Bigs the Sphynx and Luna the dachshund love teasing each other. Watch as Luna runs circles around Bigs in hopes that he'll chase her. Awesome!
Bigs the Sphynx and Luna the dachshund love teasing each other. Watch as Luna runs circles around Bigs in hopes that he'll chase her. Awesome!
In announcing a planned phone call on Friday between U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the White House's intended message was clear: Traditional allies are back in favour while despots, dictators and the killers of dissenters are on the outs. The way press secretary Jen Psaki announced the scheduled call with Trudeau was revealing, as it came in response to a question that had nothing at all to do with Canada's prime minister. She was asked about Vladimir Putin. Specifically, she was asked when Biden would speak with the Russian leader. Psaki replied that it wasn't an immediate priority. "[Biden's] first foreign leader call will be on Friday with Prime Minister Trudeau," she said. "I would expect his early calls will be with partners and allies. He feels it's important to rebuild those relationships." U.S. plans to investigate Russia Psaki elaborated on Putin in a separate news conference where she described Russia as "reckless" and "adversarial." She said Biden has tasked the intelligence community with reporting on a variety of alleged Russian transgressions: cyberattacks on U.S. companies, interference in U.S. politics, the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and Russian-paid bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Yet the goal of rebalancing relationships away from rivals toward like-minded countries has been tested already. Some Canadians, notably Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, want trade retaliation against the U.S. following the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline on Day 1 of the new administration. The decision undermines Canada's No. 1 export to the United States: oil. WATCH | The National's report on Keystone XL: Biden's foreign policy ambitions will keep being tested as international relationships undergo unwieldy twists on any given issue due to practical and political considerations. Here is what we already know about the Biden administration's approach to other countries after its first couple of days in office. The moves so far The administration will release a report on suspected Saudi government involvement in the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, an issue the last administration showed little interest in pursuing. It is also threatening to cancel support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It is willing to consider new NATO expansion on Russia's doorstep, into Georgia, and in fact is staunchly supportive of the international military alliance. And Biden has rejoined previous alliances the U.S. was either scheduled to exit (the World Health Organization) or had already left (the Paris climate accord). These activities are intended to signal a dramatic change in foreign policy from Biden's predecessor, Donald Trump, who frequently bashed the leaders of democracies and international institutions while simultaneously cultivating friendly relationships with non-democratic leaders in the Middle East, Russia and North Korea. There will be contradictions in Biden's approach — as there were in Trump's. For example, while Trump often had kind words for dictators, he also sanctioned their countries on occasion, including Russia and China. Also, don't count on an ambitious foreign policy from Biden. Early on, the new administration will be busy juggling domestic crises, said Edward Alden, an expert on Canada-U.S. relations. "I think we are going to see an approach to alliances that looks a lot like [Barack] Obama's — engaged, respectful, but not overly ambitious," said Alden, a senior fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. "The United States has enormous problems at home, and those are going to take priority for some time." Alden said he does expect some new international initiatives, such as more active co-operation on global vaccine distribution. Biden wants changes on Canada-U.S. pandemic travel On COVID-19, Biden also wants to immediately connect with Canada and Mexico to establish new rules within 14 days for pandemic-related travel safety measures. Alden also expects an attempt to rework and revive the international nuclear deal with Iran, and establish greater co-ordination with other countries in confronting China. For example, Biden has proposed a summit of democracies where countries can share ideas for countering autocracies. Biden's nominee for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told his confirmation hearing this week that the last administration had a point in reorienting policy toward Beijing. "President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China," Blinken said. "The basic principle was the right one, and I think that's actually helpful to our foreign policy." He got into a testy exchange at that hearing with Sen. Rand Paul, a libertarian-minded Republican who favours a hands-off approach on foreign affairs. When Blinken said he was open to expanding NATO membership to Russia's neighbour Georgia, Paul called that a recipe for war with Russia. Blinken argued the opposite is true. After years of Russian incursions in non-NATO Georgia and Ukraine, recent evidence suggests Russia is most belligerent with countries outside NATO's shield, he said. Keystone XL: The early irritant Biden and Trudeau are expected to discuss new travel measures to control the spread of COVID-19, as well as Biden's decision to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline expansion that would run south from Alberta to Nebraska. So far, Trudeau has shown little desire to escalate the pipeline issue. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, on the other hand, has demanded retaliatory action, and some trade experts say potential legal avenues do exist. WATCH | Kenny on the fate of Keystone XL: But they're skeptical they will achieve much. Eric Miller of the Rideau Potomac Strategy Group, a cross-border consulting firm specializing in trade and government affairs, said the best that pipeline-backers can hope for is to sue the U.S. government for financial compensation for the cancelled project. He said the Alberta government and the project's developer, TC Energy, can try suing under the investor-state dispute chapter in the old NAFTA, which will remain in effect for two more years for existing investments. "[But] nothing is going to force the Biden administration to deliver the permit," Miller said. "One has to be clear that there is no world in which Joe Biden [retreats on this]." Canada-U.S. trade lawyer Dan Ujczo said he doubts complaints from Canada will make a difference. He said the most politically effective argument for the pipeline would come from Americans — from the companies and unions that would have serviced the project. The Ohio-based lawyer said challenges under U.S. laws, such as the Administrative Procedures Act, could potentially work, but he cautioned: "They're high hurdles."
