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COMMENTARY: ‘Freedom Convoy’ will be brief footnote in histories of Canada’s pandemic struggle –



The “Freedom Convoy” protesters came to Canada’s capital to make history.

And they will — just not for the reasons many of them are imagining.

This is not the start of a popular uprising that will shake the Canadian government to its core, put the prime minister in jail, make the Senate and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon the supreme authority of the land, bring an end to all vaccine mandates and other COVID-19 restrictions, and kickstart a libertarian revolution of absolute rights without social responsibility.

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The premiers of Ontario and Quebec will not face charges of treason, nor will Canada’s chief public health officer.

Despite what some of the demonstrators want their fellow citizens to believe, future historians won’t speak of anti-vaccination and anti-mask activists in the same breath as freedom fighters like Louis Riel, Rosa Parks and the Allied soldiers who liberated survivors of the Holocaust.

What historians will recall about this mid-winter protest — including the plugging of Wellington and other Ottawa streets by a few hundred big rigs and smaller trucks — is the following footnote to the story of Canada’s monumental struggle against COVID-19: “In late January 2022, a small but noisy segment of the country’s population, entirely out of step with the great majority of vaccinated Canadians, boiled over with anger and resentment for being unavoidably marginalized and pressured to conform in the midst of a once-in-a-century global health emergency that demanded national consensus, concerted collective action and a basic belief in science.”

The Freedom Convoy might also merit mention in some future history of the Conservative Party of Canada as an example of its disastrous flirtation with anti-democratic forces that infiltrated and discredited an otherwise merely hapless, misguided fringe movement of some unvaccinated Canadians.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says ‘fringe minority’ in trucker convoy with ‘unacceptable views’ don’t represent Canadians'

Trudeau says ‘fringe minority’ in trucker convoy with ‘unacceptable views’ don’t represent Canadians

Trudeau says ‘fringe minority’ in trucker convoy with ‘unacceptable views’ don’t represent Canadians

Fringe? Yes, Trudeau got that right. Badly hobbled Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has tried to walk a tightrope between praising the protest as an important symbol of Canadians’ pandemic angst and avoiding overt shows of support for its disjointed and partly dangerous aims. Meanwhile, the more menacing, grasping Tory MP Pierre Poilievre — now locked, it seems, in a struggle with O’Toole over the soul of their party ahead of a caucus leadership vote on Wednesday — is tweeting carefully staged, “cheerful” photos of himself with select protesters to convey his broad sympathy with their cause.

But if either O’Toole or Poilievre are tempted to align themselves more closely with the protesters, a series of outrages perpetrated by a handful of rogue demonstrators has highlighted the peril of such a strategy: the unfurling of a Confederate flag; the occasional display of swastikas; drunken “dancing” and urinating on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; the enlisting of a bronze Terry Fox to hold an upside-down Maple Leaf and “Mandate Freedom” sign; the swarming of the Rideau Centre by an anti-masker flash mob; the crashing of a local soup kitchen by pushy protesters demanding free meals.

Trucker Convoy Ottawa protest

Despite what some of the demonstrators want their fellow citizens to believe, future historians won’t speak of anti-vaccination and anti-mask activists in the same breath as freedom fighters like Rosa Parks, says Randy Boswell.

Randy Boswell / Special to Global News

These were, it must be said, aberrations. And not to minimize certain incidents that are being investigated by police, but there is a statistical probability that several acts of sheer stupidity will occur every time there’s a large gathering of people.

A few hours spent mingling with Hill demonstrators at the height of their protest midday Saturday was enough to discern the less shocking, more typical themes of people’s participation: opposition to all vaccine mandates and a fierce hatred of Trudeau and his government.

Some, of course, are convinced the pandemic itself is a grand conspiracy; some want Trudeau and other political leaders summarily removed from office (and prosecuted for alleged crimes against humanity); some see a firmer embrace of God’s commandments — “Live By Faith Not By Fear” — as the true pathway out of the pandemic; and some insist that unfettered personal freedom is so sacrosanct it must always override other rights, even at the expense of Canada’s collective wellbeing.

It was illuminating that former Conservative MP and cabinet minister Maxime Bernier — now head of the People’s Party of Canada — was mobbed like a rock star when he joined the crowd just before noon on Saturday. Outcast Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, another ex-Conservative who has embraced the anti-masker, anti-vaxxer cause, arrived at the same time to many hugs and handshakes.

So yes, clearly, the fringe.

