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Canada dropping travel mask mandates draws ire: ‘Now is not the time’ – Global News

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It was going to be her first vacation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

Ishat Reza had her bags packed and was ready to enjoy time off in Portugal, but when the federal government decided to drop its mask mandate on planes and trains on Monday, doubt entered her mind.

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Reza, who has a pre-existing mild traumatic brain injury, was expecting Ottawa to drop just its vaccine mandate and ArriveCAN, but was caught off-guard by the federal government’s decision over mandatory masking. Feeling she is at higher risk for serious COVID-19 outcomes, Reza decided it wasn’t worth the risk to fly right now and cancelled her trip just hours before takeoff.

Read more:

ArriveCAN, mask mandates among changes as Canada drops COVID-19 border rules

Ottawa’s decision to ease pandemic restrictions is yet another sign individual Canadians are going to have to play a greater role in protecting themselves from COVID-19 in the future, health experts say. However, with an expected increase in infections as the cold weather sets in, Ottawa shouldn’t have dropped its mask mandate and its decision “disproportionately affects” vulnerable Canadians, Reza said.

“We now are in a position where the risk is higher to get it on a plane or on a train, and we have to decide: are we willing to take that risk? And for me, the answer to that was no, I’m not willing to take that risk at this time given how prevalent COVID is in our society,” said the Toronto woman, who added she would’ve faced a non-mask-mandated environment on her flight home next month.

“Now is not the time to be removing measures that protect us from getting a very serious illness on a plane.”

Mandatory masking no longer required Oct. 1

After having them in place for two years, Canada will drop its remaining COVID-19 travel restrictions come Oct. 1.

In the lead-up to Monday’s official announcement, Global News and other media reported that Ottawa had decided to scrap its vaccine requirement, and would make ArriveCAN optional. Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos confirmed those changes on Monday, but also announced Ottawa’s mask mandate on planes and trains would also be gone at the start of next month.


Click to play video: 'Masking and vaccine requirements for travellers coming to an end'



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Masking and vaccine requirements for travellers coming to an end


Masking and vaccine requirements for travellers coming to an end

It was reported last week the Liberal government was debating whether to drop the masking requirement; masks are an effective tool in reducing COVID-19 transmission, especially indoors. Ottawa’s move follows the provinces, which have rolled back protective measures throughout the spring as the pandemic improved.

During the news conference, Duclos said federal data showed importations of COVID-19 no longer influence in a “significant way the evolution of the pandemic in Canada,” and that infections are being driven by “domestic transmission.”

Read more:

Niagara, Ont. mayor says border restrictions should have lifted sooner

Ottawa is now strongly recommending Canadians wear masks on planes and trains, and Duclos said the government would be ready to revisit restrictions if needed.

“If there’s no mask mandate, even if I’m wearing one, I know that most of the people around me wouldn’t be wearing one, and I just didn’t feel comfortable sitting in an enclosed space for eight hours without other people masking,” Reza said.

“I know there are worse things happening in the world and that this is a relatively minor thing, but to me, the bigger disappointment is the fact that I can’t count on the federal government to make science-based decisions around the pandemic anymore, and that’s really disappointing.”

Moving away from an ‘environment which has created pressures’

In a news release  Monday, Ottawa said the removal of its border restrictions has been facilitated by several factors, including modelling that shows Canada has largely passed the peak of the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5-fuelled wave, Canada’s vaccination rates, lower hospitalization and death rates, as well as the availability and use of boosters, rapid tests, and treatments for COVID-19.

Meanwhile, Canada may be beginning to see early signs of COVID-19 resurgence following a slight increase in infections over the past week, said Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer of Canada, on Monday.


Click to play video: 'Masks mandates on planes, trains to end Sept. 30: transport minister'



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Masks mandates on planes, trains to end Sept. 30: transport minister


Masks mandates on planes, trains to end Sept. 30: transport minister

When pressed further on the mask mandate, Duclos said its enforcement has become a burden for air workers, many of whom have faced abuse throughout the summer as major demand for travel clogged Canadian airports.

“We’re moving away from an … environment which has created pressures and difficulties for air travellers and air workers in particular. … We have heard from the industry the difficulties in making sure that … measure is being followed by all travellers,” Duclos said.

“We believe that most travellers will continue to wear those masks, but there will be some travellers who will choose not to do so and that’s all right.”


Click to play video: 'Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, vaccine mandates'



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Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, vaccine mandates


Canada dropping COVID-19 border rules, vaccine mandates

The science is “clear” that masking reduces COVID-19 transmission, said Njoo alongside Duclos on Monday.

“The change is that it is no longer obligatory. … It is something that Canadians can choose,” he said in French.

“I hope Canadians will make an enlightened decision about this because for me, I think it’s very clear that in a context where it’s very crowded and where there is poor ventilation, it would be advisable to continue to wear a mask.”

Decision not ‘completely based on science’

Ottawa had an “incredibly hard decision” to make on its mask mandate, said Kerry Bowman, a professor of bioethics and global health at the University of Toronto. However, he doesn’t believe it was “completely based on science.”

“I think there was economic factors which affect all of us, there were scientific factors and there was credibility. They have to make sure people will accept public health mandates in the future, and I think they didn’t want to lose credibility,” he told Global News.

“It’s going to be impossible to keep everyone happy, but I think what they’re trying very hard to do is to not be heavy handed with restrictions in case we need them in the future, because they’ve really got to have public acceptance and support and a lot of the public don’t want to see a mask mandate, and a lot of the public do, so it’s very hard to say.”

Masking will remain an important layer of protection when it comes to COVID-19 this fall and winter, said Dr. Susy Hota, an infectious diseases specialist with the University Health Network in Toronto.

When it comes to mandates, governments will need to look not at just daily infections, but the impact the virus is having on Canada’s already “vulnerable” health-care system when considering whether to reintroduce them, she said.

“I think of them less as restrictions in many ways because the tools that we can use, things like masking, they’re not that restrictive,” she said.

“It’s not like a lockdown where we’re telling people you cannot go here, you can’t have more than five people in your home or in your circle. We’re going to be talking about things like masking and to be honest, of all the things that we could impose, it’s less restrictive than many other options.”

In the meantime, Canadians need to take advantage of updated COVID-19 vaccines to stay protected, said Omar Khan, a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto.

“Canadians have access to a better vaccine that’s more tailored to these new variants, and Canadians should consider getting that to offer them superior protection,” he said.

“As an individual, the best thing you can do now is to make sure your vaccinations are updated.”


Click to play video: 'Border officials can screen, advise people on COVID-19 if needed: Duclos'



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Border officials can screen, advise people on COVID-19 if needed: Duclos


Border officials can screen, advise people on COVID-19 if needed: Duclos

As for Reza, she made it clear she doesn’t feel masking needs to be mandated forever, but until there’s a vaccine that can effectively prevent infections combined with less COVID circulating, it needs to remain.

“It’s really up to governments to protect Canadians and to really pay attention to the disproportionate effect that it can have on people who have disabilities, those who have pre-existing medical conditions and those who are older in our communities,” she said.

“This is what government is there for. This is why they removed smoking from indoor places. This is why we can’t smoke on airplanes. This is also why people have to wear seatbelts. There’s a reason why governments mandate certain things for your health and safety, and right now, this decision just does not make sense to me.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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