Canada was not immune from an influx of shocking news this past year.
A horrifying mass shooting, the devastation caused by COVID-19, and plane crashes that claimed many lives have all shocked Canadians from coast to coast.
While these stories are dark and tragic, some positive news came out of 2020 for Canada, too.
The federal government made commitments to ban single-use plastics, and the Canadian Space Agency named its first-ever female president.
Here are just some of the top stories that captivated Canadians in 2020:
Canadian Space Agency gets first female president
Lisa Campbell, a long-time federal public servant who previously managed billions of dollars in planned military equipment purchases, will become the Canadian Space Agency’s first permanent female president.
She plans to invest in research and development as Canada works to develop new artificially intelligent robotics systems over the next 20 years for a U.S.-led plan to build a lunar space station.
She says ‘it’s about time’ a woman takes the helm of the organization, which was formed in 1989.
Tensions rise between levels of government, police, and Wet’suwet’en Nation due to pipeline project
Mass demonstrations, sit-ins, and blockades were held across the country during the early months of 2020 in solidarity with a movement to support the Wet’suwet’en Nation, who opposed a multi-billion-dollar pipeline project in northern British Columbia.
The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have openly opposed the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which seeks to transport liquefied natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a terminal on the coast, cutting across Wet’suwet’en territory.
Tensions were furthered when RCMP began arresting protestors, asking them to leave the camp blocking access. Many spoke out against the arrests, calling them ‘unlawful and unjust.’
After months of negotiation, Indigenous leaders struck an unprecedented deal in May, whereby a memorandum of understanding was signed between the province, the federal government, and the Wet’suwet’en people. Hereditary chiefs said there’s still a lot of work ahead, but there is hope that it will end with recognition of their title to 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory.
Snowbird crash kills Captain Jennifer Casey in Kamloops, B.C.
In an effort to spread hope and positivity from coast to coast in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian Air Force Snowbirds launched ‘Operation Inspiration’, flying over communities across Canada. The cross-country tour was meant to pay tributes to Canadians, particularly the front-line health care workers who have fought tirelessly against coronavirus.
The Snowbirds cancelled the operation following the May 17 crash that claimed Casey’s life. Pilots in B.C. took up the mantle with ‘Operation Backup Inspiration,’ finishing the route from Abbotsford to Vancouver, paying tribute to the Snowbirds and their lost comrade.
The Snowbirds were not permitted to fly again until August.
Straws, plastic bags to be banned nationwide
Canada has vowed to ban single-use plastics nationwide by the end of 2021, bringing the country one step forward to zero plastic waste by 2030.
This marks the end of the road for plastic straws, stir sticks, carry-out bags, cutlery, dishes, take-out containers, six pack rings for cans, and bottles.
Canada currently recycles less than 10 per cent of the three million tonnes of plastic it produces each year, proving there is enormous room for improvement in terms of reducing the nation’s environmental impact.
Canada will be joining the dozens of other nations that have enacted various bans on single-use plastics, including France and the U.K.
Military helicopter crashes in Mediterranean, killing six Canadians
The nation mourned alongside the family and friends of the victims of a Canadian military helicopter crash off the coast of Greece.
At the end of April, a Cyclone helicopter, part of a NATO maritime force in the Mediterranean, crashed within sight of the HMCS Fredericton.
Six Canadian service members died, but only the remains of two were found in the days following the incident.
A month after the crash, search-and-recovery teams discovered a large piece of the fuselage and the remains of fallen military personnel.
While the investigation is still ongoing, analysts have suggested a major software glitch caused the accident.
COVID-19 targets migrant farm workers
In June, Mexico stated it wouldn’t send any more temporary foreign workers to Canada until it received more clarity on COVID-19-related deaths of its citizens.
During the first wave of COVID-19, outbreaks at farms in Ontario alone led to around 1,000 cases and three deaths.
While many cases can be linked to tight living quarters (making physical distancing difficult) and a short supply of PPE, the pandemic also cast a light on the system which employs migrant farmers, and the factors that may prevent them from accessing health care, including a fear of losing income.
In response, advocacy groups have raised awareness of the mistreatment many migrant workers face in an effort to improve conditions moving forward.
