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Canada isn’t ruling out taking a stake in Canadian airlines

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OTTAWA —
The Canadian government isn’t ruling out the possibility of taking a stake in Canadian airlines, like WestJet and Air Canada, as ministers consider how to help the sector in its struggles amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic Leblanc confirmed the possibility during an interview with CTV Question Period Host Evan Solomon, airing Sunday.

During the interview, Solomon pointed out that in a bid to save their own airlines, Germany took at 20-per-cent stake in Lufthansa. When he asked Leblanc if Canada is considering taking such a step here, Leblanc said the government “is very much discussing that.”

“I know, my colleagues, [Transport Minister] Marc Garneau, and [Finance Minister] Chrystia Freeland, are looking at a whole series of options of what government support might look like for the sector. So we haven’t made any decisions in that level of detail yet, but they’re very much discussing that,” Leblanc said of the action Germany took.

Air Canada was partially owned by the government until 1989. WestJet was a publicly-traded company, but went private in a $5 billion deal last year.

Leblanc’s comments come as WestJet announced on Wednesday its decision to suspend flights to four cities in Atlantic Canada and to “dramatically” pare down service to Halifax and St. John’s, N.L.

“The lack of travel demand combined with domestic quarantines means that sadly we can no longer maintain our full Canadian network of service,” CEO Ed Sims said, speaking in a video post on Wednesday.

The company said the cuts remove 80 per cent of WestJet’s seat capacity from the Atlantic region, and slash more than 100 weekly flights. The airline has also announced 100 additional layoffs, and the suspension of service between Toronto and Quebec City.

Air Canada had also said in June that it would suspend service to 30 regional routes, which mainly impacted travellers in the Maritimes, Quebec and Saskatchewan.

Leblanc told Solomon WestJet’s latest announcement is “obviously difficult” for the Atlantic provinces, as well as for Quebec.

“There’s no doubt that Canadians expect that, when the economic recovery is concluded, that we’re left with a competitive air transportation system across the country,” Leblanc said.

Meanwhile, as the government considers how it can help airlines, Leblanc pointed out that the airlines still have to answer for the way they decided to compensate passengers as COVID-19 forced a mass cancellation of huge swaths of flights.

Many Canadians were compensated in the form of a voucher as opposed to getting their money back.

“Canadians also expect us not to simply write blank checks or bail out large corporations without addressing, as you said, the issue of vouchers,” Leblanc told Solomon.

“I hear from a number of people how upset they were that thousands of dollars on a credit card turned into a voucher they may or may not be able to use that up to an unknown time.”

Leblanc said these are all “necessary parts” of the conversations the government is having with airlines — though he assured that the government is “committed to working with” the sector to ensure the economic recovery keeps Canada’s air transportation system afloat.

“Those discussions will necessarily happen. And I hope quite quickly,” Leblanc said.

To date, Canada has fallen out of lockstep from its G7 counterparts with respect to financial aid for the airline sector, choosing instead to offer broad measures including the federal wage subsidy — measures that are available to other sectors as well.

With files from The Canadian Press

SOURCE: – CTV News

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Sales of cancer-fighting drugs soared in Canada over the past decade – CBC.ca

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Sales of medications to treat cancer have nearly tripled in Canada over the past decade, reaching $3.9 billion last year, a report by a federal agency says.

The Patented Medicine Prices Review Board has released data showing cancer medications account for about 15 per cent of all spending on pharmaceuticals.

“In 2019, medicines with 28-day treatment costs exceeding $7,500 made up 43 per cent of private plan oncology drug costs, compared with 17 per cent in 2010,” says the report by the board, which aims to protect consumers by ensuring manufacturers aren’t charging excessive prices for patented medications.

It says growth in the Canadian oncology market last year exceeded that of other countries including the United States and Switzerland, with a 20 per cent increase over sales from 2018.

