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Canadians seeking closure are finally holding funerals, memorials delayed by COVID-19 –



For more than a year since Neil McIlveen’s death, his family has been waiting for the opportunity to hold a large gathering to celebrate his life.

When McIlveen died in Hamilton, Ont., in May 2021, lockdown measures meant his relatives were unable to hold a proper funeral service or to physically comfort each other.

“When I needed to hug somebody and say, ‘Oh my God, Neil’s gone,’ there was nothing — so you kind of live in denial a little bit,” said McIlveen’s sister, Ann Marie Burnside.

Burnside’s is one of many families who had to pause their grieving over the past two years, as gathering limits, travel restrictions and infection fears left thousands of Canadians unable to say goodbye to a dying loved one, or to gather to honour their life afterwards.

But as Canada comes out the other side of pandemic restrictions, many families — including McIlveen’s — are planning belated memorial services for this summer. 

Neil McIlveen, left, died in May 2021, during the third wave of COVID-19 in Ontario. His niece Darlene McIlveen, also pictured, says his family is planning to hold a belated celebration of his life next month. (Submitted by Darlene McIlveen)

“People have been in a suspended state of grief for two years, not having that opportunity to mark their [loved one’s] death and celebrate their life,” said Diana Robinson, funeral director at Celebrations of Life Toronto.

About half of her summer clients are holding services for someone who passed away in 2020.

“These people have had this delayed grief experience … and you can really see the effects on the families like that.”

Similarly, Lougheed Funeral Home in Sudbury, Ont., holds about five memorial services each Saturday, and about half of those are for families who are making up for pandemic delays, says managing director Gerry Lougheed.

Grief on pause

Funeral directors say many bereaved families are discovering their grief is no less painful now than it was at the time of a death months or years ago.

“We did a service recently for a young gentleman that passed away almost two years ago, and the service was like the passing had just happened — it was still so fresh and raw,” said Kelsi Palmer from Speers Funeral Chapel in Regina. 

“Even though time has gone on since that person has left, it really feels like day one for those family and friends that didn’t get the chance at that time to have a proper farewell and gathering.”

During lockdowns, some families used video platforms like Zoom to say a final goodbye to a loved one or to watch a funeral. In this photo, a mother and daughter view a burial service online from their home in Orefield, Pa., on April 29, 2020. (Matt Rourke/The Associated Press)

That feeling is a familiar one for McIlveen’s family. Only two relatives were able to visit him in hospital before his death, holding up a phone to his ear so others could say goodbye.

The “gregarious and very outgoing” secondary school teacher had asked his relatives to hold “a big party” after his death, his niece Darlene McIlveen said.

But with gathering sizes limited, and restrictions on travel making it a challenge for another of his sisters to fly in from New Zealand, those plans were put on hold — and so was his family’s mourning.

“Last year, it seemed like a fantasy that we would ever have a big party…. There’s this lack of closure, this continuous grieving that happens,” Darlene McIlveen said.

They are hoping some of that closure comes next month, when about 100 family and friends gather to remember her beloved uncle, and to start to let go of the grief they’ve held onto for the past 14 months.

“It’s something that I’ve really not dealt with … I’m expecting [the party] to be really tough,” Burnside said.

How the pandemic changed grieving

While many families feel the time is right to finally mourn, others feel like too much time has passed, and they no longer plan to hold a service.

“Some people have said … ‘I don’t think it’s relevant to my grieving journey,’ and also, ‘I don’t think I want to bring back those memories,'” said Lougheed, the funeral director.

But skipping a ceremony could mean missing an opportunity to heal from grief, says Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, a professor of psychiatry and palliative care expert at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, who is leading a team researching the pandemic’s effects on bereavement and grief.

“Grief doesn’t wear a watch or own a calendar, it takes place in its own time course, so even if it’s after the fact, having an occasion where people can gather … to say ‘We’re here to talk about this person,’ just to say what they meant in our lives, can be healing.”

WATCH | End-of-life care expert says ‘it’s never too late to grieve’: 

‘It’s never too late to grieve,’ expert says

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Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, says belated funerals for people who died during the pandemic can give their loved ones a chance to move forward in their grief.

He says people who couldn’t be by a dying family member’s bedside, and instead had to say goodbye over Zoom or FaceTime, were left feeling like they didn’t have a chance to provide care and affirmation to their loved one at the end of their life.