Although it might be at least another week before Aurora’s Community Energy Plan receives its final ratification from Council, local youth have given the goal to slash greenhouse gas emissions and find efficiencies an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Council, meeting at the Committee level, gave its tentative approval to the Town’s draft Community Energy Plan, one which identifies sources of emissions and proposes solutions, all with a goal of cutting emissions down by 80 per cent from 2018 levels by 2050. Before the official debates could even get under way, however, three elementary students stepped up to have their voices heard on the issue. And their message was clear: it’s time to get moving to improve the environment. “I have always loved the environment and the older I get the more I see what climate change is doing to our planet,” said Alexandra L. “I love our community and I would love to help as much as I can. Because I realize what is happening to our earth, I would like to change the environmental impact we’re having on our plants and animals. “This is a huge step in the right direction and hopefully in the future we will be able to see the change it has made. I am well aware of what is happening to our earth and humans are the cause. We are also noticing how it is already impacting ecosystems, some more than others, and communities play a huge role in these impacts. Luckily, just as we are the problem, we can also be part of the solution.” By taking these steps towards sustainability, we will be on the road towards healthier lives, she said. “By activating this plan, it can also create job opportunities for citizens as we need people to create these electric car stations and solar panels,” she said. “It can be extremely beneficial financially for you and the community as well. I don’t see how there could be any downsides to this plan and I really hope it becomes a reality as it will impact the environment in the most positive way possible. I can finish growing up in this community in the years to come by watching how this plan evolves to create a better world.” Students Valerie S. and Sumaya C. offered similar viewpoints, presenting together, albeit separately, during last week’s Committee meeting held over Zoom. “The next years are the last we can really make a difference,” said Valerie. “The plan will help the community of Aurora to develop an eco-friendly environment which can really help us in the future. We think the ideas in this plan…are beneficial and can be put to great use by our Town.” Added Sumaya: “We think that becoming more sustainable is immensely important. Becoming more sustainable and eco-friendly would be more cost-effective and could help save money in our community. We could use that money for more eco-friendly and sustainable changes throughout the Town or [for] new programs in the future.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
An additional $50 million in provincial funding is being earmarked for K-12 school capital projects, ranging from roof replacements to ventilation system upgrades, Manitoba’s education minister announced Thursday. Combined with a prior 2020 budget commitment of $160 million, the sum will both help facilities get much-needed upgrades and bring the province closer to its goal of opening 20 new schools in 10 years, Education Minister Cliff Cullen told reporters. “We must continue Manitoba’s ongoing investment in school infrastructure for the longevity of our schools and to improve accessibility for all students,” he said during a news conference. Cullen said investments will be made into multi-year projects already underway, purchasing future school sites, upgrading mechanical systems in schools, structural projects, and building new portable classrooms across Manitoba. Of the $210 million in total funding for infrastructure projects, $76 million has been allocated for existing projects and $61 million for new schools. Six new schools have opened, two are going to tender in the spring, and design will start on four projects during the 2021-22 school year, Cullen said. New schools are expected to be built in the Division scolaire franco-manitobaine and the Brandon, Louis Riel, River East Transcona, Seven Oaks, and Pembina Trails school divisions in the coming years. The province plans to spend $64 million on 84 renewal projects. That sum is broken down into: $10 million for access projects, such as elevator and wheelchair lift installations; $21 million for mechanical system upgrades for infrastructure, such as boilers and ventilation systems; $16 million for roof replacements; and $16 million to fix structural problems with aging foundations, walls and historic entrance stonework. The remaining $8 million is for building portable classrooms that can be moved wherever needed. Following the announcement, NDP education critic Nello Altomare called on the province to make “a real” investment in schools. “Now more than ever, kids deserve a quality education system that helps them succeed despite the pandemic. The Pallister government can continue to make promises, but the reality is they would rather underspend than help kids,” Altomare, MLA for Transcona, said in a statement. Last year, for the third year in a row, public schools received a $6.6-million boost in funding, totalling $1.33 billion — an approximately 0.5 per cent increase. Critics voiced concerns about the operating funding allocations — which are typically announced in late January — not keeping up with inflation and the province hamstringing divisions by capping education property tax increases to a maximum of two per cent. Also on the education file, Manitoba Education confirmed Thursday it is calling off spring senior provincial exams for the second year in a row. The province previously cancelled Grade 12 winter exams, citing learning disruptions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re still expecting that teachers will be evaluating Grade 12 students, whether that be some form of exam or testing,” Cullen said, adding the decision was made to ease the burden on students and teachers this year. The minister added Manitobans can expect an announcement on the teacher COVID-19 rapid-testing pilot in the coming days. Sixty rapid tests had been completed, as of Thursday afternoon. Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
A strong negative reaction from members of the public to an off-leash dog park being included in designs for a new greenspace on Hartwell Way could prompt a re-think to the Town’s policies on rec spaces for four-legged friends. Last week, Council received revised plans for the proposed park in Aurora’s northeast, a new design which includes naturalized features and, in response to a community survey, no off-leash dog park. Council received initial concepts for the park in March of 2020. At the time, two designs were on the table which they directed be put out to the public, particularly residents in the homes within a short walking distance to the land in question, and that consultation process began last fall. According to a report from Sara Tienkamp, Aurora’s Manager of Parks and Fleet, approximately 720 letters were delivered to residents within a 500-metre radius of the land. The letters directed residents to take a look at the concept plans and weigh in on them virtually through the Town’s Engage Aurora platform. Out of these 720 letters, the Town got 178 responses and while the overall feedback was positive, it was a very different story for the dog park. Posed with the question, “Do you agree with the proposal to have a small, fenced dog run in this park?” 119 respondents said they disagreed with this component of the plan, with 40 saying they agreed, 11 voting for “somewhat agreed” and just two residents falling into the “somewhat disagree” camp. Just two respondents said they neither agreed nor disagreed. “Residents were concerned about the potential for noise from barking, security of dogs, odours and inappropriateness of an off-leash park in a residential area,” said Ms. Tienkamp. “As such, staff have removed the amenity from the design plans and the area will be programmed as an open space turf area for residents to utilize for recreation. “Staff have standing direction from Council to incorporate off-leash components in park design. Resident feedback on park design where off-leash parks have been included in design continues to be met with strong opposition. It is recommended that staff continue to pursue off-leash park opportunities but not as a part of park design where lands are located within a residential neighbourhood with bordering homes.” Conversely, a proposal to include a community garden in the area received a much warmer reception. In previous neighbourhood-adjacent parks, plans to include community gardens have received push-back from residents, who have cited odour, aesthetics and the potential to attract pests among their concerns. This case, however, might be an exception. “Community gardens have been suggested in other new park design/retrofits and unfortunately have not been well-received by the public; however, the respondents to the public consultation for this park were very pleased with the natural aesthetic of the design and inclusion of a community garden with raised accessible plots for gardening,” said Ms. Tienkamp. “In addition, residents expressed a strong interest in assisting with the administration of the community garden. “As such, the community gardens will remain part of the park design and staff will work to engage a group partner for the governance of the plots by creating an administration model similar to the York Region Food Network’s management plan for the current Aurora Community Garden.” Reviewing the report at last Tuesday’s General Committee meeting, lawmakers said that further work is needed to indentify appropriate locations for off-leash amenities. “I understand the rescinding of incorporating the dog park areas,” said Councillor Rachel Gilliland. “I certainly wouldn’t want to eliminate all options or opportunities to have dog parks located in alternative areas.” Asking staff whether there would be any further efforts to identify appropriate locations, Al Downey, Aurora’s Director of Operations, said the last Council was provided with a list of criteria for dog parks and potential locations. “The direction was that there was no direction coming from that,” said Mr. Downey. “Council had not asked us to identify any particular area. I would be more than happy to reintroduce that to Council. I think dog parks have to be looked at separately. It is an issue people would like to see them [but] they don’t necessarily want to see them in their neighbourhood but [close to] their neighbourhood. “We looked at hydro corridors and some of those areas [as potential locations] and those are somewhat problematic because they are not our lands [and] would take some negotiations, but I will do my very best to look at those reports and see if I can get that to Council as soon as possible.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
