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Canada court rules US asylum pact invalid over refugee detentions – Al Jazeera English



A Canadian court threw out the country’s asylum pact with the United States on Wednesday, ruling that the 2004 agreement was invalid because Washington violates the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), people who want to seek refuge in Canada and present themselves at a formal Canada-US border crossing are returned to the US and told to first seek sanctuary there.

Amnesty International, the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Council of Churches challenged the pact last year, saying the US does not qualify as a “safe” country under President Donald Trump. They cited the widespread detention of asylum seekers who are turned back from Canada as well as the separation of migrant parents from their children by the Trump administration.

In Wednesday’s ruling, Federal Court Justice Ann Marie McDonald said the STCA violated Canadian constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and security, due to the risk of detention that returned asylum seekers face in the US. 

She cited the “compelling” case of a Muslim female immigrant from Ethiopia named Nedira Mustefa, who was held in isolation for one week at a US detention centre after being sent back by Canadian authorities.

Mustefa described her time in solitary confinement in the US as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” according to the court ruling.

“Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences that befell Ms Mustefa in its efforts to adhere to the STCA,” the judge wrote in her decision. “The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the US by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty.”

McDonald suspended her decision for six months to give Parliament a chance to respond.

‘No one deserves to be mistreated’

The Canadian government said it was currently reviewing the ruling, with Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noting that the STCA “remains in effect” until January 2021.

The ruling can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court if necessary.

There was no immediate comment from the US Department of Homeland Security and State.

Mustefa, among those on whose behalf the legal challenge was launched, told Reuters news agency she was relieved.

“At the end of the day, we are all humans,” she said. “No one deserves to be mistreated in such a way.”

The three groups that filed the lawsuit said they welcomed the decision and urged the government of Canada not to appeal. The groups also urged Canada to stop returning refugee claimants to the US immediately.

“The Safe Third Country Agreement has been the source of grave human rights violations for many years, unequivocally confirmed in this ruling,” said Alex Neve, secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada.

“That cannot be allowed to continue one more day.”

Since Trump took office in 2017, more than 50,000 people have crossed the Canada-US border to file refugee claims. Many of them came to the US from Syria, Congo, Haiti and elsewhere, and would cross over to Canada by travelling to upstate New York and then to Roxham Road in the town of Champlain, a backroad that ends at the border.

Under special rules set up by the US and Canada to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, most of those who cross illegally in either direction are now immediately returned to the other country.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers said Canada should revisit that decision, given Wednesday’s ruling, and also revoke a 2019 rule that makes individuals ineligible for Canadian asylum if they had already filed for asylum in the US.

Al Jazeera and news agencies

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4 Canadians with terminal cancer win the right to try magic mushrooms –



On Tuesday, Laurie Brooks received the news she’s waited more than 100 days to hear — she now has the legal right to use magic mushrooms.

“I was pretty emotional. I was surprised,” the 53-year-old Abbotsford, B.C. mother of four told CBC. 

“Just to have that recognition … that what I was fighting for was worthwhile, it meant a lot to me.”

Brooks has had two bouts with colon cancer and has struggled with psychological distress as she reckons with the possibility of imminent death.

She’s one of four Canadians with terminal cancer who received approval this week from the federal government for an exemption from drug laws that have made psilocybin — the active ingredient in magic mushrooms — illegal since 1974. 

Psilocybin has shown promise in relieving end-of-life distress for palliative cancer patients, but it’s still undergoing clinical trials that are necessary before it can be made widely available to the public.

The four patients applied for their exemptions with help from the advocacy group TheraPsil, which argues that terminally ill patients deserve compassionate access to something that might help with their anguish when other treatments have failed.

The group’s founder, Victoria psychotherapist Bruce Tobin, applauded the federal government for allowing the patients access to psilocybin.

“Although it has taken a long time we are impressed with their willingness to listen to patients who have not been heard and to shift focus and policy to accommodate their interests and protect their needs,” Tobin said in a press release.

‘Our lives were turned upside down’

Brooks said she could never have imagined becoming an advocate for magic mushrooms — until very recently, she’d hadn’t ever tried an illegal drug.

But things changed a year ago, when she learned her cancer had returned. Her doctor gave her six months to a year to live if she didn’t undergo another punishing round of radiation, chemotherapy and surgery.

“It was pretty distressing,” Brooks said. “The idea of not being around and all the plans that my husband and I had for our life, now that the kids are grown — everything we wanted to do went out the window and our lives were turned upside down and backwards again.” 

She was angry and anxious and couldn’t sleep at night, and she dreaded the physical ordeal she knew lay ahead during another round of treatment.

Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, is undergoing clinical trials in Canada for use in treating psychological disorders. (Peter Dejong/Associated Press)

When Brooks’s therapist mentioned the research on psilocybin, she says she was on board almost immediately. She decided to try it in a guided session conducted under her therapist’s supervision.

“I did my psilocybin trip last October and immediately afterwards I was able to see my cancer in a box beside me on the floor instead of this black cloud hanging over me all the time,” Brooks said.

She cautions that it took a lot of preparation to be ready for the experience, and it wasn’t all pleasant. The six-hour trip began with huge waves of grief, and she was forced to confront a flood of bad emotions before finding some clarity.

Psilocybin can also cause “bad trips” that include frightening hallucinations and extreme paranoia.

Lasting effects after 1 trip

But to Brooks’s surprise, she says her cancer has stayed in that metaphorical box through the last 10 months of treatment. In fact, that one psychedelic trip made such a difference that she’s not sure whether it’s even necessary to take psilocybin again.

But Brooks says this isn’t just about her.

“Hopefully this allows other people to get that exemption faster, and hopefully it’s the start of something really great where therapists can use it with their clients,” she said.

Meanwhile, she underwent her final surgery last week, and says her doctors believe the cancer is gone — at least for now.

“I’m kind of in a wait and see mode, and just living life as best I can and enjoying the time I have,” Brooks said. 

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Ford won't commit to lower class sizes, while Ontario sees fewer than 100 new COVID-19 cases –



Ontario Premier Doug Ford faced a string of questions about his government’s plan to reopen schools in September, with many asking why, despite a recent report by SickKids emphasizing the importance of small class sizes.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ford was asked about the possibility of capping class sizes as students return to the classroom.

Ford would not commit to doing that, saying the province has some of the lowest student to instructor ratios in the country, especially up to Grade 3. In kindergarten for example though, that still means potentially 30 children in a single class, Ford acknowledged. 

“Is it going to be perfect? No,” Ford said.

Parents who aren’t comfortable sending their children to school have the option of keeping them at home in September, Ford added.

“I personally feel we have the best plan in the entire country,” Ford said. “We have two options here. We bring the kids to school, which I’m hearing the vast majority of parents want to get back to normal … or keep your kids at home and you do online courses.

NDP slams Ford’s decision to ‘dig in his heels’

“I get it, not all parents are going to be 100 per cent comfortable. I wish I had the magical wand to say everyone is going to be perfectly fine. Let’s see. We’re relying on the best health minds in the country.”

NDP Opposition leader Andrea Horwath said in a statement following the news conference she was “horrified today to hear Doug Ford dig in his heels and refuse to reconsider his plan.”

“Thirty or more kids crammed into one small classroom wasn’t okay before the pandemic when Mr. Ford was cutting teachers and education workers and hiking class sizes. Now, it’s downright dangerous,” Horwath said. 

The premier also told reporters he expects 38 per cent of any vaccines procured in Canada to be allocated to Ontario. On Wednesday, the federal government announced it has entered two agreements to secure millions of doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines.

Also on Wednesday, Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries Lisa Macleod was asked why certain attractions, such as Canada’s Wonderland, have not yet been allowed to reopen.

Water parks, theme parks still pose risks, province says

Macleod responded that the province’s command table, including Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams, has advised that theme parks and waterparks still pose a threat amid COVID-19 and that the province is continuing to assess the situation.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Canada’s Wonderland said the theme park is “disappointed” it still hasn’t received approval, saying it has submitted plans to the province that include physical distancing, capacity control and hygiene protocols that meet or exceed Ontario’s requirements for reopening.

“We will continue to work with the Ontario government and hope to welcome guests back soon to a fun and safe environment,” said spokesperson Grace Peacock.

Ontario reported 86 additional cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, marking the third consecutive day with fewer than 100 newly-confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus in the province.

Toronto, Ottawa, Peel, York and Chatham-Kent were the only public health units with 10 or more new cases. Twenty-two of the province’s 34 health units reported no new cases at all.

All of the figures used in this story are found in the Ministry of Health’s daily update, which includes data from up until 4 p.m. the previous day. The number of cases for any particular region on a given day may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, which often avoid the lag times in the provincial system.

No additional deaths reported today

Ontario has now seen a total of 39,714 confirmed instances of COVID-19 since the outbreak began in late January. Provincial public health officials consider a full 90 per cent of those cases resolved.

Another 146 were marked resolved in today’s update, meaning there are now fewer than 1,200 active infections of the novel coronavirus provincewide. 

Meanwhile, the number of patients in Ontario hospitals with confirmed cases of the illness fell to 66 from 78. That figure has fallen more than 90 per cent from its peak in May. Thirty patients are being treated in intensive care units, while 15 are on ventilators.

The Ministry of Health’s official COVID-19 death toll stayed steady at 2,782, with no additional deaths reported today. A CBC News count based on more timely data from public health units puts the real toll at 2,818 as of yesterday evening.

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Feds sign agreements with Pfizer, Moderna for millions of doses of COVID-19 vaccines –



The federal government has entered two agreements to secure millions of doses of potential COVID-19 vaccines. 

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand says Ottawa has signed deals with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and biotechnology firm Moderna. Pfizer will supply its BNT162 mRNA-based vaccine candidate, while Moderna will provide its mRNA-1273 vaccine candidate.

“These vaccine candidates are very promising and we all look forward to the day when restrictions can be lifted entirely,” Anand said Wednesday during a news conference in Toronto along with Science and Industry Minister Navdeep Bains. 

“However there is more work to do. Any potential vaccine candidate will take time to develop, properly test, mass manufacture and distribute.”

Anand wouldn’t specify exactly how many doses Canada would purchase under the deals or how much money it would spend because the government is in negotiations with international and domestic firms about purchasing additional doses of other vaccine candidates.

She said the government plans to make orders with multiple companies.

WATCH | No ‘one solution’ in pandemic, minister says:

Public Services Minister Anita Anand announces vaccine procurement deals with two drug giants but cautions there is no ‘silver bullet’ against COVID-19. 2:48

“These agreements with Moderna and Pfizer are indicative of our aggressive approach to secure access to vaccine candidates now so that Canadians are at the front of the line when a vaccine becomes available,” Anand said. 

Last month, Public Services and Procurement Canada issued bids to supply 75 million syringes and other vaccine administration supplies like alcohol swabs and bandages, to be delivered by the end of October. The goal is to have enough supplies to give every Canadian two doses of a vaccine.

All potential vaccines will require Health Canada regulatory approval. Anand said she expects Pfizer and Moderna to begin delivering their vaccines, if approved, sometime in 2021.

Vaccines in Phase 3 of clinical testing

Both companies began Phase 3 clinical trials of their vaccine candidates in the last week; large-scale tests to determine how well the vaccines work. Both use messenger RNA to try to provoke an immune response to COVID-19.

They are among more than 166 vaccines at various stages of preclinical and clinical (human) testing across the globe right now, according to the World Health Organization.

Vaccine development normally takes years, or decades, but U.S. and European experts say under an optimistic scenario, the first of those vaccines could complete testing and get approval for distribution next year. 

Pfizer and Moderna are part of the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed program to facilitate the development and production of COVID-19 vaccines quickly.

Pfizer said on July 22 that it has a US$1.95-billion agreement to supply 100 million doses to the U.S. government, with an option for 500 million more.

Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in a conference call Wednesday that small amounts of its vaccine have been priced between US$32 and US$37 a dose, but that the price would be lower for big orders.

Pfizer also said it expects it can produce 100 million doses of its vaccine by the end of December, and another 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Last month both Pfizer and Moderna reported positive results from smaller trials. Moderna’s vaccine was tested on 45 healthy adults between 18 and 55 years old in a Phase 1 trial in May and June, and reported a strong immune response in all people, with mild or moderate side effects such as fatigue, fever and body aches.

The Phase 3 trials will test both vaccines on 30,000 people, and results are expected in the fall.

Dr. Michael Gardam, an infectious disease specialist and chief of staff at Humber River Hospital in Toronto, said it’s important for countries to secure a vaccine supply now as demand heats up around the globe.

“Everybody is in it for themselves and you look at what almost happened with the U.S. blocking the shipment of N95 respirators to Canada … We’re going to see similar kind of stuff with vaccines,” said Gardam.

Gardam said there is always the risk that a country chooses a vaccine that ends up being ineffective or harmful after testing, which would put it right to the back of the line.

“We have to kind of make an educated guess which is what [the government has] done,” said Gardam. 

Tam warns vaccine no ‘silver bullet’

The announcement comes one day after chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam warned that Canadians shouldn’t expect a COVID-19 vaccine to be a “silver bullet” that will bring a swift end to the coronavirus pandemic and a return to normal.

Tam said public health officials are planning for a scenario where public health measures that have been taken so far could remain in place even after a successful vaccine is found.

Anand echoed that sentiment, urging Canadians to continue to practice physical distancing, wash their hands and wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the virus while we await a vaccine.

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