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Washington's reasons for keeping border closed to Canadians still murky a week later – CBC.ca

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A week after the U.S. government surprised many by announcing the land border with Canada would remain closed for the time being, the exact reasons for that decision remain shrouded in secrecy.

Not even American members of Congress have been given a detailed explanation for the decision. New York State Rep. Brian Higgins said the lack of information is leading to confusion among his constituents.

“The silence from this administration about the northern border is maddening,” said Higgins, who has been asking for a meeting with officials in the administration of President Joe Biden to get an explanation. “With the border now closed for 16 months and counting, the people deserve to know what it will take to reopen the U.S. border to Canadians.”

Washington State Rep. Suzan DelBene’s office says she “remains frustrated that we haven’t received a clear answer from the administration on why the closure was extended.”

Washington State Rep. Suzan DelBene. (Elaine Thompson/The Associated Press)

News that the U.S. land border would remain closed until at least Aug. 21 came just after Ottawa announced that fully vaccinated Americans would be able to enter Canada starting Aug. 9.

Many had expected the U.S. to follow Canada’s lead. The U.S. closure order has been less stringent than Canada’s from the beginning; it allowed air travel into the U.S., for example. The COVID-19 case count is lower in Canada than the U.S., and the vaccination rate is higher.

A week after it issued the notice that the U.S. land border would remain closed, the Department of Homeland Security continues to offer the same vague explanation.

“To decrease the spread of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, the United States is extending restrictions on non-essential travel at our land and ferry crossings with Canada and Mexico through August 21, while ensuring the continued flow of essential trade and travel,” Homeland Security spokesperson Angelo Fernández Hernández said in a media statement.

“DHS is in constant contact with Canadian and Mexican counterparts to identify the conditions under which restrictions may be eased safely and sustainably.”

Fear of the delta variant

On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suggesting the decision to maintain border closures and travel restrictions was the result of its guidance.

“I think their decision was made based on the fact that the delta variant is more transmissible and is spreading around the world,” Psaki said, pointing out that it’s also spreading in the U.S. — particularly among unvaccinated Americans.

The CDC has yet to respond to questions from CBC News.

On Tuesday, the CDC stated that even those who are fully vaccinated can spread the COVID-19 delta variant. It now recommends that those fully vaccinated wear masks when they visit indoor public places in areas where there is a high degree of COVID-19 transmission.

One of the few people to offer any hint of what’s gone on behind the scenes is Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

“I can tell you that the border situation and letting Canadians in who are fully vaccinated is an area of active discussion right now in the U.S. government,” he told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics on Friday.

WATCH: Dr. Anthony Fauci says status of Canada/U.S. border the focus of “active discussion” in Washington

In a Canadian exclusive interview with Power & Politics, Chief Medical Adviser to U.S. President Joe Biden Dr. Anthony Fauci says the White House is discussing the possibility of allowing fully vaccinated Canadians into the United States. 13:24

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman said the U.S. may not be quite ready to follow Canada’s example by opening the border.

“It may very well have been that the U.S. said, ‘We are not prepared and we have not yet decided on the process and procedures of opening our land borders as of yet,'” Heyman said, adding that Canada would not have announced it’s loosening border measures if the U.S. had been uncomfortable with it.

Former U.S. ambassador to Canada Bruce Heyman.

The U.S. has yet to resolve some key questions about the land border, Heyman said — such as whether it’s going to require proof of vaccination or COVID tests from people entering from the Canadian side.

“If we are, what test and what vaccines will qualify and what won’t?” Heyman asked. “I think that’s still unclear, what process the U.S. will impose.”

Mexico is also a factor, he said.

The two-border problem

“Canada only borders the United States but the U.S. borders (Canada) and Mexico. And when making decisions about its border, it’s highly complicated to say, ‘On one of our borders we’re doing x, and on the other border we’re doing y,'” Heyman said. “If at all possible, you’d like to coordinate your entire border policy in one.”

Mexico’s low vaccination rate compared to Canada, and the aggressive spread of the delta variant in the U.S at a time when only half of eligible Americans are double-vaccinated, may also play into Washington’s decision-making, said Heyman.

Ideally, he said, the U.S. government will make a decision on the border it won’t have to quickly reverse.

“I hope that they make the decision as soon as they possibly can, but I hope they make a decision that is lasting,” he said.

Maryscott Greenwood, Washington-based head of the Canadian-American Business Council, said part of the reason for the border remaining closed could be uncertainty about the vaccination status of those entering the country.

“I think part of the reason could be that the U.S. administration said that they’re not going to validate, verify whether or not someone’s vaccinated before they cross,” she said.

Greenwood’s group speaks regularly with U.S. government officials. She said she hopes the U.S. land border will reopen before Aug. 21 and the country doesn’t apply the same rules to both its northern and southern borders.

“Policy makers and business leaders and communities, not just along the border, are all very frustrated with the decision to stay closed for another month,” said Greenwood, adding some businesses might not survive.

“We’re hoping that the administration will take another look at this next week and find a way forward to reopen the border to fully vaccinated Canadians. I know the White House is paying very careful attention to all of these voices and is trying its best to balance the pressures that it is getting.”

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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Customers cry foul as Air Canada, WestJet continue to deny certain compensation claims despite new directive – CBC News

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A recent Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) decision was supposed to help clear the air on flight compensation. 

When issuing a decision in a WestJet case on July 8, the transport regulator clarified that, in general, airlines can’t deny passengers compensation for flight disruptions caused by crew shortages. 

However, the clarification has only ignited fury for some passengers, including Frank Michel, who have since been denied compensation — due to crew shortages.

“It’s insulting,” said Michel, of Marquis, Sask.

He and his wife, Leigh, flew with Air Canada in June. The couple’s flight from Regina to Victoria was delayed by more than five hours. Then, the second leg of their return flight was cancelled, so the couple wound up spending the night at the Vancouver airport. 

“I’ve got arthritis, I’m aching and sore; I’m sleeping on a frigging concrete floor,” said Michel, who is 67.

After Air Canada cancelled his flight, Michel, 67, wound up spending the night on the floor of the Vancouver airport. (Frank Michel)

The couple applied for compensation, which would total $2,800 if they qualified. But in late July, Air Canada rejected the Michels’ claim. In two separate emails seen by CBC News, the airline said each flight disruption was “due to crew constraints” linked to COVID-19 and was “safety-related.” 

Under federal rules, airlines only have to pay compensation — up to $1,000 per passenger — if the flight disruption is within the airline’s control and not safety-related. 

Michel argues Air Canada isn’t playing by the rules.

“CTA has already made it clear that crew constraints is not an acceptable excuse,” he said. “It’s not a safety issue. It’s a management issue. You have to manage your resources.”

‘This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything’

The CTA issued its clarification last month based on a case where WestJet denied a customer compensation, claiming his flight had been cancelled for safety reasons due to a crew shortage. 

In its ruling, the CTA emphasized that staffing issues typically warrant compensation because, in general, they are an airline’s responsibility and can’t be categorized as a safety matter. Thus, the agency ordered WestJet to pay the passenger $1,000. 

“Training and staffing are within airline control and therefore crew shortages are within airline control, unless there’s compelling evidence” to the contrary, said CTA spokesperson Tom Oommen in an interview. “It’s a high threshold.”

WATCH | Air passengers say they’ve been unfairly denied compensation:

Travellers say they’re being unfairly denied compensation for Air Canada flight cancellations

3 days ago

Duration 2:01

Some travellers say they’re being denied compensation for cancelled Air Canada flights as the airline claims the flight disruptions were ‘due to crew constraints’ and beyond their control.

Oommen said the CTA’s decision will help ensure airlines follow the rules. But some passengers remain skeptical. 

“This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything,” said Jennifer Peach, of Langley, B.C., who, along with her husband, had booked a trip with WestJet to attend a wedding last month in St. John’s.

They almost didn’t make it. WestJet cancelled their connecting flight and Peach said the airline then offered to rebook them on a flight one day later — which would mean they’d miss the wedding. 

Fortunately, Peach found a Porter Airlines flight that would get the couple to St. John’s about five hours later than originally scheduled, but still in time for the wedding. WestJet told her to book the flight and file for compensation, she said.

Peach asked WestJet for the $773 total she paid for the Porter flight, plus compensation for the couple’s delayed trip. On Aug. 2, WestJet turned down both requests. 

In an email seen by CBC News, the airline stated that the flight cancellation “was due to crew member availability and was required for safety purposes.” 

That didn’t sit well with Peach, especially in light of the recent CTA decision.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” she said. “I would assume that if there’s a decision like this made by the Canadian Transportation Agency that it would be the sort of the benchmark for all of these [claims].”

Enforcement options ‘could include fines’: CTA

WestJet and Air Canada each declined to comment on individual cases, but both said they abide by federal air passenger regulations. WestJet said that safety is its top priority. Air Canada said airlines shouldn’t be penalized for cancelling flights for safety reasons. 

Air passenger rights expert Ian Jack said the CTA needs to threaten airlines with harsh penalties, such as public shaming and stiff fines, if they fail to comply with compensation regulations. 

“The major concern is that the regulator is not exactly striking fear into the hearts of the carriers to make them follow the rules,” said Jack, a spokesperson with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a non-profit travel agency. 

“They need to know that they might get caught, embarrassed and called to task by the regulator.” 

This graphic shows the compensation air travellers could be entitled to depending on the length of their flight delay. (CBC)

CTA’s Oommen suggested that tough penalties may be coming for non-compliant airlines. “We are indeed looking at all the enforcement options … which could include fines.”

Meanwhile, both Michel and Peach have filed complaints with the CTA. However, they may be in for a long wait. The agency is currently dealing with a backlog of more than 15,000 complaints, Oommen said.

He said the CTA recently made changes to streamline the complaints process and is trying to hire more staff.

But Jack said he’s concerned the backlog may encourage airlines to flout the rules, because any repercussions will be far down the road. 

“They don’t have to pay out today, and who knows, maybe in 2025, they might have to pay money.”

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Across Canada, cities struggle to respond to growing homeless encampments – CBC.ca

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On a patch of green space at the edge of a Charlottetown parking lot, Steve Wotton lives in a tent with his dog, Nova. The homeless shelter where he used to stay doesn’t allow pets.

“I’ve been on the streets since two days after Christmas, but I’ve been in shelters off and on,” he said.

Wotton said shelters make him anxious, and his dog is a source of support and strength when he’s feeling unwell.

“This is in the area where I should be or I kinda need to be,” he said.

“It’s tough. Some of it can be OK, but it’s very rough.”

A man crouches by his tent in a patch of bushes.
Steve Wotton said he was forced to move into a tent in Charlottetown after he couldn’t find a shelter that would let him keep his dog. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Across Canada, city officials are trying to figure out how to deal with the increased presence of homeless encampments.

In Vancouver, city staff began the removal of tents in the city’s Downtown Eastside earlier this week.

In Halifax, the city recently ordered people living in a west-end park to leave, and have said police could be called in to clear out those who remain.

In Montreal, several encampments have been cleared out in recent years, and the city is seeking to hire a liaison officer to help dismantle others that pop up. A city spokesperson said encampments are not a safe or sustainable solution to homelessness, and pose a safety risk, too.

Short- and long-term goals

Yet advocates such as Marie-Pier Therrien, a representative for the Old Brewery Mission shelter in Montreal, argue that simply shutting encampments down doesn’t help.

“We agree with the city that the encampments are not a long-term solution to the housing crisis right now,” Therrien said. “But we would like them to lead an effort … to provide affordable housing solutions to the people in the camps, because moving them around is not going to be a long-term solution either.” 

As the former United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha has studied the issue closely. She said city governments cannot be left to solve the problem on their own.

