Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed, public transportation shut down and some evacuations in place early Monday after Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys, bringing heavy rains to already flooded city streets. (Nov. 9)
Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed, public transportation shut down and some evacuations in place early Monday after Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys, bringing heavy rains to already flooded city streets. (Nov. 9)
WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr's decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won't have an easy transition.The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, who hasn't been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department's new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It's the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president's legacy.But the manoeuvring over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they've derided as tainted. Now there's little the new administration can do about it.“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.But Barr's decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she's connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfil his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden's leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.___Miller reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — The scars from the 2014 attack on Parliament Hill are part of the "heritage fabric" of the iconic Centre Block and will not be fixed during extensive renovations on the building, according to a senior government official who provided a behind-the-scenes tour of the project. That includes a series of bullet holes in the Hall of Honour from a gunfight involving Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, a sympathizer of the Islamic State militant group, on Oct. 22, 2014. Zehaf-Bibeau, who stormed Parliament Hill minutes after fatally shooting Cpl. Nathan Cirillo in front of the National War Memorial, was killed in the shootout involving security and the RCMP in the stonewalled hallway connecting the building's front door and the Library of Parliament. While parliamentarians were divided in the aftermath over whether to keep the bullet holes, Rob Wright, assistant deputy minister for Public Services and Procurement Canada and the official responsible for managing the renovations, says a decision was ultimately made to retain them. "It's been decided that's part of the heritage fabric of this building now. So we plan on no changes to that," Wright said. "And those decisions would really be taken by Parliament." The bullet holes aren't the only elements of Centre Block that workers are planning to keep intact as they work to retain the heritage and style of the building housing the House of Commons and Senate, while also updating it for the 21st century. The upgrades will include adding modern heating, electrical and IT systems into the 100-year-old building. There will also be measures to make it carbon neutral, including plans to cover its three courtyards. Wright said Centre Block is the worst building for emissions in the parliamentary precinct. There is no plan to change the physical size of the House of Commons, even though the chamber that sat 338 MPs before closings its doors for the time being will eventually need to accommodate 450 as Canada's population growth adds to the ranks. Many other final design elements have yet to be nailed down. Until then, Wright is unable to say when the renovations will be finished — or how much they will cost. Previous reports have suggested the renovations would take at least 10 years. Wright said the government has never committed to that time frame. "We're getting more and more comfortable and confident that all of the decisions are coming together," he said. "And I think we should be in a good position in the first quarter of 2021 to really establish a baseline budget and schedule." While the government is consulting with parliamentarians throughout the renovations as well as a panel of experts, Wright said public consultations on what the building should look like will be launched early next year. The current Centre Block building is actually the second to be built on the spot, after the 1916 fire burned down the original, save the Library of Parliament. The House of Commons has been temporarily moved to the recently refitted West Block, while the Senate is located in what used to be Ottawa's central train station. On a behind-the-scenes visit to Centre Block Wednesday, excavators and a dump truck were seen working in a great 10-metre-deep pit that has been blasted in the ground in front of the Peace Tower. Workers in hard hats and safety all wore masks due to COVID-19 restrictions. Inside the building, the granite walls have been covered by plywood or stripped off the reveal old red and black bricks held together by cracked mortar. Exposed pipes and wires run along the ceiling while the floor contains work tables and tools along with crates, some of which bear warnings about asbestos. Workers have removed about 2,500 tonnes of asbestos from the building since demolition work started, Wright said. They have also carefully removed, recorded and packed numerous pieces of marble and granite from the walls. In the House of Commons, the hand-painted linen ceiling has been taken down and put in storage, while the Senate's collection of First World War paintings are at the Canadian War Museum. The two chambers are filled with scaffolding leading up to their respective ceilings. The final budget for the project has not been set, but Wright says about $120 million has been spent so far in stripping the building down. Wright says workers have found old newspaper articles as well as packs for gum and cigarettes in the walls. There were more interesting discoveries outside. The eastern wing of Centre Block is built on an old military outpost known as Barrack Hill, and Wright says workers found military buttons and insignia. They also found the original walls of several outpost buildings and an old arrowhead. "Those are all being carefully stored and identified and catalogued," he said, adding they are working with the Algonquin Nation on transferring the arrowhead to them. Much of the work to date has taken place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wright said it hasn't really had an impact even though site hosts about 400 workers each day, with companies from Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia involved. "I've been very impressed with how the construction industry has been able to adapt to this new challenge," he said. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020. Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Organizations representing doctors and nurses in Quebec say they're increasingly worried as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to climb heading into what is normally one of the busiest times of the year for the province's hospitals.“In a normal year, there's a surge of activity at the beginning of January,” Dr. Hoang Duong, the president of Quebec's association of internal medicine specialists, said in a phone interview.“The first wave, it’s left its scars,” he added. “Our staff, nurses especially, are very tired.”Many nurses are on sick leave, Duong said, leaving the health-care system short-staffed. “We have to divert staff to take care of COVID patients, which makes even less staff available,” he said.The deteriorating situation in the province's hospitals was cited Tuesday by Premier Francois Legault as a factor that could force him to cancel a plan to allow multi-household gatherings over Christmas. On Wednesday, as the province reported more than 1,500 daily COVID-19 infections for the first time since the pandemic began, deputy premier Genevieve Guilbault announced measures aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.As of Friday, stores will have to adhere to new limits on the number of people allowed inside or risk fines of up to $6,000. The province says enforcement, including ensuring proper distancing and the wearing of masks, will fall to mall owners and store owners.Guilbault cited images of packed shops and malls as the reason behind the decision to regulate capacity as the busy holiday shopping season begins. She said the measures were necessary as the province reported a record 1,514 new COVID-19 cases and 43 additional deaths linked to the virus.The number of people in Quebec hospitals with COVID-19 rose by 21 Wednesday for a total of 740, including 99 in intensive care.Nathalie Levesque, the vice-president of Quebec’s largest nurses union, said Quebec already faced a shortage of nurses. With the pandemic, thousands of nurses are currently on medical leave or can’t work for preventive reasons. Levesque said she’s “very, very concerned” about the coming weeks, a period when hospital emergency rooms often see higher numbers of patients with colds, flu and stomach infections. Hospital emergency rooms in Quebec were already frequently over capacity, she said.Last week, she said, nurses in the Montreal area were asked to volunteer to work in other parts of the province that have been particularly affected by the pandemic. In some regions, private seniors residences have asked public health authorities to provide them with nurses to assist with COVID-19 outbreaks.Levesque said she’s worried this will leave some health-care facilities without enough staff, adding that she hopes administrators are being careful when they agree to transfer staff. Duong, who works at a hospital diabetes clinic, said nurses he