The inability to hold a timely and fitting funeral soon after their loved one’s death has made it harder for people to move forward in their grief, Chochinov says, but holding some form of in-person remembrance event — however belated — can help with moving on.

“It’s not only listening to the words that are said … but also the touch, the hugs, seeing a look in another person’s eye and knowing that in this moment, you and I are sharing this collective time of grieving together,” he said.

“It allows us to take control back in some ways so that [while] we didn’t have a say over the fate of our loved one, we can make sure that that person is remembered and acknowledged in a way that would be fitting of who they were in our lives.”

Mark Irvine’s family — spread between Ontario, Alberta and Scotland — has waited two years to gather for a proper farewell for his father, John, who died in Edmonton in August of 2020.

They planned to take his father’s remains back to Rothesay, Scotland, last year, before rising COVID-19 cases twice forced them to postpone the trip.

“We were like, ‘in just a few more months, just a few more months.'”

Now, Irvine and family have just two more weeks to wait until they fly to Scotland to finally lay his father to rest and hold a celebration of life with their extended family.

“For my mother, it was non-negotiable: it’s critical that Dad goes back … and we’re going to close this out the way it should be done, and that’s with my dad in Rothesay.”

John Irvine, left, pictured here with his family, died in Edmonton in August 2020. His wife and children will travel from Canada to Scotland to hold a celebration of life service next month. (Supplied by Mark Irvine)

Irvine says the family was lucky they were able to organize their trip around school holidays, time off work, and another family event in Rothesay — an example of the new level of flexibility that the pandemic has brought to arranging memorial services, including how soon they should take place after a death.

“[Before COVID], when somebody died, it was like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to do something the next few days, and I’m going to have to leave work, and I have to get my grandchildren from school,’ whatever it is,” Lougheed said.

“Because of the delays with COVID, people now say, ‘What is the convenient date for us to grieve?'”

Planning belated memorials

Lougheed suggests instead of plucking a date at random, people choose a significant date for their memorial — for instance, the deceased person’s wedding anniversary.

“That’s a date that’s going to have memories anyway. Why not use that as the day to gather family and say, ‘Let’s get out the wedding pictures, let’s celebrate that good day.’ And you know what? We may shed some tears. We’re also going to have lots of laughter and we’re going to say, ‘Boy, look at how my hairstyle was 30 years ago.'”

Another challenge families face is how to get the word out to their loved one’s wider community, including friends and colleagues.

Robinson suggests using a digital invitation and RSVP service, such as Greenvelope, which can be shared via email, social media and text message, and posted to community and organization websites.

As for deciding on the format of a service, Chochinov says people should follow their intuition and “celebrate who that person was in ways that feel authentic.”

“After a year or two has passed, the feelings that we have and the way in which they manifest may be quite different than in the days and weeks after a death, so if it feels more like a celebration and less like a funeral, that’s perfectly fine.”

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Canada first to sign off on Finland, Sweden joining NATO – CTV News



Canada became the first country to ratify Finland and Sweden’s accession protocols to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday.

The move follows NATO leaders officially inviting the two nations to join the alliance during a summit in Madrid last week, and brings the two countries a step closer to becoming full NATO members.

“Canada has full confidence in Finland and Sweden’s ability to integrate quickly and effectively into NATO and contribute to the Alliance’s collective defence,” Trudeau said in a statement.

“Their membership will make NATO stronger and we call on all NATO members to move swiftly to complete their ratification processes to limit opportunities for interference by adversaries.”

According to The Associated Press, all 30 NATO allies signed off on the accession protocols on Tuesday, sending the membership bids to each nation for legislative approval. Both Canada and Denmark were quick to turn around their ratification documents.

“Thank You Canada! Canada is the first country to deliver its instrument of ratification to the United States Department of State, the depository of the North Atlantic Treaty!” tweeted Sweden’s Ambassador to Canada Urban Ahlin.

In Canada, the federal government made moves domestically to move through the ratification quickly, Trudeau said. This included issuing orders-in-council authorizing Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly to “take the actions necessary to ratify, on behalf of Canada.”

Ahead of Parliament adjourning for the summer, the House of Commons debated and voted on a motion signalling their support for Finland and Sweden joining NATO.

In May, the House Public Safety and National Security Committee adopted a motion expressing “strong support” for the two Scandanavian countries’ membership in the alliance. The motion also called on all NATO members to approve their applications as quickly as possible.

