WASHINGTON — Outgoing Attorney General William Barr's decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the handling of the Russia probe ensures his successor won't have an easy transition.The move, which Barr detailed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, could lead to heated confirmation hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's nominee, who hasn't been announced. Senate Republicans will likely use that forum to extract a pledge from the pick to commit to an independent investigation.The pressure on the new attorney general is unlikely to ease once they take office. With the special counsel continuing to work during the early days of the Biden administration, it may be tough for the Justice Department's new leadership to launch investigations of President Donald Trump and his associates without seeming to be swayed by political considerations.Barr elevated U.S. Attorney John Durham to special counsel as Trump continues to propel his claims that the Russia investigation that shadowed his presidency was a “witch hunt.” It's the latest example of efforts by Trump officials to use the final days of his administration to essentially box Biden in by enacting new rules, regulations and orders designed to cement the president's legacy.But the manoeuvring over the special counsel is especially significant because it saddles Democrats with an investigation that they've derided as tainted. Now there's little the new administration can do about it.“From a political perspective, the move is so elegantly lethal that it would make Machiavelli green with envy,” Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today.A special counsel can only be dismissed for cause. And as was the case during Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, such probes can sometimes stray from their origins.The Biden transition did not respond to a request for comment on the special counsel appointment.But Barr's decision could influence whom the president-elect puts forth as a nominee for attorney general. One leading candidate, Sally Yates, was already viewed skeptically by some Trump-aligned Republicans for her role in the early days of the Russia investigation. Her nomination could face even greater challenges because she's connected to some of the work that Durham is examining.As deputy attorney general, Yates signed off on the first two applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor communications of ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, a process that has been among the focuses of the Durham investigation.A Justice Department inspector general report found significant flaws and omissions in the four applications to the court, though it also found no evidence that Yates or any other senior Justice Department officials were aware of the problems.Some Democrats have privately expressed concerns – likely to deepen with Durham’s appointment as a special counsel – that nominating Yates would lead to a messy confirmation process that focuses on the Russia investigation, instead of focusing on reforms and shifting priorities at the Justice Department, people familiar with the matter have said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.Others potentially in the mix for the role include Lisa Monaco, a former homeland security adviser and senior Justice Department official in the Obama administration, and outgoing Alabama Sen. Doug Jones, who famously prosecuted Ku Klux Klan members who bombed a Birmingham church in the 1960s.The question for Biden, however, is how to balance top Cabinet picks as he attempts to fulfil his pledge for racial, ethnic and gender diversity. Many of Biden's leading nominees so far have been white, which could work against Yates, Monaco and Jones.Some Black Democrats are attempting to elevate former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who is Black and led the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, in discussions about potential attorneys general.Whoever emerges as the nominee will be pressed to demonstrate independence from the new White House after Biden campaigned on a pledge to depoliticize the Justice Department.That could be tough, however, if the future attorney general faces calls for new probes into the Trump administration. Some investigations into Trump have been frozen because of the immunity he enjoys as president. Others swirling around members of his family and associates have been simmering for years.On Tuesday, an unsealed court filing revealed an investigation into a potential plot to solicit political donations in exchange for the president using his pardon power.Barr, for his part, insisted that he was trying to keep politics out of the Durham probe, explaining that is why he delayed announcing the special counsel appointment until a month after the election.“With the election approaching, I decided the best thing to do would be to appoint them under the same regulation that covered Bob Muller, to provide Durham and his team some assurance that they’d be able to complete their work regardless of the outcome of the election,” Barr said in an interview with the AP on Tuesday.“I wanted to have the team, both Durham and his team understand that they be able to finish their work,” Barr said.Durham has already been a huge disappointment for Trump and his allies, and prompted a dispute with Barr over why things weren’t moving faster and why the investigation did not yield major prosecutions in the weeks before the election. The investigation wasn’t expected to result in many more criminal charges, and there has only been one so far — a former FBI lawyer who pleaded guilty to a single charge.But the investigation is worth more politically than practically.A nearly 500-page inspector general report chronicled in great detail the errors and omissions FBI agents made in a series of applications to surveil Page. Declassified documents released by congressional Republicans have raised additional questions while not undercutting the overarching legitimacy of the Russia probe. And the facts of the one criminal case Durham has brought so far, against an FBI lawyer who admitted altering an email, were already mostly laid out in the watchdog report.There’s also been a degree of turmoil within Durham’s ranks as one of the team’s leaders, Nora Dannehy, resigned months ago, a significant departure given the active role she had played.___Miller reported from Wilmington, Delaware. Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Colleen Long in Washington and Bill Barrow in Atlanta contributed to this report.Michael Balsamo And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press
Venezuela's opposition is discussing scaling back the interim government of opposition leader Juan Guaido that has won diplomatic recognition by dozens of countries that disavowed President Nicolas Maduro, nine legislators told Reuters. Guaido, the leader of Venezuela's opposition-controlled parliament, in 2019 called Maduro a usurper following his disputed re-election and assumed a parallel presidency based on articles of the constitution that make the head of the National Assembly next in line to rule the country. Guaido's lawmaker allies have said they will continue to insist that they are legitimate parliamentarians after Jan. 5, arguing that their constitutional mandate remains intact because Sunday's vote is rigged.
