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A plan to plug gaps in the continent’s Arctic defence shield faces roadblocks

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Despite the ballyhoo that surrounded last year’s announcement, it’s becoming clear that the modernization of North American air defence systems — a plan to spend $4.9 billion over six years — has a long way to go and a number of key technical obstacles to overcome.

The Trudeau government announced the long-anticipated NORAD modernization plan back in June during the run-up to the NATO leaders summit — a tense gathering where alliance members, sobered by the war in Ukraine, were expected to show how serious they are about defence spending.

And the planned air defence upgrade was a key talking point for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Defence Minister Anita Anand and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly at the NATO summit in Madrid.

In the months since, however, some of the challenges facing that multi-billion-dollar defence makeover have become glaringly obvious — especially in Canada.

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The goal of the modernization programme is to create a layered defence over the Far North that will guard against strategic bombers (the kind NORAD was created to counter more than seven decades ago) but also ballistic, cruise and hypersonic missiles — the kind of weapons we’ve seen pummeling Ukraine.

Two people embrace amid the debris of destroyed homes.
Local resident Yana embraces a friend as she reacts outside her mother’s house — damaged in a Russian missile strike — in Kyiv, Ukraine on December 29, 2022. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)

According to the plan, Canada and the U.S. want to improve satellite coverage, introduce modern over-the-horizon radar and deploy undersea sensors and surveillance in the Arctic — especially at the so-called “choke points,” the ocean entrances to the archipelago Canada claims as its sovereign territory.

The good news, according to the Canadian Armed Forces’ operational commander, is that the military has a pretty good handle on surveillance in the Far North at the moment, given the modest level of shipping traffic.

“Do I have decent domain awareness right now? Yes, I do,” said Vice-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, in charge of Canadian Joint Operations Command. “For example, in the maritime domain there’s only about 150 ships that actually transit the North every year. We know every one of them, we track them very well.”

Look out below

The challenge — or threat — lies under the ocean surface, particularly under the ice where submarines with ballistic or cruise missiles could lurk.

In a year-end interview with CBC News, Auchterlonie said Canada and its allies are always sharing naval intelligence on the whereabouts of adversaries and their major warships, including submarines.

And a host of new technology — some of it still under development — is expected to join NORAD’s underwater network soon, he said.

“I would say that technology has really moved forward in the last number of years. And we’re working with our allies, as well as their own defence scientists, to come up with those capabilities to detect adversaries in our waters … both on the surface and subsurface,” Auchterlonie said.

A titanium capsule with the Russian flag is seen seconds after it was planted by the Mir-1 mini submarine on the Arctic Ocean seabed under the North Pole during a record dive in 2007. (Association of Russian Polar Explorers/AP)

The development of that new tech — which could include portable sensor arrays, unmanned ships and unmanned underwater vehicles built to hunt submarines — is taking place in conjunction with the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet.

Last summer, the U.S. Navy’s chief of naval operations presented a plan for revitalizing the fleet by 2045. It calls for a fleet of 373 manned ships and 150 unmanned patrol ships, for a total of 523 ships. The navy has asked the U.S. Congress for more than $250 million US to develop unmanned surface and subsurface ships.

Even though building those new weapons systems is a work in progress, Auchterlonie said Canada is keenly following developments.

That said, he added, Canada and the U.S. could start deploying tech in existence now — such as underwater drones — to protect the North.

The war in Ukraine is driving an undeniable sense of urgency in the West over the need to develop new surveillance technology — and Canada has been watching Moscow’s moves in the North with growing alarm.

The Russian navy’s missile cruiser Marshal Ustinov sails off for an exercise in the Arctic in January, 2022. (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service/The Associated Press)

“Russia is rebuilding its Arctic military infrastructure to Soviet-era capability,” Jody Thomas, the prime minister’s national security and intelligence adviser, recently told the House of Commons defence committee.