A debate was held on this motion on June 1, and it passed unanimously when put to a vote the following day.

“Russia’s war in Ukraine has actualized something that was once only theoretical. An authoritarian state led by an autocrat has attacked a democracy: It has demonstrated that it is willing and able to attack a democracy. It has made clear that democracies that stand alone and are not part of military alliances are most vulnerable,” said Conservative MP and foreign affairs critic Michael Chong during the House debate. “That is why it has become necessary to bring both Sweden and Finland into the NATO alliance. This is an urgent matter.”

Also taking part in the debate, NDP MP and foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson said she supports Finland and Sweden doing all they can to prevent their countries from being threatened further by Russia.

“Prior to the further invasion of Ukraine, support for NATO membership was around 20 to 30 per cent in Sweden and Finland. Now, 76 per cent of Finnish people support joining NATO. Very simply, Vladimir Putin and the aggression of the Russian Federation are responsible for escalating tensions in the region and leading Sweden and Finland to seek NATO membership,” McPherson said.

With NATO member countries having different processes for completing ratification, it could be some time still before the two nations formally become a part of the longstanding intergovernmental military alliance.

With files from Senior Political Correspondent for CTV News Channel Mike Le Couteur

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Canada Day Ottawa: 12 arrested, 50 charges laid – CTV News Ottawa



Ottawa police say 50 criminal charges were laid over the Canada Day long weekend and 12 people were arrested.

Last Friday marked the first Canada Day in Ottawa with major in-person events since 2019. Thousands of tourists and residents came downtown to celebrate the holiday. In the mix were several hundred protesters associated with the “Freedom Convoy” movement that paralyzed downtown Ottawa in February.

Ottawa police were out in force starting June 29 with the implementation of the downtown vehicle control zone, which was meant to prevent another vehicle-based occupation of the city.

Police said they arrested a dozen people in downtown Ottawa between June 29 and July 3, including people who were not involved in Canada Day events or protests. On top of the 50 criminal charges, four charges under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act were also laid.

One man was arrested on Parliament Hill June 29 for causing a disturbance. He was taken back to Toronto on an outstanding warrant.

On June 30, police charged one person with breach of release orders and Highway Traffic Act offences after a traffic stop on Highway 417 at Anderson Road.

Later that day, three people were arrested following an incident at the National War Memorial in which a police officer was allegedly choked. Charges include assaulting police, resisting arrest, causing a disturbance, and assault by choking. This incident came shortly after Canadian soldier James Topp, who is facing a court martial for criticizing the government’s COVID-19 vaccine rules in uniform, completed his cross-country walk protesting vaccine mandates. Hundreds of people had gathered at the War Memorial to hear Topp speak.

On Canada Day, one man was arrested and charged for allegedly pulling a knife on RCMP officers near LeBreton Flats after officers broke up a fight. Two more people were arrested and face several assault charges after an attack in the ByWard Market.

On July 2, police arrested two people in a vehicle and seized a handgun. Several gun and drug charges were laid. Patrol officers also seized a gun in Sandy Hill that afternoon and charged a man with drug and gun offences.

On July 3, police arrested a woman for public intoxication who allegedly spit in an officer’s face. She now also faces an assault charge.

Ottawa police did not name any of the accused.

Police are also investigating paint on public property in Strathcona Park and on Wellington Street. Protesters painted messages about convoy organizers Pat King and Tamara Lich on Wellington Street on Canada Day. Police also said earlier they laid 19 impaired driving charges over the long weekend.

Ottawa Bylaw towed 121 vehicles from the vehicle control zone between June 29 and July 3 and issued 513 parking tickets. 

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to take part in G20 despite Russia’s presence



OTTAWA — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will take part in a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this week, even though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to attend.

In March, Joly joined many others in walking out of a United Nations meeting in Geneva when Lavrov, whom Canada had brought sanctions against days earlier, began speaking.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined a walkout of a G20 meeting for finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng joined her counterparts from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand in leaving an APEC meeting in Bangkok when the Russian representative began to speak.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would take part in the G20 leaders’ meeting in November, even if President Vladimir Putin goes too, saying it is important to counteract the voice that Russia will have at that table.

Joly, who recently said it was unacceptable for a Canadian official to attend a reception hosted by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is expected to join other foreign ministers at the G20 meeting in opposing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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