DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An explosion struck an Israeli-owned cargo ship sailing out of the Middle East on Friday, an unexplained blast renewing concerns about ship security in the region amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The crew and vessel were safe, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy. The explosion in the Gulf of Oman forced the vessel to head to the nearest port. The incident recalled the summer of 2019, when the same site saw a series of suspected attacks that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran, which Tehran denied. Meanwhile, as President Joe Biden tries to revive nuclear negotiations with Iran, he ordered overnight airstrikes on facilities in Syria belonging to a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi armed group. Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, identified the stricken vessel as the MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship. Another private security official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, similarly identified the ship as the Helios Ray. Satellite-tracking data from website MarineTraffic.com showed the Helios Ray had been nearly entering the Arabian Sea around 0600 GMT Friday before it suddenly turned around and began heading back toward the Strait of Hormuz. It was coming from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and still listed Singapore as its destination on its tracker. Israel’s Channel 13, in an unsourced report, said the assessment in Israel is that Iran was behind the blast. Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Iranian government did not comment on the blast Friday. The blast comes as Tehran increasingly breaches its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers to create leverage over Washington. Iran is seeking to pressure Biden to grant the sanctions relief it received under the deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago. Iran also has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago. Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told the AP that the Israeli-owned vessel had left the Persian Gulf Thursday bound for Singapore. On Friday at 0230 GMT, the vessel stopped for at least nine hours east of a main Omani port before making a 360-degree turn and sailing toward Dubai, likely for damage assessment and repairs, he said. The vessel came loaded with cargo from Europe. It discharged vehicles at several ports in the region, Raja added, including in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with its last port of call at Dammam. While details of the explosion remained unclear, two American defence officials told the AP that the ship had sustained two holes on its port side and two holes on its starboard side just above the waterline in the blast. The officials said it remained unclear what caused the holes. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss unreleased information on the incidents. A United Nations ship database identified the vessel’s owners as a Tel Aviv-based firm called Ray Shipping Ltd. Calls to Ray Shipping rang unanswered Friday. Abraham Ungar, 74, who goes by “Rami,” is the founder of Ray Shipping Ltd., and is known as one of the richest men in Israel. He made his fortune in shipping and construction. According to the Nikola Y. Vaptsarov Naval Academy, where Ungar provides support and maritime training, he owns dozens of car-carrying ships and employs thousands of engineers. The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it was “aware and monitoring” the situation. The U.S. Maritime Administration, an agency of the Transportation Department, issued a warning to commercial shippers early Saturday acknowledging the explosion and urging ships to “exercise caution when transiting” the Gulf of Oman. While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global said it was very possible the blast stemmed from “asymmetric activity by Iranian military." As Iran seeks to pressure the United States to lift sanctions, the country may seek “to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means,” Dryad reported. In the tense summer of 2019, the U.S. military blamed Iran for explosions on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most strategic shipping lanes. The U.S. also had attributed a series of other suspected attacks to Iran, including the use of limpet mines — designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull — to cripple four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah. Since the killing of Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian nuclear scientist, last November, Israeli officials have raised alarms about potential Iranian retaliation, including through its regional proxies like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels. Over the years, Iran has been linked to attacks on Israeli and Jewish civilian targets in Latin America, Europe and Asia. Israel has not commented on its alleged role in the scientist's killing. Friday's incident also follows normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. The agreements, met with scathing criticism from Iran, solidified an emerging regional alliance against the Islamic Republic. __ Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Tel Aviv, Israel, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report. Jon Gambrell And Isabel Debre, The Associated Press
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies gradually ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials began expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 22, opening community clinics for people aged 80 years and older. Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, has said the province's plan is to open another 10 clinics in March for 48,000 people who will be mailed a letter informing them how to book an appointment. Strang said the vaccination program will then expand to the next age group in descending order until everyone in the province is offered the chance to be immunized. The age groups will proceed in five-year blocks. Future community clinics are to be held March 8 in Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro; March 15 in Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth; and March 22 in Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth. The province began its vaccination campaign with residents of long-term care homes, those who work directly with patients, those who are 80 and older, and those who are at risk for other reasons including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island The province says the first phase of its vaccination drive, currently slated to last until March, targets residents and staff of long-term and community care, as well as health-care workers with direct patient contact at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure. Those 80 and older, adults in Indigenous communities, and truck drivers and other rotational workers are also included. The next phase, which is scheduled to begin in April, will target those above 70 and essential workers. The province intends to make the vaccine available to everyone in late summer and fall. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec The province's proposed order of priority for vaccination according to its website is those in residential and long-term care centres, workers in the health and social services network, followed by those in isolated and remote communities, people 80 years or older, and then the general population in 10-year increments. Health officials launched an online and telephone system for vaccine registrations on Feb. 25 and will begin vaccinating people aged 85 years and older in Montreal on March 1. Officials said that while residents across the province aged 85 and older can register for a vaccine, priority will be given to people in the greater Montreal area, which has the highest active COVID-19 case count in Quebec. On Feb. 26, officials opened registration for Montrealers as young as 80 years old. It has not yet been announced when the next age group can begin to register for vaccines. The province says the vaccination of children and pregnant women will be determined based on future studies of vaccine safety and efficacy in those populations. --- Ontario The province has mapped out a three-phase approach to its rollout. Phase 1, which is still ongoing, reserves shots for those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers, and people who live in congregate care settings. All Indigenous adults, people aged 80 and older and adults receiving chronic home care will be next in line. The province says it will begin vaccinations among the 80 and older age cohort starting the third week of March. Vaccinations will begin for people 75 and older starting April 15. The province will then move to offer shots to those 70 and older starting May 1; 65 and older starting June 1; and 60 and older the first week of July. Indigenous adults and patient-facing health-care workers will receive vaccinations as the province works through those age groups. The government is still finalizing the list of essential workers who will receive vaccinations in May if supply is available. The province has not detailed when people younger than 60 can expect to be vaccinated. Appointment bookings can be made online and by phone starting March 15 for those in eligible age cohorts. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. They say most people over 80, and First Nations individuals over 60, could be eligible in early March. The province plans to have all personal care home residents vaccinated with two doses by the end of February, and has started sending team to other congregate living settings such as group homes and shelters. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, say inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if new vaccines are approved and supplies are steady. The plan does not include a separate category for essential workers — something that Reimer says will be considered as vaccine supplies increase. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. When bookings opened to this age group Wednesday, the website was temporarily overwhelmed when more than 150,000 people tried to get access. Within a day, 100,000 appointments were booked. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. Some 28,000 seniors in long-term care have already been vaccinated. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia The first phase of B.C.'s immunization campaign launched in December and focused on health-care workers in hospitals, paramedics, residents and staff at long-term care homes, and remote Indigenous communities. The second phase set to wrap up in March includes people aged 80 and above, Indigenous elders 65 and up, Indigenous communities that didn't receive vaccine in the first phase, as well as more health-care workers and vulnerable populations living and working in certain congregate settings. The third phase of B.C.'s immunization campaign is set to start in April and last until June, reaching people between the ages of 60 and 79, along with those who are highly clinically vulnerable, such as cancer patients. B.C.'s plan for the general population is based on age, with the oldest residents first in line. --- Nunavut Nunavut's vaccination rollout is underway, with vaccine clinics for the general population scheduled or completed in all 25 communities. In Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital, a general vaccination clinic is underway for priority populations, including staff and residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. Starting March 1, the vaccine clinic will be extended to all adults in Iqaluit ages 45 and up. Nunavut still expects enough vaccines to immunize 75 per cent of its residents over the age of 18 by the end of March. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories says it has vaccinated 42 per cent of its adult population since its vaccine rollout began in early January. Vaccine clinics are either completed or underway in all 33 of the territory's communities. In Yellowknife, residents and staff in long-term care homes are being prioritized for the vaccine. Vaccination of Yellowknife's general population will begin in late March. The N.W.T. still expects to receive enough vaccines to inoculate 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
HOUSTON — President Joe Biden heard firsthand from Texans clobbered by this month's brutal winter weather on Friday and pledged to stick with them “for the long haul” as he made his first trip to a major disaster area since he took office. Biden was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing “God's work.” He promised the federal government will be there for Texans as they try to recover, not just from the historic storm but also the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it’s not a Republican or Democrat that’s hurting," Biden said. “It's our fellow Americans that are hurting and it's out job to help everyone in need." With tens of thousands of Houston area residents without safe water, local officials told Biden that many are still struggling. While he was briefed, first lady Jill Biden joined an assembly line of volunteers packing boxes of quick oats, juice, and other food at the Houston Food Bank, where he arrived later. The president's first stop was the Harris County Emergency Operations Center for a briefing from acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and state and local emergency management officials. Texas was hit particularly hard by the Valentine's weekend storm that battered multiple states. Unusually frigid conditions led to widespread power outages and frozen pipes that burst and flooded homes. Millions of residents lost heat and running water. At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm and, although the weather has returned to more normal temperatures, more than 1 million residents are still under orders to boil water before drinking it. “The president has made very clear to us that in crises like this, it is our duty to organize prompt and competent federal support to American citizens, and we have to ensure that bureaucracy and politics do not stand in the way,” said Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, who accompanied Biden to Houston. Biden was joined for much of his visit by Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn, both Republicans, four Democratic Houston-area members of Congress and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The president also stopped by a mass coronavirus vaccination centre at NRG Stadium that is run by the federal government. Biden on Thursday commemorated the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination since he took office, halfway toward his goal of 100 million shots by his 100th day in office. That celebration followed a moment of silence to mark the passage earlier this week of 500,000 U.S. deaths blamed on the disease. Democrat Biden suggested that he and Republicans Abbott and Cornyn could find common cause in getting Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible. “We disagree on plenty of things,” Biden said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are plenty of things we can work on together. And one of them is represented right here today, the effort to speed up vaccinations." Texas' other U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, an ally of former President Donald Trump and one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who had objected to Congress certifying Biden’s victory, was in Florida Friday addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference. Cruz, who has been criticized for taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, while millions of Texans shivered in unheated homes, later said the trip was a mistake, but he made light of the controversy on Friday. “Orlando is awesome,” he said to laughs and hoots. “It’s not as nice as Cancun. But’s nice.” At the peak of the storm, more than 1.4 million residents were without power and 3.5 million were under boil-water notices in the nation's third largest county. Post-storm debate in Texas has centred on the state maintaining its own electrical grid and its lack of better storm preparation, including weatherization of key infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the blackouts on renewable energy even though Texas relies heavily on oil and gas. In Washington, Biden's climate adviser said the deadly winter storm was a “wake-up call” for the United States to build energy systems that can withstand extreme weather linked to climate change. “We need systems of energy that are reliable and resilient,” Gina McCarthy said in an interview with The Associated Press. The White House said Biden's purpose in visiting was to support, not scold. Biden was bent on asking Texans "what do you need, how can I help you more," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “And what can we get more for you from the federal government.” Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to aid the recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent emergency generators, bottled water, ready-to-eat meals and blankets. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in an interview that he didn't know what more the federal government could do to help because the failures were at the state level. But Henry, a Republican who is the highest county official in the suburban Houston county, said that if Biden “thinks it's important to visit, then come on down.” Biden wanted to make the trip last week, but said at the time that he held back because he didn’t want his presence and entourage to detract from the recovery effort. Houston also was the destination for Trump's first presidential visit to a disaster area in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding that August. Trump, who is not known for displays of empathy, did not meet with storm victims on the visit. He returned four days later and urged people who had relocated to a shelter to “have a good time.” —- Associated Press writers Juan Lozano in Houston, Aamer Madhani in Chicago, and Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed reporting. Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Prosecutors in New Orleans moved Friday to have convictions overturned for 22 people found guilty of felonies by non-unanimous juries, and to review hundreds of other such convictions obtained under a law with roots in the Jim Crow era. District Attorney Jason Williams, who took office last month after running on a reform platform, announced the move at a news conference outside the criminal courthouse in New Orleans. He was flanked by his staff, criminal justice advocates and Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Emily Maw, head of the civil rights division of Williams' office, said five cases being vacated are being reviewed to see whether charges ever should have been filed. Seventeen are being re-prosecuted. However, 16 of the defendants have agreed to plead guilty as charged or to lesser charges, seeking reduction of sentences that would likely have kept them behind bars for life. “This doesn't mean that 22 people walked out onto the streets today,” Williams stressed. Until January 2019, felony convictions in Louisiana could be obtained with a 10-2 or 11-1 jury vote under laws that opponents said were aimed at making sure Black jurors' votes could be negated in cases against Black defendants. Oregon was the only other state with a similar law. Voters approved a constitutional amendment that outlawed non-unanimous verdicts beginning in 2019, a vote that followed a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories in The Advocate analyzing the origins of the law and the racial disparities in verdicts. And, last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that non-unanimous verdicts were unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court’s decision in April affected only future cases and cases in which the defendants' appeals had not been exhausted. That left an estimated 1,600 cases in Louisiana unaffected. Advocates estimate more than 300 of them are in New Orleans. Pending before the high court now is the question of whether the decision should be made retroactive. Williams opted not to wait for that decision. Williams' dubbed his initiative “the DA's Jim Crow Jury Project" and said it is aimed at “repairing 120 plus years of injustice by methodically and efficiently reviewing all applications to the court of cases where persons were convicted by a non-unanimous jury.” Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, praised the move. Jamila Johnson, of the Promise of Justice Initiative, said her organization represented many of the clients in Friday's court proceedings. “It was incredibly moving,” she said, describing the case of one man who agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter — he had been convicted of murder in a non-unanimous verdict in 1974 — in a deal that made him instantly eligible for release from the state prison. The Promise of Justice Initiative said in a news release that it will reach out to crime victims who might be affected by the revisiting of some convictions. “While it is absolutely necessary to dismantle this intentionally racist practice of non-unanimous juries, it will have a huge impact on those who assumed the legal process was over,” Katie Hunter-Lowery, of the PJI said in a news release. "We invite survivors and victims’ loved ones to contact us at and we invite city and state leaders to allocate more funding and resources directly to impacted communities.” Kevin McGill, The Associated Press
ST. LOUIS — Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has been buried in a private cemetery in St. Louis, his family announced Friday. Limbaugh's widow, Kathryn, and his family said a private ceremony with close family and friends was held Wednesday, but they did not say where he was buried. The family said additional celebrations of Limbaugh's life are planned in the future, both virtually and in his hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, The Southeast Missourian reported. Limbaugh died Feb. 17, a year after announcing he had lung cancer. The fiery Limbaugh was a leading voice of the Republican party and conservative movement for decades with a daily radio show that was broadcast on more than 600 U.S. stations for more than 30 years. The Associated Press
(CBC - image credit) A woman in her 20s has died after using a cannabis product mixed with fentanyl, methamphetamine and the synthetic drug W-18, Prince Edward Island's chief public health officer says. P.E.I.'s coroner reported the accidental overdose death late Friday. Investigations are ongoing, according to a written news release. Dr. Heather Morrison warned that anyone consuming any kind of street drugs should take steps to reduce the risks and carry naloxone, and share the information with other drug-users that naloxone is available. Naloxone, also known by the trade name Narcan, is highly effective at reversing the effects of overdoses of opioids including heroin, morphine or fentanyl. Anyone consuming cannabis should ensure it comes from a safe source, she added. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and has caused many accidental overdoses and deaths, the release said, adding W-18 is an illegal drug similar to carfentanil reported to be as much as 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl-related overdoses, deaths rose in 2020 In 2020, the coroner has so far identified that out of a total of 17 accidental opioid-related overdoses on P.E.I., nine involved fentanyl. Of six people who died of accidental overdoses, three cases involved fentanyl — more cases than ever before. Any Islander can get a naloxone kit for free from the provincial needle exchange program by visiting a program site or by calling 1-877-637-0333. Free kits are also available to clients of mental health and addiction programs and some community groups. Islanders are encouraged to call 911 if they suspect an overdose, even if naloxone has been administered and appears to be working — it may not be enough. "It may not be enough to permanently reverse the overdose; it only lasts for 20 minutes, so it is important to get medical help for the best chance of survival," the release said. Anyone with any information in relation to this matter or other drug related information is asked to contact RCMP or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. More from CBC P.E.I.
(Gian-Paolo Mendoza/CBC - image credit) Quebec families looking to hop into a hotel pool during March break won't be able to do so if they're staying in one of the province's red zone. A ministerial decree made public on Friday confirmed that only municipal swimming pools will be authorized to reopen as of Feb. 26. Now hotel owners expect a tidal wave of cancellations as many lodgers were planning their stay with hopes of at least swimming with so much closed and travelling abroad so strongly discouraged. Eve Paré, CEO of the Hotel Association of Greater Montreal, said the Legault government had yet to clarify the rules since the premier announced on Feb. 16 that pools would be allowed to open Friday. Regardless, members of the association launched launched promotional campaigns to attract families looking for something to do during March break, she said. "This was the main reason for the stay for many clients," said Paré. This news comes at a time when hotel occupancy rates are at an all-time low. According to the Altus Group, Montreal's hotel occupancy rate in November 2019 was 73 per cent. In November of 2020, it was just 12 per cent. The Ministry of Health released a statement at the end of the day Friday, outlining which public health measures are being scaled back during March break. First, sports activities taking place in public indoor swimming pools are permitted, but limited to individual practise, in pairs or in groups of people residing at the same address, the statement says. Individual lessons or lessons alongside members of the same residence are possible also, it says. However, the swimming pools of hotel establishments will have to remain closed in the red zone, the statement says. In an email to Radio-Canada, the ministry says hotels in orange zones can open their pools.
WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney John Durham said Friday that he will resign from his position as the top federal prosecutor in Connecticut but is remaining as a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department's investigation into the origins of the Russia probe that shadowed Donald Trump’s presidency. Durham will resign from his post as U.S. attorney for Connecticut on Monday. But Durham, who was appointed in October by then-Attorney General William Barr as a special counsel to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, will remain in that capacity. Like Durham, nearly every other U.S. attorney who served in the Trump administration was asked earlier this month to submit their resignations as the Biden administration moves to transition to its own nominees. The FBI in July 2016 began investigating whether the Trump campaign was co-ordinating with Russia to sway the outcome of the presidential election. That probe was inherited nearly a year later by special counsel Mueller, who ultimately did not find enough evidence to charge Trump or any of his associates with conspiring with Russia. The early months of the investigation, when agents obtained secret surveillance warrants targeting a former Trump campaign aide, have long been scrutinized by Trump and other critics of the probe who say the FBI made significant errors. A Justice Department inspector general report backed up that criticism but did not find evidence that mistakes in the surveillance applications and other problems with the probe were driven by partisan bias. Durham’s investigation, which the Justice Department has described as a criminal probe, had begun very broadly but Barr said in December that it had “narrowed considerably” and that it was “really is focused on the activities of the Crossfire Hurricane investigation within the FBI.” Durham’s investigation has so far resulted in one prosecution so far. A former FBI lawyer was sentenced to probation last month for altering an email the Justice Department relied on in its surveillance of an aide to President Donald Trump during the Russia investigation. The U.S. attorneys transition process, which happens routinely between administrations, applies to a few dozen U.S. attorneys who were appointed by Trump and confirmed by the Senate and many of the federal prosecutors who were nominated by Trump already left their positions. A senior Justice Department official told the AP earlier this month that David Weiss, the U.S. attorney in Delaware, overseeing the federal tax probe involving Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, will remain in place. The 93 U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and are responsible for overseeing offices of federal prosecutors and charged with prosecuting federal crimes in their jurisdictions. Michael Balsamo, The Associated Press
“The connection is me,” said Tsuut’ina Nation artist seth cardinal dodginghorse, linking his work for Contemporary Calgary and his protest at the opening of the southwest Calgary ring road last October. dodginghorse spoke virtually yesterday, the final speaker for Contemporary Calgary’s Water Event. His exhibit, entitled The Glenmore Rezerveoir, is a water jug with a label made from elk hide parfleche. Writing is painted on the inside of the label and can only be read if it’s “really bright out” and the jug is angled. The label reads: “You drink Tsuut’ina land.” dodginghorse said he was approached in August by the gallery to be one of six Indigenous artists to produce a water sculpture as part of political activist Yoko Ono’s exhibition, Growing Freedom. Two months later, he stood at the opening of Tsuut’ina Trail, unofficially called Calgary’s southwest ring road, and cut off his braids, offering them to the portion of the road that displaced his family six years earlier from their generations-held land. “The connection is story-wise and intent behind making the work. They weren’t directly related at all. But a lot of my intent … all my own personal experiences, traumas informed making this work and those were the same things that informed me speaking out at the opening … (and) resulted in me cutting my hair and everything. It’s more like the connection is that I made the artwork and the connection is that I ended up cutting my hair. The connection is me,” said dodginghorse. dodginghorse’s family was forced off their land in 2013 because of the ring road. That land had been in the family since his great-great grandmother. His mother and her siblings had grown up there. Many Tsuut’ina people beyond dodginghorse’s family members had connections to that land. When living there, dodginghorse said the water they drank was “some of the most beautiful, delicious water you could drink.” His family moved to another piece of land on the Tsuut’ina reserve. They were told not to drink the water from the tap because of numerous environmental concerns, including nearby fracking. His family had to drink water from jugs. “We didn’t grow up having to purchase water. We didn’t grow up having to be afraid of what was coming from our tap. We’ve been drinking from these water bottles for quite a bit now and I thought, ‘Why don’t I just use one of these and highlight the issue of drinking water and where does the water I’m purchasing come from?’” he said. In 1932, dodginghorse said Tsuut’ina Nation was “pressured” by Calgary and the government to sell 400 acres of reserve land to the city. That land became the Glenmore reservoir and provides safe drinking water for Calgary residents. “There’s just so much loaded history behind Glenmore reservoir and my family as well ... It’s very strange and very ironic that my family, once we moved, in order to drink water we had to drink water from land that was originally part of Tsuut’ina. That was like essentially purchasing water back from ancestral lands,” said dodginghorse. Having to be concerned about safe drinking water is not unique to Tsuut’ina, said Dodginghorse, noting that boil water advisories are common in many First Nations communities right across the country. While some artwork takes time to conceive and time to determine the medium, this piece was readily conceived, dodginghorse said. “It was very easy to make but then thinking about the history behind the objects, behind my family’s history, all of these connection, is one of those really nice pieces in a way where I made this and then afterwards I started thinking and analysing and really understanding what I had made,” he said. dodginghorse said he prefers his work to be “blunt and in your face.” He wants people to “get” what he is saying with his art and not have to ponder it for “three hours” before the message sinks in. dodginghorse has been showing his work in Calgary galleries for about six years. He said he understands that this venue only reaches “a certain crowd.” “A lot of the people that were involved in a lot of these decisions historically that are still here, aren’t really the type of people that go to galleries. With this type of work has like the focus on reaching out to the average white Calgarian that goes to galleries,” he said. Ryan Doherty, chief curator of Contemporary Calgary, who hosted the virtual talk, said dodginghorse’s piece was popular with gallery goers, many of whom came after dodginghorse cut his braids at the ring road opening. “That seemingly mundane container is in fact so loaded,” said Doherty. When Contemporary Calgary was tasked with asking a new group of artists to collaborate with Ono in this iteration of Water Event, Doherty said he knew it had to be a group with which water had an “enormous significance.” “When you consider the long history and impact of the Bow and Elbow rivers to the Indigenous population past and present it seemed the best thing would be to invite artists for whom that connection would resonate in the collaboration with Yoko,” said Doherty. The other Water Event collaborators are Adrian A. Stimson, Faye HeavyShield, Jessie Ray Short, Judy Anderson and Kablusiak. In 1971, Ono held her first museum exhibition, Water Event, in which she invited over 120 participants to produce a water sculpture. “As Yoko herself noted to us, (this) was one of the best iterations to date,” said Doherty. Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
(CBC - image credit) An N.W.T. MLA says that health and social services staff need cultural competency training because they do not understand First Nations family structures and the history of Canada's treatment of Indigenous peoples. Deh Cho MLA Ron Bonnetrouge said that, in a conversation about the cultural competency of health centre staff, the chief of Deh Gáh Got'îê First Nation in Fort Providence said he "has no faith in what they do ... that they do not understand us." Bonnetrouge wants regionally specific consultation with First Nations on the content of the cultural competency training, especially because health and social services conducts the removal of children from their families. "They are going strictly by the book. This is alarming," he said. "We have people within the community that are family members … that should have first rights to refusal for that child when they're being taken away." Bonnetrouge asked for cultural awareness training for all existing staff and new hires for health centres in the territory. "Many [territorial government] employees are being hired from out of the territory to deliver programs and services," he said. "They do not know the struggles of our people, how we operate as a family system and how we operate as a community." Deh Gáh Got'îê First Nation Chief Joachim Bonnetrouge said COVID-19 has exacerbated problems in the community and accessing services has been "difficult" for community members. "People that come here to work for and with our community ... they do need to have a good ground to get to know us," he said. "That can be done by having good cross-cultural training workshops or even some time out on the land with the community members here, so they can know us and where we're coming from," he said, "some of the cultural values and more positive stuff [rather] than only engaging when there's a crisis." Wellness councils have opportunity to comment: minister Health Minister Julie Green said the department settled on a model for its cultural competency training following the completion of 13 pilot programs. The department will show a framework to community wellness councils across the N.W.T., but there is no timeline for when the training will be made available, she said. A file photo of the Fort Providence health centre in June 2015. Bonnetrouge first raised issues with the care residents were receiving at the centre in June of last year. Bonnetrouge said that while employed at public works, he took cultural sensitivity training which left out valuable information such as the history of residential schools and attempts to assimilate Indigenous peoples in Canada like the 1969 White Paper. "Each community has a unique history and situation," he said. "It's very important that we get the insight of community leaders from every community." Complaints in Fort Providence not new In June, Bonnetrouge raised concerns about racism at the local health care centre in Fort Providence. There are several complaints filed to the Northwest Territories Registered Nurses Association, he said. "Northwest Territories residents, especially the Indigenous residents of my community, should not be treated like the treatment they receive at the local health centre," he said in the Legislative Assembly in June. "They should also not be treated with racist overtones just for being Indigenous." Bonnetrouge said at the time that comments made to patients — such as "you Indians are a bunch of drunks" and remarks about their treaty rights — are unacceptable. Diane Archie, who was health minister in June, told Bonnetrouge there was a complaint filed to the nurses association and she could not speak to specifics about the complaint. The CBC has reached out to the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut for comment, but has not received a reply.
TORONTO — Some of the most active companies traded Friday on the Toronto Stock Exchange: Toronto Stock Exchange (18,060.26, down 163.28 points.) Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU). Energy. Down 79 cents, or three per cent, to $25.27 on 24.6 million shares. ClearStream Energy Services Inc. (TSX:CSM). Energy. Down 2.5 cents, or 26.3 per cent, to seven cents on 21.1 million shares. CI Financial Corp. (TSX:CIX). Financials. Up 46 cents, or 2.7 per cent, to $17.82 on 18.1 million shares. Ballard Power Systems Inc. (TSX:BLDP). Industrials. Up 97 cents, or 2.8 per cent, at $35.60 on 14.6 million shares. Manulife Financial Corp. (TSX: MFC). Financials. Down 39 cents, or 1.5 per cent, at $25.37 on 10.4 million shares. Enbridge Inc. (TSX: ENB). Energy. Down $1.18, or 2.7 per cent, at $42.98 on 10.4 million shares. Companies in the news: Onex Corp. (TSX:ONEX) Up $1.72, or 2.5 per cent, to $71.24. Onex reported its fourth-quarter profit rose compared with a year ago, helped by gains in its private equity and credit investments. The Toronto-based private equity manager, which keeps its books in U.S. dollars, says it earned a net profit of US$597 million or $6.61 per diluted share for the quarter ended Dec. 31. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021. The Canadian Press
