ATLANTA — After weathering criticism for certifying President Donald Trump's narrow election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, Republican officials in Georgia are proposing additional requirements for the state's vote-by-mail process, despite no evidence of systemic fraud or irregularities. Two state Senate committees held hearings Thursday to begin a review of Georgia’s voting laws. Republicans are zeroing in on a plan to require a photo ID for ballots cast by mail. Voting rights activists and Democrats argue that the change isn't necessary and would disenfranchise voters. Biden beat Trump by just over 12,500 votes in Georgia, with Biden receiving nearly twice as many of the record number of absentee ballots as the Republican president, according to the secretary of state's office. A recount requested by Trump was wrapping up and wasn't expected to change the overall outcome. Trump, who for months has sowed unsubstantiated doubt about the integrity of mail-in votes, has also made baseless claims of widespread fraud in the presidential race in Georgia. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and his staff have vehemently rebuffed those claims, stating unequivocally that there is no evidence of systemic errors or fraud in last month's election. Yet Raffensperger and Gov. Brian Kemp, both Republicans who have been publicly lambasted by Trump, have joined the push to require a photo ID for absentee voting. “Voters casting their ballots in person must show a photo ID, and we should consider applying that same standard to mail-in balloting,” Kemp said in remarks streamed live online. Kemp faced accusations of voter suppression during his successful 2018 run for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams, an election he oversaw as Georgia's previous secretary of state. He vehemently denied the allegations. Kemp faces reelection — and a possible rematch against Abrams — in 2022. Raffensperger also has suggested allowing state officials to intervene in counties that have systemic problems with administering elections and broadening the ways in which challenges can be posed to votes cast by residents who don’t live where they say. The photo ID idea has support among several members of the state legislature, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan. “I don't think there should be different standards for the same process,” Dugan said in an interview. Republican House Speaker David Ralston has been skeptical of voting by mail, telling a local news outlet in April that increased mail voting “will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.” Political analysts have said that typically more Democrats than Republicans use mail-in ballots. Ralston later said he was not talking about his party losing an advantage but the potential for fraud. “We must do everything in our power to ensure votes are not stolen, cast fraudulently or plagued by administrative errors,” he said in a statement this week. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said in an interview with The Associated Press that currently anyone who knows someone’s name, address and date of birth can request an absentee ballot on that person’s behalf. She said that while signature matches provide some security for mail-in ballots, the process should be shored up. One way to do that could be to require a person's driver's license number or a photocopy of a separate form of ID, she said. “We need to secure all avenues that we can of absentee ballots so we never have a candidate run around this state again saying the election was stolen because of absentee ballots,” she said. While Republicans seem ready to press forward with the photo ID requirement during the upcoming legislative session, Democrats and civil rights organizations are raising alarms. With no evidence of widespread fraud or other problems in the election, it doesn’t make sense to talk about measures that could ultimately prove to be barriers to voting, said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. “What is the problem that you’re trying to solve?" she asked. “The rule should be first, ‘Do no harm’ when it comes to democracy, and whenever there are more restrictions being put on a process, you run the risk of disenfranchising Georgia citizens.” Young says adding a photo ID requirement for absentee voting would be harmful because “we know that these barriers have a different impact on African American voters, on younger voters and, in this instance, on seniors who have certainly earned the right” to vote. State Sen. Jen Jordan, an Atlanta Democrat, echoed Young’s concerns, saying Republicans were offering solutions in search of a problem. “What this says to me is that they just don’t want people voting," Jordan said. “And they specifically don’t want Democrats voting, or people that don’t support their chosen candidates voting, and they’re going to try to make it as hard as possible." Democrats and voting rights groups have for years sought to decrease rejections of absentee ballots in Georgia, arguing that minorities have been disproportionately affected. Absentee ballots are sometimes rejected because signatures on the outer envelope are deemed not to match signatures in the voter registration system, or because the envelope is not signed at all. An agreement signed in March to settle a lawsuit filed by the Democratic Party spells out a standard process that must be used statewide to judge the signatures. That agreement has been the subject of much of Trump's online ire, and he has incorrectly said it “makes it impossible to check & match signatures on ballots and envelopes.” Ben Nadler And Kate Brumback, The Associated Press
ATHENS, Greece — The body of a woman was recovered Thursday on the Greek island of Lesbos and identified as that of a woman reported missing after a migrant boat sank the previous day. The coast guard said the body was recovered from a rocky part of the coast, bringing the death toll from the sinking to two. Another 32 people, all from Somalia and including three children, had been rescued from the sea after the dinghy they had been travelling in from the nearby Turkish coast sank off Lesbos early Wednesday morning, Greek authorities said. Government spokesman Stelios Petsas accused the Turkish coast guard of refusing to help the migrants when they issued a distress call. “It is clear that the Turkish vessel, despite the request for help, didn’t help, didn’t rescue the passengers of the fatal boat while they were in Turkish territorial waters,” Petsas said Thursday. "On the contrary, it urged them to move forward, it carried out manoeuvrs against the boat so that it would continue its course toward Greek shores.” Petsas said smuggling gangs were knowingly endangering people’s lives by sending them out to illegally cross the European Union’s borders in unseaworthy vessels. “People who are not in danger on land, Turkey sends them into danger at sea, in boats that don’t fulfil any safety requirements and are driven by people without permits or knowledge of the rules of the sea,” he said, adding that turning a blind eye to such practices was a “usual practice” by neighbouring Turkey. Turkey's coast guard vehemently denied the allegation, saying in a statement that it dispatched a boat after the distress call but found the dinghy to be in Greek waters with a Greek coast guard boat close enough to help. “Due to the fact that the scene of said incident was within the Greek waters and there was no response to the calls in any manner, it had not been possible to intervene in the scene of incident; nevertheless, Turkish assets continued to stay and wait within the Turkish territorial waters," the Turkish statement said. The coast guard also provided a recording of a Turkish unit telling its Greek counterparts in a call that the migrants “need to be rescued immediately" or otherwise Greece would be responsible. Greece remains one of the most popular routes into the European Union for people fleeing poverty and conflict in the Mideast, Africa and Asia. The vast majority make their way from the Turkish coast to nearby Greek islands, often in unseaworthy and grossly overcrowded dinghies and boats. The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Mark Cuban, Anthony Anderson and Skylar Diggins-Smith will take part in a series of panel discussions on YouTube that are focused on racial justice.The video-sharing platform announced the lineup on Thursday for “Bear Witness, Take Action 2.” The two-hour special featuring the various panels and musical performances will premiere Saturday at 6 p.m. EST on the YouTube Originals channel.Common and Keke Palmer return as hosts of the forum, which will include sports figures, entertainers and activists. The first event took place in June.Patti LaBelle, Rapsody and SAINt JHN will perform.“I’m excited to return for the second installment to continue these necessary discussions centred around racial injustices in order to nurture, enhance and protect Black lives,” Common said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to the talented and intelligent people we have joining us this time around for more compelling and impactful conversations that we believe will lead to action.”The panels will venture into several topics including criminal justice reform, dealing with mental health during the pandemic and the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality.Some of the highlighted panels include a discussion between Cuban and New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins. The Dallas Mavericks owner and Jenkins are expected to talk about what happens when a team owner holds a conversation with a player about white privilege, civil responsibility and political activism.Diggins-Smith will appear on panel with reporter Jemele Hill and activist Harry Edwards about athletes’ impact on today’s political movement.Famed author Isabel Wilkerson will talk with Soledad O’Brien about making society more equitable.“It is so important that we keep a dialogue about racial justice going beyond any particular moment,” Palmer said. “I want to encourage my peers to continue to have thoughtful and powerful conversations that will lead us to change. Let’s talk about it, take action, and see change realized.”Jonathan Landrum Jr., The Associated Press
