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Force airlines to automatically compensate travellers, passengers’ advocate says

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airlines to automatically compensate travellers

Canada should make it so air travellers are automatically entitled to compensation from airlines when their flights are disrupted, rather than having to make claims on their own, a passenger advocate said Tuesday.

Gabor Lukacs serves as president of Air Passenger Rights, a non-profit group that made recommendations to a parliamentary committee studying transportation issues last month.

Beginning Thursday, that same group of MPs will begin an emergency study into the chaos that erupted across the country’s airports and airlines over the holidays, including what is likely to be a grilling of Transport Minister Omar Alghabra from Opposition members about how the government plans to address the problem.

“The airlines are taking advantage of the regulatory environment, where enforcement is basically non-existent,” Lukacs said in an interview Tuesday. “That is where the problem lies.”

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A winter storm that swept parts of the country before Christmas Day brought trouble to what was an already hectic travel season. The air industry is still recovering after travel ground to a halt during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to widespread layoffs in the sector.

Thousands of passengers saw their flights cancelled or delayed to due to the poor weather. But what has troubled political leaders most is how passengers say they were treated.

Hundreds of Sunwing customers were stranded in Mexico after the vacation destination airline cancelled their trips. Thousands more were left scrambling after the airline cancelled flights departing from Saskatchewan until Feb. 3 due to what it called “extenuating circumstances.”

Other passengers described improper communication — or lack thereof — from airlines, and having to sleep on airport floors as they waited for answers.

Alghabra has called what happened over the holidays “unacceptable.”

His office said Tuesday that he was unavailable for an interview, but provided a statement outlining potential changes to the regulations that offer protection to airline passengers.

The rules introduced in 2019 impose what the Canadian Transportation Agency, the federal regulator, calls the “minimum airline requirements.” They outline when travellers are eligible for compensation for hiccups such as lost baggage, delays on the tarmac and cancellations.

Nadine Ramadan, a spokeswoman for Alghabra, said work has been underway since before the holidays on how to strengthen the existing regime. She said the government’s intention is to introduce legislation sometime in the spring.

“These changes will help increase efficiency and put the onus on airlines to reimburse passengers,” she said in a statement.

“All options are on the table to ensure that what happened over the holidays does not happen again.”

In a report presented to MPs last month, Lukacs’s group recommended legislative changes be made so that airlines must provide compensation “promptly and without the passenger having to request payment” when it comes to delays and cancellations.

He said that the way it works right now, a passenger who feels they are entitled for compensation has to send a letter to the company requesting payment.

From there, he says, the airline is supposed to reply within 30 days, either agreeing to provide the compensation that was requested or explaining why it doesn’t think the traveller is owed money.

“(The) mere fact that you as a passenger have to approach the airline and say, ‘Hey, I want my compensation,’ is a problem,” Lukacs said, because many passengers don’t know their rights.

He said what often happens is that travellers don’t accept the rationale provided by an airline to avoid paying up, so they take their claims to the Canadian Transportation Agency instead in the hopes of seeking compensation.

That’s where another problem lies, according to MPs: The regulator is facing a backlog of more than 30,000 complaints.

A spokesperson for the agency said that as of Dec. 20, 2022, it had 31,000 pending complaints. In the time since then, which included the holiday travel chaos, it received another 2,800.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2023.

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Germany won't be a 'party to the war' amid tanks exports to Ukraine: Ambassador – CTV News

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The German ambassador to Canada says Germany will not become “a party to the conflict” in Ukraine, despite it and several other countries announcing they’ll answer President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s pleas for tanks, possibly increasing the risk of Russian escalation.

Sabine Sparwasser said it’s a “real priority” for Germany to support Ukraine, but that it’s important to be in “lockstep” coordination with other allied countries.

“There is a clear line for Germany,” she told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos, in an interview airing Sunday. “We do want not want to be a party to the conflict.”

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“We want to support, we want to do everything we can, but we, and NATO, do not want to be a party to the war,” she also said. “That’s I think, the line we’re trying to follow.”

Defence Minister Anita Anand announced this week Canada will send four Leopard 2 battle tanks — with the possibility of more in the future — to Ukraine, along with Canadian Armed Forces members to train Ukrainian soldiers on how to use them.

Canada first needed permission from Berlin to re-export any of its 82 German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. After a meeting of 50 defence leaders in Germany earlier this month, it was unclear whether Germany would give the green light.

But following what German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called “intensive consultations,” Germany announced on Jan. 25 it would send tanks to Ukraine, and the following day, Canada followed suit. It is now joining several other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, which are sending several dozen tanks to Ukraine.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this week the tanks would allow Ukraine to “significantly strengthen their combat capabilities.”

“It demonstrates also the unit and the resolve of NATO allies in partners in providing support to Ukraine,” he said.

Meanwhile Sparwasser said Germany is “walking that fine line” of avoiding steps that could prompt escalation from Russia, while supporting Ukraine, and staying out of the war themselves.

“I think it’s very important to see that Germany is very determined and has a real priority in supporting Ukraine in its struggle for freedom and sovereignty,” Sparwasser said. “But we also put a high priority on going it together with our friends and allies.”

Sparwasser said despite warnings from Russia that sending tanks to Ukraine will cause an escalation, Germany is within international law — specifically Article 51 of the United Nations Charter — to provide support to Ukraine.

“Ukraine is under attack has the right to self defence, and other nations can come in and provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself,” Sparwasser said. “So in international law terms, this is a very clear cut case.”

She added that considering “Russia doesn’t respect international law,” it’s a more impactful deterrent to Russia, ahead of an expected spring offensive, to see several countries come together in support of Ukraine.

With files from the Associated Press

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COVID: Canada retaining Evusheld – CTV News

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While Health Canada says it is “aware” of the U.S. decision to withdraw the emergency use of Evusheld, a drug by AstraZeneca used to help prevent COVID-19 infection— the agency is maintaining its approval, citing the differences in variant circulation between Canada and the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Jan. 26 that its emergency use authorization of the drug was pulled due to its inefficacy in treating “certain” COVID-19 variants.

The FDA stated in a release on its website that as the XBB.1.5. variant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is making up the majority of cases in the country, the use of Evusheld is “not expected to provide protection” and therefore not worth exposing the public to possible side effects of the drug, like allergic reactions.

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In an email to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled the drug as the main variant of concern in the U.S. is XBB.1.5.

“Dominant variants in the [U.S.] may be different from those circulating in Canada,” the federal agency said in an email. “The most recent epidemiological data in Canada (as of January 1, 2023) indicate that BA.5 (Omicron) subvariants continue to account for more than 89 per cent of reported cases.”

On Jan. 6 the FDA said in press release that certain variants are not neutralized by Evusheld and cautioned people who are exposed to XBB.1.5. On Jan. 26, the FDA then updated its website by saying it would be limiting the use of Evusheld.

“Evusheld is not currently authorized for use in the U.S. until further notice by the Agency,” the FDA website states.

On Jan. 17, Health Canada issued a “risk communication” on Evusheld, explaining how it may not be effective against certain Omicron subvariants when used as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19.

“Decisions regarding the use of EVUSHELD should take into consideration what is known about the characteristics of the circulating COVID-19 variants, including geographical prevalence and individual exposure,” Health Canada said in an email.

Health Canada says Evusheld does neutralize against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which according to the agency, is the dominant variant in many communities in Canada.

The drug was introduced for prevention measures specifically for people who have weaker immune systems and are unlikely to be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine. It can only be given to people 12 years and older.

“EVUSHELD is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended,” the agency’s website reads.

Health Canada says no drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.

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Alberta Justice spokespeople deliver duelling statements on prosecutor email review

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An email probe into whether Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office interfered with Crown prosecutors took a confusing turn Friday after two government spokespeople delivered duelling statements that raised questions over how far back the search went.

The review was ordered by Smith a week ago to respond to allegations in a CBC story that reported a staffer in the premier’s office emailed prosecutors last fall to question decisions and direction on cases stemming from a blockade at the Canada-U. S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta.

The Justice Department said Monday it had done a four-month search of ingoing, outgoing and deleted emails and found no evidence of contact.

Two days later, Alberta Justice communications director Charles Mainville said in a statement that deleted emails are wiped from the system after 30 days, meaning the search for deleted emails may not have covered the entire time period in question.

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On Thursday night, Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, a spokesman for Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, responded to questions about Mainville’s statement. He said while emails are deleted after 30 days, they live on in the system for another 30 and could have been checked that far back by investigators.

“For example, if an email was deleted on Oct. 17, 2022, the email would no longer be accessible to the user as of Nov. 16, 2022, but would continue to be available to our investigation team until Dec. 16, 2022,” said Lecavalier-Kidney in his statement.

A 60-day search would have stretched back to late November, capturing all but the first six weeks of Smith’s United Conservative Party government. Smith was sworn in as premier on Oct. 11.

But while Lecavalier-Kidney’s statement said investigators could go back 60 days, it did not state that they did so, leaving confusion on how far back they went.

When asked Friday to clarify whether investigators went back 30 or 60 days on the deleted emails, Lecavalier-Kidney did not respond to questions while Mainville reissued the original statements in an email.

The government has also delivered conflicting messages on who was investigated in the review.

Smith promised that emails from all Crown prosecutors and the 34 staffers in her office would be checked.

However, the Justice Department later said emails between “relevant” prosecutors and Smith staffers were checked. It did not say how it determined who was relevant.

The Coutts blockade and COVID-19 protest at the border crossing last year saw RCMP lay charges against several people, ranging from mischief to conspiracy to commit murder.

Smith has said she did not direct prosecutors in the Coutts cases and the email review exonerated her office from what she called “baseless” allegations in the CBC story.

The CBC has said that it has not seen the emails in question but stands by its reporting.

The Opposition NDP said questions stemming from the CBC story, coupled with multiple conflicting statements from the premier on what she has said to Justice Department officials about the COVID-19 cases, can only be resolved through an independent investigation.

Smith has given six versions in recent weeks of what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19 cases.

Smith has said she talked to prosecutors directly and did not talk to prosecutors directly. She has said she reminded justice officials of general prosecution guidelines, but at other times reminded them to consider factors unique to COVID-19 cases. She has also suggested the conversations are ongoing and that they have ended.

She has attributed the confusion to “imprecise” word choices.

Smith has long been openly critical of COVID-19 masking, gathering and vaccine mandate rules, questioning if they were needed to fight the pandemic and labelling them intolerable violations of personal freedoms.

She has also called those unvaccinated against COVID-19 the most discriminated group she has seen in her lifetime.

Last fall, Smith said charges in the cases were grounded in politics and should be open to political solutions. But she recently said it’s important to let the court process play out independently.

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

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