For years, Sylvia Gellman’s loved ones were left in the dark about what she did for a living in the early 1940s.
But in a mansion that once sat along Laurier Avenue East, Gellman and her colleagues — many of whom were women — worked to assist a top secret mission: cracking codes and ciphers used in secret and diplomatic communications during the Second World War.
“No one outside knew what we were doing,” the 101-year-old told CBC Ottawa on Saturday.
“You were so aware of it being a secret mission. And you didn’t tell anybody. And I followed that very closely. I didn’t even tell my family.”
On Saturday morning, a plaque honouring the Examination Unit, Canada’s first cryptographic bureau, was unveiled at the Laurier House National Historic Site, next door to where Gellman once worked.
The house was also the residence of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister during the Second World War.
Gellman said while her loved ones knew she had a top-secret job, they hardly understood the breadth of her work. Those duties included typing out decoded Japanese messages before they were rushed to what was then called the Department of External Affairs.
Intelligence was also shared with the British government’s Bletchley Park, a centre of Allied code-breaking where names like Alan Turing walked the halls.
Having the unit’s contributions to Canada officially marked with a plaque was something of a pandemic project for Diana Pepall, who’s researched the bureau since 2014.
It’s no surprise that so few people know about the efforts of Gellman and her coworkers, Pepall said.
“When they left, they all got a memo saying, ‘Just because war is over and you’re no longer working here, you’re not allowed to talk about this for the rest of your life.'” she said. “I’ve seen the actual memo.”
One woman Pepall found during her research said that two years of her mother’s life had always been unaccounted for — until they were filled in by the researcher’s efforts.
“The mother was right there, and then gave a 20-minute speech that nobody had ever heard before on her work at the Examination Unit,” Pepall said.
Helped strengthen Canada’s independence
The unit’s success also marked an important milestone in Canada’s independence within the intelligence community.
In some ways, the Examination Unit grew into the Communications Security Establishment (CSE): the national cryptologic agency that provides the federal government with information technology security and foreign signals intelligence. Many employees went from one secretive organization to another, said Erik Waddell, who also works for CSE.
“The codebreaking work they did during the war proved, not only to our allies, but to Canadian government officials and ministers and the prime minister, that there was in fact a value in Canada having its own independent intelligence gathering ability,” he said.
“[It also proved] that it was worth preserving that capacity after the war.”
The work of Gellman and others, Waddell said, also “helped build, foster and maintain” partnerships with its allies, something that’s been crucial to the establishment of Five Eyes, a key intelligence-sharing alliance on today’s world stage.
For Gellman, the Examination Unit was more than just her place of work: it was a second home where she met two lifelong friends.
Having lost a brother in the war, Gellman said she understood her job’s importance and was proud to work at the cryptographic bureau.
“I felt the whole thing was amazing, what was going on,” she said. “I really did.”
Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, travel mask mandate – CTV News
The federal government has announced it is dropping all COVID-19 border restrictions for anyone entering Canada, including: proof of COVID-19 vaccination, quarantine and isolation requirements as well as all pre- or on-arrival COVID-19 testing.
Canada is also making the ArriveCan application optional, and is lifting the mask mandate and health check requirements for travellers on planes and trains.
Declaring the imminent end of these restrictions—effective Oct. 1— marks a major milestone in Canada’s pandemic response.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Public Safety Marco Mendicino, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra and other relevant ministers spoke about the lifting of pandemic precautions Monday morning in Ottawa.
“We’ve always maintained that the extraordinary measures we introduced at our borders and on airplanes, trains and boats were temporary and that we would adjust them as the situation changes. Today we’re doing just that,” Alghabra said. “We’re taking another step to returning to the normal travel that connects families, workers, and our communities.”
Deciding to allow the special orders that for months have upheld Canada’s special pandemic authorizations under the Quarantine Act to expire means:
- Foreign nationals won’t need to be vaccinated to enter the country;
- Incoming travellers to major airports won’t be subject to random mandatory COVID-19 tests;
- Unvaccinated Canadians will no longer have to isolate when they return and if someone is mid-isolation as of Oct. 1 they won’t have to complete the remainder;
- Travellers will not have to monitor or report if they develop COVID-19 symptoms upon arrival;
- Submitting public health information through the ArriveCan app prior to landing will become optional; and
- It’ll no longer be mandatory to wear a face mask while travelling on planes or trains.
Cruise ship measures are also being lifted, though passenger and crew protection guidelines will remain to “align with the approach used in the United States.”
Officials said that while Canada is lifting the mask mandate, travellers are still “strongly recommended” to wear high-quality and well-fitting masks and make “informed decisions” when travelling.
The government is reminding travellers that they should not do so if they have COVID-19 symptoms, and they will have to still follow any provincial or territorial requirements.
COVID-19 will remain one of the communicable diseases listed in the Quarantine Act, and travellers who are sick upon arrival in Canada are being asked to inform a staff member or border services officer, as they “may then be referred to a quarantine officer who will decide whether the traveller needs further medical assessment,” according to a government statement.
Foreign nationals will still be required to meet the entry requirements under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and will have to provide appropriate travel and immigration documentation in order to be eligible to enter Canada.
“The Government of Canada will maintain the ability to re-establish certain border measures should they be required in the future to protect Canadians from the importation of new variants of concern or other emerging public health threats,” Duclos said.
WHY IS CANADA DOING THIS NOW?
The government says the removal of these border measures is the result of modelling indicating that Canada has “largely passed” the peak of the Omicron wave of infections; Canada’s high vaccination and lower hospitalization and death rates; as well as the availability of boosters, rapid tests, and COVID-19 treatments.
