California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday requested aid from Canada and Australia firefighters as the state struggles to contain the raging wildfires that have killed six people and forced thousands to flee from their homes.
“We also have reached out across the border, into Canada for resources and support,” Newsom said at a media conference. “And many of you up here recall it was 2017, the support we were provided and the support we provided in turn, of some of the best wildfire firefighters from Australia. We also have a request out for that talent as well.”
Global News reached out to Global Affairs asking if Canada has responded to the request, but did not hear back as of the time of publication.
Wildfires sparked by lightning in Northern California exploded in size Friday, some becoming largest in state history, destroying hundreds of homes and other structures. In addition to the fatalities, 43 firefighters and civilians have been hurt.
The wildfires started last week, and now more than 12,000 firefighters — with the help of helicopters and air tankers — are stretched thin across the state trying to battle the blazes.
Three groups of fires, called complexes, burning north, east and south of San Francisco have together scorched 72,020 square kilometres.
Newsom said crews were fighting 560 fires across the state.
“We are not naive by any stretch about how deadly this moment is and why it is essential … that you heed evacuation orders and that you take them seriously,” Newsom said.
Firefighters and residents in the state have also been pleading for support.
South of San Fransico in the Santa Cruz mountains, wildfires have forced some 48,000 residents to flee their dwellings.
A CalFire spokesperson told the Associated Press that crews are working 72-hour shifts in order to save homes in the Santa Cruz area.
“We’re still understaffed for a fire of this size,” the CalFire spokesperson said.
San Jose State University professor Scott Myers-Lipton took to Twitter asking Newsom to help save the Santa Cruz mountains
“We need HELP in the Santa Cruz mountains. SEND IN THE NATIONAL GUARD NOW!” Myers-Lipton tweeted.
— With files from the Associated Press and Reuters
How COVID-19 worsens Canada's digital divide – CBC.ca
Chawathil First Nation lies just 600 metres north of the Trans-Canada Highway in southwestern B.C., but it feels much more remote when you try to log onto the internet from here.
That’s apparent when, from behind a Plexiglas barrier at the band office, finance manager Peter John attempts to run an online speed test to measure the dial-up connection.
It takes nearly two minutes for the page to load, and once it does, the meter shows the download speed is an agonizingly slow one megabit per second (Mbps)
With that kind of setup, it means students struggle with online classes, and the band can’t hold video meetings.
“Everything they could get out of the internet, they’re not able to really get it because it’s not there,” John said.
When the pandemic thrust most school, work and services online, it further highlighted not just how essential the internet has become but also the urban-rural divide around access.
The CRTC recommends that every household have access to broadband with download speeds of at least 50 Mbps, and the federal government has set a goal to have Canada-wide broadband by 2030.
According to the CRTC, nearly 86 per cent of households overall have that level of service currently, but in rural areas only 40 per cent do. In First Nation communities, it’s estimated that just 30 per cent of households have internet connections with the recommended speed.
And even while the connections in remote areas are often slower, the service tends to be more expensive.
Deanna John, a child-and-family advocate as well as a band councillor for Chawathil First Nation, said those in the community who have internet pay around $130 dollars a month, while others come to the band office after hours to see if they can tap into the building’s network. Some choose to take a 35-minute bus ride to Chilliwack to use the Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, she said.
The limited internet has made it harder for residents to get health care.
John said the community’s doctor, who used to come about once a week before the COVID-19 pandemic, is unable to see patients online. Some residents have instead been driving to the nearby town of Agassiz for appointments.
“I would like [the internet] to be up and available … so we’re not struggling with our kids falling back on education and that we’re actually connecting our people to the mental health specialists out there,” said John.
John said the band had been speaking with Telus about upgrading the internet but was told it would cost tens of thousands just to increase the speed at the band office.
In the 2019 budget, the federal government announced $1.7 billion in funding to support high-speed internet in remote and rural areas: $1 billion is slated for a Universal Broadband Fund, for extending internet infrastructure; $600 million for satellites, which can help connect some of the most remote communities; and $85 million to top up an ongoing program called Connect to Innovate which helps fund specific community projects in rural and First Nation communities.
The Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), a not-for-profit organization that manages the .ca domain and advocates for better internet service, says it is currently working with about 400 rural communities to map connection speeds neighbourhood by neighbourhood. The organization also runs a yearly $1.25-million grant program to help communities invest in projects including internet infrastructure.
“Canada’s internet service providers have passed over a lot of communities because they’re just not worth it financially,” said Josh Tabish, corporate communications manager with CIRA.
“This is where we need the government to step up.”
He said experts believe it will cost up to $6 billion to roll out broadband across Canada and he believes the federal government needs to act faster. The application for the Universal Broadband fund has yet to open.
Tabish said about one in 10 Canadian households have no internet connection whatsoever, and the pandemic has exacerbated the gap in connectivity between rural and urban areas. He said high-speed internet has become even faster in cities, while it has plateaued in remote areas.
In the meantime, he said, those without it struggle with daily life.
Spotty satellite connection
In the hamlet of Ryder Lake, residents have been pleading for better internet for years. The community is made up of sprawling acreages and farms that stretch up a lush green mountainside in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.
