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The latest on the coronavirus outbreak for March 2 –



  • First of what may be multiple interest rate hikes in 2022 initiated by Bank of Canada.
  • Nerve damage found in majority of long COVID participants in U.S. study.
  • World roundup: WHO mobilizes aid for Ukraine, New Zealand police move in forcefully after 3 weeks of protests near Parliament.
  • Explore: Pandemic legal docket: Ontario judge dismisses challenge by churches against COVID-19 rules, judge rules wife in separated couple can’t be compelled to vaccinate pre-teen kids…. CBC Ideas: ‘Liminal space’ photography captures pandemic isolation in public spaces. 

Police and demonstrators clash in Wellington as an operation took place Wednesday by authorities to retake Parliament grounds and nearby encampments after three weeks of protest in New Zealand related to the country’s COVID-19 measures. (Dave Lintott/AFP/Getty Images)

Bank of Canada hikes key interest rate to 0.5%

The Bank of Canada raised its benchmark interest rate to 0.5 per cent on Wednesday, a move that’s expected to be the first of a series of small rate hikes this year in an attempt to tame inflation that has risen to its highest point in decades.

It’s the first time the bank has raised its rate since 2018, let alone during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the bank’s rate was 1.75 per cent, before it quickly slashed the rate down to 0.25 per cent to help the economy.

The bank, which had telegraphed the move in recent weeks, cited a new report indicating that Canada’s economy grew at a 6.7 per cent annual pace in the last quarter of 2021.

“This is stronger than the bank’s projection and confirms its view that economic slack has been absorbed,” the bank said.

Investors think there could be as many as five more small rate hikes before the year 2022 is out.

Adam Brown with BDO Canada told CBC News in an interview that there’s “no need to panic” but Wednesday’s move shows that rates are finally going to start inching higher. “Clearly there’s more rate increases, and there’s potential [for them] to be faster than we expected,” he said.

The Bank of Canada’s rate affects the rates that Canadian consumers get on things like mortgages, lines of credit and savings accounts at their own banks. Lenders are already starting to move in reaction to the central bank’s hike, with Royal Bank raising its prime lending rate to 2.7 per cent starting Thursday, up from 2.45 per cent.

In the U.S., Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that he supports a traditional quarter-point increase in the reserve’s benchmark short-term interest rate when the Fed meets later this month, rather than a larger increase that some of its policymakers have proposed.

Economists have forecast that the Fed will implement five to seven quarter-point hikes this year. This month’s increase would be the first since 2018.

“I think that this inflation is substantially higher than anything we’ve seen since I was in college 50 years ago,” he said in testimony to a House financial services committee. “This is strong, high inflation and it’s very important that we get on top of it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Both the Bank of Canada and Powell cautioned that the economic consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the resulting sanctions by the U.S., Canada and Europe, could lead to additional price challenges in 2022.

From CBC News

Relaxed COVID-19 restrictions a concern for some immunocompromised

24 hours ago

Duration 2:07

The relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions is a big concern for some people who are immunocompromised or otherwise at high risk. 2:07

Nerve damage may explain some cases of long COVID, U.S. study suggests

A small study of patients suffering from persistent symptoms long after a bout of COVID-19 found that nearly 60 per cent had nerve damage possibly caused by a defective immune response, a finding that could point to new treatments, researchers have found.

The new U.S. study involved in-depth exams of 17 people with so-called long COVID, a condition that arises within three months of a COVID-19 infection and lasts at least two months.

“I think what’s going on here is that the nerves that control things like our breathing, blood vessels and our digestion in some cases are damaged in these long COVID patients,” said Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a lead author of the study published in the journal Neurology: Neuroimmunology & Neuroinflammation.

Oaklander and colleagues focused on patients with symptoms consistent with a type of nerve damage known as peripheral neuropathy. All but one had had mild cases of COVID-19, and none had nerve damage prior to their infections.

After ruling out other possible explanations for the patients’ complaints, the researchers ran a series of tests to identify whether the nerves were involved.

“We looked with every single major objective diagnostic test,” Oaklander said.

The vast majority had small fibre neuropathy, meaning damage to small nerve fibres that detect sensations and regulate involuntary bodily functions such as the cardiovascular system and breathing. Eleven of the 17 patients were treated with either steroids or intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), with some improving, although none were rid totally of their symptoms.

The findings are consistent with a July study by Dr. Rayaz Malik of Weill Cornell Medicine Qatar that found an association between nerve fibre damage in the cornea and a diagnosis of long COVID.

