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'A very dark time': Canada shuts down embassy in Afghanistan, citing safety concerns – CTV News

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Canadians working to evacuate allies from Afghanistan described chaos, fear and disappointment on Sunday as Canada shut down its embassy in Kabul and suspended diplomatic relations amid a Taliban advance in the capital.

The federal government said the situation in Afghanistan poses “serious challenges” to its ability to ensure safety and security at the embassy.

“After consulting with Canada’s Ambassador to Afghanistan, the decision was made to temporarily suspend our diplomatic operations in Kabul,” the federal ministers of foreign affairs, immigration and defence said in a joint statement.

The ministers said safety of Canadian personnel is a top priority, adding that staff are “safely on their way back to Canada.”

“The Canadian embassy will resume its operations as soon as the security situation in Afghanistan allows us to guarantee appropriate service and adequate security for our staff,” they said.

The Taliban have seized nearly all of Afghanistan in just over a week and breached the capital on Sunday.

Officials told the Associated Press that President Ashraf Ghani had flown out of the country earlier in the day, as personnel were evacuated from the U.S. Embassy and other western missions and staff destroyed sensitive documents. Commercial flights out of Kabul’s international airport were reportedly suspended amid the rush of people trying to leave.

Dave Morrow, a retired corporal with the Canadian-Afghan Interpreters group, said he and other volunteers were receiving panicked messages from Afghans who feared they had been left to fend for themselves.

“The level of panic on the ground is indescribable,” Morrow said by phone from Montreal. “It’s a very dark time for everybody involved.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned the violence in Afghanistan on Sunday, adding Canada remains committed to the Afghan people and the country.

“We are heartbroken at the situation the Afghan people find themselves in today,” Trudeau said from Ottawa moments before formally launching a federal election campaign.

“This is especially so given the sacrifices of Canadians who believed and continue to believe in the future of Afghanistan. We will continue to work with allies and the international community to ensure that those efforts were not in vain.”

Canada has committed to taking in 20,000 refugees from the country who have already fled.

It also has said it is working to evacuate Afghans who have assisted Canada over the years.

On Sunday, the government said it was working with allies such as the United States to keep that immigration program for interpreters going, though Trudeau said that mission would depend on the “extremely fast evolving” conditions on the ground.

“We will continue to work to get as many Afghan interpreters and their families out as quickly as possible as long as the security situation holds,” he said.

Morrow described the situation in Afghanistan as a worst-case scenario, but a predictable one that his group and others had been calling on Ottawa to mitigate for months.

He argued that the Canadian government had failed in its response and said his group had begun exploring other alternatives to help contacts on the ground, with diminishing hope for success.

“How do you tell somebody that, I’m sorry, but we’re probably not going to be able to get you out,” he said

“A lot of us veterans are having that conversation right now with interpreters that believed in us and it’s heartbreaking. There’s going to have to be a reckoning very soon about what this means as a country to just let this happen.”

Others criticized the government for triggering an election instead of focusing on allies who need immediate help.

Jack Harris, deputy defence critic for the federal New Democrats, said in a tweet that he was concerned to hear reports of 100 Nepalese workers at Canada’s embassy who were not included in the evacuation effort.

“Canada must take measures to ensure their safety,” Harris said. “Instead of focusing on evacuating those at risk in Afghanistan, today Justin Trudeau is calling an election.”

Andrew Rusk of advocacy group Not Left Behind also criticized the timing of the election call and the closure of the embassy, a move he said meant “effectively halting the government’s extraction efforts” for stranded workers who supported Canada.

“As our government pursues a majority, they’ve turned their back on both Afghanistan and our Veteran community,” he said in a statement.

In an interview, Rusk said his group is hearing reports of violence targeting Afghans who worked with Canada, including some recent killings, and of “pandemonium” in Kabul as people scramble for options to get out.

He said the Canadian government was too slow to act on calls to rescue people, leaving it to volunteers to field their desperate please for help.

“This isn’t something that a bunch of veterans and other Canadians should be taking the leadership role on. It has happened because there is a gap in leadership within the federal government,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2021.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Monday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

U.S. President Joe Biden received his COVID-19 booster shot on Monday, days after federal regulators recommended a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for Americans aged 65 or older and approved them for others with pre-existing medical conditions and high-risk work environments.

“The most important thing we need to do is get more people vaccinated,” Biden said before getting the booster. He said he didn’t have side-effects after his first or second shots.

Biden, 78, got his first shot on Dec. 21 and his second dose three weeks later, on Jan. 11, along with his wife, Jill Biden.