The landscape was one of the reasons Sheri Elgermsa and her family of six moved here despite the fact that only satellite internet is available. When CBC News visited, her family was only getting about nine Mbps download speed.
WATCH | Family of 6 schedules online time due to slow speed, spotty service
“When we moved up here eight and a half years ago, the internet … was a social thing. It was nice-to-have,” Elgersma said.
“Now it’s become essential.”
When schools were closed back in the spring and classes moved online, Elgersma had to sit down with her four children and work out a schedule, as the internet connection would only allow one person to be online at any given time.
If there were any classes overlapping, she said, she would have to pick one over another.
Her oldest son, Elijah, 18, was often the priority, as he was wrapping up his final year of high school. He is now enrolled in a university program and has online classes two days a week, but even with no one else in the house allowed online at those times, the internet is still an issue.
“All of a sudden it kind of goes frozen and I miss half the stuff,” Elijah said.
“It’s a little bit frustrating.”
Highlights of today's speech from the throne – CBC.ca
The Liberal government laid out its plan to guide the country through the rest of the COVID-19 pandemic in its throne speech today.
Here are some of the highlights of the throne speech delivered by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette.
One of the pillars of the speech is a promise by the Liberal minority government to create over one million jobs. The government said it will do this through “direct investments in the social sector and infrastructure, immediate training to quickly skill up workers, and incentives for employers to hire and retain workers.”
As part of that plan, the government says it will extend the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy through to next summer.
The program, which was set to end at the end of the year, initially offered to cover 75 per cent of wages, up to a weekly maximum of $847, for workers at eligible companies and non-profits affected by the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was updated in July to both expand eligibility and gradually reduce the subsidy rate.
Watch: Government commits to creating one million jobs
As of Sept. 13 the program has paid out more than $35 billion.
“People losing their jobs is perhaps the clearest consequence of the global economic shock that Canadians — like those in other countries — have faced,” says the speech.
Women, the economy and child care
To address the pandemic’s disproportionate economic effects on women, the throne speech touched on the government’s pledge to get more women into the workforce.
As part of that effort, the government is promising “significant, long-term, sustained investment to create a Canada-wide early learning and childcare system.”
The government said it also remains committed to subsidizing before- and after-school program costs.
Criminal Code changes for seniors
Noting that one of the greatest tragedies of the crisis has been the lives lost in long-term care homes, the government is promising to amend the Criminal Code to penalize people who neglect seniors under their care.
The government said it also will work with the provinces and territories to set new national standards for long-term care
Canadian Disability Benefit
The speech also included a promise to another group that has been hit hard by the pandemic: Canadians living with disabilities.
The government said it is working on a Canadian disability benefit, modelled on the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.
The government is promising to bring forward a plan to exceed its goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.
It’s also promising to legislate Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The throne speech includes promises to create thousands of jobs by retrofitting homes and buildings and to make zero-emissions vehicles more affordable.
While most of the speech focused on Canada’s COVID-19 recovery plan, one section was dedicated to addressing systemic racism in Canada.
Most of those initiatives have been announced already, or were hinted at over the summer as Black Lives Matter protests erupted across North America and the RCMP dealt with the blowback from a number of controversial arrests and use-of-force incidents.
The Liberals are reopening Parliament with a renewed promise to introduce legislation to shake up the criminal justice system “from diversion to sentencing, from rehabilitation to records.”
It also said it will move forward on enhanced civilian oversight for the RCMP — which falls under the minister of public safety’s portfolio — and address standards on the use of force.
New airline routes
The Liberals say they will work with partners to support regional routes for airlines.
“It is essential that Canadians have access to reliable and affordable regional air services,” says the speech.
“This is an issue of equity, of jobs, and of economic development. The government will work to support this.”
Watch: Government lays out four approaches to pandemic and economy
Canadian family begs government for help to return as adopted daughter needs medical care – CBC.ca
When Derek and Emilie Muth left Calgary to adopt their daughter Zoe in Nigeria last October, they had no idea that nearly a year later — after a terrifying medical ordeal and the onset of a global pandemic — they’d still be stuck abroad with no word on when they can come home.
That’s because despite their 2½-year-old daughter’s adoption being completed, her citizenship is not yet finalized. Canadian immigration staff have been repatriated from the only government office in West Africa that can finish processing their paperwork.
The family has gone months with government officials seemingly not even opening their documents, according to an access-to-information request, and, until CBC News reached out, no reply from the immigration minister to their urgent requests.
They still have no update on their application.
We definitely feel forgotten and left behind.– Emilie Muth
“This family has done every single thing that every authority and every expert has recommended to them in order to comply with the federal, the domestic, the international laws, and they are just stuck,” said Alicia Backman-Beharry, a lawyer who is representing the family pro bono.
“If there’s anything that can be done to have their file reviewed in a timely fashion, it is going to make a difference in a toddler’s life. She’s not getting the medical care that she requires right now.”
A spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada said Zoe’s application has been identified as a priority and officers continue to assess applications, but the Canadian High Commission in Accra, Ghana, is currently limited in its processing capacity.
