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Canada ‘carefully considering’ pleas for help from Haiti

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As Haiti rapidly spirals into chaos, a high-ranking Haitian diplomat has called on Canada and the United States to form a strike force to confront gangs creating a humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean country.

The two countries should take the lead in confronting Haitian gangs that have blocked access to a key fuel terminal, Haiti’s ambassador to the U.S. said on Monday.

“We wish to see our neighbours like the United States, like Canada, take the lead and move fast,” said Bocchit Edmond, in reference to providing security assistance.

“There is a really big threat over the head of the prime minister [Ariel Henry]. If nothing is done quickly, there is a risk of another head of state [being] killed in Haiti,” he said, referring to the 2021 assassination of then-president Jovenel Moïse.

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Shortages, protests, gun battles

Acute shortages of gasoline and diesel have crippled transportation and forced businesses and hospitals to halt operations, even as the country faces a renewed outbreak of cholera that has killed at least 18 people.

In addition, demonstrators have blocked roads in the capital and other main cities to demand Henry’s resignation and protest rising fuel prices after the prime minister announced in early September that his administration could no longer afford to subsidize fuel.

A man helps a woman with blood on her face during a protest demanding the resignation of Henry, in Port-au-Prince, on Monday. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

Gas stations and schools remain shuttered; banks and grocery stores are operating on a limited schedule; and sporadic looting and gun battles between gangs and police have become increasingly common.

In response to the chaos, Henry last week asked the international community to provide a “specialized armed force” to control gangs that have been blocking the Varreux fuel terminal since last month. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has proposed that one or several countries send “a rapid action force” to help Haiti’s police, according to a letter to the UN Security Council. Guterres was not suggesting that the force be deployed by the United Nations.

Canada expresses concern

So far, Canada has only said it is “carefully considering” Henry’s appeal in consultation with “Haitian authorities and our international partners.”

On Monday, Global Affairs Canada said it was extremely concerned about the impact of armed gang activity that has reached “an unprecedented level.”

Last Friday, Canada’s foreign ministry said 19 member countries of the Organization of American States were committed to helping Haitians “overcome the complex security challenges facing the country.”

CBC News reached out to Global Affairs Canada midday Wednesday for a timeline on when a decision might be reached, and did not immediately receive a reply.

Meanwhile, the United States on Wednesday said it will boost support for the Haitian police and will speed up delivery of aid. The State Department has also created a new visa restriction targeting those who support the gangs and has sent a coast guard vessel to patrol Haitian waters.

U.S. officials who briefed reporters on Washington’s response stopped short of offering to send troops to the island.

“We are … working to increase and deploy in the coming days security assistance to the Haitian National Police to strengthen their capacity to counter gangs and re-establish a stable security environment,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

“We will accelerate the delivery of additional humanitarian relief to the people of Haiti.”

Many Haitians unhappy with foreign intervention

Frédéric Boisrond, a Haitian-born sociologist at McGill University in Montreal, said it’s not Canada’s place to decide what should be done.

“I think we also need to hear the regular citizen in Haiti to know what they want, what they expect, how far they want to go with a country where this is no legitimate government, with nobody in power,” he said Wednesday. “At this point, I’m even asking myself if Haiti, at this point, is what we call a country.”

He said Canada has attempted to lend legitimacy to Henry’s rule, when there are only 10 senators remaining in government who were elected out of 149 members of parliament.

Protesters build a road barricade during a protest to demand Henry step down and to call for a better quality of life, in Port-au-Prince, on Sept. 7. (Odelyn Joseph/The Associated Press)

“Anybody else that is in charge in that country is not elected, has not been chosen by the citizens of the country.”

Opponents claim Henry hopes to use foreign troops to keep himself in power — a leadership he assumed last year after the assassination of Moïse and that many consider illegitimate because he was never elected nor formally confirmed in the post by the legislature. He has failed to set a date for elections, which have not been held since November 2016, but has pledged to do so once the violence is quelled.

Furthermore, many Haitians are unhappy with the idea of a foreign force, having seen little improvement during three previous interventions since early last century.

“Having the same solution and expecting a different result is kind of foolish,” Boisrond said.

On Sunday, Haitian senators signed a document demanding that Henry’s “de facto government” defer its request for deployment of foreign troops, saying it is illegal under local laws.

Henry is seen in Port-au-Prince, late last year. (Ralph Tedy Erol/Reuters)

Many local leaders reject the idea of UN peacekeepers, noting that they’ve been accused of sexual assault and of sparking a cholera epidemic that killed nearly 10,000 people during a 13-year mission in Haiti that ended five years ago.

