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Antisemitism, racism, misogyny, unfounded character assassinations and disturbing threats of physical violence and even death.
Those are just some of the daily hate-filled messages sent to Canadian front-line health-care workers, public health advocates, academics and experts speaking out on the benefit of COVID-19 vaccines and against misinformation.
One health-care worker told CBC News under condition of anonymity that they received a suspicious package at their place of work that led to an evacuation.
Another discussed the debilitating mental health issues they developed as a direct result of the volume and intensity of personal attacks and the dozens of baseless professional complaints made against them.
When protesters stormed Canadian hospitals this summer to berate health-care workers and oppose vaccine mandates and other public health restrictions, widespread condemnation from politicians and the public was swift.
But a disturbing rise in aggressive online harassment of health-care workers across Canada has been largely met with inaction, prompting calls for governments, regulators and social media companies to do more to protect those on the front lines.
“We often like to think that we’re not like our neighbours to the south,” said Dr. Naheed Dosani, a physician and health-justice advocate in Toronto. “But this pandemic has shown that there’s a lot of hate in this country.”
Online attacks ‘take their toll’
Those who choose to speak up in the media, online or in public forums say they are being specifically targeted by anti-vaxxers and other online attackers in order to threaten, intimidate and ultimately silence them.
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, a family physician in Ottawa, wrote in the Globe and Mail this week about how she received an antisemitic death threat through a formal complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario — showing the brazenness of the attackers.
“It’s a death threat — and if we don’t talk about it, then it becomes this hidden thing that I have to deal with myself,” she said. “I am not the problem because I’m speaking out. The problem is that somebody out there thinks that it is something that they can get away with.”
Kaplan-Myrth says she and her colleagues feel “under attack” and unprotected, even though they’ve worked hard to protect those in the community they serve by promoting public health guidance and administering COVID-19 vaccines.
“I work a 12-hour day, and then at the end of the day I have to wait for my husband to come pick me up,” she said. “Because it’s no longer safe for me to walk home on my own.”
Dr. Michael Warner, medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, says he’s faced credible death threats investigated by the police, constant antisemitism and orchestrated attacks on social media and online.
“Those things take their toll and can make it harder to provide care the way that we want to because our minds are under so much tension and pressure,” he said.
“We are the people who provide care for people when they’re at their sickest, when they’re at their most vulnerable, and we need to have something in the tank to be able to provide that care in a safe and effective way…. You have to care for the caregiver.”
Warner says that outside of the hospital, outspoken health-care workers and experts who vocally advocate for public health and vaccinations in the media and online face “constant” attacks about the way they look, their ethnic background and their religion.
“Imagine having an emboldened mob of people yelling and screaming at you every day, constantly, when from your perspective you’re really just trying to do good. You’re actually trying to provide the advice that is going to protect people from dying,” he said.
“It does weigh heavily on me, I look over my shoulder all the time. I’m pretty nervous to take my mask off in public when I’m outside on the street for fear that someone might recognize me who wants to do me harm.”
‘Someone’s going to get hurt’
Those directly affected by the online abuse feel more must be done by different levels of government, law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies or directly from social media companies to put a stop to the relentless attacks they face online before they get worse.
“The attacks are widespread and they’re escalating,” said Dr. Mary Fernando, a family physician in Ottawa.
“We know that threats can turn into violence, and there has to be a way to stop them from feeling they can do it with impunity — someone’s going to get hurt.”
Dr. David Naylor, who led the federal inquiry into Canada’s national response to the 2003 SARS epidemic and now co-chairs the federal government’s COVID-19 immunity task force, says the attacks go far beyond heated exchanges or criticism of expert policy advice.
“What’s happening instead is that a health professional or advocate takes a public position supporting vaccines or other public health measures and ends up subjected to crass personal attacks and abuse by the lunatic fringe,” he said.
“It’s targeted, vicious and sometimes laced with bigotry. The social media platforms need to police this phenomenon more aggressively, and any explicit threats should be traced to their sources and the perpetrators prosecuted.”
Toronto physician Dosani says policy decisions by provincial governments — such as lifting mask mandates, not mandating vaccines for health-care workers and setting a date on the end of vaccine passports — have fuelled online hate.
“When our governments make policy choices that don’t stand with the science and health workers, they leave us vulnerable with no cover, with targets on our backs,” he said.
“It’s like the Wild, Wild West out here — we are on our own. And it’s an honour to serve and to advocate for the health of Canadians, but it should not come at the cost of our mental health and our safety.”
National network proposed to track online hate
Ottawa physician Kaplan-Myrth says online threats need to be taken much more seriously by law enforcement, and the federal government should create new legislation, given that the threats fall under the Criminal Code.
But she says provinces also need to step up to ensure additional layers of protection — like they did with protesters outside hospitals.
“I’m asking for the help of anybody who can ensure that the people who are threatening us are charged and that we are kept safe, and that the public message is: Stay away from our doctors and nurses who are doing the work that we asked them to do,” she said.
