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Inside Canada’s broken military justice system

THE BIG STORY | posted Monday, Jul 19th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, last week, retired general Jonathan Vance, former chief of the defence staff, was charged with obstruction of justice related to an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct. That sounds like a shocking piece of news, but really it was an almost inevitable conclusion of the latest scandal that put Canada’s military justice system, or lack thereof, on the front pages.

This has been a story for decades now, and various governments and the armed forces have frequently vowed to fix it. Committees are formed. Reports are written. Recommendations are made. And then we end up here. Again. Why?

GUEST: Marie-Danielle Smith, Maclean’s

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Clean-up begins after tornado destroys homes, injures people in Barrie

NICOLE THOMPSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS; AND NEWS STAFF | posted Friday, Jul 16th, 2021

Residents and repair crews in Barrie are cleaning up after a EF-2 tornado tore through a neighbourhood, damaging homes and injuring several people.

Paramedics said eight people were taken to hospital, and several others were treated for minor injuries.

In an update on Friday, Environment Canada said a damage survey team from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Western University’s The Northern Tornadoes Project determined a preliminary rating of EF-2 with maximum a wind speed of 210 km/h.

The national weather agency said thunderstorms moved into the region on Thursday afternoon, “producing a tornado that blasted the southern part of the city.”

“Just after 2:30 p.m. Thursday, a tornado tracked from the miniature golf course on Huronia Road and Mapleview Drive (in south Barrie) and continued eastward towards Prince William Way where it caused significant damage on the north side of Mapleview Drive.”

The national weather agency said trees were uprooted, vehicles were toppled, and at least 10 roofs flew off. The second floor of two homes was destroyed, and roof shingles were also damaged or came off from other homes.

Barrie Fire said Thursday that 20 to 25 structures were significantly damaged with at least two or three completely destroyed. Fire Chief Cory Mainprize said roughly 20 homes are considered uninhabitable, with two or three completely destroyed.

Barrie Mayor Jeff Lehman also said no one was unaccounted for.

“I can’t tell you how incredible it is that nobody has been killed, and I hope that as all the secondary searches are completed and the patients are treated in the hospital, that that continues to be the case,” he said on Thursday.

“Because this certainly could have been a much more serious disaster.”

Crews are expected to start making some of the repairs Friday, including patching up roofs that weren’t too badly damaged.

Lehman says the community has already started coming together to support those who lost the most to the tornado, donating food and supplies.

He noted it’s a familiar scene to many long-time Barrie residents. A tornado killed eight people and injured more than a hundred others in the city in 1985. Hundreds of homes in the Allendale neighbourhood were destroyed.

“The scenes today are reminiscent of it,” Lehman said. “I lived in that neighborhood as a boy. I mean, it’s shocking, you know, you never expected to see it again.”

Yesterday’s tornado brought back memories for 70-year-old Judy Arksey, too.

“It was like deja-vu,” she said. “I got one look at the sky and I knew what was coming.”

She was in her daughter’s car in the driveway when the tornado ripped down the street yesterday. Her two grandkids — aged six and 16 — were with them.

“I remember the horses being lifted up out of the racetrack during the other tornado, and I thought, here goes our car with my grandkids in it,” Arksey said.

As soon as she saw the sky, she said, she told them to look down so they wouldn’t see what was coming for them.

Luckily, she said, the car stayed on the ground despite taking a beating in the strong wind, and she and her family escaped injury.

She said the community has come together in the wake of yesterday’s destruction, just like it did 36 years ago.

Arksey spent two weeks volunteering after the 1985 tornado, she said, helping out however she could at the church.

“I’m too old to do that this time,” she said.

Family doctors want to come off the bench for the “last mile” of vaccinations

THE BIG STORY | posted Friday, Jul 16th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, most vaccines in Canada are administered by family doctors, so when Covid-19 vaccinations began to receive approval late in 2020, those physicians got ready to roll up their sleeves and dive in. But the call never came. While a few pilot projects let a relative handful of doctor’s offices receiving doses, the vast majority of family physicians were left out.

And now that Canada’s vaccine uptake has plateaued and begun to decline, those doctors could be the key to reaching the holdouts. They want to leverage their relationships with patients to get results that mass clinics can’t. Will provincial governments let them into the game?

GUEST: Dr. Elizabeth Muggah, President, Ontario College of Family Physicians

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

First Nation to release report on unmarked graves at Kamloops residential school

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jul 15th, 2021

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation is set to release a report today outlining the findings of a search of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School property using ground-penetrating radar.