The possible presence of international armed forces is something that bothers Georges Ubin, a 44-year-old accountant, who said he knows of people who have been victimized by peacekeepers and believes foreign intervention would not improve things.

“The foreign troops are not going to solve the major problems that Haiti has,” he said. “These are problems that have been around since I was born. It never gets better.”

‘The whole city is under siege’

The letter that the UN secretary general submitted Sunday suggests that the rapid action force be phased out as Haitian police regain control of infrastructure, and that two options could follow: member states establish an international police task force to help and advise local officers, or create a special force to help tackle gangs “including through joint strike, isolation and containment operations across the country.”

The letter notes that if member states do not “step forward with bilateral support and financing,” the UN operation may be an alternative.

“However, as indicated, a return to UN peacekeeping was not the preferred option of the authorities,” it states.

Not everyone is opposed to the arrival of troops, however. Allens Hemest, 35, hopes to see them soon. The unemployed man said he recently worked at a factory that produced plastic cups but was shut down amid the crisis.

“The whole city is under siege,” he said, referring to the capital Port-au-Prince. “If this is going to bring peace, I’m all for it. We can’t continue living like this.”

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COVID vaccines: Canada fell short at limiting wastage, AG says – CTV News

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While the federal government was successful in procuring COVID-19 vaccines amid an urgent pandemic situation, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) fell short when it came to minimizing the number of doses wasted, according to Canada’s auditor general.

In an audit of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement, tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Karen Hogan found that while federal departments “secured COVID-19 vaccine doses so that everyone in Canada who chose to be vaccinated could be,” once the vaccines arrived the systems to keep track of them were lacking.

Hogan’s performance audit focused on assessing the job Public Services and Procurement Canada did in procuring vaccines, and how the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada did in keeping track of the inventory as well as seeing the vaccines delivered across the country and later donated globally.

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The audit found that PSPC’s “efficient” work—led by then-procurement minister Anita Anand—and the decision to sign advance purchase agreements with seven COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers ensured that Canada would have enough doses to meet the demand. However, Hogan noted that this approach came with the risk of Canada having a surplus of doses.

As this played out in realtime, and six of the seven potential vaccines were authorized for use in Canada, the federal government paid for 169 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines between December 2020—when Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine authorization and immunization rollout began—and May 2022.

Of those, the federal government administered more than 84 million doses across the country.

That left 85 million COVID-19 vaccine doses unused, 50.6 million of which the audit found were deemed surplus and offered for donation. However, just 15.3 million doses have been given to other countries while 13.6 million expired before they could be donated.

That meant that as of the end of May, Canada had 32.5 million doses—worth an estimated $1 billion—sitting in inventories across the country. The report flags that the majority of these shots are set to expire by the end of the year, resulting in more wastage if they are not used or donated soon. In addition to these shots, the government has gone on to procure doses of newly-developed bivalent booster shots.

The auditor general said that while PHAC “equitably allocated” COVID-19 vaccine doses to the provinces and territories and oversaw their delivery in a “timely way,” efforts to cut down on wasted doses was “unsuccessful.”

This was in part due to delays in the agency developing and implementing an information technology planning system called “VaccineConnect,” meant to help track and manage vaccine usage. By the end of the audit, the report states that even still “not all of the system’s functionalities were being used.”

Another factor that contributed to more doses potentially going to waste than necessary was that the agency did not have in place finalized data-sharing agreements with the provinces and territories, a long-standing issue the AG’s office has brought up repeatedly with this and previous governments, most recently in the 2021 audit on pandemic preparedness.

“This meant that the agency relied on voluntary reporting by the provinces and territories. Although some provinces and territories consistently reported to the agency, the agency was unable to obtain complete data from most,” the audit said. “This meant that the status of these doses was unknown and reduced the agency’s ability to predict supply needs and plan for donations.”

Hogan found that while the federal health bodies were timely in responding to the trio of confirmed vaccine safety signals, the data-sharing gap “affected the agency’s ability to effectively share detailed case-level safety surveillance data with Health Canada, the World Health Organization, and vaccine companies,” as it pertained to incidents of adverse reactions in Canada. 

She is now calling for this gap to be addressed immediately, “because the sharing of health data is a cornerstone of effective surveillance to keep Canadians safe.”

Federal officials and opposition critics will be responding to Hogan’s findings this afternoon.

This is a breaking news story, more to come…

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Inflation in Canada: Grocery execs on profiteering claims – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

Grocery executives are disputing an accusation that grocery giants are taking advantage of inflation to drive up their own profits.

Executives from Loblaw and Empire testified at the House of Commons agriculture committee Monday as part of its study of food inflation.

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“Empire does not like inflation,” said Pierre St-Laurent, chief operating officer of Empire, the parent company of Sobeys.

Jodat Hussain, Loblaw’s senior vice-president of retail finance, told MPs Loblaw has been raising prices because suppliers are charging more, and that the company’s gross margins on food have remained stable.

“Fundamentally, grocery prices are up because the costs of products that grocers buy from suppliers have gone up,” Hussain said.

The executive said Loblaw pushes back on suppliers when they do propose raising prices, citing its disagreement with Frito-Lay over the price of potato chips, which led to empty shelves during the dispute.

The rapidly rising cost of groceries has become a hot-button issue in politics, with food prices up 11 per cent in October compared with a year earlier.

And relief isn’t expected to come any time soon.

According to the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday, the total cost of groceries for a family of four is expected to be $1,065 more than it was this year.

The study into food inflation by the House of Commons committee was called for by NDP agriculture critic Alistair MacGregor.

The New Democrats have accused companies like Loblaw of profiting off of inflation by unfairly raising prices on consumers.

MPs heard testimony from others in the grocery industry, including the Retail Council of Canada; Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada; and Fruit and Vegetable Growers of Canada.

“We are experiencing a unique confluence of events — war, extreme weather and soaring fuel prices, all piling on top of supply chain disruptions and labour shortages,” said Karl Little, Retail Council of Canada’s senior vice-president of public affairs.

Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy, also appeared before MPs. The food researcher raised concerns about a lack of competition oversight that he says is feeding into distrust between consumers and grocers.

“The Competition Bureau is constantly failing the Canadian public by not providing forceful support to lawmakers in Canada when it simply endorses acquisitions and oversees investigations with little or no vigour,” Charlebois said.

The Competition Bureau announced in October it is launching a study to examine whether the highly concentrated grocery sector is contributing to rising food costs.

The competition watchdog is expected to provide a set of recommendations for the government in its final report, which it plans to publish in June.

The committee will also hold another meeting on food inflation on Dec. 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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More 'police' centres run by China found around world: NGO – CTV News

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A human rights organization says it has found dozens of additional overseas Chinese “police service centres” around the world, including at least two more in Canada.

In a new report released Monday called “Patrol and Persuade,” the Spain-based non-governmental organization Safeguard Defenders says it used open source statements from People’s Republic of China authorities, Chinese police and state media to document at least 48 additional stations.

This on top of the 54 stations revealed in September, bringing the total number of documented centres to 102 in 53 countries. Some host countries also have co-operated in setting up these centres, Safeguard Defenders says.

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The stations are accused of targeting Chinese nationals living abroad, particularly those who allegedly committed crimes in China, in order to coerce them to return home.

Safeguard Defenders reports that along with the three police “stations” previously confirmed in the Greater Toronto Area, which are operated out of the Chinese city of Fuzhou, it has found newly confirmed centres in Vancouver, operated out of Wenzhou, and another whose location is unknown but operates out of Nantong.

In a statement to CTV National News on Monday, the RCMP said it’s “investigating reports of criminal activity in relation to the so-called ‘police’ stations.” No further details were provided.

A similar statement was given by the police force to CP24 in late October following the previous report of Toronto-area stations.

The consulate general of the People’s Republic of China said at the time that the stations are to help Chinese citizens renew their driver’s licences, given many of them are unable to return to China due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the “local volunteers” facilitating this “are not Chinese police officers.”

However, Safeguard Defenders says the vast majority of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, years before the pandemic began.

In its previous report in September, Safeguard Defenders found that Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China “voluntarily” between April 2021 and July 2022. Among the tactics used, Safeguard Defenders said, included denying suspects’ children in China the right to education and punishing relatives through “guilt by association.”

The U.S. Department of Justice accused seven people in October of a yearslong campaign to harass and intimidate a U.S. resident to return to China.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended the G20 summit in Indonesia in November, his office told reporters that he had raised concerns with Chinese President Xi Jinping of “interference” in Canada.

Asked about what specific interference he referred to, Trudeau later told the House of Commons, “We’ve known for many years that there are consistent engagements by representatives of the Chinese government into Canadian communities, with local media, reports of illicit Chinese police stations.”

With files from CP24 Web Content Writer Joanna Lavoie, CTV National News Vancouver Bureau Chief Melanie Nagy, CTV News Toronto Videojournalist Allison Hurst and The Canadian Press 

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