Speaking on Friday after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration authorized the Pfizer booster, Biden told reporters, “I’ll be getting my booster shot. It’s hard to acknowledge I’m over 65, but I’ll be getting my booster shot. “

Biden emerged as a champion of booster doses this summer, as the U.S. experienced a sharp rise in coronavirus cases from the more transmissible delta variant. While the vast majority of cases continue to occur among unvaccinated people, regulators pointed to evidence from Israel and early studies in the U.S. showing that protection against so-called breakthrough cases was vastly improved by a third dose of the Pfizer shot.

Pushback from WHO on boosters

But the aggressive American push for boosters — before many poorer countries have been able to provide even a modicum of protection for their most vulnerable populations — has drawn the ire of the World Health Organization and some aid groups, which have called on the U.S. to pause third shots to free up supply for the global vaccination effort.

Biden said last week that the U.S. was purchasing another 500 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine — for a total of one billion over the coming year — to donate to less well-off countries.

Vice-President Kamala Harris, 56, received the Moderna vaccine, for which federal regulators have not yet authorized boosters — but they are expected to in the coming weeks. Regulators are also expecting data about the safety and efficacy of a booster for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot soon.

At least 2.66 million Americans have received booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine since mid-August, according to the CDC. About 100 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 through the Pfizer shot. U.S. regulators recommend getting the boosters at least six months after the second shot of the initial two-dose series.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, 79, a polio survivor, encouraged Americans to get vaccinated and revealed he had also received a booster dose Monday.

“Like I’ve been saying for months, these safe and effective vaccines are the way to defend ourselves and our families from this terrible virus,” he said.

— From The Associated Press, last updated at 4:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Alberta, Sask. hospitals strain under 4th wave: 

Health-care systems in Alberta, Saskatchewan ‘broken’ by COVID surge, doctors say

8 hours ago

Dr. Aisha Mirza, an ER physician in Edmonton, and Dr. Hassan Masri, an ICU and critical care physician in Saskatoon, share how the provinces’ hospitals and medical professionals are struggling amid a fourth wave of COVID-19. 16:41

The pressure on Alberta and Saskatchewan’s health-care systems continues to grow amid COVID-19 surges, with both provinces hitting new records on Monday.

In Alberta, health officials reported an unprecedented 312 patients in intensive care units (ICUs), the vast majority of whom have COVID-19. Doctors have warned that triage protocols would be activated in a worst-case scenario, and some say patient care is already being affected.

“It’s not just unvaccinated patients who are suffering; it’s vaccinated patients who are suffering, it’s everybody,” Dr. Aisha Mirza, an ER doctor in Edmonton, told CBC News.

Meanwhile, Saskatchewan reported 289 people with COVID-19 in hospital on Monday, breaking a record set the day before. Of those, 63 are in intensive care, tying the record first reported on Saturday.

Premier Scott Moe said his government has not asked the federal government for military or health-care workers to support the COVID-19 battle in hospitals, but has discussed other areas of potential assistance.

Ottawa is assisting in Alberta after it made a formal request. It will help with air-lifting patients to other provinces, and by sending ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

— From CBC News, last updated at 8:30 p.m. ET


What’s happening around the world

A girl receives a dose of COVID-19 vaccine at a public school in Concon, Chile, on Monday. Chile is lifting its state of emergency following a sharp decrease in cases. (Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters)

As of Monday evening, more than 232.2 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.7 million.

In the Middle East, Jordan’s royal palace says Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II has tested positive for COVID-19 and is displaying “mild symptoms.” The palace said in a statement that King Abdullah II and Queen Rania, the 27-year-old crown prince’s parents, have both tested negative but will self-quarantine for five days. All three members of the royal family have been vaccinated.

In Europe, President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday said France would give 120 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries, doubling an earlier pledge, French news agency AFP reported.

In the Americas, Chilean authorities announced the end of a state of emergency in force since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, following a sharp decrease in cases. The state of emergency had allowed the government to impose nighttime curfews and forced quarantines on hard-hit districts amid the worst of the outbreak.

Cuba has begun commercial exports of its homegrown COVID-19 vaccines, sending shipments of the three-dose Abdala vaccine to Vietnam and Venezuela. Cuban scientists have said the vaccines are more than 90 per cent effective against illness, though — like all vaccines — less so against mere infection.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Japan plans to lift its COVID-19 state of emergency, which covers 19 prefectures, in all of the regions at the end of September, broadcaster NHK reported on Monday. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he discussed easing measures with relevant ministers on Monday and would seek the views of a government panel of advisers on Tuesday.

A mother comforts her child being inoculated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a hospital in Bangkok last week. (Sakchai Lalit/The Associated Press)

Thailand’s COVID-19 task force approved a plan to procure a combined 3.35 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, a spokesperson said. The country will also waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and nine regions beginning Nov. 1 to vaccinated arrivals, according to authorities.

In Africa, Tunisia will entirely lift its nightly curfew against COVID-19 beginning Saturday, the presidency said, after about a year in force.

