As kids and teachers get ready to head back to classes — many of them in person after a year of interruptions caused by COVID-19 — parents across the country are organizing to take action to ensure their kids and school staff stay safe.
In Winnipeg, parents are asking the government to require regular rapid testing for students and staff. In Vancouver, many parents rallied for a mask mandate in elementary and secondary schools. In Toronto, a mom is advocating support for kids and teachers struggling with online learning.
And in Newmarket, Ont., Shameela Shakeel is pushing for strong ventilation systems, smaller class sizes and vaccination mandates for school staff to protect kids under 12 who are too young to get the shots themselves.
“We are still pushing for the same things we were pushing for last year,” said Shakeel, a mother of four, who is the co-chair of parent-teacher coalition York Communities for Public Education. “Things that are hopefully going to make a difference is that all of these groups and all of these advocates are now together because the virtual space has made that possible.”
New group has 4,100 members
When the pandemic hit and families were scrambling for information about school closures, virtual learning and COVID-19-era education policies, Shakeel started receiving messages from other parents concerned about their school-aged kids.
“I was getting a lot of private messages and phone calls,” Shakeel told CBC News. “That’s when I decided to start a Facebook group … That’s really helped with connecting other parents and educators.”
The group that Shakeel created last summer, called Families and Educators for Safe Schools in York Region, now has over 4,100 members.
It’s one example of the efforts Canadian parents have been making during the past 17 months to organize and advocate for school safety and classroom supports — in person and online — during a pandemic that has wreaked havoc on public education systems.
Advocacy ‘became a second job’
Kyenta Martins is a co-founder of the B.C.-based organizations Safe School Coalition and Option 4 Families of Vancouver — both formed in the last 12 months.
Martins, who opted to have her kids do school remotely last year because she is at risk of health complications, said she was would have never considered herself an education advocate before COVID-19 struck.
Now, she moderates online discussions, answers media requests, and tracks school district meetings — all before her kids have woken up and had breakfast.
“I work part-time, and right now, advocacy is another job for me,” she said. “And I would almost say it’s a full-time job.”
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In July 2021, Statistics Canada released a report concluding that nearly 75 per cent of parents were “extremely concerned” about juggling work, child care and their kids’ schooling during the pandemic.
Adding advocacy on top of an already-exhaustive list of responsibilities has other parents feeling the way Martins does.
“It became a second job for me to advocate for my son,” said Emily Feairs of Toronto, whose son struggled with anxiety as a result of on-camera learning.
Working solo in her discussions with the school board trustee, superintendent, teachers and principal, Feairs said efforts to connect with other parents were challenging, without the usual opportunities for community gathering — drop-off, pick-up, after-school meetings — that parents usually use to catch up.
Letters call for safe, accessible education
Krystal Payne is a founding member of the advocacy group Safe September MB which recently wrote two letters calling on the Manitoba provincial government and the Winnipeg School Division to provide “safe and accessible education for K-12 students in September 2021.” Payne says that some parents are getting worn out.
“I think we’re fighting against a tide of people being very tired,” she said. She noted that last year, one of the organization’s letters quickly accrued nearly 18,000 signatures. While that initial momentum has slowed, the group still has support from parents, daily interest in their social media page and is steadily collecting signatures on their new letters.
“This year, folks are just really tired, and they want to return to normal.”
Social media an organizing tool
Earlier this month, Martins created a Facebook page for the Safe School Coalition to connect with other parents asking for more stringent school safety policies from the province.
With only 24 hours notice, she said that hundreds of people tuned in for the organization’s live stream of their first event, a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery. As of Wednesday, the stream had over 5,000 views.
But dealing with social media detractors can be a “thankless job,” said David Gray, co-founder of Wall of Alberta Moms and Dads, a now-defunct organization for parents who were concerned about the safety of children and staff in schools during the pandemic.
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“We sort of tore things up for a few weeks, you know, we got a lot of traction on social media,” Gray said. The organization attracted many volunteers, and they spent their days holding phone banks, conducting letter-writing campaigns and organizing email blasts, he said.
But, Gray added, “One of the more disheartening things for people was, you know, being told, ‘It’s great that you’re protesting this, but you’re doing it wrong,’ or, ‘We can’t agree with this one thing you said, so we can’t agree with anything you’ve said.'”
‘This has radicalized a lot of parents’
During times of crisis for the education system, there is a stronger push for change, said Annie Kidder, founder of the research group People for Education.
“There definitely is a tendency for activism to be on the rise in education when there’s a concrete crisis or a concrete issue about which people feel very strongly,” Kidder said, adding that it’s important for people to be engaged and actively involved with schools, even if they aren’t activists.
