it's something worth destroying the entire treaty over, Huebert said."But obviously, Trump has shown very little inclination to try and fix any multilateral organization," he said. "This is part of the philosophy 'America First.' And that goes to the defence and the use of nuclear weapons, and all that entails." 'An ultimatum'Russia decried the U.S. withdrawal as "a deplorable development for European security."According to a statement from the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow sees Washington's move "as an ultimatum rather than a foundation for discussion.""That said, Moscow was not surprised by Washington's decision, which characterizes its approach to discarding the entire package of arms control agreements and trust-building measures in the military sphere," the Russian statement continued.Russia has denied U.S. accusations of non-compliance and said it has questions of its own about U.S. compliance, but prefers to resolve these issues through the mechanisms provided by the treaty."Russia's policy on the treaty will be based on its national security interests and in close cooperation with its allies and partners," the ministry said.

  • Police announce arrests after probe into organized crime and violence in tow truck industry

    Police announce arrests after probe into organized crime and violence in tow truck industry

    Several organized crime groups working in the towing industry have been using violence and property damage as a way to grab control and territory within southern Ontario, York Regional Police said Tuesday, while announcing multiple arrests.In a news release, police said that investigators from York police, Ontario Provincial Police, Toronto police and the Canada Revenue Agency had launched a joint forces investigation dubbed Project Platinum in response to murders, attempted murders, assaults, arsons, threats and property damage in the region.Police said the Greater Toronto Area has been a staging ground for violence in recent months, with rival tow truck companies fighting over profits from the towing of vehicles and alleged frauds after the initial tow.York Regional Police Supt. Mike Slack said Tuesday that organized crime like this begins with an opportunity to make money, and a level of greed that leads to criminal behaviour and violence."The towing industry and its lack of regulations have bred exactly that environment," he said in a video posted by police."Over time, unscrupulous companies and the people working for them have found ways to inflate costs, and victimize consumers."Investigators allege that Paramount Towing, which is owned and operated by Alexander Vinogradsky, along with other rival towing companies, have been defrauding insurance companies with vehicles involved in collisions and staged collisions.Police announced 19 arrests in total, with Vinogradsky facing charges of participating in a criminal organization, alongside a host of other charges. Also mentioned in documents released Tuesday is Mohamad El-Zahawi, 38, who was previously charged with first-degree murder in connection with the death of 33-year-old Soheil Rafipour, who was shot and killed in Richmond Hill, Ont., in December 2018. Police say both El-Zahawi and Rafipour had ties to the tow truck industry.Police also allege in the release that towing companies partnered with auto repair shops and car and truck rental companies to carry out their frauds.Slack alleged that a combination of fraudulent billing, repairs and physiotherapy claims earned people connected to the probe millions in "illicit income.""When these profits were not enough, they staged collisions, using drivers they recruited," he said. One person would play the role of an "at-fault driver," while the other would play the role of a victim, he said."They'll actually have cars run into one another — sometimes in the impound yard itself, sometimes on streets or in parking lots throughout the GTA."'A true wild west'According to investigators, the arrests and charges come after several search warrants were carried out in areas around the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas in April and May."It's a true wild west show out there," John Henderson of the Provincial Towing Association of Ontario recently told CBC News."It's gotten to the point where there could be as much as 60 per cent of the towing industry in the GTA [that] is run by the criminal element."According to police, evidence seized as part of the search warrants includes: * 11 tow trucks. * Dozens of guns, including handguns, shotguns, rifles, and a machine gun. * Thousands of rounds of ammunition. * Two conductive energy weapons and brass knuckles. * An assortment of drugs, including five kilograms of fentanyl, 1.5 kilograms of cocaine, 1.25 kilograms of crystal meth and 1.5 kilograms of pot. * Over $500,000 in cash.Slack said Tuesday that these organizations grossly inflated bills for towing and repairs, with body shops also getting a cut of the profits. Insurance companies were then paying out on these claims, he said."These actions victimize innocent drivers, insurance companies and, ultimately, all of us, through increased insurance rates."Police said insurance companies had been working to "mitigate the fraud and additional costs to the consumer," and had launched legal action against several tow companies.Vaughan's Carr Law had been hired by the insurance companies, police said, and then in turn became the target of violence, threats and extortion.Police say Thomas Sliwinski, 39, Qalid Abderzak, 24, and Zakariye Yousuf, 30, have all been charged in connection with an attack at the Carr law firm.Drivers killedFor the past three years, rogue towing companies have been using intimidation and violence to carve out territory, according to police.Four drivers have been killed in connection with the turf war, police said.Earlier this month, a 23-year-old man was found fatally shot in his tow truck. Two teens have been charged with first-degree murder in connection with that homicide, although police said they don't believe the killing was connected to the conflict.  At least 30 tow trucks have been burned, and there have been dozens of cases of extortion and robbery.Two weeks ago, two more tow trucks were torched in Durham Region, east of Toronto.Slack said it is difficult to identify all of the incidents and property damage linked to these criminal organizations, but when the police probe began in February, investigators found 150 different incidents that were somehow related. Police are confident they will identify more, he said.Of the 19 people who were arrested in connection with the busts, eight are still in custody, Slack said. Thirty or more additional arrests could be coming in the "coming days, weeks and months," he said.Lack of oversight a problem, industry rep saysHenderson said unscrupulous towing companies in Ontario even hire "blockers" — at hundreds of dollars a trip — to impede rival tow trucks from reaching accident scenes.He said the violence has spread to the point that the office of a lawyer representing one towing company was set on fire recently. Part of the problem, Henderson said, is a lack of provincial oversight. At the moment, GTA towing companies are governed largely by a patchwork of municipal bylaws."I could actually pass you the keys to a small [tow truck] and say, 'Go pick up a vehicle on the 401,'" he said.Slack said that provincewide regulatory changes are needed in Ontario."To have a long-lasting effect, there will need to be some changes in the industry — changes in regulation, changes in bylaws," he said.But after months of violence, Ontarians should see the intensity of the turf war start to abate, investigators believe."With the accused facing charges and their assets seized, we expect the level of violence we have seen in our community to diminish," he said.

