Four people were killed and several others were injured after flames ripped through an east-end Toronto home early Friday. Toronto's fire service said six people were taken from the home and two were in hospital.
Four people were killed and several others were injured after flames ripped through an east-end Toronto home early Friday. Toronto's fire service said six people were taken from the home and two were in hospital.
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
An Alberta court ordered an updated Gladue Report for an Onion Lake Cree Nation woman facing drug trafficking charges in that province. Tamarah Lee Dillon, 27, had court appearances in Alberta and Saskatchewan on charges stemming from separate incidents. She had an appearance on Feb. 24 in Lloydminster Provincial Court for breaching condition of her release. The matter was adjourned to Aug. 4. She had an appearance in St. Paul Provincial Court Feb. 18 on drug trafficking charges. The St. Paul court adjourned her matter until April 8 to allow time for an updated Gladue Report. A Gladue Report is a pre-sentence report typically prepared by Gladue caseworkers at the request of the judge, defense or Crown Prosecutor. By law, judges must consider Gladue factors when sentencing First Nations people. Section 718.2(e) of Canada’s Criminal Code stipulates that judges must clearly address an Aboriginal offender’s circumstances, as well as the systemic and background factors that contributed to those circumstances. Gladue was a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision handed down in1999. In 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Gladue Principle also applies to breaches of long-term supervision orders. The ruling says that failing to take Aboriginal circumstances into account violates the fundamental principle of sentencing. The Gladue Principles also state that restorative justice may be more appropriate for Aboriginal offenders. Restorative justice focuses on healing those affected by the criminal act, including the offender, which is more in line with traditional Aboriginal justice. This restorative justice approach is also meant to act as a solution to reducing the over-representation of Aboriginals in Canadian jails. Dillon was wanted on a Canada-wide arrest warrant in December 2018 for being unlawfully at large. She remains in custody. Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist
MONTREAL — Josh Brook scored the go-ahead goal at 13:39 of the third period, and the Laval Rocket edged the Manitoba Moose 4-3 on Friday in American Hockey League action Gustav Olofsson, Jesse Ylonen and Kevin Lynch also scored for the Rocket (4-2-1), AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. Cayden Primeau made 19 saves for Laval. Declan Chisholm, Cole Maier and Cole Perfetti replied for the Moose (4-3-0), who had their four-game win streak halted. Mikhail Berdin stopped 30-of-34 shots for the Winnipeg Jets' AHL club. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published February 26, 2021. The Canadian 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.
Regina–When everyone is told to stay home and limit travel as much as possible for a year, you would think that’s bound to have an impact on vehicle insurance claims. It turns out, it did, but perhaps not as much as you might think. Rather, strong performance in its Saskatchewan Auto Fund Rate Stabilization Reserve resulted in SGI announcing on Dec. 26 it would pass on roughly $350 million in earnings. This will be going to the people of Saskatchewan by issuing one-time rebates to all registered vehicle owners, and also improving injury benefits for its most seriously injured customers, the Government of Saskatchewan said in a release on Feb. 26. Of that, $285 million will be to going to registered vehicle owners. But that’s not because there $285 million less in claims. According to SGI spokesperson Tyler McMurchy, claims in 2020 were down about $100 million compared to what was budgeted for. Instead, fund was $1.35 billion at the end of 2020, and this $350 million will draw from that. Putting it into context, he said a bad hailstorm can result in $20 million to $50 million in claims in an afternoon. “The Saskatchewan Auto Fund Rate Stabilization Reserve is in a very strong financial position due to very strong investment returns and – to a smaller degree – fewer collision claims due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Minister Responsible for SGI Don Morgan said. “As a result, SGI will pass on these earnings to the people of Saskatchewan by issuing rebates to all registered vehicle owners and by improving injury benefits.” Rebates to be Issued this spring The provincial government has approved the one-time rebate of $285 million. The amount each customer receives will vary, and it will be calculated based on a proportion of vehicle premiums paid in the previous three years. Details are still being finalized, but it’s expected the average rebate will work out to approximately $285 per vehicle or approximately 26 per cent of an average annual premium in Saskatchewan. The Auto Fund, which all Saskatchewan vehicle owners pay into via their insurance premiums, maintains the Rate Stabilization Reserve (RSR). Maintaining a healthy balance in the RSR protects customers against sudden rate fluctuations due to unexpected cost pressures. SGI said the RSR is one of the reasons that SGI customers enjoy, on average, the lowest rates for basic auto insurance in Canada and have not experienced significant rate increases, despite the rapidly rising cost of repairing today’s modern vehicles. The amount in the RSR is heavily impacted by the performance of its well-diversified investment portfolio, SGI said. After losses last March, in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the RSR experienced strong investment earnings over the past fiscal year, especially in the last quarter. This allows SGI to absorb the one-time cost associated with issuing rebates, while remaining in a position to protect customers from significant rate hikes going forward. Even with issuing the rebate, the RSR will meet industry standards to protect against unexpected cost fluctuations, SGI said. Rebate cheques will be issued in May and sent through the mail to customers who have paid Auto Fund premiums in the past three years and are residents of Saskatchewan. Customers are encouraged to verify that their mailing address is up to date by visiting www.MySGI.ca to confirm or by contacting their local motor licence issuer. Benefits for most seriously injured SGI said it is also implementing two significant enhancements for customers who receive long-term injury benefits as a result of being injured in vehicle collisions. First, customers who require assistance with daily tasks (i.e., dressing, bathing, cooking, cleaning and yard care) will see the maximum payments for those services increase to better reflect current market rates. This is expected to benefit more than 1,100 SGI customers. Secondly, SGI customers who receive income replacement benefits from SGI and Canada Pension Plan (CPP) will no longer have income benefits from SGI reduced by their CPP payment. It is standard industry practice to reduce insurance benefits by the CPP payment. SGI said it is leading the industry by eliminating this practice, to the added benefit of its most seriously injured customers. It is estimated that this will benefit approximately 200 people. NPD response New Democratic Party Critic for SGI Aleana Young said in an emailed statement, “With so many families and businesses stretched and struggling to make ends meet, the news of an SGI rebate is welcome news. “But it is hard to give the Sask. Party government any credit for their cynical U-turn on this issue just months after referring to the Saskatchewan New Democrats campaign pledge as a “vote-buying scheme”. Young continued, “In the lead up to the last election campaign, the then Minister Responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave responded to Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan’s Meili’s SGI rebate pledge by saying that it would drive up the provincial debt. Hargrave said at the time: ‘It’s unfortunate that the NDP plan to use SGI as sort of a slush fund.’ “While it’s positive for Saskatchewan families that the government has reversed course and will be issuing rebate cheques, we are calling on the government to work with SGI to reduce rates in a sustainable manner to make insurance more accessible in the long-term for Saskatchewan families and businesses. “The Saskatchewan NDP Caucus team is hard at work proposing good ideas to protect Saskatchewan jobs, families and businesses. We hope this reversal shows that the Sask. Party government is willing to work with our caucus on solutions to ease the strain on people’s pocketbooks.” In a Facebook post, NDP Leader Ryan Meili said, “Today’s reversal on SGI rebates is good for families and businesses. If it takes a U-turn for the Sask. Party government to head in the right direction, we welcome it!” Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury
Community leaders in Kenora, Ont., are rallying to support First Nations individuals who say they are being denied services from businesses in town after a COVID-19 outbreak in a surrounding community. Tania Cameron, a First Nations community advocate in the area, said she’s received complaints from nine people from Wabaseemoong First Nation who allege that some local businesses have refused them service. Wabaseemoong, about 100 kilometres north of Kenora, was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month, infecting several households. Kenora is a hub for dozens of rural and First Nations communities in the area that travel to the small city for essential services such as shopping and health care. Ms. Cameron is organizing support to those who want to pursue action such as filing formal complaints to the police and Ontario human-rights tribunal. She said her own teenage children feel unsafe shopping in town, worried that others might think they’re infected with COVID-19 because they’re First Nations. Facebook posts began to circulate last week with allegations that people from Wabaseemoong were spitting on produce at local grocery stores. One post to the local Kenora Rant N Rave Facebook group said that people from the First Nation didn’t care about small local businesses trying to survive. The poster said they were infecting innocent people who “actually” work for a living. Ms. Cameron shared that screenshot and another one on her own Facebook page, calling the posters “garbage people with ugly hearts” and encouraging others to “rise above their hate.” She said she was later contacted by an Ontario Provincial Police officer who asked her to take the screenshot down because the person who posted the comment and her employer were receiving threats. Ms. Cameron says she was only bringing attention to the harmful damage racism has on the broader community, and that there was nothing in her own posts that incited hate or violence. She says she hasn’t deleted the screenshots but has since removed the names and photos so they aren’t identifiable. Inspector Jeff Duggan, Kenora OPP Detachment Commander, told The Globe and Mail that allegations that people from Wabaseemoong were spitting on produce were false and baseless. He said the original poster took down the post before she contacted police because she was receiving threats and realized it was harmful. The treatment of Wabaseemoong members has drawn condemnation. On Monday, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller took to Twitter to denounce “ignorant and bigoted behaviour from certain businesses and organizations in Kenora, as well as online.” People from across the province shared positive messages and support on social media for Wabaseemoong, using the hashtag #wabaseemoongstrong, in response to the community’s COVID-19 outbreak and the racism that followed. More than 50 people were infected at the onset of the outbreak and the community went into immediate lockdown, according to information posted to the Wabaseemoong website. In response to one of the Facebook posts, local community-services organization Firefly condemned what it called “an act of racism” from one of its employees. Firefly said the company was heartbroken to see the racially insensitive and offensive comment posted by the employee who also had their workplace identified. Insp. Duggan said police are concerned for the safety of everybody in the area, including those from Wabaseemoong, and that if they are being denied service they should contact police to investigate. “If they’re being denied service, that’s against the human-rights code,” Insp. Duggan said, adding that they haven’t received any complaints from anyone from Wabaseemoong. Ms. Cameron says many First Nations people in the area don’t trust the police to investigate racist encounters and consider police action a privilege not afforded to Indigenous people. The Ontario Human Rights Commission also issued a statement encouraging all Kenora residents to stand up to the racism in their community, advising that “discriminatory action against individuals who are Indigenous or who have, or are perceived to have, COVID-19 is a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.” Terence Douglas, a Kenora lawyer, is part of an ad hoc group of concerned citizens, lawyers and service providers that have come together recently to assist those who have been denied service because they’re from Wabaseemoong, including possibly filing applications to the human-rights tribunal. “Clearly upon its face, refusal of service based on a person’s race or place of origin is contrary to and denies a person’s right guaranteed under Section 1 [of the human-rights code], and is an affront to a person’s human dignity,” Mr. Douglas said in an e-mail. Willow Fiddler, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Globe and Mail
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Friday that Iran should view his decision to authorize U.S. airstrikes in Syria as a warning that it can expect consequences for its support of militia groups that threaten U.S. interests or personnel. “You can't act with impunity. Be careful,” Biden said when a reporter asked what message he had intended to send with the airstrikes, which the Pentagon said destroyed several buildings in eastern Syria but were not intended to eradicate the militia groups that used them to facilitate attacks inside Iraq. Administration officials defended the Thursday night airstrikes as legal and appropriate, saying they took out facilities that housed valuable “capabilities” used by Iranian-backed militia groups to attack American and allied forces in Iraq. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, said members of Congress were notified before the strikes as two Air Force F-15E aircraft launched seven missiles, destroying nine facilities and heavily damaging two others, rendering both “functionally destroyed.” He said the facilities, at “entry control points” on the border, had been used by militia groups the U.S. deems responsible for recent attacks against U.S. interests in Iraq. In a political twist for the new Democratic administration, several leading Congress members in Biden's own party denounced the strikes, which were the first military actions he authorized. Democrats said the airstrikes were done without authorization from lawmakers, while Republicans were more supportive. “Offensive military action without congressional approval is not constitutional absent extraordinary circumstances,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va. And Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said lawmakers must hold the current administration to the same standards as any other. “Retaliatory strikes not necessary to prevent an imminent threat,” he said, must get congressional authorization. But Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed the decision as “the correct, proportionate response to protect American lives.