Gov. Gavin Newsom is placing much of California under the strictest set of rules for reopening the state's economy, as coronavirus cases surge at the fastest rate since the start of the outbreak. (Nov. 16)
Gov. Gavin Newsom is placing much of California under the strictest set of rules for reopening the state's economy, as coronavirus cases surge at the fastest rate since the start of the outbreak. (Nov. 16)
WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr's decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won't have an easy transition.The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, who hasn't been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department's new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It's the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president's legacy.But the manoeuvring over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they've derided as tainted. Now there's little the new administration can do about it.“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.But Barr's decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she's connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfil his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden's leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.___Miller reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Venezuela's opposition is discussing scaling back the interim government of opposition leader Juan Guaido that has won diplomatic recognition by dozens of countries that disavowed President Nicolas Maduro, nine legislators told Reuters. Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, in 2019 called Maduro a usurper following his disputed re-election and assumed a parallel presidency based on articles of the constitution that make the head of the National Assembly next in line to rule the country. Guaido's lawmaker allies have said they will continue to insist that they are legitimate parliamentarians after Jan. 5, arguing that their constitutional mandate remains intact because Sunday's vote is rigged.
The recommended quarantine time for close contacts of a positive COVID-19 case is being reduced by up to a week in the United States, but while some of Canada's health experts say a similar approach could be useful here, others aren't so sure.The U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced Wednesday it had shortened the recommended length of quarantine after exposure from 14 days to 10 — or seven days with a negative test result.Health Canada was still recommending a 14-day quarantine period as of Wednesday, but Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist at McMaster University, says cutting that time in half would be beneficial."It would be super important for the sake of incentivizing people to actually quarantine after exposure," he said. "And there's a lot of different things that could theoretically open up — getting health-care workers back to work, getting kids back to school — a lot of ways where this could ease the burden of potential exposure in society."The CDC had previously said the incubation period for the COVID virus could extend to 14 days, but the organization now says most people become infectious and develop symptoms between four and five days after exposure.Chagla says the 14-day window was likely inspired from SARS data, where the incubation period was longer.While isolation and quarantine are sometimes used interchangeably, Chagla says there's a difference in the terms. Isolation is for those who have tested positive, while quarantine is for people who may or may not actually have the virus, like close contacts of positive cases or those travelling into Canada. Isolation recommendations for positive cases vary, but are typically 10 days after symptom onset. Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto, says a change in quarantine guidance reflects our evolving understanding of COVID-19."If you're exposed, it takes a couple days for you to become infectious, so (seven to 10 days) should be enough to tell whether you've got the virus," Tuite said. "But of course, that's assuming your experience is reflective of the typical course of infection."The key to the CDC's new guidance for Tuite is having the option to end quarantine at seven days with a negative test result. She suspects that's in place to stop people who have the virus but no symptoms from ending the quarantine period too early. A positive test at Day 7 would mean that person should continue to isolate, Tuite said, while a negative result would mean they could safely end quarantine, knowing enough time has passed since exposure to confidently assume they won't still get sick.Dr. Don Sheppard, the founder and director of the McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative in Infection and Immunity (MI4), says the CDC's plan makes sense scientifically, but there would be logistical issues in testing every COVID contact in Canada who wanted to end their quarantine at Day 7."It's impossible to do that," he said. "It's either 14 days of proper isolation, or it's seven days with a negative test, and right now our system cannot offer seven days plus testing to the public at large."Testing capacity does exist in certain situations, Sheppard said, like for health-care workers and other front-line staff that need a quicker quarantine to get back to work. He cautioned, however, that taking a test on Day 7 still means isolating for an extra day or two while awaiting results.Quarantine also needs to be done solo in order to work, Sheppard added, warning that the CDC guidance isn't meant as a loophole for holiday gatherings if your family isolates together for seven days before an event.He used an example of military recruits in the U.S. who were told to quarantine for 14 days before reporting to camp. A handful of positive tests (0.9 per cent) were caught upon arrival, suggesting true quarantine hadn't been followed. Those recruits were sent home while the rest underwent another group quarantine. When tested again two weeks later, the positivity rate had grown to 1.3 per cent."Why? Because there were people incubating and they turned positive. And those people infected others in their groups," Sheppard said. "So if you don't do strict, single-person isolation, you don't actually break the cycle of transmission, you just pass it around in your group."Tuite says that further illustrates the usefulness of a shortened quarantine period. A mother with young children, or someone who shares a small apartment with another person will find it harder to properly quarantine for longer periods, she said, as will someone who can't afford to take a full two weeks off work."It really comes down to having the means to do it," she said. "Can you survive for two weeks if you're not getting income? Can you isolate in a household with multiple people? "We need to have support in place so that people can quarantine, and that doesn't change whether it's for a week or 14 days. But it becomes much more challenging when it's for longer periods." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
