Alberta became the latest province Tuesday to announce plans to ease COVID-19 restrictions, joining Quebec, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador and P.E.I.
Premier Jason Kenney said his province has passed the peak of Omicron infections and that new hospitalizations due to the virus are coming down.
“The threat of COVID-19 to public health no longer outweighs the hugely damaging impact of health restrictions on our society, on people’s mental health, on their emotional wellbeing, on our broader social health,” he said during an afternoon briefing.
“Now is the time to begin learning to live with COVID.”
Step 1, which takes effect in Alberta tonight at 11:59 p.m., will remove the restrictions exemption program — which mandated people to show proof-of-vaccination. Restrictions on food and beverages at entertainment venues will be removed and all capacity limits will be ended except at large capacity venues (500+).
As of next Monday, almost all restrictions on kids will be lifted — including masks in schools for kids in grades K-12. Outside of school, kids 12 and under will be exempt from mask mandates.
Phase 2 would take effect March 1, provided hospitalizations are still trending downward, and would include removing all indoor masking, lift all gathering limits for indoors and outdoors, and remove the work-from-home order.
Alberta currently has the highest daily case positivity rate nationally, with 36.4 per cent of all PCR tests coming back positive.
The Quebec government says most COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted across the province by March 14 — except for mask mandates and the vaccine passport system.
Premier François Legault announced a road map today that begins Saturday, when all limits on indoor private gatherings will be removed. (Though public health recommends having at most 10 people present.)
By Feb. 21, entertainment and sports venues can open at 50 per cent capacity and fully reopen on Feb. 28. The Bell Centre, home of the Montreal Canadiens, can reopen fully on March 14.
Bars and casinos will reopen as of Feb. 28 at half capacity and increase to full capacity by mid-March.
Legault, however, says his government isn’t ready to lift mask mandates or end the vaccine passport system, both of which will remain until at least March 14.
Beginning Monday, Saskatchewan will no longer require COVID-19 vaccine passports. It is also ending its indoor mask mandate at the end of the month.
Premier Scott Moe said Tuesday that providing proof of vaccination against COVID-19 to enter businesses, like restaurants, had helped in the fight against spread of the virus. But he said it also created deep divisions in the province — in effect “two classes of citizens.”
“The benefits of this policy no longer outweigh the costs,” said Moe, adding people should be able to choose whether they get vaccinated or not.
Other provinces have said they are also looking at lifting their COVID-19 measures.
In Prince Edward Island, the government will start to ease COVID-19 public health restrictions starting Feb. 17. Premier Dennis King announced today his cabinet has approved a three-step plan that will see an end to most restrictions around April 7.
King says the news should not be seen as a declaration that the pandemic is over, and some restrictions may remain in certain locations, such as hospitals.
Newfoundland and Labrador is also easing some restrictions on sports and gatherings.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald said team competition within leagues or regions can resume Monday. Tournaments are still not permitted, but single games can occur.
Also effective Monday, formal gatherings will be able to increase to 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity. Informal gatherings will remain within a person’s group of 20 close, consistent contacts.
Starting Monday, restaurants, bars, theatres, bingo halls and other performance spaces can operate at 50 per cent capacity, provided physical distancing can be maintained. Gyms, fitness facilities and arenas can also operate at 50 per cent capacity with distancing.
Restrictions for faith-based groups in the province are being loosened as of Saturday, allowing churches that require the province’s vaccination passport to operate at 50 per cent capacity and 25 per cent capacity if not using the passport.
-From The Canadian Press and CBC News last updated at 7:30 p.m. ET
What’s happening across Canada
With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, experts say true case counts are likely far higher than reported. Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.
For more information on what is happening in your community — including details on outbreaks, testing capacity and local restrictions — click through to the regional coverage below.
You can also read more from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which provides a detailed look at every region — including seven-day average test positivity rates — in its daily epidemiological updates.
