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Canadian orphan in Syrian camp set free, will come to Canada – CBC.ca

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A five-year-old Canadian girl stuck inside Syria after her family was killed in an airstrike is on her way to Canada.

Her family in Toronto says they were told Sunday that the child, known as Amira, was in the care of a Canadian consular official.

Amira was found on the side of the road last year and was taken to a refugee camp in a region of Syria controlled by Kurdish-led forces. Led by the girl’s uncle, the family has been trying to get her to Canada since.

“We are delighted by this news and would like to express our gratitude to everyone who has made this possible,” they said in a statement Monday.

“We would kindly request privacy as my niece transitions into her new life in Canada.”

Frustrated by perceived inaction on the part of Canadian officials and worried for Amira’s safety, her family filed a lawsuit against the government in July seeking to force it to repatriate her.

The family had argued the federal government was violating her rights by refusing to provide emergency travel documents, and by failing to make the necessary official requests of the regional Syrian government to get her repatriated.

The Liberal government had said that a lack of Canadian consular services in Syria made helping her very difficult, but in a statement Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said his department has been actively engaged in the case.

He said he was pleased the child will soon be united with family, and thanked the military and Defence Department for their assistance.

“The focus is now on protecting the child’s privacy and ensuring that the child receives the support and care needed to begin a new life here in Canada,” Champagne said.

Repatriation a ‘breakthrough’: family’s lawyer

Amira was one of dozens of Canadians, including many children, who are among thousands of foreign nationals at the Al-Hawl camp in northeastern Syria.

The facility is home to both refugees from the Syrian civil war but also those detained under suspicion of having ties to Islamic State fighters; Amira’s parents were Canadians believed to have fought for ISIL.

When asked about the repatriation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t offer more details today but said this is an “exceptional case” of an orphan who no longer had any close family.

WATCH | Trudeau responds to a reporter’s question on an orphaned Canadian’s repatriation from Syria: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau addresses reporters about the federal government’s decision to bring a five-year-old Canadian orphan stranded in Syria, back home to Canada. 0:30

Human rights advocates and others have urged governments to repatriate their citizens, especially children, and rehabilitate them, rather than leaving them imprisoned overseas in unsafe conditions worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ottawa lawyer Lawrence Greenspon, who represented Amira’s family, said her repatriation is a “breakthrough.”

“It also gives hope to the families of the other 46 Canadians being held in northeastern Syria,” he said.

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

  • New restrictions for Winnipeg to begin Monday after Manitoba reports record number of new cases.
  • Canadians must reduce contacts by 25 per cent to reduce COVID-19 transmission, says top doctor.
  • Alberta reports dramatic increase in new cases compared with the last 10 days.
  • U.S. surpasses 9 million cases of COVID-19.
  • South Dakota breaks record for coronavirus infections reported in single day.
  • U.K. could see new lockdown in days as virus cases surge. 
  • Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca.

The latest federal modelling on COVID-19 suggests the surge in cases could continue in the coming weeks unless Canadians take action now, which has prompted a new warning from the country’s chief public health officer.

Dr. Theresa Tam on Friday said that based on the current projections, Canadians need to cut their contacts by 25 per cent in order to get the second wave under control to the point where daily counts may drop below 2,000.

Without reducing the rates of contact, Canada could see COVID-19 case counts rise to 8,000 per day come early December, she said.

WATCH | Keep Halloween activities outdoors, says infectious diseases specialist:

People should keep Halloween activities outdoors while making sure that kids don’t cluster together for candy when trick-or-treating, says infectious diseases specialist Dr. Matthew Oughton. 1:35

On Friday, Canadian health officials reported a record-breaking number of new cases, totalling 3,457.

Tam said the country has lost its lead in the ongoing “dance” with COVID-19 after curbing cases over the summer, and taking it back will require discipline.

“What comes next for us this fall and winter is for every one of us to determine through our decisions and our actions,” Tam told a news conference. “Letting down our guard and letting this virus win is not an option.”

Large increases in infections were reported Friday in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. 

Manitoba saw its highest single-day spike with 480 new cases on Friday. Winnipeg is being placed under “red alert” pandemic restrictions, starting Monday.

WATCH | Winnipeg faces more restrictions due to COVID-19 surge:

After a record-breaking day for COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, the province announced more restrictions for the Winnipeg area and prepared for an influx of cases at hospitals. 2:14

That means bars and restaurants will only be allowed to offer takeout and delivery. Most retail stores will be limited to 25 per cent capacity. Movie theatres must close, and sports and recreation programming will be suspended. In the rest of the province restaurants, bars and stores will be limited to half capacity.

