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Canada cuts consular staff in China amid coronavirus outbreak – CBC.ca

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Canada is reducing its consular staff in China due to the coronavirus outbreak, as some citizens stuck in the affected region say they are frustrated by the lack of help from the federal government.

Global Affairs Canada announced the reduced staffing at its diplomatic missions in China on Twitter and on the Beijing embassy’s social media pages in Chinese on Wednesday. Canadians who need emergency consular assistance are being told to contact the emergency watch and response centre in Ottawa.

There have now been more than 6,000 cases of the novel coronavirus reported globally — the vast majority of them in China — and 132 related deaths.

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Some Canadians trapped in Wuhan, China, due to strict travel restrictions say they’re safe but feeling abandoned by their consular officials.

Consular offices were closed Saturday through Tuesday due to the Chinese New Year.

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government is looking at ways to help Canadians stuck in China.

“We are working very closely with our consular officials in China. We’re listening and concerned about the Canadians who are right now in the affected zone,” he said. 

“We will look at what we can do. There are many countries looking at different ways to help out. It is a complex situation, but we’re doing everything we can to support Canadians.”

All visa application centres in mainland China are temporarily closed, and consular office will be providing only basic services such as passport renewals and emergency services such as medical assistance, emergency benefits and missing persons.

According to the embassy’s post, the immigration service will continue to provide services and prioritize the processing of travel documents for customers and permanent residents “who need to travel urgently to Canada for humanitarian and compassionate reasons.”

Global Affairs Canada’s emergency response centre can be reached by phone at 613-996-8885 or by email sos@international.gc.ca.

The government has launched a website dedicated to the coronavirus and set up an information hotline.

This afternoon, the House of Commons health committee will begin hearings on the government’s response to the outbreak. Scheduled to appear today are Stephen Lucas, the deputy health minister, Public Health Agency of Canada president Tina Namiesniowski and Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Theresa Tam is scheduled to appear at the House of Commons health committee Wednesday afternoon. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Several countries have started repatriating their citizens from the affected region in China.

A Japanese flight carrying 206 evacuees home included four people with coughs and fevers. The three men and one woman were taken to a Tokyo hospital on separate ambulances for treatment and further medical checks.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has stressed that the risk to Canadians remains low, but said any consular assistance to Canadians in China will be provided in a way that protects the health and safety of Canadians abroad and at home.

Today, she said she is working with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne to develop a plan to assist Canadians.

“I’ve actually also had my counterparts work with the U.S. officials that are working on their repatriation, and we’ll have more to say about that this afternoon,” she said.

‘Tailored response’

On Tuesday, Champagne said the government will provide consular services to all Canadians trapped in the coronavirus-affected region of China due to commercial travel restrictions.

He said the government would provide a “tailored response” based on the needs of the Canadians in the area — but did not say if an aircraft would be dispatched to repatriate people from the Wuhan area.

“We’re looking at all options to assist them,” he said.

Champagne said that 250 Canadians in the affected area have now registered with Global Affairs, and 126 have requested consular assistance to get home.

“We are in contact with them. We’re trying to contact everyone, assess their specific need for assisted repatriation,” he said.

“We’re at the same time consulting with our allies and looking at the different options that people are considering, also in contact with the Chinese authorities.”

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COVID-19 benefits helped economy rebound, but post-payment verification lacking: AG

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Canada’s auditor general says COVID-19 benefits were delivered quickly and helped mitigate economic suffering, however, the federal government hasn’t done enough to recover overpayments.

In a new report looking into the federal government’s delivery of pandemic benefits, Karen Hogan said the programs provided relief to workers and employers affected by the pandemic and helped the economy rebound.

At the same time, the auditor general says the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada have not followed up by verifying payments.

Hogan estimates $4.6 billion was paid to people who were not eligible, while another $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and businesses should be further investigated.

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“I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” Hogan said in a news release.

The audit found that efforts to recover overpayments have been limited, with the Canada Revenue Agency collecting $2.3 billion through voluntary repayments.

Pre-payment controls were also lacking, though the report said the federal government made some changes to those controls for individual benefits.

However, the CRA made few changes to improve prepayment controls for businesses to mitigate risks of overpayment.

Hogan also flagged that there was a lack of sufficient data to assess the effectiveness of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Although the subsidy did go to businesses in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, the report said the effect of the subsidy on business resilience is unclear because the agency collected limited data from businesses.

The auditor general has made a set of recommendations to the government to improve the collection of overpayments and to fix data gaps relating to businesses.

Government organizations reviewed in the audit say they have accepted the recommendations, though only partially accepted a recommendation related to recuperating overpayments.

The federal government said it would prioritize which to pursue by weighing the resources necessary with the amount owed.

“It would not be cost effective nor in keeping with international and industry best practices to pursue 100 per cent of all potentially ineligible claims,” the response said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

The Trudeau government is pledging to spend $15 million to remove mines in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the funding is meant to make the country safer after Russia has laid hundreds of the indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch says Ukrainian forces have also been laying anti-tank mines across the country.

Joly made the announcement on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines in most countries.

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Ottawa has so far provided Canadian-made bomb suits to help protect Ukrainian deminers and has plans to help fund remote-control systems to clear large areas such as farmlands.

Last month, Canada unveiled funding to remove both landmines and cluster bombs from parts of Southeast Asia that remain inaccessible decades after conflicts like the Vietnam War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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B.C.’s Julia Levy is Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar

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British Columbia’s newest Rhodes Scholar will pursue a master’s degree in computational chemistry, but she says it’s also an “incredible opportunity” as a trans woman to give back to her community.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy said she was “blown away” when she learned she was among 11 Canadians selected for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious such awards.

Levy, 24, will head to Oxford University in England next October for the fully funded scholarship, a prize she said carries a special meaning because she is the country’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar.

“I feel I am very, very proud being the first trans woman in Canada (to become a Rhodes Scholar),” said Levy, who made the transition from he to she three years ago.

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While the transition was a tough journey, Levy said she is aware of the many advantages she’s had.

“I think it’s really interesting to note that I am privileged in literally every other way, like my parents being supportive of my transition. I have always had financial stability and I grew up in a good part of Vancouver … maybe that’s the advantages that you need to equal out the trans part of it,” said Levy.

Levy, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a chemistry major and a minor in visual arts, described the scholarship as an “incredible opportunity and a gift,” equipping her with more knowledge and power to give back to the trans community.

“I feel my experiences of being trans and the ways that I have had to navigate the world being trans … has given me a lot of empathy for people in crisis and people who have difficulties in their lives,” said Levy.

“I know what it is to be at the bottom in some ways and my interest in harm reduction and trans care really all comes from that place of knowing what it’s like and wanting to reach out and help out where that’s possible.”

Levy is also a scientist, artist, activist, programmer, friend and daughter, she said.

“There are many parts of me that are equally important to who I am.”

University of Victoria chemistry professor Jeremy Wulff supervised Levy and said she was “destined for greatness,” bringing insights to projects that led to their success.

“I’m always excited when my students are recognized with awards and fellowships, but the Rhodes award is at a whole other level,” he said. “Julia is in excellent company amongst this group, and it’s absolutely where she belongs.”

Levy said magic can happen when you mix computation with chemistry.

In her second year at the University of Victoria, she found some classmates were struggling to picture molecules in their heads while doing peer teaching.

To help them visualize complex molecules, Levy created an augmented-reality app.

The app is a QR code in the workbook and allows the learner to see the molecule on their phone in three dimensions.

“You can work it with your phone and spin it around and zoom in and out,” said Levy.

She also worked as a technician with the university’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, a drop-in service where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis.

Levy said the experience used her chemistry skills in a “practical and socially active way” to help more people.

“It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” said Levy.

Levy, who was travelling in Germany during the interview, said she looks forward to being surrounded by the Rhodes community and “being challenged and pushed to new heights.”

“I hope I bring what makes me unique to Oxford, and that I am able to find a group of people, both personally and professionally, that celebrate that uniqueness,” said Levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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