The First Nation in British Columbia’s Interior will host a public presentation on the findings of the report on unmarked children’s graves, including a briefing on the technology used and an explanation of next steps.

Members of the public are invited to witness to the presentation, which will be streamed online and include statements from school survivors.

The Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc announced in May that the ground-penetrating radar had identified what are believed to be the remains of 215 children in unmarked graves.

Since then, other First Nations have reported similar devastating discoveries.

The Cowessess First Nation reported 751 potential unmarked grave sites in Saskatchewan last month, while a newsletter circulating online this week from the Penelakut Tribe on Vancouver Island said more than 160 undocumented graves had been found near Chemainus, B.C.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 15, 2021.

The Canadian Press

As Ontario tentatively reopens, Alberta is in full swing

THE BIG STORY | posted Thursday, Jul 15th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, on Friday Canada’s largest province enters stage three of reopening—by far the biggest move since early this year, before the third wave of COVID-19 hit. Other places around the world have had varying degrees of success as they’ve come out of restrictions, but perhaps the best example to reassure anxious Canadians is out west, where Alberta has been almost back to normal for two weeks now, and—so far!—there has been no cause for concern.

Is this really what back to normal feels like? What’s it like to realize you can remove your mask indoors if you want to? And is there a plan if cases do start to climb again?

GUEST: Darcy Ropchan, video journalist, CityNews Edmonton

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

Bank of Canada to update economic outlook, make rate announcement

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Jul 14th, 2021

OTTAWA — The Bank of Canada will update its economic outlook for the country this morning as makes its latest interest rate announcement.

Since the central bank’s last outlook in April, first-quarter growth figures came in below its forecast and it’s possible the second quarter will also fall short of expectations.

The bank said last month the economy should rebound strongly starting this summer as it kept its key policy rate on hold at 0.25 per cent, which is where it has sat since the onset of the pandemic last year.

CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld says the central bank likely won’t make major changes to its economic outlook, but it may have to upgrade its inflation forecast.

The C.D. Howe Institute’s monetary policy council has recommended the bank keep its key rate on hold at 0.25 per cent.

The group also recommended the central bank scale back its federal bond purchases from its target of $3 billion per week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2021.

The Canadian Press

Does Canada need a standardized federal vaccine passport?

MICHAEL RANGER, NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, Jul 14th, 2021

There has been lots of debate around the idea of a national vaccine passport system in Canada to better facilitate travel and to help clarify access to businesses and services.

The questions are only growing as the country continues to reopen after the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and many say a standardized federal passport is necessary.

At this point, the word from the federal government is that provinces will be policing themselves – at least when it comes to interprovincial travel.

“Different provinces will be doing different things,” says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “Where the federal government has a role to play and where we are looking is in terms of vaccine certification for international travel.”

Quebec has already taken steps to implement a vaccine passport system in the fall but in Ontario the premier’s office says Doug Ford has no plans to make vaccines mandatory.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade says a passport makes sense and is calling on the Ontario government to introduce a vaccine passport system for non-essential business activity.

Jan De Silva, CEO of the board, says vaccine passports are the only way to safely reopen larger events like business conferences. She believes it is a necessity to help revive tourism.

“The EU as of July 1st has gone live with the digital pass, and the reason why we’re so pro using that tool is that we’ve worked so hard and our small businesses have gone through multiple lockdowns that have had a devastating effect to them,” said De Silva.

“Now that we’ve got sufficient vaccine, it’s a way to start resuming a more normal form of day-to-day living.”


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The Quebec government says it will impose a vaccine-passport system in September in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks occur. The system will require people to prove they are vaccinated in order enter places such as gyms and bars.

Health Minister Christian Dubé said the proposed health order will allow the government to avoid further lockdowns if cases begin to rise. He said it would also allow businesses to operate despite having COVID-19 outbreaks.

Manitoba has also been issuing proof-of-immunization cards to residents who are two weeks past their second dose.

In Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney has said the province will not be issuing vaccine passports.

“I believe they would in principle contravene the Health Information Act and also possibly the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,” said Kenney.

Trudeau says the federal government’s responsibility lies in standardizing proof-of-vaccination for international travel.

Details on this could be coming soon with restrictions on non-essential travel at the Canada-U.S. border set to expire on July 21.

While cases in Canada continue to drop, the U.S. has seen a recent uptick in new infections in areas with low vaccination rates. The seven-day average of new cases in the U.S. has doubled in the last eight days.