In Central Canada, promoters of Quebec’s most popular festivals want the government to let them know what COVID-19 health orders they’ll face this summer, fearing the restrictions are affecting the city’s international reputation.
The province on Tuesday reported 56 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus and a 45-patient drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations, with 2,380 people remaining in hospital.
In Ontario, where visitor restrictions for long-term care eased slightly this week, health officials on Tuesday reported 42 additional deaths and said the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 stood at 2,254 — up by 99 from a day earlier.
In Atlantic Canada, Prince Edward Island’s chief public health officer, Dr. Heather Morrison, reported the death of one person over the age of 80 — the 13th COVID-19-related death in the province since the pandemic began.
Morrison said nine people are hospitalized with the disease, a decrease of two from Monday, and one patient is in intensive care. There are five other people in hospital who were admitted for other reasons but later tested positive for COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the head of Nova Scotia’s cancer care program is warning that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are causing serious backlogs in the health system that could take years to clear.
“Even if COVID suddenly disappears tomorrow, it will take years to catch up with the backlog and to rebuild the system,” Dr. Helmut Hollenhorst said. Staff availability and lack of intensive care unit beds have been an issue in the most recent wave, he said Monday.
Provincial health officials on Tuesday reported 91 people were being treated in designated COVID-19 units in hospital — unchanged from Monday — including 14 in ICU.
In New Brunswick, six more people have died as a result of COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 269 since the start of the pandemic. Health officials reported 151 people are hospitalized with COVID-19, unchanged from Monday, with 17 in intensive care.
In the Prairie provinces, Saskatchewan announced it would be making booster doses available to all people between the ages of 12 and 17, five months after their second dose.
Manitoba reported two additional deaths Tuesday. There are currently 697 people in hospital being treated for COVID-19, including 40 in the ICU.
Alberta had 1,623 people in hospital with COVID-19 Tuesday, including 129 in ICU. An additional 13 people have died from the virus.
In the North, the Canadian Red Cross has sent six nurses to Nunavut as the territory continues to experience its worst outbreak of COVID-19 to date. Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Michael Patterson says COVID-19 has reached Resolute Bay, with four presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the High Arctic community of about 200 people.
There are currently 366 cases of COVID-19 in Nunavut, while 19 people have been hospitalized and one person has died during this wave.
Yukon health officials on Tuesday reported four people were in hospital being treated for COVID-19.
In British Columbia, the pandemic remains the government’s top priority, according to the throne speech delivered today.
“After two of the most difficult years in our history, we know people are exhausted and families are feeling stretched,” Premier John Horgan said in a news release.
“That’s why our focus has been, and will continue to be, on investing to help make life better for people.”
The province reported 986 people in hospital with COVID-19 Tuesday, including 146 in the ICU.
-From CBC News and The Canadian Press, last updated at 8 p.m. ET
What’s happening around the world
As of Tuesday evening, more than 400.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.7 million.
In the Americas, the governors of four U.S. states announced plans Monday to lift statewide mask requirements in schools by the end of February or March, citing the rapid easing of COVID-19’s Omicron surge.
The decisions in Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Oregon were announced as state and local governments grapple with which virus restrictions to jettison and which to keep in place. The changes also come amid a growing sense that the virus is never going to go away and Americans need to find a way to coexist with it.
Meanwhile, California announced plans to end its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people next week, but masks will still be the rule for schoolchildren in the nation’s most populous state.
In Africa, Ugandan authorities are seeking to legally mandate vaccines in draft legislation aimed at boosting the East African country’s drive to inoculate more people against COVID-19. The bill, which is subject to changes as it faces scrutiny by a parliamentary health committee, proposes a six-month jail term for failure to comply with vaccination requirements during disease outbreaks. Alfred Driwale, a public official who leads Uganda’s vaccination efforts, said he supports the proposed changes to the country’s public health law.
Attempts by Ugandan officials in recent months to enforce limited mandates have been unsuccessful. A vaccine requirement for people using public transport failed to be implemented amid opposition from operators.
