The military’s counterintelligence branch took a close look at a pair of Canadian Rangers as early as four years ago over their involvement in far-right organizations, but the Department of National Defence (DND) allowed them to keep serving without interruption, CBC News has learned.
One of them, Erik Myggland, was interviewed by military intelligence officers within the last two years.
Posts and photos describing his support for two far-right groups — including one reference to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “treasonous bastard” — feature prominently in his social media accounts.
His former spouse Jodi Myggland, who was also a Ranger, was also on the radar of military counterintelligence, according to sources. It’s not clear whether she was interviewed.
The Mygglands belonged to the Valemount, B.C. patrol of the 4th Ranger Group. Corey Hurren — the 46-year-old Canadian Armed Forces member accused of uttering threats against the prime minister and crashing the gate at Rideau Hall with a loaded firearm July 2 — is also a member of the 4th Ranger Group. Hurren served in Manitoba and there is no evidence the three knew each other.
CBC News began an investigation of the 4th Ranger Group reserve unit after the Rideau Hall incident involving Hurren.
CBC’s investigation uncovered the Mygglands’ online support for the far-right Three Percenter movement and the Soldiers of Odin, along with a zealous culture of gun-rights rhetoric — and sometimes anti-government rhetoric — that has been left unchecked in an institution sworn to defend democratic principles.
Over the past 14 days, CBC News has requested comment from Erik Myggland through various social media accounts.
He answered late on Aug. 17, saying he would have a response “within a day or two,” but has been silent ever since.
Myggland was still serving as a Ranger as of last week. A spokesman for the Department of National Defence said it was in the process of releasing him from the service.
Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said he was apprised of the situation only a week ago, after CBC News started asking the department questions.
Watch: Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan discusses DND plan to combat racism
Sajjan said the department has launched an investigation into how the case was handled and why Myggland wasn’t released sooner.
The Three Percenter movement is a far-right militia and paramilitary group with many offshoots that has been afflicted by infighting in recent years. Launched in the U.S. a dozen years ago, it has spread to Canada since.
Much of the Three Percenter ideology is built around gun ownership rights and survivalist training. The group claims not to be racist or to be associated with the white supremacy movement — but it has been described by experts as one the most dangerous of the far-right groups operating in Canada.
The Soldiers of Odin, meanwhile, is an anti-immigrant and white supremacist group founded in Kemi, Finland in October 2015, which has since spread to Europe and North America. Its first Canadian chapter was organized in Gimli, Manitoba; after an initial backlash, the group has attempted to rebrand itself as a community organization.
Facebook has banned the Soldiers of Odin from its platform. On Aug. 19, it announced it was placing restrictions on Three Percenter pages and groups under its “dangerous organizations” policy, including those in Canada.
In an email last week, Jodi Myggland said she and Erik Myggland, who have separated, are no longer active within the Three Percenter movement and claimed they quit because new people were joining who “were racist or had a different agenda.”
Jodi Myggland said she and her ex-husband were survivalists and dedicated to the community, but that the Three Percenter movement had fractured and been infiltrated.
“We as Rangers have to uphold a good image and a fair image for the people. We cannot and will not be a part of racism and false or misinformation about our government,” she said. “We are here to help and keep people safe, respect the laws and rules of our country.”
Erik Myggland’s social media accounts appear to contradict his ex-wife’s words, however.
He continued to post support online for the Three Percent movement as recently as June, and to interact on social media with its past and present members.
On June 6, Myggland posted criticism of the COVID-19 lockdowns, accompanied by a dark image of a rifle-toting Santa Claus-like figure and the Three Percent movement’s symbol.
“Ol Trudy is going to try and f–k with Christmas which will absolutely be the nail in the coffin of the economy,” he wrote. “Mark my words!”
On April 9, Myggland updated his Facebook page with a profile picture of him wearing a black leather jacket with Three Percent patches.
And on Jan. 1, he posted a picture of a motorcycle with the crest of the B.C chapter of the Three Percenters.
While that organization was going through a major leadership change earlier this year that saw some founding members evicted, Myggland responded to a Facebook post by the group’s leader, Kazz Nowlin, by warning that military counterintelligence was taking a hard look at the Three Percent movement.
“Kazz, don’t forget about the interview I had with CAF Counterintelligence Unit,” Myggland wrote on Feb. 17.
