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'We are no longer comfortable': How Canada's rising COVID-19 cases have some abandoning back-to-school plans – CTV News

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TORONTO —
With the new school year beginning over the next few weeks in Canada, the recent rise in COVID-19 infections across the country has prompted many parents to reconsider whether to send their children for in-person at school this fall or keep them at home for online learning or home-schooling.

With daily new cases across Canada rising from a low of less than 300 in mid-July, to approximately 2,400 on Friday, CTVNews.ca asked Canadians whether they had recently changed their minds about their childrens’ schooling.

The responses were emailed to CTVNews.ca. Not all have been independently verified, though CTVNews.ca did contact several respondents for additional details.

The question of how parents plan to approach the school year is complicated by the fact that the availability and rules surrounding online learning vary across the provinces and by school board, as do the deadlines for choosing which stream parents want their children in this fall.

This means some parents have had to make their choice before parents in other jurisdictions, and in areas where online learning did not seem to be a viable option, some parents have elected to simply home-school their children.

Overall, the responses showed that, across the country, many parents share concerns about the recent rise in COVID-19 infections and have either recently reconsidered, or are now reconsidering whether to send their children back to school for in-person learning.

“A couple of months ago I was on the fence about sending my child to primary at a local school or home-school him. As the COVID cases started increasing across Canada and now in my province, we have decided he will be home-schooled this year,” Erin Macvicar of Sydney, N.S., a mother of four including a 5-year-old about to start primary school, emailed to CTVNews.ca.

For parents of young children, the decision is complicated by the fact that no vaccines are yet approved for children under 12.

While approximately 72 per cent of eligible Canadians are now fully vaccinated, according to the CTVNews.ca coronavirus vaccination tracker, some parents cited concerns about vaccination rates among teachers and other school personnel.

“With the way things are rapidly changing we are no longer comfortable sending our children back to the classroom this fall,” wrote Ashleigh Kannenberg Martin of Orangeville, Ont. “Prior to reconsidering a return, we would want to know what percentage of teachers and administrators are vaccinated in each facility.”

Kannenberg, who said she and her husband had been looking forward to sending their children back to in-person learning, also said she would like to see specific information on ventilation capabilities at schools.

“With what is unraveling in the U.S., we as parents feel that our best plan of action is to be more cautious than not,” she wrote.

WANTING A DO-OVER

Facing deadlines for choosing between online and in-person learning, some parents found themselves regretting decisions made earlier in the year.

“My school board requested in June that I made a decision, and I did decide to send my daughter back in person after a year of virtual school. Now I am struggling to switch her back to online given the fears of the fourth wave,” wrote Ahilia Singh Morales, whose anxiety is heightened by the fact that she works in a hospital emergency room.

A complicating factor for many has been different school boards’ varying deadlines for selecting in-person learning.

The Toronto District School Board, the country’s largest, had a deadline of Aug. 12, but other boards required parents to make their decisions much sooner.

“We had to let the school board know by April and we felt it was too soon to make a decision, so our children were automatically enrolled in physical school for their school board,” wrote Rachel Brethour-McMichael of Blenheim, Ont. Her daughters, aged 13 and 7, attend school in the Lambton-Kent District School Board, which imposed an April 21 deadline for choosing virtual learning.

Since then, they have attempted to switch to virtual learning, but have been told there is no room left, said Brethour-McMichael.

“My option now is to sit on a wait list, not knowing or being able to prepare my children for what type of schooling they’re taking in just a couple weeks,” she wrote.

BACK-TO-SCHOOL GUIDELINES

While the rising infection numbers were cited by the majority of respondents as a reason to reconsider keeping their children at home, some also mentioned dissatisfaction with provincial back-to-school guidelines.

Ellie Lo, a York Region mother of four, including two unvaccinated children going into Grades 3 and 5, said both the rising numbers and Ontario back-to school guidelines meant she was no longer comfortable sending her younger children back to class.

“Classrooms and buses could be at full capacity, and wind instruments/singing lessons would be permitted, but we all know schools cannot accommodate 2-metre distancing,” she wrote.

For Kim Tessier of Navan, Ontario, whose twins will be entering Grade 8 in the fall, a key issue is the lack of vaccine mandates at the school board level.

“If the Delta variant is of such great concern why are vaccines not being mandated for the staff and kids to help curb the spread?” she wrote. “I have issues with there being so many other mandatory vaccines for kids in school but this is not one of them.”

NO CHOICE IN THE MATTER

Some of the responses revealed the difficult situation faced by parents whose work situation means that they cannot stay home with their children.