Two Ontario regions struggling with COVID-19 outbreaks will be moving back into lockdown next week, while public health restrictions will be loosened elsewhere in the province. Local leaders in Thunder Bay - a hub for travel in northwestern Ontario - had been calling for assistance as COVID-19 outbreaks were declared at correctional facilities, among the homeless population and at number of local schools. Simcoe Muskoka, which has also been hit with several outbreaks driven by infectious virus variants, will also be placed on lockdown. Health Minister Christine Elliott said recent projections on the pandemic in Ontario "(show) us that we must be nimble and put in place additional measures" to stop the spread of the virus. "With COVID-19 variants continuing to spread in our communities, it is critically important that everyone continues strictly adhering to all public health and workplace safety measures to help contain the virus and maintain the progress we have made to date," Elliott said. Meanwhile, restrictions will loosen Monday in Niagara Region, Chatham-Kent; Middlesex-London; Southwestern; Haldimand-Norfolk; Huron Perth; and Grey Bruce. The government lifted a stay-at-home order for most of the province two weeks ago and moved the majority of health units back to its colour-coded restrictions system. Data has shown the stay-home order and strict public health measures imposed in January brought cases and hospitalizations down but they have since started to trend upwards again. In Thunder Bay, the local public health unit has recorded more COVID-19 cases in February than throughout all of 2020, the city's mayor said Friday before the lockdown was announced. "We're in a difficult spot right now," Bill Mauro said in a telephone interview. "Clearly there is a situation here that we don't see ending in the near term." The mayor has been calling on the provincial and federal governments to provide financial and human-resources assistance in health care. The only isolation centre in the city of over 121,000 people is on the "verge of failing," he said. Ontario's top doctor recommended Thursday that the city be moved to lockdown because the virus could spread to remote communities with scarce health-care resources. Dr. Janet DeMille, medical officer of health for Thunder Bay District Health Unit, welcomed the lockdown announcement. "These enhanced measures are needed to get COVID in our community under control," she said in a statement. A New Democrat legislator who represents the northern city in the provincial parliament said the government waited too long to help the city avoid a lockdown. “It’s been like watching a car crash in slow motion,” Judith Monteith-Farrell said Friday. Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins and Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler had also requested support from Ottawa and the province, saying the region was grappling to keep up with the growing case load. The chiefs pointed to inadequate resources for people released from correctional facilities who are being sent to isolate in hotels in Sioux Lookout, Thunder Bay and Timmins. “Thunder Bay is in a precarious situation, and there is growing concern as government ministries, health organizations and health units struggle to contain the spread of this virus," Fiddler said. "Moving back to lockdown across northwestern Ontario will be painful, but is necessary as COVID-19 cases continue to rise." One northwestern Ontario First Nation declared a state of emergency after several members living off-reserve in Thunder Bay tested positive for COVID-19. Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias said at least 12 members had tested positive for COVID-19 as of Wednesday. There was also news Friday of more infectious COVID-19 variants detected for the first time in the northwestern part of the province. The local health unit that covers the Kenora, Ont., area, reported its first case of a COVID-19 variant. It said a person in the Dryden, Ont., area has tested positive for the B.1.1.7 variant first found in the U.K. Meanwhile, Premier Doug Ford welcomed the news that Health Canada had approved a third COVID-19 vaccine – from AstraZeneca – for use in Canada, saying it would speed up Ontario's vaccine rollout. "We're geared up, we're ready to go and just can't wait to get the third vaccine," he said. The province plans to offer shots to people aged 80 and older starting in the third week of March, though the timeline is subject to change. Some local health units will start inoculations in the broader community earlier based on their progress vaccinating the highest-priority groups first. Vaccinations for those 80 and older are to begin at Windsor-Essex County clinics on Monday. The City of Ottawa will deliver shots next Friday at a pop-up clinic open to those born in 1941 and earlier, adult recipients of chronic home care and residents of high-risk neighbourhoods. York Region will also allow residents aged 80 and older to book appointments Monday, with vaccinations to start possibly the same day. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021. Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press
JUNEAU, Alaska — An Alaska Native corporation said it was unable to meet a deadline for aerial surveys of polar bear dens in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because a federal agency did not issue the necessary authorization in a timely manner. The Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. also took issue with what it calls a “blatant mischaracterization” of what happened and says it is owed an apology. On Saturday, Melissa Schwartz, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Interior, said the corporation had confirmed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials that den detection surveys had not been conducted by a Feb. 13 deadline. The corporation was told “their request is no longer actionable, and the Service does not intend to issue or deny the authorization,” she said. Her comments echoed those of Regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Gregory Siekaniec in a letter to corporation President Matthew Rexford a day earlier. The corporation had sought authorization from the agency for activities that could disturb polar bears as part of a broader proposal to conduct what are known as seismic surveys to search for oil and gas deposits within the refuge’s coastal plain. In December, the Fish and Wildlife Service released for comment a proposed authorization that would allow for “incidental harassment” of polar bears in the coastal plain during a set period for seismic work. More than 6 million comments were received, according to Siekaniec. In his letter, Siekaniec said the agency was unable to review and consider all the comments and “make appropriate refinements” to the proposed authorization and supporting documents before a "key milestone” in the corporation's request, noting the Feb. 13 deadline. Rexford, in a response to the regional director, said the corporation had gotten conflicting messages on the status of that review. He said that the agency had failed his corporation and community. Kaktovik is on the northern edge of the refuge, on the Beaufort Sea coast. He told The Associated Press the corporation is evaluating its next steps. Schwartz on Friday declined comment beyond her previous statement. President Joe Biden’s administration last month announced plans for a temporary moratorium on oil and gas leasing in the refuge after the Trump administration issued leases in a part of the region considered sacred by the Indigenous Gwich’in. The Interior Department says none of the lands proposed for seismic survey activity are within the area that has been leased. Pending lawsuits have challenged the adequacy of the environmental review process undertaken by the Trump administration. Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting hit with tough questions about investigations into sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. David Akin explains what kind of investigation Opposition leader Erin O'Toole, an Air Force veteran, is calling for.
And do you make your own jewelry?