Sales of oral cancer medications account for half of all oncology sales in Canada, up from 37 per cent in 2010, the report says, adding that while intravenous chemotherapy is publicly funded in all provinces, reimbursement of oral drugs differs across the country.

Steve Morgan, a professor in the School of Population and Public Health at the University of British Columbia, said it doesn’t make sense to cover the cost of intravenous chemotherapy in hospitals and not medications prescribed to patients outside of those facilities, but that’s justified in a country without a national drug plan.

“This is one of the messy bits of the Canadian health care system,” he said, adding there’s a patchwork system of coverage across jurisdictions, with cancer agencies in some provinces providing limited payment for at-home oncology treatments.

Clouded pricing

A national pharmacare plan would allow Canada to negotiate better drug prices, Morgan said, noting it’s the only country in the world with a universal health care system without coverage for prescription drugs.

Much of the national-level negotiating countries do with manufacturers happens in secret, Morgan said. The negotiations start with a list or sticker price — much like buying a vehicle at a dealership — as part of a complicated regime involving rebates to bring down prices.

“It’s deliberately made to cloud the real transaction price, the real price to health the system, so that no country can look at it and say, ‘Hey, wait a second, I heard that the people in Australia got this amazing new price on this drug,'” Morgan said.

A pharmacist serves a customer from behind protective screens in Nice, France, in May. Canada’s list prices for prescription drugs are among the highest in the world. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

“What we can’t know is exactly which countries are getting the most value for money because we don’t get to see their secret deals. We do know that Canada’s list prices are among the highest in the world, and even above the level that the (Patented Medicine Prices Review Board) would like to see in terms of just the beginning of negotiations.

Countries with universal single-payer systems for medications — including Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand — are likely using their negotiating power to get better prices from manufacturers asking for unreasonable amounts of money, he said.

Canada is expected to have about 225,000 new cancer cases and 83,000 deaths from the disease this year alone, the report by the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board says.

Provinces negotiate with manufacturers individually and should not “cave” to requests for unreasonable prices, Morgan said.

“They cannot, in essence, have patients being used as hostages.”

Prescription drug affordability

Results of an online survey released Thursday by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) say 26 per cent of Canadians had to pay for at least half their prescription drug costs over the past year. That figure rises to 37 per cent for households earning less than $50,000 annually.

“Regionally, the highest rates of self-payment for prescriptions are found in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba,” said the survey. “In all three of these provinces, one in three households reported paying half of their prescription drug costs or more. By contrast, Ontario and Alberta report the highest rates of insurance and government coverage.”

The survey was conducted in partnership with the University of B.C.’s School of Population and Public Health, St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, the University of Toronto, Carleton University’s Faculty of Public Affairs and School of Public Policy and Administration in Ottawa and Women’s College Hospital, Toronto.

It was done between Oct. 13 and 18 included a representative randomized sample of 1,936 Canadians who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.2 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.

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Meng Wanzhou scores victory as lawyers allowed to argue U.S. tried to trick Canada – CBC.ca

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Meng Wanzhou scored a victory in her battle to fight extradition Thursday as the judge overseeing the proceedings agreed to let the Huawei executive’s lawyers pursue their claim that the United States misled Canada about the basics of the case.

In a ruling posted online, Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes said there was an “air of reality to Ms. Meng’s allegations of abuse of process in relation to the requesting state’s conduct.”

At a hearing held last month, the chief financial officer’s lawyers said they believed the evidence was strong enough to prove that the United States omitted key components of the case that undermine allegations of fraud against their client.

Holmes’ ruling means Meng’s lawyers will be able to include those claims as one of three lines of attack in February, when they try to convince the judge that the entire case should be thrown out for abuse of process.

In her ruling, Holmes noted that staying the proceedings against Meng was a possibility if the defence can make its case, but that she might also consider a less drastic remedy, like cutting out parts of the Crown’s record deemed unreliable.