Click to play video: 'Trucker convoy: Protesters clean-up Terry Fox statue in Ottawa following outcry'

Trucker convoy: Protesters clean-up Terry Fox statue in Ottawa following outcry

Trucker convoy: Protesters clean-up Terry Fox statue in Ottawa following outcry

All of the protesters are sick and tired of COVID-19, like the rest of us; this much deserves empathy. Vaccine mandates and other public health measures imposed over the past two years have affected everyone adversely. And sadly, given the fact some of these protesters are proudly unvaccinated and resist mask-wearing and presumably other basic anti-COVID measures, they have almost certainly suffered job losses and other hardships at higher rates than the rest of the population — including sickness and the loss of family members to the disease.

Nevertheless, the mandates have been necessary to ensure the survival of as many vulnerable Canadians as possible in the face of an unrelenting virus. Public health experts and governments have pleaded with citizens to get vaccinated, and then pressured and penalized those who continue to refuse, because vaccination is the most effective way to avoid death, to avoid overwhelming hospitals, and to chart our best route out of this crisis.

These facts are not acknowledged by the protesters. As they gathered in Ottawa this weekend to express their views — as is their right — hospital wards and ICUs and healthcare workers across Canada remained strained to the breaking point in large part because unvaccinated patients have disproportionately overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system.

This is why vaccine mandates and other anti-COVID rules remain in place across Canada, at least for now.

And it’s why unvaccinated cross-border truckers, even if Canada lifted its mandatory vaccination policy in response to the incessant horn honking of the past few days in Ottawa, would drive straight into an equally strict U.S. vaccine mandate to protect that country’s population.

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Many of the Ottawa protesters, it can be safely said, are not merely unvaccinated Canadians exercising their choice to opt out of the country’s crucial inoculation blitz, but vocal anti-vaxxers deluded by misinformation and determined to spread it themselves. They represent some small percentage of the unvaccinated 10 per cent, so we need to be wary of overstating how many others they truly speak for.

Click to play video: 'Trucker protest: Saskatchewan premier says those who performed ‘despicable’ acts ‘owe an apology to Canadians’'

Trucker protest: Saskatchewan premier says those who performed ‘despicable’ acts ‘owe an apology to Canadians’

Trucker protest: Saskatchewan premier says those who performed ‘despicable’ acts ‘owe an apology to Canadians’

We can, however, at least comprehend and defend their loud but peaceful venting of anger and anxiety over the impact of the pandemic on their lives.

Who hasn’t felt like screaming at certain times over the past 23 months?

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It’s fair to say that all of this has been divisive — but only to a degree, and certainly not in the epic sense that some politicians have tried to suggest. The pandemic has divided Canadians in a way that’s actually been minimized by federal, provincial, territorial and municipal governments’ largely successful campaigns to get the vast majority of Canadians vaccinated.

A 50-50 split in public opinion over the merits of taking a jab would have been profoundly divisive for Canada; a 90-10 split is, in fact, minimally so.

Historians, who are big-picture storytellers, will understand this. And in their chronicle of these pandemic years, they will briefly note the boisterous but wrong-headed, incoherent cries of injustice voiced by some unvaccinated protesters, circa 2022, representing a thin fraction of public opinion in Canada.

Randy Boswell is an Ottawa journalist and Carleton University professor.

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Indigenous conservation Canada’s way of the future, Guilbeault says



Tanya Ball began her career as a social worker for the Kaska Dene First Nation. Now she runs a land guardian program, working to monitor and protect a vast stretch of the band’s northern British Columbia wilderness.

But she’s still a social worker, in a way.

“Land guardians can help the land heal,” she said. “And the land can help the guardians heal.”

Ball is at the forefront of the new way Canada protects its remaining healthy rivers, lakes, forests, mountains and plains. Crown governments would once rope off an area deemed particularly scenic or good for outdoor recreation and call it a park.

No longer.

“There’s no future when it comes to conservation where the federal government is involved (and) Indigenous people aren’t involved from the get-go,” said federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault. “This traditional model is a thing of the past.”

Conservation is now something Indigenous people lead instead of something done to them. Most protected areas in Canada are now being proposed by Indigenous groups, who aim to look after those lands themselves.

There are now about 80 protected areas in Canada monitored by the people to whom the lands originally belonged. Some are designated only by the local First Nation and some are part of the national parks system.

But more — many more — are on their way.

The most recent federal budget contains funding for at least another 27 Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. Ottawa just signed a memorandum of agreement with the Nunatsiavut government in Labrador to develop one with both parties involved from the start.

It’s the only way Canada is going to fulfil its international promise to protect 30 per cent of its land mass, said Sandra Schwartz of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.

“Achieving those protection targets for Canada are realistic,” she said. “Many of those opportunities are on Indigenous land.”

Indigenous conservation comes from the historic cultural attachment to the land and the political desire for a land base, said Val Courtois of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative, who has been involved in the movement for years.

“The assertion of rights in Canada has always been about that relationship to place. This is just a new way of describing that responsibility.”

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas have been created under federal, provincial and band structures and vary widely in how they function and what they do. Some don’t meet international conservation area standards and won’t count toward Canada’s 30 per cent goal.

But they all involve some level of Indigenous co-management, they all involve land-use planning and they all involve guardians — local First Nations people charged and trained with stewarding the land.

Ball said her staff of eight takes water samples, makes maps, monitors hunting, delineates archeological sites, keeps track of visitor impacts, watches animal movements, assists conservation officers and runs research projects.

“They’re very busy,” she said.

One thing they don’t do is put up fences. Indigenous Protected Areas aren’t meant to keep anyone out, Courtois said.

“I would fall off my chair if I heard of an Indigenous group that is saying ‘let’s exclude everybody,’” she said. “There may be small portions that are particularly sacred, but the idea of exclusion of people is an antithesis of how we understand these places.”

Decisions on local development are made locally, she said.

Tara Shea of the Mining Association of Canada said her group generally supports Indigenous protection — as long as the process is transparent and potential mineral tenures are considered in advance.

“We strongly believe mineral development and biodiversity conservation can go hand-in-hand.”

There are challenges. While the federal government has set aside more than $300 million since 2018 for Indigenous conservation, Guilbeault acknowledges a source of permanent funding for such programs is still being sought.

“We don’t do permanent programs. The philanthropic world has played a huge role in conservation and will continue to. We welcome their involvement.”

Ottawa, the Northwest Territories, area First Nations and the U.S.-based Pew Charitable Trusts are currently negotiating a way for Pew money to finance the guardian program at the Edehzhie National Park and Indigenous Protected Area.

Another obstacle is the varying degrees of support from provincial governments, which control most of Canada’s Crown land.

“The level of enthusiasm varies,” said Guilbeault, who declined specifics. “Some provincial governments don’t believe in the government-to-government relationship.”

Courtois agrees.

“It’s tough for provinces,” she said. “They’re used to being in the driver’s seat.”

Ball believes Indigenous conservation is important for the whole country as a crucial component of reconciliation. She sees what happens if people from her First Nation go out on the land they once again help manage.

“Sometimes people want to come out just for the day. I just see a difference in people by the end of the day. Their behaviour changes, their mood has lifted,” Ball said.

“I think that’ll really help with social issues, too.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960


Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Russia is 'weaponizing' food, Joly tells Commonwealth partners – CBC News



Commonwealth leaders, meeting for the first time in four years, discussed food security and the risk of starvation as Canada’s foreign affairs minister sought to lay the blame for the impending crisis at the feet of Russia.

“What is clear to us is that Russia is weaponizing food, and putting a toll on many countries around the world, and putting 50 million lives at risk,” Mélanie Joly told reporters late Friday, while giving a recap of the first day of the Commonwealth meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter and reportedly has more 30 million tonnes of grain in storage, waiting for export. Farmers are said to be building temporary silos and are worried because the summer harvest is only weeks away.

The country’s Black Sea ports of Odesa, Pivdennyi, and Mykolaiv and Chornomorsk serve as major terminals — shipping about 4.5 million tonnes of grain per month, but a Russian naval blockade is preventing movement.

A recent report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded that Russia is taking advantage of transportation bottlenecks to attack Ukraine’s food storage facilities.

Russian forces have attacked grain silos across the country and stolen an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes of grain from occupied regions, according to Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.

The CSIS report, posted online on June 15, noted “Russia destroyed one of Europe’s largest food storage facilities in Brovary, roughly 19 kilometres northeast of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.”

Journalists walk inside a destroyed warehouse for storing food, after an attack by Russia 12 days prior in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 29. (Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press)

The subject of the Russian blockade of Ukraine grain exports will also be at the centre of the G7 leaders meeting, beginning Sunday in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week delivered a scathing critique of the crisis, blaming the U.S. and not the Russian military actions in Ukraine for endangering food security, and rising inflation and fuel prices.

He reinforced the message in a phone call last week with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was one of the Commonwealth leaders to skip this week’s meeting.

Africa is heavily reliant on Ukrainian and — to a lesser extent — Russian grain.

For those leaders who did show up in Rwanda, Joly said Canada has been clear in assigning blame for the crisis. 

Sanctions not to blame, Joly says

“This is not the fault of the Western sanctions,” she said. “This is really Putin’s war of choice that is affecting food security around the world.”

Ten members of the Commonwealth abstained from condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a United Nations resolution last spring.

Joly said she believes Canada made “headway” at the conference in convincing some of those nations to stand more firmly with Ukraine, but she wasn’t specific.

In a policy session held before the meeting of Commonwealth leaders, there was a call for African countries to be more self-sufficient in food supplies to offset imports.

Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), told the conference said that the agriculture sector in developing countries of the Commonwealth is “heavily underinvested.” She called for adequate funding to boost “the sector productivity, strengthen its resilience and deal with climate change, as well as create jobs, according to local media reports.

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Immigration Minister: Applicants can soon expect normal service standards – Canada Immigration News



Published on June 25th, 2022 at 08:00am EDT
Updated on June 25th, 2022 at 08:29am EDT


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Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser believes meaningful steps are being taken to get the immigration system back on track.

Fraser acknowledged ongoing application processing and client experience challenges when he sat down with CIC News for an exclusive interview in Toronto earlier this week.

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Minister expects things to return to normal by the end of 2022

“The COVID-19 pandemic hampered our immigration system in two main ways. It shut down a lot of our offices around the world…we lost a lot of our horsepower as a department.”

The second way, he explained, was Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) needed to pivot to transitioning those in Canada to permanent residence since travel restrictions limited the ability of those abroad to enter the country. This was happening as new applications continued to flow in, leading to an accumulation of inventory. Then in August 2021, Canada made the commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees following the Taliban reclaiming power of Afghanistan and since February 2022, Canada has been looking to assist those impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The good news is I see light at the end of the tunnel…we’re on track right now to restore our pre-pandemic service standard by the end of this calendar year for virtually every line of business.”

Minister Fraser added the caveat that the service standard for Canadian citizenship applications may continue to lag a bit due to the inventory growing significantly at the start of the pandemic when in-person citizenship ceremonies were not an option.

Fraser: Three solutions to improve client experience and address backlogs

The minister believes the three solutions to improve the immigration system are “resources, policy, and tech.”

“On the resources side, we’ve added 500 more staff.” He also pointed out the additional $85 million and another $385 million allocated in recent federal budget announcements that will go towards improving application processing.

Meanwhile, Fraser believes Canada will need even higher levels of immigration to meet growing demand to gain Canadian permanent residence.

“The number one policy is our Immigration Levels Plan. We’re not going to chip away at the number of cases in the inventory if we don’t expand the numbers.”

In February, Fraser announced Canada would welcome over 430,000 immigrants annually beginning this year, by far the highest levels in Canadian history. He is set to announce the Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025 by November 1st of this year, which may result in another increase in Canada’s targets.

With respect to the third solution, technology, the minister said that “digital platform modernization is going to greatly increase the reliability and pace of our system.”

“These measures are starting to have an impact…a couple of weeks ago we passed 200,000 permanent residents landed in Canada.” The minister noted this has broken the previous record by 1.5 months.

Work permits have almost 250% increased compared to last year.”

IRCC’s backlog has surged to 2.4 million persons during the pandemic and the department has struggled to achieve its own targets on the length of time it aims to process applications. Since the start of this year, it has made major announcements and changes as it seeks to reduce the backlog, processing times, and give its clients more certainty. In late January, minister Fraser held a press conference summarizing IRCC’s processing goals including the steps it was taking to increase staff capacity and modernize its processes and technology.

One of the benefits has been the reduction in the Express Entry backlog. The minister told CIC News that all-program Express Entry draws are tentatively set to resume on July 6. In addition, IRCC aims to get back to its pre-pandemic service standard of processing Express Entry applications within six months beginning in July.

Another benefit is that IRCC has introduced and is in the process of introducing more case trackers to allow applicants to review the status of their files. The minister says 17 lines of business will have case trackers by the end of this summer allowing applicants to digitally monitor their status.

While challenges remain, the minister expressed great optimism to CIC News.

“My sense is by the end of this calendar year, new applications coming in will have the kind of certainty that we’ll be able to meet our service standard and people will be dealing with 60 days or 6 months or 12 months, not an undetermined period of time.”

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Special interview series with Minister Fraser

CIC News sat down with the minister on June 21, 2022 to discuss the future of Canadian immigration.

Over the coming weeks, CIC News is releasing a special series of articles elaborating on the interview with Minister Fraser on topics including:

Minister Fraser was in Toronto to speak at Collision, one of the world’s largest technology conferences.

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