While the highly contagious COVID-19 variants have been detected in some schools in Alberta and B.C., they don't seem to be spreading. As Heather Yourex-West reports, it's good news, but no reason to feel confident yet.
While the highly contagious COVID-19 variants have been detected in some schools in Alberta and B.C., they don't seem to be spreading. As Heather Yourex-West reports, it's good news, but no reason to feel confident yet.
Canada's health officials spoke about the recent change in guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) on the time between two COVID-19 vaccine doses, and how that may contribute to vaccine hesitancy in Canada.
LIVERPOOL, England — Liverpool’s woeful home form is developing into a full-blown crisis after Chelsea’s 1-0 victory on Thursday inflicted a fifth straight league loss at Anfield on the Premier League champions — the worst run in the club’s 128-year history. With Liverpool's title defence already over, this was billed as a battle for a Champions League place and Mason Mount’s 42nd-minute goal lifted Chelsea back into the top four. Chelsea’s previous win at Anfield, in 2014, effectively ended the title hopes of Brendan Rodgers’ side. This one was a blow to Liverpool’s chances of a top-four finish under Jurgen Klopp. Klopp’s side is four points adrift of Chelsea and with Everton and West Ham also ahead. Liverpool has now gone more than 10 hours without a goal from open play at Anfield. The hosts failed to register an effort on target until the 85th minute and Georginio Wijnaldum’s weak header was never going to beat Edouard Mendy. They have taken one point from the last 21 on offer at home since Christmas and scored just two goals, one of which was a penalty. None of Liverpool's established front three — Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane or Roberto Firmino — impressed but the sight of Salah, the Premier League’s leading scorer, being substituted just past the hour mark was baffling. The Egypt international certainly thought so as he sat shaking his head, having been replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Chelsea, by contrast, looked full of threat with Timo Werner — a player Liverpool was interested in but decided it could not afford last summer — a constant problem. Despite one goal in his previous 17 league outings, he caused problems with his movement, drifting out to the left then popping into the middle to give Fabinho a real headache on his return to the side. The Brazil midfielder, replacing Nat Phillips after he became the latest centre back to pick up an injury, was partnering Ozan Kabak in Liverpool’s 15th different central-defensive starting partnership in 27 league matches. Faced with a statistic like that, it is perhaps understandable why there was a lack of cohesion at the back and Werner should really have profited. He fired one early shot over and then failed to lift his effort over Alisson Becker, back in goal after the death of his father in Brazil last week. Even when Werner did beat Alisson, VAR ruled the Germany international’s arm had been offside 20 yards earlier in the build-up. Liverpool’s one chance fell to Mane but Salah’s first-time ball over the top got caught under his feet and Mane missed his shot with only Mendy to beat. Chelsea was still controlling the game and caught Liverpool on the counterattack when N’Golo Kante quickly sent a loose ball out to the left wing, from where Mount cut inside to beat Alisson having been given far too much time to pick his spot. All five of Mount’s league goals have come away from home. Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel spent the first five minutes of the second half screaming at his players to press harder and play higher up the pitch but Liverpool’s players were equally vocal when Firmino’s cross hit the raised arm of Kante from close range. No penalty was awarded. Andy Robertson cleared off the line from Hakim Ziyech after Alisson parried Ben Chilwell’s shot as Chelsea continued to look more dangerous. Klopp’s attempt to change the direction of the game saw him send on Diogo Jota for his first appearance in three months, along with Oxlade-Chamberlain. Jota’s first touch was a half-chance from a deep cross but he was not sharp enough to take it. Werner, meanwhile, was doing everything but score as Alisson’s leg saved another shot as he bore down on goal. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley is asking Premier Jason Kenney to launch a public inquiry into a deadly outbreak of COVID-19 at a Red Deer slaughterhouse, delay the meat-packing plant's reopening and compensate its employees during the closure. The Olymel plant, which had been closed since Feb. 15, confirmed Wednesday that it planned to reopen for slaughter operations on Thursday and resume cutting room operations on Friday. The news of the reopening came on the same day that a third worker's death had been linked to the outbreak. According to the union representing workers at the plant, that makes a total of four deaths — including a woman in her 60s previously linked to the outbreak — but the government has yet to confirm that total. The outbreak has been linked to 511 COVID-19 cases, including 91 that are still active. Speaking from Calgary's McDougall Centre on Thursday morning, Notley asked the provincial government to keep the plant closed until safety measures requested by the union are met and employees feel safe going back to work. Opposition, union want inquiry "With 500 infections and three deaths, [safety measures were] not adequate before," Notley said. "I can only imagine the grief and the stress that they are experiencing as a result." The union said it supports the NDP's call for a public inquiry, while Olymel said earlier this month that it has improved health and safety measures. The Alberta government also confirmed to CBC News on Wednesday that Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) had toured the facility on Monday, and again with Alberta Health Services and the union on Tuesday. In an email, a spokesperson with Alberta's labour and immigration ministry said OHS had inspected the facility 14 times since Nov. 17, adding that AHS had also visited the facility