Judge rules new evidence allowed

Meng is charged with fraud and conspiracy in the United States in relation to allegations that she lied to HSBC about Huawei’s relationship with a hidden subsidiary that was accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Prosecutors claim that by lying to HSBC to continue a financial relationship, Meng placed the bank at risk of loss and prosecution for breaching the same sanctions.

The U.S. claims Meng Wanzhou lied to an HSBC banker in a PowerPoint about Huawei’s relationship with a subsidiary accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. (Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg)

As part of the extradition process, the United States provided a record of the case that includes slides from the PowerPoint presentation Meng gave an HSBC executive in Hong Kong in August 2013.

But Meng’s lawyers claim the U.S. deliberately omitted two slides from the PowerPoint that showed Meng didn’t mislead the bank.

And they also claim that where the U.S. said only “junior” employees knew about the real relationship between Huawei and its subsidiary, senior executives at the bank were also aware.

In her ruling, Holmes said she would allow two statements from the missing slides to be included as evidence in the extradition case. She also agreed to allow evidence about HSBC’s management structure to help determine who is junior and who is not.

Rights violation issue not raised, CBSA agent testifies

Holmes released her decision even as Meng’s lawyers were in court gathering evidence related to the second line of argument that there was an abuse of process: the claim that her rights were violated at the time of her arrest.

Meng was questioned by Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers for three hours before she was arrested on Dec. 1, 2018, after her arrival at Vancouver’s airport on a flight from Hong Kong.

A still from a video of Meng Wanzhou first few hours in CBSA custody. The defence claims her rights were violated during that time. (B.C. Supreme Court)

The defence team claims the CBSA and RCMP conspired with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to mount a covert criminal investigation into Meng by using the border agency’s extraordinary powers to question her without a lawyer.

The CBSA agent who seized Meng’s phones was on the stand Thursday for his second day of testimony.

Border services officer Scott Kirkland testified that he believed there were grounds to question Meng about the possibility she might be involved in espionage. 

During his testimony Wednesday, Kirkland said that was because the CBSA’s internal system has flagged her for “national security” reasons, but he admitted in cross-examination Thursday that this might not have been the case. Meng’s lawyer suggested that she was only targeted because of the criminal charges.

Kirkland also said he thought the RCMP should have arrested Meng immediately, before the CBSA carried out its inquiries, because he worried about the impact of a delay on her right to obtain legal counsel.

Kirkland said he knew the high profile case would end up in court.

But he said he didn’t raise the issue of possible Charter of Rights and Freedoms violations out loud. And no one else among the RCMP and CBSA officers who were present said the word “Charter.”

Two weeks have been set aside in February 2021 for arguments about the record of the case and the alleged violation of Meng’s rights at the time of her arrest.

The third defence claim relates to allegations that U.S. President Donald Trump has politicized the case by threatening to use Meng as a bargaining chip to get a better deal with China.

Holmes noted in her ruling that if any one of those lines of argument were proven, they might not be enough in and of themselves to derail the case, but the cumulative effect of all of them might end in a stay. 

Meng has denied the allegations against her. 

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Privacy investigation finds 5 million shoppers' images collected at malls across Canada – CTV News

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OTTAWA —
Without customers’ knowledge, more than five million images of Canadian shoppers’ were collected through facial recognition software used by Cadillac Fairview, a parent company of malls across the country, according to an investigation by privacy officials.

The federal privacy commissioner reported Thursday that Cadillac Fairview contravened federal and provincial privacy laws by embedding cameras inside digital information kiosks at 12 shopping malls across Canada, and captured users’ images without their consent.

The facial recognition software installed in Cadillac Fairview’s “wayfinding” directories was called “Anonymous Video Analytics (AVA) and through cameras installed behind protective glass, was used in Canadian malls for a brief testing period in 2017 and then was in-use between May and July of 2018.

The software took temporary digital images of the faces of any individual within the field of view of the camera inside the directory and converted the images into biometric numerical representations of each face and used that information to compile demographic information about mall visitors.