Junior and senior high school students switched back to online learning after new provincial COVID restrictions kicked in Monday. The restrictions announced last Tuesday and in place until Jan. 11 have local school divisions scrambling to prepare for transitions. Elementary school students were to remain on site until the Christmas break starts Dec. 18. In-person learning is not set to return until Jan. 11. “We certainly had a bit of experience with online learning in the spring, but we want to do a better job this time around,” said Karl Germann, Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools (GPCSD) superintendent. “We’ve got a little more time to prepare and will ensure all our subjects are covered.” Peace Wapiti School Division (PWSD) said at-home learning will resume for all grades Jan. 4 to 8. “Given the information we have at this time conveyed to us by the Ministry of Education, the expectation is that all students who are enrolled in in-person classes will return to schools on Monday, Jan. 11,” said PWSD superintendent Bob Stewart. PWSD will use the website Google Classrooms as a learning platform, with paperwork packages also available to students who can’t access the Internet, according to the guidance to parents. For kindergarten to Grade 3, teachers are preparing work packages in advance of Christmas break, according to the guidance. The guidance states it’s expected students can complete their work in an average of one and a half to two hours per school day. For grades 4 to 6 in early January, it’s expected students will be able to complete their work in an average of two and a half to three hours per school day, according to PWSD. Teachers are expected to communicate with students using email and Google Meet, as well as to keep up regular contact with parents and guardians. PWSD is providing Chromebooks and other devices to students to facilitate at-home learning, said Angela Sears, communications officer. At Grande Prairie and District Catholic Schools, Germann said schools will continue to use Google Classroom but now also has software called Hapara. Hapara can keep students’ assignments organized and streamlines students’ workflow, he said. “If assignments are emailed, it’s easy to lose track of them, so we’re trying to use software … to make sure the lessons are as interesting as being in school,” Germann said. GPCSD is aiming to keep learning interactive, with not only webcast lessons but also videos, virtual activities and even having physical activities like exercises, he said. “An email is just text, but we know people learn more when they have a chance to break into groups, to chat, to problem solve,” he said. GPCSD has “re-deployed” its Chromebooks to grades 7 to 12 students who don’t have the necessary technology at home, Germann said. He also called on parents to drive home the message to their children that the at-home learning is “not a holiday.” School break in GPCSD begins after Dec. 18 and ends Jan. 4, when at-home learning begins again. At Valhalla Community School, kindergarten to Grade 6 students will continue with in-person learning until winter break begins Dec. 17, according to a letter sent to parents. Grades 7 to 9 students will be using Google Classroom in the meantime, according to Valhalla Community School’s letter. Diploma exams will be optional, including August 2021 diplomas, according to the Alberta government.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
MONTREAL — Refugee advocates are criticizing Canada's decision to resume deportations before the country irons out the details of a program to grant permanent residency to asylum-seekers who have been working in the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.Frantz Andre, who advocates on behalf of asylum seekers, says the decision has heightened the feelings of insecurity among the essential workers dubbed "guardian angels" by Quebec Premier Francois Legault.The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed it resumed deportations as of Nov. 30, after halting most removals in March due to the pandemic. The agency clarified that it would not be deporting people who are likely to qualify for permanent residency under a federal program announced in August to grant a path to residency for people working in the health-care sector or in long-term care or assisted living facilities."The CBSA would like to clarify that the agency will not be removing those who may be eligible to qualify for permanent residency under the guardian angels public policy," the agency wrote in an email Tuesday.Advocates estimate that hundreds of asylum-seekers have been working in long-term care homes in Quebec, which bore the brunt of the first wave of COVID-19 this spring.Andre notes that the final details of the program have yet to be made public, leading many of the so-called guardian angels to fear they may yet be deported."So, we’re starting (deportations) three weeks before Christmas, when the program and the details of this special program for the asylum-seekers or orderlies cannot be announced," he said."I call this criminal. This is not right."Andre said the initial elation over the announcement of the program has faded, leaving many asylum-seekers feeling fearful and unsure if they'll qualify.He says some workers who could have been eligible have given up and decided to return home; others have contemplated suicide.Wilner Cayo, the president of a group that advocates for asylum-seekers and visible minorities, notes that even asylum-seekers working in long-term care — the exact group targeted by the program — are not sure they'll qualify because there are other criteria to meet, including having been issued a work permit and having a certain amount of experience and hours worked. He said the uncertainty is causing people "enormous anxiety.""When they take such a long time and the rules are not clear, we don’t know what to expect," he said in a phone interview.Quebec has a large degree of control over immigration criteria for the province, and it will select the applicants who qualify under the federal program and wish to reside in Quebec.In an email, a spokesperson for the Quebec Immigration Department said the program is expected to come into effect over the winter, and the details of how it will apply in Quebec will be announced "shortly."Cayo said the program also does not address the situation of other essential workers, including security guards and cleaning staff in care homes, truck drivers and those working in food production."These people sacrificed for Quebec, sacrificed for Canada," he said. "When many people were staying home, these people went out to work."Their contribution has shown they are not a burden to Canada, but a gift, he added.Andre believes the deportation order should be suspended until it becomes clear who exactly is eligible for the guardian angels program. But in his opinion, all the asylum-seekers who have been in the country since the pandemic began deserve to stay."I think they all have contributed economically, to saving lives, and Canada is better thanks to these people," he said.In its email, the CBSA defended its decision to deport, noting that the "timely removal of failed claimants plays a critical role in supporting the integrity of Canada’s asylum system."Removals to some regions remain suspended, including the Gaza Strip, Syria, Mali, Venezuela, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq.The agency also said the volume of deportations is expected to be reduced for some time, and that claimants will continue to have access to all the appeals and recourses available under the law.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 1, 2020 Fourteen ATV riders could have saved themselves more than $100 if they had purchased an off-road trail permit. Instead they were hit with a $215 fine for breaking a Simcoe County bylaw that requires the $103 permits to use trails designated for off-road use. Riding in undesignated areas also carries a $215 fine. Huronia West OPP officers and trail wardens stopped 65 riders in County of Simcoe Forests Sept. 27, with the majority of the trail users in full compliance with regulations. Police remind ATV riders that under provincial laws a helmet, licence plate, registration, insurance and driver's licence are required when operating off-road vehicles on public trails, road allowances and Simcoe County Forests trails. They must be presented to an officer upon demand. Trail permits can be purchased from OFATV and OFTR. For details refer to https://myoftr.ca or call 855-637-6387. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
