A small band of intrepid surfers enjoys a welcome challenge in the icy waters of Lake Ontario, near Burlington, and finds camaraderie and peace during the coronavirus pandemic. 'There's so much serenity in surfing,' says Sam Macsai.
A small band of intrepid surfers enjoys a welcome challenge in the icy waters of Lake Ontario, near Burlington, and finds camaraderie and peace during the coronavirus pandemic. 'There's so much serenity in surfing,' says Sam Macsai.
(Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP - image credit) Two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden met to set a new tone for Canada-U.S. relations, the Biden administration official whose decisions may affect Canada's economy the most sat for three hours of questioning at her confirmation hearing before the Senate finance committee Thursday. Some cabinet confirmations become partisan wrestling matches. By the end of her appearance, the confirmation of Katherine Tai as the next United States Trade Representative felt more like a collective laying on of hands. The chair, Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, called her a "superb choice." All ranking Democrats and Republicans from not only the Senate but also the House of Representatives Ways and Means committee applauded the depth of her skills and experience with a long list of complimentary adjectives. Representative Richard Neal from Massachusetts, appearing as a guest Democratic chair of the House committee, told senators he considers Tai to be like family after her seven years as legal counsel for his committee. Tai played a critical role in crafting and negotiating bipartisan support for endgame revisions that ensured Congressional approval of the revised North American trade agreement by delivering more environmental and labour protections. "There is one issue that all of us in this room agree upon: enforcement, enforcement, enforcement of these trade agreements," Neal said, praising Tai's "understated grit." Biden's pick was endorsed by leaders from the environmental, business and labour communities, Neal said. Tai accompanied Neal on a critical trip to Ottawa in November 2019 to persuade Canada to agree to amend the new NAFTA so it could get through Congress. The Trudeau government had thought its negotiations with the Trump administration were over. Canada's ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, came to know Tai well as Canada's lead negotiator for the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. She said she remembers having lunch with her that day and their "vibrant conversation" with the assembled politicians about how international trade can benefit domestic workers — a focus the Biden administration now embraces. Canada's ambassador in Washington, Kirsten Hillman, far right, joined her then-minister Chrystia Freeland as Representative Richard Neal met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Nov. 6, 2019. House Democrats asked Canada to agree to amendments they were making to secure Congressional approval for the renegotiated NAFTA. "I think that's just telling on where some of the priorities may well lie," Hillman told CBC News earlier this winter. "She has specific expertise in that area." Fortunately for the Trudeau government, Tai's vision for "expanding the winner's circle" of beneficiaries of international trade lines up with the beliefs of Canadian Liberals like Chrystia Freeland who have spoken about making deals work for small businesses and middle class workers — not just corporations. Winning with win-wins During Thursday's hearing, Tai said she wants to move away from negotiations that pit one sector's workers against another. It's a sharp contrast with the zero-sum style of the Trump administration, which was more focused on scoring targeted political wins than mutually-beneficial gains. "We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time." - USTR nominee Katherine Tai While that could come as a relief for trading partners like Canada, Tai's hearing also revealed several priorities to watch carefully. For example, will Tai continue Robert Lighthizer's push to "re-shore" as many commodities in as many supply chains as possible, to repatriate jobs for American workers? "There's been a lot of disruption and consternation that have accompanied some of those policies," she said — without specifically calling out Trump administration tactics like using national security grounds to slap tariffs on foreign steel. "I'd want to accomplish similar goals in a more effective, process-driven manner." And what about the critical product shortages the U.S. is facing, especially during the pandemic? President Biden signed an executive order this week to strengthen U.S. supply chains for advanced batteries, pharmaceuticals, critical minerals and semiconductors. "A lot of the assumptions that we have based our trade programs on [have] maximized efficiency without regard for the requirement for resilience," Tai said. Rethinking the China strategy Between 2011-14, Tai was the USTR's chief counsel for trade enforcement with China. On Thursday, she told senators the U.S. needs a "strategic and coherent plan for holding China accountable to its promises and effectively competing with its state-directed economics." The government must have "a united front of U.S. allies," she added. "China is simultaneously a rival, a partner and an outsized player whose cooperation we'll also need to address certain global challenges," she said. "We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time." Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, himself a former USTR during the George W. Bush administration, pushed her to explain how the U.S. could compete with the "techno-nationalist" approach China takes on semiconductors — which he said are subsidized by up to 40 per cent, allowing the Communist regime to dominate the global market. "We can't compete by doing the things China does, so we have to figure out how we can compete by marshalling all the tools and resources that we have in the U.S. government," Tai said. Later she described how the Chinese state is able to conduct its economy "almost like a conductor with an orchestra," while Americans trust the "invisible hand" of the free market. The U.S. government may need to revisit this, she said, "knowing the strategy and the ambition that we are up against." Fellow Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown asked Tai whether she'd make it a top priority to crack down on imports that trace back to China's forced labour program, which human rights investigators believe abuses potentially millions from China's minority Uighur and Turkic Muslim population to pick crops like cotton. "Yes," she said. "I think the use of forced labour is probably the crudest example of the race to the bottom." 'Laser-focused' on Huawei Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who also sits on the Senate intelligence committee, urged Tai to form a "coalition of the willing" to compete with the Chinese "authoritarian capitalism" model that's enabled the rise of tech giants like Huawei. Trade negotiations have to protect the security of digital infrastructure, he said, and the U.S. should consider asking trading partners to prohibit certain Chinese technologies. "If we keep Huawei out of American domestic markets but it gets the rest of the world, we're not going to be successful," Warner said. Sen. Tom Carper, left, greets Katherine Tai, Joe Biden's nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, and meets her mother, right, at Tai's confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. Tai agreed with him, and said the U.S. government should be "laser-focused" on this, and not just in trade negotiations. To counter China's influence, Delaware Sen. Tom Carper asked whether it would be a "fool's errand" to rejoin partners like Canada in the Pacific Rim trading bloc — which was renamed the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership after the U.S. left it in 2017. Tai said the thinking behind the CPTPP remains a "solid equation" but the world in 2021 is "very different in important ways" to the climate in 2016, when Congress failed to approve the TPP. Carper also asked how trade policy is affected by the Biden administration's renewed multilateral approach to climate change. "The rest of the world is coming up with its own climate solutions, and that means that as other countries and economies begin to regulate in this area, climate and trade policies become a part of our competitive landscape," she said. 