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Major winter storm approaching Ontario and Quebec : In The News for Dec. 23

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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 23 …

What we are watching in Canada …

A major winter storm is bearing down on Ontario and Quebec, with residents being warned to reconsider travel plans as conditions could get hazardous.

Environment Canada has issued weather warnings for most of Ontario and much of Quebec, saying heavy snow, strong winds and freezing rain are expected in some areas.

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In parts of southern Ontario, rain followed by plummeting temperatures could result in flash-freezing conditions, while high winds and blizzard conditions are forecast for some areas.

Several school boards, including the Toronto District School Board and boards in Ottawa and London, Ont., have shut schools for the day.

Late Thursday, WestJet proactively cancelled flights at airports in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia as storm systems bear down on the regions.

The airline says the cancellations apply to all flights scheduled to arrive and depart Toronto’s Pearson International Airport beginning Friday at 9 a-m eastern time until the end of the day — other airports affected by the service disruptions include those in Ottawa, London, Montreal, and Waterloo.

In Quebec, many regions are expected to receive a mix of heavy snow, rain and strong winds, while some areas could see freezing rain.

Meteorologists have warned that the forecast weather in both provinces could result in power outages.

Also this …

Leading experts involved in developing an expansion of Canada’s medically assisted dying regime to people whose sole underlying condition is a mental disorder are at odds over whether the expansion should be delayed.

One expert says a delay would ease pressure on the “rushed process” of developing practice guidelines for the complex cases, saying that training modules for practitioners won’t be ready until the end of this year or early next year at the earliest. But another expert says more waiting is not necessary.

The system was slated to include such patients beginning next March after a two-year sunset clause built in to a 2021 update to the medical assistance in dying or MAID law.

Despite an expert panel determining that the proper safeguards are in place, the federal government announced last week that it intends to legislate further delay. It has not indicated for how long.

“Not everybody is ready,” Justice Minister David Lametti said when he made the announcement.

Madeline Li, a cancer psychiatrist who sits on several MAID-related panels, says the Liberal government is still working on developing the practice guidelines around cases with patients whose only underlying condition is a mental disorder.

She said she was pleased with the decision to delay the expansion, and the delay will allow her and others to “properly develop” the guidelines.

She said a curriculum she is helping to develop would train clinicians to consider the psychological factors driving the desire to die and teach them how to assess vulnerable patients who are contemplating a medically assisted death — and how to centre their thinking on equity and diversity.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

Hairdresser Grisel Garces survived a harrowing, four-month journey from her native Venezuela through tropical jungles, migrant detention centers in southern Mexico and then jolting railcar rides north toward the U.S. border.

Now on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande across from El Paso, Texas, she’s anxiously awaiting a pending U.S. Supreme Court decision on asylum restrictions expected to affect her and thousands of other migrants at crossings along some 3,100 kilometres of border from Texas to California. And she’s doing so while living outside as winter temperatures plunge over much of the U.S. and across the border.

She told of fleeing economic hardship only to find more hardship, such as now having to shiver through temperatures colder than any she’s ever experienced.

“Riding the train was bad. Here the situation is even worse. You just turn yourself over to God’s mercy,” said Garces, who left a school-aged daughter behind, hoping to reach the U.S. with her husband.

Their savings exhausted, some days they don’t eat. And on Thursday, Garces waited and watched as hundreds of migrants formed a line to gradually pass through a gate in the border fence for processing by U.S. immigration officials. She fears immediate deportation under current asylum restrictions and doesn’t dare cross the shallow waters of the Rio Grande within view.

Dozens of migrants have been spending their nights on the concrete banks of the river, awaiting word of possible changes to the asylum restrictions put in place in March 2020. In El Paso, sidewalks are serving as living quarters outside a bus station and a church for some migrants who can’t find space immediately at an expanding network of shelters underwritten by the city and religious groups.

That Trump administration-era ban on asylum _ Title 42 _ was granted a brief extension by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts on Wednesday. It’s not clear when the Supreme Court’s definitive decision will come. The Biden administration asked the court to lift the restrictions, but not before Christmas.

Under Title 42, authorities have expelled asylum-seekers inside the United States 2.5 million times, and turned away most people who requested asylum at the border, on grounds of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

Confessed French serial killer Charles Sobhraj was freed from prison in Nepal on Friday after serving most of his sentence for the murders of American and Canadian backpackers.

