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France probes fashion retailers for concealing ‘crimes against humanity’ in Xinjiang

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French prosecutors have opened an investigation into four fashion retailers suspected of concealing “crimes against humanity” in China’s Xinjiang region, a judicial source said on Thursday.

The procedure is linked to accusations against China over its treatment of minority Muslim Uyghurs in the region, including the use of forced labour, the source said.

China denies all accusations of abuse in the region.

The source told Reuters Uniqlo France, a unit of Japan’s Fast Retailing, Zara owner Inditex, France’s SMCP and Skechers were the subject of the investigation, confirming a report by French media website Mediapart.

“An investigation has been opened by the crimes against humanity unit within the antiterrorism prosecutor’s office following the filing of a complaint,” the source said.

France has a Central Office to Fight Crimes against Humanity, Genocide and War Crimes, founded in 2013.

Inditex said it rejected the claims in the legal complaint, adding that it conducted rigorous traceability controls and would fully cooperate with the French investigation.

“At Inditex, we have zero tolerance for all forms of forced labour and have established policies and procedures to ensure this practice does not take place in our supply chain,” the company said in a statement.

SMCP said it would cooperate with the French authorities to prove the allegations false.

“SMCP works with suppliers located all over the world and maintains that it does not have direct suppliers in the region mentioned in the press,” SMCP said, adding that it regularly audited its suppliers.

Fast Retailing said in a statement from Tokyo that it had not been contacted by French authorities and that none of its production partners are located in Xinjiang.

“If and when notified, we will cooperate fully with the investigation to reaffirm there is no forced labour in our supply chains,” it said.

The company lost an appeal with United States Customs in May after a shipment of Uniqlo men’s shirts were impounded because of suspected violations of a ban on Xinjiang cotton.

Skechers said it does not comment on pending litigation. It referred Reuters to a March 2021 statement in which it said it maintained a strict supplier code of conduct.

Two nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) filed a complaint in France in early April against multinationals for concealment of forced labour and crimes against humanity.

United Nations experts and rights groups estimate over a million people, mainly Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities, have been detained in recent years in a vast system of camps in China’s western Xinjiang region.

Many former inmates have said they were subject to ideological training and abuse. Rights groups say the camps have been used as a source of low-paid and coercive labour.

China initially denied the camps existed, but has since said they are vocational centres designed to combat extremism. In late 2019, China said all people in the camps had “graduated.”

Several Western brands including H&M, Burberry and Nike have been hit by consumer boycotts in China after raising concerns about reports of forced labour in Xinjiang.

In March, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, citing human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing retaliated immediately with its own punitive measures.

Human Rights Watch this year documented what it said could constitute crimes against humanity being committed in Xinjiang.

(Reporting by Benoit Van Overstraeten in ParisAdditional reporting by Richard Lough in Paris, Jesus Aguado in Madrid and Rocky Swift in Tokyo.Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Matthew Lewis)

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Officials across Eastern Canada set to begin assessing full scope of storm damage

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After hammering Atlantic Canada, post-tropical storm Fiona has moved inland in southeastern Quebec, with Environment Canada saying the storm will continue to weaken as it tracks across southeastern Labrador and over the Labrador Sea.

As of 6 a.m. local time, nearly 267,000 Nova Scotia Power customers were still affected by outages, 82,414 Maritime Electric customers remained in the dark and more than 20,600 homes and businesses in New Brunswick were without power, with some provincial utility companies warning it could be days before the lights are back on for everyone.

Newfoundland Power reported outages affecting more than 3,600 customers, as high-end tropical storm force winds knocked down trees and power lines, although Environment Canada said winds would diminish in the morning.

In an early Sunday morning update, Environment Canada said strong winds continued over the northern Newfoundland, southeastern Labrador and parts of southeastern Quebec.

A wind warning remained in effect for the western part of the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, while storm warnings are in place for parts of the Northeast Gulf and Strait of Belle Isle marine areas.

As Fiona continued to weaken, government officials across Eastern Canada prepared to survey the full scope of the damage left behind.

Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston, along with several members of his cabinet, were scheduled to tour some of the hardest hit areas of Cape Breton by helicopter Sunday morning.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who cancelled his planned visit to Japan for the state funeral of former prime minister Shinzo Abe, said he will visit as soon as possible, while noting he doesn’t want to displace any emergency teams who are focused on important work on the ground.

Defence Minister Anita Anand said Saturday members of the Canadian Armed Forces had begun preparing to respond before receiving the request for assistance from Nova Scotia, and troops will be deployed to other provinces that ask for help.