'Digging in' on dairy Tai also promised to work closely with senators who raised issues about commodities important to their states — and Canada. But the veteran trade diplomat didn't tip her hand too much on what Canada should expect. Idaho's Mike Crapo was assured she'll work on "longstanding issues" in softwood lumber. She told Iowa's Chuck Grassley she's aware of the "very clear promises" Canada made on dairy as part of concluding the NAFTA negotiations, and how important they were to win the support of some senators. Some of these Canada-U.S. issues "date back to the beginning of time," she said, adding she was looking forward to "digging in" on the enforcement process her predecessor began in December. Several senators pushed for more attention to America's beef, of which Tai said she was a "very happy consumer." South Dakota Sen. John Thune expressed frustration with the World Trade Organization's ruling against the cattle industry's protectionist country-of-origin labelling (COOL) rules, prompting a commitment from Tai to work with livestock producers on a new labelling system that could survive a WTO challenge. One of the toughest questioners Thursday proved to be former presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, who slammed the lack of transparency in past trade negotiations and told Tai her administration needs to "take a hard line." Warren called for limiting the influence of corporations and industries on advisory committees and releasing more negotiating drafts so the public understands what's being done on their behalf. At the conclusion of the hearing, Chairman Wyden asked Tai to send her ideas for improving the transparency of trade processes to the committee's bipartisan leadership within 30 days. Katherine Tai bumps elbows with Congressional leaders following her Thursday confirmation hearing on Capital Hill. Throughout the hearing, senators described Tai's confirmation as "historic." She's the first woman of colour and first Asian-American (her parents emigrated from Taiwan) to serve as USTR. Pennsylvania's Bob Casey asked if she'd commit to working on women's economic empowerment and participation in trade laws. She answered with just one word: "Yes."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is struggling to beat back his biggest political challenge in years from a protest movement which began with disgruntled farmers travelling to New Delhi on tractors and is now gaining wider support at home and abroad. Simmering in makeshift camps housing tens of thousands of farmers since last year, the movement has seen a dramatic growth in recent weeks, getting backing from environmental activists, opposition parties and even A-list Western celebrities. At its heart are three new farm laws passed by the government last September, thanks to the majority Modi's right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys in the lower house of parliament.
TORONTO — The head of Canada's largest pension fund received a COVID-19 vaccination while on a "very personal" trip to Dubai, he told staff in an email Thursday night. Mark Machin disclosed the information in an internal memo after the Wall Street Journal reported he flew to the United Arab Emirates earlier this month, where he received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and is awaiting the second dose. Machin said in the email viewed by The Canadian Press that he remains in Dubai with his partner "for many reasons, some of which are deeply personal." "This was a very personal trip and was undertaken after careful consideration and consultation," the memo reads. CPP Investments did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday evening. The federal government is actively discouraging Canadians from travelling abroad and recently implemented strict quarantine measures for those returning home. Machin told staff he followed all travel protocols related to his role as head of the pension fund while on the trip. "This trip was intended to be very private and I am disappointed it has become the focus of public attention and expected criticism," he wrote. Several politicians and health-care officials have become high profile flashpoints of public anger in recent months for leaving the country despite public health advice to the contrary. Among them, the former CEO of the London Health Sciences Centre is now embroiled in litigation after his travel to the U.S. prompted the hospital to terminate his contract. Rod Phillips, Ontario's former finance minister, resigned from his post in late December after taking a personal trip to St. Barts. CPP Investments, which had $475.7 billion in assets under management as of Dec. 31, invests money on behalf of retired and active employees covered by the Canada Pension Plan. A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said that while CPPIB is an independent organization, the revelation is "very troubling." "The federal government has been clear with Canadians that now is not the time to travel abroad," Katherine Cuplinskas said in an emailed statement. "We were not made aware of this travel and further questions should be directed to the CPPIB on this matter." Machin, who has been in his current role since 2016, joined CPP Investments in 2012. Prior to joining the pension fund manager, he spent 20 years at investment bank Goldman Sachs. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
(Mike McArthur/CBC - image credit) B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer is diplomatically standing her ground amid fierce RCMP union criticism of comments she made on police reform. In a Thursday news conference, Dr. Bonnie Henry says she "was taken aback by the misinterpretation" of a presentation to a special B.C. legislative committee on Monday. "There was absolutely no criticism at all of anything that front-line police officers are doing and the misinterpretation of that is something I regret," Henry told reporters. On Wednesday, the national union representing RCMP officers released a scathing letter addressed to Henry, and the B.C. government. "We are collectively appalled by the inaccurate and disrespectful comments you made regarding the work of the B.C. RCMP," Brian Sauvé, president of the National Police Federation stated. "As the provincial health officer, and the perceived authority on such matters, I want to first raise your frankly offensive and incorrect remarks about our members' interactions with the province's most vulnerable residents experiencing mental health and/or addiction issues." On Monday, Henry told a legislative committee examining the Police Act that, in her experience, municipal police are better connected to their communities than the RCMP. She specifically focused on police adoption of the anti-overdose drug, naloxone, during the early stages of the opioid crisis. "The RCMP, which are very driven by policies from Ottawa, refused to allow officers to carry naloxone." Henry said. "Then at one point, it was a decree from Ottawa that RCMP officers would carry naloxone but only use it on each other should they be exposed to those people who were doing drugs and need to be rescued using naloxone." Rob Farrer, a B.C. regional director with the National Police Federation and RCMP officer in Kelowna, told CBC's On The Coast, that Henry is factually incorrect. "The RCMP were the first to start using naloxone," Farrer claimed. "Between 2018 and 2019, I believe it was 248 out of 252 administrations [of naloxone] by RCMP were successful. Those are real people that were brought back." Municipal police and RCMP began carrying naloxone kits within months of each other in 2016, well after paramedic first responders. Farrer shared Henry's concerns that the B.C. Police Act needs to updated to address law enforcement involving citizens who have a mental illness or use drugs. "The Police Act in its current state doesn't really contemplate the complex social issues police officers on the front lines are addressing every single day," Henry said Thursday. "My advice to the committee is consider these complexities and reform the act to ensure we can work together collectively."
