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
Venezuela's opposition is discussing scaling back the interim government of opposition leader Juan Guaido that has won diplomatic recognition by dozens of countries that disavowed President Nicolas Maduro, nine legislators told Reuters. Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, in 2019 called Maduro a usurper following his disputed re-election and assumed a parallel presidency based on articles of the constitution that make the head of the National Assembly next in line to rule the country. Guaido's lawmaker allies have said they will continue to insist that they are legitimate parliamentarians after Jan. 5, arguing that their constitutional mandate remains intact because Sunday's vote is rigged.
Pro wrestling trailblazer Pat Patterson has died at the age of 79.WWE announced the passing of the Hall of Famer on Wednesday morning.Born Pierre Clermont in Montreal, Patterson rose to prominence as a wrestler in the Pacific Northwest and San Francisco territories during the 1960s and 1970s before moving to the New York-based World Wrestling Federation in 1979.He was the first-ever intercontinental champion for the WWF — now known as WWE — before transitioning to a behind-the-scenes role in the 1980s.Patterson worked with wrestlers to help them develop the narrative beats of their matches and specialized in coming up with memorable finales."Pat Patterson was the Yoda to my Luke," said former WWE champion Chris Jericho, who is from Winnipeg, in an Instagram post. "He taught me 90% of what I know about putting together a wrestling match."Beyond that he was a confidant, a mentor, collaborator, a sounding board, an oracle, a prophet, a genius, a comedian, a singer and most importantly.... a friend."Sami Zayn, who is also from Montreal, tweeted about how Patterson had looked out for him when he first signed with WWE."NO ONE was a bigger supporter, advocate, or believer in me than Pat Patterson," said Zayn. "NO ONE went to bat for me more often than him. I feel lucky to have had him in my life."Patterson was also the inventor of the Royal Rumble, a signature event on the WWE schedule that was first held in Hamilton in 1988.He rose to on-screen prominence again in the late 1990s, playing the role of a bumbling but villainous "stooge" to WWE owner Vince McMahon along with friend Gerald Brisco."I can count on one hand the people who had the deepest understanding of great psychology in pro wrestling, and perhaps Pat was the greatest ever," said Calgary's Bret (The Hitman) Hart in a lengthy Instagram post. "His ultimate contribution can never be properly measured, but to those who know, Pat will always stand the tallest."Patterson legally changed his name to Pat Patterson in 2008.Patterson was openly gay, having come out in the 1970s, but his sexual orientation was never directly acknowledged on television until 2014 when he spoke about it on a WWE-produced reality TV show. Louie Dondero, Patterson's longtime partner of 40 years, died of a heart attack in 1998.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
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
TORONTO — A hospital in midtown Toronto is offering a "virtual emergency room" so patients can see a doctor without risking exposure to COVID-19.Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre says the service is available for anyone over the age of 16 with a valid Ontario health card.The hospital says patients will connect with the doctor via secure video on the same day, on a first-come, first-served basis.Virtual 15-minute appointments are available Monday to Friday, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the online booking system opening at noon every weekday.Sunnybrook says that the service is intended for non-life threatening injuries or sickness.Examples of symptoms or conditions that the hospital says the online system is designed for include bites and stings, rashes, frostbite or sprains and minor injuries.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
People in Halifax will be able to order an Uber starting Thursday afternoon, and at least one other ride-hailing company is eyeing a launch in the city before the end of the year.Uber said in a news release that its smartphone app, which connects people looking for transportation with a driver, will go live for the Halifax region at 1 p.m. Thursday.However, the company encouraged residents to stick to public health guidelines and only use it for essential travel like getting to a doctor's appointment or pharmacy.Uber did not share any more information when asked about details by CBC, including how many drivers are active in Halifax, or how many have applied.A map of Uber's coverage area on its website shows that the urban core will be included, as well as more suburban and rural areas like Timberlea, Fall River and Eastern Passage. The company said its service area will expand as the number of drivers increases. Uber also said it's providing 2,000 free rides to front-line workers and families in need, through Partners for Care's Helping Healthcare Heroes program and Ronald McDonald House Charities Atlantic.Council cleared the way this fallUber's app puts the company in direct competition with members of the taxi industry, something that has sparked outcry in places like Toronto. Still, some people in Halifax have complained that the taxi industry in the municipality doesn't meet people's needs and there are often long delays in getting cabs at peak times. In September, Halifax council gave ride-hailing services like Uber the green light to operate in the municipality. They