several times. The spokesperson argued the Opposition's calls for a public inquiry were politically motivated. "It is disappointing — but not entirely surprising — that the Notley NDP continues to play politics with a global pandemic that has tragically taken the lives of over 22,000 Canadians and over 2.5 million worldwide," the spokesperson said. Deaths linked to outbreak The Olymel outbreak was first declared on Nov. 17, 2020, and the first death linked to the plant's outbreak happened on Jan. 28. Darwin Doloque, a 35-year-old permanent resident who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines was found dead in his home. Darwin Doloque, 35, died of COVID-19 on Jan. 28 after contracting the virus in an outbreak linked to his work at the Olymel slaughterhouse in Red Deer, Alta. (GoFundMe) His death was followed on Feb. 24 by that of Henry De Leon, a 50-year-old who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and had worked at the plant for 15 years. He left behind a wife, two adult children and three grandchildren. The third worker's identity has not yet been made public, nor has the identity of the woman in her 60s who died. It has not been disclosed how she was linked to the outbreak. Notley said Thursday the NDP is aware of three Olymel workers who are currently in intensive care. In an interview with CBC News on Thursday after the news conference, Thomas Hesse, the president of UFCW Local 401 — the union representing the workers — said he is hearing reports about people linked to the plant who are "gravely ill." "We are very, very, very worried that we are going to see more loss of human life in the coming days," he said. Accountability, compensation Notley said that outbreaks have occurred in meatpacking plants across the country since the pandemic started, but shutdowns occurred sooner in other provinces. She called for an immediate public inquiry to understand the Olymel plant's handling of the outbreak. "We need to hold those responsible accountable," Notley said. "I fear that instead we are doing nothing, or very little." For his part, Hesse said his feelings about the reopening mirror those of the the plant's employees who are scared, confused and grieving. "Moves to reopen the plant have to be seen through that perspective; there's a lot of insensitivity here," he said. Some of the union's recommended changes had been adopted by the plant, Hesse said. But according to Hesse, neither public health nor Olymel officials have spoken to any employees at the plant about the plant's safety conditions, or how they feel about their workplace. Thomas Hesse, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers 401(Submitted by UFCW 401) "Our legal system is based on talking to witnesses, and they haven't talked to any of the actual witnesses to the functioning of this workplace, or the risks that are built into [it]," Hesse said. He would have liked to have seen employees interviewed about the plant's safety, and corrections made in accordance with their feedback, before having those employees report back on their implementation. In the absence of this, Hesse said he agrees with the request for a public inquiry. "Alberta Health Services, government agencies that are involved here — they're spending Alberta taxpayer's money. I mean, taxpayers fund those agencies, those agencies have a responsibility … and by all indicators, they're doing little or nothing to save lives and protect these workers." The NDP's request to delay the plant's reopening came with an acknowledgement from Notley that the slowdown or shutdown of meat plants jeopardize livelihood of employees. She asked the provincial government to compensate workers for lost wages. "It is not something that needs to be provided by workers literally being compelled to put their lives at risk," Notley said. "That is an immoral choice." Company says it has worked with AHS According to Alberta Pork, 40,000 to 50,000 pigs go through the Red Deer facility each week. Last month, it was reported that the temporary closure of the Olymel pork processing plant due to COVID-19 left hog farmers scrambling to find somewhere to take their animals. On Wednesday, Olymel defended plans to reopen Thursday, saying it had used the temporary closure to update and reinforce health and safety measures at the plant. "Reopening can occur because Olymel management and the regulators are satisfied that employees can return to the plant safely," said spokesperson Richard Vigneault. "Alberta Health Services authorities have however specified that the coronavirus is still spreading and that everyone is at risk of contracting it, whether in the community or otherwise. Accordingly, they recommend the utmost vigilance." A sign outside the Olymel pork plant in Red Deer, Alta., thanks the company's essential employees. It will reopen on Thursday, after being closed since Feb. 15 due to a COVID-19 outbreak.(CBC News) The company said teams from Alberta Health Services, Occupational Health and Safety, and Environmental Public Health visited the facility on March 1 and 3. AHS made several recommendations at that time. The company said it had added staff to monitor and enforce health and safety measures, and "further adjusted and enhanced" social distancing protocols, particularly when it came to adding physical space. Health and safety meetings between management and union representatives are scheduled on a daily basis, the company said. Safety recommendations made The Alberta government confirmed to CBC News that it will continue to oversee health measures at the plant. "OHS continues to monitor Olymel to ensure safety protocols and measures continue to be used to limit the spread of COVID-19," Joseph Dow said in an emailed statement on Wednesday. According to Dow, AHS made safety recommendations to be implemented before the plant's reopening. The measures recommended by AHS included: Implement capacity limits in lockers rooms and washrooms. Remove reusable dishes in break rooms. Enhance cleaning/disinfecting schedules of washrooms, break rooms and locker rooms. Add more hand-sanitizing stations throughout. Increase education plan for staff, including staff training sessions, posters and other visuals.
