Sixty-nine Canadians are giving up their holidays at home to join the battle for the first time against the deadly wildfires devastating vast tracts of several Australian states.
The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre says 21 highly trained staff from a variety of agencies left Canada on Dec. 3 for a 38-day deployment in New South Wales after the centre received an official request for assistance.
On Thursday, a second group of 30 Canadians was sent in for a 38-day deployment in the fire zone and 18 more are leaving on Dec. 30 for about a month.
Kim Connors, executive director of the Winnipeg-based CIFFC, says Canada has called on Australian firefighters four times since 2015, and the “agreements are reciprocal in nature, so it was the first time that Australia has needed help from Canada.”
“Our Canadian firefighters and their families have volunteered their time to be away for the holidays, which is different for the northern hemisphere to be dealing with wildland fires over Christmas and New Year’s so we’re very proud of them for doing that,” he said in an interview.
The CIFFC says crews from the following provinces are assisting with a variety of tasks including roles in command, aviation, planning, logistics and operations:
- Newfoundland and Labrador.
- British Columbia.
“So they’re not on the front line, they’re in the overall management of the fires,” said Connors.
“They’ve been in a period of drought for quite a long period and it’s not a very good situation down there and obviously their summer is just started as our winter starts.”
Record high temperatures and strong southerly winds are fanning more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.
Two volunteer firefighters have been killed and dozens of homes have been lost since Thursday in the massive fires, including the Gospers Mountain one that covered more than 460,000 hectares.
Customers cry foul as Air Canada, WestJet continue to deny certain compensation claims despite new directive – CBC News
A recent Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) decision was supposed to help clear the air on flight compensation.
However, the clarification has only ignited fury for some passengers, including Frank Michel, who have since been denied compensation — due to crew shortages.
“It’s insulting,” said Michel, of Marquis, Sask.
He and his wife, Leigh, flew with Air Canada in June. The couple’s flight from Regina to Victoria was delayed by more than five hours. Then, the second leg of their return flight was cancelled, so the couple wound up spending the night at the Vancouver airport.
“I’ve got arthritis, I’m aching and sore; I’m sleeping on a frigging concrete floor,” said Michel, who is 67.
The couple applied for compensation, which would total $2,800 if they qualified. But in late July, Air Canada rejected the Michels’ claim. In two separate emails seen by CBC News, the airline said each flight disruption was “due to crew constraints” linked to COVID-19 and was “safety-related.”
Under federal rules, airlines only have to pay compensation — up to $1,000 per passenger — if the flight disruption is within the airline’s control and not safety-related.
Michel argues Air Canada isn’t playing by the rules.
“CTA has already made it clear that crew constraints is not an acceptable excuse,” he said. “It’s not a safety issue. It’s a management issue. You have to manage your resources.”
‘This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything’
The CTA issued its clarification last month based on a case where WestJet denied a customer compensation, claiming his flight had been cancelled for safety reasons due to a crew shortage.
In its ruling, the CTA emphasized that staffing issues typically warrant compensation because, in general, they are an airline’s responsibility and can’t be categorized as a safety matter. Thus, the agency ordered WestJet to pay the passenger $1,000.
“Training and staffing are within airline control and therefore crew shortages are within airline control, unless there’s compelling evidence” to the contrary, said CTA spokesperson Tom Oommen in an interview. “It’s a high threshold.”
WATCH | Air passengers say they’ve been unfairly denied compensation:
Oommen said the CTA’s decision will help ensure airlines follow the rules. But some passengers remain skeptical.
“This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything,” said Jennifer Peach, of Langley, B.C., who, along with her husband, had booked a trip with WestJet to attend a wedding last month in St. John’s.
They almost didn’t make it. WestJet cancelled their connecting flight and Peach said the airline then offered to rebook them on a flight one day later — which would mean they’d miss the wedding.
Fortunately, Peach found a Porter Airlines flight that would get the couple to St. John’s about five hours later than originally scheduled, but still in time for the wedding. WestJet told her to book the flight and file for compensation, she said.
Peach asked WestJet for the $773 total she paid for the Porter flight, plus compensation for the couple’s delayed trip. On Aug. 2, WestJet turned down both requests.
In an email seen by CBC News, the airline stated that the flight cancellation “was due to crew member availability and was required for safety purposes.”
That didn’t sit well with Peach, especially in light of the recent CTA decision.
“I don’t know what’s going on here,” she said. “I would assume that if there’s a decision like this made by the Canadian Transportation Agency that it would be the sort of the benchmark for all of these [claims].”
Enforcement options ‘could include fines’: CTA
WestJet and Air Canada each declined to comment on individual cases, but both said they abide by federal air passenger regulations. WestJet said that safety is its top priority. Air Canada said airlines shouldn’t be penalized for cancelling flights for safety reasons.
Air passenger rights expert Ian Jack said the CTA needs to threaten airlines with harsh penalties, such as public shaming and stiff fines, if they fail to comply with compensation regulations.
“The major concern is that the regulator is not exactly striking fear into the hearts of the carriers to make them follow the rules,” said Jack, a spokesperson with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a non-profit travel agency.
“They need to know that they might get caught, embarrassed and called to task by the regulator.”
CTA’s Oommen suggested that tough penalties may be coming for non-compliant airlines. “We are indeed looking at all the enforcement options … which could include fines.”
Meanwhile, both Michel and Peach have filed complaints with the CTA. However, they may be in for a long wait. The agency is currently dealing with a backlog of more than 15,000 complaints, Oommen said.
He said the CTA recently made changes to streamline the complaints process and is trying to hire more staff.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/AirCanada?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@AirCanada</a> how do I appeal a denied compensation request for a delayed flight? The reason for the delay was flight crew constraints …is staffing not under your control?
