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Moscow accuses Ottawa of undermining soldiers

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OTTAWA –

Russia’s ambassador to Canada says Ottawa is at the vanguard of an effort to isolate his country, following a series of social-media squabbles and ongoing salvos where each country summons the other’s top diplomat.

Oleg Stepanov told Russian state media that he’s exasperated by Canada’s foreign-affairs department tweeting unflattering information about the war in Ukraine, particularly recent tweets about Russian men fleeing a military draft.

“When there is no real diplomacy on the Canadian side, no ability or appetite to deal with matters serious to Russia, they turn on this Twitter megaphone,” Stepanov told RIA Novosti last week, in Russian.

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He added that Canada appears to be leading an effort by western countries to isolate Russia.

Relations between Ottawa and Moscow have been strained since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.

Moscow started drafting men with no military experience in September, and rejects statements by the governments of Georgia and Kazakhstan about a subsequent uptick in people moving from neighbouring Russia.

Last week, Global Affairs Canada tweeted the draft has “targeted ethnic minorities, triggered protests, and led to the fleeing of thousands of Russian citizens.”

In a rebuttal, Stepanov described citizens who have fled Russia as “cowards.” He said real Russians would defend the country “regardless of one’s political views.” He said there is “no moral alternative” to standing by the national army.

“Those who have left are just a dried-up husk of a man, dust in the wind. It is that very case when the history separates the wheat from the chaff,” he wrote in remarks to TASS news agency, which the embassy translated into English.

Earlier this month, Russia summoned Canada’s ambassador in Moscow, in protest of Ottawa doing the same to Stepanov five times this year.

Summoning an ambassador is normally a rare occurrence that countries undertake to formally object to either the policies of the foreign country, or the conduct of their diplomatic mission.

Ottawa first summoned Stepanov shortly after the February invasion, and then after the April massacre in the city of Bucha, followed by October bombings of central Kyiv. The fourth summons came after the embassy tweeted anti-LGBTQ messaging in November, and again this month for arguing the 1930s famine in Ukraine, known as the Holodomor, was not a result of Soviet policy.

Russia returned the favour this month, summoning Canada’s ambassador Alison LeClaire over what Russia’s foreign ministry called “numerous unwarranted cases” of Ottawa summoning Stepanov.

The five summons “go far beyond normal diplomatic practice,” the ministry argued in a Dec. 9 press release.

Moscow previously summoned LeClaire in September, over allegations Global Affairs Canada had not taken seriously incidents involving the Ottawa embassy, such as security video of a Molotov cocktail being tossed onto the grounds of the mission.

Both countries say they want to maintain diplomatic relations, even if Ottawa has withdrawn from working with Moscow on numerous files.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 18, 2022.

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COVID: Canada retaining Evusheld – CTV News

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While Health Canada says it is “aware” of the U.S. decision to withdraw the emergency use of Evusheld, a drug by AstraZeneca used to help prevent COVID-19 infection— the agency is maintaining its approval, citing the differences in variant circulation between Canada and the U.S.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Jan. 26 that its emergency use authorization of the drug was pulled due to its inefficacy in treating “certain” COVID-19 variants.

The FDA stated in a release on its website that as the XBB.1.5. variant, nicknamed “Kraken”, is making up the majority of cases in the country, the use of Evusheld is “not expected to provide protection” and therefore not worth exposing the public to possible side effects of the drug, like allergic reactions.

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In an email to CTVNews.ca, Health Canada said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration pulled the drug as the main variant of concern in the U.S. is XBB.1.5.

“Dominant variants in the [U.S.] may be different from those circulating in Canada,” the federal agency said in an email. “The most recent epidemiological data in Canada (as of January 1, 2023) indicate that BA.5 (Omicron) subvariants continue to account for more than 89 per cent of reported cases.”

On Jan. 6 the FDA said in press release that certain variants are not neutralized by Evusheld and cautioned people who are exposed to XBB.1.5. On Jan. 26, the FDA then updated its website by saying it would be limiting the use of Evusheld.

“Evusheld is not currently authorized for use in the U.S. until further notice by the Agency,” the FDA website states.

On Jan. 17, Health Canada issued a “risk communication” on Evusheld, explaining how it may not be effective against certain Omicron subvariants when used as a preventative measure or treatment for COVID-19.

“Decisions regarding the use of EVUSHELD should take into consideration what is known about the characteristics of the circulating COVID-19 variants, including geographical prevalence and individual exposure,” Health Canada said in an email.

Health Canada says Evusheld does neutralize against Omicron subvariant BA.2, which according to the agency, is the dominant variant in many communities in Canada.

The drug was introduced for prevention measures specifically for people who have weaker immune systems and are unlikely to be protected by a COVID-19 vaccine. It can only be given to people 12 years and older.

“EVUSHELD is not a substitute for vaccination in individuals for whom COVID-19 vaccination is recommended,” the agency’s website reads.

Health Canada says no drug, including Evusheld, is a substitute for vaccination.

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Alberta Justice spokespeople deliver duelling statements on prosecutor email review

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Alberta premier's prosecutor

An email probe into whether Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office interfered with Crown prosecutors took a confusing turn Friday after two government spokespeople delivered duelling statements that raised questions over how far back the search went.

The review was ordered by Smith a week ago to respond to allegations in a CBC story that reported a staffer in the premier’s office emailed prosecutors last fall to question decisions and direction on cases stemming from a blockade at the Canada-U. S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta.

The Justice Department said Monday it had done a four-month search of ingoing, outgoing and deleted emails and found no evidence of contact.

Two days later, Alberta Justice communications director Charles Mainville said in a statement that deleted emails are wiped from the system after 30 days, meaning the search for deleted emails may not have covered the entire time period in question.

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On Thursday night, Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, a spokesman for Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, responded to questions about Mainville’s statement. He said while emails are deleted after 30 days, they live on in the system for another 30 and could have been checked that far back by investigators.

“For example, if an email was deleted on Oct. 17, 2022, the email would no longer be accessible to the user as of Nov. 16, 2022, but would continue to be available to our investigation team until Dec. 16, 2022,” said Lecavalier-Kidney in his statement.

A 60-day search would have stretched back to late November, capturing all but the first six weeks of Smith’s United Conservative Party government. Smith was sworn in as premier on Oct. 11.

But while Lecavalier-Kidney’s statement said investigators could go back 60 days, it did not state that they did so, leaving confusion on how far back they went.

When asked Friday to clarify whether investigators went back 30 or 60 days on the deleted emails, Lecavalier-Kidney did not respond to questions while Mainville reissued the original statements in an email.

The government has also delivered conflicting messages on who was investigated in the review.

Smith promised that emails from all Crown prosecutors and the 34 staffers in her office would be checked.

However, the Justice Department later said emails between “relevant” prosecutors and Smith staffers were checked. It did not say how it determined who was relevant.

The Coutts blockade and COVID-19 protest at the border crossing last year saw RCMP lay charges against several people, ranging from mischief to conspiracy to commit murder.

Smith has said she did not direct prosecutors in the Coutts cases and the email review exonerated her office from what she called “baseless” allegations in the CBC story.

The CBC has said that it has not seen the emails in question but stands by its reporting.

The Opposition NDP said questions stemming from the CBC story, coupled with multiple conflicting statements from the premier on what she has said to Justice Department officials about the COVID-19 cases, can only be resolved through an independent investigation.

Smith has given six versions in recent weeks of what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19 cases.

Smith has said she talked to prosecutors directly and did not talk to prosecutors directly. She has said she reminded justice officials of general prosecution guidelines, but at other times reminded them to consider factors unique to COVID-19 cases. She has also suggested the conversations are ongoing and that they have ended.

She has attributed the confusion to “imprecise” word choices.

Smith has long been openly critical of COVID-19 masking, gathering and vaccine mandate rules, questioning if they were needed to fight the pandemic and labelling them intolerable violations of personal freedoms.

She has also called those unvaccinated against COVID-19 the most discriminated group she has seen in her lifetime.

Last fall, Smith said charges in the cases were grounded in politics and should be open to political solutions. But she recently said it’s important to let the court process play out independently.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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Trudeau government dropped the ball on fighting abuse in sport, former minister says

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A Liberal MP and former sport minister is again calling for a public inquiry into abuse in sport — and is accusing her own government of not doing enough to tackle the problem.

Kirsty Duncan said the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to build momentum behind her efforts to prevent harassment, abuse and discrimination in sport in the years after she left cabinet — despite knowing a lot about the problem well before Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual assault allegations exploded in the news last year.

Duncan said she even faced “pushback” from people within her own government when she made tackling abuse a top priority of her time as sport minister.

Duncan said she would not identify the individuals who resisted her efforts, or state whether they were in her own office or other government departments.

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“It should not be a fight. I’m asking for the protection of athletes and children. There should never have been pushback,” Duncan told CBC News in an exclusive interview.

“I will not stand idly by while there are athletes, children and young people hurting in this country. And I do not accept the status quo. And if I do not push for an inquiry, it means accepting the status quo. And I will not be complicit.”

On Thursday, Duncan announced she’s taking medical leave effective immediately on the advice of doctors to deal with a physical health challenge.

Duncan was not re-appointed to cabinet by Trudeau after the 2019 election. She was instead appointed deputy House leader for the government.

Trudeau dropped the position of sport minister from cabinet at the time and folded Duncan’s responsibilities into the portfolio of the heritage minister, Steven Guilbeault.

Guilbeault’s ministerial mandate letter — which outlined his key policy objectives — charged him with fostering a culture of safe sport.

‘Other priorities’

In response to questions from CBC about the progress Guilbeault made on that mandate, his office pointed to a Sport Canada timeline of safe sport initiatives in the country.

The department launched a call for proposals to implement a new independent safe sport mechanism in 2020. In July 2021, Guilbeault announced that the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre of Canada (SDRCC) would receive up to $2.1 million to set up a new mechanism to oversee implementation of a new universal code of conduct in sport.

Then-minister of Canadian Heritage Steven Guilbeault responds to a question in the House of Commons on Nov. 3, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

A senior government source with knowledge of Guilbeault’s portfolio concedes “other priorities required more attention” when he was heritage minister. Guilbeault’s legislative priorities at the time including confronting online abuse, digital streaming regulation and copyright reform.

The source, who spoke to CBC News on the condition of confidentiality, said the department’s priorities shifted when the pandemic hit in March 2020, just four months after Guilbeault was appointed minister. The source said they “totally understand” Duncan’s claim that more could have been done on safe sport.

“Since 2016, our government has worked with the sport community to advance a respectful sport culture and respond to calls for action,” Guilbeault’s office wrote in an email to CBC News.

 

Former sports minister says leaders ‘want to do better on preventing abuse in sport

 

Former sport minister and Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan says leaders in sports ‘welcome scrutiny.”

Duncan said she felt her safe sport initiatives were not given the attention they deserved after she left the office.

“There was nothing in place. There was literally nothing. There didn’t even seem to be policies. Some had policies, some didn’t,” she said. “Where was the oversight? Where was the accountability?

“I think what we’ve seen over the last four years, and we’ve certainly seen this summer, is that there remains a hugely disappointing resistance to change.”

Current Sport Minister Pascale St-Onge was asked about Duncan’s claim that the government isn’t doing enough to protect athletes in the country.

“I can tell you that we’re taking it extremely seriously,” she told CBC News.

“That’s why we’ve invested $16 million in the last budget just to create the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner, because we felt it was so important to have that independent mechanism. I’m also making it mandatory for all nationally funded organizations to sign up with those before the next funding cycle.

“So any organization that hasn’t protected their athletes by signing up with OSIC will no longer receive the whole funding. That’s the strongest tool that I have. So yes, we are taking this extremely, extremely seriously.”

 

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says government taking safe sport file ‘extremely seriously’

 

Sports Minister Pascale St-Onge says her office made it mandatory for nationally funded organizations to sign up with the Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner in order to receive government funding.

Just weeks after Duncan was named sport minister in January 2018, an investigation by CBC News revealed that at least 222 coaches involved in amateur sports over 20 years had been convicted of sex offences involving over 600 victims under age 18.

Duncan — a former gymnast who said she experienced emotional and psychological abuse herself as an athlete — said she was shaken by that report.

She introduced a number of measures — “broad strokes,” she calls them now — such as a third-party investigation unit and a national toll-free confidential helpline for victims and witnesses of abuse in sport. She also brought territorial and provincial sport ministers together in February 2019 to sign a declaration aimed at tackling and preventing harassment, abuse and discrimination in sport.

“I knew I had to address the grassroots. That’s where most athletes will spend their life,” Duncan said.

“Safe sport needs to be on every federal, provincial, territorial meeting year after year after year, with real goals and deliverables. I talked a lot about numbers. How can we address a problem if we don’t know what that problem looks like?”

Reluctance in government

In the 2019 federal budget, the government committed $30 million over five years “to enable Canadian sports organizations to promote accessible, ethical, equitable and safe sports.”

But Duncan says there was a climate of resistance to policies she was introducing, both within and outside the government.

“I don’t think people understood the problem. There wasn’t a lot of interest in Parliament. I asked what we were doing and I was told that we had to stop this safe sport stuff and get back to what sport was really about,” she said, referring to celebrating sporting achievements.

“My answer was, ‘So not protecting children?'”

CBC News reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office but they declined to comment.

‘Resistance in the system’: Duncan said Hockey Canada resisted attempt to investigate allegations of abuse

 

Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan says there shouldn’t be any “pushback” from organizations over investigating claims of abuse from athletes.

Duncan said a three-page letter sent by Hockey Canada to one of her senior policy advisers reflects the tone of the opposition she faced.

The letter, first reported by the Canadian Press, was written by Glen McCurdie, then Hockey Canada’s vice-president of insurance and risk management. In it, McCurdie expressed concern about some of the policies Duncan was pursuing, including the third-party investigation unit.

Glen McCurdie, Hockey Canada’s former vice-president of insurance and risk management, appears as a witness at the standing committee on Canadian Heritage in Ottawa on July 27, 2022. The committee was looking into how Hockey Canada handled allegations of sexual assault and a subsequent lawsuit. (The Canadian Press)

Duncan said she never saw the letter four years ago and only read it for the first time this past summer, when the Hockey Canada controversy was playing out.

“Hockey Canada does not wish to be encumbered by a system or process that ties our hands and does not allow us to manage a situation as we deem necessary. We are simply asking that you keep this in mind as you continue to lead us in a collective Safe Sport strategy,” McCurdie wrote in the letter, which was also obtained by CBC News.

Duncan said she was frustrated in 2019 by Hockey Canada’s reluctance and remains just as frustrated today.

“Hockey Canada pushed back against a third party investigator and a safe sport helpline. Who would do that?” she said. “Who wouldn’t want a child to be able to pick up a phone and say, ‘I’ve had a problem’?

“I think people want to sweep this under the rug. I think people want to move on. And we can’t.”

In an email to CBC, Hockey Canada said the 2019 letter does not reflect the organization’s current thinking or direction.

“Hockey Canada recognizes that we need to do more to foster a safe and positive environment for all participants on and off the ice,” the organization wrote.

Hockey Canada said the organization participated in the government’s safe sport helpline and hired third-party investigators to look into the claims it received. Hockey Canada became a full signatory in October 2022 to the Office of the Sport Integrity Commission, which is now responsible for overseeing and investigating allegations of abuse in sport.

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