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She worked on the front lines during COVID-19. Now she could be deported and ripped from her daughter

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One year after the federal government vowed to do more to give status to undocumented workers, Canada is pressing forward with deporting a personal support worker, separating her from her child and sending her back to the country from which she says she ran for her life.

Fatumah Najjuma, a 29-year-old, fled Uganda while pregnant in 2018 after she says she was disowned by her family and her life was put in danger for her religious and social affiliations.

For three years, she’s worked as a personal support worker in long-term care homes and at people’s homes, including during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a role in which she says she’s found meaning, despite privately facing the terror of losing the life she’s built in the safety of Canada.

“The elderly, they really need our help,” she told CBC Toronto. “You assist them with doing everything so that they feel normal, like every other person.”

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But “normal” is something Najjuma hasn’t been able to feel with her new life on the brink of collapse. Despite applying to stay in Canada on compassionate and humanitarian grounds in March, she faces deportation on Jan. 7.

“My mental health is worsening every day. I’m not sleeping, I’m not eating… Each day that passes, I get more scared.”

Najjuma is pictured here with her daughter on her third birthday in March 2022. It's the last time she says she remembers being happy. Not long after, she was sent a deportation order and could now be separated from her little girl.
Najjuma is pictured here with her daughter on her third birthday in March 2022. It’s the last time she says she remembers being happy. Not long after, she was sent a deportation order and could now be separated from her little girl. (Submitted by Fatumah Najjuma)

Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser’s mandate includes working to “further explore ways of regularizing status for undocumented workers who are contributing to Canadian communities.” Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada says that work is underway, but that it cannot comment on programs or policies under development.

Fraser recently met with approximately 100 undocumented migrant leaders from around the country, to hear directly from them, the department added.

“As we advance our work on further programs, we will continue listening to experts as well as undocumented workers themselves… Until new policies are announced, the existing ones remain in effect,” spokesperson Jeffery MacDonald said in a statement.

‘Completely irrational,’ says advocate

That means while a change could soon be coming to ease the path to permanent residence for those like Najjuma, she is nevertheless set to be deported to Uganda while the specifics are ironed out.

That’s unacceptable to Syed Hussan, executive director of Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, who says his organization was told a decision on regularization would be coming this year.

“It’s completely irrational,” Hussan said.

“People are continuing to be ripped apart from their families, mistreated because they don’t have permanent resident status, despite the promise… A policy is being developed and deportations are happening at the same time.”

Federal Immigration Minister Sean Fraser recently met with approximately 100 undocumented migrant leaders from around the country, to hear directly from them, says Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada. (Patrick Swadden/CBC)

Najjuma’s deportation date approaches as another personal support worker and her son who also stood to be torn from their Canadian family members finally received their permanent residence.

Nike Okafor and her son, Sydney, had been in Canada for 19 years and waiting on their sponsorship application to be processed when they were suddenly hit with a deportation order by Canadian Border Services Agency.

As CBC Toronto reported, their nightmare finally ended last Monday, when they got word that their permanent residence application had been approved.

But for Hussan, “It’s not about finding exceptional cases, but to take on an unfair and discriminatory system that denies permanent residence to people… then wrenches them apart from their communities and puts them in situations of risk.”

According to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, there are an estimated half million undocumented people in Canada, and another 1.2 million with study and work permits or claiming asylum — many who can’t access basic services and face exploitation by landlords or at work.

Thousands have been deported or face deportation since the immigration mandate a year ago, the group says.

IRCC says tens of thousands of temporary workers transition to permanent status each year. Of the 406,000 foreign nationals who became permanent residents in 2021, it says nearly 169,000 of them transitioned from worker status.

CBSA says it considers ‘best interest of the child’

In a statement to CBC Toronto, the Canadian Border Services Agency said it cannot comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, but that it has a legal obligation to remove those who are inadmissible to Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, and who have removal orders in force.

“The decision to remove someone from Canada is not taken lightly,” the CBSA said, adding the agency only acts on a removal order “once all legal avenues of recourse have been exhausted.”

