U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar joined Brooklyn Center, Minnesota Mayor Mike Elliot and local leaders Tuesday to demand a more just policing system that protects and serves all following the shooting death of Daunte Wright. (April 20)
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar joined Brooklyn Center, Minnesota Mayor Mike Elliot and local leaders Tuesday to demand a more just policing system that protects and serves all following the shooting death of Daunte Wright. (April 20)
NICOSIA, Cyprus — Cyprus unveiled on Thursday a phased rollback of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions over the next month, including a shortened curfew and a reopening of all schools next week. But the island will demand the compulsory display of proof of vaccination, virus testing or convalescence from COVID-19 in areas where people gather in numbers — including restaurants and churches — together with mask-wearing and social distancing. A strict, two-week lockdown has curbed the record-high number of infections, although some health officials had wanted restrictions to be slightly extended. Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou told a news conference that the primary purpose of the rollback that starts May 10 is to “lift the spirits of the public after months of sacrifices,” without jeopardizing public health by abolishing all restrictions at one go. He said some restrictions will remain in place until at least the end of June, when authorities hope to have 60-65% of the population vaccinated. As of next week, people will no longer need to secure text message permission to leave home. There will be caps on capacity at bars, restaurants, malls and parks that will be gradually increased from 30% to 50% over the next few weeks. Retail stores, gyms and hair dressing salons will also reopen. But Ioannou said people will need to display to police either a vaccination card, a health services text message proving convalescence from COVID-19 or a negative PCR test carried out 72 hours prior to an outing at any place where people gather en masse. Some exceptions will be made, including for going to supermarkets, pharmacies, beaches, parks and outdoor farmers' markets where people will be simply required to wear masks and keep distances. Ioannou said the measure will be “temporary” and authorities are working on a smartphone application to simplify the procedure. Authorities said already a third of Cyprus’ population of roughly 875,000 people have received at least one shot as part of a ramped-up vaccination program that’s seen as key to buoying the tourism-reliant country’s chances of attracting more vacationers. ___ 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 The Associated Press
Ronald Smith sounds tired. Despite good news last month, when a bill to resume executions in Montana was unexpectedly defeated, the Canadian on death row in that state is in a sombre mood. Smith, originally from Red Deer, Alta., has been facing capital punishment since 1983 for killing two young Montana men in 1982. "I thought we were screwed," he said in an interview with The Canadian Press from Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge, Mont. "I didn't think there was a chance in hell that this wouldn't be approved. Once my daughter found out, I explained to her which road we were going down and what the probable outcomes were going to be. I was that sure that it was over." All executions have been stayed in Montana since 2015 because the state requires the use of an ultra-fast-acting barbiturate, which is no longer available. There hasn't been an execution in Montana since 2006. Montana's house of representatives passed a bill in February that would have amended protocol to include any substance in a lethal quantity sufficient to cause death. But the senate voted it down 26-24. The execution issue is likely to arise again in two years when the state legislature reconvenes. "Obviously, I'm happy about it, but at the same time it keeps running through the back of my head, 'Oh crap. I'm stuck sitting around here again,'" Smith sighed. "A lot of people look at it and say, 'Well at least you're alive,' but I'm really not. I'm just sitting around like a bump on a log is all I'm doing, and after almost 40 years of this, anything is preferable." Smith, 63, rephrased his response when asked if he would prefer to be executed. "Well, maybe not preferable, but I wouldn't be bothered by it. As soon as I heard what was going on, I accepted it. I went, 'OK, cool. I don't have to deal with this crap anymore.' "I was worried about my family because they were going to take it hard. Personally, I don't care. I've hit that point where I've done enough of this. If they're (legislators) not going to cut me a break, than go ahead and do away with me." Smith and Rodney Munro, both high on LSD and alcohol, shot and killed two Indigenous cousins near East Glacier, Mont., in 1982. They admitted to marching Harvey Mad Man, 23, and Thomas Running Rabbit, 20, into the woods by a highway. They shot each man in the head with a sawed-off .22-calibre rifle. Court heard that Smith and Munro wanted to steal the victims' car. Smith also said at the time that he wanted to know what it was like to kill someone. He was initially offered a plea deal that would have taken the death penalty off the table, but he rejected it. He pleaded guilty and asked to be put to death, but later changed his mind. He has had five execution dates set over the years. Each has been overturned. The victims' families have continued to push for Smith to be executed. Munro took the plea bargain, was eventually transferred to a prison in Canada, and has been free since 1998. "He's been out 23 years and doing well and I wish him all the very best. Had I taken that plea deal, then I'd have been out a long time ago. It's hard not to have that in the back of your mind on a pretty regular basis." Smith said he's content with paying for his crimes, but would like to be transferred to a prison in Canada, where he has a daughter, two sisters, grandchildren and a great-grandchild. "I'm getting pretty much what I deserve for the crime I committed," he said. "If I was in a position where I could see my family on a constant basis, then leave me locked up. I don't care. "It is what it is. I committed the crime." This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021. — Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians. What's new There's new political muscle in the United States pushing for a return to more regular travel between Canada and the United States after more than a year of pandemic-related disruptions. The top member of the U.S. Senate, Chuck Schumer, has written a letter to members of the Biden administration making several demands regarding the border. He's asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas for four things. One is a detailed Canada-U.S. plan — released as soon as possible — explaining what rules and health-related benchmarks will guide the return to non-essential travel. He said this should add clarity and transparency to a process that's confused and frustrated people. And in the interim period, he immediately wants to see Canada and the U.S. allow more people to travel. Schumer wants the definition of essential travellers expanded to include vaccinated people who have property, educational, medical or business reasons for crossing the border. He also wants clarity for boaters and, finally, he wants a safety plan for border agents including access to testing, vaccines and protective equipment. Why it matters to Canadians and cross-border travellers Other lawmakers from Schumer's border state of New York have been making similar calls with little sign of progress. Neither national government has made it a priority to articulate a reopening plan for the border. But Schumer's entry into the debate is a sign of increased pressure on the national governments to at least begin articulating their longer-term intentions. "Having endured one of the deadliest chapters in New York's history, the residents along the border are ready to turn the page and re-establish the familiar links to their loved ones, their property and their prosperity," Schumer's letter said. "It is now incumbent on the federal government to do their part and aid their desperate desire to fully rebuild and recover. This recovery cannot be done, and I will not rest, until bilateral collaboration to safely reopen the United States and Canadian land border is an utmost priority and a plan for a full reopening is publicly released." Sen. Chuck Schumer says New Yorkers want life to return to normal. Indoor dining is expanding closer to full capacity this week, and here Schumer takes a bite of a sandwich at Junior's restaurant in Times Square in New York City on Thursday. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters) One reason for Schumer's optimism about reopening is the progress the U.S. has made on residents receiving COVID-19 vaccines. Nearly 50 per cent of adults in New York state are fully vaccinated, and indoor dining is expanding this week to near-full capacity in New York City. The United States remains far ahead of Canada in its share of fully vaccinated residents. However, with vaccine hesitancy becoming an issue in many states, the pace is slowing down, and Canada is steadily catching up in the rate of residents having received a first dose.