However, in his opening remarks, Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo cautioned that Canada may be seeing “an early sign of a resurgence” of infections as the fall season begins and is advocating for staying on top of booster doses as well as continued mask-wearing in indoor and crowded settings.
Asked how the government is reconciling concerns over the potential of an uptick in cases in the coming months with the decision to lift all entry and masking requirements, Duclos said that while COVID-19 is still very much present—suggesting looking no further than any hospital—the data indicates that the rate of importation of cases through the border is “insignificant.”
He cited “difficulties” airline staff have faced in trying to enforce measures like masking, saying Canada has decided to move away from a forced approach, suggesting most people will likely still opt to wear a mask.
Duclos also said that the government is leaving open “all possible options” in terms of reinstating public health measures, if needed.
Seeking to downplay suggestions already coming from Conservative MPs that the election of Pierre Poilievre as their new leader is the driving force behind this change given his advocacy for dropping COVID-19 mandates, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier told reporters on Monday that: “it’s not politicians who got us here today.”
“It’s Canadians who rolled up their sleeves to get vaccinated. You did your part, you got Canada to a better place,” she said.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF ARRIVECAN?
After months of defending the at-times glitchy application and insisting it was a “critical tool” despite pressure from the travel industry and opposition MPs to scrap it, on Monday ministers sought to defend changing their position.
“To be direct about it, now that ArriveCan will be optional, that will actually be a more straightforward change, because it will be at the choice of the traveller to use that technology,” said Mendicino.
The app however, is not going away entirely.
ArriveCan rolled out early in the pandemic to help the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) process travellers more efficiently. Its use and functions have evolved over the two years since.
While air carriers will no longer need to validate that travellers have filled out the vaccination and quarantine portions of form before boarding, the “advance declaration” feature will remain an option for Canadians who’d prefer to enter that information digitally.
By being able to submit customs and immigration declarations prior to arrival, the government says this option will save Canadians time at the airport.
“I know that there’s various anecdotes out there, some people who were very frustrated and others who have said that their experience was actually quite smooth,” Mendicino said.
“Early data shows that using the Advance CBSA Declaration in ArriveCAN cuts the amount of time a traveller spends at a kiosk by roughly one third, and over 30 per cent of travellers arriving at the airports are already using it,” said the government in a statement.
This feature is already available at Pearson as well as at the Vancouver and Montréal international airports. It will soon be offered at the Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Billy Bishop Toronto City, Ottawa, Québec City, and Halifax international airports “in the coming months.”
The government is also pledging that CBSA will continue looking for ways to speed up travellers’ entry, including exploring other optional features within ArriveCan to provide travellers with access to border wait times and other functions.
Joly to raise abortion, sexual violence in closing UN speech
OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly is urging countries to uphold women’s rights and abortion access while rooting out sexual violence, as the United Nations General Assembly comes to a close.
In a speech today in New York, Joly will summarize Canada’s priorities and concerns in foreign relations.
That includes being part of “a global coalition in support of equality” that will “defend against the growing attacks on women’s rights and freedoms,” according to drafted remarks in French.
“Sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls are being rolled back or denied in too many countries,” Joly’s drafted remarks say.
“Canada will always stand up for your right to choose.”
Though the drafted section on women’s rights does not mention the United States, Joly’s comments come after months of backlash to the U.S. Supreme Court allowing states to ban abortions, with some seeking to prosecute those who help women end their pregnancies in other jurisdictions.
Joly’s remarks instead mention women targeted by autocratic governments, such as the Taliban preventing Afghan girls from attending school. She calls out Myanmar’s military junta imprisoning female democracy activists and sexually assaulting Rohingya women.
The speech cites Iran’s crackdown on protesters seeking accountability after the death of Mahsa Amini, when morality police arrested her for “unsuitable attire” in allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. Joly also notes Ukrainian women have been subjected to sexual violence by occupying Russian forces.
Joly argues deliberate policy choices are resulting in rising violence against women, who are excluded from “the negotiating table, the boardroom, the classroom.”
The speech is likely to take place around noon local time, and will include some of the themes raised last week in New York by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His remarks surrounded climate change and international development.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press
Military en route to assist with recovery efforts
Residents of Atlantic Canada and eastern Quebec are coming to terms with the full scope of the damage left behind after post-tropical storm Fiona tore through the region over the weekend as one of the strongest storms Canada’s East Coast has ever faced.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces are being deployed to help with recovery efforts, with federal Defence Minister Anita Anand saying Sunday that about 100 troops a piece were either in place or en route to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and P.E.I. to provide assistance with the cleanup effort.
Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair said the immediate need is to provide food and shelter for those displaced by the storm, which is why the federal government is matching donations to the Canadian Red Cross.
However, he added that Ottawa will work with provinces to determine what is needed for recovery from a financial perspective, especially for Canadians who have lost everything. He said the first priority is the restoration of power and utilities, as well as clearing roadways to get essential supplies to those who need them.
At Fiona’s peak on Saturday, more than 500,000 customers across Atlantic Canada were without power, but by early Monday morning that number had been lowered to less than 300,000, with the vast majority in Nova Scotia. But even as crews workaround the clock to repair downed lines, some utility companies warned it could be days before the power is back on for everyone.
Authorities in western Newfoundland confirmed Fiona’s first Canadian fatality on Sunday. RCMP said a 73-year-old woman’s body was recovered from the water more than 24 hours after a massive wave struck her home, tearing away part of the basement. Her name was not immediately released.
The cause of death of a second person on P.E.I. has yet to be determined, but the Island’s acting director of public safety told a news conference that preliminary findings pointed towards “generator use.” No further details were provided.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2022.
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