According to the report, the technology was used in directories at the following locations:

  • CF Market Mall in Alberta
  • CF Chinook Centre in Alberta
  • CF Richmond Centre in British Columbia
  • CF Pacific Centre in British Columbia
  • CF Polo Park in Manitoba
  • CF Toronto Eaton Centre in Ontario
  • CF Sherway Gardens in Ontario
  • CF Lime Ridge in Ontario
  • CF Fairview Mall in Ontario
  • CF Markville Mall in Ontario
  • CF Galeries d’Anjou in Quebec
  • CF Carrefour Laval in Quebec

According to a statement from Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien, the company said the goal of its cameras was to “analyze the age and gender of shoppers and not to identify individuals.”

The corporation said that it did not collect personal information because the images were briefly looked at and then deleted, however the information generated from the images was being stored by a third-party contractor called Mappedin, which Cadillac Fairview said it was unaware of.

“When asked the purpose for such collection, Mappedin was unable to provide a response, indicating that the person responsible for programming the code no longer worked for the company,” reads the report.

Therrien notes in his report that Cadillac Fairview not being aware of Mappedin’s storage of the information “compounded the risk of potential use by unauthorized parties or, in the case of a data breach, by malicious actors.”

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play, Deputy Commissioner Brent Homan called it a “massive invasion of privacy” and not one that shoppers would have expected while at the mall. Homan said that one of the lessons Canadians should take away from this report is that facial recognition software is available for companies to use, and while they encourage entities to ask for consent before deploying it on the public, that’s not always the case. 

Cadillac Fairview—one of the largest owners and operators of retail and other properties in North America—“expressly disagreed” with the investigation’s findings, telling the commissioners that there were decals placed on shopping mall entry doors noting their privacy policy.

These stickers directed visitors to visit guest services to obtain a copy of the company’s privacy policy, but when the investigators asked a guest services employee at the Eaton location in Toronto, the employee was “confused by the request” and so Therrien found the stickers to be an “insufficient” measure.

“Shoppers had no reason to expect their image was being collected by an inconspicuous camera, or that it would be used, with facial recognition technology, for analysis,” said Therrien in a statement. “The lack of meaningful consent was particularly concerning given the sensitivity of biometric data, which is a unique and permanent characteristic of our body and a key to our identity.”

The investigation was launched in 2018, following several media reports about information kiosks in malls being equipped with unmarked cameras to monitor visitor demographics. Their examination in this case included visiting Cadillac Fairview’s Toronto headquarters to interview key personnel, viewing the AVA technology inside the wayfinding directories in action, and extracting records from the directories for forensic analysis.

The existence of the software came to light after a user posted an image to Reddit of a display screen at the CF Chinook Centre in Calgary showing coding language including “FaceEncoder” and “FaceAnalyzer.”

Commissioner Therrien’s office worked with Alberta Information and Privacy Commissioner Jill Clayton as well as the Information and Privacy Commissioner of British Columbia Michael McEvoy on the investigation.

“Not only must organizations be clear and up front when customers’ personal information is being collected, they must also have proper controls in place to know what their service providers are doing behind the scenes with that information,” Clayton said in a statement.

The trio of commissioners have expressed concern that the company hasn’t accepted their request to commit to ensuring meaningful and express consent is obtained from shoppers in the future should it choose to redeploy similar technology in the future.

In a statement provided to CTV News, Cadillac Fairview notes that the issue has been resolved, the data deleted, and the cameras have been deactivated. As well, the facial recognition software is no longer in use, but the company says it will not commit to its approach to “hypothetical future uses of similar technology.”

“The five million representations referenced in the OPC report are not faces. These are sequences of numbers the software uses to anonymously categorize the age range and gender of shoppers in the camera’s view,” the company said. “We thank the Privacy Commissioner for the report and recommendations on how to further strengthen our privacy practices and agree that the privacy of our visitors must always be a top priority.” 

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