“My 8-year-old daughter will be returning to school in person. I am a single mother than has to work full-time to pay the bills. I have no choice,” wrote Jess Wood of St. Catharines, Ontario.

“I’m scared and hesitant because my father passed away in January 2021 from COVID-19, but what else can I do? I just have to trust the guidelines and hope for the best,” she added.

Paulina, a mother of two boys who lives near Hamilton, Ontario, said she had kept her two sons at home for virtual learning last year and hoped to again, but that she had been told by her employer she would have to return to work in person.

“I don’t feel comfortable sending my kids to school but I do want to keep my job,” she wrote.

WAITING FOR VACCINE APPROVALS

For some parents who had hoped to send their children back to school, the current risks have now made the issue of in-person learning a non-starter until vaccines are approved and distributed to children under 12.

Stephanie Savoni and her husband had kept their 9-year-old son at home in Windsor, Ont. since the pandemic started, but had notified the local board ahead of a June 4 deadline that he would be attending in-person learning this year, as they were comforted by the rapid pace of vaccinations in early June.

“We watched as case counts went down in June and July, and felt confident in our decision,” Savoni wrote. “In recent weeks however, the case numbers are climbing in Windsor-Essex (County) and we are feeling extremely concerned about our decision.”

Complicating the matter for her is that her husband is a transplant recipient, which raises questions about the efficacy of his vaccination. She said stricter action should be taken to avoid a repeat of last year, when rising case counts saw schools sending students home.

“While it would be an unpopular decision, it would be reasonable in my view to have all children do remote learning until they are vaccinated,” she wrote.

Shannon Twiss of Langley B.C., a mother of a 10-year-old, agreed, in a response that was brief and to-the-point.

“We won’t be sending our child until there is a vaccine,” she wrote.

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Trudeau calls overturning of Roe v. Wade 'horrific' – CTV News

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the news out of the United States that the country’s Supreme Court has voted to end constitutional protections for abortion is “horrific.”

In a series of comments posted to Twitter on Friday, Trudeau said he “can’t imagine the fear and anger” Americans are experiencing right now.

“My heart goes out to the millions of American women who are now set to lose their legal right to an abortion,” Trudeau tweeted.

“No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose,” he continued in a second tweet.

The U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion after nearly 50 years on Friday, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in multiple states.

The ruling comes more than a month after the leak of a draft opinion that indicated the court was prepared to do so, bringing renewed attention to abortion rights on both sides of the border.

Speaking at a press briefing in Rwanda with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Trudeau said Canada will continue to fight to protect the rights of everyone after the “devastating setback” in the United States.

Joly said the move to overturn Roe v. Wade is a “reversal of hard-fought gains” for women. She called it “a dark day” and noted that “no country in the world, including Canada, is immune” to the effects of what happens in the United States.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court leak, the Liberal government announced in early May it plans to spend $3.5 million to improve abortion access in Canada.

The Liberals also promised last fall to bring in new regulations solidifying abortion access as a requirement for federal funding under the Canada Health Act.

However, Trudeau previously raised the spectre of enshrining abortion rights in legislation instead, making it more challenging for future governments to change such rights.

As it stands, there are currently no Canadian laws that explicitly guarantee access to abortion as a right.

While abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988 as a result of the landmark R. v. Morgentaler case in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a federal law, no legislation was ever passed to replace it, and the issue remains an ongoing topic of political conversation in this country.

Reacting to the news on Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively “walked back women’s rights” in that country, and implored the Liberal government further improve abortion access for Canadian women living on rural communities.

“These dangerous policies that threaten women’s health and women’s lives must not be allowed to take root in Canada,” Singh said in a statement.

In a statement issued Friday, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen accused the Liberals of politicizing American abortion rights to divide Canadians, saying her party’s position on abortion has not changed.

“Access to abortion was not restricted under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Conservative party will not introduce legislation or reopen the abortion debate,” read the statement in part.

Speaking during a press briefing from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed dismay and vowed to fight to restore abortion rights in that country, including defending a woman’s right to cross state lines to seek an abortion.

“Now with Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk,” Biden said.

He added the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may threaten other high court decisions moving forward, including contraception and gay marriage rights.

“This is an extreme and dangerous path,” he warned.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

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Passport seekers face heartbreak, hop provinces as government promises help is on the way – CBC.ca

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Aly Michalsky was supposed to be on a plane Thursday en route to her dream vacation, a two-and-a-half week tour of Thailand with a friend.