From a young age, Sierra Sparks has been passionate about math and science. First, it led her to pursue a biomedical engineering degree at Dalhousie University. In her four years spent at the school, she says some people have doubted her abilities because of the fact that she’s a Black woman — only motivating her to continue following her passion and to prove them wrong. Her persistence has led her to achieve a near-perfect GPA, multiple awards and hold various leadership positions with Dalhousie’s Engineering Society and the Dalhousie Women in Engineering Society. As a student leader, she’s strived to pave the way for more people of colour and women to pursue engineering and other fields that have historically lacked diversity. Sparks’ academics, extracurriculars, leadership and community impact have now led her to her next journey: a fully paid Rhodes Scholarship covering travel, study and expenses for two years at the University of Oxford in England next fall. She is one of 11 students from across Canada to be named a Rhodes Scholar this year and Dalhousie’s 92nd Rhodes Scholar. Here is her conversation with The Chronicle Herald about the opportunity. How does it feel to be named a Rhodes Scholar? It still feels really surreal. I found out late Saturday night and ever since I haven’t been able to stop smiling. It’s just such a dream come true and it’s been an amazing whirlwind of a few days. I’m just very, very excited to be starting my studies next fall at Oxford and to have this really amazing opportunity. The Rhodes Scholarship looks beyond students’ academics and at their overall contributions to their schools. Can you tell us a bit about how you’ve gotten involved at Dalhousie over the past four years? For me, one of the biggest ways that I’ve been involved is with the engineering community at Dalhousie. One of my now best friends convinced me to join the Engineering Society in the first week of school, so ever since then, I’ve really enjoyed being involved with the engineering community and being able to meet with high school students and really talk to them, especially students from underrepresented backgrounds, that’s been a passion of mine, telling them about engineering and telling them it's something they can do because it’s very much a male-dominated field and it’s something I’ve been passionate about, working with the Women in Engineering Society, to increase the number of women in engineering and in science, technology and math as well. In your time at Dalhousie, you’ve been a strong advocate for diversity in engineering. What do you hope the field will look like in the next, let’s say five or 10 years? I do believe that change does take a while to happen, but what I’d like to see is that more from an institutional level, at a lot of these Canadian universities and really across the world as well that are teaching engineering and teaching all of these typically not very diverse fields, I really want them to be making their schools and their classrooms as welcoming as possible. I think that it’s really important that we communicate all of the amazing things that you can do as an engineer or as an engineering student. I know that for me, personally, it’s been some of the best four years of my life and I just really hope that everyone who’s even thinking about maybe doing engineering feels that they’re welcome in that community. And I think in five or 10 years, I would love to see more people from underrepresented backgrounds, such as people of colour and women in the profession, and it’s really great to see whenever there’s more diversity in the profession, because I think that really strengthens the profession and strengthens the classroom as well. You’re able to get the best ideas when you have the most diverse teams. What are you looking forward to most when you head off to England? I’m definitely really, really excited to get to meet with the other Rhodes Scholars. I’ve been reading some of their bios and I’ve been so inspired by some of the things they’re doing at their communities and at their schools and all across the world. It’s going to be really, really cool to get to meet with them and bounce ideas off of them and really learn from their leadership. And I’m really hoping to continue to develop my skills as a leader and as a focused thinker in engineering. Lastly, do you have any advice for other students? My advice would be to keep your doors open, but do what you want to do. As a Black woman in engineering, that’s not something that you always see and it’s one of the underrepresented groups in engineering, and so along the journey, there’s been some prejudices and people maybe not believing that it’s something that I could do or people in my same situation would be able to do. And so I would say to anyone who is thinking about doing engineering or anything at large, if someone tells you not to do something, use that as your motivation to just prove them wrong. That’s kind of been my philosophy throughout this whole journey and all the people who maybe didn’t think I would be able to do this, here I am now, really enjoying my studies and just really blessed with this opportunity and to be able to work with such an amazing university community at Dalhousie and just have such an amazing support from my family and my community. So definitely, whenever someone tells you you can’t do something, don’t let that stop you. This Q&A; has been edited for length and clarity.Noushin Ziafati, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald
EASTERN SHORE – Former Moser River resident Marie Turner entered Northwood Continuing Care facility last November. While it was her first placement, it was not her first choice. When she applied, she selected Harbourview Lodge (HVL) in Sheet Harbour as her first choice, to allow her to live in the same community as her family. Turner’s sister, former Dartmouth mayor Gloria McCluskey, is unhappy her sister has not, after a year, been transferred back to her home. McCluskey looked into the policy posted on the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) website. “The policy reads ‘as soon as a vacancy becomes available – you are transferred to your first choice’ – but that’s not true. She’s housed now – they have no compassion. There have been vacancies in HVL over the past year but no transfer for Marie,” she says. Turner contracted COVID-19 last spring as a Northwood resident and spent months unable to have any visits from family members, especially while she was ill. “Marie was in a room with another woman and they didn’t even move her,” complains McCluskey. “She suffered from pains in her legs and headaches. She was lucky and did not become extremely ill – and she survived.” The former politician with a 23-year history in municipal government stresses long-term care facility workers are underpaid for the work they do. “They work hard. Administration undervalues the work they do so they can have a lower pay scale. They’ve dropped the ball. COVID should never have been in there [Northwood].” Turner will turn 93 on Dec. 6 and her sister says she should have been given the opportunity months ago – before the pandemic – to transfer to HVL to spend these years near her children and grandchildren. “They don’t care,” McCluskey tells The Journal by phone. “They have such little empathy for seniors. The dear soul has already had COVID, she could have been transferred before this second wave.” McCluskey does not feel there is any hope her sister will get moved now. “They’ve closed the facilities again. They had given false hope and now there is no solution – they are not going to move anybody now,” she said. McCluskey and Turner are two of the four sisters left from a family of nine. “How little do our seniors mean? They seem to think seniors only die anyway. They built our country and deserve dignity,” McCluskey says. Arthur Turner, Marie’s son, tells The Journal how difficult it was for his family when his mom was diagnosed with coronavirus. “I feel frustration about