An new viewing deck at Peggy's Cove, NS has accessibility advocates cheering, but the plan isn't sitting right with everyone. Nathan Coleman has the story.
An new viewing deck at Peggy's Cove, NS has accessibility advocates cheering, but the plan isn't sitting right with everyone. Nathan Coleman has the story.
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials in Nova Scotia announced Tuesday that vaccination rollout plans for the month included the province's first pharmacy clinics. Prototype pharmacy clinics will launch in Halifax and Shelburne on March 9, Port Hawkesbury on March 16 and Springhill on March 23. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island Health officials in Prince Edward Island say they will shift their focus to getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults by July 1, even if it means delaying the second shot for some. Chief medical officer Heather Morrison has said people over the age of 80 will get a second dose based on their existing appointments. Going forward, she said, other residents will get a longer interval between their first and second doses, but she didn’t specific how long that will be. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec Quebec started vaccinating older seniors Monday, after a first phase that focused largely on health-care workers, remote communities and long-term care. In Montreal, mass vaccine sites including the Olympic Stadium opened their doors to the public as the province began inoculating seniors who live in the hard-hit city. The government announced last week it would begin booking appointments for those aged 85 and up across the province, but that age limit has since dropped to 70 in some regions, including Montreal. Quebec announced Tuesday it had reached a deal with pharmacies that will allow them to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-March. Health Minister Christian Dube said about 350 pharmacies in the Montreal area will start taking appointments by March 15 for people as young as 70. The program will eventually expand to more than 1,400 pharmacies across the province that will administer about two million doses. The Montreal region is being prioritized in part because of the presence of more contagious variants, such as the one first identified in the United Kingdom, Dube has said. --- Ontario The province began vaccinating people with the highest priority, including those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers and people who live in congregate care settings. Several regions in Ontario moved ahead Monday with their plans to vaccinate the general public, while others used their own systems to allow residents aged 80 and older to schedule appointments. Toronto also began vaccinating members of its police force Monday after the province identified front-line officers as a priority group. Constables and sergeants who respond to emergency calls where medical assistance may be required are now included in the ongoing first phase of Ontario's vaccine rollout, a spokeswoman for the force said. A day earlier, Toronto said the province expanded the first phase of its vaccination drive to include residents experiencing homelessness. The provincial government has said it aims to begin vaccinating Ontarians aged 80 and older starting the week of March 15, the same day it plans to launch its vaccine booking system, which will offer a service desk and online portal. It has said the vaccine rollout will look different in each of its 34 public health units. When asked about the lack of provincewide cohesion, Health Minister Christine Elliott said that public health units know their regions best and that's why they have been given responsibility to set the pace locally. She also says the province will soon share an updated vaccine plan that factors in expected shipments of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. The province will do that after getting guidance from the federal government on potentially extending the time between first and second doses, like B.C. is doing, of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to four months, Elliott says She also says Ontario seniors won't receive the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine since there's limited data on its effectiveness in older populations. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, has said inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if supplies are steady. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. The province said this week that it may follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. The government says it hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. If that happens, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. But he said Monday that the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to anyone over the age of 65 after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization expressed concerned there is limited data on how well it will work in older populations. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia British Columbia will extend the time between the first and second doses of COVID-19 vaccines to four months so all adults could get their initial shot by the end of July. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says evidence from the province and around the world shows protection of at least 90 per cent from the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. The province launched the second phase of its immunization campaign Monday and health authorities will begin contacting residents and staff of independent living centres, those living in seniors' supportive housing as well as homecare support clients and staff. Seniors aged 90 and up can call to make their appointment starting next Monday, followed a week later by those aged 85 and over, and a week after that by those 80 and up. Henry says the approval of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine means some people will get their first shot sooner than planned. She says B.C. will focus its rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine among essential workers, first responders and younger people with more social interactions who would have to wait longer to receive their first doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. It's now possible that all adults could get their first shot by July, Henry says. --- Nunavut The territory says it expects enough vaccines for 75 per cent of its population over the age of 18. After a COVID-19 vaccine is administered, patients will be tracked to ensure they are properly notified to receive their second dose. Nunavut's priority populations are being vaccinated first. They include residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories its priority groups — such as people over 60, front-line health workers and those living in remote communities — are being vaccinated The territory says it expects to vaccine the rest of its adult population starting this month. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 3, 2021. The Canadian Press
TORONTO — Some of the most active companies traded Tuesday on the Toronto Stock Exchange: Toronto Stock Exchange (18,421.60, up 121.98 points.) Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU). Energy. Up 52 cents, or 2.03 per cent, to $26.11 on 26.6 million shares. Enbridge Inc. (TSX:ENB). Energy. Up 29 cents, or 0.66 per cent, to $44.25 on 11.4 million shares. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX). Materials. Up $1.05, or 4.37 per cent, to $25.08 on 11.1 million shares. Zenabis Global Inc. (TSX:ZENA). Health care. Down half a cent, or 3.85 per cent, to 12.5 cents on 10 million shares. Manulife Financial Corp. (TSX:MFC). Financials. Down three cents, or 0.12 per cent, to $25.98 on 9.8 million shares. MediPharm Labs Corp. (TSX:LABS). Health care. Down 13 cents, or 19.12 per cent, to 55 cents on 9.6 million shares. Companies in the news: Spin Master Corp. (TSX:TOY). Up $6.95, or 23.9 per cent, to $36.01. Spin Master Corp. recorded meteoric growth in its digital games business in the latest quarter as users of its Toca Life World app filmed themselves playing the game and shared the videos on social media. The Canadian toymaker’s digital games revenue increased by more than 400 per cent to $31.8 million in its fourth quarter, driven by the Toca Life World platform. While it's free to download the app, Spin Master makes money through the in-game purchases and upgrades. The Toronto-based company said revenue for the quarter was US$490.6 million, up from US$473.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2019. Canopy Growth Corp. (TSX:WEED). Up 56 cents, or 1.3 per cent, to $44.47. Canopy Growth Corp. will deepen its U.S. presence by launching four sparkling cannabidiol waters there before possible federal legalization. The Smiths Falls, Ont.-based cannabis company said four drinks from its Quatreau brand will be available online to U.S. customers Tuesday. They will contain 20 milligrams of CBD; come in ginger and lime, cucumber and mint, blueberry and açaí, and passion fruit and guava flavours; and be Canopy’s first CBD drinks to cross the border. The beverages, which have been available in Canada since last fall, will join Martha Stewart, BioSteel and This Works CBD products Canopy already sells in the U.S. as part of an expansion strategy. Industry observers believe those U.S. opportunities will multiply this year because U.S. President Joe Biden and his Democratic party have favoured legislation to relax cannabis laws. George Weston Ltd. (TSX:WN). Up $1.97, or 2.1 per cent, to $96.59. George Weston Ltd. reported its fourth-quarter profit fell compared with a year ago as it was hit by one-time charges. The company, which operates through Loblaw, Choice Properties and Weston Foods, says it earned a profit available to common shareholders of $289 million or $1.88 per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31. The result was down from a profit of $433 million or $2.81 per diluted share a year earlier. However, on an adjusted basis, George Weston says it earned $2.03 per diluted share, up from an adjusted profit of $1.69 per diluted share in the fourth quarter of 2019. Revenue was $13.81 billion, up from $12.11 billion a year earlier when George Weston's fourth quarter only had 12 weeks. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden's pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, has withdrawn her nomination after she faced opposition from key Democratic and Republican senators for her controversial tweets. Her withdrawal marks the first high-profile defeat of one of Biden's nominees. Eleven of the 23 Cabinet nominees requiring Senate approval have been confirmed, most with strong bipartisan support. “Unfortunately, it now seems clear that there is no path forward to gain confirmation, and I do not want continued consideration of my nomination to be a distraction from your other priorities,” Tanden wrote in a letter to Biden. The president, in a statement, said he has “utmost respect for her record of accomplishment, her experience and her counsel” and pledged to find her another role in his administration. Tanden’s viability was in doubt after Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and a number of moderate Republicans came out against her last month, all citing her tweets attacking members of both parties prior to her nomination. Manchin, a key moderate swing vote in the Senate, said last month in a statement announcing his opposition that “her overtly partisan statements will have a toxic and detrimental impact on the important working relationship between members of Congress and the next director of the Office of Management and Budget.” Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, meanwhile, cited Biden’s own standard of conduct in opposing Tanden, declaring in a statement that “her past actions have demonstrated exactly the kind of animosity that President Biden has pledged to transcend.” Tanden needed just 51 votes in an evenly-divided Senate, with Vice-President Kamala Harris acting as a tiebreaker. But without Manchin’s support, the White House was left scrambling to find a Republican to support her. One potential Republican vote, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, told reporters earlier Tuesday on Capitol Hill she still had not yet made up her mind on Tanden’s nomination. The White House stuck with her even after a number of centrist Republicans made their opposition known, insisting her experience growing up on welfare and background working on progressive policies as the president and CEO of the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress made her the right candidate for the moment. White House chief of staff Ron Klain initially insisted the administration was “fighting our guts out” for her. Tanden faced pointed questions over her past comments about members from both parties during her confirmation hearing. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent and prominent progressive lawmaker, accused her of issuing “vicious attacks” against progressives, and hadn’t said whether he’d support her nomination. Tanden apologized during that hearing to “people on either the left or right who are hurt by what I’ve said.” Just prior to the hearing, she deleted hundreds of tweets, many of which were critical of Republicans. Collins cited those deleted tweets in her statement, saying that the move “raises concerns about her commitment to transparency.” She said Congress “has to be able to trust the OMB director to make countless decisions in an impartial manner, carrying out the letter of the law and congressional intent.” As recently as Monday, the White House indicated it was sticking by Tanden’s nomination, with press secretary Jen Psaki noting Tanden's “decades of experience” in defending their pick. “We will continue of course to fight for the confirmation of every nominee that the president puts forward,” Psaki insisted, but she added, “We'll see if we have 50 votes.” The head of the Office of Management and Budget is tasked with putting together the administration's budget, as well as overseeing a wide range of logistical and regulatory issues across the federal government. Tanden's withdrawal leaves the Biden administration without a clear replacement. The apparent front-runner on Capitol Hill to replace Tanden was Shalanda Young, a former staff director for the House Appropriations Committee who has been actively pushed by members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Other names mentioned include Ann O’Leary, a former chief of staff for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and Gene Sperling, who served as a top economic adviser to both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Alexandra Jaffe, The Associated Press
While many things were shut down due to the pandemic, Tabitha McLoughlin and her team responded to increased demand in their community for fresh food by opening another farmers market. McLoughlin is the executive director of Grow Local Tricities, which manages the Port Moody and Coquitlam farmers markets. In June, the organization started its Port Moody summer market as an emergency response for farmers in their area. “We did it in response to knowing that we had farmer vendors who were losing contracts to restaurants and losing contracts to food suppliers, because those guys were shutting down or being closed down, and they had crops in the ground,” she said. “And it was well enough attended that we’ll continue to do it again this year.” McLoughlin has worked with Grow Local for 15 years and said she wasn’t surprised the new market was so well-received. She has seen a steady interest in farmers markets over the past five to eight years, and COVID-19 has only fast-tracked it. “I think the media really started to push ‘buy local’ ... because, as much as we have preached it for years, the importance of the economic impact that is generated by buying from places within your own community is now being seen on such a massive scale,” she said. McLoughlin said it was interesting seeing farmers markets being used in such a utilitarian manner during the pandemic, after trying on so many different hats to appeal to consumers. “What we saw was people coming specifically to buy at the market ... We have spent years building the farmers markets to be these destinations where you and your kids can do a craft, watch a food demonstration,” she said. “We had to throw all that out the window and be like, 'OK, we need you to come in and shop as fast as you possibly can.'” Jen Candela, communications manager with Vancouver Farmers Markets (VFM) since 2007, said the last decade has seen a lot of growth on their end. The VFM has operated markets since 1995 and now supports 280 small farms and businesses. “I think people are a lot more concerned about where their food comes from than they were 20 years ago,” she said. “Vancouver is also a health-conscious city, so people want the freshest, healthiest food they can find. Unless you grow your own food, farmers markets are the best place to find that.” There is little data on farmers markets in Canada. The last nationwide survey was done in 2009 by Farmers Markets Canada, a now-defunct organization. Even then, total direct sales from farmers markets across Canada was estimated to be $1.03 billion. Although the markets may be expanding and growing, McLoughlin said the sentiment behind them remains the same. “I think (people’s reasons) for putting these things together was always greater than just simply bringing the food into the community,” she said. “Now as it's become more and more common, it's not just like the hippies in the parking lots anymore. It's way more mainstream, to the point where it's almost become trendy.” Cloe Logan / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer Cloe Logan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
TORONTO — Canadian actor Jahmil French of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" fame has died. His agent, Gabrielle Kachman, confirmed the news to The Canadian Press through a statement. Kachman did not provide details on his death but noted French "will be remembered by many for his passion for the arts, his commitment to his craft, and his vibrant personality." French played high-school student Dave Turner on the Toronto-shot teen series "Degrassi: The Next Generation." In a statement, "Degrassi: The Next Generation" co-creator and executive producer Linda Schuyler said she was "heartbroken" to hear the news Tuesday. "Jahmil was an extraordinary talent and a bright light on and off the screen," Schuyler said. "He was a joy to work with on 'Degrassi: The Next Generation.' "He brought an authenticity and burst of life to every scene he was in and infused his character 'Dave' with an airy lightness. Off screen Jahmil would always make me smile. He will be deeply missed.” French's other credits include 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 for supporting actor. According to various bios online, he was 29. Fans and friends of the performer shared tributes on social media Tuesday, including fellow "Degrassi" alum Annie Clark, who tweeted she's "heartbroken over the loss." She also posted a video of him dancing on a stage, noting that's how she'll always think of him. "So full of energy and fun. He was always dancing. A true talent and a great friend. We will all miss you so much Jahmil," Clark wrote. Dylan Everett, who also acted on "Degrassi: The Next Generation," tweeted that French was "kind, funny, and talented." "One of the first people I met on 'Degrassi,' he immediately made me feel welcome," Everett wrote. "He disarmed you with a smile and his confidence and energy was infectious. You’ll be missed, brother." Toronto-based Salvatore Antonio tweeted French was a longtime acting student of his, his mentee and "a special human." "He was fearless and brilliant in his pursuit, and I’m so sad we won’t get to see more of his gift," Antonio wrote. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER — The federal government has provided nearly $3.5 million in funding for vending machines that will dispense a medical-grade opioid to drug users in four cities in an effort to prevent overdose deaths. Darren Fisher, parliamentary secretary to Health Minister Patty Hajdu, said two machines are located in Vancouver and one each are in Victoria; London, Ont.; and Dartmouth, N.S. The machines, called MySafe, are similar to ATMs and allow drug users to get hydromorphone pills, a substitute for heroin, dispensed to them after their palm has been scanned to identify them. "Safer-supply projects offer people with opioid use disorder a life-saving alternative to the toxic, illegal drug supply, but they are not always convenient and easy to access," Fisher said. He said MySafe allows participants to access a safer drug without fear, shame and stigma, and without contact with anyone, which is all the more essential during the pandemic. Overdose deaths spiked to a record level in British Columbia last year as COVID-19 precautions closed the Canada-U.S. border, leading to domestic manufacturing of more potent substances often laced with high concentrations of the opioid fentanyl. Participants in the MySafe program in Vancouver are assessed by a doctor and a baseline urine sample is collected before they can access hydromorphone through the machines, which are bolted to the floor. Dr. Mark Tyndall, an epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist, began the MySafe project in December 2017, with the installation of the first machine next to an overdose prevention site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The area is home to North America's first supervised injection site as well as Crosstown, the continent's first facility to provide injectable heroin as a therapy for entrenched drug users who have tried multiple methods to quit their habit. While Crosstown also provides injectable hydromorphone, Tyndall said the program's strict regimen requiring users to attend several times a day and use their drugs under supervision is not ideal for people who fear being stigmatized. The MySafe program, which now has 20 participants at the initial Vancouver site, allows users to access hydromorphone tablets at their convenience, he said. "In a very short time, I've seen people's lives change. The ability to get up in the morning and just go and pick up your medications is just revolutionary to many people who have, in many cases, got up in the morning, felt unwell and had to hustle to find their drugs," said Tyndall, a former director of the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. However, he said it's been "an uphill battle" trying to persuade "skittish" doctors in the Downtown Eastside to prescribe hydromorphone that would be dispensed through a machine instead of by a pharmacy. Doctors in Victoria and Dartmouth are more open to using MySafe, and a group in London is already using MySafe, Tyndall said. "The two machines in Vancouver are going to still be a challenge," he said of reluctance by prescribers in the city where Mayor Kennedy Stewart has implored the federal government to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use due to the high number of overdose deaths. Tyndall said that at 32 cents for an eight-milligram tablet of hydromorphone, MySafe is a cheap and scalable option for communities after an estimated 20,000 overdose fatalities across Canada in recent years. Jen Baker, chair of the Ontario Pharmacists Association, said the province already has remote dispensing locations at pharmacy kiosks, and a system like MySafe could be incorporated to provide hydromorphone for those at risk of overdose. "I could see how those sorts of locations could be adapted in this harm-reduction model to contain medications for those individuals," she said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Camille Bains, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the federal government was providing nearly $5.6 million in funding.
McMurray Métis elder Anne Michalko said she felt like she was on her way to freedom when she learned she would be getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Michalko, 83, spent much of the past year in quarantine. On Thursday, she made a rare venture outside her home for her first vaccine shot. Her second shot comes one month before her birthday in May. She hopes she can celebrate turning 84 with family. “Can you imagine feeling excited to go out and get a needle?” she said. “I’m looking forward to sitting around the fire pit and enjoying each other’s company. Maybe I’ll take my great grandson for a walk.” Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan entered Phase 1B on Feb. 7, allowing anyone born before 1946 to get a vaccine. Anyone living in retirement centres, senior citizen lodges and other supportive living homes can also get vaccinated. There have been 546 people in Fort Chipewyan that have had their first vaccine dose. The community has been prioritized because of its remote location and limited health care services. The rollout has given some relief to a community with a long memory that includes the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which wiped out three-quarters of the community. One victim was Chief Alexandre Lavoilette, the first chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. Chief Allan Adam of ACFN remembers stories of the Spanish Flu from his late grandmother. She was 18-years-old when the pandemic hit the community, he said. “She said people were lost because they had also lost their chief,” said Adam. “Nobody knew where to go.” Adam is thankful Fort Chipewyan has not experienced anything like the Spanish Flu over the past year. He said he is proud of the work the work the community is doing to keep people safe. “A lot of history was lost from the older people at that time,” he said. “We were lucky and we dodged a bullet this time.” Chief Peter Powder of Mikisew Cree First Nation said stories of the Spanish Flu made some people anxious to get vaccinated. “That’s where people’s heads were at, just hearing about that and how bad it was back in the day,” said Powder. Powder said encouraging young people to get vaccinated has been a priority, since they are more likely to travel outside the community. Some people have been excited to get vaccinated, but Angela Conner, a nurse with Nunee Health, said she has seen some hesitancy in the community. Nunee Health is promoting vaccination and trying to fight false information shared online. The hamlet received a second shipment of vaccines on Feb. 28. “Everything that we use is evidence-based,” said Conner. “We’ve been opening up our facility here for any questions. Quite a few people have called and we did have our nurse practitioner open for any kind of consults.” Other Métis leaders feel they have been left out of Alberta’s vaccination program. Since the first vaccines arrived in Alberta, elders on First Nations or Métis settlements have been getting vaccinated if they are between 65 and 74. Some communities that are mostly Métis are not considered settlements, meaning those elders must wait until the general public can be vaccinated in the fall. A community like Conklin, for instance, is mostly Métis and has seen 11 per cent of its population get COVID-19. But the community is considered a rural hamlet under the responsibility of the municipality. Fort McKay’s Métis community is also on municipal land and not considered a settlement. McMurray Métis has 45 elders between 65 and 74 who will be left out of Phase 1B because the Local is based in Fort McMurray. “In Alberta, it is recognized that Indigenous elders are part of a first priority,” said Bryan Fayant, McMurray Métis’ disaster and recovery strategist. “Our elders are a part of the regular rollout and I just don’t think that’s enough.” email@example.com Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today
TOPEKA, Kan. — Former Congressman Steve Watkins of Kansas has entered a diversion program to avoid trial over allegations that he voted illegally in a 2019 municipal election. Watkins, a Republican from Topeka who served only one term in the U.S. House, was facing three felony charges. He was accused of listing a postal box at a UPS store as his home on a state registration form when he was living temporarily at his parents' home. He was also charged with lying to a detective who investigated the case. The Shawnee County district attorney filed the charges just weeks before the August 2020 primary, and Watkins lost to now-Rep. Jake LaTurner. “I regret the error in my voter registration paperwork that led to these charges. I fully co-operated from the beginning and had no intent to deceive any one, at any time. I am glad to resolve the ordeal,” Watkins said in a statement Tuesday. Watkins acknowledged he lied to the detective when he said he did not vote in the Topeka City Council election, The Kansas City Star reported. Under the diversion agreement entered into Monday, Watkins' prosecution will be deferred for six months. If he meets the terms of the agreement, the case will be dropped by September. The Associated Press
On Wednesday, the verdict in Toronto’s van attack trial will be revealed. Alek Minassian has pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. Erica Vella reports.