A former Saskatoon police officer has joined the ranks of "crackpots" who spread COVID-19 misinformation online, says a professor who specializes in social media. University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros says these conspiracy theorists will do their best to "leverage" the statements made in an eight-minute Facebook video by former officer Nathan Lynchuk. "They reject most science. They reject most experts. But when they find a dissenter, they latch onto them because it fits their particular narrative," Couros said. Lynchuk was identified at a recent anti-mask children's festival in downtown Saskatoon. A crowd of maskless parents hugged and talked without physical distancing while their kids played games and got their faces painted. Saskatoon police have issued nearly a dozen tickets so far to those in attendance for violating public health laws. The current legal maximum gathering size is 10 people. In the Facebook video posted this week, Lynchuk said he was assigned temporary desk duty and told he'd have to be tested while the matter was investigated. Lynchuk said he decided to quit. A large crowd attended a maskless children's festival at a downtown Saskatoon park on Saturday in violation of public health laws which limit outdoor gatherings to 10 people. No tickets have been issued.(CBC) Lynchuk said the children's event was simply a group of "normal people" who believe in freedom. He dismissed the seriousness of COVID, saying most people who contract it don't get sick. He said he didn't want to follow the government's agenda anymore. "I haven't been believing in what's being enforced," Lynchuk. Lynchuk could not be reached for comment Thursday. Couros said Lynchuk is "parroting" many of the anti-science conspiracy theories floating around the internet. Couros said any message from a former police officer will have an impact, but that he hopes it will be limited. "It becomes very powerful, especially for those who already believe and who already drink this Kool-Aid. It may bring a few people over, but most people will probably see right through this," he said. Public health physician Dr. Cory Neudorf said COVID-19 being a major threat should be obvious to everyone, especially to police officers and other front-line emergency responders. He said Lynchuk's video makes it harder to educate the public and keep everyone safe. "It just adds to confusion for people. I don't think this is the view of the majority of police or their leadership," Neudorf said. University of Regina professor Alec Courose says COVID-19 conspiracy theorists will latch on to anyone in authority who makes a statement matching their anti-science beliefs.(Submitted by Alec Couros) Neudorf said COVID-19 restrictions are an attempt to keep people safe, similar to impaired driving or speeding laws. He said they need to be enforced to be taken seriously. Neudorf agreed laws must not infringe on freedoms unnecessarily, but said COVID-19 laws are a temporary, reasonable response to a global threat. The Saskatoon Police Service declined to comment on Lynchuk or the video, but did say in an email that police are "committed to upholding and enforcing the restrictions under the Public Health Order in our community's fight against COVID-19." The Saskatchewan Health Authority also sent an email response. It said the SHA is "highly concerned" about these continued "freedom" rallies and anti-masking events spreading misinformation. "This is not only offensive but dangerous, as it publicly downplays the significant risk of harm and death created by community transmission of this virus," read the statement.
