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Protection measures extended even as more Canadian businesses reopen – CTV News

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The COVID-19 pandemic maintained a grip on much of Canada on Tuesday even as at least three provinces stepped up their efforts to resume the trappings of life prior to the outbreak.

Efforts to reopen more businesses in Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan were embraced only in part, with several stores indicating they were not in a position to observe the public health measures needed to operate in the post-pandemic era.

And measures to combat the deadly virus continued, with Ontario opting to cancel school for the rest of the academic year and the federal government extending a planned border closure with the United States.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the decision to prolong the ban on non-essential travel between the two countries until June 21 was a necessary step to protect the health of residents on both sides of the border.

Canada’s top public health official also highlighted the need to keep borders closed and concentrate on ensuring the domestic situation is well in hand before welcoming outside visitors.

“We have to cautiously lift measures within our borders first just to see slowly what actually happens,” Dr. Theresa Tam said at an early afternoon briefing. “We will want to see that cases are still suppressed. We’re still going to manage, detect and clamp down on any new spots that might come up.”

Canadian and American officials mutually agreed to the extended closure, which prohibits discretionary travel while permitting trade shipments, commerce and essential workers to flow in both directions.

One of the provinces hardest hit by COVID-19 also opted to continue with one major measure intended to curb the spread of the virus. Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province’s schools would now remain closed until at least September, noting overnight summer camps would also be shuttered for the upcoming season.

“I’m just not going to risk it,” Ford said as he announced the move. “This wasn’t an easy decision to make, but it was the right decision.”

The Ontario government also extended emergency orders shuttering businesses such as libraries, restaurants and bars until May 29, also extending a ban on public gatherings of more than five people. The extension comes as the province reported more than 400 deaths from COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, a 1.9 per cent uptick that’s the highest seen in days.

Word of the extended safety measures came as Ontario — along with Saskatchewan and British Columbia — continued ramping up their regional economic recovery efforts.

Retailers across Ontario began reopening their doors on Tuesday, though with significant physical distancing measures remaining in place to protect staff and shoppers.

Many businesses had previously expressed doubts about their ability to conduct businesses while customer traffic is heavily restricted and in-store safety protocols are still in the works. But at those retailers that did relaunch business, customers seemed to feel it was safe to resume operations.

“I think this is no different than what we’re already doing with grocery stores,” Toronto resident Madeleine Lewis said as she stood in line outside a pet store in Toronto’s west end. “We’ll be careful — it’s just much easier for me to shop for the dogs here than online.”

Car dealerships and some outdoor recreation spaces were also included in the reopening, which marked Phase 1 of the province’s gradual economic recovery plan.

Reopening efforts were more widespread in British Columbia, where a much larger number of businesses have been given the green light to resume operations if they’re able to observe sound public health practices.

Among those cleared to reopen on Tuesday included restaurants, cafes and pubs, retail and personal service establishments, libraries, museums and galleries, office spaces, child care facilities, parks and beaches.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s chief medical health officer, urged businesses to “take it slow” as they work towards operating in a world transformed by the pandemic.

In Saskatchewan, meanwhile, Phase 2 of the province’s reopening plan went into effect as malls, salons, massage parlours and dentists offices were cleared to resume business. Some restrictions remain in place, however, with personal service workers being encouraged to wear protective gear and clothing stores discouraging customers from trying on their offerings.

Regina-based barber Jason Zalusky said longer service times, lowered store capacity and more stringent disinfection protocols mean his shop will only be able to handle about 60 per cent of its usual business levels.

“There’s a lot more work definitely for a lot less pay, but that’s what we gotta do,” he said. “… I don’t think it’s going to benefit many of us being open, but people are ready and they want it.”

 For at least one Canadian retailer, the economic damage has already been done. Reitmans (Canada) Ltd. filed for court protection from its creditors under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act in Quebec on Tuesday. It said losses caused by the pandemic mean the company will have to restructure operations across its 576 stores, which operate under five banners and employ about 6,800 staff.

More than 5,900 Canadians have died of COVID-19, which has sickened more than 79,000 others.

 With files from Canadian Press reporters across the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2020.

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Prince Charles and Camilla wrap up Platinum Jubilee visit in Northwest Territories

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YELLOWKNIFE — Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, took part in ceremonies and learned about Indigenous language in the Northwest Territories Thursday as their royal visit wrapped up.

They were greeted by a large group at the Yellowknives Dene First Nation community of Dettah. The First Nation east of Yellowknife has a population of just over 200 people and dozens came out to shake hands with the couple and take part in a ceremonial lighting of a fire.

The prince also took part in a round dance with community members and learned about traditional tools.

“It’s very emotional for me,” said 53-year-old Eileen Drygeese.

Drygeese said her parents and grandparents would tell stories about when they met the royals during a tour in the 1970s when Prince Charles was a teenager. She gave Camilla a medicine bundle to represent the women of her family and their history together.

Some members did not support the visit, Drygeese said, but added they understand the power of showcasing their community and culture.

Many of those who came were wearing orange clothing and other items with the words “every child matters” representing the legacy of residential schools.

Charles was given a pair of moosehide moccasins before he joined Dettah Chief Edward Sangris, Ndilo Chief Fred Sangris and other Indigenous leaders for a private meeting.

The trip has been shaped by Canada’s reckoning with its relationship and history with Indigenous people as possible graves continue to be found at the sites of former residential schools across the country.

The three-day tour began Tuesday in Newfoundland and Labrador, where Prince Charles recognized the visit came at an important moment.

“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” he said.

During a Platinum Jubilee reception at Rideau Hall on Wednesday, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon encouraged the couple to listen to Indigenous leaders, elders and community members in the North.

RoseAnne Archibald, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said during the reception that she asked the prince for a formal apology from the Queen, as head of the Church of England.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said Thursday that while all effective power rests with the government, not with the Queen, he understands comments from the royals could be important to some Indigenous people.

“It’s nuanced,” he said. “There are some Indigenous Peoples ⁠ — much like non-Indigenous people ⁠ — who couldn’t care less. There are many who have a profound deep connection to the Royal Family.”

The couple were greeted earlier Thursday on the tarmac by Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty and Margaret Thom, the commissioner of the Northwest Territories.

They were also presented with flowers wrapped in birch tree bark by a young student from the K’alemi Dene School,

While Charles met with leaders, the duchess stopped at a school to hear about programs aimed at preserving Indigenous languages. There, she took part in a demonstration with a greenscreen and puppets, as well as stop-motion animation.

“Very clever,” Camilla said about the animation project.

Later, Charles was made an honorary Canadian Ranger at an event in Yellowknife. Rangers are a part of the Canadian Army Reserve in northern and isolated areas.

The prince also met with local experts to discuss climate change and permafrost.

The last royal visit to Northwest Territories was in 2011, when Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, were welcomed by large crowds during a one-day stop in the North during a whirlwind first royal tour for the newlyweds.

This royal visit was to culminate with a celebration in Yellowknife in honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Liberals revive bill to create watchdog for Canada Border Services Agency

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OTTAWA — The federal Liberals are rekindling a plan to allow travellers, immigration detainees and others who feel they have been mistreated by Canada’s border agency to complain to an independent body.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino introduced legislation Thursday to give the RCMP watchdog the additional responsibility of handling public complaints about the Canada Border Services Agency.

The bill to create the Public Complaints and Review Commission comes after previous versions died on the order paper.

Border officers can stop travellers for questioning, take blood and breath samples and search, detain and arrest people without warrants.

An internal agency unit handles complaints from the public, while other bodies, including the courts, the federal privacy commissioner and the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency, examine various concerns.

But the border agency is not overseen by a dedicated, independent complaints and review body, prompting civil liberties advocates, refugee lawyers and parliamentary committees to call for stronger monitoring.

The government proposes spending $112 million over five years, and more than $19 million a year ongoing, to establish the new body, which would replace the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

Michelaine Lahaie, chairperson of the existing RCMP complaints commission, told a news conference she was pleased to see many of her key recommendations had been included in the bill.

The legislation would require both the RCMP and border agency to respond to interim reports from the new watchdog within six months — addressing a long-standing sore point.

The RCMP commissioner was taken to court over chronic foot-dragging in providing feedback on interim reports from the current complaints commission. The problem has led to lengthy delays in the public release of final reports and recommendations.

“Codifying the timelines is a way to ensure that we remain vigilant going forward,” Mendicino said.

The RCMP and border agency would also have to report annually to the public safety minister on progress in implementing commission recommendations.

In addition, there would be race-based data collection and publication to increase knowledge of systemic racism in law enforcement and guide responses.

The new Public Complaints and Review Commission would carry out specified reviews of any non-national-security activities of the RCMP and border services agency, either on the commission’s own initiative or at the request of the minister.

It would also conduct complaint-related investigations concerning both agencies, which include:

— receiving complaints from the public about conduct and level of service;

— reviews when complainants are not satisfied with the RCMP or border agency’s handling of their concerns; and

— initiating complaints and investigations into conduct when it is in the public interest to do so.

“Ultimately, this legislation is about strengthening our law enforcement agencies by strengthening accountability, transparency and in our trust in them, and it will lead to a safer country for everyone,” Mendicino said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Five reasons Quebec’s language law reform is stirring controversy

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MONTREAL — A protest against Quebec’s proposed overhaul of its language law drew a large crowd in Montreal on Saturday. The government says Bill 96 is a moderate reform that will improve protection for French while preserving English services, but critics say the bill will limit access to health care and justice, cost college teachers their jobs and increase red tape for small businesses.

Here are five reasons the bill, expected to be passed before the summer, is under fire:

Health care

Marlene Jennings, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an anglophone advocacy group, says the law could prevent hundreds of thousands of English speakers from accessing health care in their language. The bill requires government agencies, including health services, to communicate with the public in French except “where health, public safety or the principles of natural justice so require.”

There are also exceptions for people who have the right to English education in Quebec, those who have previously communicated with the government in English and immigrants who have lived in the province for less than six months.

On Tuesday, Premier François Legault offered assurances that the law won’t affect access to health services in English, but Jennings is skeptical. “We already have problems, when language hasn’t been made an issue, to access quality health-care services in a timely fashion. Bill 96 is going to compound those problems,” she said in an interview.

Education

The bill would require all students at English junior colleges to take three additional courses in French. Students with English education rights — those who have a parent or sibling who was educated in English in Canada — will be allowed to take courses on the French language, but other students will have to take other subjects, such as history or biology, in French.

Adding French-language classes in English institutions will be a challenge, said Adam Bright, an English literature teacher at Dawson College in Montreal. Because the law would require students without English education rights to take a French exit exam, Bright predicts few of those students will choose English literature courses, making it more difficult for them to succeed in their other classes.

He said his union expects the changes would lead to staffing cuts in the English department. “My wife is also an English literature teacher at Dawson, so if this bill goes through, both of us are going to lose our jobs,” he said in an interview.

Red tape for businesses 

The bill would expand provisions of the province’s language laws, which previously only applied to businesses with 50 or more employees, to those with 25 or more.

François Vincent, Quebec vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, estimates that complying with the law after it comes into effect will involve 20 to 50 hours of paperwork for business owners. Some businesses may have to hire consultants to help. While Vincent said it’s important to help people learn French, he doesn’t think that additional red tape will do that.

“Asking a small garage or a small restaurant in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean that’s working 100 per cent in French to fill out paperwork so that the Office québécois de la langue française will say ‘Congratulations, you work in French,’ will not change anything,” he said in an interview.

Access to justice

The bill would require all court filings by businesses to be in French or translated into French and empower the minister of justice and the minister responsible for the French language to decide which provincial court judges need to be bilingual.

It calls for amending pieces of legislation — including Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Consumer Protection Act and Montreal’s city charter.

Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal human rights lawyer, said that complexity can make it hard to see the extent of the changes being proposed. “Access to justice isn’t just going to court and being able to get there, it’s also being able to understand the law,” she said.

Warrantless search and seizure

The bill would proactively invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to protect it from charter challenges.

Among the elements of the bill that would be shielded is a provision granting language inspectors the power to engage in search and seizure operations without a warrant. Eliadis said inspectors are not required to show reasonable grounds or reasonable suspicion before conducting a search related to the law.

“It’s more than a group of administrative rules designed to bolster French, because they’ve deliberately gone into each part of the act where constitutional rights can be invoked and essentially, with one sweep of the brush … disappeared an entire swath of our constitutional protections, leaving us with no remedy,” she said. “I worry the rule of law is being diminished.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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