Religious services will be capped at 15 per cent in the Winnipeg region and 20 per cent elsewhere. Public gatherings across the province will be capped at five people — a restriction that was recently implemented in the Winnipeg region only.

The restrictions are to be in place for at least two weeks and will be reassessed at that time, said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer.

The new measures were announced as 12 doctors in the province published a letter on Friday in the Winnipeg Free Press directed toward the premier and health minister, stating it’s time for a provincewide shutdown


What’s happening in the rest of Canada 

As of 10:15 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 233,014 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases, with 27,952 of those active. Provinces and territories listed 194,735 as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 10,119.

Ontario reported 1,015 new cases of COVID-19 on Saturday, up from 896 cases added to the count on Friday. Locally, there are 325 new cases in Toronto on Saturday, 282 in Peel Region, 94 in Ottawa and 88 in York Region.

A pumpkin vendor waits for customers at a market in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his children will not be trick-or-treating this year because Ottawa is considered one of Ontario’s hot spots.

The province has recommended against going door-to-door for candy in the modified Stage 2 public health unit regions of Ottawa, Peel Region, Toronto and York Region.

In Quebec, children can go out as long as they stay with members of their own household. Health officials in British Columbia are recommending people keep their trick-or-treating groups to six people or fewer.

Quebec reported 1,108 new cases, 1,150 new recoveries and 18 new deaths on Friday.  

Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday said a plan is coming next week to ease COVID-19 restrictions in the province’s hot spots.

John Oliveira, left, helps load hockey equipment for nine year-olds Delcan Morgan, left, and Anthony Oliveira, right, after having a small group session of on-ice practice in Brampton, Ont., on Oct. 26. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Ford said he has asked his health advisers to put together a strategy to allow shuttered businesses in the regions to safely reopen.

Restrictions that banned indoor dining in restaurants and bars and closed gyms were put in place in the so-called hot spots on Oct. 10. The measures were intended to be in place for 28 days and are set to expire next Saturday.

Ford could not provide any details of the plan or say how the plan would impact restaurants and gyms.

In Peel Region, the city of Brampton is not helping the cause. Its weekly test positivity rate rose to 9.6 per cent for the week ending Oct. 24, according to a Peel Health Surveillance report published on Friday.

(CBC News)

This represents a 1.5-point increase from the previous week, when Brampton sat at 8.1 per cent positivity. This is well above the five per cent benchmark used by infectious disease experts to signal the virus could be under control.

Brampton’s positivity rate is two-and-a-half times higher than the national figure.

WATCH | Gym owners, patrons frustrated by renewed COVID-19 closures:

Despite Manitoba’s surge in COVID-19 cases, gyms remain open in most of the province even though the facilities are closed in Ontario and Quebec. Gym owners and patrons are increasingly frustrated and want to know why they’re paying more to contain the pandemic than other jurisdictions. 1:57

In Alberta, health officials reported a record number of new cases in a single day on Friday, with 622 new infections. There are currently 140 people in hospital with COVID-19 in Alberta, with 25 of them in intensive care. The Edmonton and Calgary health zones have about 2,000 cases each.

New Brunswick reported one new COVID-19 case and three recoveries on Friday.

That comes a day after the province reported four new confirmed cases, declared an outbreak at a special care home in Balmoral and announced new isolation rules for people who travel outside the Atlantic bubble for work.

Newfoundland and Labrador reported no new cases on Friday for the fourth straight day. Three active cases remain in the province. 

In Nova Scotia, officials said Friday that the state of emergency would be renewed as the province announced two new cases. The emergency status will begin at noon on Nov. 1 and run until Nov. 15, unless the province extends it. 

Saskatchewan reported 76 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, with 34 of those cases coming from the Saskatoon area. There are currently 22 people in hospital, with 16 of those receiving in-patient care. 

A public health order on nightclubs is now in effect in Saskatoon, where drinking alcohol is barred between 10 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. CST, and they are required to close between 11 p.m. and 9:30 a.m. Karaoke and dance floors have been closed at the clubs, where guests are to be seated and cannot mingle between tables. 

Two medical experts told CBC News they’re worried that the number of new infections will overwhelm the province’s health system. 

British Columbia announced in a written public statement another 272 cases of COVID-19 on Friday and one additional death. There are currently 2,390 active cases in the province.

Three new outbreaks at health-care facilities were announced by health officials, who also reminded residents not to hold large parties over the Halloween weekend. 