ÉMILIE PELLETIER Initiative de journalisme local — Le Droit Le gouvernement Ford ne permettra pas l’ouverture partielle des commerces non essentiels dans les zones en confinement, même après qu’une quarantaine de grands détaillants comme La Baie et Canadian Tire lui en aient fait la demande. Les commerces à grande surface ont écrit, dans une lettre adressée au premier ministre Doug Ford et à la ministre de la Santé Christine Elliott, que la stratégie de l’Ontario de fermer toutes les entreprises non essentielles dans les zones en confinement n’a pas mené à une réduction du nombre de consommateurs dans les magasins. Au contraire, jugent-ils, cette stratégie a plutôt eu un effet de concentration des clients dans les magasins toujours ouverts. Les commerçants croient aussi que la politique actuelle de l’Ontario mène les gens dans les régions en confinement comme Toronto et Peel à se déplacer vers des régions où les entreprises sont ouvertes, posant ainsi « un risque encore plus grand pour la santé publique ». Par ailleurs, ces grandes entreprises qui ont été forcées de fermer déplorent que très peu des cas de la COVID-19 ont été associés à des environnements de vente au détail, selon les statistiques de la santé publique de l’Ontario. Afin de « mettre moins de gens dans plus de magasins », les grands détaillants qui ont signé la lettre ont proposé de permettre l’ouverture de tous les magasins, mais de limiter le nombre de clients à 25 % dans ceux qui sont jugés comme non essentiels. « Nous espérons que les gens qui vont magasiner dans les commerces qui demeurent ouverts n’y vont que pour les items essentiels, parce que c’est la seule raison pourquoi ils sont toujours ouverts », a précisé la ministre de la Santé, en conférence de presse, mercredi. À ses dires, l’objectif de la politique est de modifier les tendances de transmissions et de réduire les contacts. Mme Elliott a supplié les Ontariens de continuer d’encourager les entreprises locales en y passant leurs commandes, plutôt que de consommer auprès de grandes multinationales comme Amazon. Rappelons que les régions de Toronto et de Peel sont en zone grise-confinement. Le gouvernement ontarien demande aux résidents de ces régions de ne sortir de chez soi que pour les activités essentielles, telles que l’épicerie, les achats en pharmacie, l’exercice physique en plein air et les rendez-vous médicaux. La santé mentale des entrepreneurs chambranlante Selon les derniers résultats du sondage de la Fédération canadienne de l’entreprise indépendante (FCEI), les propriétaires de petites entreprises ressentent de plus en plus l’épuisement de la pandémie. Près de la moitié d’entre eux ont déclaré avoir souffert de problèmes de santé mentale à la suite de l’arrivée de la COVID-19, et 43 % ont affirmé avoir travaillé beaucoup plus d’heures. Seulement 29 % des entreprises qui ont répondu au sondage ont réalisé des ventes normales au cours du mois de novembre. Émilie Pelletier, journaliste, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Droit
IQALUIT, Nunavut — Nunavut's two-week lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 was lifted in almost all communities Wednesday as the territory had more recovered than active cases for the first time. Schools, businesses and workplaces were allowed to reopen, except in Arviat, which had 65 active cases. The coastal community on the western edge of Hudson Bay is to remain shut down for at least two more weeks.Nunavut had 80 active infections Wednesday and 113 recovered cases for a total of 193. There were 11 new cases — all in Arviat. The territory had not had any cases at all until early November.Dr. Michael Patterson, Nunavut's chief public health officer, said his team hadn't yet determined if community transmission in Arviat is ongoing."I know this is a difficult time as these strict measures continue, but please understand it is not meant to punish Arviat. This is the best way to break community transmission and the fastest way to eventually loosening these restrictions," Patterson said. The Canadian Red Cross has been on the ground in Arviat to help people self-isolate and to contact trace. Rankin Inlet and Whale Cove, in the same region as Arviat, still have active COVID-19 cases, but no evidence of community transmission.Masks remain mandatory in all public spaces in the three communities, although students in Whale Cove and Rankin Inlet do not have to wear them in classrooms as long as they are physical distancing, Patterson said.He credited Nunavut's shrinking case count with residents observing public-health orders and the work of contact tracers to "break chains of transmission."Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that the federal government will provide rapid-testing machines to Nunavut's isolation hotels in Winnipeg. The territory's public-health orders require anyone who leaves the territory must isolate for 14 days in a southern hotel before flying home. Patterson said Winnipeg is currently the jurisdiction that poses the biggest risk to Nunavummiut who travel there. Using the Panbio COVID-19 Ag rapid-testing device, which provides results in 15 minutes, Nunavummiut staying in the hubs will be tested several times throughout their stay. "The testing will be initially offered to everybody, whether they have symptoms or not ... as a way to augment the current isolation practice and reduce the chance of COVID getting through the isolation hubs," Patterson said. Nunavut's first cases of COVID-19 were individuals who completed 14 days of isolation in Winnipeg hotels. Patterson said it's still unknown how exactly they contracted the novel coronavirus while in isolation and an investigation into how it happened continues.The Northwest Territories, which has a similar isolation rule, announced Tuesday that residents who leave the territory for non-essential travel will have to pay for their two-week isolation stays. Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut's health minister, said Nunavut has considered a similar move, but isn't making residents pay for isolation stays at this time. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.___This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News FellowshipEmma Tranter, The Canadian Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended his government’s plan for COVID-19 vaccine approval and distribution in Question Period Wednesday, while facing questions from Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole over the failed vaccine collaboration with China’s CanSino Biologics. He said although the deal with CanSino fell through the government secured “the broadest range” of vaccine potentials.
