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How international students heading to Canada are navigating pandemic travel – CBC.ca

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After over a year of mostly virtual learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadian colleges and universities are preparing to open their doors for in-person classes this fall.

Some international students say they are overcoming huge hurdles to get back to campus amid travel restrictions tied to the pandemic. They say online learning was a necessary solution in the interim but fell short of what they expected from a university experience in Canada.

CBC News spoke with four international students whose journeys to pursue post-secondary education in Canada have been anything but ordinary.

Noime Florece, 28

Bernardo Florece III, middle, and Noime Florece, right, travelled to Canada this summer before Noime begins her studies at Humber College. After they settle in, they hope their son, Paul, left, will be able to join them in Canada. (Submitted by Noime and Bernardo Florece)

Noime Florece and her husband, Bernardo Florece III, 31, arrived at the airport in Manila, Philippines, on July 7 to travel to Canada, only to be told at the check-in desk that they weren’t allowed to travel because her classes were more than four weeks away from starting.

Noime plans to study tourism at Humber College in Toronto and her classes only begin in September.

There is no specific rule on how early an international student can arrive before classes start, said a spokesperson from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC).

But a Canada Border Services Agency officer could view a student arriving far in advance of the start of their program as a non-essential traveller, the spokesperson said, referring to the IRCC’s response to a question on Twitter on the issue.

“If there’s any advice that we could give, people should regularly check the flight requirements,” said Bernardo.

“It’s quite tough for us because we spent a lot of time and effort.”

Noime and Bernardo received a 50 per cent refund on their tickets and rebooked their flights. They finally left Manila on Aug. 10. 

They are now quarantining at Noime’s aunt’s house in Mississauga because they are not fully vaccinated and hope their 3-year-old son, Paul, will join them from the Philippines once they are settled here.

“I want to experience the life of a student in Canada, and I also want to gain more work experience here so that when I go back to the Philippines I can build my own business,” said Noime.

“[Travelling] was quite stressful, but we’re happy it’s all done.”

Pritish Mishra, 27

Pritish Mishra, 27, has been trying to travel from India to Canada to continue his PhD studies in computer science at the University of Toronto. Mishra still hasn’t received his study permit, though he applied for one over a year ago. (Submitted by Pritish Mishra)

Pritish Mishra has almost completed the first year of his PhD in computer science at the University of Toronto. And he’s done it almost entirely from India.

After applying for his study permit in June last year, he was excited to begin his studies in Canada come September. But with long delays in processing, he has yet to receive the permit and isn’t sure if he’ll be able to get into the country anytime soon. 

According to EduCanada, it can take up to three months to get a study permit, depending on the country you are applying from. But after waiting for his permit to be processed for over a year, Mishra still doesn’t have the document necessary for him to travel to Canada for school.

“Over this last year, my research has been seriously affected,” he said.

“It’s hard to collaborate with colleagues. My professor had to pull a lot of strings to get equipment to me in India. The mental pressure is huge.”

Mishra says he contacts the IRCC using their online web form every month to ask why his study permit is still being processed.

Mishra fills out the IRCC online web form every month to ask why his study permit is still being processed over a year after applying. The response Mishra typically receives from IRCC is that, although the required documents have been received, processing times have been affected by the pandemic. (Submitted by Pritish Mishra)

Every time, Mishra says they send him the same online response — that although the required documents for his permit have been received, processing times have been affected by the pandemic.

His PhD program usually provides stipends to students for completing research, but since Mishra doesn’t have his study permit, he can’t obtain his social insurance number. As a result, his stipend has been put on hold.

“I haven’t been paid anything for one year,” Mishra said.

“I have used up all of my savings over this one year, surviving. You are always under pressure whether you will be able to complete your PhD or not.”

Isaiah Colthrust, 22

Isaiah Colthrust, 22, studies digital enterprise management at the University of Toronto. He made a video documenting his 14-day quarantine experience when he returned to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago in January. (Submitted by Isaiah Colthrust)

When the pandemic hit last spring, Isaiah Colthrust, a fourth-year University of Toronto undergraduate student, travelled back to Trinidad and Tobago to be with family.

After months of lessons online, Colthrust came back to Canada in January since he had a job as a residence assistant that allowed him to stay at the university’s Mississauga campus, where he is studying digital enterprise management.

When he came back to Toronto, he was forced to quarantine in the Chelsea Hotel in Toronto for two weeks and filmed his self-isolation experience.

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“[Isolation] was pretty mind-numbingly boring,” said Colthrust.

“That’s why I made a video about [my quarantine experience], because it took up a lot of my time.”

In his YouTube video, Colthrust shares tips on how to stay mentally and physically fit – and how to wash your clothes in the sink – all from the comfort of a hotel room.