— From The Associated Press, Reuters and CBC News, last updated at 6:15 p.m. ET

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Huge homecoming parties result in arrests, fines across Canadian college towns – CTV News

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HALIFAX —
On several big Canadian campuses Monday, the morning chatter wasn’t about classwork or assignments. Instead, students traded gossip about some of the huge parties that took place over the weekend.

Thousands of post-secondary students packed the streets in Guelph, Ont., London, Ont. and Halifax on Saturday, breaking liquor laws, COVID-19 restrictions and in some cases, property.

But some students got more than a homecoming hangover for their efforts, as police in Halifax issued tickets and arrested 10 people for public drunkenness. Police in London arrested one person and issued a number of fines. Partygoers in Guelph were limited to tickets and fines.

College town rowdiness may not be new, but it seems public patience has evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Enjoy the fines & upcoming academic discipline hearings you rightly deserve,” Guelph mayor Cam Guthrie tweeted Saturday.

Halifax city councillor Waye Mason blamed the high number of first-year students as a result of the number of high-school graduates who deferred post-secondary studies amid the pandemic.

“You have twice the population of students who have no kind of grounding in adult behaviour in public,” he told CTV National News.

In a news release, Dalhousie University admonished those who attended what it called an “unsanctioned” and “illegal” event, urging them to get tested for COVID-19 and “not to attend classes or general on-campus activities for one week.”

Dalhousie’s student union fired back, insisting the incident was predictable and preventable while criticizing school administration.

“Dalhousie currently has an on-campus dry policy. You’re also not allowed to have visitors in residence,” Madeleine H. Stinson, president of the student union, told CTV National News. “We know students were going to party and Dalhousie created it so that they couldn’t do so on campus.”

Meanwhile, Halifax police are investigating the events of the weekend and said it could result in charges. Dalhousie has also threatened to fine or even to expel students who participated in the party. 

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Canada seeks to attract U.S. frequent flyers with perks on Air Canada

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Canada is trying to use the lure of travel perks to convince America’s frequent-flying elite to fly north on Air Canada, as the country steps up efforts to revive crucial traffic from the United States, a Canadian official said.

COVID-19 has battered travel from Canada‘s largest tourism market. During the first half of 2021, Canada had only about 178,000 overnight arrivals from the United States, compared with 6.8 million during the same period in 2019, according to government data.

To help reverse that decline, government tourism body Destination Canada on Monday rolled out its first campaign targeting U.S. frequent flyers, in partnership with the country’s largest carrier.

It is part of broader, C$14 million ($11.2 million) efforts by the tourism commission to boost traffic after Canada recently opened its borders to vaccinated travellers. It is not clear how much the specific frequent flyer campaign will cost.

“This is super-focused in terms of our ability to reach frequent flyers,” Gloria Loree, Destination Canada‘s chief marketing officer told Reuters, ahead of the launch.

Under the plan, up to 20,000 U.S. frequent flyers with carriers like American Airlines, Southwest Airlines Co and Delta Air Lines could get matching status when flying Air Canada north of the border.

Delta declined to comment and American Airlines did not immediately respond.

Southwest, which does not serve Canada directly, said by email that the government arm’s support contributes to the industry’s collective efforts “to restart substantive air travel.”

Frequent-flyer status gives travelers perks like priority boarding that would normally cost a premium fare or a fee.

While status-matching is common among airlines, Destination Canada said this is the first time a tourism organization has used the practice to attract tourists to their country.

“This is the push to get them coming to Canada,” Loree said.

Eligible U.S. frequent flyers who book and travel north on AC before Jan. 15, 2022, will keep their status with the carrier for all of 2022, she said.

It comes as countries ease restrictions on international travel, with the United States set to reopen in November to vaccinated air travelers from 33 countries.

Loree said funding frequent-flyer status matching is no different from other incentives paid for by Destination Canada, such as a separate campaign this year with Air Canada‘s rival, WestJet Airlines.

Loree said the goal is to restore routes from the United States, while trying to attract travelers who will return to Canada.

In April, hard-hit Air Canada received an estimated C$5.9 billion ($4.7 billion) government aid package with the country gaining a stake of roughly 6% in the carrier.

While Canada‘s high vaccination rate could reassure tourists, the cost of the country’s COVID-19 PCR test requirements for arrivals could dissuade some travelers, said Frederic Dimanche, director of the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management at Ryerson University.

Loree said targeting U.S. frequent flyers is a plus because they are largely accustomed to those requirements.

“They’ve figured out how to travel,” Loree said. “So we want them to consider Canada as their next trip.”

Air Canada shares closed up 3.48% in Toronto trade.

($1 = 1.2652 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal. Additional reporting by Rajesh Kumar Singh in ChicagoEditing by Denny Thomas, Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis)

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