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With parents divided, Canadian judges say most children should attend school in-person – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Unable to agree on whether their children should attend school in-person or online this fall, Canadians with co-parenting arrangements are increasingly asking the courts to settle the matter for them.

One judge in Ontario noted in late August that her court had received “several urgent motions” along those lines in the past week and expected more to come before September arrived.

“School attendance in the midst of a pandemic is a challenging issue for many parents,” Justice Andrea Himel wrote in an Aug. 25 decision.

“Unfortunately, for some separated and divorced parents this is another battleground; one more arena where their child may become the prisoners of the war.”

Although the number of cases where Canadian judges have made rulings remains quite small, a clear theme has emerged – and given the prominent position existing case law holds in the Canadian justice system, it is likely that cases yet to be decided will proceed in the same fashion.

In most cases, judges are concluding that if governments say it is safe to hold classes in-person, it is not for them to find otherwise. Therefore, most judges are siding with the parents who want their children to be physically present at school this fall.

Exceptions are only being made when the opposing parents can provide robust evidence that their child faces special circumstances that could lead to in-person school attendance posing a unique risk to them or others they come in contact with.

This approach can be traced back to two decisions made by the Superior Court of Quebec in May, as the province prepared to reopen its classrooms following a two-month hiatus brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one, Justice Claude Villeneuve of Bedford, Que. found that “it is not for the courts, but rather for the competent government authorities, to assess the potential risks of contamination in a pandemic situation,” according to a translation of his decision, and ordered that the two children at the centre of the dispute resume attending their school.

In the other, Justice Claudia Prémont of Chicoutimi, Que. declined to order that a six-year-old boy return to the classroom because of a family member who was considered to be at an elevated risk of serious complications should they contract the novel coronavirus.

The legal record fell silent after those decisions, as the issue was rendered moot by most other provinces deciding to keep the rest of the school year virtual. Only in the past few weeks have questions about schooling amid the pandemic returned to courtrooms, thanks to parents in Ontario arguing over the safety of the government’s plan in that province.

A judge in Ottawa ruled Aug. 20 that a mother could move to New Brunswick with her eight-year-old son, taking him away from his father, in part because of the lower COVID-19 risk there.

More often, though, the cases being heard pit a parent who wants their child to return to a physical classroom against an the other partner who says they do not accept that doing so is safe.

In the case heard by Himel in Newmarket, Ont., for example, a mother wanted her nine-year-old son to be able to attend school when it resumed, while the boy’s father wanted him to stick to virtual classes until the schools “safety protocols are proven successful.”

Himel sided with the mother. Acknowledging that even the Ontario government has said it cannot be considered completely safe to put children back in classrooms, “there is no end in sight to the pandemic and, as such, no evidence as to when it will be 100% safe for children to return to school.”

Her reasoning was echoed Sept. 1 by Justice Jasmine Akbarali, who similarly ruled that it was in the best interest of a six-year-old Toronto girl (identified in the decision as N) to return to school, despite her father’s desire to see her remain in virtual classrooms and the increased COVID-19 risk her stepmother may face as a frontline health-care worker.

“The point is not that the stepmother’s work is placing N at risk; rather, it is that as life returns to some kind of new normal, risk cannot be eliminated,” Akbarali wrote.

The Toronto judge laid out six factors that, in her view, judges should consider when they are presented with similar requests:

  • Risk of COVID-19 exposure to the child if they are in school versus not in school
  • If the child or anyone in their family faces an increased risk from COVID-19
  • Risks to the child’s mental health, well-being, and social and academic development from online learning
  • Measures proposed that may lessen any of these risks
  • The child’s wishes, if known
  • The ability of the parent or parents to support online learning

None of this means that wanting a child to attend school in-person automatically means winning the argument when it goes before a judge. One judge in Ontario recently ruled that two siblings must only attend class virtually, because one of them faces an increased risk due to asthma.

Another father learned this lesson when he was denied a request to alter his existing custody argument so that his two children could live with him and attend school in Burlington, Ont., rather than live with their mother and attend school virtually, as she wished.

