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Biden enacts new same-sex marriage protections, warns of ‘extreme’ Supreme Court

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“Love is love,” U.S. President Joe Biden declared Tuesday as he signed into law new federal protections for same-sex marriage — a step aimed at defending civil liberties from what he described as an “extreme” Supreme Court.

Before a sprawling, rainbow-flag-brandishing crowd on the South Lawn of the White House, Biden cheered the bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act even as he warned that the high court’s conservative majority is far from finished.

Congress passed the bill, he said, “because an extreme Supreme Court has stripped away the right important to millions of Americans that existed for half a century” — a reference to the seismic decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade.

That ruling, which restored the rights of individual states to ban abortion, also included stark threats to other privacy-based human rights, Biden said, including interracial marriage and the use of contraception.

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“When a person can be married in the morning and thrown out of a restaurant for being gay in the afternoon, this is still wrong,” he said, imploring Congress to pass the LGBTQ civil rights bill known as the Equality Act.

“We need to challenge the hundreds of callous, cynical laws introduced in the states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors who give children the care they need.

“We have to protect these children, so they know they’re loved.”

Biden’s warm-up acts Tuesday included not only House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Vice-President Kamala Harris, but also musical interludes from Sam Smith and Cyndi Lauper.

Also among the speakers were Heidi Nortonsmith and her wife Gina, whose legal challenge a quarter-century ago helped make Massachusetts the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004.

“It takes the efforts of many to bend the arc of history toward justice,” Nortonsmith said. “Even now, there are so many places where people in our community are under attack. The work will continue. But look at how far we’ve come.”

Congress introduced the Respect for Marriage Act in July, shortly after the Supreme Court decision on abortion and its concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas, who suggested the court “reconsider” key rulings on contraception and same-sex rights.

Getting it promptly passed and signed took on fresh urgency after Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in last month’s midterm elections.

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, called it a “bittersweet” moment — one that combines the joy of the milestone with the apprehension and fear that made it necessary in the first place.

“It’s fantastic for the gay community in the U.S. to know that they have a president that supports them and believes in their right to exist,” Kennedy said in an interview.

“At the same time, we have to think about the others who don’t have those privileges, and there’s still a lot of work to do.”

The law, however, doesn’t guarantee same-sex marriage rights; that role still rests primarily with Obergefell v. Hodges, a watershed 2015 Supreme Court decision that’s among those Thomas wants to rethink.

Should it be overturned, the question of whether to issue same-sex marriage licences would revert to the states, much as the abortion decision in June resurrected long-dormant state laws restricting or outlawing the procedure.

In repealing the Defense of Marriage Act, the new law will enshrine federal recognition of same-sex marriage and require states to respect existing marriages, including those performed in other states.

The bill, however, does nothing to address a growing wave of violent crime against the LGBTQ community, including a mass shooting at a Colorado Springs nightclub last month that killed five people and injured 19.

“Our work isn’t done,” said Pelosi, who cited as a point of pride a number of other LGBTQ rights bills that passed during her tenure, including the 2010 repeal of the military ban on openly gay members known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

“This fight is an essential thread in the fabric of our nation’s history,” she said. “At its core, America has always been about expanding freedom — not restricting it.”

New law enforcement data released Monday painted only a partial portrait of hatred in the U.S., thanks to changes in reporting standards that kept a number of large police jurisdictions out of the 2021 data.

The climb, however, seems as steep as ever in a country rived by cultural divides and awash in escalating social, racial and ethnic tension.

Of the 7,303 hate crimes catalogued in 2021 by the FBI, the bulk of them — 62 per cent — were motivated by racial hatred. Sexual orientation was the second-largest category at 16 per cent, while four per cent involved gender identity.

The figures are a far cry from the national totals, since changes in reporting standards resulted in the exclusion of several major policing jurisdictions in Florida, New York, California and elsewhere.