“They had stopped. And they’re returning. I think that’s interesting. They’re continuing their construction in the Arctic despite the economic woes they are experiencing because of their illegal and barbaric invasion of Ukraine.”

During his visit to Canada’s Far North last summer, Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, remarked that the shortest route for Russia to attack North America is through the Arctic.

Canadian officials have stated repeatedly that the planned purchase of F-35 stealth fighters and the introduction of modern over-the-horizon (OTH) radar will go a long way toward easing that fear.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut on Thursday, August 25, 2022. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Over-the-horizon (OTH) radar systems can locate targets beyond the range of conventional radar. They also draw an enormous amount of energy. Defence scientists are trying to figure out how to power the stations in remote northern locations in an environmentally responsible way.

“Due to their extreme size, most OTH radar systems are located in remote areas where access to large amounts of power from the electrical grid is inadequate. Therefore, diesel generators are routinely used,” said a Defence Research and Development Canada technical memo written in 2006, when the military was studying the feasibility of the new systems.

It warned that, to prevent shutdowns, a two-megawatt generator burning 15,000 litres of diesel fuel per day would be required to power an OTH array.

That “leads to a separate problem with continuous fuel supply,” said the memo. “Disruptions in fuel supply (say, due to severe adverse winter weather events) could be mitigated by keeping a reserve of fuel for a few days.”

Two RADARSAT spacecraft are prepared for vibration testing in the MDA facilities in Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, Que. (Canadian Space Agency)

Perhaps the most immediate and vexing problem facing Canadian officials is the country’s rapidly aging chain of government-owned RADARSAT Constellation satellites. The federal auditor general warned in November that the satellites could outrun their useful lifespan by 2026.

Replacements for those satellites — which are used by several government departments, including National Defence — are still on the drawing board. The current government promised dedicated military surveillance satellites in its 2017 defence policy but — as Auditor General Karen Hogan noted in her recent report — those systems aren’t set for launch until 2035.

Government needs ‘a contingency plan,’ says AG

“What we’re looking for is for the government to have a bit of a contingency plan,” Hogan told the Commons defence committee on Dec. 8, 2022.

“What will happen should these satellites reach the end of their useful lives? Right now, the government either buys information commercially or turns to its allies.”

Nicholas Swale, a senior official in Hogan’s office, told that same committee hearing the satellite system is already overtaxed.

“There are multiple departments seeking information from these satellites and their needs are currently not being met,” he said.

In a year-end interview with CBC News, Gen. Wayne Eyre, the chief of the defence staff, was asked whether the Department of National Defence will speed up a program to launch dedicated satellites before 2035.

“At this point, I don’t know,” he said. “But we’re certainly going to try.”

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WHO decision on COVID-19 emergency won't effect Canada's response: Tam – CP24

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OTTAWA – On Monday, exactly three years from the day he declared COVID-19 to be a global public health emergency, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will decide whether to call it off.

But declaring an end to the “public health emergency of international concern” would not mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat. It will also not do much to change Canada’s approach.

“In Canada, we’re already doing what we need to do,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in her most recent COVID-19 update.

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She said the WHO discussion is important but COVID-19 monitoring and public health responses are not going to end. That includes continued surveillance of cases, particularly severe illness and death, and vaccination campaigns.

The WHO’s emergency committee, which was struck in 2020 when COVID-19 first emerged as a global health threat, voted Friday on whether to maintain the formal designation of a public health emergency.

Tedros will make the final call Monday based on the advice the committee gives him.

He warned earlier this week that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus, noting there were 170,000 deaths from COVID-19 reported around the world in the last two months.

“While I will not pre-empt the advice of the emergency committee, I remain very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths,” he said Jan. 24.

“While we are clearly in better shape than three years ago when this pandemic first hit, the global collective response is once again under strain.”

He is worried not enough health-care workers or seniors are up to date on vaccinations, that access to antivirals is limited and that health systems around the world remain fragile following three years of pandemic strain.

