Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti checks in with The Morning Show to answer our latest COVID-19 questions.
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti checks in with The Morning Show to answer our latest COVID-19 questions.
(NASA/JPL-Caltech - image credit) When the Perseverance rover successfully landed on Mars last month, it arrived with a B.C.-made tool in its figurative tool belt. The six-wheeled, plutonium-powered U.S. rover landed on the red planet on Feb. 18, with a mandate to drill down and collect tiny geological specimens that will be returned to NASA in about 2031. That drilling will be done using a drill bit tip designed and manufactured by a company based in Langford, B.C. "It has great wear and fraction resistance so it is perfect for a Mars application," said Ron Sivorat, business director for Kennametal Inc., during an interview on CBC's All Points West. The drill bit tip is made from K92-grade tungsten carbide blanks, which Sivorat said are one of the toughest grades used for drilling here on earth and he is confident it will be good enough for Mars. According to Sivorat, the company has had a relationship with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2014, when the space agency first began ordering and testing Kennametal Inc. drill bit tips. In 2018, the company learned NASA wanted to work with it to build a bit for Perseverance. Sivorat said staff built the drill bit to NASA's specifications and then sent it to the agency who finessed it somewhat for its Mars mission. When Perseverance landed safely on the fourth planet from the sun, it was an exciting moment for Kennametal Inc. employees, many of whom watched the landing online and are continuing to check on Perservance's daily progress updates. "We know that we are going to be part of, in one way or another, an historical event that will be remembered for many years to come," said Sivorat. Sivorat said he expects the drill bit built in B.C. to start penetrating the surface of Mars in the next couple of weeks. And B.C. is not the only Canadian province with a connection to Perseverance. Canadian Photonic Labs, based in Minnedosa, Man., manufactured a high-speed and highly-durable camera that played an instrumental role in landing the rover. The Manitoba company's relationship with NASA dates back roughly 15 years, he said — but much of the work that's happened in that time has been cloaked in secrecy.
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 began expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 22, opening community clinics for people aged 80 years and older. Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, has said the province's plan is to open another 10 clinics in March for 48,000 people who will be mailed a letter informing them how to book an appointment. Strang said the vaccination program will then expand to the next age group in descending order until everyone in the province is offered the chance to be immunized. The age groups will proceed in five-year blocks. Future community clinics are to be held March 8 in Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro; March 15 in Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth; and March 22 in Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth. The province began its vaccination campaign with residents of long-term care homes, those who work directly with patients, those who are 80 and older, and those who are at risk for other reasons including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities. 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 The province says the first phase of its vaccination drive, currently slated to last until the end of March, targets residents and staff of long-term and community care, as well as health-care workers with direct patient contact at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure. Those 80 and older, adults in Indigenous communities, and truck drivers and other rotational workers are also included. The next phase, which is scheduled to begin in April, will target those above 70 and essential workers. The province intends to make the vaccine available to everyone in late summer and fall. --- 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 on 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. The province says the vaccination of children and pregnant women will be determined based on future studies of vaccine safety and efficacy in those populations. --- 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. --- 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. --- 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 also says first responders and essential workers may be eligible to get vaccinated starting in April as the province also decides on a strategy for the newly authorized AstraZeneca vaccine. --- 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 2, 2021. The Canadian Press
Another type of COVID-19 vaccine was authorized by Health Canada on Friday. The new vaccines are manufactured by AstraZeneca, and developed in partnership with Oxford University. Canada also approved the Serum Institute of India’s version of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Afterwards, Anita Anand, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement announced that Canada has secured two million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine through an agreement with Verity Pharmaceuticals Canada Inc./Serum Institute of India. AstraZeneca has licensed the manufacture of its ChAdOx1 vaccine to the Serum Institute. The first 500,000 doses will be delivered to Canada in the coming weeks. The remaining 1.5 million doses are expected to arrive by mid-May. “The Government of Canada continues to do everything possible to protect Canadians from COVID-19. This includes securing a highly diverse and extensive portfolio of vaccines and taking all necessary measures to ready the country to receive them,” Anand said in a release. “We remain fully on track to ensure that there will be a sufficient supply so that every eligible Canadian who wants a vaccine will have access to one by the end of September. I am grateful for the collaboration of our partners in India to finalize this agreement, and I look forward to continuing to work closely together in the weeks ahead.” The two million doses secured through this agreement are in addition to the 20 million doses already secured through an earlier agreement with AstraZeneca. Health Canada’s authorization of the AstraZeneca vaccine allows the Government of Canada to advance its work with AstraZeneca to finalize delivery schedules for the 20 million doses. The application for authorization from AstraZeneca was received on Oct. 1, 2020 and from from Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc./Serum Institute of India (in partnership with AstraZeneca Canada Inc.) on January 23, 2021. After thorough, independent reviews of the evidence, the Department has determined that these vaccines meet Canada’s stringent safety, efficacy and quality requirements. These are the first viral vector-based vaccines authorized in Canada. These are also two-dose regiments and can be kept refrigerated for at least six months. Health Canada’s authorization of the Verity Pharmaceuticals Inc./Serum Institute of India product relies on the assessment of its comparability to the AstraZeneca-produced version of the vaccine.. These vaccines were authorized with terms and conditions under Health Canada’s Interim Order on the importation of drugs for COVID-19 The process allowed Health Canada to assess information submitted by the manufacturer as it became available during the product development process, while maintaining Canadian standards. Health Canada has placed terms and conditions on the authorizations requiring the manufacturers to continue providing information to Health Canada on the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccines to ensure their benefits continue to be demonstrated through market use. Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada will closely monitor the safety. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