Schools across Nova Scotia will be getting new touchless water stations and extra school supplies, as well as money to test drive new online math, language and literacy programs.Teachers, students and staff will also receive new face masks and have access to more personal protective equipment as part of a spending spree to use up almost all of the almost $48 million promised by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last August.Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill laid out his department's shopping list during a virtual news conference Wednesday from the Tri-County Regional Centre of Education office in Yarmouth."Today I am pleased to announce the province is providing $14.3 million to our students and staff for well-being and learning," he told reporters.That spending includes: * $4.1M to pilot new online math and literacy programs * $3.8M for 950 touchless water stations in every school * $2.7M for additional inspections to ventilation systems and needed repairs * $1.5M for breakfast and lunch programs or for food deliveries if schools are closed * $1.5M for personal protective equipment * $700,00 to move furniture and supplies if students need to change schools as part of blended learningIn August, Trudeau announced the creation of a $2 billion Safe Return to Class Fund. Nova Scotia was promised almost $48 million from the fund to "ensure a safe return to school and (to) protect the health of students and staff."The Nova Scotia government has announced where all but $6 million of that money has been or will be spent. Churchill is holding back the remaining money in case it's needed down the road."We do have approximately six million left that we're going to deploy in areas that we believe are necessary moving forward, but we don't just want to spend it all," he said. "There's nothing to spend it on."We want to respond to issues that are emerging as challenges that we want to deal with, and having some additional resources in place to do that, I think is a wise thing to do."On Nov. 23, Churchill announced the purchase of 32,000 Chromebooks to go home with students if they are forced to move to online learning. That $21.5 million expenditure is from the fund. So too is the $5.5 million announced Nov. 3 to hire cleaning staff and buy supplies so that school gyms could reopen to community groups and sports teams.Although the province was ready Wednesday to announce the purchase of 950 water stations, Churchill was unable to provide a timeline for when they might be installed."That's going to be managed at the regional level so I don't have a schedule on which schools are going to be done (and) when, but the work on this will commence immediately," he said.The $1.5 million earmarked for school breakfast and lunch programs will be used to meet the increased demand for both programs, as well as for food hampers or to but grocery gift cards if students are sent home again if COVID infection rates warrant the closure of schools.Deanna Rawding, principal at West Northfield Elementary School near Bridgewater, said her school has seen an increase in demand for both its free breakfasts and its equity meal program, which offers a free lunch to students who cannot afford to pay for it."I've seen an increase in need ... because we had some families that lost jobs due to COVID or were unable to get the hours they needed to support their family," said Rawding.She said the extra funds to be able to continue to help those students would make a difference in the classroom."That makes them feel good and that makes them better learners throughout the day," she said.MORE TOP STORIES
Montreal Alouettes running back Shaquille Murray-Lawrence is used to psyching himself up to sprint down a field, evading a crush of muscled men the entire way. But mentally preparing for his latest venture required bracing for a whole new set of anxieties. As he readied himself to hop in a bobsled for the first time, Murray-Lawrence knew he'd be zipping down an icy track faster than cars are allowed to travel down most highways. “It was very nerve wracking," the 27-year-old Toronto native said of the run. "Once I got in the sled, it was just the longest 50 seconds of my life. I didn’t know if I was going to make it. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I couldn’t breathe. But when it’s over, I was like ‘Hey, man, I think I could do that again.’”And he has. Murrary-Lawrence, Saskatchewan Roughriders defensive back Jay Dearborn and B.C. Lions running back hopeful Kayden Johnson joined the national bobsled program after the CFL cancelled its 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the national development squad, the trio has been training at the ice house at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park. This week, the group moved to the sliding centre in Whistler, B.C., where they'll perfect their techniques on a full course. Built for the 2010 Olympics, the Whistler track is known as one of the fastest in the world. Dearborn still hasn't figured out how to explain what it's like to race down the ice."The feel of those forces going around the corner, or the speed that you’re going at … the biggest thing that I struggle with is how to describe what it’s like to have your whole being crushed by these forces going through each corner," he said. Just months ago, Dearborn "didn't know a thing" about the sport. A strength and conditioning coach at Carleton University put him in touch with a national recruiter last year, but it wasn't until March that the 26-year-old from Yarker, Ont., got into a sled for the first time. “I just knew the type of athletes it attracted and I knew I was pretty similar — a strong, explosive, fast athlete, that are pretty technically minded people," Dearborn said.Football and bobsled both require ample power and explosiveness, Murray-Lawrence said. "You've got to be very aggressive," he said. "You need so much speed, so much power in such a short amount of time."The sport has a delicate side, too, he added, because you also have to be a "ballerina or ninja" to seamlessly jump into the sled without rocking it as it hurtles down the track. Learning that balance of power and poise has been a long time coming for Murray-Lawrence. He was first recruited by the national bobsled team in 2017 while playing for the Lions.Then his life was upended by a hit-and-run crash that left Murray-Lawrence with a concussion and back injuries.It was about 700 days before he played another CFL game, joining the Alouettes late in the 2019 season. The campaign ended before Murray-Lawrence could firmly reestablish himself, though, and this year was supposed to be his big comeback. “Everything got put on hold. There was so much uncertainty," he said. "For me, the last two years has been about trying to prove myself.”When the CFL finally called off the 2020 season in August, it didn't take Murray-Lawrence long to turn his sights to bobsled. He spoke with former Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive back Dexter Janke and Olympian Jesse Lumsden, both of whom played in the CFL and competed in bobsled.