“In my humble opinion, the courts are not generally in a good position to second-guess the decisions of parents on this issue of bricks and mortar versus remote school programming,” Justice Clarence Conland wrote in his Sept. 1 decision.

“These children are strangers to me.  I’m not about to play ‘big brother’, professor, psychologist and scientist all rolled-up into one and start opining on things that I know nothing about.”

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Public Health Agency of Canada president resigns as COVID-19 cases spike – CBC.ca

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The president of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is stepping down only 18 months into the job, leaving the federal agency tasked with coordinating the country’s COVID-19 response without a seasoned leader.

Tina Namiesniowski said she would be stepping aside immediately to make way for a new president.

A spokesperson for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said the government expects to have a replacement for Namiesniowski “in the coming days.”

In a letter to staff, Namiesniowski, a long-serving bureaucrat, said she needs to “take a break” and “step aside so someone else can step up” to lead the agency as caseloads spike and testing times creep up in some parts of the country.

“You really need someone who will have the energy and the stamina to take the agency and our response to the next level,” she said in internal correspondence announcing her departure, which was later released by PHAC.

“While responding to this crisis, we’ve done many things since then to add capacity, improve processes, take on new roles and really build up the competence that had diminished in recent years. All of this work has taken a personal toll on so many people … I put myself in that category.”

In a statement, Hajdu said Namiesniowski has shown an “unwavering commitment” and has given “incredible service” to Canada during her tenure as the head of PHAC.

“She has led a committed team of public servants who have been working flat out for months. I have seen first hand the countless hours that Tina has spent away from her family to protect Canadians,” she said.

“We are all grateful. Thank you for working so hard to keep all of us safe, and all the best in your next steps.”

Before her appointment to the top job at PHAC in May 2019, Namiesniowski held a number of senior postings within government. She served as the executive vice-president of the Canada Border Services Agency and was an assistant deputy minister at Agriculture Canada and Public Safety Canada.

The agency’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, has been the public face of PHAC’s efforts throughout this pandemic. Namiesniowski called her work “exceptional.”

“She is a rock and truly inspirational. I’ve felt privileged to work alongside of her,” she said.

PHAC has come in for criticism in recent months as Canada’s response to the COVID-19 crisis has been questioned by some critics. The pandemic has killed roughly 9,200 people in this country.

The federal government’s initial reluctance to close the border as the virus spread in Asia, its depleted national emergency stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early months of this pandemic, confusing guidance on the wearing of masks and other perceived failures have been cited by opposition parties in Parliament and others as examples of Canada’s uneven response to COVID-19.

“We have all been working non-stop in a high pressure environment subjected to significant scrutiny and without a doubt, we’ve risen to the challenge,” Namiesniowski said.

On Namiesniowski’s watch, some scientists working for the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) complained that their early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 were ignored or inadequately addressed by senior staff at PHAC.

The network, a federal government-run monitoring and analysis unit, alerts senior officials to health risks around the globe by compiling media reports and other intelligence about outbreaks.

CBC News reported in April on concerns about the network’s alerts not being as widely disseminated as they had been during past health crises.

The Globe and Mail has also reported on internal concerns about the efficacy of the reporting system after changes made in 2018 and 2019 shifted the network’s focus away from monitoring global health trends to a more domestic role.

Health Minister Patty Hajdu has ordered a review of the network amid the complaints.

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COVID-19 in Canada: What a second shutdown might look like – CTV News

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This article was featured in the Nightly Briefing, CTV News’ evening reading recommendation. You can sign up here to receive it each weekday night.

As countries around the world start re-imposing coronavirus restrictions amid spikes in new cases, Canadian politicians and health officials are warning that parts of the country may soon enter a second shutdown.

However, infectious disease physician Dr. Zain Chagla says the second lockdown will not look like the first.

“We’re very different than we were in March, we had no clue how deep this was going to spread into our communities, there was hospital issues in terms of health care utilization, and we really had limited testing and didn’t really understand where this disease was transmitted within our community,” Chagla explained in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Thursday.

“So we had to really do something very global to get things to work.”