Dikshita Nath, 31

Dikshita Nath, 31, is working on her PhD in civil engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Nath is from India and has faced travel roadblocks on her journey to Canada for school. (Submitted by Dikshita Nath)

Dikshita Nath planned to travel from India to Vancouver on August 11 to pursue her PhD in civil engineering at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Indian students who wish to travel to Canada must obtain a negative COVID-19 test result from a third country before coming to Canada due to an extended travel ban on flights from India until Sept. 21.

Nath, who began the first semester of her PhD online during the summer, planned to travel with a friend from Mumbai to the United Kingdom to Mexico – where she would take a COVID-19 test – and then finally to Vancouver.

But Nath’s plans were complicated by mixed messages and quickly changing travel protocols. Nath said she understood that her journey through London’s Heathrow airport did not involve passing through U.K. border control or entering the U.K. before getting on her connecting flight to Mexico.

However, Nath says British Airways told her in Mumbai that she could not board her flight because she did not meet the necessary requirements to enter the U.K. because she did not have a spouse in the country.

When asked about Nath’s case, a British Airways spokesperson said she did not meet the entry/exit requirements and that customers should check the latest travel information before departure as well as entry requirements for their destination.

“We ran from one airline counter to the other, asking if there were [other] tickets available,” said Nath.

“It was quite a night.”

After hours at Mumbai airport searching for other flights, Nath checked into a traveller’s hostel in Mumbai that night, where she has stayed with all her luggage for over a week.

Her new plan is to get on a charter flight from Mumbai to Cairo on Sunday – where she will take her COVID-19 test – and then travel from Cairo to Toronto. Then, she plans to fly from Toronto to Vancouver to finally pursue in-person experiments as part of her PhD program.

“It’s been really hard because at one moment I’m so hopeful and at another moment I’m like, I should give up that opportunity [in Vancouver] and stay in India and find a job,” said Nath.

“It has been difficult, but it’s forced me to be stronger.”

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Canadian literary figures double down on free speech following Salman Rushdie attack – CTV News

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Canadian writers, publishers and literary figures doubled down on the right to freedom of thought and expression on Saturday, one day after an attack on award-winning author Salman Rushdie that left him hospitalized and on a ventilator.

Rushdie, whose 1988 novel “The Satanic Verses” drew death threats from Iran’s leaders in the 1980s, was stabbed in the neck and abdomen Friday by a man who rushed the stage as the author was about to give a lecture in western New York.

Louise Dennys, executive vice-president and publisher of Penguin Random House Canada, has published and edited Rushdie’s writing for over 30 years. She condemned the attack on her longtime friend and colleague as “cowardly” and “reprehensible in every way.”

“He is without doubt one of the greatest proponents of freedom of thought and speech and debate and discussion in the world today,” Dennys said in a telephone interview. “I have hopes of his recovery. He’s a great warrior and fighter, and I hope he is fighting back.”

Rushdie, a native of India who has since lived in Britain and the U.S., is known for his surreal and satirical prose style. “The Satanic Verses” was regarded by many Muslims as blasphemous for its dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, among other objections. The book had already been banned and burned in India, Pakistan and elsewhere before Iran’s Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or edict, calling for Rushdie’s death.

Investigators were working to determine whether the attacker, born a decade after the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” acted alone. Police said the motive for Friday’s attack was unclear.

After the publication of “The Satanic Verses,” often-violent protests erupted across the Muslim world against Rushdie. At least 45 people were killed in riots over the book, including 12 people in Rushdie’s hometown of Mumbai. In 1991, a Japanese translator of the book was stabbed to death and an Italian translator survived a knife attack. In 1993, the book’s Norwegian publisher was shot three times and survived.

The death threats prompted Rushdie to go into hiding under a British government protection program, though he cautiously resumed public appearances after nine years of seclusion, maintaining his outspoken criticism of religious extremism overall.

“We all depend on the storytelling, power and imagination of writers. He came out of hiding because he realized he wanted to play a role in the world we live in, defending those rights,” said Dennys.

“He couldn’t be silenced by fear, and I think that point is something he will continue to make if, as we all hope, he survives,” she said.

Dennys said the attack is already having the opposite effect of its suspected intentions given the outpouring of support from the international literary community, as well as activists and government officials, who cited Rushdie’s courage for his longtime free speech advocacy despite risks to his own safety.

“It’s brought everyone together to realize how precious and fragile our freedoms are and how important it is to speak up for them,” Dennys said.

The president of PEN Canada, an organization defending authors’ freedom of expression, condemned the “savage attack” on their “friend and colleague” Rushdie, who is a member.

Canadian writer John Ralston Saul, who has known Rushdie since the 1990s, said the author was always aware that someone might attack him but he chose to live publicly in order to speak out against those trying to silence free expression and debate.

