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Some Canadian snowbirds in Florida are already getting the COVID-19 vaccine – CBC.ca

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Snowbirds who headed to Florida this winter — despite Canada’s advisory not to travel abroad during the pandemic — have discovered an unexpected perk: They can sign up to get the COVID-19 vaccine potentially months before it’s available to seniors in Canada.

Canadian snowbird Perry Cohen, 74, of Toronto said that he and his wife, Rose, 71, each got the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Florida on Tuesday.

The couple are spending the winter at a condo they own in Deerfield Beach, Fla. On New Year’s Day, they were invited to sign up for a vaccination clinic set up in their gated community.

“I guess we were in the right place at the right time,” Cohen said, adding they’re both booked to get their followup dose of the vaccine in three weeks.

“What a nice way to start the new year.”

Canadian snowbirds Rose and Perry Cohen of Toronto received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Florida on Tuesday. (Submitted by Perry Cohen)

Unlike many other U.S. states and Canadian provinces, Florida is offering COVID-19 vaccinations to seniors aged 65 and older during the first phase of its vaccine rollout.

On top of that, the state is allowing non-residents — including Canadian snowbirds — to get the shot.

“Anyone that can prove they are 65 years of age and older is eligible to receive a vaccine at no cost in Florida,” the Florida Department of Health said in an email to CBC News.

Despite Canada’s plea for Canadians to stay home during the pandemic, Cohen said he feels safe living within the confines of his gated community in Florida. He also believes that if he had stayed in Toronto this winter, he would have had to wait months to get the vaccine.

“I was figuring April probably to July, and then this comes along — it’s a bonus,” he said. “It fell in our lap.”

Although Ontario has also started to administer the COVID-19 vaccine, seniors not living in a care facility must wait until Phase 2 of the rollout — currently scheduled between April and July. Meanwhile, the province faces mounting criticism that its vaccine program is moving at a sluggish pace. 

Heading to Florida for the vaccine

Florida’s vaccination program has also faced criticism. Although the state started offering shots to seniors last month, there have been complaints about long lineups at vaccine centres and difficulties pre-booking appointments due to high demand.

Snowbird Shelton Papple, 66, of Brantford, Ont., said a Canadian couple in his gated community in Fort Myers got the vaccine on Tuesday. But Papple said the region has temporarily run out of doses, so he will likely have to wait until next week, when supplies are replenished, to try to score an appointment.

“I’m going to get it,” a determined Papple said. “I can see the carrot on the end of the stick.”

Travel insurance broker Martin Firestone said he doesn’t recommended flying to Florida just to get the COVID-19 vaccine due to the risks of travelling during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by Martin Firestone)

Toronto-based travel insurance broker Martin Firestone, who caters to snowbirds, said about 50 of his clients who travelled to Florida this winter have either already received their first dose of the vaccine or have an appointment booked.

“They’re excited,” said Firestone, president of Travel Secure Inc. “Their attitude is, ‘I will probably be waiting till summer at the earliest'” in Canada.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday that he was troubled by the slow pace of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout and vowed to address the problem.

Several countries have outpaced Canada’s vaccination efforts, including the United States. Although the U.S. has rolled out its program more slowly than anticipated, the country has still vaccinated close to four times more people per capita than Canada has.

So it may come as no surprise, Firestone said, that about 30 of his snowbird clients who previously decided not to travel Florida this year due to the pandemic are now considering going, for the sole purpose of getting inoculated.

“It’s the craziest reason to head down to another country,” he said.

WATCH | Trudeau troubled by slow pace of COVID-19 vaccine rollout:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he’s frustrated with the pace of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Canada and plans to address the issues with the premiers this week. Only 35 per cent of available doses in the country have been administered so far. 1:56

Firestone said he doesn’t recommend travelling abroad right now — even to get the vaccine — because travelling during a pandemic carries risks.

He said that even if a traveller has adequate medical insurance, they could still face problems if they have an ailment and hospitals are overrun with COVID-19 patients. COVID-19 infections and related deaths continue to soar in the U.S. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis also doesn’t recommend visitors coming to Florida to get the vaccine.

“Someone just showing up and saying, ‘Give me a shot’ and then they’re going to fly back somewhere — we obviously are not going to do that,” he said at a news conference in Miami-Dade County on Monday.

“But for seasonal residents who are going to be here, I think it’s totally fine.”