works with have transferred to a new department dedicated to COVID-19. “I understand that, because we do have to take care of COVID patients," he said. "But that also means that diabetic patients, are not going to get, at least for now, the care that they usually do."Quebec hospitals still haven't recovered from the almost total cancellation of non-emergency surgeries and medical imaging during the first wave of the pandemic, the province's Health Department confirmed Wednesday."All hospitals in Quebec have been forced to delay surgeries," Robert Maranda, a department spokesman wrote in an email, adding that the waiting list is continuing to diminish.Dr. Matthew Oughton, who specializes in infectious diseases at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital, said there's "little resilience" in Quebec's health-care system. As the number of hospitalizations in a region rise, it reduces flexibility and the ability to provide services, putting more pressure on other hospitals.Duong said he was relieved to hear Quebec Premier Francois Legault say Tuesday that the province is rethinking its plan to allow gatherings of up to 10 people for four days around Christmas. As a doctor, he said, he wants every precaution taken to prevent the spread of the virus, though he understands that people want to get together this time of year."It's a hard choice to make," he said, adding that he believes public health authorities will make the right decision.Meanwhile, the Retail Council of Canada said it welcomed the province's new measures on store capacity, noting they were largely in line with its own recommendations to retailers.“We understand that the government must give itself the tools to intervene with certain less collaborative retailers," the council's Quebec representative Marc Fortin said in a statement. "The health and safety of employees and consumers remain the priority of our retailers."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.———This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.Jacob Serebrin and Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press
Great Enlightenment Buddist Institute Monks at the campus in Heatherdale received more requests for food box donations this month than ever before. “They really pulled through,” said Venerable Dan about the group of monks who spearheaded the project. Enough funds were raised to offer 332 food boxes compared to the usual 200. Venerable Dan said the monks were unsure if they would be able to roll out so many boxes, each filled with 10 of their signature puffy rolls, an assortment of dried goods and organic vegetables. To raise funds they got creative. On top of fresh baked buns, they sold homemade apple sauce and eloquently decorated pen holders to support the initiative. In the end the group was able to bake about 1,000 extra fresh rolls and provide a full box to each Islander who requested one. Venerable Dan noticed more people seemed to reach out this year because they were impacted by the pandemic. He also saw more young people and single families requesting food boxes. The monks have been donating and delivering food boxes for about two years now. They try to offer food boxes every one or two months through the winter as Islanders seem to struggle a bit more this time of year. Venerable Dan said the group is looking to offer more food boxes this December. Anyone looking to request a box should fill out an application which will be posted on the Facebook page ‘About Monks’ in December. Venerable Dan said, after delivering so many this month, some additional funds or donations will be needed to support the December deliveries. The monks were unsure if they would be able to go ahead with the project at all this year as they have, for the most part, been in a form of lockdown following strict policies to mitigate possible spread of COVID-19 within their residences. Thanks to about 40 local volunteers they were able to organize the initiative without breaking their contact and isolation policies. Rachel Collier, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Graphic
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh calls on the federal government to ensure vaccines and critical medicines for Canadians can be manufactured within the country. He says the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that Canadians shouldn’t be forced to rely on importing vaccines from other countries.
Purolator has teamed up with emerging Canadian artists to help spread a little holiday cheer this year. The shipping company has selected 13 artists from across the country – one from each province and territory – to design a unique and festive shipping box that will be made available at Purolator shipping centres and Michaels craft stores for anyone looking to send a little extra cheer along with their gifts to their friends and families this holiday season. With the country boasting a population of more than 37 million people, choosing one artist from each province and territory in Canada could have proved to be quite daunting, but Patrick Hunter, a Two Spirit Ojibwe artist, said he thinks the online community he has already amassed helped to secure him the spot as Ontario's representative. “I have a pretty nice following of people on Instagram, and I think that's how they reached out when they were trying to find diverse artists to be a part of this project,” Hunter explained. “It was a quick turnaround to get the project off the ground, I think we started in November or the end of October, but with really cool emails like that, 'Purolator wants to work with you on such-and-such,' it's a pretty quick response. I think it took me all of ten seconds to say 'yes, I'm in.'” While he is currently working out of Toronto, Hunter is originally from Red Lake. His art in the Woodland style takes inspiration from his hometown and the work of famed Woodland artist Norval Morrisseau, and he brought the same sensibilities he brings to his painting to the art he was inspired to create for Purolator's box, along with his own wishes for the holiday season. “It's all digital artwork, so you have to know how to use some graphic design-y programs,” Hunter explained. “We were given a template to work within the edges and back and top sides. Why I chose the imagery I chose, which is Ojibwe florals, is because it's a holiday season, it's one of my favourite gifts to give, and one of the best gifts First Nations folks give their friends are beaded moccasins or gloves, so my hope for these boxes is when someone gets a box that they have that feeling of 'oh my god, beautiful box' but then 'what's inside?'” Being chosen by Purolator to be the representative for Ontario also carries added heft for Hunter. Knowing the boxes have the potential to wind up almost anywhere in the world, Hunter said that it was like a personal responsibility to answer Purolator's call for his art. “I'm a First Nations gay man from Red Lake, Ontario,” he explained. “When things like this come along you have an obligation to the people that are coming behind you to try and illuminate the path. So my goal with this is to show other First Nations kids and gay artists can have opportunities like this too and not be afraid of them. As well, to bring some visibility. I don't think First Nations culture is always put in the forefront in a mainstream way and Purolator has done a good job of asking not just me but other diverse people in Canada to come up with box designs.” Laurie Weston is the director of retail for Purolator who was on the team searching for artists to take part in the campaign. She noted that part of trying to find emerging artists to design a box was ensuring they were a good fit for both where they came from and the peoples and cultures they represented. “What's really interesting about this is we actually went grassroots and we scoured social media,” Weston explained. “We went through social media and we narrowed it down to the ones that we felt their artwork represented not only the province but their culture. I think with Patrick, we were so incredibly lucky he wanted to do this with us because I think his floral motif and his indigenous background and what it represents for Ontario is pretty special. So it resonated with us. So that's why we picked him.” In a year when the shipping company expects far more packages to be delivered over the holiday season – Weston said their busy season began in August this year, when it usually starts to pick up in November – the drive to showcase original Canadian art on special holiday boxes was to help spread that sense of community and Christmas spirit that might otherwise be hard to come by in 2020. “People are not able to travel, and what's happened with us is the increase in shopping online, but people are coming in and shipping packages to loved ones,” Weston explained. “They're not able to travel and see their loved ones this holiday season so we really wanted to share some of the Christmas spirit from a Canadian lens. Purolator does support small businesses and entrepreneurs, but this is a different evolution of that. We just really wanted to showcase these new artists.” As part of Purolator's partnership with Michaels craft stores, the companies are also holding a Design-A-Box Sweepstakes. Members of the public are encouraged to visit the Michaels website in order to download a box template they can then design, photograph and submit for the chance to win a $1,000 Michaels gift card and free shipping with Purolator for a year. Hunter has been doing his work professionally for the past six years, and in the near future he's also looking at moving out of Toronto to be a little bit closer to home, and begin producing more items in his line of houseware products. He noted the opportunity to be a part of Purolator's holiday campaign helped to confirm in his mind that pursuing the career path he did was a good choice and hopefully help to spread awareness of Indigenous artists even further abroad. “It makes me feel like I'm on the right path and I did choose a good career in graphic design,” he said. “To have [the art] put on these boxes in such a public way, it means a lot and I'm so thrilled just to be a part of the project, but then to have this kind of message of like 'hey, we're Indigenous people, we haven't gone anywhere, we're still here' I think it's great to illuminate the path for people to ask questions.” For more information on Purolator's holiday boxes visit their website and to take part in the Design-A-Box sweepstakes, visit the Michael's website. For more information on Patrick Hunter and his artwork, visit his website at patrickhunter.ca or follow him on Instagram @patrickhunter_artKen Kellar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times