More than 51 per cent of the eligible population in Canada is now fully vaccinated. Almost 80 per cent have received at least one dose.

As of last week, fully vaccinated international travellers returning to Canada can forego the 14-day quarantine, including the government-authorized hotel stay.

Canadians are currently still being urged to avoid any non-essential travel.


With files from the Canadian Press

Canada to aid Afghanistan after U.S. troop withdrawal next month, minister says

MAAN ALHMIDI, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 13th, 2021

Ottawa will continue sending humanitarian and development assistance to Afghanistan after the United States completes its troop withdrawal from the country next month, International Development Minister Karina Gould says.

U.S. President Joe Biden said last week the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan will end Aug. 31, nearly 20 years after the United States and its allies took down the Taliban government in Kabul.

Biden pushed back against the notion the U.S. mission has failed but also noted it was unlikely the Afghan government would control all of Afghanistan after the U.S. leaves.

He urged the Afghan government and the Taliban, which he said remains as formidable as it did before the start of the war, to come to a peace agreement.

Gould said in an interview that Canada is constantly monitoring and evaluating the situation through dialogue with its partners including non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies.

“At this point in time, our partners continue to work and deliver services for the Afghan people.”

She said Ottawa is providing humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people, as 50 per cent of Afghans rely on such help for basic necessities.

On Friday, the Taliban claimed it now controls 85 per cent of Afghanistan’s territory amid a surge in wins on the ground as American troops continue their pullout from the country.

The announcement came at a press conference at the end of a visit by a senior Taliban delegation to Moscow to offer assurances that the insurgents’ quick gains in Afghanistan do not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia.

The Taliban promised not to attack provincial capitals or seize them by force, and expressed hopes for a “political resolution” with Kabul.

Gould said she is concerned about the rise in attacks on humanitarian workers and the civilian population recently.

But she said it’s unlikely the Taliban is controlling 85 per cent of the country.

“Certainly they have made some gains, but it’s not, from our perspective, as large as what they are claiming,” she said. “They might be inflating their numbers when in actual fact they don’t control that amount of territory.”

Global Affairs Canada spokesman Grantly Franklin said Ottawa calls for a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire to end the interminable suffering of the Afghan people and facilitate provision of humanitarian assistance.

“Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan prioritizes peace, democracy and human rights,” he said in a statement.

According to government data, about 40,000 Canadians served in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, with Canada providing a total of $3.6 billion in aid to the country since 2001.

Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan have contributed to a real improvement in the lives of the most vulnerable, Franklin said. “Women and children in particular have better access to education, health and human rights, and Canada will do its utmost to preserve these gains.”

In November, Canada pledged $270 million in additional development assistance through 2024.

Roland Paris, director of the graduate school of public and international affairs at the University of Ottawa, said much of Canada’s assistance now goes to supporting the Afghan security forces and to development projects aimed at improving conditions for women and girls.

“Unfortunately, the women and girls that our development assistance has targeted are particularly vulnerable if the Taliban continues to spread its influencing control,” he said.

“It really depends on how the Taliban behaves, but its track record is not encouraging, to say the least.”

He said there’s very little Canada can do if the Taliban continues expanding its territory.

“Canada doesn’t have very much influence there,” he said. “If the U.S. and its allies were unable to gain control of the situation with 130,000 troops, how much can Canada do with zero troops on the ground?”

Ferry de Kerckhove, a former Canadian ambassador in Pakistan, Indonesia and Egypt, said Canada doesn’t have a real foreign policy in Afghanistan and can’t do anything about the U.S. withdrawal.

“I’m sorry to say it as a former Canadian diplomat, I think Canada doesn’t matter much in that ballgame.”

This report was first published by The Canadian Press on July 13, 2021.

— With files from The Associated Press.

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

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

Once we decide to rename something, what happens next?

THE BIG STORY | posted Tuesday, Jul 13th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, right now, across Canada, there are questions around the names of places, institutions and even streets. The debate about whether or not we should rename something that honours problematic and sometimes racist historical figures is a question all sorts of organizations, from governments to companies to school boards are wrestling with.

But more interesting questions come afterward. So you’ve decided to change a name: To what? Who gets a say? How exactly do you go about correcting the historical record? Do you wipe all references to the former person clean, or acknowledge the former name? And how minute can you get with the names of places and things before logistics become a problem?

GUEST: Dr. Vidya Shah, York University

You can subscribe to The Big Story podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google and Spotify

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

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