Following the deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by pro-Trump rioters, security measures for Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration have ramped up. CBC's Thomas Daigle shows what it looks like on the ground.
Following the deadly violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by pro-Trump rioters, security measures for Joe Biden's Jan. 20 inauguration have ramped up. CBC's Thomas Daigle shows what it looks like on the ground.
WASHINGTON — Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm won Senate confirmation Thursday to be energy secretary, joining President Joe Biden's Cabinet as a leader of Biden’s effort to build a green economy as the United States moves to slow climate change. The vote was 64-35, with all Democrats and 14 Republicans, including GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, voting yes. Granholm, 62, served two terms as governor in a state dominated by the auto industry and devastated by the 2008 recession. She has promoted emerging clean energy technologies, such as electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, as an answer for jobs that will be lost as the U.S. transitions away from oil, coal and other fossil fuels. Granholm, who was sworn in late Thursday, is just the second woman to serve as energy secretary. She tweeted her thanks to senators and said, "I’m obsessed with creating good-paying clean energy jobs in all corners of America in service of addressing our climate crisis. I’m impatient for results. Now let’s get to work!'' Sen. Joe Manchin, chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Granholm has the leadership skills, vision and compassion needed at the Energy Department to “develop innovative solutions for the climate challenge'' while preserving jobs. Granholm is committed to working every day “to ensure that we don’t leave any workers behind as we move towards a cleaner energy future,'' said Manchin, D-W.Va. During her confirmation hearing last month, Granholm pushed her plans to embrace new wind and solar technologies. But her position caused tension with some Republicans who fear for the future of fossil fuels. “We can buy electric car batteries from Asia, or we can make them in America,” Granholm told senators. “We can install wind turbines from Denmark, or we can make them in America.'' Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, said Biden “seems to want to pull the plug on American energy dominance. So I cannot in good conscience vote to approve his nominee for secretary of energy.'' Barrasso and other Republicans have complained that a freeze imposed by Biden on oil and gas leases on federal lands is taking a “sledgehammer” to Western states’ economies. The moratorium could cost tens of thousands of jobs unless rescinded, Barrasso said. He and other Republicans also bemoaned Biden’s rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, saying thousands of jobs will be lost and a friendly source of oil left idle. Granholm assured lawmakers that creating jobs was her top priority — and Biden's. “We cannot leave our people behind. In West Virginia, and in other fossil fuel states, there is an opportunity for us to specialize in the technologies that reduce carbon emissions, to make those technologies here, to put people to work here, and to look at other ways to diversify,'' she said at her Jan. 27 hearing. During her introduction as Biden's nominee, Granholm described arriving in the U.S. at age 4, brought from Canada by a family “seeking opportunity.” She said her father found work as a bank teller and retired as head of the bank. “It’s because of my family’s journey and my experience in fighting for hardworking Michigan families that I have become obsessed ... with gaining good-paying jobs in America in a global economy,” she said. In other action Thursday on Biden's Cabinet nominees: SURGEON GENERAL Surgeon general nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy said Americans must not lose track of opioid addiction and other health emergencies amid the intense national focus on overcoming the coronavirus pandemic. He told senators at a hearing that “we cannot neglect the other public health crises that have been exacerbated by this pandemic, particularly the opioid epidemic, mental illness and racial and geographic health inequities.” After dipping slightly, opioid deaths have risen again, the result of street formulations laced with the powerful painkiller fentanyl. Murthy told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the overdose rescue drug naloxone should be even more widely available and that medication-assisted treatment must be expanded. Murthy, who was surgeon general in the Obama administration, has drawn opposition from gun rights groups because of his assessment that gun violence is a public health problem. But he tried to dispel notions that he would launch a crusade against guns. He told Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that while he supports government studying the problem, “my focus is not on this issue, and if I’m confirmed it will be on COVID, on mental health and substance use disorder.” TRADE REPRESENTATIVE Biden’s pick for U.S. trade representative promised to work with America’s allies to combat China’s aggressive trade policies, indicating a break from the Trump administration’s go-it-alone approach. Katherine Tai told the Senate Finance Committee that rebuilding international alliances would be a priority, as well as "reengaging with international institutions? to present Beijing with “a united front of U.S. allies.? Tai did not address whether the Biden administration would drop former President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum or whether it would revive the Obama administration's Asia-Pacific trade deal, which Trump killed. BUDGET DIRECTOR Another key Republican lawmaker came out against Biden’s embattled pick to head the Office of Management and Budget, Neera Tanden, raising further questions about her viability. Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley told reporters he won't support her nomination. He and Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski were two Republicans seen as potentially gettable votes for the White House, as Grassley had previously said he’d had good conversations with Tanden. Murkowski has yet to say how she'd vote. With a handful of other key centrist Republicans coming out against her in recent days, Tanden’s path to confirmation hinges largely on Murkowski and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., neither of whom have made their positions known. The White House was forced to search for a Republican to support Tanden after West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin announced his opposition last week. Lawmakers have largely cited Tanden’s controversial and at times harshly critical tweets about members of both parties in explaining their opposition to her. ___ Associated Press writers Alexandra Jaffe, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Paul Wiseman contributed to this report. Matthew Daly, The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Is it Mr. Potato Head or not? Hasbro created confusion Thursday when it announced that it would drop the “Mr.” from the brand’s name in order to be more inclusive and so all could feel “welcome in the Potato Head world.” It also said it would sell a new playset this fall without the Mr. and Mrs. designations that will let kids create their own type of potato families, including two moms or two dads. But in a tweet later that afternoon, Hasbro clarified that the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head characters will still live on and be sold in stores, but under the Potato Head brand. In a picture posted on Twitter, the “Mr.” and “Mrs.” names are less prominently displayed at the bottom of the box, instead of the top. “While it was announced today that the POTATO HEAD brand name & logo are dropping the ‘MR.’ I yam proud to confirm that MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD aren’t going anywhere and will remain MR. & MRS. POTATO HEAD,” the company tweeted. The tweet came after news of the brand name change exploded on Twitter, with people asking if Barbie will change her name next. “I think Hasbro needs to drop the “Bro” and just be “Has,'” another person tweeted. Hasbro appears to want to have it both ways: expand the brand, while not killing off its most iconic characters, which appeared in the “Toy Story” films. “They are looking to broaden the franchise,” said Robert Passikoff, founder of marketing consultancy Brand Keys. “You take the focus of what is essentially one character and now allow it to be a platform for many characters.” Kimberly Boyd, a senior vice-president at Hasbro, said the intention of the brand name change was to be more inclusive and to have the characters still live within the Potato Head universe. “It created a lot of excitement," she said about the reaction. GLAAD, an LGBTQ advocacy group, applauded the more inclusive Potato playset. “Hasbro is helping kids to simply see toys as toys, which encourages them to be their authentic selves outside of the pressures of traditional gender norms,” said Rich Ferraro, GLAAD’s chief communications officer, in a statement. Many toymakers have been updating their classic brands in recent years, hoping to relate to today’s kids and reflect more modern families. “It’s a potato,” said Ali Mierzejewski, editor in chief at toy review site The Toy Insider, about the new playset. “But kids like to see themselves in the toys they are playing with.” Barbie, for example, has tried to shed its blonde image and now comes in multiple skin tones and body shapes. The Thomas the Tank Engine toy line added more girl characters. And American Girl is now selling a boy doll. Mr. Potato Head first hit the toy scene in 1952, when it didn’t even come with a plastic potato — kids had to supply their own vegetable to poke eyes, a nose or moustache into. Hasbro, which also makes Monopoly and My Little Pony, bought the brand and eventually added a plastic spud. Joseph Pisani, The Associated Press
People on reserve have received the coronavirus vaccine at a rate of six times higher than Canadians, yet Dr. Evan Adams said he is still fielding questions about whether or not people should be signing up for injections. “People are so suspicious that we’re trying to do something bad to them, when we’re trying to do something good for them… I find it sad that some people don’t trust. In a way, of course, it’s understandable we don’t trust particular things, but I hope there are somethings that you would trust and I hope you would trust, say, an Indigenous physician like me, who says, ‘Let me help. I’m very interested and very concerned about you and your family and your knowledge keepers and your community’,” said Adams, deputy chief medical officer of Public Health, Indigenous Services Canada (ISC). Adams, who was speaking today on the weekly edition of the First Nations Health Managers Association’s (FNHMA) virtual town hall, said he was grateful that science offered such an efficient method to protect against COVID-19. “I’m looking forward to having a vaccine. If I get a sore arm, if I feel a little bit tired, I’ll probably just smile through all of that because … the vaccine is teaching my body to fight off the natural virus,” he said. FNHMA CEO Marion Crowe, who hosts the town hall, said it was important that First Nations people were able to hear such information from a First Nations physician. “I’m grateful to have an Indigenous physician here with us … so that we know to trust in the words that you speak, the inherent knowledge that you share, and the wisdom of your experiences and education… while understanding that some of us are a little bit mistrusting when it comes to any government initiative,” said Crowe. She added that mistrust has stemmed from a health system that continues to prove itself to discriminate systemically and from history where Indigenous people were test subjects. Adding levity to the serious discussion, Crowe said she was willing to be a “guinea pig.” “This is one time I’m happy that I’ll be a guinea pig because I’m right in there with all the front line – police, ambulance, doctors, nurses, … (personal support workers), long term care folks. If we’re going to wipe out everyone, that’s the group we’ll be with, so we’re not going to do that. So just having confidence in the science is going to be so welcoming and evidence-based,” said Crowe. Evans said the impact of the virus is beginning to lessen on reserves thanks to the vaccine coupled with other measures such as handwashing, physical distancing and masking. But statistics to this point have been sobering and demonstrate that First Nations people in community, and Indigenous people in general, contract COVID-19 at a rate 1.67 higher than Canadians. However, hospitalization rates (at 0.6 times Canadians) and fatality rates (at 0.42 times Canadians) are lower because COVID is hitting more First Nations youth and less Elders. As of Feb. 24, ISC is aware of 222 deaths on reserve. While there are new variants of the coronavirus appearing throughout Canada, none have been officially reported on reserves. “We expect that one day we will hear about cases on reserve because that’s the nature of how viruses work … so we will eventually see more and more cases of that variant and probably will start to see it in communities,” said Evans. Evans offered reassurance, though, saying that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were “excellent” for the UK variant and offered “partial” coverage for the South African variant. Evans said that when people were tested for the virus, further screening followed to indicate if a variant was involved. The variant was confirmed by testing in a provincial or national lab. Although ISC is not in charge of the vaccination roll-out, which falls into the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories, Evans said his department would still provide support where needed. “The provinces are supposed to speak to Indigenous leadership and confirm with them that the plans that they’re making for their communities are acceptable, are well organized, are giving priorities where they should be,” said Evans. He pointed out that depending on the community and leadership, the vaccine will be rolled out differently. However, he said, that roll-out must be “evidenced-based,” which means it would comply with the latest National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) guidelines. Those guidelines have “adults in Indigenous communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences” recommended for Stage 1. NACI also acknowledged that in urban settings where poverty, systemic racism and homelessness were factors, “these populations may be considered for immunization concurrent with remote and isolated Indigenous communities if feasibly identified within jurisdictions, understanding that these are traditionally hardly reached populations for immunization programs.” Evans said it has been “nerve-racking” waiting for the vaccine because of production issues experienced by manufacturers, but the shipment of both vaccines will be ramping up. He said while people are waiting for their vaccines, they “should be happy” for the Elders and others who have received theirs. “If you are relatively well, you shouldn’t mind having to wait. And those of you with the most risk, yes, you should be prioritized. Let’s keep speaking up for those amongst us who are most at risk and help them get vaccinated,” said Evans. Windspeaker.com By Shari Narine, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com, Windspeaker.com