NASHVILLE — Rita Fentress was worried she might get lost as she travelled down the unfamiliar forested, one-lane road in rural Tennessee in search of a coronavirus vaccine. Then the trees cleared and the Hickman County Agricultural Pavilion appeared. The 74-year-old woman wasn’t eligible to be vaccinated in Nashville, where she lives, because there were so many health care workers to vaccinate there. But a neighbour told her the state's rural counties had already moved to younger age groups and she found an appointment 60 miles away. “I felt kind of guilty about it,” she said. “I thought maybe I was taking it from someone else.” But late that February day, she said there were still five openings for the next morning. The U.S. vaccine campaign has heightened tensions between rural and urban America, where from Oregon to Tennessee to upstate New York complaints are surfacing of a real — or perceived — inequity in vaccine allocation. In some cases, recriminations over how scarce vaccines are distributed have taken on partisan tones, with rural Republican lawmakers in Democrat-led states complaining of “picking winners and losers,” and urbanites travelling hours to rural GOP-leaning communities to score COVID-19 shots when there are none in their city. In Oregon, state GOP lawmakers walked out of a Legislative session last week over the Democratic governor's vaccine plans, citing rural vaccine distribution among their concerns. In upstate New York, public health officials in rural counties have complained of disparities in vaccine allocation and in North Carolina, rural lawmakers say too many doses were going to mass vaccine centres in big cities. In Tennessee, Missouri and Alabama, a dearth of shots in urban areas with the greatest number of health care workers has led senior citizens to snap up appointments hours from their homes. The result is a hodgepodge of approaches that can look like the exact opposite of equity, where those most likely to be vaccinated are people with the savvy and means to search out a shot and travel to wherever it is. “It’s really, really flawed,” said Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, who noted there are even vaccine hunters who will find a dose for money. “Ideally, allocations would meet the population’s needs.” With little more than general guidance from the federal government, states have taken it upon themselves to decide what it means to distribute the vaccine fairly and reach vulnerable populations. Tennessee, like many states, has divvied up doses based primarily on county population, not on how many residents belong to eligible groups — such as health care workers. The Tennessee health commissioner has defended the allocation as the “most equitable,” but the approach has also exposed yet another layer of haves and have-nots as the vaccine rollout accelerates. In Oregon, the issue led state officials to pause dose deliveries in some rural areas that had finished inoculating their health care workers while clinics elsewhere, including the Portland metro area, caught up. The dust-up last month prompted an angry response, with some state GOP lawmakers accusing the Democratic governor of playing favourites with the urban dwellers who elected her. Public health leaders in Morrow County, a farming region in northeastern Oregon with one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates, said they had to delay two vaccine clinics because of the state's decision. Other rural counties delayed vaccines for seniors. States face plenty of challenges. Rural counties are less likely to have the deep-freeze equipment necessary to store Pfizer vaccines. Health care workers are often concentrated in big cities. And rural counties were particularly hard hit by COVID-19 in many states, but their residents are among the most likely to say they're “definitely not” going to get vaccinated, according to recent Kaiser Family Foundation polling. Adalja said most of these complications were foreseeable and could have been avoided with proper planning and funding. “There are people who know how to do this,” he said. “They're just not in charge of it.” In Missouri, where Facebook groups have emerged with postings about appointment availabilities in rural areas, state Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, a Democrat from the Kansas City suburb of Independence, cited a need to direct more vaccine to urban areas. The criticism drew an angry rebuke from Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who said vaccine distribution has been proportional to the population and critics are using “cherry-picked” data. “There is no division between rural and urban Missouri,” Parson said during his weekly COVID-19 update last week. In Republican-led Tennessee, Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey notes that the Trump administration deemed the state’s plan among the nation's most equitable. Extra doses go to 35 counties with a high social vulnerability index score — many small and rural, but also Shelby County, which includes Memphis, with a large Black population. Last week, state officials revealed some 2,400 doses had been wasted in Shelby County over the past month due to miscommunication and insufficient record-keeping. The county also built up nearly 30,000 excessive doses in its inventory. The situation caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate and the county health director to resign. In Nashville, Democratic Mayor John Cooper says the fact that city residents can get shots elsewhere is a positive, even if the road trips are “a little bit of a pain.” “I’m grateful that other counties have not said, ‘Oh my gosh, you have to be a resident of this county always to get the vaccine,’” Cooper said. Nashville educators Jennifer Simon and Jessica Morris took sick days last week to make the four-hour round-trip to tiny Van Buren County, population less than 6,000. They got their first shots there in January, when Republican Gov. Bill Lee was pushing Nashville and Memphis area schools to return to in-person classes. Republican lawmakers even threatened to pull funding from districts that remained online. In-person classes started a couple weeks ago, but the city only began vaccinating teachers last week. “It was scary, frustrating, and feeling really betrayed,” Simon said. ____ Flaccus reported from Portland, Oregon. Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri; Bryan Anderson in Raleigh, N.C., and Carla Johnson in Washington state contributed. Travis Loller, Jonathan Mattise And Gillian Flaccus, The Associated Press
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield's next adventure will be set in the far-off world of space fiction. Random House Canada announced on Tuesday that Hadfield's debut novel, "The Apollo Murders," is scheduled to hit shelves on Oct. 12. In a statement, Hadfield says the thriller will be rooted in the "little-known reality" of the Cold War-era space race, and will feature characters both real and imagined. Random House Canada says the story centres on a NASA crew racing against their Soviet rivals to reach the far side of the moon, but someone on-board the Apollo module has "murder on the mind." The publisher says the plot's twists and turns will be enriched by Hadfield's real-life knowledge of the otherworldly thrills of terrors of space flight. The former commander of the International Space Station already has a proven track record as a bestselling author, with previous titles including "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth," "You Are Here" and children's book "The Darkest Dark." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2021. The Canadian Press
TORONTO — The Weeknd's "Blinding Lights" is making Canadian history on Spotify. The Toronto-raised singer's hit single has become the first song by a Canadian artist to pass two billion plays on the streaming platform. And he's only the fourth artist in the world to join this elite group of massively popular songs. Ahead of him is "Dance Monkey" by Australia's Tones and I (2.1 billion streams), "Rockstar" by American Post Malone (2.12 billion) and the leader "Shape of You" from English singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran (2.7 billion). A couple of other Canadians could also reach two billion streams with one of their songs later this year. Drake's "One Dance" is teetering around the mark with 1.98 billion streams, which ranks him one spot behind the Weeknd as the No. 5 most-streamed song. Shawn Mendes' "Senorita" is at No. 9 with 1.7 billion plays. The Weeknd's streaming numbers were helped by his performance at the Super Bowl, which gave his entire catalogue of albums a boost. But it's fellow Torontonian Drake who holds the biggest streaming crown on Spotify. He earned the platform's most-streamed artist of the decade honour at the end of 2019. Follow @dfriend on Twitter. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 24, 2021. David Friend, The Canadian Press