Instead, the teen was sitting at home in Montreal after she couldn’t get her passport in time, despite applying for it 12 weeks ago. She’s one of many Canadians who’ve had to postpone or cancel travel plans in recent months amid massive backlogs at passport offices across the country.

“It was something that I saved up for, for over two years,” Michalsky, 19, told CBC News Network about the non-refundable tour she booked with a friend.

Christine Paliotti, Michalsky’s mother, said she started the process of applying for her daughter’s passport on March 17 and it was supposed to be mailed by May 3. When it didn’t arrive, that was the beginning of a slog of phone calls — where there could be 200 to 300 people already in the queue, Paliotti said — waiting, being told they needed a transfer, and more waiting.

They even got their local MP involved, who Paliotti said put in calls “almost every day” for them.

Aly Michalsky, right, and her mother, Christine Paliotti, tried everything they could to get Michalsky a passport before her dream vacation Thursday. She was forced to cancel her non-refundable trip to Thailand when she couldn’t get the travel document on time. (CBC News)

Their efforts were in vain. On Wednesday, they headed to the Laval passport office in a last-ditch effort, but Michalsky said that after four or five hours, they were told there would be no appointments. That was when she realized she wouldn’t be able to go. 

Paliotti said the trip itself cost over $4,000, but she estimated that total costs, including pre-travel vaccinations and shopping, were at least $5,000.

“I worked very hard for my money and I took the first opportunity I had to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Michalsky. “It’s just devastating to have to tell my friend that I couldn’t go with her.”

Triage system

The federal government has attributed the lines snaking around passport offices across the country, including in Vancouver and London, Ont., to an “unprecedented surge” in applications as travel opens up again after two years of pandemic restrictions.

People camp overnight in line outside a Service Canada passport office in Vancouver on Wednesday. Long lines and wait times are the result of a massive backlog of applications at passport offices across the country. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The sheer level of demand isn’t the only issue. Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that 85 per cent of requests are for new passports, and of those, 43 per cent are for children, both of which entail a more complex application process.

Gould said the government is adding more staff on the ground to help curb the chaos, with Service Canada deploying managers to walk the lines and speak with passport seekers before they reach a customer service agent.

This triage system will help ensure people who are in most urgent need of a passport based on flight time — those flying in the next 12, 24, 36 and 48 hours — get priority service, she said.

Gould also said more passports will be printed in bulk at the Gatineau, Que., processing centre and sent to other locations to take some of the stress off smaller passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers.

WATCH | Government’s latest efforts to address the backlog: 

Government adding more staff to address passport delays

1 day ago

Duration 1:12

Karina Gould, minister of families, children and social development, told reporters on Thursday the government is increasing the number of workers and has made the printing of passports more efficient to address backlog issues that have frustrated travellers for months. Still, she says there is ‘no easy solution.’

Waiting for days in the rain

The government’s new triage strategy was met with some frustration on Thursday at Montreal’s Guy-Favreau complex, which Gould has said is experiencing the worst delays in the country.

Hundreds of would-be travellers have lined up for days in the rain, and police have been called in to help with crowd control.

Antoinette Corbeil, who had been waiting in line for 36 hours, was unhappy with the shift from a first-come-first-serve system to one based on flight times.

“We organized ourselves last night in line with our numbers … and they’re letting other people in in front of us,” she said. “That’s not fair.” 

IN PHOTOS | Long waits in the rain at Montreal passport office: 

After the triage system began in Montreal, it was extended to Toronto on Thursday and will be rolled out in Vancouver on June 27.

While Gould said Montreal was seeing “much better progress” on Thursday, the government website that tracks wait times at the 35 specialized passport offices nationwide was still warning people to expect delays of at least six hours at the Guy-Favreau complex.

Other busy sites like Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive showed similar wait times.

Going the distance

Some passport seekers are literally going the extra mile to get their travel documents in time.

In Montreal, François Gamache had to leave Thursday for a three-week trip to France to bury his father-in-law. After being told by a Transport Canada agent on Saturday it would be “almost impossible” for his file to be processed in a week, he went to Chicoutimi, 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.

François Gamache of Montreal holds the passport he managed to get after driving to Fredericton. The government says the ‘unprecedented surge’ in applications for travel documents came after two years of pandemic restrictions. (François Gamache/ Submitted)

There, he waited 30 hours over two days, with no success.

On the advice of a client, he drove to Fredericton, almost 800 kilometres away, to try his luck at the passport office there. He finally got his passport on Wednesday after a three-hour wait.