Jasper Municipal Council’s Nov. 25 public budget meeting showed the effects of the COVID pandemic, when council heard budget details from Community and Family Services and the Operations department. Community and Family Services Community and Family Services director Kathleen Waxer reiterated the need for CFS to be resilient in light of the COVID pandemic. She said management and staff helped people deal with negative impacts including food insecurity, job losses, loss of child care, family violence, challenges finding a safe place to isolate and loss of childcare facilities for working parents. Waxer said she worked hard to keep the budget amounts in each of the CFS branches at the 2019 levels. An exception is an increase of $21,625 requested from Wildflowers Childcare, the result of the additional costs of operating in the pandemic. Additional requests included the Senior Bus request for $10,000, computer costs and reallocation of maintenance costs. Waxer also made a request of $35,000 to pay for continuation of the programmer position if CFS can’t secure funding from other sources. Operations Staff from the Operations department talked about initiatives including sprinklers, fire protection, arena slab and boards project, and Activity Centre roof replacement. Acting chief administrative officer (CAO), John Greathead, said at the moment, most of the work done in the department is of a reactive nature. “We’re looking to switch to a more predictive maintenance and asset management plan than has been previously made thus far,” he said. “Our requests are to ensure we’re able to meet demands.” Gord Hutton, buildings and asset manager, said in the budget from 2019 to 2021 an $80,000 increase for contracted winter and summer services is related to utility costs, which are beyond the department’s control. “It’s a tough figure to nail down – you never know how much snow we’re going to get in the winter,” he said. In the Operations budget highlights, the net increase from 2019 ($2,319,739) to 2021 ($2,469,965) is $150,226. The overall total for the Operations department in 2021 is $3,398,574 without utilities. Mayor Richard Ireland asked if there’s a way to track and demonstrate where the costs savings are being achieved. Greathead said, the department is lacking the administrative capability at the moment. “We can get that information but it would take away from what we’re up to right now,” he said. Ireland said he appreciates it takes time and money to do the tracking. He said in previous years, council has discussed the possibility of a reserve account specific to snow clearing. Ireland said, “Are we preparing to cushion an uncertain blow each year by having a budgeted amount and putting any surplus into a reserve account so that we can equalize the payments and be prepared for differences between heavy snow years and lighter snow years?” Greathead said shortfalls were taken out of other budgets. Natasha Malenchak, director of Finance and Administration, said, there is a reserve contingency of about $50,000. A decision Council is scheduled to make a decision about the interim operating budget at their Dec. 15 meeting. It will allow Administration to continue with regular municipal business while council discusses the proposed operating budget, which should be adopted by Mar. 30, 2021, to allow enough time for the preparation of the tax rates bylaw and related documents, including tax notices to residents. Expenses incurred under the 2020 interim operating budget will match the 2019 approved expenditures levels until the final 2020 operating budget is adopted. Joanne McQuarrie, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Jasper Fitzhugh
ISLAMABAD — The U.S. envoy who brokered the ongoing peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban said Wednesday the two sides have overcome a three-month impasse and agreed on rules and procedures for the negotiations.The development is significant as it means the warring sides are getting closer to actually starting to negotiate the issues that could end decades of fighting in Afghanistan and determine the country's post-war future. But first they must decide on the agenda for the negotiations, which is the next step.In a series of tweets, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said there was a signed document and urged both the Taliban and the government to get down to the business of negotiating a “political roadmap and a cease-fire.”The three-page document lays out the rules and procedures for the negotiations, which are taking place in Qatar where the Taliban have long maintained a political office.Afghans “now expect rapid progress on a political roadmap and a ceasefire. We understand their desire and we support them,” Khalilzad tweeted.A cease-fire, rights of women and minorities, and constitutional amendments are expected to top the agenda. But the list is likely to be long and contentious, with issues such as safety guarantees for thousands of Taliban fighters who disarm, as well as for disbanding the heavily armed militias loyal to Kabul warlords, many of them allied either with the government or opposition politicians.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who on Feb. 29 signed a Taliban-U.S. deal that paves the way for withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, welcomed the agreement.“As negotiations on a political roadmap and permanent ceasefire begin, we will also work hard with all sides in pursuit of a serious reduction of violence,” he said.Khalilzad’s announcement was not unexpected — last month, the Taliban said the rules and procedures were settled and the U.S. said last week it was all but wrapped up. But then the Afghan government said it had concerns with the some of the words in the preamble that set off accusations that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was holding up the deal. His spokesman denied this.There were no details about the document, but Taliban spokesman Mohammed Naeem said the two sides have appointed a committee to hammer out the agenda items.Since the Afghan-Taliban talks started in September, violence has spiked significantly. The Taliban have staged deadly attacks on Afghan forces while keeping their promise not to attack U.S. and NATO troops. The attacks have drawn a mighty retaliation by the Afghan air force, backed by U.S. warplanes. International rights groups have warned both sides to avoid inflicting civilian casualties.In Washington, U.S. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the military’s plan for reducing American troop levels in Afghanistan to 2,500 by mid-January has been approved by the acting secretary of defence, Christopher Miller. Milley declined to discuss the plan beyond saying that the smaller U.S. force would operate from “a couple of larger bases,” along with several smaller ones, in order to continue its current missions of combatting extremist groups like al-Qaida and training and advising Afghan defence forces.Milley asserted that the U.S. has achieved “a modicum of success” in Afghanistan after more than 19 years of war, given that there has not been a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. homeland. Noting that President Donald Trump made the decision to reduce the U.S. force to 2,500, Milley said, “What comes after that, that will be up to a new administration; we’ll find that out on the 20th of January and beyond.”In Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the breakthrough on the Afghan-Taliban talks, amid uncertainty over the alliance's future in Afghanistan and urged for rapid progress on cease-fire and establishing a political road map.“You can discuss whether it is a big or a small step, but the important thing is that it’s the first step,” Stoltenberg said, after chairing a videoconference of NATO foreign ministers. “It’s the first time actually that the Taliban and the Afghan government are able to sign a document agreeing on the framework, the modalities, for negotiations addressing a long-term, peaceful solution.”NATO has roughly 11,000 troops in Afghanistan, but under the U.S.-Taliban deal, all foreign troops would leave the country by May 1 if conditions allow. Stoltenberg has said that NATO faces a “difficult dilemma” over what to do.A decision on its future in Afghanistan, where NATO has led international security efforts since 2003 in the hope of keeping extremist groups at bay, is expected to be made in February after President-elect Joe Biden takes office.The Taliban today control or hold sway over nearly half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion toppled their regime over sheltering al-Qaida mastermind Osama bin Laden.Many Afghans, particularly in larger urban areas fear a return of their repressive regime that harshly punished those who defied their strict Islamic edicts. Unlike when they ruled, the Taliban now say they will allow girls to go to school and women to work and hold public office, though they will not allow a woman to become president or a chief justice of Afghanistan's Supreme Court.___Associated Press writers Robert Burns and Ken Guggenheim in Washington, Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Lorne Cook in Brussels contributed to this report.Kathy Gannon, The Associated Press
