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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.”


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.

Canada to reach 55M vaccine doses by week’s end, catching up to U.S. on second doses

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Jul 12th, 2021

Canada is expecting vaccine shipments to keep rolling in this week as the country inches closer to matching the percentage of people in the United States fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The federal government expects another 1.4 million doses of the shot from Pfizer-BioNTech to arrive in the next seven days.

It also plans to distribute the 1.5 million doses from Moderna that came in last Friday.

By the end of the week, Canadian officials expect to have received a total of  more than 55 million doses including the latest shipments, though those figures may change.

The federal government has promised that it would reach 68 million shots delivered by the end of July and says it’s still on track to hit that target.

To date, around 42.7 per cent of eligible Canadian residents have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, giving them full protection against the virus.

The figures come courtesy of COVID-19 Tracker, a volunteer-run project that relies on data from provincial and territorial governments.

The U.S.’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracker lists 48 per cent of that country’s population as being fully immunized.

Ticks are everywhere this summer. Here’s what you need to know

THE BIG STORY | posted Monday, Jul 12th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, if you spent time outdoors this weekend, we hope you did a thorough tick check when you got back inside. The creatures have been on the rise in Canada for years, and this summer is no exception. The increase is not just in numbers, but in wide swaths of habitat which used to be tick-free.

Why is this happening? How can you spot them? Where are you likely to encounter them? And most importantly, if you find one, how can you remove it safely, and what do you need to do after that?

GUEST: Justin Wood, founder of Geneticks

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

You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.

‘We’re ready to go’: Calgary Stampede to kick off with enhanced safety measures

BILL GRAVELAND, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jul 9th, 2021

CALGARY — The rides are up, the stuffed animals are displayed at the games tables and concession booths are loaded with supplies.

Forced by the pandemic to cancel last year for the first time in its history, the Calgary Stampede has returned.

The setup may look familiar but, due to COVID-19, there are some notable changes to the 10-day celebration of cowboy life.

The walkways are wider, there are markers showing proper spacing in lineups and fewer rides.

“We wanted to spread this out, create more social-distancing space, so we brought less rides to achieve that goal,” said Scooter (Greg) Korek, vice-president of client services for North American Midway Entertainment.

“The rides that we didn’t bring were maybe some of our less popular attractions. We brought all the fan favourites.”

Including the ones that cause some riders to throw up?

“Absolutely. That’s our core business.”

Korek grew up in Calgary and joined the midway more than 40 years ago. He said there’s been plenty of practice leading up to the Stampede.

“We’ve been at 45 fairs in the United States and all of our great guys are back and ready to go.”

New safety measures adopted by the Stampede include cutting daily attendance in half, sanitation stations for the public and enhanced cleaning throughout the grounds. Staff and volunteers are required to wear masks and get COVID-19 rapid tests.

The chuckwagon races aren’t being held and the parade to kick off the Stampede is confined to the grounds without the public in attendance.

“What I would say is people need to guide themselves with their own level of comfort. But certainly, we feel very confident that we have created an excellent environment here for people to come in and enjoy themselves,” said Stampede vice-president Jim Laurendeau.

Korek said Calgary is the first stop in Canada and the entire midway’s staff had to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival. The midway brings with it a full cleaning crew and everyone knows how to keep things sanitized and safe, he said.

“We started in March (with) and our pandemic program, which is pretty extensive: social distancing, mask and gloves. We got really, really good at it.”

The next stop for North American Midway Entertainment is Tulsa, Okla.

Korek wants Stampede visitors to know that there is nothing to be nervous about.

“I’m going to tell you right now: I would put any one of my family members on any one of our rides, any day. We’re ready to go.”

Korek said he understands why the Stampede had to be shut down last year, but as a Calgarian, it was still hard to accept.

“It was really a tough moment when they called it off. It was a heartbreaker. That was really what it was.”

It’s all different this year.

“The eyes of the world are on us. This is a great way to celebrate … the end of this pandemic.”

The Stampede runs until July 18.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2021.

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

Quebec to impose COVID-19 ‘vaccine passport’ system in September

JACOB SEREBRIN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Friday, Jul 9th, 2021

ONTREAL — Quebec will impose a vaccine-passport system in September in areas where COVID-19 outbreaks occur, requiring people to prove they are vaccinated to enter places such as gyms and bars, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Thursday.

The system will apply for specific periods of time in parts of Quebec where COVID-19 transmission is high, Dubé told reporters, adding that proof of vaccination will be required only to access non-essential services.

“The vaccination passport will be used if, and only if, the transmission or outbreaks justify it in a sector or in a territory,” he said. “To be clear, the vaccination passport will not be used for access to public or essential services.”

Dubé said the proposed health order will allow the government to avoid imposing fresh lockdowns if cases begin to rise in the colder months, and he said it would permit businesses to operate despite having COVID-19 outbreaks. “It’s an extra tool in our management of cases and contacts,” he said. “We found an alternative to a generalized lockdown.”

In a news release Thursday, the Health Department didn’t provide a concrete list of places where the vaccine passport will be required, but it suggested it could be used at bars, gyms, restaurants, sporting events and festivals.

Should an outbreak at a gym occur, Dubé said as an example, “we’re not closing the gym, we’re saying that for a period, only the people that have a double dose can go to the gym. It’s a risk-management approach.”

The government is waiting until September to impose the passport system because everyone over 12 should have been able to receive two COVID-19 vaccine doses by then, Dubé said. They system will apply to Quebec residents and to visitors.

Details of how private businesses will be expected to verify proof of vaccination and how the state will manage an exemption system for people who can’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine for medical reasons still have to be worked out, Dubé said.

Vardit Ravitsky, a bioethicist who teaches at Université de Montréal and Harvard Medical School, said she thinks announcing the plan early was a good move and will encourage people to get vaccinated — something she said could prevent the passport’s use entirely.