South Peace communities are considering re-opening discussions to establish a regional handi-bus service. Wembley mayor Chris Turnmire sent out letters to councils in neighbouring municipalities inquiring about the interest in returning to the project, which was put on hold two years ago. “The focus was to identify opportunities to improve mobility options primarily for seniors and disabled residents to attend to basic needs, including medical and dental appointments,” Turnmire said. In 2017 Wembley applied to the Alberta Community Partnership program and won a grant of $67,500 to study the feasibility of a regional service. The town partnered with Beaverlodge, Sexsmith, Hythe and the city and county of Grande Prairie in the project, Turnmire said. Wembley and its partners then contracted Watt Consulting Group to conduct the study. Turnmire said $61,324 was spent on the study and the remainder was refunded to the Alberta government. In 2018 municipal councils decided to put the project on hold due to the launch of the County Connector, he said. The county-based transit service had space for wheelchairs but ended in August due to low ridership. “A regional handi-bus service would have a different focus,” Turnmire said. “This isn’t a money-making project; this is a service to individuals who may not have access to transportation to get to appointments or other places they need to go. “I suspect it’s going to have a cost attached to it, that each municipality would have to look at and (determine) what the proportional share would be.” In early November South Peace mayors and CAOs attended an intermunicipal meeting and the leaders discussed possibly renewing handi-bus talks, he said. None of the mayors rejected the idea outright and due to Wembley’s lead in the project two years ago, it was decided Turnmire would write a letter to all councils, he said. Early work completed In April 2018 Watt Consulting Group held an open house in Beaverlodge discussing plans for a regional handi-bus. The draft policy presented in 2018 called for a round trip running two days per week. Under the program, the bus would travel along the western and northern corridors connecting the city to each town and village, along with Clairmont, La Glace and Valhalla. Plans may change If the councils decide to re-open the possibility of a regional handi-bus, Turnmire said some of the 2018 plans for the service may change. The councils would establish a working group, with each appointing a councillor or staff member to re-examine the study, he said. Turnmire said with council meetings slowing down during December, he doesn’t expect the working group would be established until after the new year. Some of the municipalities have existing handi-bus services, and Turnmire said the working group would also have to consider how to avoid duplication of service and keep things efficient. COVID-19 poses another question as to how service will be affected if the health crisis is still ongoing, Turnmire added. During a recent regular meeting last week Sexsmith council approved Coun. Jonathan Siggelkow’s motion to express interest in the project. At Beaverlodge council’s last meeting Coun. Terry Dueck expressed interest in representing the town in the group. Mayor Gary Rycroft said joining the working group would allow for an exploration of various considerations. Coun. Judy Kokotilo-Bekkerus’ motion to express interest was carried.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Homicide investigators say a fourth person has been charged in the Remembrance Day shooting of a man in Surrey, B.C., last year.Andrew Baldwin, 30, was killed Nov. 11, 2019, at a house in the 10700-block of 124 Street. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team announced Wednesday that Munroop Hayer has been charged with first-degree murder.Supt. Elija Rain with the Surrey RCMP said Hayer is well known to police in the Lower Mainland.Jordan Bottomley and Jagpal Hothi have already been charged with first-degree murder in the case.Jasman Basran, 21, was charged in May with being an accessory to murder.Baldwin was gunned down just weeks after his younger brother, 27-year-old Keith Baldwin, was shot and killed in Chilliwack, B.C. Both men were known to police.Sgt. Frank Jang with IHIT read a statement Wednesday from Baldwin's mother, Julie. "Andrew was a caring, giving person and his loyalty to his family, friends, loved ones and co-workers was unwavering," the note read. "We will all miss him, every moment of every day."
SAN FRANCISCO — City officials in San Francisco have banned all tobacco smoking inside apartments, citing concerns about secondhand smoke. But lighting up a joint inside? That’s still allowed.The Board of Supervisors voted 10-1 Tuesday to approve the ordinance making San Francisco the largest city in the country to ban tobacco smoking inside apartments, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.The original proposal sought to ban residents from smoking marijuana in their apartments, but supervisors voted to exclude marijuana after cannabis activists said the law would take away their only legal place to smoke. It’s illegal under state law to smoke cannabis in public places.“Unlike tobacco smokers who could still leave their apartments to step out to the curb or smoke in other permitted outdoor smoking areas, cannabis users would have no such legal alternatives,” said Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who wrote the amendment to exempt cannabis.San Francisco now joins 63 California cities and counties with such a ban.Those against the ban argued that it infringed on their rights inside their homes. Supporters said it’s important to protect the health of nonsmokers — particularly low-income residents who live in dense apartment buildings.Cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 people per year in the United States, including more than 41,000 deaths caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.The Department of Public Health will be responsible for enforcing the new law. Under the ordinance, the department must first try to educate violators and help smokers quit. Repeat offenders could be fined $1,000 a day but can not be evicted for a smoking violation.The ordinance must pass a second vote of the board next week and the mayor must sign it. Once that happens, the new law would go into effect 30 days later.The Associated Press