(Submitted by Kate Gillis - image credit) When Kate Gillis launched into her masters in Indigenous studies, she quickly noticed a gap in the history. "Being Métis myself, I found that when I wanted to go into my master's and start my research and everything, I found it frustrating that I wasn't necessarily able to see myself in the literature and the research that had been done," Gillis told The Homestretch. The Calgary woman is being honoured for her research into the achievements of Métis women during the first year of her master's in Indigenous studies at the University of Saskatchewan. "In part, it has to do with who has written the history," Gillis said. "When we talk about history in any sense, it's largely written by colonial figures, right? "And so I think there's also a misrecognition of who is Métis. And I think in that, the Métis nation as we know it now, is more than just being mixed blood … there's so much more to that." Indigenous Achievement Week Gillis received an award recognizing academic excellence from the university during Indigenous Achievement Week earlier this month. "It has been absolutely phenomenal," she said. "I will be honest and say it was a little bit of a surprise. But it is great to not only be acknowledged, but to have the support of the faculty at [the university] as well — and just reaffirming that I'm doing the right thing." Gillis said she hopes to bring the accomplishments of Métis women to the forefront. "I'm looking at the period from roughly 1790 to 1840 and just the original establishment of what we now know is the Métis nation, and how the role of women fostered the nation that we know today," she said. The historical research is a matter of "reading between the lines" of the official archives, Gillis said. "Looking at marriage records, birth records, that kind of stuff, and then on top of that, just keeping the contemporary community connections as well," she said. "So I'm hoping to do some oral interviews with community members and Métis women to get both sides of it." Gillis said her research has only showed her how much work there is to do. "It's going to be a long haul, I think, for sure," she said. "So after my master's degree, I will probably go back and do my PhD. "And then after that, I'm hoping to be able to do some teaching and really just share what I've been learning, because I think it is so important, and it is largely men. And yeah, just getting it out there, which I think is the goal of all grad students." Family history Gillis said she has learned about her own family history through the work. "It's been really fascinating, actually, even within my own research … my family is originally from the Red River area. And so I was looking at birth charts and everything, and I literally found my family tree. Like it was mapped out right in front of me," she said. Gillis said she has not experienced a lot of outright racism in her own life. "Not myself. My dad is white and I would consider me and my siblings to be quite white-passing. But I know even my mom and my grandpa especially, they have faced a lot of racism in their lives," she said. "I think, more so than anything, than those like microaggressions — like just people always asking, 'Where are you from?' And then I always get the, 'Oh, I didn't know you were part First Nations.' And I'm like, 'Oh, that's not actually really how it works.'" Both of Gillis' parents are educators within the Calgary Catholic School District — her father is the principal at Holy Child School, while her mother teaches Grade 2 at St. Cyril School. "I feel in part that I'm very grateful," she said. "I feel that education has been very ingrained into not only my interest, but who I am as a person. And I've always found it to be very important." Gillis has settled on two areas of study, based on the Cree terms "wahkohtowin" and "otipemisiwak". "Wahkohtowin is not only familial relations and family members, but it extends to animals, nature, the spiritual world and that," she said. "The other concept is that of otipemisiwak, translating to, 'the people that own themselves' … so, Métis self-determination, and looking at those two terms together, really establishing both the collective and individual experiences — not only of the Native women, but of the nation as a whole." With files from The Homestretch.
The Alberta government's latest budget is far from the "fiscal reckoning" Premier Jason Kenney had long promised. Instead, there are very few cuts and lots of debt — a situation the province blames on the pandemic and shrinking oil revenue.