Discovery is joining the increasingly crowded streaming fray with its own reality-focused service Discovery Plus that will include shows from the Food Network, HGTV, TLC and its other networks. It launches Jan 4.The service will cost $5 a month with ads and $7 a month without ads. By comparison, the ad-free Disney Plus costs $7 a month and Netflix' most popular plan costs $14 a month.Each account will include up to five user profiles and support four concurrent streams. Discovery said the service will be available on “major platforms," connected TVs, web, mobile and tablets, but it didn't specify which services would carry it.Discovery CEO David Zaslav first announced the streaming service in late 2019, but did not provide details until now.Discovery has built a reality-TV empire with popular channels that feature reality programming, including the Discovery Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TLC, Investigation Discovery and others. Hit shows have included TLC's “90-Day Fiance," HGTV's “Fixer-Upper" and Guy Fieri's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" on the Food Network.The service will offer some originals like “90-Day Fiance” spinoff “90-Day Diaries” and “Long Island Medium” spinoff “Long Island Medium: There in Spirit.”Verizon customers will get a year free of the service, similar to the deal that Verizon did when Disney Plus launched in late 2019.Discovery Plus joins a slew of new streaming services started to challenge traditional TV providers and dominant streaming services like Hulu and Netflix over the past year, including Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus, HBO Max and Comcast’s Peacock service. CBS recently rebranded its CBS All Access service as Paramount Plus, relaunching in 2021.The service will role out in 25 countries in 2021 including Italy, Spain, U.K. and Ireland as well as India.The Associated Press
BEIJING — China’s landing of its third probe on the moon is part of an increasingly ambitious space program that has a robot rover en route to Mars, is developing a reusable space plane and is planning to put humans back on the lunar surface. The Chang’e 5, the first effort to bring lunar rocks to Earth since the 1970s, collected samples on Wednesday, the Chinese space agency announced. The probe landed Tuesday on the Sea of Storms on the moon's near side. Space exploration is a political trophy for the ruling Communist Party, which wants global influence to match China's economic success. China is a generation behind the United States and Russia, but its secretive, military-linked program is developing rapidly. It is creating distinctive missions that, if successful, could put Beijing on the leading edge of space flight. The coming decade will be “quite critical” in space exploration, said Kathleen Campbell, an astrobiologist and geologist at The University of Auckland. “This is where we’re going to transform out of near Earth orbit and back into what people will call ‘deep space,’” Campbell said. In 2003, China became the third nation to launch an astronaut into orbit on its own, four decades after the former Soviet Union and the United States. Its first temporary orbiting laboratory was launched in 2011 and a second in 2016. Plans call for a permanent space station to be launched after 2022. This week’s landing is “a historic step in China’s co-operation with the international community in the peaceful use of outer space,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. “China will continue to promote international co-operation and the exploration and use of outer space in the spirit of working for the benefit of all mankind,” Hua said. After astronaut Yang Liwei’s 2003 flight, space officials expressed hope for a crewed lunar mission as early as this year. But they said that depended on budget and technology. They have pushed back that target to 2024 or later. The space agency gave no reason for landing its latest probe on the Sea of Storms, far from where American and Soviet craft touched down. But the choice might help to shed light on possible sites being studied for a crewed mission. Beijing's space plane would be China's version of the American Space Shuttle and the former Soviet Union’s short-lived Buran. China also has launched its own Beidou network of navigation satellites so the Communist Party’s military wing, the People’s Liberation Army, doesn’t need to rely on the U.S.-run GPS or a rival Russian system. Last year, China graduated from “me too” missions copying Soviet and American ventures to scoring its own firsts when it became the first nation to land a probe on the moon’s little-explored far side. That probe, the Chang’e 4, and its robot rover still are functioning, transmitting to Earth via an orbiter that passes over the moon’s far side. China’s first moon lander, the Chang’e 3, still is transmitting. China’s earliest crewed spacecraft, the Shenzhou capsules, were based on Russian technology. Its powerful Long March rockets are, like their Soviet and American predecessors, based on ballistic missiles developed using technology seized from Nazi Germany after World War II. China has proceeded more cautiously than the breakneck U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s, which was marked by fatalities. China’s crewed missions have gone ahead without incident. Some launches of robot vehicles have been delayed by technical problems but those appear to have been resolved. China is in a growing space rivalry with Asian neighbours Japan and India, which it sees as strategic competitors. Both have sent their own probes to Mars. While Chang'e 5 gathers moon rocks, Japan's space agency just pulled off the even more challenging feat of obtaining samples from an asteroid, Ryugu. The Hayabusa2 mission is due to deliver those to Earth on Saturday. As its confidence grows, Beijing’s space goals have multiplied. It has joined the race to explore Mars, and its Tianwen-1 probe, launched in July carrying a robot rover to search for signs of water, is due to complete its 470-million kilometre (292-million mile) journey in February. Plans call for a permanent crewed space station as early as 2022. China is excluded from the International Space Station due to U.S. opposition to including Chinese military officers in a venture that otherwise is operated by civilian space agencies. Plans also call for an international lunar research base at some point, the deputy director of the Chinese agency’s lunar exploration centre, Pei Zhaoyu, told reporters last week. Despite its successes, the military-run Chinese program is more secretive than those of other governments. Yang and other Chinese astronauts made only a handful of brief public appearances following their flights, in contrast to Soviet and American astronauts who were sent on global publicity tours before cheering foreign crowds. The agency announced in September its space plane had completed a successful test flight but has yet to release details or even a photo of the craft. ___ Milko reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Joe McDonald And Victoria Milko, The Associated Press
The organizers of an anti-mask rally in Calgary on the weekend have been charged for breaching public health orders. One of them is a downtown street preacher who was fined earlier in the pandemic for similar alleged behaviour.Hundreds marched through downtown Calgary on Saturday to protest against mandated masks and other public health measures intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19.The charges fall under the Public Health Act.Street preacher Art Pawlowski faces tickets for failing to wear a face covering and failing to have an event permit.David Pawlowski and Ryan Audette each face a charge of failing to wear a face covering where required.Police are looking for three others who are also facing charges.A first-time breach of the Public Health Act is a $1,200 fine, police say. Mask bylaw violations are $50 fines.In April, Art Pawlowski, who leads a street church, was fined $1,200 for allegedly holding a gathering of more than 15 people at Olympic Plaza.Police said tickets were not issued right away Saturday because officers who attended the rally were concerned for their safety."It is not always prudent to issue a ticket at the time of an alleged offence," said the Calgary Police Service in a written statement. "For example, during a protest or event where emotions are high."Speaking on the Calgary Eyeopener on Wednesday, Ryan Pleckaitis, the city's chief bylaw officer, said police and bylaw officers worked together over the weekend to gather evidence against organizers. "Moving forward, I anticipate if some of these rallies continue, and if there's not adherence to the public health order, we will continue to do the same. And hopefully, through enforcement, we can start to curb some of those behaviours."The protests have taken place weekly in the city and across the country for months, but Saturday's was the first since Alberta's 10-person limit on outdoor gatherings was announced five days earlier.