While both levels of government have introduced new strategies to curb the spread among migrant farm workers, advocates have said the plan falls short by leaving employee feedback out.
WE Charity scandal causes chaos during confusing period of federal COVID-19 relief funding
In June, heads were turned when a federal contract was awarded to a charity which had previously paid the prime minister’s family.
The WE Charity was selected to administer a $912M Canada Student Summer Grant program. When it came to light that the charity had previously paid Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s wife, mother, and brother significant sums of money to speak at various events, many were outraged that Trudeau failed to declare a conflict of interest. There were also negative implications for students caught in the crossfire of the fallout.
In August, Finance Minister Bill Morneau resigned, and many analysts saw this as a move designed to protect the Liberals from the unfolding scandal.
In September, WE Charity announced it was closing operations in Canada due to the political fallout, and effects of COVID-19. Shortly before this, the charity also announced it had repaid the balance it had received from the federal government.
Morneau and Trudeau are still under investigation for not recusing from cabinet discussions pertaining to the program.
Alex Trebek passes away
The beloved host of Jeopardy! passed away at his Los Angeles home on Nov. 8 after battling pancreatic cancer.
Born in Sudbury, Ont., Trebek began his game show hosting career in 1973 and went on to be the face of Jeopardy! for 37 seasons.
Throughout his career, he was honoured with seven Daytime Emmy Awards, has stars on both the Canadian Walk of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and was presented the Order of Canada in 2017.
COVID-19 alert app launches
The federal government poured tech resources into creating an application to assist with contact tracing for the novel coronavirus – the COVID-19 Alert app.
The app was made available in Ontario in July, and was soon rolled out across Canada.
By mid-August, it had been downloaded 1.9 million times.
Many were apprehensive about the app, citing privacy concerns. The government assured the public repeatedly that no personal data would be collected.
While the app is not without its flaws, experts have agreed in analyzing the COVID-19 Alert app that it does attempt to share as little information as possible, while still allowing for contact tracing.
U.S. stands down on aluminum tariffs
The United States under President Donald Trump announced tariffs of 25 per cent on imports of Canadian steel, and 10 per cent on aluminum back in May 2018, after inability to reach a new NAFTA negotiation.
The tariffs remained in place for a year. In response, Canada implemented dollar-for-dollar countermeasures on American steel and aluminum.
After a year and a half of back and forth tariffs and counter measures, the U.S.finally agreed to lift tariffs on aluminum in October, retroactive to Sept. 1 of this year. The federal government welcomed the U.S. decision, which came just hours before Canada was set to unveil retaliatory measures.
Mi’kmaq lobster dispute in Nova Scotia ends on a positive note
In September and October of this year, Sipekne’katik First Nation in southwest Nova Scotia launched a self-regulated lobster fishery, asserting their treaty right allowing them to fish when and where they want, outside of the federally-regulated commercial fishing season.
Conflict between Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers ensued, with escalating violence across Nova Scotia. One lobster pound was ransacked, while a vehicle was set on fire at another. A Mi’kmaq lobster pound in Middle West Pubnico was destroyed by fire, bringing the conflict to a head.
Indigenous groups across Canada stood in solidarity with the Mi’kmaq fishermen.
The attacks prompted widespread outrage and calls for clarification on Mi’kmaq treaty rights.
A memorandum of understanding released to the First Nation in late November affirms the right of the Mi’kmaq to fish for a ‘moderate livelihood, a deal that Mi’kmaq chiefs call ‘historic.’
Nova Scotia shooter kills 22
In mid-April, 22 people, including an RCMP officer, were killed in a mass shooting in Portapique, N.S. by a gunman impersonating a police officer during a thirteen-hour crime spree.
This attack marked the deadliest rampage in Canadian history.
In the wake of the horrific attack, questions were raised surrounding RCMP’s decision not to use Alert Ready to warn the public about the attacks, as well as not responding to reports about the shooter’s past behaviour and acts of domestic violence.
The shooting also prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow through on a 2019 campaign promise to ban ‘military-grade assault style’ weapons.
Pfizer vaccine approved in Canada
After months of anticipation as COVID-19 claimed the lives of over 13,000 Canadians and over one million people worldwide, Canada approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine in December of this year.