CHICAGO — Elizabeth Shelby had her inauguration outfit planned weeks in advance: blue jeans, a Kamala Harris sweatshirt, a green coat, and pink Chuck Taylors as an homage to her sorority’s colours and Vice-President Harris’ signature shoe. And pearls, just like the ones Harris wore when she graduated from Howard University, was sworn into Congress, and was sworn in as the first woman, first Black and South Asian person, and first Alpha Kappa Alpha member to serve as vice-president. Shelby, a member of the Alpha Psi chapter of AKA, had hoped to wear her pearls at the inauguration in Washington, D.C. Instead, she donned them at home in Nashville, Tennessee. Following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, AKA, the oldest sorority of the historically Black fraternities and sororities that make up the Divine Nine, called off inauguration events and urged members to stay home. So countless AKA members celebrated the historic moment in their living rooms, on Twitter and on Zoom calls. “I wanted to help show Kamala that her sisters are behind her always,” Shelby said. “I wanted her to look out and see a sea of pink and green and know that this is her moment.” After the Capitol insurrection, Shelby cancelled her plane tickets and hotel reservation. The rioting robbed many AKAs of their feeling of safety at the inauguration and beyond, she said, and many members have been telling each other to stop wearing their letters in public for safety reasons. But Shelby said that didn't stop her from celebrating at a Zoom viewing party with her local graduate chapter. “I’m not going to let this take the joy out of this moment,” she said. Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, joined AKA in 1986 at Howard University, one of the country’s oldest historically Black colleges and universities. When she accepted the Democratic vice-presidential nomination in August, she thanked AKA, saying, “Family is my beloved Alpha Kappa Alpha.” Soon after, donations in increments of $19.08, marking the year, 1908, when the sorority was founded, started flowing in to a Biden-Harris campaign fundraising committee. Alpha Kappa Alpha declared on Twitter that Jan. 20 would be Soror Kamala D. Harris Day, and encouraged members to share photos of their celebrations with the hashtag #KamalaHarrisDay. Andrea Morgan, who became an AKA the same year Harris did, posted photos of her pink sweater and pearls on Twitter with the hashtag, which she told the AP “makes us feel closer together even when we're far apart." “If we were able to be there in person, I don’t think you’d be able to look anywhere without seeing pink and green,” said Genita Harris of the Delta Omega Omega chapter in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. "Now on social media, this is a showing of our solidarity, of our love and support for our soror.” She said group chats with her sorority sisters were “going bananas” during a historic moment for the sisterhood and for HBCUs. “It’s been the same story of white men for centuries," she said. “Now a new story is being written, and it’s our story.” AKA soror Josclynn Brandon booked her plane tickets to D.C. the day Biden announced Harris as his running mate in August. When the 2020 presidential election was called, CNN was playing on her phone on the dashboard of her car. She pulled over and cried. “I knew then that I was going to see Kamala Harris make history,” she said. “It confirmed that Black women and women of colour are so much more capable than some people believe us to be.” Brandon made plans to be in D.C. from Jan. 13-21 to celebrate the sorority’s Founders’ Day on Jan. 15, as well as Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration, all in the same city where AKA was founded. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, she, too, cancelled her trip. “It did rob me of my feeling of safety while going to D.C., and it robbed me of the moment of seeing a Black woman and sorority sister become VP right in front of me,” she said. “But it took away so much more than just me going to D.C. It takes away from this celebration and robs our incoming administration of the full celebration they deserved.” Brandon watched Harris' swearing-in from her home in Indianapolis while wearing a sweatshirt with a photo of Harris from college and the words, “The Vice-President is my sorority sister.” “I’m still going to celebrate,” she said. “I’m not going to let that group’s action take away this moment. I don’t want to let them win.” Shelby grew up hearing young Black boys say they wanted to be president after Barack Obama made history as the country’s first Black president. Now, she hopes Black girls will have those dreams too. “It’s a historic moment,” she said. “To see not only a woman but a woman of colour and member of the Divine Nine become vice-president is something I never even dreamed of happening as a little girl growing up in America.” “There is a pride I can’t put into words,” she continued. “It is such a joy to see her rise to this place in our country. It is such a joy to know that she is one of us, that she represents us. She is truly our ancestors’ wildest dreams.” ___ Associated Press writer Cheyanne Mumphrey in Phoenix contributed. Fernando is a member of the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/christinetfern. Christine Fernando, The Associated Press
President Joe Biden is hiring a group of national security veterans with deep cyber expertise, drawing praise from former defense officials and investigators as the U.S. government works to recover from one of the biggest hacks of its agencies attributed to Russian spies. "It is great to see the priority that the new administration is giving to cyber," said Suzanne Spaulding, director of the Defending Democratic Institutions project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Cybersecurity was demoted as a policy field under the Trump administration.
As the vaccine rolls out in long-term care homes across the country, some provinces, including British Columbia, are also prioritizing essential caregivers for a shot to benefit residents and staff. But there’s some inconsistency about who qualifies as essential.
Elected president of the Métis Nation B.C., Clara Morin Dal Col, has been suspended from her position amid escalating tension within its leadership. Nine members of the board voted to suspend her from her role as president in an unexpected meeting on Monday, tapping vice-president Lissa Dawn Smith to step in as acting president. Tension between Dal Col and board members has been playing out publicly for weeks, with waves of reactions from Métis people in B.C. throughout the turmoil. There are more than 21,000 registered citizens with Métis Nation B.C. which has 11 board members, including Dal Col. Some citizens have publicly taken sides, while others are expressing confusion and concern. Many are calling for more transparency around the events that led up to Dal Col's suspension after it was publicly announced on Tuesday. "This was not a decision taken lightly by the board," read a public statement released by Métis Nation B.C. on Tuesday. The specific reasons for the suspension were unclear in the statement — beyond broad allegations that Dal Col had contravened the oath of office and breached policies and procedures. The statement said, "the board was left with no other option but to issue a suspension." Métis National Council calls suspension a 'shocking coup' Leadership of the Manitoba Métis Federation and Métis National Council published a joint press release about Dal Col's suspension on Thursday, characterizing the board's actions as a "shocking coup." "This is a black eye for democracy," wrote Métis National Council president Clément Chartier. "We are disgusted by this underhanded attempt to eliminate a rightfully elected leader." The press release also stated that the federation and national council will not recognize Smith as the Métis Nation B.C. president. The mandate and direction of the national council flows from regionally elected leadership from the Métis governing bodies in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. There is ongoing tension and disagreement around the standing of the Métis Nation of Ontario at the national council. Public statements from Métis Nation B.C. and Dal Col in the lead-up to her suspension show that dispute over the status of the Ontario organization is among many points of disagreement between board members and Dal Col. Daniel Fontaine, CEO of Métis Nation B.C., was limited in what he would say about the suspension citing due process and Dal Col's right to appeal. "For us as public servants working at Métis Nation, our role is really to make sure that due process is undertaken. We want to make sure that all of our bylaws, our constitution, everything is properly adhered to," he said. "I'm confident that the process is unfolding as it should and we'll see what happens." When asked about the statement put out by the Manitoba Métis Federation and the National Council, Fontaine said he anticipates the board will issue a response soon. Dal Col was first elected president of the Métis Nation B.C. in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, securing 48 per cent of the votes cast for three candidates. Dal Col was not available for an interview prior to publishing.