Canadian snowbirds in Arizona may also be able to snag the vaccine during their stay.

“Winter visitors can be vaccinated at no cost in Arizona,” Holly Poynter, a spokesperson for Arizona’s Department of Health Services, said in an email.

She said the state is set to start vaccinating seniors who are 75 and older by mid to late January and those between the ages of 65 and 74 by the end of February or early March.

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1,500 flights and rising as Canadians seek sunny escapes despite surging COVID-19 crisis – CBC.ca

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Thousands of Canadians are thumbing their noses at government advice to stay home and hopping international flights to sunny destinations even as the COVID-19 crisis worsens in many parts of the country, CBC News has found.

Canadian air carriers operated more than 1,500 flights between Canada and 18 popular vacation destinations since Oct. 1, even as caseloads rise and the health crisis deepens.

It has prompted many questions from Canadians about why there is no outright travel ban, especially given recent high-profile resignations and firings involving politicians, doctors and civic leaders who’ve taken vacations outside the country

“With the new state of emergency and recent lockdown measures, why hasn’t the government considered restrictions for airline travel either international or even Canadian travel between provinces?” asked Brenda LacLaurin of Ottawa, who contacted CBC News.

“How are people still travelling for leisure?” asked another audience member. “Every official says it saves lives to stay home, yet people can get on a plane and fly to Florida? WHY is the airport not closed to outgoing travel?”

While international travel is permitted, the federal government has been advising Canadians for nearly a year to avoid all “non-essential travel” outside the country without offering a clear definition or tools for authorities to prevent it. 

Mexico, Jamaica top the list

CBC News tracked Canadian non-stop flights to and from popular resort destinations using data from Flightradar24.com between Oct. 1, 2020, and Jan. 16, 2021.

Of the 1,516 flights analyzed, some of the most popular routes departing from Canada included 214 flights between Toronto and Montego Bay, Jamaica, and 183 flights between Montreal and Cancun, Mexico.

CBC excluded all known cancelled flights, as schedules continue to change.

WestJet announced last week it is scaling back operations, suspending several routes to sunny destinations, including flights from Edmonton and Vancouver to Cancun and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, “as the airline continues to face volatile demand and instability.”

Air Canada says its overall network capacity — the number of seats it makes available for sale — is down 80 per cent compared with 2019. In an emailed statement, an airline spokesperson took exception to questions about the volume of flights resuming to vacation destinations.

“The real issue here is we need to restart travel safely in Canada as it is very important to the economy, with hundreds of thousands of jobs dependent on it both directly and indirectly,” said Air Canada’s Peter Fitzpatrick.

Flight tracking by CBC News shows that despite a dramatic drop last spring, air traffic from eight Canadian airports to Mexico and the Caribbean is on the rebound.

Raywat Deonandan, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Ottawa, says the data suggests a small portion of the Canadian public is choosing to disregard public health advice, putting themselves and the countries they visit at risk.

“I try not to judge people. Everyone’s got their reasons,” he said. “Maybe they need, you know, some kind of stress relief.”

WATCH | Deonandan on the need to cut out travel: 

Government needs to set rules and enforce them to limit Canadians’ non-essential travel, says Raywat Deonandan of the University of Ottawa. 4:26

However, he said, for that many people to be knowingly acting against public health advice, there is likely some selfishness at play. 

“This sense that my need for recreation is greater than the need of the population to remain safe.”

Deonandan says banning travel could prompt backlash and civil disobedience, and would be a “hard sell” politically and economically, especially given an end to the pandemic is in sight with the introduction of vaccines.

But, he says, to prioritize public health, the government should have been much clearer and directed Canadians from the beginning on what does — and does not — constitute essential travel.

“I think a good rule of thumb is if the primary purpose of your travel is recreation, it should not be permitted,” he said, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control lists Caribbean vacation destinations as Level 4, or very high risk for COVID-19.

‘No formal restriction’

Health Canada provided CBC News with several links to its advice, none of which defines essential travel. 

The federal government asks Canadians to “avoid non-essential travel outside Canada,” but on its website says, “it is up to the individual to decide” what that includes.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford acknowledged this week the lack of clarity on the matter is causing confusion as he laid out details of the province’s new stay-at-home rules.

“I know that essential means different things to different people. We have 15 million people in Ontario, each with their own individual circumstances,” Ford told a news conference on Tuesday.

CBC News also asked each province and territory how they define essential travel.