“I’m just trying to be a sponge. I’m just trying to soak up as much knowledge and information that I can," he said.There's a lot of overlap in training for bobsled and football, said Kayden Johnson, a 24-year-old running back from Kerrobert, Sask., who was selected by the Lions in the seventh round of the 2020 draft.Because of the lost season, Johnson has yet to play a CFL game, but he believes his winter work will help his football career. “Bobsleigh has that mental toughness and that competitive aspect of all or nothing," he said. "You’ll always commit to going full speed. Even if you fail, you fail at full speed, that’s what they like to say here. You’re not afraid of the challenge or attacking the run.”For Dearborn, training to be a brakeman includes more sprinting than he was used to in the CFL. He and his coaches regularly watch video to dissect and perfect every detail and angle of his stride, the same way a runner might work with a sprinting coach.“I think it’s going to help my running," Dearborn said. "I should show up on that field a little faster than I was, so that’s really exciting.”In January, the three CFLers are set to take their new skills on the road as the Canadian bobsled team heads to Europe to compete. The bobsled and skeleton world championships are scheduled to take place in Germany at the beginning of February, and there's an Olympic test event slated for early March in Beijing. Knowing that the team is working towards the 2022 Olympics is exciting, said Murray-Lawrence. Competing on the world's biggest stage for your country instead of for a team that you've signed a contract with "holds a little bit more pride," he explained. “This is something I can carry with me forever, that I represented my country," he said. Johnson already knows the thrill of wearing the maple leaf of his chest, having represented Canada in decathlon at the Pan American junior championships, but he'd love to represent his country on the bobsled track in Beijing, too. “The Olympics has always been a dream of mine," said Johnson, who also competed in 60-metre hurdles at York University. "Olympics rings have always been something I’ve been chasing after.” All three athletes hope they can balance bobsled and football when the CFL finally returns. Murray-Lawrence believes he can do both sports for a long time, but adds that, with the current state of the world, little is certain right now."At any moment, this could all be shut down," he said. "So we’re just living in the moment right now. Embrace it, cherish it and have fun.”This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020. Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press
For the last three years, members of the Lighthouse Fellowship Baptist church have hosted professional development day events geared towards children in junior kindergarten through Grade 4. Restrictions in place because of the pandemic presented committee members Laura Connell, Vanje Watson, Jessica Kelly, Hannah Coolidge and Pastor Gordon with the challenge of how to provide a fun and meaningful experience for children while maintaining everyone’s safety. “We thought, we do Zoom church services, so why not do a Zoom PD day?” said Connell, who has been at the helm of the project. The result of their planning and efforts came together on Nov. 27, when 98 children, who had all pre-registered for the party, enjoyed a free, entertaining and engaging morning of activities, crafts, story time and games, from the comfort and safety of their own homes. The committee arranged for each child who pre-registered for the party to pick up a gift and party bag - drive-through style to prevent close contact -filled with activities including a nativity story book, activities, crafts, games and an advent book. The activities were thoughtful and promoted kindness and charity. Connell tells of one activity that encouraged children to be aware of how good life is, and use a checklist of how many good things they enjoy, and donate a nickel or dime for each item checked. The money could then be used as a donation to a favourite charity. “We are so very blessed,” said Connell. “We have so much.” The bags even included a Christmas DVD, popcorn, hot chocolate and candy cane, to be enjoyed with family members after the party. Connell worked behind the scenes, purchasing items and coordinating registrations. When she reached out to the church congregation for support, she found everyone was on board and wanted to do their part. “(We have) a whole crew that volunteered and a bigger group that donated,” said Connell. “There were many, many people involved.” The party was set up Zoom-style, but the participating children were seen only by the camera man, John Reeve, to protect the privacy of the children. Reeve, who owns Reeve Technologies, volunteered his expertise and time to facilitate the meeting. At 10 a.m., the programming began, and for the next 90 minutes, under the lead of Watson, Connell and Kelly, children were invited to explore the items in their gift bags, make puppets, play bingo, take part in a scavenger hunt and win prizes. Watson, who brought her own two girls with her to take part while she was on stage, brought lots of energy and positivity to the presentation. She spoke to Zoom attendees as though they were all in the same room. “I love working with kids and I love sharing the real meaning of Christmas,” said Watson. “We felt this was a great opportunity to build hope in families and the community. It’s been hard times and Jesus is our hope.” While organizing the event meant a lot of work, Connell was happy to commit the time to share holiday joy with the community. “We are doing this for the community kids, because we want to share the true meaning of Christmas,” said Connell. “Jesus being born as our Saviour is the reason we celebrate Christmas.” Connell said that depending on the restrictions associated with the pandemic, they will likely continue to hold future professional development day camps. She and her colleagues are passionate about sharing their faith and supporting the community. Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent
BERLIN — The U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs voted Wednesday to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from a category of the world's most dangerous drugs, which could impact the global medical marijuana industry. The Vienna-based U.N. agency said in a statement that it had voted 27-25, with one abstention, to follow the World Health Organization's recommendation to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs, where it was listed with heroin and several other opioids. The drugs that are on Schedule IV are a subset of those on Schedule I of the convention, which already requires the highest levels of international control. The agency voted to leave cannabis and cannabis resin on the list of Schedule I drugs, which also include cocaine, Fentanyl, morphine, Methadone, opium and oxycodone, the opiate painkiller sold as OxyContin, Wednesday's vote therefore does not clear U.N. member nations to legalize marijuana under the international drug control system. Canada and Uruguay have legalized the sale and use of cannabis for recreational purposes, but many countries around the world have decriminalized marijuana possession. The schedules weigh a drug's medical utility versus the possible harm that it might cause, and experts say that taking cannabis off the strictest schedule could lead, however, to the loosening of international controls on medical marijuana. The Associated Press
Dale Woodard Lethbridge Herald The Winter Light Festival at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is ready to light it up. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that will mean a few adjustments, but the annual festival is still going forward starting Thursday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Speaking Tuesday, Michelle Day, executive director for Nikka Yuko, said things could change as the event goes on and to stay tuned for updates and check online for any other details. “We need our community support and that comes with patience and being able to be flexible,” said Day. “Working with Alberta Health Services and the City of Lethbridge, we are going to be able to continue our Winter Light Experience. We’re going to continue to monitor the guidelines as they may change. They may have new ones or they may relax them in the future. By this time, it’s going to be as much of a touch-less experience as possible. But we’re encouraging everybody in our community to show support and come out to our Winter Light Festival as it is a safe experience.” With the current guidelines, the first weekend of the Horse and Wagon rides and the first Shakespeare in the Garden performance have been cancelled. “But we’ll continue to monitor (the situation) and as we go along, we might be able to add more programming as the guidelines change, and that’s where we need the communities support and flexibility in the sense (the events) might happen after Christmas or in January,” said Day. As for the events going forward — following COVID guidelines laid out by AHS – a maximum of 100 people will be allowed in the garden per half hour, said Day. “We’re staging the entry ways and all access to the garden has to be done online,” said Day. “I know our community is used to just showing up and going to the visitors’ centre but, unfortunately, we can’t do that. We feel it’s important we work with Alberta Health Services to ensure the tracking is there.” Private events are still able to be booked, said Day. “What we’re asking our companies and our customers during their private events is no gathering-like activities, so no speeches. But we can hand out things at the door and stage entry. “We’re also making sure we have things for people to take home. We’re going to have an enhanced brochure to give everybody when they come to learn more about Japanese and Canadian winter customs.” For the kids, Nikka Yuko has teamed up with local artist Eric Dyck to provide a colouring package. “With Panasonic and their projectors, we’ve teamed up with a local anime gentleman, Keith Morgan (a local CG-Generalist and compositing artist) and he’s going to be telling a story throughout the garden (with) one-minute episodes,” said Day. “So people can space, but enjoy a story and experience along with the lights. They’ll still be leaving with some programming and some memories to take home with them.” Tickets can be purchased on the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden website events calendar (www.nikkayuko.com/events) or through the Enmax Centre. “I stress to like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/search/top?q=nikka%20yuko%20japanese%20garden) and watch our website (www.nikkayuko.com) for ongoing updates,” said Day. Day said even before the pandemic, the Winter Light Festival experience was an essential one. “I’ve had many families say it’s affordable, it’s accessible and that the community really enjoyed. I think in the summer when we opened there was much of a need for people to get outdoors in a safe place and connect to nature. We heard that, so I think this Winter Light Festival is so important to our community for both those reasons. It’s outdoors, it’s a connection to nature and it’s a safe location to go.” Day added the Garden was built and designed to promote mental health and wellness and a place to go to reflect. “We don’t lose sight that sometimes the winter months are hard. I think there is seasonal depression and winter holiday anxiety and I think sometimes people just need a place to go to walk and we are honoured to provide a safe place for people to do that.” Follow @DWoodardHerald on TwitterDale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald
Shares of the U.S. data analytics firm, known for its work with the Central Intelligence Agency and other government agencies, tumbled as much as 17.6% to $21.15 in heavy volumes. Investors have exchanged $3.9 billion worth of the shares per day on average in the past five days, making Palantir Wall Street's 11th most traded company over the period, according to Refinitiv data. Short bets reached a record 8.2% of Palantir's float on Wednesday, according to data analytics firm S3 Partners.