A recent Leger poll, commissioned by Postmedia, found that 9 out of 10 Canadians are interested in getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is looking at easing many of its COVID-19 restrictions as the province's pandemic indicators continue to improve. A set of proposed changes released Thursday includes doubling capacity limits in stores and restaurants, as well as for personal services, to 50 per cent. Seating at restaurant tables would still be limited to members of the same household. Indoor religious services could operate at 25 per cent capacity instead of the current 10 per cent. Indoor arcades and outdoor amusement parks could reopen with capacity limits. The few facilities that would have to remain closed include theatres, concert halls and casinos. The cap on outdoor gatherings would rise to 10 people from five. And instead of households being permitted to only designate two people as visitors, the province could allow two-household bubbles so entire families could get together. "Manitoba's case numbers, test positivity rate (and) health-care-system admission rates continue to trend in the right direction, which allows us to consider reopening more services cautiously and safely," said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief public health officer. The proposed changes could take effect as early as March 5 and are subject to public feedback before any final decisions are made, he said. Changes could also be phased in. Health officials reported 70 new COVID-19 cases and one death Thursday. Three cases from unspecified dates were removed due to data correction for a net increase of 67. The province's case count has dropped sharply since a severe spike in the fall when Manitoba led all the provinces in the per-capita rate of new infections. The strain on intensive care units has eased and the test positivity rate has dropped from 13 per cent to 4.3. The proposed changes could also mean big shifts for sports enthusiasts and players of video lottery terminals. VLTs would be allowed to operate again as long as they were two metres apart or separated by physical barriers. Indoor gyms and fitness facilities could offer group classes again, although with a 25 per cent capacity limit. Roussin said there is a risk in such indoor settings. "There is risk involved with all these things and we're weighing the benefit ... to having businesses open, the benefit for people (of) physical activity," he said. "It's very cautious and 25 per cent capacity, I think, gives us that ability to have people spaced out quite a bit." This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021 Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Ohio on Thursday became the first state to challenge the U.S. Census Bureau's decision to push back the release of 2020 census figures so more time can be spent on fixing any inaccuracies in the data. The lawsuit filed by Ohio asks a federal judge in Dayton to restore a March 31 deadline for the Census Bureau to turn over 2020 census figures used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts, instead of a Sept. 30 deadline announced by the statistical agency earlier this month. The lawsuit claims the delay will undermine Ohio's process of redrawing districts. Census Bureau officials blamed the need for extra time on operational delays during the 2020 census caused by the pandemic. The dates for releasing the 2020 census data have bounced all over the calendar because of court fights and changes made to adjust to hurdles posed by the pandemic and efforts to comply with federally mandated deadlines. The 2020 census data include state population counts used for determining the distribution of congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states, as well as redistricting data used for redrawing congressional and legislative districts. A bipartisan group of U.S. senators recently announced plans to introduce legislation that would push back the deadline for the state population counts from the end of last year to the end of April and the due date for the redistricting data from the statutorily required March 31 date to Sept. 30. The redistricting data includes counts of population by race, Hispanic origin, voting age and housing occupancy status at geographic levels as small as neighbourhoods, and they are used for drawing voting districts for Congress and state legislatures. Unlike past decades when the data were released to states on a flow basis, the 2020 redistricting data will be made available to the states all at once, according to the Census Bureau. The delay in releasing the redistricting data has sent states scrambling to come up with alternative plans because many will not get the data until after their legal deadlines for drawing new districts, requiring them to either rewrite laws or ask courts to allow them a free pass because of the delay. Candidates may not know yet whether they will live in the district they want to run in by the filing deadline. In some cases, if fights over new maps drag into the new year, primaries may have to be delayed. Ohio law requires a newly formed commission to finalize state legislative districts by Sept. 1 and to hold three public meetings before doing so. Ohio's General Assembly is required adopt a map for congressional districts by Sept. 30. Ohio won't be able to use the 2020 census data to redraw districts if the figures aren't released until the end of September. That will force the state to use alternative figures, setting off a fight over which data to use and “fanning partisan flames when one data source is eventually chosen, no matter how precise and reliable," the lawsuit said. “The many people who voted for redistricting reform deserve better than to have their efforts thwarted by a federal government that refuses to do its job," the lawsuit said. “No doubt, the pandemic has greatly complicated the Census Bureau’s task. But the pandemic has complicated the jobs of firefighters, police officers, and judges too. All those public servants found ways to continue fulfilling their obligations to the public, recognizing that government officials may not shelter in place while their duties go unfulfilled." The Census Bureau said in a statement that it doesn't comment on pending litigation. Meanwhile, a coalition of municipalities and civil rights groups that had sued the Census Bureau over concerns about data quality and deadlines said in a court filing Wednesday that they were working toward a potential agreement to their lawsuit with the statistical agency. A hearing on the lawsuit in federal court in San Jose, California, had been scheduled for Friday, but both sides in a court filing asked for a delay until next month to continue “good-faith discussions concerning the potential resolution of this case." ___ This story has been corrected to reflect that the commission must finalize state legislative districts by Sept. 1, not Sept. 30. ___ Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at https://twitter.com/MikeSchneiderAP Mike Schneider, The Associated Press
The fence outside of St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Elementary School is decorated with colourful cardboard signs bearing messages of support for the school, which is closed amid an outbreak of COVID-19. The Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board reported a new case of the virus at the west Mountain school on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases at the school to 10 — six students and four staff. “Obviously, it has been a difficult time,” chair Pat Daly said. “Our staff have been working with the principal and our health and safety staff and others to make sure that everything is being done to ensure the health, safety and well-being of our students and staff.” An outbreak was declared at St. Teresa of Avila on Feb. 17 after five positive cases were found. The school is closed as a result of the outbreak — a first in the Catholic board. In-person learning is expected to resume on Monday. COVID-19 testing was offered to all staff and students at St. Teresa of Avila on Saturday. The HWCDSB said 60 tests were conducted — 23 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests among those self-isolating and 37 rapid tests for other staff and students. The HWCDSB said all 37 rapid tests came back negative. As of Feb. 24, the board was still waiting on the PCR test results. The HWCDSB is “thoroughly” investigating the outbreak, Daly said in a Feb. 19 interview with The Spectator. Daly said on Thursday there is “nothing confirmed” to explain how transmission at the school occurred. The Catholic board has two additional outbreaks: St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in central Hamilton and St. Eugene Catholic Elementary School in east Hamilton — each with three outbreak-related cases. There is also an outbreak at the public board’s A.M. Cunningham Elementary School, where two students are infected. As of Wednesday, there had been a total of 78 cases — 37 in the Catholic board and 41 in the public board — since students returned to school on Feb. 8. “We definitely expect to see cases occurring in the schools, and there are going to be instances where there is transmission that happens within a school,” Dr. Elizabeth Richardson, Hamilton’s medical officer of health, said at a media briefing on Tuesday. “The key piece is to keep these absolutely to a minimum as we go forward.” Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and long-haul truckers are still among the very few people allowed to cross North American borders. While many industries have faced stops and starts with lockdowns, transport has kept on trucking – with some changes. Preeti Gill has been a long-haul trucker for three years. Free Press reporter Max Martin spoke with her during a quick stop at the Woodstock ONroute as she returned from Texas. Perhaps the biggest challenge truckers face is finding a place to stop and rest. "Because of the pandemic, so many rest areas are also closed," Gill said. "That is the major problem we are facing nowadays." Sites that are open often have reduced hours, she said, "because of no business and nobody travelling." At overnight truck stops, Gill said some have closed showers or are no longer giving out towels. Gill spends five or six days a week on the road in the U.S., leaving off from a truckyard in Brampton. The 37-year-old admits trucking is already a solitary profession, but she said that's made it easier to adjust to pandemic-induced isolation. "Truck drivers, before the pandemic were isolated also, so I found there are no more changes," she said. While her hauls have gone off as normal – with fewer people involved in the process – Gill said the most noticeable change in her daily routine is, like in many industries, enhanced cleaning. "The biggest thing now, I have too many bottles of Lysol," she said. "Now I have to do door cleaning, it's more work to do." On her day off, she spends her time at home in St. Catharines with her father and sister. Gill just completed a route through Texas. Next, she's set to take a route to Orlando, Fla. – both states among those reporting the highest number of COVID-19 cases across the United States. But from what Gill has seen, she said there's a noticeable difference between Canadian and American attitudes toward COVID-19 safety protocols. "In the States, a little bit different ... people are stubborn there," she said. "They just say they don't want to wear the mask ... they don't follow the rules." Nowadays, it's taking Gill longer to cross the border. Although she said border officers have reduced the frequency of random checks to avoid unnecessary interactions, there's additional paperwork and checks and balances to be done. Working commercial drivers are required to submit contact information, travel details and a personal health assessment, the Canadian Border Services Agency said. Gill must also check-in when she arrives back in Canada through a mobile app. "Whenever we enter, that's extra work we have to do," she said. "It's just more time-consuming." In 2016, Canadian Census data showed there were only 5,880 female tractor-trailer drivers in the country, compared to 175,450 men. "In the U.S., one guy told me, 'Oh, you are a woman, why are you driving?'" Gill recalled. "I said, 'Why, who told you only the men can drive the truck?'" She said some companies initially hesitated to hire her as a trucker, fearing she'd struggle to load the truck – but Gill said she's just as capable. "I've found on the road, women are safer than the men," as drivers, she said. "We try to help fill the shelves," Gill said. "Due to trucking ... food supply and other essentials, like medication, sanitization is supplied." Despite loving her trucking job, she's also studying online to become a nurse, all while on the road. While she plans to go from one essential service to another, Gill said people underestimate the importance of trucking – especially during the pandemic. Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press
A new educational resource looks at British Columbia’s long history of racist policies and the resiliency of the many Indigenous, Black and racialized people who have been affected. The open-source booklet Challenging Racist British Columbia: 150 Years and Counting was released today by co-publishers the University of Victoria (UVic) and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). The 80-page document is being made available as Black History Month wraps up and as B.C. approaches its 150th anniversary of joining Canada this July 20. “In 1871, this province joined the Canadian federation and, ever since, communities of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized peoples have waged protracted struggles against the dispossession of Indigenous lands, institutionalized discrimination, and the politics of exclusion,” the report begins. “They have won many victories, yet, 150 years later, we are witnessing yet another uprising against systemic racism.” The booklet was written by a group of academics and activists from diverse communities, who link historical events to recent anti-racism movements — around Black Lives Matter, the Wet’suwet’en blockades and more. One of the report’s authors Christine O’Bonsawin, a historian from the Abenaki, Odanak Nation, says the goal of the report is to educate people in so-called B.C. about the many injustices that haven’t been widely discussed in schools. O’Bonsawin is faculty of UVic’s History and Indigenous Studies departments, and the university’s former director of Indigenous Studies. “An important role of historians is to connect the past with the present,” she tells IndigiNews over the phone. “No doubt it’s a booklet about justice, and it’s about racism and oppression, but we wanted to prioritize activism, resistance and resilience.” The booklet’s authors say it’s meant to be utilized by teachers, scholars, policymakers and others doing anti-racism work. O’Bonsawin says those behind the report are doing outreach to provincial education organizations to ensure that it does. “One of our guiding objectives was that we hoped this would be useful for teachers to support the K-12 Indigenization process,” she says. “We wanted to make sure this was a public document that was accessible to all.” The document is divided into six sections covering various stories from the Indigenous, Black, Chinese, South Asian and Japanese communities. It spans from 1871, when B.C. joined Canada, to the present day. It includes historical photos, poems, and profiles of key people and organizations. Another of the report’s authors Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra — coordinator of the South Asian Studies Institute at the University of the Fraser Valley and co-curator of exhibits at the Sikh Heritage Museum — says it counteracts inaccurate information about B.C. history. “This book offers a bold, honest, historical correction to the false narrative that Canada is exempt from white supremacy and racist nation state formations,” Sandhra says in a statement. “And for that reason, this book is the exact resource needed in this pivotal moment where an anti-racist movement continues to take shape. It is a resource for activists, students, educators, community professionals — it is a resource for all.” President of the BC Black History of Awareness Society, Sylvia Mangue Alene, says the booklet showcases how racism must be challenged. “In this booklet, subjects have answered in a very clear way what needs to be challenged, and that is racism,” she says in a statement. “Racism is challenged because we believe that there are better ways to treat people and that is with respect and inclusiveness in all aspects that life has to offer.” With B.C.’s 150th anniversary approaching, report co-author John Price, a historian at UVic, adds that it marks the ways in which activists and communities have been standing up to racism since the province’s formation. “Hopefully it serves as a wake-up call to governments that no longer should they engage in divide-and-rule policies. 150 years is long enough,” he says. The booklet’s other authors are Nicholas XEMŦOLTW̱ Claxton, Denise Fong, Fran Morrison and Maryka Omatsu. According to the resource website and accompanying press release, an interactive digital version of the resource “providing direct access to primary and community-based sources,” as well as an accompanying 20-minute video, will be released sometime this spring. Cara McKenna, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse
PORT HAWKESBURY, N.S. — A former Canadian soldier who killed three family members and himself in 2017 received sporadic mental health treatment immediately after he left the military in 2015, a fatality inquiry heard Thursday. The provincial inquiry in Nova Scotia learned the Canadian Armed Forces had arranged for therapy to continue for Lionel Desmond after he was medically discharged. But the lack of structure outside the military created new challenges for the mentally ill veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Psychologist Mathieu Murgatroyd, who worked at the Operational Stress Injury Clinic in Fredericton, was tasked with providing the former corporal with treatment from June 2015 to October 2016. The psychologist said there were problems from the start because Desmond, then 32, often cancelled appointments or didn't show up. Plans for therapy were derailed by the fact that Desmond spent much of his time travelling between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, where he was trying to re-establish a relationship with his wife, Shanna, and his young daughter, Aaliyah. "In terms of commitment and engagement, it was interfering with the therapy process," Murgatroyd testified. "We were concerned with this inconsistency." Murgatroyd said it was clear Desmond needed help. In 2011, while posted to Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in New Brunswick, Desmond was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. That was four years after he served as a rifleman during a particularly violent tour of duty in Afghanistan. Earlier this week, mental health professionals contracted by the military told the inquiry that Desmond initially responded well to treatment, but that he suffered a relapse in May 2013 when military colleagues subjected him to racist comments about his African Nova Scotian heritage. Murgatroyd testified that Desmond appeared guarded and distant when they first met in June 2015 at the federally funded clinic, which receives referrals from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and the RCMP. "Based on his presentation, the risk was more elevated in terms of spiralling down," Murgatroyd said. As well, he said Desmond made it clear his relationship with his wife, Shanna, was in turmoil. "There were moments when they seemed to be doing better, but for the most part, strained," he said, adding that Desmond had increased his alcohol consumption to deal with stress. Murgatroyd recalled that during their first treatment session, Desmond complained about nightmares, night sweats, daily intrusive thoughts, disturbed sleep, chronic pain and "homicidal thoughts without intent." "He hardly gets out of his house because of his paranoia," Murgatroyd noted after an early therapy session in 2015. Desmond said he had suffered a number of head injuries while serving in the military, and that he worried about a possible brain injury. The inquiry has heard the former corporal did not disclose this concern while he was in the military. Though Desmond was under Murgatroyd's care for 16 months, the psychologist said his therapeutic plan never got off the ground. "We were just putting out fires rather than working on any real intervention," he said. He said it appeared Desmond's source of psychological distress eventually shifted from his combat-related PTSD symptoms to an angry "fixation" with his wife's handling of their finances and concerns that she may be cheating on him. Murgatroyd said Desmond told him about gruesome nightmares he had that suggested his wife had been sleeping with another man, whose head was later found on the floor. The psychologist agreed when asked if Desmond's dreams were having an impact on his perception of reality. Murgatroyd said that helped explain why Desmond would later revoke his consent to allow the clinic to share information with his wife. Eventually, staff at the clinic decided therapy for Desmond wasn't an option until he was properly stabilized. They recommended he should take part in an intensive treatment program at Ste. Anne's hospital in Montreal, which has an in-patient operational stress injury clinic. By April 2016, Desmond had agreed to go to Ste. Anne's, having recognized that his relationship with his wife was deteriorating amid talk of divorce, Murgatroyd said. The following month, Desmond reached "an all-time low," Murgatroyd said, adding that his patient was distressed about the state of his finances and the idea his wife was manipulative and could not be trusted. "With things spiralling down, he was looking for help." Desmond arrived at St. Anne's on May 30, 2016, but he left less than three months into a six-month program, even though he had reported he was enjoying his stay there, Murgatroyd said. The inquiry has heard that Desmond returned home to Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., in August 2016. Evidence presented to the inquiry has shown Desmond received no therapeutic treatment for the next four months, even though Murgatroyd and Veterans Affairs Canada were making arrangements for treatment in Nova Scotia. Staff at Ste. Anne's had recommended Desmond receive an in-depth neuro-psychological assessment and more treatment, but that never happened. On Jan. 3, 2017, Desmond bought a semi-automatic rifle. Later that day, he fatally shot his 31-year-old wife, their 10-year-daughter and his 52-year-old mother, Brenda, before killing himself in the family's home. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. — By Michael MacDonald in Halifax The Canadian Press
(Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit) Just days after implementing new federal pandemic testing and quarantine rules , Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is reporting passenger frustration but also compliance. "People are, of course, not happy with the quarantine rules but [have] been doing their best to understand them and comply with them in co-operation with the government," said YVR's president and CEO Tamara Vrooman. Speaking with Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition, Vrooman admitted some passengers are facing long waits upon arrival for quick COVID-19 tests. The new federal program to quarantine arriving international visitors for three days is also creating delays. "We are hearing that the public health agency is doing its best to accommodate people when they arrive," Vrooman said. Vancouver International Airport is now just one of four Canadian airports accepting international flights. Vrooman says air travel has dropped drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. "We welcomed 5,330 passengers through our airport yesterday. And that may sound like a lot until you realize that 365 days earlier, we welcomed 56,052, down over 90 percent. "And the vast majority of the traffic that we're seeing now is domestic with people going, you know, up north to and from essential work, traveling for medical reasons or for family reasons." The loss of traffic has impacted the non-profit organization's finances. YVR is entering 2021 with the single largest operating deficit and debt burden in the airport's history. Vrooman, the former CEO of Vancity Credit Union, insists YVR's books are sound. "We have worked with our bondholders to get the financing that we need for the next three years to ensure that we can operate regardless of the traffic volume we have." Passengers arrive through international arrivals at Vancouver’s international airport (YVR) in Richmond, British Columbia on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The pandemic has forced YVR to adapt its strategic plan and undertake a one-year review of operations. In a new report, the airport says it will invest in new online digital and data technology and procedures for passenger check-ins. "We've been trying to get people to get rid of their paper boarding passes for forever. Well now, we see people coming to the airport not wanting to touch a piece of paper and quite happy to do things digitally and log in," said Vrooman, "It allows us to serve them better by giving them better information, and it's more efficient." Last September, YVR halted a $525 million capital expansion, including a new parkade, transportation hub, utilities building and a $350-million geothermal heating system. The airport completed the $300 million "Pier D" expansion of its international terminal last week. The new terminal expansion features eight new gates, a glassed-in island forest with access to the outdoors, an immersive digital experience and a yoga, prayer and quiet room.