A vaccine was developed quickly, as countries around the world poured unprecedented time, money, and resources into the fight against COVID-19.
Canada signed deals to receive 249,000 doses of the drug, and since then, Toronto and Ottawa have received doses of the vaccine for health-care workers.
Trudeau nominates first judge of colour to sit on Supreme Court
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday made history by nominating the first judge of color to sit on the country’s Supreme Court, which has only ever had white justices in its 146-year existence.
Mahmud Jamal, who has been a judge on Ontario‘s court of appeal since 2019, trained as a lawyer and appeared before the Supreme Court in 35 appeals addressing a range of civil, constitutional, criminal and regulatory issues.
“He’ll be a valuable asset to the Supreme Court – and that’s why, today, I’m announcing his historic nomination to our country’s highest court,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
Trudeau has frequently said there is a need to address systemic racism in Canada.
Jamal, born in Nairobi in 1967, emigrated with his family to Britain in 1969 where he said he was “taunted and harassed because of my name, religion, or the color of my skin.”
In 1981 the family moved to Canada, where his “experiences exposed me to some of the challenges and aspirations of immigrants, religious minorities, and racialized persons,” he said in a document submitted to support his candidacy.
Canada is a multicultural country, with more than 22% of the population comprised of minorities and another 5% aboriginal, according to the latest census.
“We know people are facing systemic discrimination, unconscious bias and anti-black racism every single day,” Trudeau said last year.
Jamal will replace Justice Rosalie Abella, who is due to retire from the nine-person court on July 1.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Editing by Matthew Lewis)
Donors pledge $1.5 billion for Venezuelan migrants, humanitarian crisis
More than 30 countries and two development banks on Thursday pledged more than $1.5 billion in grants and loans to aid Venezuelan migrants fleeing a humanitarian crisis, as well as their host countries and vulnerable people still in the country.
The $954 million in grants announced at a donors’ conference hosted by Canada – which included pledges of $407 million from the United States and C$115 million Canadian dollars ($93.12 million) from Canada – exceeded the $653 million announced at a similar event last year.
But that fell short of the needs of countries hosting the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have left their country since 2015, as the once-prosperous nation’s economy collapsed into a years-long hyperinflationary recession under socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
Most have resettled in developing countries in Latin America and the Caribbean who have themselves seen their budgets stretched thin due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Does this cover all needs? Of course not,” Filippo Grandi, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters. “We will have to continue to encourage donors to support the response.”
At the conference, Ecuadorean President Guillermo Lasso announced that the country – which hosts some 430,000 Venezuelans – would begin a new process to regularize migrants’ status. That came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the 1.8 million Venezuelans it hosts.
Karina Gould, Canada‘s minister for international development, said the amount pledged showed donors were eager to support such efforts.
“There is that recognition on behalf of the global community that there needs to be support to ensure that that generosity can continue, and can actually deepen, in host countries,” Gould said.
In addition, the World Bank and Inter-American Developmemt Bank pledged $600 million in loans to address the crisis, Gould said.
($1 = 1.2349 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Luc Cohen, Michelle Nichols and David Ljunggren; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Aurora Ellis)
Ecuador to start new ‘normalization process’ for Venezuelan migrants
Ecuador will implement a new “normalization process” for the 430,000 Venezuelan migrants living in the South American country, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday, without providing further details of the plan.
Lasso’s announcement, at a conference hosted by Canada intended to raise money to support the more than 5.6 million Venezuelans who have fled an economic crisis in the South American country, came after Colombia in February gave 10-year protected status to the nearly 2 million Venezuelans it hosts.
“I am pleased to announce the beginning of a new regularization process, which in order to be an effective, lasting and permanent policy should be complemented by strategies for economic integration and labor market access,” Lasso said.
Ecuador in late 2019 launched a regularization process for Venezuelans who arrived before July of that year. That included two-year humanitarian visas meant to facilitate access to social services.
Lasso said Ecuador needed outside funding to continue caring for Venezuelan migrants, estimating that more than 100,000 additional migrants were expected to arrive before the end of the year.
“I call on our partners in the international community to be co-responsible and have solidarity with Venezuelan migrants and refugees, and with the countries that receive them,” he said.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Barbara Lewis)
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