WASHINGTON — Domestic extremist groups pose a serious threat to the military by seeking to recruit service members into their ranks and, in some cases, joining the military to acquire combat experience, according to a Pentagon report released Tuesday. The report, prepared last year at the request of Congress, did not assess whether the problem of extremism in the military is growing, but it cited a number of examples of service members with extremist affiliations. It said the number of current and former military members who ascribe to white supremacist ideology is unknown. “Military members are highly prized by these groups as they bring legitimacy to their causes and enhance their ability to carry out attacks,” the report said. “In addition to potential violence, white supremacy and white nationalism pose a threat to the good order and discipline within the military.” For example, the report noted that a Marine was discharged in 2018 for having ties to a neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division, and it said the group’s co-founder served in the Army National Guard in Florida. Another Marine was determined to be the founder of a different white supremacist group, called AIM, which stands for American Identity Movement. The group spread propaganda through an operation it called “Project Siege” and as of March 2019 had about 500 members. The group’s founder was a former Marine sergeant and a former leader was an Army veteran. Several other members of the military and the Reserves were identified as being associated with the group, and the report noted that some were either demoted or discharged. The report described a social media post, reported by a service member, who claimed to “see plenty of our kind” in combat arms. The message recommended ways to identify fellow group members, saying “simply wear a shirt with some obscure fascist logo.” The military has long been aware of small numbers of white supremacists and other extremists in its ranks, but the problem burst into public awareness after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, where an outsized number of military veterans and some current military members were present. It quickly fell to a new Pentagon chief, Lloyd Austin, to determine the scale of the problem and try to fix it. On Feb. 5, Austin directed all commanders and supervisors at every level of the military to conduct a one-day “stand down” — a pause in normal business — by early April to discuss extremism in the ranks. At his first Pentagon news conference two weeks later, Austin said extremism is a threat to the bonds of trust between service members, who count on cohesion to make them effective on the battlefield. “I really and truly believe that 99.9 per cent of our service men and women believe in” the oath they swear when entering the military, Austin said, adding that the actual number of extremists in the military is unknown. “I expect for the numbers to be small, but quite frankly, they’ll probably be a little bit larger than most of us would guess,” he said. “But I would just say that, you know, small numbers in this case can have an outsized impact.” Austin often mentions that he has personally witnessed the damage that racism and extremism can inflict. In 1995, when then-Lt. Col. Austin was serving with the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, three white soldiers described as self-styled skinheads were arrested in the murder of a Black couple who were walking down the street. Investigators concluded the two were targeted because of their race. The killing triggered an internal investigation, and all told, 22 soldiers were linked to skinhead and other similar groups or found to hold extremist views. Robert Burns And Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
REGINA — Saskatchewan is looking to follow British Columbia's lead in delaying a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to speed up immunizations. Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says information from that province as well as from Quebec and the United Kingdom suggests that a first shot effectively protects against the novel coronavirus. He says he hopes a national committee that provides guidance on immunizations will support waiting up to four months to give people a second dose. Shahab says if that were to happen, the province could speed up how soon residents get their first shot. He says all adults in the province could be vaccinated with a first dose by June. Premier Scott Moe says such a shift would be a game-changer for how long public-health restrictions would stay in place. "What that (would) look like over the course of the next number of weeks as opposed to having that conversation over the course of the next number of months," Moe said during a briefing Tuesday. The province said when it first outlined its vaccine rollout that it would wait between 21 and 28 days between shots as recommended by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. The province says about 80,000 vaccinations have been given across the province. It says at least one of the approved vaccines to fight COVID-19 has made its way into every long-term care home. Health officials say 91 per cent of residents opted to get their first shot of the two-dose vaccination. Second doses have gone into the arms of long-term residents in about 53 per cent of facilities. The province says it expects to receive about 15,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot approved by Canada last week. Shahab says Saskatchewan will follow advice from a national panel of vaccine experts that it be used on people under 65. The vaccine's effectiveness in people older than that hasn't been sufficiently determined because there were not enough seniors in clinical trials. Another 134 new cases of COVID-19 were reported Tuesday as well as two deaths. Shahab and Moe say daily case numbers and hospitalizations have stabilized and continue to decrease — signs they say could lead to some public-health measures being relaxed. Moe said he would like to see some way for people to have visitors in their homes. That hasn't been allowed under public-health orders since before Christmas. The current health order is to expire March 19. Moe said his government could provide details as soon as next week on what restrictions might be eased. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Mar. 2, 2021 Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
At least 165 more British Columbians died of illicit drug overdoses in the first month of 2021, more than double the number of deaths recorded last January. An average of more than five people died each day in the deadliest January recorded since the overdose crisis was declared a public health emergency nearly five years ago in April 2016. January was the 10th consecutive month where more than 100 people died as pandemic-driven border restrictions contributed to an increasingly toxic street supply, and progress dragged on promises of safer supplies for substance users. The devastating report comes just weeks after the province confirmed 1,726 people died in 2020, making it the deadliest year for overdoses. “We’re particularly concerned about the toxicity of the drugs detected in many of the deaths recorded in January,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a news release. “The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply, and accessible treatment and recovery services.” As the province’s death rate per capita climbed to 38 per 100,000 in January, up from 33.1 in 2020, no community has been left untouched. Northern Health, where harm reduction services are sparse and access to health care can require expensive and time-consuming travel, experienced the highest rate with 71 deaths per 100,000. Vancouver Coastal Health region was second with 52 deaths per 100,000. According to the most recent data from the First Nations Health Authority, First Nations individuals in B.C. represented 16 per cent of overdoses in the first four months of 2020, up from 9.9 per cent in 2019, despite only representing 3.3 per cent of people in B.C. Extreme fentanyl concentrations were present in nearly one in five deaths, the most ever recorded, the Coroners Service reported. Benzodiazepines, including analogues like etizolam, were found in almost half of deaths in January. Etizolam was found in 31 per cent of deaths. In combination with fentanyl, it can repress the respiratory system and significantly increase the risk of overdose. The province has been spending on new treatment and recovery bed spaces and training nurses to be able to prescribe some first-line opioid substitutes. It has also approached the federal government about decriminalizing personal possession of illicit substances. Mental Health and Addictions Minister Sheila Malcolmson said in a statement the province had “stepped up our response to these emergencies as quickly as possible in B.C., but the effects of the pandemic on the illicit drug supply chain has made drugs dramatically more toxic than a year ago and, tragically, more lethal. “We know people are hurting now and we have to do more to stop this terrible surge in overdose deaths,” she said. But critics have accused the government of moving far too slowly to address the deadly public health crisis. People who use drugs and advocates say more has to be done to separate people from the illicit supply and provide safer alternatives, particularly for those who can’t or don’t want to access treatment. In September, the ministry announced it would massively expand eligibility and substances available in safe supply programs in the province. Safe supply programs aim to separate people from the poisoned street supply by providing pharmaceutical-grade alternatives to illicit drugs. This prevents overdoses because people can be more certain of what they are taking as well as the exact dosage. The Globe and Mail reported in February that the province is considering a variety of substances, including powdered fentanyl and fentanyl patches, in its safe supply guidance. But details on the expansion are still scarce six months after it was announced, with hundreds more lives lost in the meantime. Vancouver is still pursuing its own application to the federal government to decriminalize possession of drugs for personal use. It sent its first submission to Health Canada Monday as a step toward formal negotiations. The city saw 411 people die in 2020, and an additional 42 in January alone. “Today’s news that 2021 has started off with an even higher level of overdose deaths makes decriminalization and ending the war on people who use drugs even more urgent,” said Mayor Kennedy Stewart in a release. Staff consulted with Vancouver Coastal Health, community groups and the Vancouver Police Department in the initial submission, which aims to divert people who use substances away from the criminal justice system. A spokesperson for the mayor said this so-called “Vancouver model” is still being developed. The city doesn’t plan to use administrative penalties or mandatory treatment as alternatives to criminal sanctions, as seen in the recently approved Oregon model. But police will be able to determine if the individual is in personal possession and to refer them voluntarily to the city’s Overdose Outreach Team. Further details and community consultations are expected in April. Moira Wyton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Tyee
A proposal to revamp Bayfield's downtown is dividing residents and business owners over the future of the Lake Huron village. The debate over the Bayfield Main Street revitalization project is set to come to a head Wednesday at a virtual public meeting, with some locals saying the plan could strip the quaint village of its heritage charm. “There’s a lot at stake for a lot of people here,” Bluewater Coun. Bill Whetstone said. “Our downtown is a reason why a lot of people come here or live here.” A revitalization project has been on the Municipality of Bluewater’s books since the early 2000s, initially developed to address water pooling on Main Street sidewalks. The existing gravel sidewalks present accessibility issues and create hazards including water ponding, mud and ice, a staff report says. The proposed $2.3 million Main Street revitalization would see the gravel sidewalks switched to exposed aggregate concrete. The plan also proposes drive-over curbs to access parking, a narrower roadway and wider boulevards, planting of more trees, unique “welcome mat” surface treatments in front of businesses, additional seating and lighting, along with greenspace “infiltration basins” to help collect storm runoff. Whetstone said the municipality has received an outpouring of community feedback ahead of Wednesday’s meeting and will have to find a “compromise” and tweak the plan. “We have to play with it to make sure we’re not getting too far away from what Bayfield is known for,” he said. “We don’t want it to look the same as any other downtown revitalization plan.” Whetstone added common requests from locals have been to bury utility lines underground, something for which the current plan doesn’t budget, and to increase trees. One major concern is that a construction project could be devastating for small businesses looking to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic. But Whetstone promised construction wouldn't take place during peak summer months, adding “minimal work” could only begin this fall. “We have to reach this balance in which we solve the problem of drainage and dirt, but yet not disrupt the charm,” said Stephen Baker, principal of the Virtual High School on Main Street and a Bayfield resident. But defining charm is “nebulous,” he said, adding some locals want to keep the village’s “quiet, subdued nature,” while others see foot traffic and tourists as a necessity for businesses. He said Bayfield doesn’t want to become a “cookie-cutter rendition” of other beach towns for the sake of added curbs and gutters. “A lot of people are saying we’re going a little bit too far to solve our problems and we’re doing more than what’s required,” to fix the drainage issues, Baker said. Lifelong Bayfield resident Tara Hessel said locals are “cut right down the middle” for and against the plan, with the sidewalk appearance a hot button issue. “The hardest problem is some people aren’t accepting of change, and change is going to happen,” she said. “What some people are trying to do is stop it and keep Bayfield a secret … (but) the businesses need tourists to succeed.” She said though some want to keep the gravel sidewalks for heritage, others feel it’s too messy, particularly when it rains and water pools. Hessel said a plan that provides safe, accessible walkways but still preserves some heritage — she’s suggesting cobblestone, like in the village park — is needed. “This a great opportunity for us to choose our change, make it a positive experience and make it better for the community.” firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter.com/MaxatLFPress Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
A man accused of cyberbullying the parents of a missing Nova Scotia boy on social media said Tuesday a Facebook group devoted to the child's case started with good intentions but spiralled out of control. Tom Hurley is one of the administrators of a Facebook group where people shared information and theories about the case of Dylan Ehler, a three-year-old boy who went missing in Truro, N.S., last year and has not been found. The Facebook group was one of several that became a source of anguish for Dylan's parents, Ashley Brown and Jason Ehler, after participants began accusing them of negligence and even murder. But Hurley said the group was originally meant to assist in the search for the boy. Three-year-old Dylan was last seen near Queen and Elizabeth streets in Truro, N.S., last May. Search and rescue teams have focused their efforts in and around Lepper Brook and the Salmon River, where they found a pair of the boy's boots.(Town of Truro/Facebook) "Our intentions were to try to help them find Dylan," Hurley said. "And it was going good from the beginning. And then something turned somewhere, somewhere along the line, it got turned around." Dylan was playing at his grandmother's house when he disappeared on May 6, 2020. His boots were located nearby shortly afterward, but no other trace of the toddler has ever been found. Police have said they do not believe there was any foul play in the child's disappearance. There were about 13 Facebook groups devoted to the case, Hurley said, but his is the only one that has ended up in court. Hurley said he deleted some posts, but they continued to circulate because users took screenshots of them. The boy's parents are using the Intimate Images and Cyber-protection Act to attempt to have Hurley's group permanently deleted. They are also seeking punitive damages. Lawyer Allison Harris, who is representing the boy's parents, said no monetary value has yet been set for those damages. Group's admin calls for apology 'on both sides' During an interview with reporters Tuesday, Hurley at one point said he didn't see any posts in the group that constituted cyberbullying or harassment, but at another point said "everybody was doing it." "We're not the only ones doing it. The only reason we're here today is because we didn't hide behind fake accounts like everybody else is doing," he said. Hurley also said Jason Ehler cyberbullied and issued threats in a Facebook group. "I think a sorry should be good on both sides," Hurley said. Father of missing boy says damage is done Ehler acknowledged he did make a threat once, but apologized right after. "You guys can't even imagine what they've said about us, you know? So try to sit there and not say anything, sometimes you slip and you say things," he said. Dylan's parents said the accusations in the group have caused them fear and anxiety, but they also worry the posts have distracted people from "the most important thing" — the search for their son. Ehler said an apology from Hurley would be nice, but "the damage is already done." The active search for Dylan was called off on May 12, 2020, 6 days after his disappearance.(Submitted by Ashley Brown) "How do you take that back?" said Ehler. "How do you take Ashley waking up every morning crying, you know, how do they take back us being nervous to go to the store because everybody looks at us like we could be murderers or we can be this or we could be that? "How do you take back the impact they put on my son's searches? How do they take back any of that? They can't take back any of that. What's done is done." The cyberbullying case will be back in court on April 6. Ehler and Brown said the police investigation into their son's disappearance is ongoing, and they will be meeting with police soon to talk about renewed searches this spring. MORE TOP STORIES