Nearly a year into the pandemic, economists believe it’s abundantly clear that COVID-19 has psychologically and materially transformed Canada’s consumer behaviour. But with lockdowns and restrictions still in effect across much of the country, business experts say the dust has yet to settle around these “tectonic shifts” in the state of commerce. That means for retailers — big and small; local or national — preparing a pathway to adapt beyond the pandemic remains a muddy prospect. A new report by fintech firm PayBright released this week suggests the key to navigating future strategies for businesses is to use concrete data about where potential customers and clients stand in 2021. Surveying over 2,500 people from coast to coast, the 24-page study points to statistics that show how Canadians are approaching, and not approaching, their future shopping habits. Trends indicate significant changes have been seen in the “5 Ps” of consumer behaviour: products, payments, planning, place and psychology. “If 2020 was a year of disruption and uncertainty for Canadians, this will certainly be the year of building safety, security, and long-term solutions,” said Wayne Pommen, senior vice-president of Affirm Holdings Inc., which owns PayBright on Wednesday. “This is especially crucial as Canadians gain access to vaccines and look ahead to living in a post-pandemic world.” Findings in the report show shoppers are becoming increasingly discerning about where and how they spend their money. Around 55 per cent said they now read several product reviews before making a purchase, and 38 per cent said they prefer to spend more money to purchase premium brands or products to avoid lower-quality items that do not last. Around 52 per cent also said they are likely to avoid doing business with a brand that does not align with their ethics and values. On top of that, the pandemic has caused people to hold back on their overall spending. While 49 per cent anticipated no significant change to their planned 2021 budget, 36 per cent predicted a decrease and only 3 per cent said they would increase their spending. From an age perspective, those most likely to experience a decrease in their 2021 budget are those in the 18-24 and 35-44 age ranges. In terms of clothing and basics (such as groceries or pharmaceuticals), only about 10 per cent of respondents said they would spend more in those categories. But 43 per cent said they’ll be spending less on clothing versus only 22 per cent for basics. Authors of the report believe retailers with basics in their catalogue should emphasize essential products both in-store and online, citing a rise in earnings for supermarket chains who have done this such as Loblaw who have done this. They also said stores should ramp up on their reviews because fewer of them could mean less likelihood of making a sale. Deals and sales, however, will continue to be significant drivers behind consumer purchases in 2021, they added, noting personal protection is almost just as important when it comes to in-store purchases. “Frankly though, no matter what time period you compare this to, we haven’t seen trends like this ever before,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a leading supply chain expert who’s a professor at Dalhousie University. “COVID’s legacy is concerning because it’s pretty much changed everything.” From skyrocketing e-commerce as businesses quickly moved online, to the lasting trends predicted for in-store shopping such as sanitization stations and social-distancing measures, Charlebois explained how none of those changes would have ever happened without the pandemic. “Even if everyone does get vaccinated, people are just generally very risk-averse now,” he said. “That’s a massive psychological shift which translates to the fact that businesses will also not be taking risks by eliminating these measures anytime soon.” Dan Pontefract, a strategist who consults for large companies like Salesforce and TD Bank, said businesses will need to get creative and unique with their solutions. “And it has to happen fast,” he said, “or they probably won’t survive.” Pontefract said those ideas could range from pairing up to compete with larger chains to creating ads “that have chutzpah and can actually make fun of the big guys.” He also said creating the “perfect COVID shopping experience is incredibly important,” whereby customers can seamlessly be moved from shopping in-person to shopping online. “Ultimately, it’s all about the consumer,” said Pontefract. “And for better for worse, what we do know is that they’re the ones making these trends go all over the place — so they’re the ones you should follow.” Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Christmas was always going to be a difficult time for residents of retirement and long-term care homes unable to spend the festive season with their families. For individuals living at Aurora’s Kingsway Place Retirement Residence, the season was especially challenging as they were declared in an active COVID-19 outbreak situation on Christmas Eve. The outbreak, which York Region Public Health closed on Tuesday, January 19, ultimately took the lives of three residents and, this past Friday, there was a much-needed dose of “relief” and “elation” as residents and staff received the COVID-19 vaccine. Kingsway Place was one of several retirement and long-term care residences across York Region to receive the Moderna vaccine last week. As of Friday, January 15, 5,190 doses of the vaccine were delivered to long-term care homes and 1,620 to retirement homes. 2,831 had been administered to residents of long-term care, not including staff and essential caregivers. 1,320 doses were given to staff and essential caregivers in long-term care and a total of 1,569 residents and 91 staff of retirement homes have received doses. “The safest place for our residents was their suites and when the vaccine rolled in on Friday of last week, it has been tremendous because it has given people the sense that as a little more time goes past, they are getting some level of safety against the virus and that has been huge for people,” says Ray Barlow, Director of Operations for Fieldgate Retirement Living. “There was a lot of elation, families were extremely happy, residents were incredibly relieved. York Region did a tremendous job bringing in the paramedics. They were on site, the family doctor was here, Southlake was here, and York Region Public Health nurses were on site, so there was a real show of force to come in and get the job done quickly and efficiently. They all worked extremely hard and gave a lot of confidence to our residents that they were on the road to safety.” Mr. Barlow praises staff for their response to the outbreak, noting that not one of the caregivers left once the outbreak was declared. In fact, many stayed nights at the residence to pitch in to combat the outbreak. “That tells a real story and I think that is a testament to the staff at Kingsway,” says Mr. Barlow. In his weekly update, Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s Medical Officer of Health, said work continues “diligently” between York Region Public Health, Paramedics, hospital partners and nurse practitioners in the community to get the job done in long-term care and retirement settings. “These are places that the majority of the outbreaks have been happening and these are the places where about two-thirds of the deaths have been experienced in York Region have occurred,” he said. “As more and more vaccine becomes available, we’ll be moving into other groups, but we have to work very closely with the Province to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines across the Province.” That being said, the delivery of the Moderna vaccine to retirement homes has been temporarily stopped by York Region Public Health to “re-allocate the Pfizer vaccine to homes in an effort to hold back a second dose for long-term care home residents, staff, and essential caregivers who received a first dose of Moderna,” according to Patrick Casey, Director of Corporate Communications for the Region of York. “As such, the remaining doses, 2,190, are being held back as second doses for those in long-term care and retirement homes who already received the first dose,” said Casey on Friday. “Immunization with Pfizer is ongoing in retirement homes and will be continued over the weekend and on Monday. Some catch-up of long-term residents, for example those not able to receive the vaccine at previous visits due to being COVID-19 positive or consent not provided by substitute decision-makers were done on Saturday, January 16.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
Amazon Senior Vice President of Global Corporate Affairs Jay Carney, who announced the plan in a news conference with Washington Governor Jay Inslee, said a company executive will be working with Washington State's Vaccine Command Center. The clinic will be hosted in partnership with Virginia Mason Franciscan Health.
