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Parade organizers say party with caution as Canada approaches St. Patrick's Day – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News

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OTTAWA — St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are set to return this week, but festival organizers and student unions say people should party with caution.

Canada’s largest celebrations of the holiday were cancelled in 2020 and 2021 because of pandemic-related health risks. Vaccine and masking mandates are slowly being lifted across the country and many parades and festivals are going ahead, with Montreal’s event leading the charge in rejuvenating festivities.

Vancouver and Montreal are home to some of Canada’s largest Irish populations, and with COVID-19 protocols being lifted in many jurisdictions, festival organizers are confident that celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day can return to an adjusted normal.

The United Irish Societies of Montreal will have 500 people participating in their parade and thousands of spectators are expected to gather on the streets, according to Kevin Tracey, the group’s vice-president of public relations.

The organization puts together Canada’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade, but had to cancel it for two years in a row because of the pandemic.

This time, people might choose to not wear a mask because it’s the first time in two years they haven’t had any restrictions, Tracey said.

“I think it’s going to happen just because it’s the first event that’s open. We were the first ones cancelled and we’re the first ones back,” he said.

But the return of the Irish holiday doesn’t come without risks, even though many provinces have lifted vaccination mandates for public gatherings. Ontario is set to drop its masking requirement on March 21, shortly after St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday, while Quebec dropped its vaccination requirement earlier this week.

Ottawa police are worried that students – some of the most enthusiastic partygoers – are going to celebrate without masks like they did during last year’s annual party following a university football match known as the Panda Game. The party violated some COVID-19 protocols, said community police officer Sebastien Lemay.

“We’ve all been there. We’ve all been students wanting to have a good time,” Lemay said.

Still, some student organizations are requesting their peers to wear masks and gather only in small groups.

“It’s students’ own decision whether they want to follow COVID-19 protocols or not. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to stop them,” said Callie Ogden, vice-president of community engagement at the Carleton University Students’ Association.

The student group is working with the police to encourage students to follow COVID-19 protocols while celebrating, even if that means cutting back on the extravagance of St. Patrick’s Day festivities, said Ogden.

Ottawa police have also warned they will have a greater presence during the festivities downtown. It’s been less than a month since police drove crowds protesting COVID-19 restrictions out of Ottawa’s core, following weeks of disruptions to residents and local businesses.

Police have already started talking to local residents to reassure them officers will be monitoring for any law breaking and general misconduct.

At Okanagan College in British Columbia, a large-scale celebration isn’t a priority. The Okanagan College Students’ Union has already hosted two events this month and some have noticed that students are forgetting to wear masks or wearing them improperly.

“I think there is just a lot of fatigue in general over COVID and it still being going on two years later,” said Kristina Laitinen, who is the co-ordinator of member services at the student union.

Despite that, everybody is “fairly co-operative” at in-person events and they respect the needs of vulnerable people, she said.

While event organizers like the student union are confident that people will make the choice to follow COVID-19 protocols, they are incorporating these protocols into the events out of habit after two years of restrictions.

B.C. lifted its mask mandate for indoor public spaces last week, while vaccination mandates for businesses, events and services will be removed next month.

Montreal’s parade has been assigned a longer route than usual so that people will be spread out, said Tracey. The parade’s participants will also all be required to wear masks but spectators have the choice to not wear one.

On the other hand, CelticFest Vancouver isn’t making masking, vaccination or social distancing mandatory.

The festival is Canada’s second-largest celebration of St. Patrick’s Day and caters to all age groups. Even so, students and seniors are crucial to the success of the festival, which is expecting a crowd of up to 5,000 attendees, said Alan Cosgrave, vice-chair of the board at CelticFest.

The event is going to be held outdoors, but all indoor activities will still follow provincial health guidelines, Cosgrave said.

“We’re pretty nervous going into this year, honestly, especially with the various variants,” he said.

The staff at the festival will be putting up health and sanitization booths, where attendees can choose to pick up masks and sanitize their hands.

And while festival organizers in Vancouver and Montreal are emphasizing autonomy when it comes to masking, one thing is certain: they don’t plan on cancelling any more festivities.

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Sanctioned Russians will be banned from entering Canada, government says – CBC News

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Russians sanctioned by Canada will be barred from entering the country, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) say.

In a statement from CBSA, Mendicino announced he’ll introduce changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) that will prevent those sanctioned individuals from coming into the country.

“These changes will allow the Canada Border Services Agency to deny entry to, and remove, individuals subject to sanctions, and will allow Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) officials to deny visas,” the statement reads.

“Once in force, these amendments to IRPA will apply to all foreign nationals subject to sanctions by Canada, and any accompanying family members.”

The government has sanctioned over 1,000 individuals and entities from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus in retaliation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to Global Affairs Canada.

Among those sanctioned are senior Russian government officials such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s adult daughters Katerina Tikhonova and Maria Vorontsova, and Putin himself.

The sanctions prevent them from receiving financial and property services in Canada or from Canadians outside of Canada.

“In the face of the Putin regime’s brutal attack, Canada stands with Ukraine. Banning close associates and key supporters of Putin’s regime, including those responsible for this unprovoked aggression, from entering our country is one of the many ways in which we’re holding Russia accountable for its crimes,” Mendicino said in the statement. 

“We will continue to exhaust all options to uphold freedom and democracy, punish Russia and support Ukraine.” 

Russia has sanctioned Canadians in retaliation for Canada’s sanctions — including premiers, military officials and journalists.

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UFOs: More Canadian politicians briefed – CTV News

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Canadian members of Parliament are urging the government to pay more attention to recent U.S. news about “unidentified aerial phenomena,” or UAP: a term used for what are more commonly known as unidentified flying objects and UFOs.

According to Conservative MP Larry Maguire and a Texas-based researcher, at least three Canadian politicians have now sought UAP briefings from former Pentagon officials.

“When you see the information that’s come out of the United States, you’d have to take it seriously,” Maguire told CTV News from his Ottawa office. “We need to have a parallel program to what the United States already has.”

On Tuesday, a pair of senior U.S. military officials testified during the first public congressional hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years.

“We know that our service members have encountered unidentified aerial phenomena,” Ronald Moultrie, who oversees the Pentagon’s current UFO research office, said during the hearing. “We’re open to any conclusions that we may encounter.”

Earlier this month, CTVNews.ca revealed former Canadian defence minister Harjit Sajjan also received a UFO briefing ahead of the June 2021 release of an unclassified U.S. intelligence report on recent military sightings, which have included UAP that appeared to “maneuver abruptly, or move at considerable speed, without discernable means of propulsion.” Military personnel, police and pilots have also filed reports in Canada.

“We need to identify the origins and the intent of these UAPs, and that certainly can’t hurt anything,” Maguire said Tuesday.

Maguire’s office states it arranged a Feb. 16, 2021 briefing for the Manitoba MP and another Conservative parliamentarian with Luis Elizondo, a former U.S. Army counterintelligence officer who reportedly ran a UAP research program before resigning from the Pentagon in 2017.

“Mr. Maguire is absolutely correct in his concern, because he knows that these reports do occur,” Elizondo told CTV News from Wyoming on Tuesday. “I think the time has come for us to have an open and honest dialogue about this topic without fear of retribution, without stigma and associated taboo.”

Maguire has penned a recent op-ed on the subject and has even used his committee work to raise questions about UAP sightings in Canada. Earlier this year, Maguire’s office arranged another briefing with members of the Scientific Coalition for UAP Studies (SCU), an international think tank dedicated to applying scientific methods to UAP research.

Engineer and founding SCU board member Robert Powell was part of that Jan. 28 meeting and says he also participated in an Oct. 20, 2021 briefing for a Liberal member of Parliament.

“Both MPs were very interested in the subject,” Powell told CTVNews.ca from Austin, Texas. “The main thing I try to get across in these types of meetings is basically to give them as good an understanding as I can of the history and the current status of the UAP subject.”

According to Powell, the Oct. 2021 UAP briefing with the Liberal MP included former Pentagon intelligence official Christopher Mellon.

“We have no idea where they’re coming from or what their capabilities are, or what their intent is,” Mellon told CTV News in a June 2021 interview. Mellon did not respond to a request to comment on this story.

Internal briefing documents obtained by CTVNews.ca state the Canadian Armed Forces “does not typically investigate sightings of unexplained phenomena outside the context of investigating potential threats or distress.”

Meanwhile in the U.S., Pentagon UFO programs have operated under various acronyms for years. Questions about the national security implications of sightings have even sparked rare cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, which was evident during Tuesday’s congressional hearing and with a late 2021 Senate initiative to establish a new UAP research office.

“One of the interesting and noteworthy points about the study of UAPs is that everything I have seen both in Canada and the United States is that there is no partisanship on this question,” Powell said. “All parties seem to be interested in this subject, and it’s not a political issue.”

“If there’s any issue that we can be nonpartisan on in Canada, it should be this one,” Maguire added.

Ontario NDP MP Matthew Green agrees, saying Canada has nothing to lose by investigating UAP.

“If the testimony coming out of the States provides the public with a glimpse into the seriousness in which they’re taking it, then I think it would be well-advised for us to follow in the same pursuit,” Green told CTVNews.ca on Tuesday from Ottawa. “If they’re having public hearings of this nature, I can only begin to imagine what they already privately know.”

With files from CTV National News field producer William Dugan

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US’ easing of travel and remittances to Cuba met with contention

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The country’s recent announcement of a series of steps to loosen some Trump-era restrictions on travelling to Cuba and the transfer of family remittances between the two countries has been met with some contention.

Yesterday the government said it will aim to issue 20 000 visas under a family reunification programme for Cubans to join their relatives in the US and will also permit more commercial flights to destinations beyond Havana for group educational trips and lift a US$1 000 limit on quarterly remittances.

However, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, said the decision doesn’t change the embargoes which have been in place since 1962 nor most of Trump’s measures against the country.

“It’s a limited step in the right direction. To know the real scope of this announcement, we must wait for the publication of the regulation that will determine its application,” said Rodriguez.

At the same time, US Senator, Robert Menendez, chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of President Joe Biden‘s Democratic Party denounced the announcement.

“To be clear, those who still believe that increasing travel will breed democracy in Cuba are simply in a state of denial. Today’s announcement risks sending the wrong message to the wrong people at the wrong time and for all the wrong reasons. For decades, the world has been travelling to Cuba and nothing has changed,” said Menendez.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have hurt the Cuban economy, with fuel scarcity causing blackouts and limiting public transport.

According to statistics from the US Customs and Border Protection, the economic crisis has driven more Cubans to try to migrate to the US. Since October, almost 80 000 Cubans have crossed the US-Mexico border, more than double the number in 2021.

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