“(Rushdie’s) work and whole life are a reminder of what the life of the public writer is in reality,” he said. “This would be the worst possible time to give in or show any sense that we must be more careful with our words. We’re not really writers if we give in to that kind of threat.”

Rushdie’s alleged attacker, Hadi Matar, was arrested after the attack at the Chautauqua Institution, a non-profit education and retreat centre. Matar’s lawyer entered a not guilty plea in a New York court on Saturday to charges of attempted murder and assault.

After the attack, some longtime visitors to the centre questioned why there wasn’t tighter security for the event, given the threats against Rushdie and a bounty on his head offering more than US$3 million to anyone who killed him.

Saul, who spoke at the Chautauqua Institution years before Rushdie’s attack, said it has an “open tradition” of debate, free expression and anti-violence going back over 100 years.

“It’s one of the freest places to take advantage of our belief in freedom,” he said.

Director of the Toronto International Festival of Authors Roland Gulliver tweeted Saturday that literary festivals and book events are “spaces of expression, to tell your stories in friendship, safety and respect.”

“To see this so violently broken is incredibly shocking,” he wrote.

Expressions of sympathy came from the political realm as well, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemning the attack as a “cowardly … strike against freedom of expression.”

“No one should be threatened or harmed on the basis of what they have written,” read a statement posted to Trudeau’s official Twitter account. “I’m wishing him a speedy recovery.”

The 75-year-old Rushdie suffered a damaged liver, severed nerves in his arm and is likely to lose an eye as a result of the attack, Rushdie’s agent Andrew Wylie said Friday evening.

A physician who witnessed the attack and was among those who rushed to help described Rushdie’s wounds as “serious but recoverable.”

With files from the Associated Press. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 13, 2022.

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What you need to know about Canada's divisive ArriveCAN app – CBC News

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Ottawa is making plans to expand the capabilities of its ArriveCAN app even as criticism continues to mount over the mandatory online data-entry system for travellers entering the country. 

Earlier this week, Transport Canada gave an update on its plans to improve the app, including by adding an optional, online advance CBSA declaration feature for people going to the Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Billy Bishop Toronto City, Ottawa, Québec City and Halifax international airports.

The feature, which Transport Canada says cuts the amount of time travellers spend at a Canada Border Services Agency kiosk by a third, is currently only available to those passing through Toronto Pearson, Vancouver or Montreal-Trudeau international airports.

“With the thousands of travellers arriving in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal airports each day, the use of the optional advance CBSA declaration has the potential to save hours in wait time,” according to Transport Canada’s release.

With Ottawa signalling no plans to do away with the app, here’s a refresher on how it works, why it’s in place — and who’s for and against its continued use. 

Why was it put in place?

Though the app was introduced earlier in the pandemic, the version of ArriveCAN people are familiar with today launched in July 2021, when Canada began easing public health restrictions on people coming into Canada. Fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents crossing the border were no longer required to quarantine upon their return. 

But Canada still wanted a way to account for people’s vaccination statuses and COVID-19 results from a recent test. The app allowed travellers to take a photo or upload a snapshot of their vaccine documentation into the app before going through customs.

How does it work today?

Canada has lifted most of its travel restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers, including the need for domestic travellers to show proof of vaccination while travelling by train or plane. 

But regardless of vaccination status, all travellers coming into Canada are required to submit their information to the ArriveCAN app — or the website version if they don’t have a smartphone — up to 72 hours before entering Canada.

When travellers finish inputting their information, they’re emailed a receipt to show a Canadian border officer upon arrival, along with their COVID-19 test results and any vaccination documents.

The app has not been without its issues. Last month, Public Safety Canada acknowledged a glitch incorrectly informed some travellers to quarantine when in fact they didn’t have to.

What are the potential penalties for non-compliance?

Travellers who fail to provide the required information won’t be denied entry but may face a 14-day quarantine, the need to take a COVID-19 test on arrival and a followup test eight days later.

They may also be fined $5,000 and face “additional delays at the border for public health questioning,” according to Canada’s main ArriveCAN information page.

In anyone exempt from using ArriveCAN?

Yes, including people who can’t access the app or website because of cognitive or physical impairments.

Instead, they may provide the information verbally at the border or by completing a paper form. 

The exemption also applies to people who can’t fill out the information online because of a natural disaster, censorship, lack of access to internet or an ArriveCAN outage. 

There is a degree of leeway for some people at land border crossings too. 

As of May 24, “to allow for more flexibility,” the Canada Border Services Agency began letting fully vaccinated Canadian land travellers off with a warning the first time they neglect to fill out the app if they had no prior history of non-compliance. 

The union representing border workers told CBC News last month that between 30 and 40 per cent of travellers entering into Canada in Windsor, Ont., weren’t completing the app before arriving.

Who’s against it?

Border city mayors have said the app is a barrier for tourists looking to enter Canada, and for trade.