  • Ontario delays allowing bubble families, larger gatherings as COVID cases rise
    The Canadian Press

    Ontario delays allowing bubble families, larger gatherings as COVID cases rise

    Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged Canadians to keep following public health orders heading into summer, as rising COVID-19 cases and high-profile misbehaviour in a Toronto park over the weekend threatened to derail Ontario's reopening plans.Canada's most populous province, one of the hardest hit in the pandemic, had been contemplating letting more than one family to link up in so-called "bubbles" and allowing gatherings of more than five people.But Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday that the province's top doctor is reluctant to loosen those rules yet."There is a concern with people creating groups that are too large," she said.Ontario Premier Doug Ford expressed frustration at the otherwise "smart young people" who crowded into Trinity Bellwoods Park in downtown Toronto on a warm, sunny Saturday."It was like a rock concert without the band," he said Monday.But he said the recklessness on display at Trinity Bellwoods was not a reason to reinstitute some of the restrictions already removed."I'm not going to punish the whole province because a group of people in Toronto ended up getting together," he said. "Like, 99.9 per cent of the people are phenomenal."Ford encouraged anyone in the Trinity Bellwoods crowd to "do us all a favour" and get tested for the virus.However, the province's associate chief medical officer later said she recommends they watch for symptoms for 14 days and avoid coming into contact with high-risk people.Ontario reported more than 400 new COVID-19 cases Monday for a fifth straight day, after posting daily growth numbers in the 200s and 300s earlier in the month. It has now seen growth rates of between 1.5 and 1.9 per cent for 16 of the past 17 days.Elliott said the rising numbers were likely due to Mother's Day gatherings that flouted official guidelines. Ford himself has admitted that two of his daughters who don't live at home visited that weekend in a group of at least six people.The premier added officials will be keeping a sharp eye on the numbers and it's too soon to say how they could play into Ontario's future reopening plans."Everything's on the table, but we're very cautious," he said. "As soon as we see these numbers climb a bit, you get a little gun shy."In Ottawa, Trudeau said Canadians will have to keep adjusting their routines as the weather warms up."Our approach will have to be tailored to each community," he said. "That means the rules and public health recommendations you're asked to follow may be different depending on where you live and that can be confusing."But Trudeau said no matter where they live, everyone has the responsibility to try to stay two metres away from others, and wear a mask in public when physical distancing isn't possible.Non-essential retail stores in Montreal opened Monday for the first time since March. That was three weeks later than shops outside the hard-hit city.Dozens who lined up outside a downtown Zara clothing outlet were greeted by masked employees and a hand-sanitizing station.Zuleyha Sen was shopping for her nearly eight-year-old son, who had outgrown his clothes. Online orders have been delayed due to the pandemic. "I won't go in for a long time, I'm just hoping to grab several things," she said.Out West, in Calgary and the city of Brooks in southeastern Alberta, restaurants, bars, hair salons and barbershops that had been left out of Alberta's first reopening phase were also allowed to resume on Monday. The delay in those cities was due to a high number of COVID-19 caseloads.Meanwhile, Trudeau said he'll push the provinces to give workers 10 days of paid sick leave a year — a measure the federal NDP has been urging to ensure no one has to choose between coming to work sick and losing income.NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the move was a good first step, but he wants to see more action before his party will agree to suspend full sittings of the House of Commons through the summer.— with files from Allison Jones in Toronto, Morgan Lowrie in Montreal and Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa.This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

  • Conversion therapy is now officially banned in Calgary

    Conversion therapy is now officially banned in Calgary

    Conversion therapy is now illegal in Calgary.Calgary city council voted 14-1 Monday afternoon to approve a bylaw that bans the practice. Businesses that break the bylaw by offering the practice for a fee will face fines up to $10,000."There are forces of anger and hatred that our gender and sexually diverse brothers and sisters have to deal with every single day. Sometimes in this job, sometimes we get to just do what's right," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said.Coun. Evan Woolley, who initially brought forward the motion, asked councillors to carefully consider before the vote what side of history they'd like to be on.Coun. Joe Magliocca supported the first reading of the bylaw, but voted against the second and third readings.Conversion therapy aims through counselling or religious teaching to change an individual's sexual orientation to heterosexual or gender identity to cisgender, which means a person who identifies with the sex assigned to them at birth. The practice is discredited by most major expert bodies as psychologically damaging.Five provinces and eight other Alberta municipalities have taken steps to ban the practice, and a federal ban is also in the works.Janis Irwin, the Opposition critic for women and LGBTQ2S+ issues, called on the province to also ban the practice following Calgary's decision."Now that many Alberta municipalities have stepped up to show leadership, and Ottawa has taken action, too, it's time for Jason Kenney and the UCP to do the same. If not, I ask them, what are they waiting for?" she said in an emailed statement.Earlier in May, more than 100 calls and 1,500 written submissions were received by a council committee, with many people sharing deeply personal perspectives on the bylaw.Survivors of conversion therapy called in to say the so-called therapists who had practiced on them were still offering the service in Calgary. Some detractors called in from as far away as Ontario to ask council not to support the ban, citing concerns it could impact religious freedoms. However, dozens of faith leaders wrote to council in support of the bylaw, disputing those concerns."This is not about someone seeking out advice, someone questioning their identity. This is not about talking to your pastor," Nenshi said."What this is about is banning the coercive, inhumane practice of forcing you to be someone you are not."Coun. Jeromy Farkas shared his experience of coming out as bisexual and said he received emails suggesting he is unfit for office because he supports the ban."Today, I am so fortunate to be in a position where I am loved, accepted and able to contribute in a meaningful way.… I think [the bylaw] is meaningful, and I think it is worth sending a signal about the kind of city we are and the kind of city we want to be," he said before the vote.Following the first reading of the bylaw, council debated two amendments that would have seen a stricter definition for conversion therapy or that would allow for conversion therapy if a client provided informed consent — changes that Nenshi said would gut the bylaw's effectiveness.Those amendments failed, with just councillors Magliocca and Sean Chu voting in favour.A third amendment was set to be brought forward Monday afternoon, but Chu called it down after discussion with his colleagues, saying his intention wasn't to create a loophole in the bylaw."I have always supported the LGBTQ+ community and one of my best friends is also from that community," he said.It's estimated as many as 47,000 LGBT Canadians have undergone a form of conversion therapy, according to a Community Based Research Centre study, which was presented to committee earlier this month.It's opposed by the Canadian Psychological Association and the World Health Organization, which has stated conversion therapy poses a "severe threat to the health and human rights of the affected persons.""People who delivered these so-called services perpetuated and profited off self-hatred and pain. No more, not in our city," said Shone Thistle, board president of Calary Pride, in an emailed statement. The bylaw does not ban practices or therapies relating to a person's gender transition or to a non-judgmental exploration and acceptance of their identity or development.