OTTAWA — Liberal MP Anthony Housefather says the federal government will not be taking part in 20th-anniversary events for an international conference where Israel was singled out for condemnation. In a Twitter post today, the lawmaker says Ottawa confirmed it will avoid the gathering in South Africa known as Durban IV, which he says "continues to be used to push anti-Israel sentiment and as a forum for anti-Semitism." The United States and Australia have also stated they will steer clear of events commemorating the 2001 Durban Declaration. The coming event, slated for Sept. 22 and authorized by the United Nations, will mark 20 years since the World Conference on Racism in Durban. The initial conference was consumed by clashes over the Middle East and the legacy of slavery, prompting the U.S. and Israel to walk out during a meeting over a draft resolution that censured Israel and likened Zionism to racism. B'nai Brith Canada chief executive Michael Mostyn says he is "very encouraged" that Ottawa continues to boycott what his group calls a "profoundly flawed" process tinged with anti-Semitism. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021. The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — The top U.S general for Africa is warning that a growing threat from China may come not just from the waters of the Pacific but from the Atlantic as well. U.S. Gen. Stephen Townsend, in an interview with The Associated Press, said Beijing is looking to establish a large navy port capable of hosting submarines or aircraft carriers on Africa’s western coast. Townsend said China has approached countries stretching from Mauritania to south of Namibia, intent on establishing a naval facility. If realized, that prospect would enable China to base warships in its expanding Navy in the Atlantic as well as Pacific oceans. “They’re looking for a place where they can rearm and repair warships. That becomes militarily useful in conflict,” said Townsend, who heads U.S. Africa Command. “They’re a long way toward establishing that in Djibouti. Now they’re casting their gaze to the Atlantic coast and wanting to get such a base there.” Townsend's warnings come as the Pentagon shifts its focus from the counterterrorism wars of the last two decades to the Indo-Pacific region and threats from great power adversaries like China and Russia. The Biden administration views China's rapidly expanding economic influence and military might as America's primary long-term security challenge. U.S. military commanders around the globe, including several who may lose troops and resources to bolster growth in the Pacific, caution that China's growing assertiveness isn't simply happening in Asia. And they argue that Beijing is aggressively asserting economic influence over countries in Africa, South America and the Middle East, and is pursuing bases and footholds there. “The Chinese are outmanoeuvring the U.S. in select countries in Africa," said Townsend. “Port projects, economic endeavours, infrastructure and their agreements and contracts will lead to greater access in the future. They are hedging their bets and making big bets on Africa.” China's first overseas naval base was built years ago in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa and it is steadily increasing its capacity. Townsend said as many as 2,000 military personnel are at the base, including hundreds of Marines who handle security there. “They have arms and munitions for sure. They have armoured combat vehicles. We think they will soon be basing helicopters there to potentially include attack helicopters,” said Townsend. For some time, many have thought that China was working to establish a Navy base in Tanzania, a country on Africa's eastern coast, that has had a strong, longstanding military relationship with Beijing. But Townsend said it appears there's been no decision on that yet. He said that while China has been trying hard to get a base in Tanzania, it's not the location he's most concern about. “It's on the Indian Ocean side," he said. “I want it to be in Tanzania instead of on the Atlantic coast. The Atlantic coast concerns me greatly," he said, pointing to the relatively shorter distance from Africa's west coast to the U.S. In nautical miles, a base on Africa's northern Atlantic coast could be substantially closer to the U.S. than military facilities in China are to America's western coast. More specifically, other U.S. officials say the Chinese have been eyeing locations for a port in the Gulf of Guinea. The Defence Department's 2020 report on China's military power, said China has likely considered adding military facilities to support its naval, air and ground forces in Angola, among other locations. And it noted that the large amount of oil and liquefied natural gas imported from Africa and the Middle East, make those regions a high priority for China over the next 15 years. Henry Tugendhat, a senior policy analyst with the United States Institute of Peace, said China has a lot of economic interests on Africa's west coast, including fishing and oil. China also has helped finance and build a large commercial port in Cameroon. He said that any effort by Beijing to get a naval port on the Atlantic coast would be an expansion of China's military presence. But the desire for ocean access, he said, may be primarily for economic gain, rather than military capabilities. Townsend and other regional military commanders laid out their concerns about China during recent congressional hearings. He, along with Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, are battling to retain their military forces, aircraft and surveillance assets as the Pentagon continues to review the shift to great power competition. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin is conducting a global posture review to determine if America's military might is positioned where it needs to be, and in the right numbers, around the world to best maintain global dominance. That review is expected to be finished in late summer. Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — The federal government is being asked to give new and soon-to-be moms a Mother's Day gift by closing a hole in the safety net preventing some from having their maternity leave fully covered. As is, eligible workers need a minimum number of hours on the job to qualify for employment insurance benefits, including maternity and parental leave. But many moms have been unable to work because of pandemic-related job losses, and been caught by the EI safety net. When a new mother receiving regular benefits gives birth, they have to file a new claim for maternity and parental benefits, meaning they need to meet the hours requirement anew, even though they have been unable to work because of the pandemic. Opposition critics say they worry new parents might be forced to stay home without income support, or potentially be forced to look for work before they're ready and able. The Conservatives are asking the Liberals to allow expecting mothers to qualify for their full employment insurance parental leave, even if they are currently receiving federal unemployment aid. The call follows a similar request made by the federal New Democrats to Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough that said a current workaround to allow unemployed mothers to qualify for EI wasn't working. Qualtrough told the House of Commons on Thursday that she would look at how to improve the EI system for workers, and mothers in particular. "Women, of course as we know, they've been hit the hardest through this pandemic," Qualtrough said in question period. "We are there for all Canadian workers, women in particular, and we are committed to modernizing our EI system to be even more there for them." It was just ahead of Mother's Day last year that the Liberals dealt with another unexpected flaw in the pandemic safety net where women who identified as pregnant on their EI applications weren't automatically moved over to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. Since the EI system kicked back up in late September, just over 298,000 parents have received maternity and parental leave benefits for a combined value of nearly $2.7 billion, according to the latest federal data. A handful of mothers-to-be worried they won't be able to qualify for their full benefits told Conservative critic Raquel Dancho their stories during a virtual roundtable on Thursday morning. Some spoke about not knowing how they would pay the