OTTAWA — A man who once sat on the advisory board to WE Charity's American affiliate told a parliamentary committee he believes two different groups of donors were told they'd raised the money for the same school building in Kenya. Reed Cowan testified on Friday that he started raising money for Free The Children, as WE Charity was known at the time, after his son Wesley died in an accident at age four. He said he wanted to give Wesley a legacy and turn his "pain into purpose," but now feels like his son's grave has been robbed. He said he discovered that a plaque on a school building that once bore Wesley’s name now carries the name of another WE donor. “I saw that the school that we had opened and put our plaque on with Wesley's name and his motto was no longer on his school," Cowan said. One of the names now on the plaque is the Howie Stillman Foundation, he said. On the foundation's website, he found a video of an “opening celebration, where they opened the very same building less than two weeks before we arrived there. We went to Kenya thinking we were opening that building for Wesley," he said. "The ceremony was re-cued for us, same people, same songs, same everything, different plaques.” For Cowan, knowing he'd build a specific school was important. He said he was told by Roxanne Joyal, the wife of WE founder Marc Kielburger and the current CEO of its for-profit affiliate ME to WE, that the school was "Wesley's school." "When you give money to an organization a continent away, you wonder if it's real, and then I put my hands on the brick and it is," he told the committee. He said thinking about children in Kenya studying at the school helps him deal with the loss of his son. It “gets me through a lot of nights,” Cowan told the committee. Money raised by Cowan's group, the Wesley Smiles Coalition, went directly to WE Charity. He said he believes it raised hundreds of thousands of dollars directly and that his efforts for the organizations, including speaking across the U.S., may have helped raise millions of dollars. Now, he wants to know where it went. “I’ve repeatedly asked for an accounting of all monies raised connected to Wesley Cowan’s legacy and as of this date, I’ve not been provided that accounting,” he told the committee. "I’d like it." In an email, WE Charity said it's working to give Cowan the information he requested. WE said Cowan misunderstood what was happening in the video he saw and that it was a "welcome ceremony" at the unfinished school for volunteers arriving to help build it. "There was only one opening ceremony for the schoolhouse and it was for Mr. Cowan," the organization said in the unsigned email. It said two of the four schoolhouses Cowan funded had plaques with Wesley's name. "One was removed in 2009 and WE regrets that it inadvertently failed to notify Mr. Cowan," it said, adding that the plaque has now been returned. WE said the Howie Stillman Foundation provided funding for other programs in the community, including a clean water program. WE said its projects in Kenya were reviewed by forensic accountant Al Rosen, "who confirmed that projects such as schoolhouses were not 'double matched.'" WE has previously said that review was commissioned by the Stillman Foundation. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021. ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
VICTORIA — British Columbia Premier John Horgan says completing the Site C dam is in the best interests of residents, despite the project's price tag ballooning to $16 billion and completion date stretching to 2025. The premier told a news conference Friday that Site C has faced "significant challenges," and the $5.3-billion cost increase and one-year construction delay are due to geotechnical issues, COVID-19 and other pressures. However, Horgan said the hydroelectric dam in northeastern B.C. is half done and cancelling it now would mean laying off 4,500 workers and a sunk cost of $10 billion. The average ratepayer would pay 26 per cent more, or about $216 a year, to cover the debt, he said. "I believe today we've made the right decision. Completing Site C will help power our province well into the future with clean energy as we electrify our economy. It will keep our rates among the lowest in North America," he said. "We will not put the jobs at risk. We will not shock people's hydro bills. We want to make sure that the financial implications of this project will be felt not immediately, but over the life of the project." The province said the expenses will be recovered through rates over the 70-year lifespan of the dam. After the project is operational, the average ratepayer will face about a three per cent increase above previous forecasts based on the $10.7-billion price tag in 2018. It said COVID-19 and the geotechnical issues represent about half of the additional costs, but it did not elaborate on the other factors or provide a detailed breakdown, citing commercial interests. Horgan's announcement comes months after a former deputy finance minister submitted a report on the dam for cabinet consideration in December. The province ordered the review last July after Crown-owned BC Hydro reported concerns about risks, delays and costs. The province released a summary version of Peter Milburn's report on Friday and said it had accepted all 17 of his recommendations, including enhancing the expertise of the project assurance board and strengthening BC Hydro's risk reporting and management. The government also asked two experts to examine solutions proposed by BC Hydro to the geotechnical issues that came to light in early 2020. The report, also released Friday, found that changes to the foundation on the right bank will ensure Site C meets safety standards. Horgan also announced new leadership at BC Hydro. He said Doug Allen, who has held top positions at the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia and TransLink, will replace Ken Peterson as chairman of the board. The premier said the Site C project was beset with challenges when it was first greenlit in 2014 by the previous B.C. Liberal government, which wanted to get it "past the point of no return." After the NDP took power in 2017, Horgan said he would reluctantly support completion of the dam across the Peace River just west of Fort St. John, but he would never have started it. At that time, the sunk cost would have been $4 billion. Horgan said he understands there are a significant number of B.C. residents who have never supported the project and they were not going to be any happier Friday than they were in 2017. "I don't have the luxury of fretting over the past. I have an obligation to focus on the future," he said. "The costs going forward are going to be less than the costs behind us." Asked whether the $16-billion price tag was final, he noted he could not have foreseen a global pandemic, so other unexpected events could occur and push the cost higher. Opposition Liberal critic Tom Shypitka said proceeding with the dam is the right decision, but the NDP needs to take responsibility for the cost overruns since 2017. "This project has doubled under their watch. It's gone from $8.8 billion to $16 billion all within their mandate. The NDP's got to be accountable for this. It's their show," he said. The report by Milburn suggests that concerns around geotechnical issues were raised in 2018 and it took two years for the government to notice, Shypitka said. B.C. Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said she was disappointed, but not surprised, with the government’s decision. She said the business case for the dam was "astonishingly terrible." "Considering that we lose the agricultural land, the biodiversity, the traditional territory of the Treaty 8 First Nations, this is catastrophic," Furstenau added. The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said the province's support of the project violated its commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. "The Site C dam has never had the free, prior and informed consent of all impacted First Nations, and proceeding with the project is a clear infringement of the treaty rights of the West Moberly (First Nations)," said Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, the union's secretary-treasurer. The West Moberly First Nations, which hold traditional territories in the area of the dam, said the government's decision was made without any attempt at consultation. "We are not at all convinced that this project is safe. The premier's decision has grave consequences for West Moberly and other First Nations," said Chief Roland Willson. Environmental groups also spoke out against the decision, with Wilderness Committee campaigner Joe Foy calling the project "irresponsible" and not based on common sense. "Premier Horgan should put this dam out of its misery now. It's time to walk away from Site C." — By Laura Dhillon Kane in Vancouver This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021. The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the cost overrun was $6 billion.