Known Terror Squad gang member Kevin George Ackegan pleaded guilty in Prince Albert Provincial Court to weapons and drug-related charges avoiding a trial. Forty-year-old Ackegan was arrested by Prince Albert RCMP Integrated Crime Reduction Team during a traffic stop on Feb. 26, 2020. When police searched the vehicle they found two firearms, ammunition, a machete, a knife, bear spray, hydromorphone, methamphetamine, and Gabapentin pills. They also found U.S., Jamaican and Canadian currency. On Nov. 30 Ackegan changed his plea from not guilty to guilty. Before Ackegan’s trial, his lawyer Dale Blenner-Hassett, filed a Charter application asking the court to exclude the evidence seized during the traffic stop. Blenner-Hasset challenged whether the arresting officer had a reasonable belief that an offence was being committed. The court heard that the arresting police officer was working for the RCMP Integrated Crime Reduction Team that investigates gangs, guns and drugs. At about 8 a.m. on Feb. 26, 2020, the officer got a call from a source that told him Ackegan was in possession of guns and told him where he was in Prince Albert. The officer had used the source on eight previous occasions. The officer testified that the source has a criminal record. The court heard that the arresting officer also knew Ackegan. He had charged Ackegan previously in 2017 with breaching his parole by associating with known gang members and at the time of that arrest, Ackegan was a member of the street gang Terror Squad. On Feb. 26, 2020, when the officer received the information about Ackegan, he conducted surveillance at a residence on the 800 block of 14 Street West in Prince Albert. Another officer testified that he watched the residence for about three hours and at about 11:20 a.m. Ackegan came out of the residence and started loading several bags into the back seat and trunk of a vehicle. A woman was driving the vehicle and Ackegan was the passenger. Both officers testified that in their experience, guns could be concealed in bags. The officer who took the call from the informant testified that he conducted a CPIC inquiry on Ackegan, which confirmed he was prohibited from possessing firearms. The woman and Ackegan drove a few blocks before stopping at another residence. At this point the officers made a traffic stop and arrested Ackegan. One of the officers drove the vehicle to the police station where it was searched and police found guns in the bags, ammunition, drugs, and a cell phone. Crown Prosecutor Andreanne Dube argued that the search of the vehicle was justified as a search incidental to the lawful arrest of Ackegan. During cross-examination, Blenner-Hassett asked one of the officers the identity of the confidential informant. Judge H. M. Harradence, however, said the informant’s identity shouldn’t be disclosed and the court must ensure confidentiality is maintained. Judge Harradence dismissed the defence’s Charter application to have the evidence thrown out. He said he accepted that the arresting officer had information from a source that the accused was in possession of guns and that the information was current and firsthand because the source actually saw what was reported. Judge Harradence said there was some indication of past credibility of information from the source, three hours of surveillance that corroborated Ackegan was at the residence and was loading bags into the trunk and back seat of the vehicle. Judge Harradence also said that police testified they have investigative experience that guns have been concealed in bags and the arresting officer had personal knowledge of Ackegan’s history with illegal firearms and association with known gang members. “I find a number of factors persuasive of a strong connection between Ackegan and the illegal possession of firearms,” said Judge Harradence. Judge Harradence ruled that Ackegan’s rights weren’t violated. “In these circumstances, I find that the arrest and search of this accused and the vehicle was reasonable and lawful.” Ackegan will be sentenced in Prince Albert Provincial Court on Feb. 2. Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist
NEW YORK — The dramatic conclusion to “The Undoing,” HBO's whodunit starring Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman, proved how it's still possible to bring people together in today's fragmented television world.Three million people tuned in Sunday to find out who really killed the girlfriend of Grant's adulterous character in one of three showings on HBO and on the streaming service HBO Max, the Nielsen company said.That's likely to be a fraction of who eventually sees it, given how television is consumed today. The premiere of the six-episode series was seen by 1.4 million people the night it first aired, and by now has been seen by 9 million and counting.“It's a good example of how you can still have a water-cooler hit,” said Casey Bloys, HBO Programming president. “I will always point to good acting, writing and directing. It was a good story.”It was the most-watched night for HBO since the finale of “Big Little Lies” last year, which also featured Kidman and creator David E. Kelley.HBO also said it was the first time in network history that each episode of a series was seen by more people than the previous one, a powerful signal of how people were drawn into the mystery.“The Undoing” has generated more conversation on social media than any other new scripted television series this year, Nielsen said. Coupled with the streaming-only series “The Flight Attendant,” HBO Max had its biggest week since the service was launched.“The Undoing” was always designed as a limited series, but it attracted the type of interest that would make any television executive naturally wonder if the story could be extended in some way.“I don't know,” Bloys said. “I do think these things are lightning in a bottle. It could always be difficult to try that again.”But he pointed to the network's productive relationship with Kidman and Kelley.“We'll find something great to do,” he said. “Who knows what it will be?”In other ratings news, CNN finished November with its most-watched month in the network's 40-year history, showing growth in the aftermath of the election compared to rivals Fox News Channel and MSNBC.NBC was the top-rated broadcast network in prime time for Thanksgiving week, averaging 3.64 million viewers. CBS had 3.55 million, ABC had 2.4 million, Fox had 1.6 million, Ion Television had 930,000, Univision had 890,000 and Telemundo had 530,000.ESPN was the most-watched cable network, averaging 2.95 million viewers. Hallmark hit 2.53 million, Fox News Channel had 2 million, MSNBC had 1.59 million and CNN had 1.41 million.ABC's “World News Tonight” led the evening news ratings race with an average of 9.5 million viewers. NBC's “Nightly News” had 8.8 million and the “CBS Evening News” had 6.3 million.For the week of Nov. 23-29, the 20 most-watched programs in prime time, their networks and viewerships:1\. NFL Football: Chicago at Green Bay, NBC, 16.48 million.2\. “60 Minutes,” CBS, 13.78 million.3\. “NFL Pregame” (Sunday), NBC, 13.32 million.4\. NFL Football: L.A. Rams at Tampa Bay, ESPN, 13.14 million.5\. “The Masked Singer,” Fox, 11.42 million.6\. “NFL Post-Game” (Sunday), Fox, 11.11 million.7\. “Football Night in America” (Sunday, 7:55 p.m.) NBC, 10.78 million.8\. “NCIS,” CBS, 10.16 million.9\. “FBI,” CBS, 8.4 million.10\. “Football Night in America” (Sunday, 7:30 p.m.), NBC, 7.38 million.11\. “The Voice” (Monday), NBC, 7.08 million.12\. “The Voice” (Tuesday) NBC, 7.07 million.13\. “Dancing With the Stars,” ABC, 6.42 million.14\. “Monday Night Kickoff,” ESPN, 6.22 million.15\. “I Can See Your Voice,” Fox, 6.07 million.16\. “FBI: Most Wanted,” CBS, 5.66 million.17\. “The Neighborhood,” CBS, 5.46 million.18\. “Bob Hearts Abishola,” CBS, 4.9 million.19\. “Bull,” CBS, 4.68 million.20\. “The Bachelorette,” ABC, 4.49 million.David Bauder, The Associated Press
SÉCURITÉ. L’Opération Nez rouge s’adapte à la situation sanitaire actuelle et à ses impacts logistiques en offrant une campagne de sensibilisation numérique du 1er au 31 décembre sur le thème : Prenez les rennes de votre sécurité! «L’Opération Nez rouge fait partie du paysage du temps des Fêtes. Depuis 1984, des centaines de communautés se mobilisent pour leurs localités. Cette année, nous comptons sur vous pour perpétuer cette tradition de décisions éclairées. Planifiez vos déplacements en toute sécurité et devenez des porte-voix de l’Opération Nez rouge auprès de vos collègues, de vos amis, de vos parents. Ensemble, prenons les rennes de notre sécurité!», invite Jean-Marie De Koninck, président fondateur de l’Opération Nez rouge. La campagne de sensibilisation virtuelle sera jumelée à une campagne de dons. «Les dons amassés lors des raccompagnements permettent le développement de projets liés à la jeunesse et au sport amateur localement, et ce, depuis 1984. Dans le contexte sanitaire actuel, cette source de financement ne sera pas disponible cette année, mais l’Opération Nez rouge souhaite pouvoir continuer à soutenir ses maîtres d’œuvre. Une plateforme de dons en ligne, prenez-les-rennes.com… a donc été créée pour cette 37e édition», ajoute-t-on. Stéphane Lévesque, Initiative de journalisme local, L'Hebdo Journal
