Speaking before the House of Commons on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that he has already had exploratory conversations with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's team on the subject of the Keystone XL pipeline.
Speaking before the House of Commons on Wednesday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that he has already had exploratory conversations with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's team on the subject of the Keystone XL pipeline.
With many Quebecers cooped up at home, some are channeling their energy by getting into the festive spirit a little early.Interest in natural Christmas trees has been rising steadily in the last few years and the Quebec Association of Christmas Tree Producers is predicting a record season."People are ready to buy local, support their neighbours and buy green," said Charles Vaillancourt, president of the association.Last weekend, dozens of families showed up at Sapinière Saint-Jean for the first day of the U-pick season. "The big advantage of U-pick is freshness as well as choice," said co-owner Michel Gravel.Like the boom for Quebec apple producers in the fall, some Christmas tree producers are expecting an influx of people looking for a festive outdoor activity.While some farms are offering U-pick services, others are adapting to try and serve shoppers from afar.Les Sapins de Clericy in Rouyn-Noranda is offering to deliver farm fresh Christmas tree to local clients who order online or by phone.Co-owner Mary-Lou de Denus said that they cancelled their U-pick season because it's impossible to maintain distancing between clients.She said that normally the farm welcomes visitors not just to buy but to gather, have a snack or a drink, and chat. This year, that tradition can't happen, so the farm is closed to the public."Of course, we are going to reduce our service a little bit because it's more complex to deliver. But we will try to respect as much as possible the customers' choice of height and width," she said.When it comes to artificial trees and other holiday decorations, some stores reported crowds of shoppers buying up their stock earlier than normal."People are buying Christmas decorations at a never-before-seen rate," said François Gendron, manager at a Canac hardware store in Quebec City.Gendron said he's never seen such a craze for Christmas decorations at the beginning of November."We have a lot of inventory, but it is starting to decrease," he said. "So, eventually we will run out of stock."He suggested that one reason for the increased demand is that everyone is stuck at home this year, including snowbirds and others who travel around the holidays."They have to equip themselves from A to Z because they have no tree and no decorations," he said.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday she offered President-elect Joe Biden assistance with tackling the rampant outbreak of COVID-19 in the United States. During the first talks between the two since Biden was elected as the next U.S. president, Ardern said she offered access to New Zealand's most senior health officials. “I offered to him and his team access to New Zealand health officials in order to share their experience on things we’ve learnt on our Covid-19 journey," Ardern told reporters in Wellington.
Chinese handset rivals of Huawei Technologies including Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo are making aggressive moves to seize market share from their giant rival, after stepped-up U.S. sanctions hobbled Huawei's supply chains, industry insiders say. Last week Huawei said it had sold its budget brand smartphone unit Honor for an undisclosed sum in a bid to safeguard the latter's supply chain from U.S. action, which has made it difficult to source essential components. In August a Huawei executive said the company will not be able to produce its flagship processors that power its high-end smartphones.
In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Nov. 23 ... What we are watching in Canada ... OTTAWA -- Businesses struggling to pay the bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to start applying today for a long-awaited new commercial rent-relief program offered by the federal government. The new Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy replaces an earlier rent-support program for businesses introduced in the spring that saw little pickup because it relied on landlords to apply for help. The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest on a sliding scale based on revenue declines, with an extra 25 per cent available to the hardest-hit firms. Federal cabinet ministers will highlight the program during a news conference this morning in which they will also open two initiatives designed to help businesses owned by Black Canadians. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents thousands of small companies across the country, is welcoming the new rent program as long overdue for firms hard hit by COVID-19. However, it is criticizing the government for not opening it to businesses that would have qualified for the previous rent-relief program, but could not access federal funds because their landlords chose not to apply. --- Also this ... OTTAWA -- N-D-P MP Laurel Collins is reviving a call for the environment commissioner to be a stand-alone officer of Parliament. Collins is pushing a motion at the environment committee to pull the position out of the Office of the Auditor General and make it a separate entity. The Victoria MP says the commissioner needs its own dedicated staff to ensure it can fulfil its mandate. She says the commissioner used to perform up to five environmental audits annually but has just one underway this year and two planned for 2021. The Liberal government of former prime minister Jean Chrétien created the position in 1995, but did not meet a campaign promise to make it an office independent from the auditor general. The motion from Collins is nearly identical to one passed by the same committee 13 years ago but the request was never fulfilled. --- ICYMI ... OTTAWA -- Canada and Britain struck a new trade deal on Saturday, allowing the long-standing partners to trumpet a commercial triumph in the face of the economic devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The interim deal beat the looming Dec. 31 Brexit deadline, replacing Canada's current agreement with Britain under the European Union that covers trade between the two countries. Announced amid a virtual gathering of G-20 leaders, the interim pact is a placeholder that buys Canada and Britain another year to reach a more comprehensive agreement while also warding off a no-deal scenario that would have triggered new tariffs on a range of Canadian exports on Jan. 1 But few details were released about the new agreement. Breaking with past practice during trade negotiations, there were no pre-announcement briefings for journalists and no text was released. --- What we are watching in the U.S. ... WASHINGTON, D.C. — U-S President Donald Trump’s campaign has filed plenty of lawsuits in six states as he tries to upend an election he lost to Democrat Joe Biden. The strategy may have played well in front of TV cameras, but it’s proved a disaster in court, where judges uniformly have rejected claims of vote fraud. The latest case ended Saturday, when a federal judge in Pennsylvania said Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani presented only “speculative accusations” and no proof of rampant corruption in the vote. A law school professor says the suits threaten the future of elections because so many Americans believe the claims being made by Trump’s team. Meanwhile, Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning. If nominated and confirmed, Blinken would be a leading force in Biden’s bid to reframe the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which