The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Area wants residents to voice their opposition to changes made by the provincial government to the Conservation Act. On Nov. 5, the Ontario government held its first reading of Bill 229 known as the Protect, Support and Recover from COVID-19 Act. Of the many changes in the omnibus bill included the Conservation Act. Mark Peacock, CAO secretary treasurer of LTVCA said he takes particular issue with changes that now limit the scope of what a conservation authority’s mandate is. “Basically, the object or purpose of conservation authorities, since 1946, has always been the same; to do watershed management to better the watershed. We’ve been doing that for 70-some-odd years and made significant connections with our farmers, communities and took local action to make our watershed better and protect the species,” he said. Peacock said the new mandate would limit authorities’ programs and services related to the risk of natural hazards. “That’s not what a conservation authority is all about or what the public expects us to be.” Bill 229 would also allow the ministry to “arbitrarily make a decision” regarding permits for developers who would be allowed to appeal conservation authorities’ decisions directly to the ministry. The current system was put in place after Hurricane Hazel struck southern Ontario in 1954, killing more than 80 people living on flood plains. In response, the provincial government amended act to enable conservation authorities to acquire lands for recreation and conservation purposes, and to regulate that land for the safety of the community. “One of the challenges we have is we are trying to make it so people can work together. You can very well make it so one person’s piece of shoreline blows out. We are trying to get neighbours to work together to support each other, If people start appealing this stuff, decisions may be made that don’t necessarily work to follow larger shoreline problems,” Peacock said. One of the first principles passed in the early days of the Conservation Act was that the costs of projects should be shared by municipalities and by the provincial government. A local conservation authority follows the natural boundaries of the watershed, not municipal lines, Peacock explained. However, the new act would make it so that the municipal councillors who sit on LTVCA are only responsible for their municipalities. “But the purpose is to get all the member municipalities together to work for the betterment of the watershed, not just the municipality. Takes away from the whole concept of what we are about,” he said. “We are saying Lakeshore and Chatham-Kent have to get together because if Lighthouse Cove floods, that affects everyone. So farmers have to work together to be responsible to everybody on the river.” Peacock said Bill 229 is only an enabling act so the full effects it will have on conservation authorities will not be known until regulations for the act are passed. In the meantime, Peacock is hoping to drum up local support by having residents reach out to their local MPPs and discuss the issue. “The idea of a conservation authority is about a municipality forgetting about the square lines of their map and realizing water runs right from the top to the bottom.”Jenna Cocullo, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Chatham Voice
As the death toll from illicit drug overdoses continues to mount unabated in B.C., advocates want more specialized services and harm reduction measures to help protect young people. Another 162 fatalities occurred in October due to toxic drug supply, for a total of 1,386 deaths in 2020, according to the BC Coroners Service's most recent figures. Of those killed this year by the overdose crisis, 19 per cent, or 269 deaths, were young people aged 29 years old or younger, with 14 of the dead under the age of 19, the coroners service figures show. Kali Sedgemore, a youth outreach worker and peer harm reduction advocate in Vancouver, said the ongoing public health emergency is in its fifth year, and COVID-19 is only exacerbating the harms. “We don’t even have time to grieve because we know we will hear about another (death) the next day,” Sedgemore said. The dangers of the toxic illicit drug supply are being compounded as people following pandemic protocols use illicit drugs alone and as harm reduction services have been reduced, or wait times have increased at overdose prevention sites (OPS) during the pandemic, Sedgemore added. Youth do not make up the largest number of fatalities, but all overdose deaths are largely unnecessary and preventable, Sedgemore said. In 2020, 70 per cent of those who have died from the toxic drug supply fall between the ages of 30 and 59, and males account for 80 per cent of the deaths to date. Most overdose fatalities involved people dying alone indoors. One immediate way to reduce the harms from toxic illicit drugs to youth is to provide harm reduction and OPS services dedicated strictly to their demographic, Sedgemore said. “Youth are vulnerable to manipulation by adults,” Sedgemore said, adding young people are at risk of being exploited sexually or for money or other reasons. Specialized harm reduction services are already hard to come by in urban areas such as Vancouver but are even more scarce in smaller communities and rural areas, Sedgemore said, noting they originally came from a small community from the northern part of Vancouver Island. Plus, young people — especially those under the age of 18 — are often deterred from using harm reduction services or supplies by providers due to their age, or can come under increased scrutiny from staff at these locations, they said. Both of these situations make youth uncomfortable, Sedgemore said. It’s also critical that medical professionals, social workers or other service providers don’t push youth into treatment before they are ready, Sedgemore stressed. Doing so only puts youth at increased risk, forcing them to be more secretive about any illicit drug use and increasing the unwillingness to use harm reduction services or call emergency services in case of an overdose. Research shows abstinence education, or the "just say no to drugs" approach, is not as effective as talking openly about illicit drugs, the associated risks and, if youth should choose to use them, how to do it safely, Sedgemore said. However, there is also the need for more youth treatment beds and shorter wait-lists for youth seeking help, Sedgemore said, especially closer to their own communities. “I don’t think it’s great sending a youth away from their own hometown and the people youth are used to seeing every day.” The B.C. government plans to double the number of treatment beds for youth aged 12 to 24 who are struggling with substance use. A total of 60 young people under the age of 24 lost their lives to fentanyl poisoning from toxic street drugs from January to June 2020, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. The province committed $36 million to create another 123 treatment beds for young people, in addition to 20 beds recently established at a new youth facility in the Fraser Valley. Prior to the recent announcements, B.C. had 103 treatment beds for youth. The new beds are part of a broader continuum of care the B.C. government is planning for young people that will include culturally safe, youth-specific services in both rural and smaller city centres, the ministry stated. Building on its network of youth-specific mental health and substance use services, the province will develop eight new Foundry centres, for a total of 19 youth hubs. Foundry centres provide primary care, youth and family peer supports, walk-in counselling, mental health and substance use services