WASHINGTON — Testing wristbands are in. Mask-wearing is mandatory. Desks are socially distanced. The clearest sign that there's a new boss at the White House is the deference being paid to coronavirus public health guidlines. It’s a striking contrast to Donald Trump’s White House, which was the epicenter of no less than three separate outbreaks of COVID-19, their true scale not fully known because aides refused to discuss cases publicly. While the Trump administration was known for flouting safety recommendations, the Biden team has made a point of abiding by the same strict guidelines they’re urging Americans to follow to stem the spread of the virus. It’s part of an overall effort from President Joe Biden to lead by example on the coronavirus pandemic, an ethos carried over from his campaign and transition. “One of the great tragedies of the Trump administration was a refusal to recognize that many Americans model the behaviour of our leadership," said Ben LaBolt, a former press secretary to President Barack Obama who worked on the Biden transition. “The Biden administration understands the powerful message that adhering to their own guidelines and modeling the best public health behaviour sends, and knows that that’s the best path to climbing out of this until we can get a shot in the arm of every American.” To that end, most of Biden’s White House staff is working from home, co-ordinating with colleagues by email or phone. While the White House aims to have more people working onsite next week, officials intend to operate with substantially reduced staffing for the duration of the pandemic. When hundreds of administration staffers were sworn in by Biden on Wednesday, the ceremony was virtual, with the president looking out at team members displayed in boxes on video screens. The emphasis on adhering to public safety guidelines touches matters both big and small in the White House. Jeffrey Wexler is the White House director of COVID-19 operations, overseeing the implementation of safety guidelines throughout the administration, a role he also served during the transition and campaign. During her first press briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki suggested those working in the office would receive daily testing and N95 masks would be mandatory. Indeed, Biden's new federal mask mandate executive order requires that federal employees, contractors and others in federal buildings and on federal lands wear masks and adhere to social distancing requirements. The executive order allows for agency heads to make “case-by-case exceptions" — like, for instance, Psaki's. She wears one until she steps up to the podium for briefings. Officials in close contact with Biden wear wristbands to signify they have been tested that day. Every event with the president is carefully choreographed to maintain distancing, with strips of paper taped to the carpet to show the likes of Vice-President Kamala Harris and Dr. Anthony Fauci where to stand when Biden is delivering an address. When Biden met with his COVID team in the State Dining Room on Thursday, the five people in the room sat at individual tables placed at least six feet apart and four others joined by Zoom to keep numbers down. Plexiglass barriers have been set up at some desks that are in open areas, but nearly all staff who are already working in the building have enclosed offices. The Biden team already had a robust contact tracing program set up during the transition, which it's keeping around for any possible exposures. Staffers also were issued laptops with wallpaper displays that offer a list of COVID symptoms and a directive to “call the White House medical unit” if they have experienced any of them. The Trump White House was another story altogether. After one virus scare in May, the White House mandated mask-wearing, with a memo from chief of staff Mark Meadows requiring their use in shared workspaces and meetings. Simple surgical masks were placed at the entrance to the West Wing. But after only a few days of moderate compliance, mask-wearing fell away almost entirely, as Trump made it clear to aides he did not like the visual of people around him wearing masks — let alone wearing one himself. Trump’s White House reduced staffing capacity during the earliest days of the pandemic, but by late spring, when Trump was intent on projecting that the country was “reopening” from pandemic lockdowns — and the U.S. was at roughly 80,000 deaths — aides quickly resumed normal operations. That provided ideal conditions for the spread of an airborne virus. It was only after Trump himself tested positive that some aides began staggering their work schedules to provide enhanced distancing and contingencies in case someone tested positive. Those working for the new administration welcome the stricter guidelines now, but they do pose some potential complications as the Biden team builds out its operation. Karen Finney, who was a spokeswoman in the Clinton White House, said the first challenge may simply be creating a cohesiveness and camaraderie when some new staffers are brought on board without ever having worked in the same room. “When you sit in the same office as everyone, it’s just a different dynamic," she said. “There's a sense of, ‘We’ve got each other's backs, we're going to be working together on this.'” Finney added that most of the staff are used to working remotely at this point, so it's not necessarily a new challenge. But she allowed that the national COVID response itself could be somewhat hamstrung by the COVID requirements at the White House. “Having to co-ordinate between limited staff in the office, those working remotely, along with governors, mayors, their staff, those on the Hill — it’s a challenge,” she said. “They’ve had the time to think through how to do some of this, but look, it’s going to be a work in progress." Alexandra Jaffe And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Citing “long-standing and glaring systemic issues,” in Brampton’s bail court, a judge has stayed a string of serious criminal charges, including 10 gambling and 53 illicit gaming counts, against two men who waited 12 days for a bail hearing. In a damning ruling released last week, Superior Court Justice David Harris said he reviewed more than two dozen cases and found “pervasive” bail delays had occurred with “alarming frequency” in violation of accused persons’ charter right to a bail hearing in a reasonable amount of time — typically within 24 hours or three days for more complex hearings requiring a special bail hearing. “It is most regrettable that it has come to this,” Harris wrote. “Sadly, the long-standing nature of this problem and the profoundly detrimental effect on countless others not before the court, coupled with the virtually inevitable perpetuation of delays into the future, requires a stay.” In his ruling, Harris slammed a culture of indifference and complacency. “The alarm bell has been sounding for decades now. But at least in Brampton, no progress seems to have been made. A blind eye has often been turned to the delays. Maybe it is hoped the problem will go away on its own,” he wrote. Ministry of the Attorney General spokesperson Brian Gray declined to comment on the judge’s findings, saying “as this matter is within the appeal period, it would be inappropriate to comment.” In his ruling, Harris cited a memo written by a Peel Crown attorney acknowledging significant and persistent systemic problems in scheduling special bail hearings in Brampton. “The specific concern of the Peel Crown Attorneys’ office is the delay in scheduling these hearings beyond the three-day remand allowed in the Criminal Code without the explicit consent of the defence,” wrote Crown Darilynn Allison. “However, because of the volume and resourcing issues, this is precisely what is taking place on a near-daily basis in the bail courts.” The case at the centre of Harris’s ruling involved Raffaele Simonelli and Michael Simonelli, cousins who were arrested on Dec. 12, 2019, along with two dozen others after a two-year police investigation known as Project Hobart. The Simonellis had been facing a slew of charges related to allegedly operating an illegal gaming house in Mississauga as part of a criminal organization — charges Harris called particularly serious due to the aggravating factor of their alleged links to organized crime. According to transcripts presented to