L'hôpital Temiskaming a été désigné comme hôpital de niveau « 1 », à choisir avec soins, au Canada. Cette désignation est accordée aux hôpitaux qui se sont engagés à lutter contre les tests et les traitements inutiles. Cette distinction témoigne de la qualité des soins les plus sûrs et de meilleurs services offerts aux patients. L'hôpital de Temiskaming est l'un des 18 hôpitaux canadiens et des 13 hôpitaux de l'Ontario à recevoir une telle désignation de niveau « 1 ». Une reconnaissance pour les professionnels de la santé Les tests et les traitements inutiles constituent un problème omniprésent dans les soins de santé et entraînent souvent une augmentation des temps d'attente pour les patients. Cette désignation reconnaît les efforts déployés par les professionnels de la santé pour améliorer les services à l’hôpital Temiskaming et les soins accordés à ses patients. « L'Hôpital de Temiskaming accorde une grande importance aux initiatives d'amélioration de la qualité pour soutenir la prestation de soins fondés sur des données probantes » fait savoir la directrice des soins infirmiers et directrice des soins aux patients l’hôpital de Temiskaming, madame Erin Montgomery. Un autre objectif fixé Cette désignation qui comporte plusieurs d’autres niveaux incite les professionnels et les employeurs de l’Hôpital de Temiskaming à continuer leur bel engagement sur cette voie de qualité. D’ailleurs leur prochain objectif est d’obtenir une désignation de niveau 2 d'ici le 31 mars 2022. « Avec le soutien du Conseil de la qualité et de la sécurité des patients de l'hôpital, du Comité de la qualité des soins, du Comité consultatif médical et du Comité de planification de la qualité et des services, l'Hôpital Temiskaming s'est engagé à obtenir cette désignation au niveau canadien, je tiens à féliciter toute notre équipe et les membres pour leurs efforts au cours des derniers mois » souligne Montgomery. Un travail fort et homogène Le président et Chef de la direction de l’hôpital de Temiskaming, monsieur Mike Baker, a exprimé sa fierté quant à l’obtention de cette distinction. « La force de notre équipe à l'hôpital de Temiskaming réside dans la façon dont nous travaillons ensemble pour développer des solutions ». « Les médecins, le personnel clinique et l'administration ont travaillé ensemble pour l’obtention de cette désignation reconnue à l'échelle nationale et qui permettra de continuer à améliorer directement les soins aux patients pour notre communauté » a-t-il conclu. Moulay Hicham Mouatadid, Initiative de journalisme local, Reflet Témiscamien (Le)
TORONTO — Disney Plus is introducing viewers to its older sibling: a new streaming hub named Star. After establishing itself as the family-friendly home to Disney, Pixar and Marvel movies, the Disney Plus platform is opening the gates to a dedicated space for more grown-up tastes. Within its existing platform, more than 150 TV series and 500 movies will be available to Canadians on Star's Tuesday launch date — but it comes with a catch. Some buzzy titles from Disney-owned U.S. streaming platform Hulu are still missing, and you can't subscribe to Star without being signed up for Disney Plus. It's part of a move by Disney to raise monthly subscription fees for all users while presenting them with more programming from Disney-owned ABC television, 20th Century Studios and the FX channel. Monthly rates will jump from $8.99 to $11.99 for Canadian subscribers who sign up starting Tuesday, while the price increase will take effect for existing monthly and annual fee subscribers after Aug. 22. Star will appeal to viewers who once might've enjoyed roaming the aisles of the video store searching for older comedy, drama and action flicks. Many of its titles stretch back decades — major franchises "Alien," "Planet of the Apes" and "Die Hard" among them. The slate of TV shows include Jennifer Garner action series "Alias" and "Family Guy," as well as retro classics "Hill Street Blues" and "M.A.S.H." On the newer side, Disney will grant access to a few Hulu productions that never saw the light of day in Canada. Most notably, teen drama series "Love, Victor," a spinoff of the film "Love, Simon," will be available on launch date. However, as per usual, an array of complicated rights deals with Canadian broadcasters and streaming companies mean that many other Disney-owned shows and movies won't be on the platform. And what's missing may seem glaringly obvious to contemporary viewers hoping for the hottest new Hulu hits. For instance, "Framing Britney Spears," the buzzworthy Hulu documentary that set social media afire earlier this month, will be headed to Bell's Crave on Friday. Also missing is "Run," the Sarah Paulson thriller and last year's horror-comedy "Bad Hair." Other popular Hulu series are tied up in licensing deals elsewhere, including "The Handmaid's Tale" with Crave and "Pen15" with CBC Gem. Add to that Disney's complicated relationship with FX programming, which is coming to Star in dribs and drabs. Some of the biggest FX titles, notably "American Horror Story" and "Pose," are part of an ongoing licensing deal with the FX Canada channel, owned by the media division of Rogers Communications Inc. That goes for acclaimed miniseries "Mrs. America" and "Fosse/Verdon," too. "We will have some FX content," assured Greg Mason, vice president of marketing at Walt Disney Studios Canada, pointing to biker gang drama "Sons of Anarchy" as one example. "It will be a little bit of a blend for a while and we're going to see how that unravels." Mason said the goal is to raise Star's movie selection to 800 titles by the end of the year, while bulking up the amount of original programming. For parents, Disney has expanded its ratings control system so that children's account profiles can be locked out of content deemed inappropriate for their age level. For instance, parents of young teenagers could filter out R-rated content, which in the case of the Marvel catalogue would make the more violent Wolverine action film "Logan" invisible on their profile. "Every parent is different for what they're after for their children," Mason said. "We wanted to give them that flexibility." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021 Companies in this story: (TSX:RCI.B) David Friend, The Canadian Press
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said a "disappointing" $1.7 billion had been pledged by countries on Monday for humanitarian aid in Yemen - less than half the $3.85 billion the world body was seeking for 2021 to avert a large-scale famine. Childhood in Yemen is a special kind of hell. Some 16 million Yemenis - more than half the population of the Arabian Peninsula country - are going hungry, the United Nations says.
MOSCOW — Two top United Nations human rights experts urged an international probe into the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and called Monday for his immediate release from prison. Agnès Callamard, the Special U.N. Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and Irene Khan, the Special U.N. Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said Navalny’s poisoning was intended to “send a clear, sinister warning that this would be the fate of anyone who would criticize and oppose the government.” “Given the inadequate response of the domestic authorities, the use of prohibited chemical weapons, and the apparent pattern of attempted targeted killings, we believe that an international investigation should be carried out as a matter of urgency in order to establish the facts and clarify all the circumstances concerning Mr. Navalny’s poisoning," they said in a statement. Navalny, the most prominent critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, fell sick on Aug. 20 during a domestic flight in Russia and was flown while still in a coma to Berlin for treatment two days later. Labs in Germany, France and Sweden, and tests by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, established that he was exposed to a Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent. Russian authorities have denied any involvement in the poisoning. In December, Navalny released the recording of a phone call he said he made to a man he described as an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, who purportedly poisoned him in August and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as a fake. Callamard and Khan on Monday published their official letter sent to the Russian authorities in December and noted that “the availability of Novichok and the expertise required in handling it and in developing a novel form such as that found in Mr. Navalny’s samples could only be found within and amongst state actors.” The experts emphasized in the letter that Navalny “was under intensive government surveillance at the time of the attempted killing, making it unlikely that any third party could have administered such a banned chemical without the knowledge of the Russian authorities.” Navalny was arrested on Jan. 17 upon returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from the nerve agent poisoning. The arrest triggered massive protests, to which the Russian authorities responded with a sweeping crackdown. Last month, Navalny was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated — and which the European Court of Human Rights has ruled to be unlawful. Last week, Navalny was sent to serve his prison sentence to a prison outside Moscow despite the ECHR's demand for his release, which cited concerns for his safety. Russian officials have dismissed demands from the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and stop the crackdown on his supporters. Mikhail Galperin, Russia's deputy justice minister, charged Monday that Moscow has contested the ECHR's ruling demanding Navalny's release in a letter sent to the Strasbourg-based court. Meanwhile, the UN rights experts noted that an international probe into Navalny's poisoning is “especially critical” now when he is in prison. They called for his immediate release and reminded Russia that it's “responsible for the care and protection of Mr. Navalny in prison and that it shall be held responsible for any harm that may befall him.” Vladimir Isachenkov, The Associated Press