A federal appeals court said on Wednesday it will hear oral arguments on Dec. 14 on the government's appeal of an order that blocked a ban on Apple Inc and Alphabet’s Google offering TikTok for download in U.S. app stores. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington on Sept. 27 blocked the Commerce Department order hours before it was to prohibit new downloads of the Chinese-owned short video-sharing app. The appeals panel consists of Judge Judith Rogers, Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins.
This past summer of discontent against police has set the stage for Norm Lipinski, the new top cop in Surrey, who is vowing a slew of changes in one of Canada’s fastest growing and most culturally diverse cities. From more cops on bikes to walking the beat and welcoming soirees for new Canadians, Lipinski’s central goal revolves around creating a force that will police the plurality of Surrey with constant engagement and strident enforcement. “That will begin with creating a command structure that reflects the diversity of Surrey both in ethnicity and gender,” Lipinksi told NCM as he prepared for his new role that will begin later this month. “We can learn a lot from the anti-police sentiment that has swept many parts of the world this past summer, especially in the U.S. and from the great work of the RCMP has done in Surrey. But now is a time for change to remove tensions and rebuild confidence in police,” he said. “We can do it and build a more modern, inclusive, accountable, and community-based model,” said Lipinski, who brings 42 years of policing experience to Surrey, where close to half of residents are immigrants. Lipinski said the first order of business will be to hire a complement of senior staff and officers that will be reflective of the community with recruitment efforts targeting ethnic and Indigenous communities and women. The RCMP employs nearly three-quarters of B.C.’s 9,500 police with 18 per cent of its officers coming from visible minority groups and another five per cent comprising Indigenous persons. About 20 per cent of RCMP members across the country are women. While these numbers may be representative for rural communities, it is out of whack for places like Surrey, where 34 per cent of residents speak English as a secondary language and where females outnumber males in the general population. Statistics Canada said in a report last week that people designated as visible minorities report less confidence in police than non-visible minority people. Just over one-third (35 per cent) of Canadians belonging to population groups designated as visible minorities reported having a great deal of confidence in the police in 2019, compared with 44 per cent among non-visible minority people, the national number crunchers said. Confidence levels also varied among different visible minority groups. For example, Southeast Asian (25 per cent) and Chinese (26 per cent) Canadians were less likely to report a great deal of confidence in the police compared with non-visible minority people (44 per cent). Lipinski, a former assistant commissioner for the RCMP’s E-Division in B.C., said he will be reaching out to faith leaders, community groups, NGOs, neighbourhood associations and local media among others as he works on a strategic plan for the Surrey Police Force, which will have 1,150 employees — 805 police officers, 325 civilian positions and 20 Community Safety Personnel (CSP). Surrey currently is the only one of 19 major Canadian population centres with more than 300,000 people without a local police department. A self-described data geek, with a Master of Business Administration degree as well as a Bachelor of Laws degree, Lipinski plans to use the community consultations to draw up a delivery service model that will hinge on a $200 million budget annually. “If the data shows we can deliver better service by having officers out of their cars and walking the beat or on bikes, we will do it,” said Lipinski. The veteran cop also plans meet and greet sessions for immigrants and refugees as they settle in Surrey which is home to about a fifth of all new arrivals to B.C. “Our recruiting will be different, our tone will be different and our engagement will be different,” Lipinski added.Fabian Dawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 2, 2020. A Barrie Catholic elementary school is the latest to close a classroom after someone tested positive for COVID-19. St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School principal Rich Foshay sent a letter to parents Oct. 1 explaining the situation, without revealing if the infected person is a student or teacher. Foshay told parents the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit will determine who may be at risk and “ensure that school staff, families and students are provided with the appropriate information.” Foshay said he will send a voice message and email, on behalf of the health unit, to all individuals that need to take further steps as a result of this positive case. “If you do not receive a voice message and email directly, then your child is not part of the affected cohort,” his letter states. St. Catherine of Siena, located on Summerset Drive, is the sixth Simcoe Catholic elementary school to close at least one classroom due to a positive COVID case. “We all must work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a school community, we will pray for all those impacted by this virus and continue to demonstrate compassion and respect for one another as we navigate this situation,” Foshay said. The school will advise the health unit of any person who came in contact with the infected person, including in before and after-school care and on a school bus. Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of all areas in the school where the person may have been has already taken place and will continue to be a priority, Foshay said. Visit the www.simcoemuskokahealth.org or contact Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or (toll free) 1-877-721-7520 ext. 5830 for more health-related information. Visit www.smcdsb.on.ca for details about the school reopening plan. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
EDMONTON — Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, in violation of Starfleet’s Prime Directive, is questioning the intelligence of Alberta-based life forms over their COVID-19 contact tracing app.William Shatner, the Canadian who played the iconic commander in "Star Trek" has taken to Twitter to urge Alberta use the federal app.Shatner writes, “you just need to get Alberta on board,” adding that the province cannot go its own way in a world interconnected by travel.Shatner writes Alberta’s approach is, “bizarre and dangerous,” but also says “what do I know? I’m just an actor.”Premier Jason Kenney’s government has avoided signing onto the federal app, saying it’s not as effective because Alberta’s app is connected to contact tracing rather than simply delivering notifications of close contacts.Alberta’s app has tracked down just a handful of cases in six months, but the government says the program will be more effective as more people sign on.The Prime Directive in "Star Trek" was a top-down direction to avoid interference in alien cultures -- a directive the two-fisted Kirk and crew repeatedly violated as they beamed up, beamed down and otherwise finger-wagged their way through the galaxy on a five-year mission.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