Meanwhile, a new pilot program spearheaded by the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority aims to help educate Manitobans with long COVID about symptoms and treatment and give them an opportunity to connect with each other.

“These are people that went from one health status one day to a completely different health status the next, and that’s terrifying,” said Dana Kliewer, a physiotherapist in the pulmonary rehabilitation program at Deer Lodge Centre.

The virtual sessions focus on topics such as fatigue management, breathing and the nervous system, brain fog after COVID-19, managing anxiety and guilt, and medications.

Initially the plan was to start the pilot program with a group of 10 people with long COVID, but the registration list now sits at more than 40, Kliewer said.

The World Health Organization has defined long COVID as a condition that arises within three months of a COVID-19 infection and lasts at least two months. Symptoms can include fatigue, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, cognitive difficulties, chronic pain, sensory abnormalities and muscle weakness.

World roundup: COVID-related developments in Ukraine, New Zealand and Hong Kong 

A first shipment of medical aid for Ukraine will arrive in Poland on Thursday, the World Health Organization (WHO) said, as the UN agency warned of an escalating health crisis in the country following Russia’s invasion.

The delivery includes six tonnes of trauma care and emergency surgery supplies to help 150,000 people, but how to get them to Ukrainians in need remains unclear, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing in Geneva on Wednesday.

The kits being sent to Ukraine include sutures and skin grafts, as well as equipment for amputations and other major trauma operations. WHO said it was also prioritizing COVID-19 therapeutics, including the new antiviral pills, to Ukraine over the last 72 hours to mitigate a potential surge.

While the COVID-19 case level is not of the highest priority in the country right now, and according to tracking appears substantially down from an Omicron variant peak a month ago, as of last week only about 35 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

In New Zealand, police in riot gear and sometimes using pepper spray retook control of the Parliament grounds in the capital Wellington after hundreds of protesters had amassed there over the past three weeks, demonstrating against coronavirus vaccine mandates. It was the most significant use of force yet by authorities against the protesters.

The operation began at dawn, when police started telling people over loudspeakers they were trespassing and needed to leave, while officers tore down tents in peripheral areas and a police helicopter circled overhead. Some protesters confronted police and used milk to try and clear their eyes from pepper spray, while others set fire to tents, mattresses and chairs.

Police also began towing some of the 300 or so cars, vans and trucks that protesters have used to block streets in the area. The convoy demonstration was inspired by similar protests in Canada and has sparked other protests around New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she was “both angry and also deeply saddened” over the hostility police encountered in the operation. A group representing some of the protesters countered that the vast majority of demonstrators had been well-behaved and had chosen to camp as a last resort after other options for dialogue were quashed.

About 78 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.

In Hong Kong, chief executive Carrie Lam said on Wednesday that people’s movements may be restricted during mandatory testing this month of the entire population for the coronavirus, as health officials reported a record 55,353 daily infections and more than 100 deaths.

Lam said authorities are still refining the plan, but that there would be no “complete” lockdown that would prevent entry and exit from the city.

“The extent of it must take into account Hong Kong’s circumstances and people’s needs,” she told reporters.

Hong Kong is planning to test its more than seven million residents as it grapples with soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases in its worst outbreak of the pandemic, linked largely to the Omicron variant.

Officials on Wednesday reported 117 deaths, taking the total number above 1,000. About 80 per cent of the deaths have occurred since late December.

Most of the deaths involved elderly patients who were not fully vaccinated. In contrast to many parts of the world, the working-age population is much more vaccinated than seniors; before the recent testing blitz, less than half of those older than 80 in Hong Kong had been fully vaccinated.

Today’s graphic

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in B.C.

COVID-related hospitalization down 24% in the province from a week earlier

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Canada’s transport minister detects ‘shift’ in U.S. outlook after meetings in D.C.



WASHINGTON — The latest federal cabinet minister to press Canada’s case with President Joe Biden’s administration says he is detecting a positive “shift” in U.S. thinking when it comes to the question of tax incentives for electric vehicles.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra spent Tuesday in Washington, D.C., for meetings with officials including U.S. counterpart Pete Buttigieg and senior White House adviser Mitch Landrieu.

It was just the latest in a series of cabinet-level visits — Defence Minister Anita Anand, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino and Trade Minister Mary Ng have been in town in recent weeks — where the ministerial marching orders included voicing opposition to the tax-credit scheme.