Now, Chagla said provincial health authorities have a better grasp on what measures work in mitigating the risk of COVID-19.

While Canada’s case numbers are rising, Chagla said the country has access to reasonable testing, healthcare systems aren’t currently overloaded and both the public and officials understand that private, indoor gatherings are largely contributing to the spread of the virus.

He added that having these factors under control gives Canada the opportunity to thoughtfully prepare for a second wave and another possible shutdown.

“We have the luxury of sitting here and actually making some very precise changes to see if we can keep transmission down afterwards, rather than putting everyone through what we did in March and April,” Chagla said.

To avoid a repeat scenario, he explained that policymakers need to keep COVID-19 messaging positive and consistent, plan creative long-term solutions for outdoor facilities, and closely monitor allowable gathering sizes.

“We’re going to have ebbs and flows but these sorts of solutions, what we’re going to be doing for the months and going into the winter and even further than that, are going to have to be sustainable and so that’s where the positive messaging comes from,” Chagla said.

Chagla added that there is a misconception about who is transmitting the virus. He says “there’s a big thought” that recent spikes are all young people that are partying together but in reality, “it’s still families that are having get-togethers” such as weddings and other celebrations where the virus is spreading.

“All of us kind of need to be messaged positively to say ‘OK, [COVID-19] is still here. We can protect our communities. We can do things safely’,” he said.

To help with this, Chagla said outdoor facilities and restaurants need to be better equipped to allow Canadians to safely socialize especially as the country heads into the winter months.

“Making more outdoor facilities gives us the recognition that we need to socialize. We need to actually be around people and there is a way to do it safely with a few more layers, but sparing what’s going to happen to the medical system,” Chagla said.

Additionally, Chagla said policymakers should not impede Canadians’ ability to get tested, but also not encourage over-testing.

As long lines are being reported at COVID-19 testing centres across the country, the federal government has pledged billions in funding to address the issue and improve other pandemic measures.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Isaac Bogoch told CTV News Channel that the testing wait times stem from a combination of factors, including limited testing capacity and an increased desire from the population to receive a test.

Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday that these factors need to be addressed amid the current rise in cases.

“The capacity currently is significantly better than what it was in for example March or April of this year, but clearly it’s not where it needs to be,” he said.

New testing centres have recently opened in Edmonton and Laval, Que. while another is slated to open soon in Brampton, Ont. However, Bogoch said this still might not be enough.

To address the capacity issue, Bogoch said provinces may have to change their messaging around testing.

“Given the snapshot that we’re in right now, maybe it’s best for messaging to focus on people to get tested if they’re either at risk for getting this infection, if they have any signs or symptoms of infection regardless of how mild, or if they’ve had any possible exposures to this infection,” Bogoch explained.

“Certainly those individuals should be prioritized, but in the same breath of course, you shouldn’t be turned away from a testing centre,” he added.

Amid the testing issues, Chagla says monitoring gathering sizes remains key in managing Canada’s recent COVID-19 spikes.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is expected to announce that the province will lower limits on social gatherings in its hotspots to stem recent increases in COVID-19 cases. Ford said that the “highest fines in the country” will be put in place to stop people from breaking the regulations but Chagla says the move does not go far enough.

“I think that’s a good symbolic gesture, but there does need to be some enforcement unfortunately for some of these people that take things out of control and lead to a significant public health event,” Chagla said.

Bogoch told CTV News Channel that rolling back gathering limits in Ontario’s hotspots is the “right move.”

“We clearly can’t continue on at the status quo, and there clearly needs to be measures to limit transmission, especially in Toronto, Peel and Ottawa. That’s a smart move,” Bogoch said in an interview on Thursday.

He added that the province will see some benefit from the rollback, if the implementation of the new gathering limits are clearly communicated and enforced.

While Ontario rolls back its gathering limit, Bogoch said other provinces experiencing outbreaks should follow suit.

“We’re seeing widespread community transmission in four provinces. Clearly, we need to clamp back down to get this virus under control,” he said.

“What does clamp down mean? It’s not entirely clear. Different provinces are taking different steps, but it’s obvious that we need to take action now to prevent these cases from rising.”

