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COVID-19 threatens Hollywood dream for struggling Canadians in U.S. –



As Harrison Houde sees it, his Hollywood dream isn’t over, far from it.

But with casting calls cancelled and studios shuttered, his hopes of stardom are now on hold, as he makes a strategic retreat in the face of insurmountable odds.

“No part-time job, no auditions, there’s nothing,” Houde said. “I didn’t think it was gonna get to the level that it is now.”

A 24-year-old actor from Vancouver Island, Houde has starred in shows for kids and teens like Finding Stuff Out and Some Assembly Required. Two years ago he moved to Los Angeles, hoping for his big break.

Houde admits it’s been difficult — like many who are trying to find their feet in Hollywood, he was counting on a part-time job to make ends meet. But then the coronavirus hit. Days before his first shift at a neighbourhood restaurant, California’s governor issued a stay-at-home order.

“I texted my new boss and he’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re closed.’ So I’m like, yikes, this is not good. I need to figure something out,” Houde said.

WATCH | Harrison Houde’s YouTube compilation of what he did in 2019 

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Since California issued the order on March 17, thousands of Canadian entertainers who live in the Los Angeles area find themselves in the same boat — one that has now run aground.

Those who can’t rely on royalties or residuals from past work to tide them over during the shutdown are struggling without many of the safety nets that protect other Canadian workers.

With few prospects and no income, Houde says he can no longer afford his rent in Los Angeles. So this week he gathered dozens of study boxes and a roll of tape.

“I’m making the move back to Vancouver because … there’s no work,” Houde says. “I might as well move back and try to save some money if I can.”

‘I’m a Canadian in America’

Many Canadian entertainers in the U.S. are now caught betwixt and between: ineligible for many U.S. unemployment benefits because they’re not American citizens, but also ineligible for many Canadian benefits because they’re living abroad.

Singer Sarah Daye worries that the loss of gigs might mean more than the loss of revenue – namely, that her working visa in the U.S. might be in jeopardy, too. (Sarah Daye)

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), for instance, is only available for citizens who reside in Canada. And the government says it offers no income support program for Canadians who reside abroad.

“I’m not American. I’m a Canadian in America,” says R&B singer Sarah Daye. “I don’t have a green card and I’m on a visa, so I’m not eligible.”

The Toronto native has been nominated for a Grammy, fronted the Kevin Eubanks Band (formerly the house band on The Tonight Show) and opened for Lenny Kravitz. But now, her shows are cancelled and she’s forced to chase people down for cheques she’s owed.

“So I’m kind of at the point where I’m having to be very creative about how am I going to make money,” Daye says.

That includes trying to find platforms “where they actually pay you” for performing, and even reaching out to fans for donations.

“You’ve got to kind of humble yourself and put yourself out there and ask for the support.”

‘Hoping and praying’

As if worrying about food and rent weren’t enough, many Canadians working stateside in the entertainment industry share another pressing concern: their immigration status.

Many, like Daye, are allowed to work in the U.S. thanks to an O-1 non-immigrant visa, which is reserved for those who have demonstrated an “extraordinary ability or achievement” in the arts.

However, to maintain their visa status, they have to prove they’re working continuously. In February, the Trump administration tightened immigration rules to further restrict entry to those deemed likely of needing social assistance.

Daye says she’s already on a visa extension and is scared she might not be able to renew it.

“I’m just really keeping the faith that it’s all going to work out,” Daye says. “And I’m hoping and praying that there is some support, you know?”

According to one Canadian immigration lawyer in Los Angeles, Canadian artists in the U.S. may be eligible for more support than they realize.

Zoe Kevork, managing attorney at Kevork Law and president of Canadians Abroad in Southern California, says there’s a lot of confusion about how the shutdown will affect the visa status of Canadians working in the U.S. (Zoe Kevork)

Zoe Kevork, managing attorney at Kevork Law and president of Canadians Abroad in Southern California, says she is being bombarded with questions from Canadian clients worried about how they can renew or extend their visas if the projects they’re working on are shut down.

The answer isn’t simple. “There are varying opinions on at what point are you considered to be out of status or that your visa is no longer valid,” Kevork says, especially for workers who have been furloughed.

“Is that a material change to your status where now you need to plan for another visa? There is no guidance. It’s unclear.”

Few supports for artists in U.S.

Kevork says Canadian artists on an O-1 visa for extraordinary ability are allowed a 60-day grace period without work. But if they believe they’ll be out of work for longer, “definitely people should be consulting with their immigration lawyers.”