In Canada, there was a noticeable rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over Christmas and early in January but all are trending down again. Tam said there were no surges of the virus anywhere in Canada, though the latest variant of Omicron was being watched closely.

Federal surveillance data shows more than 30 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day, and hundreds of people are still hospitalized.

The formal designation of the global public health emergency was made on Jan. 30, 2020, when 99 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases were still restricted to China.

The decision was made to declare an emergency because human-to-human transmission was starting to occur outside China, and the hope was that by designating an emergency it could prompt a public health response that could still limit the impact of COVID-19.

That did not happen. On March 11, 2020, Tedros declared a global pandemic, practically begging countries to do more to slow it down.

The declaration of a pandemic meant that there was exponential growth in the spread of the virus.

By WHO terminology, a “public health emergency of international concern” is the highest formal declaration and the one which triggers a legally binding response among WHO member countries, including Canada.

It is what is done when a health threat is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected,” when it carries global public health implications and may require “immediately international action.”

A designation prompts the WHO director-general to issue recommendations for member countries including increased surveillance to identify new cases, isolating or quarantining infected people and their close contacts, travel measures such as border testing or closures, public health communications, investments in research and collaboration on treatments and vaccinations.

Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious diseases physician and the director adult infectious diseases residency training at Western University in London, Ont., said to his mind the WHO should end the global emergency designation even though the pandemic itself is not over.

“I don’t know that we should continue to call it an emergency,” he said. “I hope they say that we’re going to bring it down a notch.”

Elsayed said for vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat, but for most people there are far bigger threats, including suicide. He said with limited health resources, COVID-19 needs to be put in its proper place alongside other health issues.

Children, in particular, said Elsayed, are much more at risk from influenza and RSV than COVID-19 in wealthy countries, and from food insecurity and the lack of access to clean water in many developing nations.

Tam said regardless of what WHO decides, Canada won’t stop monitoring the evolution of the virus that causes COVID-19, including for new variants that may require adjustments to vaccines or other treatments.

She also said we must continue to monitor the ongoing developments in long COVID.

“We mustn’t, I think, let go of the gains that we’ve had in the last several years,” she said.

“I think whatever the decision is made by the director-general of WHO, I think we just need to keep going with what we’re doing now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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COVID still a concern despite drop in flu, RSV cases: expert – CTV News

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As RSV and flu cases steadily decline in Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to announce on Monday whether it still considers COVID-19 a global health emergency.

Ahead of that announcement, one of Canada’s top infectious disease specialists warns that the WHO’s consensus won’t necessarily mean the virus is behind us.

“I think it’s important to point out that this is not about … whether COVID is gone or not,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as well as the Department of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

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“This is a real committee-based decision at the WHO level to decide in whether this is still a public health emergency of international concern,” she told CTV News Channel Sunday.

Barrett explained that this a matter of prioritizing access to resources and research, and not to determine an end point for COVID-19.

“So what this all means is that COVID is not done,” she said. “And the way it looks in different countries is different in many situations. That’s what they’re trying to decide at this point, not whether a pandemic is done or whether COVID is going away.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will make the official call on the status of COVID-19, based on the advice of his committee. Earlier this week, he warned that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus and mentioned that there were 170,000 COVID-related deaths reported around the world in the last two months.

The WHO update comes at a time when concerns over a combination of respiratory illnesses are easing. Canadian data shows that influenza hospitalizations are now dropping.

“We’re starting to see influenza, perhaps RSV, starting to come down somewhat,” Barrett said.

“There’s still a lot of debate about whether we’re catching many cases that are not important. But really, I think the big [question] from the last year as we start to see influenza and RSV maybe go down is, what’s the best way forward?”

Barrett noted that the FDA recommended a change to booster shot roll outs.

“They’re suggesting a once-a-year, similar to a flu shot. I think that’s the right approach at this point,” she said.

“I think the first thing we should remind Canadians is that if they are due for an additional dose in the vulnerable populations — older folks, people who have bad immune systems — please don’t think it’s too early to go out and get that last dose from the fall if you haven’t.”