Gamache estimated he spent nearly $1,000 on food, hotels and gasoline during the saga.

At the end, “I was really exhausted and I was even very emotional. I fought so hard to get it,” he said.

Despite their efforts having been in vain, Paliotti said she doesn’t blame the passport agents “who have to deal with all the pressure of the people getting angry at them” and are putting in extra hours. 

Instead, she’s frustrated by what she described as a disorganized process and lack of communication by officials, as well as receiving conflicting information from passport agents.

“It’s citizens that are sharing [information]; there was a Facebook page for Montreal and surrounding area, and we got a lot of information helping each other out,” she said. “So I’m really angry at whoever’s organizing this and that they’re not doing more.”

LISTEN | Government’s preparations ‘were not sufficient,’ minister says: 

Metro Morning11:14Long wait times for passports ‘unacceptable’, says Minister Karina Gould

Thousands of people are waiting a long time for passports, threatening their travel plans. Minister Karina Gould says the government’s preparations “were not sufficient,” and says what they’re doing to speed things up.

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Public inquiry in Nova Scotia seeking explanation from Ottawa about withheld notes

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HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the Nova Scotia mass shooting wants to know why the federal Justice Department withheld notes written by a senior Mountie for several months — and if there’s more revelations to come.

“The commission sought an explanation … about why four pages were missing from the original disclosure,” Barbara McLean, the inquiry’s director of investigations, said in an email Friday.

“The commission is also demanding an explanation for any further material that has been held back.”

On Tuesday, the inquiry released internal RCMP documents that include notes taken by Supt. Darren Campbell during a meeting with senior officers and staff on April 28, 2020 — nine days after a gunman killed 22 people in northern and central Nova Scotia.

At the meeting, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, said she was disappointed that details about the firearms used by the killer had not been released at previous news conferences in Halifax, according to Campbell’s notes.

Campbell alleges that Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the Mounties would release the descriptions, adding that the information would be “tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”

The superintendent’s notes sparked controversy in Ottawa earlier this week, when the opposition Tories  and New Democrats accused the governing Liberals of interfering in a police investigation for political gain — assertions denied by the government and Lucki.

Meanwhile, the commission of inquiry confirmed Friday that the Justice Department sent 132 pages of Campbell’s notes in February 2022, but they did not include his entries about the April meeting.

The missing notes were submitted to commission on May 31.

McLean says the commission is seeking assurance that nothing else has been held back, and she complained about RCMP documents that had already been disclosed.

“These documents have often been provided in a disjointed manner that has required extensive commission team review,” McLean wrote in her email. “Our team continues to review all disclosure carefully for any gaps or additional information required to fulfil our mandate.”

Michael Scott, a lawyer whose firm represents 14 of the victims’ families, said he’s concerned about the document delay.

“Any time documents are either vetted, redacted or withheld in a way that’s not entirely appropriate, it entirely undermines the process as a whole,” he said in an interview Friday.

Scott said that on top of having to read thousands of pages of records, transcripts and notes submitted to the inquiry, “now we have to be concerned we’re not getting all the documents.”

The Conservatives released a statement Friday, alleging a federal coverup.

“Canadians will find it hard to believe that the (justice) minister’s department just happened to miss those four critical pages of evidence,” the statement said. “This is no coincidence. This was no accident.”

Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, said delays in receiving information from the RCMP means the inquiry is left to grapple with important issues late in its mandate. The inquiry’s final report is due Nov. 1 and all submissions are expected by September.

“It’s unfortunate because public inquiries need the full documentary record as quickly as possible so they can make decisions on what to look at and what to not look at,” said Roach, author of “Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change.”

“If the mass casualty commission had known about this earlier, it might have decided to conduct its hearings and research in a different way,” he said Friday.

The professor said the comments from Campbell raise questions about the structure of the RCMP, and its competing mandates of being both a local and nation police force whose commissioner serves “at the pleasure” of the minister of public safety.

“My concern is that the citizens (of Nova Scotia) seem to be on the sidelines while there is tension and squabbling between RCMP Nova Scotia and RCMP Ottawa,” he said.

The Canadian Press requested comment from the RCMP, but a response was not immediately available.

Campbell said in an email that he would not comment. He said he is waiting to be interviewed by the commission.

“My interview has been scheduled and it will take place in the very near future,” he wrote.

“I also expect to be called to the Mass Casualty Commission as a witness sometime near the end of July and I look forward to both opportunities.  As such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comments prior to giving evidence under oath.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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