have stated they hoped to launch in the city before the end of 2020.The Canadian ride-hailing company Uride has yet to launch in Halifax, but its founder said it will be live by the end of the year.Cody Ruberto said the company has had over 700 people apply to be drivers, but could not immediately say how many had been accepted.In an email, Ruberto said he believes both Uber and Uride can operate in the same city since this is the case in many other areas. Halifax "deserves" this type of service, Ruberto said, and residents want choice. "Uride is a homegrown Canadian rideshare business, and we really care about the people here. Our goal is to provide reliable, safe affordable transportation, and we want to give back to the community any way we can," he wrote.Ruberto also noted they "rarely have price increases," which differs from Uber's model of surge pricing during busy times that he believes can turn people away."We do whatever we can to keep pricing affordable, while working to ensure reliable coverage," Ruberto said.MORE TOP STORIES
New membership is bringing new ideas to one Tay Township neighbourhood. Several of those new ideas were presented to council at a recent meeting by Victoria Reaume,president, Talpines Property Owners' Association. “Waubaushene has changed over the last few years and it's still changing a lot,” she said. “We see young families and retirees moving into town. They're looking for wonderful new things to do in the community.” One of those, said Reaume, is to enhance the usability of the Tay Trail. “We've raised a number of issues with bylaw about motorized vehicles,” she said. “The township did do some stakeouts and managed to catch some folks who were riding motorcycles on the trail and other types of vehicles.” But the trail, said Reaume, is increasingly being used by bike clubs and there seem to be no speed limits. “They will ride by in numbers like 20 and it's scary when they drive by at that speed,” she said. “We're asking for more signage because clearly people are not seeing the signage that exists.” The group is also looking to beautify Pine Street Beach with a mural on the tin building in the vicinity, said Reaume. “It's a very popular site and we're starting to see people use it more,” she said, talking about the beach. “We also mentioned last year a ramp or stairs at the beach so people with mobility problems could have better access to the beach. We don't want a boat ramp for sure. We do want a pedestrian ramp, something that people can use to walk down more easily.” As well, Reaume said, a lot of the seniors and kids go down to enjoy the beach, where there's no shade. “We know that other parks in Tay have gazebos,” she said. “We just want something to provide a bit of shade; we don't need anything fancy.” At least two councillors expressed support at the meeting. “We could maybe look at accessibility grants out there to make that beach more accessible,” said Coun. Mary Warnock. “I'm sure there are artists out there looking to paint something so you could collaborate with them. And I'm sure staff would appreciate the help in getting some money for signage.” Coun. Jeff Bumstead said he could watch out for opportunities through the Cultural Alliance Committee channel. A final decision about how much money can be given to the Talpines POA will be made at a December council meeting around grants.Mehreen Shahid, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, OrilliaMatters.com
MONTREAL — Refugee advocates are criticizing Canada's decision to resume deportations before the country irons out the details of a program to grant permanent residency to asylum-seekers who have been working in the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.Frantz Andre, who advocates on behalf of asylum seekers, says the decision has heightened the feelings of insecurity among the essential workers dubbed "guardian angels" by Quebec Premier Francois Legault.The Canada Border Services Agency confirmed it resumed deportations as of Nov. 30, after halting most removals in March due to the pandemic. The agency clarified that it would not be deporting people who are likely to qualify for permanent residency under a federal program announced in August to grant a path to residency for people working in the health-care sector or in long-term care or assisted living facilities."The CBSA would like to clarify that the agency will not be removing those who may be eligible to qualify for permanent residency under the guardian angels public policy," the agency wrote in an email Tuesday.Advocates estimate that hundreds of asylum-seekers have been working in long-term care homes in Quebec, which bore the brunt of the first wave of COVID-19 this spring.Andre notes that the final details of the program have yet to be made public, leading many of the so-called guardian angels to fear they may yet be deported."So, we’re starting (deportations) three weeks before Christmas, when the program and the details of this special program for the asylum-seekers or orderlies cannot be announced," he said."I call this criminal. This is not right."Andre said the initial elation over the announcement of the program has faded, leaving many asylum-seekers feeling fearful and unsure if they'll qualify.He says some workers who could have been eligible have given up and decided to return home; others have contemplated suicide.Wilner Cayo, the president of a group that advocates for asylum-seekers and visible minorities, notes that even asylum-seekers working in long-term care — the exact group targeted by the program — are not sure they'll qualify because there are other