Météo Médias Patrick De Bellefeuille has more from Quebec.
Météo Médias Patrick De Bellefeuille has more from Quebec.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An explosion struck an Israeli-owned cargo ship sailing out of the Middle East on Friday, an unexplained blast renewing concerns about ship security in the region amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran. The crew and vessel were safe, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which is run by the British navy. The explosion in the Gulf of Oman forced the vessel to head to the nearest port. The incident recalled the summer of 2019, when the same site saw a series of suspected attacks that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran, which Tehran denied. Meanwhile, as President Joe Biden tries to revive nuclear negotiations with Iran, he ordered overnight airstrikes on facilities in Syria belonging to a powerful Iranian-backed Iraqi armed group. Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence firm, identified the stricken vessel as the MV Helios Ray, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo ship. Another private security official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, similarly identified the ship as the Helios Ray. Satellite-tracking data from website MarineTraffic.com showed the Helios Ray had been nearly entering the Arabian Sea around 0600 GMT Friday before it suddenly turned around and began heading back toward the Strait of Hormuz. It was coming from Dammam, Saudi Arabia, and still listed Singapore as its destination on its tracker. Israel’s Channel 13, in an unsourced report, said the assessment in Israel is that Iran was behind the blast. Israeli officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Iranian government did not comment on the blast Friday. The blast comes as Tehran increasingly breaches its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers to create leverage over Washington. Iran is seeking to pressure Biden to grant the sanctions relief it received under the deal that former President Donald Trump abandoned nearly three years ago. Iran also has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including a mysterious explosion last summer that destroyed an advanced centrifuge assembly plant at its Natanz nuclear facility and the killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a top Iranian scientist who founded the Islamic Republic’s military nuclear program two decades ago. Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told the AP that the Israeli-owned vessel had left the Persian Gulf Thursday bound for Singapore. On Friday at 0230 GMT, the vessel stopped for at least nine hours east of a main Omani port before making a 360-degree turn and sailing toward Dubai, likely for damage assessment and repairs, he said. The vessel came loaded with cargo from Europe. It discharged vehicles at several ports in the region, Raja added, including in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, with its last port of call at Dammam. While details of the explosion remained unclear, two American defence officials told the AP that the ship had sustained two holes on its port side and two holes on its starboard side just above the waterline in the blast. The officials said it remained unclear what caused the holes. They spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss unreleased information on the incidents. A United Nations ship database identified the vessel’s owners as a Tel Aviv-based firm called Ray Shipping Ltd. Calls to Ray Shipping rang unanswered Friday. Abraham Ungar, 74, who goes by “Rami,” is the founder of Ray Shipping Ltd., and is known as one of the richest men in Israel. He made his fortune in shipping and construction. According to the Nikola Y. Vaptsarov Naval Academy, where Ungar provides support and maritime training, he owns dozens of car-carrying ships and employs thousands of engineers. The U.S. Navy's Bahrain-based 5th Fleet said it was “aware and monitoring” the situation. The U.S. Maritime Administration, an agency of the Transportation Department, issued a warning to commercial shippers early Saturday acknowledging the explosion and urging ships to “exercise caution when transiting” the Gulf of Oman. While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global said it was very possible the blast stemmed from “asymmetric activity by Iranian military." As Iran seeks to pressure the United States to lift sanctions, the country may seek “to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means,” Dryad reported. In the tense summer of 2019, the U.S. military blamed Iran for explosions on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most strategic shipping lanes. The U.S. also had attributed a series of other suspected attacks to Iran, including the use of limpet mines — designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull — to cripple four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah. Since the killing of Fakhrizadeh, the Iranian nuclear scientist, last November, Israeli officials have raised alarms about potential Iranian retaliation, including through its regional proxies like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels. Over the years, Iran has been linked to attacks on Israeli and Jewish civilian targets in Latin America, Europe and Asia. Israel has not commented on its alleged role in the scientist's killing. Friday's incident also follows normalization deals between Israel and the UAE and Bahrain. The agreements, met with scathing criticism from Iran, solidified an emerging regional alliance against the Islamic Republic. __ Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Tel Aviv, Israel, Josef Federman in Jerusalem and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report. Jon Gambrell And Isabel Debre, The Associated Press
As COVID-19 vaccine supplies gradually ramp up across the country, most provinces and territories have released details of who can expect to receive a shot in the coming weeks. Here's a list of their plans to date: Newfoundland and Labrador The province says it is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Health-care workers on the front lines of the pandemic, staff at long-term care homes, people of "advanced age" and adults in remote or isolated Indigenous communities have priority. Chief medical health officer Dr. Janice Fitzgerald has said Phase 2 will begin in April if vaccine supply remains steady. The second phase prioritizes adults over 60 years old, beginning with those over 80, as well as Indigenous adults, first responders, rotational workers and adults in marginalized populations, such as those experiencing homelessness. Adults between 16 and 59 years old will be vaccinated in the third phase of the rollout, and Fitzgerald has said she expects that to begin this summer. --- Nova Scotia Health officials began expanding access to COVID-19 vaccines on Feb. 22, opening community clinics for people aged 80 years and older. Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, has said the province's plan is to open another 10 clinics in March for 48,000 people who will be mailed a letter informing them how to book an appointment. Strang said the vaccination program will then expand to the next age group in descending order until everyone in the province is offered the chance to be immunized. The age groups will proceed in five-year blocks. Future community clinics are to be held March 8 in Halifax, New Minas, Sydney and Truro; March 15 in Antigonish, Halifax and Yarmouth; and March 22 in Amherst, Bridgewater and Dartmouth. The province began its vaccination campaign with residents of long-term care homes, those who work directly with patients, those who are 80 and older, and those who are at risk for other reasons including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities. Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021. --- Prince Edward Island The province says the first phase of its vaccination drive, currently slated to last until March, targets residents and staff of long-term and community care, as well as health-care workers with direct patient contact at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure. Those 80 and older, adults in Indigenous communities, and truck drivers and other rotational workers are also included. The next phase, which is scheduled to begin in April, will target those above 70 and essential workers. The province intends to make the vaccine available to everyone in late summer and fall. --- New Brunswick The province is also focusing on vaccinating those living in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, adults in First Nations communities and older New Brunswickers in the first phase, which lasts until at least March. The next phase is scheduled to begin in the spring and includes residents and staff of communal settings, other health-care workers including pharmacists, first responders and critical infrastructure employees. The government website says once the vaccine supply is continuous and in large enough quantities, the entire population will be offered the shots. --- Quebec The province's proposed order of priority for vaccination according to its website is those in residential and long-term care centres, workers in the health and social services network, followed by those in isolated and remote communities, people 80 years or older, and then the general population in 10-year increments. Health officials launched an online and telephone system for vaccine registrations on Feb. 25 and will begin vaccinating