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Pandemic response is just one more reminder of Canada’s economic blessing: Don Pittis

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Unflattering images on Twitter of a couple in St. Louis, Mo., holding guns as Black Lives Matter protesters walked past their mansion this week were one reminder of how the U.S. and Canada differ.

As Canada’s growth rate plunged nearly 12 per cent yesterday, most Canadians know it is wise not to be smug during this perilous time. It is also good to be reminded that we share many unappealing traits with our bigger, richer neighbour.

But perhaps today is the one day we can make an exception to our stereotyped modesty. And while Canada must face up to its systemic racism, its rich-poor divide and its many other flaws, there may be an advantage in celebrating some of the country’s economic attributes, if only to encourage them.

The charm of being a little boring

As U.S. President Donald Trump repeatedly boasts about American greatness and exceptionalism in a way that treads dangerously close to unhealthy national megalomania, a little bit of Canadian boring is actually a charming attribute in contrast.

As I suggested a decade ago in an appeal to get an extension on Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier’s declaration that the 20th century belongs to Canada, the trick is not to make a big thing about it.

Certainly this week, excited rich people with guns was not the only clear indication of our dissimilarity.

 

 

The most glaring difference between our two economies has been a product of the COVID-19 crisis. While Canadians may have suffered from a slow government response, and may yet suffer from reopening businesses too soon, the U.S has certainly been a case of global exceptionalism in its reaction to the coronavirus.

With the world’s largest number of COVID-19 cases and the largest number of deaths, the U.S. may now be paying for its early strategy of sacrificing those most likely to get sick in order to keep the economy open — and then, after a brief lockdown, reopening some states too soon.

“I was in shock when they decided to open up Texas. I felt it was way too early,” said Canadian Grace Gonzalez, who lives in Houston, told The Canadian Press.

Despite the warning from what happened in New York, hospitals in southern states are now being overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

The health-care advantage

Qaali Hussein, a critical care specialist in Phoenix, Ariz., told the Financial Times several hospitals were turning away patients arriving by ambulance at emergency departments.

“We’re essentially saying we’ve reached capacity,” she said.

In Canada, on the other hand, not even our most conservative leaders thought it was a good idea to sacrifice the infirm for the economy’s sake.

The other economic advantage Canadians have in the current crisis is our health-care system, despite its many failings. People in the United States often avoid seeking treatment for fear that it will bankrupt their families.

According to experts in the U.S., Canada’s universal health-care system is the icing on the cake for Canadians in the bottom half of the income distribution, who are already significantly better off than the equivalent group south of the border.

“Our income estimates may actually underestimate the economic well-being of Canadians relative to Americans,” wrote Bloomberg’s Justin Fox last autumn. “Indeed, Canadians usually receive more in-kind benefits from their governments, including notably in health care.”

Less well-armed

We have many Canadians who are anxious to protect their wealth from their poorer neighbours, but income distribution figures indicate they are a little less zealous — and not just in their choice of armaments.

Instead, Canadians and their governments of all stripes have a tradition of investing in people, educating the children of new immigrants and providing higher subsidies for post-secondary education. Of course, that is a self-interested investment, because having more educated young people will allow us to build a stronger future economy despite a relatively small population.

It may also help avoid the growing economic and racial divide that sometimes seems to be tearing the United States apart.

Not all of Canada’s economic advantages have been created by Canadians. Plopped down on the rich territory of Canada’s Indigenous peoples, with rich farmland and minerals, a cool climate, fresh water and low population density, there is plenty of wealth to share.

And, of course, there is still plenty to fix.

Another great advantage we have, especially just now, is a near neighbour repeatedly reminding us that we must constantly stand on guard so as not to make a mess of it.

Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

Source:- CBC.ca

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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Saturday – CBC.ca

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The latest:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to offer Canadians modest hope about progress in testing and vaccine development after Canada notched an all-time high of new COVID-19 cases in a day.

Trudeau told a news conference Friday that the government is spending $214 million toward the development of COVID-19 vaccines, signing deals with two Canadian biotech firms.

But even as he touted Canada’s portfolio of potential vaccines, Trudeau warned it’s unlikely that any of these candidates will be ready to distribute to Canadians this year or early next year. It’s reasonable to expect that vaccines will start to roll out at some point in 2021, said Trudeau, but even then, supply will be limited, and high-risk populations will be prioritized for inoculation.

“We are hopeful that the vaccines will arrive yesterday, but they won’t,” said Trudeau. “There’s still a number [of] more months of work to do.”

Trudeau said his government signed a $173-million contract with Quebec’s Medicago to secure the rights to buy 76 million doses of its vaccine, should it meet health and safety standards. The funding will also be used to establish a production facility in Quebec City, he said.

Ottawa is also investing $18.2 million in a potential vaccine from British Columbia’s Precision NanoSystems. Meanwhile, the National Research Council is spending $23 million to support other Canadian vaccine initiatives, Trudeau said.

WATCH | Study casts doubt on use of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 treatment:

An Indian study is casting doubt on the effectiveness of giving patients sick with COVID-19 the blood plasma of others who have battled it, to transfer antibodies. But Canadian researchers say it could still work, if the antibody levels are tested. 3:27

The prime minister said Canada has signed six agreements with a number of companies taking part in the global race to produce a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19 .

Two more American vaccine makers, Moderna and Pfizer, have asked Health Canada to review their products, which are undergoing clinical trials.


What’s happening elsewhere in Canada

As of 5 a.m. ET on Saturday, Canada had 211,732 confirmed or presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 177,879 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting rose to 9,888.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, says authorities need the public’s help to rein in infection rates through practices such as limiting in-person contacts, wearing masks and physical distancing.

“The number of people experiencing severe illness continues to increase,” Tam told a media briefing Friday. “Over the past seven days, there was an average of just over 1,000 individuals with COVID-19 treated in Canadian hospitals, including over 200 in critical care.”

In Ontario, an additional 826 cases and nine more deaths were recorded, as Premier Doug Ford hinted more regions could be headed for a modified Stage 2 next week.

During his daily news conference, Ford called the situation in the Halton region “concerning” and suggested it and potentially Durham Region could join Toronto, Ottawa, Peel and York regions in a modified Stage 2 in the coming days.

WATCH | Ontario’s Long-Term Care COVID-19 Commission releases recommendations:

The first wave of COVID-19 devastated Ontario’s residents in long-term care. Now, a commission is releasing an interim report on the fatal failure at those facilities just as a second wave again threatens the province’s most vulnerable. 3:38

Modified Stage 2 means the closure of indoor dining, gyms and other fitness centres, movie theatres, casinos, bingo halls and other gaming establishments.

Quebec on Friday reported 905 new COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths, four of which were in the past 24 hours.

There are 540 people in hospital including 99 in intensive care. In its latest projections, the province’s national health institute said hospitals will not reach full capacity in the next four weeks due to the rate of transmission having stabilized in recent days.

Premier François Legault has said it’s likely the province will have to maintain many public health restrictions currently in place in red zones past Oct. 28, including keeping restaurants and bars closed.

In Alberta, 50 inmates and five staff members at the Calgary Correctional Centre have tested positive, according to a statement from Alberta Health Services.

All inmates and staff are being tested and isolation and monitoring of the positive cases are underway. Contact tracing for anyone potentially exposed to these individuals is ongoing.

WATCH | Reduce gatherings even more, health experts urge:

British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expressed concerns around the spread of COVID-19 at social gatherings, something that infectious diseases specialist Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti says is being seen across the country. 1:54

Alberta reached 300 COVID-19 deaths on Friday and reported 432 new cases and 3,651 active cases.

While the premier and the province’s top doctor have called the numbers concerning, the government has reiterated it has no plans to bring in new restrictions.

“I believe we can continue to protect the health-care system without widespread disruption and lockdowns that have massive broader consequences,” Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday.

In British Columbia, health officials announced 223 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. Seventy-five people are in hospital, with 24 in intensive care.

Yukon’s chief medical officer,  Dr. Brendan Hanley, has reported three new cases in Watson Lake, which he says are part of a “family cluster.” They hadn’t travelled outside Yukon, so it’s not known yet where they contracted the virus.

WATCH | Manitoba’s top doctor on the increasing community spread of COVID-19:

Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, explains why increasing community spread of COVID-19 makes targeted approaches to control the illness less effective. 0:48

Manitoba reported a total of 163 new infections on Friday, most concentrated in Winnipeg. The province also said a man in his 80s is the latest death linked to an outbreak at Winnipeg’s personal care home Parkview Place, where 15 residents have died of the illness.

Manitoba has announced new rules for northern Manitoba and schools in both the Winnipeg area and the north. Those measures will take effect on Monday.

Nova Scotia reported new no cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a day after the province warned residents against unnecessary travel to the Campbellton-Restigouche area of New Brunswick due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The recommendation came after New Brunswick announced new restrictions for the Campbellton region, almost two weeks after it was pushed back to the orange phase of recovery. While Zone 5 will remain in the orange stage, people will be limited to interacting with a single household bubble, N.B. Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell said.

New Brunswick announced two new COVID-19 cases and eight recoveries on Friday. That brings the total number of cases the province has recorded to 324, with four deaths.

Newfoundland and Labrador announced no new cases of COVID-19 on Friday. The province has recorded a total of 288 cases and four deaths.


What’s happening around the world

According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases stands at more than 42.2 million. More than 1.1 million people have died, while more than 28.5 million have recovered.

More than 84,000 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 across the United States on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, a record one-day increase in infections during the pandemic as the virus surges again nationwide.

The spike of 84,218 cases — breaking the record of 77,299 set on July 16 — comes as University of Washington researchers forecast that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could reach a total of 500,000 by February.

About 8.4 million Americans have tested positive and nearly 224,000 have died from the illness.

WATCH | Remdesivir does little to help COVID-19 patients, WHO says:

A clinical trial by the World Health Organization finds that antiviral medication remdesivir has little or no effect on length of hospital stay or mortality in COVID-19 patients. Dr. Srinivas Murthy weighs in on what this could mean for treating the virus going forward. 2:04 

The World Health Organization revealed on Friday that of the nearly 445,000 new cases of coronavirus reported worldwide in the past 24 hours, almost half were from European nations.

Coronavirus infections in the Czech Republic have hit a record high, soaring to over 15,000 in one day for the first time.

The country’s health ministry says the day-to-day increase of confirmed cases in the hard-hit country reached 15,252 on Friday. The previous record of 14,968 was set on Wednesday.

A woman stretches after a morning run at the medieval Charles Bridge on Oct. 22 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Gabriel Kuchta/Getty Images)

The record surge has continued for last two months despite tight restrictions, including limits on movement, closing stores, schools and restaurants and banning sports competitions and gatherings of more than two people. Face masks are obligatory outdoors and in cars.

The number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital has surpassed 5,000 for the first time, putting the health system under pressure.

The Czech Republic has had over 238,300 confirmed coronavirus cases, including over 78,000 in the last seven days, and reported 1,971 virus-related deaths.

In Poland, President Andrzej Duda has tested positive for coronavirus, his spokesperson said on Saturday. The spokesperson, Blazej Spychalski, said on Twitter that the 48-year-old conservative leader was tested the day before and his result was positive. He said the president feels all right and is in isolation.

Duda’s diagnosis comes amid a huge surge in the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 and deaths in Poland, a nation that saw only very low numbers in the spring. On Friday, the country hit another daily record of new infections — over 13,600, with 153 new deaths.

In Italy, protesters angered over new coronavirus restrictions, including a new regional curfew, clashed with police in the city of Naples on Friday night. Some threw rocks and smoke bombs, and police officers responded with tear gas. The protesters numbered several hundred, according to local media.

The virus is blamed for killing more than 37,000 people in Italy since the start of the pandemic.

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Naples, Italy late Friday to denounce coronavirus restrictions, including a curfew in the Campania region, imposed ahead of the weekend in response to a spiralling second wave of infections that saw nearly 20,000 new cases detected in the last 24 hours. (Carlo Hermann/AFP via Getty Images)

In Britain, bars, restaurants and most shops have closed across Wales for 17 days, starting Friday night, in the U.K.’s strictest lockdown to curb surging coronavirus cases.

Most businesses had to close, high school students will be taught online and people must avoid non-essential journeys.

The U.K. has Europe’s deadliest coronavirus numbers, with more than 44,500 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths. There have been 1,756 deaths in Wales, which has a population of about 3 million.

In Turkey, the mayor of Istanbul has tested positive for COVID-19, a spokesperson for the city municipality said Saturday.

Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu has undergone treatment in hospital and his condition is good, spokesperson Murat Ongun tweeted.

Authorities in Sri Lanka on Saturday closed at least two fishery harbours and many stalls on Colombo’s outskirts after a surge of 609 cases linked to the country’s main fish market. Hundreds of traders and fishermen are being tested. The government also widened the curfew in parts of Colombo.

India, meanwhile, has reported 53,370 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, taking the overall tally past 7.8 million.

A man rides a scooter through a market, a day before the Hindu festival of Dussehra in Mumbai, India on Saturday. (Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters)

The country’s health ministry on Saturday also reported 650 deaths, driving the country’s toll to 117,956.

The highest number of new infections is coming from Maharashtra, Kerala and Karnataka states. They’re also reporting the maximum number of daily recoveries.

Last month, India hit a peak of nearly 100,000 cases in a single day, but since then daily infections have fallen by about half and deaths by about a third, even as testing has remained consistent.

Have a coronavirus question or news tip for CBC News? Email us at COVID@cbc.ca

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Why lockdowns alone won't save us from the pandemic – CBC.ca

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This is an excerpt from Second Opinion, a weekly roundup of health and medical science news emailed to subscribers every Saturday morning. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.


The prospect of locking society down again the way we did in the first wave of COVID-19 — and the collateral damage that comes with it — is daunting.

The financial devastation on businesses forced to close and lay off employees, the increase in mental health issues, the halting of elective medical procedures and the continuing risks to essential workers on the front lines all factor in.

Keeping society functioning and supporting devastated sectors of the economy while limiting the spread of the coronavirus is key to navigating the pandemic until a safe and effective vaccine is here.

But experts acknowledge there is growing resistance to some of the restrictions that highlights a need to manage the public mood as the pandemic rages on.

You arguably could not find a more politically charged term right now than “lockdown,” since everyone has a different, personal idea of what it is.

“This term has become equated with so many bad things that no one really understands what it means,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

“It’s everyone’s worst fear about what somebody else is doing to them regarding the pandemic.”

Osterholm, a veteran of SARS and MERS who warned the world for 15 years that a pandemic was coming, thinks the term lockdown should be abolished altogether.

Instead, Osterholm said we need to look at it as targeted public health measures necessary to reducing the spread of COVID-19 and getting back to normal as quickly as possible, while at the same time supporting those who have suffered financially. 

The key to successfully riding out the pandemic lies in finding balance between working with the population to help keep the number of cases low without substantially changing life as we know it.

“The challenge is, the end isn’t coming soon,” he said. “But it’s coming, and what we need to do is try to have as few cases as possible between now and the time a vaccine arrives.”

‘Pandemic fatigue’ can turn to ‘pandemic anger’

Managing the public’s frustration presents a challenge for public health officials in the second wave.

During a journalism conference at Carleton University in Ottawa on Thursday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that public health messaging can seem inconsistent because of the evolving science in the pandemic. 

“We are living in a more challenging period right now,” she said, in which authorities have “to convince people who are fatigued to stick to sustainable habits or public health practices.” 

Ontario and Quebec have already moved to close bars, restaurants and gyms in their hardest-hit regions amid rising cases, while Alberta and British Columbia weigh the need to tighten restrictions amid record-high rises in cases. 

Osterholm said resistance to public health restrictions not only stems from the concept of “pandemic fatigue,” but also from something he calls “pandemic anger.” 

“It’s people who don’t believe that the pandemic is real,” he said. “They think it’s a hoax.”

Raywat Deonandan, a global health epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said the resistance also stems from “raw selfishness.” 

Protesters clash with police officers during an anti-lockdown protest in London, England, on Sept. 26. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

“There’s an inability to think about community responsibility,” he said, explaining that people think they won’t personally be seriously affected by the virus because it has a comparatively higher survivability rate in younger age groups.

“But if you scale this up to a population, then that’s tens of thousands of deaths – and they don’t care.”

Perception of risk has a cost

The latest World Economic Outlook from the International Monetary Fund found that while lockdowns controlled the spread of the coronavirus, they also contributed to a global economic recession that disproportionately affected vulnerable populations. 

But the IMF report also found the damage to the economy was largely driven by people “voluntarily refraining” from social interactions out of a fear of contracting the virus.

Osterholm said the perception of risk — and not strict public health restrictions — is what holds people back from doing things like travelling by plane or entering a retail store.

“Nobody is telling you you can’t go to the grocery store rather than ordering online — it’s just people don’t feel safe and secure,” he said.

“Well, how do you make that happen? You make it happen by making cases occur at a much, much lower rate than they’re occurring now. It’s not going to be just by telling the virus we’re done.”

Lockdowns should be last resort

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security in Baltimore, Md., isn’t in favour of lockdowns as a first line of defence in the pandemic. 

“If you’re going to take public health interventions, they have to be very targeted towards specific activities that are actually leading to spread,” he said. “You only use a lockdown when you have fouled up your response so bad that that’s all you have left to do.” 

WATCH | Push to pursue COVID-19 herd immunity is ‘dangerous’:

A group of international experts push back against the Great Barrington Declaration and its pursuit of COVID-19 herd immunity, calling it “a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence.” 2:05

But ignoring lockdowns isn’t an effective strategy, either.

The Great Barrington Declaration, a controversial proposal from a group of scientists (backed by a U.S. think-tank) to lift restrictions, made headlines last week for its calls to protect “the vulnerable” from COVID-19 with strict measures while allowing those “at minimal risk of death” to return to normal life and build up herd immunity to the virus.

But it failed to present a logical counterargument for controlling the virus or concrete ways to protect the vulnerable (including the elderly and the poor), not to mention those who care for them.

Referring to the declaration, Deonandan said, “If there wasn’t a vaccine coming, if nothing changes and this has to be how we live in perpetuity, then OK, maybe we have to discuss some other options. But none of that is true.”

Canada has had more than 200,000 cases and is approaching 10,000 deaths, but modelling predicts the situation would be much worse if public health guidelines like physical distancing, mask-wearing and proper hand hygiene weren’t followed. 

Osterholm said those pushing the the Barrington Declaration completely misunderstood the concept behind public health restrictions and the reasons behind enacting them in the first place. 

“If you’re going to keep thinking about this as a lockdown, then we’re going to find a lot of resistance to this,” he said. “But on the other hand, if you don’t suppress transmission, we’re also going to see a lot of deaths.” 

A question of public tolerance

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease outbreak, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them.

China imposed some of the most severe public health restrictions in modern history upon the discovery of the coronavirus at the beginning of this year, something democratic nations would be unlikely to imitate.

But China is already seeing the rewards of its draconian efforts to control the spread. It’s the only major economy expected to grow this year, with retail spending surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time and factory output rising on the backs of demand for exports of masks and other medical supplies to countries like Canada.

Other regions like New Zealand, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong acted swiftly by closing borders, imposing strict public health measures and opting for shorter, more strategic lockdowns, which have allowed them to carefully reopen society. 

South Korea, meanwhile, didn’t lock down at all and instead focused on testing, tracing and isolating cases to control the spread of the virus successfully. 

“The lesson here is you choose one path and you stick with it,” Deonandan said. “What is not acceptable is vacillating between different strategies.”

Lockdowns are one of many tools a country can use in the face of an infectious disease, but their effectiveness is dependent on the public’s willingness to tolerate them. (Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images)

Australia imposed targeted lockdown measures in the face of outbreaks, which University of Western Australia epidemiologist Dr. Zoë Hyde said has been “enormously successful” in eliminating the virus in much of the country. 

“While lockdowns absolutely have harms associated with them, the harms are much less than those of an unmitigated epidemic,” she said. “Governments can also minimize the harms of lockdowns by making them short and sharp, and by financially supporting workers and businesses.” 

Lockdowns ‘a sign of failure’

Hyde said the eastern Australian state of Victoria was a precautionary tale for the debate over lockdowns, because of mistakes made in a hotel quarantine system that allowed the virus to spread again. 

“If governments have not tried hard enough to suppress the virus, then a lockdown is inevitable, whether people want one or not,” Hyde said.

“Lockdowns are a sign of failure. They’re a sign that governments have not been doing enough.” 

Victoria was recording around 700 new cases per day in July, but a second lockdown coupled with a mask mandate have brought case numbers down to only a handful a day at most.

“Measures to combat the virus have to be tailored. They can’t be more than the economy can bear,” Hyde said, “but equally we must remember that the best way to protect the economy is to suppress the virus.” 

“Ultimately it’s the virus doing the damage to the economy, not the measures designed to suppress it. No matter what we wish, the economy won’t go back to normal if a dangerous virus is circulating.” 


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Would-be immigrant to Canada learns the hard way after online consultant denies refund – CBC.ca

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For Rene Todd, it began as a simple quest for a refund.

Shortly after signing up for an online Canadian immigration service in August, the South African woman changed her mind and decided she wanted her money back.

But a string of frustrating emails and a few months later, Todd’s journey has turned into a rabbit hole — an odyssey into the world of online sales, fake testimonials, toothless regulators and international operators preying on the desperation of people dreaming of a life in Canada. Her experience illustrates the need for legislation and funding to boost investigations and enforcement around online immigration services.

Todd doesn’t just want her money back anymore. She just wants accountability.

“I cannot stand unfairness,” she said. 

“But it was actually also almost a fascination with getting to the truth of exactly what is going on here. So it probably did get into something a little bit bigger than a refund.”

‘A huge red flag’

According to its website, Professional Immigration Consultants of Canada, or PROICC, “focuses on helping clients from all over the globe start their process toward immigrating to Canada in the easiest and quickest way.”

The company offers a “basic” service for “visa assessment” and a “gold” package for “eligible individuals” to shepherd their applications with the help of immigration professionals.

A group of 60 people take the oath of citizenship during a special Canada Day ceremony in Vancouver. Authorities say they’ve seen a proliferation of questionable websites popping up to take advantage of the interest in immigrating to Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Todd, who lives with her husband and three children in Cape Town, first came across PROICC after taking an online test for Canadian eligibility that popped up as an ad on one of her favourite news sites.

Not only was she eligible, but a PROICC representative contacted her within days. After a couple more calls, she said, the representative accused her of wasting his time.

“Under normal circumstances, this is where I would have ended the call,” Todd said.

“Perhaps because I did not wish to look not serious in such a serious matter and because he was offering a ‘special today’ at $279 US as opposed to the usual charge of $479 US, I continued with the transaction. With hindsight, this was a huge red flag.”

Complaints to Better Business Bureau

Todd began researching the company and came across a series of complaints to the Better Business Bureau. Her husband also had concerns about her giving out her credit card information over the phone, and so she cancelled her card and called to ask for her money back.

And that’s when Todd started exchanging emails with Amelia Adams, who claimed to represent PROICC’s “legal division.”

The Professional Immigration Consultants of Canada website boasts testimonials from supposedly happy customers who were helped in their move to Canada. But an internet search shows the same fake people praising a U.S. immigration consultancy. (Photo compilation by Peter Scobie)

Adams insisted in an email that the terms of the “special offer” meant there could be no refund.

Todd said no one told her that when she paid over the phone.

Adams said it was on PROICC’s website under “terms and conditions.” 

Todd, a trained but non-practising lawyer, noticed that Adams’s email signature said “Vancouver, Canada,” and so she sent her a copy of a British Columbia law requiring that refund policies be explained to distance sales customers and asked “under what law do you get to opt out of statutes on refunds?”

Adams wrote back: “Because we are an international company.”

At that point, Todd reached out to CBC News.

Vancouver address on website, but no actual listing

A Google search says PROICC is located at 1021 West Hastings St., an office building in Vancouver’s city centre. But there’s no listing for the company at that address, and a receptionist at a shared office space said she had no record of PROICC ever being there.

There is also no Amelia Adams listed in the Law Society of British Columbia’s directory of lawyers.

A man said to be from Germany gives testimonials for both PROICC and a U.S. immigration website both owned by the same company. But the man’s image is also available for use from a stock photo website. (Photo compilation by Peter Scobie)

On PROICC’s website, the “About Us” section features testimonials from three supposedly happy customers: Celina Lindberg of Denmark, Andres Bartoludo of Argentina and Thorsten Stormer of Germany.

“I have my Permanent Resident card and now I live in the Canada with my kids, finally giving them a better future,” Lindberg is quoted as saying. 

Bartoludo agreed: “I moved to Canada to be with my partner. PROICC is the only reason I completed everything successfully.”

But both Lindberg and Bartoludo — until the CBC began asking questions — were included on U.S. immigration websites owned by the same parent company as PROICC: “I have my Green card and now I live in the U.S. with my kids, finally giving them a better future,” Lindberg said on a U.S. site.

And Bartoludo said: “I moved to the U.S. to be with my partner ….”

On further inspection, Stormer’s photograph also turns up elsewhere on the internet: as a stock image people can download if they need a “portrait of a young smiling man.”

When Todd initially began to worry about PROICC, she said she looked at those pictures.

“So that kind of gave me a bit of comfort that actually they are legitimate,” she said.

“But now … not even that is real.”

Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre investigates complaints

Until this week, when CBC News began asking questions, the owner of the U.S. sites, PROICC and another Canadian online immigration consultancy — Canadaims immigration Services — was listed as Indigo Ltd., an Israeli company located in Ramat Gan, a suburb of Tel Aviv.

The owner of PROICC has now changed to Canada Immigration Ltd., though the telephone number remains the same.

Indigo’s CEO, Amit Shulian, did not respond to an email or a phone call requesting comment.

This photo is attached to a Facebook profile that lists Amit Shulian as the CEO of Indigo Ltd., the parent company of PROICC, another Canadian online immigration consultancy and U.S. websites. Indigo is an Israeli company located in a suburb of Tel Aviv. This week, the owner of PROICC has changed to Canada Immigration Ltd. (Facebook)

The terms and conditions attached to both the PROICC and Canadaims websites claim the company’s liability is governed by the “Exclusive Courts of Spain.”

In one detail that also changed after CBC contacted PROICC, prior to this week customers were warned that any information and documents they sent in were being uploaded to another website and its servers: itscanadatime.com.

That associated entity, itscanadatime.com, was the subject of a Radio-Canada investigation into a series of Israeli-based immigration websites that have generated hundreds of complaints to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

In the days after CBC emailed two queries to PROICC, the terms and conditions changed. Customers are now warned that their documents are being uploaded to proicc.com.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst with the fraud centre, said it has received three reports about PROICC in the past two years and another related to the company’s phone number.

The most recent complaint, in July, was filed online, and Thomson shared it with CBC News.

“Our home was destroyed in our country and we lost everything and we wanted a better way of life for us,” the complaint reads.

Jeff Thomson, a senior RCMP analyst with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, says it has received three reports about PROICC in the past two years and another related to the company’s phone number. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The complainant said they paid $39 for an assessment last January and were told by PROICC that they were excellent candidates for the Express Entry system to Canada. All it would cost was $990 for each of three family members.

“We proceeded and charged the $2,970 on our credit card,” the complaint reads.

After months of calling, the complainant said a company representative told them they were accepted for Express Entry and that the next step in the process was the company would help them to look for jobs. But that would cost another $4,500.

The worried complainant did some more research.

“I found that the Express Entry is not a simple process and that we didn’t meet all the criteria to even be good candidates for this route,” the complaint reads. “We want our full $2970 from PROICC. That’s all we want so that we can try to pick up the pieces and make something of the rest of our lives.”

Thomson said the complaints — like so many involving immigration — are heartbreaking.

“We know that there’s questionable activity going on,” he said.

“They’re using our reputation to try and solicit people and collect the fee to help them immigrate.”

Enforcement power needed

Michael Huynh, director of professional conduct for the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC), said his organization is aware of PROICC, but there’s not much it can do but say “buyer beware.”

“There’s a lot of companies like this that are on our radar,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that there’s very little effort at this point done to control this proliferation. And there certainly needs to be a greater investment of resources and effort.”

The terms and conditions on PROICC’s website says the company is governed by the ‘Exclusive Courts of Spain.’ Customers are also warned that their documents can be accessed by itscanadatime.com. (Photo compilation by Peter Scobie)

In Canada, only members of the ICCRC, lawyers registered with one of 13 provincial or territorial law societies or notaries registered in Quebec can legally offer immigration advice or services for a fee.

Huynh’s organization is waiting for Parliament to proclaim legislation to give it statutory power to act as a professional college that can regulate the industry as a whole.

He said the ICCRC needs the power of enforcement to build a “body of immigration professionals who can start to instil appropriate values and fair practices across the entire immigration industry and stem this proliferation of these quasi-scams — if not outright scams.”

In a statement, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said the 2019 federal budget included $51.9 million to “increase investigations and enforcement, expand public awareness and strengthen the oversight of consultants.”

Michael Huynh, director of professional conduct for the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, says his organization is aware of PROICC, but there’s not much it can do but say ‘buyer beware.’ The ICCRC is waiting for Parliament to proclaim legislation to give it power to act as a professional college that can regulate the industry as a whole. (ICCRC)

Huynh said PROICC may provide some level of service, but no one needs to pay to assess their eligibility to work, study, visit, travel through or live permanently in Canada. The government provides a free tool on its website.

On its website — again in the terms and conditions that customers like Todd say they were not advised of on the phone — PROICC warns that “preliminary eligibility assessments do not constitute personal immigration advice and do not guarantee the issuance of immigration visas or other documents to the user.”

And it also points to Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to say that anyone wanting immigration advice or representation will have to go through “an authorized representative.”

Thomson, the RCMP anti-fraud analyst, said he wonders whether the time has come to start “regulating the promotion of access to government services where people are making money off people trying to access these services that are otherwise free to access.”

As Todd’s experience indicates, when a customer wants a refund or to challenge the level of service provided by an organization such as PROICC, they find themselves wondering exactly who lies behind the website, its shadowy associated entities and its phoney testimonials.

“At the end of the day, they’re not accountable to any organization, so the consumer is taking a huge risk,” Huynh said.

‘You are absolutely mistaken’

Todd had her last email conversation with Amelia Adams in August. 

This week, CBC sent PROICC a long list of questions about its legal status, ownership and relationship with itscanadatime.com. The next day, Todd said Adams called her “literally … 15 times.”

She said Adams now claims that her money was refunded two months ago after Todd threatened to contact CBC, the Law Society of B.C., Huynh’s organization and others.

Todd said she has no record of the refund, and she had already cancelled her card. She has asked her bank to investigate. But she’s skeptical that her money was refunded, given that the last she heard from Adams in an email before going public was: “You are absolutely mistaken in what you are stating, therefore there is no reason for me to keep giving you the same answer over and over again.”

Todd said she’ll consider Adams’s explanation for her sudden reversal, but she’ll need written proof before she believes anything.

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