Last week in Quebec, the government said police can hand out tickets, ranging between $400 and $6,000, to those who don’t have a face covering in indoor public spaces or on public transit.

The province also announced several measures in addition to the fines, including the banning of karaoke and obliging bars to keep registers of clients as infection numbers rise.

In response to its increase in cases, B.C. ordered the immediate closure of nightclubs and banquet halls and reduced restaurant hours last week after daily COVID-19 case numbers were consistently above 100.

“I think we need to all start rethinking about what we need to do to get us through the next few months as a community together, and these are some of the things that we’ll need to put aside for now,” B.C. health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry explained at a news conference.

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam reminded Canadians at a press conference on Tuesday to take precautionary measures if they must socialize, including having hand sanitizer readily available, wearing masks or other face coverings, and cleaning common areas before and after the event.

“The key message is that the time to act is now across the board in terms of reducing some of the contacts you’ve had over the summer months,” Tam said.

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Trump says Canada wants to reopen the border. But do we, really? – CBC.ca

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U.S. President Donald Trump’s comments on Friday suggesting Canada is keen to reopen the border with his country stand in direct contrast to statements made by Canadian officials supporting the continued border restrictions. 

“We’re looking at the border with Canada. Canada would like it open, and, you know, we want to get back to normal business,” Trump said at the White House, adding that “we’re going to be opening the borders pretty soon” to take advantage of the renegotiated NAFTA. 

“We’re working with Canada. We want to pick a good date, having to do with the pandemic. And I happen to think we’re rounding the turn,” Trump said. 

Asked by CBC News to respond, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office pointed to a tweet from Public Safety Minister Bill Blair earlier in the day, saying the border will remain closed to non-essential travel until at least Oct. 21. 

“We will continue to base our decisions on the best public health advice available to keep Canadians safe,” Blair wrote.

WATCH | Trump suggests U.S-Canada border could reopen soon:

U.S. President Donald Trump responded to a question about the border as he left the White House on Friday. 0:48

When CBC first reported on the extension of restrictions into October — they were due to expire this week — one source said Canadians should prepare for them to last even longer. 

The official stopped short, however, of saying they would remain until Christmas, but that the policy was open to tweaks. 

Three senior sources with direct knowledge of the situation, speaking to CBC News on condition they not be named, have repeatedly expressed — over recent months and again on Friday — how pleased they are with the current restrictions. 

One source said both Canada and the U.S. see them as effective and as strong, co-operative measures necessary to respond to the pandemic.

Keeping Canadians safe

Kirsten Hillman, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S., said last week that she speaks with U.S officials about the border restrictions on a weekly basis and there is a general agreement the current situation is working well. 

“The measures are doing what they were designed to do … to allow the flow of commercial goods and essential services while controlling the spread of the virus and reduce the risk to our citizens on both sides,” Hillman said.

“When push comes to shove, our No. 1 goal is going to be to keep Canadians safe.”  

Blair told reporters Wednesday that he’s looking to make adjustments to allow more travel on humanitarian grounds, but that any changes will be limited and that, broadly, he wants to keep the restrictions. 

90% support 

With COVID-19 caseloads still high in many U.S. states, public opinion surveys have also suggested there’s little appetite in Canada for change.

A new poll by Research Co. found earlier this month that out of 1,000 Canadians surveyed online at the end of August, 90 per cent agreed with the current restrictions.

The world’s longest international border has been closed to non-essential travel for months though essential workers — such as truck drivers and health-care professionals — are still able to cross by land. Canadians are also still able to fly to U.S. destinations.

Ottawa has also moved to curb the movement of Americans through Canada on their way to Alaska. U.S. travellers destined for the northern state have been limited to five crossings in Western Canada and they must commit to taking a direct route.

In June, a man travelling from Alaska to the continental United States was charged with violating Canada’s Quarantine Act. He was accused of twice failing to follow COVID-19 public safety rules while in Banff, Alta.

If he’s found to have violated a quarantine order, he could be fined up to $750,000 or sentenced to six months in jail.

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