Other politicians — including Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidates Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre, Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison — have called for the app to be scrapped, saying it creates headaches for some travellers and and contributes to delays at airports. 

In a tweet last month, Poilievre called on Canada to “stop forcing ArriveCAN on people” and “restore sanity to our airports.” The tweet included video, which CBC News has not verified, of an elderly person without a cell phone calling the app “bureaucracy run amok” while at a Toronto airport. 

Lewis more recently called the app a “surveillance experiment” that needs to end.

Who wants the app to stay?

MP Taylor Bachrach, the New Democrats’ transport critic, said ArriveCAN continues to play “an important role” in helping screen international arrivals for new variants and for verifying that visitors to Canada are fully vaccinated to protect the country’s health care system. 

“But the government must make the app work as intended so it can reduce wait times at airports and border crossings as promised,” Bachrach said in a statement. 

The government also needs to better address people who can’t use the online app for accessibility reasons, he added.

“It is totally inappropriate for customs agents to be acting as IT technicians as they troubleshoot travellers’ technology challenges” he said.

Green Party MP Elizabeth May said she has found the app helpful and easy to use during her travels. 

“The recent glitch, on the other hand, demonstrates a serious problem in terms of privacy breaches,” she said in a statement.

What does the government have to say about it?

In its release earlier this week, Transport Canada said 1,600 security screening officers with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority have been hired across Canada since April, while 30 new customs inspection kiosks have been recently added at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

In its own statement to CBC News, the CBSA said 99.53 per cent of air travellers used ArrivedCAN in the week ending July 17, according to the most recently available data.

Millions of people have used the app without issue, the spokesperson added.

“Without ArriveCAN, processing times for travellers would increase significantly, as these public health functions would need to be completed manually for each traveller by CBSA officers at the port of entry.”

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Medical assistance in dying given to 10K Canadians in 2021 – CTV News

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More Canadians are ending their lives with a medically-assisted death, says the third federal annual report on medical assistance in dying (MAID). Data shows that 10,064 people died in 2021 with medical aid, an increase of 32 per cent over 2020.

The report says that 3.3 per cent of all deaths in Canada in 2021 were assisted deaths. On a provincial level, the rate was higher in provinces such as Quebec, at 4.7 per cent, and British Columbia, at 4.8 per cent.

“It is rising remarkably fast,” University of Toronto law professor Trudo Lemmens, who was a member of the Council of Canadian Academies Expert Panel on Medical Assistance in Dying, wrote in an email to CTV News. He noted that some regions in the country have quickly matched or surpassed rates in Belgium and the Netherlands, where the practice has been in place for over two decades.

Advocates say it isn’t surprising because Canadians are growing more comfortable with MAID and some expect the rising rates may level off.

“The…. expectation has always been it (the rate) will be something around four to five per cent, (as in) Europe. We will probably, in the end, saw off at around the same rate,” said Dr. Jean Marmoreo, a family physician and MAID provider in Toronto.

The report uses data collected from files submitted by doctors, nurse practitioners and pharmacists across the country involving written requests for MAID.

Among the findings:

  • All provinces saw increases in MAID deaths, ranging from 1.2 per cent (Newfoundland & Labrador) to a high of 4.8 per cent (British Columbia);
  • More men (52.3 per cent) than women (47.7 per cent) received MAID;
  • The average age was 76.3 years;
  • Sixty-five per cent of those provided with assisted death had cancer. Heart disease or strokes were cited in 19 per cent of cases, followed by chronic lung diseases (12 per cent) and neurological conditions like ALS (12 per cent);
  • Just over two per cent of assisted deaths were offered to a newer group of patients: those with chronic illnesses but who were not dying of their condition, with new legislation in 2021 allowing expanded access to MAID.

Documents show that 81 per cent of written applications for MAID were approved.

Thirteen per cent of patients died before MAID could be provided, with almost two per cent withdrawing their application before the procedure was offered.

Four per cent of people who made written applications for medical assistance were rejected. The report says some were deemed ineligible because assessors felt the patient was not voluntarily applying for MAID. The majority of requests were denied because patients were deemed not mentally capable of making the decision.

But other countries with long-established programs reject far more assisted death requests, said Lemmens, citing data that shows 12 to 16 per cent of applicants in the Netherlands are told no.

“It ….may be an indication that restrictions (in my view safeguards) are weaker here than in the most liberal euthanasia regimes,” he wrote in his email to CTV News.

But Marmoreo, who has offered MAID since 2016, sees Canada’s low rejection rate differently.

“It is more like that the right cases are put forward,” she said.

“We have a very good screening process right from the get-go. So before people actually even make a formal request to have assisted dying, they have a lot of information that’s been given to them by the intake….here’s what’s involved in seeking an assisted death, you must meet these eligibility criteria.”

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