Quebecer Fakhria Rezaie was seven years old when her family fled Afghanistan and says her memories from life under the Taliban are horrific.
Rezaie, 29, says the Taliban’s takeover of Mazar-i-Sharif in 1998, the city where she grew up in northwest Afghanistan, was sudden and violent.
“They came looking for the men and took everyone over 15,” Rezaie, who lives on Montreal’s south shore, said in a recent interview. “We still don’t know where they are, including my uncle, and to this day we haven’t heard from him. There is no hope left. I have so many memories from it, it was savage and terrifying. Humanity didn’t exist.”
The Taliban swept the country at a surprisingly fast pace after American troops started to withdraw on May 1 — ending two decades of United States military presence in Afghanistan. On Sunday, they took the capital, Kabul, forcing President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country. The Taliban say they seek an “inclusive, Islamic” government and claim they have become more moderate since they last held power.
But Afghans in Canada remain deeply skeptical of the group’s intentions.
Montrealer Noori Massoud, 30, says he hasn’t been able to sleep over the past few days, fearing for the lives of his family members in Afghanistan.
“My body is here but my mind is there,” Massoud said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen; people want a peaceful life but I don’t think it’s going to happen in Afghanistan.”
Rezaie said her father was taken by the Taliban in 1998 and found in a prison three months after his abduction.
“We fled a few days after we found my dad, leaving everything behind,” Rezaie said, adding that her family lived in Pakistan for three years before moving to Canada. “We were so afraid, my dad just wanted to be able to cross the borders and breathe. This is my story, but I am also talking for people who experienced the same thing, and those who are currently going through it.”
Under Taliban rule in the ’90s, television and music were forbidden. Women were barred from attending school or working outside the home, and they had to wear the all-encompassing burqa whenever they appeared in public.
Massoud left Afghanistan in 2014 at the age of 23, heading to England before moving to Canada.
“When the Taliban were in power, I was a kid,” Massoud said. “I remember that time was very dark, lots of bad memories. It’s happening again in my country and it’s very sad.”
“No one feels safe — all Afghans. Especially women. They fear for their lives.”
After the Taliban took control of Kabul, 23-year-old Saddia Rahmanyarspoke to her relatives in the city to check up on them.
Rahmanyar’s three uncles, a dentist, pediatrician and pharmacist, and their families have lived in Kabul their whole lives. Her younger cousins say they have never seen this kind of violence and anarchy before.
“The state was lawless for 24 hours, where you can do whatever you want and get away with it. My cousin claims that in his 23 years, he had never seen this much chaos,” she said from Toronto.
Rahmanyar, who was born in Canada after her parents fled Afghanistan in 1996 to avoid Taliban rule, had visited her family in Kabul several times over the past five years. Her primary concern, she said, is not being able to send them money. “All the banks are closed and no one is working. How am I going to send them money? I can’t e-transfer funds there,” she said.
“So, there’s this really limited help I can do for them. I can donate to organizations, but making sure that the money goes directly to my family is really unknown at the moment.”
Behzad Nikzad, who’s been living in Canada for more than 20 years, says his thoughts are with a cousin who is finishing her last year of medical school in Herat, Afghanistan’s the third-largest city.
“She worked very hard all of her life, she’s been dedicated to her study for all her entire life,” Nikzad said from Montreal. “As far as I remember, she was in her books, studying, but now she’s very afraid it might be like last time, and that she won’t be able to go back to school or practice her profession.”
The Taliban vowed Tuesday to respect women’s rights, forgive those who fought them and ensure Afghanistan does not become a haven for terrorists.
Rezaie, however, said those are empty words. She said she hopes international leaders follow Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after he declared on Tuesday that his government won’t recognize the Taliban as legitimate rulers.
“Taliban can show the world that they are there for peace, but we have no trust,” Rezaie said. “There are still diplomats over there, and once they are gone, the Taliban might keep peace with other countries but for the Afghans, it’s going to be hell.”
“The 20 years of progress are going to be gone in a moment.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 18, 2021.
— With files from Rhythm Sachdeva and The Associated Press
Air Canada suspending flights to Calgary from YXE and YQR – CTV News Saskatoon
Starting in mid-January Air Canada will no longer be offering direct flights to and from Calgary for the province’s two biggest airports.
Travelers at the Saskatoon Airport were not happy with the announcement.
“I want them to continue. There are many people in Saskatoon that go to Calgary,” said Josephine Regan.
“Who wants to go to Vancouver and then fly back again,” said Anne McDonald.
Air Canada passengers will now have to catch a connecting flight through Vancouver, more than tripling the time it takes to reach Calgary with a direct flight.
“It was a surprise, we were not aware that this decision was going to be made,” said Vice-President of Business Development for Skyxe Airport CJ Dushinski.
“It’s obviously disappointing anytime a carrier decides to cease service from a market, especially when we’re talking about a market like Calgary which is one of our largest markets out of Saskatoon.”
Saskatoon and Regina both see approximately two in-bound and out-bound flights to Calgary daily.
“We know loyal Air Canada customers will be disappointed. It provides a few less options for connections through a variety of places,” said Manager of Customer Experience for Regina Airport Authority Justin Reves.
In a statement to CTV News the airline provider said “Air Canada has made some changes to its flights to/from Calgary. We are continuing to rebuild our business in a prudent and disciplined way and that means looking at every aspect of our network and deploying our resources where they will be most productive. After careful review, we’ve decided that we must continue to strategically focus on rebuilding our main hubs of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. As a result, we have made the difficult decision to suspend a number of regional routes from Calgary effective Jan. 2023.”
Sandy Levinton who operates Marlin Travel Agency says the direct flight suspensions will force her company to switch up some flights for customers.
“We have to find alternate routes for them,” she said. “The airlines have to streamline their operations whenever they can. They’re seeing that flights are not filling up and they’re just going start pulling those or suspending them.”
In the wake of the suspension Levinton says WestJet Airlines has already added more direct flights to Calgary.
Air Canada says it does “review opportunities to add services,” which could have the company add the flights back to the province’s two major airports, however it provided no timetable for when that could happen.
Blood Donations: The Gift We take for Granted
How has the pandemic affected the blood pool within the North America Region? Has the blood supply so needed by the racialized, Black and Asian Communities suffered?
Black and Racialized North Americans tend to die or have blood-related illnesses more often than White Folk. The exact cause is unknown, but it is likely a combination of genetics, behavior, and risk factors entering into it. Blacks tend to have smaller blood vessels, leading to heart-centered illnesses. Ethnic health issues are front and center, in front of our political and health officials these days.
Canada is facing a blood shortage, and 100,000 donors are required to maintain the nation’s blood supply. This is a challenge to accomplish in itself. There are racial communities that have particular needs not being serviced. For many of these people, there is a shortage of donations from their specific genetic community, causing a life-or-death situation.
“Most of the time, blood really never sees race,” says Madeline Verhovsek, a hematologist from St. Joseph’s healthcare in Hamilton. Matching blood transfusions between donors and recipients is usually an easy endeavor, but in some special cases, the blood types available are not sufficient. Sometimes a person with special unique medical conditions or complications may require extended matching, challenging the system’s blood pool. In some cases, people from specific ethnic communities are required to donate to their kin and community members.
One such condition is sickle-cell anemia, which affects people living in malaria-prone areas of Sub-Sahara Africa and The Middle East Regions. Sickle Cell Anemia can require patients to experience up to 25 transfusions annually. While there are 4 main blood types (O, A/B, A, and B are antigens that sit upon red blood cells), there are other antigens contained in blood, and their genetic codes can vary. Blood from the black community is like gold to the Canadian Blood Services, mostly because of its rarity and availability. That is not to say that the black community does not donate blood, but rather that there are stumbling blocks placed before racialized community members. If you have had malaria, you are not allowed to donate in Canada. In America, those who have had malaria are not banned for life.
Margaret Media of Canadian Blood Services (director of philanthropy) said “Canadians must realize and acknowledge that some government policies are a hindrance to people donating their blood, marrow, and stem cells”.
Sikh Nation, a community-based organization, raises the Sikh Community into donating their blood. They want a safe supply, but also adequate supply, so when there is a need the supply is there. The ban that disallowed LGBTQ Community Members to donate has been re-imaged recently. Those communities with a historic rare blood record have been organizing community drives, as well as blood storage with the Canadian authority’s assistance and cooperation. Those that help themselves through organizing and determining action seem to achieve wonderful results. In our crazy energetic world, finding the time to donate is another problem. The Business World has often responded to this difficulty through employee-encouraged blood drives, paid wages while donating, and promoting blood donations. The blood agency and activist organizations pursue diligently those employed in super active jobs, such as truck drivers and seasonal workers to encourage and achieve blood donations.
Governmental action to lower the barriers to donating blood, especially within Black and African, and Asian populations seems to be achieving its necessary goals. The Indian community of Brampton has responded well to the presence of increased donation centers in Brampton. Sikh Canadian activists point out that blood donation is perfectly in line with Canadian – Sikh values, to save lives.
Sources…Canadian Blood Services, CBC, and Brampton Guardian.
Military faces calls to return general to duty after sexual assault acquittal
The Canadian Armed Forces is facing calls to return Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin to duty after the senior officer, who previously oversaw the Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, was acquitted of sexual assault.
The military says it is considering the implications of the ruling, which was handed down by a Quebec civilian judge on Monday following a high-profile trial.
Fortin’s lawyer, Natalia Rodriguez, says her client is ready, willing and able to return to service after being essentially put on paid leave for more than a year.
But Rodriguez also says that Fortin’s career and reputation have suffered as a result of the allegation against him, and the way it was handled by the Liberal government and the military.
Retired colonel Michel Drapeau, who is now a lawyer specializing in military cases, says the acquittal should pave the way for Fortin should be immediately assigned to a new role with full duties.
But he and others say the government may instead offer a settlement in return for Fortin’s retirement, similar to what happened when the breach of trust case against vice-admiral Mark Norman was dropped in May 2019.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.
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