Trump questioned longtime alliances. --- What we are watching in the rest of the world ... LONDON -- AstraZeneca says late stage trials of its COVID-19 vaccine developed with Oxford University were “highly effective’’ in preventing disease. The results are based on interim analysis of trials in the U.K. and Brazil of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and manufactured by AstraZeneca. The drugmaker reported today that no hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 were diagnosed in those receiving the vaccine. “These findings show that we have an effective vaccine that will save many lives. Excitingly that one of our dosing regimens may be around 90 per cent effective,’’ said Professor Andrew Pollard, the chief investigator for the trial. Two other drugmakers, Pfizer and Moderna, last week reported preliminary results from late-stage trials showing that their COVID-19 vaccines were almost 95 per cent effective. --- In entertainment ... LOS ANGELES -- Taylor Swift won her third consecutive artist of the year prize at last night's American Music Awards. She beat out Canadians Justin Bieber and The Weeknd for the top award, while also winning favourite music video and favourite pop/rock female artist. Though The Weeknd lost artist of the year, he still kicked off his all-star week as a big winner: Days before he’s expected to land multiple Grammy nominations, the pop star dominated the 2020 American Music Awards with multiple wins. The Toronto native won favourite soul/R&B male artist, favourite soul/R&B album for “After Hours" and favourite soul/R&B song for “Heartless. The Weeknd didn’t break character throughout last night's three-hour show with his gauze-wrapped face, which matched the vibe of his recent album and music videos where he appears blooded and bruised. He was one of several artists who appeared live at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles for the fan-voted awards show. Others taped performances because of the pandemic. Bieber and fellow Canuck pop star Shawn Mendes opened the show with a performance of their new duet "Monster." --- This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020 The Canadian Press
The health authority in western Quebec has taken creative steps to address the region's hospital bed shortage by converting a Gatineau, Que., hotel into a medical facility for people with COVID-19 and other ailments.For the second time since the pandemic started, the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de l'Outaouais (CISSSO) has made major changes to the Quality Inn on rue Bellehumeur, with 116 rooms currently housing around 30 patients. "We have nurses, nurses' aides, we have doctors that come in and work with our patients. We also have personal assistants," said Suzanne Denis, who works with seniors for CISSSO. "We also have access to all of the staff that's available to home care."Gatineau is currently deemed a "red zone" by the province of Quebec, which comes with the toughest COVID-19 restrictions. The health authority said it didn't want to be caught unprepared if a lot of people suddenly get sick. The hotel itself is now zoned into different areas: the cold zone (green), the warm zone (yellow) and the hot zone (red).The cold zone is for patients who don't have COVID-19 but need care or supervision on a daily basis, and includes people waiting to go into long-term care. The warm zone is for patients who have COVID-19 symptoms or who've come in contact with the virus. They're isolated or monitored for 14 days to see if they need to go into the red zone, which is for patients who've tested positive.Those patients stay in isolation at the hotel until they've recovered from COVID-19.Stéphane Pleau, CISSSO's director of technical services and logistics, said it took them three weeks to convert the hotel and make it safe for patients.Each zone has its own access to prevent cross-contamination, meaning patients and staff have to leave the building to go from one area to another."We had to zone it in different different categories for the warm, cold and hot zones so that we can have beds for different types of clientele," Pleau said.For now, patients' meals are still prepared off-site — but CISSSO says that should soon change as hospital staff are about to take over the hotel's kitchen."It'll allow the employees to have more time to spend with the residents while they're eating, while they're having activities," Denis said. "They won't be taking up, I'll say, clinical time [to prepare] their food."Creating a facility like this also increases the need for staff, already an issue for the region which has experienced multiple shortages of hospital workers.There are currently 15 people working at the hotel, and CISSSO is hoping that number will increase.
HONG KONG — Prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong and two other activists were taken into custody Monday after they pleaded guilty to charges related to a demonstration outside police headquarters during anti-government protests last year. Wong, together with fellow activists Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow, pleaded guilty to charges related to organizing, taking part in and inciting protesters to join an unauthorized protest outside police headquarters last June. The trio were members of the now-disbanded Demosisto political party. They were remanded in custody at a court hearing Monday, and the three are expected to be sentenced on Dec. 2. Those found guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly could face as long as five years in prison depending on the severity of the offence. “I am persuaded that neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism,” Wong said, ahead of the court hearing. “What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world, through our compassion to whom we love, so much that we are willing to sacrifice the freedom of our own. I’m prepared for the thin chance of walking free.” Wong rose to prominence as a student leader during the 2014 Umbrella Movement pro-democracy protests and is among a growing number of activists being charged with relatively minor offences since Beijing in June imposed a sweeping national security law on the territory that has severely restricted political speech. Pro-democracy supporters have said the legal charges are part of a campaign to harass and intimidate them. Lam, who also spoke ahead of the court hearing, said he too was prepared to be jailed. Wong wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that he and Lam had decided to plead guilty after consulting with their lawyers. The two previously pleaded not guilty to the charges. Chow had already pleaded guilty to charges of inciting others and taking part in the protest. “If I am sentenced to prison this time, it will be the first time in my life that I have been in jail,” Chow wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday. “Although I am mentally prepared, I still feel a little bit scared. However, compared to many friends, I have suffered very little. When I think of this, I will try my best to face it bravely,” she wrote. On June 21 last year, thousands rallied outside the police headquarters to protest what they said was excessive police force against demonstrators Zen Soo, The Associated Press
Using YouTube videos as a guide and seeds from store-bought produce, Sijo Zachariah and his father began a farm that helped feed twenty neighboring households in India while under lockdown. (Nov. 23)
