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Life slowly resumes in Ottawa under heavy police presence – Al Jazeera English

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Ottawa, Canada – After weeks of blaring truck horns and crowds of protesters denouncing coronavirus measures and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government, the streets in the heart of Canada’s capital have gone quiet.

Outside Parliament Hill on Tuesday, small groups of police officers walked past blue fencing erected to control traffic in and out of the largely empty streets. A few restaurants and cafes were open, while a handful of workers in fluorescent vests cleared snow.

Life is slowly returning to normal in downtown Ottawa, residents and workers say, after the area was occupied for three weeks by anti-government truckers and their supporters as part of the so-called “Freedom Convoy“.

“It felt like a really bad party that had gone wrong,” said Bill, who works a block from parliament and only gave Al Jazeera his first name, about the protests.

Tuesday was much quieter than it had been, he told Al Jazeera, smoking a cigarette outside his office building, but he wants to see the fences come down, the police officers leave, and people come back downtown, in other words, he said, for “a sense of normality” to return.

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Gordon Belyea, who has to go through downtown to get to work, told Al Jazeera he thought the city would “bounce back” fairly quickly.

“A lot of folks I think sympathise to some degree with some of the concerns of the protesters,” he said. “But at the same time, I think most folks have had it with the streets being blocked off and for people being intimidated … It’s intimidating, especially if you don’t look like a lot of the folks that have been protesting.”

The effects of the weeks-long occupation continue to be felt, especially in the city’s downtown area, where police still maintain a large presence after dispersing demonstrators during the weekend. Police had set up about 100 checkpoints around a secured area to prevent protesters from returning and dozens of big rigs and other vehicles were towed away.

Organised by some far-right and white supremacist activists, the “Freedom Convoy” brought thousands of people to the Canadian capital starting late last month to denounce a coronavirus vaccine mandate for truckers at the US-Canada border.

Many stayed in the city’s downtown core, where they blocked roads, honked their horns incessantly and vowed to stay until all COVID-19 restrictions were lifted across Canada. Local residents denounced the convoy as an “occupation” – and a sense of fear spread over the city amid reports of harassment and threats.

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As of 8am (13:00 GMT) on Monday, police said that 196 people had been arrested, including 110 who were charged with various offences such as mischief and assault, in relation to the convoy.

That included some key organisers, including Tamara Lich, who led an online fundraiser that raised millions of dollars for the protest. Canadian media reported that a judge on Tuesday denied bail to Lich, who was charged last week with counselling to commit mischief.

Another top organiser, Pat King, also was in court on Tuesday for a lengthy bail hearing. The hearing was adjourned without a decision and will resume later this week, Canadian media reported.

The Ottawa occupation and other similar blockades of key US-Canada border crossings have raised significant questions around the rise of far-right groups in Canada, the response of police, and the federal government’s use of emergency powers to regain control.

On Monday night, Canadian legislators in a 185-151 vote approved the use of the Emergencies Act, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked last week to give his government sweeping authority to dismantle the protests. The temporary measure will remain in place until mid-March.

“We will only do this for as long as we believe it is required,” Canada’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness Bill Blair said after the parliamentary vote. “And so we are very hopeful that our law enforcement officials and other officials … will be able to restore peace and the rule of law right across the country and end the state of emergency as soon as possible.”

Civil liberties groups and opposition politicians have criticised Canada for invoking the emergency order, with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) saying on Monday evening that there was “no legal justification” for its use. “The broad powers the government has granted to police curtail” rights enshrined under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the group tweeted.

But back in downtown Ottawa on Tuesday, residents welcomed the sense of relative calm.

“It’s so nice with everything being gone. I’m so happy,” said Ally Whalen, who works at a café just blocks from Parliament Hill and lives in the city’s Byward Market area, where she said she could hear the truck horns at all hours of the night.

Her workplace decided to close on weekends and to move to reduced hours on weekdays during the protests, and they also eventually decided to refuse service to anyone who would not wear a mask inside.

“It just got too chaotic … We just couldn’t deal with the harassment any more. It was too hard on the people working,” the 23-year-old told Al Jazeera on her way into work on Tuesday for her first shift since the protesters were cleared out of the city centre.

“I’m really excited. I can’t wait to see everyone. It’s definitely going to be such a better vibe and mood.”

Canadian parliament buildingsPolice have blocked off a secured area of downtown Ottawa to anyone who does not live, work or have a valid reason to be there [Jillian Kestler-D’Amours/Al Jazeera]

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A report on wildfire in Lytton, B.C., says more community fireproofing needed

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VANCOUVER — A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.

Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”

Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.

Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.

“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”

Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.

“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”

The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.

They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.

The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.

Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.

Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.

Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.

“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.

“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Regular travel and public health measures can’t coexist: Canadian Airport Council

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OTTAWA — International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up that people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.

The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.

The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.

“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.

The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.

Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.

Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.

“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.

The government is aware of the frustrating lineups at airports, a statement from the transport minister’s office said.

“Current health measures in place are based on the advice of public health experts to protect Canadians. We will continue to base our measures and adjustments on their expert advice,” the statement read.

The ministry is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to post more screening officers at checkpoints, the minister’s office said, and the agency is working on hiring even more.

The government will not ask airlines to cut back their flight schedules, the statement noted.

Between May 1 and May 7, about 1.3 per cent of 1,920 travellers tested at airports were COVID-19 positive.

For comparison, 3.46 per cent were positive between April 1 and April 9, though significantly more tests were performed during that time.

Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.

The requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.

“We’re effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.

The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.

“It tells you to go elsewhere, that we’re not open for business,” she said.

On Monday, several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, pleaded their case for fewer COVID-19 restrictions at the House of Commons transport committee.

“These are costing our economy deeply and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events,” Robin Guy, the chamber’s senior director for transportation policy, told the committee.

The witnesses urged the government to review their COVID-19 regulations at the border and do away with those that are no longer necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour – CTV News

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St. JOHN’S –

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived Tuesday in St. John’s, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that will largely focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Under partly cloudy skies, the couple landed at St. John’s International Airport aboard a Canadian government jet. They then headed by motorcade to a welcome ceremony at the provincial legislature with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

The couple were met by an honour guard and various dignitaries before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people in the crowd. On the steps leading to the legislature, about 100 schoolchildren waved small Canadian and provincial flags.

Grade 6 student Anna Jeans said she was thrilled at the possibility she might get a high-five from Charles or Camilla. “I’m very excited,” she said, bouncing on her toes. “It’s a big opportunity for me.”

Nearby, Tara Kelly — wearing a homemade fascinator with a tall plume of green feathers — said she’s long been a fan of the Royal Family. “It’s a fantasy,” she said.

Inside the Confederation Building’s purple-lit foyer, the prince and the duchess looked on as Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue offered a blessing and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds sang.

The event began with a land acknowledgment honouring the province’s five Indigenous groups as well as the Beothuk people, who were among the first inhabitants of Newfoundland, their history stretching back 9,000 years.

Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked Charles and Camilla to listen to the Indigenous groups they will meet in Canada and to learn their stories.

“I encourage you to learn the truth of our history — the good and the bad,” she said. “In this way, we will promote healing, understanding and respect. And in this way, we will also promote reconciliation.”

The prince started his speech by noting that the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — for thousands of years.

“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” he said. “It is a process that starts with listening.”

The prince said he had spoken with the Governor General about the “vital process” of reconciliation.

“(It’s) not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding,” he said. “I know that our visit this week comes at an important moment with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada, committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past.”

Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote, the Queen’s representative in the province.

Outside the residence, they will take part in a reconciliation prayer with Indigenous leaders at the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province’s residential schools.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said reconciliation will form part of the discussions Charles and Camilla engage in during their visit. But the prime minister avoided answering when asked if he thinks the Queen should apologize for the legacy of residential schools.

“Reconciliation has been a fundamental priority for this government ever since we got elected, and there are many, many things that we all have to work on together,” he said. “But we know it’s not just about government and Indigenous people. It’s about everyone doing their part, and that’s certainly a reflection that everyone’s going to be having.”

Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron has said she intends to make a request for an apology to the prince and duchess during a reception Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Caron has said residential school survivors have told her an apology from the Queen is important as she is Canada’s head of state and the leader of the Anglican Church. “The Royals have a moral responsibility to participate and contribute and advance reconciliation,” Caron said in Ottawa on Monday.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools when Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors visited the Vatican. He will travel to Canada to deliver the apology this summer.

Leaders from four of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous groups were expected to attend the prayer ceremony at the lieutenant-governor’s residence in St. John’s. Elders and residential school survivors were also invited to take part in a smudging ceremony, musical performances, a land acknowledgment and a moment of silence.

Charles and Camilla will then tour Quidi Vidi, a former fishing community in the east end of St. John’s.

The couple are expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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