Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the federal government is monitoring monkeypox cases and their chains of transmission after two cases were confirmed in this country.
Quebec’s health ministry announced Thursday evening there are two confirmed cases of monkeypox in the province, while 20 other suspected cases are still under investigation.
Speaking at a press briefing on Friday, Tam said health authorities are also following up with a couple of possible contacts in British Columbia.
“There are samples under processing at the national microbiology lab as we speak, so we might expect to hear more confirmations in the upcoming hours and days,” Tam said.
She added that officials don’t yet know the extent to which monkeypox has spread in Canada, but it is under “active investigation.”
“This is an unusual situation,” she said.
A growing number of countries, including Canada, the U.S., Spain, Portugal, and the U.K, are reporting an unusual outbreak of monkeypox. What makes these cases notable is the disease is relatively rare and there are no clear links between some of the infections, raising concerns about community spread and undetected cases.
The World Health Organization says no source of infection for the outbreak has been confirmed.
First discovered in 1958, monkeypox is a rare disease caused by a virus that belongs to the same family as the one that causes smallpox. The disease was first found in colonies of monkeys used for research.
The disease has primarily been reported in central and western African countries, with the first case outside the continent reported in 2003 in the United States.
Due to the unexpected nature of the current outbreak, Tam said health officials in Canada and abroad are looking at whether there are any changes from what was previously known about the rare illness, including incubation period and method of transmission.
“It’s unusual for the world to see this many cases reported in different countries outside of Africa and… we will let people know as soon as we get more information,” Tam said, adding that the current impact on Canada is unclear.
However, Tam said anyone who thinks they may have had or been experiencing symptoms of monkeypox should seek advice from their health-care provider.
The virus is transmitted through contact with an infected animal, human or contaminated material. Transmission between people is thought to primarily occur through large respiratory droplets, which generally do not travel far and would require extended close contact. Transmission from an animal can happen through bites or scratches, contact with an animal’s blood or body fluids.
Monkeypox symptoms are similar to those for the smallpox, but generally milder. The first signs are fever, headache, muscle aches, backaches, chills, and exhaustion. One distinguishing feature specific to monkeypox is that an infection also causes lymphadenopathy – the swelling of the lymph nodes.
The “pox” develops after the onset of a fever and usually occurs between one to three days later, sometimes longer. A rash usually begins on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, developing into distinct, raised bumps that then become filled with fluid or pus.
However, Tam warned that milder cases can go undetected and worries there may be asymptomatic transmission in Canada.
“I think at the beginning of any outbreak, we should cast the net wide to try and understand the transmission routes,” Tam said. “There’s probably been some hidden chains of transmission that could have occurred for quite a number of weeks, given the sort of global situation that we’re seeing right now, so we shouldn’t rule out new things that we might learn as we go along.”
Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Howard Njoo told reporters on Friday that while the overall risk of monkeypox to the general public is low, he said it is important to remember that everyone is susceptible.
“Some of the good practices that we’ve all learned with COVID-19 actually service us against a whole host of other diseases, including this one,” Njoo said.
He reminded Canadians to practice good hand hygiene, wear a mask if they feel sick or have a cough, and physical distancing.
Njoo added that health officials will further monitor the outbreak and how to best prevent transmission, providing updates as necessary.
“We’ll continue to examine and also develop guidance to help the health-care providers and others in terms of how to deal with this disease as it continues to evolve,” he said.
There is no proven treatment for the virus infection, but the smallpox vaccine is known to also protect against monkeypox, with a greater than 85 per cent efficacy. Because the smallpox vaccine eradicated the disease, however, routine smallpox immunization for the general population ended in Canada in 1972.
Tam said there are discussions happening in Canada and abroad about reviewing smallpox vaccines and their efficacy in relation to monkeypox.
Earlier this month, the Public Health Agency of Canada placed an order for 500,000 vials of the smallpox vaccine Imvamune, which also gives protection against monkeypox. However, these doses won’t be delivered until April 2023.
Tam said Canada currently has a “limited supply” of this vaccine, but could not disclose the exact number due to “security reasons.” Because of the limited supply, the vaccines are not available to the general public and are reserved for those determined to be at high risk for exposure.
With files from The Canadian Press and CTVNews.ca’s Solarina Ho
Memorial service held for RCMP Const. Heidi Stevenson, killed in N.S. mass shooting
HALIFAX — An RCMP officer who was among 22 people killed in the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting was remembered Wednesday during a regimental service in Halifax for her “fierce” character and brave actions.
People lined a street leading to the service for Const. Heidi Stevenson, watching as Mounties and municipal police marched, bagpipers and drummers played, and a hearse brought the officer’s urn to the ceremony at the Cole Harbour hockey arena.
COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the official ceremony, though a family funeral took place five days after Stevenson was killed.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki said during the service that Stevenson would be remembered for “her courage and strength of character.”
She said the force will remember Stevenson’s “heroism that day and the bravery she demonstrated and the actions she took to protect the community she cared so deeply about.”
A public inquiry into the mass shooting has indicated that the veteran officer was racing to support an injured colleague on April 19, 2020, when the fatal encounter occurred on a highway interchange about 60 kilometres north of Halifax.
The 48-year-old officer died in a gunfight with the killer, who had jumped a lane of traffic in his replica police vehicle in order to drive the wrong way down a ramp and slam into Stevenson’s cruiser.
Public inquiry documents say bullet fragments from Stevenson’s pistol “likely” struck the killer’s head, and — about 35 minutes later — blood on his forehead tipped off an officer who shot and killed the gunman at a gas station.
The inquiry has also noted that Stevenson had at 8:44 a.m. that morning called for the public to be notified about the killer driving a replica RCMP vehicle. Her request never received a response.
During the service, four friends noted her strong personality and sense of justice.
Her longtime friend Angela McKnight described Stevenson as a “fierce woman” who chose the RCMP over kinesiology and developed physical strength through playing rugby at university.
She said Stevenson had to undergo laser eye surgery and overcome a torn knee ligament in order to make it into the RCMP following her graduation.
“Heidi surrounded herself with strong women focused on supporting each other,” she said. “I know no better … no tougher, more determined woman than her.”
Childhood friend Nona Heinbecker recalled Stevenson’s sense of loyalty to her female friends, telling those gathered how the officer had happily found a spot to sleep on a hospital floor when Heinbecker was in labour.
People watching the procession to the service also described their admiration for Stevenson, who is survived by her husband and two children.
Randy Stevenson, a military veteran, and Jan Hill, whose husband had worked with the constable, were among those waiting on the sidewalk for the procession.
The veteran, who is not related to the fallen Mountie, described her as exemplifying “what the police and the military are about,” while Hill praised the officer’s deep involvement in her community of Dartmouth, N.S.
Heidi Stevenson grew up in Antigonish, N.S., and attended university in Nova Scotia. She was with the Mounties for 23 years, developing expertise in drug recognition, general duty policing and communications. She also spent time in Ottawa as part of the RCMP musical ride, even though she had no previous experience with horses.
In a statement provided to the inquiry, the Stevenson family said community support was helpful following her killing. “There were months of meals provided and seeing the Nova Scotia Strong stickers on everyone’s car meant so much. The phone call from the Prime Minister was very personal,” the family said in their statement.
Police estimated about 1,300 people attended the ceremony, which was broadcast live.
The Anglican minister presiding at the service noted Stevenson’s Christian faith, and quoted from a New Testament text emphasizing that hope, faith and love “abide,” and that love is the greatest of the three due to its eternal nature.
Rev. Katherine Bourbonniere said during her homily that even in death, “she (Stevenson) will constantly be trying to touch you in different ways.”
She recalled accompanying Stevenson when she drove to homes to notify next of kin of a death. “I saw her love in her job and in her position many a time. She would show compassion for every person she met, and it was … beautiful,” she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press
Explosive devices found in a vehicle connected to B.C. bank robbers killed
SAANICH, B.C. — Multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle related to the two suspects who were gunned down outside a bank in Saanich, B.C.
Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie said Wednesday an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from the vehicle to a local landfill and destroy them.
Police had evacuated the area shortly after the shooting on Tuesday as the RCMP’s explosives disposal unit was called in.
Six officers were shot and two suspects were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday.
Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries.
He said he spoke with one of the officers in hospital and said the police department will be there to support him.
“We’re here for his family … to let him know that the policing community is behind him 100 per cent.”
The chief said police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public.
He said police were acting on vague information.
“Our goal was to keep the public safe,” he said of police ordering residents near the bank to stay inside on Tuesday.
Police said in a statement that they aren’t able to confirm identities, background or motive of the suspects.
Duthie said work is underway to try to confirm the suspects’ names.
Duthie has looked at much of the video footage of the incident and said it’s a miracle that no one else died.
“It’s astonishing that there was no other citizen or member of the public injured,” he said, crediting the quick actions of officers who responded.
“Both patrol officers and Greater Victoria emergency response officers (put) themselves in harm’s way to bring it to a successful and safe conclusion as quickly as possible.”
A woman trapped inside the bank during the robbery told CFAX radio she was in a meeting with the manager when she heard a loud explosion and then silence.
Shelli Fryer, 59, of Langford said she looked from the doorway and a few feet from her was “a man in full assault gear, holding an assault rifle.”
Fryer said the masked man was wearing all black, had an armoured vest over his jacket and was holding a black rifle that was shorter and stockier than what she was used to seeing in the media.
“The energy from them was completely calm,” she said.
She heard one gunman quietly say to the manager, “vault,” and the manager handed him the keys and they both walked out of the office, she said.
Fryer said the other suspect was pacing the floor, just walking back and forth past the office, “like he was going for a walk in the park, just pacing as if he was waiting for something.”
The robbers put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said. “We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”
She heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.
Fryer said every one of the police officers involved in the “absolutely insane incident” handled themselves professionally, and then later treated those who were in the bank with kindness and concern.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
Montreal police announce second arrest in drive-by shooting that killed 15-year-old
Montreal police announced Wednesday they have arrested a second person in the drive-by shooting death of a 15-year-old girl last year.
Cmdr. Paul Verreault, head of the Montreal police service’s major crimes division, said a 27-year-old man was arrested Wednesday morning in connection with the February 2021 killing of Meriem Boundaoui.
Police believe the suspect arrested Wednesday and Salim Touaibi, who was arrested Monday, were “directly involved” in the shooting, Verreault told reporters Wednesday.
“These two people were in the vehicle at the time of the event,” he said, but he declined to comment further on what role each of them is alleged to have played in the crime.
“We’re still very early in the investigation,” he said. “This is an investigation that is still ongoing.”
Touaibi, 26, faces one charge of first-degree murder and four charges of attempted murder.
Verreault said he couldn’t say when the man arrested Wednesday, whose name was not released, would appear in court. He said police arrested four other people Wednesday morning who are allegedly part of a criminal group linked to the two men.
He said the shooting came after the escalation of a conflict between that group and another criminal group, but he did not provide more details. The four other people arrested will face charges of drug trafficking, uttering threats and assault, he said.
Boundaoui was sitting in a car with another person when a second car drove up and someone opened fire. Boundaoui and a 21-year-old man who was on the sidewalk were hit by bullets. Boundaoui had no link to the conflict, Verreault said.
Montreal’s interim police chief, Sophie Roy, said she hopes the arrests will give Boundaoui’s family some comfort.
“Like the rest of the public, we were shocked by the murder of young Meriem and other young people,” she told reporters. “We may be police officers, but we’re also humans with families and children.”
Boundaoui was the first of several young people to die violently in the past year and a half in Montreal, prompting widespread concern and calls to do more to reduce gun violence in the city.
Montreal has had one of the lowest homicide rates of major cities in Canada. In 2020, the most recent year for which data was available, the homicide rate in Montreal was less than half the Canadian average, according to Statistics Canada.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press
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