A priceless battle between curious cat and persistent windshield wiper.
A priceless battle between curious cat and persistent windshield wiper.
A historic meeting between Israel's prime minister and Saudi Arabia's crown prince has sent a strong signal to allies and enemies alike that the two countries remain deeply committed to containing their common foe Iran. Last Sunday's covert meeting in the Saudi city of Neom, confirmed by Israeli officials but publicly denied by Riyadh, conveyed a coordinated message to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden that Washington's main allies in the region are closing ranks. It was the first publicly confirmed visit to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli leader and a meeting that was unthinkable until recently as the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.
EDMONTON — The Venezuelan woman who believes she was used as part of Jason Kenney's argument not to lockdown restaurants in Alberta remembers her encounter with the premier as less dramatic than he suggested.Carolina De La Torre says Kenney got her central feelings correct, but she said she did not break down into tears the way Kenney recalled."No crying," the 57-year-old woman said with a laugh during a phone interview Thursday.She also said it was Kenney who approached her Calgary food court booth called Arepas Ranch for lunch in October, not the other way around as the premier told it.After weeks of mounting COVID-19 cases, as more than 1,000 new cases and 16 deaths were reported on Tuesday, Kenney announced new rules that included making indoor private social events illegal.During the news conference, Kenney gave an example of how much a lockdown would hurt businesses by telling the story of a Venezuelan refugee he met. "A couple of weeks ago, I was in my constituency, at a little food court thing and a new Albertan, a refugee from Venezuela socialism, came up to me," Kenney said."She had just opened a little food kiosk, she recognized me, she came up to me, and she broke down in tears in front of me saying, 'sir, I put my entire life savings as a refugee into this business, we're struggling to pay the bills, if you shut me down, I'm going to lose it all, everything, and I'll be in abject poverty.'""For some, perhaps, it is a little bit too easy to say just flick a switch. Shut them down," Kenney said."I would ask people who have the certainty of a paycheque to think for a moment about those individuals whose entire life savings are tied up in businesses."De La Torre and her husband run the booth, which is located a 10-minute drive from Kenney's constituency office. Born in Venezuela, De La Torre said she and her husband came to Canada with refugee status in 1989 when it became no longer safe to live there. They settled in Montreal for 25 years before they packed their bags and moved to Calgary to follow their daughter who was starting school at the University of Alberta.They have been living in Alberta for seven years and have been running Arepas Ranch for two years. They are known for making specialty arepas, which is a cornmeal patty, filled with a choice of shredded beef, chicken salad, black beans, ham, cheese, or other vegan and veggie options.At first, De La Torre said she didn't recognize Kenney when he stopped to order food and then someone from another booth told her it was the premier.De La Torre doesn't recall exactly what Kenney ordered, but she remembers the "very short" conversation they had when he came back to let them know the meal was "fantastico." She posted a picture of the premier on her Instagram. De La Torre said Kenney got her feelings right.She said it’s true that the couple put their money into the business and closing the economy would be bad for them. But she understands it’s about people’s health, which is what she told Kenney."What I said is, 'There has to be a balance between the economy and the health. There is not only me in this food court, we are more than 40 small businesses in the court that need to be open to make a way of life'."No one from Kenney's office immediately responded to a request for comment. De La Torre said when she heard Kenney mentioned her during a news conference, she was at first surprised.But now, "I didn't know what to think about it," she said."I don't know. What can I say? It's OK."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News FellowshipFakiha Baig, The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — Eric Duncan, the first openly gay Conservative MP, laced into the federal health minister Thursday over the Liberals failure to end a ban on gay men donating blood. In a heated and emotional exchange during a late-night committee hearing in the House of Commons, Duncan pressed Patty Hajdu repeatedly, including a direct question on whether she'd accept a blood donation from him.Hajdu didn't directly answer, pointing to ongoing work to end a ban on donations from men who have sex with men. Canada banned blood donations from gay men since 1992 before allowing it in 2013 if the donor abstained from sex with another man for at least five years.That was changed to one year in 2016, and then three months in 2019.But the Liberals promised to end the ban completely in both 2015 and 2019.Duncan said there is a desperate need for blood donations during the second wave of COVID-19."I want to donate and make a difference, but I can't because I'm gay," he said. "In the year 2020, why is that?Hajdu said both Canadian Blood Services and Hema-Quebec are independent from government and they have to do the right amount of research to end the ban entirely. She said the organizations have been funded by the government to do that, but Duncan accused Hajdu of hiding behind bureaucrats."She had no problem during an election campaign telling gay men this would end," he said.Three times, he asked Hajdu directly if she'd accept a blood donation from him, and three times she did not directly answer."Does she not feel comfortable, from me as a gay man, taking my blood," he asked.Hajdu said as soon as the blood agencies submit their recommendations on how to end the ban, they will be reviewed and changes will be made. "I think the gay blood ban needs to end," she said.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press
During the throes of adolescence, Amanda Joe had inner aspirations to learn the art of Ktunaxa beadwork. As the daughter of a residential school survivor, she did not grow up beading with family. But she did learn how to perform on the pow wow trail with her family. “I did grow up learning how to sing,” she explained. “We had a drum group in my family with my mom, my auntie and sisters — singing the old Ktunaxa songs, and we started travelling with our drum group, then I started becoming more familiar with other tribes and seeing how all of their regalia were fully beaded and I wanted a fully beaded regalia — that was my goal. At that time, that was my goal.” At the mere age of 17, Joe set out to learn how to bead through trial and error. She also would sit with elders from the Akisqnuk First Nation community and watch others bead to learn more about the cultural protocols and techniques passed down for generations. “I started learning how to bead on my own and over the years, I just learned from my mistakes and kept perfecting what works best for my artwork,” said Joe. “For just over 20 years now, I’ve been beading.” Today, the 40-year-old artisan and member of the Aq’am community has successfully met her goal of beading distinctly Ktunaxa regalia for herself, adding details to it gradually over time. She has also devoted time toward making fully beaded regalia for each of her children with nearly every passing summer. In fact, Joe now accepts custom beading orders to make regalia, earrings, brooches and necklaces for others upon requests. “I really like it. I have my whole system down now where I can get a project done,” she said. “I can get a pair of earrings down in a day-and-a-half. When I first started, it would take me a month to finish a beret. Now I can get two-or-three projects done a week.” Over time, Joe has learned how to bead her family’s crest and how to be respectful to other families by checking with elders if certain designs are apt in her work. Culturally, she has learned how to focus on her state of mind before beginning any new beading projects. “I was self-taught, but there are certain protocols that I was taught,” she said about beading. “Even though I wasn’t specifically taught (how to bead), I learned that you shouldn’t bead when you’re feeling angry from elders. You should only bead when you’re feeling good because it’s like medicine. There’s generations of knowledge that you’re putting into your project and you want good things