As the death toll from illicit drug overdoses continues to mount unabated in B.C., advocates want more specialized services and harm reduction measures to help protect young people. Another 162 fatalities occurred in October due to toxic drug supply, for a total of 1,386 deaths in 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service's most recent figures. Of those killed this year by the overdose crisis, 19 per cent, or 269 deaths, were young people aged 29 years old or younger, with 14 of the dead under the age of 19, the coroners service figures show. Kali Sedgemore, a youth outreach worker and peer harm reduction advocate in Vancouver, said the ongoing public health emergency is in its fifth year, and COVID-19 is only exacerbating the harms. “We don’t even have time to grieve because we know we will hear about another (death) the next day,” Sedgemore said. The dangers of the toxic illicit drug supply are being compounded as people following pandemic protocols use illicit drugs alone and as harm reduction services have been reduced, or wait times have increased at overdose prevention sites (OPS) during the pandemic, Sedgemore added. Youth do not make up the largest number of fatalities, but all overdose deaths are largely unnecessary and preventable, Sedgemore said. In 2020, 70 per cent of those who have died from the toxic drug supply fall between the ages of 30 and 59, and males account for 80 per cent of the deaths to date. Most overdose fatalities involved people dying alone indoors. One immediate way to reduce the harms from toxic illicit drugs to youth is to provide harm reduction and OPS services dedicated strictly to their demographic, Sedgemore said. “Youth are vulnerable to manipulation by adults,” Sedgemore said, adding young people are at risk of being exploited sexually or for money or other reasons. Specialized harm reduction services are already hard to come by in urban areas such as Vancouver but are even more scarce in smaller communities and rural areas, Sedgemore said, noting they originally came from a small community from the northern part of Vancouver Island. Plus, young people — especially those under the age of 18 — are often deterred from using harm reduction services or supplies by providers due to their age, or can come under increased scrutiny from staff at these locations, they said. Both of these situations make youth uncomfortable, Sedgemore said. It’s also critical that medical professionals, social workers or other service providers don’t push youth into treatment before they are ready, Sedgemore stressed. Doing so only puts youth at increased risk, forcing them to be more secretive about any illicit drug use and increasing the unwillingness to use harm reduction services or call emergency services in case of an overdose. Research shows abstinence education, or the "just say no to drugs" approach, is not as effective as talking openly about illicit drugs, the associated risks and, if youth should choose to use them, how to do it safely, Sedgemore said. However, there is also the need for more youth treatment beds and shorter wait-lists for youth seeking help, Sedgemore said, especially closer to their own communities. “I don’t think it’s great sending a youth away from their own hometown and the people youth are used to seeing every day.” The B.C. government plans to double the number of treatment beds for youth aged 12 to 24 who are struggling with substance use. A total of 60 young people under the age of 24 lost their lives to fentanyl poisoning from toxic street drugs from January to June 2020, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. The province committed $36 million to create another 123 treatment beds for young people, in addition to 20 beds recently established at a new youth facility in the Fraser Valley. Prior to the recent announcements, B.C. had 103 treatment beds for youth. The new beds are part of a broader continuum of care the B.C. government is planning for young people that will include culturally safe, youth-specific services in both rural and smaller city centres, the ministry stated. Building on its network of youth-specific mental health and substance use services, the province will develop eight new Foundry centres, for a total of 19 youth hubs. Foundry centres provide primary care, youth and family peer supports, walk-in counselling, mental health and substance use services and social services all under one roof. Steve Ayers, program manager for the Foundry located in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, agreed that youth benefit from specialized services and being in charge of any decisions about their drug or alcohol use. “If a counsellor is going to really be impactful, they have to let the client drive the process of making changes around substance use,” Ayers said. “The objective of substance use counselling is to help youth have a better life, and what are some concrete ways that might happen, depending on their choices of course,” he said. Many youth use substances to deal with trauma or anxiety, so alternate tools or strategies need to be developed to help young people deal with that suffering, he added. It’s dangerous to assume youth overdoses due to illicit drugs are only a big-city problem, Ayers said. “It’s absolutely a misconception,” he said, adding the issues that fuel youth substance use exist in every community across Canada. However, youth generally don’t tend to be as entrenched with illicit hard drugs as some other age demographics, especially in rural areas where supply might be limited, Ayers said. “If there’s no supply (of illicit drugs) kids will find other things to do to cope with what they are struggling with,” he said. However, kids and families in rural or remote communities such as the Discovery Islands or small communities across North Vancouver Island can face additional challenges or gaps in accessing supports, Ayers said. Many Foundry services are now available online to try to mitigate the challenges for youth living in more isolated communities who need support, especially with travel limitations due to the pandemic, he said. The youth hub also works with schools to meet with students during class time for those who have to bus in and out of Campbell River. Young people and their families just need to reach out and the Foundry will try to find a fix for any stumbling blocks to service, Ayers said. “We always seem to be able to find them and reach them with help,” he said. “Unless they're just not reaching out at all. And honestly, those are the people that we’re scared for most.” Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National ObserverRochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer