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Shootings, abortion, Trump: are fed-up Americans getting serious about getting out?

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WASHINGTON — It’s not just the relentless parade of deadly mass shootings, the draconian assault on abortion rights or even the prospect of a Donald Trump comeback that has Mackenzie Fresquez exploring a move to Canada.

Rather, it’s the abiding sense that in the United States, a country that’s supposed to revere Abraham Lincoln’s government of, by and for the people, she’s powerless to do anything about it.

“It really just feels kind of hopeless,” said Fresquez, 29, who lives in the Denver suburb of Lakewood with her husband, Isaac.

Both are keen outdoor enthusiasts who work as land surveyors in Colorado, where Fresquez moved from Ohio so she could frolic in the shadows of her beloved Rocky Mountains and one day start a family.

But sending children to school in the U.S. no longer seems like a good idea, she said — and there’s no reason to think that’s going to change.

“Even if we elect all the right people — which, even that takes a lot in a country that’s so divided — it’s just how our government is set up and how it’s running right now,” Fresquez said.

“It just feels like there’s nothing really I can do, even if I do go full-bore activist and get everyone to go vote — I don’t really know if it would change that much.”

Her adopted home has a dark history of mass shootings: Littleton, home to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, is nearby, as is Aurora, where a gunman killed 12 people at a midnight movie premiere a decade ago.

Since May, three mass shootings — Buffalo, N.Y., Uvalde, Tex., and Highland Park, Ill. — have killed 36 people in the space of two months, including 19 children in a Texas elementary school classroom.

Just last year, Fresquez said, a friend left a grocery store in Boulder just 20 minutes before a gunman walked in and killed 10 people. “It’s things like that that just remind me it can really happen anywhere.”

Statistics from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show a fairly steady increase in the number of people from the U.S. who were granted permanent residence in Canada each year since 2015.

After a sharp decline during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the number of successful U.S. applicants reached 11,950 in 2021, up from just 7,655 in 2015 and the highest annual total since at least 1980.

So far, 2022 is shaping up to be another banner year: 3,235 applications were approved in the first quarter, the highest total for that three-month period in the last eight years.

In total, 70,330 applications from the U.S. have been approved since the end of 2014, including 5,040 in the first five months of 2022 alone.

Progressive-minded Americans aren’t lacking for motivation.

Top of mind for many is the Supreme Court’s decision last month to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that for nearly 50 years had effectively guaranteed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion.

Fresquez, whose husband is Hispanic, said she fears a collapsing separation between church and state in a country where a conservative Supreme Court is dramatically reshaping America’s social and cultural contours.

The couple is exploring a move to Alberta, getting work permits under a section of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that streamlines the approval process for some 60 different professional occupations.

“There are other precedents based off the same precedent that they negated when they overturned Roe, one of them being interracial marriage,”she said.

“This is maybe thinking a little extreme, but what if something like that was overturned? Is our marriage going to be affected?”

Jo Kreyling, a video game developer who runs Pillow Fight Games out of her northern Virginia home with husband Conrad, said she’s actively planning to move her family to Vancouver Island.

Kreyling wants to have another child. But her family vacations each year in North Carolina, one of roughly two dozen states where a post-Roe crackdown on abortion is either already in place or well underway.

“If I get an ectopic pregnancy in the Outer Banks in two years, is that going to be safe for me?” she wonders aloud.

“From the big things like Roe vs. Wade to the extremely local thing, it’s all impacting the number 1 idea of, ‘It’s unsafe to have a family here.’”

A vivid illustration of the U.S. hysteria surrounding abortion has been playing out this week in Indiana, where the shocking case of a 10-year-old rape victim has become a volatile political flashpoint.

The girl, unable to get an abortion in her home state of Ohio, travelled to Indiana for the procedure, which was reported in accordance with state laws that ban abortions after 22 weeks except in medical emergencies.

But that hasn’t stopped the state’s attorney general from vowing to investigate the doctor who performed it, and certain right-wing lawmakers and media outlets from initially doubting the reports were even true.

Pulling up stakes and moving to Canada, of course, is harder than it might sound.

While the federal government has a variety of different channels and programs designed to attract certain would-be migrants, immigration experts say it’s important to understand that not everyone qualifies.

“There are routes that can be taken, but not by everybody, and knowing how to navigate them requires some planning,” said lawyer Henry Chang, a Toronto-based partner in the Employment and Labour group at Dentons who specializes in Canada-U.S. business immigration.

“In Canada, certain skills and attributes are given priority over others. As a result, not everyone will be able to qualify for Canadian permanent residence.”

There are three main categories for those interested in migrating permanently to Canada, and all of them have rigid criteria.

Applicants to the Federal Skilled Worker program must meet minimum standards for work experience, language skills and education level before being scored on a variety of factors.

A passing grade — 67 out of 100 — adds applicants to the pool of candidates known as Express Entry, where they are evaluated a second time; the highest-ranking among them are invited to apply for permanent residence.

Would-be migrants with at least a year’s worth of recent skilled work experience in Canada under a valid work permit can qualify under the Canadian Experience Class and  be added to the Express Entry pool on that basis.

The Federal Skilled Trades program is reserved for those with at least two years’ recent work experience in a variety of disciplines, from industrial work and construction to chefs, butchers and bakers.

Most experts agree that the best strategy for those seeking permanent residence is a long-term one.  For example, they can seek a study permit to obtain a degree in Canada, which can lead to a work permit, which would make the Experience Class an option at a later date.

In Canada, where abortion is decriminalized, the federal Liberal government has vowed to defend a woman’s right to choose, although they’ve offered little in the way of detail.

“This decision does not just impact Americans, and Canada is not immune to the potential repercussions,” said Cid Cabillan, issues manager for Immigration Minister Sean Fraser.

“Canada is in regular contact with the U.S. government on issues related to our shared border and immigration. We will continue working with our U.S. counterparts while ensuring we remain fair and compassionate regarding immigration between our two countries.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2022.

 

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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Many federal government employees balking at returning to offices – CBC News

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The federal government is facing pushback from employees reluctant to return to government offices after more than two years working from home.

Online forums for public servants have exploded in recent weeks with comments about the prospect of returning to offices, with employees comparing notes on the hybrid work plans each department is planning to adopt.

One comment by a Health Canada manager urging employees to return to the office, in part, to provide employees at a nearby Subway restaurant with more hours, blew up into a series of sarcastic memes online. 

A meme of Marie Antoinette.
A comment by a Health Canada manager urging employees to return to the office, in part, so that employees at a local Subway restaurant would get more hours sparked an explosion of memes in online discussions among federal workers. (Screen capture from Canada’s Federal Public Service on Reddit)

Public service unions say that while some employees want to return to working in government offices or are happy with a hybrid arrangement, a majority want to keep working from home as Canada experiences a seventh wave of COVID-19.

“We have done studies of our membership that show that 60 per cent of our members would prefer to stay in a work from home situation, 25 per cent would like to do a hybrid and 10 per cent would like to come back to the office full time,” said Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents about 70,000 workers, including scientists and computer specialists.

Union wants remote work included in collective agreements

Carr said the union has been flooded with messages from concerned members.

“I would say that our inbox is now 90 per cent about return to the office, how people are not feeling comfortable, how they have questions about masking requirements, about the need and the necessity to come into the office when they can work in the safety of their own home and do the work efficiently.”

WATCH | Treasury Board president on federal employees‘ return to work:

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier on the future of work in the public service

22 hours ago

Duration 1:53

Treasury Board president Mona Fortier explains the steps the government is taking to adopt a hybrid work environment where many employees will work part of the time from offices and part of the time from their homes.

Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), which has called for a suspension of the return to the office, said his members have long favoured hybrid work. They feel the return to the office is being rushed and that their concerns aren’t being addressed, he said. 

CAPE has more than 20,000 members including economists, translators, employees of the Library of Parliament and civilian members of the RCMP.

“By and large, the people that don’t want to go back into the office have been fairly vocal about it,” said Phillips.

“They haven’t even addressed … in a lot of cases, accommodation needs.”

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — the largest federal government union, with nearly 230,000 members — is calling on the government to be flexible about bringing employees back into the office and to address their anxieties.

“We know that most of our members are still working remotely, and many want to continue having that flexibility,” the union said in a statement. “Remote work has become a part of everyday life for many workers and we’ll continue to fight to enshrine it in our collective agreements during this round of bargaining with Treasury Board and agencies.”

‘Hybrid work is here to stay’: Treasury Board

In an interview with CBC News, Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said hybrid work is the future of the federal public service. She said it is up to each department or agency to figure out how to make it work while keeping employees safe and getting the job done.

“Hybrid work is here to stay,” said Fortier. “So we need to really understand that hybrid work will be part of how we deliver programs and services to Canadians. I know that a lot of people believe that COVID is gone, but we’re still in a COVID space.”

The latest debate over where public servants should work was sparked by a memo from Privy Council Clerk Janice Charette on June 29, urging public service managers to develop hybrid models of work that meet the operational requirements of their departments.

“Now is the time for us to test new models with a view to full implementation in the fall, subject to public health conditions,” she wrote.

Charette said hybrid work models offer “meaningful opportunities” such a more nationally distributed workforce and more flexibility for employees while bringing people back together in an office has benefits such as enhanced generation of ideas, knowledge transfer and building a strong public service culture.

Different plans for different federal departments

That memo prompted managers to start ramping up plans for employees to start to return to government offices after Labour Day and contacting employees to formalize how many days they would be expected to work from the office.

Union leaders say the result has been a patchwork quilt with some departments telling employees to return to the office several days a week while others are more flexible.

They say the wide range of policies is also resulting in some departments trying to poach the best and the brightest talent from other departments by offering more work from home flexibility and employees seeking transfers to departments more open to working from home.

Still others are considering leaving the federal public service, rather than return to government offices.

In online forums such as Canada’s Federal Public Service on Reddit, public servants have been comparing information about return-to-office plans. While a handful support the move, many are sharply critical of the plan to bring employees back into offices, the way it is being rolled out or who is being selected to return to the office.

A man looks out a window
Greg Phillips, president of the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, says his union members have long favoured hybrid work but feel the current return-to-office plan is too rushed. (Ashley Burke/CBC)

In some cases, commenters reported being told to return to the office only to spend their time in video conference meetings.

“Commuting an hour a day to see no one I work with and communicate almost exclusively with (MS) Teams and email is utterly pointless,” wrote one.

“There’s the email from our ESDC DM — expected in the office at least some of the time,” wrote another. “Excuse me while I scream obscenities into the void.”

Some complained their department announced one plan – only to change it.

“We were asked to sign telework agreements, in which full time telework was one of the options,” said one commenter who said they worked at the Justice Department. “And now, suddenly, full time telework is off the table and it’s a two day in office minimum.”

Risk of contracting COVID-19 a concern for some

“They pretty much told us we wouldn’t be forced back if we didn’t want to,” responded one commenter who said they worked at Statistics Canada. “Now minimum two days starting Sept. 12.”

For others, the concern is the risk of catching COVID-19 from a co-worker or the working conditions in some government office.

Leaders such as Phillips say the comments on forums like Reddit are in line with what they are hearing from their members.

“You see all sorts of government employees comparing notes between what one department is doing and another department is doing and it’s creating mass confusion.”

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A secret no more: Canada's 1st codebreaking unit comes out of the shadows – CBC.ca

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For years, Sylvia Gellman’s loved ones were left in the dark about what she did for a living in the early 1940s. 

But in a mansion that once sat along Laurier Avenue East, Gellman and her colleagues — many of whom were women — worked to assist a top secret mission: cracking codes and ciphers used in secret and diplomatic communications during the Second World War.   

“No one outside knew what we were doing,” the 101-year-old told CBC Ottawa on Saturday.

“You were so aware of it being a secret mission. And you didn’t tell anybody. And I followed that very closely. I didn’t even tell my family.”

On Saturday morning, a plaque honouring the Examination Unit, Canada’s first cryptographic bureau, was unveiled at the Laurier House National Historic Site, next door to where Gellman once worked.

The house was also the residence of William Lyon Mackenzie King, Canada’s prime minister during the Second World War.

Gellman said while her loved ones knew she had a top-secret job, they hardly understood the breadth of her work. Those duties included typing out decoded Japanese messages before they were rushed to what was then called the Department of External Affairs. 

Intelligence was also shared with the British government’s Bletchley Park, a centre of Allied code-breaking where names like Alan Turing walked the halls

Sylvia Gellman said while her family knew she had an important job during the Second World War, she kept its precise nature a closely guarded secret. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

Having the unit’s contributions to Canada officially marked with a plaque was something of a pandemic project for Diana Pepall, who’s researched the bureau since 2014. 

It’s no surprise that so few people know about the efforts of Gellman and her coworkers, Pepall said. 

“When they left, they all got a memo saying, ‘Just because war is over and you’re no longer working here, you’re not allowed to talk about this for the rest of your life.'” she said. “I’ve seen the actual memo.” 

One woman Pepall found during her research said that two years of her mother’s life had always been unaccounted for — until they were filled in by the researcher’s efforts.

“The mother was right there, and then gave a 20-minute speech that nobody had ever heard before on her work at the Examination Unit,” Pepall said. 

Researcher Diana Pepall said the Examination Unit helped the nation become more independent of Britain. She’s been looking into the bureau since 2014. (Joseph Tunney/CBC )

Helped strengthen Canada’s independence

The unit’s success also marked an important milestone in Canada’s independence within the intelligence community.

In some ways, the Examination Unit grew into the Communications Security Establishment (CSE): the national cryptologic agency that provides the federal government with information technology security and foreign signals intelligence. Many employees went from one secretive organization to another, said Erik Waddell, who also works for CSE.

“The codebreaking work they did during the war proved, not only to our allies, but to Canadian government officials and ministers and the prime minister, that there was in fact a value in Canada having its own independent intelligence gathering ability,” he said. 

“[It also proved] that it was worth preserving that capacity after the war.”

The work of Gellman and others, Waddell said, also “helped build, foster and maintain” partnerships with its allies, something that’s been crucial to the establishment of Five Eyes, a key intelligence-sharing alliance on today’s world stage.

For Gellman, the Examination Unit was more than just her place of work: it was a second home where she met two lifelong friends. 

Having lost a brother in the war, Gellman said she understood her job’s importance and was proud to work at the cryptographic bureau.

“I felt the whole thing was amazing, what was going on,” she said. “I really did.”

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Its a Jungle out there: Microscopic Threats abound

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COVID-19 and its many variants, Monkeypox and several sexually transmitted diseases that have been with us for many decades looking for hosts. Yup, these viruses have been with us for a long time and infection rates are continually increasing. Protection from these invaders is legion and often have some familiarity with each other. HIV infections have increased globally by 23% since 2018. There seems to be a new Sexual Transmitted disease(STD) announced every few months. Viruses have regional pandemic control, but with the ease of travel the spread of threatening viruses continues and our health systems are often not ready for this spread. Our medical professionals are at their wits ends, burnt out and often migrating to a newer, less stressful profession, leaving us with staff shortages globally.

How to stay safe and healthy during this time? Well, don’t laugh folks. Really. Here goes.

1. Get your vaccinations for Covid-19 and Monkeypox(where available).

2. Masks are still a barrier between you and what can harm you in the air around you.

3. Know who you’re having intimate relations and contact. Meaning who you are getting close to, hugging, kissing and yes having sex with. Monkeypox passes onto others through contact with clothing, fabric items, intimate touching etc. Do you remember the old 6-9 feet rule(2-3 meters)? That will work. Monkeypox spreads through the contact period. Sexual contact too, even if you are using protection like a condom(good for you if you’re trying to ward off STDs). Know the activities of family members, and keep in mind that your family and communities overall health is dependent upon what we all do. If there is a person who goes to bars, sporting activities and the like, who gets into large groups of people where there is a chance of infection? I guess what I am trying to say is that a person who walks into a very dark alley late at night should not be surprised if a bad thing could happen to them. Victim shaming? No way. Being realistic and using commonsense to plan my activities. Take yourself away from places and persons who could possibly infect you.

4. Educate yourself, family and friends. Knowledge will help you stay away from the viral crouching tigers out there, waiting to pounce upon you. True medical professionals can and will help you, educate and direct you towards a healthy outcome. So-called fake news needs to be ignored.

These last two years have been difficult for sure. I know of 17 individuals who have died because of Covid-19, several people who have been struggling with various STDs for years, and no one who has been infected by Monkeypox. All the illnesses that surround us have one thing in common. The host allows them in, either through ignorance or mishap(unintentionally). So far my family and I have been safe from these viruses. Fingers crossed eh?

Folks, what do you tell your children when they need to cross the street? Look both ways before crossing. Good advice folks. Observe your surroundings and think carefully before you act.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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