so you want good energy with it.” She encourages others from the community to be mindful of their state of mind before embarking on new beading projects and to consult with elders to ensure the designs can be used in an ethical, safe way that respects local Ktunaxa members. “Ask elders if it’s okay to use designs before beading to ensure you’re not using a family’s design,” she explained of the ethical protocols from the community. “Generally each tribe has different designs in their artwork. For example, the plains tribes will have more symmetrical designs with squares and diamonds, whereas tribes around this area will have florals. You’ll notice a lot of flowers in the beadwork, and a long time ago, that’s how you could tell where someone is from at pow wows. It would be a lot more flowers that you’d see in this area. Like four or five petal flowers.” Lately, Joe has focused on beading animals from the Ktunaxa Creation Story to honour and respect their contributions to living on the land, and local flowers that are reminiscent of her childhood in the Columbia Valley. “In mine, you’ll see a lot of different flowers and a lot of them are symbolic,” she said. “You’ll see a lot of purple crocuses in my beadwork. To me, that is a memory that is special because my Dad would make me flower crowns out of crocuses. He passed away when I was 17, so when I miss him, I’ve noticed that a lot of purple crocuses will show up in my bead.” But the cultural significance of moccasins has remained one of her favourite pastimes. She makes them for her children to pass down cultural beliefs in her family and values that moccasins can be worn to ceremonies. “Moccasins are probably my favourite because of the cultural significance that it has,” she said. “When I’m making those for my kids, I know that when they’re using it, it will help with our culture beliefs. I feel that when I’m making things like that for them to take into ceremonies, it holds a lot more meaning. It has a lot more sentimental value from our cultural roots.” To view some of her work, please visit Ktunaxa.QT on Instagram at www.instagram.com/ktunaxa.qt/ or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ktunaxaqt-Amanda-Joes-Creations-111145737221412 To make a purchase, please visit Joe’s Etsy page at www.etsy.com/people/6ulzf857?ref=hdr_user_menu-profileBreanne Massey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Columbia Valley Pioneer
WATERLOO REGION — Three local Indigenous leaders are getting recognition for their advocacy and activism. Atlohsa Family Healing Services, a not-for-profit organization that provides Indigenous-focused programming and services, has chosen O:se Kenhionhata:tie — also known as Land Back Camp — as one of eight recipients of the 2020 Atlohsa Peace Awards. Launched in 2018, the Atlohsa Peace Awards recognize leaders who make significant contributions toward addressing Truth and Reconciliation in their communities. Land Back Camp organizers Shawn Johnston and Amy Smoke are being honoured for their success in engaging the City of Kitchener, City of Waterloo, and the Region of Waterloo to address their calls to action. They are also being lauded for creating a space where urban Indigenous youth have been drawn in efforts to reclaim land, language, and traditions. This year’s ceremony on Dec. 10 will feature live performances and a keynote from Sen. Murray Sinclair, the first Indigenous judge appointed in Manitoba. Proceeds from ticket sales for the awards ceremony go toward Zhaawanong in London, Ontario, a 24-hour emergency women’s shelter that provides Indigenous-led crisis support for women and their children at risk of violence, abuse and homelessness. Smoke, manager of Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC) at the University of Waterloo, is also being recognized locally. Smoke has been chosen as this year’s recipient of the Ken Murray Award from the Kitchener-Waterloo Community Foundation, which will be awarded at KWCF’s upcoming Chair’s reception on Wednesday, Dec. 2. Local Indigenous leaders are also receiving national awards. Lori Campbell, WISC director, was recently recognized as one of the 2020 Women of Inspiration by the Universal Women’s Network two weeks ago. Campbell wrote in an email that this national award for her work as an Indigenous leader was an honour, and that nominations in several other categories floored her. “It tells me that I’m having an impact not only in the Indigenous community but as a leader in the broader community.”Fitsum Areguy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Waterloo Region Record
VICTORIA — B.C. Premier John Horgan's new cabinet relies on some familiar faces in key positions with Adrian Dix remaining in health and David Eby at attorney general, but he appointed new finance and education ministers Thursday in an expanded inner circle that will focus on keeping people safe through the pandemic.Selina Robinson, the former minister of municipal affairs and housing, was named finance minister, replacing Carole James, who did not seek re-election last month due to health reasons.Horgan said his government will rely on a variety of ministers in the fight against COVID-19 and to steer the province's economic recovery efforts. But Dix, Robinson and Ravi Kahlon, who was appointed jobs, economic recovery and innovation minister, will carry many of the pandemic duties.Khalon is taking on "an enormous responsibility" and will be responsible for the province's recovery plan announced in September, Horgan told a news conference."Ravi will be the point person and I'm confident that he is going to make sure everything we can do will be done," Horgan said.Khalon, a former Olympic field hockey player, served as Horgan's parliamentary secretary in the forests ministry in the last NDP government.Horgan had similar praise for Robinson, saying her work ethic is unprecedented and she's well known across B.C. from her work as the municipal affairs and housing minister. She is also a former city council member in Coquitlam."I have tremendous trust in her capacity," he said. "I gave her an awful lot to do on the housing file, on the municipal affairs file. Her understanding of the people of B.C. is unmatched."James will continue to work with Horgan as a special adviser, taking a post that pays $1 a year, Horgan said.Newcomer Jennifer Whiteside, a former official with the Hospital Employees' Union who ran for the New Democrats in New Westminster, was named education minister, replacing Rob Fleming, who was moved to the transportation portfolio.Horgan says his 57-member caucus will be engaged in the government's decision making either as parliamentary secretaries or through new government caucus committees that have been put in place. He described the cabinet as "a diverse and dynamic team."The NDP won a majority government in last month's election, capturing 57 of the 87 seats in the legislature.The new cabinet includes 20 ministers and four ministers of state. Horgan named 12 men and 12 women to cabinet posts, who are supported by 13 parliamentary secretaries.The premier kept some of his most senior ministers in their previous cabinet posts, including Mike Farnworth as solicitor general and Harry Bains as labour minister. Eby was given the added responsibility of housing.Three former MPs were handed cabinet posts, with Murray Rankin being named Indigenous relations and reconciliation minister; Nathan Cullen as minister of state for lands, natural resource operations; and Sheila Malcolmson, who served in the last legislature after leaving federal politics, becoming the minister of mental health and addictions.Fin Donnelly, also a former MP, was named parliamentary secretary for fisheries and aquaculture.Among the newcomers to cabinet are Mitzi Dean at children and family development; former Tofino mayor Josie Osbourne at municipal affairs; and Nicholas Simons at social development and poverty reduction.The swearing-in ceremony was different because of the pandemic. Horgan was with Lt.-Gov. Janet Austin at the University of Victoria for the ceremony, while all the cabinet ministers, except Eby who was at the university, were sworn in through video links.People across B.C. are struggling with the burdens of the pandemic, now in its ninth month, Horgan said."But we are buoyed by the good news of vaccines on the way, but until then, we have to continue to do our level best to keep the second wave of COVID-19 under control and prepare for the new year." Horgan has recalled the legislature for a brief session with a throne speech on Dec. 7.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2020.Dirk Meissner, The Canadian PressNote to readers: This is a corrected story. Previous version spelled the last name as Khalon. It is Ravi Kahlon.