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Monday became the latest world leader to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his election victory, saying she offered to share her nation's expertise on dealing with the coronavirus. Ardern said the tone of the 20-minute phone call was warm and that Biden spoke very favourably about how New Zealand was handling the pandemic. “What has been really at the centre of our response has been some fundamentals around testing, contact tracing, isolation,” Ardern said. “That’s over and above what we’ve done at our borders.” New Zealand has been largely successful in eliminating the virus after imposing a strict lockdown in March and closing its borders. Only 25 people in the nation of 5 million have died from COVID-19. Ardern said Biden wanted to pursue the discussion on New Zealand's response further. But she cautioned that the nation's model may not be able to be replicated everywhere. “While New Zealand has a number of natural advantages that have assisted us in managing the virus, I do absolutely believe that international co-operation continues to be key to getting the virus under control," Ardern said. "We are happy to work with any country to share our knowledge and data if its helpful.” Ardern said she and Biden also discussed trade issues and climate change, and talked about the president-elect's Irish heritage and his fond memories of visiting New Zealand a few years ago. She said she invited him to come visit again. In a statement, Biden praised Ardern's “extraordinary leadership” following a 2019 mass shooting at two Christchurch mosques, and as a working mother and role model. Nick Perry, The Associated Press
Health officials in Alberta have begun hunting around for specialized freezers, one of the first steps in preparing for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines which could begin arriving within the next few months. Earlier this month, the province began the procurement process for freezers able to meet COVID-19 vaccine storage requirements. Initially, the government proposed the sole-source purchase of five freezers from Fisher Scientific, according to procurement documents, although Alberta Health said there is now an open competition between potential suppliers. Alberta is looking to purchase four ultra-low units needed for the Pfizer vaccine and two laboratory freezer units for the Moderna vaccine. The six units will have about 23 cubic feet of capacity, which would be about the same size as a large refrigerator. The storage units will be held at the provincial vaccine depot located in Fort Saskatchewan. Ultracold temperature freezers are in high demand and typically cost about $15,000. The Pfizer vaccine must be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. The ultra-low temperature storage requirements have sent some health authorities and hospitals scrambling to find special freezers. "We don't know which vaccines we're going to get so the government is really preparing for every eventuality," said Shannon MacDonald, a registered nurse and a professor at the University of Alberta's School of Public Health. MacDonald and her team are currently researching who should be prioritized to receive the vaccine, which is part of a COVID-19 rapid response research project funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and is intended to guide public health officials in how they dole out the first rounds of immunizations when they become available in Canada. Alberta expects to receive 465,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 221,000 of the Moderna vaccine for a total of 686,000 doses, earlier in the new year. Being able to receive the doses and store them properly is just one part of the process to disburse the vaccines. "The process is not linear. [The government] has to do a whole bunch of things at once," said Dr. Margaret Russell, an associate professor and researcher at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine, who specializes in public health preventive medicine. WATCH | Why infectious disease experts are encouraged, cautious about Pfizer vaccine: Health officials will have to create a distribution plan and decide who will deliver the vaccine, where it will go in the province and how it will be stored, she said. At the same time, officials have to decide how many people will be needed to help at clinics where the vaccine will be administered. "They have to think about the human resources, the training and skills set. Of course, right now, during COVID, people have to self isolate, we're hearing a lot about health-care workers having to self isolate," Dr. Russell said. Vaccine recipients will need to be monitored for any adverse effects and to ensure they receive the second dose of the vaccination. Besides the logistical considerations, a communications plan will also be key, said MacDonald, with the University of Alberta. Health officials will have to preach patience, while also providing encouragement, she said. "We need to reassure people that all the usual processes have been followed [in developing the vaccines], but much more quickly through a massive injection of funds, so that people are reassured, so that when it's their turn and they are eligible for the vaccine, they're prepared to get the vaccine," said Macdonald. Pfizer has begun "rolling submissions" for the vaccine with regulators in Europe, the United Kingdom and Canada, the company said. The vaccine is among seven that Canada has pre-ordered.
As the price of bitcoin soars, Chinese cryptocurrency asset managers are looking to expand in places such as Hong Kong and Singapore, skirting an intensified crackdown at home. Cryptocurrency-focused hedge funds have grown assets under management and registered hefty gains this year thanks to bitcoin's recent surge to over $18,000, close to its 2017 high. At the same time, Beijing has been tightening already strict scrutiny over cryptocurrencies as the People's Bank of China (PBOC) prepares to launch its own digital currency, partly a response to the threat from currencies like bitcoin, officials say.
A row over a Thai woman who held up a placard alleging sexual abuse in schools has put a spotlight on harassment in the education system even as she draws threats of legal action for misrepresentation and attacks for soiling Thailand's image. The issue is the latest on which discussion has become more vocal as an anti-government protest movement seeking reform of the monarchy also emboldens people in a society where conservatism has often constrained criticism of the powerful. "I hope my case will raise awareness for people in society, for students in schools, for adults who send children to schools, for teachers and for the Ministry of Education," Nalinrat Tuthubthim, 20, told Reuters.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two people died and multiple others were injured in a stabbing Sunday night at a church in California where homeless people had been brought to shelter from the cold weather, police said. The stabbing happened at Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, where police said on Twitter that no services were taking place. “Unhoused individuals were brought into the church to get them out of the cold,” the department tweeted. It was unclear exactly how many people were wounded, but some of the injuries were life-threatening, police said. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo initially tweeted that a suspect had been arrested, but police later said no arrest could be confirmed. KTVU-TV reported that a 22-year-old man was apprehended in the stabbing. Video shown by news outlets near the church showed several ambulances and police cars, and police tape and traffic cones cordoning off the road. The Associated Press