What’s happening around the world

A database maintained by Johns Hopkins University put the cumulative number of COVID-19 cases reported around the world since the pandemic began at more than 45.6 million as of Saturday morning, with more than 29.7 million of those listed as recovered. The death toll reported by the U.S.-based university stood at more than 1.1 million.

In Britain, the government is considering imposing a new national lockdown in England, after its scientific advisers warned that hospitalizations and deaths from the resurgence of the coronavirus could soon surpass the levels seen at the outbreak’s spring peak.

A protester in London’s Parliament Square holds a poster on Friday, on Day 5 of a week-long protest action called ‘Survival in the Square,’ highlighting how the pandemic has affected opera singers and other performers. (Hollie Adams/AFP/Getty Images)

The Times of London says Prime Minister Boris Johnson could announce a month-long lockdown as soon as Monday, though the government says no decisions have been made. Any new lockdown would likely see non-essential businesses close and people told to stay mostly at home, though schools would remain open.

The U.K. is recording more than 20,000 new coronavirus infections a day, and government statisticians say the true figure is far higher. On Saturday the country is likely to surpass one million confirmed cases since the outbreak began. The U.K. has Europe’s highest coronavirus death toll at more than 46,000.

India has registered 48,268 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, continuing a downward trend.

The country’s Health Ministry on Saturday also reported 551 additional deaths, taking total fatalities up to 121,641. The figure raises the country’s total virus tally to more than 8.1 million, behind only the U.S. Over 7.4 million people have recovered.

The slowdown in daily infections has held for more than a month, with fewer than 60,000 cases for nearly two weeks. Some experts say the trend suggests the virus may have finally reached a plateau in India, but others question the testing methods and warn that a major festival due in a few weeks and the winter season could result in a new surge.

In Sri Lanka, police have, for the first time, arrested dozens of people for not wearing masks and failing to maintain physical distancing, under the new laws imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

A Sri Lankan police officer stands guard as health officers collect swab samples from rail commuters to test for COVID-19 at a railway station in Colombo on Oct. 12. (Eranga Jayawardena/The Associated Press)

Police spokesperson Ajith Rohana said 39 people were detained, and separately, another 221 were held for violating a curfew.

Since Thursday, the Sri Lankan government has imposed a curfew in the whole of Western province, where new outbreaks at a garment factory and the main fish market were discovered early this month. The province includes the capital Colombo.

Infections from the two clusters have grown to 6,945 by Saturday, including 633 in the last 24 hours, bringing to more than 10,000 the number of confirmed cases in the island nation, including 19 deaths.

WATCH | COVID-19 long-haulers share experience with prolonged symptoms:

During a World Health Organization news conference, an infectious disease epidemiologist, a nurse and a software engineer share the long-term effects they’ve had after getting COVID-19. 5:38

The United States now has nine million confirmed cases of the coronavirus, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins, as infections continue to rise in nearly every state.

It took two weeks to reach the mark from eight million, the fastest jump of one million yet. It had taken more than three weeks for the total to rise from seven million to eight million.

Confirmed U.S. cases are on the rise in 47 states. Deaths are up 14 per cent over the past two weeks, averaging more than 800 every day. The virus has now killed more than 229,000 Americans.

South Dakota broke its record for new coronavirus infections reported in one day on Friday as 1,560 people tested positive.

The new virus cases brought the number of cases statewide to 13,520, according to the state’s Department of Health. That means that roughly one out of every 65 people currently has an active infection.

The state has ranked second in the nation for new cases per person over the last two weeks, according to Johns Hopkins researchers. There were about 1,359 new cases per 100,000 people.

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Things fall apart in the United States — and Canada takes a hard look in the mirror – CBC.ca

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John Turner, who passed away in September, was particularly fond of a phrase that could stand now as an abiding lesson for everyone who has watched the chaotic last four years of the American experiment.

“Democracy,” the former prime minister used to say, “does not happen by accident.”

He seemed to have meant that as a call for democratic and political participation. It works equally as well as a broader statement on democracy itself and the steady progress it’s supposed to facilitate — neither of which can be taken as automatic or inevitable.

“America is no fragile thing,” former president Barack Obama said nearly four years ago as he prepared to leave the White House. “But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

The United States has offered the world a demonstration of how things can fall apart — not in one cataclysmic moment, but slowly and steadily over a long period of time as institutions and ideas erode and crumble.

Every other country on earth has to deal with the ramifications of what’s happening now in the U.S. But beyond those consequences, there’s another question for every other democracy: how do you make sure your own country doesn’t end up like that?