There has recently been an informal change in health directives in the Prince Albert Catholic School Division when a student tests positive for COVID-19. Last weekend Saskatoon Public Schools changed their guidelines where entire classes have to isolate after a single positive case in a class. A similar change has also occurred in the Saskatchewan Rivers School Division. Director of education Lorel Trumier explained that the change to having entire classrooms or cohorts self-isolate has to do with the increase of cases in the community and province. “Essentially if there is a positive case within a cohort or a class that entire cohort or class will isolate until a period of time as based as on the opinion of the Public Health,” Trumier said. She explained that local public health perform their investigation and determine the timeframe for isolation for the group. “That of course is very precautionary but it is essential that we do try to reduce the spread and I think that schools are important in this process. And we have been working very diligently in our schools to make sure that we reduce the spread. We are pleased to say that the spread has not occurred within our schools to date,” Trumier said. For example, in the recent case identified at the before and after school program at Ecole Holy Cross, the cohort will be self-isolating until midnight on Dec. 3. A cohort is a group of people and a classroom can be part of a cohort as well as a cohort itself. “It is a cohort that, together, they have been identified as a close contact to an individual who has tested positive. Therefore that cohort will need to isolate for a period of time,” Trumier said. This case is more specifically a cohort because it is a before and after school program and not a classroom. The change in how a COVID-19 case is handled didn’t come specifically from the province but more from consultations. “It was in dialogue with our health authority. We meet regularly with our local health officials, we also have the opportunity to meet regularly with Dr. (Saqib) Shahab and work through some procedures and processes. We need our medical officials and we need our medical personnel, our essential workers, to be able to continue working so we have got to do what we can to reduce the spread and stop the spread. Because it grows exponentially,” Trumier said. There have been cases reported at St. Francis School, Ecole St. Mary High School and Ecole St. Anne since October. There was also an outbreak, which means more than two cases in the same location, declared at Ecole St. Mary High School on Oct.24. None of the cases were acquired at the school, but rather brought in from the community. All of these outbreaks are still listed as active by the province. Outbreaks have to declared over by an SHA Medical Health Officer before they can be removed from the list. According to a release by the SHA on Tuesday, eight per cent of all infections come from educational institutions. Cases are more likely students or staff and test positivity is higher in the 14-year-old to 19-year-old age range. Shahab said Wednesday that sports and recreational activities were causing much of the spread into schools and workplaces. Trumier explained that the division believes these measures plus proper practices such as hand washing, sanitization, distancing where possible and social distancing where possible can lessen the spread. “Those are all the heavy lifters to reducing the spread and so we are going to continue our process so we have our students and staff interests here as a priority and make them priority number one,” Trumier said. The Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health were not available to comment on whether isolating entire classrooms was a provincial direction as of deadline.Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
With the COVID-19 pandemic taking its toll on small businesses, there is a push for people to shop locally this holiday season, with groups setting up shopping and delivery for multiple local businesses in one place.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said the province's health care system is strained amid a worsening pandemic.On Thursday the SHA gave an update on how it's ramping up its response to the pandemic during a news conference in Regina. The announcement came after the province reported 299 new cases and three more deaths. Officials say the pressure on the health system is so severe, some non-essential services will have to be reduced in the weeks ahead.There are currently 108 Saskatchewan residents in hospital due to the virus. High contact rateThe SHA said the current two week average of cases of approximately 214 per day equals to 32,000 hours of contact tracing over a two-week period.The average case has 7.5 contacts, according to the SHA. That number is dropping, according to the province. But SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said that some people who have COVID-19 are in contact with an extremely high number of people."Unfortunately, over the last month, some of our investigations have revealed that some individuals have as many as 150 contacts for a single positive case with today's numbers. It's likely we're going to see more increased pressure," Livingstone said. He said infections and contact tracing are affecting health workplaces. "We've had a number of recent cases where 20 to 30 staff have been forced to isolate, which in some of the smaller facilities across the province, that would completely debilitate them with respect to providing any services at all."He said that the more cases there are in the community, the higher the chance a health care worker is a close contact and will have to isolate.As of Thursday, Saskatoon has 35 COVID-19 patients in hospital. The SHA said Saskatoon is at 97 per cent capacity in its ICU capacity. That leaves the facility with only two open beds. Livingstone said this indicates that it is critical for the public to follow orders and limit their contacts.""If we let this go unchecked....we are sending our health care workers into a Lion's Den," Livingstone said. What will be neededThe SHA said the next few weeks are critical for the virus to get under control. It said it plans to use a "dimmer switch" strategy to increase and decrease services. It called using field hospitals a last resort.If cases continue to surge, the SHA will need: * Additional staff for increased testing and contact tracing. * Additional hospital staff to support increases in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. * Additional long-term care staff to support staff cohorting and outbreak management. * Responsiveness to situations where large numbers of staff are required to isolate due to being a close contact with a positive case.If the case surge continues, the SHA said it will have to create approximately 200 more beds for COVID-19 patients than currently exist in all the hospitals outside of Saskatoon and Regina combined.SHA surge plans call for added staffing to perform contact tracing for at least 450 cases per day. The SHA said 450 cases per day would create 72,000 hours of work for contact tracers over a two week time span.