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Friday that Biden used his constitutional authority to defend U.S. personnel. "The targets were chosen to correspond to the recent attacks on facilities and to deter the risk of additional attacks over the coming weeks,” she said. Among the recent attacks cited was a Feb. 15 rocket attack in northern Iraq that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops. At the Pentagon, Kirby said the operation was “a defensive strike” on a waystation used by militants to move weapons and materials for attacks into Iraq. But he noted that while it sent a message of deterrence and eroded their ability to strike from that compound, the militias have other sites and capabilities. He said the strikes resulted in “casualties” but declined to provide further details on how many were killed or injured and what was inside the buildings pending the completion of a broader assessment of damage inflicted. An Iraqi militia official said Friday that the strikes killed one fighter and wounded several others. Kirby said the facilities hit in the attack were near Boukamal, on the Syrian side of the Iraq border, along the Euphrates River. “This location is known to facilitate Iranian-aligned militia group activity,” he said. He described the site as a “compound” that previously had been used by the Islamic State group when it held sway in the area. The Iraqi militia official told The Associated Press that the strikes against the Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, hit an area along the border between the Syrian site of Boukamal facing Qaim on the Iraqi side. The official was not authorized to speak publicly of the attack and spoke on condition of anonymity. Speaking to reporters Thursday evening shortly after the airstrikes were carried out, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said, “I’m confident in the target that we went after. We know what we hit.” Biden’s decision to attack in Syria did not appear to signal an intention to widen U.S. military involvement in the region but rather to demonstrate a will to defend U.S. troops in Iraq and send a message to Iran. The Biden administration in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. The U.S. has previously targeted facilities in Syria belonging to Kataeb Hezbollah, which it has blamed for numerous attacks targeting U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq. The Iraqi Kataeb is separate from the Lebanese Hezbollah movement. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based group that monitors the war in Syria, said the strikes targeted a shipment of weapons that were being taken by trucks entering Syrian territories from Iraq. The group said 22 fighters from the Popular Mobilization Forces, an Iraqi umbrella group of mostly Shiite paramilitaries that includes Kataeb Hezbollah, were killed. The report could not be independently verified. In a statement, the group confirmed one of its fighters was killed and said it reserved the right to retaliate, without elaborating. Kataeb Hezbollah, like other Iranian-backed factions, maintains fighters in Syria to both fight against the Islamic State group and assist Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in that country's civil war. Austin said he was confident the U.S. had hit back at “the same Shia militants” that carried out the Feb.1 5 rocket attack in northern Iraq. Kirby credited Iraqis with providing valuable intelligence that allowed the U.S. to identify the groups responsible for attacks earlier this year. The U.S., he said, then determined the appropriate target for the retaliatory strike. He said the U.S. also notified Russia shortly before the strike as part of the ongoing deconfliction process of military activities in Syria. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel,” Kirby said. Syria condemned the U.S. strike, calling it “a cowardly and systematic American aggression,” warning that the attack will lead to consequences. U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group. Lolita C. Baldor, Robert Burns And Qassim Abdul-Zahra, The Associated Press
An emergency homeless shelter in North Battleford is closing its doors. The North Battleford Lighthouse emergency shelter program is being forced to close after losing about $500,000 from the Provincial Métis Housing Corporation — the bulk of its funding, noted Don Windels, executive director of Lighthouse Supported Living. "It's not an easy decision," Windels said. The shelter is set to close on April 1. Windels said he has approached the province and federal government for funding, but there have been no takers so far. He added that the closure isn't a slight against PMHC, which he described as supportive of the shelter. The service has retained its smaller donors, but they don't provide enough money to keep it open, Windels said. The emergency shelter, which is open 24 hours a day, has a maximum capacity of about 37 people, but it provides food for many more than that, he said. Those long hours also make it more difficult to pay staff and keep the service open, he added. The closure also affects roughly nine long-term transitional housing units, Windels said. The Lighthouse's other supportive and transitional housing programs won't be affected. The closure comes roughly seven years after community leaders first expressed interest in opening The Lighthouse in North Battleford. After buying the Reclaim Outreach Centre and undergoing months of renovations, The Lighthouse opened its services in January 2015. Windels said he hopes to either find new funding partners or hand the shelter over to another organization. Meanwhile, the closure will affect a vulnerable homeless population in the midst of the pandemic. "The province needs to come up with a housing strategy that includes shelters. And shelters need to be funded properly," he said. "Because it's really difficult to have a quality program without funds." Pointing to the overdose crisis and the pandemic, NDP Leader Ryan Meili called on the province to provide the money that would keep it open. In a prepared statement, he said it's unacceptable to "allow the crucial work the North Battleford Lighthouse does in service of the most vulnerable to be shut down due to lack of funding." Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix
The 1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce joined many in its network in urging the provincial government to address key economic points of pain on Friday. The Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC), along with its network of local chambers across the province, released its pre-budget submission to the provincial government. The submission released ahead of Ontario's 2021 budget focuses on three themes: Recovery, growth and modernization. A major part of the submission calls on the government to offer relief to small businesses and municipalities that lasts beyond a short-term timeline. "We want to hear recovery; we don't want band-aids anymore," said Amy Kirkland, executive director of the 1000 Islands Gananoque Chamber of Commerce. "We want to continue to make sure that small businesses and small-medium sized businesses are very well taken care of," added Kirkland. "We want to see everybody recover and we need the support of our government officials in order to do that." Targeted funding towards the hardest-hit sectors is established as a key request early in the submission to the government. "The number one affected industry by COVID-19 is tourism," said Kirkland. She added that is one reason why the pandemic has hit the areas of Gananoque and the Thousand Islands hard, as they rely on tourism through boaters and summer travellers for a portion of revenue. The submission acts as a messaging piece for chambers and districts across the province, bringing in a large variety of recommendations and requests. Population areas as large as Toronto to smaller towns like Gananoque are represented. "With Ontario's economy expected to enter a period of recovery this year as vaccines are distributed and businesses begin to reopen, resources need to be focused on where they will have the greatest impact," said Rocco Rossi, president and CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce, in a statement. “Resources should be targeted towards the sectors and communities that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic, including industries requiring face-to-face contact, small businesses, municipal governments, as well as women, lower-income, racialized, elderly, new immigrant, and younger Ontarians," added Rossi. Recommendations under the growth section that would directly support the area include accelerating broadband expansion and supporting farmers and producers with online sales. "We need to not only support tourism but also the agriculture sector as well," said Kirkland. Under the recovery section of the submission, the OCC also argues that the government must minimize the economic impacts of business closures. One of the methods the chambers are asking for beyond physical distancing is through testing. Prioritizing rapid testing and contact tracing would facilitate more targeted decisions regarding business restrictions. Kirkland also said that better distribution of the vaccine would greatly help businesses. "We need a solid plan moving forward to get out to a post-COVID environment," said Kirkland. Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy’s office confirmed that the provincial budget will be presented no later than March 31, but no exact date has been announced. With regards to the OCC submission, ministry spokesman Scott Blodgett said: "The Ministry of Finance does not speculate as to what may or may not be in the forthcoming budget." Marshall Healey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times
VIDALIA, La. — The onetime lead singer for the now defunct rock and country band Bishop Gunn has been arrested in Louisiana on drug and traffic charges, authorities said. Travis McCready was arrested Thursday in Concordia Parish in the east-central part of the state. McCready, 33, of Natchez, Mississippi, was taken to the Concordia Parish Jail on charges of failure to dim the lights on his vehicle, expired vehicle tag and no proof of insurance as well as charges alleging possession of Schedule I, Schedule II and Schedule III drugs, authorities said. McCready, a resident of Natchez, Mississippi, where the band also had been based, was released on a $25,000 bond, The Natchez Democrat reported. It was unknown if McCready has an attorney who could speak on his behalf. The Bishop Gunn band broke up in February 2020, citing “internal issues." It suspended all future activity including tour dates and new music releases. With McCready as the group's lead singer, Bishop Gunn made it to the top of the Billboard Blues Album chart in 2018 with their debut album “Natchez.” At the height of its run, Bishop Gunn toured in Europe with Slash after playing two cruises with Kid Rock and received multiple accolades from Rolling Stone Magazine’s top country charts. Although the band has called it quits, McCready has performed solo in Natchez and elsewhere. The Associated Press
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. -- The Navajo Nation has continued on a downward trend in the number of daily coronavirus cases. Tribal health officials on Friday reported 23 new cases of COVID-19 and four additional deaths. The latest numbers bring the total to 29,710 cases since the pandemic began. The death toll is 1,165. A curfew remains in effect for residents on the vast reservation that covers parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Utah to prevent the spread of the virus. Health facilities on the reservation and in border towns are conducting drive-thru vaccine events or administering doses by appointment. ___ THE VIRUS OUTBREAK: Vaccination passports may open society, but at cost of inequity. Canada regulators have approved AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. Japan is partly ending pandemic emergency, keeps it for Tokyo. Third US vaccine option expected in Johnson & Johnson shot; raises the question: Which shots are best? ___ Follow all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak ___ HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING: SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea has reported another new 405 cases of the coronavirus as it began vaccinating tens of thousands of workers at frontline hospitals in the second day of its mass immunization program. The daily increase reported by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency on Saturday brought the national caseload to 89,321, including 1,595 deaths. Most of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which was hit hardest by a devastating winter surge that erased months of hard-won epidemiological gain and sparked public criticism about the country’s vaccine rollout that has been slower than many nations in the West. The government had insisted it could maintain a wait-and-see approach as its outbreak still wasn’t as dire as in the United States or Europe. The KCDC said 18,489 residents and workers at long-term care facilities received their first injections of two dose vaccines developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University during the first day of public vaccinations on Friday. ___ RENO, Nev. — The average number of new daily cases reported in Nevada over the past two weeks has fallen to its lowest level since mid-September and dropped by nearly 90% since a peak of more than 2,700 a day in mid-December. The 314 new daily cases reported on average over the previous 14 days is the lowest since an average of 312 were reported on Sept. 16, state health officials said Friday. That’s down from a peak of 2,716 reported on Dec. 11. The daily average dropped below 2,000 in mid-January and has steadily declined ever since. The state’s positivity rate also has dropped to 8.3%, the lowest since 8.2% on Oct. 19. The rate is based on a 14-day rolling average with a seven-day lag. It peaked at 21.6% on Jan. 13. ___ DENVER -- Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says anyone 60 and older will be eligible to receive a vaccine for the coronavirus beginning March 5 followed by those 50 and older toward the end of the month. The governor said Friday the state has already administered nearly 883,000 first doses of the vaccine and more than 423,000 second doses. An increase in vaccine supply is expected in the coming weeks as pharmaceutical companies ramp up production. More than 424,000 people in the state have tested positive and nearly 6,000 have died from the virus since it started its rapid spread last spring, and Polis warned Friday to stay vigilant. ___ BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday that Connecticut still has “a long way to go” to improve COVID-19 vaccination rates among Black and Hispanic residents, as new data show whites are getting inoculated at higher rates. Lamont appeared with Black clergy members at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport to try to convince people the vaccines are safe and effective. Several church leaders received vaccinations Friday. “We have a long way to go,” the Democratic governor said. “We’re doing better than we did two weeks ago, but not good enough.” New data released by the state Thursday shows 39% of white state residents ages 65 and older have received the first of two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, compared with 21% of Black residents and 27% of Hispanic citizens 65 and older. ___ SACRAMENTO, Calif: Gov. Gavin Newsom expects California to start administering the new Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine next week. At a Fresno news conference Friday, Newsom said the Biden administration plans to send California more than 1.1 million of the single-dose shots in the next three weeks. The vaccine, still in the final federal approval process, has fewer handling restrictions than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines now being used. Those vaccines require two doses to be fully effective and must be stored at extremely low temperatures. Addition of the J&J vaccine would come as California is seeing dramatic drops in virus cases and hospitalizations after record highs in early January. ___ ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- In an unusual example of the effectiveness of social distancing, residents of a Southeast Alaska fishing community have so far