The question of what to do with Canadians who left the country to join ISIS, and who are languishing in camps along the Syrian-Iraq border, is one that has haunted the federal government for years.
ISIS fighters, their wives, widows and children are scattered throughout camps in northern Syria or detained in prisons. It’s estimated that 35 women and children are in the Al-Roj camp alone, and eight Canadian men accused of being ISIS fighters are currently incarcerated in Kurdish prisons.
Last October, five-year-old Amira, who was living in Syria’s Al-Hol camp after losing her father and mother in an airstrike, was finally able to be reunited with her uncle in Canada. Amira was handed over by the Kurds to an official Canadian delegation at a Syrian border town.
Last week, former American diplomat Peter Galbraith travelled to northern Syria to collect a four-year-old Canadian girl after her mother released her from her custody in Al-Roj camp so she could live with her aunt in Canada. In this case, the Canadian government only assisted with the travel documents.
For Leila Sakhir of Montreal, watching those two children be repatriated is a painful reminder of her own two-year-old niece, stranded in a Syrian camp.
“I always think about her and her mother,” Sakhir told CTV News. “I have two daughters…and I think about her in her tent, such different conditions and it seems so unfair, so inexplicable.”
Sakhir is concerned that if she one day is able to get her niece out of Al-Hol camp, it may have to be without the child’s mother — “an impossible choice to make,” she says.
Sakhir’s brother Youssef was one of the several Quebec men who left Canada in 2014 and 2015 to join the ranks of ISIS overseas, where he eventually married a Moroccan woman and had a child.
“It was a real shock. It was a shock for my whole family,” Sakhir said. “We just could not believe it…I remembered I just fell to my knees.”
Youssef was killed in a 2019 bombing. One of the last photos Sakhir has of her brother is a picture of him and his baby girl.
Sakhir’s story was the subject of a documentary film entitled “Les Poussieres De Daesch,” or “The Dust of ISIS,” chronicling her journey to find her niece and sister-in-law in Al-Hol and then the short time she spent with them inside the camp.
And while Sakhir acknowledged that there is very little sympathy from the public for those who joined the terrorist organization, she told CTV News that Canada needs to step up and perform its duty for the sake of the children who are serving a sentence alongside their parents in the camps.
“They are not dealing with the situation right now,” Sakhir said of the federal government. “I think it is not Canadian, it is not what we imagine Canada would do – ignore them.”
Advocacy groups like Human Rights Watch (HRW) have repeatedly criticized Canada for “appearing to withhold effective consular assistance to detainees over their suspected links to ISIS,” which the group argues “could amount to unlawful discrimination.”
According to the HRW the “indefinite detention without charge of the Canadians amounts to guilt by association and collective punishment, prohibited under international law. The inhuman or degrading treatment in the camps and prisons may constitute torture,” and Canada is “failing to take adequate steps” to repatriate its citizens, the HRW said.
Extremism scholar at Queen’s University, Amarnath Amarasingam, told CTV News that the “moral thing to do from a rich first world country is to bring back people who are your citizens and charge them at home.”
“Then provide support for the children who were there through no fault of their own, many were born in Syria, many were born in the camps” he continued.
Sakhir, reflecting on her brother’s actions, told CTV News that she lays blame squarely at his feet.
“I blame him for everything, I blame him for making this stupid choice, for having a kid in those conditions, for dying, for pretty much everything.”
Government officials and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have said little about the Canadian children and their parents held in these camps, continuing to maintain that the security situation in the region limits Canada’s ability to provide help on the ground.
Canada could avoid the worst of a 4th wave — but we're not out of the woods yet – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Canada will likely face a fourth wave of the pandemic as the highly contagious delta variant continues to spread ahead of borders and schools reopening, but there’s growing optimism another surge won’t bring the country back to a crisis point.
Canadian immunologists, virologists and infectious disease specialists say we could fare better than in previous waves, with a lower rate of serious infections, due to the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines and the willingness of Canadians to get vaccinated.
But our rollout is plateauing and there are still huge swaths of the population that are unvaccinated — either by choice or due to a lack of access or eligibility — including millions of Canadian kids who are heading back to school in just over a month.
“We’re going to see rises in case counts at some point again,” said Matthew Miller, an associate professor of infectious diseases and immunology at McMaster University in Hamilton.
“Probably similar to last year, as we head into the fall and the cold weather arrives. But those bumps are hopefully just that — tiny hills, and not mountains like the earlier waves.”
How bad will Canada’s 4th wave be?
The severity of Canada’s fourth wave will largely be determined by levels of COVID-19 immunity in the population from vaccines or prior infection, which can prevent community transmission from rising and stop severe cases from overwhelming hospitals.
“The question is — is there sufficient population immunity? No,” said Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.