Using its own statistics, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, issued a separate study earlier this year that found a 20 per cent increase in hate crimes across the board in 2021, including a 51 per cent spike in anti-LGBTQ crime.

That, Kennedy said, is the day-to-day reality for LGBTQ people, regardless of what the courts and lawmakers might say or do.

“When you’re part of a marginalized group, you’re always a target. It doesn’t matter what the law says, because you haven’t shifted the culture — the culture doesn’t change just because there’s a law in place,” she said.

“We can point to the laws, and if we have the means we can use the law, but it doesn’t change your day-to-day life in terms of how you navigate the world and how you navigate who you are and how you present in the world.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2022.

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UPEI students offered $1,500 to leave residence during Canada Games – CBC.ca

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Some UPEI students are earning extra money during the mid-semester break this year, simply by packing up and leaving campus. 

The 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society offered $1,500 each to students living in Andrew Hall if they give up their residence rooms to make space for arriving athletes. 

The students have to leave a few days before the break starts, on Feb. 17, and can return March 7. They also had to give up their meal plan for the duration.

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Many athletes are staying at UPEI’s new 260-bed residence, built to meet accommodation requirements for the Games’ temporary athlete village.

But Wayne Carew, chair of the Games, said there are 120 more athletes coming than originally planned. 

A portrait of a man standing outside, wearing a jacket with the Canada Winter Games logo.
Organizers want the athletes all to stay on the UPEI campus so they can have ‘the experience of a lifetime,’ says Wayne Carew, chair of the 2023 Canada Winter Games Host Society. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“We ended up getting 44 rooms [in Andrew Hall] and that’s great,” said Carew.

He said the athletes staying at UPEI “are going to have a wild experience on the campus of the beautiful University of Prince Edward Island.” 

Carew said the costs of doing this are a “lot cheaper” than arranging accommodations elsewhere. But he said the main reason is to provide all athletes the same, “once-in-a-lifetime” experience.

“Where they live, the food and the camaraderie and the experience of a lifetime: that’s what they’ll remember in 20 years’ time about P.E.I.,” he said.

‘Pretty good deal’

Some students were eager to take the organizers up on their offer.

“I’m going away to Florida during the two-week break anyways. So I was like, ‘May as well let them use my room then,'” said Hannah Somers. 

Portrait of a man in a toque and a grey sweater standing in front of a residence hall.
UPEI student Benji Dueck is moving in with a friend during the Canada Games so he can get the $1,500 offer. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“It’s $1,500. Pretty nice,” said Benji Dueck, who agreed to vacate the room with his roommate.  “We’re moving out, living with a friend in the city. So, sounds like a pretty good deal to me.”

As part of the agreement, the students had to clear out their rooms. Canada Games organizers made arrangements so students could store their belongings.

But not all students thought it was a good deal.

Portrait of a woman in a black down jacket standing in front of a residence hall.
UPEI student Maria de Torres won’t be leaving residence during the Canada Games. ‘It’s just too hard to pack up. It’s just too hectic,’ she says. (Tony Davis/CBC)

“I’m not giving up my spot in Andrew Hall for $1,500,” said Maria de Torres. “It’s just too hard to pack up. It’s just too hectic. And since I’m an international student, I got a lot [of things] right now.”

Shelby Dyment is also staying in Andrew Hall. Dyment said she and her roommate are working as residence life assistants during the mid-semester break and she’s also doing directed study, so she has to stay on campus.

“There’s a lot of people doing it. It’s just for our situation it just wasn’t working for what we were doing,” she said.

In a statement, UPEI said that enough students had accepted the offer to host all the athletes. 

It said the host society made all the arrangements with the students, including paying for their incentives and arranging for storage.

Organizers expect about 3,600 athletes, coaches and officials to participate in the Games. The event will run from Feb. 18 to March 5.

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Germany won't be a 'party to the war' amid tanks exports to Ukraine: Ambassador – CTV News

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The German ambassador to Canada says Germany will not become “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine, despite it and several other countries announcing they’ll answer President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pleas for tanks, possibly increasing the risk of Russian escalation.