  • N.S. RCMP use warrants to find killer's cellphone, computer and other devices
    The Canadian Press

    N.S. RCMP use warrants to find killer's cellphone, computer and other devices

    HALIFAX — As police continue their investigation into a mass killing that claimed 22 lives last month in rural Nova Scotia, newly released documents reveal the RCMP recently seized and searched the killer's computer, cellphone, tablet and navigation devices.The search warrants, unsealed by a judge on Monday, do not provide details about what police found because their investigation has yet to be completed. As a result, the documents are heavily redacted.The warrants say police were looking for firearms, ammunition, explosives, chemicals, surveillance systems, computers, electronic devices, police-related clothing, human remains and "documents related to planning mass murder events" and the acquisition of weapons.Each of the warrants is accompanied by a grim recounting of the events that started on the night of April 18, when 51-year-old Gabriel Wortman allegedly assaulted his common-law spouse at one of his seasonal homes in the village of Portapique, N.S.Armed with several semi-automatic weapons, he set fire to properties and killed 13 people in Portapiqe before he left the area, disguised as a Mountie and driving a vehicle that looked exactly like an RCMP cruiser.He killed another nine people the following day in several other communities in northern and central Nova Scotia before an RCMP officer fatally shot him at a gas station in Enfield, N.S., about 90 kilometres south of Portapique.The suspect remained at large for 13 hours."Gabriel Wortman showed a complete disregard for human life as he shot at people sitting in their cars, people walking along the side of the road, and at people in their private homes," says a document prepared by RCMP Sgt. Angela Hawryluk.Investigators have said little when asked what may have motivated the killer.The RCMP documents say police seized a Samsung cellphone, Toshiba laptop, Acer tablet, a data-storage card and a Garmin global positioning device from the gunman's denture clinic in Dartmouth, N.S., on April 20, the day after he was killed by police.As well, the warrants and other documents say police have obtained data from the infotainment systems inside two vehicles seized from the same property: a 2013 Ford Taurus Police Interceptor and a 2015 C-300 Mercedes-Benz.Police say these systems can store synchronized cellphone data regarding navigation, texting, phone calls and internet-enabled content including traffic conditions and weather.Meanwhile, the RCMP have filed a so-called production order with telecommunications provider Telus Communications Inc., based in Scarborough, Ont. The order says the Mounties are seeking documents and data from Telus Mobility, but the specific requests have been redacted.Investigators obtained warrants to search at least four other properties owned by the killer, two of them in Portapique.Police confirmed that nothing was seized from 287 Portapique Beach Road, which was destroyed by fire.At another burned property, 136 Orchard Beach Drive, police found something they described as "rounds," but the description on either side of that word has been blacked out.At 200 Portapique Beach Road, Wortman's main seasonal residence, police found an ammunition box with a burnt $100 bill, a black plastic bag, a burnt receipt box and burnt pieces of a rifle.Police were also granted permission to search a second denture clinic at 3542 Novalea Drive in Halifax, where they hoped to find another computer. But the search turned up nothing.The documents released Monday were unsealed after a media consortium, including The Canadian Press, went to court.Last week, the court released other documents that revealed statements from witnesses who described Wortman as an abusive "sociopath" who had suffered a mental breakdown and was stockpiling guns while displaying paranoid behaviour because of the COVID-19 pandemic.One witness said Wortman "had been disturbed and that he was severely abused as a young boy," adding he was "very smart, cheated and was a psychopath." Another witness said Wortman had described ways to get rid of bodies using chemicals.The document confirmed Wortman had purchased used police cars at auctions and had obtained decals to make one vehicle, another Ford Taurus, look exactly like an RCMP cruiser.In the reasons given for seeking search warrants, Hawryluk describes how the first two officers to arrive in Portapique on the night of April 18 encountered a wounded witness who told them he'd been fired upon by a man in uniform driving what they thought was an RCMP vehicle.The witness told police his "first suspicion was that (the gunman) was … Gabe (Wortman) because his barn was on fire and he had a look-a-like Taurus that he was calling a police car."This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