According to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker, roughly five per cent of Uganda’s population is fully vaccinated.
In Europe, Sweden has decided to lift entry restrictions for foreign nationals travelling to the country from Nordic countries and the rest of the European Union and European Economic Area from Wednesday.
Meanwhile, several German states are planning to loosen coronavirus restrictions despite rising infections, officials said.
In the Asia-Pacific region,China has ordered inhabitants of the southern city of Baise to stay home and suspended transportation links amid a surge in COVID-19 cases at least partly linked to the Omicron variant. Classes have been suspended, non-essential businesses closed and mass testing of residents ordered. Restaurants are only permitted to serve takeout.
Traffic lights have been switched to red only, to remind drivers to stay home. As of Tuesday, 135 cases had been reported in the city — at least two of them found to be Omicron, health authorities said. The city has become the latest to be placed under lockdown in keeping with China’s “zero-tolerance” approach to the pandemic. The policy requires strict measures be applied even when only a small number of cases have been found.
In the Middle East, health officials in Iran on Tuesday said 114 people had died from COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, with 38,757 additional cases reported.
-From Reuters, CBC News and The Associated Press, last updated at 8 p.m. ET
Trudeau calls overturning of Roe v. Wade 'horrific' – CTV News
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the news out of the United States that the country’s Supreme Court has voted to end constitutional protections for abortion is “horrific.”
In a series of comments posted to Twitter on Friday, Trudeau said he “can’t imagine the fear and anger” Americans are experiencing right now.
“My heart goes out to the millions of American women who are now set to lose their legal right to an abortion,” Trudeau tweeted.
“No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose,” he continued in a second tweet.
The U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion after nearly 50 years on Friday, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in multiple states.
The ruling comes more than a month after the leak of a draft opinion that indicated the court was prepared to do so, bringing renewed attention to abortion rights on both sides of the border.
Speaking at a press briefing in Rwanda with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Trudeau said Canada will continue to fight to protect the rights of everyone after the “devastating setback” in the United States.
Joly said the move to overturn Roe v. Wade is a “reversal of hard-fought gains” for women. She called it “a dark day” and noted that “no country in the world, including Canada, is immune” to the effects of what happens in the United States.
Following the U.S. Supreme Court leak, the Liberal government announced in early May it plans to spend $3.5 million to improve abortion access in Canada.
The Liberals also promised last fall to bring in new regulations solidifying abortion access as a requirement for federal funding under the Canada Health Act.
However, Trudeau previously raised the spectre of enshrining abortion rights in legislation instead, making it more challenging for future governments to change such rights.
As it stands, there are currently no Canadian laws that explicitly guarantee access to abortion as a right.
While abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988 as a result of the landmark R. v. Morgentaler case in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a federal law, no legislation was ever passed to replace it, and the issue remains an ongoing topic of political conversation in this country.
Reacting to the news on Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively “walked back women’s rights” in that country, and implored the Liberal government further improve abortion access for Canadian women living on rural communities.
“These dangerous policies that threaten women’s health and women’s lives must not be allowed to take root in Canada,” Singh said in a statement.
In a statement issued Friday, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen accused the Liberals of politicizing American abortion rights to divide Canadians, saying her party’s position on abortion has not changed.
“Access to abortion was not restricted under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Conservative party will not introduce legislation or reopen the abortion debate,” read the statement in part.
Speaking during a press briefing from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed dismay and vowed to fight to restore abortion rights in that country, including defending a woman’s right to cross state lines to seek an abortion.
“Now with Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk,” Biden said.
He added the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may threaten other high court decisions moving forward, including contraception and gay marriage rights.
“This is an extreme and dangerous path,” he warned.
With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press
Passport seekers face heartbreak, hop provinces as government promises help is on the way – CBC.ca
Aly Michalsky was supposed to be on a plane Thursday en route to her dream vacation, a two-and-a-half week tour of Thailand with a friend.