Harris by defence lawyer Sonya Shikhman, 26 Brampton special bail hearings conducted in 2019 had delays ranging from five days at the low end to 35 days at the high end. The average delay was approximately 13 days; none was conducted within three days, Harris wrote. In the Simonellis’ case, lawyers for both men were ready to proceed with special bail hearings on Dec. 13, 2019, the day after their arrest, but the Crown, emphasizing the complexity and seriousness of the matter, asked for it to be adjourned until Jan. 3, 2020. The police had “ample time to prepare the paperwork necessary for the Crown and defence to conduct a bail hearing” and to alert the court more resources would be needed that day. But instead of an executive summary focused on three grounds for bail, the police provided a 95-page synopsis that was of “little real assistance in the conduct of a bail hearing,” Harris wrote. The justice of the peace agreed to the three-week adjournment sought by the Crown, citing a variety of factors including lack of courtroom availability “I can’t speak to the issue of resources other than they do not exist,” the justice of the peace said, in response to an outcry by numerous defence lawyers in court that day. Harris called the three-week delay over the holidays “egregious.” As a result of an application filed by Shikhman, the bail hearing was held 12 days later, on Dec. 24, 2019. Ultimately, both men were released on bail, with strict house arrest conditions. Shikhman told the Star that although Brampton stands out for the frequency and length of delays, it is a systemic problem seen provincewide. “The system needs a remember that if you let things fall through the cracks and don’t keep up with the growing population and the amount of resources required, then you’re violating constitutional rights of a systemic nature,” Shikhman said. Last May, the Ontario Court of Justice issued new directives to speed up special bail hearings during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began after the Simonellis’ hearing. However, Harris wrote, no evidence was provided by the Crown to show these measures have had any effect on reducing delays. “Whether the problem is scarcity of resources, inefficient use of available resources or both in combination, the evidence adduced shows that nothing significant has been done to address the situation besides Ms. Allison’s memo and the practice directions,” Harris wrote. “These efforts have failed to wrestle with the root of the problem or lead to meaningful change.” Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach him on email: email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic Jason Miller, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Toronto Star
Mayor George Pirie’s State of the City address coincided with a major announcement. During his address, Pirie announced the sale of the former Tweed & Hickory and Bucovetsky’s retail building on Third Avenue. Due to the pandemic, the annual event, hosted by the Timmins Chamber of Commerce, was held virtually over Zoom. The mayor was tasked with giving an overall update on the city, its operations, the local economy, and hot-button issues, as well as answering questions from chamber members and the media. After a question came about encouraging new construction and developments in the city centre as opposed to on the outskirts, Pirie was happy to state that the historic three-storey building at 227 Third Ave. will finally be undergoing major refurbishment in the near future. Things Engraved and Bloomex are the named purchasers. “I’m very, very excited about this,” said Pirie, adding that it is a significant announcement for the city and the Downtown Timmins Business Improvement Association. Pirie said it wasn’t an easy property to sell. “It takes a long time to find the right partner.” He added that much of the leg work was done with another local business owner who felt there was a major opportunity at that location. “We’ve got a good environment. The situation is improving on the ground. We've got a major corporation who says, 'Yeah, this looks like a great place to locate.’” While it is promising news to have another retailer open up shop in the downtown core, given the current circumstances, many local businesses are struggling to keep up with bills. Pirie said the city is doing everything it can to help, such as freezing tax payments and not implementing late fees, and said that everyone in the community has a role to play as well by making a concerted effort to shop at locally owned businesses whenever possible. “Shop there. Yes, you can go to Walmart or whatever, I guess. No. 1, you’re not going to get the same quality of service and more than likely, you’re not going to get the same quality of goods. Help them. Stop in and shop there. Pick something up. That’s what we can all do to help. It’s not just an idle phrase ‘shop local.’” In the meantime, renovation work on the recently purchased building is expected to begin later in 2021, and will run for approximately one year. The city said the goal is to bring the historic building “back to its former glory.” The company said its vision is to use the space to create a multi-retail “European Market” vibe with various departments such as home decor, clothing, wedding and bridal, gardening, and floral. Once fully operational, approximately 20 jobs will be created. Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press
Thursday's Games NHL Montreal 7 Vancouver 3 Winnipeg 4 Ottawa 1 N.Y. Islanders 4 New Jersey 1 Tampa Bay 3 Columbus 2 (OT) Boston 5 Philadelphia 4 (SO) Los Angeles 4 Colorado 2 Florida at Carolina -- postponed --- NBA L.A. Lakers 113 Milwaukee 106 New York 119 Golden State 104 Utah 129 New Orleans 118 --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published January 21, 2021. The Canadian Press
The B.C. government is facing criticism for not making public a report into the effect of the pandemic on long-term care homes and failing to the tell the public that it was commissioned at all. Several organizations have confirmed they provided information in the summer of 2020 to consulting firm Ernst and Young, which was hired by the provincial government to look into how COVID-19 outbreaks were handled and how the virus was able to spread at different facilities. They now wonder why the Ministry of Health has not made the independent report public as B.C. deals with the second wave of COVID-19 infections. The Hospital Employees Union and B.C. Care Providers Association, which represents care home operators, said they also talked to Ernst and Young for the report. SafeCareBC, an industry funded, non-profit association which advocates for injury-free working conditions in the sector, also gave feedback. "We were approached back in July," said SafeCareBC CEO Jennifer Lyle. Lyle said the organization described challenges in obtaining personal protective equipment or PPE, staffing shortages and burnout, the province's single-site order for long-term care workers, the impact of the pandemic on mental health and visitation restrictions. "We also engaged with our members to help solicit their experiences and feedback from what they've experienced going through the first wave of the pandemic." The existence of the Ernst and Young report is causing confusion because B.C.'s seniors' advocate said last week that her office, too, is reviewing care homes. That report is expected to include facilities that experienced major, fatal outbreaks such as Little Mountain Place in Vancouver, Tabor Village in Abbotsford, Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver and Langley Lodge. B.C. Liberals urge report's release The B.C. liberals are pushing for the independent report to be released as soon as possible and question why the recommendations weren't made public after the research was conducted last summer. Interim B.C. Liberal Leader Shirley Bond is calling for transparency regarding the report. "The little that we, and the public at large, do know about this report leaves us with plenty of questions and — out of respect to the hundreds of B.C. families that have been struck by tragedy as a result of outbreaks in long-term care homes — we expect the government to provide answers and release the report," said Bond. The Ministry of Health told another news outlet it is set to release the findings next week. It did not respond to CBC News by deadline.