Some Alberta faith communities are opting to suspend gatherings, despite rules allowing in-person worship to continue across the province. On Tuesday, the government announced new restrictions on places of worship, in areas like Calgary and Edmonton — anywhere with an enhanced status. The rules stipulate that faith leaders must calculate their pre-COVID attendance and cut it down to one-third of the regular total.The province encouraged online services, along with the distinction that in-person meetings and religious gatherings cannot be conducted in a private home while the measures are in effect. But some religious leaders say this doesn't go far enough and have ceased offering mass and in-person religious gatherings for the time being. Others have tightened their restrictions above and beyond the province's mandate.The Very Rev. Leighton Lee is the director of the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer, which is the Anglican cathedral in downtown Calgary. He's also the dean of the Anglican Diocese of Calgary. When cases began to climb, Lee was asked to reconvene a task force to come up with recommendations and measures to respond to the second wave of the pandemic. The decision was to suspend services beginning Nov. 15 until at least Dec. 6 — subject to change based on the pandemic situation. "We were making this decision to say, 'look, we can do our part and we can, in fact, be leaders in the community,'" Lee said. "We are faith leaders and we can demonstrate that by saying we believe the responsible thing to do as citizens of this province is to stay home as much as possible."The Rev. Anna Greenwood-Lee of St. Laurence Anglican Church said that while the diocese has decided to suspend mass for the time being, a message from the government would be more impactful and less confusing. "I commend churches that are sort of taking matters into their own hands," Greenwood-Lee said. "Frankly, it's confusing when we sort of put an extra layer of responsibility on churches to have to go above and beyond the guidance provided by the province."During the pandemic, Greenwood-Lee said there are other things more important than mass for her community, such as acts of service to the vulnerable populations who need a hand."We're called to donate to the food bank. Some of my parishioners are driving for the food bank right now to drop off food hampers at people's homes," Greenwood-Lee said."There's all sorts of good work that we can do as people of faith, even though we can't worship together on Sundays in person."Government 'sending the wrong message'Greenwood-Lee said the government's lack of limitations when it comes to in-person faith gatherings sends the wrong message, especially when faith-based gatherings have accounted for several of the province's outbreaks."[Premier] Jason Kenney seems hesitant to curtail people's rights or freedoms, but there's a basic ethical concept that none of us have any rights without responsibilities," Greenwood-Lee said."We have responsibilities to our neighbours. We have responsibilities to pay taxes. We have responsibilities not to drive while intoxicated. And right now we have a responsibility to limit public worship, to limit social gatherings, to wear a mask in order to protect the most vulnerable in our society."'If it's not safe we won't do it'First Alliance Church Calgary has two campuses in the city. In pre-pandemic times, one of the auditoriums was able to seat more than 2,000, lead pastor James Paton said.But after the pandemic's first wave, attendance was not encouraged, just available. To his knowledge, when people attended worship services after reopening, at most they were sitting 200 to 300 people, with distancing in place.With the rise in COVID-19 cases across Alberta, Paton said it was decided to stop weekend services until the weekend of Jan. 9."Whether that becomes the date with the open or not, I think would be very dependent on whether the multi-wave pandemic has got back under control," Paton said. "If that's not safe, we won't do it."Imam says mosque going above and beyond rulesShaikh Fayaz Tilly, a senior imam with the Muslim Council of Calgary and chaplain with the University of Calgary, said mosques in-person programming has moved online. The only in-person worship is permitted for Friday prayer."All of our programming, with the exception of Friday prayer, has switched to online programming," Tilly said. "The Qur'an speaks about, you know, Friday, the day of congregating, as long as it is safe for people to congregate. And we truly believe that, you know, families who pray together, stay together as a community to pray together, stay together as well."Tilly added the mosque is going above and beyond government recommendations in terms of attendance and health measures. For Friday prayer, he is encouraging only those who are healthy and without comorbidities to attend in person. Prayer lasts for approximately 12 minutes, Tilly said, and congregating isn't allowed. 'How can we preserve human life?'Rabbi Mark Glickman is the spiritual leader of Temple B'nai Tikvah. He said in-person gatherings have been suspended. He cannot speak for other temples but noted some of the more conservative groups have practices and rules that don't allow an easy shift to online worship."The Jewish perspective on the question of to shut down or not shut down comes down to how can we most effectively preserve human life? And that trumps everything in Judaism," Glickman said."That's really what we're looking for … however possible."Alberta Health did not have a percentage breakdown to reflect how many COVID-19 cases have been traced to faith communities. But the agency did note there have been "various large outbreaks" throughout the pandemic.
Alberta's chief medical officer of health Thursday said she feels personally betrayed after CBC News reported the contents of secret recordings that revealed disagreements and, at times, political interference in the province's pandemic response."I am profoundly disappointed that confidential internal conversations have been shared, actions that are a violation of the public service, oath and code of conduct," Dr. Deena Hinshaw told a news conference. "This is a personal betrayal and a betrayal of the trust that our hardworking team has placed in each other," she said. There will be an internal investigation to try to determine who leaked the recordings, Hinshaw said.CBC News also quoted several confidential sources, one of whom said Hinshaw had confided that her dealings with the politicians were an "uphill battle." "My dad used to say that if you and your partner always agree, then one of you is unnecessary," she said, acknowledging that "at times I have felt frustrated as I am a human being. The reality is that it is critical to have multiple perspectives and that those perspectives are heard." But Hinshaw insisted, as she had previously, that she has always been treated respectfully by politicians and her advice has been considered in final decisions by the government. She again stressed her job is simply to provide advice."I was not elected by Albertans," she said. "The final decisions are up to elected officials who were chosen by Alberta. This is how democracy works. "I know that there are many views about how we should proceed. However, we are becoming divided when we most need to engage in respectful dialogue."A previous statement emailed to CBC News from a spokesperson for Premier Jason Kenney said it is the job of elected officials to make decisions and there was no political interference.WATCH | Dr. Deena Hinshaw addresses the secret recordings:The Opposition NDP have called for Kenney's government to make Hinshaw's pandemic recommendations public, to engender trust in its response to the pandemic. Hinshaw said disclosing that information would be a breach of her oath as a public servant.Health Minister Tyler Shandro also told the news conference he couldn't disclose the advice provided by Hinshaw because it would breach cabinet confidence.Secret recordings reveal expert advice overruledHinshaw delivered her public rebuke after CBC News earlier on Thursday reported it had obtained 20 secret recordings from daily meetings of the province's COVID-19 Emergency Operations Centre, as well as meeting minutes and interviews with staff directly involved in pandemic planning.They reveal how Kenney, Shandro and other cabinet ministers often overruled the expert advice of already overwhelmed civil servants. On two occasions health officials acceded to political requests to provide testing to the public that officials believed had little value in limiting the spread of the virus. The recordings also reveal the Kenney government pushed an early relaunch strategy that seemed more focused on the economy and avoiding the appearance of curtailing Albertans' freedoms than enforcing compliance to safeguard public health.The recordings did confirm what Hinshaw has repeatedly stated publicly: she believes her role is to advise, provide recommendations and implement decisions made by the politicians.WATCH | Tension between politics, science in Alberta's pandemic response revealed in recordings:For weeks, the government has faced intense criticism for its handling of the pandemic as Alberta registered among the highest infection rate per capita in Canada. Kenney and Shandro have repeatedly said the pandemic response has been directed by Hinshaw.At Hinshaw's news conference Thursday, Shandro said the reporting of the leaked recordings was an "irresponsible attack" on Hinshaw's credibility and the independence of her office, which in turn undermines her work as chief medical officer of health."Since the pandemic began, as minister of health, I have worked closely with Dr. Hinshaw. She has provided detailed, evidence-based recommendations to me and to Alberta's government as legislated in the Public Health Act," Shandro said. "She has also participated in on-going cabinet discussions about what is right for Alberta in the response to this pandemic."We listen closely. We debate the range of policy options that she offers and their different impacts. And then, as elected officials, we do what we were elected to do: we make decisions that are in the best interests of Albertans. I want to express my own and Alberta's government's support for Dr. Hinshaw."Hinshaw used as political shield: NDPEarlier in the day, Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the Kenney government has used Hinshaw as a shield."Every time there is a decision that gets to be a little unpopular, or there is any pressure, he hides behind her," she said. "But what we clearly see here is that he is not following her advice on a number of occasions and Albertans are suffering as a result."In the legislature, Notley pressed the Kenney government to establish an independent panel of experts to make recommendations on the pandemic response that would be made public. Kenney however, ignored the demand, saying Hinshaw is capable and stressing as he has previously that it is for elected officials to make the final decisions because there are considerations, other than public health, that must be weighed."Alberta is a democracy," Kenney said, "and under this government it is going to stay that way."If you have any information about this story, or information about another story, please contact us in confidence at email@example.com
Les travailleurs étrangers qui possèdent un permis temporaire de travail fermé dépendent de leur employeur, ce qui les rend très vulnérables en cas de rupture de leur lien d’emploi. Ayant perdu son emploi quelques mois après son arrivée au Québec, Tiffany Mirzica s’est retrouvée plongée dans une situation d’extrême précarité et poussée à se démener pour subvenir aux besoins de sa famille et régulariser son statut migratoire. Ce qui a débuté comme un projet prometteur d’immigration économique pour la Parisienne d’origine martiniquaise et sa famille s’est vite transformé en un cauchemar. « Je pouvais demeurer en sol canadien jusqu’à l’expiration de mon visa mais ma situation était très complexe, car je devais trouver un nouvel employeur qui accepterait de refaire toutes les démarches d’immigration. » « Pourtant, j’avais mis cinq ans à préparer mon projet d’immigration, assistant à tous les salons de l’immigration possibles en France et en faisant deux voyages exploratoires au Québec avant d’immigrer avec ma famille », dit la mère monoparentale de 3 enfants entre 6 et 14 ans. Tomber dans la précarité aussitôt Mme Mirzica a été recrutée en France pour un poste de cadre dans une entreprise en gestion immobilière et est arrivée au Québec avec ses enfants et sa mère en juillet 2017. Lorsque son emploi s’est terminé abruptement quelques mois plus tard, elle s’est vue dans l’impossibilité de travailler ailleurs en raison des restrictions de son visa. « Je faisais partie de la catégorie des personnes qui se retrouvent noyées dans les démarches administratives d’immigration et laissées pour compte, c’était un enfer ! », dénonce-t-elle. Ayant dépensé toutes ses économies dans son déménagement au Québec avec sa famille, elle a lancé un appel à l’aide aux autorités municipales d’Anjou où elle résidait à ce moment-là, mais il est resté vain. « On m’a conseillé de rentrer chez moi et de revenir une fois que j’aurais les fonds pour m’en sortir », déplore-t-elle. Des Samaritains et des organismes à la rescousse Elle a trouvé du soutien auprès de l’école de ses enfants qui les a inscrits au Club des petits déjeuners et leur a offert des vêtements de neige neufs. « Je ne les remercierais jamais assez de nous avoir aidés ! », lance-t-elle. Le Centre humanitaire d’organisation de ressources et de référence d’Anjou (CHORRA) leur a fourni pour sa part un soutien alimentaire. Mme Mirzica a pu se remettre sur pied grâce également à ses proches, à ses voisins et à la propriétaire de son logement à Anjou qui lui a permis de reporter le paiement de son loyer. Bénévolat et entrepreneuriat Incapable d’être embauchée par un nouvel employeur en raison de son permis de travail fermé, Mme Mirzica se lance sur le chemin du bénévolat entre 2017 et 2018, œuvrant notamment pour la place des femmes dans le milieu entrepreneurial. « Mon but en immigrant ici était d’offrir un meilleur avenir à mes enfants et d’apprendre et me nourrir de la culture québécoise, mais aussi de laisser ma petite patte. » Du soutien trouvé en région « J’ai rencontré Tiffany en mars 2019 lors de la Journée portes ouvertes de la Ville de Saint-Hyacinthe où nous participions comme exposant », dit Ana Luisa Iturriaga, directrice générale de Forum-2020, organisme dont la mission est d’attirer et de soutenir les nouveaux arrivants dans la région de Saint-Hyacinthe. L’organisme a accompagné 499 nouveaux arrivants en 2018 et 600 en 2019, la majorité étant des immigrants. La députée de Saint-Hyacinthe et vice-présidente de l’Assemblée nationale Chantal Soucy déplore la lenteur des démarches d’immigration, soulignant le besoin grandissant d’arrimage entre les besoins de main-d’œuvre dans la région et les immigrants. « Nous avons accompagné Mme Mirzica, car elle s’est retrouvée sans emploi et dans le néant en raison de son permis fermé et de la complexité des démarches entre les deux paliers du gouvernement. » Tomber entre deux chaises Trois mois avant l’expiration de son permis de travail, une entreprise locale s’apprête à embaucher Mme Mirzica. Toutefois, en raison du délai de traitement de la demande et du changement dans l’admissibilité du poste offert, la démarche a échoué. « Ils ont déboursé près de 4000 $ en frais administratifs et d’immigration pour me recruter mais ç’a été un enfer ! », déplore-t-elle. En juillet 2019, son visa arrive à échéance et elle se retrouve avec sa famille avec un statut implicite au Canada. Elle est alors aiguillée par le bureau de la députée vers John Sanchez, responsable diocésain au diocèse de Saint-Hyacinthe, accompagnateur de personnes en situation précaire, notamment les familles à statut précaire, les réfugiés et les travailleurs agricoles de la région. Les difficultés pour régulariser son statut « Tiffany avait épuisé ses ressources administratives pour régulariser son statut et son dernier recours était de se rendre à la frontière pour sortir et rentrer au pays à nouveau. » Le 17 mars dernier, ils se rendent donc ensemble au poste frontalier de Lacolle. Voyant qu’elle ne détenait plus de statut légal au Canada, les agents frontaliers ont interpellé et interrogé Mme Mirzica pendant plusieurs heures. « Étant une femme persuasive et connaissant tout sur les démarches d’immigration et ayant de forts arguments en main, elle a pu convaincre les agents de la laisser entrer à nouveau au pays », raconte M. Sanchez, originaire de Colombie. « On a fini par m’accorder un visa de visiteur et un délai d’un mois pour régulariser ma situation », indique Mme Mirzica. Ayant réussi à obtenir un permis d’études, elle poursuit actuellement un programme en arts, lettres et communication au cégep de Saint-Hyacinthe et travaille à l’Association Aide en immigration (AAI), ne sachant toujours pas ce qu’il adviendra de son avenir au Québec.Karla Meza, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Devoir
Yukon reported three new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a press release issued around 8 p.m. Thursday, including one linked to the recent Diwali festival in Whitehorse. Two of the cases are in Whitehorse, and one is in an unnamed "rural community." That case, the news release says, is likely linked to a known outbreak in Whitehorse, though the investigation is not complete. There are now 12 active cases of COVID-19 in Yukon. Anyone who was at the Diwali festival on Saturday, Nov. 14, and is experiencing symptoms is asked to get tested immediately. The other Whitehorse case is linked to a known case in Whitehorse. A public exposure notice has been issued for: * Save-On-Foods between 10:30 a.m. and noon on Wednesday, Nov. 18. "If you were in contact with someone at a location listed in the public exposure notices, you are a secondary contact and you do not need to self-isolate," the release reads. "If you are not notified and do not have symptoms, you may continue with your usual daily activities." The Yukon government asks anyone with any of the following symptoms to self-isolate and arrange for testing immediately. They include: * Fever * Chills * Cough * Difficulty breathing * Shortness of breath * Runny nose * Sore throat * Loss of sense of taste or smell * Headache * Fatigue * Loss of appetite * Nausea and vomiting * Diarrhea * Muscle achesYou can reach the COVID-19 Testing and Assessment Centre at 867-393-3083, or visit the Whitehorse drive-thru testing centre at Centennial Motors across from the airport. Leave a number if asked, and call back if you do not receive a call within 24 hours.Yukon has now had 42 cases of COVID-19 in total, and one death.
On Thursday evening the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) identified a positive COVID-19 case in an individuals at Ecole St. Mary High School in Prince Albert. In a news release by the Prince Albert Catholic School Division on Sunday evening the division explained that communication has been shared with the specific classroom/cohorts, as well as the school community. These cases were acquired outside of the school setting, the division said. The SHA is proceeding with their assessment of the situation, and all individuals deemed to be close contacts are being notified. “The class/cohorts, impacted by this case, barring any other cases, are required to Self-Isolate until midnight on Dec. 3. The class/cohorts will be moved to remote learning until the isolation period is complete,” the release said. These specific class/cohorts are advised to contact 811 Healthline for advice. “École St. Mary High School will resume classes Nov. 27 for all other students and staff that are not deemed to be close contacts. Public Health officials are advising all students and staff to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms daily and not to enter the school if ill.” No further information was made available citing privacy concerns. “Our thoughts and prayers are with this member of our school community, and we hope they are doing well.” They emphasized that everyone has a shared responsibility to decrease the risk of COVID-19 entering schools. “Thank you to everyone for continuing to be diligent in performing daily health screening, staying home if ill, calling HealthLine 811 if exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, practicing proper hand hygiene, maintaining physical distancing as much as possible, wearing a mask when appropriate and doing everything we can to keep each other safe,” the release stated.Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
Collisions on Edmonton streets have dropped during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the city says nearly the same number of people died in traffic-related incidents so far this year as in 2019. Jessica Lemarre, the City of Edmonton's director of traffic safety, said the volume of traffic decreased at different points in the past eight months and likewise, so did collisions. However, 12 people have died in traffic collisions so far this year, while 14 people died in 2019. "Which tells us things like speed and impairment continue to be extremely risky behaviour — not only risky, but also illegal — that leads to tragedy," Lemarre said. At a news conference Thursday, Lemarre presented an outline of Safe Mobility Strategy 2021-2025, a new approach by the city to achieve Vision Zero. The city adopted Vision Zero in 2015, a campaign that started in Sweden in 1997 with the long-term goal of zero traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries. In 2015, 32 people died from traffic collisions on Edmonton roads. By 2019, that death toll had been cut in half, Lemarre said, and there were 30 per cent fewer serious injuries than five years earlier. Lemarre noted that 69 per cent of serious collisions and deaths are on arterial roads. "We know when we look at the cause of those crashes that 80 per cent of those crashes are the results of driver error." Since Vision Zero began in Edmonton, 82 crosswalks have been upgraded, the report says. Pedestrian vs driver Safety measures, such as improving signals and signs at intersections, have proven effective for drivers but not so much for pedestrians and cyclists. The report shows from 2015 to 2019, motorcycle crashes were down about 60 per cent and vehicle crashes, 30 per cent. Crashes involving people walking were down 10 per cent, and those with cyclists didn't change. The city uses data from Edmonton police reports to dissect causes and elements related to collisions. In 2019, the top causes of serious and fatal collisions were tailgating, drivers losing control and running off the road, not yielding to a pedestrian, drivers running red lights, and turning left across the path of another vehicle or person. In the coming months, Lemarre said the city will continue exploring traffic-calming measures and safety improvements. She said there are many options, including community-focused projects like jersey barriers painted by local artists or vibrant crosswalks with creative paint. In recent years, the city has installed eight scramble crosswalks and synchronized signals, she noted. Council's urban planning committee will review the strategy at a meeting next Tuesday. Like previous traffic safety work, the new strategy will be funded by the automated enforcement reserve. Proposed budgets for new traffic safety work will be presented to city council early next year. Photo radar Part of the Safe Mobility Strategy includes photo radar, a controversial area of speed enforcement that Coun. Andrew Knack hopes can be partly resolved. "There's this never-ending debate on whether photo radar is a cash cow," Knack said. More than a year ago, Knack asked city administration for an update on an interactive map they were working on that would show people if photo radar improved safety at various locations it's used around Edmonton. "Instead of that immediate reaction of either it's good or it's bad, actually have some hard data to be able to show people and say: 'in each location, here's the specific impact we have seen when we use this tool'." Knack said in the west end, the stretch on 142nd Street between 107th Avenue and Stony Plain Road gets a lot of criticism. The speed limit goes down to 50 km/h from 60 km/h. "I'm not sure if that's making things better," Knack said. "Is there a better set of tools?" Lemarre said that data and the interactive map - to be posted on the City's Open Data site — is scheduled to be complete by the end of the year.
THE LATEST: * 911 new cases of COVID-19 were announced on Friday, along with 11 more deaths. * There are 8,749 people with active cases of the disease across B.C. * 301 patients are in hospital with COVID-19, including 69 in intensive care. * 395 people have now died of the disease. * A total of 10,430 people are now under active public health monitoring and in self-isolation because of exposure to known COVID-19 cases. * There have been 30,884 confirmed cases in the province to date.B.C.'s second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is showing no signs of slowing, with another 911 new cases confirmed on Friday and 11 more deaths.That brings the number of active cases in the province to 8,749. A total of 301 patients are in hospital with COVID-19, including 69 in intensive care.The Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions continue to see the greatest spread of the disease, accounting for 88 per cent of the new cases announced Friday.Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry was emotional when she spoke about the new deaths on Friday, most of whom were elderly people. She asked residents in the province to treat others with compassion and follow provincial health orders, such as only socializing with immediate household members.Friday's briefing comes a little more than a week after strict new restrictions and rules were put in place in B.C., including wide-ranging mask orders for indoor public and retail environments.Health officials have told British Columbians to pause all social interactions and be vigilant applying different layers of protection, including physical distancing, washing hands and using masks.Updated mask orders on transitOn Friday TransLink released updated rules for mask-wearing while on public transit.Customers must now wear masks while boarding or waiting for transit at any indoor or sheltered stations, in accordance with the province's order mandating mask wearing at any indoor public place.This includes stations, platforms, bus stops, bus loops, and bus exchanges. Face shields are no longer considered a suitable option in place of a non-medical mask or face covering.Transit Police can issue fines of $230 for people who refuse to wear a mask on transit.READ MORE:What's happening elsewhere in CanadaThere have now been more than 359,064 cases of COVID-19 in Canada.On Thursday, federal officials sought to reassure Canadians that they have a plan to procure and distribute millions of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021. Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said as many as six million doses could be deployed in the first three months of the new year.Canada is expected to receive at least 194 million vaccine doses, with contractual options for 220 million more. What are the symptoms of COVID-19?Common symptoms include: * Fever. * Cough. * Tiredness. * Shortness of breath. * Loss of taste or smell. * Headache.But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia.What should I do if I feel sick?Use the B.C. Centre for Disease Control's COVID-19 self-assessment tool. Testing is recommended for anyone with symptoms of cold or flu, even if they're mild. People with severe difficulty breathing, severe chest pain, difficulty waking up or other extreme symptoms should call 911.What can I do to protect myself? * Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Keep them clean. * Keep your distance from people who are sick. * Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. * Wear a mask in indoor public spaces.More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.