The Biden administration sanctioned seven mid-level and senior Russian officials on Tuesday, along with more than a dozen government entities, over a nearly fatal nerve-agent attack on opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his subsequent jailing. The measures, emphasizing the use of the Russian nerve agent as a banned chemical weapon, marked the Biden administration's first sanctions against associates of President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader was a favourite of former President Donald Trump even during covert Russian hacking and social media campaigns aimed at destabilizing the U.S. The government officials included at least four whom Navalny's supporters had directly asked the West to penalize, saying they were most involved in targeting him and other dissidents and journalists. However, the U.S. list did not include any of Russia's most powerful businesspeople and bankers, oligarchs whom Navalny has long said the West would have to sanction to get the attention of Putin. Tuesday's step “was not meant to be a silver bullet or an end date to what has been a difficult relationship with Russia,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “We expect the relationship to continue to be a challenge. We’re prepared for that.” The Biden administration also announced sanctions under the U.S. Chemical and Biological Weapons Control and Warfare Elimination Act for Russian entities, including those the U.S. said worked to research, develop and test chemical weapons. The U.S. intelligence community concluded with high confidence that Russia's Federal Security Service used the Russian nerve agent Novichok on Navalny last August, a senior administration official said. Russia says it had no role in any attack on the dissident. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Tuesday denounced the new U.S. sanctions as part of its “meddling in our internal affairs.” “We aren’t going to tolerate that,” Zakharova said in a statement, adding that “we will respond in kind.” “Attempts to put pressure on Russia with sanctions or other tools have failed in the past and will fail again,” she said. The Biden administration has pledged to confront Putin over alleged attacks on Russian opposition figures and alleged malign actions abroad, including the hacking of U.S. government agencies and U.S. businesses. Trump spoke admiringly of Putin and resisted criticism of Putin's government. That included dismissing U.S. intelligence findings that Russia had backed Trump in its covert campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. The administration co-ordinated the sanctions with the European Union, which added to its own sanctions Tuesday over the attack on Navalny. The U.S. and European Union shared concerns about “Russia’s deepening authoritarianism,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “The U.S. government has exercised its authorities to send a clear signal that Russia’s use of chemical weapons and abuse of human rights have severe consequences,” Blinken said in a statement. The individuals sanctioned by the U.S. included the head of Russia's Federal Security Service, the head of prisons, Kremlin and defence figures, and Russia's prosecutor general. The Biden administration had forecast for weeks that it would take action against Russia. Besides the Navalny sanctions, officials have said the administration plans to respond soon to the massive Russian hack of federal government agencies and private corporations that laid bare vulnerabilities in the cyber supply chain and exposed potentially sensitive secrets to elite Kremlin spies. Navalny, 44, was sickened by the Russian nerve agent in an attack that the United States and others linked to Putin’s security services. After months of recuperation in Germany, Navalny flew home to Moscow in January and was arrested on arrival for an alleged parole violation. His detention sparked street protests across Russia. Police arrested thousands of demonstrators. Authorities have transferred the opposition leader to a penal colony to begin serving a sentence, after what rights groups said was a show trial. Long a target in Russian government attempts to shut down dissent, Navalny has repeatedly appealed to the West to start targeting the most powerful business and financial oligarchs of his country, saying only then would Russian leaders take international sanctions seriously. Russia critic Bill Browder, a London-based investor, tweeted that he feared the new U.S. sanctions would be “way too little and not touch Putin’s billionaire cronies.” Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called the U.S. move overdue. Working with U.S. allies, “we must use an array of tools, including sanctions, to meaningfully deter, repel, and punish Moscow’s transgressions,” Schiff said in a statement. The U.S. government has previously censured behaviour by Russia that American officials saw as having violated international norms. In 2016, for instance, the Obama administration responded to interference by the Kremlin in the presidential election by expelling dozens of Russian diplomats who officials said were actually spies and by shuttering two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York. Trump's administration also took a handful of actions adverse to Moscow, including the closure of Russian consulates on the West Coast and the suspension of a nuclear arms treaty. ___ Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington, Aamer Madhani in Chicago, Lorne Cook in Brussels and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report. Ellen Knickmeyer, The Associated Press
For two communities that share so much, the dividing line between Collingwood and the Town of the Blue Mountains (TBM) has never felt more defined. Alar Soever, mayor for TBM says the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the political separation between Collingwood and TBM. “Now, it's unfortunate that Collingwood is in the grey zone. But, that just shows you that the county boundary is kind of an artificial construct,” Soever said. Collingwood sits in Simcoe County under the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit. While TBM sits in Grey County and falls under the Grey Bruce Health Unit. Earlier this week the two regions moved in opposite directions under the provincial COVID-19 reopening framework. Grey County moved forward into the green zone and Collingwood moving backwards into the grey zone. The vast difference in restrictions between the grey and green zones has created waves in the community, even pushing Collingwood town council to demand the health unit change the designation. But according to Soever, the issue goes far beyond the pandemic restrictions. He explained that county and public health borders are a serious problem that should be examined once the pandemic is behind us. “It's one of the issues that we bring up all the time. Collingwood is in Simcoe County and we are in Grey County, even though we really do have a lot in common,” Soever continued. “As Mayor Brian Saunderson has pointed out, we are tied economically and we are tied to the ski hills.” Soever said the two communities have more commonalities than differences and that it would be beneficial to have both communities residing in the same county and the same public health unit. “You really have to look at these political boundaries that are kind of artificial and are from years and years ago, and say do they still make sense? Because in terms of community character, if you look at Collingwood, TBM and Wasaga Beach, we have far more in common then Collingwood has the urbanized communities in southern Simcoe County.” He said its an issue that is constantly coming up at council table through various initiatives, including transportation, community safety plans, social service initiatives and housing. “There's an interesting discussion to be had. People claim that they are in the wrong colour zone? Well, maybe it's far more than that. Maybe, you're in the wrong political subdivision,” Soever said. Jennifer Golletz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca
OTTAWA — Canada's chief public health officer says new COVID-19 cases are starting to tick back up after a month-long decline, giving urgency to the question of who should receive doses of the newly approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine due to arrive in Canada Wednesday. The "moderate increase" at the national level noted by Dr. Theresa Tam is in keeping with models forecasting a spike in cases over the next two months unless stricter public health measures are imposed to combat more contagious strains of the virus. “The concern is that we will soon see an impact on hospitalization, critical care and mortality trends," Tam said Tuesday. Canada saw 2,933 new cases on average over the past week, a figure similar to last Friday's numbers that revealed week-over-week increases of between eight and 14 per cent in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. The uptick comes as provinces figure out how to allocate their various vaccines, especially as Canada receives 500,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced at the Serum Institute of India. About 445,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are also arriving this week, said Procurement Minister Anita Anand. Guidance on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine has caused some confusion. Health Canada authorized its use last week for all adults but the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends it not be administered to people 65 and over. The advisory committee cites concern over limited data from clinical trials for older patients. Health Canada also acknowledges that issue. But the advisory panel, which recommends how vaccines should be used, says the limitation means seniors should take priority for the two greenlighted mRNA vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — where dearth of data is not an issue. Alberta's health minister said Monday the province will not give Oxford-AstraZeneca's vaccine to anyone over 65. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Prince Edward Island are on similar courses, though details on who will get those jabs is not always clear. "With clinical testing of AstraZeneca limited to those under 65, we will need to adjust our plan to look at a parallel track for some of these more flexible vaccines in order to cast the widest net possible," the B.C. health ministry said in an email. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said B.C. will use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to target younger people who have more social interactions and who would have to wait much longer for the other vaccines. Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott characterized Oxford-AstraZeneca as "very versatile " because it lacks the same cold-storage requirements as the two other vaccines in use in Canada. It won't go to seniors, but she said shots might be administered in correctional facilities for that reason. P.E.I. will target AstraZeneca at "healthy younger individuals who are working in certain front-line, essential services," said Dr. Heather Morrison, the province's chief medical officer of health. Health officials in Quebec and New Brunswick say they await further advice from health authorities and are taking time to examine how to deploy the latest vaccine. Nova Scotia's chief medical health officer Dr. Robert Strang said the province has yet to give an answer to Ottawa "about whether we actually want to take the vaccine." All provinces must provide a response by midday Thursday, he said. Two experts say essential workers who are more likely to contract and transmit COVID-19 should be prioritized for immunization with the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses. Caroline Colijn, a COVID-19 modeller and mathematician at Simon Fraser University, and Horacio Bach, an adjunct professor in the division of infectious diseases at the University of British Columbia, also say the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine could be better promoted by provincial health officials as a strong alternative to the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. Oxford-AstraZeneca reported their vaccine is about 62 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19 while Pifzer-BioNTech and Moderna have said the efficacy of their vaccines is about 95 per cent. But Colijn and Bach say the fact there have been no hospitalizations from severe illness and no deaths among those receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine needs to be underscored because people awaiting immunization seem to be fixated on the higher efficacy data for the first two vaccines approved in Canada. "If the AstraZeneca vaccine will prevent you from getting really sick that's still a win for you," Colijn said. "I see this huge, huge benefit of vaccinating young people, particularly people with high contact, essential workers, sooner." No province has been spared from the increase in new variants circulating across the country, though several continue to ease anti-pandemic restrictions. Modelling from the Public Health Agency of Canada projected a steep surge in new cases starting late last month — and reaching 20,000 new cases a day before May — if public health measures weren't tightened. Since that Feb. 19 forecast, restrictions in many regions have loosened as Canadians return to restaurants, cinemas and hair salons. But Tam said Canada is gaining ground on "the vaccine-versus-variants leg of this marathon" every day. "Canada is prepared, and Canada remains on track," she said. Provinces have now reported 1,257 cases of the B.1.1.7 mutation that was first identified in the United Kingdom, 99 cases of the B. 188.8.131.52 strain first identified in South Africa, and three of the P. 1 variant first identified in Brazil. There have been 870,033 cases of COVID-19 in Canada and 22,017 deaths as of Monday night. There were 30,430 active cases across Canada, with an average of 42 deaths reported daily over the past week. Provinces are also figuring out whether to stick to the original injection schedules or extend the interval between doses beyond three or four weeks. The national advisory committee is expected to update its recommendations this week. Ontario is waiting for that guidance, while B.C. is pushing ahead with its plan to prolong the interval to four months. Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.'s provincial health officer, said Monday the decision was based on local and international evidence that shows the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines provides "miraculous" 90 per cent protection from the virus. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. — With files from Camille Bains, Kevin Bissett, Laura Dhillon Kane and Holly McKenzie-Sutter. Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press
VICTORIA — British Columbia's chief coroner says deadlier street drugs are behind another grim milestone in the province's overdose crisis as a record was set for the number of deaths in January. The BC Coroners Service says 165 people died from suspected overdoses in January, the largest number of lives lost due to illicit drugs in the first month of a calendar year. It says the deaths come amid a rise in drug toxicity, with almost one in five of the deaths involving extreme levels of fentanyl concentration — the largest number recorded to date. There were 14 deaths in which carfentanil was detected, the largest monthly figure involving the more lethal analogue of fentanyl since May 2019. More people died from illicit drug overdoses in British Columbia last year than in any year before. Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe says more than twice the number of people died in January 2021 compared with January 2020 and the drug toxicity shows a need for swift action. "The findings suggest that the already unstable drug supply in B.C. is becoming even deadlier, underscoring the urgent need for supervised consumption options, prescribing for safe supply, and accessible treatment and recovery services," she says in the statement. The report also notes recent increases in the presence of unprescribed benzodiazepines and its analogues, including etizolam. Since July 2020, etizolam has been identified in nearly one-third of illicit drug toxicity deaths where expedited testing was performed. In January, benzodiazepines and its analogues were detected in nearly half of all samples tested. The addition of etizolam to fentanyl increases the likelihood of overdose due to the combined respiratory depressant effects, the coroners service says. It says increased drug toxicity was responsible for an average of 5.3 lives lost each day in January.Premier John Horgan and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart have written letters to the federal government asking for an exemption that would allow for the decriminalization of drug possession for personal use.The City of Vancouver says it submitted a preliminary application to Health Canada on Monday outlining a health-focused "Vancouver model" for managing substance use and saving lives.It says in a statement its first application is based on consultation with Vancouver Coastal Health and police, and it details how the city plans to work with community organizations and people with lived experience to build on the submission.Alvin Singh, spokesman for the mayor's office, said they wouldn't share the document because they didn't want to "jeopardize the integrity of the application."However, he said the proposal would require police to determine if a person is in possession of drugs for personal use at the scene and no penalties or sanctions are envisioned at this stage. Instead, voluntary referrals would be made to Vancouver Coastal Health's overdose outreach team."However, this is preliminary thinking and much more work needs to be undertaken before a model is finalized," Singh said. Sheila Malcolmson, the minister of mental health and addictions, says in a statement that the pandemic has pushed people further into isolation, compounding the effects of stigma that drives people to use drugs alone.She says B.C. is working to add more treatment and recovery options, more services and supports, and to work with the federal government on decriminalization. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
