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Overseas Canadians doubling up on COVID-19 vaccines despite health unknowns –



While most Canadians are celebrating after their second COVID-19 vaccine doses, many expatriate Canadians living and working overseas are opting for third and fourth jabs. 

They say they’ve been left with little choice but to re-vaccinate if they want to return to Canada in future and avoid Canada’s 14-day hotel and quarantine provisions. 

“I don’t want to hotel quarantine again,” said Monique Horvath, a 49-year-old Canadian teacher from Nanaimo, B.C., who has lived and worked in Moscow for the last 14 years. 

She and her husband Brendan each got two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine in the spring — but they were the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, the only shot available to them, which is not approved for use in Canada. That means they would still have to quarantine if coming home.

“If there’s an emergency and we need to come back to Canada … that’s a big thing in my mind when you’re overseas and away from family,” Horvath said of their decision to undergo another two doses of vaccines each.

WATCH | Canada’s prime minister on how the Canada-U.S. border will reopen:

As of today, fully vaccinated Canadians entering the country can forgo the 14 day quarantine. But Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is standing by a scaled approach to easing border restrictions — and non-essential travel between the U.S. and Canada remains restricted until July 21. 1:32

After making the trip back to B.C. in June, Horvath said she and Brendan rolled up their sleeves for Moderna once they were done with their two weeks of isolation.

They expect to get the second shot of Moderna before they return to Moscow. 

The rules

Earlier this week, the Canadian government dropped its controversial hotel quarantine and 14 days in isolation for “fully vaccinated” Canadians entering the country.

But that means having a vaccine approved by Health Canada — and the list is limited to Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford, COVISHIELD, or Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine.

Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s Sinopharm, and India’s Covaxin are not on the list — even though hundreds of millions of people around the world have either taken them already or are in the process of doing so.

Horvath said more than 20 of her co-workers now on their breaks in the United States, Canada and Europe posted photos of themselves on Facebook getting their additional vaccinations — opting to re-vaccinate even though there is virtually no research on the implications of doing so.

“People I know checked with their doctors and they said it’s fine,” she said.

‘It’s probably ok’

Several Canadian vaccine experts agreed taking extra vaccine doses probably is “fine” — but with caveats.

“From a health standpoint it’s hard to know what the benefit or drawback is — it’s probably OK, but I can’t look you in the eye and tell you with any degree of confidence that it is,” said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at Toronto General hospital. 

Bogoch, who’s a member of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said so far, there is no official guidance from any of the key international health bodies on the implications of taking additional COVID-19 vaccines. The issue is only beginning to emerge.

Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said this is an important issue that is going to grow exponentially as more expatriates travel and repatriate.

“I think there’s a real need to straighten this out because it’s creating a condition where people are embarking on completely untested doubling up regimens to fill regulatory requirements,” she said.

Members of Welbes family, expatriates who live in Moscow, opted to get two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in the United States after they initially got the Sputnik V vaccine in Russia. This way, they can enter Canada without quarantining for 14 days. (Submitted by Kirsten Welbes)

Saxinger said she was recently asked for advice on getting re-vaccinated by a Canadian living in the Middle East after he had already taken two doses of a vaccine not approved in Canada.

The topic is widely discussed on expat social media sites, including a Facebook page where Canadians share stories about trying to navigate the border restrictions.

The latest census taken in 2009 shows 2.8 million Candians live and work outside of Canada and many — if not most — do not have access to COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada.

Thousands of international students headed for Canada could face challenges if they have received vaccines that aren’t approved here.

“The people [Canadians abroad] who took these vaccines did the right thing at the time,” said Bogoch.

“COVID was running rampant and you’ve got to take whatever vaccine is available in a time of crisis. That was at that time — what do you do now?”

An experiment

Kirsten and Todd Welbes faced a similar dilemma.

They too received both doses of Russia’s Sputnik V at home in Moscow, where they are teachers.

But faced with the Canadian border restrictions and other travel restrictions in Europe, the dual Canadian-U.S. family designed their summer around getting two doses of the Pfizer vaccine in the United States, which would allow them to travel to Canada later.

Dr. Lynora M. Saxinger, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta, said taking two different vaccine regimens may create a stronger immune response as the second course acts as a booster. (John Ulan/Ulan Photography)

“New situations are put in our path and then we have to figure it out,” said Welbes, 45. 

“Would I have chosen to get two different vaccines in two different countries? Probably not.”

Like Horvath, Welbes said getting re-vaccinated means they will hopefully now be able to visit family in Canada and Europe without restrictions, especially in emergencies. 

It also means they will be able to take their 16-year-old daughter to visit a prospective university in British Columbia on a short Christmas break.

But while they are comfortable with the health implications of their decision, Todd Welbes said he does feel a little like a human lab experiment. 

“There’s a very real possibility that I’m completely wrong and that this is a terrible idea and I’ve jeopardized our health.” 


Health Canada has yet to weigh in on the re-vaccination question. 

In an emailed statement, the department said “it has not issued any recommendations on this matter at this time.” 

Saxinger, the University of Alberta infectious diseases expert, said taking two different vaccine regimens may create a stronger immune response as the second course acts as a booster.

But she said there have been very rare situations where taking a particular booster vaccine in too short a timeframe can actually “blunt” the immune response. 

Some of the re-vaccinated Canadians who gave interviews for this story also complained of intense reactions after their first dose of the second round of vaccines.

“I had more side effects with Moderna than my second Sputnik shot,” said Horvath.

“Headache, nausea, chills, fever, muscle aches, just feeling horrible. Brendan was exactly the same.”

Saxinger said that type of reaction is not surprising.

“It’s entirely possible you might be having a more vigorous immune response because of antibodies in your system,” she said.

Another immunology expert, Rod Russell, said the vaccines are “safe by themselves.” But the professor of virology at Newfoundland’s Memorial University said it might be better to mix mRNA vaccines, such as Pfizer and Moderna, with viral vector vaccines such as Sputnik V.

Issac Bogoch, the Toronto General hospital expert, said it’s understandable people would want to get re-vaccinated to avoid “being on the losing end of vaccine passports.”

But he said it’s likely countries will — and should — eventually accept World Health Organization-approved vaccines so the need to re-vaccinate may eventually become unnecessary.

Too slow 

Canada’s government has been shipping out vaccines to its embassies around the world where Health Canada approved vaccines aren’t available, which helps diplomats and other staff avoid this dilemma. But not for other Canadians working abroad. 

Kirsten Welbes, the Moscow teacher, said the world isn’t moving fast enough to find a global solution. So she had to find one in the meantime.

“I just have to be pragmatic,” she said. “What is coming at me and what is the best decision I can make based on that small amount of information? You just do your best.”

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US Ambassador to Canada on cross-border issues – CTV News



David Cohen has been the United States’ Ambassador to Canada since November 2021, and in the time since, both Canada and the United States have experienced a series of shared challenges.

Cohen, in an interview at his official residence in Ottawa, opens up about the state of the relationship.

He touches on how inflation, central banks, potential gas tax breaks and the “Freedom Convoy” protests have affected cross-border relations. He also delves into what impact U.S. abortion rights rulings and gun control crackdowns may have, and when cross-border travel rules could further ease.

This transcript of Cohen’s interview with Evan Solomon for Sunday’s episode of CTV’s Question Period has been edited for length and clarity.


Evan Solomon: We are in a time, both in the U.S. and in Canada, with inflation at 40 year highs, 7.7 per cent here. It’s affecting Americans at the pump, and the grocery store… Everyone says it’s about supply chains. What is the U.S. and Canada doing together explicitly to help people fight inflation?

Ambassador Cohen: “So, you know, inflation is clearly the dominant economic issue of the day in both the United States and in Canada. It is scary because remember, inflation is a product of macroeconomic forces… The economy, the macro economy is larger than any government any official, and it’s just not something that you can wave a magic wand and make inflation go away. It’s a huge macroeconomic force.

“That said there are a bundle of tactics and strategies that government writ large can and should execute in inflationary times. And the first of all of those is a central banking function. I’m not an elected official, so I’m allowed to say this: It is true that the major responsibility for managing macroeconomic forces in the economy like inflation, is a central bank function. It’s not a presidential or prime minister function.”

Solomon: A lot of people say the central banks both in your country and in Canada blew it, because they didn’t ease back quick enough.

Ambassador Cohen: “I agree with you that it’s become politicized. But I don’t think some of that criticism is political. I think the criticism is by other serious economists who look at this issue and say, the central bank should have done something differently. Then you’ve got elected officials taking that comment and politicizing it. So those are, I think those are two different stages of the same of the same particular issue…

“We’re a victim of something that’s awfully good, which is as the pandemic eases, people are returning to their leisure and their vacation plans with a vengeance, and it’s the summer season. It’s the season where that happens. And so demand for gasoline is spiking to all time highs at a time when supplies are are not as robust as they have been at some times in history. And that is causing an increase in gas prices, which is a significant contributor to the overall increase in cost of living and to overall inflationary trends.”

Solomon: Was it a mistake for Joe Biden to cancel Keystone given where the world is now, which would have helped in this situation?

Ambassador Cohen: “I hope this isn’t headline news. After all, I’m Joe Biden’s friend and his representative in Canada. But Joe Biden absolutely did not make a mistake in canceling the Keystone pipeline. We don’t have enough time to run through every argument there. But we’re talking about inflation, which is fair, as Joe Biden has said it is the number one issue the United States faces. But it’s not the only issue. And energy is not the only issue that Canada or the United States faces. You could argue that climate change is the existential issue of our generation. And then unless we get a hold of climate change and get a hold of the impacts of climate change quickly, we’re going to cause irreversible damage to our environment.

“And by the way, that is something that has a tremendous Canadian implication, because of the adverse impact on the Arctic, from runaway climate change. And if you are Joe Biden and you’re the president of the United States, and frankly, if you’re the prime minister of Canada, you have to juggle not just inflation—no matter how important the issue is— not just prices of gasoline at the gas pump. But, you have to focus on the whole range of issues that confront your country.”

Solomon: Canada has just announced it’s going to invest in the next six years $4.9 billion to upgrade the NORAD system, the radar defense system that is out of date… Has your country asked Canada when that system will be updated? And what is your view about how vulnerable we are now?

Ambassador Cohen: “I’m not bashful about expressing opinions, but I hope I don’t get out of my lane and express opinions about things that I really don’t fully understand or know. So the question you ask, which is how vulnerable are we today, is a fundamental defense professional question… I just don’t know enough to answer that question intelligently. I do think and the line that I have used is that whether its post-February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, or even before that time… Those issues are particularly relevant and important in the Arctic, and we need a 21st century defense response with 21st century funding to be able to put us in a position to defend ourselves adequately…

“I have been asked a lot of times about Canada’s commitment to NORAD and what the United States was looking for. And my answer was, we’re, you know, Canada and the United States are partners in this binational command, the only binational defence command in the world, and our expectation our hope if you will, for NORAD and for Canada, is that they be a good partner.”

Solomon: On Friday… The [U.S.] Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This is not a surprise… What is the significance for women and globally that that Roe v. Wade and access to abortion rights are no longer constitutionally protected in your country?

Ambassador Cohen: “So as you say, this is not a surprise, but that doesn’t mean that it is not a major disappointment. You know, the significance of Roe vs. Wade is that for 50 years, these rights were deemed to be constitutionally protected. I think it is a tremendous blow for what is a very important constitutional right for women in the United States. I think it is a tremendous blow for gender equity in the overall equality democratic sense. It is a major disappointment. President Biden has said that in the event this decision came down, it would be a real blow to women’s rights and to and to the treatment of women in the United States of America.

“This now becomes a matter of individual states to determine the rules that will apply to abortion. So in a sense, the battlefield has shifted to a different governmental level in the United States. The reason I want to be careful is because you’ve got such a large number of states under conservative— usually Republican—control where I think abortion rights will be will likely be restricted…

“So this is not a good day for women, for the treatment of women. It is not a good day for our respect for women, and for their right to choose what happens with their own bodies. And so I can’t sugar coat that except just to say that we do need to shift the battlefield now and we need to try and preserve as much of a women’s right to choose in as many states as possible.”

Solomon: We are in a debate here, intensely, about the necessity of the Emergencies Act. Was the U.S. government pressuring Canada to resolve this because of the economic consequences on cross-border trade?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t want to get into the internal Canadian debate on the propriety of the invocation of the Emergencies Act, but I have no problem saying that the threat to trade and commerce between the United States and Canada as a result of the blockades at points of entry—particularly in Windsor at the Ambassador Bridge, which is where the largest single implication was—we’re talking about a few hundred million dollars a day of blocked trade.

“And remember, this was having implications on real people. There were automobile plants in Canada and the United States where shifts were being cut back, people were losing income as a result of this, there was a real threat to the integrated automobile supply chain. There was a legitimate threat to the trade and commerce of both Canada and the United States.

“So the way you ask the question gives me a chance to make a very important point, because it’s not the United States’ place to pressure Canada into doing anything. Canada is its own sovereign country. We are friends, we are allies…That does not give us the right to tell Canada you need to do this. It does give us the right to have a serious discussion with our friend about the implications of this embargo on our mutual trade, on both sides of the border. And so there was a high level of concern. There were repetitive, high-level conversations with Chrystia Freeland, with multiple ministers in the Canadian government, with members of the cabinet. I was personally involved in many of those discussions, the White House got involved. So it was a matter of serious concern, but nobody in the United States to the best of my knowledge ever said to Canada, ‘you must resolve this problem,’ … It was very serious. It should have been taken seriously, and it was taken seriously.”

Solomon: I spoke with Congressman Higgins from New York, I’ve spoken to Canadian mayors, they want the ArriveCAN app dropped because it’s hurting trade. Should Canada drop the ArriveCAN app? Is it hurting trade now, and tourism?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t know enough about that. I say as a person now who has traveled multiple times between the United States and Canada, I have not experienced the problems with the ArriveCAN app that I read about in the newspapers. But, this is in the category of Canada being a sovereign nation. They need to make their own basic decisions about this. I do think when you look at a trend line of decisions that the U.S. and Canada have been making, we’re certainly moving toward fewer restrictions on border travel, and lowering barriers to the ability of people to move between our countries. And I think ArriveCAN will get caught up in that trend, and is a part of that ongoing conversation.”

Solomon: The tragedy in Uvalde, Texas was just one of the latest. Horrific… The debate in Canada is that the gun problem is coming from the United States. It’s illegal guns coming over the border from the U. S. What is the U.S. doing to help Canada stop the flow of illegal guns from your country into this country?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t want to be provocative, but I don’t know that there’s enough evidence that the gun violence problem that is experienced in Canada, is due either solely or maybe even primarily to illegal guns in the United States coming over to Canada. Because, the fact of the matter is that there’s not very good data on that question. It’s become sort of accepted conventional wisdom, but not based on data.

“But, the answer to the question is that the US and Canada have to cooperate on cutting down on illegal guns coming into Canada, if they are… We’ve had multiple collaborations and discussions about gun tracing, and how we trace and how we can help Canada do its gun tracing because Canada just doesn’t have the capacity… The United States has offered to help with that. And so it’s part of a high-level collaboration around gun violence, all designed to crack down on the importation of illegal handguns, whether it’s from the United States or elsewhere, coming into Canada.”

Solomon: The January 6 hearings. We’ve been watching those… Here in Canada, there’s more concerns of another convoy coming around Canada Day. Is there a threat to democracies from a rising populism? Or is this kind of an event that will pass, or is it a deeper concern?

Ambassador Cohen: “So I think that I think that question is an incredibly important question… I do think in the United States and Canada, in all of the world’s democracies, there is a disturbing growth of extremism, populist movements, usually coming from the hard right…

“It is a real threat and a real trend. I think a lot of it is based on misinformation, and is fueled by disinformation on social media. I think as a result, it is an extremely complicated question… I firmly believe that democracy will prevail, it will survive and that ultimately democracy will beat back autocracy. And one of the reasons I feel that way, is because one of the strengths of democracy is the discussion we’re having.”

Solomon: Last question. You’re a democracy optimist. Russia is attacking a democracy. There’s going be a NATO meeting, Canada has not hit its two per cent [of GDP spending on defence]. In the U.S.’ view, how long does this fight go on for? Just give me your sense, are we in a long-term potential war with Russia?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t think we’re in a war with Russia, now. Frankly, I don’t know that there’s going to be a quick resolution to the war in Ukraine. So we have to be in this for the long haul is the bottom line, and we have to recognize that autocracies like Russia, and like China by the way, are deserving of our attention. We have to be prepared to take those countries on and to continue to fight for our democratic ideals. And, and not to sound hokey, but to fight for liberty and justice for all.”

Solomon: Thanks, Ambassador.

Ambassador Cohen: Thank you again. Thanks for coming.

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‘Largest spiritual Indigenous gathering’ to return during Pope’s visit to Alberta



LAC STE. ANNE, Alta. — Rev. Garry LaBoucane remembers going to Wakamne — or God’s Lake — during the Lac Ste. Anne pilgrimage as a boy.

“It was always a family tradition,” the 74-year-old said in an interview from Vancouver, where he’s a Métis priest at Sacred Heart Parish.

He remembers sleeping in a pup tent near the cemetery with his grandfather, attending Latin church services he didn’t understand and meeting people from all walks of life.

“It was a social time, visiting with family,” LaBoucane said before the Vatican announced a visit to the sacred lake west of Edmonton would be part of Pope Francis’ planned trip to Canada next month.

“It’s a pilgrimage, a time to pray, a time to be with other nations. It’s the largest spiritual Indigenous gathering in North America.”

The annual pilgrimage had grown to about 40,000 people in 2019 — the year before it shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s to resume in person this year from July 25 to 28.

The papal visit is set to start in Edmonton on July 24, move on to the Quebec City area on July 27 and end in Iqaluit on July 29. It is to include public and private events with an emphasis on Indigenous participation.

Before the Pope’s plans were confirmed, Rev. Les Kwiatkowski said in an interview that there was a lot of talk about a potential visit from the pontiff.

“Many people are very excited, but also this could bring even more healing and more reconciliation,” he said.

Lac Ste. Anne has been considered sacred for many generations and has become known as a place of healing.

The oral history from the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation suggests a chief from the southeast followed his vision and led his people to the shores of the lake.

An annual pilgrimage was organized by a priest in 1889 and has continued annually during the week of July 26, which is the feast day of St. Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary. The grandmother figure is said to have strong importance within Indigenous culture.

The pontiff is to celebrate an open-air mass at Commonwealth Stadium, home to the Edmonton Elks football team, that day and travel to Lac Ste. Anne in the early evening.

Kwiatkowski, who has attended the pilgrimage every summer since 1990 when he moved from Poland, said he has heard from many people across Western Canada who are excited to come this year.

“People need that, there’s no doubt,” he said. “It’s not only spiritual, it’s also social.

“They come to worship, they come to pray, they come for healing. They also come to spend time together.”

Half of those who attend, he said, come from isolated communities and that’s the only time they get to see their friends and relatives.

“It’s a beautiful spirit,” said Kwiatkowski.

He has heard stories about family traditions and about miracles.

“Every day when doing the pilgrimage, someone will come to you and say, ‘It helped me to forgive, it helped me to heal from the past, it helped me to understand things more,’” said Kwiatkowski.

“Healing is more than physical healing. It’s the whole being. For people who come — sometimes very far they have to travel to get here — it’s a special time of healing, of finding themselves.”

LaBoucane said it’s also known as a place of physical healing — even featuring spots where people have left their crutches.

His parents had a similar experience when he was a child.

“I had eczema really, really bad,” said LaBoucane, who hasn’t had any problems since that visit.

Kwiatkowski agreed it’s a special place, especially the lake’s water.

“It has huge significance for Indigenous people,” he said. “People take gallons of this water, they take it home. They use this water for many different reasons — for strength and for healing.

“It has huge significance.”

At a news conference Thursday alongside Edmonton’s archbishop, LaBoucane said he welcomed news of the Pope’s upcoming visit with great joy.

“People are looking forward to being with him, praying with him at Lac Ste. Anne.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.

— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary, with files from Brittany Hobson in Winnipeg


The Canadian Press

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Outrage over decision to end U.S. rights to abortion fuels protests in Canada



MONTREAL — Women and allies across Canada voiced anxiety and outrage on Sunday as they took to the streets to denounce the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the law that provided the constitutional right to abortion for almost 50 years.

About a hundred people responded to the Quebec Federation of Planned Parenthood’s invitation to rally outside Montreal’s courthouse, while other protests took place across the country since the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade was announced on Friday.

The chanting protesters carried signs reading “My body, my choice,” “Back to the future,” and “Abort the court, no uterus, no opinion.”

“It’s just downright evil that 50 years on after fighting for our rights, we still need to continue doing so,” said protester Rachel Paton. “This is a human rights issue … our bodies shouldn’t be a legal issue.”

All women who spoke to The Canadian Press expressed sentiments of anger and weariness over the ongoing fight to have their bodies and decisions respected.

“This is terrifying, I can’t really stop thinking about women who came before us, and what the future is going to look like,” said protester Amanda Doran.

Quebec federation coordinator Jess Legault addressed the crowd, saying the movement felt empowered by previous generations of women who fought for the same right.

“To everybody who might underestimate us, we are the descendants of the witches you weren’t able to burn,” Legault said amid cheers from the demonstrators.

Legault previously said that while abortion rights can’t be threatened the same way in Canada as it is a legal medical procedure, she fears the U.S. decision will fuel the rise of pro-life groups and feed into disinformation around the practice.

Overturning a right to abortion, she added, is worrying for women’s rights and safety.

“We are not in favour of abortion for all, we aren’t promoting it,” Legault said. “We are for pregnant women’s rights. Abortion needs to stay legal and safe for everyone so that pregnant women who want to end their pregnancy can safely do it.”

Among the protesters in Montreal was Quebec solidaire Spokesperson Manon Massé. She said while showing solidarity with American women, it’s also crucial to remember that women’s rights, even in Quebec, shouldn’t be taken for granted.

“We are experiencing a major setback,” Massé said. “We were here, in the streets of Montreal, 50 … 100 years ago, women were here to say, ‘our bodies belong to us so get out of the way.’”

Meanwhile, another rally took place in Atlantic Canada’s largest city on Saturday.

Martha Paynter, one of the event organizers and chair of Halifax-based reproductive justice organization Wellness Within, said the publicity arising from the decision is an opportunity to communicate to patients about options where they live and to press government for more funding for reproductive and sexual health.

She also cautioned against any attempts to legislate abortion rights in Canada as a reaction to what’s happened south of the border, saying the existence of a law would make it vulnerable to being changed or even removed.

“My right to bodily integrity is not something that the law bestows upon me,” Paynter said in an interview on Sunday. “It is inherent and intrinsic.”

She said if anything, there will likely be increased demand in Canada from U.S. patients seeking help.

“As providers of care we need to organize ourselves so that we can accommodate those patients,” Paynter said.

— With files from Keith Doucette in Halifax

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 26, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship


Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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