bills, expressed frustrations at ongoing parental leave issues, and highlighted how they're now scrambling to make the hours hoping that they can work enough. "These are real situations with women and men ... trying to figure out how to do this at a very uncertain time," Dancho said at the end of the roundtable. "It's an overwhelming time as it is, let alone now, and I think a lot of you really nailed it when you said, you know, parents have dealt with so much this year and now this is just one more thing and deeply unfair." Federal officials had come up with a workaround to the hours issue, giving a blanket, one-time credit to applicants who weren't able to work because of the pandemic and needed federal aid. In a letter last month to Qualtrough, NDP critic Daniel Blaikie noted some expectant mothers had the credit applied to their EI claims even though they had enough hours, which then made it impossible for them to have enough hours to access their maternity leave once their baby comes. He suggested the government consider giving expecting parents an option to set aside their one-time credit of insurable hours to use instead for qualifying for maternity and parental leave. "It's so frustrating to not see any kind of co-ordinated and systematic policy response on the part of the government," Blaikie said in an interview. "There's more than one way to solve this problem. What you need is that will and the volition on the part of government to make it a priority, and I can't figure out why that's not something that they're willing to focus in on." This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021. Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
SAINT-MICHEL-DES-SAINTS, Que. — A man and a child were found dead on Wednesday after their car went off the road and plunged into a river in Quebec's Lanaudiere region. Quebec provincial police confirmed today that the bodies of Jonas Dubé, 29, and Weyko Jacob, 7, were discovered in the submerged car in St-Michel-des-Saints, about 170 kilometres north of Montreal. The Atikamekw band council of Manawan said in a press release the father and son were members of the community who had been missing since Tuesday night. A citizen called police at about 1 p.m. on Wednesday about a car that had skidded off the road and gone into the water. Officers on the scene found the car upside down and underwater and called in fire and rescue services, who discovered the bodies. Police say a collision specialist is investigating the cause and time of the accident, which took place sometime between Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon. A mechanical inspection has been ordered for the car. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021. The Canadian Press
The municipality of North Cowichan, B.C., is stepping up patrols of the region's forest reserve, after an increase in timber theft in the area, which lies 70 kilometres north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. Since January, approximately 100 trees, including Douglas fir and Western red cedars have been poached and local residents and officials believe the spike is likely tied to the surge in lumber prices. North Cowichan resident Larry Pynn stumbled upon a large cedar tree stump along slabs of crudely cut wood while he was out for a walk two weeks ago in a forested area known as Stoney Hill. "I immediately thought that this had to be the work of a poacher," he said in an interview with CBC News. "Something like this is not being taken for firewood. It's a valuable tree." Pynn estimated the tree was 87 years old because he counted the rings on the remaining stump. At least four Western red cedars and dozens of Douglas fir trees have been cut down and removed in a number of areas within the forest reserve in North Cowichan. (Submitted by Larry Pynn) Not far from it, the mossy ground had been torn up by what appeared to be ATV tracks. Local officials say it's not clear who took the tree or how they managed to get it out of the woods, but it is one of several large trees that have been poached since the beginning of the year in the North Cowichan Municipal Forest Reserve. Community forest The 5,000-hectare forest is owned by the municipality and is part of the coastal Douglas fir ecosystem, which is considered endangered because of logging and development. While the area has been logged in the past, the activity is on hold while the community and nearby First Nations discuss how to manage the forest going forward. Municipal officials say they have learned of several timber thefts in recent months, including one incident where 50 Douglas fir trees were taken. "It was definitely a concentrated effort," said Shaun Mason, the municipal forester for North Cowichan. "That is something we haven't seen in the past before and what is more concerning is that other areas are popping up despite our efforts to try and curb it." The municipality says it has stepped up patrols and increased signage as a result of the increasing number of trees being poached.(Briar Stewart/CBC) Mason said patrols are now taking place in the forest seven days a week, up from about once a week. However, he said it is a challenge to try to cover a vast and densely wooded area. The municipality is also considering installing cameras at certain locations in the forest. Under North Cowichan's bylaws, a person can be fined $200 if they "remove forest products without a permit." Penalties questioned When it comes to trees taken from provincial Crown land, the penalty could be as much as $1 million, but legal experts say those who are caught are usually fined just $173. "It's really important that people feel that if they are caught, that there will be real consequences and a $200 penalty doesn't cut it," said Andrew Gage, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law who reviewed a provincial database that detailed the fines levied by the province. The B.C. ministry responsible for forests said that in the past 10 years, it has issued 728 penalties to people who removed or destroyed Crown timber without authorization. Together, the fines totalled more than $500,000. WATCH: Resident Larry Pynn describes why he thinks trees are being stolen: Soaring lumber prices In North Cowichan, officials are considering increasing the financial penalties to try to deter theft at a time when lumber prices are soaring and even selling firewood can be lucrative. According to the provincial government, the current price for two-by-fours of B.C. spruce, pine or fir is $1,420 per thousand board feet. In 2020, the average price was $570. Cedar, which is more valuable, is currently going for $1,700 per thousand board feet. Dozens of Douglas fir trees have been found cut down in numerous sites in the forest reserve.(Submitted by Larry Pynn) Terry Sunderland, a professor in the faculty of forestry at the University of British Columbia, said he believes rising prices are the main driver for timber theft, and it is crime of opportunity with low technical requirements: the only equipment a poacher would need is a chainsaw and a way to haul the wood out, such as a pickup truck. He said in order to move and sell timber legally, wood has to be imprinted with a stamp issued by the province. However a growing demand for bespoke products like rustic tables could be fuelling a black market. Damage left behind For Icel Dobell, a North Cowichan resident who roams the forest reserve daily and is co-founder of a local group trying to preserve it, the issue is much bigger than just the missing trees. Those who are hauling away the wood are driving trucks and quads into sensitive ecological areas. Icel Dobell has been organizing a movement to permanently protect the community forest and is disappointed someone has been logging it on their own. (Briar Stewart/CBC) "The biggest issue is this damage, this destruction," she said referring to the muddy ruts in the ground. She also wants to see an increase in penalties, but said the community is mobilizing and keeping an eye on the woods. "More and more people are watching and so hopefully that will be another deterrent." WATCH: Tree thefts spark calls for more enforcement:
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is pledging a 20 per cent foreign home buyers' tax and a $14-billion housing plan. The election campaign-style promise, which Singh says would foster 500,000 homes in four years, aims to drive down home and rental costs and create more supply amid a white-hot real estate market.