If you're coming to “ Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry ” hoping for a primer on the music sensation, you’ve come to the wrong place. Filmmaker R.J. Cutler’s two hour and 20-minute documentary about the “Ocean Eyes” singer and songwriter is not biography or reportage. It’s a verite-style plunge into her life, her home, her concerts, her process, her Tourette’s, her brother’s bedroom where they famously write all their songs and even her diary in the year in which she became a star. It is raw and filled with music — over 20 of her songs are played over the course of the film, including live performances, like her extraordinary Coachella showing in 2019. Some are shown in full. It is also very, very long. Cutler, who also did “The September Issue” and “Belushi,” cited seminal verite rock docs “Gimme Shelter” and “Dont Look Back” as inspiration. But both of those came a few years and albums into The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan’s superstardom. Eilish’s ascent is extraordinary and yet she is still in the early part of her artistic and actual life. Fans will certainly disagree, as is their right, but it is an enormous amount of unfiltered space to give to an artist who is still getting started. There's no right or wrong way to make a documentary like this, but for the Eilish curious and not the Eilish die-hards, it's initiation by fire without any context. Clearly someone in Eilish’s camp had an eye toward legacy when they invited Cutler to her family home to see if he wanted to follow the then-16-year-old during her breakout year, during which she and her brother Finneas wrote, recorded and released her debut album “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” Eilish is funny and sullen and charismatic and moody, just as you’d want and expect a teenage artist to be. She gets dreamy and protective of her followers, saying “they’re not my fans, they’re like part of me” and complains that for her, writing songs is “torture.” And she breaks the fourth wall occasionally (she’d told Cutler that she wanted it to be like “The Office”) to let the audience knows that she knows they’re there. Her brother is the driving force a lot of the productivity in their cozy family home in the Highland Park neighbourhood of Los Angeles (he’s since moved out). Their parents homeschooled them and music was always part of their life, with mom, Maggie Baird, teaching them how to write songs and dad, Patrick O’Connell, teaching instruments. It is interesting to see her and Finneas riff about lyrics and test things out — he has anxiety about having to produce a hit and she couldn’t care less — and the juxtaposition of her glamorous appearances and performances with the modest normalcy of their home life. There are some terrific moments that Cutler caught out on the road: In one instance, she meets Katy Perry who introduces Eilish to her fiance — “a big fan.” It’s only later that Eilish realizes that was Orlando Bloom. Her brother reminds her he is “Will Turner from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movies.” She wants a redo. “I thought he was just some dude,” she says. Another is her first meeting with Justin Bieber. She talks about her longstanding obsession in an interview, he gets in touch three days before her album release about wanting to collaborate. (She tells her manager that “he could ask me to kill my dog and I would.”) Then at Coachella he appears as she’s greeting a hoard of her fans. She freezes and becomes a fan herself. Later she’ll sob over a heartfelt message he sends her. And there are some incredibly vulnerable moments too, showing the performer exhausted and annoyed. Eilish remains as unique and enigmatic as she seems from a distance, but also is presented very much like a normal Los Angeles teenager, getting her driver's license, dreaming of a matte black Dodge Challenger and texting with a largely absent boyfriend. Fans will eat up every morsel of this documentary and wish for more. For newcomers, however, it might benefit from watching in installments, which is one of the benefits of the film debuting on Apple TV+. There’s even an intermission to help take the guesswork out of where to hit pause. This does not come across as a vanity project that’s been intensely controlled by the star or the machinery around her, either. It’s refreshing. It's also probably one of the last times we’ll all be invited into her life in this way. “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry,” an Apple TV+ and Neon release out Friday, has not been rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Running time: 140 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four. ___ Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says he assumes security authorities signed off on an arrangement to allow a company owned by a Chinese police force to run Canada's visa application centre in Beijing. Blair says he can only make assumptions because the arrangement was put in place in 2008, under the previous Conservative government. Still, he says he's been assured by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that the personal information provided by visa applicants is secure. He says the information is handled according to Canada's privacy laws, that no application or biometrically collected data is stored at the centre and that all databases containing personal information are located in Canada. Questions have been raised about the centre since The Globe and Mail reported earlier this month that its operation has been subcontracted to Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Company, which is owned by the Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau. Opposition MPs questioned Blair about the possibility that visa applicants' personal information could be relayed to the Chinese government and cause negative repercussions, particularly for dissidents trying to flee the country's repressive Communist regime. Bloc Quebecois MP Stephane Bergeron and New Democrat MP Jack Harris pressed Blair to explain which of Canada's national security agencies signed off on the subcontract to the Chinese police. "I have some difficulty frankly answering your question Mr. Harris about the origins of this contract," Blair told the special committee on Canada-China relations Thursday. "It was signed in 2008. So it's been in place for 12 years now and so its origin and who actually authorized this contract predates me or my government and frankly my knowledge." Blair said there are "normal procurement processes" in place for contracting out services and he assumes they were followed in this case. "I want to make sure that it's clear. I'm only able to make an assumption that those processes were in fact followed because it did take place 12 years ago." "That's not much comfort, I have to say," Harris responded. Blair acknowledged that IRCC is not a security agency but he said it does have an information technology specialist department that has provided assurances that the visa information is secure. He said inspections and audits are regularly conducted to ensure there is no privacy breach of sensitive information and there has been no evidence of a problem. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A headline on a previous version said Bill Blair testified a Conservative government authorized the contracting-out of visa services in Beijing specifically to a company owned by Chinese police.
Rapid testing for COVID-19 will be expanding in the province in the near future. The rapid test kits allocated by the federal government will now be available in available in a variety of settings to test asymptomatic individuals. Saskatchewan has created a strategy to deploy more than 700,000 rapid point-of-care tests received through a federal government allocation. The tests will be used in a variety of settings including walk-in or drive-thru sites, mobile testing and pop-up testing sites. In media availability on Thursday, Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone explained that testing is an important part of the strategy in maintaining offensive work around containing, mitigating and delaying the virus spread. “These are simple tests, are readily available and some of the new sites that will be included in this expansion include personal care homes, group homes, detox facilities, emergency shelters and schools. Rapid tests will also be made available to ambulance, police and fire services as well as pharmacy and dental offices for staff that work within those areas to insure that we are screening essential workers in those areas,” Livingstone said. The tests are already available at over 150 long-term care facilities and over 100 areas in acute care. Livingstone explained that the Medical Laboratory Licensing Regulations have been amended to exempt point of care COVID-19 specimen collection and testing sites from requiring a laboratory license when those sites have entered into an agreement with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. He explained that the lab license was a barrier and was lifted because the test is simple and safe. “These changes give us the ability to move swiftly to expand testing options,” Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a release. “We know that testing plays a crucial role in helping to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus and now with variants of concern surfacing in our province it is more important than ever that testing is expanded to make it easier, quicker and more convenient to access.” Many of these sectors may not have the capacity to use these tests on their own, so the Ministry of Health is working with SaskBuilds and Procurement to develop a Request for Pre-Qualifications (RFPQ) tender for third-party providers to deliver testing to these locations. This will enhance the number and variety of venues where rapid testing is offered. Livingstone explained that one example of why the RFPQ tender was in place was for ambulance, fire and police and participating pharmacies and dental offices. “This is going to take a little bit of time but we are committed to using these tests widely across many venues in the province as soon as possible. There are still some operational and logistic details to sort out but there is hope that the delivery and support for the expanded venues can happen over the next few weeks,” Livingstone said. Livingstone stated that the program could move quicker in schools because they have existing public health infrastructure with public health staff to do testing. The SHA is also looking at pop-up point of care testing sites and the ability for health care workers to carry out weekly surveillance testing on themselves. The Ministry of Health and SHA will work with various sectors and provider groups to ensure training and support is in place to use these testing resources to their full potential. Any rapid point-of-care tests that return a positive result will need to be retested to confirm the result using a PCR test with the Saskatchewan Health Authority labs. However, negative tests do not need to be retested for confirmation, which is expected to reduce pressure on provincial lab resources. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
A forest fire in a sparsely populated area 75 kilometres north of Tokyo continued to rage for a fifth day on Friday, as local officials were set to ask dozens more households to evacuate hillside villages. The fire in the vicinity of Ashikaga city, in Tochigi prefecture, has continued to spread since breaking out Sunday, despite efforts by firefighters on the ground and military helicopters dousing the area.
