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Should I stay or go? Canadians ponder returning home as coronavirus cases spike in U.K. – CBC.ca

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After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sounded the alarm in March that it was time for Canadians abroad to “come home” as the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Megan Stewart found herself faced with a difficult decision.

While her loved ones were back home in Canada, it had always been her dream to live and work in London. Having arrived in the U.K. capital in November after spending hundreds of dollars to obtain a visa, the 29-year-old was desperate to stay.

Not long after making the decision to remain in the U.K., however, Stewart, who is from Midland, Ont., faced another hurdle in keeping her London dream alive. She became one of millions of people in the U.K. to be put on furlough during the pandemic.

Under the British government’s furlough scheme, she was receiving only 80 per cent of her salary at Go Ape, an outdoor adventure company, making it difficult to afford the high cost of living in the city without tapping into her savings.

“It wasn’t enough to pay my rent and that’s not even including my phone bill or food.” 

Despite the difficulties and pressure to return home, Stewart, who celebrated her 30th birthday alone in April under London’s lockdown, said: “I was stubborn enough to stay.” 

Staff work at an outdoor bar in London on Sept. 24, 2020, after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases in England. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

While Stewart was able to return to work over the summer, the threat of another lockdown in London, where coronavirus cases are on the rise, has left her facing a decision shared by other Canadians living in Britain: should she stay put or think about returning home?

“I’m a bit worried…. I don’t want to lose out on all that money that I had to pay to get here, but I’m being realistic about it,” she said. “If we go into another lockdown and I don’t get furlough pay, I will more than likely have to leave and that absolutely devastates me.”

‘It’s been a bit of a rough deal’

Mark Sultana has heard many stories like Stewart’s during the coronavirus pandemic. He’s an entrepreneur born in Etobicoke, Ont., and now based in the U.K. who heads up Canadians in London, a social group for expats with more than 6,500 members. 

“I think that when the pandemic happened there were a lot of people stuck and not just Canadians.”

With as many as 95,000 Canadians estimated to have been living in the U.K. in  2019, according to data from Britain’s Office for National Statistics, it’s likely many of them have faced similar scenarios.

“There were a lot of people who paid money for visas who were not able to come over,” Sultana said. 

While the British and Canadian governments have made efforts to support expats living in the U.K., including offering visa extensions, not all visa holders are able to extend. In some cases, the same visa can only be applied for once. 

People wearing masks board a bus outside Waterloo station in London on Sept. 23, 2020. (Dominic Lipinski/The Associated Press)

For those who don’t have visa concerns, Sultana said, many are desperate to be reunited with their families, if even for a short time. However, it can be difficult to decide whether to risk the flight home during a pandemic and potentially end up stuck on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Even Sultana has had to grapple with that question. He cancelled plans to fly home to celebrate his mother’s 85th birthday early in the pandemic.

His mother has dementia, Sultana said, and it has been hard to be far from home as her condition has “declined so much” since the pandemic started. 

Now, he said, he feels he has “missed the window” to see her during better times. 

‘A really big decision’

For Torontonian Laura Watt, 31, being far from family during the pandemic has weighed heavily on her and her boyfriend, who is also Canadian.

Having made the move to London in July 2019, Watt said the couple “stuck it out” during the first coronavirus wave. 

Now, however, coronavirus cases are rising sharply in the U.K., with the country seeing its biggest surge since the pandemic began, with 7,143 cases reported Tuesday within a 24-hour time period. Watt and her boyfriend have been struggling with the decision to stay in London. 

“My family has pressured me to return home, making it a tough decision to be here,” Watt said. 

However, she said, staying put during a pandemic feels like a responsible decision, while returning home would be “a big commitment, especially when you’ve sort of established your life here and you have a full-time job and a relationship…. It’s a really big decision to make.”

‘I’ve struggled with the idea of staying here’

Jahan Kotowski, a 29-year-old from Calgary studying Spanish at Birkbeck, University of London, is determined to put off the decision of whether to return home for as long as she can. 

While she said she loves living in London, she has struggled to justify paying high international student fees to stay in a city that is unlikely to be fully open in the coming months. 

Kotowski works part-time as a model, but her visa only permits her to work a maximum of 20 hours a week, limiting her ability to make an income.

With the possibility of a second lockdown “and with the Christmas season coming, I’ve struggled with the idea of staying here,” Kotowski said.

“I do think if [the government] was like, ‘We’re going to do a six-month or even a two-month lockdown,’ I might have to move.”

‘It’s a good thing I stayed’ 

One Canadian in London with no plans of moving back to Canada any time soon is Natasia Kalajdziovski, a 32-year-old PhD student from Toronto.

For Kalajdziovski, the decision was effectively taken out of her hands in March when she contracted COVID-19.

Having lived in London “on and off” for more than a decade, the city had long felt as much like home for Kalajdziovski as her hometown. However, when the pandemic struck, she felt the urge to return to Canada to be closer to family. 

Natasia Kalajdziovski, a 32-year-old PhD student from Toronto, had been considering returning home from London when she started to experience coronavirus symptoms at the start of the pandemic. (Chantal Da Silva/CBC)

After debating whether to fly home after hearing Trudeau’s call for Canadians to make their way back, Kalajdziovski hesitated to book a flight.

“It’s a good thing I stayed, because the week I potentially would have flown home, I ended up becoming symptomatic for COVID.” 

What began as a small cough quickly turned into something more serious, with Kalajdziovski ending up in hospital, struggling to breathe. 

Months later, the 32-year-old said she still has residual symptoms, including severe headaches. The experience of surviving the virus not only took a physical toll, but also an emotional one, she said.

“Going through something like this really does make you question the idea of your own mortality and what that looks like, especially when you’re young.” 

Knowing what might have been had she boarded a flight home unknowingly carrying COVID-19, Kalajdziovski said that with coronavirus cases rising in the U.K. and Canada, “this time around, I’m staying put.”

A ‘weird uncertainty’ 

While many expats have made the decision to remain in London during the pandemic, some have returned home, uncertain of whether their future will lie in Canada or back in Britain.

Keith Wong, a 43-year-old working in advertising, said he decided to return to Toronto’s east end in March, concluding it would be better to be “half an hour away from my family than in another time zone.”

Initially, he planned to return to Britain in May, but as the months went on and the future remained uncertain, Wong kept pushing back his return date.

Eventually, he said, he hopes to return to London, where he has built a close-knit community of friends and has had to leave the majority of his possessions in storage. The questions he struggles with most are when to go back and for how long. 

“There’s just this weird uncertainty that’s sitting on top of all us,” he said. 

“I mean, do I come back? When do I come back? It turns into a big confusing thing no one knows the answers to.” 

Until answers do become clearer, Wong said, “I’m just torn between two places.”

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada – BradfordToday

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The latest news on COVID-19 developments in Canada (all times Eastern):

7:30 p.m.

Health officials in B.C. are reporting new outbreaks at three long-term care facilities and 167 more new cases of COVID-19.

A statement from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says another person has died, for a total of 254 deaths.

There have been 11,854 cases diagnosed in the province, while 9,871 people who tested positive are considered recovered.

Henry says the efforts made by B.C. residents to contain COVID-19 are making a difference to help slow its spread.

4:45 p.m.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance has ordered Canadian troops to keep up their guard against COVID-19 while painting a gloomy picture of how the pandemic could affect the military and country.

The order is contained in a new directive from Vance and Defence Department deputy minister Jody Thomas in which they describe complacency around physical distancing, mask wearing and other public-health measures as the greatest threat to the military when it comes to COVID-19.

At the same time, they suggest the pandemic will get worse before it gets better, with expectations it could last 12 months or longer and result in more infections among military personnel along with continued shortages of medical equipment across the country.

1:35 p.m.

Manitoba is reporting 109 new COVID-19 cases, with 88 of them in Winnipeg. 

Health officials are also reporting outbreaks at one school and three long-term care homes in the city. 

The greater Winnipeg region has been under stricter health orders, including mandatory mask use in public indoor areas, after numbers started climbing last month.

12:15 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his children are not going trick-or-treating for Halloween this year.

He says this is because Ottawa, where he and his family live, is considered a COVID-19 hot spot and local public health officials have advised against children going door-to-door this year.

He says his children might take part in a hunt for candy around the house instead.

Trudeau says he understands how frustrating the pandemic is for parents and children but stressed it is important to listen to the guidance of local public health officials.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, has said that trick-or-treating can be done safely, but Canadians should follow the advice of local public health officials because the spread of the novel coronavirus is different across the country.

11:55 a.m.

Canada’s chief public health officer says there have been 201,437 cases of COVID-19 in Canada reported as of Monday evening.

Dr. Theresa Tam says there have been 9,778 deaths from the illness.

She says Canadians needs to keep making a collective effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

She says this includes keeping a limited number of contacts, downloading the COVID-19 Alert app and making sure to spread accurate information about the illness on social media.

11:40 a.m.

Small Business Minister Mary Ng says Ottawa is committing $12 million to a fund to help small business owners respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The money is to be made available through the Canada United Small Business Resilience Fund.

It will help small business owners buy personal protective equipment, renovate their spaces to respond to local public health measures and boost their ability to sell things online.

Ng also encouraged everyone to download the COVID-19 Alert app to help them learn if they have been exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Ng says she took a COVID-19 test and received a negative result after being notified of an exposure through the app.

11:35 a.m.

Quebec is reporting 877 new cases of COVID-19 and 12 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus.

Health officials are also reporting a jump in hospitalizations of 33, for a total of 565, with 100 people in intensive care, a rise of eight.

The province said today five people died of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours while seven deaths occurred between Oct. 13 and 18.

Quebec has reported a total of 95,216 cases of COVID-19 and 6,055 deaths attributed to the virus since the start of the pandemic.

Authorities say one death previously attributed to COVID-19 was unrelated while 90 cases had been incorrectly labelled as positive.

11:05 a.m.

Ontario is reporting 821 new cases of COVID-19 today, and three new deaths due to the virus.

Health Minister Christine Elliott says 327 cases are in Toronto, 136 in Peel Region, 79 in Ottawa, and 64 in York Region.

The province says it has a backlog of 24,129 tests, and has conducted 24,049 tests since the last daily report.

In total, 274 people are hospitalized in Ontario due to COVID-19.

11 a.m.

Prince Edward Island is reporting one new case of COVID-19.

Dr. Heather Morrison, the chief public health officer, says the case involves a woman in her 20s who is a rotational worker and who travelled outside of the Atlantic bubble.

There are currently three active cases on the Island.

Since the pandemic began, P.E.I. has seen a total of 64 cases and all have been travel related.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Armenia claims it found Canadian tech on downed Turkish drone – CBC.ca

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Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan urged the international community today to follow Canada’s example by suspending exports of military technology to Turkey — after his defence officials claimed they had found Canadian components on a downed Turkish drone.

Pashinyan made the call a day after Armenian defence officials displayed what they claimed are parts of a Turkish combat drone and its Canadian-made optical and target acquisition systems.

A spokesperson for the Armenian Ministry of Defence said the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drone was shot down by Armenian air defence units during fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday evening.

Armenian defence officials said the surveillance and attack drone was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera and target acquisition system produced by L3 Harris WESCAM in Burlington, Ont.

The WESCAM CMX-15D system was manufactured in June of this year and installed on the downed Bayraktar TB2 in September, said Shushan Stepanyan, spokesperson for the Armenian Defence Ministry.

Analysis of data from the device — which allows drone operators to designate targets on the ground and guide missiles and bombs to them — showed that it had operated for a total of 31 hours, Stepanyan said.

Fighting in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, which is populated by ethnic Armenians, began on Sept. 27. It’s the most significant outburst of violence since a Russian-brokered ceasefire paused hostilities in 1994.

Armenia has repeatedly accused Turkey of supplying Azerbaijan with arms — including drones and F-16 fighter jets — as well as military advisers and jihadist Syrian mercenaries taking part in the fighting.

Claims and counter-claims

Armenian officials also have accused Azerbaijan of using the Turkish drones to not only target military forces but also to conduct strikes against civilian infrastructure across Nagorno-Karabakh and in Armenia proper.

Turkey and Azerbaijan have denied these reports and have accused Armenia of shelling civilian areas near the frontline and in the country’s second largest city of Ganja.

Officials at Global Affairs Canada said they are investigating allegations regarding possible the use of Canadian technology in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and “will continue to assess the situation.”

While the investigation is ongoing, there will be no resumption of exports, officials said.

“We continue to call on both sides to refrain immediately from using force, to respect the ceasefire and protect civilians,” said a statement by Global Affairs.

Officials at the Turkish and Azerbaijani embassies did not respond to Radio Canada International’s request for comment on the latest report about the downed drone in time for publication.

Turkey says export suspension ‘unjustified’

However, in an interview with CBC News Network’s Power & Politics on Oct. 6, Turkey’s Ambassador to Canada Kerim Uras would neither confirm nor deny the presence of Turkish drones in Azerbaijan.

“I would make the case that drones, by pinpoint targeting the aggressor, are actually upholding human rights,” Uras told Power & Politics, adding that Canada’s decision to suspend exports to Turkey was “unjustified.”

“We think it’s surprising … it’s hasty, it’s not in line with an allied spirit and it amounts to rewarding the aggressor,” he said.

Kelsey Gallagher is a researcher with the disarmament group Project Ploughshares who has studied Canadian exports of drone technology to Turkey. He said that while it’s not clear where exactly the drone was shot down, he has no doubt that the device presented by the Armenian military was a Canadian-made WESCAM CMX-15D system.

“This is the clearest footage we have of one of them downed anywhere,” Gallagher said. “We’ve seen Turkey export the [Bayaraktar] TB2s to Libya, certainly, in breach of the UN arms embargo, to their allies there. And we’ve seen them begin to start selling them to other countries, so it would make sense that they would send them to Azerbaijan.”

Diverting these drones to Azerbaijan without getting Canada’s permission would be illegal, Gallagher said.

Whenever a Canadian weapons system is exported abroad, it has to get an export permit approved by Global Affairs Canada — and that export permit must specify who the intended recipient is and what that weapon system would be used for, he said.

Gallagher said these WESCAM optics and target acquisition systems have been exported to Turkey in “high volumes” since 2017 but there is no indication that they were exported to Azerbaijan.

Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne has suspended the export licence for WESCAM’s exports to Turkey pending the outcome of the investigation into whether these devices were used by Azerbaijan in fighting against Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Speaking to reporters on Friday at the conclusion of his European tour — where he discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh war and Turkey’s tensions with Greece in the Eastern Mediterranean with EU and NATO allies — Champagne said he was very firm with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.

“I think in my discussion with the foreign minister of Turkey I was very clear about the legal framework that exists in Canada when it comes to the export control regime, that Canada was party to the Arms Trade Treaty, that human rights are a core component under our legislation and I would abide by the spirit and the letter of the law,” he said.

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Federal government pushes back at online 'internment camp' disinformation targeting Health Canada – CBC.ca

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Canadians will not be forced into COVID-19 internment or containment camps, a spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said Tuesday — taking aim at a disinformation campaign that has been circulating on social media for weeks.

The claim that the federal government is preparing to forcibly intern Canadians is patently false, the spokesperson said.

The federal government has announced funding for voluntary quarantine sites for some of the country’s homeless and has made plans to expand self-isolation capacity for returning international travellers without suitable places to go, but Canadians will not be compelled to leave their homes for so-called COVID “camps.”

“The answer is no, we’re not building containment or internment camps,” the spokesperson told CBC News.

“Disinformation like this is intended to deceive Canadians and cause fear and confusion. We encourage Canadians to double-check sources before sharing to avoid spreading disinformation.”

Independent Ontario MPP Randy Hillier, a vocal anti-masker who has likened the current pandemic to a bad flu season, has been warning his eastern Ontario constituents that the federal government is preparing to establish these “camps” for COVID patients.

In a recent exchange at Queen’s Park, Hillier pressed the provincial Progressive Conservative government to detail what it knows about Ottawa’s supposed plan to detain people.

“I ask this government if people should prepare for internment camps,” Hillier asked during question period on Oct. 7.

“Your government must be in negotiations and aware of these plans to potentially detain and isolate citizens and residents of our country and our province,” Hillier said in the provincial legislature on Oct. 9.

“Where will these camps be built, how many people will be detained, and for what reason, for what reasons can people be kept in these isolation camps?”

Randy Hillier, MPP for Lanark-Frontenac-Kingston, speaks to reporters from Queen’s Park. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

In a subsequent email to his online followers, Hillier said “the expansion of isolation/quarantine camps in Canada is something of concern.”

Clips from Hillier’s speech were circulated on websites like Brighteon, a source that has been banned from platforms like Facebook because it pushes conspiracy theories. A meme was created comparing theoretical quarantine sites to Nazi Germany’s concentration camps during the Second World War.

“Why are FEMA type camps going into every province in Canada,” one site administrator said in posting the video to Brighteon, citing a U.S. agency that responds to disasters. “When this was asked in Parliament recently, the whistleblower was cut off.”

Hillier’s comments about these sites were reported by outlets like Life Site News, an anti-abortion website run by the Campaign for Life coalition.

Kingston, Ont. public health officials have expressed concerns about Hillier’s past comments downplaying the threat of the virus. Hillier was suspended from the Ontario PC caucus in 2019 for allegedly mocking the parents of autistic children.

CBC News has received dozens of emails from people who fear that the federal government might soon force them into camps as COVID-19 continues to spread.

“I heard there were FEMA camps across the province,” one person wrote to CBC — again using the name of a U.S. federal department. “Did you order tear gas and guillotines?”

(The Department of National Defence is looking to buy tear gas for a Saskatchewan-based facility — exclusively for training purposes.)

“They brought up the internment camps in the Ontario legislature … for the first time in my life I am afraid of my government. Never in my wildest dreams would I think I would be asking this question in Canada,” another email said.

“Mr. Prime Minister are you preparing to put us in internment camps?” asked another. “Will these internment camps also be used to persecute & jail Christians and other undesirables?”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that he had to personally reassure a young woman during a recent virtual meeting that his government will not remove people from their homes to put them in containment facilities. He said he told her that she should turn to public health officials for accurate information on the pandemic.

“I had to explain that as we consume increasing amounts and various sources of information, online and around us, we need to continue to be attentive to source,” Trudeau said.

WATCH: Trudeau is asked about COVID-19 disinformation

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urges Canadians to listen to experts as misinformation and disinformation continue to spread online. 2:26

Trudeau said nefarious foreign actors and Canadians with an “extremist agenda” are bent on “weakening people’s confidence in our institutions and our democracy” by pushing bogus theories online without evidence.

“There is a tremendous amount of noise and and harmful misinformation about on the internet … we need to hold together and resist people who would sow chaos within our communities and our democracy,” he said.

NDP MP Charlie Angus also has said he has been “inundated” by messages from people concerned about the possibility of being put in mandatory camps as hundreds of Canadians continue to contract the novel coronavirus.

“I want to say simply that there are no secretive internment camps being built,” Angus said in a letter to his constituents.

“Government is not preparing to take people away or to impose some dark vaccine agenda.”

The genesis of this disinformation campaign was Hajdu’s announcement in September that the federal government would offer funds to the city of Toronto to help it retrofit a facility to house homeless people infected with COVID-19.

The site also could be used by other vulnerable people who do not have ready access to a safe place to self-isolate while they convalesce.

“As we work together to keep COVID-19 under control, this new site will help those for whom it’s simply not possible to limit close contacts and self-isolate effectively at home,” Hajdu said at the announcement alongside John Tory, Toronto’s mayor.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu announced funding for Toronto to establish a quarantine site for homeless people who have tested positive for COVID-19. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

No one will be required to go to such an isolation site, Health Canada confirmed Tuesday.

In addition to such voluntary sites for vulnerable people, the federal government has a mandatory quarantine policy in place for most returning international travellers.

Canadians must isolate for 14 days after returning from abroad in a place where they can be largely alone (the government says travellers should not quarantine in a “communal living setting,” in a household with large families or many people, or in a small, shared apartment.)

Like public health agencies in Australia and India, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has set up quarantine sites across the country to accommodate international travellers who don’t have access to safe places to quarantine.

There are now such facilities in nine Canadian cities — most them hotels — with the capacity to lodge up to 1,600 travellers.

“These designated quarantine sites were established to accommodate travellers who did not have suitable isolation/quarantine plans, as well as those being repatriated at the onset of the pandemic,” a Health Canada spokesperson said.

A recent Public Health Agency of Canada request for information (RFI) — indicating that the agency may soon launch a procurement drive to acquire more lodging to house Canadians who need to quarantine after travel — has further fuelled online speculation that Canadians will be required to leave their homes.

The Health Canada spokesperson said that by soliciting other potential providers of quarantine sites, the government is taking a “proactive” approach because there may be a greater need for quarantine space with the “eventual easing of travel restrictions and increases in traveller volumes.”

Rather than manage all possible future quarantine sites, the agency is seeking information from would-be third party bidders who could fulfil such a contract. Some of the possible new locations, such as Fort Erie, Ont. and Niagara, Ont., are near U.S. land border crossings.

“The government of Canada is currently managing federal quarantine sites and the associated service contracts. Alternative options are being explored to remain flexible in adjusting to quarantine needs going forward,” a spokesperson for Health Canada said.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said combating false information spread by some elected officials and bogus news sites has made the work of health officials even more difficult.

WATCH: Dr. Theresa Tam is asked about bogus COVID-19 claims

Dr. Theresa Tam answered questions today about the rise of fake news online during the pandemic. 3:12

“Information is spread faster than the virus itself,” she said. “So be media smart as well as science smart, if you like. Yes, everyone is an armchair epidemiologist and everyone should actually be media smart at this point in time.”

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