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Hospitals still flooding with coronavirus patients despite new year, experts warn – Global News



OTTAWA — The fraught year of 2020 may be over, but experts warn the dawn of a new year doesn’t mean an end to the troubles caused by the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Patients in multiple Canadian hotspots are flooding hospitals at an alarming rate and expected to arrive in even greater numbers in the weeks to come, doctors and health centres said Friday.

“If these rates of increase continue the way they are, the months of January and February are absolutely going to be brutal. It’s just a question of how brutal will it be,” said Anthony Dale, head of the Ontario Hospital Association.

One-fifth of the province’s intensive care capacity is now devoted to COVID-19 patients, with Toronto and the regions of Peel, York, and Windsor-Essex hardest hit.

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‘Blursday’: Coronavirus restrictions left 54% of Canadians feeling isolated, poll says

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Dale said 45 of the 149 COVID-19 patients admitted into intensive care in Ontario last week have died.

“We will see accelerating numbers of unnecessary deaths — more people dying. We will see more people suffering in intensive care and in hospitals,” he said, calling the situation “totally unsustainable.”

The spike could jeopardize elective surgeries and other care. Some hospitals have already started to cancel procedures, adding to the backlog created after 160,000 were nixed in the first wave, he added.

Click to play video 'Kenney says unaware of MLA travel until after Christmas'

Kenney says unaware of MLA travel until after Christmas

Kenney says unaware of MLA travel until after Christmas

“Even though COVID’s going on, people still get cancer, they still get heart disease, they still need organ transplants.”

He said the pandemic has prompted staff shortages at numerous hospitals, with some front-line workers redeployed to testing centres, labs and long-term care homes.

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Hospitals in the greater Montreal area are on track to exceed capacity within the next three weeks, with almost two-thirds of beds designated for coronavirus patients already occupied, according to a report from INESSS, a government-funded health institute.

“Unfortunately, if the trend continues, this will have to be compensated in particular by the additional shedding of non-COVID treatments in our hospitals,” Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube said Thursday in a Twitter post in French.

Click to play video 'Alberta premier says vaccine rollout has significantly increased'

Alberta premier says vaccine rollout has significantly increased

Alberta premier says vaccine rollout has significantly increased

However, the projection did not take into account Premier Francois Legault’s shutdown of all non-essential businesses in the province from Dec. 25 to Jan. 11., which could help curb the spread, said Dr. Luc Boileau, who heads the institute.

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“The good news behind all of this is the vaccinations coming on,” Boileau said. “The impact of this will be manifest on the outbreaks inside health services and of course lowering mortality.”

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Nearly 500,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires ultracold storage, have been distributed across the Canada since Health Canada approved it on Dec. 9.

The Moderna vaccine — green-lighted on Dec. 23 — has also started to roll off tarmacs, beginning to reach remote and First Nations communities over the past week. Its -20 C storage temperatures make for easier delivery compared to the -70 C needed for the Pfizer vaccine.

Read more:
Kenney ‘disappointed’ in Alberta minister who took Hawaii vacation amid COVID-19 pandemic

The country’s not in the clear yet.

Individuals need to make sensible choices around social distancing and staying home, said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and professor emeritus at Ryerson University’s School of Public Health.

“We’re still seeing knucklehead parties from seven to 14 to 25 people, raving out there with no masks, lots of booze and drinking and hugging and kissing and so on,” Sly said. “That’s avoidable.”

Public officials are not above making dubious travel choices, with several prominent politicians taking heat for holiday travel despite public-health guidelines to stay home.

On Friday evening, the federal NDP released a statement saying that MP Niki Ashton travelled to Greece to see an ill family member, and would consequently be relieved of her shadow cabinet roles, which include transportation.

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Click to play video 'New Year baby in Toronto brings hope for 2021'

New Year baby in Toronto brings hope for 2021

New Year baby in Toronto brings hope for 2021

“While we are sympathetic to Ms. Ashton’s situation and understand her need to be with her family, millions of Canadians are following public health guidelines, even when it made it impossible for them to visit sick or aging relatives,” the party said.

Earlier, Rod Phillips resigned as Ontario’s finance minister after cutting short a Caribbean vacation, while Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Tracy Allard came under fire for a Hawaiian getaway from Dec. 19 to Dec. 31.

Surgeries typically ramp-up following a winter holiday lull, but more could now be sidelined due to the ripple effects of rule-flouting, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician at St. Joseph’s hospital in Hamilton and an associate professor at McMaster University.

“If there’s no beds to put those patients in afterwards, unfortunately those surgeries just get cancelled,” he said.

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St. Joseph’s has opened a satellite site in a revamped hotel, transferring dozens of patients to the renovated facility in order to keep the main health centre’s occupancy rate below 90 per cent to handle the expected surge.

“We’re filled to the brim,” Chagla said.

Read more:
NDP removes MP from critic roles after travelling abroad to see sick family member

“I have patients that didn’t have COVID but had horrible outcomes because … they weren’t able to access care the way they should,” he added, recalling the first wave.

“I’m very worried about those individuals again going into the next three to four months, that we’re going to see a fallout of people that have missed cancer diagnoses or infections that needed to be treated earlier.

“It’s a lot of strain on a system that is already strained,” he said.

Most provinces and territories are not reporting new data on Friday due to the holidays.

New Brunswick added two new COVID-19 cases Friday, pushing its provincial total to 601.

Click to play video 'Look back at the impact of COVID-19 in B.C. by the numbers'

Look back at the impact of COVID-19 in B.C. by the numbers

Look back at the impact of COVID-19 in B.C. by the numbers

The Yukon added another four cases as well, with the territory’s total caseload standing at 64.

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Canada’s two largest provinces reported new record highs of COVID-19 cases on Thursday.

Ontario reported 3,328 new cases and 56 more deaths linked to the virus, matching the highest death toll from the first wave. In Quebec, there were 2,819 new cases and 62 deaths.

The Public Health Agency of Canada said Thursday more than 720 patients hospitalized with the virus are now receiving treatment in ICUs, including 337 in Ontario and 165 in Quebec.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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B.C. billionaire given the green light to sue Twitter over 'Pizzagate' tweets –



West Vancouver billionaire Frank Giustra has been given the go-ahead to sue Twitter in a B.C. courtroom over the social media giant’s publication of a series of tweets tying him to baseless conspiracy theories involving pedophile rings and Bill and Hillary Clinton.

In a ruling released Thursday, Justice Elliott Myers found that Giustra’s history and presence in British Columbia, combined with the possibility the tweets may have been seen by as many as 500,000 B.C. Twitter users, meant a B.C. court should have jurisdiction over the case.

It’s a victory not only for Giustra — whose philanthropic activities have earned him membership in both the Orders of Canada and B.C. — but for Canadian plaintiffs trying to hold U.S.-based internet platforms responsible for border-crossing content.

‘I believe that words do matter’

In a statement, Giustra said he was looking forward to pursuing the case in the province where he built his reputation as the founder of Lionsgate Entertainment.

“I hope this lawsuit will help raise public awareness of the real harm to society if social media platforms are not held responsible for the content posted and published on their sites,” Giustra said.

“I believe that words do matter, and recent events have demonstrated that hate speech can incite violence with deadly consequences.”

In this June 21, 2007 file photo, Frank Giustra speaks as Bill Clinton looks on during a news conference in New York to announce the Clinton Foundation’s launching of a new sustainable development initiative in Latin America. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

Giustra filed the defamation lawsuit in April 2019, seeking an order to force Twitter to remove tweets he claimed painted him as “corrupt” and “criminal.”

He claimed he was targeted by a group who vilified him “for political purposes” in relation to the 2016 U.S. election and his work in support of the Clinton Foundation. 

The online attacks allegedly included death threats and links to “pizzagate” — a “false, discredited and malicious conspiracy theory in which [Giustra] was labelled as a ‘pedophile,'” the claim stated.

Thorny questions

Twitter has not filed a response to Giustra’s claim itself — applying instead to have the case tossed because of jurisdiction.

The California-based company said it does not do business in B.C. and that Giustra was only relying on his B.C. roots to file the case in Canada because it would be a non-starter in the U.S., where the First Amendment protects free speech.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey addresses students during a town hall at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, India, Nov. 12, 2018. That same year, Giustra wrote to Dorsey asking him to investigate the ‘past and ongoing attacks’ against him. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

The company claimed he would have been mostly affected in the U.S. where he spends much of his time, owns extensive property and has substantial interests in the entertainment industry — meaning B.C. is only tangentially connected to the matter.

In essence, Myers said, Twitter claimed it was only a platform for others to post comment, and couldn’t be expected to face defamation cases every place people felt aggrieved.

The judge said the case presented some difficult — if timely — questions.

“This case illustrates the jurisdictional difficulties with internet defamation where the publication of the defamatory comments takes place in multiple countries where the plaintiff has a reputation to protect,” Myers wrote.