Futur dentists, dental hygienists-in-training and instructors of oral medicine in Manitoba are wanted for a new study on the risks associated with COVID-19 infection, transmission and immunity. Ottawa has earmarked $1.4 million through its COVID-19 immunity task force to fund a national study that aims to investigate the effect the novel coronavirus has on people who work in dental clinics, labs and offices on university campuses. The University of Manitoba is among 10 schools recruiting dental and dental hygiene students, as well as residents, faculty, and support staff involved with patient care to take part in the McGill University-led research project. While many university programs have moved online amid the pandemic, dentistry students and staff have continued to do in-person labs to practise procedures on mannequins and patients. “Many of our medical counterparts have transitioned to doing virtual consults with their patients, but it’s a little bit harder to do that with clinical dentistry,” said Dr. Robert Schroth, a professor and clinician scientist at the Gerald Niznick College of Dentistry in Winnipeg. “We’re such a unique population, in that we’re very closely in confined quarters with aerosols.” Despite heightened personal protective equipment, that reality puts dentistry students and staff, theoretically, at a higher risk for acquiring COVID-19, Schroth said, noting aerosol transmission is recognized as one of the main ways the novel coronavirus is transmitted. The Manitoba Dental Association has released guidelines to encourage dentistry professionals to use aerosol-reduction techniques, including using a rubber dam and doing pre-procedural antiviral rinses, when treating patients. Schroth said the research team behind the new study wants to know if existing preventive measures are working or if they need to be adjusted. The researchers plan to secure 800 participants, from dentistry colleges in Nova Scotia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. Every month for a year, participants are expected to provide a saliva sample and answer a questionnaire. The former will allow researchers to test samples for active SARS-CoV-2 infections, while the latter will allow for sociodemographic, socioeconomic, and health status information to be collected. If an individual tests positive, they will be asked for additional saliva and blood samples so researchers can perform antibody tests to determine if they have any signs of immunity to COVID-19. The research team will also collect data from each dentistry college about their training settings, infection-control protocols, counts of students and staff and total COVID-19 cases. As vaccines roll out, participants who are immunized will be monitored to see what their immune response is like. Manitoba recently broadened COVID-19 immunization criteria to include all health-care professionals who have direct contact with patients in dental offices. Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
When the struggling business owners got the call a few weeks ago, it felt like they’d won the lottery. Nearly a year into the pandemic, good news has been hard to come by for both Kings Park Child Care and San Vito Coffee House — especially if it’s something without any strings attached and particularly when it comes to monetary funding. But now, the two Winnipeg businesses are part of only a dozen handpicked to receive $10,000 each, through a partnership between Canada’s leading insurance company and the primary network of commerce. The 12 small firms being awarded the “Business Boost” grant are representative of regional areas and industry sectors across the country, Canada Life and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce exclusively told the Free Press ahead of a wide release today. “Good people coming together is how Canadians have managed this crisis, and this is the very epitome of a good corporate citizen stepping up,” said Chamber president and CEO Perrin Beatty, in an interview. “It’s a business helping other businesses where governments are still behind.” Recipients have been selected from over 4,000 applicants and hope to use the funding to keep their doors open, as thousands of companies face the risk of permanently disappearing. “Truth be told,” said Dawn Forbes, executive director of Kings Park Child Care, “this isn’t just a way to save our bacon. It’s also a boost for our staff to keep doing the important work we’ve been doing as an essential service every single day, throughout all those many shutdowns and closures.” As a facility that supports children and families, especially for kids with autism, Down syndrome and other medical or special needs, Kings Park has had to remain open since the onset of COVID-19. “But we’ve had to do that with barely any enrolment until this January and with most of our staff forced to be let go,” said Forbes. “Everything’s been up in the air and it felt like we were always an afterthought in terms of restrictions and even support — especially from the province,” she said. “If it weren’t for some of the federal government’s support like the rent subsidy, I don’t know if any child-care centres would have even been able to hold their space to operate, let alone do anything else.” For Geordie Wilson, who owns and runs San Vito Coffee House, it’s been a constant shift trying to keep his local eatery and café afloat. When public-health orders and lockdowns first came into effect, Wilson tried to partner with delivery services like DoorDash, Uber Eats and even SkipTheDishes. Fairly quickly, the third-party payouts became far too costly to make ends meet and Wilson started to offer his own free city-wide delivery. “We didn’t really have a choice,” he said. “Our bottom line was being impacted because they were frankly ripping us off. And yes, it felt like being a university student again, but so what? We just had to keep going to survive.” Wilson even started to make videos for social media — something he called “kitchen karaoke,” for which he would sing popular songs but change their lyrics to be more coffee-centric. “We’re not Tim Hortons and we’re not Starbucks, but we are something that represents what makes our city ours,” he said. “I know all our regulars by name and those people we saw every single day who couldn’t come in anymore. That’s why I did everything possible to keep people smiling and just keep trudging along.” Stories like that are “truly the reason behind this kind of grant program,” said Jeff Macoun, president and CEO for Canada Life, in an interview. “It’s the heart of what makes a local business more than just a business to a community. They represent the very cultural fabric of what makes a city or town,” he said. “We wanted to keep seeing that flourishing, especially at our company’s home in Winnipeg. “It’s why we did this small part to help with that.” Temur Durrani, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Another O'Gorman Knights product has been recruited for post-secondary basketball, as Abby Couture has signed with Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie. “I'm beyond excited. It's going to be a great experience,” she told The Daily Press. The offer from Algoma U caught Couture off guard. She was surprised when Algoma Thunderbirds head coach Ryan Vetrie texted her to to welcome her to the team. Couture said she is planning on studying in the four-year Law and Justice program. All amateur athletic competitions have been shut