Syed Hussan with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, says he wants to see all migrants in Canada be granted permanent residency, adding his group was told the federal government would be making a decision on a policy this year. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

Najjuma’s deportation order came months after she had already submitted a humanitarian and compassionate grounds application. Humanitarian applications don’t automatically stop a deportation unless they receive the first stage of approval, but Najjuma says her application is still being reviewed.

Having a Canadian-born child also doesn’t prevent someone from being removed, the CBSA said.

The agency says it “always considers the best interest of the child before removing someone,” adding a family can be kept together by removing the child from Canada too.

That would mean uprooting Najjuma’s three-year-old daughter, Ilham, a Canadian citizen, to a country where her mother says her life too would be endangered.

Judge cites ‘moral debt’ owed to front-line workers

Toronto-based lawyer Vakkas Bilsin worked to help secure permanent residence for Okafor. While he is not involved in Najjuma’s case, the two women’s stories have much in common.

“In my opinion, Ms. Fatumah’s sudden removal from Canada is neither reasonable nor sensible before she receives the final decision on the outstanding humanitarian and compassionate application,” Bilsin said, adding he hopes someone in authority will hear her story and intervene.

In fact, in a ruling this year against the Immigration Appeal Division, a federal court judge indicated applicants who have worked as health care aids or on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic deserve special consideration.

“The moral debt owed to immigrants who worked on the front lines to help protect vulnerable people in Canada during the first waves of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated,” Justice Shirzad Ahmed wrote.

For now, as the clock ticks and her deportation approaches, Najjuma is trying to remain hopeful.

“All I want is to stay with my daughter, to be with her, to raise her in this country and not anywhere else,” she said.

“Because this is home.”

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New job as head baker helps Ukrainian newcomer find familiarity in Winnipeg – CBC.ca

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Life in Canada is off to a sweet start for a Ukrainian baker who has found a new home for her creations in Winnipeg.

Hanna Tokar, who has only been in Canada for just over a month, is now the head baker at the Winnipeg location of the Butter Tart Lady.

Michelle Wierda, the owner of the bakery, offered her a job after seeing a Facebook post Tokar made where she shared her struggles finding employment in Winnipeg.

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“I saw her pictures and I thought, ‘I have to interview her,'” Wierda told host Marcy Markusa in a Tuesday interview with CBC’s Information Radio.

“I saw her attention to detail. Her work is just spectacular. It looked very delicious.”

Before coming to Canada, Tokar owned a bakery she operated by herself in her hometown of Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine.

She was forced to permanently close its doors when she came to Canada, fleeing Kherson after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A woman with her dark hair pulled away from her face rolls dough on a crowded wooden surface.
Tokar says she was surprised to get the offer to work in the Winnipeg bakery. ‘It was actually my dream to have that job here,’ she says. ‘So it was amazing for me.’ (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Tokar said she was shocked to get the offer to work at the Winnipeg bakery.

“I didn’t expect [to] … have an offer to work in a bakery, because it was actually my dream to have that job here. So it was amazing for me,” she told Information Radio.

Missing home

Feb. 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

Since then, more than 800,000 Ukrainian nationals and their family members have applied for special temporary resident visas to come to Canada, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ministry said as of late December, more than 132,000 Ukrainian nationals had entered Canada since the start of 2022.

While Tokar’s parents are safe elsewhere in Europe, she says she prays for her grandparents who stayed in Kherson, which has experienced heavy damage due to shelling. 

“I actually miss Ukraine. I actually miss my friends and my life — my previous life,” Tokar said.

“I really want  them to really be proud of me, so that’s why when I have a job I called them and my grandparents really cried.”

As she settles into her new role as head baker at the Butter Tart Lady’s Winnipeg location, the return to what has been a lifelong passion provides Tokar with familiarity in a new place. 

Woman with long curly blonde hair smiles in front of an array of baked goods.
The Butter Tart Lady owner Michelle Wierda says she instantly knew when she saw Ukrainian newcomer Tokar’s work on Facebook that she wanted the young baker to come in for an interview. (Submitted by Michelle Wierda)

Although she is still new to the position, Tokar is already infusing the menu with traditional Ukrainian treats, something Wierda is excited about. 

Of these treats is pampushky, a Ukrainian garlic bread that is traditionally served with borscht, Tokar explained.

On the two days she made pampushky, it sold out immediately, said Wierda.

As they look toward to the future, the two women are excited for their partnership.

“I love to be so creative and imaginative, and that’s what I’ve seen in Hanna, is that she’s very determined,” Wierda said. “She has a strong ambition to excellence and she’s always researching, looking for new ideas, new things.”

For Tokar, this experience provides hope for what life in Canada can be. 

“You know, I never expect that, like, some foreign people can support me like that,” she said.

“And I really like appreciate the kindness of people.”

Information Radio – MB6:15Baker from Ukraine is frosting cupcakes while connecting with a new community in Winnipeg

Marcy Markusa speaks with local bakery owner Michelle Wierda, a.k.a. “The Butter Tart Lady,” and her new head baker, Hanna Tokar, who is settling in Winnipeg after leaving Ukraine.

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Canadian team discovers power-draining flaw in most laptop and phone batteries – CBC.ca

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The phone, tablet or laptop you’re reading this on is likely having its battery slowly drained because of a surprising and widespread manufacturing flaw, according to researchers in Halifax.

“This is something that is totally unexpected and something that probably no one thought of,” said Michael Metzger, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. 

The problem? Tiny pieces of tape that hold the battery components together are made from the wrong type of plastic.

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Batteries release power because of a chemical reaction. Inside each battery cell, there are two types of metal. One acts as a positive electrode and one as a negative electrode. 

These electrodes are held in an electrolyte fluid or paste that is often a form of lithium. 

When you connect cables to each end of the battery, electrons flow through the cables — providing power to light bulbs, laptops, or whatever else is on the circuit — and return to the battery. 

Trouble starts if those electrons don’t follow the cables.

When electrons move from one charged side of the battery to the other through the electrolyte fluid, it’s called self-discharge. The battery is being depleted internally without sending out electrical current.

This is the reason why devices that are fully charged can slowly lose their charge while they’re turned off.

“These days, batteries are very good,” Metzger said. “But, like with any product, you want it perfected. And you want to eliminate even small rates of self-discharge.”

Stress-testing batteries

In the search for the perfect battery, researchers have to watch how each one performs over its full lifespan.

“We do a lot of our tests at elevated temperatures these days. We want to be able to do testing in reasonable time frames,” Metzger said. Heat makes a battery degrade more quickly, he explained.

Different number readings are seen on a battery testing device that's a black box with six dials.
Some of the testing equipment used to regulate the temperature of each experiment. The coloured numbers indicate the temperature of each heated compartment in which battery cells are being tested. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

At Dalhousie University’s battery lab, dozens of experimental battery cells are being charged and discharged again and again, in environments as hot as 85 C. 

For comparison, eggs fry at around 70 C. 

If researchers can learn why a battery eventually fails, they can tweak the positive electrode, negative electrode, or electrolyte fluid.

Seeing red

During one of these tests, the clear electrolyte fluid turned bright red. The team was puzzled.

It isn’t supposed to do that, according to Metzger. “A battery’s a closed system,” he said.

Something new had been created inside the battery.

They did a chemical analysis of the red substance and found it was dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). It’s a substance that shuttles electrons within the battery, rather than having them flow outside through cables and generate electricity. 

Shuttling electrons internally depletes the battery’s charge, even if it isn’t connected to a circuit or electrical device.

But if a battery is sealed by the manufacturer, where did the DMT come from?

Through the chemical analysis, the team realized that DMT has a similar structure to another molecule: polyethylene terephthalate (PET). 

PET is a type of plastic used in household items like water bottles, food containers and synthetic carpets. But what was plastic doing inside the battery? 

Tale of the tape 

Piece by piece, the team analyzed the battery components. They realized that the thin strips of metal and insulation coiled tightly inside the casing were held together with tape.

Those small segments of tape were made of PET — the type of plastic that had been causing the electrolyte fluid to turn red, and self-discharge the battery. 

A piece of metallic tape sits on a wooden table.
One of the metallic sheets removed from a coil inside a cylindrical battery. Each layer of the coil is held in place by plastic tape, shown here as the greenish strips. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“A lot of companies use PET tape,” said Metzger. “That’s why it was a quite important discovery, this realization that this tape is actually not inert.”

Tech industry takes notice

Metzger and the team began sharing their discovery publicly in November 2022, in publications and at seminars.

Some of the world’s largest computer-hardware companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers were very interested.

“A lot of the companies made clear that this is very relevant to them,” Metzger said. “They want to make changes to these components in their battery cells because, of course, they want to avoid self-discharge.”

The team even proposed a solution to the problem: use a slightly more expensive, but also more stable, plastic compound.

A man in a plaid shirt walks through a room full of battery technology.
Metzger walks through one of the battery-testing laboratories at Dalhousie University. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

One option is polypropylene, which is typically used to make more durable plastic items like outdoor furniture or reusable water bottles. 

“We realized that it [polypropylene] doesn’t easily decompose like PET, and doesn’t form these unwanted molecules,” Metzger said. “So currently, we have very encouraging results that the self-discharges are truly eliminated by moving away from this PET tape.”

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U.S. escalates trade concerns over Canada's online news and streaming bills – The Globe and Mail

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive for a joint news conference at the conclusion of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, Mexico on Jan. 10.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

Washington has escalated its concerns about the trade implications of Ottawa’s online streaming and online news bills, prompting a legal expert to predict the issue will be raised during President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Canada in March.

Deputy United States trade representative Jayme White stressed “ongoing concerns” about the two Canadian bills at a meeting last week with Rob Stewart, Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.

Senior Democrat and Republican senators on the influential U.S. Senate finance committee also weighed in last week, writing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about Canada’s “troubling policies,” which they said target U.S technology companies.

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Both bills are making their way through Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-11 reached a third-reading debate in the Senate on Tuesday.

The U.S. is concerned that the two bills unfairly single out American firms, including Google, Facebook and Netflix.

Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws, giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to regulate streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

The streaming platforms would have to promote Canadian content – including films, TV shows, music and music videos – and fund its creation.

Bill C-18 would force Google and Facebook to strike deals with news organizations, including broadcasters, to compensate them for using their work. The CRTC would have a role in overseeing the process.

Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the CRTC’s lack of experience regulating print media and digital platforms was raised by Ms. Tai and her team in previous talks with Canada’s Trade Minister, Mary Ng. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A U.S. readout of Mr. White’s meeting with Mr. Stewart said the American official had “expressed the United States’ ongoing concerns with … pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Shanti Cosentino, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ng, said the Minister “has reiterated to Ambassador Tai that both Bill C-11 and C-18 are in line with our trade obligations and do not discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Last week, Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on finance, and Republican Michael Crapo, a senior member of the committee, raised concerns in a letter to Ms. Tai that the bills could breach the terms of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the intervention from both parties means it is now likely the issue will be on the agenda when Mr. Biden visits Canada.

“To see this raised in a bipartisan manner by two U.S. Senators from the powerful finance committee suggests that the issue is gaining traction in Congress,” he said.

The senators urged Ms. Tai to take enforcement action if Canada fails to meet its trade obligations.

Their letter said the online streaming bill would “mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive U.S. creatives of the North American market, access they were promised under USMCA.”

It added that Bill C-18 “targets U.S. companies for the benefit of Canadian news producers and raises national treatment concerns under USMCA.”

But Toronto-based trade lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman, founder of Herman and Associates, said the U.S. politicians’ intervention is “a reflection of a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by the major digital platforms.”

He said there is no evidence that either bill discriminates against American companies.

“Canada is well armed to defend any trade complaint,” he said.

On Thursday, as Canada’s Senate debated Bill C-11 at third reading, Senator Dennis Dawson, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the legislation has been thoroughly scrutinized and should now be passed.

The Senate was due to begin debating C-18 this week. But that could now be delayed because of an error in the printed text of the bill sent over from the Commons, the Speaker of the Senate said.

The incorrect text included a sub-amendment that had not actually passed in a Commons committee. It will now have to be pulped and reprinted.

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