and social services all under one roof. Steve Ayers, program manager for the Foundry located in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, agreed that youth benefit from specialized services and being in charge of any decisions about their drug or alcohol use. “If a counsellor is going to really be impactful, they have to let the client drive the process of making changes around substance use,” Ayers said. “The objective of substance use counselling is to help youth have a better life, and what are some concrete ways that might happen, depending on their choices of course,” he said. Many youth use substances to deal with trauma or anxiety, so alternate tools or strategies need to be developed to help young people deal with that suffering, he added. It’s dangerous to assume youth overdoses due to illicit drugs are only a big-city problem, Ayers said. “It’s absolutely a misconception,” he said, adding the issues that fuel youth substance use exist in every community across Canada. However, youth generally don’t tend to be as entrenched with illicit hard drugs as some other age demographics, especially in rural areas where supply might be limited, Ayers said. “If there’s no supply (of illicit drugs) kids will find other things to do to cope with what they are struggling with,” he said. However, kids and families in rural or remote communities such as the Discovery Islands or small communities across North Vancouver Island can face additional challenges or gaps in accessing supports, Ayers said. Many Foundry services are now available online to try to mitigate the challenges for youth living in more isolated communities who need support, especially with travel limitations due to the pandemic, he said. The youth hub also works with schools to meet with students during class time for those who have to bus in and out of Campbell River. Young people and their families just need to reach out and the Foundry will try to find a fix for any stumbling blocks to service, Ayers said. “We always seem to be able to find them and reach them with help,” he said. “Unless they're just not reaching out at all. And honestly, those are the people that we’re scared for most.” Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada's National ObserverRochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer
Leave the snow boots, parkas and glove warmers in the closet, the 2021 Sundance Film Festival is coming down from the mountain and straight to your living room.Organizers on Wednesday said that this year they will premiere over 70 films on a custom online platform during the seven day event. There will also be some socially distanced screening opportunities around the country. The festival, which is normally held in Park City, Utah, has been preparing for various scenarios for months as the pandemic has raged on.Festival director Tabitha Jackson said that this model, “Gives us the opportunity to reach new audiences, safely, where they are.”Over the course of the festival, feature films will premiere throughout the day at a dedicated time followed by a live Q&A. Ticketholders will have a three-hour window to watch. Second screenings will be available for 24 hours two days later. The rollout, organizers said, is designed to “preserve the energy of a Festival.”There will also be limited screenings at venues across the county, including Birmingham, Alabama’s Sidewalk Drive-In, Pasadena, California’s Rose Bowl, Denver's Sie Film Center and Columbus, Ohio’s Gateway Film Center.“At the heart of all this is a belief in the power of coming together, and the desire to preserve what makes a festival unique -- a collaborative spirit, a collective energy, and a celebration of the art, artists, and ideas that leave us changed,” Jackson said.The 2021 Sundance Film Festival runs from January 28 through February 3, and tickets will be available for purchase for the general public beginning Jan. 7. The 2021 slate will be revealed in the coming weeks.Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press
Homelessness in Hythe and the possibility of establishing a shelter in the village have become hot topics in the wake of this year’s economic downturn. The Village of Hythe is requesting feedback ahead of proposed virtual town hall to discuss the issue. “This is the first time to my knowledge that we’ve really experienced the issue, so we’re looking at options for how to deal with it,” said mayor Brian Peterson. No date has yet been set for a virtual meeting, said Leona Hanson, village chief administrative officer. Peterson said he doesn’t believe homelessness is widespread in Hythe, but it poses a great problem to those directly affected. “It’s a small-scale problem, but with large impacts to individuals,” he said. Peterson said he doesn’t believe the number of homeless residents exceeds a half dozen. There is a combination of causes of local housing instability; COVID, falling oil prices and their impact on the economy, he said. The former 7 Lakes Motel near Tags had provided long-term housing for many people and its closure earlier this year has contributed to the issue. Some of the former residents have found other accommodations, but others haven’t, Peterson said. Though rumours have been circulating on social media that the former motel will be re-purposed as a homeless shelter, nothing concrete has been received by the village, said Peterson. A number of concerned citizens have begun discussing how to address homelessness in Hythe, and the idea of re-purposing the motel has been suggested, he said. The group isn’t yet well-established and it hasn’t yet proposed a plan, Peterson said. If the former motel were to be converted into a shelter the village would need to approve that re-purposing through a development permit process, he said. Village CAO Hanson is working on a potential virtual town hall before a plan is advanced, Peterson said, adding the village isn’t considering funding a facility because it lacks the resources. Peterson said there’ve been no applications for a development permit yet, but the process has typically taken months. Homelessness is an urgent issue, but he said the process needs to ensure a good plan for a shelter is in place. “You need to do it right, and ask, ‘Is it the right place?’” Peterson said. “The shelter is a basic concept, but I need a lot more information than that.” He said he’s heard concerns from residents about having a shelter in the community, including whether the village can handle issues often associated with homelessness, mental health and addictions. “Those are valid concerns, and how do you deal with that and what resources are available?” Peterson said. “We certainly don’t have those resources available here today.” That said, some Hythe residents are already struggling with housing instability and mental health or addictions and Peterson said he’s not aware of anyone moving to Hythe to use the shelter. Other residents have expressed concerns about the rising crime they perceive would come with a shelter. Peterson said RCMP response times in Hythe are already an issue. “Adding extra stress to the system is not a good thing,” he said. Before the town hall, feedback is being accepted at 780-356-3888 or firstname.lastname@example.org and residents can also express interest in attending the meeting by using that email address.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says President Donald Trump would sign a proposal for COVID-19 relief funding backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a scaled-back GOP bill that has already failed twice this fall. (Dec. 2)
