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Families with members stuck in China call for third Canadian rescue flight – CBC.ca

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Chinese Canadians and others with family stuck in China’s Hubei province are calling for the federal government to send a third plane to repatriate Canadians, visa holders and permanent residents alike. 

The city of Wuhan, China, was locked down in late January, leaving visitors with little or no opportunity to leave.

A group that uses the messaging app WeChat to organize represents at least 50 families with loved ones trapped in Hubei province. 

A letter the group has sent to Global Affairs Canada, and plans to send to several Members of Parliament, states people still trapped either didn’t have enough warning to prepare for the two Canadian flights, felt misinformed about who was allowed to board or didn’t sign onto the government’s registry quickly enough. 

“We strongly urge the Canadian government to repatriate these families promptly by deploying another chartered flight. The longer this ordeal carries on, and the longer the lockdown continues for these unfortunate individuals, the more danger it will impose on the Canadians stuck there,” the letter reads. 

“We cannot bear the thought of losing our family members if something were to happen in the next few weeks.” 

One Canadian citizen, Elaine Cheng, said she chose not to board either plane after learning her husband, who only has a Canadian visa, wouldn’t be allowed to leave the country with her. She opted to stay in Wuhan, and thinks Canada can do better. 

“I think the way they treat my husband, or someone similar to my husband’s situation in China, is totally inhumane,” she said by phone Saturday. “Inhumane, uncompassionate and unfair.”

The B.C.-resident has been trapped in an apartment for the past month with her husband and limited food.

Although she has no plans to abandon her husband, she’d like to return home.

“That’s why I do not choose to live just for my own sake, for humanity and compassion purpose,” she said. “That’s what we, Canadians, advocate in this country and in this world, to other people in other countries, including China.

“We should not be abandoning anybody that has close ties to us in our life.”

Global Affairs responds

Global Affairs Canada didn’t directly respond to questions about whether the department would send a third plane.

But a spokesperson said those trapped in Hubei province can contact Canada’s embassy in Beijing, call its 24/7 Emergency Watch and Response Centre in Ottawa or send a message to the federal government’s SOS email account.

“We remain in regular contact with Canadians in China and are continuing to provide assistance to those in need to the extent possible,” the spokesperson said.

Vancouver-resident Yaqi Huang says her 63-year-old father, a permanent resident of Canada, was visiting her grandfather over the Chinese New Year when the city’s roads were shut down and planes were grounded.

Not only were her father stuck inside the city, he also became separated from the 89-year-old grandfather. 

“Most people feel scared. They feel nervous. They feel trapped by the government,” she said. 

While Huang initially heard only permanent residents accompanying Canadian minors were allowed to leave – a decision made by Chinese officials – she was surprised to hear stories of permanent residents without young children being allowed to leave Wuhan.

After the second plane left, the 37-year-old emailed the Canadian government again.

“To say, ‘So what is the policy for letting people on the flight?'” Huang said. “I say, ‘We just need to know the truth.'”

Yaqi Huang and her 89-year-old grandfather, Dao Li Huang, in Wuhan, China, in 2018. Yaqi’s father is still in Wuhan. (Supplied by Yaqi Huang)

Earlier this month, China’s deputy director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department said the country would loosen its grip and allow Chinese citizens to fly out of the city, accompanied by foreign family members. 

In an emailed response to Huang, however, Global Affairs Canada said the Chinese government maintained absolute authority over who could, and who couldn’t, board the planes. 

“We advocated strongly for Canadians, [permanent residents] and their families to be eligible,” the email dated Feb. 19 reads.

The emailed response says that even if the Canadian government allowed Huang’s father to travel to the airport, Chinese officials would have prevented him from boarding the flight.

“We share your frustration as well. Your parents are, without a doubt, in a difficult situation right now.”

While Huang wants her father to be repatriated and supports the efforts for a third plane to be sent, she’s not hopeful.

“I know it’s a fat chance for the Canadian government to go help, to send an airplane into Wuhan,” she said. “It’s really hard. We just want to be treated [fairly], like other families.”

Other reasons to stay

Kristina Shramko, of Richmond, B.C., said she’s been living in Wuhan for eight months.

After graduating university, the 21-year-old decided to travel. 

She visited Wuhan and, after returning to Canada briefly, had been persuaded to return to China by a romantic partner she started dating. 

When the novel coronavirus epicentre was placed in lockdown, Shramko contacted the Canadian government, hoping to leave the city.  

When she heard about the strict no pets policy on both flights, however, she decided she couldn’t go.

Kristina Shramko, of Richmond, B.C., says she doesn’t want to leave her pet cat, Kitya, in Wuhan. (Bethany Lindsay/CBC)

She had recently adopted a cat, named Kitya.

“Even if I were to leave my cat with a friend, it’s not certain when I would come back,” Shramko said. “To me, it would be abandoning her.”

Elaine Cheng, likewise, has concerns about leaving her cat behind in Wuhan. 

Shramko would like to come home until the outbreak is over, but feels she can’t as long as the pet policy is in place. She said outside of her residence “kind of feels like the zombie apocalypse.”

The Canadian citizen is currently raising money to pay for a plane ticket for her, and Kitya, when travel restrictions on the city are lifted.  

“It’s really important for people to know that there are people who have decided to stay in Wuhan,” she said. 

Wife is trapped

Most of Simon Zheng’s family is now stuck in Wuhan, including his wife. 

The Canadian citizen’s partner, who has a work permit designed for spouses, was also visiting China over the holidays. 

Zheng, a resident of Surrey, B.C., planned to come to Wuhan later in January but was held back by work. Now his wife is stranded with his in-laws and parents, Chinese citizens who live in the city. 

Simon Zheng says his wife is trapped in Wuhan, China. (Supplied by Simon Zheng)

The small business owner feels if he had been in Hubei province, his wife might have been able to board a plane, like some non-Canadian citizens who were permitted to leave.

“I was not there, so she wasn’t able to [be] included in those kinds of groups,” he said.

Zheng said he’s uncertain how long the lockdown will last and fears his family’s limited supplies could run out. 

But he hasn’t given up hope.

The WeChat group he is a part of started with fewer than 10 families, Zheng said, and continues to grow. 

He hopes the federal government takes the pleas of families with loved ones still trapped seriously.

“I have good faith, because we’re doing whatever we can,” he said.

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Exclusive-Google aims to improve spotty enforcement of children’s ads policy

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Alphabet Inc’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive ad policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, liquor and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked under its efforts to comply with UK regulations.

Britain started enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from being tracked online. Google in response began modifying settings across its services in Europe and elsewhere for users younger than 18 years. Among the measures it had touted in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive ad categories from being shown to teens.”

Specifically, the search giant began using automated tools to stop ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from being shown to people who are not logged in to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18.

Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and, according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.

The advertisers, who sought anonymity out of fear of retribution from the tech company, said they have been frustrated about significant lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from signed-out users while erroneously allowing their competitors’ ads.

Ads were shown in the UK to signed-out users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol medication, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a vodka product, Reuters found.

“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain age-sensitive ad categories,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and in this instance should have been restricted from serving. We are taking immediate steps to address this issue.”

It declined to elaborate on the adjustments.

Google advertising rivals such as Meta Platforms Inc’s Facebook and Microsoft Corp either ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or have put the onus on advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment, and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is core to its compliance with the code.

Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulation and reviewed the findings by Reuters, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on how well they are living up to the code and their own policies.

“We must be wary of ‘safety washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with action, and demonstrate how they are complying with regulations, particularly in the early stages of implementation.”

Google did not respond to the comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it had failed to block age-sensitive ads.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had reached out to Google, Apple Inc and other companies in social media, streaming and gaming to review their conformance to the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.

 

(Reporting by Paresh Dave in Oakland, Calif.; Editing by Kenneth Li, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Matthew Lewis)

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Canada, echoing U.S., says it fears armed conflict could erupt in Ukraine

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Canada fears armed conflict could break out in Ukraine and is working with allies to make clear to Russia that any more aggression towards Kiev is unacceptable, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/blinken-says-russian-attack-ukraine-could-come-very-short-notice-2022-01-19 said earlier that Russia could launch a new attack on Ukraine at “very short notice”. Moscow, which has stationed military equipment and tens of thousands of troops near the border, denies it is planning an invasion and blames the West for rising tensions.

“We do fear an armed conflict in Ukraine. We’re very worried about the position of the Russian government … and the fact that they’re sending soldiers to the Ukrainian border,” Trudeau told a news conference.

Canada, with a sizeable and politically influential population of Ukrainian descent, has taken a strong line with Russia since its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

“We’re working with our international partners and colleagues to make it very, very clear that Russian aggression and further incursion into Ukraine is absolutely unacceptable,” Trudeau said.

“We are standing there with diplomatic responses, with sanctions, with a full press on the international stage.”

Canadian troops are in Latvia as part of a NATO mission and Trudeau said they would “continue the important work that NATO is doing to protect its eastern front”.

Canada has had a 200-strong training mission in western Ukraine since 2015.

Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/canada-condemns-russian-troop-movements-near-ukraine-mulls-weapons-supplies-kyiv-2022-01-18 on Tuesday said Ottawa would make a decision at the appropriate time on supplying military hardware to Ukraine.

Trudeau side-stepped a question about sending defensive weapons, saying any decision would “be based on what is best for the people of Ukraine”.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren;Editing by Will Dunham and Philippa Fletcher)

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Canada's inflation rate rises to new 30-year high of 4.8% – CBC News

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The Consumer Price Index increased at an annual pace of 4.8 per cent in December, as sharply higher prices for food led to the cost of living going up at its fastest rate since 1991.

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that grocery prices increased by 5.7 per cent, the biggest annual gain since 2011.

The price of fresh produce is being walloped by two things, the data agency said: “Unfavourable weather conditions in growing regions, as well as supply chain disruptions.”

The price of apples has increased by 6.7 per cent in the past year, and oranges by almost as much — 6.6 per cent. 

The U.S. is the major supplier of oranges to Canada, and because of bad weather and a plant disease called citrus greening, the major growing region of Florida is on track to produce the smallest number of oranges since 1945. 

That’s causing the price of frozen concentrated orange juice to skyrocket on commodities markets.

“If you’re an orange juice drinker, it means your prices are going to be going up at the store,” analyst Phil Flynn, with Chicago-based commodity trading firm Price Group, told CBC News. “The cost of orange juice has almost doubled here in the last few months, and that’s going to be passed down to the consumers.”

Other types of food are going up quickly, too. The price of frozen beef has gone up by almost 12 per cent in the past year, while ham and bacon are up by about 15 per cent.

Kendra Sozinho, a manager at the Fiesta Farms grocery store in Toronto, says costs from suppliers are going up faster than she’s ever seen “We’re seeing almost every single supplier increasing their pricing whech then increases our pricing,” she told CBC News in an interview. “I’ve been here for 20 years and I’ve never seen a jump like this.”

WATCH | Grocery store manager explains why prices are going up:

Grocery costs going up

53 minutes ago

Duration 0:38

Kendra Sozinho at Fiesta Farms in Toronto says consumers are seeing higher prices because grocers are dealing with sharply higher prices themselves. 0:38

Economist Tu Nguyen with consultancy RSM says food price increases could be set to get even worse in the coming weeks and months because of new rules forbidding unvaccinated truckers from entering the country.

“The current bout of inflation is driven by supply chain disruptions, pent-up demand and inflation expectations,” she said. “While pent-up demand is expected to ease as pandemic spending winds down, supply chain and inflation expectations remain paramount challenges.”

Prices for oranges and orange juice are set to rise because of bad weather and a citrus disease in Florida, which supplies most of Canada’s oranges. (Bruna Prado/Getty Images)

Expect a rate hike soon  

Food is far from the only thing becoming more expensive.

Shelter costs have risen by 5.4 per cent in the past year, faster than the overall inflation rate. And unlike the global forces at play pushing up food prices, the factors driving up shelter costs are all Canadian-made, TD Bank economist James Marple said.

“The one exception to the global nature of the current inflationary environment, is housing inflation, which is both domestically driven and, outside of increased incidents of extreme weather driving up insurance prices, directly related to the Bank of Canada’s policy stance,” he said.

Politicians weigh in

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre placed the blame for high inflation squarely at the foot of the federal government, noting that as a country with abundant energy and food resources, Canada should have a built-in advantage when it comes to keeping a lid on prices.

“The biggest increases for consumer products have been those that we source right here at home, not those that depend on foreign supply chains,” he told reporters in Ottawa.

“Home price inflation is a home-grown problem,” he went on, arguing that record government spending under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is to blame for inflation. “The more he spends, the more things cost,” Poilievre said.

The Prime Minister, for his part, rejected that claim and said his government has a plan in place to face the inflationary challenges that many countries are facing.

WATCH | Trudeau talks about record high inflation:

Trudeau says inflation is a ‘global challenge’

2 hours ago

Duration 1:34

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says inflation is a challenge facing many countries and his government has a fiscal plan in place to get past it. 1:34

Lending rates were slashed to record lows in the early days of the pandemic to stimulate the economy. But two years of rock bottom mortgage rates have proven to be jet fuel for Canada’s housing market, causing many policy makers to suggest the time has come for the Bank of Canada to hike its rate to cool things down.

After Wednesday’s inflation report, investors think there’s about a 75 per cent chance of a rate hike as soon as next week, when the bank is set to meet. 

“Inflation is likely to come down over the next year, but getting it there will require tighter financial conditions and rate hikes by the Bank of Canada,” Marple said. 

Semiconductor shortage persists

And an ongoing lack of semiconductor microchips continues to drive up the price of just about anything with a microchip in it.

That includes durable goods like washing machines and other household appliances, the price of which have gone up by 5.7 per cent in the past 12 months. New car prices are up by even more — 7.2 per cent. 

If there was one area of relief for consumers, it was gas prices, where the price to fill up at the pump fell by 4.1 per cent during the month. That’s the biggest monthly drop since April 2020. But compared to a year ago, gas prices are still 33 per cent higher than they were in December 2020.

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