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77 Canadians on their way to help Australia as wildfires rage on

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Dozens of Canadian firefighters are on their way to Australia to help the country battle wildfires that have left at least 29 people dead.

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre (CIFFC) says that 77 Canadians from across the country are headed down under in response to a request for help by national fire and emergency services in Melbourne.

The request for help is specifically for the states of Victoria and South Australia, according to a CIFFC statement tweeted Thursday.

 

“This is in addition to the Canadian resources that have already been deployed to the State of New South Wales,” CIFFC said in the statement.

The first contingent of Canadians that left in early December is back, they added.

CIFFC spokesperson Melanie Morin said these Canadian deployments, beginning from December, are the first time the agency has sent firefighting help to Australia.

“This is the first time that we’ve gone anywhere internationally other than the United States,” she said in a phone interview from Melbourne on Thursday, where she is part of a team helping coordinate personnel.

On Thursday, 28 fire management personnel were preparing to depart from Vancouver International Airport, bound for the state of Victoria, where at least half a dozen bushfires were listed on the government website along with clusters of grass fires.

Their deployment is slated to last 31 days.

 

 

“They will be undertaking roles in command, operations, planning, logistics and aviation,” CIFFC said.

Seven more Canadian fire aviation specialists will depart for 31 days — marking the seventh such deployment from Canada — on Friday to South Australia, where fire danger ratings on the state website range from very high to low-moderate.

 

The fires have affected the availability of food and water for local wildlife. Local firefighters in South Australia recently posted a video of themselves helping a pair of parched koalas. Similar videos of people helping thirsty koalas have periodically appeared since the start of the wildfire season. The World Wildlife Fund in Australia said last week it estimates more than a billion animals may have been killed directly or indirectly due to the fires.

On Sunday, 40 professional wildland firefighters from Canada along with two fire management personnel will head to Victoria for 31 days.

Morin said this is the first time CIFFC is sending frontline firefighters in response to a request by the state of Victoria.

“So we are now sending 40 firefighters that will be leaving Sunday night and arriving Tuesday morning in Melbourne,” she said. Half of them are from B.C., while the other half hail from Quebec.

 

Australia may have a “different topography, different terrain, different climate” than in Canada, she said.

“But once you have that base knowledge, then it can be transferred and applied here,” Morin said.

The firefighters all come from agencies across the country — B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon.

 

All in all, by the time the eighth deployment lands in Australia next week, Canada will have sent a total of 172 fire professionals since early December to three different states in Australia.

“We have 46 from BC, two from the Yukon, 34 from Alberta, four from the Northwest Territories, 11 from Saskatchewan, eight from Manitoba, 28 from Ontario, 25 from Quebec, three from Newfoundland and Labrador, three from Nova Scotia and eight from Parks Canada,” Morin said.

Canada has mutual aid agreements with not just Australia but also New Zealand, the U.S., Mexico and South Africa. It has received similar firefighting assistance in the past.

“Canada has called on Australian support for firefighting personnel in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and we are proud to now reciprocate and assist them during this challenging fire season,” CIFFC said.

The wildfires in Australia have devastated more than 2,500 homes and ravaged an area roughly the size of a third of Germany since they first began raging in September.

With files by Reuters

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Changes coming for international students beginning Canadian studies online – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
The federal government is rolling out a series of measures aimed at making it easier for international students who will be beginning their fall semesters taking online courses from Canadian schools, while COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.

The government says it will be allowing students to count the time spent studying online while abroad towards their eligibility for a post-graduation Canadian work permit if at least 50 per cent of their post-secondary program is completed in Canada. 

As well, the government is allowing international students who are not able to submit all of the documentation needed to process their post-graduation work applications due to COVID-19-related closures but still want to begin their studies while in another country to do so. 

This is being facilitated through a new two-stage approval process. The new process will allow prospective students to go ahead with their plans upon receiving an “approval in principle.” 

In order to be approved in principle, students need to show they have been accepted to a Canadian college or university and have the ability to pay for it. 

It would then be the responsibility of international students to submit all outstanding documents and be approved before being allowed to enter Canada. 

The full approval requires submitting biometrics, an immigration medical exam, and a police background check.

International students who are staring a program this fall who submit a study permit application before Sept. 15, 2020 are eligible for these new measures. 

“These changes will give students more certainty about their ability to enter Canada once travel and health restrictions are eased in Canada and their own home countries. They mean that students will be eligible to work in Canada after graduation, even if they need to begin their studies online from overseas this fall,” said the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship in a statement.

