Five Canadian Forces soldiers have been infected with the novel coronavirus while serving in Quebec and Ontario nursing homes — four in Quebec and one in Ontario — the Department of National Defence said today.
That word came after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the news in response to questions from CBC News and Radio Canada journalists at his daily media availability this morning.
Watch | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to military cases of COVID-19:
The department offered few details, other than a breakdown of the infections by province and a list of the protective measures the military was taking for the 1,675 service members taking part in the assistance operation. That operation was launched in response to pleas from both provinces for help in long-term care facilities overrun by COVID-19 cases.
A veteran’s advocate who has been tracking the pandemic deployment said one of the four service members infected in Quebec was performing duties at the Villa Val des Arbres in Laval, a suburb of Montreal.
That infected soldier, who has not been identified, was part of a team of military members who arrived at the seniors home on April 20 in response to an urgent request for assistance from the Quebec government, said Sylvain Chartrand of Canadian Veterans Advocacy.
After the soldier tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the entire team was removed from the home. It’s not clear whether they were told to isolate themselves.
‘We’re proud of the work that we’re doing’
A second case is said to be a military dentist who also took up duties in one of the long-term care centres — possibly in the Montreal area, the current epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Canada.
National Defence did not provide details about the other three confirmed cases, but pledged to release statistics every two weeks on the deployment in order to reassure military families and the public.
The highest-ranking officer in Quebec, Brig.-Gen. Gervais Carpentier, insisted the operation’s COVID-19 caseload is low, given the size of the deployment, and that the troops received medical checks and proper training prior to deployment.
“It’s a tough situation. We never wished for this kind of situation, but we’re proud of the work that we’re doing,” Carpentier told CBC News.
Carpentier would not discuss details of the service members’ cases or indicate how sick they are right now.
He said the risks were known going in and the troops were well-equipped and well-trained.
“The important part of our preparations was to make sure that we knew how to don and wear the personal protective equipment to ensure … max safety for personnel,” said Carpentier.
A ‘high contamination risk’
How much protective equipment the troops wear depends on the extent of the outbreaks in the homes where they’re deployed; Carpentier said the military is taking its cues from provincial health authorities.
Chartrand, however, has doubts.
He said he is not going to question the adequacy of the protective equipment but, with regards to the Laval case he was tracking, he was told the soldiers in the detachment were all changing in and out of their equipment in the same room, in violation of provincial health protocols.
That should be investigated, Chartrand said.
“That’s a contamination risk. A high contamination risk … So, I mean, do they have proper training?”
With so little known about COVID’s long-term health implications, Chartrand said, the federal government should declare the pandemic deployment a special duty operation. That would allow troops to claim veterans benefits — if they end up needing them.
He was supported in his call Friday by NDP defence critic Randall Garrison.
“Canada’s troops are always ready to step in when they’re needed in a crisis and they deserve to compensated for the important work they do on the front lines — overseas and here at home,” Garrison said in a statement.
Watch | Brig.-Gen. Gervais Carpentier on Canadian Armed Forces members who have tested positive for COVID-19:
“There are always risks in what they do and they go into that knowingly and willingly, and that is why we offer them our deepest gratitude every day,” Trudeau said.
“At the same time, we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to protect them, so we will look at the protocols in place and see if and how they can be strengthened … ensuring that cases of COVID-19 don’t spread throughout the [Canadian Armed Forces] and others who are serving their country.”
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)