WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr's decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won't have an easy transition.The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, who hasn't been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department's new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It's the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president's legacy.But the manoeuvring over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they've derided as tainted. Now there's little the new administration can do about it.“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.But Barr's decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she's connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfil his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden's leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.___Miller reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Venezuela's opposition is discussing scaling back the interim government of opposition leader Juan Guaido that has won diplomatic recognition by dozens of countries that disavowed President Nicolas Maduro, nine legislators told Reuters. Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, in 2019 called Maduro a usurper following his disputed re-election and assumed a parallel presidency based on articles of the constitution that make the head of the National Assembly next in line to rule the country. Guaido's lawmaker allies have said they will continue to insist that they are legitimate parliamentarians after Jan. 5, arguing that their constitutional mandate remains intact because Sunday's vote is rigged.
As Vopak Development Canada’s proposed fuel storage facility and export terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C., enters its final public comment period, environmental groups say the project fails to address risks associated with marine and rail transport. If approved, the Vopak Pacific Canada facility would bring up to 240 rail cars carrying fuels like diesel, propane, methanol and gasoline through northwest B.C. every day. The fuels would be shipped on the CN rail network from sources in B.C. and Alberta to Ridley Island, an industrial site near Prince Rupert. The terminal would also bring up to 171 tankers to the Skeena River estuary annually. “Vopak brings the risk of a spill of highly toxic diesel oil and gasoline from train derailments, tanker accidents and spills at the offloading facility,” Greg Knox, executive director of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, told The Narwhal. “Such spills are very difficult to clean up once they enter the river or marine environment.” Retired biologist Dawn Remington with Friends of Morice-Bulkley said the project poses a risk to communities along fuel transportation routes and not enough information about how these communities will be protected has been made available to the public. “We’re going to be a corridor for hazardous petroleum products. And if this is the case, I want it to be done safely,” Remington told The Narwhal, adding her concerns aren’t about trying to stop the project. Remington said the Vopak project presents an opportunity to address the risks of rail transportation associated with several projects in the region, including another proposed fuel export facility and one that’s already under construction. Vopak recently submitted its application for an environmental assessment certificate along with its report on the project’s potential environmental impacts to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. The public can now review and comment on those documents until Dec. 30. During the initial public comment period in 2018, members of the public and environmental groups asked that increased rail traffic associated with the Vopak project be included in the facility’s review. And during the First Nations consultation process, each of the six nations involved flagged increased rail traffic as an important issue that should be addressed as part of the environmental assessment. The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office said it would not include rail traffic in the assessment, deferring to Transport Canada, the federal agency responsible for regulating the rail network. “Concerns of potential spills from train derailments are not being assessed in the environmental assessment and are being completely ignored by CN, Vopak and the provincial and federal governments despite strong public concern,” Knox said. CN’s rail accidents have been steadily increasing, according to a 2019 Transportation Safety Board of Canada report. Last year, there were 169 accidents involving dangerous goods, like the ones that would be shipped to the Vopak facility. Eight of those accidents resulted in spills, twice as many as the previous year. In March, a train carrying coal and propane derailed near an elementary school east of Prince George, B.C., spilling coal into a creek and causing an emergency evacuation of the school. Other derailments in the region over the past few years have resulted in coal and wood pellets spilling into creeks and rivers. Remington has been working with communities along the rail corridor in northwest B.C. to formally request Transport Canada conduct a risk assessment of rail traffic in the region. Even though the potential for a rail accident resulting in an explosion or deadly spill is low, Remington worries a single event could have catastrophic effects. Propane — also referred to as liquified petroleum gas — is a highly-combustible fossil fuel captured as a by-product of fracking for natural gas. More propane travelling through the region means more risk, she said. “Risk is the probability of something happening times the severity of the consequences if it happens,” she explained. “So even if the probability is low, the consequences are enormous.” She stressed that without knowing the risks, the communities along the rail corridor aren’t equipped to deal with an emergency should one arise. “How do you evacuate this entire town if people have no idea?” The concern is shared along the transportation corridor, even in towns hundreds of kilometres from the proposed Vopak facility. In a recent public comment on the project, Jeanette Weir, from Hazelton, B.C., said the threat the export terminal poses to communities along rail lines has effectively been overlooked. “This project is completely ignoring the communities through which an enormous increase of rail transport of explosive dangerous goods is proposed. It should not be evaluated for the sole risks at the Prince Rupert storage facility because it will affect all of us living along the rail line.” In a document provided to First Nations outlining the potential effects of increased rail traffic, Vopak said the project would contribute to an incremental increase in the risks associated with rail transportation, including moose strikes, collisions and derailments. It also stressed that all regulations related to rail safety fall under the jurisdiction of Transport Canada. Public requests that the environmental impacts of marine traffic be included in the projects assessment were also denied by the Environmental Assessment Office, leading to lingering concerns the project will harm marine ecosystems. The proposed facility would include a number of holding