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Where did B.C.’s beloved Nanaimo Bar come from?

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The Nanaimo bar. It’s a sweet treat made from chocolate, custard, coconut and walnuts. Love it or hate it, it’s uniquely British Columbian.

But where did this chocolatey delicacy come from?

To celebrate the launch of CBC’s new permanent Nanaimo bureauNorth by Northwest host Margaret Gallagher spoke to food historian Lenore Newman about the origins of the treat that shares the city’s name.

Newman says it can be traced back to three women in Nanaimo after the Second World War.

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Originally — and uncreatively — called chocolate slices, Newman says the “dainties” popped up around 1952, in, no surprise here, Nanaimo. The base layer, made of graham wafer crumbs, shows up earlier, but the square as we know it with the thick custard middle and chocolate on top appeared in a local hospital auxiliary cookbook in the early ’50s, Newman said.

 

A B.C. baker’s “ultimate” Nanaimo bars

 

CBC’s Midday talks to a woman who extended her recipe into a business selling aprons and tea towels in 1987.

It was first deemed the Nanaimo bar by Vancouver Sun columnist Edith Adams in 1953 when she wrote that the dessert came from Nanaimo.

This is important to note, Newman says, because other places such as Mississauga and England have tried to claim it as their own.

The bar was later featured in the Expo ’86 cookbook, giving it a little more notoriety.

“I think if it had been called the chocolate slice, it would have faded into the past, but the fact that it was called the Nanaimo bar kept it rolling forward,” Newman said.

 

A modern interpretation of Nanaimo Bar loved around the world

 

Samuel Hartono of Northern Bars shows the unique shippable design

The Nanaimo bar’s fame has been far-reaching; when Harry and Megan visited B.C. in 2020, their interest in the treats caused a media frenzy in the U.K. and the U.S., prompting questions of what the square was and where it came from.

The Daily Mail even printed a headline titled: Were Harry and Meghan Markle lured to Canada by chocolate treats?

And in 2021, British Columbians were nonplussed when the New York Times published a recipe and photo of a Nanaimo bar that was, quite frankly, all wrong.

That wasn’t the first time people were offended over Nanaimo bars. In 2019, a Canada Post stamp featuring the dessert showed far too much of the middle layer, prompting outrage from Nanaimo bar enthusiasts.

Famous, infamous

Any self-respecting British Columbian can confirm that these layers are just plain wrong. (Canada Post)

“I like to say it’s like the Kardashian of Canadian desserts in that it’s famous for being famous and sometimes infamous, and it’s amazing how much play it gets,” Newman said.

So, how do you make the perfect Nanaimo bar? Here’s a recipe from The Great Canadian Baking Show.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 cup graham wafer crumbs.
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut.
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts.
  • 1/3 cup cocoa.
  • 1/4 cup sugar.
  • 1/4 tsp salt.
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted.
  • 1 egg, beaten.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla.

For the middle layer:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened.
  • 2 tbsp custard powder.
  • 2 tbsp milk.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla.
  • 1/8 tsp salt.
  • 2 cups icing sugar.

For the glaze:

  • 110 g semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup).
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter.

Instructions

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an eight-inch pan with parchment paper, with ends extending over the sides of the pan. Set aside.

Stir together graham crumbs, coconut, walnuts, cocoa, sugar and salt. Add butter, egg and vanilla, stirring to combine.  Press firmly into the prepared pan.

Bake until firm, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the middle layer. Mix butter and custard powder in a large bowl with a hand mixer. Add milk, vanilla and salt and mix to incorporate. Add icing sugar in two additions. Mix until light and fluffy. Spread over the bottom layer. Refrigerate for one hour.

While the crust and middle layer are in the refrigerator, stir chocolate and butter together in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water until melted.

Spread chocolate glaze over the middle layer. Chill for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan with parchment edges and cut into 25 squares.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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