It’s getting crowded on the fence. Some Caledon council members have climbed on top, joining colleagues in Brampton. In public statements issued last week, Councillor Jennifer Innis and Mayor Allan Thompson have attempted to rewrite their history of support for the GTA West Highway. For years, councillors in Caledon have pushed planning for the route, also known as Highway 413. This support has ranged from enthusiastic endorsement of an environmental assessment (EA) needed for the project, to statements backing the highway itself. Thompson has been particularly forceful, and along with Innis and Councillor Johanna Downey they have consistently voted in support of efforts meant to clear the way for a new 400-series highway that would rip through Caldedon’s agricultural lands and encroach on the protected Greenbelt. The project would be an environmental disaster, according to a number of groups now fighting to stop the Doug Ford PC government from pushing forward with the plan despite the conclusion of an expert panel in 2018 that recommended scrapping the idea. That’s what the previous Liberal government did. But, with the support of Caledon’s leaders, and after making promises to developers, Ford put the project back on the table. Now, as the public and environmental groups mount a fierce opposition to the highway, supported by a growing number of municipal councils, elected officials in Peel have found themselves under pressure to take a stand. The highway is a contradiction of policies in all three of Peel’s municipalities and at the Region itself. From active transportation plans and environmental master plans to transit expansion, smart growth and climate emergency declarations, a massive 400-series highway corridor makes a mockery of these previously approved commitments. In Mississauga, council members recently acknowledged this and on Wednesday endorsed a powerfully worded motion opposing the route’s construction. It did not mince words: “WHEREAS the proposed Hwy 413 will slash a broad 59 km swath through agricultural, natural heritage and environmentally sensitive lands - bisecting 85 streams (10 of which are ecologically high priority) destroying seven entire wood lots including a 5.95 km length of forest, significantly fragmenting valley lands, disrupting 1,000 ha of land significant to wildlife movement - making serious incursions into areas protected under the Greenbelt Plan; WHEREAS the 413 project would create 8.8 million square metres of paved surface, right of way land and Transitway property (880 hectares/2174 acres), the equivalent of 13.59 functioning Ontario farms without consideration of the added Transitway Corridor; WHEREAS the 413 project will include a minimum of 60 metres for an adjoining transit way, in addition to 110 metres of vehicle lanes and another 60 metre right of way for a Transmission Corridor to support the sprawling employment buildings and residential subdivisions that will follow the highway; WHEREAS a significant number of reputable organizations have demanded the cancellation of the project, including: Environmental Defence, the David Suzuki Foundation, the Federation of Urban Neighbourhoods, Gravelwatch, Halton Environmental Network, National Farmers’ Union-Ontario, Rescue Lake Simcoe Coalition, Sustainable Vaughan, Transport Action Ontario, the Wilderness Committee and Sustainable Mississauga; as well as formal votes from the municipalities of Halton Hills and Orangeville; WHEREAS the TRCA - which is the regulatory authority for developments in flood plains, wetlands and valley lands - has also objected to the potential impact of the proposed highway as well as the streamlined Environmental Assessment process, as has the Region of Peel… Be it resolved that The Council of the City of Mississauga approve the following… Strong opposition in principle to construction of any transportation corridor transversing the Region of Peel, but specifically the currently proposed GTA West 413 highway.” The approved motion, which was moved by Councillor Carolyn Parrish, called for it to be shared with Brampton, Caledon and Peel councils. But when it was brought forward at Peel Regional Council the next day for a vote some members from Caledon and Brampton stood on the fence. For Thompson, Innis and Downey it’s a move toward the will of the public, away from their previous support for the highway, but they remain unwilling to go all the way. Along with Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown, who has aggressively pushed the highway and even pointed out he was the one who put it on the PC party platform during the 2018 election campaign, when he was the leader, some members of Peel Council have refused to take a firm stand against the construction of the 413 Highway. Twelve members managed to stop the vote Thursday, instead passing a motion to have staff study the implications. Caledon’s position could determine the future of growth in the GTA’s largest remaining stretch of undeveloped land. The municipality, geographically larger than the City of Toronto, will house hundreds of thousands of Ontarians over the next few decades. Growth targets set by the Province mean it will inevitably transition from a collection of rural townships, dotted with family farms and countryside houses, to a development hotspot. To the south, Brampton and Mississauga offer cautionary tales of how to manage this transition from rural to urban. Both grew lazily, spreading out around highways with subdivisions gobbling up farmland and creating an environmental nightmare. The costs of sprawl are still wreaking havoc on Mississauga and Brampton finances, as the price of spreading services out to far flung corners of each municipality, where people live in low density enclaves that require incredibly expensive infrastructure, eat up annual budgets. Cities do very well when gathering large amounts of property tax revenue from a small footprint, while all the required infrastructure can be delivered to one spot. A 15-storey condo building with 100 units can provide $300,000 of annual property tax revenue, while expensive roads and utilities along with fire, paramedics, transit and policing can be delivered right to one block. A subdivision model with single family homes requires far more infrastructure costs to reach each unit, while generating just a fraction of the property tax revenue. Toronto home owners, thanks to a much more dense built form, pay far less in taxes compared to their Peel counterparts. According to 2018 Toronto Real Estate Board data, Toronto East residents paid $4,905 in property taxes on an average house assessed at $772,000. Brampton residents paid $7,207 on an average house despite a lower assessed value of $696,000. In Mississauga the average amount was $5,980 for a home assessed at $726,000. Both Peel cities are now faced with the difficult task of densifying previous sprawl, running transit to subdivisions and convincing local residents — who bought a slice of suburbia — they should accept condominium towers overlooking their backyards. It’s not easy. Rather than following the same, destructive development pattern, Caledon is being encouraged to build density and complete communities from the beginning. Instead of swallowing up the white-belt (land sandwiched between Brampton and the Greenbelt) with sprawling single-family subdivisions, it could use a far smaller area for its urban footprint and bring density and transit to its growth strategy. But the subdivision developers have already bought up most of the land along the GTA West Highway corridor and they stand to make a fortune, just as they have for decades with their sprawling approach that gets pushed on helpless municipalities represented by politicians funded by the same developers. York University political science professor Robert MacDermid studied campaign contributions for the 2014 municipal election and found that in areas where growth and new developments were still happening at rapid rates, builders controlled the financing of candidates. More than 300 candidates who ran in 13 municipalities were studied across the GTA and areas such as Barrie. Developers made up by far the largest share of private-sector funding, and even rules introduced since, prohibiting corporate, private-sector funding in municipal elections, are easily skirted by simply sending in donations through individuals. The most alarming revelation from MacDermid’s work was the reporting that 60 percent of the corporate donations to candidates in 2014 came from outside the municipality where the individual was running. These developers had little interest in issues impacting the communities, they simply wanted to influence elected officials on growth and planning matters that had a direct impact on their profits. But now, Caldedon residents