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Ontario declares state of emergency amid Canada trucker blockade – Al Jazeera English



The premier of Canada’s Ontario province declared a state of emergency on Friday as an international blockade by truckers protesting COVID-19 vaccine requirements entered its fifth day, and a two-week-old blockade of the capital Ottawa continued.

Premier Doug Ford said he will convene the provincial cabinet on Saturday to enact orders that make it “crystal clear it is illegal and punishable to block and impede the movement of goods, people and service along critical infrastructure”.

“Let me be as clear as I can — there will be consequences for these actions, and they will be severe,” he said in a Friday announcement.

“This is a pivotal, pivotal moment for our nation.”

Truckers have slowed or halted border transit causing parts shortages that shut down car plants in both the United States and Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with US President Joe Biden on Friday about the border obstructions saying they “are having significant direct impacts on citizens lives and livelihoods”, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Trudeau “promised quick action in enforcing the law” the White House said.

A demonstration that began in January as a convoy, travelling across Canada in protest against COVID vaccination requirements for truckers has morphed into broader complaints about the Liberal government and attracted proponents of the anti-vaccination movement.

The capital of Ottawa is under siege “I call it a siege because that is what it is. It’s an illegal occupation. This is no longer a protest. With a protest, you peacefully make your point and you go back home,” Ford said.

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The Ontario leader pledged new legal action against protesters, including fines and potential jail time for non-compliance with the government’s orders.

The city of Windsor, on the US border, meanwhile, planned to seek an injunction at an afternoon court hearing against members of the self-proclaimed “Freedom Convoy” who have used dozens of trucks to bottle up the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor to the US city to Detroit.

Federal, provincial, and local authorities have hesitated to forcibly remove the protesters, reflecting a lack of manpower by local police, Canada’s reverence for free speech, and fears of potential violence. But pressure to open the border crossings is mounting, with Ford, General Motors, Toyota and Honda closing plants or cancelling shifts.

The Biden administration has urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government to use its powers to end the blockade. Michigan’s Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday called on Canadian authorities to quickly resolve the standoff.

trucks cross the Ambassador Bridge from Windsor, Ontario into Detroit. On a normal day, about 7,400 trucks cross the bridge between Detroit and Windsor every day, many laden with car parts [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest US-Canadian border crossing, carrying 25 percent of all trade between the two countries. The standoff came at a time when the car industry is already straining to maintain production amid shortages of computer chips and other supply-chain disruptions.

“American legislators are freaking out, and rightfully so,” said Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto told the Associated Press. “Pressure is now being exerted by the White House on Trudeau to act more decisively.”

Hundreds of demonstrators in trucks have paralyzed the streets of downtown Ottawa for almost two weeks, and have closed three border crossings in all: at Windsor, opposite Detroit; at Coutts, Alberta, opposite Montana; and at Emerson, Manitoba, across from North Dakota.

“This is an unprecedented demonstration. It has significant levels of fundraising, coordination, and communication. They have command centres established here and across the country and beyond this country,” Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly said.

On Friday, amid signs that authorities might be prepared to get tough, police in Windsor and Ottawa awaited reinforcements from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal police force.

Ottawa’s mayor has asked for 1,800 additional police officers, nearly doubling the manpower available to the city’s police force, which has 2,100 officers and civilian members.

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Canadian trucker Harold Jonker told Al Jazeera the vaccine mandate, which requires truckers to be vaccinated or comply with quarantine rules, has shut down half of his company’s business.

“Mandates and lockdowns are harmful to society. They have been harmful for two years. When they go, we’ll go,” said Jonker, one of the truckers protesting in Ottawa.

Until now, the Canadian government reaction to the protests has been marked by disagreements over who is in charge. Canada’s emergency preparedness minister said this week that Ontario has ultimate responsibility, while the province’s transport minister said it is the federal government’s job to secure the border.

“The problem is stretched police forces for all three levels of government,” Wiseman said “If anyone ‘takes responsibility’, they will be charged with failure when things are not resolved quickly or if things go badly.”

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has reported in detail that the convoy was organised by known far-right figures.

In Canada, about 85 percent of drivers are vaccinated, according to the Canadian Trucking Association.

Leaders of the Conservative Party opposed to Trudeau have supported the truckers as the continuing blockade escalate into a political problem for the prime minister. The Freedom Convoy has been promoted and cheered on by Fox News personalities and has attracted support from former President Donald Trump.

A protester waves a French flag at a convoy made of vehicles, from trucks to motorcycles and camper vans, in Lyon.A protester waves a French flag at a convoy made of trucks, motorcycles and camper vans in Lyon, France, on February 11 as authorities banned threatened road blockades inspired by protests in Canada [Laurent Cipriani/AP Photo]

The protests have spread outside Canada, as well. Demonstrators angry about pandemic restrictions drove towards Paris in scattered convoys of camper vans, cars, and trucks on Friday in an effort to blockade the French capital, despite a police ban.

In the US, the Department of Homeland Security has warned that truck protests may be brewing in the United States. The agency said the protests could begin in Southern California as early as this weekend and spread to Washington, DC, around Biden’s scheduled State of the Union address to Congress in March.

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Why Can’t The Federal Government Eliminate Systemic Racism In The Canadian Military?



“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system.

By Harinder Mahil

A recently released report indicates that systemic racism is rampant throughout the Canadian Armed Forces which is putting the country’s national security at risk. 
The report released by Defence Minister Anita Anand says that the military has not acted on dozens of previous studies and reviews on racism in the ranks over the past two decades. The report says the military is not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other extremists from infiltrating its ranks.
I have read numerous stories about the racism in the military over the years but never thought it was such a big problem. I am shocked at the extent of the problem as identified in the report.
The report concludes that more and more Canadians will have no interest in joining the military until it fixes its long-standing issues of racism, abuse of power, gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.
“Unless it is rapidly reined in and addressed, the impact of this toxicity will linger for years, affecting the reputation of the Defence Team to the point of repulsing Canadians from joining its workforce”
The report says military leadership must accept that some members will either leave or need to be removed.
The report comes after a yearlong review by a panel of retired Armed Forces membersand follows numerous incidents linking some military personnel with violent extremism and hate groups, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system,” reads the report by the Minister of National Defence’s Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination.
There has been increasing pressure on the military to do more to crack down on hateful ideologies within its ranks.
“A common thread was evident throughout these consultations: membership in extremist groups is growing, it is becoming increasingly covert, and technological advances such as Darknet and encryption methods pose significant challenges in detecting these members,” the report said.
White men account for 71 per cent of Canadian military members but only 39 per cent of the country’s civilian workforce. The report notes Indigenous Peoples, visible minorities and women are significantly under-represented in Canada’s armed forces.

Over the last two decades the military has been seeking recruits from the Indigenous and visible minority communities. Why would Indigenous and visible minority communities’ members join the military if they are discriminated against by others especially those who have links with neo-Nazis?

I am of the opinion that the report only scratches the surface of the problem. It talks about consultations but who is consulted. 
If the military is serious about dealing with the problem it should monitor the social media posts of its members and weed out those who harbour white supremacist views and recognize those who are likely to be drawn towards extremist groups.

Harinder Mahil is a community activist and President of the West Coast Coalition Against Racism (WCCAR).

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Government’s changing vape strategy shifts focus away from cigarettes, advocates fear



OTTAWA — In the eight years or so since he opened his first vape shop in Ottawa, Ron Couchman said a great sense of community has been lost.

A former cigarette smoker himself, Couchman said he remembers when his store operated almost as a support group for people trying to find a healthier alternative to cigarette addiction.

“We could teach other people how to vape when people were struggling to get off cigarettes, we’d play board games and have movie nights,” Couchman said.

As provincial and federal legislation started to clamp down on those activities, he said the camaraderie has faded.

Couchman is a passionate advocate for the potential of vaping to help people leave more harmful tobacco habits behind. At one point the federal government appeared to be onside with that, he said, but that seems to be changing.

“The last few bouts of legislation (have) really swung the other way to the point that it’s serving as a disincentive to quit smoking,” he said.

The government is in the midst of its first review of the 2018 legislation that legalized vaping, and appears to be veering away from the narrow path between treating vapes as a harm reduction tool, or a danger in and of themselves.

The harms of vaping relative to smoking tobacco cigarettes are still something of a mystery, but the government’s website suggests it’s safer than inhaling cigarette smoke.

Advocates on both sides of the issue say regulations have become tougher on vapes and have more or less abandoned the product as an alternative to cigarettes, leaving them to wonder how the government plans to deal with cigarette smoking in Canada.

“They bet heavily on harm reduction as a way to address tobacco. It hasn’t worked for them, and they didn’t have a more comprehensive plan,” said Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Health Canada’s goal is to reduce the number of people who smoke tobacco to just five per cent by 2035, from about 14.8 per cent in 2019.

An audit of the department shows tobacco smoke is declining in popularity, but mainly because young people aren’t picking up the habit and existing smokers are dying.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Canada, with approximately 48,000 people dying from smoking-related illnesses every year, the government says.

Vaping remains relatively unpopular for adults over the age of 25, with just three per cent reporting that they vaped within the last month in 2020, according to the results of the Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey. That’s about the same it was in the 2017 Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey.

But vaping has spiked among youth between 15 and 19 years old, to 14 per cent in 2020 up from six per cent in 2017.

In response, the government clamped down on vaping with a range of regulations, banning promotion and advertising of the products in certain spaces and putting limits on the amount of nicotine that can be in them. It’s also expected to restrict which flavours can be sold.

In their most recent budget, the Liberals proposed an excise tax on vape products as of Oct. 1.

Now, it’s as if Health Canada is fighting the war on two fronts, Callard said.

The department has been focusing resources on youth vaping, leaving anti-smoking groups like Callard’s concerned that a tobacco strategy may be falling by the wayside.

The recent audit shows the department has been taking on projects to reduce tobacco use, but it won’t be enough to meet their own targets.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Rights4Vapers say smokers are being punished for making a healthier choice.

“It is probably the only addiction currently where we continue to use fear and shame to get individuals to quit,” said Maria Papaioannoy, the group’s spokesperson and a vape store owner.

The strategy does appear to be at odds with the harm-reduction approach the government has embraced when it comes to to drug use, said David Sweanor, chair of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.

“We’ve seen the success replicated numerous times simply by giving people alternatives, which is consistent with what we’ve done with things like clean needles, safe injection sites,” said Sweanor, who contributed to the 1988 Tobacco Products Control Act.

The government must table its legislative review this year. The discussion paper the department released touches almost exclusively on how to toughen vaping regulations, Sweanor said, though that’s not what the legislation was primarily set out to do.

“Is it accomplishing what it’s supposed to be accomplishing? Are there ways that you can improve it?” he said.

“Instead, what we got is a document that takes very few aspects of, primarily, their anti-vaping strategy.”

In the paper the government says the review will focus on vaping regulations because the vaping products market in Canada has changed so much in the years since the law was passed.

The review gives the opportunity to examine whether the act offers the government enough authority to address the rise in youth vaping, the paper said.

“A full assessment of whether the measures taken since the legislation was introduced in 2018 have been effective in responding to the rise in youth vaping will benefit from more time and data. Subsequent reviews will continue to monitor youth use along with other dimensions of the Act,” the document reads.

Advocates for and against using vaping as a way to transition people away from harmful cigarette smoke agree, tobacco is being left out of the conversation.

“Tobacco remains the fundamental problem,” said Callard. “It’s tobacco that continues to kill.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.


Laura Osman, The Canadian Press



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Multiple reports say Marner’s SUV was stolen in an armed carjacking in west Toronto



There are multiple reports that an SUV belonging to Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner has been stolen in a carjacking in the city’s west end.

The Toronto Sun, Global News and City TV all quoted unnamed police sources as saying Marner’s black Range Rover was taken outside a movie theatre in Etobicoke.

Police confirmed there was a carjacking without any injuries, but would not give any information out on the victims or witnesses.

The Sun says Marner was shaken but not hurt.

Police tweeted they were called to The Queensway and Islington Avenue area around 7:46 p.m. for reports of a man robbed of his car.

Authorities are looking for three suspects armed with two handguns and a knife, who took off in the stolen vehicle.

Marner and the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday in a seventh and deciding game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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