tanks for fuel and a marine berth where tankers would be filled over 40-hour periods. Vopak would only be responsible for products during storage, unloading and loading. For nearly 50 years, a now-shuttered pulp mill near Ridley Island discharged contaminated materials into the marine environment, much of which is now sequestered in a layer of sediment on the ocean floor — including where Vopak would provide mooring for tankers. Although Vopak scrapped its initial plan to dredge up the contaminated sediment to make way for a permanent jetty, many worry the current plan to leave sediment — which contains highly toxic dioxins and furans as well as copper and arsenic — undisturbed is unrealistic. According to Luanne Roth, north coast campaigner for the T Buck Suzuki Environmental Foundation, the new plan was submitted after the initial public comment period, so any public concerns about the redesign have yet to be addressed. “Before, with the big dredge, all of that contaminated sediment would have been gone from the area,” she said. Now the issue is what happens to the sediment when tankers are mooring. “When the boats are docked, they’re docked by really powerful tugs, so there’s going to be really powerful propeller wash,” she said. The effects of propeller wash, the movement of water by ships’ engines, on the sediment have not been studied for the Vopak project, but they were when the Pacific Northwest LNG terminal was on the books for neighbouring Lelu Island. Roth said those studies estimated five centimetres of sediment would be resuspended every day. All of that toxic sediment would then be distributed by tides and currents within the surrounding marine ecosystem. Opposite Lelu Island, and within sight of the proposed Vopak project, is Flora Bank, which has been noted as a critical juvenile salmon habitat. Given the dramatic declines in Skeena salmon populations, the effects could be felt throughout the entire Skeena watershed. Roth said there may be solutions to the problem, but the absence of any mention of the effects of propeller wash in Vopak’s environmental effects evaluation is troubling, especially because the chemicals are known to have negative effects on human health, including increased risk of autism, cancer and diabetes. “There’s a tremendous amount of food gathering in the Skeena estuary, so it’s a really big concern,” she said. In an emailed statement, Vopak communications director, Stefany Cortes, told the Narwhal “the tugboat propulsion is focused higher in the water column and, therefore, is not expected to resuspend sediment during mooring.” Roth also raised concerns about the increased marine traffic and the potential for a catastrophic spill. As The Narwhal previously reported, many of Prince Rupert’s designated anchorages are situated in water that lies atop a thin layer of mud and sediment on smooth rock. In high winds — very common during fall and winter — a ship can drag its anchor and potentially end up smashing against coastal rocks. Even just one ship spilling its fuel, not to mention its cargo of fuel, would have catastrophic effects on the marine ecosystem. According to a T Buck Suzuki study, between 2004 and 2017, the Prince Rupert port had three times as many anchor-dragging incidents as the Port of Vancouver despite having 86 per cent less vessels. This works out to 2,360 per cent more incidents per visit. Roth said there were 29 incidents in Prince Rupert last winter. Earlier this year, T Buck Suzuki commissioned an independent report to assess the safety risks associated with anchoring in the Prince Rupert area. Prepared by Ivan Todorov, a master mariner and former senior officer on oil tankers, the report noted a need to ensure that “loading be delayed when storm/hurricane warnings have been issued in order to limit the need for anchoring laden tankers in poor holding ground.” Todorov added that the Vopak project should be subject to a formal risk assessment of grounding and collision incidents. The Prince Rupert Port Authority, which is responsible for federal lands and waters in the area and is the coordinator of the environmental assessment for the proposed project, recently commissioned an independent navigational risk assessment. But when The Narwhal asked to review the document, the port said it would not make the report available to the public. Port communications director Monika Cȏté told The Narwhal in an emailed statement that the port authority has strict policies and procedures in place for the movement and anchorage of ships coming and going from the Ridley Island Propane Export Terminal, of which Vopak is part owner, and similar policies and procedures would be implemented for the proposed facility. Those procedures include port-assigned pilots and tugboat assistance. “Procedures vary depending on vessel, cargo and terminal they are going to, and what is required to mitigate navigational risk,” she wrote. “Vopak-specific procedures will be determined through a multi-agency effort that includes vessel simulation trials.” She said it is uncommon for ships to remain at anchorage once they’re loaded. “In the very rare circumstance that a loaded vessel would move to anchorage, the tug would remain in attendance with the vessel while it is at anchor,” she wrote. Roth said if the port is not able to prevent fully loaded ships from anchoring during storm events, Vopak could contractually refuse to fill a tanker if extreme weather was in the forecast. “That’s something we’d really like them to address,” she said. In the new year, Vopak Development Canada will compile all of the comments received during the public comment period and submit them to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. The office will then consult with the province, the port authority, local First Nations, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Transport Canada and other stakeholders to resolve any outstanding issues. If no red flags are identified, the stakeholders will sign off on the project and a final decision will be made by provincial ministers. Vopak projects it will start construction in late 2021.Matt Simmons, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Narwhal
TORONTO — A hospital in midtown Toronto is offering a "virtual emergency room" so patients can see a doctor without risking exposure to COVID-19.Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre says the service is available for anyone over the age of 16 with a valid Ontario health card.The hospital says patients will connect with the doctor via secure video on the same day, on a first-come, first-served basis.Virtual 15-minute appointments are available Monday to Friday, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the online booking system opening at noon every weekday.Sunnybrook says that the service is intended for non-life threatening injuries or sickness.Examples of symptoms or conditions that the hospital says the online system is designed for include bites and stings, rashes, frostbite or sprains and minor injuries.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