Quebec, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island did not respond.

Manitoba, B.C., New Brunswick and Nunavut all offered some descriptions of essential and non-essential travel, with Northwest Territories providing the clearest examples of what to avoid.

“Vacation purposes — like going to a beach or ski resort, shopping and visiting family members where there is no extenuating circumstances at-hand,” the government’s statement says.

Roving musicians Los Compas serenade a couple on the shore of Mamitas Beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Mexico saw a holiday bump in tourism despite the ongoing pandemic. (Emilio Espejel/The Associated Press)

Saskatchewan, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon and Alberta offered no definitions, with Alberta noting provinces are powerless to keep people home.

“There is no formal restriction prohibiting such travel or punitive measures in place at this time,” wrote a provincial spokesperson.

‘A steep gamble’

The Public Health Agency of Canada has flagged potential COVID-19 exposures on almost 500 international flights since Dec. 1, 2020. Of those, 87 flights were to or from the southern vacation destinations used in the CBC’s analysis.

While known cases in Canada linked to international travel represent only one per cent of the country’s overall case count, experts caution that still represents 4,239 exposures and contacts tied to a traveller.

Canada recently beefed up screening at airports and last week imposed a new requirement for all inbound travellers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Experts say those tests are not 100 per cent reliable and that people should not assume they can control their exposures abroad.

“You cannot control who is in the airplane with you. You can’t control the nature and the environment of the airport when you arrive. You can’t control the hygienic quality of the taxi that you take from the airport to your destination,” said Deonandan, who implored Canadians to think of the common good before travelling abroad.

“It is a steep, steep gamble that I don’t think is worth taking,” he said.

About the data

CBC News collected one year’s worth of data from Flightradar24.com for 169 routes between Canadian international airports and 18 destinations in popular vacation spots, mostly in Mexico and the Caribbean. Only direct, non-cancelled flights were examined. In all, 5,628 flights were analyzed, 3,042 inbound and 2,586 outbound. The data was collected on Jan. 9 and includes scheduled flights up to Jan. 16.

Although Flightradar24 is recognized as an authoritative source, there could be errors or omissions in the data, which isn’t guaranteed to be 100 per cent accurate.

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CBC wrong to fire reporter who told news site he was forced to delete tweet critical of Don Cherry: arbitrator – CBC.ca

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CBC “acted improperly” by firing a reporter who leaked to a news site that the network forced him to take down a tweet criticizing broadcaster Don Cherry, an arbitrator has ruled.

Ahmar Khan, who worked in CBC’s Manitoba newsroom as a temporary reporter/editor for a year before his termination in December 2019, is now entitled to be reinstated for a minimum of four months or receive four months of compensation, arbitrator Lorne Slotnick wrote in his ruling.

“His chosen method of publicizing an internal CBC decision ordering him to take down a tweet was, in my view, like other public comment from CBC employees, not intended to harm the CBC or its reputation, nor is there any evidence that it did so,” Slotnick wrote.

CBC had said Khan was fired — not because of the tweet — but for both the leak and for homophobic and other disparaging remarks he was found to have made online.  

But Slotnick ruled those reasons “amounted to, at most, a minor indiscretion” and were “far overshadowed” by a breach of privacy that uncovered Khan’s activities.

“Consequently, my conclusion is that the CBC acted improperly by dismissing him for cause,” Slotnick wrote. 

Khan declined to comment about the decision when contacted by email. He tweeted one word — “Vindicated” — early Wednesday.

Meanwhile, in a statement, CBC restated that its actions against Khan “were not related to his tweet regarding Don Cherry.”

The network added: “As was noted in the ruling, our actions were not considered discriminatory and there was no breach of Human Rights law.” 

Cherry was fired in November 2019 after an outburst on Hockey Night in Canada in which the controversial commentator spoke about Remembrance Day and his outrage over “people that come here” — referring to immigrants — and don’t wear poppies. 

Khan was offended by Cherry’s remarks and tweeted that his Coach’s Corner segment should be cancelled. He said Cherry’s “xenophobic comments being aired weekly are deplorable.”

When CBC management learned of Khan’s tweet, he was told it violated the policy on reporters expressing opinions, according to Slotnick’s ruling.

Ahmar Khan was told to take down a tweet in which he criticized broadcaster Don Cherry for being xenophobic. (Twitter)

Khan, who was 23 at the time, was asked to delete the tweet, which he did, reluctantly, and he wasn’t disciplined for his actions, the decision says.

But Khan also told management that he believed CBC’s policies were being applied selectively, and in a way that was harmful to journalists of colour, according to his testimony, which ran for seven days over several months last year.

He testified he wasn’t satisfied with the answers he got from management and decided to leak what had transpired to the news site Canadaland, which published the story on Nov. 14.

Khan testified he was conflicted about telling Canadaland, but felt a discussion was necessary about race and the CBC and about how its journalism policies were, in his view, silencing employees of colour. 

Later that November, another CBC reporter, Austin Grabish, using a shared company laptop that Khan had used, discovered Khan’s personal Twitter and WhatsApp accounts were still logged in, and found messages that included an admission that Khan had contacted Canadaland.

In another message, Khan referred to management as “assholes” for accusing him of violating CBC journalist policies. 

Cherry was fired following his controversial remarks. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Khan had also sent a message to Andray Domise, a columnist with Maclean’s magazine, who subsequently posted a tweet saying that CBC had made Khan take down the original tweet. 

Grabish also discovered that some of the messages included what he believed to be homophobic slurs, the ruling states. 

Grabish says he was “shocked and disappointed” by the homophobia and the “thread of misinformation about the CBC.”

“As a gay man, I know what it’s like to be marginalized and grew up repeatedly being the subject of regular homophobic slurs and bullying because of my sexual orientation,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Grabish relayed what he found to management and Khan was fired on Dec. 3, 2019, in part, according to the decision, for “contacting external outlets about the order to delete the Cherry tweet, and for making disparaging comments about CBC management and its policies.”

He was also cited for making a homophobic slur on WhatsApp where his profile identified him as a CBC employee, says the ruling.

Khan testified the alleged slurs were a joke among friends, according to the ruling, and reiterated that position Thursday in an email to CBC.

“A friend and I were mocking a friend who uses that word in an effort to tell him to not use that language as it’s derogatory and hurtful,” he wrote in reference to the homophobic slur cited by Grabish.

Grievance filed

The union representing Khan, the Canadian Media Guild (CMG), filed a grievance on his behalf, alleging the CBC violated the collective agreement, the Canada Labour Codethe Privacy Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It argued Khan had a reasonable expectation that his messages, even though they were on a company laptop, were private and that they should not have been used by management in the decision to fire him.

The union also claimed that Khan was not seeking vengeance or to embarrass someone, but was calling for a public discussion about CBC’s journalism policies and how they were silencing employees of colour.

In his ruling, Slotnick said Khan had a reasonable expectation of privacy for his messages and that his right to privacy was violated, which “tainted the entire process that led to the termination of his employment.”

Slotnick said he agreed with the union that “if employees could lose their jobs for privately criticizing their bosses — even if in crude terms — this country would be facing a severe labour shortage.”

WATCH | Cherry says he regets choice of words:

Don Cherry speaks to CBC News after being fired for comments he made 3:05

He also rejected the notion that the CBC’s reputation had suffered.

“In an institution and an atmosphere where controversy is inherent in the nature of the product, my view is that it is an unfounded leap of logic to suggest that Mr. Khan’s actions regarding a tweet somehow affected the CBC’s reputation,” he wrote.

Kim Trynacity, CBC branch president of the CMG, said the union is extremely pleased with the ruling which “upheld the reasonable expectation of personal privacy” for employees.

“In trying to settle this grievance, it must be noted CMG has always focused on how management treated Khan, and how it dealt with a situation of a racialized temporary employee,” she said in a statement.

“Management failed to respect Khan’s reasonable expectation of privacy which is a clear violation under our collective agreement.”

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Radio-Canada head travelled to Florida despite federal travel advisory – CBC.ca

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CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive vice-president of French services is apologizing for travelling to Florida last month despite the federal government strongly warning against non-essential travel during the pandemic.

Michel Bissonnette, who oversees French-language television, radio and digital content for the public broadcaster, owns property in Miami and stayed there Dec. 2 to Dec. 27. He both worked and vacationed while south of the border, said Radio-Canada spokesperson Marc Pichette in an email.

The story was first reported on by the National Post Thursday morning.

“Since the start of the pandemic in March, he has made one trip there to tend to business regarding this property,” said Pichette.

“For all the time he was in Miami, he never went to any restaurant or any retail store. Upon his return, he quarantined for 14 days. Mr. Bissonnette followed both the corporation’s policies and provincial health requirements.”

The Canadian government has had an advisory in place urging against non-essential international travel since March 14, 2020.

“Canadian citizens and permanent residents are advised to avoid all non-essential travel outside of Canada until further notice to limit the spread of COVID-19,” it reads.

“The best way to protect yourself, your family and those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 in our communities is to choose to stay in Canada.”

CBC/Radio-Canada’s own internal policy also urges against travel.

“We strongly recommend that employees refrain from travelling abroad,” the policy says.

“Should you decide to travel outside the country, please inform your supervisor before you go and after you return.”

CBC president also travelled to U.S.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Bissonnette said he understands the reaction to his trip given the advisory.

He apologized, in French, to employees and the public.

Kim Trynacity, CBC branch president of the Canadian Media Guild, said while the trip might not have broken any laws, it runs against public health advice.

“Leaders have a responsibility to set an example,” she said in an email.

“As we saw recently with all the politicians who went on vacation during Christmas, they weren’t breaking any laws, but it just doesn’t look good and is contrary to what healthcare professionals advise.”

As reported by Canadaland back in December, Catherine Tait, president of CBC, has also travelled to the U.S. since the international travel advisory was put in place.

President and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada Catherine Tait, pictured at 2018 conference, travelled to New York in March to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure, and again in November. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

According to a statement, Tait travelled to New York on March 29, 2020, to care for her husband, who lives there and had undergone a medical procedure.

CBC spokesperson Leon Mar said she worked there until June 8, when she returned to her home in Ottawa. He said she went back to New York Nov. 13 and returned to Canada on Dec. 27. 

“This travel was done with the knowledge of CBC/Radio-Canada’s Board of Directors. Ms. Tait did not ask for or receive any special exemption from the government for her travel and continues to follow all quarantine requirements,” said the statement.

In a followup email to CBC, Mar said Tait has no plans to travel to the U.S. in the future.

Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute, told CBC News, that seven in 10 Canadians have postponed or cancelled trips and family gatherings at home and abroad since the pandemic began and they tend to look at those who disobey the travel advice as entitled and elitist. 

“Canadians are saying, ‘Look, we’re staying home. Why why do we get the sense that everyone else or a lot of other folks out there in this country are coming and going as they please?'” she told CBC News.

Politicians questioned over international travel

A number of public officer holders have been embroiled in controversy for travelling abroad. 

Last month Ontario Progressive Conservative MPP Rod Phillips stepped down from his high-profile job as finance minister after returning from a controversial Caribbean vacation while the province is under strict lockdown measures.

Federally, five MPs are known to have left the country in December. Three of those MPs — the NDP’s Niki Ashton and Liberals Kamal Khera and Sameer Zuberi — did so because of family members who were sick or who recently had passed away. 

Calgary-Signal Hill Conservative MP Ron Liepert travelled to Palm Desert, Calif., on two occasions since March to address what his office called “essential house maintenance issues.” Liepert, who previously served as Alberta’s health and wellness minister, owns a home in the city. 

WATCH | Michael Bissonette travelled to Florida last month:

A top executive at CBC/Radio Canada is one of the latest public figures to be called out for travelling outside of Canada, in defiance of public health advice, while another CBC executive has also faced scrutiny over travel. 2:06

Conservative MP David Sweet resigned Jan. 4 from his position as chair of the House of Commons ethics committee over his holiday travel to the U.S.

Colin Furness, an infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the spate of reports about high-profile Canadians travelling internationally is worrisome.

“I’m gravely disappointed, alarmed and almost growing panicky to be honest. We’ve known from the beginning, since February, that travel was a serious problem,” he said in an interview. 

“People seem to feel that travel is a right or governments’ feel that taking away travel is not a politically wise thing to do. Both of those views are very harmful in my opinion.” 

Senate leaders have faced questions about leaving the country for sunnier spots.

Senate Opposition Leader Don Plett spent part of the Christmas holidays in Mexico, and Sen. Scott Tannas, leader of the Canadian Senators Group, confirmed he travelled to Hawaii during the holidays.

As part of its coverage, CBC News reached out to every senator to find out if they left the country.

“I am wondering whether you are doing a similar survey of all CBC employees regarding travel as they are also paid and funded by federal tax dollars,” responded Sen. Pamela Wallin, who added she has not travelled for more than a year.

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