VIENNA — Austria will allow skiing to start on Dec. 24, but will limit the capacity of ski lifts and keep restaurants, bars and hotels largely closed until early January, officials said Wednesday. It also will require many people entering the country over the Christmas period to go into quarantine.Tough lockdown measures took effect Nov. 17 and are due to expire on Sunday. Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said a limited curfew that has applied around the clock will be eased, and from Monday will apply only between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.Schools will be reopened next week, except for older students, as will nonessential shops, museums, libraries and some other businesses. But restaurants will remain closed for all but takeout and deliveries, as will bars, and hotels will remain closed except to business travellers.Austria has been hard hit by the resurgence of coronavirus infections in Europe, though its infection rate has declined over recent weeks. It currently is recording 335 new infections per 100,000 residents over seven days, down from around 600 last month — but still more than twice as many as in neighbouring Germany, which is in a milder partial shutdown.Kurz said that progress over recent weeks, and the expectation of more before Christmas, allows “cautious” reopening steps. But he said the tourism and catering sectors won’t start reopening until Jan. 7.That will effectively mean that, over the holiday season, skiing is possible in most cases only on day trips for those Austrian residents who live fairly close to the Alps. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler said there will be mask-wearing and distancing requirements, and the capacity of cable cars will be limited.Kurz said that allowing skiing for locals but keeping the catering sector closed is “absolutely justified.”“Skiing is a sport that takes place in the open air, an individual sport, so epidemiologically it must be assessed differently from catering, where we know that there can time and again be infections,” he said.Kurz added that he, as a resident of eastern Austria, won't benefit but “for a large part of our population it will then be possible to go skiing at least for the day.”France and Germany, which has closed its ski resorts, are pushing for similar measures to be taken in other European countries, like Italy and Spain, for the Christmas season. Ski resorts are already open in neighbouring Switzerland, which has allowed skiing.Kurz rejected suggestions that Austria's limited reopening was a response to pressure from abroad.“We decide according to our infection situation, and our expectation is that we can push down our infections very, very strongly by Christmas,” he said.Austria also plans tougher border controls and quarantine rules in an effort to dissuade people from travelling abroad over the Christmas period. Austrian residents' summer trips to see relatives in the western Balkans, in particular, were blamed as a significant source of the resurgence of infections this fall.The quarantine rules will be imposed by mid-December and will apply “if you're coming from a country that exceeds a certain limit of infections,” Kurz said. Authorities set the limit at 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over 14 days, an infection rate which the vast majority of European countries currently surpass.The requirement will be for new arrivals to go into quarantine for 10 days, which they can cut short by taking a test after five days, Interior Minister Karl Nehammer said.___Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.___Geir Moulson reported from Berlin.Geir Moulson And Philipp Jenne, The Associated Press
Memorial University will delay the beginning of its virtual winter 2021 semester, while the College of the North Atlantic is pushing on with its plan to bring 50 per cent of students back to the classroom in January.In a news release issued Wednesday, MUN says the beginning of the winter semester will be pushed back five days, with online classes set to begin Jan. 11.The move will affect the St. John's and Grenfell campuses along with the Marine Institute, except for Marine Institute diploma of technology and technical certificate students who face a different academic schedule.The new date also doesn't apply to medical, nursing or engineering students, who will return on Jan. 6.Provost Mark Abrahams said he hopes the delay will help reduce stress for students and give teachers more time to prepare for the upcoming semester."I know that right now many of you are exhausted and feeling strain," Abrahams wrote. "I heard concerns during our employee town hall in late November, and received comments along the same vein from students."'The right direction'The delay to the start of the winter semester is being welcomed by some students, including Jasper Pritchard. "I think it's a good step in the right direction," he told CBC News on Wednesday. He says the year so far has been a struggle, noting it's been a big adjustment moving to online learning and he isn't doing as well as he had hoped academically. But, if there is a bright spot, Pritchard said it's been most of the professors. "The profs have been super helpful … and as much as they've been struggling, they've been very open and honest with us, and I think when we have had struggles most of my profs have been really, really forthcoming with trying to help us out," he said. The announcement marks the second time the school has delayed a return as a result of the pandemic, as the school altered the plan to bring some non-academic staff back to campus last month due to rising COVID-19 cases.In an email to CBC News, MUN says that delay will continue through the holiday break with a decision pending in the new year. The plan to keep students learning online during the winter semester will also continue, with the school hoping to bring some students back to campus in the spring semester.CNA welcoming half of students backMeanwhile, the College of the North Atlantic is starting 2021 with a very different plan — and will welcome back over half its student body for in-person learning this winter, barring changes to public health orders.According to an email to CBC News, the school's academic learning plan will see about 50 per cent of students on campus in the next semester, including programs in the schools of engineering technology, health sciences and industrial trades.40 per cent of students will remain online, with seven per cent of students receiving a combination of in-person and online classes.As part of the return to in-person classes, a mask or face shield will be required on all campuses with COVID-19 screening protocols at all entrances. Access to facilities will be limited, with use of buildings by outside groups not permitted for the time being.Campuses with residences will be limited to single occupancy with enhanced cleaning and visitor restrictions in place."As long as conditions permit, we look forward to welcoming more of our students back to our campuses in the new year and will continue to work closely with the Department of Health and Community Services and Chief Medical Officer of Health to ensure our procedures are as up to date as possible when it comes to public health guidelines," CNA spokesperson Michelle Barry wrote.While CNA is moving ahead with bringing students back to campus, MUN says it is not considering the idea as the two schools can't be compared in terms of campus density."It is not feasible at this time for us to bring more than 50 [per cent] of our students to our campuses," the school said in an email.Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
