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Rescue team and whale’s acrobatics help save it from dangerous entanglement in B.C.

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A 10-metre-long humpback whale entangled in fishing gear in British Columbia’s Strait of Georgia has been rescued with the help of a team of experts, a drone, a satellite tag, concerned citizens and an acrobatic twist from the captive itself.

The impressive manoeuvring was all accomplished with an even more impressive audience looking on. The trapped animal had a group of companion whales swimming by its side the entire time.

Paul Cottrell, the Pacific marine mammal rescue lead for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said calls about a whale caught in a fishing line pulling a yellow buoy began coming in last Thursday.

Though rescuers spent the whole day looking, it wasn’t until the next morning, when a whale-watching crew spotted and tracked the animal off the Gulf Island of Texada, that officials were able to come and place a satellite tag on the trailing gear.

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“So that was huge. Then we could relax a little bit because we would be able to find the animal by the satellite tag,” Cottrell said.

With the tag as a guide, the team was able to converge on the animal and release a drone to get a closer look at exactly how it was tied up by the rope.

“We could get a really good bird’s-eye view. We knew exactly how the gear was through the mouth,” he said.

“There was a buoy on the left side, or the port side of the animal, through the mouth and then on the right side, there was a line protruding … trailing much behind the animal, much behind the buoy. “

Cottrell said they learned they were dealing with about 90 metres of polysteel rope, along with the buoy and prawn fishing gear. The strong, abrasive rope was caught in the whale’s mouth and had already begun wearing away flesh.

“That rope in the mouth would prevent the animal from successfully foraging so it was being impacted that way,” Cottrell said.

“The rope can continue to wear into the flesh and sometimes be ingested. So it can be definitely a lethal situation.”

The rescuers also had to deal with three other humpback whales swimming by the trapped animal’s side.

Despite also the commotion, two of the whales remained next to the trapped animal, and the rescue boats, the entire time, Cottrell said.

“It complicated things significantly because not only were we worried about the animals getting entangled in that trailing gear from being so close to the whale, also how they would react once we started working … to remove the gear.”

He said encounters with companion animals, particularly a group of this size, are rare. In his more than 50 rescues, it was the first time he’d seen a group this large.

“They do travel together and often you’ll get the same animals travelling together. Why they chose to continue with this animal when it was under duress and entangled? We don’t know,” he said.

A rescue plan was hatched and the team began slowly cutting line away from one side of the whale’s mouth hoping that with one side clear the remaining rope would more easily slide out.

With the drone operator monitoring the whales so the boat drivers could react to any change in behaviour, the team spent four hours clearing half the entanglement before putting a small amount of tension on the other side.

That’s when the whale took over.

“The animal reacted to that tension and did a spyhop up and a backflip … it actually just popped all the line out,” Cottrell said.

“So, the plan worked perfectly.”

Cottrell said the rescue would not have been possible without the seven calls about the whale that came in over the span of two days including from citizens, a ferry boat captain and the whale-watching crew.

In the end, rescuers were able to use the drone to follow the liberated whale – and its companions – as they swam away together.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 25, 2022.

 

Ashley Joannou, The Canadian Press

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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