“They know exactly what’s up, what we’re doing and our affiliations with [founding members] Beau [Welling] and Carl [MacKay] and the eastern divisions. They’re not stupid, they know there are a few dipshits out there.”
Much of the Three Percenters’ ideology is wrapped around issues of gun rights and personal liberty — and the survivalist response to a society they see as unraveling. The group’s name is rooted in the disputed claim that only three per cent of American colonists took up arms against the British during the American Revolution.
Echoes of the movement’s rhetoric can be found in the letter allegedly seized by the RCMP following the July 2 incident at Rideau Hall that ended with Hurren’s arrest — a letter in which police say Hurren expressed anti-government sentiments and said that he feared the federal government was becoming a “communist dictatorship” under Trudeau.
He also denounced the lack of parliamentary sittings and new federal firearms legislation.
“With the firearms ban and seeing more of our rights being taken away, on top of bankrupting the country, I could no longer sit back and watch this happen. I hope this is a wakeup call and a turning point,” Hurren wrote, according to a source who has seen the letter.
Those sentiments — particularly regarding gun rights — appear to be commonplace in the 4th Ranger Group, which oversees individual patrols in rural B.C., northern Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
The unit’s former honorary colonel — writer, outdoor enthusiast and television personality Jim Shockey — posted an essay online attacking the Liberal government’s overhaul of gun legislation, Bill C-71, in the fall of 2018.
Posing beside an empty House of Commons chair, Shockey denounced Liberal MPs for not meeting with him to discuss the legislation.
“It sure seems to me like this group can’t be bothered to explain to a concerned, patriotic, law-abiding firearm owner and citizen of Canada, how they thought my family or any family is made safer by them making even more complicated rules to do with my already highly regulated and controlled and restricted firearms,” Shockey wrote (he also stood for photos with then-Conservative leader Andrew Scheer).
“Honestly I’m a pretty common sense guy, who like most hunters prefers to avoid conflict and live and let live, but I have to admit, I’m getting frustrated with some of the decisions our various Canadian governments have been making lately.”
While Shockey’s remarks wouldn’t be cause for concern for any private citizen, they appear to violate Chapter 3 of the Department of National Defence and Canadian Forces Code of Values and Ethics. That section of the ethics code requires even honorary members of the Canadian Forces to refrain from public criticism of the government and from “any political activity that could impair or appear to impair the objectivity and impartiality of the DND employee.”
CBC News reached out to Shockey via Facebook, but has not received a response.
CBC News asked to interview the commander of the 4th Ranger Group, Lt.-Col. Russ Meades, about both Myggland’s activities and Shockey’s remarks. CBC News also requested an interview with the commander of the military intelligence branch, Rear-Admiral Scott Bishop. Both interview requests were turned down.
Dan LeBouthillier, DND head of media relations, insisted Myggland has not been a presence within the organization for at least a year.
“The member in question has not been an active participant within the unit since 11 June 2019,” LeBouthillier said in an email statement.
But in three separate Facebook posts in November 2019, Myggland posted pictures of a Rangers uniform, a photo of himself in a Rangers uniform (taken during a June 2016 exercise) and a picture of himself taking part in a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) exercise.
In March 2018 — well before DND claims he ceased to be active in the Rangers — Myggland posted on Twitter his support for both the Three Percenters and the Soldiers of Odin, along with a photo of him wearing the symbols of both organizations on his clothes.
On April 9, 2018 — when he would have been still actively serving in the Rangers — Myggland responded to a tweet from Prime Minister Trudeau honouring veterans.
“We don’t want or need your tribute, you treasonous bastard! Might be more than you can afford,” he wrote in reference to remarks Trudeau made about compensation for injured veterans.
But the military has so far refused to explain why a CAF member who openly supported two far-right groups — one of them (Soldiers of Odin) described as an “anti-Muslim hate group” by the independent nonprofit Canadian Anti-Hate Network — was allowed to continue to serve, and what the military’s counterintelligence branch hoped to accomplish by interviewing Erik Myggland.
Sajjan — who was noticeably upset by CBC News’ reporting on Myggland — vowed to get to the bottom of the matter.
“My view has been very clear — any type of behaviour like this is totally unacceptable,” Sajjan told CBC News, adding that the military doesn’t want people who support such ideologies in its ranks.
“One — we don’t want you to join. Two, if you have these viewpoints, please quit, and if you are investigated, you will be dealt with through the appropriate process. We don’t want people like that.”
DND also has refused to disclose what sort of disciplinary action — if any — was taken by the leadership of the 4th Canadian Ranger Group, which comprises units in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said allowing Myggland to stay was a huge mistake.
“It’s our belief that the default response should be for them to fire the individual,” he said. “Perhaps there’s an exceptional circumstance in which an individual truly apologizes to the community, not just the Forces, but the wider community.”
The Canadian military released a new policy framework this summer to address hateful conduct and a growing number of reports of members affiliated with extremist groups.
But Balgord and Barbara Perry — director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, in Oshawa, Ont. — said the defence department’s reflex response to those reports has been to try to keep them behind closed doors.
That’s not going to work any longer, they added.
“In our conversations with DND, there is, in fact … an internal mechanism for responding. The almost default reaction is to rehabilitate the individual, trying to bring them back in the order,” said Perry, who was asked recently by DND to study incidents of hateful conduct in the ranks.
She said that, judging by Myggland’s social media activity and his attempts to warn Three Percenter leadership about military counterintelligence, any attempts to rehabilitate him did not work.
“I wonder if he was asked to step away, but the fact that he was not discharged or asked to leave outright is really surprising, given that there’s such a history and that he is so visible,” she said. “There’s no attempt there to sort of code his language. There’s no attempt there to downplay his engagement with these groups.”
Today’s coronavirus news: Ontario reports 407 new COVID-19 cases; Ford limits indoor and outdoor gatherings across the province – Toronto Star
(Updated) 11:06 a.m. Premier Doug Ford has announced that social gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 outdoors, everywhere across the province.
Those limits were previously imposed in just three hot-spot regions, Toronto, Peel and Ottawa.
“Over the past several days, we have seen an alarming growth in the number of COVID-19 cases in the province,” Ford said at a rare weekend news conference. “Clearly, the numbers are heading in the wrong direction. That’s why we are taking decisive action to lower the size of unmonitored private social gatherings in every region of Ontario.”
The expanded limits, effective immediately for the next four weeks, include all parties, dinners, barbecues, weddings and other functions head in homes, backyards, parks and other recreational areas. Indoor and outdoor gatherings cannot be merged together.
The new limits do not apply to gatherings in staffed businesses and other facilities, such as bars, restaurants, cinemas, convention centres, banquet hall, gyms, places of worship, sporting or performing arts events, the government says.
Ontario is reporting 407 new cases of COVID-19 today and one new death. The figures mark the second time in as many days that the province has recorded more than 400 cases in a 24-hour period.
(Updated) 10:44 a.m. Ontario is reporting 407 new cases of COVID-19 today, and one new death associated with the coronavirus.
The figures mark the second time in as many days that the province has recorded more than 400 cases in a 24-hour period.
Numbers have been surging over the past few weeks, particularly in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.
Premier Doug Ford rolled back social gathering limits in those areas earlier this week and has indicated he’s willing to do the same in other regions.
He’s set to make an announcement later this morning alongside Health Minister Christine Elliott and the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe.
Correction— Sept. 19, 2020: This entry has been updated from a previous version said there had been no new deaths related to the coronavirus.
10:04 a.m. Pope Francis is urging political leaders make sure coronavirus vaccines are available to the poorest nations.
He says in many parts of the world, there is a “pharmacological marginalization” of those without access to health care.
Francis met Saturday with members of an Italian aid group that collects donated medicines from pharmaceutical companies and distributes them to clinics and centres helping the neediest.
Francis says far too many people die in parts of the world for lack of drugs widely available elsewhere, and political leaders must take their plight into account.
“I repeat, it would be sad if in distributing the vaccine, priority was given to the wealthiest, or if a vaccine becomes the property of this or that nation and not for everyone,” the pope said.
Francis has previously called for universal access to the vaccine.
9:30 a .m. Ontario Premier Doug Ford is set to make a rare weekend announcement this morning related to COVID-19.
No details have been made immediately available, but Health Minister Christine Elliott and the province’s associate chief medical officer of health, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, will also be on-hand.
Ford suspended weekend pandemic briefings over the summer as case numbers across the province declined.
But they’ve spiked again in recent weeks, with Ontario reporting 401 new COVID-19 cases on Friday.
Most of the new cases are concentrated in Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa, prompting Ford to roll back social gathering limits in those areas earlier this week.
The premier has said he plans to tighten restrictions in other areas as well, often at the request of local officials.
9 a.m. Ontarians are flooding to COVID-19 testing centres as the province sees a sharp spike in positive cases, a trend one Toronto psychologist calls reminuscent of the “toilet paper days” during the pandemic’s onset.
Outside Lakeridge Health Centre in Oshawa this week, Stephanie Hammond said she decided to get tested after developing a fever and cold-like symptoms. Her kids, Grades 6 and 4 students, were planning a return to in-class schooling but were staying home for the time being.
“I hope it’s nothing about the coronavirus,” said Hammond, 46. “These days, even a small glitch in your body terrifies the hell out of you.”
The tests completed has skyrocketed over the last two weeks. A record 35,826 tests were completed across the province on Thursday, with some assessment centres reporting waits as long as four hours. Meanwhile, Ontario saw more than 300 new cases almost every day this week — topping out at 400 new cases on Friday, according to the Star’s tally of reports from public health units.
Read the full story from the Star’s Gilbert Ngabo: Testing is the new toilet paper. How rising COVID-19 cases are stoking a second round of pandemic anxiety
8 a.m. Nursing home doctors contracted to care for residents in Scarborough’s Extendicare Guildwood did not enter the home during the devastating COVID-19 outbreak that killed 48 residents, even though managers “repeatedly” asked for their help.
At Camilla Care Community in Mississauga, where 68 residents infected with COVID died, physicians under contract with the home offered phone calls but “were not coming on site to support residents and staff.” It was a similar story in Scarborough’s Altamont Care Community, where 53 people died.
And at Woodbridge Vista Care Community, in Vaughan, where the virus killed 31 residents, the two doctors who remained on-site suffered from “overwork and burnout.”
There are many reasons why some doctors stayed away, including personal health issues, recommendations for “virtual visits” from professional organizations or the decision to work safely in one location. But their absence, at least in the most troubled homes, did not go unnoticed.
Read the full story from the Star’s Moira Welsh: Nursing home doctors were repeatedly asked to visit residents during the COVID-19 outbreak. They didn’t come. As virus resurges, Ontario considers new rules
8 a.m. India has maintained its surge in coronavirus cases, adding 93,337 new confirmed infections in the past 24 hours.
The Health Ministry on Saturday raised the nation’s caseload to more than 5.3 million out of the nearly 1.4 billion people. It said 1,247 more people died in the past 24 hours for a total of 85,619. The country has over a million active cases with about 80% recovery rate.
India has been reporting the highest single-day rise in the world every day for more than five weeks. It’s expected to become the pandemic’s worst-hit country within weeks, surpassing the United States.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has faced scathing criticism from opposition lawmakers in India’s Parliament for its handling of the pandemic amid a contracting economy leaving millions jobless.
More than 10 million migrant workers, out of money and fearing starvation, poured out of cities and headed back to villages when Modi ordered the nationwide lockdown on March 24. The migration was one key reason that the virus spread to the far reaches of the country while the lockdown caused severe economic pain. The economy contracted nearly 24% in the second quarter, the worst among the world’s top economies.
7 a.m. Members of the federal government’s COVID-19 vaccine task force are casting worried eyes at the Trump administration’s political push to get a vaccine approved before the U.S. presidential election in November.
Dr. Joanne Langley, the task force co-chair, and member Alan Bernstein say they are concerned about “vaccine hesitancy” in Canada, the phenomenon where people have doubts about taking a readily available vaccine because of concerns about its safety.
Langley says that when a vaccine against COVID-19 is eventually found, governments and health-care professionals will have to mount a vigorous information campaign to counter opposition.
And it won’t help that President Donald Trump has said a pandemic-ending vaccine could be rolled out as soon as October, stoking concern that he is rushing the timeline to further his re-election chances on Nov. 3.
6 a.m. Halfway through their 14-day quarantine period, Diala Charab and Yehya Al-Ayoubi are excited to start working as health-care aides after arriving Sunday from Lebanon.