In an unusual year, it's more important than ever to celebrate the people who go above and beyond to help others. That was the message at the small ceremony that officially bestowed Fort Frances' citizen of the year Gabby Hanzuk with her recognition and plaque. The ceremony was held outside at the Rainy Lake Square in downtown Fort Frances due to restrictions on gathering indoors, allowing Hanzuk and some of her friends and supporters the ability and space to safely gather to celebrate the honour. Mayor June Caul was on hand to say a few words and to present Hanzuk with her plaque. Like she did when Hanzuk was announced as the recipient for this year's award, Caul began proceedings by reading from the nomination letter written by Dale Gill that was submitted to the Citizen of the Year committee for consideration. In the letter, Gill pointed to Hanzuk's decades of support of local initiatives like the Special Olympics, Meals on Wheels and Voyageur's Lions Club, among others, as deserving of recognition by the town. “Gabby is also on the board at volunteer bureau, and has volunteered in past to do the taxes for the low income,” Gill's letter read. “She also is a valuable volunteer at the Family Centre. Though Gabby's position for Meals on Wheels is a paid position, I feel that what she does there goes way above and beyond pay. She makes sure that our seniors who can't cook for themselves get a healthy meal every night, even if she has to deliver them by herself, not to mention every one of them get a Christmas goodie bag from her every Christmas. Along the Christmas line, Gabby has volunteered for the Community Christmas dinner for many years.” Speaking to the small gathering at the ceremony, Caul agreed with Gill's letter and acknowledged the work that Hanzuk does for the vulnerable populations in town. “If we didn't have volunteers like you to look after the less fortunate especially, there would be a lot less of a place for them to live here,” she said. “Not very many people have a heart as big as yours, that's for sure. So on behalf of the Town of Fort Frances, it's my pleasure to present this plaque to Gabby Hanzuk, Citizen of the Year 2020 in recognition of tremendous volunteer services to our community.” For all that she does in the community, Gabby stressed that she's still only one person and receives plenty of help from other volunteers and organizations in the region. “June mentioned it, she's been around with me a lot and so has my girlfriend Roz,” Hanzuk said. “Everybody, all the groups and all the places I've gone to and helped out, there's a lot of people that do it. I just happen to be the mouthy one, the one aggressive enough to just say, 'this is what's going to happen, we're going to do this.' You've got to love what you do because it's hard work. Sometimes it's hard work and dedication is key and there's a lot of that in this community. There are so many people that are amazing.” In addition to the people Hanzuk volunteers with, she also acknowledged the many individuals she's met while volunteering. She noted that they also make the work worth doing, though it can occasionally be difficult for reasons one might not expect. “You cannot put a price on all the wonderful people you get to meet and love and care about,” Hanzuk said, speaking particularly about her work with the Special Olympics. “There's also sad times too, when we lose one or two. I know a lot of our athletes are gone now that started in the beginning with us. I've danced at their weddings, some of them, and unfortunately have gone to funerals, but in the end you're a better person for knowing them all.” Caul shared some of her own experiences working with Hanzuk in different capacities, and said the dedication she displays in all the different ways she volunteers makes her more than deserving of the annual award. “For having done what she's done for over 30 years, the stamina it takes and doing stuff when she's not feeling well, she's still out there working as hard as she can,” Caul said. “I've been involved with the Christmas dinner for I believe 25 years now. She was there when I started working there, so she's been involved with that for a very long time. The volunteer bureau mentioned in the nomination, she's been a godsend to that board as well, because she's so giving, her heart is just so big and wonderful and she certainly deserves every accolade she ever gets.” Of the award itself, Hanzuk said she felt overwhelmed when she was told about the decision, as well as honoured by being recognized. “Disbelieving a little bit, but happy nonetheless,” Hanzuk said about being told she had been named Citizen of the Year. “The funny thing is when they called me I didn't say anything because I couldn't believe it. That's probably one of the first times that I was speechless. Anybody who knows me, they know. 'Oh my god, she didn't say something?'” A separate ceremony is being planned for Ray Calder, the other individual who was given special recognition at last week's council meeting for the volunteer work he did during the early COVID-19 pandemicKen Kellar, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort Frances Times
GUYSBOROUGH – There’s nothing like the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree. But if you don’t get one soon, you might not get one at all. The first thing on your Christmas shopping list this year should be the tree, according to the buzz on the lot at the Northeastern Christmas Tree Association (NECTA). Norman MacIsaac, the association’s manager of marketing, told The Journal last week that they will soon stop shipping because they are getting low on trees. And, while the association ships to the United States and doesn’t sell locally – when they can’t find enough trees to ship, that indicates a shortage in supply across the entire market. The NETCA, located on South River Lake Rd. near Goshen, procures trees for the U.S. market mainly from growers in Guysborough, Antigonish and Pictou counties. The association has 100 members and markets trees for approximately 60 of those members. This year, MacIsaac said, there is a big demand for trees,but not much of a supply. But that, according to him, has nothing to do with the pandemic; it’s due to competition and the plight that faces most of the agricultural sector – the demographic involved in the industry. “The average age of the grower is between 65 and 70 years old; people are getting out of it.” And the competition, that’s coming from below the border. “There are buyers from the U.S. coming in offering more money in some cases,” said MacIsaac. The draw for U.S. buyers is profit, of course. MacIsaac told The Journal that “prices are going up definitely; probably about 10 per cent more than last year and last year was probably about 10 per cent more than the year before.” The actual price per tree varies based on size and grade,but MacIsaac said, “If you’re dealing with premiums, you’ll get a pretty good dollar for them … a 7-8-foot tree of the highest grade would probably get $18 or more [wholesale].” MacIsaac said he isn’t seeing any difference in the tree business this year as far as COVID-19 is concerned, but he does expect it will be a good year for retailers. “I think there is going to be a big demand because people are going to be stuck in their homes because they can’t travel. Retailers are going to do really well, I think.” And he’s not the only one who’s predicting a good season. All over North America the Christmas tree market is booming. Shirley Brennan, the executive director of the Canadian Christmas Tree Growers Association told Global News, “People realize ‘I’m not going away for Christmas this year, so I am going to get a real tree.’ Families want a tradition and want to embrace this holiday season because they missed so much this year because of COVID.” While the pandemic might be making you rethink your holiday traditions, it might make you rethink your career choices as well. If that’s the case, here’s some potential advice from MacIsaac. “There are some young people in it, and they are going to reap the benefits of the low supply. They are doing a lot of planting and a lot of grooming. I think they are going to be set up pretty good. Any younger people that manage a Christmas tree farm properly will do well.”Lois Ann Dort, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Guysborough Journal
The number of continuing care facilities in Alberta with COVID-19 outbreaks of two or more cases has more than tripled in three weeks, causing advocates to sound the alarm.In three weeks, the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta care homes has shot to 123 from 40.As of Wednesday morning, 351 residents of long-term care facilities or supportive/home living sites have died of COVID in the province since the pandemic began, according to the government.That's 64 per cent of the 551 reported COVID deaths in Alberta."It's very challenging and quite frankly it's a situation in our province of our own making," said Mike Conroy, CEO of the Brenda Strafford Foundation, which runs a number of Calgary care homes.At one of them, Clifton Manor in southeast Calgary, an ongoing outbreak has led to 74 COVID-19 cases and three deaths.For months, Conroy has been calling for dedicated contact tracing and testing at Alberta continuing care facilities.The care homes that he's in charge of conduct asymptomatic testing every three days during an outbreak.And as recently as last week, Conroy had to wait three days for a batch of swab results — eight of which came back positive."My expectation, and I've been trying to secure a commitment, is that we should get those results in 24 hours, because it's information … the sooner we have the results, the sooner we can take action," he said.Staffing shortages more dire than in springStaffing is another major challenge for care homes as they battle through the second wave, said Lorraine Venturato, a nursing professor at the University of Calgary. "It's kind of coming