Recent developments:What's the latest?Ottawa has just 40 of Ontario's record 1,589 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases Monday.Western Quebec has 48 more cases Monday and is averaging more new cases a day than Ottawa, despite having about one-third the population. The region also has more patients being treated in hospital for COVID-19.Businesses struggling to pay the bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to start applying today for the long-awaited federal commercial rent relief program, the Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy.The Ontario government is bringing in the former head of the Canadian Armed Forces, Rick Hillier, to oversee distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. The province also wants to extend the term of chief medical officer of health Dr. David Williams until September.How many cases are there?As of Monday, 8,212 people had tested positive for COVID-19 in Ottawa. There are 347 known active cases, 7,498 cases now considered resolved and 367 people who have died of COVID-19.Public health officials have reported more than 13,200 COVID-19 cases across eastern Ontario and western Quebec, including more than 11,800 resolved cases.Eighty-eight people have died of COVID-19 elsewhere in eastern Ontario, along with 71 in western Quebec. CBC Ottawa is profiling those who've died of COVID-19. If you'd like to share your loved one's story, please get in touch. What can I do?Both Ontario and Quebec are telling people to limit close contact only to those they live with, or one other home if people live alone, to slow the spread of the coronavirus.Travel from one region to another discouraged throughout the Outaouais. Ontario says people shouldn't travel to a lower-level region from a higher one and some lower-level health units want residents to stay put to curb the spread.Ottawa is currently in the orange zone of the provincial pandemic scale, which allows organized gatherings and restaurants, gyms and theatres to bring people inside.Ottawa's medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches has said Ottawa's situation is stable and people should focus on managing risks and taking precautions, such as seeing a few friends outside at a distance, to bring the spread down further.Communities in the Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) and Eastern Ontario health units have been moved to yellow. The rest of eastern Ontario remains in the province's green zone.In Gatineau and the surrounding area, which is one of Quebec's red zones, health officials are asking residents not to leave home unless it's essential.Indoor dining at restaurants remains prohibited and gyms, cinemas and performing arts venues are all closed.The rest of western Quebec is orange, which allows private gatherings of up to six people and organized ones up to 25 — with more in seated venues.Last week, Quebec announced what it will take to have a small holiday gathering next month. Rules won't be loosened until mid-January at the earliest.What about schools?There have been about 200 schools in the wider Ottawa-Gatineau region with a confirmed case of COVID-19:Few have had outbreaks, which are declared by a health unit in Ontario when there's a reasonable chance someone who has tested positive caught COVID-19 during a school activity.Distancing and isolatingThe novel coronavirus primarily spreads through droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes, breathes or speaks onto someone or something. These droplets can hang in the air.People can be contagious without symptoms.This means people should take precautions such as staying home when sick, keeping hands and frequently touched surfaces clean, socializing outdoors as much as possible and maintaining distance from anyone they don't live with — even with a mask on.Ontario has abandoned its concept of social circles.Masks are mandatory in indoor public settings in Ontario and Quebec and should be worn outdoors when people can't distance from others. Three-layer non-medical masks with a filter are recommended.Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate, as should those who've been ordered to do so by their local public health unit. The duration depends on the circumstances in both Ontario and Quebec.Health Canada recommends older adults and people with underlying medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems stay home as much as possible. Anyone who has travelled recently outside Canada must go straight home and stay there for 14 days.What are the symptoms of COVID-19?COVID-19 can range from a cold-like illness to a severe lung infection, with common symptoms including fever, a cough, vomiting and the loss of taste or smell. Less common symptoms include chills, headaches and pink eye. Children can develop a rash.If you have severe symptoms, call 911.Mental health can also be affected by the pandemic and resources are available to help.WATCH | Third major drug company gives late-stage vaccine trial update:Where to get testedIn eastern Ontario:Ontario recommends only getting tested if you have symptoms, or if you've been told to by your health unit or the province.Anyone seeking a test should now book an appointment. Different sites in the area have different ways to book, including over the phone or going in person to get a time slot.People without symptoms, but who are part of the province's targeted testing strategy, can make an appointment at select pharmacies.Ottawa has eight permanent test sites, with additional mobile sites deployed wherever demand is particularly high. A test site should open at the McNabb Community Centre tomorrow.Kingston's test site is at the Beechgrove Complex. The area's other test site is in Napanee.The Eastern Ontario Health Unit has sites in Alexandria, Cornwall, Hawkesbury, Limoges, Rockland and Winchester.The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark health unit has permanent sites in Almonte, Brockville, Kemptville and Smiths Falls and a mobile test site visiting smaller communities.People can arrange a test in Bancroft and Picton by calling the centre or Belleville and Trenton online.Renfrew County residents should call their family doctor or 1-844-727-6404 for a test or with questions, COVID-19-related or not. Test clinic locations are posted weekly.In western Quebec:Tests are strongly recommended for people with symptoms or who have been in contact with someone with symptoms.Outaouais residents can make an appointment in Gatineau seven days a week at 135 blvd. Saint-Raymond or 617 avenue Buckingham.They can now check the approximate wait time for the Saint-Raymond site.There are recurring clinics by appointment in communities such as Gracefield, Val-des-Monts and Fort-Coulonge.Call 1-877-644-4545 with questions, including if walk-in testing is available nearby.First Nations, Inuit and Métis:Akwesasne has had its most known COVID-19 cases of the pandemic this month. Its council is asking residents to avoid unnecessary travel.Akwesasne schools are temporarily closed to in-person learning and its Tsi Snaihne Child Care Centre has also closed. It has a COVID-19 test site available by appointment only.Anyone returning to the community on the Canadian side of the international border who's been farther than 160 kilometres away — or visited Montreal — for non-essential reasons is asked to self-isolate for 14 days.The Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte reported its first confirmed case this month.People in Pikwakanagan can book a COVID-19 test by calling 613-625-2259. Anyone in Tyendinaga who's interested in a test can call 613-967-3603.Inuit in Ottawa can call the Akausivik Inuit Family Health Team at 613-740-0999 for service, including testing, in Inuktitut or English on weekdays.For more information
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia and met its crown prince, an Israeli official said on Monday, in what would be the first publicly confirmed visit there by an Israeli leader as the countries close ranks against Iran. Earlier, Israeli media said Netanyahu had secretly flown on Sunday to Neom, on the Red Sea, for talks with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Reports of the meeting between the crown prince and Netanyahu were denied by Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.