Construction jobs numbers are down provincially since the beginning of the pandemic, but that doesn’t reflect the reality in the north, where major resource development projects and steady activity in residential, non-residential, and road-building, have kept the industry strong, said a B.C. business analyst. “As much as there's a bunch of bad news around from this virus, the resiliency of the northern communities and northern economies… is the hidden bit of good news in this whole pandemic circumstance we find ourselves in,” said Ken Peacock, chief economist for the Business Council of BC. Many industries are doing okay in 2020, and some – the resource industries, along with, resource and non-resource manufacturing – have shown employment growth, said Peacock. Productivity dropped in the construction sector under COVID-19, but not by much, said Northern Regional Construction Association CEO Scott Bone, who estimated companies lost about 20 per cent productivity due to public health protocols. “Traveling to a worksite, we used to be able to throw four people in a crew cab and drive,” said Bone. “You can't do that anymore.” Now, it’s two people per truck, resulting in more vehicles, more fuel, more unplanned costs for the contractor and owner. Despite the many operational cost increases under COVID-19, construction has carried on. Contractors, legally bound to get work completed on deadline, are resilient and adaptable, said Bone. “They're very quick to adapt to things that come at them very quickly,” said Bone. “We saw that when COVID hit them.” The pandemic hasn’t caused significant construction site shutdowns that Bone knows of, and none are in sight. There are $120 billion worth of capital investments in B.C. in industrial and commercial projects ongoing or planned for construction or tendering this year or the next, said Bone. About $65 billion of that is in the north, namely, the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the LNG Canada facility, and BC Hydro’s Site C Dam. “All three of those projects are now ramping up,” said Bone. “We're seeing a good uptake in the opportunities for the construction industry as a result.’ The investment is so massive, procurement of goods and services has a big effect on the provincial economy, and while the spin offs are concentrated in the north, economic benefits also flow down to Vancouver, said Peacock. “Spending in Metro Vancouver kind of gets lost in the magnitude of the Metro Vancouver economy, so you don't see and feel the impact as much,” said Peacock. “Up in the north, where the economies are smaller, the lift from these large projects is much, much more significant and much more beneficial.” Most of the 180 Northern Regional Construction Association member contractors are very busy, said Bone. “They're working 24/7 to keep up with the work that they've got,” he said. The same seems to apply to contractors in the smaller communities of the Robson Valley. “The hardware and the building supply stores are as busy as anything,” said Dannielle Alan, Area H director for the Regional District of Fraser-Fort George. “All of our contractors are absolutely swamped.” According to the Canadian Home Builders Association (BHBA), in 2019, new home construction, and renovations and repairs created 1.3 million on and off-site jobs in Canada, equalling $83 billion in wages. Of that, about $159 million was paid in wages for 2,500 jobs in Prince George. Home construction jobs numbers for 2020 are not yet available. “There's actually a shortage of lumber, people are doing so much construction and renovating,” said Alan. Valemount has several active construction projects as well, according to Deputy Mayor Pete Pearson. An affordable housing development is underway, along with some single-family residential activity, he said. “We've had quite an influx of younger families moving to town,” said Pearson. “So, we're seeing a few new builds. “There's the combined housing and daycare facility that's pretty much almost shovel-ready,” said Pearson. “Generally, we're in pretty good shape.” The Trans Mountain campus and construction camp have also generated employment, Pearson said. “Our local contractors have been working on plumbing, gas fitting, and electrical with the camp setup,” said Pearson. “So, there's definitely been a positive spin off in the trades.” The challenges facing the construction industry are skilled labour shortages, not a lack of available work, said Bone. More young people need support to take up trades such as electrical, plumbing and carpentry and the construction association is collaborating with the Prince George school district to help make that happen. “There’s a huge gap between those that are going into the trades and getting trained and what we need going in the future,” Bone said. @FranYanor / Fran@thegoatnews.caFran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat
Australia has told 13 special forces soldiers they face dismissal in relation to a report on alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan, the head of the country's army said on Friday. An independent report published last week in redacted form said there was evidence that 39 unarmed Afghan prisoners and civilians were killed by 19 Australian soldiers. Under mounting pressure, Lieutenant General Rick Burr, the head of the Australian army, said 13 current soldiers have been issued with notices that could eventually lead to their termination.