“Encampments are unfortunately incredibly common across Canada, in big cities and small cities. And this has really increased since the pandemic,” she said.

“That’s because congregate settings like shelters were deemed unsafe at the beginning of the pandemic. And already people were not loving shelters. They are violent places; they are institutions.”

While more affordable housing should be the ultimate goal, she said, in the meantime officials should ensure people living in encampments have access to things like clean water.

“I expect city and other orders of government to ensure that when people are living in encampments, they can live as much of a dignified life as possible, but that the end goal should be figuring out how to get that population properly housed,” she said. 

Journalists and onlookers surround a tent in Toronto during an eviction.
People living in an encampment at Lamport Stadium, in downtown Toronto, faced eviction in July 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Councillors in Kitchener, Ont., for instance, have approved a plan to provide support to encampments while coming up with a longer-term plan.

“The way I view people living in encampments is they are human-rights holders and they’re making a claim,” Farha said.

“They’re saying, ‘Hey, I have the right to adequate housing and there is no other place for me to find that’s right to live. And so I’m going to roll out my sleeping bag or pitch my tent here because I have no other options.'”

More shelters, more housing

In Toronto, there still aren’t enough spots in shelters to accommodate those living on the streets.

On a nightly basis over the past year and a half, an average of 40 people were turned away because of a lack of beds, according to data released earlier this month.

WATCH | Former UN rapporteur says encampments highlight need for affordable housing solutions:

Encampments highlight need for affordable housing solutions, advocates say

20 hours ago

Duration 2:03

With a tent encampment in Vancouver making headlines, some say the homeless encampments demonstrate the need for affordable housing solutions across Canada.

Doug Johnson Hatlem, a street pastor who works with people experiencing homelessness in the city, said the lack of space in shelters needs to be urgently addressed, but more housing is the only real solution.

“The only way out of this is to build good, solid, dignified social housing at scale,” he said.

Speaking outside his tent in Charlottetown, Wotton said he’s not certain where he will live when it gets colder later this year.

“This is my first time experiencing this,” he said. “I’m still learning as I go along.”

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Sierra Leone: 8 killed in anti-government protests

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Sierra Leone: 8 killed in anti-government protests

Freetown, Sierra Leone- Eight police officers have been killed in anti-government protests that erupted on Wednesday over inflation and the rising cost of living.

According to Youth Minister Mohamed Orman Bangura, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the capital, Freetown where the protests grew violent at times.

“We are yet to know how many people were injured, but I can confirm that eight police officers were killed. Those are not protesters. There is a difference between protest and riot and acts of terrorism (sic). Protesting is different from acting as a terrorist going against the State and killing young police officers.

This was well planned, calculated and financed by members of the opposition, All People’s Congress. Members of the opposition paid young people to come to the street to take over governance.

If the protest is a result of the cost of living, why is it not happening in all the strongholds of the current government? Why is it Makeni that happens to be the headquarters town of the opposition? Why is it not a nationwide strike? Out of 16 districts, why is it only in three districts that they (the opposition) think is their stronghold,” said the Minister.

Discontent has been boiling over for a number of reasons, including a perceived lack of government support for ordinary people who are struggling.

Long-standing frustration has also been exacerbated by rising prices for basic goods in Sierra Leone, where more than half the population of around 8 million lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.

Earlier on Wednesday, internet observatory, NetBlocks said Sierra Leone faced a near-total internet shutdown during the protests, with national connectivity at five percent of ordinary levels.

The government has since imposed a nationwide curfew which was imposed on Wednesday in a bid to stem the violence.

“As a government, we have the responsibility to protect every citizen of Sierra Leone. What happened today was unfortunate and will be fully investigated,” said President Julius Maada Bio.

Footage circulating on social media showed crowds of demonstrators burning tires in Freetown and other groups of young men throwing rocks at security forces which have also been castigated by Vice-President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh

“These unscrupulous individuals have embarked on a violent and unauthorized protest which has led to the loss of lives of innocent Sierra Leoneans including security personnel,” said the  Vice-President.

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