South Okanagan climber and filmmaker Dave Mai has plenty of adventures and beautiful climbing photos on his social media feed, but the stories, risks, heart and heartbreak leading to those shots often go untold. To gain that perspective, Mai would have to climb higher. Mai’s second climbing film, Higher Perspective, was released online this year and explores the life behind the lens. He wanted to go beyond the surface-level sharing of social media, and ended up exploring himself as well as those who spend their career behind the camera capturing breathtaking images and daring feats. “This film was a way to dive deeper than just a social media post and share what I’m going through in my life and my hobbies. Just give a different perspective and hope someone resonates with that,” Mai said. Mai started rock climbing roughly six years ago. While shooting his previous film, Ephemera, he realized he should probably learn a bit more about ice climbing. “That first film was interesting because somehow I managed to get a really high-profile climber, Tim Emmett, to do this first ascent,” Mai said. “I remember standing at the bottom of this waterfall, like, ‘yeah I’ve never really climbed ice and I’m about to go up with this world-class ice climber.’ So that kind of sparked that I need to step my game up if I’m going to survive this game.” The film follow’s Mai’s journey as a climbing photographer and along the way he joins others who pursue the craft in both B.C. and Alberta. “At first it was going to be a film about climbing photographers, and then I realized I needed a central character to pivot around. That kind of became me. I didn’t intend it to be that way at first, but I had the most control over me so I had to kind of create myself as the central character,” Mai said. Mai met many of the climbing photographers featured in the film through Instagram. He meets and interviews climbers, photographers mountain guides and joins them on their journey to capture sometimes-tense moments and breathtaking views. “Usually you are seeing the climbers and you have no idea who is behind the lens. The climbers usually get all the glory,” Mai said with a laugh. “Not that I need any glory.” Climbing photographers often have to get ahead of their subjects, either hiking around to a good vantage point or climbing up first. Preparation and planning are as important as climbing skills. Sometimes hidden away in backcountry areas, ice walls usually require a journey before climbers even arrive, so being prepared and efficient are key during the long shoots. “It can make for some long days, so you’ve got to be pretty proficient at what you’re doing. There’s also that safety factor, so you’ve got to be with a team that you trust and have confidence in their skills,” Mai said. “A lot of these times these ice falls we are going to are a four hour hike in, in waist-deep snow, to get there.” Much of the film was shot in the Okanagan, with rock climbing scenes taking place at the Skaha Bluffs south of Penticton, Apex Mountain, the Keremeos/Hedley area and the Carmi area. “I tried to film as much in the Okanagan as possible. I also went down to Squamish to film Alex Ratson, who is a photographer down there,” Mai said. “We ended up hiring a chopper, flying to the top of Mount Habrich to do some marketing shots up there.” In the film, Mai also visits the Rocky Mountains working with Calgary-based photographer Tim Banfield. Funded by Telus STORYHIVE and CreativeBC as well with support from multiple sponsors, Mai spent roughly a year and a half working on the film. As he was just putting the final pieces together, COVID-19 struck the world. “I have mixed feelings about it. I had these big plans of putting it in big film festivals, and all the film festivals are online now. I just ended up releasing it independently online,” Mai said. Mai ended up working on the audio mix down alone in a theatre, which made for an odd experience. “I was at the Frank Venables Theatre by myself just watching this film. It felt so surreal just finalizing this film by myself,” Mai said. Putting himself as the main character at the centre of Higher Perspective was a unique experience for Mai. “It feels really vulnerable,” Mai said. “At the end of the film I come to the realization that I’m going to keep pursuing this adventure photography, climbing, filmmaking thing. It may be uncommon and some people may have things to say about it, it might be dangerous, but I’m OK with the risks to feel fulfilled and not be afraid to go chase what feels right to me, and honest.” The film started out as a reaction to the shallowness of the social media world, a world Mai hopes to brighten with the project. “There’s this weird energy in the world. Social media can be pretty ugly and I hope this film can be kind of like a shiny rock in this weird world we work in,” Mai said. Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle
Wearing a mask in public indoor places is now mandatory in Yukon, and people in the territory are adjusting to the new public health measure.Matthew Hitchcock, store manager at Coast Mountain Sports, said that all their employees were given masks and many customers were prepared and following the new rules on Tuesday. "It's that assurity you have that everyone's on the same page. Everyone's trying," he said. "I think it makes everyone feel a little bit safer."The mask mandate was announced last month and came into effect on Tuesday, as case counts of COVID-19 have risen sharply in the past few weeks.It's applicable to all people in Yukon over the age of five in indoor public spaces, unless they are able to provide an exemption.Hitchcock said customers were very positive about wearing masks, and that there was a real sense of community with everyone wearing one."I think that everyone's of the understanding now that it's for the safety of everyone, and I think everyone's on the same page. It's been working well," Hitchcock said.Those who had forgotten their masks were able to pick up a disposable one at the entrance of the store.Maryann Etzel was out shopping on Monday, and said she felt more comfortable being out and about with others wearing masks."I feel a lot safer like I can go into the stores and not worry about people coughing and stuff, now they have masks."Etzel said she thinks the rules should have been put in place a long time ago, to keep Yukoners safe in public spaces.'Incredibly impressed with level of uptake'Yukon's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Brendan Hanley, said at Tuesday's news conference that he had already seen more public acceptance toward masks within the first day they were made mandatory."I am incredibly impressed with the level of uptake in the population. And just walking through downtown [Monday] I was noticing, even outside, the degree of uptake of mask use was astounding," Hanley said.Hanley said people may need time to adjust, but he expects an increase in uptake, with the goal of having "as close to 100 per cent of the population wearing masks as possible."Graeme Tennant has already been wearing a mask while working at the library, and he said he has gotten used to it. He suspects others in the territory will adapt quickly as well."You get used to it and you go with it. "Everyone knows why it's being done and I have personally not encountered anyone who's really aggressive about it," he said. However, one thing Tennant is still getting used to is guessing people's facial expressions."It's kind of hard to judge when you just see people's eyes … are they smiling, are they sticking their tongue out at me with that mask on? I don't know!"