Among a series of new measures instituted by the province to attempt to quell the spread of COVID-19 was an expanded mask mandate for schools. The announcement, made Wednesday, non-medical masking will be extended to all students, employees and visitors in all schools and daycares in the province. Children aged three years old to 12 years old now should wear a mask if they are able to. As has been the practice before children ages up to two-years old are exempt from wearing masks. Both the Prince Albert Catholic School Division and Saskatchewan Rivers School Division have adapted to the new measures. The Catholic Division had already put out a notice to schools that mandatory masks would be required for Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 3 students in the division, previously the only group excluded. “I realize that came out in the public health order this afternoon but we had initiated that out today to our schools. We had decided that we would do so regardless of what the province is doing,” Trumier said. They used prior experiences in the pandemic as part of the decision. “We know that there was good support for it earlier when children over two-years of age had to wear them in public places. At that point we deliberated and said we would do the same,” she explained. Trumier explained that they have tried to stay ahead of the curve on the evolving public health orders in the province. In Saskatchewan Rivers, similar changes were instituted, according to director of education Robert Bratvold. Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 12 students and staff will wear masks throughout the day. Bratvold explained that the division would be following the measures including exemptions for medical or other reasons. This makes a change from the previous Sask. Rivers measures where Pre-Kindergarten staff and Grade 4 to 12 students are already wearing masks. “The new measures will pose some challenges for some, but in SRPSD many early years students have been voluntarily wearing masks and this suggests we can overcome the challenges that young students may experience in adjusting to the wearing of masks,” Bratvold said. Some schools had already been encouraging increased mask use in younger grades. Bratvold credits staff in the division for doing excellent work thus far and explained that the staff will rely on support from families to adjust to the new measures. “Safety protocols in schools do support our communities by reducing the risk of transmission in schools but schools also depend on the people in our communities to be diligent in taking precautions to prevent COVID transmission,” he said. Both divisions emphasized that despite the challenges it is important that everyone continues to be diligent in performing the daily health screening and self-monitoring, stay home if not feeling well, call the HealthLine at 811 if exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, practice proper hand hygiene, maintain physical distancing as much as possible, wear a mask when appropriate. Both divisions also emphasized that they each want people to do whatever they can to keep each other safe. So far, neither division has seen a case of COVID-19 transmitted through the school system.Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
CARACAS, Venezuela — Six American oil executives held for three years in Venezuela were found guilty of corruption charges by a judge Thursday and immediately sentenced to prison, dashing hopes of a quick release that would send them home to their families in the United States.Some relatives had been bracing for the disheartening outcome, which came on the evening of Thanksgiving Day.Alirio Rafael Zambrano, brother to two of the men, said they were “undeniably innocent” and victims of “judicial terrorism.” No evidence in the case supports a guilty conviction, he said.“We, the family, are heartbroken to be separated even further from our loved ones,” Zambrano said in a phone message from New Jersey. “We pray that the leaders of our nation step forward and continue to fight unceasingly for their freedom and human rights.”Attorney María Alejandra Poleo, who helped represent three of the men, said the case was “void of evidence.” “Of course, the defence will appeal the decision,” she said.The so-called Citgo 6 are employees of Houston-based Citgo refining company, which is owned by Venezuela’s state oil company, PDVSA. They had been lured to Venezuela three years ago for a business meeting and were arrested on corruption charges.Their arrest launched a purge by President Nicolás Maduro's government of PDVSA and at a time when relations between Caracas and Washington were crumbling as Venezuela plummeted into economic and social crisis.Five of the men were sentenced to prison terms of 8 years and 10 months, while one of them received a 13-year sentence. Defence attorney Jesus Loreto said the five with lesser terms could be released on parole in a couple of years.Venezuela's Supreme Tribunal of Justice announced the verdicts and prison sentences but offered no other comment on the trial's outcome.One of the men, Tomeu Vadell, has said in a letter written in a Caracas jail and provided exclusively to The Associated Press before the verdict that he had hopes for a fair trial so he could walk free with his name cleared and go home to his family in the United States.Despite his circumstances, Vadell held out hope.“During the trial, the truth has proven undeniable,” Vadell said in the four-page hand-written letter. “It proves that I am innocent.”“I’m now reaching an intersection where if justice is done, I will be able to rebuild my life and try to compensate my family for all the lost moments,” he added. “The light is intense -- the hope is great -- give me freedom.”Vadell said it was especially painful to be separated during the Thanksgiving season from his wife, three adult children and a newborn grandson he has never held.“Before living this tragedy, these celebrations were very special times for our family,” Vadell wrote, saying he embraced the traditional American holiday after moving in 1999 from Caracas to Lake Charles, Louisiana, for a job with Citgo. “Now, they bring me a lot of sadness.”It’s the first time Vadell, or any of the so-called Citgo 6, had spoken publicly since being arrested and charged with in a purported big corruption scheme. He has been held at a feared Caracas jail called El Helicoide.The others convicted are Gustavo Cárdenas, Jorge Toledo, brothers Jose Luis Zambrano and Alirio Zambrano, all now U.S. citizens. Jose Pereira, a permanent resident, received the longest sentence.They were also charged with embezzlement stemming from a never-executed proposal to refinance some $4 billion in Citgo bonds by offering a 50% stake in the company as collateral. Maduro at the time accused them of “treason.”They all pleaded innocence.The men were summoned to the headquarters of PDVSA for what they were told was a budget meeting on Nov. 21, 2017. A corporate jet shuttled them to Caracas and they were told they would be home for Thanksgiving. Instead, military intelligence officers swarmed into the boardroom and hauled them off to jail.Their trial started four months ago and closing arguments took place Thursday. The judge immediately announced her verdict.The proceeding played out one day a week in a downtown Caracas court. Due to the pandemic, sessions were held in front of a bank of dormant elevators in a hallway, apparently to take advantage of air flowing through open windows.News media and rights groups were denied access to the hearings. There was no response to a letter addressed to Judge Lorena Cornielles seeking permission for The Associated Press to observe.The office of Venezuela’s chief prosecutor said prior to the verdict in a statement to AP that investigators found “serious evidence” that corroborated financial crimes potentially damaging to the state-run company.“The Citgo case has developed normally during all the stages established by the Venezuelan criminal process,” the statement said.Loreto said his client appeared to have been caught up in a “geopolitical conflict” of which he was not a part. He said Vadell's name never appeared on any of the documents prosecutors read into evidence.“There’s nothing that refers to Tomeu in any way -- directly or indirectly,” the lawyer said. “This is the story of a good guy being held against his will for all the wrong reasons.”Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who has negotiated the release of other Americans held by hostile governments, travelled to Caracas in July and met with Maduro.He didn’t win their freedom, but days later two of them — Cárdenas and Toledo — were freed from jail and put in house detention. Two weeks later, the long-delayed trial began.Richardson told AP that conversations with the Venezuelan government continue despite his meeting with Maduro being “a little stormy.” He said he he believes there is an opening tied to President-elect Joe Biden and a desire by Maduro to improve relations with Washington.“I think the Venezuelans have been straight with me, but more progress needs to be made,” Richardson said before the verdict. “My hope is to have something positive by Christmas.”It is not clear what approach Biden will take toward Maduro. Trump aggressively pressed to remove Maduro through sweeping financial sanctions and the U.S. Justice Department has indicted Maduro as a “narcoterrorist,” offering a $15 million reward for his arrest.Vadell's letter steered clear of politics. He didn't mention Maduro or speak about his jailers, though he did express concern about the “consequences of repercussions” of speaking out.With encouragement from his family, Vadell broke his silence, taking a risk relatives said was necessary.“I believe it’s more important that the light of hope illuminates us,” Vadell wrote. “May the light of hope put an end to the sadness of my family.”The five other men did not respond to invitations AP made through their lawyers to comment.Vadell’s daughter, Cristina Vadell, said in a phone interview from Lake Charles that her father isn’t the kind of person who seeks attention. Rather, he prefers to focus on work and his family.During his 35-year career with PDVSA and Citgo, Vadell ended up running a refinery in Lake Charles and then became vice-president of refining. The letter attempts to expose this side of his life, she said.“I think he was willing to take some risks and open some hearts to allow him to come home,” she said. “I think he’s still wondering ‘What happened?’ He went to a work meeting and never came home.”___Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP___Associated Press writer Joshua Goodman in Miami contributed to this report.Scott Smith, The Associated Press