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Canada’s oil sands region becomes country’s COVID-19 hotspot

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Osum Oil Sands

By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Canada‘s remote oil sands region in northern Alberta has become a COVID-19 hotspot, disrupting essential annual maintenance work at its massive oil sands plants.

The oil-rich province of Alberta is battling the highest rate of COVID-19 in Canada as the country grapples with a third wave of the pandemic, and on Thursday hit a record for new daily infections, topping 2,000 a day for the first time. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, home to the oil sands, has the highest rate of active cases per capita in the province.

Maintenance work is critical for production from Canada‘s oil sands, which hold the world’s third-largest crude reserves and produce 3.1 million barrels per day, accounting for roughly three-quarters of the country’s total output.

Twelve oil sands plants including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd’s Horizon and the Suncor Energy-owned Syncrude project are tackling outbreaks while in the middle of annual maintenance projects that require flying in extra workers from as far away as Atlantic Canada.

In total, there are 822 active cases at oil sands sites, according to Alberta Health. One worker has died.

Suncor has pushed back the maintenance turnaround on the U2 upgrader at its base plant site by at least a month to see if infections subside, said Terry Parker, executive director of the Building Trades of Alberta, representing 18 local unions.

“It’s a very stressful situation right now that they are facing,” Parker said, adding some workers were leaving the oil sands because of fears about becoming infected. “The owners are taking the precautions necessary, and we are still contracting this disease.”

A Suncor spokeswoman said the company is making minor adjustments to pre-work and day-to-day activities, but it remains on track with its planned maintenance.

CNRL, Suncor and Syncrude said COVID-19 safety protocols are in place. They have implemented rapid testing and isolation camps in a bid to slow the COVID-19 surge.

One contractor at CNRL’s Horizon plant, which has 328 active cases, the highest among the oil sands sites, said workers are tested every four days but that seemed to be having little impact on the outbreak.

“You have 8,000 people on site for four weeks, it’s going to be a thing,” he said, declining to be named because he is not authorised to speak to media.

Indigenous leaders this week called for stricter measures to control the spread of the virus and accused Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of “prioritising profits over lives” by allowing infected workers to come to the region.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called on Kenney to shut down work sites with outbreaks across the province, including the oil sands, to get the virus under control.

“This is a recipe for needless infection and needless deaths,” McGowan told Reuters.

Alberta has more than 21,000 active COVID-19 cases, including 632 people in hospital.

 

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

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Basketball trailblazer denied Canadian permanent residency, must return to U.S. – CBC.ca

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Bilquis Abdul-Qaadir, the trailblazing basketball player who set up an academy for girls and coached multiple sports at an Islamic school in London, Ont., has been denied permanent residency in Canada and will have to go back to the United States. 

“We’ve been here for two years, my son is Canadian, and we would love to be part of this country, but we finally got the message from immigration that we were denied permanent residency. It’s very unexpected,” said Abdul Qaadir from her London home. “I’m at a loss for words. I’ve single-handedly brought sports to an underserviced community. It’s heartbreaking.”

Abdul-Qaadir and her husband, A.W. Massey, moved to London from Tennessee three years ago.

She said she hasn’t been able to work in Canada since August, when her work permit expired and wasn’t renewed by a Canadian border official. 

“We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do. We aren’t sure. We’re angry and we’re tired. We put our heart and soul into this application. We felt like we checked all the boxes.” 

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and her husband, A.W. Massey, moved to London, Ont. three years ago from Tennessee. (Submitted by A.W. Massey)

Abdul-Qaadir led a four-year battle against the International Basketball Federation, which banned religious head coverings on the court. She won, but sacrificed her basketball career to do so.

She had been the leading high school point scorer for both boys and girls in Massachusetts, and went on to play for the University of Memphis in Tennessee, where she was the first woman to play in a hijab in NCAA Division 1. 

Alongside her motivational speaking gigs, she teaches at the London Islamic School and has opened a basketball academy in London, but all that is now up in the air. 

On Thursday, Abdul-Qaadir got a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that said she doesn’t “meet the requirements for immigration to Canada.” 

She applied for permanent residency as an athletic director at the London Muslim Mosque, but her duties — including developing, managing and supervising the school’s physical education and athletic programs, as well as being the head coach for the basketball, volleyball and cross-country teams — are “inconsistent with the actions” of an athletic director. 

“I am not satisfied that your stated duties is sufficient to indicate that your role involves plan, organize, direct, control and evaluate the operations of comprehensive fitness programs at this organization. I am also not satisfied that you performed a substantial number of the main duties for this [job classification],” IRCC wrote in her letter.   

Abdul-Qaadir said she doesn’t know if she and her husband will fight the refusal. 

Abdul-Qaadir set the state record for the highest all-time high school scorer for men and women in Massachusetts. ( Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photographer)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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Mastercard expands cryptocurrency services with wallets, loyalty rewards

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Mastercard Inc said on Monday it would allow partners on its network to enable their consumers to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrency using a digital wallet, as well as reward them with digital currencies under loyalty programs.

The credit card giant said it would offer these services in partnership with Bakkt Holdings Inc, the digital assets platform founded by NYSE-owner Intercontinental Exchange.

Founded in 2018, Bakkt went public earlier this year through a $2.1 billion merger with a blank-check company. Shares of the company were up 77% at $16.19 on Monday.

Mastercard said its partners can also allow customers earn and spend rewards in cryptocurrency instead of loyalty points.

The company had said in February https://www.reuters.com/article/us-crypto-currency-mastercard-idUSKBN2AA2WF it would begin offering support for some cryptocurrencies on its network this year.

Last year, rival Visa Inc had partnered https://www.reuters.com/article/us-blockfi-crypto-currency-visa-idUSKBN28B603 with cryptocurrency startup BlockFi to offer a credit card that lets users earn bitcoin on purchases.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, touched a record high of $67,016 last week after the debut of the first U.S. bitcoin futures-based exchange traded fund. It has more than doubled in value this year.

 

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

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Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou returns to work in Shenzhen, after extradition drama – Global Times

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Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei Technologies, returned to work at the tech giant’s headquarters in Shenzhen on Monday after almost three years fighting extradition to the U.S. in Canada, state-backed Chinese newspaper Global Times reported.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, completed three weeks of quarantine last week after returning to the southern city of Shenzhen where a crowd of well-wishers chanting patriotic slogans awaited her at the airport.

“Over the last three years, although we have struggled, we have overcome obstacles and our team has fought with more and more courage,” she said in a speech at an internal company event that was circulated online.

The extradition drama had been a central source of discord between Beijing and Washington, with Chinese officials signalling that the case had to be dropped to help end a diplomatic stalemate.

Meng was detained in December 2018 in Vancouver after a New York court issued an arrest warrant, saying she tried to cover up attempts by Huawei-linked companies to sell equipment to Iran in breach of U.S. sanctions.

She was allowed to go home after reaching an agreement https://www.reuters.com/technology/huawei-cfo-meng-appear-court-expected-reach-agreement-with-us-source-2021-09-24 with U.S. prosecutors last month to end a bank fraud case against her.

 

(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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