  • 2 daycares affected by active case of COVID-19 in Campbellton region

    2 daycares affected by active case of COVID-19 in Campbellton region

    Children and employees of a Campbellton daycare attended by a child diagnosed last week with COVID-19 have all tested negative for the disease, the owner says.Cécile Castonguay says it's business as usual at her Bouts Choux daycare.But about 35 people the child may have come into contact with through a second daycare in Balmoral, about an hour south of Campbellton, have been placed in quarantine for 14 days.That daycare, Tourbillon de Soleil, is closed until further notice.The owner declined to be interviewed, but confirmed the child was there for one day, May 19, when daycares in the province reopened, and that she and her four employees, as well as 14 children and their parents, are now under quarantine.The child developed a fever overnight May 19 and was quickly tested.The province announced an active case of COVID-19 involving a person under the age of 19 in the Campbellton region on May 21.The child's parents, who both work in health care, declined to be interviewed.They said they followed all the rules to the letter and don't understand how their child could have become infected.Still under investigationThe one active case of COVID-19 in New Brunswick in the Campbellton region remains under investigation, said Department of Health spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane."Although community transmission has not been confirmed, it is important for residents of Zone 5 to be aware of any symptoms," he said in an emailed statement.Macfarlane said he could not comment on the status of specific daycares."As per normal protocols, and previously described numerous times, Public Health notifies individuals who are close contacts of a case," he said.The child normally attends the Tourbillon de Soleil daycare in Balmoral. During the pandemic, however, the child had been attending the Bouts Choux daycare in Campbellton, which remained open for essential workers, said Castonguay.May 15 was the child's last day at her daycare, she said.On May 21, Castonguay received a call from Public Health advising her the child had tested positive, but she was told not to worry because the child was not contagious during the time with her."She just wanted to tell me, let me know. So she said, 'Everything is OK.'"The following day, Public Health called again."She said, 'I think for prevention, everybody should go for a COVID test.' That's what we did. I closed the daycare at noon, I called all the parents and we went for the COVID test and everybody [was] negative," said Castonguay, referring to herself, her employee, three children who are still at her daycare and four other children who have moved back to other daycares.Castonguay said she was confident the tests would be negative. She has been following Public Health's directives, including taking the children's temperatures and checking for symptoms."We're doing all in our power to keep the place safe and clean and disinfected and everything," she said."I've got the faith too, so that helps," she added.Child doing 'OK'Balmoral Mayor Charles Bernard said the infected child is doing "OK." So is the child's parents.He received an update from a member of their family on Sunday, he said.Some people in the village have been asking questions about the confirmed case, said Bernard."The answer is … we don't have to, you know, to be afraid of anything. Just continue to follow the regular rules that have been put in place by government and everything should be OK," he said.Bernard learned of the case on May 21, when the daycare owner called to let the village office know she had been ordered by Public Health to close."We were happy that they advised us," he said. "We've done what we had to do as a municipality to make sure that nobody from our staff had been … in contact with that kid or that family. So everything is fine and dandy up until now."All anyone can do is wait for Public Health to finish its investigation to determine the source, and for the 14-day quarantine to end to see if anyone who was exposed develops symptoms, said Bernard.Symptoms of COVID-19 can include: a fever above 38 C, a new cough or worsening chronic cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, new onset of fatigue, new onset of muscle pain, diarrhea, loss of sense of taste or smell, and difficulty breathing. In children, symptoms have also included purple markings on the fingers and toes.A COVID-19 self-assessment tool is available on Public Health's website to help residents determine if they should be tested for the disease. Anyone who does exhibit symptoms is asked to contact Tele-Care 811 for further direction.

  • Alberta's United Conservatives among parties seeking COVID-19 wage aid
    The Canadian Press

    Alberta's United Conservatives among parties seeking COVID-19 wage aid

    EDMONTON — Alberta's United Conservative Party says it is applying for the federal wage subsidy program during the COVID-19 pandemic while the Opposition NDP says it is holding off.UCP spokesman Evan Menzies said Monday it is the best option for its workers with the locked-down economy leading to a reduction in fundraising opportunities."We have lost fundraising events in our 2020 calendar due to the restrictions on gatherings," Menzies said in a statement."Rather than fire staff, we plan to apply for the temporary federal program, like thousands of other business and non-profits have across the country, to help maintain our eight staff and the families that rely on them."The alternative was laying off staff and putting those individuals on the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB)/Employment Insurance."NDP provincial secretary Brandon Stevens said the NDP has eight staffers."Our team has worked hard since mid-March to make sure that our fundraising respects the very real health and economic anxieties of Albertans," Stevens said in a statement Monday. "To date, we have met our fundraising goals and have not had to apply for the federal wage subsidy or the federal rental assistance program."We continue to closely monitor our fundraising so that, if needed, we can make adjustments to keep staff employed and maintain our operations."Alberta's United Conservatives, led by Jason Kenney, won the provincial election in the spring of 2019, but finished the year with a $2.3-million deficit and net liabilities of $1.1 million.The NDP, the only other party with members in the legislature, recorded a surplus of almost $750,000 in 2019 with net liabilities of close to $377,000.In Manitoba, the governing Progressive Conservatives and the Opposition NDP say they have not applied for the benefit.In Saskatchewan neither the governing Saskatchewan Party nor the Opposition New Democrats are taking the subsidy.Federally, the Liberals, Conservatives, the NDP and the Green party have all applied for the subsidy.The Bloc Quebecois did not apply, saying the subsidy is designed to rescue those facing bankruptcy.Under the $73-billion program, Ottawa will cover 75 per cent of wages — up to $847 per week, per employee — for companies and organizations that have seen revenues from January and February decline by 15 per cent in March, or 30 per cent in April and May.The program was initially intended to apply to payrolls between March 15 and June 6, but has now been extended to the end of August.Political parties as non-profit entities are eligible to apply.In Ottawa, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau didn't answer repeated questions Monday about why his party needed to access that support.Instead, Trudeau spoke broadly about the aim of the program to support families and workers through the pandemic crisis.Alberta is continuing to see flat or declining caseload numbers.Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, reported 19 new cases Monday, bringing the total active cases to 762. There are 45 people in hospital with COVID-19, five of whom are in intensive care.Hinshaw reported three more deaths, bringing that total to 138.Also Monday, Calgary and Brooks were allowed to join the rest of the province by opening restaurants, barber shops and hair salons. Reopenings in those two cities were delayed by comparatively higher case numbers.The next phase of the relaunch is set for June 19, when spas, movie theatres and other businesses could reopen.Hinshaw said if the cases continue to decline, they could discuss an earlier relaunch date."That's really up to all of us together to keep those numbers low," Hinshaw said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

  • COVID-19 in Canada: 'Deeply disturbing' revelations about long-term care leave Trudeau shaken
    Yahoo News Canada

    COVID-19 in Canada: 'Deeply disturbing' revelations about long-term care leave Trudeau shaken

    As cases of COVID-19 continue to spread around the world, Canadians are concerned about their health and safety.

  • Salmon expected to begin arriving soon at Fraser River landslide: DFO
    The Canadian Press