But with a variant-driven fourth wave of COVID-19 on the rise across the country and high vaccination rates prompting provinces to loosen safety restrictions in schools, the pandemic’s effect on schools has given parents little choice but to take serious action.
“I think this has radicalized a lot of parents, right?” Feairs said.
“We have been pushed to extremes and forced to make choices that, in such a prosperous province and country, we shouldn’t have been forced to make.”
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Sunday – CBC.ca
Union leaders representing thousands of medical workers in Alberta have asked Premier Jason Kenney to deploy the military and Red Cross to shore up a health-care system they say is “collapsing right in front of our eyes,” due to rapidly rising COVID-19 cases.
“It’s time to call in the military to help our overwhelmed hospitals,’ says a letter issued Saturday and addressed to the premier, with a warning that hospitals have “run out of staff” to treat severe cases.
It was signed by the presidents of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, as well as the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The letter notes that military units were deployed in April to support Ontario’s long-term care facilities. Also in April, the Canadian Armed Forces sent dozens of service members to help out at COVID-19 testing centres in Nova Scotia.
Dr. James Talbot, a former chief medical health officer for Alberta and co-chair of Alberta’s Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee, issued his own dire warnings last week.
“We’re in crisis, Surgeries are being cancelled … ICUs are more than 50 per cent above normal capacity,” he said.
As of Thursday, there were 911 people in Alberta’s hospitals with COVID-19, including 215 in intensive care beds.
Between 18 and 20 severely ill Albertans — most of them unvaccinated — are being admitted to ICU every day, said Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu.
Alberta Health Services has commandeered beds in operating rooms, recovery wards and observation spaces to create more ICU capacity and is prepared to transfer Albertans to Ontario for care if needed.
What’s happening across Canada
What’s happening around the world
As of Sunday, more than 228.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.6 million.
In the Asia-Pacific region, Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled a roadmap to easing restrictions in Australia’s Victoria state on Sunday. He said the state’s weeks-long lockdown will end once 70 per cent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, no matter if there are new cases.
Victoria is expected to meet that vaccination threshold on Oct. 26, Andrews said.
As of the weekend, just under 43 per cent of people in the state and just over 46 per cent of people nationwide had been fully vaccinated.
Australia reported 1,607 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, while Victoria state registered 507 new cases.
In Asia, tens of thousands of devotees packed the old palace courtyard in the heart of Nepal’s capital on Sunday to celebrate the feast of Indra Jatra, marking the return of the festival season in the Himalayan nation after it was scaled down because of the pandemic.
The week-long Indra Jatra precedes months of other festivals in the predominantly Hindu nation.
Armed police guarded the alleys and roads leading to the main courtyard in the capital, Kathmandu, while volunteers sprayed sanitizers and distributed masks to the devotees.
Nepal has imposed several lockdowns and other restrictions since the pandemic hit. According to the country’s Health Ministry, there have been 784,000 confirmed cases with more than 11,000 deaths. Only 19 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
In the Americas, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health says a government advisory panel’s decision to limit Pfizer COVID-19 booster shots to Americans 65 and older, as well as those at high risk of severe disease, is a preliminary step, and he predicts broader approval for most Americans “in the next few weeks.”
Dr. Francis Collins told Fox News Sunday that the panel’s recommendation on Friday was correct based on a “snapshot” of available data on the effectiveness of Pfizer’s two-shot regimen over time. But he said real-time data from the U.S. and Israel continues to come in showing waning efficacy among broader groups of people that will need to be addressed soon.
In Europe, Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his closeness to the victims of a flood in Mexico, which led to the deaths of at least 17 people, most of whom had COVID-19, at a hospital in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo. The pontiff was speaking to faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City for his weekly Angelus prayer.
Torrential rains caused Mexico’s River Tula to burst its banks on Sept. 7, and more than 40 other patients in the public hospital in the town of Tula were transported away by emergency service workers. An initial assessment showed about 2,000 houses had flood damage, the Mexican government said in a statement.
Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad told local media that 15 or 16 out of the 17 fatalities were COVID-19 patients. The media said the deaths occurred when flooding caused by days of rain knocked out electricity at the hospital.
Trudeau warns Canadians against splitting vote in dead heat federal election – Global News
With the Canadian election in a dead heat two days before the Sept. 20 vote, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and his Conservative rival implored supporters to stay the course and avoid vote splitting that could hand their opponent victory.
Both men campaigned in the same seat-rich Toronto region on Saturday as they tried to fend off voter defections to the left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and the populist People’s Party of Canada (PPC), both of which are rising in polls.