An age of optimism ends

Everything was not all right for the United States before 2016 — but it was easier to take a great many things for granted. “Until recently, we Americans had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same,” the American historian Timothy Snyder wrote in On Tyranny. “We allowed ourselves to accept the politics of inevitability, the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy.”

Four years later, the United States is a global symbol of political and state dysfunction, “constitutional hardball,” corruption, misinformation, tribalism, racism, nationalism, conspiracy theories, falsehood, distrust and civil unrest.

In the past six months, more than 225,000 Americans have died of a contagious disease — at least in part because their government could not be roused to properly confront it — and the governing party’s members and supporters were not willing to abandon it in response.

Paul Benson, left, clashes with Eric Artmire, one of many protesters who came to support a Back the Blue event happening at the same time and location as Democratic Congressional candidate Hank Gilbert’s Protest for Portland rally on the downtown square in Tyler, Texas, on Sunday, July 26, 2020. (Sarah A. Miller/Associated Press)

Now, at the conclusion of another presidential election campaign, the ability of the United States to fulfil even the basic requirements of democracy — free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power — is in doubt. “Democracy is on the ballot in this election,” Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris recently said.

How did it come to this? There’s no shortage of possible explanations. Legislative gridlock. A poorly designed electoral system. A lack of regulation over the use of money in political campaigns. The treatment of politics as entertainment or sport. The weakening of mainstream media and the rise of partisan outlets and social media. A failure of major media outlets to properly grasp or respond to the challenges of the moment. Maybe even a national history of conflict.

Norris has argued that populist authoritarianism has been on the rise around the world because of “a cultural backlash in Western societies against long-term, ongoing social change.” In other words, those who fear losing power or being left behind have turned to leaders who speak to their grievances.

The four horsemen of a political apocalypse

In their book Four Threats, political scientists Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman point to four broad issues that have defined every moment of crisis in the history of American democracy: political polarization; conflict over social belonging and political status along lines of race, gender, nationality or religion; high and growing economic inequality which spurs the wealthy to protect their own interests; and excessive executive power. Only now, they argue, have all four of those threats been active at the same time.

There are reasons to believe the Canadian democratic system is better designed and more durable than that of the United States. But no system is foolproof — and centralization of executive power and the overbearing nature of party discipline are longstanding concerns in Canada.

Chadwick Workman leads chants as protesters march down Monroe Street during a “Manifesting Our Momentum” event at the Lincoln statue in front of the Illinois Capitol building in Springfield on Sunday, June 7, 2020. The rally and march featured U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., as well as other community, faith and elected officials. (Ted Schurter/Associated Press)

It’s not obvious that our institutions and media would respond effectively to a populist authoritarian leading one of the country’s major political parties and trampling democratic norms and rules at will. For that matter, it’s fair to ask how well our political system has responded to challenges over the past decade — everything from aggressive parliamentary tactics like prorogation and omnibus legislation to policies that specifically target immigrants and ethnic minorities.

If public cynicism is a concern, there was some solace in survey results released this week by the Samara Centre for Democracy — which found that 80 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with the state of democracy in this country. But significant skepticism remains: 63 per cent of those surveyed agreed that the “government doesn’t care what people like me think,” while 70 per cent said that “those elected to Parliament soon lose touch with the people.”

Canada is not necessarily immune to any of the forces that might be driving what has happened to the United States, including polarization.

As Mettler and Lieberman write, differences across political parties can be good and healthy. There’s a downside to fetishizing centrism or bi-partisanship. But the system can start to break down when politicians and citizens view each other as enemies rather than rivals.

Mutual contempt

“We are so locked into our political identities that there is virtually no candidate, no information, no condition that can force us to change our minds,” American journalist Ezra Klein wrote in Why We’re Polarized. “We will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is a politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion, or accountability.”

There is evidence that Canada’s federal parties and their supporters have polarized — though not to the same degree as in the United States. “As our political parties have become more ideologically distinct, their strongest partisans have tended to feel more distant from each other,” a team of researchers reported last fall.

Climate change activists and a few counter-protesters supporting the oil and gas industry gather for a march and rally with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg at the Alberta Legislature Building in Edmonton on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. (Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press)

Canadians themselves have not become more extreme in their beliefs, said Eric Merkley, a researcher at the University of Toronto — but the ideological beliefs of party supporters are now more distinct and partisans in Canada increasingly dislike those on the other side of the fence.

