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Some parts of Canada mull easing restrictions, but feds urge caution – CTV News

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Canadian officials acknowledged some regions of the country could be closer to re-opening parts of the economy than others, but continued to stress a careful approach as the border closure with the hard-hit United States was extended for another 30 days during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Let us be very clear, while we want to be optimistic, we need to be absolutely cautious,” Treasury Board President Jean-Yves Duclos said Saturday.

Sobering reminders of the need for patience were heard throughout the day as case numbers continued to climb in Canadian nursing homes and prisons.

At Residence Herron, the suburban Montreal long-term care home where 31 people died from COVID-19 in less than one month, 61 of 99 residents have now tested positive for the virus, according to a regional health authority spokesman.

Canadian Armed Forces members with medical expertise headed to long-term care homes in Quebec after Premier Francois Legault asked the federal government for assistance.

Meanwhile, alarms were raised about an outbreak at a federal women’s prison northeast of the Montreal where 60 per cent of inmates have been infected, according to the Elizabeth Fry Society. The organization reported 50 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Joliette Institution, up from 10 on April 7, and other women’s institutions in Ontario and British Columbia also reported cases.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed the extension for the closure restricting non-essential travel across the border, which began on March 21 and was set to expire on Tuesday.

“This is an important decision and one that will keep people on both sides of the border safe,” Trudeau said.

U.S. president Donald Trump said earlier this week that the border could open soon, but Trudeau and other Canadian political leaders did not strike the same tone in comments.

The U.S. has the most COVID-19 cases in the world, with more than 700,000 positive tests. Canada has more than 33,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and is closing in on 1,500 deaths.

Despite continuing grim news, glimmers of hope emerged this week as provinces and cities reported slower growth of the virus, and officials began discussing moves towards a “new normal.”

In B.C., officials suggested some restrictions could be eased in the coming weeks in light of numbers showing a flattening of the coronavirus curve.

Prince Edward Island, where 23 of the province’s 26 confirmed COVID-19 cases are recovered, is also looking at easing restrictions on activities while maintaining self-isolation rules for those entering the province.

Toronto Mayor John Tory met with city officials Saturday to discuss when regular life can restart in the country’s biggest city, though he warned that the time has not come yet.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his province’s approach will be based on health advice and will only move forward with re-opening with medical officials’ green light. He added that there are various scenarios playing out across the province.

“What’s happening in a big urban centre like Toronto may not be happening in rural areas,” Ford said.

He said that loosening restrictions over time will have to be done in a careful and methodical way, and said it would be “twice as hard” as the current lockdown.

On Saturday, Trudeau repeated the need for caution and reminded Canadians to continue with physical distancing measures.

“If we open too quickly, too soon or in the wrong way, we could find ourselves back in this situation a couple of months from now and everything we will have sacrificed during these months will have been for naught,” Trudeau said.

He said discussions with the premiers have found consensus on the need to co-ordinate how the country moves forward, but acknowledged that different provinces and municipalities are at different stages of the pandemic battle and may be able to relax measures sooner.

“The situation is very different right across the country from one region to the next and the measures that they will be able to move forward with at various moments will vary as well,” Trudeau said. “That’s going to be an important part of the recovery here.”

Trudeau’s messages of collaboration among provinces contrasted with the situation in the U.S. As protests formed against mandatory closures this week, Trump, on Twitter, urged supporters to “liberate” three states led by Democratic governors.

Trudeau’s government has so far held off on defining guidelines for provinces looking to lift restrictions, as Trump did for U.S. governors earlier this week.

At a Saturday news conference with cabinet ministers, Duclos said easing of measures will depend on factors like where the disease curve is heading, the number of deaths, equipment supply and space in intensive care units.

Meanwhile, Trudeau continued to stress he does not think it is a good idea for the House of Commons to resume business as usual Monday — with all 338 MPs, along with their staff, clerks, interpreters, security and cleaners.

An agreement needs to be reached before then on scaled-back sittings if the plan is to change. Federal political parties were continuing negotiations Saturday about when and how Parliament should reconvene in the middle of the pandemic.

Trudeau’s Liberals are proposing one in-person sitting each week, with a small number of MPs and extended time for longer questions and more thorough answers than would normally be allowed during the daily question period. More sittings would be added as soon as the technical and logistical requirements for virtual meetings can be worked out.

All opposition parties appear satisfied with that proposal, except for the Conservatives.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is demanding up to four in-person sittings each week, with fewer than 50 MPs in the chamber, to hold the government to account for its response to the health crisis and the resulting economic disaster.

Trudeau also announced Saturday the government is providing $306 million to help Indigenous companies.

Later Saturday, the federal government was set to deploy celebrities in new ads meant to amplify the plea of public health experts for Canadians to stay home.

The ads, one in French, one in English, were to begin broadcasting nationally during the “One World: Together at Home” concert.

The English advertisement features astronaut Chris Hadfield and hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser, alongside Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 18, 2020.

With files from the Associated Press

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Commander leading COVID vaccine rollout leaves pending investigation

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A top military commander tasked with Canada‘s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has unexpectedly left his assignment pending the results of a military investigation, a government statement said on Friday.

Major-General Dany Fortin was brought in by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to lead Canada‘s vaccine distribution in November, describing the effort as the greatest mobilization effort the country has seen since World War Two.

The brief statement did not elaborate on the nature of the investigation. Acting Chief of the Defence Staff, Lieutenant-General Eyre will be reviewing next steps with Fortin, the statement added.

Fortin, who has decades of experience including in warzones, was a key fixture of the government’s vaccine briefings and his team coordinated the logistical challenge of reaching vaccines to Canada‘s far-flung places.

Canada‘s vaccination campaign has picked up pace after a rocky start, with some 43.1% of the country’s population receiving at least one dose.

 

(Reporting by Denny Thomas; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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Canada slams ‘unconscionable’ Iran conduct since airliner shootdown

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Canada on Thursday condemned Tehran’s “unconscionable” conduct since Iranian forces shot down an airliner last year, killing 176 people, including dozens of Canadians, and vowed to keep pressing for answers as to what really happened.

The comments by Foreign Minister Marc Garneau were among the strongest Ottawa has made about the January 2020 disaster.

“The behavior of the Iranian government has been frankly unconscionable in this past 15 months and we are going to continue to pursue them so we have accountability,” Garneau told a committee of legislators examining what occurred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight shortly after it took off from Tehran Airport. Iran said its forces had been on high alert during a regional confrontation with the United States.

Iran was on edge about possible attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing days before of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.

Garneau complained it had taken months of pressure for Iran, with which Canada does not have diplomatic relations, to hand over the flight recorders for independent analysis and said Tehran had still not explained why the airspace had not been closed at the time.

In March, Iran’s civil aviation body blamed the crash on a misaligned radar and an error by an air defense operator. Iran has indicted 10 officials.

At the time, Ukraine and Canada criticized the report as insufficient. But Garneau went further on Thursday, saying it was “totally unacceptable … they are laying the blame on some low-level people who operated a missile battery and not providing the accountability within the chain of command.”

Canada is compiling its own forensic report into the disaster and will be releasing it in the coming weeks, he said.

 

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Mexican union was set to lose disputed GM workers’ vote

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General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to scrap the contract negotiated by one of the country’s biggest unions, according to a Mexican government report on a vote last month that led to a U.S. complaint under a new North American free trade deal.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Thursday said he accepted the U.S. recommendation to make sure there would be no fraud in union votes, noting that many “irregularities” had been detected in the union-led vote at GM.

The CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM may have been headed for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote, which the Labor Ministry ordered to take place within 30 days, could result in a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said Alfonso Bouzas, a labor scholar at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

CTM’s national spokesman, Patricio Flores, said the union supported the regional trade deal and would comply with the law and whatever “would not harm investment in Mexico.”

He did not dispute the vote tally in the labor ministry report, but called for an investigation into the disputed proceeding before a second vote.

“We should listen to the voice of these workers and not let pressure from unions in the United States and Canada have influence right now,” CTM said in a statement.

‘DOESN’T SEEM RIGHT’

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 workers eligible to vote did so in the first of two days of voting, before labor inspectors halted the process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers’ approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.

GM has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged violations. It declined to comment on the Labor Ministry report.

GM has indicated that it is ready to shift away from the old system that had let companies in Mexico turn a blind eye to worker rights, said Jerry Dias, the head of Canada‘s largest private sector union, Unifor.

“The rules are changing and a company like GM is not going to get caught,” he said.

Dias said he hoped to personally monitor the follow-up vote at the Silao plant.

Contract ratification votes are required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins the renegotiated free trade pact, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb, Richard Pullin, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)

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