The latest Sondage Leger poll conducted for the Journal de Montreal and the National Post newspapers put the Conservatives one percentage point ahead of Trudeau’s Liberals, with 33 per cent over 32 per cent. The NDP was at 19 per cent while the PPC was at 6 per cent.
Trudeau, 49, called an early election, seeking to convert approval for his government’s handling of the pandemic into a parliamentary majority. But he is now scrambling to save his job, with Canadians questioning the need for an early election amid a fourth pandemic wave.
“Despite what the NDP likes to say, the choice is between a Conservative or a Liberal government right now,” Trudeau said in Aurora, Ontario. “And it does make a difference to Canadians whether we have or not a progressive government.”
Trudeau has spent two of the final three days of his campaign in Ontario where polls show the NDP could gain seats, or split the progressive vote.
A tight race could result in another minority government, with the NDP, led by Jagmeet Singh, playing kingmaker. It has also put a focus on turnout, with low turnout historically favouring the Conservatives.
Liberals trying to get supporters to vote
With polls suggesting a Liberal minority may be the most likely result on Monday, Trudeau was pressed on whether this could be his last election. He responded: “There is lots of work still to do, and I’m nowhere near done yet.”
If voters give Trudeau a third term, everything they dislike about him “will only get worse,” Conservative leader Erin O’Toole told supporters on Saturday, saying his party was the only option for anyone dissatisfied with the Liberals, in a dig at the PPC.
The PPC, which has channeled anger against mandatory vaccines into surprising support, could draw votes away from the Conservatives in close district races, helping the Liberals eke out a win.
On Saturday, the Liberals announced they would drop a candidate over a 2019 sexual assault charge that the party said was not disclosed to them. Kevin Vuong, a naval reservist running in an open Liberal seat in downtown Toronto, denied the allegations on Friday, noting the charge was withdrawn.
“Mr. Vuong will no longer be a Liberal candidate, and should he be elected, he will not be a member of the Liberal caucus,” the party said in a statement on Saturday.
Earlier this month, Liberal member of parliament Raj Saini ended his re-election campaign amid allegations of inappropriate behaviour towards female staffers.
O’Toole, 48, campaigned in Saini’s district on Saturday, one of three Liberal ridings he is hoping to swing his way. Earlier, he appeared in a Conservative-held riding west of Toronto that was closely fought during the 2019 election.
The area’s member of Parliament, who is not running again, came under fire last spring for saying COVID-19 lockdowns were the “single greatest breach of our civil liberties since the internment camps during WW2.”
O’Toole, who said he wants to get 90 per cent of Canadians vaccinated, has refused to say who among Conservative Party candidates were.
© 2021 Reuters
'Really frustrating': Racialized people feel ignored in federal election campaign – CTV News
Given recent racist attacks in the country and racism hurled at campaigning candidates, racialized people living in Canada say they’re concerned that systemic racism hasn’t been at the forefront of any of the party leaders’ messages.
Some almost 8 million Indigenous, Black and people of colour living in Canada, making up 22 per cent of Canada’s population, are wondering why there hasn’t been more focus on racism and issues of race during the election campaign.
“I’m a woman of colour every day of my life, I don’t get to turn that off,” Samanta Krishnapillai, founder, executive director and editor-in-chief of On Canada Project, an Instagram account that shares information targeted towards Canada’s millennial and Generation Z populations, told CTV News.
She said she had hoped that systemic racism in Canada would be more central to all of the candidates’ campaigns.
“I think that is really frustrating to see,” she said.
For Krishnapillai, she feels as though the issues that impact people of colour haven’t been seen as crucial during the election campaign.
“The fact that there are party leaders that are able to just move on from this subject and not constantly have it as part of what they’re talking about kind of sucks … It’s not like our experiences aren’t as important,” she said.
Not only is Krishnapillai not seeing these important conversations about race, she’s also not seeing the issues of young Canadians reflected in the election campaigns.
“People keep saying, ‘young people don’t vote.’ What are you doing to get me to come vote? What are you talking about to get me to care, to get people like me to care?” she said. “It’s just been a really lackluster election.”
And she’s not willing to accept the answer that it’s “just politics.”
“Why is that what we accept as politics, if you know that you can do better, why aren’t you? You shouldn’t have to wait until someone dies or bodies are recovered to do it,” Krishnapillai said.
When Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister in 2015, Krishnapillai said she was excited. She saw a feminist leader who was going to make change, but she sees things differently now.
“I think he’s capable of greatness, but I also feel like, it just feels so performative and it doesn’t feel genuine,” she said.