“And the reason for that is because we measure population immunity by recovered cases and vaccinations.”
More than 80 per cent of eligible Canadians aged 12 and up have received at least one shot, and more than 60 per cent have had two. But that number drops to about 70 per cent with one dose and just over 50 per cent fully vaccinated when you consider the country’s entire population.
Although Canada has “nowhere near enough” immunity yet, Deonandan says we can “artificially create” adequate protection by using interventions like masking indoors to help with “building walls” around unvaccinated Canadians as COVID-19 becomes more seasonal.
“We’re seeing the arrival of the endemic phase of this disease in places around the world,” he said. “Because mostly they don’t have enough people vaccinated — it comes down to that.”
Delta threatens to drive COVID-19 surge
Another key factor in Canada’s ability to fend off a severe fourth wave is the spread of the more contagious, potentially more deadly delta variant, which is driving COVID-19 levels back up in countries around the world.
“We know from watching the U.K., for example, that delta is very, very capable of tearing through unvaccinated people very quickly,” said Dr. Dominik Mertz, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University.
“Any percentage of unvaccinated people in the population are leaving themselves at very, very high risk.”
The United Kingdom has seen a rise in COVID-19 levels in recent weeks, putting pressure on the health-care system. Israel has reinstated mask mandates in response to new outbreaks. And the U.S. has seen a surge in undervaccinated states driven by delta.
A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) this week found two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 88 per cent effective against the delta variant, while two shots of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine were 67 per cent effective.
But there are conflicting reports from the real world about vaccine effectiveness against delta, including new data from Israel’s health ministry that suggests the Pfizer shot is only 39 per cent effective against infections — but far better at preventing severe illness.
WATCH | Why the delta variant is different from others:
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CBC’s Power & Politics Friday that the U.S. still has a “substantial proportion” of the population that is unvaccinated and at highest risk from delta.
“That is absolutely something we need to correct, because when you are dealing with a variant like the delta variant that is so efficient in spreading from person to person, you are going to see a kind of surge in cases,” he said.
“And for those who are vulnerable, like the elderly and people with underlying conditions, the chances of their getting hospitalized increases.”
Reopening borders, schools leaves unvaccinated at risk
Canada could also be at increased risk of exposure to delta due to the reopening of the border to U.S. travellers next month and international travellers in September, along with the return of school, which could put unvaccinated Canadians at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure.
“It absolutely will. In addition, the greater travel that we’re doing inside the country is going to increase the risk of variants,” said Dr. Allison McGeer, a medical microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
“We should not be surprised if the delta variant starts to increase quite substantially and we should not be surprised if we have to go back to some level of travel and other restrictions.”
The single biggest cohort of unvaccinated Canadians are children under 12, who are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines despite ongoing clinical trials. Experts say the reopening of schools in September could put them at higher risk.
“It’s important that we start reporting our percentage vaccinated, including kids, because that’s our actual number,” said Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization.
“Considering we want to have herd immunity be above 85 per cent, we’re not going to get there without kids.”
Until children under 12 are eligible for vaccination in Canada, Kelvin says those who have less effective immune responses from COVID-19 vaccines — including older Canadians and the immunocompromised — will continue to be vulnerable.
“Children can’t be vaccinated and variants such as delta are more highly transmissible — and there seems to be case reports of increased disease severity in kids when they do get infected,” she said. “That’s something that we need to be watching going forward.”
Future variants pose unknown threat
One unknown threat Canada faces is the possibility of more transmissible variants emerging in the weeks and months ahead that could be worse than delta, as COVID-19 continues to ravage undervaccinated countries around the world.
Canada was hit hard by the alpha variant at a time when our vaccination campaign had not yet picked up steam, and new and more dangerous variants have repeatedly appeared in countries that continue to be hit hard with each passing wave.
“Definitely we’ll see other variants. If they will be more severe or a variant of concern is another question,” said Kelvin. “But it is an interesting trend that … there seems to be an increase in transmissibility with each as time goes on and we see new variants.”
That’s not typically something that is seen with other circulating viruses like influenza, said Kelvin, meaning the unpredictability of this virus leaves its future an open question.
Miller says COVID-19 will likely become endemic in Canada and around the world, returning each year like the flu, and our ability to control it is contingent on our ability to get more people vaccinated.
“It’s going to keep evolving for decades, presumably. It’s not going anywhere. But we have astoundingly successful vaccines,” he said. “The truth is, there is light at the end of the tunnel. This will end as all things end.
“But if you’re not vaccinated, you’re definitely — at some point — going to get infected.”
This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
Permanent residents in limbo waiting to immigrate to Canada – CBC.ca
Aashray Kovi refreshes his email several times a day hoping for good news from Canadian immigration officials.