This past summer of discontent against police has set the stage for Norm Lipinski, the new top cop in Surrey, who is vowing a slew of changes in one of Canada’s fastest growing and most culturally diverse cities. From more cops on bikes to walking the beat and welcoming soirees for new Canadians, Lipinski’s central goal revolves around creating a force that will police the plurality of Surrey with constant engagement and strident enforcement. “That will begin with creating a command structure that reflects the diversity of Surrey both in ethnicity and gender,” Lipinksi told NCM as he prepared for his new role that will begin later this month. “We can learn a lot from the anti-police sentiment that has swept many parts of the world this past summer, especially in the U.S. and from the great work of the RCMP has done in Surrey. But now is a time for change to remove tensions and rebuild confidence in police,” he said. “We can do it and build a more modern, inclusive, accountable, and community-based model,” said Lipinski, who brings 42 years of policing experience to Surrey, where close to half of residents are immigrants. Lipinski said the first order of business will be to hire a complement of senior staff and officers that will be reflective of the community with recruitment efforts targeting ethnic and Indigenous communities and women. The RCMP employs nearly three-quarters of B.C.’s 9,500 police with 18 per cent of its officers coming from visible minority groups and another five per cent comprising Indigenous persons. About 20 per cent of RCMP members across the country are women. While these numbers may be representative for rural communities, it is out of whack for places like Surrey, where 34 per cent of residents speak English as a secondary language and where females outnumber males in the general population. Statistics Canada said in a report last week that people designated as visible minorities report less confidence in police than non-visible minority people. Just over one-third (35 per cent) of Canadians belonging to population groups designated as visible minorities reported having a great deal of confidence in the police in 2019, compared with 44 per cent among non-visible minority people, the national number crunchers said. Confidence levels also varied among different visible minority groups. For example, Southeast Asian (25 per cent) and Chinese (26 per cent) Canadians were less likely to report a great deal of confidence in the police compared with non-visible minority people (44 per cent). Lipinski, a former assistant commissioner for the RCMP’s E-Division in B.C., said he will be reaching out to faith leaders, community groups, NGOs, neighbourhood associations and local media among others as he works on a strategic plan for the Surrey Police Force, which will have 1,150 employees — 805 police officers, 325 civilian positions and 20 Community Safety Personnel (CSP). Surrey currently is the only one of 19 major Canadian population centres with more than 300,000 people without a local police department. A self-described data geek, with a Master of Business Administration degree as well as a Bachelor of Laws degree, Lipinski plans to use the community consultations to draw up a delivery service model that will hinge on a $200 million budget annually. “If the data shows we can deliver better service by having officers out of their cars and walking the beat or on bikes, we will do it,” said Lipinski. The veteran cop also plans meet and greet sessions for immigrants and refugees as they settle in Surrey which is home to about a fifth of all new arrivals to B.C. “Our recruiting will be different, our tone will be different and our engagement will be different,” Lipinski added.Fabian Dawson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, New Canadian Media
Shoppers hoping to pick up a unique Christmas gift or two at the Victoria Park Gallery may be able to finish their shopping, after finding the Gallery closed for the past two weeks. Ruth Nicholson, a member of the Gallery, said that many of her colleagues, some of who are seniors, became very concerned as the number of COVID cases began to climb. Because the Gallery is not considered an essential service, the group opted to close for two weeks. “We are all retired and need to stay away from it,” said Nicholson. While the doors are closed to the public, there is renovation work taking place, updating the bathrooms and electrical systems. Once the work is done, members will do a thorough cleaning before reopening. “Christmas is a big season,” said Nicholson. “The plan right now is to open on the second of Dec. and stay open until Christmas Eve.” Nicholson said the Gallery may extend its hours to allow for more shopping. Once open, the Gallery, as in past months, will maintain strict cleaning procedures and follow all other recommendations from Public Health. Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent
The number of continuing care facilities in Alberta with COVID-19 outbreaks of two or more cases has more than tripled in three weeks, causing advocates to sound the alarm.In three weeks, the total number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta care homes has shot to 123 from 40.As of Wednesday morning, 351 residents of long-term care facilities or supportive/home living sites have died of COVID in the province since the pandemic began, according to the government.That's 64 per cent of the 551 reported COVID deaths in Alberta."It's very challenging and quite frankly it's a situation in our province of our own making," said Mike Conroy, CEO of the Brenda Strafford Foundation, which runs a number of Calgary care homes.At one of them, Clifton Manor in southeast Calgary, an ongoing outbreak has led to 74 COVID-19 cases and three deaths.For months, Conroy has been calling for dedicated contact tracing and testing at Alberta continuing care facilities.The care homes that he's in charge of conduct asymptomatic testing every three days during an outbreak.And as recently as last week, Conroy had to wait three days for a batch of swab results — eight of which came back positive."My expectation, and I've been trying to secure a commitment, is that we should get those results in 24 hours, because it's information … the sooner we have the results, the sooner we can take action," he said.Staffing shortages more dire than in springStaffing is another major challenge for care homes as they battle through the second wave, said Lorraine Venturato, a nursing professor at the University of Calgary. "It's kind