in like a tsunami and there hasn't been as much attention being focused on continuing care as there was in the first wave and yet the situation is probably more dire now," she said.Venturato said continuing care centres may need to look to other industries — perhaps recruiting laid-off restaurant workers — for help with non-medical jobs."Meals need to be delivered to rooms if a site's in lockdown, so they may need extra people in the kitchen, extra people for delivery, extra people for cleaning," she said.20 hospitals also battle outbreaksCurrently, 20 Alberta hospitals are also now battling COVID-19 outbreaks.According to information published by Alberta Health Services, there are more than 190 COVID cases connected to active hospital outbreaks right now, and at least 20 deaths have been linked to the outbreaks.Hospitals across the province are working to dedicate 2,200 beds for COVID patients, as they did last spring, Premier Jason Kenney said in the legislature on Monday. At Tuesday afternoon's provincial update, Alberta reported 1,307 new cases, with a provincial positivity rate of 8.4 per cent. Alberta has reported more than 1,000 cases a day for nearly two weeks, and ICU and hospital numbers continue to hit record highs.The total number of active cases was 16,628, an increase of 174 from the day before.Conroy adds to calls for 'circuit-breaker' style lockdownFor his part, Conroy says the province's restrictions aren't working and he thinks it's time for a so-called "circuit-breaker" style lockdown.A circuit breaker lockdown is a short period of more stringent restrictions with a defined end point where non-essential services are shut down in order to reduce spread, allowing the system to catch up to the number of cases.Kenney's UCP have fielded repeated calls from doctors and others for a circuit-breaker lockdown in past weeks.Among them, the Alberta government has received letters from groups of hundreds of physicians and three major health-care unions in the province urging the government to institute a "circuit-breaker" targeted lockdown.The retiring head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Tom Sampson, also called for up to a 28-day "circuit breaker" lockdown, adding it should happen now to salvage the holiday season.
As the death toll from illicit drug overdoses continues to mount unabated in B.C., advocates want more specialized services and harm reduction measures to help protect young people. Another 162 fatalities occurred in October due to toxic drug supply, for a total of 1,386 deaths in 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service's most recent figures. Of those killed this year by the overdose crisis, 19 per cent, or 269 deaths, were young people aged 29 years old or younger, with 14 of the dead under the age of 19, the coroners service figures show. Kali Sedgemore, a youth outreach worker and peer harm reduction advocate in Vancouver, said the ongoing public health emergency is in its fifth year, and COVID-19 is only exacerbating the harms. “We don’t even have time to grieve because we know we will hear about another (death) the next day,” Sedgemore said. The dangers of the toxic illicit drug supply are being compounded as people following pandemic protocols use illicit drugs alone and as harm reduction services have been reduced, or wait times have increased at overdose prevention sites (OPS) during the pandemic, Sedgemore added. Youth do not make up the largest number of fatalities, but all overdose deaths are largely unnecessary and preventable, Sedgemore said. In 2020, 70 per cent of those who have died from the toxic drug supply fall between the ages of 30 and 59, and males account for 80 per cent of the deaths to date. Most overdose fatalities involved people dying alone indoors. One immediate way to reduce the harms from toxic illicit drugs to youth is to provide harm reduction and OPS services dedicated strictly to their demographic, Sedgemore said. “Youth are vulnerable to manipulation by adults,” Sedgemore said, adding young people are at risk of being exploited sexually or for money or other reasons. Specialized harm reduction services are already hard to come by in urban areas such as Vancouver but are even more scarce in smaller communities and rural areas, Sedgemore said, noting they originally came from a small community from the northern part of Vancouver Island. Plus, young people — especially those under the age of 18 — are often deterred from using harm reduction services or supplies by providers due to their age, or can come under increased scrutiny from staff at these locations, they said. Both of these situations make youth uncomfortable, Sedgemore said. It’s also critical that medical professionals, social workers or other service providers don’t push youth into treatment before they are ready, Sedgemore stressed. Doing so only puts youth at increased risk, forcing them to be more secretive about any illicit drug use and increasing the unwillingness to use harm reduction services or call emergency services in case of an overdose. Research shows abstinence education, or the "just say no to drugs" approach, is not as effective as talking openly about illicit drugs, the associated risks and, if youth should choose to use them, how to do it safely, Sedgemore said. However, there is also the need for more youth treatment beds and shorter wait-lists for youth seeking help, Sedgemore said, especially closer to their own communities. “I don’t think it’s great sending a youth away from their own hometown and the people youth are used to seeing every day.” The B.C. government plans to double the number of treatment beds for youth aged 12 to 24 who are struggling with substance use. A total of 60 young people under the age of 24 lost their lives to fentanyl poisoning from toxic street drugs from January to June 2020, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. The province committed $36 million to create another 123 treatment beds for young people, in addition to 20 beds recently established at a new youth facility in the Fraser Valley. Prior to the recent announcements, B.C. had 103 treatment beds for youth. The new beds are part of a broader continuum of care the B.C. government is planning for young people that will include culturally safe, youth-specific services in both rural and smaller city centres, the ministry stated. Building on its network of youth-specific mental health and substance use services, the province will develop eight new Foundry centres, for a total of 19 youth hubs. Foundry centres provide primary care, youth and family peer supports, walk-in counselling, mental health and substance use services and social services all under one roof. Steve Ayers, program manager for the Foundry located in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, agreed that youth benefit from specialized services and being in charge of any decisions about their drug or alcohol use. “If a counsellor is going to really be impactful, they have to let the client drive the process of making changes around substance use,” Ayers said. “The objective of substance use counselling is to help youth have a better life, and what are some concrete ways that might happen, depending on their choices of course,” he said. Many youth use substances to deal with trauma or anxiety, so alternate tools or strategies need to be developed to help young people deal with that suffering, he added. It’s dangerous to assume youth overdoses due to illicit drugs are only a big-city problem, Ayers said. “It’s absolutely a misconception,” he said, adding the issues that fuel youth substance use exist in every community across Canada. However, youth generally don’t tend to be as entrenched with illicit hard drugs as some other age demographics, especially in rural areas where supply might be limited, Ayers said. “If there’s no supply (of illicit drugs) kids will find other things to do to cope with what they are struggling with,” he said. However, kids and families in rural or remote communities such as the Discovery Islands or small communities across North Vancouver Island can face additional challenges or gaps in accessing supports, Ayers said. Many Foundry services are now available online to try to mitigate the challenges for youth living in more isolated communities who need support, especially with travel limitations due to the pandemic, he said. The youth hub also works with schools to meet with students during class time for those who have to bus in and out of Campbell River. Young people and their families just need to reach out and the Foundry will try to find a fix for any stumbling blocks to service, Ayers said. “We always seem to be able to find them and reach them with help,” he said. “Unless they're just not reaching out at all. And honestly, those are the people that we’re scared for most.” Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National ObserverRochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer