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Nigerians win UK court OK to sue Shell over oil spills

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By Julia Payne and Kirstin Ridley

LONDON (Reuters) – The UK Supreme Court on Friday allowed a group of 42,500 Nigerian farmers and fishermen to sue Royal Dutch Shell (RDS) in English courts after years of oil spills in the Niger Delta contaminated land and groundwater.

Senior judges said there was an arguable case that UK-domiciled Shell, one of the world’s biggest energy companies, is responsible, in the latest test of whether multinationals can be held to account for the acts of overseas subsidiaries.

Represented by law firm Leigh Day, the group of Nigerians have argued that the parent company Shell owed them a duty of care because it either had significant control of, and was responsible for, its subsidiary SPDC. Shell countered that the court had no jurisdiction to try the claims.

“(The ruling) also represents a watershed moment in the accountability of multinational companies. Increasingly impoverished communities are seeking to hold powerful corporate actors to account and this judgment will significantly increase their ability to do so,” Daniel Leader, partner at Leigh Day, said.

“UK common law is also used in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand so this is a very helpful precedent.”

The decision comes almost two years after a seminal ruling by the Supreme Court in a case involving mining firm Vedanta. The judgment allowed nearly 2,000 Zambian villagers to sue Vedanta in England for alleged pollution in Africa.

That move was seen as a victory for rural communities seeking to hold parent companies accountable for environmental disasters. Vedanta ultimately settled out of court in January.

Nigeria’s Ogale and Bille communities allege their lives and health have suffered because repeated oil spills have contaminated the land, swamps, groundwater and waterways and that there has been no adequate cleaning or remediation.

SPDC is the operator of oil pipelines in a joint venture between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation which holds a 55% stake, Shell which holds 30%, France’s Total with 10%, Italy’s Eni with 5%.

A Shell spokesman said the decision was disappointing.

“Regardless of the cause of a spill, SPDC cleans up and remediates. It also works hard to prevent these sabotage spills, by using technology, increasing surveillance and by promoting alternative livelihoods for those who might damage pipes and equipment,” Shell said.

Shell has blamed sabotage for oil spills. It said in its annual report published last March that SPDC, which produces around 1 million barrels of oil per day, saw crude oil spills caused by theft or pipeline sabotage surge by 41% in 2019.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said last week that the firm would take “another hard look at its onshore oil operations” in the west African country.

The ruling is the second judgement against Shell this year regarding claims against its Nigerian operations. In a landmark Dutch ruling two weeks ago, an appeals court held Shell responsible for multiple oil pipeline leaks in the Niger Delta and ordered it to pay unspecified damages to farmers, in a victory for environmentalists.

Leigh Day said that the amount of compensation sought would be quantified as the case enters the trial stage. Shell could however try to settle the matter out of court.

In 2015, Shell agreed to pay out 55 million pounds ($83.4 million) to the Bodo community in Nigeria in compensation for two oil spills, which was the largest ever out-of-court settlement relating to Nigerian oil spills.

 

(Reporting by Julia Payne and Kirstin Ridley; editing by John Stonestreet, William Maclean)

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Ontario reveals more details on COVID-19 vaccination plan, but most won't get a reservation for months – CBC.ca

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An online portal for booking appointments for COVID-19 vaccines in Ontario is set to launch on March 15, the head of the province’s immunization task force said Wednesday, but it will likely be months longer before many people are able to get a reservation.

The announcement from retired general Rick Hillier comes as members of the general public in both Alberta and Quebec will be able to start booking appointments this week.

Hillier said the delay in launching Ontario’s version is because the focus until that point will be on populations that don’t require an appointment, such as patient-facing health-care workers and essential caregivers for long-term care residents.

“I would have liked to have it earlier, quite frankly,” Hillier told reporters, adding that health authorities are working “furiously” to test the system.

When the online portal, along with a telephone booking system, launch in March, Ontarians aged 80 and over will be the next priority. Hillier cautioned that anyone who is not in that age group, or who is not trying to make a reservation for a person in the 80-plus age group, will not be able to book an appointment in the weeks that follow.

Officials expect to begin vaccinating people 80 years and over by the third week of March. 

The proposed schedule in the following weeks, Hillier said, will look something like this as long as supplies of vaccine stay steady:

  • April 15: vaccinations begin for people 75 years old and over.
  • May 1: vaccinations begin for people 70 years old and over.
  • June 1: vaccinations begin for people 65 years and over.
  • July 1: vaccinations begin for people 60 years and over.

Essential workers, meanwhile, should begin getting their shots the first week in May, Hillier said, with the final decision about who qualifies in that category still to come from cabinet. The task force has already submitted its recommendations, he added.

Hillier wouldn’t say when those 60 years old and under who are not essential workers should expect to start getting shots. 

“A great question, we don’t need to answer it right now. Early summer is when we might be able to discuss that issue,” Hillier said.

WATCH | Retired general Rick Hillier on Ontario’s vaccine rollout timeline:

Ontarians aged 80 and over will be able to get their COVID-19 vaccinations in the third week of March, said retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccine task force as he outlined a series of dates for the vaccine rollout. 1:07

He also did not provide even a rough timeline for when people under 60 with underlying medical conditions or those living in higher-risk neighbourhoods might expect to be given a first dose of vaccine.

Hillier did say, however, that where Ontarians can expect to get a shot will be based on their postal code. They will be delivered through a combination of mass vaccination clinics, community centre programs pharmacies.

Asked why Ontario’s platform wasn’t launched sooner considering Alberta and Quebec residents will be booking vaccines imminently, Ford said at a news conference Wednesday that he respectfully disagrees the province is lagging behind.

Ford pointed to Alberta’s system crashing Wednesday on its first day of operations and said Quebec hasn’t administered a single second dose of the vaccine thus far.  

In a series of tweets, Dr. Isaach Bogoch, an infectious disease physician and member of the task force, said that primary care providers will help staff vaccination sites and will eventually be able to offer shots at their own clinics once additional vaccines are approved for use by Health Canada.

Several options on the horizon are more stable than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines currently available, Bogoch said. Approval of further vaccines could “significantly speed up” the rough timeline offered by Hillier.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford watches a health-care worker prepare a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Each public health unit will eventually be expected to give out up to 10,000 doses per day, though some larger health units should be doing considerably more, Bogoch said. For example, Toronto Public Health expects to have capacity for up to 400,000 shots per week, with most administered at nine mass vaccination sites, he added. 

As of Feb.14, all residents of long-term care and high-risk retirement homes — generally defined as those that provide memory care — who wanted a vaccine had been given their first shot.

So far the province has administered a total of 602,848 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, and 251,590 people have gotten both doses.

At a news conference Wednesday, Ford also announced Ontario will spend $115 million to provide tuition-free training to 6,000 prospective personal support workers. The programs, which are set to be up and running in April, will consist of paid placements with students completing in six months, rather than eight.

The government will also provide approximately $2,000 in financial assistance to some 2,200 students already completing studies in the PSW fields. 

Asked if the province will move to institute paid sick days for PSWs, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Ontario’s minister of long-term care, didn’t answer directly. 

1,054 new cases of COVID-19

The news comes as Ontario reported another 1,054 cases of COVID-19 and nine more deaths of people with the illness Wednesday morning. 

The additional cases include 363 in Toronto, 186 in Peel Region and 94 in York Region. 

Other public health units that saw double-digit increases were:

  • Simcoe Muskoka: 53
  • Windsor-Essex: 50
  • Thunder Bay: 45
  • Waterloo Region: 44
  • Ottawa: 40
  • Hamilton: 38
  • Durham Region: 35
  • Halton Region: 26
  • Niagara Region: 13
  • Middlesex-London: 10

(Note: All of the figures used in this story are found on the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard or in its Daily Epidemiologic Summary. The number of cases for any region may differ from what is reported by the local public health unit, because local units report figures at different times.)

The Ministry of Education also reported 112 school-related cases: 89 students, 18 staff members and five people who were not identified. As of yesterday, 16 of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly-funded schools were closed due to COVID-19.

Ontario’s lab network completed 54,852 tests for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and logged a test positivity rate of 2.4 per cent. 

The seven-day average of new daily cases rose to 1,084. A steep drop in the seven-day average that began on Jan. 12 has levelled out.

According to the Ministry of Health, there were 675 people in Ontario hospitals with COVID-19 as of yesterday. Of those, 287 were being treated in intensive care and 182 needed a ventilator.

The nine deaths reported today bring Ontario’s official toll to 6,893. 

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Coronavirus updates from Canada and around the world – CBC.ca

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Coronavirus vaccine makers told the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to expect a big jump in the delivery of doses over the coming month, and the companies insist they will be able to provide enough for most Americans to get inoculated by summer.

For the latest news on what’s happening with COVID-19 on Feb. 24, 2021, click here

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Bank of Canada warns buyers of 'early signs' of overheating in housing market – CBC.ca

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Despite early signs of overheating in Canada’s housing market, Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem so far has no plans to raise interest rates until the economy and employment are back on track following the slump caused by COVID-19.

Speaking remotely to the combined Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce on Tuesday, Canada’s top central banker said that the economy would continue to need monetary stimulus, likely until 2023, even though there are already signs it could be distorting the residential real estate market.

“In that low-for-long world, there are risks that housing could get carried away, so that is something we will be looking at very carefully,” Macklem said in response to a question from a member of the remote audience.

Some observers have already expressed worries that the Canadian housing market is rising at an unsustainable pace, leaving critics — including some in the real estate industry — nervous of a boom, followed by a devastating bust once interest rates finally start to rise.

Women and youth hardest hit

But while Macklem also expressed concern, he said that even though the bank predicts the economy will begin to surge by the end of this year, high unemployment among Canada’s most vulnerable groups means the economy will continue to need a helping hand.

“Because women and youth hold so many of the jobs in the hardest-hit sectors, they have borne a disproportionate share of the job losses,” Macklem told his audience, and he said that many of the jobs that have disappeared will not come back.

Already, long-term unemployment — measured as people who want to work but have not found a job in more than 26 weeks — is currently holding at more than half a million people, a level not seen in the economy in 30 years. Macklem said failure to get those people into jobs will lead to what he called “labour market scarring.” In other words, it would result in permanent damage to the Canadian workforce.

He suggested that while the bank is holding rates at rock-bottom levels, in return employers in his audience need to contribute by helping to train the types of employees they needed. That applied especially in the digital economy.

WATCH | COVID-19’s unequal economic recession in Canada:

More than a million Canadians are still under- or unemployed as a result of COVID-19, but the crisis also allowed others, who were easily able to work from home, save more money. 2:34

Low-wage jobs were hit the hardest. Not only did technology-related employment not fall as far, but the demand for tech workers has bounced back to levels higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. And he said that employers must help create their own workforce in an economy that is increasingly digital and automated.

“Technology is no longer a sector,” Macklem said. “It’s every sector.”

But he said that rebuilding the workforce and the economy in that new form will be a process of months and years, and he reiterated that there is little fear of inflation and thus rate hikes because there remains plenty of slack in the economy.

Beware ‘extrapolative expectations’

But just as low rates have led to increased borrowing by businesses that has helped spur expansion and share prices, low mortgage rates have made it easier for prospective homeowners to bid up the price of houses.

So far, Macklem said, the move toward bigger houses further away from city centres has not been speculation so much as the need for more working — and learning — space for employees who no longer have to commute to the office. Part of the evidence for that is that larger, more distant homes are rising in value, whereas inner-city properties are attracting fewer buyers and renters.

Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem, speaking remotely to the combined Calgary and Edmonton chambers of commerce on Tuesday, said the bank would keep a close eye on the housing market and think about how to contain a housing bubble that could lead to future trouble. (Don Pittis/CBC)

But there are signs that the practical motivation for rising prices may be changing to the kind of speculative frenzy seen in 2016 and 2017 that the government tried to quell with tax measures and stress tests some of which were relaxed last year.

“What we get worried about is when we start to see extrapolative expectations, when we start to see people expecting the kind of unsustainable price rises we’ve seen recently go on indefinitely, and they’re basing their decision on those kinds of assumptions,” he warned.

And while he did not describe what kind of actions he would take to stimulate jobs without overstimulating housing, Macklem said the bank would keep a close eye on the housing market and think about how to contain a housing bubble that could lead to future trouble.

“When we see people starting to buy houses solely because they think prices are going to go up, that is a warning sign for us,” he told the audience. “We are starting to see some early signs of excess exuberance.”

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis

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