There are now seven more cases at the Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC). The cases are still contained to the same unit where the initial 14 were identified over the weekend, said Richard Dionne, president of the CNCC Local 369. The corrections officer said he could not share the total number of inmates in that wing, but noted that the area remains isolated. "I don't know the full count and I can't give it to you anyway for security reasons," said Dionne, speaking to MidlandToday. He said he was thankful that no staff cases have been identified at this time. "Hopefully, it stays that way," said Dionne. "The health unit came in the other day to offer voluntary staff testing. I don't know how many staff got tested, but none of those that did, to my knowledge, have come back positive." He said the same safety protocols are being followed with staff wearing increased PPE when interacting with inmates and those incarcerated being provided with masks if needed. "There haven't been any additional measures put into place right now," said Dionne. As for the virus possibly spreading in the air, he said, every unit functions independently in terms of ventilation. "I'm very hopeful we can contain it to the one unit and not have it spread to the entire institution," Dionne said, adding the stress level among staff remains high. "The workload has increased just based on the way that the operation changes because we're limiting day-room use and following protocol around higher use of PPE. And it's also the same for inmates, he added. "They just get more and more frustrated being locked down," Dionne said. "Increased cell time is never good for anyone. That's been put out there by a number of professionals that time locked in the cell by yourself or with one other person isn't beneficial." A request for comment from the province was not received by publication time. Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
One of Canada's top public health officials sought to reassure Canadians today that a recommendation from a federal vaccine advisory committee to stretch out the time between COVID-19 vaccine doses is a sound one. Yesterday, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that the maximum interval between the first and second doses of all three COVID-19 vaccines approved for use in Canada should increase to four months due to limited supplies. Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo said the advice is based on real-world data that shows doing so would lead to more people being protected from COVID-19 in a shorter time period. "This recommendation is based on clinical trial reports and emerging real-world evidence from around the world. Data shows that several weeks after being administered, first doses of vaccines provide highly effective protection against symptomatic disease, hospitalization and death," Njoo told a technical briefing today. Confusion over conflicting advice Njoo's comments appeared to be addressing the confusion created by the fact that NACI's recommendation conflicts with those issued by Health Canada when it granted regulatory approvals for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines. Regulatory documents provided by Health Canada upon approval of each vaccine state that the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech should be taken three weeks after the first, the second Moderna shot should come four weeks after the first, and the second AstraZeneca dose should be delivered between four and 12 weeks after the first. All of those recommendations are in line with the product monograph provided by the manufacturers. Adding to the confusion, NACI recommended on Monday against giving the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to people 65 and older, although Health Canada has authorized it for use in adults of all ages. But Njoo said the discrepancies can be explained by the fact that Health Canada is a regulator and NACI is an advisory body made up of medical experts. "You have likely noticed that NACI's recommendations are sometimes different, possibly broader or narrower than the conditions of vaccine use that Health Canada has authorized. As the regulator, Health Canada authorizes each vaccine for use in Canada according to factors based on clinical trial evidence, whereas NACI bases its guidance on the available and evolving evidence in a real-world context, including the availability of other vaccines," Njoo said. "What we expect is that NACI recommendations will complement — not mirror — those of Health Canada." WATCH: Njoo comments on NACI recommendation to delay second COVID-19 vaccine doses The issue burst into the open on Monday when B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced that the province would be extending the interval between doses of the Moderna, Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines to 16 weeks. Some medical experts questioned that decision. Canada's chief science adviser, Mona Nemer, said doing so without proper clinical trials amounts to a "population level experiment." Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert in the U.S., told the Washington Post that the science doesn't support delaying a second dose for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. He said there isn't enough evidence to determine how much protection is provided by one dose of those vaccines, and how long it lasts. Despite those warnings, several provinces followed Henry's lead and even more have indicated they intend to stretch the dosage interval. While it appeared to some at the time that Henry was moving faster than the science, Njoo said that NACI's experts briefed provincial medical officers of health over the weekend on the results of their analysis before releasing their recommendations publicly. NACI concluded that stretching the dosing interval to four months would allow up to 80 per cent of Canadians over the age of 16 to receive a single dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of June, without compromising vaccine effectiveness. "While studies have not yet collected four months of data on vaccine effectiveness after the first dose, the first two months of real world effectiveness are showing sustained high levels of protection," NACI said. As for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, Njoo said it is safe and that evidence shows it provides protection against very serious disease and death in people of all ages. He said Health Canada has a rigorous scientific review process and only approves vaccines that meet high standards for safety, efficacy and quality. Dr. Supriya Sharma, Health Canada's chief medical adviser, said expert advice will continue to change as more data becomes available from ongoing mass vaccination campaigns, and she urged provinces and territories to consider recommendations and evidence from both bodies when making decisions about their vaccine strategies. "The messaging would be simpler if we had one set of data and we had one message and it never changed, but that's not what science does," said Sharma. Decision on Johnson and Johnson imminent At today's briefing, health officials also indicated that a regulatory decision on whether to approve Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine is expected soon. "The review of the Johnson & Johnson submission is going very well, it's progressing, and we're expecting to have that completed and a decision in the next few days. I would say in the next seven days or so," said Sharma. The company has said its vaccine is 66 per cent effective at preventing moderate to severe illness in a global clinical trial, and much more effective — 85 per cent — against the most serious symptoms. Canada has agreed to purchase up to 38 million doses if it is approved. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved it for use in that country last Saturday. The approval of a fourth vaccine would give a significant boost to Canada's vaccine rollout. Johnson and Johnson's vaccine is widely seen as one of the easiest to administer because it requires only one dose and can be stored for long periods of time at regular refrigerator temperatures. Njoo said additional vaccines, coupled with the NACI recommendation on dosage intervals, could allow Canada to meet the goal of inoculating all adults who want a vaccine "several weeks" before the current target date of the end of September. Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin, the military commander leading Canada's COVID-19 vaccine logistics, said that while more vaccines would be good news, the current target remains the end of September.