people aged 85 years and older in Montreal on March 1. Officials said that while residents across the province aged 85 and older can register for a vaccine, priority will be given to people in the greater Montreal area, which has the highest active COVID-19 case count in Quebec. On Feb. 26, officials opened registration for Montrealers as young as 80 years old. It has not yet been announced when the next age group can begin to register for vaccines. The province says the vaccination of children and pregnant women will be determined based on future studies of vaccine safety and efficacy in those populations. --- Ontario The province has mapped out a three-phase approach to its rollout. Phase 1, which is still ongoing, reserves shots for those in long-term care, high-risk retirement home residents, certain classes of health-care workers, and people who live in congregate care settings. All Indigenous adults, people aged 80 and older and adults receiving chronic home care will be next in line. The province says it will begin vaccinations among the 80 and older age cohort starting the third week of March. Vaccinations will begin for people 75 and older starting April 15. The province will then move to offer shots to those 70 and older starting May 1; 65 and older starting June 1; and 60 and older the first week of July. Indigenous adults and patient-facing health-care workers will receive vaccinations as the province works through those age groups. The government is still finalizing the list of essential workers who will receive vaccinations in May if supply is available. The province has not detailed when people younger than 60 can expect to be vaccinated. Appointment bookings can be made online and by phone starting March 15 for those in eligible age cohorts. --- Manitoba Manitoba is starting to vaccinate people in the general population. Appointments are now available for most people aged 94 and up, or 74 and up for First Nations people. Until now, vaccines have been directed to certain groups such as health-care workers and people in personal care homes. Health officials plan to reduce the age minimum, bit by bit, over the coming months. They say most people over 80, and First Nations individuals over 60, could be eligible in early March. The province plans to have all personal care home residents vaccinated with two doses by the end of February, and has started sending team to other congregate living settings such as group homes and shelters. Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead of the province's vaccine task force, say inoculations could be open to all adults in the province by August if new vaccines are approved and supplies are steady. The plan does not include a separate category for essential workers — something that Reimer says will be considered as vaccine supplies increase. --- Saskatchewan The province is still in the first phase of its vaccination rollout, which reserves doses for long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. The next phase will be focused on vaccinating the general population by age. It hopes to begin its mass vaccination campaign by April, but there if there isn’t enough supply that could be pushed back to June. Saskatchewan will begin immunizing the general population in 10-year increments, starting with those 60 to 69. Also included in this age group will be people living in emergency shelters, individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes and people who are medically vulnerable. Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce. --- Alberta Alberta is now offering vaccines to anyone born in 1946 or earlier, a group representing some 230,000 people. Appointments are being offered through an online portal and the 811 Health Link phone line. When bookings opened to this age group Wednesday, the website was temporarily overwhelmed when more than 150,000 people tried to get access. Within a day, 100,000 appointments were booked. Shots are also being offered to this cohort at more than 100 pharmacies in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton starting in early March and the government has said there are also plans to include doctors’ offices. Health Minister Tyler Shandro has said all eligible seniors should have their first shots by the end of March. Some 28,000 seniors in long-term care have already been vaccinated. The first phase of the vaccine rollout also included anyone over 65 who lives in a First Nations or Metis community, various front-line health care workers, paramedics and emergency medical responders. Phase 2 of the rollout, to begin in April, is to start with those 65 and up, Indigenous people older than 50 and staff and residents of licensed supportive living seniors’ facilities not previously included. --- British Columbia The first phase of B.C.'s immunization campaign launched in December and focused on health-care workers in hospitals, paramedics, residents and staff at long-term care homes, and remote Indigenous communities. The second phase set to wrap up in March includes people aged 80 and above, Indigenous elders 65 and up, Indigenous communities that didn't receive vaccine in the first phase, as well as more health-care workers and vulnerable populations living and working in certain congregate settings. The third phase of B.C.'s immunization campaign is set to start in April and last until June, reaching people between the ages of 60 and 79, along with those who are highly clinically vulnerable, such as cancer patients. B.C.'s plan for the general population is based on age, with the oldest residents first in line. --- Nunavut Nunavut's vaccination rollout is underway, with vaccine clinics for the general population scheduled or completed in all 25 communities. In Iqaluit, Nunavut's capital, a general vaccination clinic is underway for priority populations, including staff and residents of shelters, people ages 60 years and up, staff and inmates and correctional facilities, first responders and front-line health-care staff. Starting March 1, the vaccine clinic will be extended to all adults in Iqaluit ages 45 and up. Nunavut still expects enough vaccines to immunize 75 per cent of its residents over the age of 18 by the end of March. --- Northwest Territories The Northwest Territories says it has vaccinated 42 per cent of its adult population since its vaccine rollout began in early January. Vaccine clinics are either completed or underway in all 33 of the territory's communities. In Yellowknife, residents and staff in long-term care homes are being prioritized for the vaccine. Vaccination of Yellowknife's general population will begin in late March. The N.W.T. still expects to receive enough vaccines to inoculate 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. --- Yukon Yukon says it will receive enough vaccine to immunize 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March. Priority for vaccinations has been given to residents and staff in long-term care homes, group homes and shelters, as well as health-care workers and personal support workers. People over the age of 80 who are not living in long-term care, and those living in rural and remote communities, including Indigenous Peoples, are also on the priority list for shots. --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2021. The Canadian Press
NEW YORK — It’s a promotion that could be straight out of the “Mad Men” Don Draper playbook. Brooklyn's famed Peter Luger Steak House has teamed with Madame Tussauds to have celebrity wax figures mingle with patrons, promoting the easing of coronavirus pandemic restrictions on indoor dining in New York City. A wax Jon Hamm — known for his portrayal of ad executive Draper in the hit TV series — could be found at the restaurant's bar Friday with a cocktail in hand. Other figures on loan from Madame Tussauds include Michael Strahan, Jimmy Fallon, Al Roker and Audrey Hepburn in Holly Golightly of “Breakfast at Tiffany's” mode. Peter Luger “thought this would be a fun, safe way to fill some of the seats that need to remain empty as we continue to fight the pandemic,” said restaurant vice-president Daniel Turtel. As of Friday, restaurants in the city were allowed to fill 35% of their indoor seats, up from 25% previously. Peter Luger, in business for more than 130 years, will keep the mannequins until Monday. After that, they'll return to the recently reopened Madame Tussauds in midtown Manhattan. The Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS — Prosecutors in New Orleans moved Friday to have convictions overturned for 22 people found guilty of felonies by non-unanimous juries, and to review hundreds of other such convictions obtained under a law with roots in the Jim Crow era. District Attorney Jason Williams, who took office last month after running on a reform platform, announced the move at a news conference outside the criminal courthouse in New Orleans. He was flanked by his staff, criminal justice advocates and Archbishop Gregory Aymond. Emily Maw, head of the civil rights division of Williams' office, said five cases being vacated are being reviewed to see whether charges ever should have been filed. Seventeen are being re-prosecuted. However, 16 of the defendants have agreed to plead guilty as charged or to lesser charges, seeking reduction of sentences that would likely have kept them behind bars for life. “This doesn't mean that 22 people walked out onto the streets today,” Williams stressed. Until January 2019, felony convictions in Louisiana could be obtained with a 10-2 or 11-1 jury vote under laws that opponents said were