Jeffrey Freedman is a COVID-19 "long-hauler" — one of many Canadians left with lingering health issues after getting sick from the virus. He says he now regrets going into work during the early days of the pandemic after falling ill in early April.Freedman worked at a tile company supplying Toronto's busy residential construction industry, which was deemed an essential service and remained open as other businesses were ordered to shut. He says he felt he had no choice but to report to work, despite risks of infection."I was in a bind. But because we needed the money and my feelings about my customers, I kept going and going and going and working my eight hours a day."CBC News reached out to provincial workers' compensation boards across the country and found that more than 26,000 claims have been filed by people who contracted COVID-19 at work. Freedman is one of more than 20,000 people whose claims have been approved.Thousands file claims across CanadaStatistics on workplace compensation claims are the first concrete indication of how many people are getting COVID-19 at work in Canada, but it's an incomplete picture.There is no standard accounting of how many people have fallen sick while at work due to a patchwork of provincial and federal tracking.What's more, the system does not capture COVID-19 cases among workers who are ineligible or simply don't submit claims.Freedman developed COVID-19 symptoms in April and went to the hospital, where he was told he was a presumptive case and had to go home and isolate. A few days later, he was struggling to breathe and was rushed to hospital by paramedics. He spent 44 days there, most of them on a ventilator as he fought off the infection."I have brain fog. I have permanent damage to my vocal cords from the ICU and tubing for 33 days. I have constant neck and bicep pains," he said.Freedman, now 65, said instead of enjoying his retirement and his dreams of travel, he'll never be able to drive again and still struggles to get through each day."I have a major, major pressure wound on my butt from being in the ICU that is recovered to the point where I can at least sit, but I cannot sleep properly except more than 10 minutes at a time. And I'm very weak and tired, usually by 3 o'clock every day."Ontario's Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) accepted Freedman's claim and has since helped him and his wife, Lori, by replacing Freedman's lost wages and helping to retrofit their bathroom to accommodate his injuries.WATCH | What it's like to be a COVID 'long-hauler':Claims by front-line workers rejectedIn Ontario and British Columbia, the data shows that most claims have come from workers in health-care facilities and agriculture. However, a quarter of workers in Ontario are not covered at all by the workers' compensation system, compared with B.C., where all workers have coverage.Ontario workers not covered include a large number in such industries as privately run care homes, social assistance services and the tech and banking sectors."It really highlights the absurdity of having a compensation system that just cuts out whole swaths of industries and says you're not entitled to coverage, and it's very difficult to track those people down because when they go to the hospital, their claim doesn't get billed through a WSIB number," said David Newberry, a community legal worker at the Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic in Toronto. About 1,425 claims have been disallowed in Ontario as of Nov. 13, including hundreds in front-line industries such as health care.Newberry said the disallowed claims — along with the fact that the WSIB pays only 85 per cent of a worker's full salary — don't fit with declarations that these workers are "heroes" keeping the economy running during a pandemic."While companies are spending millions of dollars putting up billboards and bus ads thanking our front-line workers to be heroes — when people are actually getting sick within these workplaces, whether stocking our shelves or looking after our grandparents — what they're getting is ... a 15 per cent pay cut."Jennifer Collins worked as a nurse at Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon, Ont, the site of a major outbreak that killed 29 residents in the spring. She said she didn't have adequate access to personal protective equipment and got sick with COVID-19 in March, leaving her with lingering health problems.Collins was not hospitalized, and she said a lack of medical records chronicling her illness hurt her claim for workers' compensation."I got a phone call from [WSIB], and they said that they realized with COVID that it was a special case," she said, "but because they didn't have any medical data or documentation to back up what I was telling them that I wasn't eligible."Collins said she still suffers from exhaustion and can only walk about two blocks before her hips act up. "Everyday I try to push myself more, but it is difficult, and it's frustrating," she said.After being turned down, Collins instead applied for the Canada emergency response benefit and was approved.Even with approval, fight isn't always overIn Ontario, the WSIB has disallowed 302 claims from workers in nursing and residential care facilities.Ultimately, many people getting sick at work are those who don't have the option of working from home. Newberry, of the injured workers legal clinic, said these workers may not even know they can access workers' compensation — in particular new Canadians who may not be familiar with the language or workplace laws."Those who are most vulnerable are the ones who are generally least likely to know that these things are available," he said.But even for those whose claims are approved, the fight isn't always over.Jeffrey Freedman received notice on Friday that his employer is appealing his workers' compensation claim, insisting that it took all necessary precautions and there's no proof he got COVID-19 at work.As workers' compensation claim costs rise, so too do the premiums that employers have to pay. Newberry said that the system gives employers an incentive to appeal approved claims."Workers' compensation systems in Canada are set up in a model that is similar to private insurance," he said."Even if ... the injured worker is successful in proving their claim is valid, that process can take years, and it can be really stressful."
A Chinese woman with aspirations of becoming a permanent Canadian resident and opening a high-end gift shop in Yellowknife was awarded $185,000 in damages by a Northwest Territories judge on Friday.Supreme Court Justice Karan Shaner ordered Liang Chen, a Yellowknife businessman and immigration consultant, to pay Jie Qiao $130,000 in punitive damages, $50,000 in aggravated damages and $5,523.29 in damages for breach of contract after Qiao filed a lawsuit.Qiao claims she was forced to withdraw from the N.W.T.'s nominee program after Chen withdrew $160,000 without her permission from a joint bank account they shared in part to purchase a lodge near Yellowknife, which advertises luxurious lakeside rentals.Chen did not appear in court on Friday and did not file a statement of defence, so the court order was made without a trial. In an interview with CBC News last week, he refuted many of Qiao's claims but admitted to using the money to buy the lodge.Qiao, who speaks limited English, moved to Yellowknife from China in early 2019 to seek permanent residency. She hired Chen to help her immigrate and set up a business in Yellowknife.Chen owns C.L. Pacific Immigration Consulting Ltd., based in Burnaby, B.C., and is listed as an immigration consultant on the website of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council.Permanent residency was goalIn mid-January 2019, Qiao was accepted into the business stream of the territory's nominee program, which requires an investment of $300,000, which in turn leads to support for a permanent residency application.Chen helped to set up the business and found a rental unit in Centre Square Mall in Yellowknife. The two opened a joint bank account and she deposited $300,000, as required by the nominee program.At least two local companies were hired to carry out renovation work to the rental unit and, according to court documents, all seemed to be going fine until the summer of 2019. That's when Chen withdrew $50,000 from the bank account without Qiao's knowledge or consent, followed by $110,000 a few months later.Qiao claims that Chen told her he needed the money to get a personal bank loan approved. But in her lawsuit, she alleged he used the $110,000 on a down payment to purchase a property on Madeline Lake, now home to 7th Aurora Lodge Yellowknife.When reached by phone last week, Chen said he regrets using the money to purchase the lodge, but he promised to return the funds, and Qiao eventually got her money back.But according to court documents, Chen did not immediately pay her back, despite promising to do so.In turn, it caused a ripple effect — Qiao said she was no longer able to operate the company, which meant she was in breach of her agreement with the territory and therefore forced to withdraw from the nominee program. As a result, she may have to move back to China.Qiao hired a B.C.-based law firm, which sent letters to the federal and territorial governments outlining what Chen had done. When he found out, Qiao said, he intimidated and pressured her to withdraw them.She eventually fired her lawyer and sent an email to the territory, saying her previous letter did not reflect her intentions. Qiao also said she would withdraw from the nominee program and no longer wished to seek permanent residency because Chen had taken her money.She hired a Yellowknife law firm to demand payment from him. Chen then offered to settle the matter by purchasing the company from her for $160,000. She decided she would rather cut her losses in exchange for a quick resolution and take the deal — a move her lawyer, Christopher Buchanan, described on Friday over the phone in court as essentially Chen strong-arming her into a settlement for far less than what she initially invested.Parties enter agreementIn February, the two entered into a settlement agreement that required Chen to pay Qiao the $160,000 within seven days. But it wasn't until April 27 that he did so, and on Friday, Chen was ordered to pay her $5,523.29 in interest for breaching the agreement, on top of the damages.The judge also ordered that all of the company's liabilities be transferred to Chen as of Feb. 27, 2020. He was also ordered to indemnify Qiao for all amounts owed to the landlord as of Sept. 30, 2019. According to court documents, as far as Qiao knows, the company owes the landlord nearly $15,000 in rent arrears, but the figure may be much higher.Court documents prepared by Qiao's lawyer argue she was in a vulnerable position — she did not speak English and was completely dependent on Chen to deal with her immigration and business matters. The documents went on to say that his conduct had greatly affected her mental health and caused her to suffer from insomnia and severe anxiety.Qiao is also unable to recover a $75,000 deposit to the territory, as was required by the business stream of the nominee program.Her lawyer, Buchanan, said in an email she's asked for privacy and would not be available for an interview.Chen did not respond to a request for comment following Friday's judgment.In an interview with CBC News last Tuesday, Chen said the gift store was once a viable business, but because the pandemic virtually paused tourism in the territory since the spring, it can't survive."The business is probably going into insolvency," he said, adding he takes "full responsibility" for his actions."I think my motto has always been, you know, if you get it wrong, admit it and move forward."