Privacy concerns about government-acquired tracking devices are being raised in light of Ontario's $2.5 million purchase.
B.C.’s provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the COVID-19 rates are increasing, with “potential for rapid growth.” The seven-day moving average of new cases has come up over the last two weeks, Henry said. And so has the percentage of tests that come back positive, with a 6.7 per cent positivity rate on average across the province. “When we have confidence that (rates) are slowing in a sustained way, that is when we will be able to ease restrictions,” Henry said. She also reported 395 new cases, 12 of which are epidemiologically linked. B.C. has now had 78,673 cases since the pandemic began. Of the new cases, 86 are in the Vancouver Coastal Health region (including Richmond), 207 in the Fraser Health region, 37 in the Island Health region, 24 in the Interior Health region and 41 in the Northern Health region. There are now 4,489 active cases and 228 people in hospital with the virus, 62 of whom are in critical care. Ten people died in the last 24 hours, a higher number than in recent days. One new healthcare outbreak was declared at a retirement community in Maple Ridge, and the outbreak at Burnaby Hospital was declared over. Active healthcare outbreaks are currently affecting 398 residents and 213 staff. To date, 239,833 vaccinations have been administered, 68,157 of which are second doses. There have now been 116 cases of variants of concern—95 of the so-called United Kingdom variant and 21 of the so-called South African variant. The two cases of the variant first found in Nigeria are considered to be under investigation and are not classified as a variant of concern at this time. Of the variant cases, 71 are in the Fraser Health region, 39 in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, four in Island Health and two in Interior Health. “Across the province we are paying special attention to people who are being infected with these variants so we can better understand the transmission patterns and the impact they are having,” said Henry. In about a quarter of the variant cases, it’s unclear where the person was infected. Following variant cases that were confirmed to have been found in seven Fraser Health schools, six more people at two of those schools have tested positive—five students and one staff member. It is not yet known whether these new cases are variants of concern. For the latest medical updates, including case counts, prevention, risks and to find a testing centre near you: http://www.bccdc.ca/ or follow @CDCofBC on Twitter. Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel
(Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press - image credit) The Supreme Court of Canada has dismissed an application for leave to appeal on a long-standing dispute over government funding for Catholic schools in Saskatchewan. Thursday's decision from Canada's highest court ends a 16-year court battle between Public Schools of Saskatchewan — an organization that represents 15 public school boards in the province and advocates for public education — and the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association. The dismissal of the public school organization's application for leave to appeal means that non-Catholic students in the province will continue to receive government funding to attend Catholic schools in Saskatchewan. Tom Fortosky, executive director of the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association, says the Supreme Court's decision comes as a relief. "[It's] a very emotional moment.... Really what we want to do now is just get back to doing what we do best, which is educating children," he said. Tom Fortosky says Catholic school board officials are grateful for the government's decision. The saga began in 2003, when the public Good Spirit School Division decided to close the only school in Theodore, Sask. The school had served both Catholic and non-Catholic students. In order to keep their school, local parents decided to start a new one under a separate school board. That new school division bought the existing school in the village and renamed it St. Theodore Roman Catholic School. The majority of students switched to the Catholic school system, despite not being Catholic. The Good Spirit division took the matter to court in 2005, arguing that the constitutional protection of Catholic schools does not include the right for those schools to receive government funding for non–Catholic students. Fortosky says that line of thinking is problematic for families. "From our perspective, this was about parental choice," he said. "If the funding didn't come with the child, there would be a practical barrier for parents who wish to choose a Catholic faith-based education for their children." The court battle launched in 2005 led to a landmark decision in 2017, in which Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench Justice Donald Layh ruled it was unconstitutional for the province to fund non-Catholic students at Catholic schools. Funding "non-minority faith students" in faith-based schools violated both the Charter of Rights and "the state's duty of religious neutrality," Layh wrote. The case made its way to Saskatchewan's Court of Appeal, which delivered a unanimous decision in March 2020, saying separate schools could receive provincial government funding for students who are not Catholic. The appeal court said the trial judge made "fundamental errors of law," and said considering the matter as one involving funding for non-Catholics in a Catholic school was too narrow. The question should be considered in the context of two publicly funded school systems, the appeal court said. "It is an effect of this parallel public system of education that non-Catholic students may attend public, separate schools, but it is also an effect that Catholic students may attend public, secular schools," the 2020 decision said. Public Schools of Saskatchewan was seeking leave to appeal that decision at the Supreme Court. Dismissal Thursday's dismissal of the application came as a disappointment to Norm Dray, executive director of Public Schools of Saskatchewan. "What's happening is wrong for education in Saskatchewan.... We don't believe that there should be two systems that get government funding for all students," Dray said. Catholic schools are set up to educate Catholic students, he said, "and we have no trouble with with Catholic schools existing for that purpose." "What we don't accept is that they have a mandate to teach all students … [including] non-Catholics. And we don't believe they should get government funding for that." In a statement on Tuesday, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said his government is pleased with the Supreme Court's decision. "Our government strongly supports parent and student choice in education, including Saskatchewan's public, separate and faith-based schools," said Moe.