of coming in like a tsunami and there hasn't been as much attention being focused on continuing care as there was in the first wave and yet the situation is probably more dire now," she said.Venturato said continuing care centres may need to look to other industries — perhaps recruiting laid-off restaurant workers — for help with non-medical jobs."Meals need to be delivered to rooms if a site's in lockdown, so they may need extra people in the kitchen, extra people for delivery, extra people for cleaning," she said.20 hospitals also battle outbreaksCurrently, 20 Alberta hospitals are also now battling COVID-19 outbreaks.According to information published by Alberta Health Services, there are more than 190 COVID cases connected to active hospital outbreaks right now, and at least 20 deaths have been linked to the outbreaks.Hospitals across the province are working to dedicate 2,200 beds for COVID patients, as they did last spring, Premier Jason Kenney said in the legislature on Monday. At Tuesday afternoon's provincial update, Alberta reported 1,307 new cases, with a provincial positivity rate of 8.4 per cent. Alberta has reported more than 1,000 cases a day for nearly two weeks, and ICU and hospital numbers continue to hit record highs.The total number of active cases was 16,628, an increase of 174 from the day before.Conroy adds to calls for 'circuit-breaker' style lockdownFor his part, Conroy says the province's restrictions aren't working and he thinks it's time for a so-called "circuit-breaker" style lockdown.A circuit breaker lockdown is a short period of more stringent restrictions with a defined end point where non-essential services are shut down in order to reduce spread, allowing the system to catch up to the number of cases.Kenney's UCP have fielded repeated calls from doctors and others for a circuit-breaker lockdown in past weeks.Among them, the Alberta government has received letters from groups of hundreds of physicians and three major health-care unions in the province urging the government to institute a "circuit-breaker" targeted lockdown.The retiring head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, Tom Sampson, also called for up to a 28-day "circuit breaker" lockdown, adding it should happen now to salvage the holiday season.
The Kincardine Theatre Guild has devised a way to bring live, local entertainment to the homes of residents who are pining for theatre and a boost for their Christmas spirit, during the pandemic. The 2020 Advent Calendar – a gift of theatre, will showcase short video clips, submitted by the public, to help bring some holiday spirit to the community. Earlier this year, the Guild was in the midst of preparing for its production of Curse of the Silver Pharaoh, when the pandemic hit and restrictions were implemented. Bringing the play to the stage was put on hold and while it had hoped to resume rehearsals and reschedule performances for later this year or early 2021, the second wave of COVID struck, and all plans have been put on indefinite hold. “We were well into rehearsals for the spring 2020 show, Curse of the Silver Pharaoh, when the Covid lockdown happened,” said Debbie Deckert, a performer and Guild board member. “We kept hoping this would be a short term thing but sadly we have had to cancel the show, but plan to put it on at a future date. The way things are now, we’ve had to cancel our 20-21 season. We’re only allowed to have three to five crew members in the theatre for maintenance work, no public access.” “Theatre can get to feel like a family and it’s really tough when we can’t be together. We’re looking at alternatives and this “Gift of Theatre” gives us an opportunity to test online performances.” The initiative, which began on Dec. 1, offers a daily clip provided by members of the public. People were invited to send in a video of a song, a dance, reading a poem, or a skit, approximately three to eight minutes in length. The daily video is available for viewing on the Guild website, www.kincardinetheatreguild.com, its YouTube page or on Facebook. The performances are free to view. In lieu of an admission payment, a donation to the Food Bank would be appreciated. “If you enjoyed this presentation, please consider making a donation to the Food Bank,” said Deckert. Deckert hopes the Guild will receive enough clips to offer a new performance every day until Dec. 24. Questions regarding the clip content or format can be directed to Jim May by email, at email@example.com, and any late submissions should be directed to Deckert at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tammy Lindsay Schneider, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Kincardine Independent
THUNDER BAY — Thunder Bay police will begin publishing the names of all drivers charged with impaired driving offences in order to deter individuals from getting behind the wheel impaired as the annual Festive RIDE program officially launched on Wednesday. The number of individuals charged with impaired driving offences have been ‘staggering’ so far this year, according to Thunder Bay Police Const. Mark Cattani with the traffic unit. “We are at a point now where we are essentially running out of options,” Cattani said during a virtual news conference. At the end of last year’s festive RIDE season, police reported a record of 204 individuals charged with impaired driving for the total year. “This was by far the greatest number we had ever seen,” Cattani said. “I am discouraged and unfortunately have to report that we are at 251 impaired drivers at this point without even having started the RIDE program.” Starting Wednesday, Dec. 2, police will begin publishing the names of people who are charged with impaired driving offences in hopes of deterring individuals from driving impaired, a practice that has been in place in several other police forces in Ontario. “There is a very clear need for enforcement,” Cattani said. “We are already beyond so far where we have already been any other year.” The OPP have named alleged drunk divers for years in news releases. During Wednesday’s news conference, police reported in the last 24 hours four individuals had been charged with impaired driving. Two who were drug-impaired and two under the influence of alcohol. “We feel this is probably one of the most effective ways as a supplement to the RIDE program itself to get impaired drivers off the road potentially,” Cattani said. The festive RIDE program runs from Dec. 2 to Jan. 1, 2021.Karen Edwards, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source