down for at least the calendar year, which has posed a challenge for players like Couture, who are in their senior year of high school. However, her creativity and determination have kept her as sharp as possible. “With everything being closed during the first wave, I kind of made my own home workouts. I downloaded this app where you just mimic the screen, and you try to get as many points as you can while you're dribbling. “So I did that a lot, and I was doing home workouts. As soon as the gyms opened up, I've been there working on my fitness, and trying to get ahead of everything,” said Couture. Unfortunately her final season with the Knights has been cancelled, but her three completed seasons have been very fruitful. Couture owns three OFSAA 'A' medals: Two gold and one bronze. She particularly enjoyed the games against bigger, and highly talented teams. “It helped me push myself. Because there's always going to be better players than you, and you always just try to outwork them. It pushed me to do better.” Knights head coach Marcy McCarty was thrilled to hear Couture will be continuing her basketball career. “It's been something she has really wanted, so to see that come true, especially this year, it's great for her.” McCarty believes Algoma is a great fit for Couture. “I would imagine she's going to be getting lots of playing time.” Couture is also a product of the Timmins Selects youth basketball program, which she has been involved with since she was in Grade 7. McCarty saw major talent in her very early on. “First time I met her was in the Selects system, and saw her come up through Grade 8, and develop as a big player in that system, and with me. We pulled her up as an underage to come with us to OFSAA when she wasn't necessarily on the senior team, to get that experience.” Couture had nothing but great things to say about her time with the Selects. “The whole basketball family in Timmins is full of wonderful people. You get to meet a lot of people. The coaches are great, they always push you to reach your full potential.” She took a shine to basketball earlier than many of her peers. “I was always a taller kid, so dance didn't really work out,” said Couture, who was encouraged by one of driving forces behind the Timmins Selects program. “Coach Jamie Lamothe, I saw him at school one day, and he handed me a paper to play in the Steve Nash training league. That's when I started, and at my first practice, I instantly fell in love with the game. “I felt like I belonged. My height wasn't being mocked, or I wasn't being picked on. I just belonged.” Couture will become the seventh player from the McCarty-led Knights in just the last four years to be recruited for post-secondary basketball. Emma Weltz (Queen's University), Arianna Gagnon (Algonquin College), Gabby Schaffner (Laurentian University), Brianna Dodd (Nipissing University), Ally Burke (Lakehead University), and most recently, Jadyn Weltz (Binghamton University, NCAA) have all taken the success they had in Timmins to the next level. Couture said McCarty and Cathy Beard have been instrumental in her development as a player. “They are incredible coaches. Every time I stepped on the court, they pushed me to do my best. Even off-court, they're always telling me what I can improve on, and how to improve.” They have also worked very hard to promote and showcase local players to the rest of the province and beyond. “They are getting noticed way before their senior year. They are on the radar. They are talking to coaches. Coaches are coming up to us wherever we go. I put miles and miles on that bus to get them in that situation. To get them recognized, to get them noticed, and to give them that experience,” said McCarty, who has four OFSAA medals to her name as a coach, including two golds. Their annual success at the provincials hasn't gone unnoticed by the basketball community, and any negative preconceived notions about players from the North have continuously been shaken. “They know who we are. We've put our name on the map. But I'd say five years ago, when we started travelling with these girls, we'd walk into the gym, and they'd be like 'we've got this' and surprise, you don't. I think that really started to turn the tables,” said McCarty. “I've met a lot of wonderful people, and I have a lot of mentors now in the basketball world that have really helped us in that regard, and have invited us to tournaments, and made sure that we had those connections, and said, 'Hey these girls can play.' Just because they're from Northern Ontario, doesn't mean they don't know how to play ball. I think that has really changed a lot.” For Couture, it will be the culmination of a goal she has had for a long time to be university student athlete. With the 2020-2021 U-Sports seasons cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming season is still under a cloud of uncertainty. Couture isn't exactly sure when she'll be joining her Thunderbirds teammates, but it will likely be sometime during mid-summer. However, she knows exactly what she'll be working on over the next few months. “A lot of foot work, and a lot of speed work for sure. Improve my cardio. Improve my strength, and my ball-handling skills.” Andrew Autio is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for The Daily Press. LJI is a federally funded program. Andrew Autio, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Daily Press
Astronaut Joshua Kutryk touched down in the gym at Christ the King School this week — not via a spacecraft, but rather a massive video screen. The St. Vital school welcomed Kutryk, who was hired by the Canadian Space Agency in 2016, as a virtual guest speaker for a 45-minute presentation about his career Wednesday. He answered questions about his profession, including what he is most looking forward to when he gets assigned a mission to outer space. “The view back,” said Kutryk, during the videocall broadcast into classrooms of wide-eyed students. “You see nothing but Earth in the void blackness of space, everything that’s ever been human on Earth. That’s when you probably realize, more than anything, how important it is to protect it.” Middle-schoolers won the visit, which was scheduled for the spring and was postponed because of COVID-19, through the Canadian Space Agency’s Junior Astronauts program. Teacher Teresa Edwards’ 2019-20 class of sixth graders was selected, after completing two science projects. They first compared the temperature, humidity and CO2 levels in their classroom to those in the International Space Station. The second project involved participating in a Mars rover simulation during which students communicated with a pretend operator. Given recent announcements about NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars last week, and the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, Edwards said students are extra keen to learn about planetary exploration. “I hope it inspires them to pursue their dreams, whether they be in science or math or engineering or perhaps in other areas, and to stretch their limits,” she said about Kutryk’s visit. Edwards added she learned something new Wednesday: astronaut trainees must go underground for several weeks to simulate the experience of being cut off from the outside world. That was among the anecdotes Kutryk, who is from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., shared about his training. “Trying to be an astronaut is really a lifelong endeavour,” he said, speaking from the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston. Kutryk’s resume includes four degrees and experience as a test and fighter pilot, engineer and lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Canadian Air Force. He became a certified astronaut following two and a half years of intensive training, including exercises underwater and in jets to mimic the outer space environment. Mo Ogunbodede said she was shocked by how long it took. “The fact they have to go underwater for a long time, that surprised me too,” Mo said. Even though she is not a confident swimmer, the 12-year-old said she isn’t discouraged from pursuing a career in astronomy; Mo simply knows what she’s up against now. Before signing off Wednesday, Kutryk had a simple message for students: “Dream big!” Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg has posted an abysmal score on climate change policy, when compared to its Canadian peers. Climate Reality Project (Canadian arm of the environmental non-governmental organization created by former U.S. vice-president Al Gore) carries out annual rankings of the nation’s municipalities to measure progress on a number of metrics. According to its newly released 2020 National Climate League report, Winnipeg overall ranks middle of the pack at best, and dead last in many categories, in the large city category (more than 600,000 residents). One positive for the city, says Susan Lindsay, who works with Winnipeg not-for-profit Climate Change Connection and is regional manager for Climate Reality Project: there is much room for improvement. “The standings give us like a clear indication of our city’s priorities — that climate and sustainability isn’t one of our city’s priorities,” Lindsay said Wednesday. Transportation is the second-largest contributor to national greenhouse gas emissions (after the oil and gas industry) and there are a number of indicators that consider policy progress towards low-emissions transportation. In the NCL report, Winnipeg ranked last in nearly all of related categories, including kilometres of bike lanes, cyclist and pedestrian safety, number of electric vehicle chargers, number of transit trips, and number of car-share vehicles available to residents. Winnipeg has 307 km of bike lanes, compared to Calgary, which had the most (1,290 km). The city logged 97.7 injuries and deaths of cyclists/pedestrians per 100,000 residents, compared with the second-worst performing large city: Calgary (58.7). Winnipeg has nine EV chargers per 100,000 people, compared to Montreal at 96. Sixty-seven transit trips were logged per capita in Winnipeg, compared with 236 in Montreal. The 2020 report gathered some information on household expenditures on gas and diesel fuels, but statistics were only available for a handful of cities of any size. In Winnipeg, the average household spends $3,102 on fuels per year. Buildings are another key source of emissions in cities, principally from heating them. Winnipeg was in the middle of the pack when it comes to the number of sustainable buildings, with 1.6 that qualify under one of the international sustainability certification programs per 100,000 people. Vancouver topped the large cities at 8.6. The average Winnipegger is responsible for approximately 670 kilograms of garbage going to landfills each year, the report says. The Manitoba capital ranked second worst in this category. Edmonton was last at 680 kg; best in class was Toronto (430 kg). In smog days per year, Winnipeg came in at 18; Calgary was worst-in-class with 69. Winnipeg had previously been tops in the category but fell substantially in the rankings. “Over the last two years, the city of Winnipeg has experienced an increase in number of days with a rating of 4 or over on the Air Quality Health Index. In the (prior) two years, they rarely experienced days where the Air Quality Health Index was above 4. The increase in poor air quality days can be attributed to the increase in frequency and severity of forest fires in the region, and Winnipeg was affected quite harshly in 2019 (the year we last have data for). We can expect to see a decrease in air quality across the entire country as forest fires continue to rage more intensely as the years go on,” the report reads. The report also touches on some seemingly unrelated indicators, such as the cost of housing. It explains the importance of such a measure in reference to climate change by saying: “Affordable housing that is located within urban centres, close to people’s place of work and that incorporates green infrastructure will make more efficient use of land, transportation systems, and energy resources.” On this measure, Winnipeg experienced a 2.47 per cent increase in the average annual increase in the cost of housing. Only Vancouver and Toronto had housing costs rise faster. Sarah Lawrynuik, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Winnipeg Free Press
The province reported on Tuesday that a resident of the North Central zone, which includes Prince Albert, has had the B1.351 SA (South Africa) COVID-19 variant detected in their test. The individual was tested at the end of January and Public Health’s investigation is ongoing. During a press availability on Thursday, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab explained that deaths and hospitalizations are trending down but we are still seeing hospitalizations and that we should continue to stay the course with following health measures. “Especially because we have seen over the last week that we have found increased isolations of variants of concern not just linked to international travel but showing some initial start of community transmission events of them as well,” Shahab said. The B1.1.7 UK (United Kingdom) variant has also been detected in two residents in the Regina zone. These individuals were tested at the end of January. Based on the contact investigation to date, there is no link to travel at this time but public health's investigation is ongoing. There is also a presumptive case of B1.1.7 UK in one individual in the Saskatoon zone. The individual was transferred from out of province to Saskatoon for acute care. Whole genome sequencing will need to be completed to confirm the results and health's contact investigation is ongoing. The province’s own documents have indicated that Saskatchewan is on track to reduce its cases to a point where health restrictions can be lifted only if people rigidly follow public health orders and no virus variants of concern pop up. Saskatchewan Health Association CEO Scott Livingstone also addressed the caution around the variants being in the province. “While there have been lower case numbers at time in recent weeks the existence of variants of concern is very concerning. This may fuel exponential growth of cases as Dr. Shahab has said. So in the days ahead we are going to need to maintain our diligence, vigilance and moderate these trends very closely,” Livingstone said Shahab explained that COVID-19 testing was just one measure along with things such as physical distancing and mask use. “Testing is an important layer because by testing we know what our status is and if COVID positive we can, for the most part, safely isolate at home for 10 days. For many people it is a milder illness. We can also immediately notify our close contacts so they can isolate for 14 days. And that really is essential to break the chain of transmission.” According to Shahab some people in the