But there is some good news. Kevork says Canadian artists in the U.S. need not fear that applying for unemployment insurance will impact their immigration status. And those $1,200 stimulus cheques from the Trump administration for coronavirus relief?

“If you’ve paid your taxes, then you are eligible for it,” she says.

There are few Canadian-based programs for artists living south of the border.

Rodney Murphy, who manages all of SOCAN’s U.S. activities, believes those who ‘have the talent to succeed will find a way to rise above this.’ (Jeff Knights/SOCAN)

The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN), for example, says it’s helping its 800 or so members who live in the L.A. area.

“I’ve been in contact with quite a few of them,” says Rodney Murphy, who manages SOCAN’s U.S. activities. “There definitely is a loss of revenue there.”

To help offset those losses, SOCAN created a $2-million Cdn royalty advance program for its members. “So if someone applies for an advance today [the money] is in their bank within a week,” Murphy says.

David Hope, the executive director of the Actors Fund Canada, says the focus of their programs is helping Canadians in Canada, and that the U.S.-based Actors Fund might be in a better position to help Canadians stateside. (When asked for comment, the Actors Fund did not reply.)

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) isn’t offering any specific relief for U.S.-based members. In an email, the organization says it’s “been sharing information with our 27,000-plus members,” and points to its website, which catalogues a list of financial benefits like CERB, most of which are only available to Canadian residents.

Comic Renée Percy, seen performing in Las Vegas in November 2019, insists that if you can’t find ways to laugh during the current shutdown, then ‘you’re just going to cry all the time.’ (Tina Compise/Quickstyle Photography)

“There’s no union for us,” says comedian Renée Percy. “It’s a solo thing from beginning to end, for better or for worse.”

Adapting to the situation

Percy, who is from Toronto, settled in Los Angeles 10 years ago. She says before the current shutdown, she was doing six to eight shows a week. Now, she says, life is like a day off — but it’s the same day, over and over again.

“Normally, I’m on stage every night and now I’m on my couch every night,” Percy says. “I was supposed to be doing a tour of Europe next month and being in Barcelona and Luxembourg and all these amazing places. And now I’m just doing a tour of my house: from the bathroom to the kitchen to the bedroom and back.”

Some Canadian entertainers are able to eke out a living during the shutdown by adapting and improvising, something that comes naturally to Percy. She continues to teach improv, but now her class is online instead of in person.

“People don’t have to worry about traffic or parking … or pants even, because they’re mostly sitting down,” Percy says. “It doesn’t even have to be people in L.A. Now I have somebody in South Africa who might be joining my class.”

Percy says she tries not to think about how dire her situation is or she’ll “freak out,” concentrating instead on finding material amid the madness.

Renée Percy, top right, takes a picture of the improv class she has begun teaching online. (Renee Percy)

“If you can’t laugh, then yeah, you’re just going to cry all the time,” Percy says. “There is humour and comedy out there and there always will be. And I think the darker the situation, the more we need it.”

Getting creative ‘to rise above this’

Despite the challenges facing the Canadian artists he represents, Murphy believes those who “have the talent to succeed will find a way to rise above this.”

“This experience will help them create great work and great art, and re-wire the creative brain to do new and better things,” Murphy says.

Even though he’s in the middle of packing for his move to Vancouver next week, Harrison Houde still finds time to collaborate online with his writing partner Dakota Daulby on their first film.

If there is any good news hidden amid the chaos in Houde’s Los Angeles apartment, it’s that his writing, he says, has never been better.

“It’s been kind of therapeutic to some degree,” Houde says. “Maybe our writing has improved because we’ve been locked inside and we just have a lot of time to just think.”

Houde is hoping the worst of the pandemic is over by the end of the summer. Then, he says, he’d like to come back, get another apartment in L.A. and pick up where he left off.

He’s versatile, open to anything. But there’s one project he says he wants no part of.

“I’m certain there’s gonna be like 10 Hollywood films next year called ‘Quarantine’ that all take place in one room, and I’m dreading that.”

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Ontario, Quebec account for more than 90% of national COVID-19 cases: federal data –



While new federal figures show the emergence of new cases of COVID-19 is slowing in some parts of Canada, the pandemic continues — and some regions and age groups are being hit particularly hard.

During a briefing in Ottawa this morning, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and her colleague Dr. Howard Njoo walked Canadians through their updated modelling on the number of COVID-19-related illnesses and deaths Canada could see over the next few weeks.

The new figures show that Canada could see between 97,990 and 107,454 cases and between 7,700 and 9,400 deaths by June 15.

The report highlights how different provinces are experiencing the pandemic.

Ontario and Quebec have accounted for more than 90 per cent of national COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days, according to Tam and Njoo.

There has been no community transmission in Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, and no cases have been reported to date in Nunavut.

The numbers show COVID-19 is still disproportionately hitting Canadians in long-term care and seniors’ homes; they represent 18 per cent of all cases and 82 per cent of Canada’s 7,495 deaths.

It’s the third time Canada’s leading public health officials have given an update on the expected impact the novel coronavirus will have on the Canadian population. It comes as some provinces have reported a downturn in cases and are beginning to reopen their economies, including some schools, stores and parks. 

The doctors said the evidence shows health measures have been effective in controlling the epidemic. They also warned that lifting those measures without strengthening other public health measures likely would cause the epidemic to rebound.

‘Not out of the woods:’ Trudeau

“The data shows that we are continuing to make progress in the fight against this virus. In many communities, the number of new cases is low and we can trace where there came from. That’s an encouraging sign that the virus is slowing and in some places even stopping,” Trudeau told reporters outside his home at Rideau Cottage Thursday morning.

“But I want to be very clear, we’re not out of the woods. The pandemic is still threatening the health and safety of Canadians.”

As of Thursday morning, Canada has 93,085 confirmed and presumptive novel coronavirus cases, with 51,048 of the cases considered recovered or resolved, according to data compiled by The Canadian Press.

Ontario reported 356 additional cases of COVID-19 on Thursday as the province’s network of labs processed a record number of tests for the novel coronavirus.

The 1.2 per cent jump in cases brings the total in Ontario since the outbreak began in late January to 29,403.

The federal projection figures don’t always pan into reality.

At the end of April, the government estimated that Canada was on a path to between 53,196 and 66,835 cases of COVID-19, and between 3,277 and 3,883 deaths, by May 5.

According to CBC News figures, as of May 5 there were more than 62,000 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases and 4,166 people had died.

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Cross-Canada lab network tracking COVID-19 mutations –



A network of laboratories across Canada is studying mutations in the genetic footprint of COVID-19 to track patterns of transmission across the country and internationally. 

Led by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory, along with Genome Canada, the research is working to identify as many genetic sequences as possible. 

The goal is to understand which sequences are circulating in Canada and compare those to others around the world. 

“Monitoring interprovincial or international spread of the virus will become increasingly important as public health measures are slowly lifted and cross-border travel resumes,” said Natalie Mohamed, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada, in a written response to questions.

“Genetic variants may also impact the sensitivity and performance of the current COVID-19 diagnostic methods. By comparing viral genome sequences, we will be able to monitor the spread of these established lineages in Canada.”

The agency said most genetic mutations in the virus are “silent,” meaning they do not modify the virus’s function or make it more dangerous. However, these genetic differences can be used to identify different variations that form a lineage, with a common ancestor and descendents.

Identifying source of new cases

Understanding the variations circulating in Canada will help to identify the source of new cases as travel restrictions are lifted.  

It can also help identify links between cases when investigating outbreaks, which is particularly useful when contact tracing is not available or inconclusive.

The agency said it is too early to tell whether Canada has distinct virus lineages. 

It said monitoring of viral and genetic variants will be key to ensuring the effectiveness of any vaccines and treatments, and can help make sure testing for the virus is accurate. 

“We need to continuously monitor their effectiveness, otherwise we risk missing positive cases,” Mohamed said in reference to testing methods.

The research is being carried out through the Canadian COVID-19 Genomics Network (CanCOGen), a consortium of public health and academic institutions, hospitals and large Canadian sequencing centres. 

The project has been funded for two years with $40 million from the federal government, announced in April. 

“We are already submitting our virus sequence data to the public domain databases and will make study findings available to the public as they become available,” said Mohamed. 

Individual virus sequences submitted to open source databases

Although the findings will be released at a later date, the data itself is being shared to open-source databases, like the NextStrain website, as it is generated. 

A spokesperson from the Roy Romanow Lab in Saskatchewan said mutations shown on NextStrain, such as one identified in that province, are “extremely small.” 

“The majority of these changes happen randomly and do not affect the virus in any way,” it said. 

“It’s important to note that currently none of the mutations have been shown to increase infectivity.” 

It said coronaviruses mutate very slowly compared to viruses like influenza or HIV.

The National Microbiology Lab has centres in Winnipeg, Man., Guelph, Ont., St. Hyacinthe, Que. and Lethbridge, Alta. 

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These Canadian species are found nowhere else on Earth –



What species are more Canadian than moose or beavers? We now have an answer. A new report has catalogued 308 species, sub-species and varieties of plants and animals found in Canada — and nowhere else on the planet.

They include mammals such as the eastern wolf, Vancouver Island marmot, wood bison and Peary caribou; birds such as the Pacific Steller’s jay; and fish such as the Banff longnose dace, Atlantic whitefish and Vancouver lamprey.

But 80 per cent of them are plants and insects — ones you probably haven’t heard of, like the Maritime ringlet butterfly and the Yukon goldenweed.

“Really, I mean, these are the most Canadian species because they are uniquely Canadian — they only live here,” said Dan Kraus, senior conservation biologist with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and a lead author of the report on endemic species released Thursday.

Most have small ranges and populations, making them vulnerable to extinction. Only 10 per cent are considered “globally secure.”

There are 120 insect species endemic to Canada, including the salt marsh copper. They represent more than half the the endemic species catalogued in the new report. (Colin Jones/iNaturalist/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Nevertheless only 20 per cent have been assessed by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada to determine just how threatened they are.

But they’re species that only Canadians can protect, Kraus said.

“It’s sometimes easy to kind of think that there’s nothing we can do about the global extinction crisis, as Canadians,” he added. “But these are species where their fate is directly in our hands. And if only Canadians will decide if they go extinct or if they survive in the future.”

These are the 27 hotspots for endemic species identified in the new report. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a non-profit organization whose goal is to protect natural areas that sustain plants and wildlife and, in looking for areas to protect, it prioritizes endemic species. It decided to compile a list of such species after realizing that no such comprehensive list existed, Kraus said.

It partnered with the NatureServe Canada, part of an international network that collects and distributes conservation data. By comparing Canadian and U.S. data, Kraus and NatureServe Canada’s Amie Enns came up with a list of species that exist in Canada and not the U.S. They then checked to make sure none of them were found in places like other parts of the Arctic, and consulted with dozens experts across the country.

In the process, Kraus was surprised to discover how many endemic species live in northern parts of Canada and how many we know very little about. In fact, new endemic species were discovered over the course of the two-year study, including a beetle in the Yukon and a new species of quillwort (a type of aquatic or semi-aquiatic plant) in the freshwater estuary of the St. Lawrence.

Many of Canada’s endemic species are found in the north, including Yukon goldenweed. (Bruce Bennett/Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Both were found in “hotspots” with lots of endemic species.

“It may be that some of those hotspots are much larger than what we’ve mapped or there may be additional endemic species in Canada,” said Kraus, adding that excites him as a Canadian biologist. “There’s all these new discoveries that are still waiting to happen in our own country.”

The provinces and territories with the most endemic species are B.C., Quebec, Alberta and Yukon. (Nature Conservancy of Canada)

Most hotspots are in unique ecosystems, such as the Athabasca sand dunes of Alberta or the Great Northern and Avalon peninsulas of Newfoundland, along with isolated islands such as Vancouver Island, Sable Island or Haida Gwaii, and the few areas of Canada that weren’t covered in ice during the last ice age. Many are already known as hotspots for biodiversity in general, and some are protected.

B.C., Quebec, Alberta and Yukon had the highest numbers of endemic plants and animals.

Kraus hopes the list of endemic species will help prioritize species and habitats for conservation and raise awareness about what Canadians can do about the global extinction crisis.

“But these are species where it’s our piece of that problem and we can we alone are the ones that can solve it,” he said. But that can be good thing, he suggests: “There’s no reason why we need to lose any of these species in the future.”

Fangliang He is a professor at the University of Alberta who holds a Canada Research Chair in Biodiversity and Landscape Modelling and wasn’t involved in the study. 

He said he wasn’t aware of any other projects like this cataloguing endemic species in Canada. He noted that there aren’t very many, compared to the overall number of species, as many tend to cross the border into the U.S., either to the south or in Alaska. For example, the new report found 64 endemic plant species (not including mosses and liverworts) or 109 species, subspecies and varieties,  while He estimates there are about 4,000 plant species in Canada.

But he said studies like this are useful.

“It’s fundamental information — very important, critical for conservation,” he said, adding that especially when resources are limited, “Endemic [plants and animals] in general should really be the priority in terms of conservation.”

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