Instead, the teen was sitting at home in Montreal after she couldn’t get her passport in time, despite applying for it 12 weeks ago. She’s one of many Canadians who’ve had to postpone or cancel travel plans in recent months amid massive backlogs at passport offices across the country.
“It was something that I saved up for, for over two years,” Michalsky, 19, told CBC News Network about the non-refundable tour she booked with a friend.
Christine Paliotti, Michalsky’s mother, said she started the process of applying for her daughter’s passport on March 17 and it was supposed to be mailed by May 3. When it didn’t arrive, that was the beginning of a slog of phone calls — where there could be 200 to 300 people already in the queue, Paliotti said — waiting, being told they needed a transfer, and more waiting.
They even got their local MP involved, who Paliotti said put in calls “almost every day” for them.
Their efforts were in vain. On Wednesday, they headed to the Laval passport office in a last-ditch effort, but Michalsky said that after four or five hours, they were told there would be no appointments. That was when she realized she wouldn’t be able to go.
Paliotti said the trip itself cost over $4,000, but she estimated that total costs, including pre-travel vaccinations and shopping, were at least $5,000.
“I worked very hard for my money and I took the first opportunity I had to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Michalsky. “It’s just devastating to have to tell my friend that I couldn’t go with her.”
The federal government has attributed the lines snaking around passport offices across the country, including in Vancouver and London, Ont., to an “unprecedented surge” in applications as travel opens up again after two years of pandemic restrictions.
The sheer level of demand isn’t the only issue. Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that 85 per cent of requests are for new passports, and of those, 43 per cent are for children, both of which entail a more complex application process.
Gould said the government is adding more staff on the ground to help curb the chaos, with Service Canada deploying managers to walk the lines and speak with passport seekers before they reach a customer service agent.
This triage system will help ensure people who are in most urgent need of a passport based on flight time — those flying in the next 12, 24, 36 and 48 hours — get priority service, she said.
Gould also said more passports will be printed in bulk at the Gatineau, Que., processing centre and sent to other locations to take some of the stress off smaller passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers.
Waiting for days in the rain
The government’s new triage strategy was met with some frustration on Thursday at Montreal’s Guy-Favreau complex, which Gould has said is experiencing the worst delays in the country.
Hundreds of would-be travellers have lined up for days in the rain, and police have been called in to help with crowd control.
Antoinette Corbeil, who had been waiting in line for 36 hours, was unhappy with the shift from a first-come-first-serve system to one based on flight times.
“We organized ourselves last night in line with our numbers … and they’re letting other people in in front of us,” she said. “That’s not fair.”
IN PHOTOS | Long waits in the rain at Montreal passport office:
After the triage system began in Montreal, it was extended to Toronto on Thursday and will be rolled out in Vancouver on June 27.
While Gould said Montreal was seeing “much better progress” on Thursday, the government website that tracks wait times at the 35 specialized passport offices nationwide was still warning people to expect delays of at least six hours at the Guy-Favreau complex.
Other busy sites like Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive showed similar wait times.
Going the distance
Some passport seekers are literally going the extra mile to get their travel documents in time.
In Montreal, François Gamache had to leave Thursday for a three-week trip to France to bury his father-in-law. After being told by a Transport Canada agent on Saturday it would be “almost impossible” for his file to be processed in a week, he went to Chicoutimi, 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.
There, he waited 30 hours over two days, with no success.
On the advice of a client, he drove to Fredericton, almost 800 kilometres away, to try his luck at the passport office there. He finally got his passport on Wednesday after a three-hour wait.
Gamache estimated he spent nearly $1,000 on food, hotels and gasoline during the saga.
At the end, “I was really exhausted and I was even very emotional. I fought so hard to get it,” he said.
Despite their efforts having been in vain, Paliotti said she doesn’t blame the passport agents “who have to deal with all the pressure of the people getting angry at them” and are putting in extra hours.
Instead, she’s frustrated by what she described as a disorganized process and lack of communication by officials, as well as receiving conflicting information from passport agents.
“It’s citizens that are sharing [information]; there was a Facebook page for Montreal and surrounding area, and we got a lot of information helping each other out,” she said. “So I’m really angry at whoever’s organizing this and that they’re not doing more.”
Metro Morning11:14Long wait times for passports ‘unacceptable’, says Minister Karina Gould
Public inquiry in Nova Scotia seeking explanation from Ottawa about withheld notes
HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the Nova Scotia mass shooting wants to know why the federal Justice Department withheld notes written by a senior Mountie for several months — and if there’s more revelations to come.
“The commission sought an explanation … about why four pages were missing from the original disclosure,” Barbara McLean, the inquiry’s director of investigations, said in an email Friday.
“The commission is also demanding an explanation for any further material that has been held back.”
On Tuesday, the inquiry released internal RCMP documents that include notes taken by Supt. Darren Campbell during a meeting with senior officers and staff on April 28, 2020 — nine days after a gunman killed 22 people in northern and central Nova Scotia.
At the meeting, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, said she was disappointed that details about the firearms used by the killer had not been released at previous news conferences in Halifax, according to Campbell’s notes.
Campbell alleges that Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the Mounties would release the descriptions, adding that the information would be “tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”
The superintendent’s notes sparked controversy in Ottawa earlier this week, when the opposition Tories and New Democrats accused the governing Liberals of interfering in a police investigation for political gain — assertions denied by the government and Lucki.
Meanwhile, the commission of inquiry confirmed Friday that the Justice Department sent 132 pages of Campbell’s notes in February 2022, but they did not include his entries about the April meeting.
The missing notes were submitted to commission on May 31.
McLean says the commission is seeking assurance that nothing else has been held back, and she complained about RCMP documents that had already been disclosed.
“These documents have often been provided in a disjointed manner that has required extensive commission team review,” McLean wrote in her email. “Our team continues to review all disclosure carefully for any gaps or additional information required to fulfil our mandate.”
Michael Scott, a lawyer whose firm represents 14 of the victims’ families, said he’s concerned about the document delay.
“Any time documents are either vetted, redacted or withheld in a way that’s not entirely appropriate, it entirely undermines the process as a whole,” he said in an interview Friday.
Scott said that on top of having to read thousands of pages of records, transcripts and notes submitted to the inquiry, “now we have to be concerned we’re not getting all the documents.”
The Conservatives released a statement Friday, alleging a federal coverup.
“Canadians will find it hard to believe that the (justice) minister’s department just happened to miss those four critical pages of evidence,” the statement said. “This is no coincidence. This was no accident.”
Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, said delays in receiving information from the RCMP means the inquiry is left to grapple with important issues late in its mandate. The inquiry’s final report is due Nov. 1 and all submissions are expected by September.
“It’s unfortunate because public inquiries need the full documentary record as quickly as possible so they can make decisions on what to look at and what to not look at,” said Roach, author of “Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change.”
“If the mass casualty commission had known about this earlier, it might have decided to conduct its hearings and research in a different way,” he said Friday.
The professor said the comments from Campbell raise questions about the structure of the RCMP, and its competing mandates of being both a local and nation police force whose commissioner serves “at the pleasure” of the minister of public safety.
“My concern is that the citizens (of Nova Scotia) seem to be on the sidelines while there is tension and squabbling between RCMP Nova Scotia and RCMP Ottawa,” he said.
The Canadian Press requested comment from the RCMP, but a response was not immediately available.
Campbell said in an email that he would not comment. He said he is waiting to be interviewed by the commission.
“My interview has been scheduled and it will take place in the very near future,” he wrote.
“I also expect to be called to the Mass Casualty Commission as a witness sometime near the end of July and I look forward to both opportunities. As such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comments prior to giving evidence under oath.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press
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