criteria to meet, including having been issued a work permit and having a certain amount of experience and hours worked. He said the uncertainty is causing people "enormous anxiety.""When they take such a long time and the rules are not clear, we don’t know what to expect," he said in a phone interview.Quebec has a large degree of control over immigration criteria for the province, and it will select the applicants who qualify under the federal program and wish to reside in Quebec.In an email, a spokesperson for the Quebec Immigration Department said the program is expected to come into effect over the winter, and the details of how it will apply in Quebec will be announced "shortly."Cayo said the program also does not address the situation of other essential workers, including security guards and cleaning staff in care homes, truck drivers and those working in food production."These people sacrificed for Quebec, sacrificed for Canada," he said. "When many people were staying home, these people went out to work."Their contribution has shown they are not a burden to Canada, but a gift, he added.Andre believes the deportation order should be suspended until it becomes clear who exactly is eligible for the guardian angels program. But in his opinion, all the asylum-seekers who have been in the country since the pandemic began deserve to stay."I think they all have contributed economically, to saving lives, and Canada is better thanks to these people," he said.In its email, the CBSA defended its decision to deport, noting that the "timely removal of failed claimants plays a critical role in supporting the integrity of Canada’s asylum system."Removals to some regions remain suspended, including the Gaza Strip, Syria, Mali, Venezuela, Haiti, Afghanistan and Iraq.The agency also said the volume of deportations is expected to be reduced for some time, and that claimants will continue to have access to all the appeals and recourses available under the law.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Families across the County of Grande Prairie can benefit from a diaper drive running now until Dec. 10, courtesy of county Regional Enforcement Services. During the campaign the county will collect disposable diapers and cash donations to assist residents in need during the Christmas season. The campaign marks the first diaper drive held by Regional Enforcement Services, but it will hopefully become an annual effort, said peace officer Lindsey Hennigar. “Being a mom of three, I know first-hand diapers are not cheap,” Hennigar said. “It touches every parent’s heart to think how worrisome it would for another parent to wonder, ‘Do I have enough diapers to change my child this day?’” Hennigar said she came up with the idea after considering how food banks have food drives and other organizations collect hygiene necessities and toys. She thought Regional Enforcement Services could fill a gap with a diaper drive, she said. “We’re a family-oriented department and we thought this would be a great way to help residents in need of diapers,” she said. “It’s our way of giving back to the community.” Disposable diapers, related products like wipes and diaper cream and cash donations can be made at numerous locations. These are the Beaverlodge, Wembley, Valhalla, Sexsmith, La Glace and Elmworth libraries, Clairmont’s Wellington Resource Centre, Hythe’s village office and Bezanson’s Knelsen Centre. Monetary donations can also be made online at www.countygp.ab.ca/diaperdrive. The diapers will then be distributed by the Sexsmith and Area Food Bank. While the Sexsmith Food Bank is distributing the donations, Hennigar said families in the west county can also benefit from the program. The drive began last Thursday and she said so far there’s been a lot of interest. During COVID people may not be able to easily access stores to purchase diapers to donate, but Hennigar said Regional Enforcement Services staff will buy some with the cash donations.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 7, 2020 COVID-19 has created such an unmanageable backlog of court cases that even Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) agrees with a provincial policy that reduces some drunk driving cases to careless driving for fear of seeing the charges dropped altogether. Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, said the well-known national organization would be outraged in normal circumstances, but insists there are few options during the ongoing pandemic. Under a Supreme Court ruling known as “Jordan,” a criminal case must be heard within 18 months to guarantee the right to a fair and speedy trial. With a massive backlog facing Crown attorneys, many cases would be thrown out for taking too long. “We’re not prepared to have 6,000 (impaired drivers) go scot-free,” Murie said. “This is very difficult for police and MADD to stomach. This is a short term, one-time situation.” Reducing an 80-plus or impaired driving charge to careless driving means the suspect would avoid a criminal record and be convicted under the Highway Traffic Act instead. But the Ministry of the Attorney General’s policy only allows the option if the driver had low blood-alcohol level, was not involved in a serious collision, did not cause physical harm, was not impaired by drugs, did not have children in the vehicle and had no previous criminal or Highway Traffic Act record. “Prosecutors retain the discretion to refuse to offer a careless driving resolution if there are other aspects of the case that make it particularly serious or aggravating,” ministry spokesperson Maher Abdurahman said in a prepared