Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson urged patience on Wednesday as counties tallied thousand of ballots that had been received on Election Day. (Nov. 4)
Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson urged patience on Wednesday as counties tallied thousand of ballots that had been received on Election Day. (Nov. 4)
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the possibility of involving other countries in efforts to maintain a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire on Nov. 10 that halted six weeks of clashes in the mountain enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians. Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the enclave under the ceasefire deal, which locked in Azeri advances.
Government and election officials frequently call on shredding companies to dispose of personal and sensitive documents that are no longer needed.But in a suburban county of Atlanta this week, those routine waste removal appointments were twisted into yet another election misinformation story when social media users falsely claimed shredding trucks were destroying ballots and “evidence of voter fraud.”The unfounded allegations continue to spread online as Georgia officials carry out a machine recount of ballots after certified results showed Joe Biden had a 12,670-vote lead over President Donald Trump. Trump requested the recount, which follows a statewide hand tally.L. Lin Wood Jr., a conservative attorney who had unsuccessfully sued in an attempt to block the certification of Georgia’s election results, on Tuesday shared a series of videos taken by a Georgia resident. They showed a shredding truck outside the West Park Government Center in Marietta.“Evidence of voter fraud is being destroyed in Cobb County, GA TODAY,” Wood captioned one of his tweets. “Many people, powerful & not so powerful, are going to PRISON.”The real explanation for the truck’s visit was far less scandalous: a routine shredding of county tax documents.The county tax commissioner’s office, which shares a building with the county’s main elections office, has documents shredded twice a month, according to Ross Cavitt, communications director for the county.“No items from Cobb Elections were involved,” Cavitt told The Associated Press in an email.The false claims built on similar rumours from last week, when the same Georgia resident captured photos and video of a truck destroying election-related waste outside the Jim R. Miller Event Center in Marietta and claimed it was evidence of “ballots being shredded.”After Wood amplified those photos and videos on Friday, Cobb County officials refuted the claim, explaining that the shredding company was summoned to destroy non-relevant election materials, as happens after all elections.“Everything of consequence, including the ballots, absentee ballot applications with signatures, and anything else used in the count or re-tally remains on file,” Janine Eveler, the county’s director of elections and voter registration, said in a statement.Some of the photos shared on Friday appeared to show a trash can with a paper labeled “ABSENTEE BALLOT” inside. But Eveler said that was an inner privacy envelope used by voters to seal absentee ballots, and had “no evidentiary value.” County officials will hold on to the actual absentee ballots, as well as the outer envelopes signed by voters, for two years.Wood did not respond to a telephone call and email seeking comment.Despite the county’s responses, Wood’s tweets with the debunked claims continued to receive massive engagement on Wednesday, collectively amassing more than 200,000 retweets. And a separate Facebook user’s post falsely claiming a shredding company was “hired by Democrats” to destroy evidence was viewed nearly 150,000 times.County officials told the AP they have not seen any evidence of fraud or anomalies in vote tabulation in the 2020 election.“People nowadays, they post stuff immediately without asking any questions and without any proper context, and it spreads like wildfire,” Cavitt said of the false claims.Jude Joffe-Block And Ali Swenson, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Congress is bracing for President-elect Joe Biden to move beyond the Trump administration’s state-by-state approach to the COVID-19 crisis and build out a national strategy to fight the pandemic and distribute the eventual vaccine.The incoming administration’s approach reflects Democrats’ belief that a more comprehensive plan, some of it outlined in the House’s $2 trillion coronavirus aid bill, is needed to get the pandemic under control. Republicans have resisted big spending but agree additional funding is needed. With the nation on edge but a vaccine in sight, the complicated logistics of vaccinating hundreds of millions of Americans raise the stakes on the major undertaking.“We have an incredible challenge on our hands,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, which is approaching the anniversary of its first reported case of the virus last January.A vaccine can only go so far, Murray warned, without a distribution plan. "A vaccine can sit on a shelf. A vaccination is what we’re talking about,” she said.As Congress weighs a new round of COVID-19 relief, federal officials say doses of the vaccine could begin shipping within a day of Food and Drug Administration approval. Three pharmaceutical manufacturers — Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca — have announced early results. But the rollout faces a patchwork of state plans, a transitioning White House and potential backlash from vaccine skeptics, despite the rising U.S. death toll of nearly 260,000 people.Biden said Tuesday on NBC's “Nightly News with Lester Holt” that his team has started meeting with COVID-19 officials at the White House on how to “get from a vaccine being distributed to a person being able to get vaccinated.”Democrats have been sounding the alarm that the Trump administration’s delay in granting Biden’s team access to transition materials was wasting precious time.States submitted draft vaccination planning documents last month, but not all of them have made full plans public. Private Capitol Hill briefings by officials from Operation Warp Speed, the federal vaccine effort, left some lawmakers fuming last week over what they called a lack of co-ordination with Biden’s camp.Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said Tuesday that his department “immediately” started working with Biden’s staff after the General Services Administration formally acknowledged the election results.Azar said he wanted to ensure Biden’s transition would be “in the spirit of looking out for the health and well-being of the American people and, in particular, saving lives through this COVID-19 pandemic.”From the start, the pandemic has challenged and reflected the two parties’ approaches to the public health crisis, with the Trump administration largely outsourcing many decisions to the states and Democrats pressing for a more nationalized approach.In Congress, Republicans largely rejected the $2 trillion-plus House bill from Democrats as excessive. They prefer their own $500 billion Senate effort, saying states and cities can tap funding from previous relief legislation. Senate Democrats blocked that bill twice as insufficient.Biden's campaign called for $25 billion for vaccines to “guarantee it gets to every American, cost-free.” That's similar to the amount included in both the House and the Senate bills, through different strategies, and Congress previously mandated that vaccines be free. With fresh legislation stalled, it’s uncertain if states will have the resources needed once the FDA approves the vaccines.During a conference call this week with governors, Azar and other health officials fielded a range of questions. Governors were seeking guidance on which populations they should prioritize for the vaccine and whether there was a list of pharmacies available to administer the two-dose regimens, according to a readout of the call provided by the office of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington.Blaire Bryant, who oversees health care policy at the National Association of Counties, said a national strategy for communicating vaccine information to the public and the funding to make vaccinations equitable are vital.“We’re in uncharted territory,” she said. “The more information, the more guidance we can get from the federal level, the better.”She said states do have access to previously approved funding, but cash-strapped local governments have been reluctant to draw down the remaining dollars for vaccines. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, she said.As Congress debates funding, at least two Republican senators are participating in vaccine trials as a way to build confidence among Americans skeptical of the federal effort.Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a statement that he hoped his participation “will reassure people about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, who is participating in the Pfizer trials, asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday to consider the “unique challenges” of distributing the vaccine to remote and rural communities like those in his state.Daines said in a letter to the CDC that it will also be “critical” to ensure access for frontline health care and essential workers, as well as older adults and people with medical conditions.Other lawmakers, though, have brushed off concerns. GOP Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said he expects vaccine distribution will be “well underway” by the time Biden takes office Jan. 20.Murray, as the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, grew concerned this summer as she said the Trump administration outsourced much of the vaccine distribution planning to the states.She drafted a 19-page paper calling for $25 billion to stand up a vaccination program with supply chains, hired personnel, drive-in clinics and other ways to provide no-cost vaccines. She warned of the Trump administration's “lack of centralized leadership” and “chaotic communication” with the states.Biden and Murray have since talked about her approach, which draws on input from health professionals on Biden’s team. Former Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, a member of Biden's COVID-19 task force, briefed Senate Democrats the week after the election.Murray compared the vaccine effort to sending a man to the moon or fighting a world war. She said it will take all Americans joining to say, “This is a pandemic, and I'm going to do my part to get the country out of it.”___Associated Press writers Candice Choi in New York and Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Wash., contributed to this report.Lisa Mascaro, The Associated Press
In his first high-level meeting with Beijing, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said stable ties with China were important, as his country pursues a balancing act with its neighbour. On Wednesday, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met Suga at the end of his two-day trip in Japan, marking the first high-level visit since Suga was elected as new leader in September. "A stable relationship between the two countries is important not only for Japan and China but also for the region and the international community," Suga told Wang in a meeting that lasted about 20 minutes.