are voicing their frustration over the takeover of planning in their community by developers who use elected officials to do their bidding. At the heart of the confrontation is the 413 Highway. If the GTA West Corridor is constructed, it will encourage developers to slap together traditional subdivisions where residents hop in their car and onto the highway, without a thought for public transit or the effects on climate change. Despite paying homage to the environment in their council speeches, and Innis’s role as chair of the Toronto Region Conservation Authority, neither she nor Thompson has condemned the highway outright, but both are now saying they have not explicitly supported it either. Watching Brampton asking for a boulevard, while supporting the highway might have given Caledon ideas. If Patrick Brown and his council can have their cake and eat it, then Thompson and his colleagues would like a slice. Both Thompson and Innis have recently issued statements in response to articles in The Pointer and the Toronto Star saying they have only ever supported the EA process for the GTA West Corridor and not the highway itself. It’s a difficult position to maintain in the face of their historical record, especially for Thompson who has been vocal in his support for the highway on several occasions. “The article falsely indicated that myself and other Councillors urged the province to complete the GTA West and we did not,” Thompson said in his recent statement. “We asked the Province to complete the Environmental Assessment (EA).” The statement stands in direct contrast to comments he has made in the past, explicitly expressing support for the highway. He, Innis and Downey have also offered implicit support by encouraging the EA process. In December 2017, Thompson appeared in a Brampton Focus video entitled “Live Town Hall”. Around the video’s halfway point, the host asks Thompson if he is “in support of that GTA West Corridor?” “I am,” Thompson responds. “To me, in order for us to bring growth and jobs to Caledon, it’s essential.” In the conversation, the Caledon mayor goes on to say Toronto “needs a ring road”, arguing that “we just don’t have enough infrastructure for what we’re trying to move” and adding, “we definitely need road infrastructure to move stuff”. Thompson also mentions the environmental assessment, but he does not separate it from support for the highway, making statements that demonstrate clear support for the project. There are several other examples of Thompson’s historical support for the highway. The Pointer sent Thompson detailed questions asking him to articulate his position, if he now opposes the GTA West Corridor and to explain how he could support the EA and not the construction of the road that would traditionally follow. The mayor provided only one short response, failing to reply to a follow-up email or address contradictory statements he has made in the past. “To be clear my support and Caledon’s comments have been centered around the EA,” he wrote. He did not directly address a comment he made in 2018 where he said he had spoken at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference “about the importance of the new highway to the future of our community” or a separate comment in which he said, “the GTA West Corridor has already been identified as an necessary piece of growth infrastructure.” The top item on the Caledon Council 2018-2022 Work Plan states: “Continue to advocate for provincial highway infrastructure including the highway 427 extension and highway 413 (GTA West Corridor).” When the highway was cancelled in 2018 by the previous Liberal government, Thompson released an official statement on Caledon’s website: “The GTA West Corridor has been identified as a necessary piece of growth infrastructure to help alleviate congestion on Caledon roads and gridlock throughout the GTA… I am disappointed that the Province has discontinued the EA process,” Thompson said. Then, after Ford reactivated the EA and the project, Thompson released the following statement in late 2018: “The continuation of the EA on the GTA West Corridor has been an advocacy priority for Council for a number of years,” Thompson said. “Just last August, we met with the new Ford Government and the Ministry of Transportation at the last AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) Conference to speak about the importance of the new highway to the future of our community.” Now, Thompson is somehow trying to separate his support for the current EA from his previous aggressive lobbying to get the 413 Highway built. “What Caledon residents don’t want to see is our small and picturesque local roads, villages and hamlets used as thru roads for people and goods across the GTHA and I hope the Province looks carefully at that in their planning,” Thompson added in his response to The Pointer. It is unclear what he meant by this statement and he did not respond to a request for clarification. Thompson’s recent statements have framed the EA as vital to Caledon’s forward planning because it will offer detailed analysis of the whitebelt. This position does not acknowledge that the completion of the EA is the final step before beginning construction of the 400-series highway and that supporting the EA is equivalent to supporting the forward progress of the project. Muddying the waters is the Province’s stated desire to expedite the EA and get early infrastructure for the highway started. A move Thompson and Innis have pushed. Their contradictions were singled out by Region of Peel Chair Nando Iannicca on Thursday. “Well, if you don’t want the highway, why do you want the assessment, I don’t understand,” he said, referring to the willingness of Thompson and his Caledon colleagues, and others, who now say they support an EA, which is the required mechanism to get the highway built. Regional Council, with Thompson, Innis, Downey and Brown’s support, voted to defer a decision on the Mississauga motion until Peel staff bring forward a report on the potential implications. Innis, despite her role as chair of TRCA, which is opposed to the highway, has not voiced opposition to the project. She was behind a push in October 2019 to ask the Province to speed up its EA process for the highway, a move that would ultimately deliver the highway faster. “Time is of the essence,” she told provincial officials at a regional council meeting, exhorting them to get the EA for the highway expedited. It was a confusing position for the chair of the conservation authority. Instead of advocating for a careful, traditional environmental analysis to ensure the protection of watersheds, ecosystems and the overall environment of the region, under her role as the steward of the area’s natural habitats, Innis instead aggressively pushed to skirt these measures in favour of a sped-up process so the early work on the highway infrastructure could begin. Environmental groups and conservation authorities voiced their alarm over the Province's move to expedite a crucial environmental assessement process that could have devastating consequences if cutting corners leads to avoidable, irreversible destruction of the surrounding natural environment. It was a direct contradiction of her role as chair of the agency mandated to protect against destructive development. “It has recently been reported in local media that Caledon Council supports and advocates for the GTA West Corridor,” Innis wrote in a recent statement. “To be clear, Caledon Council has only voted to support staff recommendations on the Environmental Assessment and proposed route.” Council’s official Work Plan disagrees. It highlights council’s support for the construction of the 413 GTA West Highway. Asked how she and her colleagues could advocate for the highway, but only support the EA process, Innis did not directly answer. Instead she stated she did not wish to see a “mega highway” built through Caledon. A summer press release from the Province makes it clear the project will feature all the characteristics of a massive highway project. “The GTA West corridor will include a four-to-six lane 400-series highway,” the release states. “I have always said a future transportation corridor through our community should feature a rail component for either goods so they can safely get to their markets or for people,” Innis said in an email to The Pointer. “What I don’t want to see is 11 million people, which is what the population of the GTHA will be in 25 years, congesting our local roads and costing us millions of dollars to maintain our infrastructure, not to mention the health and safety of our local communities and roadways.” It is unclear if the EA is considering a rail element; Innis did not respond to follow-up questions. She repeated that completing the EA is important for Caledon’s future planning. Innis addressed concerns that she has a conflict of interest as her family owns large amounts of land in the municipality that would be far more valuable if sold for residential development near the highway. Innis