Sabine Sparwasser said it’s a “real priority” for Germany to support Ukraine, but that it’s important to be in “lockstep” coordination with other allied countries.

“There is a clear line for Germany,” she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “We do want not want to be a party to the conflict.”

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“We want to support, we want to do everything we can, but we, and NATO, do not want to be a party to the war,” she also said. “That’s I think, the line we’re trying to follow.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced this week Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks — with the possibility of more in the future — to Ukraine, along with Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them.

Canada first needed permission from Berlin to re-export any of its 82 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. After a meeting of 50 defence leaders in Germany earlier this month, it was unclear whether Germany would give the green light.

But following what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called “intensive consultations,” Germany announced on Jan. 25 it would send tanks to Ukraine, and the following day, Canada followed suit. It is now joining several other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, which are sending several dozen tanks to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the tanks would allow Ukraine to “significantly strengthen their combat capabilities.”

“It demonstrates also the unit and the resolve of NATO allies in partners in providing support to Ukraine,” he said.

Meanwhile Sparwasser said Germany is “walking that fine line” of avoiding steps that could prompt escalation from Russia, while supporting Ukraine, and staying out of the war themselves.

“I think it’s very important to see that Germany is very determined and has a real priority in supporting Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and sovereignty,” Sparwasser said. “But we also put a high priority on going it together with our friends and allies.”

Sparwasser said despite warnings from Russia that sending tanks to Ukraine will cause an escalation, Germany is within international law — specifically Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — to provide support to Ukraine.

“Ukraine is under attack has the right to self defence, and other nations can come in and provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself,” Sparwasser said. “So in international law terms, this is a very clear cut case.”

She added that considering “Russia doesn’t respect international law,” it’s a more impactful deterrent to Russia, ahead of an expected spring offensive, to see several countries come together in support of Ukraine.

With files from the Associated Press

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COVID: Canada retaining Evusheld – CTV News

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While Health Canada says it is “aware” of the U.S. decision to withdraw the emergency use of Evusheld, a drug by AstraZeneca used to help prevent COVID-19 infection— the agency is maintaining its approval, citing the differences in variant circulation between Canada and the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Jan. 26 that its emergency use authorization of the drug was pulled due to its inefficacy in treating “certain” COVID-19 variants.

The FDA stated in a release on its website that as the XBB.1.5. variant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is making up the majority of cases in the country, the use of Evusheld is “not expected to provide protection” and therefore not worth exposing the public to possible side effects of the drug, like allergic reactions.

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In an email to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled the drug as the main variant of concern in the U.S. is XBB.1.5.

“Dominant variants in the [U.S.] may be different from those circulating in Canada,” the federal agency said in an email. “The most recent epidemiological data in Canada (as of January 1, 2023) indicate that BA.5 (Omicron) subvariants continue to account for more than 89 per cent of reported cases.”

On Jan. 6 the FDA said in press release that certain variants are not neutralized by Evusheld and cautioned people who are exposed to XBB.1.5. On Jan. 26, the FDA then updated its website by saying it would be limiting the use of Evusheld.

“Evusheld is not currently authorized for use in the U.S. until further notice by the Agency,” the FDA website states.

On Jan. 17, Health Canada issued a “risk communication” on Evusheld, explaining how it may not be effective against certain Omicron subvariants when used as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19.

“Decisions regarding the use of EVUSHELD should take into consideration what is known about the characteristics of the circulating COVID-19 variants, including geographical prevalence and individual exposure,” Health Canada said in an email.

Health Canada says Evusheld does neutralize against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which according to the agency, is the dominant variant in many communities in Canada.

The drug was introduced for prevention measures specifically for people who have weaker immune systems and are unlikely to be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine. It can only be given to people 12 years and older.

“EVUSHELD is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended,” the agency’s website reads.

Health Canada says no drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.

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