No details were provided on the number of troops being deployed, but Anand said reconnaissance was underway to ensure they go where and when they are needed most.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Military sounding alarm over recruiting problems as Canadians steer clear

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is sounding the alarm over a severe shortage of recruits to fill thousands of vacant positions, with the shortfall so bad that senior officers are now calling it a crisis.

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, Robert Romero walks out of the Canadian Armed Forces’ recruiting office in downtown Ottawa with an envelope full of papers in his hands.

Originally from the Philippines, Romero does not have any direct experience with Canada’s military; his interest is largely derived from a sense of adventure and some of what he saw about soldiers in movies as a kid.

“I idolized them,” he says. “I got hooked. So then I started researching about it and I got more into it.”

Romero is one of 11 people who have just written an aptitude test to identify which military occupations prospective recruits are qualified to fill. He pulls his results from the envelope: intelligence officer, meteorological technician and cook.

He will now talk it over with his parents to decide which career interests him, whether he wants to write the test again or abandon the whole exercise.

Canada’s military is supposed to be in a period of growth as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators. The Liberal government in 2017 laid out a plan to add thousands of full and part-time positions.

While the plan came after years of troop shortages, there were signs the military was turning a corner as recruitment began to outpace departures.

“We were just starting to gain momentum when the pandemic hit,” says Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who is responsible for overseeing military recruitment and training.

Recruitment cratered during the first year of COVID-19 as the military shuttered recruiting and training centres. The result: only 2,000 people were enrolled in 2020-21 — less than half of what was needed.

Nearly 4,800 recruits were enrolled the following fiscal year as lockdowns and restrictions were eased.

But Brodie says the military is getting about half the number of applicants it needs per month to meet the goal of adding 5,900 members this year.

The shortfall is expected to exacerbate the current personnel shortage, with about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions unfilled.

“We are without a doubt in an applicant crisis right now,” Brodie says.

Many industries are facing labour challenges, and Statistics Canada reported record job vacancies in June. But the pandemic and labour shortage have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.

That has been marked by allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole, leading to a push for greater diversity in the ranks.

Those efforts include targeted recruiting of under-represented groups, including women and Indigenous people, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by easing dress rules, which Brodie suggests are bearing fruit.

Still, fewer Canadians are opting for a military career and it is not fully clear why.

“I don’t think we’ve got a good answer anywhere. I think there are so many factors and components and dimensions of the why,” Brodie says.

The Defence Department is trying to better understand the problem, she added. It is also looking at possible solutions such as financial incentives, ways to improve work-life balance, and addressing public perceptions of the military.

Brodie was unable to say whether the push for diversity is hurting more than helping, at least in terms of sheer numbers, by turning off the military’s traditional recruiting pool: young, white men.

“We can’t measure the impact of that right now. It’s too early,” she said. “But to be very, very clear … we want suitable candidates, and suitable candidates are those that first and foremost reflect the values of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The impact of not having enough new recruits is both short- and long-term, putting additional pressure on current members and meaning there are fewer people who can rise through the ranks and fill leadership roles later.

The shortfall isn’t uniform across the military. Certain occupations have more than enough applicants. But some are facing such severe shortages that signing bonuses of up to $20,000 are being offered in 25 of the military’s approximately 100 trades, including cook, meteorological technician and many navy jobs.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clark is senior recruiter in Ottawa. In recent weeks, his staff have been at different events such as the Gatineau Airshow and a comic book convention to make their pitch.

“We’re selling the benefits of being in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he says. “The pension, the medical, the dental, the education piece, continuing education, as well as a pretty interesting career where you get to travel around the world, potentially, and get paid to do it.”

Recruiters are given targets to meet, with spots divvied up by trade, as well as minimum targets for female recruits and maximums for men. There is also a high-level push for what the military still refers to as “visible minorities” and Indigenous people.

“Diversity is what we’re after,” Clark says.

Ottawa is unusual in that it is close to meeting its recruiting targets, which Clark attributes to the large number of military families in the capital. But many other places are not, including traditional military communities.

“We’re really seeing even places like Kingston that used to have a huge population of applicants, we’re seeing the well drying out,” says Maj. Simon Rocheleau, who is responsible for managing recruiting efforts across northern and eastern Ontario.

Rocheleau has a number of theories to explain the situation, including the state of the economy, the lack of a major mission like Afghanistan to drive awareness, and concerns about sexual misconduct.

Outside the Ottawa recruiting centre, Jeremy Langlois has just finished the aptitude test. The 21-year-old chef wants to fly jets, but didn’t score high enough. He will take the test again in 30 days in the hopes of qualifying.

“If that doesn’t work out, well, then I’ll have to re-evaluate and think about stuff,” he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Canada unlikely to declare COVID victory as travel restrictions loosen – Global News

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The thundering sound of hoofbeats charging toward the end of the track was met with a chorus of cheers from thousands of revellers in cowboy hats and jeans, dazzled by the colorful lights of the midway in the distance.

The Calgary Stampede attracted 500,000 visitors in 2021 after a year of pandemic isolation and uncertainty, epitomizing Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s “best summer ever.”

Kenney beamed from behind a podium that spring as he declared that Alberta had “crushed” the spike of COVID-19 infections and heralded the return of backyard barbecues, dream weddings, concerts, parties and, of course, the stampede.

Read more:

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“Today we are truly near the end of this thing. We’re leaving the darkest days of the pandemic behind and walking into the warm light of summer,” Kenney declared.

Months after what came to be known as Kenney’s “mission accomplished” moment, Alberta was pummeled by the Delta wave. The province’s intensive care units were devastated.

The moment left a lasting impression on the country’s political psyche.

Such a jubilant, if premature, declaration is not likely to be seen again in Canada’s COVID-19 response, even as other world leaders appear ready to leave the pandemic behind.

“The pandemic is over,” U.S. President Joe Biden said last week, striding down the blue carpet of the Detroit Auto Show in Michigan during an interview with “60 Minutes.”

The president said there is still work to be done, but suggested the disaster had passed.

“No one’s wearing masks, everyone seems to be in pretty good shape and so I think it’s changing.”


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Health Matters: COVID-19 patients developing autoimmune diseases


Health Matters: COVID-19 patients developing autoimmune diseases

Canada‘s cautious political message about the virus has never ceded to such optimism.

“What we have seen consistently is that people are still struggling in hospitals across our country with the impacts of COVID,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday at a press conference at the UN General Assembly in New York.

He encouraged people to get up to date on their vaccine booster doses, assuring the public “we will make sure this pandemic gets behind us as quickly as we possibly can.”

Two senior government sources, speaking on the condition they not be named because they were not authorized to speak publicly, told The Canadian Press that Trudeau has agreed in principle to let Canada’s vaccine mandates expire on Sept. 30.

When the order expires, the ArriveCan app will no longer be mandatory for international travellers, either.

The decision to put an end to some of the last vestiges of federal COVID-19 restrictions is expected to be announced officially on Monday.

Read more:

Cases in B.C. hospitals at 11-week low but admissions rise; COVID-19 still killing about 3 per day

Trudeau has yet to speak publicly about the change, but the tenor of that announcement could be telling as to how the federal government plans to navigate this new transitional phase of the pandemic.

The last time the Liberals loosened restrictions in June, removing vaccine mandates for domestic travellers, the tone was decidedly circumspect.

Rather than proclaim the mandates were no longer needed, federal officials said they were merely “suspended,” and warned they would “bring back” necessary policies if there’s a resurgence of the virus in the fall.

“I think part of the restraint that provincial and territorial governments and the federal government have, as far as walking past COVID, is because we have our memory of how that didn’t actually work out well,” said Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of The Canadian Medical Association.


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What the lifting of COVID rules will mean for the winter travel season


What the lifting of COVID rules will mean for the winter travel season

Of course, Alberta’s cautionary tale isn’t the only reason for the federal government’s political COVID-19 message.

“In Canada, our focus has been, every step of the way, on listening to science, to responding to the facts on the ground,” Trudeau said Thursday, repeating a similar message when questioned by reporters in Ottawa Friday.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, allege the Liberals are more focused on “political science.”

“There’s a lot of questions that Canadians have, why the government appears to be making decisions not based on medical science, but based on political calculations,” Conservative health critic Michael Barrett said last week.

The official opposition has accused the Liberals of using the pandemic and federal restrictions as a political wedge since the last election, when Trudeau first floated the idea of vaccine mandates.

“There’s no question of whether politics plays a role in the decision-making,” said Julianne Piper, a research fellow with the international Pandemics and Borders project at Simon Fraser University.

“I think there are different political, geographic, public health factors that play into those decisions.”

That alchemy of politics and public health has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the country, she said.

“I think it signals the general feelings around the pandemic and potentially signals what different actors who would be impacted are going to expect,” she said.

Lafontaine said it will be important for politicians to keep that in mind during this next phase of the pandemic.

“I think it’s really important for politicians to realize that the things they say have an enormous impact,” he said.

“We need, more than ever, for people to be clear about the problems that we’re facing, to declare crises when there are crises and to talk about plans for after crises when it’s time to walk through those problems, into what comes next.”

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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