Highlights of this day in history: President John F. Kennedy laid to rest at Arlington; New details emerge about Iran-Contra affair; British forces leave New York; Elian Gonzalez rescued off Florida coast; Baseball's Joe DiMaggio born. (Nov. 25)
EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, his province bending precariously under the weight of record COVID-19 cases, imposed new sweeping public health restrictions Tuesday that include a ban on gatherings in people’s homes. Kenney also announced changes to schools, churches, restaurants and retailers, and banned sports teams from playing and sharply curtailed attendance at weddings and funerals. He said the goal is to slash the rate of infections and keep people alive while preventing the loss of jobs and livelihoods that threaten to make an already dire situation even worse. “This whole thing is just incredibly tough for everyone,” Kenney said Tuesday. “I just never imagined I’d be in this place in public life where I was telling people who could come visit them at home. “We really just felt we had no option given that 40 per cent of traceable cases connect back to private social activity.” Indoor gatherings are banned immediately, but people who live alone can have two personal contacts they are allowed to meet up with. Outdoor social gatherings are limited to 10 people, as are funerals and weddings. Kenney said the government is still working out how officers will enforce the gathering ban, but said there will be not be a “snitch line” for people to report on their neighbours. “(Officers) will be able to write tickets for fines of up to $1,000 per individual who is violating these rules against indoor social activities." He added that police and peace officers will have latitude on enforcement "They will be able to see if there are obvious signs of a large gathering, a lot of cars parked outside somebody’s house, for example," Kenney said. Starting Friday, businesses will remain open at reduced capacity or by appointment only. Places of worship must operate at one-third capacity. Banquet halls, conference centres and concert venues must also close. And children in grades 7 through 12 will move to at-home learning at the end of the month and other students will follow after Dec. 18. The orders will be reviewed in three weeks. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, reported 1,115 new cases on Tuesday — the sixth consecutive day with numbers above the 1,100 mark. There were 348 patients in hospital, 66 of them in intensive care. Sixteen more people died, bringing that total to 492. A day earlier, Hinshaw compared the COVID-19 situation in Alberta to a snowball rolling down a hill, growing in size and speed. Lives and livelihoods have been the crux of the debate in Alberta. Kenney has maintained that the best approach is targeted health restrictions to keep COVID-19 from overrunning the health-care system while keeping the economy from collapsing. Others, including many physicians, infectious disease specialists and the Opposition NDP, have called for sharp, short economic lockdowns, arguing that if the COVID-19 wave isn't stopped, there won’t be an economy left to save. Kenney’s decisions were made after Hinshaw made new undisclosed recommendations Monday to the cabinet subcommittee directing COVID-19 decisions. NDP Leader Rachel Notley called the new restrictions “half-measures” and said they were likely the result of political bargaining instead of advice from public health officials. “We cannot know, unfortunately, exactly what Dr. Hinshaw recommended to this UCP cabinet. But I do not for one second believe it was this,” she said. Mike Parker, head of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, a union representing paramedics and other health professionals, said Kenney tried to find the middle ground and failed. “The measures announced today are inadequate,” Parker said. “(Kenney) continues to put business interests ahead of the well-being of Albertans.” Jason Schilling, head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said the groups supports the move "to move to a combination of in-school and at-home learning that will allow schooling to continue in a safer environment." This is the second time Kenney's government has imposed sweeping rules to combat COVID-19. The province shut down many retail businesses, restaurants, recreation centres and schools during the first wave in March. Most were allowed to reopen in May and June with restrictions. Schools opened again in the fall. In recent weeks, the province has limited public gatherings in areas including Edmonton and Calgary and forced bars and restaurants to stop serving booze by 10 p.m. and to close by 11 p.m. Indoor group fitness and team sports, along with group singing and arts performances, are also banned in several large cities. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020. Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press
Despite a global pandemic, Victoria, B.C., is still one of the best "small cities" in the world, according to UK-based magazine Monocle.The magazine, which explores urban culture around the world, looked at cities with fewer than 250,000 people for their second annual Small Cities Index. The cities chosen were described as "well-connected cities that offer great business opportunities, a welcoming culture and access to nature."According to the index, Victoria placed No. 5, making a significant jump from 16 just a year ago. Porto, Portugal, took top honours followed by Leuven, Belgium; Itoshima, Japan; and Lucerne, Switzerland. Tomos Lewis, the Toronto bureau chief for Monocle, says the charm of a small city is not feeling lost in an anonymous metropolis."From having spoken to people from a variety of sectors who have lived in Victoria either for a long time or just moved there, that kind of intimacy comes part and parcel with moving to a city like Victoria," said Lewis to host Kathryn Marlow on CBC's All Points West.Cities were graded according to accessibility to international travellers, having "a good, progressive mayor," access to nature and for being warm and welcoming. Ratings also incorporated sustainability, environmentally conscious planning and opportunities for business. The magazine had compliments for Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps who it said "introduced initiatives to encourage young Canadians and foreigners to relocate here" such as free bus passes for children and bike lanes across the city. It also praised the city's diversifying economy, specifically noting its financial-services and ocean-research sectors, and its literary and food scene.Victoria has seen its fair share of challenges during the global pandemic including increased homelessness, a devastating shut-down of its tourism sector and rising housing costs."We do feel that all cities have their challenges that are particular to that place in question. But we don't think that those should always totally overshadow the other things a city has going for it," said Lewis.He said Victoria's civic attempts to address these issues is what earned it a top spot."This idea of the community first stepping in to try and solve, address and shine a spotlight on what those issues are and try to solve them I think is what gives a place its magic and that's certainly what we found having reported on Victoria for so many years from our vantage point."
BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — It's barely a town anymore, battered by time on the windswept prairie of northwest Kansas. COVID-19 still managed for find Norcatur.Not much remains of the rural hamlet, save for service station, a grain elevator, a little museum, and a weekend hangout where the locals play pool, eat pizza and drink beer. The roof has collapsed on the crumbling building that once housed its bank and general store. Schools closed decades ago and the former high school building is used for city offices.But for the 150 or so remaining residents, the cancellation of the beloved Norcatur Christmas Drawing has driven home how the global coronavirus pandemic has reached deep into rural America.“Due to individuals who have COVID and refuse to stay home and quarantine it has been determined it is not safe for the citizens of Norcatur and the area to proceed,” read the notice tucked in the town’s newsletter and posted on its Facebook page. It blamed “negligent attitudes of lack of concern for others” for the cancellation.In a decades-old tradition that evokes Norman Rockwell nostalgia, the whole town typically gathers for a potluck dinner at Christmastime. Its namesake drawing features a plethora of donated meats, crafts and other goodies so every family can go home with prizes. The local 4-H Club puts on its bake sale. Santa Claus comes riding the firetruck.Decatur County has fewer than 3,000 people scattered across farms and small towns like Norcatur. As of Monday, the county had 194 coronavirus cases and one death, although medical providers say there are at least four more deaths of local residents that have yet to be added to the official toll.Carolyn Plotts, a 73-year-old Norcatur resident who never had symptoms and only found out she was positive for COVID-19 when tested for a medical procedure in October, said two of her former high school classmates who live in the county died because of the virus. Her husband also tested positive.“It's been very real to me,” she said.Plotts wondered whether the cancellation notice was maybe “talking about me.” During her quarantine she would only leave her house — with her doctor's permission and wearing a mask, she said pointedly — to care for a housebound friend who still believes the pandemic is a hoax.Carl Lyon, the Norcatur mayor who takes on the annual Santa role, said while most residents are “pretty good” about social distancing and wearing a mask, some have gotten the virus.“I know a couple of people had it and they were still kind of running around and whatnot,” Lyon said. “Didn't seem to bother them that they infected everybody else.”Decatur County Sheriff Ken Badsky estimated that 5% of county residents who should quarantine violate the restrictions and go out. His office has called some and “insisted they do what they are supposed to do,” but has taken no legal action.“I have so much other stuff to do. I don’t have time to follow people around,” Badsky said. “We have 900 square miles, we have three full-time officers and a part-time to take care of that and we are busy with everything else.”Such sentiments anger medical providers as coronavirus cases surge and it gets more difficult to find beds for their sickest patients as hospitals across the state fill up.“We need some backing to stop this virus and we are looking to people that need to do their job to do it, and so otherwise this thing is going to run rampant and it is going to put more pressure on our hospital,” Kris Mathews, the administrator of Decatur Health, a small critical access hospital in Oberlin, just 19 miles west of Norcatur.Stan Miller, the announcer for the Christmas Drawing for more than 25 years, has mixed emotions about the decision to forgo it this year. The 63-year-old Norcatur resident said he understands that there are elderly people who you don't want to get the virus. But it's also disappointing.“I like to see all the joy, especially the little kids,” Miller said. “We have Santa Claus after the drawing is over and to see them sit on Santa's lap and tell them what they want for Christmas, you know, always puts a smile on my face."Roxana Hegeman, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — One of Canada's most controversial ex-ambassadors to China says he repeatedly tried to improve the living conditions of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor after their imprisonment in the People's Republic almost two years ago.John McCallum also said Tuesday he regrets speaking about the October 2019 Canadian election in a meeting with Chinese officials in the months leading up to it.McCallum, the former Liberal cabinet minister who was fired as Canada's envoy to China in January 2019, was testifying at the special House of Commons committee on Canada-China relations.Prime Minister Justin Trudeau fired McCallum after he made a series of public comments that broke with the government's line following the arrests of Kovrig and Spavor, nine days after Canada's arrest of Chinese high-tech scion Meng Wanzhou in December 2018 on a U.S. extradition warrant.McCallum said that's when everything changed in Canada's relations with China, and that he has no doubt Kovrig and Spavor would be free right now had Meng not been arrested."From that moment onwards, the top priority of the government and of myself as ambassador was to secure the release of the two Michaels," said McCallum, noting that he has been one of the few people to visit them in prison."On more than one occasion, I tried to convince the Chinese that if they were unable to release Kovrig and Spavor they should at least improve their living conditions. Sadly, as you all know, Canadian efforts in this area have so far been unsuccessful."The committee has been examining Canada's relations with China, which have plummeted to an all-time low since December 2018. That will likely include making recommendations about dealing with Chinese security agents who intimidate Canadians of Chinese descent on Canadian soil.McCallum appeared relaxed over a video link and displayed no ill will to the government that ended his decades-long career as a politician and then a high-level political appointee. MPs from all parties gave McCallum warm respectful greetings, with the Conservative MP Michael Chong telling him he liked an old book he had written.Trudeau appointed his former immigration minister – McCallum was the political architect of the campaign to bring tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada in 2016 – to Beijing as a gesture of how he valued Canada's relations with China."I think I've done some useful things in my career," he said, citing the Syrian refugee effort, serving as Jean Chretien's defence minister when "we said no" to the United States' request to enter the Iraq war in 2003 and helping bestow honorary Canadian citizenship on South Africa's Nelson Mandela. "But I've never claimed to have led an error-free career."McCallum said he had regrets about his part of his meeting with Chinese officials in the summer of 2019, after he lost his ambassadorship. He said he used the opportunity to lobby for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, or at least improve their living conditions."I painted a dark picture of plummeting support for China among Canadians. And I also mentioned as part of this darkness an impending election. Now, in hindsight, I regret having spoken of the election. I don't think it was appropriate,” McCallum recalled.It likely didn’t make any difference, he said, "because at the end of the day, the Chinese refused to release or even improve the living conditions of our two detainees."In July 2019, McCallum told the South China Morning Post that he had warned China's foreign ministry that more harmful actions against Canada would only help what he said was the less-China-friendly Conservative party get elected.Conservative MPs wrote to Canadian Security Intelligence Service director David Vigneault, calling the comments "very disturbing." Then foreign affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said they were "highly inappropriate." McCallum also said that as ambassador, he rejected an unspecified number of Chinese visa applications on the advice of Canadian security agencies but noted at the time that Australia had a bigger problem with Chinese meddling than Canada. That has changed, he said."What happens to Australia today is a guide for what might happen to Canada down the road." Earlier Tuesday, Chong urged Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne to adopt a more consistent approach to getting tough with China.The Conservative foreign affairs critic told Champagne in a separate Commons committee meeting that the government needs to show Canadians how it will deal with growing Chinese intimidation of Canadians within Canada.Champagne replied that Canada has taken a smart and firm approach with China lately that includes speaking out against its ill treatment of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and of ethnic Muslim Uighurs.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
As COVID-19 cases continue to grow, Premier Andrew Furey has decided to pull the plug on the Atlantic bubble — at least for now. Beginning Wednesday at 12:01 p.m., anyone arriving in the province from the Maritimes must isolate for 14 days. However, travellers within Atlantic Canada will still not have to apply for an exemption. The resumption of quarantine rules will also now apply to southern Labrador border communities, and those who live on the Quebec side but work in Labrador will have to apply for an exemption. Furey described the move as a “circuit break” and said it will be re-evaluated in two weeks. “This is not an easy situation,” he told reporters Monday to a live video briefing. “We must be responsive now and address the situation today,” he said, adding that the aim is to protect the school population and vulnerable citizens. “None of us want another full lockdown like the one we’ve just been through.” Furey said he talked to the other Atlantic premiers over the weekend and all are on board with the decision. P.E.I. Premier Dennis King announced Monday that province will also pause its participation in the bubble, starting Tuesday. “We’re enjoying this level of freedom,” Furey said. “We want to keep it that way.” But he dismissed the notion that leaving the bubble may affect some businesses in the province. “This is an effort to protect the economy.” Furey said the number of cases in other Atlantic provinces was not the only factor in the decision. Public Health also took into account that non-residents from the rest of Canada are still allowed to travel to those provinces without the need of an exemption. The province added another two cases to its tally Monday, including the first case of a child in school. It’s a girl in elementary school in Deer Lake, where a cluster of cases has caused much of the town to shut down as a precaution. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said the child’s cohort — which in this case means the rest of her class — will now have to self-isolate while awaiting a test. “While this is not welcome news today, it is certainly not unexpected,” Fitzgerald said. “We knew we would eventually see cases in schools.” She added that procedures are being followed, and that the source of all cases in Deer Lake has been established and there’s no evidence of community spread. Fitzgerald said she’s tweaking the rules for rotational workers, but won’t backtrack on the shortened seven-day quarantine period implemented in September to relieve the burden of constant isolation while home. However, workers returning from sites elsewhere in Canada will have to wait till Day 7 to get a test, rather than being able to arrange one on Day 5. That may mean some workers may have to wait an extra day for results. That rule goes into effect Wednesday as well. Fitzgerald said waiting two extra days will provide an extra layer of protection. Workers returning from work outside Canada or returning from sites with an identified outbreak still have to isolate for the full 14 days. As well, Fitzgerald said families of rotational workers should avoid large gatherings during the isolation period, should wear a mask when in contact with anyone outside their bubble, and should avoid entering personal and long-term care homes. However, she admitted that is a recommendation and not a rule. Rotational workers, however, are now required to stay out of care facilities. “We continue to carefully consider the balance of risks and benefits as COVID rages on outside our borders,” she said. The province now has 23 active cases, but no longer has anyone in hospital. In Grand Bank — where seven people tested positive, including five seniors over the age of 70 — all contacts have been traced and are in quarantine, Fitzgerald said. In Deer Lake, however, contact tracing continues. Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s former treasury and foreign relations secretary, Luis Videgaray, angrily denied accusations Tuesday by a lawyer for another former Cabinet secretary who claimed he used embezzled government money to help finance election campaigns. The accusations by a lawyer for ex-social development secretary Rosario Robles mark the second time that former top officials have lodged such accusations against Videgaray. A former head of the state-owned oil company, Emilio Lozoya, made similar accusations earlier this year. All three — Robles, Videgaray and Lozoya — worked in the 2012-2018 administration of President Enrique Peña Nieto. Videgaray, currently a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management, is considered the political figure closest to Peña Nieto. He called the accusations “completely false.” “The mechanism of ‘I will save myself by blaming Videgaray’ has a limit, and that limit is truth and justice,” Videgaray wrote in a statement. Both Lozoya and Robles have reportedly offered to turn state's evidence and implicate Videgaray in return for favourable treatment for themselves. Robles wrote in her Twitter account Tuesday that “statements have been made that have not been agreed on with me. I have instructed my lawyers to limit themselves to the legal proceedings,” but she did confirm she had decided to be a co-operating witness. Videgaray wrote that strategy “is immoral and wrong, and does nothing to contribute to the fight against corruption led by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.” López Obrador made the crusade against corruption the centerpiece of his administration upon taking office in December 2018. He has, however, said he is not personally eager to go after former presidents and has proposed submitting the question to voters in a referendum. In 2019, a judge ordered Robles to be held in jail pending trial on corruption charges. She is accused of “wrongful exercise of public service” related to the alleged diversion of up to $260 million in public funds. Robles held multiple posts in Peña Nieto’s administration. The accusations against Videgaray date to June 2014 when Robles was social development secretary. Prosecutors say she was aware of the diversion of funds but never denounced it. Robles has denied wrongdoing. Lozoya was extradited from Spain earlier this year to face money laundering charges and immediately began co-operating with authorities. Videgaray previously denied accusations by Lozoya that he engaged in bribery or illegal campaign financing. Lozoya accused Peña Nieto and Videgaray of using bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to help win the presidency and then to pass the energy sector overhaul that could greatly benefit that company and others. To that end, some opposition lawmakers were bribed for their votes, he alleges. In a statement in August, Videgaray called the accusations false, adding that "moreover, they are absurd, inconsistent and reckless.” The accusations Tuesday involved elections in 2012, 2015 and 2018. Peña Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party denied there had been any illicit financing in those races and said mandatory electoral audits had confirmed that. The Associated Press
Another senior in the town of Grand Bank has tested positive for COVID-19. That makes five people over the age of 70 who have been infected with the coronavirus in the past week, three of them tenants at a seniors' complex called Blue Crest Cottages. The new case, a woman, is not one of the tenants. In total, seven people in the community have tested positive, including a rotational worker. Newfoundland and Labrador registered another case on Tuesday, a woman in her 60s who is a close contact of a previous case unrelated to the Grand Bank cluster. With one new recovery from the disease, there are now a total of 24 active cases in the province. No one is in hospital. There are no new cases in Deer Lake, where a cluster of six positive cases, including an elementary student, has caused the school and much of the community to shut down as a precaution. Meanwhile, the Department of Health advised Tuesday that rotational workers who have returned from the LNG Canada project site in Kitimat, B.C., in the last 14 days will have to self-isolate for 14 days and stay physically distant from household members because of an outbreak there. They should also call 811 to arrange a COVID-19 test. Normally, rotational workers returning from within Canada can get tested on Day 7 and leave isolation if it’s negative, with some provisos. They are not allowed to enter long-term or personal care homes. The province is suspending its participation in the Atlantic bubble as of today at noon. That means anyone arriving in the province from the Maritimes must complete a full 14-day isolation, although a travel exemption is not required as it is for other parts of Canada. The province has strongly advised against non-essential travel due to a growing second wave of COVID-19 across the country. Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
BEIJING — China says it has detected the coronavirus on packages of imported frozen food, but how valid are its claims and how serious is the threat to public health? Frozen shrimp imported from an Ecuadorian company was banned for one week on Tuesday in a continuing series of such temporary bans. While experts say the virus can survive for a time on cardboard and plastic containers, it remains unclear how serious a risk that poses. Like so many issues surrounding the pandemic, the matter has swiftly become politicized. China has rejected complaints from the U.S. and others, saying it is putting people’s lives first. Experts say they generally don’t consider the presence of the virus on packaging to be a significant health risk. A look at the issue and some of the conclusions so far: CHINA’S CRACKDOWN Packaging first became a major issue with outbreaks in China linked to wholesale food markets, including one in June on the outskirts of Beijing. That prompted the removal of smoked salmon from supermarket shelves and has snowballed into multiple cases nationwide involving chicken, beef and seafood from nearly two dozen countries. At some supermarkets, imported meat now comes with a sticker declaring it to be virus-free. Infections among freight handlers have also placed suspicion on packaging. Person-to-person transmission hasn’t been ruled out, however, and China has yet to release evidence that packaging was indeed the route of infection. OVERSEAS COMPLAINTS Trading partners, including the U.S., New Zealand, Canada and the EU, say they’re unclear on China’s methodology and have seen no solid evidence that their products carried the virus. The U.S. has questioned whether China’s crackdown is scientifically based and suggested the bans may amount to an unfair trade barrier. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the U.S. accusations “totally groundless and unreasonable.” China’s measures are “necessary following the spirit of putting people’s lives first and protecting people’s health,” he said last week. In a statement to The Associated Press, the World Health Organization said cases of live viruses being found on packaging appear to be “rare and isolated.” While the virus can “survive a long time under cold storage conditions,” there is no evidence of people contracting COVID-19 from consuming food, it said. SURFACE TRANSMISSION The virus SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19 is overwhelmingly transmitted through respiratory droplets and smaller sized particles passed through the air, underscoring the importance of mask-wearing. Yet the virus can also be present on surfaces, and public health officials have urged people to wash their hands carefully and avoid physical contact with others. In general, the colder and dryer that conditions are, the longer the virus can survive on surfaces. Wiping down countertops, handrails and other surfaces is a common way to ensure safety. Some people have also gone to the extreme of disinfecting packages brought into their homes, both by themselves or by delivery services. WHAT EXPERTS SAY Virus traces found on packaging can be infectious or non-infectious. The extremely sensitive tests being used can detect both active viruses and their remnants, without being able to distinguish between them, said Timothy Newsome, a virologist at the University of Sydney. “It is possible and may represent some risk, but it’s certainly at the lower end of risk for transmission,” he said. “We know low temperatures do stabilize the virus. Nonetheless, I think things which have been transported and surface transmission — there’s a low risk of it.” A positive test “doesn’t indicate infectious virus, just that some signal from the virus is present on that surface,” said Andrew Pekosz of Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. “I’ve seen no convincing data that SARS-CoV-2 on food packaging poses a significant risk for infection,” he said. ___ Associated Press health and science writer Victoria Milko contributed to this report. The Associated Press
The Hong Kong government's priority is to "restore the political system from chaos", Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday in her annual policy address, which did not deliver blockbuster steps to boost the economy or ease a housing crisis. Lam's lengthy address to the semi-autonomous city's legislature was delayed by more than a month to accommodate her high-profile trip to Beijing for talks on how China can help with the finance hub's economic recovery.
Pour arriver à la Côte-Nord, il faut rouler des heures et des heures vers l’est. Ensuite, un contrôle routier nous attend. Avant d’embarquer sur le traversier direction Tadoussac, deux policiers s’arrêtent à chaque véhicule. « Qu’est-ce que vous allez faire sur la Côte-Nord ? » demandent-ils à chaque automobiliste, décourageant ceux qui s’y rendraient par plaisir. La mesure n’est que préventive, mais elle fait partie du plan que chapeaute le médecin-conseil de la Direction de la santé publique de la Côte-Nord, le Dr Richard Fachehoun. Visage des conférences de presse pandémiques nord-côtières, Richard Fachehoun peut aujourd’hui se réjouir du bilan provisoire de sa région. À ce jour, pour 90 000 Nord-Côtiers, les autorités ne recensent que 200 cas de COVID-19 et 2 décès. La région est une des seules régions du Québec, avec l’Abitibi, les Îles-de-la-Madeleine, le Nunavik et une partie de la Baie-James, à demeurer une « zone jaune ». Le chapelet de villages étendu sur plus de 1300 kilomètres de côte offre un avantage certain, admet le Dr Fachehoun. « La densité de la population est faible. Mais, le principal, c’est vraiment le rôle que joue la population. Si on veut contrôler la situation, c’est la population qui va la contrôler. » Originaire du Bénin, l’homme à l’œil vif a dû longtemps cheminer avant d’en arriver à ce poste stratégique. D’abord médecin généraliste en Afrique de l’Ouest, à « [prendre] en charge des patients atteints de VIH », il arrive dans la belle province en 2008. Entre Montréal et Québec en passant par Gatineau, il obtient ses équivalences québécoises avant de s’établir sur la Côte-Nord, il y a trois ans. La neige « qui fait disparaître les maisons » n’a pas manqué de le surprendre, ni les innombrables sentiers pour combler son besoin de course à pied. « Courir, c’est passionnant. Quoique ces derniers mois, non, parce que les gens parlent beaucoup des ours qui se retrouvent sur la piste cyclable… mais c’est passionnant ! » « Passionnant » aussi que de travailler avec les Autochtones, dit-il. Une passion qui s’est transformée en défi lorsque la COVID-19 a forcé la mise en place d’une « cellule innue ». En début de crise, la haute direction du CISSS s’est réunie avec les élus locaux pour protéger ces milieux tissés serrés. « [Les élus innus] avaient des réponses à tout. Ils étaient proactifs », salue le Dr Fachehoun. Rapidement, des points de contrôle bloquent l’entrée de villages à tous les non-résidents. Puis, des enquêtes épidémiologiques « faites en collaboration avec les services de santé des communautés autochtones » tiennent la pandémie en échec chez les quelque 15 000 Innus de la région. Autre défi pour l’équipe du Dr Richard Fachehoun : le fly in fly out ou, autrement dit, le navettage des travailleurs dans les mines dispersées sur le territoire. Pour assurer le contrôle sanitaire de ces industries jugées essentielles par Québec, les minières ont établi des plans : des cycles de travail plus longs, un nettoyage des navettes aériennes et des mesures d’isolement. « Toutes les minières ont été visitées », assure le Dr Fachehoun. Pour les autres recoins d’autant plus isolés, comme Schefferville, Anticosti ou la Basse-Côte-Nord, l’absence de lien terrestre avec le Québec complique l’offre de soins. Pour prévenir toute éclosion, un isolement est imposé aux voyageurs, doublé d’un test de dépistage au premier et au septième jour après leur arrivée sur place. La logistique du dépistage sur ce territoire de 236 000 kilomètres carrés n’a pas non plus été de tout repos. « Au départ, toutes les analyses étaient faites à Rimouski », explique Richard Fachehoun. Avant que l’échantillon ne traverse le fleuve et que le patient connaisse le résultat, cinq jours pouvaient alors s’écouler. Après avoir mis au point un protocole d’analyse sur place, les résultats sont maintenant connus dans un délai de 24 heures, se félicite le médecin. N’empêche, il encense surtout son équipe pour avoir convaincu les Nord-Côtiers de l’importance des gestes barrières, comme la distanciation physique. « C’est la population qui a le rôle déterminant. Si la population respecte les mesures, on n’aura pas de cas », rappelle-t-il, bien au fait que « les gens sont habitués à faire des “collures” ». Cette « chaleur humaine », qu’il tente à regret de dissoudre chez ses concitoyens, l’avait pourtant bien charmé lors de sa première visite sur la Côte-Nord. À l’époque, il se souvient s’être fait interroger en pleine rue par une citoyenne, curieuse de voir un nouveau visage. « Automatiquement, j’ai fait le parallèle », raconte-t-il. « À Montréal, tout le monde se dépasse. À Québec, sur la piste cyclable ou bien quand on fait de la course, on se salue. Mais ce qui frappe sur la Côte-Nord, les gens t’arrêtent pour te parler. C’est plus inclusif. C’est un petit milieu. »Jean-Louis Bordeleau, Initiative de journalisme local, Le Devoir
In September, as the pandemic summer began to wane, school children across Ontario found themselves back in the classroom for the first time since March. For Jason Bradshaw, a science teacher with the Peel District School Board (PDSB), the occasion meant dusting off and booting up his laptop. He was one of many assigned to teach online, as PDSB staffed an entire digital school operating in parallel to in-person education. It gave students the option to learn from the safety of their homes. The system wasn’t perfect, but was generally considered to be an improvement from what was scraped together in March. Students (and teachers) who wanted to work online had an option, as did those who prefered the classroom. But the compromise wasn’t to last. Since the end of August, the number of COVID-19 cases in Ontario has trended rapidly toward the top of case charts at increasing speed. In Peel Region, and especially in Brampton, the pace has accelerated faster than anywhere else in Ontario and the virus has spread out of control. In mid-October, students were offered a chance to reassess. Would they prefer to learn online or from home? The answer was overwhelming. The proportion of students opting to learn from home was so great that the model of online and in-person schools was no longer viable. Both PDSB and Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB) switched to a hybrid model for high school students that sees teachers juggling in-class and virtual class at the same time. “The way I describe it: it’s similar to what I was doing when I was teaching online, but with a live studio audience,” Bradshaw told The Pointer. “I still have the computer in front of me, I can see my online students, I can interact with them. But I’m doing this all with some number of in-person students in front of me who I also have to engage and respond to as well.” To try his best to maximize the learning experience for his students, Bradshaw has created a mission control cobbled together from board computers and his own devices. His system involves using a Chromebook to broadcast his lessons to students at home, a personal laptop is at the heart of the operation, a desktop links his online presentation to the class projector and an iPad helps to monitor the online chatbox. “People are right to consider the accessibility for students, they should always be our primary focus … but in doing so, people forget this is not what any teacher has ever really trained for,” he added. “The way the system is working right now is leveraging the fact teachers are going to fill in the gaps and give a little extra to make it work [including providing their own devices]. That’s an expectation I don’t think is really fair for myself or my colleagues.” Bradshaw says the majority of his students are tuning in online. It’s not uncommon, he says, to have five students in front of his desk and a further 25 learning online. At PDSB, 57 percent of elementary school students are learning online and 43 percent in person. At the secondary school level, 45.1 percent are only online, while 54 percent are taking part using an “adaptive” model. It seems the steeply rising COVID-19 case count in schools has convinced many students and families they’re better off learning at home. Data taken from dashboards maintained by the two main school boards at 12 p.m. on November 23 show 40 percent (or 163) schools in Peel had at least one active case of COVID-19. Of that figure, 56 DPCDSB schools were reporting a total of 130 cases, while 196 infections were spread out between 107 PDSB schools. In the face of these figures, and startling rates of community transmission, Peel entered a 28-day lockdown on Monday. Between September and November 15, there were 14 outbreaks of COVID-19 at Peel schools. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases in school where an epidemiological link can be found to suggest transmission took place in the classroom. Five additional outbreaks have been reported since November 15, including the recent brief closure of DPCDSB’s Holy Spirit School. Data from Peel Public Health says 64 percent of elementary staff or students involved in nine outbreaks were asymptomatic. Despite the spread of cases in some schools and lockdown measures, DPCDSB teachers are still required to report to the classroom. Even those teaching courses entirely online are being told to do so from school property. Measures introduced by Peel’s medical officer of health Dr. Lawrence Loh on November 8 told employers to give their staff the option to work from home if possible. While this is difficult for many, those continuing to work in DPCDSB’s entirely online elementary school could possibly have done so. Yet, even in the face of closures, wide infection spread and warnings from Peel’s top public health doctor, DPCDSB has told its staff that to teach online they must be in a classroom. “DPCDSB educators teaching students in remote-only learning mode will continue to do so from DPCDSB schools,” Bruce Campbell, general manager, communications and community relations, told The Pointer on November 10. The statement was reconfirmed on November 23. “As schools remain open and with no direction to close schools and implement 100 percent remote operations such as was the case during the initial closure period, DPCDSB educators will continue to be based in our schools.” Asked for comment, Loh said the final decision lies with the board. “I have instructed owners/operators (in this case, the school board) to permit work from home wherever possible,” he said in an email. “It is up to them to decide what is possible.” As Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce repeat that “the safest place for kids is in the schools, not in the community,” it is teachers who are stretched to keep students there. Not only are some now teaching from empty classrooms instead of their homes, others are learning to juggle two jobs at once to offer the best option to students. “I don’t want to be too blunt, but I don’t think it’s a model that is giving either group of students the best possible experience,” Bradshaw added. “Your attention is being split; teaching online and teaching in person are two very different things… it almost feels like you’re doing the job of two teachers at the same time.” Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @isaaccallan Tel: 647 561-4879 COVID-19 is impacting all Canadians. At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories relating to the pandemic and those of public interest to ensure every resident of Brampton and Mississauga has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you.Isaac Callan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The federal government says American duties on Canadian softwood lumber exports continue to be "unfair" and "unjustified," even if they have been reduced. An administrative review by the U.S. Department of Commerce imposes countervailing duties of nearly nine per cent on certain Canadian exporters, down from just over 20 per cent. It's the latest salvo in one of the most persistent trade irritants between Canada and the United States, a dispute that has been raging for nearly 40 years. The lower rate appears to be the result of a World Trade Organization decision in August that found Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission were wrong to impose the original duties in 2017. International Trade Minister Mary Ng acknowledged the lower tariffs as a step in the right direction, but insisted they remain baseless and unfair. Ng says the government will continue to seek a negotiated settlement and defend the interests of Canadian forestry companies and workers."While reduction in tariffs for some Canadian producers is a step in the right direction, Canada is disappointed that the United States continues to impose unwarranted and unfair duties on Canadian softwood lumber," she said in a statement Tuesday evening."These duties have caused unjustified harm to Canadian businesses and workers, as well as U.S. consumers."U.S. producers have long taken issue with Canada's system of provincially regulated stumpage fees, which are paid to the Crown in exchange for the right to harvest timber. They say the system unfairly subsidizes an industry which in the U.S. is privately owned and operated, with pricing set by the competitive marketplace.Canadian lumber exports play a critical role in the U.S., where demand for wood products used in construction significantly outstrips the domestic supply.The U.S. Lumber Coalition, a champion of countervailing duties against Canada, noted in a statement that the August decision by the WTO is being appealed — although the U.S. has effectively hamstrung the world body's dispute resolution panel by refusing to appoint new members. "It is absolutely imperative that these flawed WTO recommendations are not allowed to undermine in any way the continued enforcement of the trade laws," executive director Zoltan van Heyningen said in a statement. "The WTO case is far from over, and as such, it must not be allowed to influence the ongoing process and the results of the second administrative review."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.The Canadian Press
Debbie Forward looked back at 24 years at the helm of the Registered Nurses Union of Newfoundland and Labrador Tuesday in a tenure punctuated by a strike in 1999 that got them banned from the lobby of the Confederation Building and a showdown in 2009 with then premier Danny Williams. Forward, who started nursing 40 years ago, gave her last address to the biennial convention at the Delta Hotel in St. John’s before stepping down next month. “I’ll never forget 1999, having rallies on the steps of Confederation Building, not knowing if our members would show up,” she said, recounting their fight with then premier Brian Tobin. “Well, we didn’t have to worry about that, because they came out in the hundreds.” She recalled how members rallied in the lobby of the legislature, banging their picket signs on the floor until someone complained they were chipping the marble. Protests were banned from the building after that. “That was unity and solidarity like I had never seen or experienced before,” she said. During the showdown with Williams in 2009, Forward said, the premier insisted his sources said most nurses would be happy with a deal on the table. The union put it to a vote. Sixty-four per cent rejected it. Forward said her numbers predicted 66 per cent would. The dispute was finally settled in negotiation. Forward highlighted some of her primary goals as president, including a long battle to increase staffing levels and end the cycle of overtime and sick leave that has characterized the profession for many years. She said nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador currently punch in 250,000 hours of overtime a year. Overtime and sick leave, she said, cost the province an extra $45 million annually. “Research shows more RNs, staffed properly and working in healthy environments, will improve our health-care system and save the province money,” she said. Forward said she is pleased Health Minister Dr. John Haggie has committed to breaking that cycle, and only regrets she won’t be around to see the results. She said the fact incoming president Yvette Coffey will play a role in the province’s 10-year Health Accord Task Force speaks volumes about that commitment. “I am confident that Yvette will be a strong, powerful voice for our union. Having a seat at that table will ensure that we are not on the menu.” After her speech, Forward said she has three main things in mind for her retirement: “Relaxation, relaxation, relaxation.” She said she’s looking forward to spending more time with family, including her granddaughter, but admits travel is out of the question for now. Asked if she misses nursing as such, Forward said she never left. “I believe I’m still nursing, I’m just nursing in a different role,” she said. “I miss connections with patients and those conversations and being on the front line. “My connection with my members and my conversations with them on what’s happening on the front line has really helped keep me grounded in the realities of the system.” Before Forward’s address, the minister made a virtual appearance to offer his thoughts and answer some questions from members. Haggie also had a few flattering words for the outgoing president, saying she has laid the groundwork for a new approach to nursing. “Your successors will go further because they’re stood on your shoulders, so I wouldn’t worry about not having been able to finish this particular piece. It will be done.”Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California's system for paying unemployment benefits is so dysfunctional that the state approved more than $140 million for at least 20,000 prisoners, local and federal prosecutors said Tuesday, detailing a scheme that resulted in claims filed in the names of well-known convicted murderers like Scott Peterson and Cary Stayner.From March to August, more than 35,000 inmates were named in claims filed with the California Employment Development Department, with more than 20,000 being paid, according to Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert. At least 158 claims were filed for 133 death-row inmates, resulting in more than $420,000 in benefits paid“It involves rapists and child molesters, human traffickers and other violent criminals in our state prisons,” Schubert said.The list includes Peterson, who was sentenced to death after being convicted of killing his pregnant wife following a trial that riveted the nation. The California Supreme Court recently overturned Peterson’s death sentence and has ordered a lower court to review his murder conviction.Schubert confirmed there was a claim made in the name of Scott Peterson, but declined to provide further details.Peterson's attorney, Pat Harris, said while Peterson's name surfaced during the investigation, there is no evidence Peterson received unemployment aid from the state.“This investigation, when it's completed, will show that he had not a thing to do with any kind of scheme to get fraudulent benefits,” Harris said.Schubert listed a number of inmates there who had claims filed in their names, including Stayner, convicted of killing four people in or near Yosemite National Park in 1999; Susan Eubanks, a San Diego woman convicted of shooting her four sons to death in 1997; Isauro Aguirre, who was sentenced to death for the 2013 murder of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez in Los Angeles; and Wesley Shermantine, part of the duo dubbed the “Speed Freak Killers” for their meth-induced killing rampage in the 1980s and ’90s.Prosecutors said they learned of the scheme from listening in on recorded prison phone calls, where inmates would talk about how easy it was for everyone to get paid. They said the scheme always involved someone on the outside — usually friends or family members of the inmates, who would then receive the benefits.In Kern County, home to five state prisons, one address was used to receive benefits for 16 inmates.“In my nearly four decades as a prosecutor in this state, I have never seen fraud of this magnitude,” Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer said.In some cases, inmates used their real names. In others, they used fake names and even fake Social Security numbers. In one instance, an inmate used the name: “poopy britches," Schubert said.“Quite frankly, the inmates are mocking us,” Schubert said.So far, 22 people have been charged in San Mateo County, including six people who were not in prison. Prosecutors said dozens of other investigations across the state are continuing.Prosecutors blamed the Employment Development Department, which has been overwhelmed by more than 16.4 million benefit claims since the pandemic began in March, resulting in a backlog that at one time totalled more than 1.6 million people.But prosecutors said in its haste to approve benefits, the department did not check unemployment claims against a list of prisoners, as many other states do. San Mateo District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe said that when he notified the department about inmates fraudulently receiving benefits, they told him they could not cut off the payments until they were formally charged with a crime.The problem was so bad that on Monday, nine county district attorneys sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom asking for him to intervene.“We face a manifest problem that requires action, not talk,” said McGregor Scott, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.Employment Development Department spokeswoman Loree Levy said the agency has been working with the Department of Labor's Office of Inspector General on cross-checking claims with inmates, saying they are “pursuing how to integrate such cross-matches moving forward as part of enhanced prevention efforts during this unprecedented time of pandemic-related unemployment fraud across the country.”In an email to the AP, Newsom called the fraud “absolutely unacceptable.” He said he first learned of the fraud earlier this year, which prompted him to order the department to “review its practices and take immediate actions to prevent fraud and to hold people accountable.”Newsom said he has ordered the Office of Emergency Services to set up a task force to assist prosecutors with their investigation.“While we have made improvements, we need to do more,” Newsom said.___This story has been corrected to say that Cary Stayner killed four people in or near Yosemite National Park; to show 20,000 of 35,000 claims were paid; and to accurately spell the last name of convicted killer Wesley Shermantine.Adam Beam, The Associated Press
Fred Sasakamoose, one of the first Indigenous players in the NHL, has died after battling a presumed case of COVID-19. Sasakamoose died Tuesday in Prince Albert, Sask. He was 86. Fred's son, Neil, announced his death in a video posted on Facebook.Neil Sasakamoose said last week that his father had been hospitalized in Saskatchewan for a presumed case of COVID-19 after experiencing wheezing and chest pains."We weren’t allowed to go sit with one of the most famous Indigenous people in our time," he told The Canadian Press in a phone interview Tuesday. “We weren’t able to comfort him. My mother was not able to see her husband. They’ve been married 65 years.”Sasakamoose said he learned early on Tuesday his dad's oxygen levels were depleting, but didn't want to go into intensive care. He told me, ‘I walked in here. If I can’t walk out of here then I’m going to go."He said the last conversation he had with his father was at around 1 p.m. “He was talking, ‘I’m going to fight this Neil, my son, I’m going to fight,'" Sasakamoose said. "I said, ‘Are you tired? Your body’s getting tired.' He said, 'I’m getting tired.'"Sasakamoose said in their Plains Cree culture they believe people come to get a person when it's their time to die. “I told him, ‘Look it, Dad, if someone’s there and if you’re tired, you just take their hand and you go.’"He was at peace.”He wants people to remember his father as a man who was "rooted right into the people."“We were happy to have him as a father, but he’s always belonged to everyone else.”“First Nations people, Metis people, non-Indigenous people."Sasakamoose says his family has164 people, including his nine siblings and parents' grand-children and great-grandchildren. He implored people to follow public-health advice around COVID-19 to prevent more deaths from happening. “Look at my situation. I can’t plan a funeral for one of the greatest Indigenous athletes in Canada."Sasakamoose played 11 NHL games with the Blackhawks in 1953-54, becoming one of the first Indigenous players in the then-six-team league. During his time in Chicago, he faced off against greats like Maurice Richard and Gordie Howe. He also had a storied junior career, playing several seasons with the Moose Jaw Canucks of the Western Canadian Junior Hockey League. “We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Fred Sasakamoose," Hockey Canada said in a tweet. "Fred holds a special place in the history of our great game and it is important to honour his perseverance and character in becoming the first Indigenous Canadian to play in the NHL." Sasakamoose was one of 11 children, though only five survived childhood. He was forcibly taken from his community in central Saskatchewan to a residential school as a child and told a Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearing in 2012 that he had been sexually abused by other students there. He also recalled being whipped and having coal oil poured over his head. While at the school he encountered a reverend, who was convinced he could make Sasakamoose into a big-time hockey player. "He said to me, 'Freddie, I'm going to make you a champion,'" Sasakamoose recalled in a video released by Hockey Canada in 2017. Being someone young Indigenous people could look up to was important to Sasakamoose. "To pave the way for Indian kids and the Metis, they look at you as a role model and they say 'Wow.' They look at my rings and my pictures. This is what I gain in life. This is what brought me to where I am," he said in the video. "It's for you now to follow in the footsteps — maybe be better.""RIP to my buddy, Freddy Sasakamoose," Canadian women's hockey player Brigette Lacquette, who is Indigenous, posted on Twitter. "He was a trailblazer, a leader and a survivor. "He paved the way for so many Indigenous hockey players. My thoughts and prayers to the family. Rest easy, legend."When his playing career came to an end, Sasakamoose returned to the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation north of Saskatoon. He became a band councillor and chief, and worked to develop minor hockey and other sports programs across Saskatchewan. "On a personal note, I will always treasure meeting Fred at the 2019 Heritage Classic in his native Saskatchewan, getting to spend some precious time getting to know him and the gift he gave me that day -- a statue depicting his NHL rookie card," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "The National Hockey League mourns the passing of this special man and sends its condolences to his family and the countless young men and women of the First Nations community whose lives he touched." Sasakamoose was named to the Order of Canada in 2017, and given an honorary doctorate of law by the University of Saskatchewan earlier this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the convocation ceremony was virtual so Sasakamoose recorded a video message. "I had a hard time of life," he said. "You want to be somebody, then it takes, you know, a little more effort."Still, the Indigenous hockey pioneer wanted his story to be heard. His book, "Call Me Indian," is set to come out in April. "Time will come when I am no longer here," Sasakamoose said in his convocation message. "But my voice you will always use."This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.The Canadian Press