    Salmon expected to begin arriving soon at Fraser River landslide: DFO

    VANCOUVER — Parts of a pneumatic fish pump dubbed the "salmon cannon" have arrived at the site of a massive landslide along British Columbia's Fraser River, where Fisheries and Oceans Canada expects some salmon to begin arriving soon.Six 160-metre tubes of different sizes are being suspended along the canyon wall above the river, said Gwil Roberts, director of the department's landslide response team.A fish ladder that's nearly complete would attract salmon, guiding them into a holding pond before they enter the fish pump and tube system that will take them up river from the slide, said Roberts.The pump system is leased from a Seattle-based company and includes a scanner that measures the size of the salmon in order to send them into the appropriate tube.Roberts said the largest tube is about 25 centimetres in diameter and the system is more gentle than the "salmon cannon" label suggests.A deceleration mechanism would slow the salmon down and deposit them gently upstream after the fish have travelled about 20 metres per second for 20 seconds, he said during a briefing on Monday.The pump and other measures underway at the site, including a series of boulders arranged to create pools where salmon can rest, are designed to minimize the need to handle the fish, said Roberts."This reduces stress to the fish," he said, adding that transporting fish by trucks equipped with large water tanks is a last resort this year.Tens of thousands of salmon were transported by truck and helicopter after the slide was discovered late last June.Roberts said spring water levels are still too high for salmon to navigate the series of boulders and pools that make up a "nature-like fishway."The site is being prepared and the fish pump will be installed shortly to aid the salmon until water levels drop, he said.There have been no reports of salmon arriving yet, said Roberts, but Chinook and other early returning salmon are expected soon.The landslide sent 75,000 cubic metres of boulders and debris into the Fraser River north of Lillooet, creating a five-metre waterfall and a major obstacle for salmon returning to their spawning grounds.Roberts said mortality was "extremely high" last year because fish had been arriving at the base of the waterfall and trying to swim upstream for at least a month before the slide was discovered."They were battering themselves and getting stressed," he said. "This year we have the plan in place to move the salmon to ensure they can get across the slide site and we are very hopeful we will have very, very low mortality."The fish have already travelled about 375 kilometres from the mouth of the Fraser River before arriving at the slide and some continue another 600 kilometres, said Roberts.He said the ultimate goal is to establish a natural fish passage at the site."You're looking at the destruction of salmon stock if we don't do something here. If we don't help, if we do not facilitate or make fish passage happen, then you will see the disastrous effects to those stocks."Roberts said a hatchery program is also in place if need be, which means some salmon could be captured and their offspring reared before being reintroduced into the wild, depending on the arrival of different salmon species.Fisheries and Oceans Canada has pointed to warming ocean waters, habitat degradation, disease and other threats as factors that are contributing to the decline of many wild Pacific salmon stocks and species.This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

  • Judge awards $55K to elder with walker who was 'falsely arrested ... assaulted' by RCMP constable

    Judge awards $55K to elder with walker who was 'falsely arrested ... assaulted' by RCMP constable

    The B.C. Supreme Court has awarded $55,000 in damages to an Indigenous elder the judge ruled was "falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned, assaulted, and battered" by an RCMP officer during an incident in northern B.C. in 2014.Irene Joseph, then 61, was injured in a struggle with the officer, who suspected her of shoplifting. No stolen merchandise was found, and Joseph never faced charges. Joseph sued RCMP Const. Darrin Meier and the Attorney General of Canada, in a case a judge has now ruled on, more than five years later. On December 6, 2014, Joseph, a Wet'suwet'en elder, was shopping at Mark's Work Warehouse in Smithers.Because of chronic pain and a fused ankle, she was using her walker.Outside the store, Joseph was approached by Meier, who'd been called by a store manager concerned about shoplifting.Joseph declined to speak with the officer and didn't allow him to handcuff her, saying she'd done nothing wrong.The court judgment states the RCMP constable then forced Joseph down on the ground on her stomach, and climbed on top of her, as he struggled to handcuff her.The court ruled Joseph was injured in the struggle.No stolen merchandise was found. Defence lawyers argued the RCMP constable had reasonable grounds to suspect that Joseph had shoplifted and that he had used reasonable force.But the Honorable Madam Justice B. Brown stated that Meier, then a seven-year RCMP veteran, acted improperly though "he did not do so maliciously or high handedly." "Things rapidly escalated when Const. Meier decided to handcuff her," stated Brown. "It would have been obvious to all she had limited mobility and ... used a walker."It was simply not necessary to physically subdue a woman of Ms Joseph's age and limited mobility.... She was arrested and restrained in a very public manner and was humiliated."The court backed Joseph's claim that she suffered bruises and scrapes, as well as a sore neck, ribs, and back. The judge noted that the police incident also aggravated pre-existing conditions, including chronic pain and anxiety."She still experiences anxiety when leaving her house, as she is afraid she might be attacked," said the judge.Joseph was awarded $55,000 in damages.

  • Scheer demands 'unequivocal condemnation' from Trudeau over China's 'attack' on Hong Kong's rights and freedoms
    Global News

    Scheer demands 'unequivocal condemnation' from Trudeau over China's 'attack' on Hong Kong's rights and freedoms

    Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer demanded that the prime minister “unequivocally condemn” the Chinese government's recent attacks on the people of Hong Kong. Justin Trudeau responded by calling for de-escalation of tensions and said Canada stands with the the people of Hong Kong and continues to support the over 300,000 Canadians living there, but no condemnation was provided by Trudeau.

  • If weekend crowding at Trinity Bellwoods causes a COVID-19 outbreak, how will we trace it?

    If weekend crowding at Trinity Bellwoods causes a COVID-19 outbreak, how will we trace it?

    Pictures and videos showing crowds of people gathered at Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday had one public health professor and her colleagues "really quite shocked and really quite worried" — and experts say if a COVID-19 case stems from the gathering, it could pose a big challenge for contact tracers."We do think that this creates a great risk that we're going to see further increase in the pre-existing uptake of new cases," said Susan Bondy, an associate professor at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health.The images showed groups of people close together, talking and laughing, a combination Bondy said "is a risk for the propagation of the epidemic." But with the thousands of people gathered in the park Saturday, if one of them does test positive how would officials go about tracing the possible exposure?First, all of the patients' close contacts would be identified, tested (thanks to newly expanded guidelines) and told to self isolate for 14 days.  In the case of Saturday's gathering, identifying all the possible contacts of someone would be difficult. If a positive case emerges from it, officials may have to put out a public notification telling everyone at the park that day to get tested."This happened over and over in waves during SARS. Media broadcasts would say, 'If you passed through North York General between this date and that date please go home and self isolate.' And that's the message that we would be relying on you the media to push out there," Bondy explained. But in a crowd as large as the one on Saturday, if an outbreak were to occur identifying a link, or chain of infection, back to just one or two people would be difficult, said Bondy. "People can probably identify a number of specific people that they ran into," she said, but "they won't be able to identify the potentially hundreds of people that they had come into contact with."That kind of contact tracing is laborious detective work, done around the clock by public health workers and volunteers.And it's precisely what University Health Network epidemiologist Dr. Lauren Lapointe-Shaw said needs to be done. "Contact tracing is going to be the most important thing to double down on," Lapointe-Shaw pointed out, adding "minutes are of the essence ... because the more time passes the more we know there's going to be this mushrooming of cases."How does contact tracing work?The first step of contact tracing is to have a confirmed case of COVID-19. Once that person is identified, public health employees go about finding out where they have been in the last 14 days to understand where they picked up the virus. More than half of the cases in Toronto are from close contacts easily identifiable to the sick person. The others are community spread, which means piecing together the story of someone's whereabouts. "It can be quite challenging," said Toronto's Associate Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vinita Dubey."I mean, can you remember what you did five days ago? How can we jog your memory?" Dubey explained it might mean having to go check your emails or credit-card statements."[We need] to be able to piece it all together so we can collect as much info as we can — sometimes the list can be quite long," she said. Public health employees do most of this work on the phone, speaking with the patient and their contacts. Sometimes it takes multiple follow-up calls to piece it all together.Right now, Toronto Public Health has 550 contact tracers with another 200 expected to come on board soon. There's also a public health hotline available from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., or 311, which is available around the clock.But until a positive case is identified from that day at Trinity Bellwoods, Premier Doug Ford is asking anyone who was there to "do us all a favour and go get tested now."Both the city and province's top public health advisers didn't go as far as that, suggesting only that park goers self-monitor for 14 days and try to avoid contact with vulnerable people such as seniors and young children.