“Protect us, step up and say that our well-being matters, because even in the face of all of this, even while the death threats are coming in, I’m still going to keep immunizing patients.”
Fernando says concrete solutions need to come from a national legal perspective, because the physician and surgeon colleges and other regulatory bodies can only do so much.
“What can the college do? The college is largely there to ensure that the public is protected. That is their job,” she said. “I do believe I’m coming to the point of believing that we need laws. We need something that protects us.”
The Canadian Medical Association and the Ontario Medical Association released a joint statement in the summer saying the harassment of health-care workers who have “worked tirelessly for months on end” is “wrong and unacceptable.” A spokesperson for the CMA said the group will have more to say on the issue in the coming weeks.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious diseases physician and associate professor at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, says the creation of a national network to report and track online hate could also go a long way in deterring bad actors.
“I really think that that could make a difference for some of these people,” she said. “Because just knowing that they’re being watched would take away that sense of invulnerability that keyboard warriors apparently have.”
Sabina Vohra-Miller, a pharmacologist and science communicator who co-founded Unambiguous Science and the South Asian Health Network, says she has received increasingly “violent” messages because of her volunteer public health advocacy.
“We need to be talking about this so that something can be done,” she said, adding that friends and family encouraged her to speak out about a death threat she recently received.
“Because it’s really escalating, and many of us are concerned about the information that is in the public about us — in terms of where we live, where we work, what we do, information on our families, our children — and so it ends up being quite worrisome.”
Vohra-Miller says the biggest fear she has is that someone will actually act on the threats against her, which have at times made her wonder whether the advocacy work she’s doing is worth continuing, given that it comes at such a “high personal cost.”
“All of the work that we do is basically unpaid volunteer work, and so is it still worth it if you’re putting your life at risk? Or you’re putting your family’s lives at risk?” she said.
“It makes you stop and wonder whether any of this is worth it.”
Behavioral tools of pandemic should be applied to climate policy – scientists
Lessons learned from the pandemic about shifting people’s behavior will be applied to policies to counter climate change and disinformation in the future, leading scientists said Thursday.
Carlos Scartascini, from the Inter-American Development Bank, said behavioral tools became critical in the pandemic, in a panel at the Reuters Next conference.
“When you say ‘wash your hands’ – you can say (it) 20 times, but if you don’t change the way you say people basically do not react,” he said.
Dr. Laura de Moliere, who heads up behavioral science in the UK Cabinet office, said a better understanding of human behavior became critical to policymakers in the pandemic, and that should carry forward.
“Climate change is probably quite an obvious one, where if we aren’t designing rules and regulations well, we will be seeing rebound effects where people are insulating their houses, but then buying bigger houses because the energy is cheaper,” she said.
She said transparency of decision making, central to COVID communication, would also be important for winning support for climate change policies.
“There’s lots of really interesting avenues for behavioral science application that have arisen because of because of the pandemic,” said Mary MacLennan, the cofounder of the United Nations Behavioral Science Group.
(Reporting by William James; writing by Merdie Nzanga)
Majority of Canadians want to ditch the British monarchy. How feasible is it? – Globalnews.ca
For Barbados, the transition on Tuesday marked an end to its last remaining colonial bonds nearly 400 years after the first English ships arrived at the Caribbean island.
There is now renewed debate in Canada over whether to follow Barbados’ lead, with a majority of Canadians saying the monarchy is becoming less relevant or is no longer relevant at all, new polling shows.
According to an Angus Reid survey published Tuesday, more than 50 per cent say Canada should not remain a constitutional monarchy indefinitely, while one-quarter say it should.
The same poll also suggests that as long as Queen Elizabeth II continues to reign, 55 per cent of Canadians support continuing to recognize her as the official head of state.
Rising number of Canadians support dropping monarchy: poll
However, that support has declined over the years, polling shows.
In an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News in March 2021, two in three Canadians, or 66 per cent of respondents, said the Queen and the Royal Family should not have any formal role in Canadian society, as they are “simply celebrities and nothing more.”
That was up two per cent over last year and six per cent since 2016, according to Ipsos.
The waning support comes amid uncertainty around the 95-year-old monarch’s health that has recently limited her public appearances.
Challenges for Canada
Despite Canadians’ dwindling enthusiasm for the royals, eliminating the monarchy in Canada will be a “complicated process,” experts say.
To make any change to the role of the Queen or her representatives in Canada, there must be unanimous consent from the House of Commons, the Senate and each of the provincial legislatures to change the constitution — a process that could take years to complete.
How Canada could break up with the monarchy
“Under our constitution, all 10 provinces would have to agree on changes to the office of the Queen and it’s very difficult for all 10 provinces to be on the same page at the same time,” said Carolyn Harris, historian and author of Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting.
Because Canada’s Indigenous communities have their own treaties with the Crown, First Nations would need to be consulted as well for any transition to take place, Harris said.
“So in Canada, it would be a very complicated process compared to the comparatively straightforward process in Barbados,” she told Global News.
Queen responds to Harry and Meghan’s tell-all interview
Citizens for a Canadian Republic (CCR), a non-profit group, acknowledges there would be challenges when it comes to amending the Constitution but still encourages the discussion.
Among the hurdles it highlights on its website is “an unfair amending formula.”
“Compounding these difficulties is the subject of how Canadians should choose their new head of state and what role it would play in the federal system,” CCR states.
In the practical sense, abolishing the monarchy would not change much for Canada, as the Queen has no political authority, argued Melanie Newton, an associate professor of history at the University of Toronto.
“And the federal government could become a republic without the Indigenous people necessarily having to give up those symbolic ties to the British monarchy,” she said.
Barbados breaks free
Barbados’ move to becoming a republic was the culmination of a more than two decades-long push to ditch the monarchy.
A “major shift” took place last year spurred on by the racial inequalities of the COVID-19 pandemic response, access to vaccines and the Black Lives Matter protest movement across the world, said Newton.
In a historic throne speech in Sept. 2020, governor-general Dame Sandra Mason told the world Barbados was removing Queen Elizabeth as its head of state.
A two-thirds majority vote was needed to amend the country’s constitution.
The parliament unanimously passed the Constitution (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, 2021 last month, effectively transferring the responsibilities of the governor general to a new position of president.
Mason was elected as the island’s first president by the Barbados parliament on Oct. 20 and formally sworn in on Nov. 30.
Barbados becomes a republic and parts ways with the Queen
Cynthia Barrow-Giles, professor of political science at the University of West Indies, said the transition to the republic represents a “moment of pride for many Barbadians.”
“This move is very emblematic of overthrowing the yoke of British colonialism and with it some of the negative connotations that people have been dealing with more recently with respect to the character of British colonialism,” she told Global News.
But there is still a “significant amount of work” left to do in terms of the constitution and governance, Barrow-Giles added.
The process of becoming a republic is “far easier” when there is a centralized system of government, as was the case with Barbados, she noted.
“Canada’s situation compared to the Caribbean situation is a little more complex,” she said.
What about other Commonwealth nations?
Other Caribbean nations have also left the monarchy to become republics, including Trinidad and Tobago, but the last country to remove the Queen as head of state was Mauritius in 1992.
With Barbados cutting ties, that leaves 15 Commonwealth countries that have the Queen as their monarch, including Canada.
However, Barbados will remain part of the Commonwealth, a grouping of 54 countries across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe.
Other Caribbean nations, including Jamaica and St. Lucia, have also discussed breaking away from the monarchy.
The details on the Queen’s mounting health concerns
Now, Barbados’ move may fuel republicanism within the Commonwealth, experts say.
“It’s certainly something that will be discussed and debated in the Commonwealth realms, especially as this transition does not mean a departure from the Commonwealth,” said Harris.
Barrow-Giles concurred, saying, “I would think that for a lot of the other Caribbean countries, the conversation would resume, and hopefully we’ll get that transition going.”
— with files from Global News’ Redmond Shannon
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
New travel rules: Canadian airports warn of 'chaos' – CTV News
Canada’s plan to require novel coronavirus tests for all but U.S. arrivals on international flights risks causing “chaos” and long lines if all passengers are expected to get tested at airports, industry groups said.
The move, announced Tuesday, comes as the travel season kicks into gear and could stretch airport resources as well as testing holiday-makers’ patience, they said.
Daniel Gooch, president of the Canadian Airports Council, said airports cannot test all overseas arrivals on-site without long wait times.
“Do we really want people waiting for hours for a test in a customs hall?” he asked by phone on Wednesday.
“We want to avoid chaos. And we want to ensure that travelers who have booked trips are comfortable to travel.”
Canada on Tuesday said it will require people arriving internationally by air, except from the United States, to take a COVID-19 test, seeking to halt the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Currently, only randomly selected passengers from international flights are tested at airports by private companies the government contracts.
The announcement came as the country’s aviation sector, battered by the pandemic, had been looking forward to a stronger holiday season this year.
Canadian public health authorities did not say Wednesday when the policy will come into effect, who will administer the tests or whether the tests will be administered on-site or through take-home kits.
Airports are pushing for the latter.
Tori Gass, a spokesperson for Toronto’s Pearson International Airport – Canada’s largest – said in an email that “a combination of onsite and off-airport testing must be considered to accommodate the volume of tests contemplated.”
Some travellers, meanwhile, who had rushed to book trips amid loosening restrictions just weeks before, were having second thoughts.
“I know various clients who have decided to cancel and are now looking at what refunds they’ll be able to get,” said Marty Firestone with Travel Secure insurance, adding that the travel landscape had been getting better.
“Now we’ve taken two steps back,” he said.
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