statement. Barrie criminal lawyer David Wilcox said most suspects wouldn’t qualify under the criteria, which also excludes drivers if they had blown a “warning” during a roadside screening or refused to submit to a breathalyzer. “That’s a lot of ifs,” he said. “There are a lot of preconditions that have to be met.” Those who do meet the conditions still face some significant financial penalties, Wilcox added. “There’s still some teeth to this resolution. Crowns are told that they should seek a $1,000 fine and a period of probation, including the installation of an interlock device.” An interlock requires a driver to blow into the device to prove there is no alcohol in their system before they can start their vehicle. Renting an interlock, having it installed and removed after probation can cost about $2,000. Drivers who were charged with impaired driving, but pleaded down to careless driving, still face significant increases in their auto insurance premiums. “(The insurers) will see that you were charged with 80-plus and they will determine the fee that they’ll want without any regard of if the charge was withdrawn,” Wilcox said, pointing out escaping a criminal record is probably the most significant benefit for drivers who fall under the policy. “For a lot of people, there are real serious consequences for a criminal record of any kind.” — With files from Jeremy GrimaldiRick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Canada's chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the priority list for the first COVID-19 vaccines is being refined because there won't be enough doses available in the first round to cover the initial groups recommended.
Manitoba students from Grade 7 to 12 will shift to remote learning for two weeks following the winter break as part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, Manitoba's education minister says.The two-week remote-learning period, starting Jan. 4 and continuing to Jan. 15, will be mandatory for students in grades 7 to 12, and will also be an option for kindergarten to Grade 6 students if families want to keep younger kids at home, Minister Kelvin Goertzen said at a Wednesday news conference."These decisions, we know have various impacts," he said."They're not made lightly … but they are made in consultation with public health and with the understanding that we believe, and still believe, that the best place for students to learn is in the classroom where it is safe to do so."In a news release announcing the shift, the province said the preventative measure is focused on grades 7 to 12 because older students tend to have more contacts, and so have a higher likelihood of transmitting the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. In addition, the province said those students are more amenable to online learning. The mandatory shift to remote learning for Grade 7-12 students will keep close to half of the province's student body at home, the province said.Manitoba is currently under a strict lockdown barring visitors to homes. Stores are also prohibiting the purchase of non-essential items due to the high COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations.On Wednesday, the province reported there are 351 people in hospital, including 51 in intensive care, marking yet another new record.Previously, health officials acknowledged the province was mulling the possibility of extending the winter break to offset some transmission that may have occurred over the holiday, but Goertzen said students need to keep up their education."We want to keep students learning … whether that's remotely or in the classroom, the key is we don't want the education of our young students to stop."School safety an issue, critics sayCritics are worried not enough is being done to ensure the safety of Manitoba schools."Whether schools are safe or not, we don't actually know," said Dougald Lamont, the leader of the Manitoba Liberals. "We're not actually doing the testing and the contact tracing to be able to tell whether there's transmission in schools or not."The education critic for the Manitoba NDP, Nello Altomare, said the province should implement asymptomatic testing in schools."Right now it's all based on data that's incomplete." Goertzen said the decision to begin remote learning after the scheduled break was made to allow some time to shift to remote learning, and also to ensure COVID-19 numbers don't spike after the return to school."We have seen traditionally in other places, and in Manitoba … that the COVID-19 numbers can go up over the break. This provides, from a public health perspective, some additional assurance just to see what those numbers are looking like," he said.Province not sure if shift will continue after 2 weeks Goertzen couldn't say with certainty if the remote-learning period will continue after the two weeks are over."Making predictions during a pandemic has proven not to be a good business to be in," he said."But our priority is to have schools operating."Regardless, there will be supports for teachers and students during this period, the province said.Deputy education minister Dana Rudy said the previously announced resource centre to support remote learning will be in place by Jan. 4 to assist students with their studies while they're at home.The province said they were in the process of hiring up to 140 people who will be employed to support teachers delivering remote learning by providing learning programs, professional development opportunities, instructional coaching and technology supports.Early last month, about 500 teachers signed a letter saying they're at a breaking point and desperate for more staff in schools.WATCH | Manitoba education officials announce two-week remote-learning period:
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 2, 2020 An OPP report outlining the opioid epidemic paints a grim picture of the continuing crisis across the province, with a 36 per cent increase in overdose-related deaths last year. According to the Impacts and Strategies report, 1,163 Ontarians lost their lives due to opioid-related causes from January to September 2019. The report estimates one Ontario resident dies from opioids every 4.7 hours. "There are no excuses in today's environment for these harmful drugs to be distributed through our communities,” OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said in a media release. “We will continue to pursue those who are knowingly trafficking harmful opioids, such as fentanyl, and we will hold them responsible for their actions.” From 2017 to 2019, investigators laid charges in 16 overdose-related death investigations across the province. A total of 134 charges were laid against 31 persons, including, manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, and unlawfully causing bodily harm. OPP officers are mandated to conduct a thorough investigation of overdose incidents, focusing on the protection of victims and the pursuit of drug traffickers. OPP officers have saved more than 100 lives by using naloxone to reverse the immediate effects of an opioid overdose. The Good Samaritan Act allows users to call 911 without fear of criminal charges for simple possession of a narcotic. The OPP analysis of the opioid situation in the jurisdictions the service covers, including much of Simcoe County, shows a significant increase in the harmful effects of the crisis. Barrie police and South Simcoe police are the only municipal police services in the county. The report shows: • Fentanyl was identified in 106 samples in 2012, and rose to 2,729 samples in 2018, representing an increase of more than 2,400 per cent. • The OPP responded to 897 overdose occurrences in 2017; 1,381 in 2018; and 1,625 in 2019. This represents an 81 per cent increase over a three-year period. • For the reporting period of 2017-2019, 19 per cent of all overdose-related occurrences in OPP jurisdictions have been fatal, with that percentage consistent through all three years. To find out more about the dangers of fentanyl and short-term antidotes, visit www.facethefentanyl.ca Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 1, 2020 Fourteen ATV riders could have saved themselves more than $100 if they had purchased an off-road trail permit. Instead they were hit with a $215 fine for breaking a Simcoe County bylaw that requires the $103 permits to use trails designated for off-road use. Riding in undesignated areas also carries a $215 fine. Huronia West OPP officers and trail wardens stopped 65 riders in County of Simcoe Forests Sept. 27, with the majority of the trail users in full compliance with regulations. Police remind ATV riders that under provincial laws a helmet, licence plate, registration, insurance and driver's licence are required when operating off-road vehicles on public trails, road allowances and Simcoe County Forests trails. They must be presented to an officer upon demand. Trail permits can be purchased from OFATV and OFTR. For details refer to https://myoftr.ca or call 855-637-6387. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Dentists travelling within the Northwest Territories to provide services are now back in operation in some communities as the territorial government, with support from Indigenous Services Canada, gave dental teams the green light to travel."Oral health and access to dentists is a critical part of overall health and wellness. I am pleased with the collaborative work across Government to resume these services," said Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services in a news release issued on Wednesday.All non-urgent services were suspended in mid-March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.Then, in mid-June, the Northwest Territories government relaxed guidelines to allow dentists to resume services "pending appropriate steps" — but some dentists said strict rules still prevented them from travelling into smaller communities to provide services.The following communities can start services, as their facilities "have met facility infrastructure dental care standards" and were given approval by the Chief Public Health Officer: * Fort Providence, N.W.T. * Sambaa K'e, N.W.T. * Fort Simpson, N.W.T. * Norman Wells, N.W.T. * Fort Resolution, N.W.T. * Aklavik, N.W.T.As well, visiting private dentists will now also be able to resume in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Hay River, the release says.The rest of the communities that previously received visiting dental services will be able to be back in operation "when facility upgrades are complete, contracts are in place and facilities are inspected and meet COIVID-19 safety protocols," the release says.The government says the "necessary assessments" and required work is expected to continue throughout the coming year and that more updates will be given as more facilities in other communities are confirmed.The territory faced criticism after suspending services with many people saying it deepened the disparity in health care between larger centres and communities.The territory has been working with Indigenous Services Canada to resume the service.For now, Indigenous Services Canada will cover travel for people in communities to receive dental care until further notice, the release says.
Libraries across the County of Grande Prairie and other enhanced-status areas of the province have been limited to 25 per cent capacity under provincial COVID restrictions since Friday. The three-week measures have resulted in event cancellations, but local libraries are continuing regular services. “There’s no social gatherings at this point,” said Sheryl Pelletier, Shannon Municipal Library director in Sexsmith. “Socially-distanced rhymes,” an in-person family activity program, was cancelled a few weeks ago, Pelletier added. With Shannon Municipal Library having a capacity of 40 people, the restrictions set a limit of six people plus three staff in the library at a time, she said. She said in previous years the library has drawn in approximately 30 people at a time, as families gathered for movie nights. The library has curbside pickup but patrons can also come into the library as long as they’re wearing masks, Pelletier said. Meanwhile, Beaverlodge Public Library is largely unaffected by the new restrictions, but the annual artisan fair has been cancelled. “We’ve had a mask policy in place, people sanitizing and entrance by doorbell,” said library manager Tracy Deets. Before the restrictions, patrons largely preferred curbside pickups, so the 25-per cent capacity limit isn’t a problem, she said. The limited capacity means the library could accommodate approximately 30 people, which the library rarely sees at a single time, Deets said. Conversely, the artisan fair attracts an average of 250 people, she said. The fair is a one-day event rather than a regular market and as such had to be cancelled this year, Deets said. The library planned to have the artisan fair this Saturday. While the vendors won’t be at the library for a single event, Deets said the library is planning to have their goods on display and available for purchase over several days, up to Dec. 9. As well, the library will still be open Saturday, but as a regular service day, she said. The library also has a North Pole Postal Depot at the front desk where children who wrote to Santa can pick up their replies. Elmworth Community Library is allowing only two individuals or one cohort in at a time to satisfy protocols, said Michelle Gillis, library co-ordinator. “We continue to offer and encourage curbside pickup and private appointments,” Gillis said. Hythe Public Library is open and can accommodate eight patrons at a time, with visitors asked to wear masks, according to the library. Meanwhile, Wembley Public Library is generally closed to visitors and focusing on delivery and pick-ups, said library manager Anna Underwood.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 2, 2020. A Barrie Catholic elementary school is the latest to close a classroom after someone tested positive for COVID-19. St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School principal Rich Foshay sent a letter to parents Oct. 1 explaining the situation, without revealing if the infected person is a student or teacher. Foshay told parents the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit will determine who may be at risk and “ensure that school staff, families and students are provided with the appropriate information.” Foshay said he will send a voice message and email, on behalf of the health unit, to all individuals that need to take further steps as a result of this positive case. “If you do not receive a voice message and email directly, then your child is not part of the affected cohort,” his letter states. St. Catherine of Siena, located on Summerset Drive, is the sixth Simcoe Catholic elementary school to close at least one classroom due to a positive COVID case. “We all must work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a school community, we will pray for all those impacted by this virus and continue to demonstrate compassion and respect for one another as we navigate this situation,” Foshay said. The school will advise the health unit of any person who came in contact with the infected person, including in before and after-school care and on a school bus. Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of all areas in the school where the person may have been has already taken place and will continue to be a priority, Foshay said. Visit the www.simcoemuskokahealth.org or contact Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or (toll free) 1-877-721-7520 ext. 5830 for more health-related information. Visit www.smcdsb.on.ca for details about the school reopening plan. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
A match made in heaven — or hell.
WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged Congress to approve COVID-19 relief funds without further delay, though Democrats continued to attack a decision by Mnuchin to allow five Fed lending programs to expire during the pandemic.In his most direct comments so far, Powell told the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday that it's “very important” for Congress to provide economic support.New funding would serve as a “bridge” for the economy to get from the current environment in which virus infections are spiking, to next year when vaccines should be widely available, Powell said.“We are trying to get as many people across that bridge as we can,” Powell said.Without more assistance, Powell said, people will lose their homes and small businesses will fail. “You could lose parts of the economy,” which would slow any recovery next year, he said.“We are hearing from all over that small businesses are really under pressure," Powell told lawmakers.For a second day a number of Democratic lawmakers on the committee challenged Mnuchin’s decision to allow five Fed lending programs to expire at the end of this year, contending that his reading of the law was incorrect. They say it's a political manoeuvr to hobble the incoming Biden administration financially.“There is no justifiable reason for taking these tools away,” Rep. Maxine Waters, chair of the House panel, told Mnuchin. “It is foolish and reckless.”In a rare split with Treasury last month, the Fed issued a statement saying that it believed it was important to continue providing an economic backstop after Mnuchin said he was terminating the programs.Mnuchin has repeatedly insisted that he was just following the CARES Act law.When Powell was asked if he agreed with that interpretation, Powell deferred to Mnuchin.Powell did say Wednesday that the Fed had issued its statement to make it clear that the central bank was committed to providing further support to the economy.“We were concerned that the public might misinterpret (Mnuchin’s action) as the Fed stepping back and thinking our work is done,” Powell said.Asked what Congress should put in a relief bill that could pass in the lame-duck session this month, Mnuchin said his priority would be an authorization allowing the Treasury to use $140 billion in left-over funds to provide small businesses with a second round of Paycheck Protection Program loans.The PPP program allowed businesses to get loans to keep their workers on the payroll with the loan forgiven if the business met certain terms geared at avoiding layoffs.Mnuchin said Congress should also consider extending some of the emergency unemployment benefit programs that are being used by around 11 million workers. Those programs will expire at the end of this month without Congressional action.Lawmakers have been unable to reach agreement on further economic relief after many programs in the $2 trillion CARE Act expired in August. Democrats are seeking more funds than the GOP-controlled Senate has been willing to provide.On Tuesday a bipartisan group of senators introduced a aid bill totalling around $908 billion, raising hopes that the legislative impasse might be broken. Mnuchin said he was in discussions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who since this summer has insisted on a larger bill. Mnuchin said unfortunately Pelosi has insisted that a half-a-loaf measure would not be good enough.“I would encourage Congress in the lame duck," Mnuchin said. "Let’s get something done.”He said has been keeping President Donald Trump abreast of the negotiations every day.Martin Crutsinger, The Associated Press
Community centres across the South Peace have partially closed due to three-week COVID restrictions that came into effect for enhanced-status areas last Friday. The Beaverlodge Community Centre and multi-purpose room are both closed, said Tina Letendre, Beaverlodge acting chief administrative officer. The Christmas Festival hasn’t been booked at the centre this year and that means lost revenue of approximately $1,800, she said. “We’re unable to do the Christmas Festival this year with the COVID restric- tions,” said Alysha Martin, Beaverlodge Daycare Society executive director. She said last year the festival was held at St. Mary School, which is also closed for private rentals. Letendre said most other lost rental revenue at the community centre will be “very minimal,” or about $143 in November. Planned private rentals were cancelled and postponed, with Letendre saying birthday parties, fitness classes and meetings were the most common rentals. Both the Sexsmith Community Centre and civic centre have been affected by the restrictions. Dennis Stredulinsky, an Elks member who manages bookings for the civic centre, said the centre is largely shut down. Shannon Municipal Library remains open at reduced capacity, but the Sexsmith Tumbling Club has postponed group classes in favour of Zoom classes and one-to-one appointments, he said. The civic centre had booked one church service in December, but that has been postponed until next year, he said. The Elks won’t be meeting at the civic centre again until possibly January, and that might be by phone, Stredu- linsky said. Council had also been meeting at the civic centre in recent months but moved to the community centre two weeks ago. The Sexsmith Community Centre is also mostly closed, said Beth Endresen. Council meetings will still take place there but two private parties and a yoga session had to be cancelled, she said. There won’t be much lost revenue for December, as typically the space is donated to the Sexsmith Christmas hamper campaign, Endresen said. The centre is commonly used for yoga and fitness classes, playschool and family rentals, as well as annual general meetings, she said. Endresen said the “primary user” is the Lighthouse Seventh Day Adventist Church, which holds services Saturdays. Under COVID restrictions the services will continue with one-third attendance, she said. The Hythe Community Centre is “basically closed to public access,” but Montana’s Hair Salon, the food bank and South Peace Rural Community Learning are open by appointment, said facilities manager Candy Robertson. Appointments aren’t necessary for the thrift store but the north access should be used, Robertson said. The Demmitt Community Centre is also closed, said Teresa von Tiesenhausen, a Demmitt Cultural Society volunteer board member. Von Tiesenhausen said the society had to cancel yoga classes, which have been running with a cap of 15, as well as the annual community Christmas party. Typically at this time of year the hall would see activity like dances, documentary nights, workshops and the Borderline Culture Series concerts, she said. The Saskatoon Lake Community Hall is closed as well, said Teri Ondrick, hall manager. Girl Guides, 4-H and other community group meetings and Christmas parties had to be cancelled, along with many rentals over the upcoming weeks, she said.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News