EDMONTON — Alberta's top doctor says it's very likely that second doses of COVID-19 vaccines will be offered within less than four months of the first as supplies ramp up. The province authorized a 16-week interval in order to get as many people protected with their first shots as possible while vaccine shipments remained uncertain. For Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, the drug makers say the gaps between doses should be three weeks and one month, respectively. "I want to be clear that that four-month interval was always a maximum," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Thursday. "We were never planning to require a wait of four months. It was really about we would not have anyone go beyond four months, but if we can offer it sooner, we will." People on immunosuppressive drugs, like chemotherapy, are already being offered their second shots in a shortened time frame, Hinshaw said. She noted that for the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, there is evidence that a 12-week wait between doses is more effective than a shorter interval. As of Monday, all Albertans born in 2009 and earlier will be able to book their first shot. On Thursday, some 100,000 people born in 1991 and earlier booked their first vaccine appointments. After that, the province will be able to start offering followup doses, Hinshaw said. So far, 1.73 million doses of vaccine have been given in Alberta. Alberta recorded 2,211 new COVID-19 cases and no new deaths on Thursday. There were 654 people in hospital, including 146 in intensive care. More than 11 per cent of tests came back positive. Hinshaw also reiterated that the province is no longer testing every positive COVID-19 swab for variants. Instead, labs are testing a representative sample. "This frees up crucial lab capacity to ensure that people get their COVID-19 test results back as soon as possible, which is the most important thing we can do with our lab capacity to minimize further transmission." She added that anyone with a positive test should assume they have contracted a variant, as variants are now dominant in the province. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021. — By Lauren Krugel in Calgary. The Canadian Press
WASHINGTON — The United States has deployed a dozen additional warplanes to bolster protection of American and coalition troops making a final withdrawal from Afghanistan as Taliban insurgents step up pressure on Afghan government forces, top Pentagon officials said Thursday. Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said F-18 attack planes have been added to a previously announced package of air and sea power — including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea and six Air Force B-52 bombers based in Qatar — that can be called upon as protection for withdrawing troops. Also part of that previously announced package are several hundred Army Rangers. U.S. officials said before the withdrawal began that they expected the Taliban to attempt to interfere, even as the insurgents continue pressuring government forces, especially in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan. “There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces, Milley said, speaking alongside Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon news conference. He said there have been no attacks against U.S. or coalition forces since they began pulling out of the country on about May 1, and he described the Afghan forces as “cohesive,” even as speculation swirls around Kabul's ability to hold off the Taliban in the months ahead. Both Milley and Austin, a retired Army general, are veterans of the war in Afghanistan. “They're fighting for their own country now, so it's not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls, or any of those kinds of dire predictions,” Milley said. “That's not a foregone conclusion. There's a significant military capability in the Afghan government. We have to see how this plays out.” Milley said the Pentagon is considering options for continued support of Afghan government forces after the troop withdrawal is complete, including possibly training Afghan security forces in another country. That would be in addition to urging the Congress to authorize continued financial assistance to the Afghan forces, which has been in the range of $4 billion a year for many years, and possibly providing aircraft maintenance support remotely from another country. “We haven't figured that out 100% yet,” Milley said. Milley said Afghanistan's air force is central to the strategy for holding off the Taliban, but the durability of those planes is in some doubt. The U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said in an April 30 report that without continued foreign contractor support, none of the Afghan air force's airframes can be sustained as combat effective for more than a few months. Austin acknowledged that holding off the Taliban without American support on the ground “will be a challenge” for the Afghans. “We're hopeful that the Afghan security forces will play a major role in stopping the Taliban,” Austin said. “What we're seeing unfold is what we expected to unfold — increased pressure” on the Afghan forces. He asserted that government forces launched a counterattack this week against the Taliban in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, and that they were “performing fairly well.” President Joe Biden announced last month that all American troops will withdraw from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. NATO allies have said they will do the same, and troops have already begun leaving. Austin said the “drawdown is going according to plan." The Pentagon has said there were about 2,500 U.S. troops there in recent months, and Milley said in an interview last weekend that the total rises to 3,300 if special operations forces are counted. Military commanders have said that additional forces will flow in temporarily to help with security and logistics for the drawdown. Pentagon officials have said they will do all they can to monitor terror threats and help the Afghans from other locations in the region, described as “over the horizon.” But officials have not detailed where those would be. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, has warned that Afghanistan’s military “will certainly collapse” without some continued American support once all U.S. troops are withdrawn. He has expressed concerns that Afghan forces may be unable to prevent the Taliban from taking more ground, and said the Afghans will need help and funding to maintain and fly their aircraft. Milley said last week that Afghan government forces face an uncertain future and, in a worst-case scenario, some “bad possible outcomes” against Taliban insurgents as the withdrawal of American and coalition troops accelerates in the coming weeks. On Thursday, Milley took a hopeful tone in speaking about the government forces avoiding a collapse. “There is 300-plus thousand (in the) Afghan army, Afghan police,” he said. “It's their country. They've been leading the fight for several years now. We've been supporting them, for sure. But they've been leading the fight. And I'm a personal witness ... that the Afghan forces can fight.” Robert Burns And Lolita C. Baldor, The Associated Press
Taxi drivers and Uber drivers perform the same work, but Uber's categorization as a tech company has contributed to the historical stigma against taxi drivers.
The Canadian dollar hit its highest level in almost four years on Thursday, buoyed by high commodity prices The loonie was changing hands at 82.08 cents US early in the afternoon, its highest level since September 2017. Two broad trends are combining to push the loonie higher. First, the improving outlook for the global economy coming out of COVID-19 has pushed up prices for commodities that Canada has a lot of. Lumber prices have hit record highs due to a construction boom, and the price of a barrel of the North American oil benchmark, known as West Texas Intermediate, topped $65 US this week, its highest level since the pandemic started. The price of wheat has hit its highest price since 2013, and copper prices are at a nine-year high, too. An index of commodity prices has risen by 37 per cent in the past six months alone Bank of Canada economist Doug Porter noted recently. "This six-month run rivals anything we have seen in the past 50 years," he said. Booming commodity prices are a boon for Canada's economy, which is pushing up the value of the country's currency. Potential of higher rates That commodity boom is happening as Canada's central bank shows signs of hiking its benchmark interest rate far sooner than most other countries. At its policy meeting last week, the Bank of Canada said it would slow its pace of bond buying, a sign it thinks the economy may soon need less stimulus. Trading in financial instruments known as swaps, that bet on rate decisions, implies the market thinks the Bank of Canada may hike rates as many as two times by the end of next year. "Meanwhile, you have the U.S. Federal Reserve showing no inclination to go down that route," said David Doyle, economist and market strategist with Macquarie Group, in an interview with CBC News. If Canada raises its rate while other countries do not, that makes Canada look more attractive for investors as a place to put their money to work. So money would pour into the country, and by extension, push up the value of the currency. "The Canadian dollar tends to respond positively to those circumstances," Doyle said. Audrey Childe-Freeman, a foreign exchange strategist with Bloomberg Intelligence, thinks Canada's currency could be poised for further gains. "In a … currency market that's gone back to being mainly driven by yields and growth prospects, and providing … commodity prices consolidate or push up more, we believe the loonie may continue to outperform," she said in a recent note to clients.
The Canadian Coast Guard will get two new heavy icebreakers, the Liberal government announced today — a significant decision that critics say is meant to avoid making political waves ahead of the next federal election. The decision is expected to fulfil a promise made more than a dozen years ago by the former Conservative government to build one Polar-class icebreaker at Seaspan Shipyards in Vancouver. The Liberals also promised today to build a second vessel at Davie Shipbuilding in Levis, Que., once the company is formally admitted to the National Shipbuilding Strategy. By promising two ships and splitting the work, the government avoids the political consequences of having to decide between competing shipyards in B.C. and Quebec in what could be an election year. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet today accused the Liberals of playing politics. That charge was denied by the three federal cabinet ministers taking part in today's virtual press conference; they insisted the addition of the second vessel is about securing the Arctic, providing support for remote communities and maintaining a year-round presence in the Far North. Two years ago, the federal government set aside $15.7 billion to rebuild the aging coast guard fleet. Many of its vessels are more than three decades old. No cost estimate for the new icebreakers was released. Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, who is responsible for the coast guard, said price tags will be released once contracts are negotiated with the individual yards. She also pledged the ships would be built concurrently, with the first ship entering service in 2030 and the second one following soon afterwards. The new ships are intended to replace the coast guard's principal heavy icebreaker, the CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent, which is almost 55 years old. A 'game-changer' "The new Polar icebreakers will be a game-changer for Canada's marine industry, both in their construction and the difference that a stronger presence in the Arctic will make," said Jordan, who was joined for the announcement by Government House leader Pablo Rodriguez and Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. "Built by Canadian shipyards, these vessels will enable the coast guard to conduct critical science, supply and other missions in our Arctic region year-round. Under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, we're putting thousands of Canadians to work building a fleet that will serve those communities for decades." The future of the heavy icebreaker plan has been in question since the summer of 2019 when the single-ship program, originally given to Seaspan Shipyards, was mysteriously dropped from the company's work schedule. WATCH: Fisheries minister announces plans to build two new icebreakers Both Seaspan and Davie have lobbied hard to build the ship, already designated as the CCGS John G. Diefenbaker. That vessel was originally budgeted by the Conservative government at $721 million and was supposed to have been delivered four years ago. But the retooling of the Vancouver yard, technical problems and construction delays caused the program to be pushed back repeatedly. Federal officials said today that, so far, three Offshore Fisheries Science Vessels (OFSV) and 18 smaller vessels have been delivered to the coast guard under the National Shipbuilding Strategy, along with two refitted medium interim icebreakers. Crews work on two Canadian Coast Guard vessels at the Seaspan Vancouver Shipyards in West Vancouver, British Columbia on Wednesday, May 22, 2019.(Ben Nelms/CBC) Those medium icebreakers were converted from civilian use by Davie — which has attempted to set itself apart from the rest of the industry by creating a National Icebreaker Centre, which focuses on Arctic research and maritime engineering. In order to hold on to its contract, Seaspan has focused its lobbying efforts on the economic benefits current and future ship construction brings to B.C. The company continued with that theme on Thursday in its response to the federal announcement today. "This is an important day for Seaspan employees and suppliers, and for shipbuilding in Canada and B.C.," said Mark Lamarre, the chief executive officer of Seaspan Shipyards. "With the Polar program, we can keep the [National Shipbuilding Strategy] working as the important economic engine and strategic national asset it was designed to be." In a statement, the chief executive officer of the Davie Shipyard said the company is pleased to be building the "flagship" of the Canadian Coast Guard. "We also fully agree with Canada that time is now of the essence," said James Davies. "We must start the project without delay to ensure the Polar offers immediate, material and sustainable stimulus to the pandemic recovery." The federal Conservatives were cautious in their reaction, calling the commitment to Seaspan a re-anncouncement of something the former government had engineered, and pointing out that the inclusion of Davie was still tentative because the company hasn't been admitted to the shipbuilding program yet. "The announcement made by the Trudeau Liberals in no way guarantees that Davie Shipyards in Quebec will also get a contract to build a heavy icebreaker," said Pierre Paul-Hus, the Conservative critic for Public Services and Procurement Canada. "Conservatives will support a National Shipbuilding Strategy that includes Davie Shipyards, and its dual goal of providing ships for our Navy and Coast Guard while securing jobs for Canadian industry." What the party will not support, he said, is "repeated and costly delays," which he blamed on the Liberal government. The plan comes a little more than two months after the federal auditor general complained that the overall shipbuilding strategy, which includes both the navy and the coast guard, had been plagued by mismanagement and delays.
The Atikamekw community of Manawan, 250 km north of Montreal, is grieving after a father and son died in a car accident on the only road leading to the community — a gravel road that's been flagged to the province as dangerous for decades. The Sureté du Quebec confirmed Thursday that Jonas Dubé, 29, and his son Weyko Jacob, 7, were found dead Wednesday inside their overturned vehicle in the Milieu River near a bridge on Chemin Manawan, an 86 km logging road which connects Manawan to the town of Saint-Michel-des-Saints. 86 kilometers of forest road separate Manawan from the nearest municipality, Saint-Michel-des-Saints. (Anne-Marie Yvon/Radio-Canada) "It's terrible to live these things. These deaths were avoidable," Paul-Émile Ottawa, chief of the Atikamekw Council of Manawan, told CBC in an interview Thursday. Ottawa estimates nearly 100 people have died in accidents on that road since it opened 50 years ago. He says the road has seven bridges, all of which are one lane only. It's also known for its many dangerous curves. "People have nicknamed the curves after forestry workers who died in car accidents on them," Ottawa said. Ottawa said the Atikamekw Council has been asking the provincial Transport Ministry for decades to do something about the road. He said the ministry finally agreed a few years ago, and plans have been drawn up to eventually pave it. Ottawa said in the meantime the ministry has promised to rebuild the gravel road with a more solid foundation, which he said would greatly improve safety. He said work would would likely start next year. Provincial police are investigating the crash to try to determine the cause. Community also dealing with covid outbreak Ottawa said losing a father and young son is hard enough but the deaths have also disrupted efforts to deal with a major COVID-19 outbreak in the community, with 12 confirmed cases. Jonas Dubé's wife is a nurse at the health clinic in Manawan, which is currently trying to manage a covid-19 outbreak. (Radio-Canada) He said Jonas's wife is a nurse, who is now off work to grieve. "To lose a member of our personnel who's trained to do testing and vaccination, that's affecting our health service's efforts to control the outbreak," he said. The Masko-Siwin Health Centre posted on its Facebook page Thursday that it was cancelling COVID-19 screening for the day because of the deaths. The council is collecting donations for the family and offering psychological counselling services to people in the community. Manawan was also home to Joyce Echaquan, a woman who died in hospital in Joliette last fall, just hours after filiming staff at the hospital insulting her with racist comments.
Soldiers participating in large-scale exercises at CFB Wainwright say Canadian Armed Forces members who have tested positive for COVID-19 are isolating in small, unheated tents with limited ability to wash themselves. Up to 2,500 soldiers, mostly from Edmonton, are participating in Maple Resolve and Agile Ram in a training area at Canadian Forces Base Wainwright in eastern Alberta. The exercises are expected to wrap up in June. Two soldiers who spoke to CBC in late April said members of their unit have tested positive for COVID-19 and are spending isolation in small tents. They said some tents are unheated, and sick soldiers haven't been able to properly wash themselves. They said they were concerned that the isolating soldiers were being checked on infrequently. CBC has agreed to grant to the soldiers confidentiality. A spokesperson for the armed forces confirmed that a "small number" of exercise participants have tested positive for COVID-19. Capt. Derek Reid said exact case numbers can't be disclosed because of a policy to not reveal specifics about particular groups. The armed forces does report the number of active cases across its entire population. As of Wednesday there were 41 active cases — down from 61 the previous week. There have been 1,647 total cases since the beginning of the pandemic. 'Austere conditions' Reid said isolating soldiers are checked on daily by medical staff, and could be moved to a medical isolation facility if necessary. Soldiers who test positive isolate for 10 days or until their symptoms are gone — whichever is longer, Reid said. Reid said learning to survive and thrive in "austere conditions" is a fundamental part of military field training. He said he has confirmed isolating personnel have regular access to shower facilities, but that heating is only available for tents large enough to fit a stove. "However, our soldiers are well equipped and accustomed to dealing with cold conditions (and temperatures lower than those seen recently in Wainwright)," he said in an email. He said close contacts of positive cases are placed in quarantine for 14 days, but in some cases are retested at 10 days to allow for a "restricted return" to training. Cohorts and testing In an interview last month, Col. Wade Rutland, commander of 1 Canadian Mechanized Brigade, outlined plans for testing on arrival and cohorting until results came back. But the soldiers who spoke to CBC said cohorting didn't really happen in practice. "The safety concerns this brigade has regarding [covid] are purely optics for the outside world, because every single opportunity where they want to accomplish something that negates a rule they just change the rule," one of them said. In his emailed statement, Reid said the medical policy is to maintain cohorts until test results are received, "except for extremely limited situations which required cohorts to interact for operational reasons." He said the maximum size of a cohort is about 30 people, but the goal is to keep them as small as possible. Rutland told CBC last month that four soldiers would sleep in each 10-person tent. The soldiers CBC spoke with said they are sleeping with at least 7 people in 10-person tents. Reid confirmed the number Rutland gave. He said it's up to the chain of command to enforce the policy and they have had no internal reports of problems. Soldiers offered vaccine Reid said the armed forces ran a vaccine clinic for Maple Resolve participants from April 26-29 and more than 1,700 doses were administered, which is about 90 per cent uptake. He said 150 members chose not to get the vaccine. He said getting a vaccine is strongly encouraged but voluntary for CAF members, but failure to be immunized can affect a member's ability to do their job or participate in operations.