Vancouver's parks board is taking action to control the increasing numbers of messy and aggressive Canada geese. A statement from the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation says it is developing a management plan to reduce the number of geese in city parks, beaches and on the seawall. The board is particularly concerned about humans feeding the birds, saying it brings flocks of geese to high-traffic areas such as Stanley Park and the beaches of English Bay and Sunset Beach. A key part of the management plan asks residents to identify Canada goose nests on private property so they can be removed or the eggs can be addled, and left in the nest so adults continue to brood, rather than lay again. The board estimates Vancouver's population of more than 3,500 Canada geese grows every year because the habitat is ideal and the birds have no natural predators. Several Okanagan cities are asking permission to cull growing flocks of Canada geese that foul area beaches and parks, but Vancouver's board says egg addling, a measure supported by the SPCA, is its only control measure. In addition to calling for public help in identifying nests, which can be on roofs, balconies or in tall, topped trees, the park board is urging people not to feed Canada geese. “Supplemental feeding by humans can also contribute to geese being able to lay more than one clutch of eight eggs per season; meaning that if one clutch does not hatch, they can replace it," the statement says. "In nature, without food from humans, this wouldn’t happen." Canada geese have inefficient digestive systems and the parks board says the birds produce more excrement for their size than most other species. The park board says it hopes to step up egg addling, saying wildlife specialists believe the practice must be tripled in order to cut Vancouver's goose populations. A web page has been created on the City of Vancouver website to report the location of nests so they can be removed or the eggs can be addled. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — Premier Iain Rankin says Nova Scotia should have enough COVID-19 vaccine to give all residents at least one shot by the end of June. Rankin told reporters today following his first cabinet meeting as premier that his estimate is based on new federal government guidelines about increasing the interval between first and second doses of vaccine. He says he will likely have more details about the province's plan at Friday's COVID-19 briefing. The province is to get 13,000 doses of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine next week, which will complement Nova Scotia's vaccine supply of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Health officials are also announcing that restrictions on restaurant operating hours and sporting events will be lifted in Halifax and its surrounding regions on Friday morning. Nova Scotia is reporting three new cases of COVID-19 today, all in the Halifax area. Two involve contacts of previously reported cases and the third is under investigation. The province has 29 active reported cases of the disease. Residents of long-term care homes in the Halifax area are still limited to receiving visits from two designated caregivers. Officials say the restrictions for long-term care residents will remain in place in the region until March 27. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. The Canadian Press
While Canadian retailers took it on the chin in 2020 from the COVID-19 pandemic, some grocers in small-town Saskatchewan seem to have bucked the economic trend. Managers in Davidson, Lumsden and Maple Creek say restrictions from the pandemic nudged people in their communities to stay close to home and shop local a bit more, likely forgoing trips to Costco or Superstore in the city. “I don't have anything to complain about; I don't have time to sit around and twiddle my thumbs,” said butcher John Sperling in Davidson, about 100 kilometres south of Saskatoon. He has owned JMR Meats since 1983, moving the business from Craik to Davidson in 1999. “Probably May and June were the busiest months of my life I ever had being in the retail business,” he said. Normally Sperling earns most of JMR’s income from custom work, what he called “on-farm slaughter” ordered by specific livestock producers. “Cattle, pork, bison,” he used as examples. The retail side of his business usually makes up just a small portion. But retail surges in May and June were “a shot in the arm,” he said, recalling the fall period into December was somewhat busier than normal, too. But he predicts the short-term jump, retail-wise, won’t last long after the pandemic is over. As the province’s COVID-19 infections slowly decline (excluding Regina), he’s starting to see people in the Davidson area opting again for Saskatoon shopping. Lumsden is just 20 minutes north of Regina and to the city’s north-end Superstore. Yet Lumsden Supermarket owner Angelique Haysom said she too has been consistently busy over the last 12 months, since the pandemic started in mid-March last year. “Our customers are becoming more loyal. Instead of doing shopping trips in the city, now they're becoming regular (shoppers) here,” she said. Haysom has owned the grocery store for the last 13 years. “People used to come and buy their supper everyday and then on the weekends come and buy their supplies. Now what they're doing is reducing the amount of visits … they come get a large amount of supplies (in one trip).” Despite the expanded customer base, she said it didn’t cause a sudden windfall of profits. Among grocers, “every time there’s an increase in sales, you have to increase everything else proportionally,” like staff levels and shifting. “It’s all about that profit margin that you’re looking for in order to say in business,” Haysom said. She lamented and acknowledged COVID has hit the restaurant industry hard, explaining it’s probably one factor in increased local demand for groceries. She hopes Lumsden’s restaurants have the same success her store has. Further west in Maple Creek, just south of the Trans-Canada highway and 30 minutes from the Alberta border, the local Co-op food store is busier than usual. Manager Sherry Sustrate said people who “normally head for the Hat (Medicine Hat) are actually staying down here.” The Alberta city has several big-name grocers and retailers. She noticed over the last 12 months her store saw several new customers who weren’t necessarily from the area; she learned they were staying at nearby Cypress Hills Inter-Provincial Park longer than normal, while using the Co-op for their regular supplies. “I think the smaller towns are busier than the bigger centres, because of the (COVID-19) cases, right?” she said. firstname.lastname@example.org Evan Radford, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Regina Leader-Post, The Leader-Post
OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are setting aside some of the billions of dollars planned in short-term transit spending to help municipalities further green their bus fleets. The hope is that the $2.75 billion in traditional grant money will dovetail with the $1.5 billion an infrastructure-financing agency is supposed to invest toward the same cause. Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna says the grant money is supposed to help cover the upfront cost of purchasing electric buses to replace the diesel-powered ones rumbling through Canadian streets. She says federal funding has helped cities buy 300 buses and the government hopes the funding will help them add 5,000 zero-emission buses over the next five years. But she acknowledged there are added costs that need to be addressed, including having charging stations on transit routes and in existing depots. The Liberals are hoping cities then turn to the Canada Infrastructure Bank to finance the cost of the remaining work. The bank's chief executive, Ehren Cory, says the energy savings expected from not having to buy diesel could, for instance, be used to pay off a low-interest loan from his agency. "It's quite a from-the-ground-up reinvestment and the savings will pay for a lot of that, but not for all of it," he said, via video link. "That's why the combination of a grant from the government, a subsidy, combined with a loan against savings together will allow us to get the most done, allow us to make wholesale change quickly and do so at minimal impact to taxpayers." Garth Frizzell, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, welcomed the funding as a way to speed up work in cities to replace diesel buses. "We are already putting more electric vehicles on our streets, and this major funding to electrify transit systems across the country will reduce GHG emissions, boost local economies, and help meet Canada’s climate goals," he said in a statement. McKenna made the same connections multiple times during an event Thursday in Ottawa, where she stood near the city's mayor, Jim Watson, with Cory and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne joining by videoconference. Joanna Kyriazis, senior policy adviser at Clean Energy Canada, noted that the investments could help the country's six electric-bus manufacturers scale up to compete internationally. “As Canada develops its battery supply chain — from raw metal and mineral resources to our North-America-leading battery recycling companies — we must build the market for electric vehicles and their batteries at home," she said in a statement. The Liberals are promising billions in permanent transit funding as part of a post-pandemic recovery, including $3 billion annually in a transit fund starting in five years. Cities have seen transit ridership plummet through the pandemic as chunks of the labour force work remotely. Demand for single-family homes well outside urban cores suggests some workers are expecting remote work to become a more regular fixture of their post-pandemic work lives. McKenna said her thinking about public transit hasn't been changed by that shift, saying her only thought is that Canada needs more and better systems. It's up to cities and transit agencies to set routes and priorities, she said. "The reality is many of our essential workers have no other option than to take public transit. And I think we've recognized how important it is for people to be able to get around in a safe way," McKenna said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
An animal tranquillizer called xylazine has been linked to several drug-related deaths in Saskatchewan over the past three weeks. It's a new phenomenon in the province. The provincial coroners office says four deaths since Feb. 14 have seen high levels of xylazine in combination with other drugs such as fentanyl, acetyle fentanyl and methamphetamine. "This is a fatal combination," chief coroner Clive Weighill said in a news release. "Anyone who uses street drugs like these is at a much higher risk of overdose, especially when they are combining drugs like these together." Also concerning is that naloxone, a common emergency treatment for opioid overdoses, is not effective on xylazine, the release said. Naloxone may reverse the effects of opioids that are present along with xylazine, however. Xylazine is typically used by veterinarians to sedate large animals. Its effects include central nervous system depression, blurred vision, disorientation, dizziness and drowsiness. So far this year, there have been 10 confirmed and 65 suspected overdose deaths in Saskatchewan.
TORONTO — About 13 years ago, screen acting coach Dean Armstrong got a phone call from a prominent talent agent asking him for a favour. The agent had come across "a very unique, very special, very exceptional" young actor from Toronto who needed monetary support to learn the craft, and Armstrong agreed to provide a rare scholarship for him at his Armstrong Acting Studios in the city. That actor was Jahmil French, who proved to be one of the "great ones," says Armstrong: a gifted performer with an insatiable appetite for deepening his skills; a bright light in any room he entered; a dance lover who busted a move virtually anywhere he went; and a supportive colleague who raised the bar for everyone around him. "He had such a raw, intuitive and natural ability for emotional access," Armstrong, director of the acting school, said in an interview. "There was a real physiological ownership of roles that he tackled." "It's very sad when someone like Jahmil, as young as he was, who truly hadn't reached his full potential, had it all disappear so quickly," he said. Armstrong is among many in the film and TV industry sharing fond memories of the actor who rose to fame on "Degrassi: The Next Generation," after news of his death at the age of 29. The circumstances surrounding French's death haven't been revealed by his representatives, but Armstrong says it happened last weekend. "He was very mature for his age but also very hungry to be challenged," said actor Salvatore Antonio, who started teaching French over a decade ago at Armstrong Acting Studios, which has had several "Degrassi" alumni as students. "After meeting with him, I saw almost instantly that he was above the rest in terms of his willingness to challenge himself." French grew up in Toronto with a single mom who was "very supportive" and "quite pivotal in helping to get him in acting classes," said Antonio. Those classes led to his role as high-school student Dave Turner from 2009 to 2013 on the Toronto-shot "Degrassi: The Next Generation," and a slew of other credits, including the Netflix series "Soundtrack," the Pop TV show "Let's Get Physical," and the Canadian film "Boost," for which he earned a 2018 Canadian Screen Award nomination. When he was performing, French had instincts far beyond his years, said Antonio, artistic director at the school, which plans to create a scholarship in French's name. French once performed scenes from the film "Requiem for a Dream" in class, which sent chills up Antonio's spine and had the other students wiping away tears and watching "with their mouths agape." "I may