The 28-year-old computer programmer from Bangalore, India is one of about 23,000 aspiring immigrants with expired or soon-to-be expired documents waiting to enter Canada during the pandemic.
“It’s really depressing for all of us,” said Kovi, who plans to settle in Ottawa but can’t travel because his confirmation of permanent residency (COPR) document expired in early June.
Late last month, the federal government lifted COVID-19 restrictions allowing anyone with a valid COPR to land in Canada, which comes after a significant drop in immigration in 2020.
The country permitted 184,000 immigrants last year — the fewest since 1998 — compared to 341,000 in 2019. Canada aims to jump-start immigration with 400,000 new residents per year for the next three years.
Quicker process to reapply
There is a silver lining for those like Kovi who, instead of having to reapply for a new document, waits for Canada to reissue the documents.
That will be a quicker process as Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada is making exceptions.
The pandemic has significantly impacted processing times, and the government is contacting individuals with expired papers in the “weeks and months to come,” according to a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino.
Immigration lawyer Kyle Hyndman estimates more than half of those holding expired COPR documents are skilled workers who were chosen “to contribute to the Canadian labour market.”
Hyndman said the communication from the federal government has been messy, though.
“These people are kind of in a holding pattern … you do a bunch of things to get ready to move that are kind of hard to undo,” he said.
Barely holding on
Sophie Ballesteros from Barcelona, Spain had a job lined up in Halifax and her husband Carlos quit his job months ago to ready himself for a move to Canada.
Then the family’s COPR documents expired in June and there’s been no word yet on when they’ll be renewed.
“This is the first time in my life that I am unemployed,” said Carlos Ballesteros. “I don’t sleep at night.”
Sophie said she is struggling to immerse into her new digital marketing job in Canada while staying physically in Barcelona, while also trying to find a preschool for her four-year-old daughter.
“I have to work within the time zone of Canada and sometimes there are some clients that are from Vancouver,” she said. “It’s hard for my family.”
After receiving their initial approval documents, Sameer Masih and his wife began selling their belongings, including their furniture and car in New Delhi, India.
Seven months later, the couple and their son live in a mostly empty apartment waiting and hoping to find a better life in Canada.
“I am actually surviving on a bare minimum set up,” said Masih, who said the wait cost him a job at his employer’s Toronto office.
The lack of clarity has Masih wondering when his Canadian dream will come true.
“The word ‘soon’ is turning out to be a very negative and dangerous word in this context,” he said.
Canada offers ‘path to protection’ for Afghan interpreters amid ‘critical’ situation – Global News
- The Taliban is advancing rapidly across Afghanistan as U.S. forces withdraw.
- Afghans who aided Canadian troops during the war there are now facing torture and death from the Taliban, prompting urgent calls for the government to help them.
- The program announced Friday will see them and their families welcomed to Canada as refugees, though details on specifics of the plan are scarce.
Canadian officials are on the ground in Afghanistan and working to identify those eligible for a new “path to protection” for Afghans who supported Canadian troops during the war in that country.
The update from the government comes amid what Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino called a “critical” time for those who have helped Canadian soldiers and now face the risk of death and torture by a rapid Taliban advance across the country.
Details on the program are scarce so far but Mendicino said the program will welcome the Afghans and their families as refugees for resettlement. He said while the numbers are in flux, the estimate is that Afghans eligible under the program will be in the “thousands.”
Mendicino said the plan will focus on special immigration measures for Afghan interpreters, Afghans who have worked or are currently working to support the Canadian embassy, as well as their families.
It is also being kept deliberately broad in scope, and will also apply to those who worked in roles such as security guards, cooks, cleaners, drivers, and other roles in support of the embassy.
“We know that time is of the essence,” said Mendicino.
“We expect the first arrivals will be in Canada very shortly.”
Work continues to try to identify the Afghans who will be eligible, he said, but did not provide details when asked on how many individuals will be able to come to Canada or what the timeline is for the effort.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said they could not provide further details because of “operational security,” and said planning with coalition allies on logistics is underway.
“The plan itself has to be guarded for the safety of the people we’re trying to bring to Canada,” he said.
Mendicino talks logistics of resettlement plan for Afghan interpreters, advisors
Canada withdrew troops from Afghanistan in 2011 but after roughly 20 years, U.S. forces are now also in the process of withdrawing from the country after waging a war to remove the Taliban from power.
The Taliban are Islamist extremists who enforce sharia law and held power in Afghanistan from roughly 1996 to 2001 when coalition forces overthrew them.
Now, the Taliban insurgency has been making rapid gains and now holds roughly half of the 421 districts as U.S. forces retreat, raising concerns that the militant extremists will be in a position to support other regional terrorist groups like ISIS and also target those who helped Canadian forces during the war.