FREDERICTON — Two more North Atlantic right whales have been spotted in Canadian waters, prompting the first season-long closure of a specific fishing area. Two of the endangered whales were detected on Tuesday by a Fisheries Department aircraft that was conducting right whale aerial surveillance in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. As a result, an area east of the Iles-de-la-Madeleine is closed to fishing activities until Nov. 15, while some surrounding areas will close at 5 p.m. on Saturday until further notice. DFO provided a 72-hour notice because of the weather forecast and to allow time for fishing gear to be removed. The crab fishing area known as 12F, east of the Iles-de-la-Madeleine, remains under a 15-day closure that began after the first whale of the year was spotted in late April. There are an estimated 366 North Atlantic right whales in existence. This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021. The Canadian Press
OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is pledging a hefty foreign home buyers' tax and "massive" investment in housing to chill a boiling-hot real estate market. Unveiled today at a virtual news conference, Singh's election campaign-style promise would impose a 20 per cent levy on purchases by non-residents and pour $14 billion into housing construction, with the end goal of 500,000 new units over four years along with widespread job creation. The main goal is to boost supply and drive down increasingly unaffordable rental and home prices that have rippled beyond Toronto and Vancouver into outlying towns and cities from Nova Scotia to British Columbia's Fraser Valley. "Let's massively invest in housing as a way to create jobs locally in communities and as a way to ensure people have a place to call home," Singh said, accusing the Liberals of ignoring a long-standing crisis. "We know that people are treating Canada like a stock market when it comes to housing and just plopping their money into the housing market, hoping it will continue to grow." The dual pledges to tax and invest seek to outshine last month's federal budget by the Liberals, who plan to spend $2.4 billion over five years on affordable housing and follow through on a promise to tax non-residents who own vacant homes in Canada at one per cent of the assessed value. The announcement could hold particular appeal for young voters — a key demographic in any NDP campaign — who feel priced out of the market. In B.C., a 15 per cent foreign buyers' tax imposed in Metro Vancouver in 2016 — since raised to 20 per cent and expanded to other communities — had a short-term cooling effect, but prices have been on a stratospheric rise since 2019, spiking in recent months. "It did not have a very big impact on the market," said Don Kottick, CEO of Sotheby’s International Realty Canada. "Governments really have to address the supply side. Residential construction really hasn’t kept pace with the population for decades now." Market watchers also say a countrywide tax on non-resident homebuyers amounts to a ham-fisted approach to real estate, which comes down to local conditions, and could have unintended consequences in international tourist spots such as Banff and Mont-Tremblant. Heftier personal savings, house-obsessed millennials and historically low interest rates during the COVID-19 pandemic have conspired to send residential prices soaring amid a dire shortage of units. The average home-sale price in Canada rose 32 per cent year over year in March to a record $717,000, with sales activity up by more than three-quarters, according to the Canadian Real Estate Association. An analysis this week by TD Economics suggested the Liberals' one per cent foreign owners' tax is "unlikely to significantly dent current activity" in the market because foreign demand has already cooled in B.C. and Ontario. What is driving the current frenzy in sales and prices is driven to a large extent by domestic buyers, the analysis said. Singh sought to address another market pressure point, calling for a crackdown on money laundering in real estate. Black-market profits funnelled through land purchases have been "directly attributed to driving up the cost of housing," he noted. The Liberal government set its sights on money laundering and market transparency last month. In a little-noticed line item, the budget allotted $2.1 million over two years for the Industry Department to implement a beneficial ownership registry by 2025. With some of the weakest money-laundering laws among liberal democracies, Canada currently offers anonymity to investors and money launderers by allowing the real, or "beneficial," owner to go undisclosed, similar to the Seychelles or British Virgin Islands. This week, the Liberals moved ahead with another measure, one first unveiled years ago, to ease mortgage costs for more first-time homebuyers by having the government take an equity stake in homes in some of the country's hottest markets. The original program saw federal funds pick up five per cent of a mortgage on existing homes for households that earn under $120,000 a year, on a mortgage of no more than $480,000. The value increased up to 10 per cent for new homes to spur construction and expand supply that the federal government has long seen as a way to cool rising prices. But starting this week, the program expanded for applicants in Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria, setting the income cutoff at $150,000 and the mortgage limit of $675,000. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation estimates that should allow first-time buyers in large urban centres to afford homes of up to $722,000, up from the $505,000 in other areas of the country. There isn't any interest on the money, but a buyer would have to repay the incentive in full when they sell their house or after 25 years of living in the home. James Laird, co-founder of the website Ratehub.ca, said a household with $150,000 of income, and with the minimum down payment, can currently qualify for a home valued at $770,000. He questioned whether the program was worth using. "Even if a homeowner could qualify for the same amount, owning a home with the government still does not make any sense," he said in a statement. "The government gets to enjoy the appreciation of the home, while paying none of the expenses." This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 6, 2021. Christopher Reynolds and Jordan Press, The Canadian Press
A B.C. couple have won more than $1 million in lottery money in less than a year after winning big in both Lotto 6/49 and the Set For Life scratch card game.