  • Quebec cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 trends improve, Montreal retail reopens
    The Canadian Press

    Quebec cautiously optimistic as COVID-19 trends improve, Montreal retail reopens

    MONTREAL — Quebec reported its sixth consecutive daily decrease in the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 on Monday, as retail stores across the Montreal area reopened following weeks of shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus.Authorities had repeatedly pushed back the reopening day for Montreal-area stores because they worried the province's health-care system couldn't handle a sudden increase in COVID cases.Premier Francois Legault told reporters in Montreal on Monday that in the past seven days, 114 COVID-19 patients had left Montreal-area hospitals while about 1,194 patients remain. The situation is improving but "it's still fragile," he said."That's why we are reopening gradually," said Legault, who also announced Monday that shopping centres outside the greater Montreal area could reopen as of June 1. The manufacturing sector was also permitted to operate at 100 per cent capacity across the province starting Monday."We have to continue to be careful because we cannot afford to have large increases in the next few days or weeks in the number of people in our hospitals in Montreal," Legault said.Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said the province had finally met its target of conducting 14,000 daily tests for COVID-19. Authorities conducted roughly 15,000-16,000 tests per day on Thursday and Friday, he said.That number dropped to fewer than 12,000 on Saturday and Arruda said he expected the testing figure to be even lower on Sunday, noting fewer people visit testing clinics on weekends.But even as the number of tests increases, the number of positive results is dropping. The province now has 47,984 confirmed cases of COVID-19 — an increase of 573 cases compared to Sunday. More than 14,650 people have recovered.Quebec reported 85 additional deaths linked to COVID-19 Monday, bringing the total number to 4,069 since the beginning of the pandemic. Legault said 42 of the newly reported deaths occurred more than seven days ago in Laval, a hard-hit city north of Montreal.Arruda said the number of daily confirmed cases of the virus is decreasing — despite more testing — because people living in hard-hit areas of Montreal have already been exposed to the virus, which is leading to a slowdown in community spread.There are also fewer positive daily cases, he said, because public health authorities are conducting more tests outside long-term care homes and other health care settings, where the rate of COVID-19 transmission is lower.Arruda said the province will soon begin serologic tests in order to help determine how many Quebecers have been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies to fight it.The daily testing that authorities are conducting is able to determine if a patient is currently infected with COVID-19. A serologic test, however, analyzes blood to measure whether that person's immune system has responded to being exposed to the novel coronavirus."We're making a lot of pressure for that to begin soon," Arruda said.Legault also announced Monday that asylum seekers who are working in the health-care system could be eligible for a path to citizenship as immigrants instead of through the federal refugee system.His government has been taking criticism from members of the Haitian community for its strict posture on the asylum seekers who had been entering Quebec illegally over the past few years — many of whom originated from Haiti.Ruth Pierre-Paul, who advocates on behalf of Montreal's Haitian community, had told The Canadian Press that hundreds of those who crossed the border irregularly in recent years have sought out jobs in long-term care homes as a quick way to enter the workforce, due to a short training period and large bank of available jobs.Legault said he asked his immigration minister to review each case of asylum seekers working in the health-care sector, to see if they qualify as immigrants."It's a way of telling them, 'Thank you,'" Legault said.This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

  • Ontario won't specify COVID-19 'hotspots' even as premier urges testing

    Ontario won't specify COVID-19 'hotspots' even as premier urges testing

    Premier Doug Ford is pleading with people who live in Ontario's COVID-19 "hotspots" to get tested for the virus — but officials won't specify which neighbourhoods have been hardest hit.Ford mentioned the province's coronavirus hotspots multiple times during his daily news conference Monday. He said the government is able to measure them by postal code, and that some areas are "lighting up like a Christmas tree.""We want to encourage people in the hotspots … please get tested," Ford said.But that data has not been made public. CBC News has requested a breakdown of cases by postal code, but Hayley Chazan, spokesperson for the provincial minister of health, would only say that Ontario's hardest-hit regions are in Toronto, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex County.Ford elaborated slightly Monday afternoon, saying "parts" of those regions were most affected. He also mentioned parts of Brampton, north Etobicoke and Scarborough.According to the latest data from the province, Toronto-area public health units account for 64.8 per cent of Ontario's cases.WATCH | Premier Doug Ford discusses Ontario's COVID-19 hotspots"We're going to get people out where the hotspots are and get them tested," Ford said, though he did not elaborate on exactly how that would happen.Ford said the province plans to launch "the next steps" of its testing strategy in the coming days. The first steps of that plan began this weekend, he said, with testing of hospital workers — symptomatic or not — and inmates and staff in correctional facilities."I want as many people tested as possible," he said.But that hasn't been happening. Ontario has routinely been missing its testing target in recent days, with just 8,170 tests processed since the province's last daily update. That's far below the benchmark of 16,000 per day and nowhere near the almost 20,000 tests Ontario has the capacity to handle on any given day. The backlog of tests waiting to be processed is sitting at 3,883.Ford, who has repeatedly stated he wants to see more testing, said Monday the province's plan "will take time to fully ramp up."Avoiding stigmaBut the province might be reluctant to name the hotspots because of the stigma that could cause, says Dr. David Fisman, professor of epidemiology at the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health."I think we know more than what is being discussed publicly about where the hotspots are, particularly within the [Toronto area]," Fisman, who is also a physician at Michael Garron Hospital, said Monday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning."I think there are some very important discussions happening internally in public health agencies about stigma. Because this happens again and again with infectious diseases — where you draw a circle around a place that has higher rates of infection, and all of a sudden folks say 'that's where the infectious people are,'" he said."I think there's a great desire not to create that kind of dialogue or that kind of rhetoric in Toronto."Fisman also said that health units in particularly affected areas need help to snuff out the virus. That would include support for people in dense areas who might have trouble physically distancing, protective equipment for front-line workers, and mobile testing for people who have difficulties getting to a testing centre."I don't think this is about enforcement or further stigmatization," he said."I think this is about supporting vulnerable parts of the GTA so that we can get this done."