said her family property, located on the edge of Caledon East, would not be sold. She did not provide any other details. In October, Innis posted on her Facebook page, indicating support for the GTA West Highway, with the inclusion of a rail corridor. “It is our goal to move 50 percent of our population to other modes of transportation (including improving internet to have people work from home) and even with all this, sound planning shows that we still require the GTA West to accommodate our inevitable growth,” she wrote, referencing the Region’s rapidly growing population. In an earlier Facebook post in 2019, she listed the GTA West Corridor (not its EA) as something she was advocating for. The Thursday motion from Mississauga, forwarded by Parrish and seconded by Brampton’s Martin Medeiros, threatened to force Caledon’s hand. They avoided taking a position, showing if they still want the GTA West Highway or have now changed their mind. But the motion will be back on the floor in a couple of weeks and they will have to decide which side of the fence they are climbing down on. “Councils shouldn’t be making rushed and emotional decisions without having detailed information, this is fundamental with evidenced based decision making,” Thompson wrote in a Facebook post explaining his position. “For example, I want to know what the impacts will be in not having some type of corridor in that area. What will that mean to our existing and future communities in 10, 20 and 30 years? What will it mean for our agricultural operators in the area?” Caledon members who previously pushed for the highway now say they support the federal government completing an EA for the project (and taking it away from Queen’s Park) but do not have a position on the highway itself. It’s a move sparked by Environmental Defence and Ecojustice who recently called on Ottawa to intervene. “Caledon's support for a federal Environmental Assessment, at the request of local residents, is welcome,” Sarah Buchanan, Ontario climate program manager for Environmental Defence, told The Pointer. “Residents have been asking for the Mayor and Councillors to carefully review the facts at hand, including the long-term impacts of this highway on local economies and ecosystems, before making a final decision. It's clear that the concerns of Caledon residents are surfacing, but will these concerns be fully heard? That remains to be seen.” Email: email@example.com Twitter: @isaaccallan Tel: 647 561-4879 COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you. Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
(Shutterstock - image credit) Health PEI is changing visitation rules at some of its facilities after the province announced new restrictions in response to a sharp rise in cases of COVID-19 on the Island. Inpatients at Health PEI facilities are allowed to have up to three partners in care identified, but no other visitors will be accepted right now, according to a news release from the agency. Exceptions will be made for compassionate circumstances including end of life, pediatrics, obstetrics and palliative care. One support person can accompany people accessing emergency departments, ambulatory care, mental health outpatient and community-based services. However there will be no changes at long-term care facilities. They can continue to allow residents up to three partners in care and up to six designated visitors, due to the high level of vaccination. More from CBC P.E.I.
A seemingly sharp decline of global COVID-19 cases has ignited exuberance among some infectious disease doctors and epidemiologists, even if they're not sure what exactly is causing that downward spike. Charts and graphs depicting the COVID burden among most countries, including Canada and the United States, are showing steep dives from all-time highs just weeks ago.Experts say a combination of factors is likely at play in the virus's apparent decline, including a seasonal aspect to SARS-CoV-2, some level of herd immunity in certain places, and the impact of lockdowns and our own behaviours. That the drop is happening now, amid the threat of more transmissible variants, seems a little confounding though, says Winnipeg-based epidemiologist Cynthia Carr."That is the really interesting part about this," she said. "We know these variants spread much faster and we've seen them becoming more dominant, but the numbers still aren't spiking the way we might have anticipated."Carr says the variants of concern — those first detected in the U.K., South Africa and Brazil — have been found in multiple countries and are quickly overtaking former strains in some places. In Berlin, for example, she notes the variant first detected in the U.K. is accounting for 20 per cent of new cases, up from 6 per cent two weeks ago. Carr suspects part of the reason for a lack of rising cases might be because governments have gotten better at setting public health guidance over the last year, and people have gotten better at adhering to them. But while the situation appears to be improving, Carr warns "we can't rest on our laurels now.""Once (the variants) account for 90, 100 per cent of all infections ... we could really see that escalation," she said.Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease physician in Mississauga, Ont., agrees people shouldn't assume the pandemic is over because global cases are dropping. But the worldwide decrease is a positive development that shouldn't be overlooked, he added.Chakrabarti says there are likely multiple reasons for the decline, with some countries' situations explained easier than others. Inoculation efforts might be credited in Israel, for example, where 87 per cent of the population has been given at least one dose of a COVID vaccine. Countries like Canada meanwhile, which were mostly locked down over the last six weeks, can point to restrictions and limited contacts as a plausible reason for their COVID decline.More than one factor could be working within different regions too, Chakrabarti added. And a possible seasonal aspect to the COVID virus may be an overarching theme.Infections from certain viruses tend to peak once per season before tailing off naturally, Chakrabarti says, like influenza, which usually spikes between November and January. Other coronaviruses have followed a similar pattern."Seasonality means that (viruses) get cycled at some point during the season," he said. "We don't know if that's 100 per cent the case with COVID. But it could be." While the timing of Canada's first COVID wave last spring would seem to go against the notion of seasonality, we weren't exposed to large quantities of the virus until March, so it didn't have a chance to circulate earlier, explains Chakrabarti.Some parts of the world including the U.S. may also be dealing with some level of herd immunity brought on by natural infection, Chakrabarti says, which could simplify, but not fully explain, their recent case drop.While exact numbers of total COVID infections are hard to gauge, Chakrabarti estimates undetected cases could be five to 10 times higher than reported cases, either because people were truly asymptomatic or had such minor symptoms that they never got tested."If you have a significant chunk of people who have been infected and have, maybe not necessarily full immunity but some degree of immunity, at the very least that should slow outbreaks," Chakrabarti said.There are problems with the notion of herd immunity, however.Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist with the University of Toronto, says while experts believe people with past COVID infections may have some protection against the variants first detected in the U.K. and South Africa, that may not be the case with the one first found in Brazil.Jha points out that not all countries are experiencing decreases in COVID cases — Brazil is one area seeing either steady rates or possible increases — and he worries that labelling herd immunity as a reason for case decline may be dangerous."We don't know what herd immunity actually means," he said. "It's a theory that at a certain number of people infected, the virus just runs out of customers. But we have very little basis to understand what that level is."Jha says the potential reasons for the global decline are only theoretical right now. "No one really has a clear sense of why the cases are dropping," he said. "So I think one needs to be very cautious when talking about plausible explanations."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 23, 2021. Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press
YEREVAN, Armenia — Political tensions in Armenia heightened Monday, with supporters of the embattled prime minister and the opposition each staging massive rallies in the capital. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has faced opposition demands to resign since he signed a peace deal in November that ended six weeks of intense fighting with Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. The Russia-brokered agreement saw Azerbaijan reclaim control over large parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding areas that had been held by Armenian forces for more than a quarter-century. Opposition protests seeking Pashinyan's ouster abated during the winter but intensified last week amid a rift between him and the country's military leaders. The spat was sparked by Pashinyan firing a deputy chief of the military's General Staff who had laughed off the prime minister's claim that only 10% of Russia-supplied Iskander missiles that Armenia used in the conflict exploded on impact. The General Staff then demanded Pashinyan’s resignation, and he responded by dismissing the General Staff chief, Col. Gen. Onik Gasparyan. The dismissal has yet to be approved by Armenia's largely ceremonial president, Armen Sarkissian, who sent it back to Pashinyan, saying the move was unconstitutional. Pashinyan quickly resubmitted the demand for the general's ouster, and the prime minister's allies warned that the president could be impeached if he fails to endorse the move. Sarkissian's office responded with a strongly worded statement condemning “inadmissible speculation” about his move and emphasizing that his decision was “unbiased and driven exclusively by national interests.” Amid the escalating tensions, a group of protesters broke into a government building in central Yerevan on Monday to press their demand for Pashinyan's resignation, but they left shortly afterward without violence. Later, Pashinyan's supporters and the opposition rallied in the capital at separate sites. Pashinyan, a 45-year-old former journalist who came to power after leading large street protests in 2018 that ousted his predecessor, still enjoys broad support despite the country's humiliating defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh and the opposition calls for his resignation. He defended the peace deal as a painful but necessary move to prevent Azerbaijan from overrunning the entire Nagorno-Karabakh region, which lies within Azerbaijan but was under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a separatist war there ended in 1994. The fighting with Azerbaijan that erupted in late September and lasted 44 days has left more than 6,000 people dead. Russia has deployed about 2,000 peacekeepers to monitor the Nov. 10 peace deal. Armenia has relied on Moscow’s financial and military support and hosts a Russian military base — ties that will keep the two nations closely allied regardless of the outcome of the political infighting. Last week, the Russian Defence Ministry rebuked the Armenian leader for criticism of the Iskander missile, a state-of-the-art weapon touted by the military for its accuracy. The Russian military said it was “bewildered” to hear Pashinyan’s claim because Armenia hadn’t used an Iskander missile in the conflict. In a bid to repair the damage to Armenia's ties with Moscow, Pashinyan rescinded his claim Monday, acknowledging that he made the statement after being misled. —- Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed. Avet Demourian, The Associated Press
LONDON — Online review platform Trustpilot said Monday it plans to sell shares in London, in a stock offering that helps shore up the city's status as a financial hub and destination for tech companies after Brexit. Trustpilot, which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, said it will hold an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange to sell 25% of its shares to raise $50 million. While not yet profitable, Trustpilot’s net loss narrowed last year as its revenue rose to $102 million. It's aiming for a market valuation of 1 billion pounds ($1.4 billion), according to a person close to the company who was not allowed to speak publicly. People can use Trustpilot to publicly leave feedback for businesses. One of Trustpilot's selling points is that it doesn't allow businesses to pick and choose which reviews are published on, or deleted from its platform, as a way to raise trust and transparency. The company also uses technology to weed out shady posts. Last year it took down 2.2 million reviews deemed to be fake or fraudulent, 70% of which were removed by automated systems. Trusptilot is going public as a boom in online transactions due to the coronavirus pandemic is driving demand for reviews. The company said in its registration document that COVID-19 has resulted in more web domains carrying Trustpilot reviews as well as more consumer reviews on its platform, though it came at the expense of other businesses hit by the pandemic through store closures, travel restrictions, and social distancing. The company, which was founded in 2007, says it has hosted more than 120 million reviews for more than 529,000 websites belonging to businesses in more than 100 country and territories. Its biggest markets are the U.K. and U.S. Kelvin Chan, The Associated Press
The first day of mass vaccinations began smoothly at the Montreal convention centre, where 2,000 people were scheduled to get their shot. It was the first day all Quebecers over 70 were eligible to be vaccinated.
TORONTO — The Toronto Black Film Festival is hosting a panel discussion series with a title that speaks to a pervasive problem in the industry: Show Me the Money. Amid a racial reckoning sparked by the police killing of George Floyd last May, it seems awareness is heightened, and arts organizations are paying attention to systemic racism and barriers facing Black creators in Canada's film and TV industry, says festival president and founder Fabienne Colas. But money isn't flowing throughout the entire ecosystem, and there's still a lack of representation onscreen and in leadership positions behind the scenes, Colas adds. That needs to change soon, because as the clock ticks, "tons of white people are making decisions on what's going to be funded to go onscreen next year, and in two years," she says. "Billions of dollars are going through this industry, and tens of millions of dollars are being distributed through our public funders, and they don't necessarily go to Black producers and Black filmmakers. That's the problem," says Colas. As Colas's festival, which runs online through Sunday, and other screen projects help mark Black History Month in Canada, those in the country's arts world say the past year has been a critical one in terms of institutions responding to the calling out of racism, tokenism and microaggressions. Several organizations have announced funding for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) creators in Canada in the past year. Last summer, for instance, Telefilm Canada pledged $100,000 a year towards the creation of a Black Screen Office, and Bell Media partnered with the grassroots organization BIPOC TV & Film. But "the Canadian screen world has a long way to go," says Amanda Parris, a CBC TV and Radio host, writer, and playwright behind the monodrama "The Death News," which is part of the new CBC Gem anthology series "21 Black Futures" from CBC Arts and Obsidian Theatre in Toronto. "I feel like Canada is decades behind when it comes to representation onscreen of Black stories by Black creators," Parris says. "It's really depressing. And I think being so close to the United States and to the United Kingdom and seeing the things that are emerging there, it's hard to imagine when the time will come when Canada will see similar stories." Parris points to director Steve McQueen's recent "Small Axe" anthology series of five films for the BBC and Amazon Prime Video, which tells the story of London’s West Indian community. "It really hit home because there's such a huge Caribbean diaspora that lives here in Canada that has yet to see their historical stories told with the level of production, deep nuance of storytelling, the kind of budget that he clearly had," says Parris. Parris was born in the U.K. and felt a connection to the material but also "a certain level of sadness" at the idea that such programming may not be possible here for a while, she says. "I'm so reticent to have faith in a lot of the promises that have been made by so many of the networks. I'm not sure if they're going to feel a fire under them when the protests die down and when things get quieter in the same way." If Canada wants to have a vibrant screen industry, it needs to give everyone access to the same resources, says Colas. "Because otherwise, you're going to have white films that are really well done, and then you're going to have, what — Black films very low budget?" she says. "It doesn't make sense. So we need great, well-funded film across the board." Colas, who also founded film festivals in cities including Halifax and Montreal, says the Toronto instalment that's in its ninth edition still doesn't have all the support it needs from the industry. But several new partners have come onboard this year. She also sits on various diversity committees and says "things are moving in the right direction." Parris says she's encouraged by several projects underway in Canada, including the upcoming CBC series "The