Americans still register higher levels of discomfort with the idea of a close association — like an in-law — being a supporter of the other party. One other possible difference, Merkley suggested, is that the social identities of Canadians — such as race and religion —are not nearly as aligned with political identity as they are for Americans. It’s also possible that American institutions are “not as capable of dealing with polarized parties” as those in other systems, such as the Westminster parliamentary model in Canada, Merkley added.

When ideology meets regional alienation

Merkley said he’s not worried yet about polarization in Canada — in some ways, it only makes sense that partisan sorting has occurred — but it is still something to keep an eye on.

In the Canadian context, stark political differences might manifest as threats to national unity — like the current split between Conservative voters in the Prairies and progressive voters elsewhere.

Consider the not-unrelated debate over climate change, which still threatens to be less about how to solve the problem than whether to even try. The challenge of transitioning to a low-carbon economy while holding the country together remains profound.

A protester wearing a yellow vest was one of a few hundred people who gathered on Parliament Hill on July 1, 2020 to protest the Trudeau government, mandatory mask policies and other issues. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Canadian politics still seems downright placid in comparison with the United States. But the evolution of fundraising techniques and social media have also put a premium on inflaming passions and resentment to drive dollars and clicks. That sort of trend does not foretell a crisis, but it’s also not perfectly benign.

There are other reasons to worry as well. A study released by the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions this week found that, out of a sample of a million tweets sent to candidates during the last federal election, 16 per cent could be classified as “abusive.” Concerns about the safety of MPs and their staff were raised even before a Canadian Armed Forces reservist crashed through the gate at Rideau Hall and allegedly threatened the prime minister.

Are we forgetting how to disagree?

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, have argued that democracy depends on the acceptance of two basic norms: “mutual toleration” and “forbearance.” Mutual toleration requires an acceptance that one’s political rivals are legitimate. Forbearance means that leaders will practice “self-restraint in the exercise of power” — that they will not abuse their authority to do everything they might legally do because of the real and lasting damage that could follow.

In that respect, political leaders should be regarded as stewards of the political process itself. The very fragility of democracy should impose a duty of care.

“We cannot take it for granted that democratic politics will endure if we do not pay careful attention to the democracy-enhancing (or democracy-eroding) consequences of the things we do in politics,” Mettler and Lieberman write.

American politics is Canada’s second-favourite spectator sport. And we have long defined and measured ourselves by how unlike the United States we are. Though the term fell out of use during the Obama era, it used to be that accusing someone of participating in “American-style politics” was a grievous charge in Canada.

That oppositional tendency might serve Canada well now. But this is hardly the time for anyone to feel smug. The United States is reminding us now that nothing is guaranteed, nothing can be taken for granted.

Democracy can be silly and entertaining and a wonder to behold. But it is not a game.

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Travel restrictions eased for remote communities along Canada-U.S. border – CBC.ca

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The federal government has relaxed travel restrictions, allowing people in remote communities along the Canada-U.S. border to access the necessities of life — including food and medical services — and allowing cross-border students to attend school.

The communities of Stewart, B.C., home to about 400 residents, and Hyder, Alaska, which has a population of 63, are about three kilometres apart.

Residents and local politicians have been asking for the border to be reopened since the travel restrictions went into effect on March 21 in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. 

On Friday, Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, gave them the news they’ve been waiting to hear.

Under the new adjusted rules, the statement reads: “residents of Campobello Island, New Brunswick; Stewart, British Columbia; Northwest Angle, Minnesota; and Hyder, Alaska will be exempt from mandatory 14-day quarantine only to access the necessities of life (e.g., food, medical services) from the nearest Canadian or American community.”

The communities of Stewart, B.C., and Hyder, Alaska, are about three kilometres apart. (CBC)

Blair noted the changes, which come into effect Saturday, will allow students (and one driver) to cross the border to go to school and they also allow children who are part of a shared custody arrangement to be exempt from the quarantine period, along with a parent. 

“The limited and practical changes will continue to protect Canadians’ health and safety while removing hardships for children and for residents in remote communities impacted by the border restrictions.”

Relief in the communities

People living in Hyder and Stewart have been calling for changes to travel restrictions for months.

The President of the Hyder Community Association, Wes Loe, said people in the community are relieved, especially children who can now see their friends and attend school.

“Stewart and Hyder, it’s like one community with a border in between. We celebrate weddings. We celebrate births. It’s one community, then all of a sudden seven and a half months ago they put a wall there.”

Loe said the rule change is what residents in the remote communities needed.

“It’s a good feeling in the community. It’s a positive feeling.”

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