  • Fredericton residents protest removal of large hedges that hid former tent city

    Fredericton residents protest removal of large hedges that hid former tent city

    About 20 people gathered outside Government House in Fredericton on Monday morning to protest against the city's plans to take down about 120 metres of eastern white cedar hedges that run along the walking trail. Jeff Trail, deputy chief administrative officer for the City of Fredericton, said staff have already removed about one-third of the hedge because of safety concerns.The area is often used by people who are homeless and set up tents along the hedge, which provides privacy and added protection during the summer months. There are no tents there now, and the city doesn't want their return."Removing the hedge improves the sight lines," Trail said. "There's an area there that was hidden from both Woodstock Road and even the driveway into the back of the Victoria Health Centre … it provides lots of opportunity for doing things out of sight."Safety concernsUntil January, between 20 and 30 tents were up between the hedge and the trail running along the St. John River, Trail said.Cleanup crews found 1,000 needles in one tent, and hundreds of used syringes in and around the hedge, which he said was being used as a bathroom.The city has already removed about 40 metres of the hedge between Government House and the Victoria Health Centre and plans to remove the rest in the fall. Corinne Hersey, who teaches at St. Thomas University, was one of the people protesting the decision on Monday morning. She said there needs to be a larger discussion before the remaining hedges are also removed. "We do know that there was a lot of garbage and needles, so I understand the concern, but the way that it's done, to just remove them, not tell anybody what's being done, then to have no place for people to go except to create another tent city isn't the answer," said Hersey, who plans to run for mayor in the next municipal election.Migratory birdsLast week, Andrea Francis went to work at the Victoria Health Centre and said she was devastated to find one of the hedges had been taken down. Later that day, she saw city workers starting to take down another hedge, so she went out and stood in the way of their equipment. Francis was concerned about migratory birds that live in the hedge."I'm an animal lover and environmentalist, lover of nature," she said. "I really care about retaining what green spaces we have left in Fredericton."Francis wants the city to bring in a wildlife expert to check the hedges for birds living there. She also wants the city to consult and listen to residents.Trail said the city is holding off on removing the rest of the hedge because of concerns that birds may be nesting there, but the rest of the removal will happen in early fall. Trail said public consultation isn't usually required for work such as this.

  • One of Canada's largest long-term care operators is owned by a federal Crown corporation

    One of Canada's largest long-term care operators is owned by a federal Crown corporation

    One of the largest operators of seniors' residences and long-term care homes in Canada is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Public Sector Pension Investment Board (PSP), a federal Crown corporation charged with investing funds for the pension plans of the federal public service, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Reserve Force.The company, Revera, owns or operates dozens of properties across Canada; it also has major holdings in the United States and the U.K., with a portfolio of seniors' apartments, assisted living and long-term care homes.More than 55,000 seniors live in a property owned somewhere in the world by Revera, which also jointly owns homes operated by Groupe Sélection and Sunrise Senior Living in some parts of Canada.Many long-term care homes in this country have been ravaged by COVID-19 outbreaks in recent weeks, and hundreds of residents have died.As of early May, as many as 82 per cent of all COVID-19-related deaths in Canada — 3,436 out of a total of 4,167 deaths — were of residents in long-term care settings, according to the National Institute on Aging.Ontario announced last week it would launch an independent commission probe of the province's long-term care system.A claim of negligenceA $50 million class action lawsuit was launched against Revera earlier this month on behalf of the families of COVID-19 victims at the company's long-term care facilities in Ontario. The company is being sued for negligence and breach of contract.The plaintiffs allege the facilities lacked "proper sanitation protocols and adequate testing to prevent the spread of COVID-19."The statement of claim also alleges Revera did not properly inform residents or families of any measures it was taking to keep its facilities safe. The allegations against Revera have not been tested in court and the application still needs to be certified by a judge.Another $25-million class-action lawsuit has been filed against Revera over its operation of the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, where COVID-19 killed 21 residents and infected 63 others as well as 44 employees. The suit, which has not been certified, alleges the company was negligent and did not follow proper protocols to prevent the outbreak.PSP Investments reports to Parliament through Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos, who ultimately is responsible for the Crown corporation.The company's board of directors is appointed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet through orders in council.Revera told CBC News it's reviewing the class action claims and will respond to it eventually."However, we will not let it distract us from our singular focus at this time, which is to prevent further illness and loss of life," the company said in a statement.When asked about the lawsuits Monday, Duclos said he couldn't comment on matters before the court ("That would be, of course, inappropriate for a minister to comment on," he said) but added the federal government is determined to do more to protect vulnerable seniors living in facilities like those owned by Revera."What I can say, however, is that we are extremely saddened by the difficult circumstances in which many of our seniors have been going through in the last few weeks," Duclos said. "We know that this requires a level of leadership."When pressed on whether he could do more to manage Revera, as the minister in charge of PSP, Duclos said long-term care homes are largely the responsibility of the provinces."I think we will certainly be more mindful of the importance of protecting our seniors.  And we will use all the tools that are appropriate for the federal government to do that," he said.Long-term care facilities are not subject to the federal Canada Health Act, legislation which sets standards for publicly funded health care. At least one federal party leader, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, has said long-term care homes should be controlled by the state, given the poor outcomes in some private sector facilities during the pandemic."I think there's no question about it, given the results we're seeing, the evidence we're seeing that some of the worst conditions that seniors are in and some of the highest deaths have happened in the for-profit long-term care homes," he said earlier this month in an interview with CTV."Profit should not be the motive when it comes to how we care for our seniors."PSP, established in 1999 to invest pension funds and generate returns to fund the retirement incomes of government workers, has $168 billion in assets under management. It is among the largest institutional investors in the country, with offices in Montreal, New York, London and Hong Kong.