aimed at making sure Black jurors' votes could be negated in cases against Black defendants. Oregon was the only other state with a similar law. Voters approved a constitutional amendment that outlawed non-unanimous verdicts beginning in 2019, a vote that followed a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of stories in The Advocate analyzing the origins of the law and the racial disparities in verdicts. And, last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that non-unanimous verdicts were unconstitutional. But the Supreme Court’s decision in April affected only future cases and cases in which the defendants' appeals had not been exhausted. That left an estimated 1,600 cases in Louisiana unaffected. Advocates estimate more than 300 of them are in New Orleans. Pending before the high court now is the question of whether the decision should be made retroactive. Williams opted not to wait for that decision. Williams' dubbed his initiative “the DA's Jim Crow Jury Project" and said it is aimed at “repairing 120 plus years of injustice by methodically and efficiently reviewing all applications to the court of cases where persons were convicted by a non-unanimous jury.” Civil rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana, praised the move. Jamila Johnson, of the Promise of Justice Initiative, said her organization represented many of the clients in Friday's court proceedings. “It was incredibly moving,” she said, describing the case of one man who agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter — he had been convicted of murder in a non-unanimous verdict in 1974 — in a deal that made him instantly eligible for release from the state prison. The Promise of Justice Initiative said in a news release that it will reach out to crime victims who might be affected by the revisiting of some convictions. “While it is absolutely necessary to dismantle this intentionally racist practice of non-unanimous juries, it will have a huge impact on those who assumed the legal process was over,” Katie Hunter-Lowery, of the PJI said in a news release. "We invite survivors and victims’ loved ones to contact us at and we invite city and state leaders to allocate more funding and resources directly to impacted communities.” Kevin McGill, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is telling California's Santa Clara County that it can't enforce a ban on indoor religious worship services put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic. The high court issued an order Friday evening in a case brought by a handful of churches. The justices, in early February, told the state of California that it can't bar indoor church services because of the pandemic. The justices said at the time that the state could cap indoor services at 25% of a building’s capacity and continue to bar singing and chanting. But Santa Clara had argued that its temporary ban on indoor gatherings of any kind including worship services should be allowed to stand. The county, which includes San Jose, said that it was treating houses of worship no differently from other indoor spaces where it prohibits gatherings and caps attendance. The county said people could go into houses of worship to pray or go to confession, among other things, but couldn't gather with groups of others. The county said the same was true of retail establishments, where shoppers can go but not gather for an event such as a book reading. The justices' unsigned order Friday said that their action was “clearly dictated” by their order from earlier this month. The court's three liberal justices dissented. Santa Clara had told the court in a letter Thursday that coronavirus cases in the county have recently continued to decline and that it was already close to lifting its ban on indoor gatherings. If the data continued the positive trend, the letter said, the county expected to allow all indoor gatherings, subject to restrictions, as soon as next Wednesday. The Associated Press
An emergency homeless shelter in North Battleford is closing its doors. The North Battleford Lighthouse emergency shelter program is being forced to close after losing about $500,000 from the Provincial Métis Housing Corporation — the bulk of its funding, noted Don Windels, executive director of Lighthouse Supported Living. "It's not an easy decision," Windels said. The shelter is set to close on April 1. Windels said he has approached the province and federal government for funding, but there have been no takers so far. He added that the closure isn't a slight against PMHC, which he described as supportive of the shelter. The service has retained its smaller donors, but they don't provide enough money to keep it open, Windels said. The emergency shelter, which is open 24 hours a day, has a maximum capacity of about 37 people, but it provides food for many more than that, he said. Those long hours also make it more difficult to pay staff and keep the service open, he added. The closure also affects roughly nine long-term transitional housing units, Windels said. The Lighthouse's other supportive and transitional housing programs won't be affected. The closure comes roughly seven years after community leaders first expressed interest in opening The Lighthouse in North Battleford. After buying the Reclaim Outreach Centre and undergoing months of renovations, The Lighthouse opened its services in January 2015. Windels said he hopes to either find new funding partners or hand the shelter over to another organization. Meanwhile, the closure will affect a vulnerable homeless population in the midst of the pandemic. "The province needs to come up with a housing strategy that includes shelters. And shelters need to be funded properly," he said. "Because it's really difficult to have a quality program without funds." Pointing to the overdose crisis and the pandemic, NDP Leader Ryan Meili called on the province to provide the money that would keep it open. In a prepared statement, he said it's unacceptable to "allow the crucial work the North Battleford Lighthouse does in service of the most vulnerable to be shut down due to lack of funding." Nick Pearce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The StarPhoenix
Lately, when 15-year-old K (name withheld to protect identity) arrives outside her school in Campbell River, nervousness sets in. Her legs start shaking, her entire body begins to tremble and she gives way to uncontrollable sobbing. Her parents eventually turn the car around and take her back home, to try again the next day. The heightened anxiety attacks are new for both K and her parents, especially because their daughter is an above average student and has never had a problem going to school until a couple months ago, says K’s mother. To add to the dilemma, new COVID-19 regulations require students to sit at one place for five hours with minimal interactions with their classmates and focus on one subject for five straight weeks. Missing one day of school leaves a student with a gap of five hours of math class, says K, and adding further to her anxiety. RELATED: Report finds COVID-19 accelerated declining mental health of Canadian youth RELATED: Vancouver Islanders using art to conquer COVID blues When K spoke to the Mirror, it was difficult for her to articulate what was going on, since it was a novel experience. But she wanted to speak about it because “many” of her peers are in the same boat. The disruption of routines and isolation – ushered in by the pandemic – has caused a massive surge in mental health issues among youth, says Dr. Jan Coetzee a Campbell River family doctor. According to him, structure is very important for children and when that changes due to disruption, it affects their mental health. Many of Coetzee’s young patients have been reporting issues like anxiety, panic attacks, depression and suicidal ideations for the past year. While psychiatrists are seeing behavioural relapse in individuals who are on medications and were reasonably well controlled previously, they are also witnessing an increase in number of youths without previous diagnosis. “It’s not just a pandemic of coronavirus in Campbell River, we have a pandemic of mental health exacerbation as well,” says Coetzee. Wendy Richardson, executive director of the John Howard Society of North Vanouver Island said there is a spike in mental health issues among children as young as 11. “Our mental health counselors have been working with kids with a lot of additional anxiety and suicide ideation,” she said and added, “It has been alarming… Suicide is high on our radar.” “The reason I say it’s scary is because, historically, it’s not an age group where suicide ideation has been high on our list of things they are dealing with,” she said. In 14 years of his practice as a physician in Campbell River, Coetzee also said that this is the first time he has seen such a serious spike in mental health issues among a young age group. (Campbell River previously had a spike in deaths by suicide between 2008 and 2010 in the city). Since January, Campbell River’s School District 72 had two cases of deaths by suicide – a 12-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy. These deaths have raised an alarm for parents in the community. “Parents are afraid, I hear people say things like ‘I don’t know how to be a father/mother anymore.’ They feel ill-equipped to deal with such situations as they don’t want to push their children to the edge,” Coetzee said. But there are many who are still not aware of what is going on with their children since a lot of them prefer not to talk to their parents about their issues. In such instances, Coetzee recommends youths call counsellors and experts on helplines. School District 72 superintendent Jeremy Morrow says schools in the area were concerned about mental health issues even before the pandemic set in. The pandemic has amplified it. “We have seen an increased number of referrals all the way down to elementary, in regards to anxiety and other mental health concerns,” says Morrow. The school district has added additional support to deal with this, including a multi-agency approach, he says. According to Richardson, mental health issues are also exacerbated by social media – especially the heavy reliance on social media by children to stay connected during isolation. With the pandemic “dragging on” there’s a further increase in “anxiety and despair” among this age group as they begin to lose hope about things going back to normal. “Young people are resilient enough to sudden change,” says Richardson, but prolonged ones like the extended shut down has been hard on them. If anything, the pandemic has only brought a lot of underlying issues to the forefront, says Coetzee. Therefore he recommends a realistic approach to mental health for youngsters – exercise, eat three meals a day, get six to eight hours of sleep, seek counselling when in need. He also advises families to “repair core values” which includes working together as a unit and establishing lost connections. “Most of my young patients are compliant to these recommendations and I’m seeing positive results,” he says. Unless these fundamental changes are incorporated, even if the pandemic is over and people are vaccinated, this cycle is not going to be over, he says. Helpline numbers and resources for BC: Crisis lines across BC can be found on www.crisislines.bc.ca Online service for adults: http://crisiscentrechat.ca/ Online service for youths: www.YouthinBC.com Mental health support/ Centre for suicide prevention : 310-6789 (no area code needed) 1-800-suicide: 1-800-784-2433 Kelty Mental Health Resource Centre caters to parents, caregivers, youth and young adults. Compass Mental Health : 1-855-702-7272 email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Youth Line: 647-694-4275 First Nations Health Authority, Native youth crisis hotline: 1-877-209-1266; Trans Lifeline: 1-877-330-6366. Binny Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Campbell River Mirror
WASHINGTON — Saudi Arabia's crown prince likely approved the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, according to a newly declassified U.S. intelligence report released Friday that instantly ratcheted up pressure on the Biden administration to hold the kingdom accountable for a murder that drew worldwide outrage. The intelligence findings were long known to many U.S. officials and, even as they remained classified, had been reported with varying degrees of precision. But the public rebuke of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is still a touchstone in U.S-Saudi relations. It leaves no doubt that as the prince continues in his powerful role and likely ascends to the throne, Americans will forever associate him with the brutal killing of a journalist who promoted democracy and human rights. Yet even as the Biden administration released the findings, it appeared determined to preserve the Saudi relationship by avoiding direct punishment of the prince himself despite demands from some congressional Democrats and Khashoggi allies for significant and targeted sanctions. Questioned by reporters, Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the approach. “What we’ve done by the actions we’ve taken is not to rupture the relationship but to recalibrate it to be more in line with our interests and our values," he said. “I think that we have to understand as well that this is bigger than any one person.” The conclusion that the prince approved an operation to kill or capture Khashoggi was based on his decision-making role inside the kingdom, the involvement of a key adviser and members of his protective detail and his past support for violently silencing dissidents abroad, according to the report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Though intelligence officials stopped short of saying the prince ordered the October 2018 murder, the four-page document described him as having “absolute control” over the kingdom’s intelligence organizations and said it would have been highly unlikely for an operation like the killing to have been carried out without his approval. Saudi Arabia's Foreign Ministry responded by saying the kingdom “categorically rejects the offensive and incorrect assessment in the report pertaining to the kingdom’s leadership.” Shortly after the findings were released, the State Department announced a new policy, called the “Khashoggi Ban,” that will allow the U.S. to deny visas to people who harm, threaten or spy on journalists on behalf of a foreign government. It also said it would impose visa restrictions on 76 Saudi individuals who have engaged or threatened dissidents overseas. The State Department declined to comment on who would be affected, citing the confidentiality of visa records. But a person familiar with the matter said the prince was not targeted. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The Treasury Department also announced sanctions against a former Saudi intelligence official, Ahmad Hassan Mohammed al Asiri, who U.S. officials say was the operation's ringleader. Democrats in Congress praised the administration for releasing the report — the Trump administration had refused to do so — but urged it to take more aggressive actions, including against the prince. Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, urged the Biden administration to consider punishing the prince, who he says has the blood of an American journalist on his hands. “The President should not meet with the Crown Prince, or talk with him, and the Administration should consider sanctions on assets in the Saudi Public Investment Fund he controls that have any link to the crime,” Schiff said in a statement. Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, called for consequences for the prince — such as sanctions — as well as for the Saudi kingdom as a whole. Rights activists said the lack of any punitive measures would signal impunity for the prince and other autocrats. Without sanctions, “it’s a joke,” said Tawwakol Karman, a Nobel Peace Price winner from neighbouring Yemen and friend of Khashoggi's. While Biden had pledged as a candidate to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” over the killing, he appeared to take a milder tone during a call Thursday with Saudi King Salman. A White House summary of the conversation made no mention of the killing and said instead that the men had discussed the countries’ long-standing partnership. The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency similarly did not mention Khashoggi’s killing in its report about the call, focusing on regional issues like Iran and the war in Yemen. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has told reporters that the administration intends to “recalibrate" the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia. Biden previously ordered an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen and said he would stop the sale of offensive weapons to Saudi Arabia but has given few details of his plans. Though the Biden administration's relationship with Riyadh is likely to be more adversarial than that of Donald Trump's, the reality is that Riyadh's oil reserves and status as a counterbalance to Iran in the Middle East have long made it a strategic — if difficult — ally. The broad outlines of the killing have long been known. The document released Friday says a 15-member Saudi team, including seven members of the prince's elite personal protective team, arrived in Istanbul, though it says it's unclear how far in advance Saudi officials had decided to harm him. Khashoggi had gone to the Saudi consulate to pick up documents needed for his wedding. Once inside, he died at the hands of more than a dozen Saudi security and intelligence officials and others who had assembled ahead of his arrival. Surveillance cameras had tracked his route and those of his alleged killers in Istanbul in the hours before his killing. A Turkish bug planted at the consulate reportedly captured the sound of a forensic saw, operated by a Saudi colonel who was also a forensics expert, dismembering Khashoggi’s body within an hour of his entering the building. The whereabouts of his remains remain unknown. The prince, an ambitious 35-year-old who has rapidly consolidated power since his father became king in 2015, said in 2019 that he took “full responsibility” for the killing since it happened on his watch, but denied ordering it. Saudi officials have said Khashoggi’s killing was the work of rogue Saudi security and intelligence officials. Saudi Arabian courts last year announced they had sentenced eight Saudi nationals to prison in Khashoggi’s killing. They were not identified. ___ Madhani reported from Chicago. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Ben Fox in Washington and Ellen Knickmeyer in Oklahoma City contributed to this report. Eric Tucker And Aamer Madhani, The Associated Press
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is getting hit with tough questions about investigations into sexual misconduct within the Canadian Armed Forces. David Akin explains what kind of investigation Opposition leader Erin O'Toole, an Air Force veteran, is calling for.