Battered by criticism that the 2020 census was dangerously politicized by the Trump administration, the U.S. Census Bureau under a new Biden administration has the tall task of restoring confidence in the numbers that will be used to determine funding and political power. Picking up the pieces of a long, fractious process that spooled out during a global pandemic starts with transparency about irregularities in the data, former Census Bureau directors, lawmakers and advocates said. They advised the new administration to take more time to review and process population figures to be sure they get them right. The high-stakes undertaking will determine how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes each state gets as well as the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending each year. “We are optimistic that things at the Census Bureau will be better. The question is whether the damage caused by the Trump administration can be rectified,” said Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League. Morial’s organization, along with other advocacy groups and municipalities, sued former President Donald Trump's administration last year over a decision to end the once-a-decade head count early. According to critics, that damage includes a failed effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census questionnaire and a Trump order to figure out who is a citizen and who is in the U.S. illegally. They say another Trump directive to exclude people in the country illegally from the apportionment of congressional seats, shortened schedules to collect and process data, and four political appointments to top positions inside the bureau also threatened the count’s integrity. Census workers across the country have told The Associated Press and other media outlets that they were encouraged to falsify responses in the rush to finish the count so the numbers used for determining how many congressional seats each state gets could be produced under the Trump administration. Census Bureau officials said such problems were isolated. Census advocates were heartened Wednesday by President Joe Biden's quick revocations of Trump's order to produce citizenship data and the former president's memo attempting to exclude people in the U.S. illegally from the apportionment count. The Biden administration also has pledged to give the Census Bureau the time it needs to process the data. The Census Bureau also said Thursday that redistricting data it's releasing later this year for states and municipalities to use in creating legislative districts won't include information on citizenship or immigration status. It also said the agency is suspending all work on trying to produce the immigration status of U.S. residents for the census. “President Biden’s swift action today finally closes the book on the Trump administration’s attempts to manipulate the census for political gain," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, who argued against the legality of the apportionment memo before the Supreme Court last year. The high court ruled that any challenge was premature. After the bureau missed a year-end deadline for turning in the apportionment numbers, it said the figures would be completed as close to the previous deadline as possible. Trump administration attorneys recently said they won’t be ready until early March because the bureau needs time to fix irregularities in the data. There will be flaws, likely undercounts of communities of colour and overcounts of whites, but “they will just have to ‘bake the best cake possible’ through identifying and correcting the errors they can find,” said Rob Santos, president of the American Statistical Association. Trump’s four political appointments to the Census Bureau last year were denounced by statisticians and Democratic lawmakers worried they would politicize the once-a-decade head count. The Office of Inspector General last week said two of them had pressured bureau workers to figure out who is in the U.S. illegally before Trump left office, with one whistleblower calling the effort “statistically indefensible.” Then-Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham ordered a technical report on that effort but halted it after blowback. He resigned this week after Democratic lawmakers and civil rights groups called for his departure. The bureau’s new interim chief, Deputy Director Ron Jarmin, didn’t respond to a request for an interview. He will report to Biden's new pick to head the Commerce Department — which oversees the Census Bureau — Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. Former Census Bureau Director Kenneth Prewitt said he’s optimistic the final product will be as accurate as past censuses, especially now that Jarmin is at the helm. “They know how to do it right. It just takes time,” said Prewitt, who served in the Clinton administration. Another former bureau director, John Thompson, said the exit of Trump’s appointees will help eliminate distractions to finishing the 2020 census, but the agency needs to hold a public forum to discuss what anomalies bureau statisticians have found in the data and what they’re doing to fix them ahead of the apportionment numbers being turned in. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, asked Biden to set up a nonpartisan commission to review the apportionment data to make sure it’s fair and accurate before it’s delivered to the House of Representatives. “The Census Bureau faced a number of challenges with the 2020 Census,” Schatz said in a letter. “Some, like the pandemic, were beyond the agency’s control. However, the Trump Administration actively interfered with the agency’s operations.” Despite facing pressures from their political bosses, the Census Bureau’s career staff did a good job of resisting the Trump administration’s most questionable orders by coming forward when they found errors in the data without worrying about the deadline and by whistleblowing to the inspector general when they felt pressured to produce citizenship of dubious accuracy, according to Morial, Santos and Thompson. “They deserve to be honoured,” Santos said. ___ This story has corrected the first name of Rob Santos, instead of Ron Santos. ___ Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP Mike Schneider, The Associated Press
MEXICO CITY — Mexico posted new one-day highs for the pandemic Thursday, with 22,339 newly confirmed coronavirus infections and 1,803 deaths from COVID-19 recorded for the previous 24 hours. The recent surge in cases has swamped hospitals. Mexico City is the country's epicenter of the pandemic, and its hospitals are at 89% capacity, while nationwide 61% of hospital beds are filled. The difficulty in finding space in hospitals has led many families to try to treat their relatives at home, which has created spot shortages of oxygen and tanks. That has been accompanied by a jump in prices as well as an uptick in thefts targeting oxygen tanks. The situation has also sparked home remedies, including home-made oxygen concentrators that officials warned are dangerous. One video circulating on Facebook shows a Mexican couple connecting a fish-tank air pump to a hose in an effort to boost the man's oxygen levels. The head of civil defence for the city of Puebla, Gustavo Ariza, issued a public warning against such improvised devices, noting they do not increase oxygen concentration and simply re-circulate air. “This is trickery. Please, people, don't do this," Ariza said. Assistant Health Secretary Hugo López-Gatell joined in the warnings. “We are concerned that people might waste time in te hope that this would work, and over the course of hours or days, very few days, the person's condition worsens,” hel said. López-Gatell said the Mexican government is going to pass rules that would give priority to medicinal oxygen production over industrial uses to free up supplies. The government is also looking to buy oxygen tanks abroad. The Associated Press
The “Shop Local” movement is in full swing as we endure a second lockdown, but there’s another movement one resident says we should take to heart as well: grow local – at least when it comes to eggs. That was the message delivered to Council last week by local resident Darryl Moore. Mr. Moore, a long-time proponent of a being able to keep backyard hens in Aurora, said going down this road and adopting the necessary bylaws to make it happen could pave the way not only for home-raised food in the form of eggs, but also pets, companionship, and even educational opportunities. “These are small things, but they’re important,” said Mr. Moore. “I know I have autistic children and animals are a very good thing for them, and chickens work very well that way. As well, people are learning where their food comes from.” This is not the first time Council has considered a backyard hen program, but previous efforts have fallen on the issues of odour, noise, and potentially attracting predators into neighbourhoods. Mr. Moore tackled these issues point by point, contending that backyard hens have no greater impact than dogs, cats or other conventional pets when it comes to odour and any scents are easily mitigated. As for noise, roosters would be the main culprits and would fall outside of any backyard hen program. But the issue of predators, however, was less clear cut. “It depends on where you live,” said Mr. Moore. “Where I live on Victoria Street, wolves and coyotes are not a big issue. Next to a ravine, they might be. It is easy enough to fortify the coops so it is not a big issue and you fortify them as much as you need depending on the types of predators you can expect. Chickens are on the bottom of the food chain, so animals are going to want to eat them, but it is easy enough to take care of.” The impact of backyard hens on property values, he admitted, was harder to evaluate but research and conversations with realtors, he contended, indicate it is minimal. “The main issue is people’s perceptions,” he said. “Property value is a perception. It isn’t really there because there isn’t an issue – people often don’t notice the chickens. Everyone has the right to enjoy their property to the best they can and that is probably the thing that comes up: they don’t want the nuisance of a chicken next door. There’s a lot of interest in this Town for backyard hens and I am really hoping that given the experience other municipalities have had, including ones right next door, that we can move quickly and implement based on knowledge and come up with some pilot project to get started and then move from there.” If Aurora adopted a backyard hen program, they wouldn’t be reinventing the wheel. Similar programs have been piloted in the City of Toronto while the Town of Newmarket has incorporated provisions into their bylaws whereby all one has to do is apply for a permit with the Town, with some restrictions tied to yard size. Mr. Moore’s pitch received a mixed reception from Council. One lawmaker to signal their tentative support was Councillor Rachel Gilliland, who questioned the best method of getting a pilot project up and running. While the earliest a motion to do can be brought forward is February, she said there is much to consider. “It seems there is an appetite and other municipalities have taken that step,” she said. “Maybe there is some room to foster this idea and something we can implement here.” Less enthusiastic, however, was Councillor Harold Kim, who said he would not be able to support the idea “at this time.” “It is not because I don’t necessarily agree with your project, because it is certainly a noteworthy one…but this reminds me of when a couple of members of Council, including the then-mayor introduced the transparent garbage bags [initiative]. It was a very worthy project to move forward with, but do we have acceptance from the general community and the public? They have also inherited an intrinsic right to enjoy their property. Even though everything you say might be scientifically correct, it is about convincing everyone around you and that is a big problem and the challenge for me. I think it is just a matter of time. “It is about convincing our fellow neighbours and our community members to adopt it. It is not necessarily an overcoming [of] the fears of coyotes or salmonella…even though we have all the facts on the presentation. It is about convincing the general public. For those reasons, it is going to be challenging for me to sponsor it.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran
When Kerri Thompson was allowed to see her mother once again as an essential visitor to her assisted living residence, it was a lifeline for the family. Kerri’s mother, Joyce, was a regular visitor to the Alzheimer Society of York Region’s D.A.Y. program six days a week. Her visits to their Edward Street facility offered social interaction that was not only craved, but needed. She was busy, staying active and, in doing so, remained vital, engaged and interested. But, when COVID-19 forced the shut-down of the regular D.A.Y. programs and Joyce was largely confined to her room, Kerri saw Joyce begin a rapid decline. “My mom’s world was narrowing with COVID and now it’s literally one room,” says Kerri. “Each day, all she wants to do is do what she always loved to do, which is go for a walk. That one small pleasure and a sense of normalcy has been taken away. For her own health, she cannot leave her room and yet, for her mental health, all this is just devastating. She is losing her strength and her confidence to walk.” Kerri being deemed an essential visitor helped to a degree. Although her mother was still confined to her room, Kerri was allowed to visit after following all protocols, but four days after Joyce was out of lockdown, Kerri tested positive for COVID-19. Not being able to visit her mother as an essential visitor during that trying time was understandable and necessary, but no less difficult. While Kerri was sick with mild symptoms, Joyce, who tested negative, saw isolation set in even deeper. It goes without saying that COVID-19 is devastating, but “COVID-Alzheimer’s” is another thing altogether. “Thank God for the wisdom of the government officials and general managers at the respective retirement homes to understand that COVID is absolutely too isolating for seniors and that we had to do something different from what we did in March, April and May, which was to lock them in their rooms,” says Kerri. “For the people lucky enough to be on the first floor, they got to wave to their loved ones and all the rest, but others missed even that little glimmer of interaction. There were a lot of people trying to do the right things for the right reasons, but not looking at the total impact of keeping people alive. There’s more to it than that that we have to consider. It is a no-win situation. If just one person gets sick from this idea [of essential visitors] then the public is in an uproar.” By the time Kerri was first deemed an essential visitor, she had to re-learn the rules of the game. Not only were there new and strict screening measures, she couldn’t take her mother into common areas. Confined to their room, both Joyce and her daughter were required to mask up. They couldn’t hug, hold hands or otherwise touch. They could not eat or drink when they were together and they had to sit six feet apart. “But, the fact that we were able to be in the same room was wonderful,” says Kerri. “With my mum having Alzheimer’s, which is an isolating disease because they get lost in their own locked room in their mind, kind of being in that locked room physically too, I lost a lot of her. Her Alzheimer’s came on harder and faster, not to the fault of anybody, but just to the reality of a pandemic. She’s less interactive. She wouldn’t get as excited. It was just so long that she had done anything but stare at those four walls that there wasn’t that same amount of energy, desire and remembrance of some of the fun things she had done more recently while having Alzheimer’s. She even lost that.” Joyce was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease 18 months ago, but Kerri says the reality of the situation was her fight has been “twice as long as that.” It was a difficult but necessary decision to put her in an assisted living facility so she could get the help, care and safety that she needed. “I knew she was fraying around the edges, specifically because she had lost her sense of time,” Kerri shares. In a pandemic, that has been a mixed blessing. While Kerri says Joyce doesn’t have a concept of how long this pandemic has been going on, there is a huge negative in that every day there could be a disappointment in waking up and not fully understanding why you can’t leave your room or receive visitors. “At the first stages of this pandemic, I couldn’t even visit her. I was the person standing outside her window every single day, usually with my then-15-year-old son just waving to her. We weren’t even allowed to have the window open to try and communicate with her out of logical fear of the virus. Some days you would see her in tears and some days you saw a smile on her face, but you didn’t know what you were going to get. Every day I was distracted – never with her safety, because the retirement home does a great job – but it was more her happiness. “Sitting alone in her room has taken away the joy. She knows enough about what she is missing to say, ‘Kerri, sometimes I just want to scream.’ I get you, mom. Go ahead and I will scream with you. Please, we need the vaccine faster so mom can go to the Alzheimer Society of York Region D.A.Y. program and fight to keep what abilities she has.” Kerri’s quarantine ended on January 8 – 14 days are an “eternity” when it comes to Alzheimer’s, she says – and she can’t wait to be with her mother once again, but this difficult journey has only underscored that the isolation that is a by-product of COVID can have unintended consequences. “I have nothing but applause to give to the caregivers and management of the facility that my mom is at,” says Kerri. “To be honest, there isn’t a single thing that I truly think they could do differently, except one little thing that would make me and my mother happy is if I could bring her in the car and just drive her around. “We’re trying to be smart but at the end of the day the most important thing is their happiness in the last years of their life. Let them have meals together as opposed to going into these outbreak situations where everyone has to stay in their room and there are no activities. I am hoping once the vaccination moves through retirement homes, essential workers, that they can look ahead and say, ‘We have the vaccine. What did this allow us to do different from where we were a month or six months ago because to die of loneliness – that, to me, is the cruellest thing of all, when there are all these people around who are loving and caring and just can’t get access. That goes for the people who work in the retirement home: they are loving and caring and they are not allowed right now to do the activities, to give hugs, to hold people’s hands. They would if they could, but they dare not to.” Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran