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Toxic chemicals commonly found in dollar store items, testing shows

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OTTAWA — Canada needs more transparency and better enforcement to protect Canadians from unlimited exposure to toxic chemicals like lead and cadmium, an analysis from Environmental Defence said Wednesday.

The organization reported on tests conducted on dozens of products purchased at popular Canadian dollar stores. One in four of the products tested were positive for substances managed under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Many of the findings were within the allowable limits, but the report says those limits are not strong enough.

The outer ring on a set of stereo headphones was found to have 24 times the legal limit of lead, and five times the legal limit of cadmium.

The solder inside the same headphones had 170 times what is considered safe on outer portions of the headphones. The solder on a separate set of earbud style headphones had 3,000 times the amount of lead allowed on the accessible portions.

But the solder is not covered by the regulations, a gap Environmental Defence insists must be closed.

Cassie Barker, toxics manager for Environmental Defence, said internal lead can still be exposed if products break or wear down.

“The way that kids use products, and you know they break things and so that internal (lead) quickly becomes external lead,” she said.

The toxic harm from lead poisoning has been documented for more than 50 years. It can cause significant cognitive and developmental delays in young children with high exposures, and can create risks of high blood pressure and kidney damage in adults. It has been barred from use in gasoline, food cans and paints.

Cadmium, often found in batteries, coatings and plastic stabilizers, is a known carcinogen.

Barker said the headphones, which exceeded the allowed limits of both metals, are proof that monitoring and enforcement of toxic substance regulations need to be beefed up.

“Obviously, retailers shouldn’t be shirking their responsibility for having safe products on their shelves,” she said, but regulators are leaving “big loopholes” for dollar stores to walk through.

Other products that raised concerns for Environmental Defence were food cans lined with bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA. The chemical, which helps make plastics harder, was added to the list of toxic substances in Canada in 2010 after studies linked it to prostate disease, breast cancer, infertility and behavioural problems in children. It was banned from baby bottles and other plastic baby products that same year.

But it is still allowed in products such as food cans, said Barker. Some companies have moved away from using the substance on their own, but 60 per cent of the cans the organization tested contained it.

The report calls on Environment Canada to require companies to label all hazardous ingredients in products, including those that are hidden inside electronics or used in the packaging. It also recommends more regulatory enforcement and product testing so that harmful products can be identified before they hit store shelves.

Barker said the tests were done on items from dollar stores because such stores are often the only option for people with low incomes or in marginalized communities.

Environmental Defence provided its report to the companies whose stores it visited, including Dollar Tree and Dollarama. A statement from Dollar Tree said a similar study in the United States two years ago prompted it to remove 17 chemicals from its products.

A statement from Dollarama said, “consumer product safety is our utmost priority, and we have strict processes and controls in place to monitor product safety and quality. The four Dollarama product categories identified in the report (stereo headphone, earbud, pencil pouch and activity tracker) meet applicable Canadian product regulations and are safe to use for their intended purposes.”

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act, which governs toxic chemicals in Canada, is in the midst of being updated.

Legislation that would enshrine the right to a healthy environment into law for the first time passed in the Senate in the spring, though the law doesn’t define what a “healthy environment” means.

Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said in an interview that he is open to additional changes to the bill, which is expected to be debated in the House of Commons this fall.

Guilbeault said he hadn’t yet read the Environmental Defence report and couldn’t comment on its specific findings.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Industry minister to represent Canada at former Japanese PM’s funeral

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OTTAWA — Federal Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne will represent Canada at former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s state funeral this week.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was scheduled to visit Japan and attend Tuesday’s funeral, but cancelled those plans to oversee recovery efforts after post-tropical storm Fiona ravaged much of eastern Canada and parts of Quebec.

Describing Abe as a friend and ally of Canada, Champagne says the former Japanese prime minister played an important role bringing the two countries closer together.

Trudeau was slated to meet current Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as Japan prepares to take over as president of the G7 and the Liberal government finalizes its new Indo-Pacific strategy.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Champagne says he doesn’t know if he will meet Kishida on behalf of Trudeau.

But he says in addition to paying respects to Abe, he expects to meet Japanese officials to discuss the bilateral relationship and areas of mutual co-operation.

“Certainly, I think Prime Minister Kishida knows how deeply engaged we have been, certainly on the industrial, commercial and economic front,” he said.

“And we’ll be meeting with a number of people. I just don’t know if the meeting with the prime minister will still be happening.”

Champagne was in Japan delivering a speech to business representatives in Tokyo when Abe was assassinated by a gunman in July.

The industry minister says it was a surreal moment when he learned the former Japanese prime minister had been killed.

“I was literally giving a speech,” Champagne said. “I was like three-quarters into it and suddenly I started to see people looking at their phones. And someone came to the podium and advised me that something very tragic had happened.”

Abe’s state funeral is a sensitive topic in Japan, where such memorials are uncommon and the late leader’s legacy remains disputed.

Abe, a conservative nationalist in a country that embraced pacifism after the Second World War, was assassinated with a homemade firearm nearly three months ago.

In a reflection of deep divisions, an elderly man reportedly set himself on fire to protest the funeral, and more demonstrations are expected in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

⁠— With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Couple proceeds with wedding amid chaos in P.E.I. from post-tropical storm Fiona

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CHARLOTTETOWN — Naomi and Tyler Wheeler have lived through a pandemic, wildfires, heat waves, minor earthquakes and most recently a post-tropical storm that laid waste to huge swaths of Atlantic Canada.

As the former hurricane Fiona pounded Prince Edward Island on Saturday, devastating much of the province, the couple pledged to weather storms — and any other apocalyptic events life sends their way — together.

In front of just 16 guests, down from the 85 they’d hoped to entertain, the Wheelers professed their love for each other and exchanged rings at the Rodd Charlottetown hotel in the capital city’s downtown core.

The couple officially tied the knot in Halifax in 2017 in a small ceremony and decided to have a party later.

“We tried to schedule it three times,” Naomi Wheeler said with a laugh. “And then COVID kept getting in the way. Of course, a hurricane happens when we reschedule.”

The couple live in the bride’s California home town, while the groom hails from Montague, P.E.I. They wanted to have a party for Tyler Wheeler’s family and other friends who wouldn’t be able to make it to Los Angeles.

They landed in Charlottetown Wednesday when Fiona was churning its way through southern waters. But as the storm approached Canada and warnings grew stringent, their friends cancelled. The couple was disappointed but understood. They wanted their friends and family safe.

“There was the whole stages of grief about it,” Tyler Wheeler said. “We’re just kind of in disbelief that this could happen.”

The couple then simply decided to go with the flow, said the bride.

“The flow is just a hurricane.”

The wedding was delayed by an hour-and-a-half while the officiant, Sarah Haberl, and the groom helped patch up a family member’s roof. The Wheelers first met as students at a 2013 party in Montreal. Later that evening, the pair recognized each other at a club where they had gone to act as “wing people” for friends.

“We were terrible wing people,” said the bride.

Nine years later, as Fiona raged, the couple finally celebrated their love and friendship with their closest friends in a storm-adapted ceremony they said was sprinkled with personal touches.

The room was lit with 30 candles and three iPhone flashlights. The invocation and vows were read by candlelight and a headlamp, Haberl said.

The ceremony included a poem, a little bit of the childhood of the couple and had some “lovey-dovey things,” she said.

The rings the Wheelers eventually exchanged were first passed around the room so guests could offer a blessing on them.

The raspberry and vanilla swirl cake was topped with fresh flowers and made by the groom’s sister-in-law.

One of the first songs partygoers danced to was the well-known sea shanty ‘Barrett’s Privateers.’

“We had to get a little bit of Nova Scotia in there,” the groom said.

Amid the celebration, the couple said there was a touch of sadness because the groom’s grandparents couldn’t attend.

Reflecting on their ceremony and the past few whirlwind days, the bride said they didn’t realize how fast and how bad things could get with the weather. But Naomi Wheeler said she also feels overwhelmed by the amount of support she got and how everyone came together.

“I think we embraced it. It was a lovely, lovely, cosy, intimate evening,” she said. “I feel very loved.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

 

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military facing a recruitment crisis – CTV News

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OTTAWA –

The Canadian Armed Forces is sounding the alarm over a severe shortage of recruits to fill thousands of vacant positions, with the shortfall so bad that senior officers are now calling it a crisis.

On a cool Tuesday afternoon, Robert Romero walks out of the Canadian Armed Forces’ recruiting office in downtown Ottawa with an envelope full of papers in his hands.

Originally from the Philippines, Romero does not have any direct experience with Canada’s military; his interest is largely derived from a sense of adventure and some of what he saw about soldiers in movies as a kid.

“I idolized them,” he says. “I got hooked. So then I started researching about it and I got more into it.”

Romero is one of 11 people who have just written an aptitude test to identify which military occupations prospective recruits are qualified to fill. He pulls his results from the envelope: intelligence officer, meteorological technician and cook.

He will now talk it over with his parents to decide which career interests him, whether he wants to write the test again or abandon the whole exercise.

Canada’s military is supposed to be in a period of growth as new demands increase the need for trained soldiers, sailors and aviators. The Liberal government in 2017 laid out a plan to add thousands of full and part-time positions.

While the plan came after years of troop shortages, there were signs the military was turning a corner as recruitment began to outpace departures.

“We were just starting to gain momentum when the pandemic hit,” says Brig.-Gen. Krista Brodie, who is responsible for overseeing military recruitment and training.

Recruitment cratered during the first year of COVID-19 as the military shuttered recruiting and training centres. The result: only 2,000 people were enrolled in 2020-21 — less than half of what was needed.

Nearly 4,800 recruits were enrolled the following fiscal year as lockdowns and restrictions were eased.

But Brodie says the military is getting about half the number of applicants it needs per month to meet the goal of adding 5,900 members this year.

The shortfall is expected to exacerbate the current personnel shortage, with about one in 10 of the military’s 100,000 positions unfilled.

“We are without a doubt in an applicant crisis right now,” Brodie says.

Many industries are facing labour challenges, and Statistics Canada reported record job vacancies in June. But the pandemic and labour shortage have coincided with what Brodie describes as a “cultural reckoning” for the military.

That has been marked by allegations of misconduct against top officers and concerns about a growing disconnect between the military’s makeup and Canadian society as a whole, leading to a push for greater diversity in the ranks.

Those efforts include targeted recruiting of under-represented groups, including women and Indigenous people, and broader moves to create a more inclusive workplace by easing dress rules, which Brodie suggests are bearing fruit.

Still, fewer Canadians are opting for a military career and it is not fully clear why.

“I don’t think we’ve got a good answer anywhere. I think there are so many factors and components and dimensions of the why,” Brodie says.

The Defence Department is trying to better understand the problem, she added. It is also looking at possible solutions such as financial incentives, ways to improve work-life balance, and addressing public perceptions of the military.

Brodie was unable to say whether the push for diversity is hurting more than helping, at least in terms of sheer numbers, by turning off the military’s traditional recruiting pool: young, white men.

“We can’t measure the impact of that right now. It’s too early,” she said. “But to be very, very clear — we want suitable candidates, and suitable candidates are those that first and foremost reflect the values of the Canadian Armed Forces.”

The impact of not having enough new recruits is both short- and long-term, putting additional pressure on current members and meaning there are fewer people who can rise through the ranks and fill leadership roles later.

The shortfall isn’t uniform across the military. Certain occupations have more than enough applicants. But some are facing such severe shortages that signing bonuses of up to $20,000 are being offered in 25 of the military’s approximately 100 trades, including cook, meteorological technician and many navy jobs.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Andrew Clark is senior recruiter in Ottawa. In recent weeks, his staff have been at different events such as the Gatineau Airshow and a comic book convention to make their pitch.

“We’re selling the benefits of being in the Canadian Armed Forces,” he says. “The pension, the medical, the dental, the education piece, continuing education, as well as a pretty interesting career where you get to travel around the world, potentially, and get paid to do it.”

Recruiters are given targets to meet, with spots divvied up by trade, as well as minimum targets for female recruits and maximums for men. There is also a high-level push for what the military still refers to as “visible minorities” and Indigenous people.

“Diversity is what we’re after,” Clark says.

Ottawa is unusual in that it is close to meeting its recruiting targets, which Clark attributes to the large number of military families in the capital. But many other places are not, including traditional military communities.

“We’re really seeing even places like Kingston that used to have a huge population of applicants, we’re seeing the well drying out,” says Maj. Simon Rocheleau, who is responsible for managing recruiting efforts across northern and eastern Ontario.

Rocheleau has a number of theories to explain the situation, including the state of the economy, the lack of a major mission like Afghanistan to drive awareness, and concerns about sexual misconduct.

Outside the Ottawa recruiting centre, Jeremy Langlois has just finished the aptitude test. The 21-year-old chef wants to fly jets, but didn’t score high enough. He will take the test again in 30 days in the hopes of qualifying.

“If that doesn’t work out, well, then I’ll have to re-evaluate and think about stuff,” he says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 25, 2022.

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