Thousands of people have fled the Taliban advance.
As the fighters retake broad swaths of territory, former military leaders and veterans of Canada’s fight in Afghanistan have been urging the government to act quickly to honour the “moral obligation” this country owes to the Afghans who supported the coalition mission.
Mendicino echoed those sentiments on Friday.
“Not only does Canada owe them a debt of gratitude, we have a moral obligation to do right by them,” he said, and described the risk they will face retaliation from the Taliban as “grave.”
Afghan interpreters face death threats from Taliban after U.S. troops leave
In recent days, a group of Canadian veterans have been working to virtually try to coordinate a way for some of the Afghans who worked with soldiers to get to a safer place, pending evacuation, by using their existing network of contacts in the country.
“We managed to get a guy who was surrounded by gunfire, active airstrikes coming in to try and clear the Taliban from the area. He was trapped. And we got him to safety,” said Robin Rickards, a Canadian veteran of the war.
“Well, to relative safety.”
Global News was able to speak with that man — a former Afghan interpreter who was stuck in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province currently under siege by the Taliban. Out of concern for his safety, Global News is not identifying the man or where he is currently located.
“They already have information about the people who work with the coalition forces,” said the interpreter of the Taliban fighters entering the city.
He described witnessing fighting just 500 metres from his home, and said Taliban fighters are dumping bodies of those who helped coalition forces on highways and roads to send a signal as they continue to retake territory across the country.
“They wanted to show the people … we’re going to kill all of them,” he said.
“We want the government to start evacuation as soon as possible.”
Canadian veterans mobilize to help, as Taliban targets Afghan translators
The U.S. State Department said on Monday it plans to evacuate around 2,500 Afghans who assisted American troops during the conflict, and fly them to a military base in Virginia within days.
The U.S. also has what’s known as the Special Immigrant Visa program which allows those who worked with U.S. troops in Afghanistan or Iraq to apply to immigrate. NBC News has cited U.S. officials as saying thousands of Afghans in the process of applying to that program will be flown to either military bases or a third country in order to be able to complete their application in safety.
It’s not yet clear to what extent Canada could coordinate with the U.S. on the evacuations or on moving the Afghans to a safer third country or area while their paperwork is processed.
Sajjan said while Canada is in discussions, he could not provide specific details.
Both the Conservatives and NDP, though, said the government could and should have acted sooner.
Tory Leader Erin O’Toole said the advance of the Taliban was predictable and that there should have been action before now to get the Afghans and their families to safety.
“The Liberal government should have made this announcement weeks ago. The Americans made it clear that they would be leaving Afghanistan months ago, and the rise of the Taliban was an expected result,” he said in a statement.
“Instead of putting forward a plan to help the heroic Afghan interpreters, support staff, and their families, the Trudeau Liberals sat on their hands and did nothing. It’s quite disappointing that these Afghans who saved the lives of our men and women in uniform were an afterthought to this Liberal government.”
NDP defence critic Randall Garrison accused the government of treating the Afghans as an “afterthought” and criticized the lack of details about the plan from the government.
“The US government has committed to providing airlift services for Afghans while their applications are processing, but details of the program are lacking from the Canadian government, including how quickly they will be able to bring them to safety,” he said.
“These collaborators, who played a vital role, have been abandoned for a decade without the support they desperately needed to find safety in Canada and deserve better. Countless interpreters and vital staff along with their families have been living in danger while the Liberals dragged their feet.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Canadian cyclist Michael Woods just misses podium after gruelling 234-km ride – CBC.ca
Dead Space 1, 2, 3, Ignition now on EA Play, Xbox Game Pass – SlashGear
NASA clears Boeing Starliner for July 30th test flight to ISS – Yahoo Movies Canada
Silver investment demand jumped 12% in 2019
Europe kicks off vaccination programs | All media content | DW | 27.12.2020 – Deutsche Welle
Iran anticipates renewed protests amid social media shutdown
Media21 hours ago
CBC grapples with how to program an Olympics in the social media age – The Globe and Mail
Business24 hours ago
Wildfires are causing the price of lumber to spike again – CBC.ca
News15 hours ago
Coronavirus: Health Canada recalls 2 more hand sanitizers – CTV News
Business15 hours ago
Air Canada anticipating recovery in demand as travel restrictions are eased – Yahoo Canada Finance
Economy22 hours ago
'Freak-Out' Factor Will Determine Delta's Impact on US Economy – BNN
Science13 hours ago
NASA’s Europa Clipper will fly on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy – The Verge
Economy17 hours ago
ECB Lifts Restrictions on Bank Dividends as Economy Rebounds – Bloomberg
Investment24 hours ago
Martin Pelletier: How anti-vaxxers can impact your investment portfolio – Financial Post