JERUSALEM — Israel took a major step toward plunging into its fourth national election in under two years on Wednesday as lawmakers — supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main coalition partner — passed a preliminary proposal to dissolve parliament.The 61-54 vote came just seven months after the coalition took office following three inconclusive elections in just over a year. Netanyahu's Likud party and Defence Minister Benny Gantz's Blue and White said they were seeking national unity to confront the coronavirus crisis. But since then, the rivals have been locked in infighting.The vote gave only preliminary approval to ending the alliance and forcing a new election early next year. The legislation now heads to a committee before parliament as a whole takes up final approval, perhaps as soon as next week. In the meantime, Gantz and Netanyahu are expected to continue negotiations in a last-ditch attempt to preserve their troubled alliance.By joining the opposition in Wednesday's vote, Gantz’s party voiced its dissatisfaction with Netanyahu, accusing him of putting his own personal interests ahead of those of the country.Netanyahu is on trial for a series of corruption charges, and Gantz accuses the prime minister of hindering key governmental work, including the passage of a national budget, in hopes of stalling or overturning the legal proceedings against him. Gantz and other critics believe Netanyahu is ultimately hoping to see a friendlier parliament elected next year that will give him immunity from prosecution.Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party sponsored the bill to trigger new elections, accused the government of gross mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and its economic fallout. He said the one thing all citizens share is “the feeling that they lost control over their lives.”The government still has not yet passed a budget for 2020, a result of the deep divisions produced by its power-sharing agreement. The lack of budget has caused severe hardships and cutbacks for Israelis at a time when unemployment is estimated at over 20% because of the pandemic.In a nationally broadcast news conference Wednesday evening, Netanyahu delivered a mixed message, calling on Gantz to remain in the government but also sounding very much like a politician on the campaign trail.Netanyahu began his address by claiming credit for leading the battle against the coronavirus, forging diplomatic agreements with Gulf Arab countries and protecting Israel against its enemies in the region.He derisively referred to Gantz's party as “an opposition within the coalition" and skirted around questions about passing the budget or honouring the rotation agreement with Gantz.“In dramatic times like these, we don’t need to go to elections. The people of Israel want unity, not ballots. It wants vaccines, and not campaign ads,” he said. "The only way we can defeat corona is defeating it together. We need to put politics aside.”Gantz, meanwhile, released a video blaming Netanyahu for the political paralysis and economic damage resulting from the pandemic.“We all know the truth. You know the truth,” Gantz said in the video. “If there was no trial, there would be a budget. If there was no trial, there would be a functioning government. There would be unity.”Israel has gone through two nationwide lockdowns since March, and officials are already warning that rising infections could result in a return to strict restrictions that were only recently lifted.If a budget for 2020 isn’t passed by Dec. 23, Israeli law stipulates an automatic dissolution of parliament and new elections three months later in late March.Under the coalition deal, Netanyahu is to serve as prime minister until November 2021, with the job rotating to Gantz for 18 months after that. The only way Netanyahu can hold onto his seat and get out of that agreement is if a budget doesn’t pass and new elections are held.There were no indications that either side is interested in preserving their partnership for the long run. Instead, the battle is expected to be over when the election will be held.Although Gantz's party has plummeted in opinion polls, he appears to have concluded that elections are inevitable and the sooner they are held, the better.By pushing for an election early next year, he seems to be banking that Netanyahu will be punished by voters for a still-raging pandemic, a struggling economy and the resumption of his corruption trial.Starting in February, Netanyahu's corruption trial is scheduled to kick into high gear, with a string of witnesses testifying against him. The prime minister expected to be a frequent visitor to the courtroom.Netanyahu, on the other hand, is expected to try to drag out budget talks to delay elections until the summer in hopes that a vaccine will arrive and the economy will begin to recover. If he can put together a hardline coalition at that time, he might finally be positioned to push through an immunity bill or appoint new judicial officials to freeze or overturn his case.“Over the last two years, the only question you need to ask is not what is best for the country and not what is best for this or that party, but what is in the best interest of Benjamin Netanyahu," Gayil Tashir, a political scientist at Hebrew University, told reporters. She said it looks like Netanyahu thinks it is his best interest to hold an election next summer.One wild card in any Israeli election will be the administration of President-elect Joe Biden.Netanyahu has had a close relationship with President Donald Trump after clashing with President Barack Obama for the previous eight years. Israeli officials fear that Biden, who was Obama's vice-president, will return to the policies of that era, especially renewing possible diplomatic engagement with archenemy Iran.Tashir said this would be a “big issue” in the next Israeli campaign.“Netanyahu is going to put forward an argument which says 'I’m the only Israeli leader who can actually stand up against a Biden administration,'" she said.Ilan Ben Zion, The Associated Press
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 6, 2020 Jamie Thomas hopes his artistic talents are a hit for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, MO. The Barrie artist created a piece depicting baseball great Jackie Robinson called Breaking Barriers, that will be up for auction online to raise money for the museum. Thomas will be among participating artists from Asia, Europe, and North America who will be featured at www.nlbmart.com where their work will be prominently displayed by @Tagboard. Thomas will have his piece up for auction on eBay, with 42 per cent of sales going to the museum to help celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Negro League. Established in 1990, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) is a privately funded, not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and celebrating the rich history of African American baseball and its profound impact on the social advancement of America. The online event runs until Oct. 10. Amid a backdrop of renewed calls for social justice and equal rights throughout 2020, the NLBM has led a nation-wide celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Negro Leagues. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
Two more Saskatchewan residents who tested positive for COVID-19 have died.One person was from the north zone and was in the 80 and up age category. The second person was from Regina and was in the 60 to 79 age category. The province reported 238 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday.The seven-day daily average of new cases is 274 — 22.6 new cases per 100,000 population. As of Tuesday, Saskatchewan's rate of new cases remains the third highest in Canada, after Manitoba and Alberta. Of the 8,982 reported cases in the province, 3,970 are considered active. Six of the new cases Wednesday are located in the far north west, three are in the far north central, 16 are in the far north east, 17 are in the north west, 25 are in the north central, three are in the north east, 109 are in the Saskatoon area, four are in the central east, 36 are in the Regina area, eight are in the south west, one is in the south central and three are in the south east zones. Seven of the new cases have pending locations. There are currently 132 people in hospital, 106 of whom are receiving in-patient care. One person is in the far north west, seven are in the north west, seven are in the north central, one is in the north east, 42 are in the Saskatoon zone, two are in the central east, 23 are in the Regina zone, two are in the south west, one is in the south central and 20 are in the south east. Twenty-six people are in intensive care, with five in the north central zone, 12 in Saskatoon and nine in Regina.Eighty-four people were reported recovered on Wednesday. To date a total of 4,959 people have recovered.
As Alberta rolls out COVID-19 vaccines in three phases next year, most members of the public will likely have to wait until summer for their shots, Premier Jason Kenney says.Paul Wynnyk, a deputy minister in the municipal affairs department, has been appointed to lead Alberta's vaccine task force, which will be a multi-disciplinary team drawn from across the public service, Kenney said at a news conference Wednesday.Phase 1 of the vaccine roll out will happen in the first three months of 2021, he said, when it's anticipated that vaccines will been given to about 435,000 people, a little more than 10 per cent of the population.Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines require two doses to be fully effective, with three to six weeks between doses, which means vaccinating 435,000 people would require 870,000 doses."Not all of this will arrive at once," Kenney said. "We've been assured by the federal government that shipments will begin to arrive by Jan. 4 and continue to arrive in waves throughout the early part of next year."Phase 1 will focus entirely on the province most at-risk populations, he said, which includes residents of long-term care homes and designated supported-living facilities, staff who work in those facilities, on-reserve First Nations people, and other health-care workers.Each dose 'represents an Albertan'Wynnyk served as an officer in the Canadian Forces for more than 38 years, rising to command of the Canadian Army, before joining Alberta's public service."I look forward to the challenge ahead, and I want to be very clear that I do not look at these vaccines simply as objects to deliver or a work task to complete," he said at the news conference."Each and every dose of vaccine represents an Albertan who needs to be protected, and is vital to protecting not just their health but their livelihoods as well. My commitment to Albertans is that we will do everything within our control to ensure no Albertan has to wait any longer than absolutely necessary."WATCH | Kenney and Hinshaw discuss vaccinesPhase 2 of the roll out will run from April to June, with the goal by the end of the period to have 30 per cent of the population immunized, Kenney said."By the summer, we plan to begin Phase 3, where vaccine will be offered to all Albertans. And that means it will be months before vaccine is available to the general population. This is the unfortunate reality that Canadians across the country face, and people around the world."The risk of hospitalizations and COVID-19 deaths will decline significantly once the most vulnerable people are vaccinated, he said."I know people are getting tired and frustrated, but this is evidence that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we can see this critical juncture, when we will get past the terrible damage that COVID-19 has caused for our society."So my message to Albertans today is this: We are ready for the vaccine, and we have a plan to get it out to you as quickly and safely as possible."Latest case numbersThe province reported 1,685 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 10 more deaths.The total number of active cases in the province reached 17,144, an increase of 516 from the day before.A total of 561 people have now died from the disease since the start of the pandemic.On Wednesday, Alberta hospitals were treating 504 patients with the illness, including 97 in ICU beds.The province has now surpassed 61,000 total cases, meaning about one in every 73 Albertans has so far contracted the disease."Around the world, there has been great progress on the development of COVID-19 vaccines," Premier Jason Kenney said at a news conference on Wednesday. "We know that effective vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna will be ready for distribution here in Canada within weeks."While the province cannot control when those vaccines arrive in Alberta, it will be ready to roll them out as quickly as possible, Kenney said.Vaccine will not be mandatoryQuick and effective distribution of the vaccine will be essential to the province's economic recovery, Kenney said, and will be a matter of life and death for many Albertans and their families."Before I continue, I want to be clear, Alberta's government will not make any mandatory vaccination," the premier said. "Some think that this is controversial but we don't live in a country where government can inject you with something against your will.The government will soon amend the Public Health Act to remove the power of mandatory inoculation that has been on the books since 1910, Kenney said."But we need as many Albertans as possible to get vaccinated. And let me be clear about that I will certainly choose to receive this vaccine when it's my turn, and I strongly urge others to do so."Alberta prepared for vaccine distributionAlberta is well-prepared to receive, distribute and administer vaccines as soon as they arrive, Kenney said.Alberta Health Services has 13 vaccine depots throughout the province, all of which can receive and distribute the Moderna vaccine, which needs to be stored and transported at -20 C.Another 17 facilities in the province are also able to handle vaccine storage, meaning there are a total of 30 depots across Alberta."The Pfizer vaccine, on the other hand, requires ultra-cold transportation and freezing, at 80 degrees below zero Celsius," Kenney said."Currently, three of our 13 vaccine depots can receive and store the Pfizer vaccine, and AHS is working to expand that capacity as we speak, ordering additional freezers and related equipment."Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, attended the news conference with Kenney and Wynnyk."We must continue to work together over the coming months to keep our numbers down, until enough Albertans have received their full series of vaccine to keep COVID under control," Hinshaw said."The actions each of us take right now are vital in slowing spread and bending the curve, as we are each others' vaccine until the vaccine arrives."The regional breakdown of active cases on Wednesday was: * Edmonton zone: 7,857 * Calgary zone: 6,331 * Central zone: 1,226 * North zone: 967 * South zone: 663 * Unknown: 100 Albertans need to prepare themselves for smaller Christmas celebrations, top doctor says
VICTORIA — A long-running study of more than 50 dead killer whales in the Pacific Ocean concludes human activities pose deadly threats to the orcas. Killer whale deaths from Alaska to British Columbia, south to California and west to Hawaii linked to human activities were found in every age class from calves to adults, said the study published Wednesday in the open access journal Plos One. The findings indicate that understanding and being aware of each threat is vital for the management and conservation of orca populations, said Stephen Raverty, a B.C. scientist and the report's lead author. Some of the direct causes of orca deaths were attributed to blunt force trauma from collisions with ships or cuts from the propellers of vessels, while indirect causes were related to ingested fish hooks, various human-caused pollutants and malnutrition, Raverty said in an interview. "In one case in Alaska, a young animal swallowed a hook that perforated the back of the throat and resulted in bacteria entering the body and the animal died of a blood-borne bacteria infection," he said. In another necropsy conducted on an older orca, a triple-barbed fishing hook was found in the animal's colon, but it did not appear to impact its health, Raverty said. Raverty, who's a veterinary pathologist at the B.C. Agriculture Ministry and a marine mammal researcher, said the study also provides a baseline understanding of orca health necessary for future research. "There have been a variety of indirect things that have been demonstrated to impact killer whale health and what we're saying is this is more direct evidence of human activities that impact the overall well-being of these animals," he said. The study involved necropsies on the remains of 53 killer whales found from the North Pacific to Hawaii from 2004 to 2013. It also examined the data from 35 other orca deaths from 2001 to 2017, said Raverty. The study was able to confirm the cause of death in 22 of the 53 orcas, and "death related to human interaction was found in every age class." It said necropsies showed evidence of 15 infectious agents and 28 pathogens with the potential to affect orca health, but "non-infectious health concerns include impacts from accumulated persistent pollutants, human interactions including vessel collisions, interaction with fishing gear, the effects of noise and consequences of reduced prey availability." Raverty said the study's results should support federal government efforts to reduce and slow down shipping traffic and noise pollution to protect threatened orca populations, including the West Coast's southern residents that now number 73 members. The federal government recently expanded orders for B.C. whale-watching vessels, requiring them to stay 400 metres away from orcas on their viewing voyages. "You think of these animals as being very agile and being able to avoid impact with vessels, but that doesn't appear to necessarily be the case," Raverty said. "Whether it's just the vessel's speed or there's increased shipping traffic or these vessels are going into some fairly narrow channels where whales may not be able to avoid or evade these vessels, these might be some of the conditions that are occurring." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020. Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version misspelled the name of the science journal Plos One.
President Donald Trump's threat to veto a defense bill if it does not repeal legal protections for social media companies faced stiff bipartisan opposition on Wednesday, setting the stage for a confrontation with lawmakers scrambling to pass the massive bill by year-end. Unusually, members of Trump's Republican Party broke from the president to join Democrats in objecting to his threat to veto the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, a $740 billion annual bill setting policy for the Pentagon, if it does not include a measure eliminating a federal law - known as Section 230 - protecting tech companies such as Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc. Lawmakers announced on Wednesday that congressional negotiators had completed the conference report on the fiscal year 2021 NDAA, a compromise between separate versions of the bill passed earlier this year by the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-majority House of Representatives.
Homelessness in Hythe and the possibility of establishing a shelter in the village have become hot topics in the wake of this year’s economic downturn. The Village of Hythe is requesting feedback ahead of proposed virtual town hall to discuss the issue. “This is the first time to my knowledge that we’ve really experienced the issue, so we’re looking at options for how to deal with it,” said mayor Brian Peterson. No date has yet been set for a virtual meeting, said Leona Hanson, village chief administrative officer. Peterson said he doesn’t believe homelessness is widespread in Hythe, but it poses a great problem to those directly affected. “It’s a small-scale problem, but with large impacts to individuals,” he said. Peterson said he doesn’t believe the number of homeless residents exceeds a half dozen. There is a combination of causes of local housing instability; COVID, falling oil prices and their impact on the economy, he said. The former 7 Lakes Motel near Tags had provided long-term housing for many people and its closure earlier this year has contributed to the issue. Some of the former residents have found other accommodations, but others haven’t, Peterson said. Though rumours have been circulating on social media that the former motel will be re-purposed as a homeless shelter, nothing concrete has been received by the village, said Peterson. A number of concerned citizens have begun discussing how to address homelessness in Hythe, and the idea of re-purposing the motel has been suggested, he said. The group isn’t yet well-established and it hasn’t yet proposed a plan, Peterson said. If the former motel were to be converted into a shelter the village would need to approve that re-purposing through a development permit process, he said. Village CAO Hanson is working on a potential virtual town hall before a plan is advanced, Peterson said, adding the village isn’t considering funding a facility because it lacks the resources. Peterson said there’ve been no applications for a development permit yet, but the process has typically taken months. Homelessness is an urgent issue, but he said the process needs to ensure a good plan for a shelter is in place. “You need to do it right, and ask, ‘Is it the right place?’” Peterson said. “The shelter is a basic concept, but I need a lot more information than that.” He said he’s heard concerns from residents about having a shelter in the community, including whether the village can handle issues often associated with homelessness, mental health and addictions. “Those are valid concerns, and how do you deal with that and what resources are available?” Peterson said. “We certainly don’t have those resources available here today.” That said, some Hythe residents are already struggling with housing instability and mental health or addictions and Peterson said he’s not aware of anyone moving to Hythe to use the shelter. Other residents have expressed concerns about the rising crime they perceive would come with a shelter. Peterson said RCMP response times in Hythe are already an issue. “Adding extra stress to the system is not a good thing,” he said. Before the town hall, feedback is being accepted at 780-356-3888 or email@example.com and residents can also express interest in attending the meeting by using that email address.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Indigenous Services Minister Mark Miller was asked on Wednesday about the results of an investigation that found an RCMP officer in Nunavut “did not intentionally strike” an Inuk man with his truck’s door over the course of an arrest in June. A reporter asked how Miller could describe the incident as “disgraceful” and “dehumanizing,” yet no charges have been laid at this time, to which he replied, “I saw what I saw,” followed by a long pause.
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 2, 2020 An OPP report outlining the opioid epidemic paints a grim picture of the continuing crisis across the province, with a 36 per cent increase in overdose-related deaths last year. According to the Impacts and Strategies report, 1,163 Ontarians lost their lives due to opioid-related causes from January to September 2019. The report estimates one Ontario resident dies from opioids every 4.7 hours. "There are no excuses in today's environment for these harmful drugs to be distributed through our communities,” OPP Commissioner Thomas Carrique said in a media release. “We will continue to pursue those who are knowingly trafficking harmful opioids, such as fentanyl, and we will hold them responsible for their actions.” From 2017 to 2019, investigators laid charges in 16 overdose-related death investigations across the province. A total of 134 charges were laid against 31 persons, including, manslaughter, criminal negligence causing death, and unlawfully causing bodily harm. OPP officers are mandated to conduct a thorough investigation of overdose incidents, focusing on the protection of victims and the pursuit of drug traffickers. OPP officers have saved more than 100 lives by using naloxone to reverse the immediate effects of an opioid overdose. The Good Samaritan Act allows users to call 911 without fear of criminal charges for simple possession of a narcotic. The OPP analysis of the opioid situation in the jurisdictions the service covers, including much of Simcoe County, shows a significant increase in the harmful effects of the crisis. Barrie police and South Simcoe police are the only municipal police services in the county. The report shows: • Fentanyl was identified in 106 samples in 2012, and rose to 2,729 samples in 2018, representing an increase of more than 2,400 per cent. • The OPP responded to 897 overdose occurrences in 2017; 1,381 in 2018; and 1,625 in 2019. This represents an 81 per cent increase over a three-year period. • For the reporting period of 2017-2019, 19 per cent of all overdose-related occurrences in OPP jurisdictions have been fatal, with that percentage consistent through all three years. To find out more about the dangers of fentanyl and short-term antidotes, visit www.facethefentanyl.ca Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance
South Peace communities are considering re-opening discussions to establish a regional handi-bus service. Wembley mayor Chris Turnmire sent out letters to councils in neighbouring municipalities inquiring about the interest in returning to the project, which was put on hold two years ago. “The focus was to identify opportunities to improve mobility options primarily for seniors and disabled residents to attend to basic needs, including medical and dental appointments,” Turnmire said. In 2017 Wembley applied to the Alberta Community Partnership program and won a grant of $67,500 to study the feasibility of a regional service. The town partnered with Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Hythe and the city and county of Grande Prairie in the project, Turnmire said. Wembley and its partners then contracted Watt Consulting Group to conduct the study. Turnmire said $61,324 was spent on the study and the remainder was refunded to the Alberta government. In 2018 municipal councils decided to put the project on hold due to the launch of the County Connector, he said. The county-based transit service had space for wheelchairs but ended in August due to low ridership. “A regional handi-bus service would have a different focus,” Turnmire said. “This isn’t a money-making project; this is a service to individuals who may not have access to transportation to get to appointments or other places they need to go. “I suspect it’s going to have a cost attached to it, that each municipality would have to look at and (determine) what the proportional share would be.” In early November South Peace mayors and CAOs attended an intermunicipal meeting and the leaders discussed possibly renewing handi-bus talks, he said. None of the mayors rejected the idea outright and due to Wembley’s lead in the project two years ago, it was decided Turnmire would write a letter to all councils, he said. Early work completed In April 2018 Watt Consulting Group held an open house in Beaverlodge discussing plans for a regional handi-bus. The draft policy presented in 2018 called for a round trip running two days per week. Under the program, the bus would travel along the western and northern corridors connecting the city to each town and village, along with Clairmont, La Glace and Valhalla. Plans may change If the councils decide to re-open the possibility of a regional handi-bus, Turnmire said some of the 2018 plans for the service may change. The councils would establish a working group, with each appointing a councillor or staff member to re-examine the study, he said. Turnmire said with council meetings slowing down during December, he doesn’t expect the working group would be established until after the new year. Some of the municipalities have existing handi-bus services, and Turnmire said the working group would also have to consider how to avoid duplication of service and keep things efficient. COVID-19 poses another question as to how service will be affected if the health crisis is still ongoing, Turnmire added. During a recent regular meeting last week Sexsmith council approved Coun. Jonathan Siggelkow’s motion to express interest in the project. At Beaverlodge council’s last meeting Coun. Terry Dueck expressed interest in representing the town in the group. Mayor Gary Rycroft said joining the working group would allow for an exploration of various considerations. Coun. Judy Kokotilo-Bekkerus’ motion to express interest was carried.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Mounties who were looking for a woman and her three children in southern Alberta say the family has been found safe.Bow Island RCMP asked for help Tuesday in finding the 41-year-old woman and her children, who are 12, 10 and five.They said a relative last spoke with the family during the first week of November.Police also said neighbours had not recently seen the family.RCMP say they have been located and thanked members of the public for their assistance.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
Dentists travelling within the Northwest Territories to provide services are now back in operation in some communities as the territorial government, with support from Indigenous Services Canada, gave dental teams the green light to travel."Oral health and access to dentists is a critical part of overall health and wellness. I am pleased with the collaborative work across Government to resume these services," said Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services in a news release issued on Wednesday.All non-urgent services were suspended in mid-March due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and public health guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus.Then, in mid-June, the Northwest Territories government relaxed guidelines to allow dentists to resume services "pending appropriate steps" — but some dentists said strict rules still prevented them from travelling into smaller communities to provide services.The following communities can start services, as their facilities "have met facility infrastructure dental care standards" and were given approval by the Chief Public Health Officer: * Fort Providence, N.W.T. * Sambaa K'e, N.W.T. * Fort Simpson, N.W.T. * Norman Wells, N.W.T. * Fort Resolution, N.W.T. * Aklavik, N.W.T.As well, visiting private dentists will now also be able to resume in Yellowknife, Fort Smith, Inuvik and Hay River, the release says.The rest of the communities that previously received visiting dental services will be able to be back in operation "when facility upgrades are complete, contracts are in place and facilities are inspected and meet COIVID-19 safety protocols," the release says.The government says the "necessary assessments" and required work is expected to continue throughout the coming year and that more updates will be given as more facilities in other communities are confirmed.The territory faced criticism after suspending services with many people saying it deepened the disparity in health care between larger centres and communities.The territory has been working with Indigenous Services Canada to resume the service.For now, Indigenous Services Canada will cover travel for people in communities to receive dental care until further notice, the release says.
EDMONTON — Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, in violation of Starfleet’s Prime Directive, is questioning the intelligence of Alberta-based life forms over their COVID-19 contact tracing app.William Shatner, the Canadian who played the iconic commander in "Star Trek" has taken to Twitter to urge Alberta use the federal app.Shatner writes, “you just need to get Alberta on board,” adding that the province cannot go its own way in a world interconnected by travel.Shatner writes Alberta’s approach is, “bizarre and dangerous,” but also says “what do I know? I’m just an actor.”Premier Jason Kenney’s government has avoided signing onto the federal app, saying it’s not as effective because Alberta’s app is connected to contact tracing rather than simply delivering notifications of close contacts.Alberta’s app has tracked down just a handful of cases in six months, but the government says the program will be more effective as more people sign on.The Prime Directive in "Star Trek" was a top-down direction to avoid interference in alien cultures -- a directive the two-fisted Kirk and crew repeatedly violated as they beamed up, beamed down and otherwise finger-wagged their way through the galaxy on a five-year mission.This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2020.The Canadian Press
Editor's note: This story was first published on Oct. 2, 2020. A Barrie Catholic elementary school is the latest to close a classroom after someone tested positive for COVID-19. St. Catherine of Siena Catholic School principal Rich Foshay sent a letter to parents Oct. 1 explaining the situation, without revealing if the infected person is a student or teacher. Foshay told parents the Simcoe-Muskoka District Health Unit will determine who may be at risk and “ensure that school staff, families and students are provided with the appropriate information.” Foshay said he will send a voice message and email, on behalf of the health unit, to all individuals that need to take further steps as a result of this positive case. “If you do not receive a voice message and email directly, then your child is not part of the affected cohort,” his letter states. St. Catherine of Siena, located on Summerset Drive, is the sixth Simcoe Catholic elementary school to close at least one classroom due to a positive COVID case. “We all must work together to prevent the spread of COVID-19. As a school community, we will pray for all those impacted by this virus and continue to demonstrate compassion and respect for one another as we navigate this situation,” Foshay said. The school will advise the health unit of any person who came in contact with the infected person, including in before and after-school care and on a school bus. Enhanced cleaning and disinfection of all areas in the school where the person may have been has already taken place and will continue to be a priority, Foshay said. Visit the www.simcoemuskokahealth.org or contact Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or (toll free) 1-877-721-7520 ext. 5830 for more health-related information. Visit www.smcdsb.on.ca for details about the school reopening plan. Rick Vanderlinde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Barrie Advance