These new measures are in addition to other pandemic-prompted temporary policy changes already made by the federal government. 

Last year more than 650,000 international students were enrolled in Canadian college and university programs, with more than 58,000 becoming permanent Canadian residents.

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on international students and the Canadian institutions and communities that host them,” said Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino in the statement.

“We value the contribution of young people seeking a high-quality education in Canada, and we’re making every effort to minimize how current challenges affect their plans and dreams for the future.” 

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Canada-U.S. border closure to be extended for another 30 days, say officials – CBC.ca

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CBC News has confirmed that the agreement to restrict travel across the Canada-U.S. border will be extended into August. 

Senior government officials confirm the arrangement limiting border access to essential travel only will be rolled over for another 30 days. 

The agreement, which has to be reviewed each month, was set to expire on July 21. It’s now being renewed for the fourth time since the border closed to non-essential traffic on March 21.

News of the extension was first reported by Reuters.

The extension comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on the phone Monday about a range of issues that included the border closure.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discusses his phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump today about the border and the prospect of new American tariffs on Canadian aluminum. 1:49

Canadian government officials say they expect the border to stay largely closed for the foreseeable future, despite calls from U.S. members of Congress to consider a phased plan for reopening.

COVID-19 cases are hitting record daily highs in a large number of U.S. states — which would make make any resumption of pre-pandemic travel a significant health threat to Canada.

“We recognize that the situation continues to be complex in the United States in regards to COVID-19,” Trudeau said Monday at a press conference. “Every month, we have been able to extend the border closures to all but essential goods and services and those discussions are ongoing.”

Recent polling suggests that more than 80 per cent of Canadians favour keeping the border restrictions in place. 

Some leading public health officials have suggested the border should remain closed until at least the end of the year.  

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet told reporters today that the border should remain closed because the pandemic is still out of control in the U.S. 

“If we take examples of countries who managed well this crisis, in the list of those who did well, you won’t find the United States,” Blanchet said. 

“As long as the border appears to be a threat in the health of Quebecers and Canadians, it should remain closed.” 

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-François Blanchet says the Canada-U.S. border should remain closed

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Canada, U.S. agree to keep borders closed another 30 days: sources – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Canadian and U.S. officials have agreed to keep the border between the two countries closed to non-essential travel until August 21, CTV News has confirmed.

Sources say both governments are on the same page with extending the border restriction measures for another month.

The ban on discretionary travel was first introduced in March and has been extended each month since. The latest extension was set to expire on July 21.

The agreement, as it stands, exempts the flow of trade and commerce, as well as temporary foreign workers and vital health-care workers such as nurses who live and work on opposite sides of the border. Tourists and cross-border visits remain prohibited.

During a press briefing following a call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau teased that a decision on the border would be coming later in the week.

Trudeau said that talks were “ongoing,” and vowed to “continue to work hard to keep Canadians safe and to keep our economies flowing.”

This comes as some U.S. political figures in border states have been pressuring Canada to begin a phased reopening of the shared border, despite the surging number of new cases of COVID-19 in parts of the United States, with some regions reporting record-breaking new daily case counts.

On Monday, CNN reported that nearly one in every 100 Americans has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, with more than 3.3 million cases confirmed. 

More people have died in the United States from coronavirus than there are confirmed COVID-19 cases in Canada. 

At the end of June the federal government announced it would be extending to July 31 a ban on foreign travellers that exempted the United States. 

The U.S. was exempt because of the ongoing a separate travel restriction agreement with Canada. It’s this agreement that sources say will be renewed for the fourth time since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.  

As of June 9, foreign nationals who are immediate family members of either Canadian citizens or permanent residents can enter Canada to be reunited, under a limited exemption to the current border restrictions. This has allowed both foreign and cross-border Canada-U.S. families to reunite under certain stipulations. 

There have been instances, however, when U.S. travellers have entered into Canada improperly. This has resulted in Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officials being asked to take additional measures to screen who is looking to enter this country. 

When asked in May what the benchmarks will be for signs it’s an appropriate time to loosen travel restrictions, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that the first step would be carefully reopening travel restrictions within Canada.

She said drastically limiting who has been able to enter the country over the last few months — specifically international visitors — has been key to Canada controlling the outbreak.

Even when international travel can resume, Tam said the 14-day mandatory quarantine and follow-up enforcement of that order will remain “a cornerstone” of the disease control measures.

With files from CTV News’ Michel Boyer, Sarah Turnbull and Brooklyn Neustaeter

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