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The coronavirus in Canada and Parliament resumes

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In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Jan. 27.

What we are watching in Canada …

TORONTO — Officials anticipate the lone Canadian patient diagnosed with the new coronavirus won’t be the last, but they also note the risk of infection in this country remains low.

Public health officials made the comment at a news conference yesterday, when they announced that the man in his 50s had been showing mild symptoms on his flight from Guangzhou, China, to Toronto.

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They’ve since been reaching out to those aboard the China Southern Airlines flight who sat within two metres of the man.

Canada’s chief public health officer says she believes there will be more cases “imported into Canada” because of global flight patterns, but she notes there’s little risk of becoming infected here.

Dr. Theresa Tam also says she expects to receive official confirmation today from Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Lab that the man’s illness is indeed the new coronavirus.

The diagnosis is “presumptive” until that lab finds the same positive results as the tests conducted in Toronto.

The patient is in stable condition at Sunnybrook Hospital, where he’s being held in a negative-pressure room used to contain airborne illnesses.

Also this …

OTTAWA — The work begins in earnest today for the Liberal minority government as the House of Commons opens for business after a lengthy winter break.

The first piece of major legislation is expected to be a bill to ratify the new North American free trade deal, as Canada is the now the only hold out on the trilateral pact.

The Liberals have asked the Opposition parties to help get it passed quickly, but the NDP and Bloc Quebecois are making no such guarantees, while the Conservatives say they’re hoping for further study of its implications.

The government is also sure to face a grilling over major issues that have developed in recent weeks.

Among them are relations with Iran and the status of an investigation into what killed at least 57 Canadians on a flight leaving Tehran earlier this month.

Looking ahead, the Liberal government is also expected to introduce legislation to ban military-style assault rifles and make what’s sure to be a controversial decision on whether to allow a new oilsands project in Alberta to proceed.

ICYMI (in case you missed it) …

TORONTO — The survival of preterm babies jumped by 25 per cent after new practices were introduced in neonatal units across Canada, according to a study of nearly 51,000 infants between 2004 to 2017.

Changes introduced in 2003 included increased use of steroids for mothers 48 hours before delivery to help babies whose lungs would not be fully developed; raising infants’ body temperature upon birth and reducing the use of invasive ventilation to help them breathe.

The study published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal says babies born at less than 33 weeks’ gestation had an increase in survival from 56.6 per cent to 70.9 per cent, without major health problems.

It says the improved practices were initiated by the Canadian Neonatal Network, which includes researchers and health-care professional such as physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists all neonatal in every province.

Dr. Prakesh Shah, director of the network and a senior author of the study that originated from Sinai Health in Toronto, said the measures also hiked survival by five per cent for babies born at 23 to 25 weeks’ gestation.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

LOS ANGELES — The helicopter carrying Kobe Bryant and eight others that crashed into a rugged hillside outside Los Angeles was flying in foggy conditions considered dangerous enough that local police agencies grounded their choppers.

The helicopter plunged into a steep hillside at about 9:45 a.m. Sunday with an impact that scattered debris over an area the size of a football field and killed all aboard.

The accident unleashed an outpouring of grief from admirers around the world who mourned the sudden loss of the all-time basketball great who spent his entire 20-year career with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The 41-year-old Bryant, who perished with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, was one of the game’s most popular players and the face of the 16-time NBA champion Lakers.

The cause of the crash was unknown, but conditions at the time were such that the Los Angeles Police Department and the county sheriff’s department grounded their helicopters.

The Los Angeles County medical examiner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, said the rugged terrain complicated efforts to recover the remains. He estimated it would take at least a couple of days to complete that task before identifications can be made.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

BEIJING — China on Monday expanded sweeping efforts to contain a viral disease by extending the Lunar New Year holiday to keep the public at home and avoid spreading infection as the death toll rose to 80.

Hong Kong announced it would bar entry to visitors from the province at the centre of the outbreak following a warning the virus’s ability to spread was growing. Travel agencies were ordered to cancel group tours nationwide, adding to the rising economic cost.

Increasingly drastic anti-disease efforts began with the Jan. 22 suspension of plane, train and bus links to Wuhan, a city of 11 million people in central China where the virus was first detected last month. That lockdown has expanded to a total of 17 cities with more than 50 million people in the most far-reaching disease-control measures ever imposed.

The end of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season, was pushed back to Sunday from Thursday to “reduce mass gatherings” and “block the spread of the epidemic,” a Cabinet statement said.

The National Health Commission said 2,744 cases were confirmed by midnight Sunday.

President Xi Jinping has called the outbreak a grave situation and said the government was rushing medical staff and supplies to Wuhan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 27, 2020.

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Chinese immigration to Canada record high from 2015, as some flee zero-COVID strategy

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China’s zero-COVID lockdowns have been linked to a rare wave of protests across the country in recent weeks, and immigration industry experts say the strict pandemic rules are also fuelling a surge in requests to live in Canada.

Immigration from China has bounced back from pandemic lulls to hit a new peak, according to Canadian government statistics, and immigration consultants report an ongoing surge of inquiries.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, co-founder and partner at Larlee Rosenberg, said COVID restrictions have been a new motivator for potential Chinese immigrants.

“I think that what we are seeing is that COVID lockdowns really shocked people and it caused people to think that maybe China is not a good fit for themselves and for their families.”

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Rosenberg, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said the traditional driving forces for Chinese clients considering Canada were better education for their children, cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Permanent resident admissions from China hit 9,925 in the July-to-September quarter, online statistics by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show.

That is more than triple the pandemic low of 2,980 in the same quarter of 2020, and is also up 15 per cent from 8,690 recorded in the third quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Quarterly admissions from China are now higher than at any point since 2015, as far back as the online statistics go. A spokesperson for Immigration Canada was not available to confirm if immigration rates had been higher before 2015.

Politics is also a factor, Rosenberg said, citing the consolidation of power with President Xi Jinping, who was recently confirmed for a precedent-breaking third term.

“(The) latest extension of Xi’s rule in China has also scared certain people, mostly business owners … and they are wanting to look at Canada as an option for themselves and their family,” said Rosenberg.

“There is a strong vibe that we are picking up on people wanting to get out for those reasons more than anything.”

Tiffany, a Richmond, B.C., immigration consultant who only wanted her first name used for fear of reprisals against her family from China, said many of her clients say China’s zero-COVID strategy made them feel “their freedom and liberties have been stripped away.”

“Many could sense the pressure that (Chinese) society is shifting, from once being a bit open and relaxed to being strict, prompting them to think of escaping to other countries,” the consultant said in an interview in Mandarin.

Immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong said his firm has also seen an increase in family reunion applications.

“Because of COVID-19, many decided to come here to visit their family members in Canada,” Wong said in an interview in Mandarin.

“After spending some time here, they realized that although they probably could make more money in their hometowns (in China), being close to family members is more important than anything in life.”

Rosenberg said the subject of immigration has become so sensitive that his clients in China are reluctant to discuss matters over electronic communication, fearing they might be monitored by the Chinese government.

“It’s coming to the point that the concern is getting in the way of people being able to have meaningful conversations about this in China, and that can somehow limit our ability to do really good work for them,” said Rosenberg.

China’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

The desire to leave China during the pandemic, combined with the caution of speaking about it openly, has sparked a coded term in Chinese online discussions: “run xue,” or run philosophy.

The bilingual term refers to studying ways to get out of China, and is widely used on Chinese-language websites and chat rooms.

A recent immigrant who moved from Beijing to Vancouver three years ago said he made his “run” for political reasons. He too asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals from the Chinese government.

The engineer, who is in his late 30s, said he went on multiple trips to Taiwan after the island opened its doors to Chinese tourists in 2008.

“I remember, I stopped by at Freedom Square, a public plaza in Taipei, and saw some people running around carefree. Some were doing music rehearsals and others were even waving placards to express their political opinions,” he said.

“I didn’t see any police presence at the square and that was the awakening moment for me. I thought to myself: ‘Oh, I actually could live my life this way.’”

He said he was now content with his life in Vancouver, despite feeling lonely during holidays and having to work multiple jobs to make a living.

Rosenberg said young immigrants with lots of work years ahead of them were favoured for their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy in a “meaningful and direct way.”

“So, the bias is towards people who are a bit younger, highly educated, and can speak English or French, and then having experience in Canada, (rather) than experience earned outside of Canada,” said Rosenberg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Girl Guides of Canada announces two potential new names for Brownies program

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Girl Guides of Canada is asking its members to vote on two new name options for its Brownies program — comets or embers.

Last month the national organization told members it would be changing the name of the program for girls aged seven and eight because the name has caused harm to racialized Girl Guides.

Girl Guides says that some Black Canadians, Indigenous residents and people of colour have chosen to skip this program or delay joining the organization because of the name,  adding a change can ensure more girls feel like they belong in the program.

Members were invited to vote for one of the two new name contenders in an email sent Tuesday.

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The email says the name comets was chosen because they inspire as they travel through space, boldly blazing a trail, and the name embers were selected because they are small and full of potential that can ignite a powerful flame.

Girl Guides says members can vote until December 13 and the new name will be announced in late January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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Veterans’ cases raise fresh concerns about expanding assisted dying law

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Revelations that some Canadian veterans have been offered medically assisted deaths while seeking help from the federal government are adding to worries about Ottawa’s plans to expand such procedures to include mental-health injuries and illnesses.

Veterans’ organizations are instead calling on Ottawa to increase access to mental-health services for former service members, which includes addressing the long wait times that many are forced to endure when applying for assistance.

“Mental-health injuries can be terminal only if they’re untreated, unsupported and under-resourced,” said Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell, whose organization runs mental-health support programs for veterans and first responders.

“That should be where we’re focused: resourcing, funding and investing in timely access to culturally competent, occupationally aware mental-health care.”

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While medical assistance in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness, the criteria for MAID is set to expand in March to include those living with mental-health conditions.

While that plan has already elicited warnings from psychiatrists across the country, who say Canada is not ready for such a move, Maxwell and others are also sounding the alarm about the potential impact on ill and injured ex-soldiers.

Those concerns have crystallized in recent weeks after reports that several former service members who reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance over the past three years were counselled on assisted dying.

Those include retired corporal and Canadian Paralympian Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee last week that she was offered an assisted death during her five-year fight for a wheelchair ramp in her home.

The federal government has blamed a single Veterans Affairs employee, saying the case manager was acting alone and that her case has been referred to the RCMP. It also says training and guidance has been provided to the rest of the department’s employees.

The issue has nonetheless sparked fears about what will happen if the criteria for MAID is expanded in March, particularly as many veterans with mental and physical injuries continue to have to wait months — and even years — for federal support.

Those wait times have persisted for years despite frustration, anger and warnings from the veterans’ community as well as the veterans’ ombudsman, Canada’s auditor general and others about the negative impact those wait times are having on former service members.

“My fear is that we are offering a vehicle for people to end their lives when there are treatment options available, but those treatment options are more difficult to access than medically assisted death,” Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network recently testified before the Commons’ veterans affairs committee.

And despite the government’s assertions that a single Veterans Affairs’ employee was responsible for proposing MAID as an option, Royal Canadian Legion deputy director of veterans’ services Carolyn Hughes said the reports have added to longstanding anger and fears in the community.

“Many veterans have been angered and retraumatized by this situation, seeing it as an extension of the perception of ‘deny, delay, and die’ from VAC to veterans,” she told the same committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government is looking at striking the right balance between providing access to assisted deaths and protecting vulnerable Canadians, including veterans.

But the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada, which includes heads of psychiatry departments at all 17 medical schools, is calling for a delay to the proposed MAID expansion, saying patients need better access to care including for addiction services.

The Conservatives have also called for a delay, with democratic reform critic Michael Cooper underscoring the need for more study and preparation.

“Many veterans who turn to Veterans Affairs for services and support are vulnerable,” he said. “Many have physical injuries and mental-health issues arising from their service. What they need is help and support. And it can be devastating to be offered death instead of help.”

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said it is essential that the government increase access to services for veterans.

“We should always make sure that there’s resources and services out there,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this (MAID) is ever the first option for them. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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