Biden’s original vision was a sliding scale of tax incentives, with the richest ones reserved for electric vehicles assembled in the U.S. with union labour — a proposal Ottawa feared would be devastating for Canada’s auto sector.

It died back in December when West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a vital vote in the evenly divided Senate, refused to support Biden’s $2-trillion environmental and social spending package, known as Build Back Better. 

Ever since, Canada has maintained a strict defensive footing against the tax credits coming back to life.

“I don’t know if the old incarnation is going to come back exactly as it was or not. But I can say that what I am sensing today is that there is now a shift in strategic outlook,” Alghabra said.

The war in Ukraine, and the way NATO members and allies have made common cause with each other in pushing back against Russia, is putting a “new frame” around how the U.S. deals with its allies, he noted.

The world, including the U.S., better understands that trustworthy trading partners and consistent, reliable supply chains that are impervious to unexpected geopolitical shocks have long been taken for granted.

“There is, I think, a new frame for the conversations that are taking place in the U.S. And while I don’t know what the future of the previous EV tax credit is, I am hopeful that I think now we’re entering into a new type of discussion.”

The White House has acknowledged that it’s working on a scaled-down version of Build Back Better, but has so far refused to say publicly whether the tax credits would return in their original form.

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said discussions are underway for legislation that would resurrect some of the environmental provisions of Build Back Better, including its “energy transition-related elements.”

Canada would welcome and support any effort on the part of the U.S. to fight climate change, she said.

“But we never miss an opportunity to re-emphasize with them that, in so doing, it’s imperative that as the staunchest of environmental allies, we do it together in a way that supports each other and doesn’t make this path that we’re on together harder for either of us,” Hillman said.

“That message is heard loud and clear by lawmakers on the Hill, by the White House, and they have expressed an understanding of our concerns, and more than that, a desire to make sure that it works for us in our partnership.”

Manchin, the mercurial moderate Democrat whose support has become essential for any White House measure on Capitol Hill, recently suggested he would not support any proposal that would harm Canada’s auto industry.

Manchin, who heads the Senate’s energy and natural resources committee, hosted Jason Kenney when the Alberta premier testified in person on Capitol Hill earlier this month.

The pair have become cross-border allies as the U.S. looks for ways to both combat inflation while reducing its dependence on fossil fuels from hostile regimes, while Kenney continues to prod the Biden administration to depend more on Canada for its short-term energy needs.

After the May 17 hearing, Manchin said he expects the White House is still working on some sort of a program to encourage American consumers to buy more electric vehicles and ease U.S. dependence on gasoline.

But he insisted that he wouldn’t support any measure that would hurt automakers north of the border.

“There’s no way in the world that we’re going to put that type of harm and allow that to happen,” Manchin said. “My vote would never support that at all.”

It was not abundantly clear whether Manchin was talking specifically about the tax credits or more broadly about Canada’s own efforts to develop its reserves of critical minerals, a key component in the production of electric vehicles.

That ambiguity is part of why Canada remains so guarded on the subject, Hillman said.

“Until we see what is actually on the table and how it’s going to be implemented, we cannot rest.”

Manchin and Kenney both voiced support for the idea of a more closely integrated Canada-U.S. energy “alliance.” It would focus on the need for traditional energy in the short term, as well as reliable bilateral supply chains for critical minerals.

Alghabra said the role Canada could play in buttressing U.S. supply chains for those minerals is also generating increased interest south of the border.

“We have more of those critical minerals, and some types of the critical minerals that the U.S. doesn’t have,” he said. “There’s a new sense of interest and intrigue about this new frame that I think maybe did not exist last year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.


James McCarten, The Canadian Press

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‘Extremely serious’: Calgary man involved in terrorism activity sentenced to 12 years



CALGARY — A man who admitted to terrorism-related acts with the militant group Islamic State has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Hussein Borhot, 36, appeared Thursday before Court of Queen’s Bench Justice David Labrenz for a sentencing hearing in Calgary.

“Quite clearly, you intended to assist or facilitate the activities of a terrorist group. You carried that plan into action,” Labrenz told Borhot as the judge accepted a joint sentencing recommendation from the Crown and the defence.

“This was an extremely serious and grave crime.”

Borhot pleaded guilty last month to one count of participating in terrorism group activity between May 9, 2013, and June 7, 2014, as well as to kidnapping for a terrorist group while in Syria.

The joint submission recommended eight years on the first count and another four years for the kidnapping.

Labrenz also imposed a lifetime firearms ban and ordered Borhot’s DNA be submitted to a national database.

RCMP arrested Borhot in July 2020 after a seven-year investigation.

An agreed statement of facts read in court in April said he travelled to Syria through Turkey to join the Islamic State.

The statement said he signed up as a fighter, received substantial training and excelled as a sniper, but did not tell his wife or father before the trip.

Court heard that Borhot revealed much of the information to an undercover officer after he returned to Canada.

Before the judge’s decision, Crown prosecutor Kent Brown said it was important to keep in mind that Borhot participated in acts of terrorism.

“Once he decided to join up with ISIS, virtually all his activities were terrorist activities,” he told Labrenz.

Borhot’s lawyer, Rame Katrib, said he and his client agreed to the sentence after lengthy discussions with the Crown.

“Mr. Borhot has tendered a plea of guilty, when there were a lot of issues that could have been litigated, but he has taken responsibility,” Katrib said.

Twelve years in prison isn’t a lenient sentence, the defence lawyer said.

“He’s been back in Canada since these offences occurred,” he said. “He’s been here many years and in that time period he has built a family, he’s worked, he’s led a quiet life.”

Borhot, he noted, was free on bail with strict conditions that included wearing an ankle-tracking device, complying with all laws and checking in regularly with authorities.

“When he goes to jail, he is leaving behind a family. He has four children.”

Katrib said the prison term not only takes into account a fit sentence but rehabilitation as a possibility.

“Mr. Borhot left the organization of his own volition and returned to Canada,” he said.

“The entirety of the family was never supportive of this type of thing and even now are very ashamed of what’s happened, as is Mr. Borhot.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on May 26, 2022.


Colette Derworiz, The Canadian Press

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The Gender War amongst Us



The United Nations define gender-based violence as any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women and other persons, including threats of acts of violence, coercion and arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life.

Gender-Based Violence is a global public health problem that challenges and affects the morbidity and mortality of women and the LGBTQ Community. It is estimated that 30% of women and 85% of The LGBTQ have experienced at least one form of GBV in their lifetime since the age of 15. The United Nations study among Women of reproductive age revealed that Intimate Partner Violence(IVP) ranged from 15% in Urban Regions(ie Japan) to 71% in Rural Regions (ie Ethiopia)Evidence reveals that this problem is most prominent in developing nations where socioeconomic status is low and education limited, especially in sub-Saharan Africa countries.
Gender Prejudice and Violence directed towards Women and The LGBTQ Community is globally widespread, even within the well-educated populations of the developed world.

Gender-Based Violence is a common practice in Africa, Asia and developing nations in Latin America. Most African Cultural beliefs and traditions promote men’s hierarchical roles in sexual relationships and especially in marriage. Almost two-thirds (63%) of the African population live in rural settings which increases the difficulty to access basic amenities and communities are isolated from the influence of central governments or the laws that prohibit GBV. Despite legislative advances, GBV remains pervasive and a daily reality for Women, Girls and THE LGBTQ Communities. Within Rwanda, many Women and Girls experience multiple and intersecting forms of violence and oppression including intimate partner violence, sexual violence, early and forced marriages, genital mutilation and human trafficking.

Gender Biased Violence directed towards The LGBTQ Community is high within African society, where their lifestyle may appear as a challenge to other males’ masculinity or gender understanding. Within the Latin Community, such violence exists but is far less felt than in areas within Africa. The Latin Worlds’ understanding of masculinity seems to vary, appearing to be more accepting of “the different”. Many Latin Males have multiple gender partners even within marriage. African attitudes are far more conservative and unyielding.

Gender Politics have shaped our world, moving from ancient acceptance of the power and influence of Womanhood to a place where religion became the excuse to oppress Women and other elements of society like the LGBTQ Community. Humanities’ move toward freedom and self-expression has been squashed by the manipulative, powerful masculinity of Mankind. Impressions of a controlling, protective society show us what we are to believe and how we are to live our lives.

Equality, self-determination and self-expression for Women and the LGBTQ Community still remain important aspects of the developed world’s policymaking and implementation. Within the continents of Africa, Central and Latin America, and some Asian nations government policymakers attempt to legally establish the necessary laws to protect their populations, but cultural, political and societal traditions and prejudices have entangled themselves within these nations’ evolutionary movement towards equal rights and gender democracy. A Gender War remains among us, within us, allowing prejudice, fear and hate to shape our society. Like all wars, there are many casualties, but with education, determination and the hand of justice applied, this war can be won.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario

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