  • This essential worker's child-care costs have almost tripled during COVID-19

    This essential worker's child-care costs have almost tripled during COVID-19

    A Halifax-area veterinarian says she's spending nearly three times the amount of money on child care during COVID-19, and she wants the province to step up and help essential workers who are struggling financially.Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada that hasn't kept regulated child-care centres open for essential workers. Despite a promise by the premier in early May to reassess that approach, Dr. Lindsay MacNeil said she's still waiting."There's really not a lot of help for that and by not a lot, I guess I mean none," MacNeil, who works at Metro Animal Emergency Clinic in Dartmouth, N.S., told CBC's Maritime Noon on Monday.MacNeil is a single parent and said she's working extra shifts to afford to pay for a babysitter to care for her three-year-old daughter.Before COVID-19, she said she spent about $800 a month at a licensed daycare, and a full-time babysitter who comes to her home now costs her about $2,200 a month."It's really made me kind of have to sit down and really watch what we're spending on," MacNeil said. "Having it almost triple is a big hit to take during anytime, especially when there's already a lot of stressors happening."MacNeil was able to find a babysitter on Kijiji who was willing to only work with her family, and she said she's thankful she was able to find someone she trusts.The province initially suggested parents who needed to work could still use unregulated child-care operations, which have remained open, but MacNeil said those spots filled up quickly."So there's really nobody else that I can rely on," she said. "And there are a number of people that I can think of in my life that are experiencing this and I can only imagine there are even more."At the beginning of May, Premier Stephen McNeil said his government would evaluate the child-care needs of essential service workers after students at Dalhousie University who were providing child care for health-care workers called on the government to do more.June 8 reopening uncertainLicensed daycares have been closed since late March and while the province has set June 8 as a target date to reopen, it's unclear whether that date will be met.MacNeil said she's not advocating that daycares reopen before it's safe to do so. Rather, she wants the province to provide some form of financial aid to offset the higher costs of daycare."I think there's a lot of people in this position and we're kind of asking and reaching out and trying to verbalize that this is a concern and we need more support, but it's falling on deaf ears," she said.What the province is doingIn a statement from the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, the province said a group of child-care representatives is working with public health to establish a plan to reopen the licensed child-care sector.The department also said it's committed to working with essential workers to address their needs."To ensure families are not paying for a service they cannot access, the department directed licensed child-care providers to not charge families fees during this time," a statement said."Unlicensed childcare providers have continued to operate and provide an important service to fill the child-care needs of families during COVID-19, including essential workers."MORE TOP STORIES

  • News
    The Canadian Press

    Charges laid in pipeline protest outside B.C. Premier John Horgan's home

    The BC Prosecution Service says it has appointed a special prosecutor to oversee charges against three people in relation to allegations of mischief and trespass at the home of Premier John Horgan. The service says in a news release that Victoria lawyer Dirk Ryneveld was appointed to avoid any potential for real or perceived improper influence in the administration of justice. Ryneveld has approved criminal charges of mischief against Howard Breen, Regine Klein and Mark Nykanen.

  • Quebec premier mulls immigration applications for asylum seekers working in long-term care homes

    Quebec premier mulls immigration applications for asylum seekers working in long-term care homes

    Quebec Premier François Legault says he will consider giving asylum seekers who work in long-term care homes a chance to stay in the province by applying as immigrants.Legault opened Monday's briefing by saying he has asked Immigration Minister Simon-Jolin Barrette to look at the situation, on a case-by-case basis, as a way of saying "thank you."The comments represent a departure for Legault. The Coalition Avenir Québec premier has previously rejected the idea of giving any kind of preference for asylum seekers and others without status working in essential jobs during the pandemic.But there have been growing calls for him to recognize their contribution.On Saturday, supporters held a rally in Montreal and on Sunday, Fabrice Vil, a Montrealer of Haitian background, was critical of the premier on the popular French-language talk show Tout le monde en parle.Legault, whose government has cut immigration levels, said Monday he would try to strike a balance between giving thanks to those working in the residences, known by their French initials CHSLDs, while at the same time not setting a precedent."We have to be careful. I don't want to send the message that in the future we will accept everybody if they find a job in Quebec," he said. "But we also have another situation where it's really critical to get more people working in our CHSLD. So those people, they are already working in CHSLDs. So how can we bring them via the normal immigration process? That's what I'm looking at."Legault added his government would also have discussions with the federal government, which is responsible for refugee applications.While the province says it has no record of the total number of asylum seekers doing work in CHSLDs, advocates say hundreds of people, many of them originally from Haiti, have been working as patient attendants.Some have already had their refugee claim rejected, and may not be able to stay in Canada when deportations resume.Protest at PM's officeProtestors rallied outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Montreal office on Saturday, demanding he do more for asylum seekers who have been risking their lives by working in long-term care homes with COVID-19 outbreaks.Frantz André, a member of the Action Committee for People without Status in Montreal, the group behind the demonstration, said Legault should be taking a stronger stand on the issue.While the federal government makes the final decision when it comes to the immigration status of asylum seekers, provincial leaders are able to influence those decisions, he said."I think all the parties, including the CAQ, should have said in one voice, 'Mr. Trudeau, you need to make a decision,'" André told CBC News on Monday."We as Quebecers, we are willing to give people an opportunity to be accepted, to be equally Canadian as anybody else."

  • Coronavirus: No public washrooms in Toronto leave people with no place to go
    Global News

    Coronavirus: No public washrooms in Toronto leave people with no place to go

    As people start to emerge from the COVID-19 lockdown, they are finding it difficult to use public spaces that don’t have washrooms. Tom Hayes reports.