“The presumption is that a defendant should be sued in only one jurisdiction for an alleged wrong, but that is not a simple goal to achieve fairly for internet defamation.”

‘Strong ties to the province’

Myers found Giustra’s connection to B.C. undeniable.

“There can be no dispute that Mr. Giustra has a significant reputation in British Columbia. He also has strong ties to the province,” he wrote.

“The fact that he has a reputation in or connections to other jurisdictions does not detract from that.”

The judge said Giustra had also done what he needed to do to show his reputation in B.C. might have been affected.

“I do not agree with Twitter who argues that of all places in the world, the Plaintiff’s reputation has not been harmed in B.C.,” Myers wrote.

In its application, Twitter drew on a 2018 Supreme Court of Canada judgment in which a Canadian billionaire with substantial interests in Israel was denied his bid to sue an Israeli newspaper in Ontario over an article that appeared online.

In that case, the court ruled that Israel would be the more appropriate place to hold a trial because the billionaire was better known there, he hadn’t limited his suit to damages suffered in Canada and most of the witnesses would also be in Israel.

But Myers found that many of the tweets referred to B.C. and went beyond the kind of business articles that were at the heart of the Supreme Court of Canada case.

“Here the tweets refer to Mr. Giustra’s personal characteristics alleging, for example, pedophilia,” Myers wrote.

Despite the lawsuit, Giustra maintains a Twitter account.

The court filings include a letter he wrote to Twitter chief executive officer Jack Dorsey in April 2018, asking him to make his case a priority.

“As Twitter’s CEO, I ask that you now investigate the source of these past and ongoing attacks against me — whether they are the result of individuals, a group, bots, or a combination of all three,” Giustra wrote.

“I do not want to cancel my Twitter account — that would be a victory of those who are turning this incredible communication tool into a conduit for slander and hate.”

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1,500 flights and rising as Canadians seek sunny escapes despite surging COVID-19 crisis –



Thousands of Canadians are thumbing their noses at government advice to stay home and hopping international flights to sunny destinations even as the COVID-19 crisis worsens in many parts of the country, CBC News has found.

Canadian air carriers operated more than 1,500 flights between Canada and 18 popular vacation destinations since Oct. 1, even as caseloads rise and the health crisis deepens.

It has prompted many questions from Canadians about why there is no outright travel ban, especially given recent high-profile resignations and firings involving politicians, doctors and civic leaders who’ve taken vacations outside the country

“With the new state of emergency and recent lockdown measures, why hasn’t the government considered restrictions for airline travel either international or even Canadian travel between provinces?” asked Brenda LacLaurin of Ottawa, who contacted CBC News.

“How are people still travelling for leisure?” asked another audience member. “Every official says it saves lives to stay home, yet people can get on a plane and fly to Florida? WHY is the airport not closed to outgoing travel?”

While international travel is permitted, the federal government has been advising Canadians for nearly a year to avoid all “non-essential travel” outside the country without offering a clear definition or tools for authorities to prevent it. 

Mexico, Jamaica top the list

CBC News tracked Canadian non-stop flights to and from popular resort destinations using data from between Oct. 1, 2020, and Jan. 16, 2021.

Of the 1,516 flights analyzed, some of the most popular routes departing from Canada included 214 flights between Toronto and Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 183 flights between Montreal and Cancun, Mexico.

CBC excluded all known cancelled flights, as schedules continue to change.

WestJet announced last week it is scaling back operations, suspending several routes to sunny destinations, including flights from Edmonton and Vancouver to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, “as the airline continues to face volatile demand and instability.”

Air Canada says its overall network capacity — the number of seats it makes available for sale — is down 80 per cent compared with 2019. In an emailed statement, an airline spokesperson took exception to questions about the volume of flights resuming to vacation destinations.

“The real issue here is we need to restart travel safely in Canada as it is very important to the economy, with hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on it both directly and indirectly,” said Air Canada’s Peter Fitzpatrick.

Flight tracking by CBC News shows that despite a dramatic drop last spring, air traffic from eight Canadian airports to Mexico and the Caribbean is on the rebound.

Raywat Deonandan, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, says the data suggests a small portion of the Canadian public is choosing to disregard public health advice, putting themselves and the countries they visit at risk.

“I try not to judge people. Everyone’s got their reasons,” he said. “Maybe they need, you know, some kind of stress relief.”

WATCH | Deonandan on the need to cut out travel: 

Government needs to set rules and enforce them to limit Canadians’ non-essential travel, says Raywat Deonandan of the University of Ottawa. 4:26

However, he said, for that many people to be knowingly acting against public health advice, there is likely some selfishness at play. 

“This sense that my need for recreation is greater than the need of the population to remain safe.”

Deonandan says banning travel could prompt backlash and civil disobedience, and would be a “hard sell” politically and economically, especially given an end to the pandemic is in sight with the introduction of vaccines.

But, he says, to prioritize public health, the government should have been much clearer and directed Canadians from the beginning on what does — and does not — constitute essential travel.

“I think a good rule of thumb is if the primary purpose of your travel is recreation, it should not be permitted,” he said, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists Caribbean vacation destinations as Level 4, or very high risk for COVID-19.

‘No formal restriction’

Health Canada provided CBC News with several links to its advice, none of which defines essential travel. 

The federal government asks Canadians to “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada,” but on its website says, “it is up to the individual to decide” what that includes.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford acknowledged this week the lack of clarity on the matter is causing confusion as he laid out details of the province’s new stay-at-home rules.

“I know that essential means different things to different people. We have 15 million people in Ontario, each with their own individual circumstances,” Ford told a news conference on Tuesday.

CBC News also asked each province and territory how they define essential travel.

Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island did not respond.

Manitoba, B.C., New Brunswick and Nunavut all offered some descriptions of essential and non-essential travel, with Northwest Territories providing the clearest examples of what to avoid.

“Vacation purposes — like going to a beach or ski resort, shopping and visiting family members where there is no extenuating circumstances at-hand,” the government’s statement says.

Roving musicians Los Compas serenade a couple on the shore of Mamitas Beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Mexico saw a holiday bump in tourism despite the ongoing pandemic. (Emilio Espejel/The Associated Press)

Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Alberta offered no definitions, with Alberta noting provinces are powerless to keep people home.

“There is no formal restriction prohibiting such travel or punitive measures in place at this time,” wrote a provincial spokesperson.

‘A steep gamble’

The Public Health Agency of Canada has flagged potential COVID-19 exposures on almost 500 international flights since Dec. 1, 2020. Of those, 87 flights were to or from the southern vacation destinations used in the CBC’s analysis.

While known cases in Canada linked to international travel represent only one per cent of the country’s overall case count, experts caution that still represents 4,239 exposures and contacts tied to a traveller.

Canada recently beefed up screening at airports and last week imposed a new requirement for all inbound travellers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Experts say those tests are not 100 per cent reliable and that people should not assume they can control their exposures abroad.

“You cannot control who is in the airplane with you. You can’t control the nature and the environment of the airport when you arrive. You can’t control the hygienic quality of the taxi that you take from the airport to your destination,” said Deonandan, who implored Canadians to think of the common good before travelling abroad.

“It is a steep, steep gamble that I don’t think is worth taking,” he said.

About the data

CBC News collected one year’s worth of data from for 169 routes between Canadian international airports and 18 destinations in popular vacation spots, mostly in Mexico and the Caribbean. Only direct, non-cancelled flights were examined. In all, 5,628 flights were analyzed, 3,042 inbound and 2,586 outbound. The data was collected on Jan. 9 and includes scheduled flights up to Jan. 16.

Although Flightradar24 is recognized as an authoritative source, there could be errors or omissions in the data, which isn’t guaranteed to be 100 per cent accurate.

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CBC wrong to fire reporter who told news site he was forced to delete tweet critical of Don Cherry: arbitrator –



CBC “acted improperly” by firing a reporter who leaked to a news site that the network forced him to take down a tweet criticizing broadcaster Don Cherry, an arbitrator has ruled.

Ahmar Khan, who worked in CBC’s Manitoba newsroom as a temporary reporter/editor for a year before his termination in December 2019, is now entitled to be reinstated for a minimum of four months or receive four months of compensation, arbitrator Lorne Slotnick wrote in his ruling.

“His chosen method of publicizing an internal CBC decision ordering him to take down a tweet was, in my view, like other public comment from CBC employees, not intended to harm the CBC or its reputation, nor is there any evidence that it did so,” Slotnick wrote.

CBC had said Khan was fired — not because of the tweet — but for both the leak and for homophobic and other disparaging remarks he was found to have made online.  

But Slotnick ruled those reasons “amounted to, at most, a minor indiscretion” and were “far overshadowed” by a breach of privacy that uncovered Khan’s activities.

“Consequently, my conclusion is that the CBC acted improperly by dismissing him for cause,” Slotnick wrote. 

Khan declined to comment about the decision when contacted by email. He tweeted one word — “Vindicated” — early Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in a statement, CBC restated that its actions against Khan “were not related to his tweet regarding Don Cherry.”

The network added: “As was noted in the ruling, our actions were not considered discriminatory and there was no breach of Human Rights law.” 

Cherry was fired in November 2019 after an outburst on Hockey Night in Canada in which the controversial commentator spoke about Remembrance Day and his outrage over “people that come here” — referring to immigrants — and don’t wear poppies. 

Khan was offended by Cherry’s remarks and tweeted that his Coach’s Corner segment should be cancelled. He said Cherry’s “xenophobic comments being aired weekly are deplorable.”

When CBC management learned of Khan’s tweet, he was told it violated the policy on reporters expressing opinions, according to Slotnick’s ruling.

Ahmar Khan was told to take down a tweet in which he criticized broadcaster Don Cherry for being xenophobic. (Twitter)

Khan, who was 23 at the time, was asked to delete the tweet, which he did, reluctantly, and he wasn’t disciplined for his actions, the decision says.

But Khan also told management that he believed CBC’s policies were being applied selectively, and in a way that was harmful to journalists of colour, according to his testimony, which ran for seven days over several months last year.

He testified he wasn’t satisfied with the answers he got from management and decided to leak what had transpired to the news site Canadaland, which published the story on Nov. 14.

Khan testified he was conflicted about telling Canadaland, but felt a discussion was necessary about race and the CBC and about how its journalism policies were, in his view, silencing employees of colour. 

Later that November, another CBC reporter, Austin Grabish, using a shared company laptop that Khan had used, discovered Khan’s personal Twitter and WhatsApp accounts were still logged in, and found messages that included an admission that Khan had contacted Canadaland.

In another message, Khan referred to management as “assholes” for accusing him of violating CBC journalist policies. 

Cherry was fired following his controversial remarks. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Khan had also sent a message to Andray Domise, a columnist with Maclean’s magazine, who subsequently posted a tweet saying that CBC had made Khan take down the original tweet. 

Grabish also discovered that some of the messages included what he believed to be homophobic slurs, the ruling states. 

Grabish says he was “shocked and disappointed” by the homophobia and the “thread of misinformation about the CBC.”

“As a gay man, I know what it’s like to be marginalized and grew up repeatedly being the subject of regular homophobic slurs and bullying because of my sexual orientation,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Grabish relayed what he found to management and Khan was fired on Dec. 3, 2019, in part, according to the decision, for “contacting external outlets about the order to delete the Cherry tweet, and for making disparaging comments about CBC management and its policies.”

He was also cited for making a homophobic slur on WhatsApp where his profile identified him as a CBC employee, says the ruling.

Khan testified the alleged slurs were a joke among friends, according to the ruling, and reiterated that position Thursday in an email to CBC.

“A friend and I were mocking a friend who uses that word in an effort to tell him to not use that language as it’s derogatory and hurtful,” he wrote in reference to the homophobic slur cited by Grabish.

Grievance filed

The union representing Khan, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), filed a grievance on his behalf, alleging the CBC violated the collective agreement, the Canada Labour Codethe Privacy Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It argued Khan had a reasonable expectation that his messages, even though they were on a company laptop, were private and that they should not have been used by management in the decision to fire him.

The union also claimed that Khan was not seeking vengeance or to embarrass someone, but was calling for a public discussion about CBC’s journalism policies and how they were silencing employees of colour.

In his ruling, Slotnick said Khan had a reasonable expectation of privacy for his messages and that his right to privacy was violated, which “tainted the entire process that led to the termination of his employment.”

Slotnick said he agreed with the union that “if employees could lose their jobs for privately criticizing their bosses — even if in crude terms — this country would be facing a severe labour shortage.”

WATCH | Cherry says he regets choice of words:

Don Cherry speaks to CBC News after being fired for comments he made 3:05

He also rejected the notion that the CBC’s reputation had suffered.

“In an institution and an atmosphere where controversy is inherent in the nature of the product, my view is that it is an unfounded leap of logic to suggest that Mr. Khan’s actions regarding a tweet somehow affected the CBC’s reputation,” he wrote.

Kim Trynacity, CBC branch president of the CMG, said the union is extremely pleased with the ruling which “upheld the reasonable expectation of personal privacy” for employees.

“In trying to settle this grievance, it must be noted CMG has always focused on how management treated Khan, and how it dealt with a situation of a racialized temporary employee,” she said in a statement.

“Management failed to respect Khan’s reasonable expectation of privacy which is a clear violation under our collective agreement.”

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