It’s the right approach, she said in an interview Thursday, to require proof of vaccination for specific locations and to lift the health order when an outbreak is over.

“This is such a targeted, such a finely nuanced proposition that it really takes care of all the worries that we sometimes have about discrimination, because it’s not meant to punish those who are not vaccinated, it’s not meant to create barriers for anyone, it’s just meant to keep as much of society open and functional around eruptions of the virus,” she said.

“It’s meant to protect the health-care system while protecting our economy.”

She said it’s reasonable to prevent someone who chose not to get vaccinated from visiting a bar for a specific period of time. “The limitations that they will face will be so minor, that I think for the common good, it’s a very reasonable, proportional idea.”

Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, said more detail is needed about how the passport system will work.

“When they say we’re not going to use this until it becomes necessary, I think we need to know in advance what necessary looks like,” she said in an interview Thursday. “We need a clear threshold that says this is when this is a measure that’s going to be appropriate.”

She said she also has concerns about how the private health data will be stored. “What happens to that information? Who holds it? And what kind of restrictions are put on its use and sharing? How secure is it?”

The Health Department said 113,084 doses of vaccine were administered Wednesday, and Quebec’s public health institute said 42.7 per cent of residents over 12 are considered adequately vaccinated.

Quebec reported 64 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and 10 more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus, nine of which occurred before July 1. Health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations dropped by two, to 101, and 23 people were in intensive care, a drop of two. Montreal reported 25 new COVID-19 cases while no other region in the province had more than 19 new cases.

Canada not doomed to 4th wave of COVID-19, doctors day, despite U.K.’s experience

MIA RABSON, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Thursday, Jul 8th, 2021

A fourth wave of COVID-19 now surging across the United Kingdom doesn’t have to become a reality in Canada as long as people keep getting vaccinated as quickly as possible, some infectious disease experts say.

That optimistic prediction comes even with the dominance of the Delta variant, which is proving to be harder to stop with just one dose of vaccine.

Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of Canada’s COVID-19 immunity task force, said the U.K. has been a “useful bellwether” for Canada in the pandemic, often a few steps ahead as infections rise and fall.

With one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns and strict public health measures after Christmas, the U.K. was a beacon of hope for Canada. In mid-May, while much of Canada was still deep into third-wave lockdowns, the U.K. was opening restaurants and bars, having curbed infection rates so much it had days when not a single person died of COVID-19.

But in the weeks since, the Delta variant is proving its heft, pushing infections in the U.K. from below 2,000 a day in the third week of May to more than 26,000 a day over the last week.

“We may likewise find with multiple provinces opening up that the same thing happens here,” said Naylor. “But it’s also possible that Canada may chart a slightly smoother course with Delta in the next month or so.”

While the U.K. outpaced Canada early on vaccines — and still does on second doses — there are some differences between the two inoculation programs, said Naylor, including waiting to lift most restrictions until more people were vaccinated.

“That may help us mitigate the risks of a big Delta wave,” he said.

When the U.K. moved to stage three of its reopening on May 17, allowing indoor dining and visits to movie theatres and museums, about half of British residents had their first jab and 30 per cent had both. Canada, which is now in a similar place to the U.K. was then in terms of both infection rates and public health restrictions lifting, has given at least one dose to 69 per cent of Canadians and 38 per cent are fully vaccinated.

But those numbers, don’t tell the entire story.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases doctor at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton, said another difference between the two countries is the age of the people who are vaccinated.

In both countries, infection rates are highest among people under 30. Canada opened up vaccines to people as young as 12 by the end of May. The U.K. only began booking people as young as 18 in mid-June and still hasn’t started vaccinating teenagers.

When the U.K. moved to stage three reopening in May, less than 17 per cent of people under 40 had even one dose of vaccine, and seven per cent had two. As of June 26, Canada had given at least one dose to about two-thirds of people between 12 and 39 years old, and two doses to about 12 per cent.

“I think we have a little bit of an advantage here in Canada,” said Chagla.

Studies have shown one dose of vaccine isn’t as good as two at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 infections. One dose is very good at keeping people out of hospital. Multiple countries where the Delta variant is spreading now report the fastest infection rates in unvaccinated people.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Research Organization at the University of Saskatchewan, said new variants are going to keep coming because viruses mutate as they spread, and sometimes those mutations make the virus stronger.

But Rasmussen said the mutations aren’t so big that the vaccines won’t affect them at all.

“The vast majority of people who’ve had two shots are not going to be severely ill, even if they do get a breakthrough infection,” Rasmussen said.

She said they’re also likely to be less infectious to others.

Rasmussen said people should remember this when the next variant inevitably emerges, and still trust the vaccines will help.

“The answer to variants is not ‘Oh my God, the vaccines don’t work,’ because some people are occasionally getting infected,” she said.

“We should be saying let’s all get vaccinated, so that we can reduce the likelihood that variants that are even more capable of getting around our defences will emerge.”

Lytton, B.C. is Canada’s face-to-face encounter with the future of climate

THE BIG STORY | posted Thursday, Jul 8th, 2021

In today’s Big Story podcast, two people are dead, a town is all but destroyed and more than a thousand people have essentially become climate refugees. And that is the toll of just one of the hundreds of forest fires raging in British Columbia at the moment.

But it’s in the future of Lytton that we can get a glimpse of what Canada must grapple with. Do you rebuild a town in the hottest place in Canada, at a time when fire season is getting longer and more intense every year? Or do you simply expect people, many of whom belong to the Lytton First Nation, to pick up the pieces and head elsewhere—until “elsewhere” is threatened, too?

GUEST: Monika Gul, News 1130, CityNews, Vancouver

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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