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Socially distanced Iditarod sled dog teams dash off from secluded Alaska river site

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Dog parks, basketball courts and park benches can now be used – KitchenerToday.com

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Forty-six mushers and their teams of huskies dashed off into the Alaska wilderness on Sunday in a socially distanced start to the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, embarking on a course drastically altered by the coronavirus pandemic.

The starting gate of the 2021 event was placed off-limits to the usual crowds of cheering spectators, and few if any fans are expected along the abbreviated route for this year’s 49th running of the world’s most famous sled-dog marathon.

Access to the starting area – a secluded spot at the edge of the frozen Deshka River in Willow, Alaska, about 75 miles north of Anchorage – was generally restricted to competitors, essential race personnel and media.

The staggered launch of the race began with Iditarod veteran Aaron Peck of Grand Prairie, Alberta, Canada, followed by rivals charging onto the trail one team at a time every two minutes amid sunny skies and a clamor of barking and yapping.

Victoria Hardwick of Bethel, Alaska, was last out of the chute, rounding out the smallest field of contestants since 1978. A 47th musher on the roster scratched hours earlier due to a non-COVID-19 family health concern, race organizers said.

The weather was relatively balmy by Alaska standards, with temperatures climbing to at least 25 degrees Fahrenheit, the warmest Iditarod start on record, though the mercury was expected to plunge on the trail as the day wore on.

But the biggest change this year was in diverting the finish line far from the Bering Sea gold-rush town of Nome, the usual end point for a race commemorating the legendary diphtheria serum run to Nome by dog sled teams in 1925.

Instead, the 2021 race will run to an uninhabited checkpoint called Iditarod and an abandoned mining settlement named Flat, then turn around for a second leg sending mushers back to Deshka Landing for the finish.

The total distance is about 860 miles, roughly 100 miles shorter than the traditional route to Nome.

“This is kind of a different year. It’s going to be a little odd going on the trail,” 2018 champion Joar Leifseth Ulsom, a native Norwegian who lives full time in Alaska, said on Sunday before the start. He is considered one of this year’s favorites.

VIRUS-ALTERED ROUTE

The coronavirus-altered route is designed to minimize contact with residents of the region.

Even where the trail nears villages, checkpoints are isolated with restricted access. The route skips all the native Athabascan villages along the Yukon River and all the Inupiat villages on the Bering Sea coast.

The mountains of the Alaska Range will pose the greatest challenge to competitors this year, with mushers routed across the range twice in two directions.

This year’s highly competitive field includes Leifseth Ulsom and three other returning champions – four-time winners Dallas Seavey and Martin Buser, and 2019 victor Pete Kaiser.

Also competing are the Iditarod’s top women – Aliy Zirkle, planning to retire after this year’s race, and Jessie Royer, who finished third the past two years.

The Iditarod, as it has every year, faced criticism from animal-rights activists condemning the event as inhumane, putting pressure on race sponsors.

Exxon Mobil has said it will end its longtime sponsorship after this year’s race.

The Iditarod, however, has gained some new sponsors and is drawing revenue from a subscription service sending video directly to fans.

 

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska; Editing by Steve Gorman, Diane Craft and Himani Sarkar)

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Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court

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Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.

Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.

“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.

Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.

Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”

In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.

Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.

“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.

Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis

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Donors pledge .5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis

More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.

The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.

But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”

At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.

Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.

“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.

In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.

($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)

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Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants

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Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants

Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.

Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.

“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.

Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.

Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.

“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.

 

(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)

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