That’s especially true, she said, after the death of George Floyd in the U.S. kicked off protests across Canada last year in response to police violence against Black and Indigenous people here. This year, meanwhile, thousands of unmarked graves at former residential schools were brought to light, and a family in London, Ont. was killed because – according to police – they were walking while Muslim.
“It really could have been, it could have been my mother,” Sarah Barzak, executive director of the London School of Racialized Leaders, told CTV News.
Barzak said that she experienced racism in Canada since she was a child, with other kids telling her: “‘go back to your country,’ – like, I heard that a lot as a child.”
She said she is disappointed that while politicians turned out to a memorial for the family killed in London in June, they have since gone silent on Islamophobia in the country, and systemic racism in general.
“They came, they took the mic, they took all their photo ops, and then they left,” she said.
The candidates have spoken about diversity in Canada, but Barzak said just talking about it isn’t enough.
“I don’t think it’s enough to just say things like ‘diversity is our strength’, when hate crimes are clearly on the rise and there just isn’t enough funding and enough push back,” she said.
And some forms of racism she says have gone unmentioned by the candidates on the campaign trail.
“I haven’t heard any of the leaders discuss anti-Asian racism, and that has also been on the rise in relation to COVID and xenophobia and anti-Asian sentiment,” Barzak said.
After a tumultuous 18 months in which marginalized and racialized communities were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic, Barzak said it is time for the candidates to address these issues.
“Every marginalized community has really gone through the gutters, especially under this pandemic and I don’t think there are excuses anymore,” she said. “I think even just acknowledging it is the bare minimum.”
Barzak said she is disappointed that issues of race haven’t been central to the candidates’ election campaigns, and she doesn’t think she’s alone in this feeling.
“I look at leadership and I’m just shaking my head,” said Barzak. “This isn’t leadership, this is failure to me, and I think this is failure to a lot of people across the country.”
“This is systemic neglect,” she added.
Some voters were hoping for more, especially after politicians took a knee with protestors last summer.
“I definitely wish that after the year and a half that we all witnessed, you know, Black issues would be centred a little bit more anti-Blackness and issues particular to the Black community would have been discussed a little bit more,” Danièle-Jocelyne Otou, director of communication and strategic engagement of Apathy is Boring, an organization that aims to get younger Canadians involved in politics and Canadian and global issues told CTV News.
At the English-language leaders debate, where not a single Black person was invited to ask the candidates a question, issues that impact Black Canadians were left unaddressed. The anti-Asian hate that has been on the rise since the COVID-19 pandemic began was also not a topic of discussion.
“I wish that Black voices would have been amplified and highlighted throughout the debate as well. I would have loved to hear from some Asian folks about the last year that they’ve had and the issues that they would like to see moving forward,” she added.
Sometimes leaders do the bare minimum to engage voters, especially younger ones, and Otou says that’s not enough.
“There’s this assumption that all you have to do is one little TikTok meme and you’ll get the youth vote without taking into account, again, youth interests over the last year and a half have drastically changed and they’re paying more attention than ever to Canadian politics,” she said.
Indigenous voters are also feeling left behind, as the federal party leaders have largely ignored the continuing discoveries of unmarked graves on the grounds of former residential schools.
The chief of Serpent River First Nation in Ontario had hoped to see the candidates present real solutions to healing these historical wounds.
“Canada needs to have truth before we can have reconciliation,” said Chief Brent Bissaillion. “We still haven’t gotten to that truth.”
Bissaillion said he feels that issues impacting First Nations, Metis and Inuit in Canada haven’t been central to the parties’ campaigns.
“So it does get swept under the rug, and I feel that a lot of the issues that pertain to indigenous people pertain to a lot of other minorities and marginalized folks, and it is kind of disappointing that it’s gone to the wayside during this campaign,” he said.
With more and more unmarked graves being discovered in the country, Bissaillion reflects on other moments that seemed like a reckoning in Canada.
“We’ve had several reckonings this country continually has reckonings every few years. And we continue to be in the same spot. Everything is symbolic,” he said.
Bissaillion said he would like to hear more about what steps the parties will take to follow through on various promises, and issues that impact First Nations, Metis and Inuit in Canada.
“I’d really like to hear from all parties on how we’re going to start returning land back to our community so that we can take stewardship,” he said.
Krishnapillai, Barzak, Otou and Bissaillion will participate in CTV’s Voters’ Viewpoint panel with CTV’s Your Morning host Anne Marie Mediwake as part of CTV News’ special election coverage. Join the Voters’ Viewpoint conversation online on CTVNews.ca, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
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