have been in the role as a teacher, but he taught me a lot about acting, especially in terms of being brave and courageous in the choices that he made," Antonio said. "Some of the most beautiful work that I've seen done on camera happened in some of those classes in terms of what Jahmil did." French's vulnerability and magnetic energy in his acting elevated the work of his scene partners and inspired others "to bring their A-game," said Antonio. Toronto actor Craig Arnold, who played Luke Baker on "Degrassi: The Next Generation," was inspired by French's skills. "Everyone talks about how he was just so good. It really made me feel like, 'OK, this is possible, I can do this,'" Arnold said from the set of "The Expanse" in Toronto. "He was so supportive of me and nice to me, so open and wanted everyone to do well," said Arnold. "It really inspired me early on and gave me a lot of confidence." French was also an "amazing dancer" who could hardly sit still in a chair and would often display moves between takes, said Antonio. Arnold recalled dining out with French and others after an acting class and seeing him spring into action when music started playing. "He stood up and went into this huge dance routine in the middle of the restaurant," Arnold said. "Everyone in the whole place was smiling and loving it." French was also driven, intensely tuned in, and hungry to learn, said Antonio. "He wanted to be great. He articulated that more than once. He's like, 'I just want to be really, really good at what I do,' and I respected that," Antonio said from Montreal, where he's shooting the upcoming CW series "The Republic of Sarah." "He had an effortless charm to him, which I know a lot of people have spoken about. And he could have rested on those laurels, you know — good looking kid, natural charm, very outgoing. He could have rested on those inherent qualities and stayed in the same lane for the majority of his career. But he really wanted something more." Antonio stopped working with French as his teacher three or four years ago but they kept in touch regularly, seeing movies together and texting back and forth about acting questions French had. "I was so proud of what Jahmil had accomplished in such a short period of time, and I was really looking forward to more — and that's the part that is the saddest for me," he said. Armstrong last spoke with French in December, when the rising star reached out asking for advice on a confusing passage in one of the popular acting books by Konstantin Stanislavski. "It's interesting to have a talent — in his pastime, on the heels of so much wonderful success — to continue his development, his journey as an artist, by reading books about his craft," said Armstrong. "He was always hungry for insight, always hungry for thoughts, ideas on how to be better, and to better understand himself. A real sign of a true artist — never satisfied, always wanting more." This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
The temporary pandemic shelter Tipinawâw at the Edmonton Convention Centre on Jasper Avenue will remain open until the end of April, city council agreed unanimously at a meeting Thursday. The extended operations will cost $2.2 million, an amount available in a COVID-19-specific fund set aside in the city's stabilization reserve. This is in addition to the $8 million the city invested in the shelter last fall. The 24/7 shelter accommodates 300 people a night, with meals, laundry, shower facilities, as well as counselling and housing services. Three agencies have been contracted to run the shelter since October: Boyle Street Community Services, the Bissell Centre and the Mustard Seed Society. The Bent Arrow Society helps with cultural programming and counselling. Mayor Don Iveson said there's a clear need to continue the operations through the end of the spring. "I don't regret at all establishing this facility," Iveson said. Indigenous elders gave the facility the name Tipinawâw, a Cree wording meaning shelter from outside elements. From October 2020 to mid-February, nearly 4,200 different people accessed daytime services at the facility, and about 2,300 people used the overnight shelter, says a city report. At the beginning of the meeting, Coun. Scott McKeen asked about security at the shelter — saying he's received emails from residents concerned about what's happening in the area. Rob Smyth, deputy manager of citizen services, said there were some "significant challenges" early on and the city has been working with police and private security to increase presence around the facility. Temporary encampments have cropped up around the shelter, Smyth noted. "It's not perfect, but we certainly have tried to increase our activity to make it as safe and secure as we possibly can," Smyth said. A second temporary 24/7 shelter at Commonwealth Stadium is being run by Hope Mission, while a third near 99th Street in the Ritchie neighbourhood is operated by the Mustard Seed. @natashariebe
A group of Indigenous youth called on supporters to block a Vancouver intersection leading to the port in protest of an elder who was sentenced to 90 days in jail for anti-pipeline actions in 2019. For most of the day March 3, the police held off traffic around the intersection of Hastings St. and Clark Drive in east Vancouver where police say 43,000 vehicles pass through daily. But in the evening they moved in to disband the blockade, arresting four adults for mischief and intimidation by blocking a roadway, both criminal offences, according to a police spokesperson. Those arrested were released that night under orders to appear in court. The blockade, organized by a group called the Braided Warriors, was peaceful. There were elders, youth, and many non-Indigenous supporters gathered in the intersection. People were sitting on blankets reading, chatting in small groups, all wearing masks. A sacred fire was lit in the centre of the intersection, and people sat around it in picnic chairs. The mood was peaceful and somber, punctuated occasionally with songs and chants. RELATED: Demonstrators block key access to Vancouver port over jail for pipeline protester RELATED: A dozen faith-based protestors blockade Burnaby Trans Mountain site in prayer The Braided Warriors shared on social media that they were there in solidarity with elder Stacy Gallagher who had been sentenced the night before to 90 days in prison. A police spokesman says the group marched from the courthouse to the East Vancouver intersection late Tuesday following the sentencing. The Braided Warriors shared an update mid-Wednesday that Gallagher was released on bail, but the blockade continued until VPD moved in. After police broke up the blockade, the protest moved to the nearby jail as they awaited the release of the four who were arrested. RELATED: Arrests at anti-pipeline protest call Vancouver police actions into question In February the Braided Warriors coordinated a protest in the lobbies of two insurance companies who are backing the Trans Mountain Pipeline Extension. That protest went on for three days before being disbanded by police on Feb. 19, where four people were arrested. Arrests at that time are under investigation for allegations of aggression and violence. The Braided Warriors said they would file complaints with the UN Human Rights Tribunal with regards to the treatment from police. Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email: email@example.com Zoë Ducklow, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, North Island Gazette