province have delayed testing after having symptoms for a few days resulting in outbreaks at workplaces and to make sure you get tested. “You can get tested right away at the onset of symptoms now but if your test is negative and your symptoms are continuing, do get tested again just to make sure that your are COVID negative. I think testing will be an important layer in an ongoing fashion along with easier access to many varieties of testing that will really increase our ability to show a downward trend,” Shahab said. Livingstone also noted the need to follow health orders to continue this downward trend. “We are not out of the woods yet and we can’t take our foot off the gas with respect to adhering to public health orders and insuring that we keep everyone safe as we move through the vaccination program,” he explained. According to Shahab, people should remain vigilant of the most vulnerable as that group continues to be vaccinated “Older age groups are so close to getting vaccinated over the next few weeks and months and I think we should do everything we can to shield the people who are older, who are more vulnerable so that they can successfully get vaccinated. And as you have seen even from our observations, a vaccination is an important step to reduce your chance of getting seriously ill and hopefully over the next few weeks and months that will show in declining hospitalizations and declining deaths,” Shahab said. Both Shahab and Livingstone sent their condolences to the family and friends of the four individuals who passed away due to COVID-19 since Tuesday moving the number who have died since the beginning of the pandemic to 380. “This high number of deaths from COVID in the last couple of months is having a large emotional toll not just on families and friends of those loved ones who passed away but on healthcare workers who work and do everything they can to insure they save lives and protect those individuals across the province from COVID,” Livingstone said. Michael Oleksyn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Prince Albert Daily Herald
Canada's ministry of finance called a media report that the head of the country's largest pension fund had traveled to the Middle East and received a COVID-19 vaccination "very troubling". Mark Machin, the 54-year-old chief executive of the C$475.7 billion ($377 billion) Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), received a Pfizer Inc vaccine shot after arriving in the United Arab Emirates with his partner this month, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on Thursday, citing people familiar with the matter.
A disengaged lighting system in a vehicle led to a Cardinal man being arrested on multiple drug-related offences earlier this week. Ontario Provincial Police from the Grenville detachment say they were on general patrol Wednesday night when officers noticed a vehicle without its lighting system on and conducted a traffic stop at 9:40 p.m. Police did not identify on what road the traffic stop took place. Police say after speaking with the driver, they found him to be in possession of what is believed to be methamphetamine. After arresting the man, a search of the vehicle found serval packages of the drug, including in pill form. Also found in the search was a scale, packaging material and a quantity of cash, said police. John Fahrngruber, 61, has been charged with two counts of possession of a Schedule I substance, one count of possession of a Schedule I substance for the purpose of trafficking, failure to comply with an undertaking and possession of proceeds of property obtained by crime under $5,000. Police released the accused from custody, and he is scheduled for a court appearance in Brockville on April 30. Marshall Healey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times
CANBERRA, Australia — Facebook announced on Friday preliminary agreements with three Australian publishers, a day after the Parliament passed a law that would make the digital giants pay for news. Facebook said letters of intent had been signed with independent news organizations Private Media, Schwartz Media and Solstice Media. The commercial agreements are subject to the signing of full agreements within the next 60 days, a Facebook statement said. “These agreements will bring a new slate of premium journalism, including some previously paywalled content, to Facebook,” the statement said. Schwartz Media chief executive Rebecca Costello said the deal would help her company continue to produce independent journalism. “It’s never been more important than it is now to have a plurality of voices in the Australian press,” Costello said. Private Media chief executive Will Hayward said the new deal built on an existing Facebook partnership. Australia's Parliament on Thursday had passed the final amendments to the so-called News Media Bargaining Code. In return for the changes, Facebook agreed to lift a six-day-old ban on Australians accessing and sharing news. Access to Australian news sites did not appear to be fully restored until Friday. Google, the only other digital giant targeted by the legislation, has already struck content licensing deals, or is close to deals, with some of Australia’s biggest news publishers including Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. and Seven West Media. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new Australian law was critical to the deals that Australian media businesses were negotiating with the two gateways to the internet. Under the law, if a platform can't reach agreement with a news business, an arbitration panel can be appointed to set a legally binding price for journalism. "Global tech giants are changing the world, but we can’t let them run the world,” Morrison told reporters. “People in free societies like Australia, who go to ballot boxes and who go and they vote, that’s who should run the world,” Morrison added. Facebook Vice-President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg on Wednesday took a veiled swipe at News Corp. in a social media post criticizing Australia’s law, which is aimed at setting a fair price for the Australian journalism that the digital platforms display. “It is ironic that some of the biggest publishers that have long advocated for free markets and voluntary commercial undertakings now appear to be in favour of state sponsored price setting,” the former British deputy prime minister wrote. News Corp. Australia executive chairman Michael Miller said last week that his company had pay negotiations with Facebook. “Having been someone who’s dealt with Facebook over the past months, we have some weeks where we’re getting good engagement and think we’re progressing and then you get silence. I think the door is still open,” Miller told a Senate inquiry into Australian media diversity. News Corp. owns most of Australia’s major newspapers, and some analysts argue the U.S.-based international media empire is the driver for the conservative Australian government making Facebook and Google pay. News Corp. has announced a wide-ranging deal with Google covering operations in the United States and Britain as well as Australia. Rod McGuirk, The Associated Press
The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the army seized power on Feb. 1 and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party had won. The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Myanmar's streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.