A perfect storm is brewing for the homeless in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, advocates fear, one that threatens to leave people alone and wandering during the cold winter days.The informal network of daytime supports — a drop-in warming room, the library, the once-monthly soup kitchen — have been cut back or cut entirely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.It's left homeless men and women with few options for basic needs and a growing fear of the cold Labrador winter that's on the way."It's really scary, I'm frightened for this year's people," said Amos Semigak.At 8 a.m. each morning, the town's only emergency shelter closes its doors and sends its clients outside. They're let back in for what the shelter calls "purpose-driven" visits — to access particular services, drink water or use the washroom. But beyond that, the clients are on the street — and in the woods — until 8 p.m., when they can get back into the shelter.On weekends, the Housing Hub is completely closed, and there's no staff to answer the door.Last year, many of those daytime hours could be spent watching TV at the Labrador Friendship Centre's common room, or on the computer in the public library. While some of those services are slowly resuming, others — like the Labrador Friendship Centre — see no easy return until the pandemic has ended.The common room at the Centre has been transformed into a COVID-19 screening area. It's a necessity, according to executive director Jennifer Hefler-Elson, for them to continue safely operating the medical hostel on-site."It was a very difficult decision," she said."We have to have that space to be able to get people to come here, to stay here, and know that they are protected as well, because the people that are coming here are vulnerable as well."Anyone who wanted to operate a warm room this winter would need a properly equipped space and properly trained staff — probably more that usual, due to COVID-19, she said. That's a set of conditions that wouldn't just appear overnight.So instead, many homeless men and women walk along the town's trails, Semigak said, where drinking is a common way to keep warm and pass the time.The remnants of make-shift camps can be seen throughout town, and they've drawn the ire of the municipal government — which wrote to the provincial government last year to complain about a growing homeless and transient population."As a council, we have received complaints of indecent exposure and acts," wrote Mayor Wally Andersen in 2019."Many consume alcohol in public at all hours of the day, and it's common to see an individual passed out on the side of the road or along trails within the community."For the past few months, Semigak has been living in a room in the Labrador Inn, a motel in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, which is being used as overflow space for the town's shelter.For him, that means he has somewhere to stay during the cold days. And, he says, he's been able to avoid the campsites along the trail where drinking is common — a fact he's proud of.But he knows what it's like to be there.Semigak is facing two charges in provincial court, relating to a fire he set in July. Court documents allege he set a fire too close to a forested area within the fire season.Semigak said he set the fire because he had been drinking and had just fallen into water. It was cold outside and was too late for him to access the homeless shelter."I could have perished that night," he said. "What could I do about this? There's nowhere I could go, there's no heat or nothing."He said he was forced into an impossible situation and fears others in the community will face those same pressures this winter."What else is there to do? There's nothing else to do here but [drink]," he said."There's no programs or anything for us people to be doing here." Staff at the Housing Hub shelter in Happy Valley-Goose Bay say they're doing everything they can to accommodate and help the homeless population, but are still struggling with a growing issue.Krystal Saunders, a coordinator and housing liaison worker at the shelter, said it seems like the need exploded earlier this year."We definitely had a rough summer in trying to provide … quality support to the clients," she said. "We didn't want to leave balls hanging in the air, but we were being forced to because we were ran so short staffed, the volume just blew up overnight."Its numbers have fallen — as some people move to other rural areas in the winter — but the shelter is still full, stretched beyond its COVID-19 capacity, and filling rooms at the Labrador Inn."This should be a temporary place for people to stay when they have no housing, and then they should be moving on," added Michelle Kinney, the deputy minister of health and social development for the Nunatsiavut Government. "At the moment, there's very little moving on."Kinney and Saunders said even as clients are making progress, there's limited spaces, long wait lists, not enough funding and not enough options for people trying to leave the shelter's care.It's all adding up to an ongoing cycle: homeless men and women shuffling into the shelter at 8 p.m., and shuffling out at 8 a.m."If there's a snowstorm at 8 o'clock in the morning, you feel really guilty about putting them out through the door," Kinney said. "But we don't have the staffing or capacity from this perspective to do any more about it.""It's a huge issue."It's an issue Dawn Crocker knows all too well.Crocker is a bartender at the Sandbar Lounge in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. She was working the night she last saw her friend, Susanna Rich."I asked her if she had a place to go, she told me she had a place, she was going to a friend's,"Rich was at the bar, but not drinking, Crocker said."She was just a kind soul, she was a peaceful lady. She just wanted to be somewhere where she felt she could be, and be herself."That was Friday night. Monday morning, police found Rich's body on the trail."It still hurts me yet to think about how she died," she said, fighting back tears. "Cold, and alone, and froze to death in a trail. And she was sober that night. She just had no place to go."The RCMP say they can't release Rich's cause of death — and the province's Chief Medical Examiner said there were no instances where hypothermia or exposure was formally registered as a cause of death in the town last winter.But Crocker believes the extreme temperatures caused — or at least contributed to — the death of her friend, and others in the community last year. And so do some of the men who stay at the emergency shelter."I'm hurt about those people that perished here due to the winter cold," said Semigak. "It wasn't right for those people to pass away. We need a proper shelter, we need the Newfoundland government to listen to us people, because we matter too, we matter as human beings.'"People keep freezing outside and dying," added Tobey Noah, a homeless man in the community.Noah's welcome to stay at the shelter, but said he doesn't feel comfortable there because of trauma he's felt over the death of his girlfriend and child, and ensuing struggles with alcoholism.The COVID-19 pandemic has scared him too. In the shelter, he'd have to sleep in a room with three or four other people."I usually just get a tarp and blankets, they usually give me blankets here to sleep outside," he said. "I make a little house, and take boughs and put them inside, and sleep in there."He could stay with family and friends, but he decided to give up his home and move to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to escape some of the demons.Crocker is terrified at the thought of another person dying alone on the trails and has started a project to help people like Noah.She's distributing sleeping bags all across Labrador, in hopes of getting them to people suffering in the cold, but said the issue needs serious attention."It's going so slowly," she said. "It's like staring into the [barrel] of a gun, knowing it's going to go off, but not knowing when…. We need to put things in place now. It should not be this way, it should never be this way."Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador
Earlier this fall, Patty Hudson walked her dogs along one of her favourite stretches of the St. John River, just below Hartland, when she was appalled to see a gravel pit just metres away from the water. A passionate environmentalist, Hudson said she couldn't believe that a gravel pit could be so close to the walking trail that follows the river."There's a big quarry here all of a sudden, and it never used to be — it was at best a very small older quarry, and never this far, never," Hudson said.The area is about five kilometres south of the world's longest covered bridge, located in Hartland.Hudson, who lives in Upper Kent about 30 minutes north of the site, said she used to walk in the area often but only walks along that stretch of the river a handful of times a year now. "This is really meditative place for me, I come down here to feel better, especially since life has pretty much ended its normalcy right now," she said. "It's just a place of extreme beauty and history."Hudson said that besides the look of gravel pits, she's bothered by the potential disruption of wildlife in the area, and the effects it could have on the river. "We don't know how many nests we destroy when we just start digging, but for sure there are animals in those trees, they're hiding and they're running."One of the gravel pits that Hudson is worried about is below the banks of Route 105. "The berms along the riverbank that stabilize the river banks are being thrashed, being dug into willy nilly," she said. Hudson's concerns were sparked when she saw a truck in the pit recently, though she admits she didn't see anyone digging at the time. One of the pits that Hudson is referring to is owned in part by the Cook family. When reached by CBC News for a comment, a spokesperson for the family said the site isn't active but occasionally equipment is in there. According to the family, they have all the required legal documents to operate there, and when taking gravel from the site, they take it from the back of the pit, which is closer to the banks of the 105, and not the St. John River.The spokesperson said the site was built by Canadian Pacific Railway when the train track was being built along the river. The track bed is now the walking trail. Other gravel pitsHudson said it doesn't matter when the site was constructed, she thinks it's time to change where gravel pits are operated. The particular gravel pit is not the only one along that stretch of the river. Several contractors operate different pits in the area that are still active. "There are many active gravel pits, if that's the regulation, time to change those kinds of regulations," Hudson said. "Obviously, we live in a society we have a need for gravel, but do they have to be everywhere?" Hudson asked. "It's hideous. Why do we accept this?"According to a statement from the province, there are guidelines for sand and gravel pit owners and operators to minimize potential impacts to the environment.The Department of Environment and Local Government does not issue approval to operate gravel pits. If someone is looking to develop a new gravel pit within 30 metres of a watercourse or wetland, a permit is required. Applications are reviewed on a case by cases basis.
Justin Smith has been hit with a one-two punch of bad luck. First, the Toronto man was duped by a job scam that made off with $3,000. Then his longtime bank, Tangerine, helped itself to money Smith had in his tax-free savings account to recoup what it had lost in the scam."You keep your money in the bank because you think it's safe," he said. "And they treat the money like it's theirs, and they just move it around to protect themselves. That's not fair."Tangerine is an online subsidiary of Scotiabank that offers no-fee savings and chequing accounts.Here's how the double episode of misfortune unfolded: Smith, who works as a delivery person, had applied to work from home as a data entry clerk for the grocery chain Sobeys. He was offered the job, and was excited to receive an employment contract along with a cheque from his new employer for $3,495 to purchase a laptop, phone system, headphones and various other office equipment."It all looked totally authentic and real," he said. Smith had checked out the names of the people who handled his hiring, and reviewed their profiles on LinkedIn to confirm they worked at Sobeys. So when he received an invoice from a firm called Tech Insight Services for the office equipment, and was instructed by the Sobeys hiring manager to make a $3,000 payment right away, he promptly sent an e-transfer."I only had $800 or so in my chequing account at the time, but after depositing the Sobeys cheque, I had over $4,000," he said. What Smith didn't know was that the entire process was a sophisticated scam. The website where he'd applied, the supposed hiring managers, the cheque — all were fakes. His job application hadn't been sent to Sobeys at all. He had fallen into a snare set to swindle eager job seekers. The cheque even fooled Tangerine; the bank instantly deposited it to Smith's account.Alarm bells didn't start ringing until the next day, when Smith's supposedly new employer told him he should send another $3,500 for a new desk. "At this point, I became suspicious because no one spends that kind of money on a desk," he said. "I called up Tangerine and I said 'OK, I deposited a cheque yesterday, you guys let me send the money. I'm concerned that this cheque is going to bounce.'" WATCH | Bank raids fraud victim's account:Deep in the fine printSmith learned quickly that the scammers had already accepted his e-transfer, and a Tangerine representative said that meant it was too late to cancel it. "He asked 'Do you have money in your other accounts to make up for that?' and I told him I didn't want the bank to take money from those other accounts."Because his tax-fee savings account was registered with the federal government, Smith believed the money in it was untouchable. He was wrong. Deep in the fine print of the agreements many customers receive when they open a bank account is a clause known as the "right of setoff," also sometimes referred to as the right of "offset." It states that the bank has the legal power to seize funds from a debtor or guarantor of a debt. Although that right may vary depending on the product or plan, it's in most agreements; RRSPs and registered retirement income funds are typically exempt. This means if the bank accepts a cheque or another type of deposit that doesn't go through as expected, and a customer withdraws or transfers the