Lennox & Addington Seniors Outreach Services (SOS) 55 Plus Activity Centre, located in Greater Napanee, is receiving an influx of funding to support the health and well-being of local seniors during COVID-19. The organization helps seniors remain independent, in their homes and active within their community by providing quality, integrated services. MPP Daryl Kramp has announced that SOS will be receiving $42,700.00 for 2020-21 operations and maintenance and also a grant of $7,995.52 for a total of $50,695.52, according to a release from his office, dated Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2021. “This is a local organization which has helped multiple generations of local seniors stay in touch and engaged for many years and that says a lot about the community it serves,” said MPP Kramp. “These funds will be important both as they operate now and as they look forward to resuming their important in-person community roles.” Kramp says this year’s investment will focus on virtual programs such as teleconferences, online videos, one-on-one phone calls to help seniors stay connected from home, and support projects such as: According to the release, the seniors population in Ontario is the fastest growing age group. By 2023, there will be 3 million Ontarians over the age of 65. Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility says the past year has been especially challenging for Seniors. “Given the social isolation that COVID-19 has brought to many seniors, it is important that we look to programs that will keep them safe and connected,” said Minister Cho. “Our government’s investment in Seniors Active Living Centres helps older adults stay virtually engaged with their friends, family and communities while combatting social isolation during the pandemic.” This year’s ongoing funding has supported the application of safety control measures against the spread of COVID-19, and provided more remote and virtual programming, according to the release. Learn more about Lennox & Addington Seniors Outreach Services (SOS) on their website. Jessica Foley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, kingstonist.com
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — Newfoundland and Labrador is reporting five new COVID-19 cases today, four of which are in the eastern health region that includes St. John's. Health officials say the four cases in the eastern region involve people between the ages of 40 and 69; three involve close contacts of prior cases while the fourth is related to domestic travel. Officials say the fifth case is located in the western health region, involves a person between the ages of 20 and 39 and is related to international travel. Eight people are in hospital with the disease, including two in intensive care. Officials say they are still investigating the source of an infection involving a health-care worker at a hospital in the rural town of St. Anthony, located on the Northern Peninsula. Newfoundland and Labrador has 121 active reported COVID-19 infections. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 4, 2021. The Canadian Press
The United Conservative Party (UCP) government released their provincial budget on February 25th, and it’s looking different than what was projected this time last year. COVID-19 created the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression, and it seems that temporarily increased funding to municipalities could be part of a provincial strategy to reinvigorate the market in 2021. The province’s budget looks like it will effectively lean on municipalities to create jobs now, and yet significantly decrease funding to local governments over the following years. Most municipalities function with a combination of funding from property tax, applicable federal and provincial grants, and levies when necessary. One grant that municipalities have been relying on since 2007 is called the Municipal Sustainability Initiativeli (MSI), which is received from the province to help support local infrastructure funding. This includes both capital funding, which goes towards the actual building of projects, and operational funds, which support day-to-day functions. Each year, with the announcement of the provincial budget, municipalities across Alberta find out just how much they are allotted in MSI funding for the year, and what is projected for future years. A community does not have to use all of their funds that year, but the amount is set aside for them to apply for as projects come up, and they can earmark funding for future projects or projects on the go. In 2019 it was announced that the MSI would be phased out and replaced by the Local Government Fiscal Framework Act (LGGF) in the 2021 budget. According to the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), “municipalities are seeking long-term stable and predictable funding” which they hoped would be delivered by the LGFF. Some municipalities were disappointed to see the MSI extended and the LGFF decisions put off until the 2024-25 budget. According to AUMA’s preliminary findings regarding the budget, “While MSI will increase by $233 million this year, declines in the next two years mean that municipalities will lose out on approximately $414 million in funding over the next three years.” In a recent news conference, NDP Municipal Affairs critic Joe Ceci warned that last Thursday’s budget would mean “less money, less stability, less predictable long-term funding by this UCP government.” He shared “the front-loading of the MSI is certainly something to help municipalities with jobs in their communities, but it won’t provide them the predictable money over the long term”. It is likely that communities will have to cut services or raise taxes to address the reduction. The province has found other ways to support local government during these difficult times, including a recovery plan of $500 million in municipal stimulus funding, and maintaining a freeze on the education property tax. Education property tax is a provincial tax that municipal governments are mandated to collect on behalf of the provincial government, which had been expected to increase this year. The town of Cardston, along with every other municipality, is now tasked with creating their budget and five year capital plan based on the funding numbers coming down from the province. It will be interesting to see if communities attempt to spread the funding over the next few years, or if 2021 will see municipal budgets stimulating the economy through large capital projects like the proposed recreation facility. Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star
Town of Cardston Council is currently drafting a tax-exemption bylaw to “encourage redevelopment and new development of non-residential properties within the Town” (Draft Bylaw 1695). Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Shaw sheds light on Cardston’s decision in a recent interview with The Temple City Star. “Prior to 2019 the legislation was written to only allow deferral or cancelation of taxes,” he states “and only if it was equitable”. On release of Bill 7 in 2019, Kaycee Madu, who was the Minister of Municipal Affairs, stated that the new bill would “allow municipalities… to offer a wide range of property tax incentives for non-residential properties for the purposes of attracting and retaining economic development.” Shaw says that at first, there was a general feeling around the council table to be cautious and observe how the bill would be applied across the province, rather than being the first community to dive in. Lucky for them, other municipalities in the province were willing to go first, and Cardston has been able to model their draft bylaw after the Town of Edson’s. Other tax incentive bylaws initiated by municipalities in the region last year include Cardston County and the Town of Fort Macleod. Though each of the bylaws were created for a similar purpose, they look different in both the requirements of the applicants and the incentive offered by the municipality. Cardston’s draft bylaw requires that a business’s investment (addition, expansion or renovation) increase the property value by at least 25%. This differs from Fort Macleod’s bylaw which requires a minimum $50, 000 investment into the property, and also from Cardston County’s bylaw which uses a variable incentive that decreases the taxation percentage as the investment by the business into the property increases. Cardston’s draft also reflects Edson’s choice to not require an application fee, which differs from Cardston County which requires a $500 fee, and Fort Macleod which requires a $100 fee. The incentive offered by each municipality is unique. Cardston’s draft bylaw offers a reduction of taxes over the first five years. This starts with a 100% reduction in taxes for the first year, which declines by 20% with each consecutive year. Edson’s bylaw reduces taxes by 100% for the first two years, and decreases the reduction by 25% each year for three more years. Fort Macleod’s bylaw offers a 100% reduction for the first year, with the reduction decreasing by 25% for the following two years. Cardston County, however, offer the same incentive each year for four years based on the investment Any bylaw draft presented to council requires three readings before coming into effect. This means the council looks at the draft, makes any amendments they see fit, and votes with a majority in favour of the bylaw a total of three times. The first reading of the Non-residential Property Tax Incentive Bylaw in Cardston was moved by Councillor Bengry on November 10th, and passed unanimously. During this meeting council asked administration to get feedback on the draft bylaw from both the Economic Development committee and the Chamber of Commerce. The second reading was moved by Councillor Selk on February 23rd and, again, was passed unanimously. Conversation at the more recent meeting involved recommendations that had been received in discussions with a legal representative. Questions the council is still considering before passing the bylaw include whether or not the tax reduction would begin upon approval of the application, on commencement of construction, or completion of construction. Most other municipalities seem to be requiring that improvements be completed before the tax exemption begins, whereas Cardston’s lawyer advised that a business may be more motivated to initiate development if the tax exemption comes into effect when the application is approved. Shaw says that the town hopes this tax reprise will allow business owners doing new builds “to be able to focus on the financing of a new space… during those initial construction years. Also, existing businesses will be enabled to “turn over low assessment properties sitting idle into newer more modern structures, and allow them to get cash flowing before they have to face the full tax burden”. Pandemic timing could be ideal for this bylaw introduction as many businesses are focusing on renovations while their doors have to remain closed anyways. If businesses start construction now, they will have tax relief over the next five years as the economy starts to boom again and the vaccine allows for more community interaction and local spending. Council will likely debate further on the draft later in March and the bylaw could be in effect by April. So, if your business could use a facelift this spring, keep an eye out for the opportunity to get a break from your taxes and focus on the bricks and mortar. Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star
NASA's Perseverance Mars rover has continued to send stunning images of the red planet back to Earth. In this moment, an incredible shot of the Sun from the Martian surface was captured. Credit to "NASA/JPL-Caltech".
The Town of Magrath is the newest partner to team up with the recently created Ridge Utilities as a marketing associate. “Council wanted to explore innovative ways to support the long term financial sustainability of recreation in our community,” said Magrath CAO James Suffredine in a recent media release. Ridge Utilities and the village of Stirling have made a number of presentations to councils in the region about their new venture and plan to improve community sustainability in Southern Alberta. Magrath council is excited to join in this initiative, and Suffredine shares that “a partnership with Ridge Utilities allows us to create a new and incremental revenue stream beyond property taxes and user fees” (https://www.ridgeutilities.net/townofmagrath.html). Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star
FORT FRANCES — A 52-year-old resident from Manitoba is facing charges of impaired driving following a traffic stop in Fort Frances last month. Rainy River District OPP were alerted to a possible impaired driver on Feb. 13, shortly before 5 a.m., according to a news release issued on March 1. Police were able to locate a man driving a motor vehicle on King’s Highway in Fort Frances where a traffic stop was conducted. The man was arrested for impaired operation based on the officer’s observation and obvious indicators of impairment. Further testing conducted on the driver confirmed he was impaired, the release said. A 52-year-old man from Winnipeg, Manitoba was criminally charged with operating a conveyance while impaired by alcohol or drugs and operating a conveyance with a blood concentration of 80 or more. The driver’s licence was suspended for 90 days and his vehicle was impounded for seven days. Karen Edwards, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source