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Canadian Rangers in Bearskin Lake First Nation to help with COVID-19 outbreak –



Four members of the Canadian Armed Forces have arrived at Bearskin Lake, a First Nation in northern Ontario where more than half of the population is infected with COVID-19.

Bill Blair, federal emergency preparedness minister, said Sunday that the Rangers did an initial assessment on Saturday. They’re helping deliver essential services such as food, medicine and firewood. 

Blair’s office said the Rangers will be in the community until at least Jan. 23, and more could be deployed in the coming days.

Roughly 460 people live in the remote community located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. More than half have tested positive, and even more are in quarantine. 

Chief Lefty Kamenawatamin said Sunday that as many as 60 households are isolating. Most homes are heated by wood stoves, he said. With temperatures sitting at about –30 C, firewood is an urgent need. 

Community members from Bearskin Lake First Nation unload supplies from a plane chartered by Wapekeka First Nation. (Submitted by Monica Chapman)

“We need a whole lot of supply of wood on a daily basis for each home,” said Kamenawatamin, who is isolating himself after someone in his household tested positive. With those temperatures, “it doesn’t take long for a house to be cold.”

The crisis has also taken an emotional toll, Kamenawatamin said. 

“It takes a lot out of you,” he said. “It’s been a long week.”

Nearby First Nations have donated supplies, sending planes with items such as food, medicine and air purifiers.

Tania Cameron, a First Nations woman from Kenora, Ont., has raised about $26,000 for the Bearskin Lake effort. She said Sunday that she’s already sent about $19,000 worth of groceries and supplies.

Cameron said was motivated to help after her son tested positive for COVID-19. The federal government should have responded earlier to the outbreak in Bearskin Lake, she said. 

Boxes of food are prepared before distribution to households in Bearskin Lake First Nation, a remote community located 600 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont. (Submitted by Rodge McKay)

“I don’t think this is going to be limited to Bearskin Lake,” Cameron said. “I understand leadership of all First Nations are doing their best to prepare for outbreaks in our communities.”

At Bearskin Lake, she said, “they’re running out of helpers.”

Sol Mamakwa, the MPP for Kiiwetinoong, said he believes that the federal government would have responded faster if it was another municipality in Ontario.

He travelled to Bearskin Lake during the outbreak, he said, and saw the lack of federal presence.

“When I went there, it was ghost town-like,” Mamakwa said. “It was kind of eerie where you see no children, no kids running around. I saw maybe 25 to 30 people my whole trip there. I was there about six, seven hours.

“The ones I was talking to, I know they were exhausted. They were tired, very emotional. I can see it in their eyes. I could hear it in their voices that they felt there was no end in sight.”

Nishnawbe Aski Nation Grand Chief Derek Fox, who represents 49 First Nations across northern Ontario, is from Bearskin Lake. He previously told CBC News that the First Nation appreciates the help.

“The problem is there’s no boots on the ground,” he said. “So whatever comes into the First Nation, there’s no one there to deliver those things. There’s no one there to cut the wood.”

The province says it’s sent $40,000 “in COVID support” to the community and another $121,000 to help with the current outbreak. The Ministry of Health has also sent an additional 1,000 rapid testing devices.

The Ministry of Indigenous Affairs said in a statement on Sunday that it’s “providing support to address urgent gaps, such as the purchase of wood splitters to ensure community members who are in isolation have access to wood.

Concern for elders

“Surge capacity funds are also being provided … to address transport of needed vehicles into the community, retrofitting of vehicles, rentals, charter fights for food and supplies, and/or supports for relief workers.”

Kamenawatamin said the community is about 80 per cent vaccinated, but he’s concerned about elders, infants and vulnerable people with chronic health conditions.

Cameron said she wanted to send the message that people care.

“There’s a whole lot of people watching Bearskin Lake, and there’s a whole lot of love for people in Bearskin Lake,” she said.

“I want the community members to know there’s a lot of donors out there, and there’s a lot of prayers to your community to overcome this sickness, this illness. So know that you’re loved.”

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Trudeau says Canada fears armed conflict in Ukraine as Russia ramps up aggression – CTV News



Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is once again condemning mounting aggression from Russia against Ukraine, indicating that Canada fears the situation could dissolve into armed conflict.

Trudeau said Russia’s military buildup at various regions along the border is “absolutely unacceptable” and that Canada is ready to proceed with “serious consequences” should the situation further escalate.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government, what they’re saying and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border. This is a concern shared by our allies around the world,” he said, speaking in French.

Trudeau held a call with key ministers on the file on Tuesday evening, including Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly who is meeting with top officials in Ukraine this week.

He reiterated that Canada continues to support the Ukrainian armed forces and national guard in training exercises through Operation UNIFIER.

The mission is expected to expire in March 2022 and when asked if the government would announce an extension, Trudeau said only that the operation is a “continued commitment.”

The U.K. and the U.S. have begun sending defence weaponry to Ukraine in response to direct requests. The Canadian government has said they are very aware of needs and will make a decision about this level of support in a “timely manner.”

The prime minister instead doubled down on Canada’s diplomatic approach, working with allies to find a resolution.

“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable. We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage to ensure that Russia respects the people of Ukraine, respects their choice to choose their governments and their direction,” he said.

“We will always be there for the people of Ukraine.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Kyiv on Wednesday to meet with Ukrainian officials about the situation.

There, Blinken said Russia had plans to boost its military presence of some 100,000 troops along the border and suggested that number could double soon. Blinken also said he would not be presenting a formal written response to Russia’s demands when he meets on Friday with Russia’s foreign minister.

Russia objects to Ukraine’s desire to join NATO and is calling on members to reject new treaty membership.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has dismissed claims that enhanced military presence at the Ukrainian border indicates an imminent full-scale attack.

Joly is set to meet with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday.

A handful of Liberal MPs penned a letter to Government House Leader Mark Holland requesting an urgent debate on the Ukraine situation as it would provide an opportunity for “members of Parliament of all parties to discuss Canada’s and the international community’s response to this crisis.”

Holland responded saying he will prioritize the request when the House returns, which is scheduled for Jan. 31.

The Conservatives have criticized the Liberals for not taking a harder line with Russia, and have called on the government to send lethal weapons to Ukraine for defence purposes. Meanwhile, the NDP have endorsed a non-militarized approach.

With a file from The Associated Press

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Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy



Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.

Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”

Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.

Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.

The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.

Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.

“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”

It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.

Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.

Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.

“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”

Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.


(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)

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Canada, echoing U.S., says it fears armed conflict could erupt in Ukraine



Canada fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any more aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice”. Moscow, which has stationed military equipment and tens of thousands of troops near the border, denies it is planning an invasion and blames the West for rising tensions.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government … and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border,” Trudeau told a news conference.

Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau said.

“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage.”

Canadian troops are in Latvia as part of a NATO mission and Trudeau said they would “continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front”.

Canada has had a 200-strong training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Tuesday said Ottawa would make a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.

Trudeau side-stepped a question about sending defensive weapons, saying any decision would “be based on what is best for the people of Ukraine”.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Will Dunham and Philippa Fletcher)

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