EDMONTON — A group of health professionals is urging the Alberta government not to ease COVID-19 restrictions next week and to instead toughen measures for bars, restaurants and pubs. Two doctors who co-chair the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association's pandemic committee made the plea in a statement released Friday. "The health care system and the population, after having been stressed for so long, really can't tolerate another surge before the end of our vaccination campaign," said Dr. Noel Gibney and Dr. James Talbot, noting it will be months before all at-risk Albertans are inoculated. "Any further easing of COVID-19 restrictions should only be undertaken when all high-risk individuals in the province have been immunized. We have a short window remaining to prevent another surge and protect Albertans, but it is rapidly closing." Gibney and Talbot said that new daily active cases have stopped decreasing and the number of new infections that result from each case is growing. A new, more transmissible variant first found in the United Kingdom could cause rapid increases if it becomes the dominant strain, they said. The doctors added the province should close bars, restaurants and pubs to indoor service, or at least put a meaningful cap on capacity and enforce the current restrictions. "It is clear that many bars, pubs and restaurants are not obeying the current restrictions that are in place. They are overcrowded, not enforcing same household rules and are over safe capacity at peak times," they said. "This is an extreme risk for a third wave with the original COVID-19 strain and is even higher risk for the more transmissible U.K. variant." The doctors also note it will be months before all at-risk Albertans are vaccinated. The Alberta government could as soon as Monday ease restrictions on retail businesses, banquet halls, community halls, conference centres, hotels, indoor fitness and children's sport and performance activities. The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital has to be below 450 in order for the next reopening phase to go ahead, and numbers have been below that for under a month. But the province's chief medical officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has said the next reopening phase is not a done deal because the test positivity rate and other so-called leading indicators are rising. Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the province still needs to review the latest data before making a decision, but new daily cases have so far not been rising at a rate that would raise alarm. Nor has Shandro seen anything that would warrant clamping down on eating and drinking establishments. "But if that ever was brought to my attention by Dr. Hinshaw, of course we would want to work with her in being able to address any community spread that we have in the smartest and most targeted, narrow way that we can." Alberta on Friday recorded 356 new COVID-19 cases and three additional deaths. There were 269 people in hospital, including 55 in intensive care. The test positivity rate was 3.9 per cent. — By Lauren Krugel in Calgary This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021. The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia's crown prince likely approved the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that instantly ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew worldwide outrage. The intelligence findings were long known to many U.S. officials and, even as they remained classified, had been reported with varying degrees of precision. But the public rebuke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is still a touchstone in U.S-Saudi relations. It leaves no doubt that as the prince continues in his powerful role and likely ascends to the throne, Americans will forever associate him with the brutal killing of a journalist who promoted democracy and human rights. Yet even as the Biden administration released the findings, it appeared determined to preserve the Saudi relationship by avoiding direct punishment of the prince himself despite demands from some congressional Democrats and Khashoggi allies for significant and targeted sanctions. Questioned by reporters, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the approach. “What we’ve done by the actions we’ve taken is not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values," he said. “I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.” The conclusion that the prince approved an operation to kill or capture Khashoggi was based on his decision-making role inside the kingdom, the involvement of a key adviser and members of his protective detail and his past support for violently silencing dissidents abroad, according to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Though intelligence officials stopped short of saying the prince ordered the October 2018 murder, the four-page document described him as having “absolute control” over the kingdom’s intelligence organizations and said it would have been highly unlikely for an operation like the killing to have been carried out without his approval. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry responded by saying the kingdom “categorically rejects the offensive and incorrect assessment in the report pertaining to the kingdom’s leadership.” Shortly after the findings were released, the State Department announced a new policy, called the “Khashoggi Ban,” that will allow the U.S. to deny visas to people who harm, threaten or spy on journalists on behalf of a foreign government. It also said it would impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals who have engaged or threatened dissidents overseas. The State Department declined to comment on who would be affected, citing the confidentiality of visa records. But a person familiar with the matter said the prince was not targeted. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against a former Saudi intelligence official, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, who U.S. officials say was the operation's ringleader. Democrats in Congress praised the administration for releasing the report — the Trump administration had refused to do so — but urged it to take more aggressive actions, including against the prince. Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, urged the Biden administration to consider punishing the prince, who he says has the blood of an American journalist on his hands. “The President should not meet with the Crown Prince, or talk with him, and the Administration should consider sanctions on assets in the Saudi Public Investment Fund he controls that have any link to the crime,” Schiff said in a statement. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, called for consequences for the prince — such as sanctions — as well as for the Saudi kingdom as a whole. Rights activists said the lack of any punitive measures would signal impunity for the prince and other autocrats. Without sanctions, “it’s a joke,” said Tawwakol Karman, a Nobel Peace Price winner from neighbouring Yemen and friend of Khashoggi's. While Biden had pledged as a candidate to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the killing, he appeared to take a milder tone during a call Thursday with Saudi King Salman. A White House summary of the conversation made no mention of the killing and said instead that the men had discussed the countries’ long-standing partnership. The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency similarly did not mention Khashoggi’s killing in its report about the call, focusing on regional issues like Iran and the war in Yemen. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has told reporters that the administration intends to “recalibrate" the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Biden previously ordered an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and said he would stop the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia but has given few details of his plans. Though the Biden administration's relationship with Riyadh is likely to be more adversarial than that of Donald Trump's, the reality is that Riyadh's oil reserves and status as a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East have long made it a strategic — if difficult — ally. The broad outlines of the killing have long been known. The document released Friday says a 15-member Saudi team, including seven members of the prince's elite personal protective team, arrived in Istanbul, though it says it's unclear how far in advance Saudi officials had decided to harm him. Khashoggi had gone to the Saudi consulate to pick up documents needed for his wedding. Once inside, he died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival. Surveillance cameras had tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours before his killing. A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his entering the building. The whereabouts of his remains remain unknown. The prince, an ambitious 35-year-old who has rapidly consolidated power since his father became king in 2015, said in 2019 that he took “full responsibility” for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials. Saudi Arabian courts last year announced they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison in Khashoggi’s killing. They were not identified. ___ Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Ben Fox in Washington and Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City contributed to this report. Eric Tucker And Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken says he's looking forward to renewing the relationship between his country and Canada, whose interests and goals are tightly intertwined. Blinken and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau met over a video link Friday.