Despite COVID-19 travel restrictions that prevent most people from coming to Canada, the two nurses were exempted, resettled under a pilot project to bring skilled refugees to the country.
“Diala got her visa during the (COVID-19) lockdown … I got the visa after the Beirut explosion.” Al-Ayoubi said.
“Things were hectic, but we just wanted to come here and be beneficial, productive people in this society.”
Charab, 25, and Al-Ayoubi, 29, will join the staff of VHA Home HealthCare in Toronto as personal support workers.
Ernesto Sequera, VHA’s human-resources manager, said in a statement that the company is happy to bring health care workers to Canada to address the urgent need for more trained home-care professionals during the pandemic.
4:01 a.m. Health care workers in Canada made up about 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections as of late July, a figure that was higher than the global average.
In a report released earlier this month, the Canadian Institute for Health Information said 19.4 per cent of those who tested positive for the virus as of July 23 were health-care workers. Twelve health care workers, nine from Ontario and three from Quebec, died from COVID-19, it said.
The World Health Organization said in July that health-care workers made up 10 per cent of global COVID-19 infections.
A national federation of nurses’ unions blames the infection rate on a slow response to the pandemic, a shortage of labour and a lack of personal protective equipment.
4:01 a.m. A union representing Ontario’s hospital workers says it has concerns about the safety of the province’s plan to expand COVID-19 testing to pharmacies, as Premier Doug Ford pushed Friday to start the program later next week.
Ontario is expected in the coming days to unveil a plan to grant community pharmacies the ability to test for COVID-19 as it grapples with hours-long waits at some of the province’s 148 assessment centres.
Ford said last week he has been in discussions with groups that represents pharmacists and the major retailers that own Shoppers Drug Mart and Rexall.
But the president of the Council of Hospital Unions, a branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said the plan could bring people with the virus in contact with vulnerable seniors or other medically compromised people.
“Sending the public to a pharmacy and mingling with people who fear that they have COVID-19, and may be symptomatic … seems to me to be unwise and potentially not very safe,” Michael Hurley said.
12:34 a.m. Public health authorities in Italy are warning that the average age of coronavirus patients is creeping up as young people infect their more fragile parents and grandparents, risking new strain on the hospital system.
The Superior Institute of Health issued its weekly monitoring report Friday as the country where COVID-19 hit first in the West recorded the highest number of new infections — 1,907 — since May 1. Another 10 people died over the past day, bringing Italy’s official death toll to 35,668.
While Italy hasn’t seen the thousands of daily new infections other European countries have seen recently, its caseload has crept up steadily over the past seven weeks. Initially, most new infections were in young people who returned from vacation hotspots. The health institute said Friday that they are now infecting their older and more fragile loved ones in home settings, with the average age of positive cases last week at 41 versus the low 30s in August.
The institute warned that while the health system isn’t overwhelmed, it risks further strain if Italians don’t rigorously adhere to mask mandates and social distancing norms.
12:34 a.m. The World Health Organization’s emergencies chief says new global cases of the coronavirus appear to have plateaued at about 2 million and 50,000 deaths every week.
Dr. Michael Ryan says while the global COVID-19 caseload was not rising exponentially, the weekly number of deaths was still very unsettling.
“It’s not where developing countries want to be with their health systems under nine months of pressure,” Ryan said.
He says there have been recent surges in Europe, Ecuador and Argentina. He adds a lack of large increases in African countries and other nations might reflect a lack of testing.
10:49 p.m. Friday Sept. 18: Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has tested positive for COVID-19.
His positive result Friday evening came hours after Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet issued a statement that he too had tested positive.
Both men will now be unable to attend next week’s throne speech, with Blanchet required to isolate until at least Sept. 26 and O’Toole until at least Oct.1.
Late Friday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault said he will get tested for COVID-19 because he met with O’Toole earlier this week.
10 p.m. Friday Sept. 18: Four patrons of Noir, inside Rebel Nightclub, on 11 Polson St., have tested positive for COVID-19, according to Toronto Public Health.
The four confirmed cases visited the club on Sept. 11, from 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“Anyone who was at the night club during this time may have been exposed to COVID-19,” said Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health with TPH, in an email to the Star.
She asked anyone who visited the club during the above times to monitor themselves for symptoms until Sept. 25.
Read the full story: Toronto waterfront nightclub linked with four COVID-19 cases remains open
Public Health Agency of Canada president resigns as COVID-19 cases spike – CBC.ca
The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is stepping down only 18 months into the job, leaving the federal agency tasked with coordinating the country’s COVID-19 response without a seasoned leader.
Tina Namiesniowski said she would be stepping aside immediately to make way for a new president.
A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government expects to have a replacement for Namiesniowski “in the coming days.”
In a letter to staff, Namiesniowski, a long-serving bureaucrat, said she needs to “take a break” and “step aside so someone else can step up” to lead the agency as caseloads spike and testing times creep up in some parts of the country.
“You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the agency and our response to the next level,” she said in internal correspondence announcing her departure, which was later released by PHAC.
“While responding to this crisis, we’ve done many things since then to add capacity, improve processes, take on new roles and really build up the competence that had diminished in recent years. All of this work has taken a personal toll on so many people … I put myself in that category.”
In a statement, Hajdu said Namiesniowski has shown an “unwavering commitment” and has given “incredible service” to Canada during her tenure as the head of PHAC.
“She has led a committed team of public servants who have been working flat out for months. I have seen first hand the countless hours that Tina has spent away from her family to protect Canadians,” she said.
“We are all grateful. Thank you for working so hard to keep all of us safe, and all the best in your next steps.”
Before her appointment to the top job at PHAC in May 2019, Namiesniowski held a number of senior postings within government. She served as the executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency and was an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture Canada and Public Safety Canada.
The agency’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has been the public face of PHAC’s efforts throughout this pandemic. Namiesniowski called her work “exceptional.”
“She is a rock and truly inspirational. I’ve felt privileged to work alongside of her,” she said.
PHAC has come in for criticism in recent months as Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been questioned by some critics. The pandemic has killed roughly 9,200 people in this country.
The federal government’s initial reluctance to close the border as the virus spread in Asia, its depleted national emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early months of this pandemic, confusing guidance on the wearing of masks and other perceived failures have been cited by opposition parties in Parliament and others as examples of Canada’s uneven response to COVID-19.
“We have all been working non-stop in a high pressure environment subjected to significant scrutiny and without a doubt, we’ve risen to the challenge,” Namiesniowski said.
On Namiesniowski’s watch, some scientists working for the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) complained that their early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 were ignored or inadequately addressed by senior staff at PHAC.
The network, a federal government-run monitoring and analysis unit, alerts senior officials to health risks around the globe by compiling media reports and other intelligence about outbreaks.
CBC News reported in April on concerns about the network’s alerts not being as widely disseminated as they had been during past health crises.
The Globe and Mail has also reported on internal concerns about the efficacy of the reporting system after changes made in 2018 and 2019 shifted the network’s focus away from monitoring global health trends to a more domestic role.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu has ordered a review of the network amid the complaints.
COVID-19 in Canada: What a second shutdown might look like – CTV News
This article was featured in the Nightly Briefing, CTV News’ evening reading recommendation. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday night.
As countries around the world start re-imposing coronavirus restrictions amid spikes in new cases, Canadian politicians and health officials are warning that parts of the country may soon enter a second shutdown.
However, infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla says the second lockdown will not look like the first.
“We’re very different than we were in March, we had no clue how deep this was going to spread into our communities, there was hospital issues in terms of health care utilization, and we really had limited testing and didn’t really understand where this disease was transmitted within our community,” Chagla explained in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.
“So we had to really do something very global to get things to work.”
Now, Chagla said provincial health authorities have a better grasp on what measures work in mitigating the risk of COVID-19.
While Canada’s case numbers are rising, Chagla said the country has access to reasonable testing, healthcare systems aren’t currently overloaded and both the public and officials understand that private, indoor gatherings are largely contributing to the spread of the virus.
He added that having these factors under control gives Canada the opportunity to thoughtfully prepare for a second wave and another possible shutdown.
“We have the luxury of sitting here and actually making some very precise changes to see if we can keep transmission down afterwards, rather than putting everyone through what we did in March and April,” Chagla said.
To avoid a repeat scenario, he explained that policymakers need to keep COVID-19 messaging positive and consistent, plan creative long-term solutions for outdoor facilities, and closely monitor allowable gathering sizes.
“We’re going to have ebbs and flows but these sorts of solutions, what we’re going to be doing for the months and going into the winter and even further than that, are going to have to be sustainable and so that’s where the positive messaging comes from,” Chagla said.
Chagla added that there is a misconception about who is transmitting the virus. He says “there’s a big thought” that recent spikes are all young people that are partying together but in reality, “it’s still families that are having get-togethers” such as weddings and other celebrations where the virus is spreading.
“All of us kind of need to be messaged positively to say ‘OK, [COVID-19] is still here. We can protect our communities. We can do things safely’,” he said.
To help with this, Chagla said outdoor facilities and restaurants need to be better equipped to allow Canadians to safely socialize especially as the country heads into the winter months.
“Making more outdoor facilities gives us the recognition that we need to socialize. We need to actually be around people and there is a way to do it safely with a few more layers, but sparing what’s going to happen to the medical system,” Chagla said.
Additionally, Chagla said policymakers should not impede Canadians’ ability to get tested, but also not encourage over-testing.
As long lines are being reported at COVID-19 testing centres across the country, the federal government has pledged billions in funding to address the issue and improve other pandemic measures.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Channel that the testing wait times stem from a combination of factors, including limited testing capacity and an increased desire from the population to receive a test.
Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday that these factors need to be addressed amid the current rise in cases.
“The capacity currently is significantly better than what it was in for example March or April of this year, but clearly it’s not where it needs to be,” he said.
New testing centres have recently opened in Edmonton and Laval, Que. while another is slated to open soon in Brampton, Ont. However, Bogoch said this still might not be enough.
To address the capacity issue, Bogoch said provinces may have to change their messaging around testing.
“Given the snapshot that we’re in right now, maybe it’s best for messaging to focus on people to get tested if they’re either at risk for getting this infection, if they have any signs or symptoms of infection regardless of how mild, or if they’ve had any possible exposures to this infection,” Bogoch explained.
“Certainly those individuals should be prioritized, but in the same breath of course, you shouldn’t be turned away from a testing centre,” he added.
Amid the testing issues, Chagla says monitoring gathering sizes remains key in managing Canada’s recent COVID-19 spikes.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce that the province will lower limits on social gatherings in its hotspots to stem recent increases in COVID-19 cases. Ford said that the “highest fines in the country” will be put in place to stop people from breaking the regulations but Chagla says the move does not go far enough.
“I think that’s a good symbolic gesture, but there does need to be some enforcement unfortunately for some of these people that take things out of control and lead to a significant public health event,” Chagla said.
Bogoch told CTV News Channel that rolling back gathering limits in Ontario’s hotspots is the “right move.”
“We clearly can’t continue on at the status quo, and there clearly needs to be measures to limit transmission, especially in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa. That’s a smart move,” Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday.
He added that the province will see some benefit from the rollback, if the implementation of the new gathering limits are clearly communicated and enforced.
While Ontario rolls back its gathering limit, Bogoch said other provinces experiencing outbreaks should follow suit.
“We’re seeing widespread community transmission in four provinces. Clearly, we need to clamp back down to get this virus under control,” he said.
“What does clamp down mean? It’s not entirely clear. Different provinces are taking different steps, but it’s obvious that we need to take action now to prevent these cases from rising.”
Last week in Quebec, the government said police can hand out tickets, ranging between $400 and $6,000, to those who don’t have a face covering in indoor public spaces or on public transit.
The province also announced several measures in addition to the fines, including the banning of karaoke and obliging bars to keep registers of clients as infection numbers rise.
In response to its increase in cases, B.C. ordered the immediate closure of nightclubs and banquet halls and reduced restaurant hours last week after daily COVID-19 case numbers were consistently above 100.
“I think we need to all start rethinking about what we need to do to get us through the next few months as a community together, and these are some of the things that we’ll need to put aside for now,” B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained at a news conference.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam reminded Canadians at a press conference on Tuesday to take precautionary measures if they must socialize, including having hand sanitizer readily available, wearing masks or other face coverings, and cleaning common areas before and after the event.
“The key message is that the time to act is now across the board in terms of reducing some of the contacts you’ve had over the summer months,” Tam said.
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