After pivoting the popular Pig Out festival due to the pandemic in 2020, Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country is bringing back the new Pig Out Trails format to keep the event safe and fun as it marks 10 years in the community. On May 28 and 29, Pig Out Trails returns as attendees cruise down a curated trial of wine tasting experiences guided by some of the region’s most established winemakers in outdoor settings. The event’s format is again designed to be flexible in order to accommodate the fast-changing nature of the pandemic health and safety regulations. “Flexible” has been the key word for event organizers recently. Last year, the event was moved from May to October, and the team at Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country put together a modified event with groups in separate pods, touring and tasting outdoors at different venues. While the weather was briefly uncooperative last year, the response to the new format from attendees was very positive “I had emails in my inbox in November asking what we were doing for Pig Out for 2021 and what the format was going to be like,” said Jennifer Busmann, executive director of Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country. Many guests at 2020’s Pig Out Trails were happy to simply be attending an event at all in a year that didn’t see many. “It was really heartwarming for all those Pig Out attendees who came in October. Just due to the restrictions and the numbers and how we safely move people through our region and what we were permitted to do. We had about 540 guests total attend in these small little groups. They were so thankful and so excited that it just gave you a little pep in your step to see that,” Busmann said. Oliver and Osoyoos Wine Country will be using the work they accomplished to create a safe event in 2020 as a foundation for this year’s Pig Out event. Working with the local health authority, developing health and safety plans, contact tracing, keeping guests spaced out and outdoors are all foundational building blocks for putting on events as case numbers and public health restrictions are liable to change at any moment. “We’re a really small team of people that put all of this together. So we’re using that framework as a basis, which was really a lot of work to put together and understand all of the pieces, all of the changes and all of the regulatory bodies,” Busmann said. “We’re using that as a foundation to build and brainstorm and put all of our pieces together. Then we really just have to wait and bend and flex and see what happens within the province.” On Saturday, May 29, 2021 Pig Out Trails attendees will board a dedicated bus adhering to recommended safety protocols including mandatory face masks and hand sanitizer, before heading to the first of four winery stops. The event’s “Escape the Pen” theme will be interpreted in different and unique ways at each of the 40 wineries that feature along 10 different trails, as they create outdoor tasting experiences, aimed at showcasing their wines as well as educating guests in farming and grape growing practices and the art of winemaking. Each stop will also feature a delicious dish prepared by Oliver Eats Ltd., visiting guest chefs, or from select onsite restaurant partners including Terrafina at Hester Creek Estate Winery, Miradoro at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, the culinary team at Phantom Creek Estates and Masala Bistro at Kismet Estate Winery. A popular addition to last year’s Pig Out Trails, Vancouver’s Paella Guys, will return in 2021 as well. On Friday May 28, two iconic wineries, one on the Black Sage Road Bench and one on the Golden Mile Bench will host “guest chef dinners,” small, outdoor, multi-course feasts prepared by the Paella Guys alongside other notable local and guest chefs and paired with a range of wines from vineyards nearby. Tickets for the Pig Out Trails ($99 per person plus tax) and the Pig Out Guest Chef Dinner ($129 per person plus tax and gratuity) are now available on the Oliver Osoyoos Wine Country website: www.oliverosoyoos.com. Dale Boyd, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Times-Chronicle
The harmless puppy just wanted to play around! How cute is that?
WASHINGTON — The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups. The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops. The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist. “This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” the Pentagon's chief spokesperson, John Kirby, said in announcing the strikes. “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel. At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.” Kirby said the U.S. airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian- backed militant groups.” Further details were not immediately available. Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq. Kirby had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack. “Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical details of every bit of weaponry used here," Kirby said. "Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.” A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for the Feb. 15 attack. A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad's Green Zone appeared to target the U.S. Embassy compound, but no one was hurt. Iran this week said it has no links to the Guardians of Blood Brigade. The frequency of attacks by Shiite militia groups against U.S. targets in Iraq diminished late last year ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, though now Iran is pressing America to return to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal. The U.S. under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks. Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last year. Trump had said the death of a U.S. contractor would be a red line and provoke U.S. escalation in Iraq. The December 2019 killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the country to the brink of a proxy war. U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group. Lolita C. Baldor And Robert Burns, The Associated Press
(NIAID/NIH via AP - image credit) Northern Alberta continues to see an increase in COVID-19 infections, with more than 1,000 active cases across the health zone. The province reported 399 new cases on Thursday, a slight decline from the day before, while hospitalization numbers dropped below 300 for the first time in many weeks. Alberta Health also reported another 32 new cases of a highly contagious variant of the coronavirus first identified in the United Kingdom. The province has now confirmed 348 cases of variant B117, and continues to have seven cases of B1351, first identified in South Africa. There were 4,484 active cases in the province, with 280 people were treated in hospitals for the illness, including 56 in ICU beds, according to the latest update released by Alberta Health. Another eight deaths were reported to Alberta Health over the last 24 hours, including four that dated back to January. The three most recent deaths, which happened during the past week, involved a man and a woman in their 40s and a woman in her 30s. The regional breakdown of active cases on Thursday was: Calgary zone: 1,510, a decline of 54 from the day before. North zone: 1,016, an increase of 74 from the day before. Edmonton zone: 897, a decline of 28 from the day before. Central zone: 737, a decline of 22 from the day before. South zone: 319, a decline of 34 from the day before. Unknown: five, an increase of three from the day before.