Sobhraj was driven out of Central Jail in Kathmandu in a heavily guarded police convoy to the Department of Immigration, where he will wait for his travel documents to be prepared.

The country’s Supreme Court had ordered that Sobhraj, who was sentenced to life in prison in Nepal, be released because of poor health, good behavior and having already served most of his sentence. Life sentences in Nepal are 20 years.

The order also said he had to leave the country within 15 days.

Sobhraj’s attorney Gopal Siwakoti Chitan told reporters that the request for the travel documents must be made by the immigration department to the French embassy in Nepal, which could take some time. Offices are closed over the weekend for the Christmas holiday.

The court document said he had already served more than 75% of his sentence, making him eligible for release, and he has heart disease.

The Frenchman has in the past admitted killing several Western tourists and he is believed to have killed at least 20 people in Afghanistan, India, Thailand, Turkey, Nepal, Iran and Hong Kong during the 1970s. However, his 2004 conviction in Nepal was the first time he was found guilty in court.

Sobhraj was held for two decades in New Delhi’s maximum-security Tihar prison on suspicion of theft but was deported without charge to France in 1997. He resurfaced in September 2003 in Kathmandu.

His nickname, The Serpent, stems from his reputation as a disguise and escape artist.<

On this day in 1900 …

“One Two Three Four — is it snowing where you are Mr. Thiessen? If it is, telegraph back to me.” Canadian Reginald Fessenden spoke these first words ever transmitted by radio from a site on Cobb Island in the middle of the Potomac River near Washington. A kilometre away, Mr. Thiessen, his assistant, quickly reported by Morse code that it was snowing, and he could hear Fessenden’s voice. This was the birth of radio broadcasting. However, it was six years later, after much fine-tuning, that radio’s potential was demonstrated. Fessenden presented radio’s first program on Christmas Eve 1906, from Boston.

In entertainment …

Jurors began deliberations Thursday at the trial of rapper Tory Lanez, who is charged with shooting and wounding hip-hop star Megan Thee Stallion in the feet.

The jury of seven women and five men deliberated for just over three hours after hearing the last part of the defense’s closing argument that began a day earlier and a brief rebuttal from Los Angeles County prosecutors.

They did not reach a verdict and will return Friday to resume talks on the three felony counts brought against the 30-year-old Canadian rapper, who has pleaded not guilty: discharging a firearm with gross negligence, assault with a semiautomatic firearm and carrying a loaded, unregistered firearm in a vehicle. The counts could lead to up to 22 years in prison and deportation.

Megan Thee Stallion, 27, whose legal name is Megan Pete, testified that Lanez fired a handgun at the back of her feet and shouted for her to dance as she walked away from an SUV in which they had been riding in the Hollywood Hills in the summer of 2020.  She needed surgery to remove bullet fragments from her feet.

In closing arguments, prosecutors emphasized the courage it took for her to come forward and the vitriol she has faced for it. They said she had no incentive to tell anything but the truth.

Lanez’s lawyer alleged in his closing that the shots were actually fired by Megan’s then-best-friend Kelsey Harris in a jealous fight over Lanez, who tried to stop the shooting. The attorney, George Mgdesyan, alleges Megan created a more sympathetic narrative by pinning the shooting on Lanez.

Did you see this?

An LGBTQ refugee group says Ottawa is helping resettle to Canada 600 Afghans who are fleeing persecution due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Earlier this week, Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad said it has only been able to resettle four per cent of the nearly 3,800 Afghans who have asked the organization for help coming to Canada since the Taliban took over their country.

The organization complained that Ottawa’s resettlement programs don’t account for Afghans who are persecuted on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and who often can’t safely flee to neighbouring countries.

But Rainbow Railroad says Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has since pledged to help resettle 600 LGBTQ Afghans, on top of the 180 who have already reached Canada and the 20 or so expected to arrive around the end of this year.

The Immigration Department would not confirm the move, citing security risks, but says it facilitates the resettlement of specific groups with stakeholders such as Rainbow Railroad.

“We continue to explore all avenues and maximize every opportunity to bring Afghans to Canada as quickly and safely as possible,” department spokesman Jeffrey MacDonald said in an emailed statement.

It’s unclear when the 600 would arrive.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2022.

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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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Alberta premier's prosecutor

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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