her being there – and not here – as her choice was. The system should be in place that puts her where she chooses to live.” The last time Arthur saw his mother, in person, was this fall at Northwood. “I had all the COVID gear on and was able to hug her – but only for a second.” When Turner heard of his mother’s COVID diagnosis he felt there had been no consideration for either his mother or her family. “We might never see her again. She was quite low and we couldn’t visit and maybe had seen her for the last time….” Communication with his mother, while she lives in a facility 90 kilometres away from him, has proven to be a challenge. “We try to reach her by phone – but we usually can’t get a hold of her. It’s always an ordeal,” Arthur says. “We have to wait until the nurses are available to help us set it up and get Mom to the phone. She is in her room a lot.” Arthur remains hopeful his mother will ultimately get the transfer she desires and become a resident at Harbourview Lodge. “It would be so good for her to return to her home community. I feel she deserves it, really. You know, she taught school down here and worked for the Guild faithfully,” he shares. “She was a real good person – she was a member of the Eastern Star and helped raise a lot of money for her community. She set a good example.” Arthur’s sister, Ann Martin, is a registered nurse at HVL. “It would be wonderful for Mom to be here and have my sister so close – helping to care for her. We could all see her. I know during COVID they were not moving anybody but there have been quite a few openings here – but there always seems to be red tape,” she says. The Journal contacted NSHA to inquire about the transfer and placement policy, but did not receive a reply by press time.Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal
Russia has revoked the residence permit of a U.S. human rights worker on national security grounds and ordered her to leave within two weeks, a spokeswoman for the organisation she heads said on Thursday. Vanessa Kogan, director of the Justice Initiative rights group, an organisation that provides legal assistance to rights victims, particularly from the turbulent North Caucasus region, has lived in Russia for 11 years, Ksenia Babich, the spokeswoman, told Reuters.
LOS ANGELES — MTV Entertainment Group says it's making a $250 million commitment to spur reality production over the next three years by companies owned and operated by women and people of colour. ViacomCBS' MTV Entertainment, which includes MTV and VH1, will provide funding, staff and other support to foster new ideas that will “fuel the unscripted content needs" of now and in the future, according to an announcement Thursday. Advocates of increasing diversity in the entertainment industry say progress requires more women and people of colour in decision-making positions. The initiative builds on MTV Entertainment’s unscripted record, including early reality show “The Real World," by creating ownership opportunities “for its diverse partners,” the company said. Lashan Browning and Adam Gonzalez, reality producers who were tapped last year to steer the initiative, will form their own production ventures with a MTV Entertainment equity investment, according to the announcement. Browning was part of the start-up team for Oxygen and was a producer for “Love & Hip Hop Atlanta” and “Cartel Crew.” Gonzalez was a producer on VH1’s “Teyana & Iman” and “America’s Next Top Model.” The Associated Press
We don’t know nearly enough about what the climate crisis will cost Canada — but what we do know is already troubling, and should inspire greater action. That’s the conclusion from the first of several sweeping reports on the economic, social and environmental costs of climate change in Canada by the independent, publicly funded Canadian Institute for Climate Choices. The institute pored over decades of data on the costs of weather-related disasters from both government relief and insurance industry payouts. Its findings make it clear that volatile weather events have already become more frequent, and more costly. But it also revealed how climate change-related costs are still barely understood today, and these unknown costs are likely to explode far beyond those that are known. “The lack of understanding of risk, plus the lack of tools to be able to address risk, create this dead zone, where it’s really hard to do anything,” said adaptation director Ryan Ness in an interview. “What we’re suggesting is, we have to act on the knowledge we have, and we have enough knowledge to move forward.” What is already known is stunning: the average cost per weather-related disaster has soared by 1,250 per cent since the 1970s, and the number of catastrophic events has more than tripled since the 1980s. In the nine years from 2010 to 2019, there was over $14 billion in disaster costs — the same amount as over the previous 40 years, save for the one-time $7-billion Eastern Canada ice storm in 1998. As the title of the Dec. 3 report, “Tip of the Iceberg,” indicates, these numbers are just the beginning. There are many more long-term impacts from climate change, such as an estimated $1.3-billion cost to dozens of communities across the Northwest Territories due to permafrost thaw. Such a cost will add to the stretched budgets of northern governments already coping with unaffordable food prices and other stressors such as long-term drinking water advisories. And all of this doesn’t even take into account the many impacts that are just not recorded at all in Canada — things such as the impact on health care that climate change is creating. “Canada lacks up-to-date evidence on the potential economic impacts of climate change,” reads the report. The institute said the last effort to “examine a broad range of costs at a national scale” was done in 2011, by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy. Over the next two years, it expects to publish further reports on health, infrastructure, macroeconomics and the North. Ness said there are many reasons why it is difficult to cost out climate impacts, but one main issue is that there are so many different ways that climate change affects Canada in the first place. Not only are disasters and extreme weather linked to death, disease and mental health challenges, for example, but there are a range of other consequences. Wildfire smoke harms lungs, for example, while extreme heat makes kids miss school. The Fort McMurray wildfire of 2016 was the “largest single weather-related insurance loss event in Canadian history,” the report states. Ocean warming and acidification will also likely impact fisheries, and therefore the food security and prosperity of First Nations that depend on them, while early heat waves can cause havoc for farmers depending on seasonal harvests. Then there are the economic impacts of extreme weather on Canadian small business operations, or the disruptions to household budgets, as well as the impact of climate refugees on domestic politics and international conflict. “Pick an economic sector, pick an infrastructure type, pick a health impact — each one of those is extremely complex to try and figure out what a changing climate means for those impacts, and then how those impacts play out in terms of costs,” Ness said. Another concern is how all these issues will interact with each other. Ness gave the example of how climate change could impact the electricity supply, causing power outages in the summer, at the same time as climate-driven heat waves drive up demand for air conditioning. “We don’t know how much the climate’s going to change in the end. We don’t know if there’s weird things that are going to happen in those systems ... we could see impacts that are way bigger than science might predict, because science is based on past climate and past behaviour,” he said. The institute said this all suggests that the debate over Canada’s progress in tackling climate change needs to broaden from its current focus on reducing carbon pollution to one that also addresses adaptation — or the ways that Canadians can adjust to account for the widening range of climate impacts. “Current adaptation policies and investments in Canada fall far short of what is needed to address the known risks of climate change, let alone those that are still unclear and unknown. This has to change,” the report states. Its three recommendations are for all orders of government to increase funding for adaptation, more closely co-ordinate their adaptation efforts and examine the current levels of transparency over climate risks. While the federal and provincial governments have come together previously over climate change, such as the Pan-Canadian Framework, Ness said more detail was needed over which authorities do what and how they work in unison. Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National ObserverCarl Meyer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
All indoor adult team sports are now prohibited in B.C. and children's programs have returned to earlier, more restrictive guidelines. The changes come after travel by an old-timers' hockey team was linked to dozens of COVID-19 cases.
As COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise in Alberta, there is another number Albertans should be thinking about: the R-value.The R-value is essentially the number of people infected by each infected person. It's known as the reproduction number, R-number, or simply as "R."Last week, as Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions on gatherings and businesses, he also revealed that the R-value will be the key metric in determining whether those restrictions will be lifted on Dec. 18.Kenney said then he would evaluate the restrictions on Dec. 15, and the province would need to have an R-value below 1.0 in order to lift the restrictions. Ideally, he said, the province would have a R-value of 0.8. "That's the minimum metric goal that we must achieve by December the 15th," he said. "We must see the rate of transmission move below one. If we start to move it below one, then we know we have begun effectively to bend the curve."An R-value of one means with each person with the illness only infects one other person. That would mean the number of infected people would be fairly consistent. Any number above one means case numbers will grow.On Tuesday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said it had been "at least a month" since Alberta last saw an R-value of one. The metric is useful in understanding whether the restrictions were working, she said, though the impact of the measures announced last week wouldn't be seen until later this week at the earliest."As I said, that is one of the most important metrics right now," she said. "Because it does help us understand whether our actions are decreasing the curve enough to actually have that reduction in number of cases. Because that is the only way that we are going to be able to alleviate the pressure on the health-care system."Hinshaw said that even if Alberta got to one and was able to hold case numbers steady "we would still see the current impact and pressure on the health-care system."Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan told CBC last week the provincial R-value as of Nov. 23 was 1.12. Though CBC asked for the information several times over numerous days, Alberta Health did not provide a more recent R-value for the province. On Wednesday, Kenney said cabinet will discuss the possibility of publicly releasing the R-value, as well other metrics, at its next meeting. He said the provincial positivity rate is also and important metric that is publicly available.That rate was 9.2 per cent on Wednesday, the highest level since the pandemic began.Craig Jenne, associate professor in the department of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University of Calgary, said the R-value is an important marker but has limitations. "Although we often see an R-value, for example, for the province of Alberta, it is likely not uniform across the province," said Jenne. "Just because Alberta may have an R-value of a certain amount, it doesn't mean all communities have that same R-value. Or more importantly, not all areas, even within a single community, would have the same R-value. "It's a global measurement, but it can be over-interpreted and it may not reflect sort of what's happening at the ground level within specific environments in the province."Jenne said the R-value only gives a limited view of the COVID-19 situation and has to be considered as part of the bigger picture. "We can tolerate different R-values depending on what the overall health-care capacity is," he said. "So, if our health-care capacity has lots of of headroom, lots of open beds, lots of available staff, we can tolerate a slow growth in virus. Conversely, if we're already at the limits and we have started to strain or perhaps fully occupied most of our resources, we have much less tolerance for increased viral growth."It's not yet known whether Alberta can bend the curve to get below an R-value of one, but Jenne said based on what has happened in other places that would be difficult. "If we've looked at other areas, Ontario, Quebec and other parts of the world, where they've taken a more restrictive approach, we've actually seen in many cases it does not bring viral growth down to zero in a matter of two or three weeks," said Jenne. "It slows the growth, which is great, but viral cases in many of these jurisdictions continue to grow despite even more stringent lockdown than what we saw in Alberta.Based on modelling from other jurisdictions, he said, it's not likely that Alberta's current restrictions will bring the R-number to one or below by the middle of December.