Porter," about railway workers in the historically Black Montreal community of Little Burgundy in the 1920s. Director Charles Officer, who helmed Parris's "The Death News," is working on the series along with several other Black creators. Then there's the CBC News prime-time show "Canada Tonight with Ginella Massa" and the new YouTube news program “The Brandon Gonez Show," launched in January by the titular Toronto broadcaster, who left CP24 to launch the project. Parris says Gonez as well as The Black Academy, recently launched by Toronto actor-brothers Shamier Anderson and Stephan James, are among several examples of a shift "away from a lot of these mainstream institutions to Black folks being like, 'What can we build ourselves?'" Anderson says he thinks change is happening, with even major Canadian broadcasters acknowledging a lack of diversity in their ranks, for instance. But "it needs to happen faster," he adds, noting The Black Academy is still looking for more funding besides that offered by the Canada Media Fund, as it builds its own award show and programming. "All these speeches and throne speeches and mandates and black squares and hashtags — I think we've got to put the money on the table, put the money where your mouth is," says Anderson. "Putting a social post just is not enough." In the theatre world, there's also "a very heightened, almost panicked awareness of the lack of diversity and the lack of Black representation," says Obsidian Theatre artistic director Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu, who conceived the idea for "21 Black Futures." Tindyebwa Otu says that conversation needs to extend beyond the faces seen onstage to those backstage and in the board rooms, so theatre companies don't burden any single individual working within a historically white institution to speak for the whole race. The "21 Black Futures" series, she says, is "almost like a catalogue of an example of who's out there and saying, 'Look at their work, see what they have to say, listen to their stories and contact these individuals,' so that there's never an excuse in the future of 'I have no idea who to reach out to or who to connect to' in the future.'" Black History Month gives institutions a convenient opportunity to think of funding and programming for four weeks out of the year, but the big shift is in realizing that "Black people are living these lives all year round," says Tindyebwa Otu. "Good for you for becoming more aware, but this is an investment, this is our daily lives, this is not a moment, this is our reality." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021. Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press
TORONTO — A few days before the Strumbellas were set to embark on a Canadian concert tour in January 2020, they dropped a bombshell announcement: the entire 14-city run of shows was being postponed as one of the band's own sought treatment for an unspecified illness. The news rocked their fanbase, but lead singer Simon Ward said the decision to cancel came during a crucial time. He was the unnamed member spiralling into a mental health crisis. Over a year later, he’s still digging himself out of it. "I'll be honest with you, it's been the worst year of my life," Ward explained in an interview from his home. "And every day I'm just here, trying to heal and get better." On Friday, the Strumbellas will release "Greatest Enemy," a new single that marks their first effort since Ward faced crippling depression and anxiety. He began writing the song before the six-member band sidelined their touring plans, and the band finished it during a recording session last November. Thematically, "Greatest Enemy" reflects on the overwhelming demons of the mind, but in true Strumbellas fashion, the words are paired with a soaring chorus of perseverance. It’s a formula that did wonders for the band in 2015 when "Spirits" elevated them from a ragtag group of Ontario indie musicians to a Top 40 success story, driven by an unforgettable chorus: "I got guns in my head and they won’t go. Spirits in my head and they won’t go." But the struggles hinted at in "Spirits" became all the more real for Ward as the Strumbellas embarked on a 2019 European tour for their followup album “Rattlesnake." Looking back, Ward says there were signs something was amiss. Sometimes it was as simple as him deciding to hide away in his hotel room when the rest of the group went to dinner together, he said. "It's so easy to isolate yourself when you're having mental health issues," he added. "All you want to do is… not be with other people. So I would stay by myself." But it was after the European leg of the tour wrapped and he returned to Canada that Ward started to realize something more serious was happening. "I started to feel so weird, like total lethargy," he said. "I couldn't get out of bed, dark thoughts, negative thoughts. Thoughts that were really mean to myself. I knew something wasn't right." Ward’s family paid him a visit, and he says that’s when he broke down, confessing to them that he was not doing well. He decided to check himself into a local hospital to seek professional help, receive a mental health assessment and discuss medications. "This has just been a full-on mental health year for me," he said. "(I’m) still in it, still working my way through it and struggling. I'm better now. But, you know, mental health is just such a tricky game. It seems to hang around, come back and float around." Getting the Strumbellas back on their feet will take some time. The band has worked on the early stages of new material in recent months, said guitarist Jon Hembrey. But a near-total shutdown of the concert industry during the COVID-19 pandemic has eased the pressure of getting back on the road. "I wouldn't bet any money on whether there will be shows in the summer," Hembrey said. "It's just too hard to tell." That's left room for the Strumbellas to interact with their fans in creative ways. Last year, they hopped on TikTok for the first time, creating a venue to answer questions about music, and recently for Ward to lend positive encouragement to others dealing with mental health hurdles. “A lot of people are in tough spots right now," he said, reflecting on how the live music industry has ground to a halt. "But everybody's going through it, so honestly make the best of it. We're just trying to make new music, get back in the groove of things and hang out again and see where it goes.” Follow @dfriend on Twitter. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021. David Friend, The Canadian Press
A Kamloops golf pro who bilked his employer for more than $40,000 to fund a gambling habit will be back in court next month to address charges of breaching the conditions of his 18-month house arrest. In October 2020, Chris Power pleaded guilty in Kamloops provincial court to a dozen fraud-related charges stemming from a series of interactions he had with members while working as the head pro at Rivershore Estates and Golf Links in 2016 and 2017. According to court documents, Powers allegedly breached his conditional sentence order twice — once on Dec. 8, 2020, and again on Jan. 15, 2021. He was arrested by Kamloops RCMP on Feb. 18 and released. Power’s next court date is set for March 11 to consult legal counsel. Last October, Kamloops provincial court Judge Raymond Phillips agreed to a joint submission for an 18-month conditional sentence order for Power, which has him living under house arrest for that time period. He was also ordered to repay $40,664 to Rivershore to cover its losses stemming from his offences. Power’s scheme was unsophisticated — he would offer memberships or golf clubs for sale and pocket the cash, rather than give it to his employer. The value of the transactions ranged from $600 to more than $7,300, but Rivershore honoured all purchases — even when Power did not. Power blamed his crimes on a sports gambling addiction. At the time of his sentencing in October, court heard Power was unemployed and living on the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), but was looking for work and hadn’t gambled for in recent months. Michael Potestio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kamloops This Week
COVID-19. Les plus récentes données sur l'évolution de la COVID-19, au Québec, font état de 613 nouveaux cas pour la journée d'hier, pour un nombre total de 288 353 personnes infectées. Parmi celles-ci, 270 364 sont rétablies. Elles font également état de 6 nouveaux décès, le nombre total de décès s'élève à 10 399. Le nombre total d'hospitalisations a augmenté de 11 par rapport à la veille, avec un cumul de 612. Parmi celles-ci, le nombre de personnes se trouvant aux soins intensifs a augmenté de 5, pour un total actuel de 122. Les prélèvements réalisés le 26 février s'élèvent à 17 456. Finalement, 6 308 doses de vaccin ont été administrées dans la journée d'hier, pour un total de 438 815. Jusqu'à maintenant, 537 825 doses ont été reçues. Stéphane Lévesque, Initiative de journalisme local, L'Hebdo Journal