The $500-million expansion of the BMO Centre is on track for a spring groundbreaking, according to the Stampede, and that means the demolishing of the old Corral will start this month. The Stampede and the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation, which is in charge of the development, say construction of a new hall as part of the existing facility means work can now proceed. "Over the past 18 months, our project team has made significant progress on the preparatory work required to support the successful delivery of the BMO Centre expansion," said Kate Thompson, president and CEO of CMLC, in a news release. "While we've certainly had to adapt and respond to health guidelines brought forward from the pandemic, we are now moving into the next stage, which lays the groundwork for the expansion to be built — it's a major step for the project and the realization of Calgary's Culture & Entertainment District."Crews have already started removing materials from the outside of the Corral, as well as the Plus-15 walkway on its south side. "We have been busy on the interior of the demolition zone, the Corral and Hall A of the BMO Centre, and we've been preparing the building for demolition," said Jim Laurendeau a vice-president at the Calgary Stampede. "Demolition will get underway early next week and we'll be beginning with the smokestack of the Corral and bringing that down. And over the weeks to follow, the remainder of the building will start to slowly come down."The Stampede says in a news release that "memories and memorabilia of the Stampede Corral have been carefully preserved and placed in storage." It says those items that could not be preserved, including the neon cowboy and large concrete figures on the outside of the building, have been documented and could be recreated in the future. The BMO expansion is one of four projects identified by the city as a priority capital investment — including the new arena that will be built nearby — and received funding from both the province and Ottawa in addition to the city's contribution. The expansion project will double the capacity of the convention centre, and proponents say it will put Calgary on the map for large conventions and events. The BMO Centre's current size of 285,000 square feet limits which conventions it can accept. The Calgary Stampede has previously said the venue turns down 11 to 14 large conventions each year.The Stampede estimates the new BMO Centre and other elements, including the controversial events centre, could draw private infrastructure investment of roughly $1 billion.The expansion will break ground next spring and is expected to be complete by 2024.
SIOUX LOOK — Sioux Lookout Ontario Provincial Police have released the name of a woman who died in a house fire last month as they continue to determine the cause of the fire. Clara Ash, 37, of Sioux Lookout has been identified as the individual who died in a house fire on Nov. 19. In a news release issued Wednesday, Dec. 2, police say the cause of death was smoke inhalation. Police responded at approximately 6 a.m. on Nov. 19 along with fire and emergency crews to an apartment on First Avenue in the municipality of Sioux Lookout. Two individuals were extracted from the building and neighbouring units were safely evacuated, according to a news release. A third deceased individual was located by firefighters. OPP continue to investigate the cause of the fire under the direction of the criminal investigations branch, the chief coroner, and the Ontario Fire Marshal. Anyone with information regarding this investigation is asked to contact OPP or their local police service.Karen Edwards, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source
For paramedics on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis, taking a moment to decompress after a harrowing call before gearing up for the next one can be critical for maintaining mental health.But in the Fraser Health Authority region right now, those breaks are few and far between.The Lower Mainland continues to see the highest transmission of the disease, with more cases of the virus reported in the Fraser Health region — which includes the cities of Surrey, Burnaby, Abbotsford and Coquitlam — than the other four regions combined.As the second wave of the pandemic batters the suburban regions of Metro Vancouver, those scrambling to save lives say it's their colleagues in the trenches, and the promise of a vaccine, that are giving them the strength to carry on."We can see there will be a light at the end of the tunnel," said Dave Leary, spokesperson for Ambulance Paramedics of B.C., on CBC's The Early Edition on Thursday.But right now, Leary said paramedics are not only going to work with the fear of bringing home the virus, they're also dealing with a "never-ending" onslaught of overdose calls due to the concurrent opioid crisis."We don't have the amount of time we need in between calls to decompress," said Leary. "The mental health toll is quite high."Staff, he said, are leaning on one another, and employer stress programs, for support.According to Leary, there is also a current staffing crisis among B.C. paramedics, meaning colleagues are stepping up to cover service gaps for one another and still respond to calls as quickly as possible.And when they do pull up to area hospitals with a patient in need, the scene can be very, very busy.On Nov. 24, Burnaby Hospital, one of the region's busiest, stopped taking most new admissions after a COVID-19 outbreak at the facility, which came a little more than a week after a Nov. 15 fire in the building.While the fire disruption did not definitively cause further virus spread, it caused stress for hospital staff who had to relocate patients safely on the fly."It is a bit stressed in terms of not only the availability of beds, but also staff availability as well. But we just hold on," said respirologist Susan Kwan.Kwan said given the dire situation in the region right now, and the stress it is causing the public and patients, it is more important than ever for front-line workers to stay positive to reduce fear.Like the paramedics bringing patients to the doors, Kwan said much of the staff on the other side of those doors are turning to one another to keep morale high."We are cautiously proceeding and the staff is still in good spirits overall," said Kwan on The Early Edition on Friday. When hospital employees have been isolated at home because of virus exposure, there has been incredible support from colleagues who check in regularly to offer support and prayer, Kwan told CBC on Monday.By Kwan's last count on Nov. 27, 44 staff members at Burnaby Hospital had tested positive for COVID-19."This is a battle that we are all fighting together," she said. "Without collegial cohesion, it would be much harder."It's not just the custodians, nurses, transporters, doctors, therapists, dietitians and pharmacists where Kwan works that are helping each other out, Kwan says, but also teams at other hospitals in the region.Kwan said after the Nov. 15 fire, staff had to relocate some patients and reduce bed availability. Other hospitals admitted patients Burnaby had no space for, and Kwan says the favour will be repaid if required."If we have any capacity, we will be willing to help," said Kwan.There are now 8,796 people with active COVID-19 cases in B.C. out of 33,894 cases to date. The Fraser Health region has 6,430 of those active cases.The next update of cases is at 3 p.m. PT Wednesday.Tap here to listen to the complete interview with Dave Leary and here to listen to Dr. Susan Kwan on CBC's The Early Edition.
Dale Woodard Lethbridge Herald The Winter Light Festival at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden is ready to light it up. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, that will mean a few adjustments, but the annual festival is still going forward starting Thursday from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Speaking Tuesday, Michelle Day, executive director for Nikka Yuko, said things could change as the event goes on and to stay tuned for updates and check online for any other details. “We need our community support and that comes with patience and being able to be flexible,” said Day. “Working with Alberta Health Services and the City of Lethbridge, we are going to be able to continue our Winter Light Experience. We’re going to continue to monitor the guidelines as they may change. They may have new ones or they may relax them in the future. By this time, it’s going to be as much of a touch-less experience as possible. But we’re encouraging everybody in our community to show support and come out to our Winter Light Festival as it is a safe experience.” With the current guidelines, the first weekend of the Horse and Wagon rides and the first Shakespeare in the Garden performance have been cancelled. “But we’ll continue to monitor (the situation) and as we go along, we might be able to add more programming as the guidelines change, and that’s where we need the communities support and flexibility in the sense (the events) might happen after Christmas or in January,” said Day. As for the events going forward — following COVID guidelines laid out by AHS – a maximum of 100 people will be allowed in the garden per half hour, said Day. “We’re staging the entry ways and all access to the garden has to be done online,” said Day. “I know our community is used to just showing up and going to the visitors’ centre but, unfortunately, we can’t do that. We feel it’s important we work with Alberta Health Services to ensure the tracking is there.” Private events are still able to be booked, said Day. “What we’re asking our companies and our customers during their private events is no gathering-like activities, so no speeches. But we can hand out things at the door and stage entry. “We’re also making sure we have things for people to take home. We’re going to have an enhanced brochure to give everybody when they come to learn more about Japanese and Canadian winter customs.” For the kids, Nikka Yuko has teamed up with local artist Eric Dyck to provide a colouring package. “With Panasonic and their projectors, we’ve teamed up with a local anime gentleman, Keith Morgan (a local CG-Generalist and compositing artist) and he’s going to be telling a story throughout the garden (with) one-minute episodes,” said Day. “So people can space, but enjoy a story and experience along with the lights. They’ll still be leaving with some programming and some memories to take home with them.” Tickets can be purchased on the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden website events calendar (www.nikkayuko.com/events) or through the Enmax Centre. “I stress to like us on Facebook (www.facebook.com/search/top?q=nikka%20yuko%20japanese%20garden) and watch our website (www.nikkayuko.com) for ongoing updates,” said Day. Day said even before the pandemic, the Winter Light Festival experience was an essential one. “I’ve had many families say it’s affordable, it’s accessible and that the community really enjoyed. I think in the summer when we opened there was much of a need for people to get outdoors in a safe place and connect to nature. We heard that, so I think this Winter Light Festival is so important to our community for both those reasons. It’s outdoors, it’s a connection to nature and it’s a safe location to go.” Day added the Garden was built and designed to promote mental health and wellness and a place to go to reflect. “We don’t lose sight that sometimes the winter months are hard. I think there is seasonal depression and winter holiday anxiety and I think sometimes people just need a place to go to walk and we are honoured to provide a safe place for people to do that.” Follow @DWoodardHerald on TwitterDale Woodard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald
Families across the County of Grande Prairie can benefit from a diaper drive running now until Dec. 10, courtesy of county Regional Enforcement Services. During the campaign the county will collect disposable diapers and cash donations to assist residents in need during the Christmas season. The campaign marks the first diaper drive held by Regional Enforcement Services, but it will hopefully become an annual effort, said peace officer Lindsey Hennigar. “Being a mom of three, I know first-hand diapers are not cheap,” Hennigar said. “It touches every parent’s heart to think how worrisome it would for another parent to wonder, ‘Do I have enough diapers to change my child this day?’” Hennigar said she came up with the idea after considering how food banks have food drives and other organizations collect hygiene necessities and toys. She thought Regional Enforcement Services could fill a gap with a diaper drive, she said. “We’re a family-oriented department and we thought this would be a great way to help residents in need of diapers,” she said. “It’s our way of giving back to the community.” Disposable diapers, related products like wipes and diaper cream and cash donations can be made at numerous locations. These are the Beaverlodge, Wembley, Valhalla, Sexsmith, La Glace and Elmworth libraries, Clairmont’s Wellington Resource Centre, Hythe’s village office and Bezanson’s Knelsen Centre. Monetary donations can also be made online at www.countygp.ab.ca/diaperdrive. The diapers will then be distributed by the Sexsmith and Area Food Bank. While the Sexsmith Food Bank is distributing the donations, Hennigar said families in the west county can also benefit from the program. The drive began last Thursday and she said so far there’s been a lot of interest. During COVID people may not be able to easily access stores to purchase diapers to donate, but Hennigar said Regional Enforcement Services staff will buy some with the cash donations.Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News