An Alberta court ordered an updated Gladue Report for an Onion Lake Cree Nation woman facing drug trafficking charges in that province. Tamarah Lee Dillon, 27, had court appearances in Alberta and Saskatchewan on charges stemming from separate incidents. She had an appearance on Feb. 24 in Lloydminster Provincial Court for breaching condition of her release. The matter was adjourned to Aug. 4. She had an appearance in St. Paul Provincial Court Feb. 18 on drug trafficking charges. The St. Paul court adjourned her matter until April 8 to allow time for an updated Gladue Report. A Gladue Report is a pre-sentence report typically prepared by Gladue caseworkers at the request of the judge, defense or Crown Prosecutor. By law, judges must consider Gladue factors when sentencing First Nations people. Section 718.2(e) of Canada’s Criminal Code stipulates that judges must clearly address an Aboriginal offender’s circumstances, as well as the systemic and background factors that contributed to those circumstances. Gladue was a landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision handed down in1999. In 2012 the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Gladue Principle also applies to breaches of long-term supervision orders. The ruling says that failing to take Aboriginal circumstances into account violates the fundamental principle of sentencing. The Gladue Principles also state that restorative justice may be more appropriate for Aboriginal offenders. Restorative justice focuses on healing those affected by the criminal act, including the offender, which is more in line with traditional Aboriginal justice. This restorative justice approach is also meant to act as a solution to reducing the over-representation of Aboriginals in Canadian jails. Dillon was wanted on a Canada-wide arrest warrant in December 2018 for being unlawfully at large. She remains in custody. Lisa Joy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Battlefords Regional News-Optimist
(Greg Lovett /Northwest Florida Daily News/The Associated Press - image credit) First Nations leaders in B.C. say the province's updated COVID-19 immunization plan deviates from national guidelines that priority should be given to all Indigenous adults within the first two stages of vaccine rollout. The current guidance from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization states adults in Indigenous communities should be prioritized in stage one and adults in or from Indigenous communities, including those living in urban centres, should be prioritized in stage two. Charlene Belleau, chair of the First Nations Health Council, the political leadership and advocacy arm of the health governance structure for First Nations in the province, said the provincial plan was published "with no explanation or engagement by our people at all." "I was in a call yesterday where chiefs are very upset about this new direction." Isolated and remote communities given priority Richard Jock, CEO of B.C.'s First Nations Health Authority, which is responsible for health services in B.C.'s First Nations, said the approach to vaccinations in First Nations communities has been one that takes a "whole of community" approach. Belleau said this approach was advocated for by First Nations leadership and agreed to with the province in the initial vaccine rollout. Documentation from the authority said this means vaccine is provided to all adults living and working in a community, including people who may not be First Nations such as family members, health care and community workers serving the community. "This includes individuals who live off reserve, but close to community, due to housing challenges," states the authority's toolkit for First Nations receiving COVID-19 vaccine. Then on Monday, the First Nations Health Authority learned the B.C. Ministry of Health was taking a different direction. The province committed that the whole community approach would continue for isolated, semi-isolated and remote communities identified for phase one rollout. But according to a document shared with CBC News, all other First Nations communities (that aren't isolated) will receive vaccines for those who are 65 years and older, elders, recipients of long term home support/home care and related staff in First Nations. The province said it will consider a whole community approach in situations where a community is experiencing ongoing clusters and outbreaks. To date just over half of the 204 First Nations in the province have received allocations of vaccine, according to the latest figures from the First Nations Health Authority. The authority reported to chiefs on Thursday they're aware of just under 5,000 cases of COVID-19 among First Nations people in B.C. as of Feb. 24. There have also been 83 deaths. Charlene Bealleau is chair of the First Nations Health Council. Concern for off-reserve members For the off-reserve population, First Nations people 65 or older will be eligible for vaccine in phase two of B.C.'s immunization plan. In a Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs meeting on Thursday, Coun. Sherry McIntyre (Nlaka'pamux from the Skuppah Indian Band) said it's problematic to limit vaccines to elders and people over 65. "Many elders live in multi-generational homes and need the entire household immunized at minimum in order to protect the health of that elder," she said. Chief Don Tom (Tsartlip) is vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Tsartlip Chief Don Tom said it's also problematic to have inequitable access between community members who face the same kinds of risk factors regardless of where they live. "Crowded homes, chronic health conditions, kidney problems — these are not limited to on-reserve. These are very much factors that come into play off-reserve as well," he said. "Tsartlip will be having vaccines available on Monday for my community and it just breaks my heart to know that my aunts and uncles who live off-reserve, who are elders, that they just aren't afforded the same opportunity and somehow their lives are less important than mine," he said. 'No room for exceptions' Leadership at UBCIC passed a resolution calling for a revision to the B.C. immunization plan on Thursday. They're advocating for a plan that will see equitable and accessible delivery to all First Nations people in the province. They also called on Indigenous Services Canada Minister Marc Miller, who was at the meeting, to step in. Miller acknowledged that the national guidelines "clearly and squarely" state that all adults living in Indigenous communities should get a vaccine under stage one, and that all other Indigenous adults should be able to get their shot in stage two. "There's no room for exceptions here, with the exception of some of the logistical challenges, that I must acknowledge," said Miller. Some of the logistical challenges Miller acknowledged come down to jurisdictional differences for on and off-reserve populations. Belleau said the First Nations Health Council has requested a meeting with B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix to discuss their concerns. The province did not respond to questions by the time of publishing.
(CBC - image credit) A woman in her 20s has died after using a cannabis product mixed with fentanyl, methamphetamine and the synthetic drug W-18, Prince Edward Island's chief public health officer says. P.E.I.'s coroner reported the accidental overdose death late Friday. Investigations are ongoing, according to a written news release. Dr. Heather Morrison warned that anyone consuming any kind of street drugs should take steps to reduce the risks and carry naloxone, and share the information with other drug-users that naloxone is available. Naloxone, also known by the trade name Narcan, is highly effective at reversing the effects of overdoses of opioids including heroin, morphine or fentanyl. Anyone consuming cannabis should ensure it comes from a safe source, she added. Fentanyl is a powerful opioid that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and has caused many accidental overdoses and deaths, the release said, adding W-18 is an illegal drug similar to carfentanil reported to be as much as 10,000 times more powerful than morphine. Fentanyl-related overdoses, deaths rose in 2020 In 2020, the coroner has so far identified that out of a total of 17 accidental opioid-related overdoses on P.E.I., nine involved fentanyl. Of six people who died of accidental overdoses, three cases involved fentanyl — more cases than ever before. Any Islander can get a naloxone kit for free from the provincial needle exchange program by visiting a program site or by calling 1-877-637-0333. Free kits are also available to clients of mental health and addiction programs and some community groups. Islanders are encouraged to call 911 if they suspect an overdose, even if naloxone has been administered and appears to be working — it may not be enough. "It may not be enough to permanently reverse the overdose; it only lasts for 20 minutes, so it is important to get medical help for the best chance of survival," the release said. Anyone with any information in relation to this matter or other drug related information is asked to contact RCMP or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. More from CBC P.E.I.
LOS ANGELES — Bruce Meyers was hanging out at Pismo Beach on California's Central Coast one afternoon in 1963 when he saw something that both blew his mind and changed his life: a handful of old, stripped-down cars bouncing across the sand. It sure would be fun to get behind the wheel of one of those, Meyers thought, if only they weren't so ugly and didn't appear so uncomfortable. He built his own solution: a “dune buggy" fashioned out of lightweight fiberglass mounted on four oversized tires with two bug-eyed looking headlights and a blindingly bright paint job. The result would become both an overnight automotive sensation and one of the talismans of California surf culture, especially when he created a space in the back to accommodate a surfboard. He called the vehicle the Meyers Manx and it turned the friendly, soft-spoken Meyers into a revered figure among off-roaders, surfers and car enthusiasts of all types. Meyers died Feb. 19 at his San Diego-area home, his wife, Winnie Meyers, told The Associated Press on Friday. He was 94. Meyers built thousands of dune buggies in his lifetime but he did far more. He designed boats and surfboards, worked as a commercial artist and a lifeguard, travelled the world surfing and sailing, built a trading post in Tahiti and even survived a World War II Japanese kamikaze attack on his Navy aircraft carrier the USS Bunker Hill. “He had a life that nobody else has ever lived,” his wife said with a chuckle. Bruce Franklin Meyers was born March 12, 1926, in Los Angeles, the son of a businessman and mechanic who set up automobile dealerships for his friend Henry Ford. Growing up near such popular Southern California surfing spots as Newport, Hermosa and Manhattan beaches, it was wave riding, not cars, that initially captivated Meyers, who liked to refer to himself as an original beach bum. He dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Navy and was aboard the Bunker Hill when it was attacked near Okinawa, Japan, on May 11, 1945. As fire raged aboard the ship, he jumped overboard, at one point handed his life preserver to someone who needed it more, and helped rescue others. Later, his wife said, he returned to the ship and helped remove the bodies of the nearly 400 sailors killed. After the war he served in the Merchant Marine and attended the Chouinard Art Institute, now part of the California Institute of the Arts. He also designed and built boats, learning to shape lightweight but sturdy fiberglass. That experience gave him skills he would put to use in building the first dune buggies. He built his first 12 mainly for himself and friends, and decades later was still driving No. 1, which he named Old Red. He and his friends had fallen in love with surfing the more rugged and less crowded beaches of Mexico's Baja California and they figured a Meyers Manx would be perfect for driving over and around the area's sand dunes. “All I wanted to do was go surfing in Baja when I built the dang thing,” he told broadcaster Huell Howser when he took the host of Public Television's California Gold program for a spin in Old Red in 2001. Those first dozen cars were built without chassis, which hold in place the axels, suspension and other key parts of a vehicle's undercarriage. Not having one made the car lighter but illegal to drive on public roads. Meyers began adding chassis to his models and created kits that people could initially buy for $985 and build their own cars. What really caused sales to take off, though, was when Meyers and friends took Old Red to Mexico in 1967 and won a 1,000-mile (1,609-kilometre) off-road race that took drivers through steep gullies, across soft sand and past other obstacles. Old Red won in record time, shattering the previous mark by more than five hours. “Almost overnight we had 350 orders,” Meyers told The New York Times in 2007. Soon afterward, the road race became officially known as the Mexican 1,000 — since renamed the Baja 1.000 — and when a Meyers-built dune buggy won that one too the orders poured in. In all, B.F. Meyers & Co., built more than 6,000 Meyers Manx dune buggies. Although he trademarked the design, it was easy to borrow from it, and deep-pocketed competitors sold more than 250,000 copycats. The Historic Vehicle Association says the Meyers Manx is the most replicated car in history. Fed up with losing control of his invention, Meyers closed his company in 1971 and went on to other things. At one point, his wife said, he sailed to Tahiti with a wealthy sponsor and built and ran a trading post. He and his wife re-established the car business in 1999, by which time there were dune buggy clubs all over the world. They sold the business to a venture capital firm last year. Asked over the years what it was about the dune buggy that so captivated the public, Meyers said several things played into its success. One was the cars' bright colours and big tires, which gave them almost a cartoonish look. Another was the flat surface of the fenders, which were a perfect place to put a beer. There was also the spot in the back designed for a surfboard. That, he and others noted, captivated people at a time when California surf culture was being glorified in movies and song. The car, with Elvis Presley at the wheel, is featured in the opening credits to the 1968 film “Live a Little, Love a Little.” To this day, children still play with Meyers Manx Hot Wheels. As Road and Track Magazine stated in 1976: “The Manx has to rank as one of the most significant and influential cars of all time. It started more fads, attracted more imitators … and was recognized as a genuine sculpture, a piece of art.” In addition to his wife, Meyers is survived by a daughter, Julie Meyers of Colorado. Two children, Georgia and Tim, preceded him in death. John Rogers, The Associated Press
The search for the next leader of the BC Liberal party has officially begun. A leadership conference to pick the party’s next leader will be held Feb. 3 to 5, 2022, with the leader chosen on Feb. 5, the BC Liberal Party announced today. “Today is really an opportunity for us to begin that focus on the search for a new leader that will revitalize our party and connect with British Columbians,” said Interim Liberal Leader Shirley Bond on Feb. 26. The previous party leader, Vancouver-Quilchena MLA Andrew Wilkinson, stepped down in November after the BC Liberals lost about a third of their seats and the New Democrats picked up a majority government. The BC Greens won two ridings. Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond replaced Wilkinson when she was elected interim Liberal leader by her caucus colleagues on Nov. 23. “We are excited to begin the race for the (permanent) leadership of our party, a process that will help to shape the future of BC politics” said Interim Liberal Party President Don Silversides in a press release. Given the pandemic context, the party decided an 11-month long timeframe would allow the broadest range of candidates as much opportunity as possible to interact with voters, Silversides said. “It gives the party a chance to talk about the things that matter to British Columbia,” said Bond. “We're going to have the opportunity to hear from what I hope will be a broad, diverse range of candidates as we look to renew the party.” Political hopefuls will have until Nov. 31 to register as candidates. All BC Liberal Party members will be eligible to vote in the leadership election, and anyone who isn’t a member who wants to participate has until Dec. 29 to join the party. Bond will stay on as interim leader until a new leader is selected next February. Fran@thegoatnews.ca / @FranYanor Fran Yanor, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Rocky Mountain Goat
ST. LOUIS — Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh has been buried in a private cemetery in St. Louis, his family announced Friday. Limbaugh's widow, Kathryn, and his family said a private ceremony with close family and friends was held Wednesday, but they did not say where he was buried. The family said additional celebrations of Limbaugh's life are planned in the future, both virtually and in his hometown of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, The Southeast Missourian reported. Limbaugh died Feb. 17, a year after announcing he had lung cancer. The fiery Limbaugh was a leading voice of the Republican party and conservative movement for decades with a daily radio show that was broadcast on more than 600 U.S. stations for more than 30 years. The Associated Press
VIDALIA, La. — The onetime lead singer for the now defunct rock and country band Bishop Gunn has been arrested in Louisiana on drug and traffic charges, authorities said. Travis McCready was arrested Thursday in Concordia Parish in the east-central part of the state. McCready, 33, of Natchez, Mississippi, was taken to the Concordia Parish Jail on charges of failure to dim the lights on his vehicle, expired vehicle tag and no proof of insurance as well as charges alleging possession of Schedule I, Schedule II and Schedule III drugs, authorities said. McCready, a resident of Natchez, Mississippi, where the band also had been based, was released on a $25,000 bond, The Natchez Democrat reported. It was unknown if McCready has an attorney who could speak on his behalf. The Bishop Gunn band broke up in February 2020, citing “internal issues." It suspended all future activity including tour dates and new music releases. With McCready as the group's lead singer, Bishop Gunn made it to the top of the Billboard Blues Album chart in 2018 with their debut album “Natchez.” At the height of its run, Bishop Gunn toured in Europe with Slash after playing two cruises with Kid Rock and received multiple accolades from Rolling Stone Magazine’s top country charts. Although the band has called it quits, McCready has performed solo in Natchez and elsewhere. The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Major League Soccer says Ron Burkle has backed out of plans for an expansion team in Sacramento, California, that was scheduled to start play in 2023. The league said in a statement Friday night that Burkle's decision was “based on issues with the project related to COVID-19.” MLS announced the Sacramento Republic as its 29th team on Oct. 21, 2019, and said then the team would start play in 2022. MLS said July 17 that Sacramento would not start play until the 2023 season because of the pandemic. At the time, the league delayed Charlotte, North Carolina, until 2022 and St. Louis until 2023. MLS expanded to 26 teams last year with the addition of Miami and Nashville, Tennessee. Austin, Texas joins this season, which is scheduled to start April 17. Sacramento's announced ownership group included Burkle, founder of The Yucaipa Cos. and an owner of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, as lead investor. He was joined by entertainment executive Matt Alvarez and Kevin Nagle, an investor in the NBA’s Sacramento Kings who had spearheaded the bid for MLS expansion since 2014. Burkle's group had planned a $300 million soccer-specific stadium on a 14-acre site downtown and signed a deal with UC Davis Health to be its MLS jersey sponsor. But the group had run into cost issues with the proposed stadium site and had yet to break ground on the proposed 21,000-seat stadium. There also was growing concern the team would not be able to start until 2024. The current Sacramento Republic, founded in December 2012, plays in the second-tier United Soccer League Championship. “After working for many years to bring an MLS team to Sacramento, the league continues to believe it can be a great MLS market,” MLS said in a statement. “In the coming days, the league will work with Mayor Darrell Steinberg to evaluate possible next steps for MLS in Sacramento.” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said he remains optimistic about finalizing plans for the league's 30th team. MLS's 2020 season started Feb. 29 but was interrupted after March 8 by the pandemic. The season resumed July 8 and each team played 23 regular-season games, down from 34 originally scheduled. As a fallout from pandemic restrictions, attendance dropped from nearly 9 million to about 750,000. ___ More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — U.S. health advisers endorsed a one-dose COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson on Friday, putting the nation on the cusp of adding an easier-to-use option to fight the pandemic. The acting head of the Food and Drug Administration said in a statement that the agency will move quickly to follow the recommendation, which would make J&J’s shot the third vaccine authorized for emergency use in the U.S. Vaccinations are picking up speed, but new supplies are urgently needed to stay ahead of a mutating virus that has killed more than 500,000 Americans. After daylong discussions, the FDA panelists voted unanimously that the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks for adults. Once FDA issues a final decision, shipments of a few million doses could begin as early as Monday. “There’s an urgency to get this done,” said Dr. Jay Portnoy of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri. “We’re in a race between the virus mutating — and new variants coming out that can cause further disease — and stopping it.” More than 47 million people in the U.S., or 14% of the population, have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which FDA authorized in December. But the pace of vaccinations has been strained by limited supplies and delays due to winter storms. While early J&J supplies will be small, the company has said it can deliver 20 million doses by the end of March and a total of 100 million by the end of June. J&J’s vaccine protects against the worst effects of COVID-19 after one shot, and it can be stored up to three months at refrigerator temperatures, making it easier to handle than the previous vaccines, which must be frozen. One challenge in rolling out the new vaccine will be explaining how protective the J&J shot is after the astounding success of the first U.S. vaccines. “It’s important that people do not think that one vaccine is better than another,” said panelist Dr. Cody Meissner of Tufts University. The two-dose Pfizer and Moderna shots were found to be about 95% effective against symptomatic COVID-19. The numbers from J&J’s study are not that high, but it's not an apples-to-apples comparison. One dose of the J&J vaccine was 85% protective against the most severe COVID-19. After adding in moderate cases, the total effectiveness dropped to about 66%. Some experts fear that lower number could feed public perceptions that J&J’s shot is a “second-tier vaccine.” But the difference in protection reflects when and where J&J conducted its studies. J&J’s vaccine was tested in the U.S., Latin America and South Africa at a time when more contagious mutated versions of the virus were spreading. That wasn’t the case last fall, when Pfizer and Moderna were wrapping up testing, and it’s not clear if their numbers would hold against the most worrisome of those variants. Importantly, the FDA reported this week that, just like its predecessors, the J&J shot offers strong protection against the worst outcomes, hospitalization and death. While J&J is seeking FDA authorization for its single-dose version, the company is also studying whether a second dose boosts protection. Panel member Dr. Paul Offit warned that launching a two-dose version of the vaccine down the road might cause problems. “You can see where that would be confusing to people thinking, ’Maybe I didn’t get what I needed,’” said Offit, a vaccine expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “It’s a messaging challenge.” J&J representatives said they chose to begin with the single shot because the World Health Organization and other experts agreed it would be a faster, more effective tool in an emergency. Cases and hospitalizations have fallen dramatically since their January peak that followed the winter holidays. But public health officials warned that those gains may be stalling as more variants take root in the U.S. “We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said during a White House briefing Friday. She noted that new COVID-19 cases have increased over the past few days. While it’s too early to tell if the trend will last, Walensky said adding a third vaccine “will help protect more people faster.” More vaccines are in the pipeline. On Sunday, a CDC panel is expected to meet to recommend how to best prioritize use of the J&J vaccine. Other parts of the world already are facing which-is-best challenges. Italy’s main teachers’ union recently protested when the government decided to reserve Pfizer and Moderna shots for the elderly and designate AstraZeneca’s vaccine for younger, at-risk workers. AstraZeneca’s vaccine was deemed to be about 70% effective in testing. Canada became the latest country Friday to allow use of AstraZeneca’s vaccine. ___ AP reporters Carla K. Johnson and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report. ___ 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. Lauran Neergaard And Matthew Perrone, The Associated Press
HOUSTON — President Joe Biden heard firsthand from Texans clobbered by this month's brutal winter weather on Friday and pledged to stick with them “for the long haul” as he made his first trip to a major disaster area since he took office. Biden was briefed by emergency officials and thanked workers for doing “God's work.” He promised the federal government will be there for Texans as they try to recover, not just from the historic storm but also the public health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. “When a crisis hits our states, like the one that hit Texas, it’s not a Republican or Democrat that’s hurting," Biden said. “It's our fellow Americans that are hurting and it's out job to help everyone in need." With tens of thousands of Houston area residents without safe water, local officials told Biden that many are still struggling. While he was briefed, first lady Jill Biden joined an assembly line of volunteers packing boxes of quick oats, juice, and other food at the Houston Food Bank, where he arrived later. The president's first stop was the Harris County Emergency Operations Center for a briefing from acting FEMA Administrator Bob Fenton and state and local emergency management officials. Texas was hit particularly hard by the Valentine's weekend storm that battered multiple states. Unusually frigid conditions led to widespread power outages and frozen pipes that burst and flooded homes. Millions of residents lost heat and running water. At least 40 people in Texas died as a result of the storm and, although the weather has returned to more normal temperatures, more than 1 million residents are still under orders to boil water before drinking it. “The president has made very clear to us that in crises like this, it is our duty to organize prompt and competent federal support to American citizens, and we have to ensure that bureaucracy and politics do not stand in the way,” said Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall, who accompanied Biden to Houston. Biden was joined for much of his visit by Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn, both Republicans, four Democratic Houston-area members of Congress and Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. The president also stopped by a mass coronavirus vaccination centre at NRG Stadium that is run by the federal government. Biden on Thursday commemorated the 50 millionth COVID-19 vaccination since he took office, halfway toward his goal of 100 million shots by his 100th day in office. That celebration followed a moment of silence to mark the passage earlier this week of 500,000 U.S. deaths blamed on the disease. Democrat Biden suggested that he and Republicans Abbott and Cornyn could find common cause in getting Americans vaccinated as quickly as possible. “We disagree on plenty of things,” Biden said. “There’s nothing wrong with that, but there are plenty of things we can work on together. And one of them is represented right here today, the effort to speed up vaccinations." Texas' other U.S. senator, Ted Cruz, an ally of former President Donald Trump and one of a handful of GOP lawmakers who had objected to Congress certifying Biden’s victory, was in Florida Friday addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference. Cruz, who has been criticized for taking his family to Cancun, Mexico, while millions of Texans shivered in unheated homes, later said the trip was a mistake, but he made light of the controversy on Friday. “Orlando is awesome,” he said to laughs and hoots. “It’s not as nice as Cancun. But’s nice.” At the peak of the storm, more than 1.4 million residents were without power and 3.5 million were under boil-water notices in the nation's third largest county. Post-storm debate in Texas has centred on the state maintaining its own electrical grid and its lack of better storm preparation, including weatherization of key infrastructure. Some state officials initially blamed the blackouts on renewable energy even though Texas relies heavily on oil and gas. In Washington, Biden's climate adviser said the deadly winter storm was a “wake-up call” for the United States to build energy systems that can withstand extreme weather linked to climate change. “We need systems of energy that are reliable and resilient,” Gina McCarthy said in an interview with The Associated Press. The White House said Biden's purpose in visiting was to support, not scold. Biden was bent on asking Texans "what do you need, how can I help you more," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. “And what can we get more for you from the federal government.” Biden has declared a major disaster in Texas and asked federal agencies to identify additional resources to aid the recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent emergency generators, bottled water, ready-to-eat meals and blankets. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said in an interview that he didn't know what more the federal government could do to help because the failures were at the state level. But Henry, a Republican who is the highest county official in the suburban Houston county, said that if Biden “thinks it's important to visit, then come on down.” Biden wanted to make the trip last week, but said at the time that he held back because he didn’t want his presence and entourage to detract from the recovery effort. Houston also was the destination for Trump's first presidential visit to a disaster area in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey caused catastrophic flooding that August. Trump, who is not known for displays of empathy, did not meet with storm victims on the visit. He returned four days later and urged people who had relocated to a shelter to “have a good time.” —- Associated Press writers Juan Lozano in Houston, Aamer Madhani in Chicago, and Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed reporting. Darlene Superville, The Associated Press
OTTAWA — A man who helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for WE Charity says he believes two different groups of donors were told they had raised the money for a school in Kenya. Reed Cowan testified before a parliamentary committee today where he said he discovered a plaque that had once borne his late son's name had been replaced with the name of another donor. Cowan says he then found a video online that showed an opening ceremony for the school building, almost identical to one he participated in, that took place with a different group of donors two weeks before the one held for his group. Cowan, who was a member of the advisory board to a WE-affiliated group in the United States, says he began raising money after his son Wesley died in an accident at age four and that helping children in Kenya helped him deal with the loss. In an email, WE Charity says there was only one opening ceremony for the school and Cowan misunderstood what was happening in the video. WE says it inadvertently failed to notify Cowan about the removal of the plaque and that it has now been returned. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 26, 2021. ——— This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship. The Canadian Press