“The adoption is complete. It’s legal. It’s done. We’re just waiting on a visa to come home. It’s been 10 months, and we haven’t been able to work. We’ve been away from our family. The pandemic has been really scary, navigating that abroad. She has a lot of medical difficulties,” Emilie Muth said. “We definitely feel forgotten and left behind.”
Derek Muth said they started their adoption journey in 2017.
His wife is a nurse who has worked with children with blood disorders, so when they heard of a child with sickle cell anemia in government care in Nigeria, it seemed like it was meant to be.
“It just felt natural,” Emilie Muth said.
Life-threatening infection, malaria
The couple finalized Zoe’s adoption in Nigeria on Oct. 28, 2019, and shortly after submitted the second part of her application to the office in Accra, which would grant her Canadian citizenship and the ability to enter Canada.
The same week as the second and final part of their application was submitted, Zoe contracted a life-threatening infection, leading to sepsis, and severe anemia requiring a blood transfusion.
The quality of health care in Nigeria was poor, and while Derek Muth was able to donate blood to Zoe — saving her life — both father and daughter contracted malaria.
A doctor at the hospital recommended the family leave the country for Barbados, as it’s one of the few countries that allows Canadian and Nigerian visitors to stay for months without visas, so they could receive better medical care for Zoe.
The family arrived in Barbados in mid-December, after receiving permission to travel from Nigerian adoption authorities. Zoe’s condition improved somewhat, and the family continued to communicate with the office in Accra, waiting for their daughter’s citizenship to be finalized.
Then the pandemic hit.
We’ve really taken a beating as a family. We need help.– Derek Muth
In February, the Muths asked the Canadian High Commission in Barbados for help to get home, given Zoe’s medical concerns that put her at additional risk if she catches COVID-19.
Barbados gave residents and visitors just 24 hours’ notice before the country went into full lockdown. The family couldn’t leave their apartment or access groceries — they spent weeks eating just the canned food they had in their cupboards.
Alberta Children’s Services requested an expedited review of the family’s case from the Accra office, but no action was taken.
By May, no flights home were available. The family was told that they had just two days to make it onto a repatriation flight. They quickly filed a visitor visa request but were denied.
Their requests for a compassionate grant of a temporary resident permit or visa have been denied. They haven’t heard from the office in Accra since April. Two other families who were also in West Africa have received completed applications and have been able to return home.
“We’ve really taken a beating as a family,” said Muth. “We need help.”
Family spent nearly $70K while in limbo
Not including their initial costs to travel to Nigeria and complete the adoption, they’ve spent nearly $70,000 waiting to return home. That figure includes Zoe’s health-care costs, which have been entirely out of pocket.
The family may not be able to stay in Barbados much longer.
They’ve been granted a second visa extension until the end of November. After that, they’ll likely be forced to return to Nigeria, a country that Canada warns against travelling to due to the risk of terrorism or kidnapping, and where they may not be able to access proper medical care for Zoe.
If they can stay in Barbados, the situation isn’t much better — every day abroad costs the family more, and access to medication on the island is uncertain given the pandemic. There have been times the island has run out of Zoe’s medications since the lockdown.
Soon, Muth will likely need to return to Canada for work, leaving his wife to navigate Zoe’s care alone.
“I feel emotional talking about that because we worked so hard at building trust with her and attachment … so leaving her, one of us having to leave her, it feels really hard,” Emilie Muth said through tears.
No updates to their application
In mid-September, after CBC News reached out, the Muths finally received a reply from the immigration minister’s office after months of sending letters.
“Due to the impacts of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, IRCC is unable to provide processing times for applications at this time. Please rest assured that you will be contacted when there are updates to this application,” the letter read, acknowledging that the response was likely not what the family “had anticipated.”
“Understandably, adoptive parents are anxious to complete the adoption process as quickly as possible,” a spokesperson for IRCC told CBC News but added that time frames can vary widely from case to case.
The IRCC spokesperson also said that the government is obligated under international conventions to ensure children are not trafficked or removed from their biological families without legal consent, and the process is a complex one.
‘Health of child is in jeopardy’
An access-to-information request filed by the Muths for the notes from IRCC’s centralized Global Case Management System shows the second part of their application (filed in November) seemingly hasn’t been started, and documents that show the adoption is complete do not even appear to have been opened, as there are no substantive updates to their file.
None of the letters the family sent between March and August requesting updates, nor multiple letters of support sent from an MP, Alberta Children’s Services and International Adoption Services, are recorded, either.
There’s a comment on the file that states “email sent to visa office as health of child is in jeopardy because of lack of access to medication” — but no response from the office in Accra.
“If Canada truly valued the best interest of the vulnerable, they would prioritize this adoption. Otherwise, we’re just paying humanitarian lip service in this country,” Derek Muth said.
Mike Long, director of communications for Alberta Children’s Services, said in an emailed statement that staff have been working with the Muth family and have advocated on their behalf to the immigration department.
“It is now up to the federal government to work with the family to get the necessary documentation to return to Canada,” he said.
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