NEW YORK — Another mutated version of the coronavirus has popped up in New York City, and experts reacted to the the news with a mixture of caution and concern. The new variant first appeared in the New York area in late November, and has since cropped up in neighbouring states, according to researchers at the California Institute of Technology, one of two teams to share their work this week. But how problematic the variant may be isn’t known yet. Viruses are constantly mutating — or making typos in their genetic code — as they spread and make copies of themselves. “Most are not of particular concern,” said Francois Balloux, director of the University College London’s Genetics Institute. However, he added, “Noticing them early, flagging them, raising concern is useful." That's because some genetic tweaks can be worrisome, especially if they help the virus spread more easily, make it more deadly or curb the effectiveness of vaccines. Scientists use genome sequencing and other research to figure out which are a potential problem. New York City health officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday sought to tamp down worries about the new variant, emphasizing that the new research is preliminary and little is known about the variant. “Some variants are just that, they’re variants.” said Dr. Jay Varma, senior health adviser to the mayor. WHAT DID THEY FIND IN NEW YORK? Two research groups — at Caltech and Columbia University in New York — released papers this week describing their findings about the new variant. Neither paper has been published or reviewed by other scientists. The Caltech researchers found that the new variant showed up in about a quarter of the 1,200 virus sequences they looked at this month. The variant has also shown up in New Jersey and Connecticut and has made “isolated appearances across the country,” said CalTech's Anthony West, a co-author of the paper. On Thursday, Columbia University researchers released their research that scrutinized about 1,100 virus samples from patients treated at the university's medical centre, dating back to November. During the second week of February, the new variant was identified in 12% of the samples, they reported. They also found patients infected with the mutated virus were more likely to be older and have been hospitalized. Both groups noted that the new variant has a mutation that could potentially weaken the effectiveness of vaccines — a mutation seen in other worrisome variants. “There is clearly something to keep an eye on,” Balloux said. HOW MANY OTHER VARIANTS ARE THERE? New variants have been showing up throughout the pandemic, but three are considered the most worrisome — they've been designated “variants of concern." They were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries. The one identified in the U.K. late last year has since been found in 45 U.S. states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The strain is concerning because it has so many mutations, nearly two dozen. Some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells — and that current vaccines and antibody drugs target. One of the spike protein mutations is seen in the variants discovered early on in Brazil and South Africa, and, now, the new variant in New York. A variant that has been spreading in California is also getting attention. It's been found in 40% to 50% of samples examined by the Los Angeles Count Department of Public Health, according to Director Barbara Ferrer. But there isn't enough rigorous research to determine what, if any, effect its mutations might have. WHAT'S NEXT? After what many described as a slow start, the federal government in recent weeks has ramped up its genetic sequencing to look for and study virus variants to figure out which ones might be a problem. In the meantime, Ana S. Gonzalez Reiche, a virologist at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, urged caution. “Without evidence, we don’t need to alarm ourselves about every variant detected,” she said. Studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a variant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions. In response, drug companies are already figuring out how to modify their vaccines. Experts say that in the meantime, public health measures like social distancing and masks will reduce opportunities for the coronavirus to continue mutating and run rampant. “Emerging of variants will occur," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, told NBC on Thursday. "The trick is when they do occur, to prevent them from spreading.” ___ The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Marion Renault, The Associated Press
After the latest transition between in-person and remote learning, there are approximately 465 more students — 418 at the Catholic board and 47 at the public board — in Hamilton classrooms. Hundreds of Hamilton students switched learning models at both boards this week, some moving to virtual learning and others returning to their home schools. By Thursday, about 680 students at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board returned to classrooms across the city. A similar number — approximately 636 students — chose to switch into a remote learning program. These students made the switch earlier this month, as of the Feb. 8 return to school. “Families are making choices for many reasons,” spokesperson Shawn McKillop said in an email to The Spectator. He said frustration with technology, isolation, difficulty motivating their kids and changes in circumstances are among the reasons parents are choosing to send kids back to the classroom. Families who took their kids out of classrooms cited concerns about kids’ safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic. As of this week, in-school enrolment at the Catholic board is up at the elementary level and down at the secondary level. As of Monday, 15,970 students are learning in-person — compared to 15,552 in the fall. Monday was the last opportunity for HWCDSB students to transition between learning models. Virtual learning at the secondary level increased by about 1,500 students — from 1,942 in the fall to 3,412 as of Feb. 23. Board chair Pat Daly said he believes age has “a lot to do with it.” “A high school student is able to stay home alone,” he said. “With elementary-aged children, a lot of parents would not have that option.” He said some parents may have realized that being in school is “really helpful” for kids’ mental health and socialization. To support the latest transition, boards were required to shuffle — and, in the case of the public board, hire — teaching staff. The public board opened seven classrooms, adding 8.4 full-time equivalent teachers to the elementary roster, as well as three full-time dedicated early childhood educators, as the board welcomed back a number of full-day kindergarten students through this transition. No new teachers were hired at the Catholic board as a result of the latest reorganization. “The change would have been teachers moving from a virtual classroom to in-school,” Daly said. “So we didn't have to hire additional teachers to keep the class sizes low.” Daly said the board hired approximately 65 teachers at the beginning of the year “to lower class sizes,” and have maintained those hires throughout the year. Current in-person class sizes, which are similar to those in the fall, range between 12 and 25 students. Virtual classrooms have between 16 and 32. Josie Pini, principal at St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School, said the 16 students who returned to in-person learning should have covered the same curriculum in their virtual classrooms. But, as with any time a student changes classrooms, teachers would have to do a “gap analysis” to determine the level of each individual student. “In any one class, you'll have students of all different levels anyway, so it's just a matter of finding out which level they're going to fit into and then teach them from there,” she said. Kate McCullough, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator