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Canadian families frustrated they will be separated on evacuation flight from China

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TORONTO —
While some Canadians are expressing relief the federal government is sending a plane to evacuate citizens out of Wuhan, China on Thursday, others say they’re frustrated their families are being separated because certain members aren’t eligible to board the flight home.

On Monday evening, some Canadian citizens who have been in lockdown for days in the Chinese city that has been the epicentre of the novel coronavirus outbreak received letters from the Canadian government informing them they have been shortlisted for a spot on the 250-seat plane.

However, the letters cautioned they are not guaranteed a seat “due to demand and the restrictions associated with this flight.”

“You should make plans for the eventuality that you are not able to board the plane,” a copy of the emailed letter obtained by CTV News read.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has said that 304 people have been asked to be repatriated from China, but only 280 of them have Canadian passports.

The recipients were also told they would be responsible for finding their own transportation to the airport and that anyone exhibiting symptoms of the disease would be barred from boarding.

The chartered flight is expected to land in Canada at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, where all passengers will be held in quarantine for 14 days before they can leave.

There has been confusion about whether permanent residents of Canada who are stuck in Wuhan will be allowed on the flight, but Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne clarified on Tuesday that only Canadian citizens will be allowed to board.

The only exception to this rule would be in cases where a minor with Canadian citizenship requires accompaniment by a guardian who doesn’t have their citizenship.

In circumstances where one guardian has Canadian citizenship and the other one doesn’t, only the Canadian citizens will be allowed to board the flight with the minor.

That’s the prospect facing Megan Millward and her family, who have been waiting in Wuhan to return home. Because her husband is a permanent resident and not a Canadian citizen, he will not be allowed to join her and their two children on the flight back to Canada.

“It’s frustrating. It’s stressful,” she told CTV News Channel on Tuesday. “It’s kind of mind-boggling because both sides say they prioritize keeping families together so we don’t understand what the problem is.”

Millward said she has called the government’s emergency hotline to explain their situation, but she said they were told there hasn’t been a change in policy.

Despite the restriction, Millward said her husband is going to accompany them to the airport in the hopes he will be able to board with them. She said they haven’t been able to tell their children he may not be returning home with them yet.

“They don’t know that their dad might not go home with them,” she said, her voice cracking.

Wayne Duplessis is in a similar situation because his wife and eldest son do not have citizenship while he and his youngest son do.

Unlike the Millwards, however, Duplessis said he plans to stay in Wuhan so that his family isn’t separated.

“I’m certainly disappointed that I can’t take my family,” he said on Tuesday.

For now, Duplessis said they plan to bunker down in the city and wait it out. He said they have enough food and water in their apartment for a month and they will do some online teaching for income.

On the other side of the world, Monte Gisborne has been anxiously awaiting news that his wife and stepdaughter will able to travel from Wuhan, where they were visiting her family, to their home in Coquitlam, B.C.

Because they are only permanent residents of Canada, he said they have been told they won’t be eligible for Thursday’s flight.

“We had a very tough night last night,” he recalled.

As the lockdown wears on, Gisborne said he’s concerned about his wife and daughter’s wellbeing in Wuhan.

“They’re scared. They’re very scared. Not because they’re unhealthy but because they’re healthy,” he said.

Gisborne said he just wants the Canadian government to tell him what their plan is for permanent residents who are still in China.

“We just want them to tell us what the plan is because really, in order to have hope, you have to understand that there’s the possibility of a positive outcome,” he said.

Richard Fabic in Toronto is more hopeful that his family will be reunited soon after he said he received the letter telling him that his 15-month-old daughter is eligible for the flight home. She is currently in Wuhan with his parents and he said he believes they have both been given the greenlight to accompany her home.

Fabic said he and his wife have experienced a whirlwind of emotions as they waited for news of their daughter.

“A lot of things are going through my mind… exhausted from the lack of sleep, just so happy to receive the news. Just a lot of emotions,” he said.

If his daughter is on Thursday’s flight, Fabic said he plans to travel to Trenton, Ont. to drop off a few things, including diapers, for his daughter, even if he won’t be allowed to see her for 14 days.

Steven Li, too, said he’s experiencing a mixture of emotions after learning that he was shortlisted for a seat on the plane back to Canada. He said he’s still trying to figure out how he will travel to the airport in Wuhan, but he’s hopeful he will be able to return home to Toronto soon.

With everything that has happened, Li said he hasn’t had a lot of time to come to terms with his feelings during the quarantine in Wuhan.

“I was thinking in my mind of all the cities in the world, it had to be the one that I’m in,” he said. “It’s kind of surreal in a sense. I’m still taking this in every day. Like this is actually happening.

I’m looking forward to going back home.”

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Many federal government employees balking at returning to offices – CBC News

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The federal government is facing pushback from employees reluctant to return to government offices after more than two years working from home.

Online forums for public servants have exploded in recent weeks with comments about the prospect of returning to offices, with employees comparing notes on the hybrid work plans each department is planning to adopt.

One comment by a Health Canada manager urging employees to return to the office, in part, to provide employees at a nearby Subway restaurant with more hours, blew up into a series of sarcastic memes online. 

A meme of Marie Antoinette.
A comment by a Health Canada manager urging employees to return to the office, in part, so that employees at a local Subway restaurant would get more hours sparked an explosion of memes in online discussions among federal workers. (Screen capture from Canada’s Federal Public Service on Reddit)

Public service unions say that while some employees want to return to working in government offices or are happy with a hybrid arrangement, a majority want to keep working from home as Canada experiences a seventh wave of COVID-19.

“We have done studies of our membership that show that 60 per cent of our members would prefer to stay in a work from home situation, 25 per cent would like to do a hybrid and 10 per cent would like to come back to the office full time,” said Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents about 70,000 workers, including scientists and computer specialists.

Union wants remote work included in collective agreements

Carr said the union has been flooded with messages from concerned members.

“I would say that our inbox is now 90 per cent about return to the office, how people are not feeling comfortable, how they have questions about masking requirements, about the need and the necessity to come into the office when they can work in the safety of their own home and do the work efficiently.”

WATCH | Treasury Board president on federal employees‘ return to work:

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier on the future of work in the public service

22 hours ago

Duration 1:53

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier explains the steps the government is taking to adopt a hybrid work environment where many employees will work part of the time from offices and part of the time from their homes.

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), which has called for a suspension of the return to the office, said his members have long favoured hybrid work. They feel the return to the office is being rushed and that their concerns aren’t being addressed, he said. 

CAPE has more than 20,000 members including economists, translators, employees of the Library of Parliament and civilian members of the RCMP.

“By and large, the people that don’t want to go back into the office have been fairly vocal about it,” said Phillips.

“They haven’t even addressed … in a lot of cases, accommodation needs.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — the largest federal government union, with nearly 230,000 members — is calling on the government to be flexible about bringing employees back into the office and to address their anxieties.

“We know that most of our members are still working remotely, and many want to continue having that flexibility,” the union said in a statement. “Remote work has become a part of everyday life for many workers and we’ll continue to fight to enshrine it in our collective agreements during this round of bargaining with Treasury Board and agencies.”

‘Hybrid work is here to stay’: Treasury Board

In an interview with CBC News, Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said hybrid work is the future of the federal public service. She said it is up to each department or agency to figure out how to make it work while keeping employees safe and getting the job done.

“Hybrid work is here to stay,” said Fortier. “So we need to really understand that hybrid work will be part of how we deliver programs and services to Canadians. I know that a lot of people believe that COVID is gone, but we’re still in a COVID space.”

The latest debate over where public servants should work was sparked by a memo from Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette on June 29, urging public service managers to develop hybrid models of work that meet the operational requirements of their departments.

“Now is the time for us to test new models with a view to full implementation in the fall, subject to public health conditions,” she wrote.

Charette said hybrid work models offer “meaningful opportunities” such a more nationally distributed workforce and more flexibility for employees while bringing people back together in an office has benefits such as enhanced generation of ideas, knowledge transfer and building a strong public service culture.

Different plans for different federal departments

That memo prompted managers to start ramping up plans for employees to start to return to government offices after Labour Day and contacting employees to formalize how many days they would be expected to work from the office.

Union leaders say the result has been a patchwork quilt with some departments telling employees to return to the office several days a week while others are more flexible.

They say the wide range of policies is also resulting in some departments trying to poach the best and the brightest talent from other departments by offering more work from home flexibility and employees seeking transfers to departments more open to working from home.

Still others are considering leaving the federal public service, rather than return to government offices.

In online forums such as Canada’s Federal Public Service on Reddit, public servants have been comparing information about return-to-office plans. While a handful support the move, many are sharply critical of the plan to bring employees back into offices, the way it is being rolled out or who is being selected to return to the office.

A man looks out a window
Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, says his union members have long favoured hybrid work but feel the current return-to-office plan is too rushed. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

In some cases, commenters reported being told to return to the office only to spend their time in video conference meetings.

“Commuting an hour a day to see no one I work with and communicate almost exclusively with (MS) Teams and email is utterly pointless,” wrote one.

“There’s the email from our ESDC DM — expected in the office at least some of the time,” wrote another. “Excuse me while I scream obscenities into the void.”

Some complained their department announced one plan – only to change it.

“We were asked to sign telework agreements, in which full time telework was one of the options,” said one commenter who said they worked at the Justice Department. “And now, suddenly, full time telework is off the table and it’s a two day in office minimum.”

Risk of contracting COVID-19 a concern for some

“They pretty much told us we wouldn’t be forced back if we didn’t want to,” responded one commenter who said they worked at Statistics Canada. “Now minimum two days starting Sept. 12.”

For others, the concern is the risk of catching COVID-19 from a co-worker or the working conditions in some government office.

Leaders such as Phillips say the comments on forums like Reddit are in line with what they are hearing from their members.

“You see all sorts of government employees comparing notes between what one department is doing and another department is doing and it’s creating mass confusion.”

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A secret no more: Canada's 1st codebreaking unit comes out of the shadows – CBC.ca

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For years, Sylvia Gellman’s loved ones were left in the dark about what she did for a living in the early 1940s. 

But in a mansion that once sat along Laurier Avenue East, Gellman and her colleagues — many of whom were women — worked to assist a top secret mission: cracking codes and ciphers used in secret and diplomatic communications during the Second World War.   

“No one outside knew what we were doing,” the 101-year-old told CBC Ottawa on Saturday.

“You were so aware of it being a secret mission. And you didn’t tell anybody. And I followed that very closely. I didn’t even tell my family.”

On Saturday morning, a plaque honouring the Examination Unit, Canada’s first cryptographic bureau, was unveiled at the Laurier House National Historic Site, next door to where Gellman once worked.

The house was also the residence of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister during the Second World War.

Gellman said while her loved ones knew she had a top-secret job, they hardly understood the breadth of her work. Those duties included typing out decoded Japanese messages before they were rushed to what was then called the Department of External Affairs. 

Intelligence was also shared with the British government’s Bletchley Park, a centre of Allied code-breaking where names like Alan Turing walked the halls

Sylvia Gellman said while her family knew she had an important job during the Second World War, she kept its precise nature a closely guarded secret. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Having the unit’s contributions to Canada officially marked with a plaque was something of a pandemic project for Diana Pepall, who’s researched the bureau since 2014. 

It’s no surprise that so few people know about the efforts of Gellman and her coworkers, Pepall said. 

“When they left, they all got a memo saying, ‘Just because war is over and you’re no longer working here, you’re not allowed to talk about this for the rest of your life.'” she said. “I’ve seen the actual memo.” 

One woman Pepall found during her research said that two years of her mother’s life had always been unaccounted for — until they were filled in by the researcher’s efforts.

“The mother was right there, and then gave a 20-minute speech that nobody had ever heard before on her work at the Examination Unit,” Pepall said. 

Researcher Diana Pepall said the Examination Unit helped the nation become more independent of Britain. She’s been looking into the bureau since 2014. (Joseph Tunney/CBC )

Helped strengthen Canada’s independence

The unit’s success also marked an important milestone in Canada’s independence within the intelligence community.

In some ways, the Examination Unit grew into the Communications Security Establishment (CSE): the national cryptologic agency that provides the federal government with information technology security and foreign signals intelligence. Many employees went from one secretive organization to another, said Erik Waddell, who also works for CSE.

“The codebreaking work they did during the war proved, not only to our allies, but to Canadian government officials and ministers and the prime minister, that there was in fact a value in Canada having its own independent intelligence gathering ability,” he said. 

“[It also proved] that it was worth preserving that capacity after the war.”

The work of Gellman and others, Waddell said, also “helped build, foster and maintain” partnerships with its allies, something that’s been crucial to the establishment of Five Eyes, a key intelligence-sharing alliance on today’s world stage.

For Gellman, the Examination Unit was more than just her place of work: it was a second home where she met two lifelong friends. 

Having lost a brother in the war, Gellman said she understood her job’s importance and was proud to work at the cryptographic bureau.

“I felt the whole thing was amazing, what was going on,” she said. “I really did.”

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Its a Jungle out there: Microscopic Threats abound

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COVID-19 and its many variants, Monkeypox and several sexually transmitted diseases that have been with us for many decades looking for hosts. Yup, these viruses have been with us for a long time and infection rates are continually increasing. Protection from these invaders is legion and often have some familiarity with each other. HIV infections have increased globally by 23% since 2018. There seems to be a new Sexual Transmitted disease(STD) announced every few months. Viruses have regional pandemic control, but with the ease of travel the spread of threatening viruses continues and our health systems are often not ready for this spread. Our medical professionals are at their wits ends, burnt out and often migrating to a newer, less stressful profession, leaving us with staff shortages globally.

How to stay safe and healthy during this time? Well, don’t laugh folks. Really. Here goes.

1. Get your vaccinations for Covid-19 and Monkeypox(where available).

2. Masks are still a barrier between you and what can harm you in the air around you.

3. Know who you’re having intimate relations and contact. Meaning who you are getting close to, hugging, kissing and yes having sex with. Monkeypox passes onto others through contact with clothing, fabric items, intimate touching etc. Do you remember the old 6-9 feet rule(2-3 meters)? That will work. Monkeypox spreads through the contact period. Sexual contact too, even if you are using protection like a condom(good for you if you’re trying to ward off STDs). Know the activities of family members, and keep in mind that your family and communities overall health is dependent upon what we all do. If there is a person who goes to bars, sporting activities and the like, who gets into large groups of people where there is a chance of infection? I guess what I am trying to say is that a person who walks into a very dark alley late at night should not be surprised if a bad thing could happen to them. Victim shaming? No way. Being realistic and using commonsense to plan my activities. Take yourself away from places and persons who could possibly infect you.

4. Educate yourself, family and friends. Knowledge will help you stay away from the viral crouching tigers out there, waiting to pounce upon you. True medical professionals can and will help you, educate and direct you towards a healthy outcome. So-called fake news needs to be ignored.

These last two years have been difficult for sure. I know of 17 individuals who have died because of Covid-19, several people who have been struggling with various STDs for years, and no one who has been infected by Monkeypox. All the illnesses that surround us have one thing in common. The host allows them in, either through ignorance or mishap(unintentionally). So far my family and I have been safe from these viruses. Fingers crossed eh?

Folks, what do you tell your children when they need to cross the street? Look both ways before crossing. Good advice folks. Observe your surroundings and think carefully before you act.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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