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Emergencies Act inquiry studies fundamental rights and freedoms at stake in protests

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OTTAWA — Over weeks of testimony that concluded with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s appearance last week, the Public Order Emergency Commission heard about how downtown Ottawa was occupied last winter by thousands of protesters opposed to COVID-19 public health measures.

Though there no serious violence was reported, residents said their community descended into lawlessness and they felt threatened by harassment and hazards as protesters exercised what they insist was their right to peaceful assembly.

Now the commission, which is tasked with determining whether the federal government was justified in its invocation of the Emergencies Act to clear the protests, must grapple with central questions: Where should the line be drawn on limits to Canadians’ right to freedom of peaceful assembly? And what are governments and courts to do when that freedom conflicts with others’ rights?

The commission launched the policy phase of its inquiry Monday with a roundtable discussion featuring legal experts who study the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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Commissioner Paul Rouleau said the question of how to define whether a protest is “peaceful” is a “critical element” of the inquiry’s work.

There’s been very little discussion about the right to peaceful assembly at the Supreme Court of Canada, leaving the reasonable limits on that freedom a bit murky, explained Jamie Cameron, a professor emeritus at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

The key question, Cameron said, is: “What is the meaning of peaceful assembly? What does it mean to say that an assembly is peaceful in nature?”

Some experts argue a line should only be drawn if a protest becomes violent, but others believe a protest can become disruptive enough that it can no longer be considered peaceful, she said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 for the first time since it became law in 1988 after thousands of protesters associated with the “Freedom Convoy” blockaded downtown Ottawa and key border crossings, causing weeks of disruptions to Canada’s trade corridors, businesses and residents in those communities.

When the demonstrators arrived in Ottawa, testimony suggested that police believed they would not stay longer than one weekend, despite warnings that demonstrators planned to remain in Ottawa for an extended period of time.

In the end, they entrenched themselves and blocked the streets with encampments and big-rig trucks for three weeks.

“There is a wide degree of consensus on the value of protest in a democratic society,” said Vanessa MacDonnell, an associate professor at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and co-director of the uOttawa Public Law Centre.

“The real challenge for decision-makers is … how do we balance the competing rights and interests that are at stake in the context of a public protest? To me, that’s where the difficult work is.”

The discussion is the first of several that will make up this week’s policy phase of the inquiry, which will be used toward drafting recommendations for how to modernize the Emergencies Act.

The policy phase follows six weeks of public fact-finding hearings at the Library and Archives Canada building in downtown Ottawa, which culminated in Trudeau’s hours-long testimony on Friday.

The Emergencies Act legislation granted extraordinary but time-limited powers to the government, police and banks, including the ability to ban people from participating in assemblies that could reasonably be expected to breach the peace, or travel in an area where such an assembly is happening.

That allowed police to create a no-go zone in downtown Ottawa, and made it a criminal offence to be in those areas without a valid reason.

The regulations may have been overbroad, several experts on the panel agreed, but the context is important, said Carissima Mathen, a law professor at the University of Ottawa.

“On its face, it does look to be overbroad,” Mathen said, but she added that there are time limits on the powers, and there was a list of exemptions to the ban on travelling in certain areas.

“That will factor into whether, in the circumstance, that kind of prohibition is in fact overbroad.”

Much of the testimony over the last six weeks at the inquiry focused on whether the government was legally entitled to invoke the act, given the situation police faced in Ottawa and at border crossings across the country.

Even when the Emergencies Act is invoked, the Charter continues to apply, as explicitly stated in the legislation.

“At the end of the day, much of the concern is that the act is so broad and powerful. But on the other hand it is Charter compliant by its very nature,” Rouleau said.

“You could argue, certainly, the degree of interference with the Charter should be taken into account in the initial determination of what the threshold for an emergency is.”

MacDonnell quipped: “I’m glad I’m not the one making the decision, because there is a tension in there.”

Other topics to be discussed this week include cryptocurrency, international supply chains and criminal law, with discussions largely driven by policy papers the inquiry commissioned earlier this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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WHO decision on COVID-19 emergency won't effect Canada's response: Tam – CP24

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OTTAWA – On Monday, exactly three years from the day he declared COVID-19 to be a global public health emergency, World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will decide whether to call it off.

But declaring an end to the “public health emergency of international concern” would not mean COVID-19 is no longer a threat. It will also not do much to change Canada’s approach.

“In Canada, we’re already doing what we need to do,” chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said in her most recent COVID-19 update.

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She said the WHO discussion is important but COVID-19 monitoring and public health responses are not going to end. That includes continued surveillance of cases, particularly severe illness and death, and vaccination campaigns.

The WHO’s emergency committee, which was struck in 2020 when COVID-19 first emerged as a global health threat, voted Friday on whether to maintain the formal designation of a public health emergency.

Tedros will make the final call Monday based on the advice the committee gives him.

He warned earlier this week that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus, noting there were 170,000 deaths from COVID-19 reported around the world in the last two months.

“While I will not pre-empt the advice of the emergency committee, I remain very concerned by the situation in many countries and the rising number of deaths,” he said Jan. 24.

“While we are clearly in better shape than three years ago when this pandemic first hit, the global collective response is once again under strain.”

He is worried not enough health-care workers or seniors are up to date on vaccinations, that access to antivirals is limited and that health systems around the world remain fragile following three years of pandemic strain.

In Canada, there was a noticeable rise in cases, hospitalizations and deaths over Christmas and early in January but all are trending down again. Tam said there were no surges of the virus anywhere in Canada, though the latest variant of Omicron was being watched closely.

Federal surveillance data shows more than 30 people are still dying of COVID-19 every day, and hundreds of people are still hospitalized.

The formal designation of the global public health emergency was made on Jan. 30, 2020, when 99 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases were still restricted to China.

The decision was made to declare an emergency because human-to-human transmission was starting to occur outside China, and the hope was that by designating an emergency it could prompt a public health response that could still limit the impact of COVID-19.

That did not happen. On March 11, 2020, Tedros declared a global pandemic, practically begging countries to do more to slow it down.

The declaration of a pandemic meant that there was exponential growth in the spread of the virus.

By WHO terminology, a “public health emergency of international concern” is the highest formal declaration and the one which triggers a legally binding response among WHO member countries, including Canada.

It is what is done when a health threat is “serious, sudden, unusual or unexpected,” when it carries global public health implications and may require “immediately international action.”

A designation prompts the WHO director-general to issue recommendations for member countries including increased surveillance to identify new cases, isolating or quarantining infected people and their close contacts, travel measures such as border testing or closures, public health communications, investments in research and collaboration on treatments and vaccinations.

Dr. Sameer Elsayed, an infectious diseases physician and the director adult infectious diseases residency training at Western University in London, Ont., said to his mind the WHO should end the global emergency designation even though the pandemic itself is not over.

“I don’t know that we should continue to call it an emergency,” he said. “I hope they say that we’re going to bring it down a notch.”

Elsayed said for vulnerable populations, including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, COVID-19 continues to pose a serious threat, but for most people there are far bigger threats, including suicide. He said with limited health resources, COVID-19 needs to be put in its proper place alongside other health issues.

Children, in particular, said Elsayed, are much more at risk from influenza and RSV than COVID-19 in wealthy countries, and from food insecurity and the lack of access to clean water in many developing nations.

Tam said regardless of what WHO decides, Canada won’t stop monitoring the evolution of the virus that causes COVID-19, including for new variants that may require adjustments to vaccines or other treatments.

She also said we must continue to monitor the ongoing developments in long COVID.

“We mustn’t, I think, let go of the gains that we’ve had in the last several years,” she said.

“I think whatever the decision is made by the director-general of WHO, I think we just need to keep going with what we’re doing now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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COVID still a concern despite drop in flu, RSV cases: expert – CTV News

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As RSV and flu cases steadily decline in Canada, the World Health Organization (WHO) is set to announce on Monday whether it still considers COVID-19 a global health emergency.

Ahead of that announcement, one of Canada’s top infectious disease specialists warns that the WHO’s consensus won’t necessarily mean the virus is behind us.

“I think it’s important to point out that this is not about … whether COVID is gone or not,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology as well as the Department of Medicine in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University.

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“This is a real committee-based decision at the WHO level to decide in whether this is still a public health emergency of international concern,” she told CTV News Channel Sunday.

Barrett explained that this a matter of prioritizing access to resources and research, and not to determine an end point for COVID-19.

“So what this all means is that COVID is not done,” she said. “And the way it looks in different countries is different in many situations. That’s what they’re trying to decide at this point, not whether a pandemic is done or whether COVID is going away.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus will make the official call on the status of COVID-19, based on the advice of his committee. Earlier this week, he warned that he remains concerned about the impact of the virus and mentioned that there were 170,000 COVID-related deaths reported around the world in the last two months.

The WHO update comes at a time when concerns over a combination of respiratory illnesses are easing. Canadian data shows that influenza hospitalizations are now dropping.

“We’re starting to see influenza, perhaps RSV, starting to come down somewhat,” Barrett said.

“There’s still a lot of debate about whether we’re catching many cases that are not important. But really, I think the big [question] from the last year as we start to see influenza and RSV maybe go down is, what’s the best way forward?”

Barrett noted that the FDA recommended a change to booster shot roll outs.

“They’re suggesting a once-a-year, similar to a flu shot. I think that’s the right approach at this point,” she said.

“I think the first thing we should remind Canadians is that if they are due for an additional dose in the vulnerable populations — older folks, people who have bad immune systems — please don’t think it’s too early to go out and get that last dose from the fall if you haven’t.”

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Where did B.C.’s beloved Nanaimo Bar come from?

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The Nanaimo bar. It’s a sweet treat made from chocolate, custard, coconut and walnuts. Love it or hate it, it’s uniquely British Columbian.

But where did this chocolatey delicacy come from?

To celebrate the launch of CBC’s new permanent Nanaimo bureauNorth by Northwest host Margaret Gallagher spoke to food historian Lenore Newman about the origins of the treat that shares the city’s name.

Newman says it can be traced back to three women in Nanaimo after the Second World War.

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Originally — and uncreatively — called chocolate slices, Newman says the “dainties” popped up around 1952, in, no surprise here, Nanaimo. The base layer, made of graham wafer crumbs, shows up earlier, but the square as we know it with the thick custard middle and chocolate on top appeared in a local hospital auxiliary cookbook in the early ’50s, Newman said.

 

A B.C. baker’s “ultimate” Nanaimo bars

 

CBC’s Midday talks to a woman who extended her recipe into a business selling aprons and tea towels in 1987.

It was first deemed the Nanaimo bar by Vancouver Sun columnist Edith Adams in 1953 when she wrote that the dessert came from Nanaimo.

This is important to note, Newman says, because other places such as Mississauga and England have tried to claim it as their own.

The bar was later featured in the Expo ’86 cookbook, giving it a little more notoriety.

“I think if it had been called the chocolate slice, it would have faded into the past, but the fact that it was called the Nanaimo bar kept it rolling forward,” Newman said.

 

A modern interpretation of Nanaimo Bar loved around the world

 

Samuel Hartono of Northern Bars shows the unique shippable design

The Nanaimo bar’s fame has been far-reaching; when Harry and Megan visited B.C. in 2020, their interest in the treats caused a media frenzy in the U.K. and the U.S., prompting questions of what the square was and where it came from.

The Daily Mail even printed a headline titled: Were Harry and Meghan Markle lured to Canada by chocolate treats?

And in 2021, British Columbians were nonplussed when the New York Times published a recipe and photo of a Nanaimo bar that was, quite frankly, all wrong.

That wasn’t the first time people were offended over Nanaimo bars. In 2019, a Canada Post stamp featuring the dessert showed far too much of the middle layer, prompting outrage from Nanaimo bar enthusiasts.

Famous, infamous

Any self-respecting British Columbian can confirm that these layers are just plain wrong. (Canada Post)

“I like to say it’s like the Kardashian of Canadian desserts in that it’s famous for being famous and sometimes infamous, and it’s amazing how much play it gets,” Newman said.

So, how do you make the perfect Nanaimo bar? Here’s a recipe from The Great Canadian Baking Show.

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • 1 cup graham wafer crumbs.
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened flaked coconut.
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts.
  • 1/3 cup cocoa.
  • 1/4 cup sugar.
  • 1/4 tsp salt.
  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, melted.
  • 1 egg, beaten.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla.

For the middle layer:

  • 1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened.
  • 2 tbsp custard powder.
  • 2 tbsp milk.
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla.
  • 1/8 tsp salt.
  • 2 cups icing sugar.

For the glaze:

  • 110 g semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about 3/4 cup).
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter.

Instructions

Heat oven to 350°F. Line an eight-inch pan with parchment paper, with ends extending over the sides of the pan. Set aside.

Stir together graham crumbs, coconut, walnuts, cocoa, sugar and salt. Add butter, egg and vanilla, stirring to combine.  Press firmly into the prepared pan.

Bake until firm, about 10-12 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the middle layer. Mix butter and custard powder in a large bowl with a hand mixer. Add milk, vanilla and salt and mix to incorporate. Add icing sugar in two additions. Mix until light and fluffy. Spread over the bottom layer. Refrigerate for one hour.

While the crust and middle layer are in the refrigerator, stir chocolate and butter together in a medium heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water until melted.

Spread chocolate glaze over the middle layer. Chill for 30 minutes. Remove from the pan with parchment edges and cut into 25 squares.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

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