<a href=”https://twitter.com/WestJet?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@WestJet</a> I would expect more from your “customer focused” company.Can you please explain how our claim for compensation has been denied since it was a crew staffing issue. Do you not schedule the crews,therefore making it within your control??? <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/flightdelay?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#flightdelay</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/poorcustomerservice?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#poorcustomerservice</a>
But Jack said he’s concerned the backlog may encourage airlines to flout the rules, because any repercussions will be far down the road.
“They don’t have to pay out today, and who knows, maybe in 2025, they might have to pay money.”
Across Canada, cities struggle to respond to growing homeless encampments – CBC.ca
On a patch of green space at the edge of a Charlottetown parking lot, Steve Wotton lives in a tent with his dog, Nova. The homeless shelter where he used to stay doesn’t allow pets.
“I’ve been on the streets since two days after Christmas, but I’ve been in shelters off and on,” he said.
Wotton said shelters make him anxious, and his dog is a source of support and strength when he’s feeling unwell.
“This is in the area where I should be or I kinda need to be,” he said.
“It’s tough. Some of it can be OK, but it’s very rough.”
Across Canada, city officials are trying to figure out how to deal with the increased presence of homeless encampments.
In Vancouver, city staff began the removal of tents in the city’s Downtown Eastside earlier this week.
In Halifax, the city recently ordered people living in a west-end park to leave, and have said police could be called in to clear out those who remain.
In Montreal, several encampments have been cleared out in recent years, and the city is seeking to hire a liaison officer to help dismantle others that pop up. A city spokesperson said encampments are not a safe or sustainable solution to homelessness, and pose a safety risk, too.
Short- and long-term goals
Yet advocates such as Marie-Pier Therrien, a representative for the Old Brewery Mission shelter in Montreal, argue that simply shutting encampments down doesn’t help.
“We agree with the city that the encampments are not a long-term solution to the housing crisis right now,” Therrien said. “But we would like them to lead an effort … to provide affordable housing solutions to the people in the camps, because moving them around is not going to be a long-term solution either.”
As the former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha has studied the issue closely. She said city governments cannot be left to solve the problem on their own.
“Encampments are unfortunately incredibly common across Canada, in big cities and small cities. And this has really increased since the pandemic,” she said.
“That’s because congregate settings like shelters were deemed unsafe at the beginning of the pandemic. And already people were not loving shelters. They are violent places; they are institutions.”
While more affordable housing should be the ultimate goal, she said, in the meantime officials should ensure people living in encampments have access to things like clean water.
“I expect city and other orders of government to ensure that when people are living in encampments, they can live as much of a dignified life as possible, but that the end goal should be figuring out how to get that population properly housed,” she said.
Councillors in Kitchener, Ont., for instance, have approved a plan to provide support to encampments while coming up with a longer-term plan.
“The way I view people living in encampments is they are human-rights holders and they’re making a claim,” Farha said.
“They’re saying, ‘Hey, I have the right to adequate housing and there is no other place for me to find that’s right to live. And so I’m going to roll out my sleeping bag or pitch my tent here because I have no other options.'”
More shelters, more housing
In Toronto, there still aren’t enough spots in shelters to accommodate those living on the streets.
On a nightly basis over the past year and a half, an average of 40 people were turned away because of a lack of beds, according to data released earlier this month.
WATCH | Former UN rapporteur says encampments highlight need for affordable housing solutions:
Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor who works with people experiencing homelessness in the city, said the lack of space in shelters needs to be urgently addressed, but more housing is the only real solution.
“The only way out of this is to build good, solid, dignified social housing at scale,” he said.
Speaking outside his tent in Charlottetown, Wotton said he’s not certain where he will live when it gets colder later this year.
“This is my first time experiencing this,” he said. “I’m still learning as I go along.”
Sierra Leone: 8 killed in anti-government protests
Freetown, Sierra Leone- Eight police officers have been killed in anti-government protests that erupted on Wednesday over inflation and the rising cost of living.
According to Youth Minister Mohamed Orman Bangura, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Freetown where the protests grew violent at times.
“We are yet to know how many people were injured, but I can confirm that eight police officers were killed. Those are not protesters. There is a difference between protest and riot and acts of terrorism (sic). Protesting is different from acting as a terrorist going against the State and killing young police officers.
This was well planned, calculated and financed by members of the opposition, All People’s Congress. Members of the opposition paid young people to come to the street to take over governance.
If the protest is a result of the cost of living, why is it not happening in all the strongholds of the current government? Why is it Makeni that happens to be the headquarters town of the opposition? Why is it not a nationwide strike? Out of 16 districts, why is it only in three districts that they (the opposition) think is their stronghold,” said the Minister.
Discontent has been boiling over for a number of reasons, including a perceived lack of government support for ordinary people who are struggling.
Long-standing frustration has also been exacerbated by rising prices for basic goods in Sierra Leone, where more than half the population of around 8 million lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
Earlier on Wednesday, internet observatory, NetBlocks said Sierra Leone faced a near-total internet shutdown during the protests, with national connectivity at five percent of ordinary levels.
The government has since imposed a nationwide curfew which was imposed on Wednesday in a bid to stem the violence.
“As a government, we have the responsibility to protect every citizen of Sierra Leone. What happened today was unfortunate and will be fully investigated,” said President Julius Maada Bio.
Footage circulating on social media showed crowds of demonstrators burning tires in Freetown and other groups of young men throwing rocks at security forces which have also been castigated by Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh
“These unscrupulous individuals have embarked on a violent and unauthorized protest which has led to the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans including security personnel,” said the Vice-President.
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