funds, the bank has effectively made a bad loan. It then has the right to access money in other accounts it holds for that customer, in order to recover its loss. There is no need to get authorization, or even alert the customer beforehand.Shortly after the fake Sobeys cheque bounced, Tangerine took just over $3,000 from Smith's account. Smith sent two letters of complaint to the bank, asking to be compensated, but was told each time that the bank is not liable for his loss, and that he should report the scam to police. Job scams have become common during the pandemic, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. CBC News reported on a similar scam that involved Sobeys in June. In that case, the victim's bank, the Bank of Montreal, spotted the fraud and didn't send the payment.Sobeys is aware of the fake websites bearing its name, and said it is monitoring the web 24/7 to try to have them shut down. In a statement the company said anyone "looking to join the team or confirm the legitimacy of a job posting," should check jobs.sobeyscareers.com.Some good newsAfter being contacted by CBC's Go Public team, Tangerine said it will refund the $3,000 to Smith, and also pay $250 for a credit monitoring service for him.In an email sent to Smith that was shared with CBC News, the head of the bank's client response group, Emery Sziraky, said: "We have conducted a comprehensive review of your recent experience with Tangerine and we deeply regret that we did not meet your expectations."The bank also emailed a statement to Go Public, saying it was "pleased" to have resolved the matter to Smith's satisfaction. The statement included a warning about fraud, and said Tangerine "work[s] closely with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, the Canadian Bankers Association, law enforcement, and counterparts at other financial institutions," to ensure clients are protected.But Doug Hoyes, an insolvency trustee in Kitchener, Ont., said all Canadians should be aware how common it is for banks to access customer accounts to recover their own losses. "It blindsides people," Hoyes said. "I've seen it happen thousands of times."Hoyes said banks typically put a hold on large cheques deposited to the accounts of new customers; they are unable to access the funds until the cheque clears. But for longstanding, trusted customers, banks will often extend a form of credit and make funds available immediately. Hoyes said that most customers appreciate the ability to access deposits right away. "In most cases what the bank did is very helpful; 'Hey, you put the money in, you can use it.' But in this case, it backfired," he said. A five- or even three-day hold on the cheque Smith had received would have stymied the scammers, but he was a longtime Tangerine client. He opened an account in the late '90s when the bank was still called ING Direct, prior to a rebranding. So he was given instant access to funds.Hoyes added that he often tells his own clients, all of whom have money problems, to set up bank accounts at two different financial institutions. "It is wise to have your assets at a different bank than your debts, if it's possible," he said. That way if a payment goes wrong in any way, the bank isn't able to dip into other accounts on file, he explained.As for Smith, he's still eager to find a new job, and is grateful that Tangerine decided to do "the right thing.""I don't want to make myself out to be a victim here," Smith said. "I'm just trying to help other people not become a victim of these scammers or, quite frankly, become the victim of their bank."
For many of them, it was the defining professional experience of their lives.But Canada's legacy in Afghanistan is also something deeply personal for the more than 140 Canadian former diplomats, aid workers and police officers who have signed an open letter urging the international community — Canada included — not to abandon Afghanistan as its tentative peace process drags on.Among the signatories is former Conservative cabinet minister Chris Alexander, who was also the country's ambassador in Afghanistan and a UN representative in the war-weary nation. He was joined by another former ambassador, William Crosbie, and Canada's former head of aid and development Nipa Banerjee."This letter's signatories wish to remind Canadians that Afghanistan's absence in the recent past from our news headlines should not mean its absence from our hearts," said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News."Afghanistan is no longer a topic of political debate in Canada. Yet, we think it is essential to remind our fellow citizens and our political representatives that our continuing engagement does not go unnoticed, and we should remain engaged."'We mustn't give up'Alexander said the plight of the war torn country is "intimate and personal" for many who served there because, in the beginning, it represented much of what the world wanted to accomplish — peace, equality and the elimination of poverty."We mustn't give up. These are the kinds of things we set out to do in the 21st century," said Alexander, who served as Canada's ambassador in Kabul between 2003 and 2005 before becoming the United Nations deputy special representative in the country."I think it is personal for many of us who gave a good portion of our professional lives to it. It is certainly personal for the Afghans."The letter, which was presented last week to the prime minister's office, is seeking the wider "endorsement" of the Canadian public."We are not an organized, registered group, but [we] are bound by our common interest to see the Afghan people achieve peace," Banerjee told CBC News."To some extent, it is an issue of passion. I am not able to explain to you why, as opposed to working in other countries, there is a special passion that grows about Afghanistan."Although the letter has been in the planning stages since the late summer, the plea comes in the immediate wake of a Trump administration decision last week to further draw down U.S. forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and on the cusp of a major aid donor conference in Geneva this week.The letter also released as other countries, notably Australia, grappled with the bloody legacy of the intractable guerilla war that has dragged on for almost two decades.Peace negotiations, now taking place in Doha, Qatar between the Afghan government and representatives of the Taliban, have stalled and violence is raging across the country."Our specific objective is to endorse an inclusive peace process," said the letter, which went on to state that it is critical for "the international community to not abandon Afghans as they navigate the difficult path to a better future."Alexander said that's a crucial point, because "the peace talks are not succeeding."And while the problems of Afghanistan may seem to pale in comparison with the worldwide pandemic and the political fissures in the United States, he said, Canada put "an enormous of energy into stabilizing the country" and it should not be forgotten.Canadian troops spent over a dozen years in the country, fighting a brutal guerrilla war with Taliban extremists. The combat operations, and subsequent training mission, cost the lives of 158 Canadian soldiers.Among the civilian casualties was Glynn Berry, a seasoned diplomat who was killed in a suicide bombing in Kandadar in 2006.