escaped the coronavirus pandemic without any infections. Alaska Public Media reports that the town of Pelican is one of the Alaska communities that has avoided the illness by remaining isolated. Pelican can only be reached by bush plane or boat. The community has no recorded cases of COVID-19 and has vaccinated more than half of its adults. Interviews and social media posts indicate there are at least 10 virus-free communities statewide. ___ UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday demanding that all warring parties immediately institute a “sustained humanitarian pause” to enable the unhindered delivery of COVID-19 vaccines and the vaccination of millions of people in conflict areas. The British-drafted resolution, cosponsored by 112 countries, reiterated the council’s demand last July 1 for “a general and immediate cessation of hostilities” in major conflicts on the Security Council agenda from Syria and Yemen to Central African Republic, Mali and Sudan and Somalia. It expressed concern that an appeal for cease-fires in all conflicts to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, which was first made by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on March 23, 2020, “was not fully heeded.” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the current council president, announced the result of the email vote because the council has been meeting virtually, saying the resolution “will help bring vaccines to 160 million people in conflict areas or displaced by conflict.” ___ NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans’ mayor says coronavirus pandemic restrictions are being relaxed, starting Friday. Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office says the past 30 days have shown a sustained decrease in case counts, transmission rate, and positivity rate. The statement says groups of up to 75 may gather indoors and 150 outdoors. Restaurants, bars and other businesses can seat up to 15 people at a table. Indoor stadiums may admit up to 15% of the maximum number of fans usually allowed, with outdoor stadiums admitting up to 25%. New Orleans’ changes bring city guidelines closer to the state’s, the city says. New Orleans has averaged around 50 new cases a day with less than 2% of tests indicating infection. Case counts in January averaged more than 170 a day. There were 679 people hospitalized statewide on Thursday, compared to more than 2,000 in January. ___ PORTLAND, Ore. — Gov. Kate Brown says all Oregonians who are 16 and older will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations no later than July 1. Health officials say people who are 45 to 64 with underlying health conditions will be eligible starting March 29. Brown says the next round of vaccine distribution will occur in multiple waves. Currently people who are eligible for vaccine are healthcare workers and people in long-term care facilities, educators, seniors 70 and older and adults in custody. On Monday, people who are 65 or older will be eligible for the vaccine. The Vaccine Advisory Committee has stated one of their goals is to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines to minority communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Last week health officials reported significant disparities. White people represent 75% of Oregonians. While they only comprise about 48% of coronavirus cases, they account for 74% of vaccinations. ___ MADRID — Spain’s health authorities say people under 55 who have had a coronavirus infection will only receive one of the two doses of a vaccine six months after their recovery. Spain has fully vaccinated nursing home residents, their caretakers and frontline health workers, a total of 1.2 million of its 47 million residents. Additionally, 2.4 million have received at least one shot. Vaccination efforts are currently focused on those over 80 and police. The new update to the country’s vaccination guidelines released Friday also state the next group to receive the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots will be people older than 60. AstraZeneca will be administered to those ages 45 to 55. With 8,341 new coronavirus infections and 329 deaths for the coronavirus confirmed Friday, Spain’s pandemic tally rose to nearly 3.2 million cases and more than 69,000 deaths. ___ GENEVA — The U.N. health agency chief is calling on member states of the World Trade Organization to authorize the lifting of intellectual property protections on COVID-19 vaccines for wider use. World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says, “We can’t beat COVID without vaccine equity. The sharing problem can be addressed effectively if production is increased -- and to increase production, there are trade barriers or other barriers: That has to be addressed.” South Africa and India in October presented a proposal to temporarily waive intellectual property protections on vaccines. Rich countries with big pharmaceutical industries including Britain, Switzerland and the United States have resisted or raised questions about the proposal, which would need consensus under WTO rules. ___ DETROIT — A Whole Foods Market store in Detroit is receiving rapid COVID-19 testing for all its 196 employees after 23 tested positive for the coronavirus. Chief Detroit public health officer Denise Fair says the outbreak hit the store in the city’s Midtown. She says has made a commitment that no workers or close contacts of any employee who has tested positive will be allowed back to work until they have produced a negative test result. Whole Foods Market says it is “diligently following all guidance from local health and food safety authorities.” Mayor Mike Duggan announced this month that food service workers, including grocery store workers who live or work in Detroit, are eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine. ___ COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina’s largest hospice provider is partnering with state health officials to pilot an effort to vaccinate eligible residents who rarely, if ever, leave their homes. Agape Care and the Department of Health and Environmental Control announced they’ll launch the pilot program in Hampton and Jasper counties, largely rural areas at the southern tip of the state. After scheduling and receiving a Moderna shot, the nurse will return 28 days later to administer the second shot. If a live-in caregiver is also eligible, he or she can get vaccinated, too. ___ WASHINGTON — The Biden administration and major U.S. business organizations are launching a joint educational campaign to reinforce basic COVID-19 do’s and don’ts with their customers and employees. White House coronavirus senior adviser Andy Slavitt says it’s part of an effort to get the whole country working together to contain the virus and encourage Americans to get vaccinated. The strategy has three parts. First, requiring masking and social distancing on business premises. That’s already the case in nearly all supermarkets, drug stores, offices and other types of commercial establishments. But masking is not always adhered to in some smaller workplaces. Second, removing roadblocks to get employees vaccinated. Businesses could use flexible scheduling and paid time off to encourage workers to get their shots. Finally, using business platforms like websites and some products to echo public health advice about getting vaccinated and wearing masks. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable and leading associations of minority-owned businesses are participating in the effort. ___ LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Arkansas is lifting most of its coronavirus safety restrictions, except for the state’s mask mandate. Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the decision as he extended the public health emergency he declared last year because of the pandemic. Hutchinson is extending the order until the end of March. The rules being lifted include capacity limits for restaurant, bars, gyms and large venues. Hutchinson has faced pushback from some fellow Republicans in the Legislature over the virus safety rules. Hutchinson says the mask mandate will be lifted at the end of March if the state’s positivity rate is below 10%, with at least 7,500 tests on an average daily basis. If the state has fewer tests, the mandate would end if hospitalizations are below 750 patients. On Thursday, Arkansas had a test positivity rate of about 10% and reported 522 patients hospitalized because of COVID-19. ___ WASHINGTON — The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sounding the alarm that recent gains against the coronavirus may be stalling. Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the CDC is looking at data that COVID-19 cases have been increasing the past three days, but more time is needed to see if that is a blip or the start of a trend. Walensky spoke at the White House coronavirus briefing Friday, noting virus mutations spreading in the U.S. are among the CDC’s biggest concerns. Along with a more transmissible strain first detected in Britain, scientists here are tracking variants in New York and California, which also appear to spread more easily. “We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us,” says Walensky, stressing now is not the time to relax protective measures like wearing masks and avoiding gatherings. Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since the January peak that followed the winter holidays. Deaths have also declined. But Walensky says those gains could be in jeopardy because the background level of cases is still too high. ___ PARIS — French authorities have ordered a local weekend lockdown starting on Friday evening in the French Riviera city of Nice and the surrounding coastal area to try to curb the spread of the virus. Nice reported this week a rate of almost 800 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people, nearly four times the national average. The measure comes in addition to a national 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. The northern port of Dunkirk is under similar restrictions. In both places, numbers of infections have spiked and hospitals are overwhelmed, with some patients being transferred to other French regions. Nice mayor Christian Estrosi announced the ban on the beaches and the famous Promenade des Anglais esplanade to ensure the restrictions will be fully respected. The weekend lockdown also includes nearby coastal towns of Cannes and Antibes. The Associated Press
The search for the next leader of the BC Liberal party has officially begun. A leadership conference to pick the party’s next leader will be held Feb. 3 to 5, 2022, with the leader chosen on Feb. 5, the BC Liberal Party announced today. “Today is really an opportunity for us to begin that focus on the search for a new leader that will revitalize our party and connect with British Columbians,” said Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond on Feb. 26. The previous party leader, Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson, stepped down in November after the BC Liberals lost about a third of their seats and the New Democrats picked up a majority government. The BC Greens won two ridings. Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond replaced Wilkinson when she was elected interim Liberal leader by her caucus colleagues on Nov. 23. “We are excited to begin the race for the (permanent) leadership of our party, a process that will help to shape the future of BC politics” said Interim Liberal Party President Don Silversides in a press release. Given the pandemic context, the party decided an 11-month long timeframe would allow the broadest range of candidates as much opportunity as possible to interact with voters, Silversides said. “It gives the party a chance to talk about the things that matter to British Columbia,” said Bond. “We're going to have the opportunity to hear from what I hope will be a broad, diverse range of candidates as we look to renew the party.” Political hopefuls will have until Nov. 31 to register as candidates. All BC Liberal Party members will be eligible to vote in the leadership election, and anyone who isn’t a member who wants to participate has until Dec. 29 to join the party. Bond will stay on as interim leader until a new leader is selected next February. Fran@thegoatnews.ca / @FranYanor Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat
(Kirk Pennell/CBC - image credit) For the first time in 20 years, a committee of the P.E.I. Legislature is using its power to issue a subpoena. On Friday, members of the province's standing committee on health and social development voted unanimously to issue a subpoena to compel government to provide a report from the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission on a controversial land transfer. The committee will issue the subpoena to Minister of Agriculture and Lands Bloyce Thompson, who received the report from IRAC in October. "Islanders really want to ensure that the spirit and the intent of the Lands Protection Act is being upheld," said Green MLA Trish Altass, a member of the committee. "And there are a lot of questions with what happened with this particular situation." In the fall of 2019, Thompson vowed to close any loopholes in the Lands Protection Act and ordered IRAC to investigate after a deal involving 890 hectares of land in the Summerside and North Bedeque areas did not go before cabinet for approval. So it is still incredibly valuable for us to be able to access the report and learn that information. — Green MLA Trish Altass Under the LPA, corporations require cabinet approval to own more than two hectares of land. So far, Thompson has refused to make the report public over privacy concerns, heeding advice he sought from the province's privacy commissioner that the province release the report through the access-to-information system. Among the applications for the report is one filed by CBC News. Thompson also rejected two requests from the health committee, the first to have him present the report at a closed-door meeting, the second simply to provide the report for committee members to examine. In question period Friday, Thompson told MLAs "there's no one in this house that wants this report released more than I do, because Islanders deserve to know what's in that report." I will carry it in myself if that's what they want to do. — Minister of Agriculture and Lands Bloyce Thompson But he said to comply with opposition requests to release the report, without following the advice of the privacy commissioner, would be "to break the law." Speaking to reporters later in the day, he said the only way he could surrender the report would be under subpoena, and if the committee were to provide one, "I will hand deliver the report. I will carry it in myself if that's what they want to do." Both the Green Party and one PC member of the health committee, Zack Bell, wrote to the committee chair suggesting MLAs issue a subpoena. Brad Trivers, the lone cabinet minister on the committee, did not attend the meeting. The motion passed by the MLAs called for the subpoena to be issued by the end of the day Monday, and to demand the report be produced by Friday, March 5. Under the Legislative Assembly Act, the chair of a legislative committee can issue a warrant or subpoena 'requiring attendance of that person, and the production of any records and things indicated in the warrant or subpoena, before the committee.' Because the committee plans to review the document in camera, members would not be able to publicly disclose what they learn. But Altass said the committee would be permitted to file their own report with recommendations. "So it is still incredibly valuable for us to be able to access the report and learn that information," said Altass. The quest for the report was taken up by the health committee because it's also responsible for justice, which includes freedom of information. Under the Legislative Assembly Act, the chair of a legislative committee can issue a warrant or subpoena "requiring attendance of that person, and the production of any records and things indicated in the warrant or subpoena, before the committee." An official with the legislature said the last time that power was used was in September 2001. More from CBC P.E.I.
The latest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada as of 7:30 p.m. ET on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021. There are 861,472 confirmed cases in Canada. _ Canada: 861,472 confirmed cases (30,516 active, 809,041 resolved, 21,915 deaths).*The total case count includes 13 confirmed cases among repatriated travellers. There were 3,252 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 80.29 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 20,886 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 2,984. There were 50 new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 339 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 48. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.13 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 57.66 per 100,000 people. There have been 24,205,347 tests completed. _ Newfoundland and Labrador: 977 confirmed cases (290 active, 682 resolved, five deaths). There were four new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 55.54 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 114 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 16. There were zero new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there has been one new reported death. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is zero. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.03 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 0.96 per 100,000 people. There have been 194,501 tests completed. _ Prince Edward Island: 121 confirmed cases (seven active, 114 resolved, zero deaths). There was one new case Friday. The rate of active cases is 4.39 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there has been six new case. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is one. There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is zero per 100,000 people. There have been 100,524 tests completed. _ Nova Scotia: 1,634 confirmed cases (35 active, 1,534 resolved, 65 deaths). There were 10 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 3.57 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 30 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is four. There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 6.64 per 100,000 people. There have been 323,312 tests completed. _ New Brunswick: 1,428 confirmed cases (42 active, 1,360 resolved, 26 deaths). There was one new case Friday. The rate of active cases is 5.37 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there has been 11 new case. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is two. There were zero new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of two new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is zero. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.04 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 3.33 per 100,000 people. There have been 234,746 tests completed. _ Quebec: 286,145 confirmed cases (7,888 active, 267,885 resolved, 10,372 deaths). There were 815 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 91.99 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 5,458 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 780. There were 11 new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 94 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 13. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.16 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 120.96 per 100,000 people. There have been 6,220,844 tests completed. _ Ontario: 298,569 confirmed cases (10,294 active, 281,331 resolved, 6,944 deaths). There were 1,258 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 69.87 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 7,798 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 1,114. There were 28 new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 124 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is 18. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.12 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 47.13 per 100,000 people. There have been 10,726,049 tests completed. _ Manitoba: 31,721 confirmed cases (1,197 active, 29,635 resolved, 889 deaths). There were 64 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 86.79 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 486 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 69. There was one new reported death Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 10 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is one. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.1 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 64.45 per 100,000 people. There have been 526,985 tests completed. _ Saskatchewan: 28,344 confirmed cases (1,510 active, 26,454 resolved, 380 deaths). There were 153 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 128.11 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 1,099 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 157. There were zero new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 15 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is two. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.18 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 32.24 per 100,000 people. There have been 567,399 tests completed. _ Alberta: 132,788 confirmed cases (4,505 active, 126,406 resolved, 1,877 deaths). There were 356 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 101.88 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 2,433 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 348. There were three new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 65 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is nine. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.21 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 42.45 per 100,000 people. There have been 3,378,626 tests completed. _ British Columbia: 79,262 confirmed cases (4,719 active, 73,188 resolved, 1,355 deaths). There were 589 new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 91.67 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of 3,427 new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is 490. There were seven new reported deaths Friday. Over the past seven days there have been a total of 28 new reported deaths. The seven-day rolling average of new reported deaths is four. The seven-day rolling average of the death rate is 0.08 per 100,000 people. The overall death rate is 26.32 per 100,000 people. There have been 1,901,202 tests completed. _ Yukon: 72 confirmed cases (zero active, 71 resolved, one deaths). There were zero new cases Friday. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of zero new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is zero. There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 2.38 per 100,000 people. There have been 8,126 tests completed. _ Northwest Territories: 42 confirmed cases (three active, 39 resolved, zero deaths). There were zero new cases Friday. The rate of active cases is 6.64 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there have been a total of zero new cases. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is zero. There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is zero per 100,000 people. There have been 14,388 tests completed. _ Nunavut: 356 confirmed cases (26 active, 329 resolved, one deaths). There was one new case Friday. The rate of active cases is 66.07 per 100,000 people. Over the past seven days, there has been 24 new case. The seven-day rolling average of new cases is three. There have been no deaths reported over the past week. The overall death rate is 2.54 per 100,000 people. There have been 8,569 tests completed. This report was automatically generated by The Canadian Press Digital Data Desk and was first published Feb. 26, 2021. The Canadian 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
(Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit) Residents and politicians are speaking out about the possible health and safety risks posed by a new meat processing plant set to open on Monday in a west-end Toronto neighbourhood. TruHarvest Meats, at 70 Glen Scarlett Rd., is set to open March 1 in Toronto's Stockyards District. The space, located near Weston Road and St. Clair Avenue, was previously occupied by Ryding-Regency Meat Packers before the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) cancelled their operating licence in 2019. David Beveridge said he and other residents living near the site believe the reopening of the new slaughterhouse will make the area "unsafe." "The big problem in the neighbourhood is right smack in the middle of all of this is a couple of slaughterhouses," Beveridge said. The new facility also has additions that will make it one of the largest meat processing plants in Ontario. According to federal records, there were numerous food recalls related to E.coli in various products coming out of the former plant. During the investigation, it was noted that the company was non-compliant and provided false or misleading information to investigators. CBC Toronto reached out repeatedly for comment from both TruHarvest and Ryding Regency on Friday, but has received no response. TruHarvest Meats will process beef and veal in the former Ryding Regency facility, which was shut down over food safety violations in 2019. Beveridge moved his family to the area just four years ago. He said he was drawn to the neighbourhood by its affordable housing at the time. He bought a house during the winter and quickly discovered with warmer weather, also came an "unreasonable" smell. "The smell of blood, the smell of the cattle being driven through the neighbourhood," he said. WATCH | Residents are concerned about a meat processing plant set to open Monday in their west-end neighbourhood "It's not a farm smell, it is a slaughterhouse smell." While the foul smell is a common complaint amongst residents, Beveridge said the real concern is the safety risk the new plant imposes on many families in the neighbourhood. Beveridge is worried about the effect the plant on his two kids: a four-year-old and an 18-month-old. "They have been cited in the past and they tell us they have filters on the smoke stacks coming out of it, but I don't know what's coming out of that and how far it's drifting," he said. "It's becoming unsafe, the way it is right now." Beveridge said tractor trailers turning onto residential streets and parking on sidewalks pose a risk for families with young children in the area. David Beveridge, who has a four-year-old and an 18-month-old, moved into Toronto's Stockyards neighbourhood four years ago and says the new slaughterhouse poses a safety risk to the community. Coun. Frances Nunziata, who represents Ward 5, York South-Weston, said she is also concerned by TruHarvest taking over the plant. "This is a privately-owned facility on private land and my office has not been involved in any conversations about the use of this site as is currently permitted," Nunziata said in a statement dated Feb. 19. Nunziata said it is unfair that residents were not consulted. "With the federal government and provincial government, they can issue licences and there's no consultation, which is unfortunate because I don't think that's fair. But that's what's happened," Nunziata told CBC Toronto on Friday. The land has been in the process of being rezoned for years, she said, but its use must be discontinued in order to proceed. Faisal Hassan, NDP MPP for York South-Weston, echoed those concerns, saying residents are "disturbed" after learning the news. "Our office has been inundated with emails and calls objecting to this facility," Hassan said Thursday at Queen's Park. He questioned why residents were not consulted before the company took over operations at the facility. According to federal records, there were numerous food recalls related to E.coli in various products coming out of Ryding Regency Meat Packers, the company that formerly operated out of the facility. "The previous slaughterhouse was closed and had its licence revoked due to many health and environmental violations. An environmental compliance approval was granted to the former owners despite nearly 100 complaints and public consultations in 2018," he said. "How did this new facility get approved and why was the community not consulted?" Animal rights activists, who are calling for the the plant to be shut down, plan to hold a a vigil outside the plant Monday morning and a demonstration outside CFIA offices following that. "During this time of global uncertainty, it's more important than ever that elected officials consider the best interests of the population, taking the necessary steps to reduce the impact of this global health emergency and prevent future illness," said Jenny McQueen, organizer with Animal Save Movement, in a statement Thursday.
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
(CCO/Pixabay - image credit) The New Brunswick Medical Society is getting behind Health Canada in its efforts to reduce the amount of nicotine e-cigarette manufacturers are allowed to include in their products. In an interview, Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the society, said the province has seen an alarming increase in the number of youth who've used the products. Doctors are worried that the amounts of nicotine in e-cigarettes is a contributing factor to their growing popularity among young people. "The statistics on how many kids have tried e-cigarettes have come from the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey, which ... showed that there's sort of been a tripling of use in Grade 10 to 12 in the last four years." In the survey, 41 per cent of New Brunswick students in grades 7 to12 admitted to having tried vaping at least once in 2018 or 2019. Meanwhile, 27 per cent reported using e-cigarettes in the past 30 days. Last December, Health Canada announced it was pursuing regulations that would reduce the amount of allowed nicotine concentration in vaping products to 20 mg/ml. The current limit is 66 mg/ml, according to the department. In a news release Dec. 18, Health Canada said it was opening a 75-day public consultation on its proposed changes, which will end March 4. Dr. Jeff Steeves, president of the New Brunswick Medical Society. "The changes proposed today build on existing measures already taken by the Government of Canada to address the rise in youth vaping, including extensive public education campaigns and banning the advertising of vaping products in public spaces if the ads can be seen or heard by youth," the department said in the release. "Health Canada is also considering to further restrict flavours in vaping products, and require the vaping industry to provide information about their vaping products, including sales, ingredients, and research and development activities." Health Canada says the regulation would align the country with the European Union, as well as the provinces of British Columbia and Nova Scotia, which have imposed a 20 mg/ml limit on the concentration of vaping products that can be sold. Steeves said he thinks lowering the limit would result in fewer New Brunswick youth becoming addicted to nicotine. "It's the chemicals that are in them, the first nicotine, which is a stimulant," he said. "And so it does some good things in the short term — good things where you're going to have a little more energy, be a little more alert. Your memory and mood might be a bit better. However, it also increases your heart rate, increases your blood pressure and then you become habituated to it." From there, youth might transition to smoking cigarettes to feed their nicotine dependance, he said. He's also worried about the lesser-known effects of vaping, with a string of illnesses and deaths connected to certain e-cigarette products in recent years. "It's also been reported that smoking or vaping increase your risk of catching COVID and having a more serious outcome with COVID, so, you know, it's not innocuous." Steeves said he's encouraging New Brunswickers who also want to see the limit reduced to sign an online petition as part of the Protect Canadian Kids Campaign. The campaign is supported by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Canadian Lung Association, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, and Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.