HALIFAX — Just before two RCMP officers opened fire on a fellow officer and a civilian during last year's Nova Scotia mass shooting, they struggled with congested radio channels and mistook a man wearing a bright vest for the killer. These are among the fresh facts revealed Tuesday in a police watchdog agency report clearing the Mounties of criminal wrongdoing after they fired five shots with high-powered rifles outside the Onslow, N.S., firehall. The six-page report by the Serious Incident Response Team says the "totality of the evidence" prompted the officers to believe the killer was standing just 88 metres away from them on the morning of April 19. "They discharged their weapons in order to prevent further deaths or serious injuries .... The (officers) had reasonable grounds to believe the person they saw, who was disobeying their orders, was the mass murderer who had, in the preceding hour, killed three more persons," it concludes. The six-page document traces the 10:21 a.m. incident — which didn't result in deaths or injuries — to the early hours of the morning, when the two officers were recalled to duty at 3 a.m. for a briefing as the shootings that would take 22 lives unfolded. According to the report, they were told that the spouse of the killer had said the gunman was driving a replica RCMP car and was wearing an orange vest. "They learned that several children had witnessed their parents being shot dead .... The actual total number of victims was unknown at the time of the briefing because several buildings in Portapique were on fire, and whether there were additional victims had not yet been determined," the report says. They also had been briefed that the gunman had high-powered weapons with laser-mounted sights. Several hours after the first briefing, there were radio transmissions saying the killer had murdered a woman in Wentworth, N.S. At that point, the two officers were "transitioned from investigators to being involved in the hunt for the killer," the report says. Through the morning, reports of additional murders came over the radio, including two women in the Debert, N.S., area, which is about a 10-minute drive from the Onslow firehall. As they approached the firehall, which had been designated as a rest area, they saw a marked RCMP car parked in front and a man wearing a yellow and orange reflective vest standing next to the driver's door. According to the report, the two officers didn't realize a uniformed RCMP officer was sitting in the vehicle. The investigation says the two officers repeatedly tried to advise other RCMP officers by radio of what they were seeing but couldn't get through. Felix Cacchione, the director of SIRT, said in an email to The Canadian Press that he didn't have an exact time of arrival. "I can only extrapolate from the radio communications that it was about a minute before shots were fired," he wrote. According to the report, both officers got out of their vehicle with their rifles and were still unable to reach anyone on the radio. The report says they yelled "police," and "show your hands," but the civilian in the vest ducked behind the car before popping back up and running toward the firehall. The Mounties opened fire, with one officer firing four shots and the other a single shot. During the killer's 13-hour rampage, the report found, there were 7,731 radio transmissions over emergency response channels. It says the "sole reason" the reason the officers couldn't transmit before opening fire was because "there was no available talk path due to the heavy volume of radio traffic." It concluded the officers had a "lawful excuse" to fire their guns and didn't break Criminal Code provisions that prohibit officers from using their firearms in a careless manner. "Based on everything (the officers) had seen and heard since coming on duty and what they had just observed, they had reasonable grounds to believe that the (civilian in the vest) was the killer and someone who would continue his killing rampage," says the report. In a statement on its Facebook page Tuesday, the Onslow Belmont Fire Brigade said it is "frustrated and disappointed that there will be no accountability for the RCMP. Their actions that day endangered lives, damaged property and caused mental health issues for many of the people involved." An RCMP spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment about whether any disciplinary action has been taken against the two officers. This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 2, 2021. Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said both people shot at outside the firehall were RCMP officers.
WASHINGTON — FBI Director Christopher Wray bluntly labeled the January riot at the U.S. Capitol as “domestic terrorism” Tuesday and warned of a rapidly growing threat of homegrown violent extremism that law enforcement is scrambling to confront through thousands of investigations. Wray also defended to lawmakers his own agency's handling of an intelligence report that warned of the prospect for violence on Jan. 6. And he firmly rejected false claims advanced by some Republicans that anti-Trump groups had organized the deadly riot that began when a violent mob stormed the building as Congress was gathering to certify results of the presidential election. Wray's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, his first before Congress since the insurrection, was one in a series of hearings centred on the law enforcement response to the Capitol insurrection. Lawmakers pressed him not only about possible intelligence and communication failures ahead of the riot but also about the threat of violence from white supremacists, militias and other extremists that the FBI says it is prioritizing with the same urgency as the menace of international terrorism organizations. “Jan. 6 was not an isolated event. The problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a long time now and it’s not going away anytime soon,” Wray told lawmakers. “At the FBI, we’ve been sounding the alarm on it for a number of years now.” The violence at the Capitol made clear that a law enforcement agency that remade itself after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to deal with international terrorism is now labouring to address homegrown violence by white Americans. President Joe Biden’s administration has tasked his national intelligence director to work with the FBI and Department of Homeland Security to assess the threat. And in applying the domestic terrorism label to conduct inside the Capitol, Wray sought to make clear to senators that he was clear-eyed about the scope and urgency of the problem. In quantifying the scale of the FBI's work, Wray said the number of domestic terrorism investigations has increased from around 1,000 when he became director in 2017 to roughly 1,400 at the end of last year to about 2,000 now. The number of arrests of white supremacists and other racially motivated extremists has almost tripled, he said. Many of the senators' questions Tuesday centred on the FBI's handling of a Jan. 5 report from its Norfolk, Virginia, field office that warned of online posts foreshadowing a “war” in Washington the following day. Capitol Police leaders have said they were unaware of the report at the time, and the former chief of the department has said he received no intelligence from the FBI that would have led him to anticipate the sort of violence that besieged them on the 6th. Five people died that day, including a Capitol Police officer and a woman who was shot as she tried to climb through a smashed window into the House chamber with lawmakers still inside. Wray said the report was disseminated though the FBI’s joint terrorism task force, discussed at a command post in Washington and posted on an internet portal available to other law enforcement agencies. Though the information was raw, unverified and appeared aspirational in nature, Wray said, it was specific and concerning enough that “the smartest thing to do, the most prudent thing to do, was just push it to the people who needed to get it.” “We did communicate that information in a timely fashion to the Capitol Police and (Metropolitan Police Department) in not one, not two, but three different ways,” Wray said, though he added that since the violence that ensued was “not an acceptable result,” the FBI was looking into what it could have done differently. He said he was “reluctant to armchair quarterback anyone else in their jobs,” but the FBI was determined to prevent a repeat of Jan. 6. “We find it personally infuriating any time we are not able, as I said, to bat 1,000. And we’re going to keep working to get better,” he said. The sprawling Justice Department investigation into the riot has already produced hundreds of charges, including against members of militia groups and far-right organizations. The crowd in Washington that day ranged from protesters who did not break any laws to a smaller group that arrived determined to commit violence against police and disrupt Congress from its duties, Wray said. “Some of those people clearly came to Washington, we now know, with the plans and intentions to engage in the worst kind of violence we would consider domestic terrorism," he said. Asked whether there was evidence that the attack was planned or carried out by antifa — an umbrella term for leftist militants — or by Trump opponents posing as his loyalists, Wray said that there was not. Some on the right have made such false contentions. Even as the FBI prioritizes its efforts to counter domestic violent extremism, there are challenges confronting law enforcement, including in separating mere chatter from actual threats and in First Amendment protections that give ample leeway to espouse racist or otherwise abhorrent viewpoints. "The amount of angry, hateful, unspeakable, combative, violent even, rhetoric on social media exceeds what anybody in their worst imagination (thinks) is out there,” Wray said. Wray has kept a notably low profile since the Capitol attack. Though he has briefed lawmakers privately and shared information with local law enforcement, Tuesday's oversight hearing marked his first public appearance before Congress since before November's presidential election. ____ Follow Eric Tucker at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP. Eric Tucker And Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press