MORRISBURG – Alight at Night may be open for the holidays, but don’t expect to see bus tours arriving this year. The St. Lawrence Parks Commission kicked off the 20th annual light event at Upper Canada Village on November 27th with limited numbers of people able to attend. Tickets are sold online only and limited to blocks in 30 minute intervals between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. on nights it is open. Already, the SLPC reports that the first two weeks of tickets have been sold out. However there was concern from area residents that bus tour companies were bringing visitors from areas where higher levels of COVID-19 infection are located. Several tour companies have listings on their websites for bus trips to Alight At Night from previous years, or for 2021. No bus tour packages have been advertised for 2020. “For the 2020 season, group sales have been paused,” said SLPC spokesperson Rosalyn Gambhir. “Upper Canada Village does not have tour operators/companies or buses groups booked for our winter event Alight at Night.” She said that the SLPC has been working to ensure the event continues during the holiday season, even with the current pandemic situation. “This year, like our fall event Pumpkinferno, there are a limited number of tickets available each night and attendance has been drastically limited every half hour,” Gambhir said. “If needed, numbers will be adjusted based on COVID-19 protocols.” This July, the provincial government provided a $7 million funding infusion to the cash-strapped agency, to assist with operating during the pandemic. Two million of that funding was specifically for Upper Canada Village, which ran a shorter season for 2020 with fewer parts of the attraction open. The SLPC was able to run the popular Pumpkinferno event throughout October. Alight at Night runs on select nights until December 17th, then operates nightly except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day until January 2nd.Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader
BRUSSELS — A senior legal adviser said Thursday that the European Union’s top court should reject Hungary’s attempts to overturn a European Parliament action aimed at holding the country to account for what lawmakers consider to be a breach of the bloc’s values.Advocate General Michal Bobek recommended that the European Court of Justice “dismiss Hungary’s action as unfounded.” Advocates General routinely provide legal guidance to the ECJ. Their opinions aren't binding on the Luxembourg-based court, but are followed in most cases.The EU parliament launched a procedure in 2018 to force Hungary’s EU partners to sanction the government in Budapest over concerns about the country’s constitutional and electoral systems, the independence of its judiciary, corruption and conflicts of interest, as well as fundamental rights concerns.The “Article 7” procedure was contained in a resolution that was adopted in a 448-197 vote, while 48 lawmakers abstained. Hungary argued that had the abstentions been taken into account, the vote wouldn't have achieved the required two-thirds majority.In Bobek’s opinion, a person who abstains from a vote asks to be counted as neither in favour nor against a proposition, and to be treated as if they weren't voting at all. He also said that EU lawmakers had been informed more than a day before the poll that abstentions wouldn't be counted as votes cast.It’s the first time the parliament has launched such a procedure. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has also taken similar action against Hungary. If four-fifths of Hungary’s 26 EU partners agree “there is a clear risk of a serious breach” of the bloc’s values, Budapest could lose its voting rights.The EU’s treaty says the bloc “is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.”The Associated Press
Patricia Young describes her home of Walker’s Point as a place where people believe in the importance of community. “I think if you look up ‘community’ in the dictionary, you’ll see Walker’s Point listed,” she said. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, that community often gathered at the Walker’s Point Community Centre for activities and socializing: people went to check out books at the library inside, attend exercise classes, crafting sessions or the monthly potluck dinners. Paola Randall, like Young, has lived in Walker’s Point for over 20 years. She spent a lot of time at the community centre before the pandemic: she’s part of the library’s executive board and used to play pickleball there. “We see it as a hub,” she said. “It really connects us to all the services of the township, as well as bringing us together.” Young, who’s part of the community centre’s hall board, said while people are understanding of the situation they’re in, the loss of some of their traditional events is felt. “I’ve run into a few people and they have specifically said, ‘We really miss the potluck suppers,’” she said. She added, however, no one wants to “jeopardize people’s health and safety.” Community centres in Bala, Port Carling, Minett and Milford Bay reopened Nov. 2, allowing 10 people maximum in their facilities at a time for an hour a day, booked in advance. However, many feel they aren’t out of the woods yet. Residents, particularly seniors, don’t want to take the risk of infection by going out and are still leaning on the adjustments and virtual support systems they’ve developed during the pandemic in lieu of these in-person gathering places. Part of the Walker’s Point Community Centre is open to the public for limited use. The library, which has 500 members, reopened on Nov. 4. It’s open Wednesdays and Fridays, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. and allows one person at a time into the library to check out or return books. The reopening, limited in its capacity, has been a mood-booster for many. "I think people are just happy to have it there," Young said. Heather Elliott works with the District of Muskoka, where she’s in charge of running free service programs for seniors in the region, including community centres in Torrance Bay, Milford Bay, Port Carling and Ullswater. They host a handbell choir, a course on learning to use the computer and various social events — all held virtually now. Once the pandemic began and people were confined to their homes for several weeks, Elliott said her team began reaching out to residents to see how they were faring physically and mentally. “Many of them are living alone and life is very different for them during a pandemic,” she said, “but we see them logging in and participating in ways that I don’t think they ever would a year ago.” While Young said she and the people she knows in the community have been doing well throughout the pandemic, she understands many must be feeling isolated. Connections through Facebook, email and over the phone have become essential in Walker’s Point. “We are definitely there for each other. It’s a very strong community,” Randall said. Elliott said, for the health and safety of their elderly population, who are more vulnerable to the consequences of the virus, they haven’t transitioned into hosting indoor events. “We’re hearing from seniors at this point that they’re not comfortable resuming in-person programming,” she said. She said they’re prioritizing plans for outdoor events like walking groups in Muskoka Lakes trails this winter. Walker’s Point residents, like Young, know one thing for certain: things are likely not going to change before the year is over. A clear sign of this is the cancellation of their annual holiday potluck, a hit event with local families and children, which ran out of the community centre. Young is planning for a more quiet, subdued Christmas in town: “We just won’t have any of the normal socializing,” she said. STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Our reporter wanted to see how residents are faring in places where the community centre is a cornerstone of local socialization and togetherness given limited openings during the pandemic. Zahraa Hmood is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering the municipalities of Muskoka Lakes, Lake of Bays and Georgian Bay. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.Zahraa Hmood, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, muskokaregion.com
For decades, Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities in Canada have disproportionately experienced the health impacts of toxic dumps, pollution, tainted water and climate change — and they’ve stood up to put an end to such environmental racism. Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor at Dalhousie University who researches social inequality in Nova Scotia, has been working to bring such issues to light for years in Nova Scotia. As director of the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities and Community Health (ENRICH) project, Waldron has spent the last eight years analyzing the socio-economic, political and health effects of environmental racism in the province. In 2018, she penned the book There’s Something in the Water, which explores the disproportionate effects of environmental damage on Black and First Nation communities in Nova Scotia. Last year, the book was developed into a documentary film. Now, Waldron is taking her work to the national level. “I’ve always wanted to go beyond Nova Scotia and start looking at issues of environmental racism across Canada,” she said. Alongside Naolo Charles, of the Black Environmental Initiative (BE Initiative), Waldron is creating a national coalition to address environmental racism across Canada. According to Waldron, the new coalition will connect allies, raise awareness and support organizations that are currently working to address environmental racism with funding and resources. One of the coalition’s main objectives, said Waldron, is to engage in policy dialogue to encourage the passage of Bill C-230. The bill looks to develop a national strategy to “redress environmental racism in Canada.” MP Lenore Zann will be re-introducing the bill for second reading and it will be debated in the House of Commons on Thursday, Dec. 3. “It will put on the books for the first time, really, the idea of a rights-based environmental bill, so the fact that it would be the human right of people across Canada in racialized communities to be able to have the right to clean air and clear water, for instance,” said Zann. This is not the first time Zann has introduced legislation on this subject. In 2014, then an NDP member of the legislative assembly of Nova Scotia, Zann introduced Bill 111, An Act to Address Environmental Racism. It didn't pass, but at the time it was touted as the first such bill in North America. According to Zann, it was Waldron who approached her with her research on the topic and gave her the idea for the provincial bill. Now that more people understand what environmental racism is, Zann said it’s time to “address and redress” it and make sure that laws are enacted throughout the country “so this cannot continue.” “The difference really, I think, between the provincial bill and the national bill, is that in Nova Scotia there are Black communities that have been hit by environmental racism and sadly have been affected by it. We can name them, we have a map, we can see that,” she added. “But the same thing has not been done yet in Canada and Ingrid is starting that work, but it’s time for governments and other people to start to do that work as well.” Waldron said the national coalition is “a work in progress,” but is slated to set up by the end of the year. She said there are many ways people can support the coalition. They’re currently looking to raise $200,000 by the end of this year. Funds will provide direct support for the ENRICH Project, BE Initiative and the development of the new coalition. People can also participate in a campaign to support Bill C-230 by visiting enrichproject.org/billc-230, Waldron added. While Waldron praised Nova Scotians for being aware of environmental racism happening around them, she hopes the coalition will be able to bring “greater, broader attention" in Canada. “There’s a history of environmental racism over the last several decades in Canada. It’s real and there are health consequences for communities that live next to waste sites, serious health consequences like cancer and for women, reproductive illnesses, this is serious, it’s real,” she said. “Bringing all of us together with our partnerships, with our activism, I think it’s going to make for an extremely powerful coalition.” With files from Andrea GunnNoushin Ziafati, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chronicle Herald
The Powassan and District Food Bank is the big winner after Kathie Hogan spent the night on the rooftop of the local Home Hardware. A few weeks ago, Hogan, the events coordinator at 250 Clark, announced she would spend a night on the roof if residents and businesses raised $1,000 for the food bank. Not only was the target met, it was shattered as $9,400 was raised. True to her word and wearing several layers of clothing, Hogan climbed a ladder to the roof of the Main Street business and spent overnight Tuesday huddled in a tent with a wool blanket and lantern. Hogan admits when she first set the target of $1,000 she didn't believe it was achievable. “I guess people were excited to see me freeze my a.. off,” Hogan said Wednesday morning after climbing down at 7 a.m. Hogan decided to help the food bank ensure its shelves remain stocked because COVID-19 has made it tough this year for many families. “Incredible is the word I would use to describe people's generosity,” she said in response to the response. “It's been a devastating year for many people, many jobs are on the line and businesses will be shuttered in 2021. But people are still generous. Christmas is coming and we know there will be quite a few families that are going to have a hard time. So people gave.” When Hogan decided last month that Dec. 1 would be the night for her rooftop adventure, little did she know the region would get a heavy dumping of snow under windy conditions. Environment Canada had forecast the blast of winter a few days ago, but Hogan wasn't going to let it deter her. At 6 p.m., when Home Hardware closed for the day, Hogan climbed up the ladder staff had put in place at the rear of the store. Prior to that, the employees also set up the tent Hogan would call home for the next 13 hours. The launch was a low-key affair with only a food bank official on hand. Afterwards, friends, neighbours and co-workers showed up to encourage Hogan. She did some FaceTime with her friends and did a live Facebook story reading before settling in for the night at 9 p.m. and going to sleep. Hogan says the amount of snow and strong wind made her a little nervous at first. But Hogan wasn't afraid, adding she spends a great deal of time outdoors. Hogan says the tent did its job keeping her dry. In fact, she had to remove some of her clothing because she was becoming too warm. As the evening marched forward and the street became quieter, Hogan became more aware of little things. One thing she noticed was how the snow would accumulate on the sides of the tent and then fall off. Hogan says the sound of that falling snow was similar to mice running on a floor. Hogan woke up once at about 2 a.m., and then was awoken two hours later by the horn blasts of the public works crew driving by in their plow as they got ready to remove the snow off the streets for morning traffic. But Hogan says she had no problems falling asleep again. In fact, she says, “I slept more on the roof than I do at home.” Hogan says Home Hardware was behind her all the way. “Their generosity is unsurpassed,” she says. Not only did co-owner Tom Morrow make sure Hogan had all the equipment she would need to stay on the rooftop, Hogan says the business also contributed $2,000 to the fundraiser. “My thanks to Home hardware,” she says. “They went over and above. It's things like this that help make small towns great.” After climbing down the ladder and warming up with a coffee at Echoes Restaurant just down the street, Hogan began the job of collecting all the donation jars she had placed in the businesses in Powassan and Trout Creek. Asked if she would do it again Hogan said “in a heartbeat because it's for a good cause.” But, she quickly adds, she would prefer nicer weather next time. Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget
A 37-year-old man has been charged after several storage units were broken into, police say.The break-ins happened on the 400 block of Maxwell Crescent, the 100 block of Dewdney Avenue and the 400 block of Henderson Drive from Oct. 28 to Nov. 27.Police say various high-value tools, household items and vehicle parts were stolen.Police arrested the suspect on Saturday and carried out search warrants at three different locations — a home on Boyce Street, a storage locker on the 400 block of Maxwell Crescent and a Pontiac Grand Prix car.Police say officers found stolen property from seven different storage units.The 37-year-old is facing numerous charges, including seven counts of break and enter.He has been released with a court appearance scheduled for Jan. 11.
WASHINGTON — In the modern twist on old-fashioned war games, the U.S. military dispatched cyber fighters to Estonia this fall to help the small Baltic nation search out and block potential cyber threats from Russia. The goal was not only to help a NATO partner long targeted by its powerful neighbour but also to gain insight on Russian tactics that could be used against the U.S. and its elections. The U.S. Cyber Command operation occurred in Estonia from late September to early November, officials from both countries disclosed this week, just as the U.S. was working to safeguard its election systems from foreign interference and to keep coronavirus research from the prying reach of hackers in countries including Russia and China. Estonian officials say they found nothing malicious during the operation. The mission, an effort analogous to two nations working jointly in a military operation on land or sea, represents an evolution in cyber tactics by U.S. forces who had long been more accustomed to reacting to threats but are now doing more — including in foreign countries — to glean advance insight into malicious activity and to stop attacks before they reach their targets. The Defence Department has worked to highlight that more aggressive “hunt forward” strategy in recent years, particularly after Russia interfered through hacking and covert social media campaigns in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. American officials were on high alert for similar interference in 2020 but described no major problems on Nov. 3. “When we look at the threats that we face, from Russia or other adversaries, it really is all about the partnerships and our ability to expand really the scope, scale and pace of operations in order to make it more difficult for adversaries to execute operations either in the United States, Estonia or other places,” Brig. Gen. William Hartman, commander of the Cyber National Mission Force, said in a conference call with a small group of reporters this week. Estonia, a former Soviet republic, was in some ways a natural fit for a partnership with Cyber Command because in years past it has been a cyber target of nearby Russia, including crippling attacks on government networks in 2007. Estonian officials say they have since strengthened their cyber defences, created a cybersecurity strategy and developed their own cyber command, which like the U.S. version is part of the country’s military. While nothing malicious was found on the networks during the exercise, “what we did learn is how the U.S. conducts these kinds of operations, which is definitely useful for us because there are a lot of kind of capability developments that we are doing right now,” said Mihkel Tikk, deputy commander of Estonia’s Cyber Command. Tikk added: “In some areas, it is wise to learn from others than having to reinvent the wheel.” Hartman declined to discuss specifics of the operation but said the networks in Estonia were “very well defended.” “I don’t want anyone to leave here with the impression that Estonian networks were full of adversary activity from a broad range of nation states” because that is not the case, he added. Gen. Paul Nakasone, the commander of Cyber Command and the director of the National Security Agency, has hinted at a more aggressive, proactive federal government approach to cyber threats. In an August piece for Foreign Affairs magazine, for instance, Nakasone wrote that U.S cyber fighters have moved away from a “reactive, defensive posture” and are increasingly engaging in combat with foreign adversaries online. Cyber Command has worked in past years with countries including Montenegro and North Macedonia on similar missions. Estonian officials say they believe the partnership could be a deterrent to countries such as Russia. “These kinds of operations, I think, they will continue,” said Undersecretary of Defence Margus Matt. But, he added, “I don’t know how much we will speak of them publicly.” U.S. officials say they think the risks of a proactive approach — a country could regard such an operation as a provocation toward a broader international cyber conflict — are outweighed by the benefits. “We believe that inaction in cyberspace contributes to escalation more than reasonable action in cyberspace,” said Thomas Wingfield, deputy assistant secretary of defence for cyber policy. Eric Tucker, The Associated Press
ESKASONI, N.S. — The provincial government announced Wednesday it was committing more than $700,000 to help with the transportation needs of multiple communities and as a result, Eskasoni First Nation will receive $117,685 for transit funding. “We’re excited, this is something the community members have been asking for and we got it,” said Chief Leroy Denny. In Eskasoni, the money will go toward purchasing a nine-passenger van for door-to-door service within the Mi’kmaq community and a 20-person bus offering routes to Sydney and Membertou First Nation. The province will contribute $67,685 for the van and $50,000 for the bus. Funding for the initiative was provided through the accessible transportation program and covers 75 per cent of the vehicle cost. Other funding announcements for Cape Breton communities includes: $17,353 for a five-passenger van for La Cooperative de Transport de Cheticamp; $55,385 for an eight-passenger van for Strait Area Transit, and $50,000 for a 16-passenger bus for the Cape Breton Regional Municipality. Denny says the transit service is something the community has advocated for in the past and the system will address some of the barriers the residents face. Eskasoni is about 44 km from Sydney and Denny says some community members on a fixed income must pay money for rides into town so the bus will be a cost-saving tool. Bus service will come at a small fee, but the price will not be fixed until bus drivers are hired and more is known about the operating fees. “Public transportation allows people to more fully participate in their communities and better access work, schools, shopping and important services,” said Suzanne Lohnes-Croft, minister of communities, culture and heritage in a news release. Denny expects the transit system to be operational in early 2021 but will adhere to strict safety guidelines as the province deals with the second wave of COVID-19. He believes reliable transportation may lead to more employment for some community members. “Transportation is very important if you want to get to school or work,” said Denny. In October, the Eskasoni health department launched a bus system to help ease transportation concerns when accessing health care. The recent announcement is separate from that initiative. But both are expected to help residents without vehicles travel around the large reserve. Eskasoni has more than 4,500 residents and spans more than 100 hectares of land. Denny says the population continues to grow and the transit system is another way to help the community. “It’s a really good thing and we’re excited for it,” said Denny.Oscar Baker III, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cape Breton Post
MORRISBURG – While many activities have been curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, area curlers have been able to return to the ice sheet at the Morrisburg Curling Club this fall thanks to the efforts of a small group of volunteers. The MCC formed a COVID-19 committee to look at how it could begin the 2020-21 season and keep the sport going. “There were a lot of guidelines to go over from the Eastern Ontario Health Unit and the Ministry of Health,” said Wendy Casselman, one of the members of the COVID-19 committee. The five-person group broke down what they needed to do and set up a comprehensive system of logs, cleaning routines, and modifications needed to restart the sport. “Our main goal with all this is the safety and the protection (health wise) of our curlers,” Casselman said. The volunteers looked at every part of how curlers interact in the rink and tried to mitigate any safety risks there could be. The basement change room area is closed off this season, but a physically-spaced out area on the main floor has been set up for curlers to change their shoes, and of course sanitize. Tables in the balance of the lobby are also spaced to allow for distancing and limited to just one team per table, with enough tables for the next matches. Games have staggered start times so teams for all three sheets won’t arrive or interact together. Because of the staggered start times, the ends alternate for the most part and allow for physical spacing between the games in the rink. It is still curling, but curling in a pandemic is different than before. The sport has adopted changes to how the game is played to allow for physical distancing. For example, there is only one sweeper now mid-ice instead of two. The game has been limited to six ends, no more eight-enders for now. Masks are worn during the game, except when a curler is throwing a rock. “But many are comfortable with the mask on for that too,” Casselman added. At every step of the way, is cleaning. A lot of cleaning. COVID-19 committee member Sandra Bonyun explained that all the touch-points, from the stones to the scoreboard, handles, chairs, and other equipment are cleaned after each game, and logged. Entrance to the facility is also logged in case of a worst-case scenario that contact tracing is required. Curling is a social sport and after a game, teams at their own tables can still enjoy a beverage before departing, but the kitchen is closed until further notice and extended socializing is discouraged. More options like coffee and snacks after a game may be allowed, depending on what restrictions are in place in the region at the time. Currently the Eastern Ontario Health Unit region is at the Yellow-Protect level so that is not possible. Some of the programs offered by the MCC are not running so far this season including the Little Rocks youth curling. “It’s a little more difficult for them to be socially distant,” Casselman said. “We will have to see in January whether or not it’s going to work, and if not then it would be off for the year. It’s unfortunate because we know the kids really enjoy that activity.” The club did move forward with its ‘Learn to Curl’ program this fall and has nine people signed up for it. Bringing the sport back and having a winter activity this year was important to all the members of the committee. “We surveyed the membership to see how many wanted to come back and the response rate was awesome,” Bonyun said. “People wanted to have some normalcy back in their lives.” “People are getting tired,” added Casselman. “It’s been a long time that we’ve been home a lot, A lot of our senior people look forward to the curling season. We just felt for the overall wellbeing, both physical and mental that we try our best to get this up and running.”Phillip Blancher, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leader
Ontario reported 1,824 more cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and reached a key threshold when it comes to the number of patients in intensive care earlier than expected.As of Thursday, 203 patients with the illness are currently being treated in intensive care, according to a report by Critical Care Services Ontario. The number of patients in intensive care is notable because public health officials have said that 150 is the threshold for when unrelated schedules and procedures may be postponed or cancelled to accommodate the influx of COVID-19 patients. Models detailed by health officials on Nov. 26 forecasted that the number of COVID-19 patients in ICUs would not break 200 before next week, putting the province five days ahead of those projected scenarios."It is concerning that we are ahead of schedule," said Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in the east end of Toronto. While some hospitals throughout Ontario have been largely unaffected by the second wave of COVID-19, those in hotspots are under increasing pressure, he added. According to Warner, 18 per cent of all ICU patients in Toronto hospitals have COVID-19. That figure rises to 24 per cent in both York and Halton regions.Furthermore, the Grand River Hospital in Waterloo Region paused elective surgeries this week after its intensive care unit reached capacity. And in Windsor-Essex, the Windsor Regional Hospital said high patient numbers were challenging the entire regional health-care system and had made it necessary to impose strict visitor restrictions in an effort to reduce transmission of the virus.Total admissions to intensive care during the first wave of the illness in the spring topped out at 270, Warner said, but hospitals were able to better cope because non-COVID-19 related procedures and care were cancelled.This time, he explained, that is not an option."There would be too much collateral damage," Warner told CBC Toronto. Similarly, the Ontario Hospital Association has urged the public to continue following public health guidelines in an effort to address capacity issues."Ontario hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain access to vital surgeries and procedures with COVID-19 cases rising," the organization said in a statement posted on social media."Hospitals are doing everything they can, but they need your support. Help stop the spread by making better practical choices every day."At the province's daily press conference Thursday, Health Minister Christine Elliott said the number is a concern, and noted some hospitals have had to put procedures on hold.She said the province has increased the number of ICU beds in the province, but health experts have routinely said that staffing needs to increase in concert with that number.The province is also looking at a "regional approach to surgeries," Elliott said, which would essentially mean that surgeries be moved to hospitals that have capacity for them."We want to keep those surgeries and procedures ongoing," she said.592 new cases in Peel Region, 396 in TorontoNew cases reported today include 592 in Peel Region, 396 in Toronto and 187 in York Region. The Middlesex-London public health unit also recorded 127 additional cases, though the provincial health ministry said that, due to a processing error, that figure includes three days worth of case data.Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were: * Waterloo Region: 87 * Halton Region: 68 * Windsor-Essex: 62 * Durham Region: 57 * Hamilton: 56 * Ottawa: 41 * Niagara Region: 25 * Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph: 23 * Eastern Ontario: 19 * Thunder Bay: 13 * Simcoe Muskoka: 11Also included in today's new cases are 122 that are school-related: 94 students and 28 staff members. Some 755 of Ontario's 4,828 publicly-funded schools, or about 15.6 per cent, currently have at least one case of COVID-19, while five schools are currently closed because of the illness.The additional infections push the seven-day average of new daily cases to a record high 1,769.(Note: All of the figures used for new cases in this story are found on the Ontario health ministry's COVID-19 dashboard or in its daily epidemiologic summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit because local units report figures at different times.)Provincial Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said Thursday that the seven-day average is now at 1,769 cases, with 87 per cent of those since Monday coming from red and lockdown areas of the province. Williams said the province plans to make an announcement about the movement of regions within its colour-coded framework Friday."The trends continue to go up at this time," he said, noting that there has also been a 20 per cent increase in hospitalizations since last week.Questions remain on vaccine rolloutPremier Doug Ford said Thursday the federal government has told the provinces that the first supply of vaccines will be approved and available in early 2021."Initial supply will be very limited," Ford said, adding that he still has many questions — specifically which vaccines will be coming to Ontario, how many, and when they will land."These are three fundamental questions that I've been asking for several weeks now. They remain unanswered," Ford said.Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, meanwhile, said Wednesday: "We've been assured by the federal government that shipments will begin to arrive by Jan. 4."Kenney said the province will have plans and its distribution network ready to go for when vaccines become available. Ford would not offer any details on Ontario's vaccination plan when pressed by reporters Thursday."What I can guarantee the people of Ontario is we will be ready," he said.Williams was also asked Thursday if the province would make vaccination mandatory."We can't force someone to take a vaccine. That's clear," he said. But what the province can do, he added, is make proof of a vaccine mandatory access to certain settings, such as long-term care facilities.Ontario's network of labs processed 52,873 test samples and reported a test positivity rate of 4.4 per cent. Another 58,320 tests were added to the queue to be completed. The province reported 14 further deaths of people with COVID-19, raising the official toll to 3,712.There are currently outbreaks in 116 long-term care homes on Ontario, including at Sunnycrest Nursing Home in Whitby, where 111 of the 136 residents and 30 staff members have tested positive.