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Brampton MP Sangha expelled from caucus after baseless accusations against fellow Liberals

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2021

OTTAWA — Brampton Centre MP Ramesh Sangha has been kicked out of the Liberal caucus.

Government whip Mark Holland says in a statement that Sangha was removed from caucus after making what he calls “baseless and dangerous accusations” against a number of fellow Liberal MPs.

He does not specify what accusations Sangha made.

Holland says Liberals have been clear that they won’t tolerate “conspiracy theories or dangerous and unfounded rhetoric about parliamentarians or other Canadians.”

Holland adds it’s not unusual for many Canadians to “experience suspicions because of their background” and that the Liberal caucus stands firm against racism and intolerance.

Sangha was first elected as a Liberal MP in 2015.

Province to accelerate vaccinations for most vulnerable as it struggles with Pfizer delay

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2021

As a result of the Pfizer vaccine shortage, the Ontario government says it is speeding up when the most vulnerable groups get their first doses by 10 days.

That means other groups deemed not as high-risk, including long-term care staff and essential caregivers, will have to wait longer to be vaccinated.

It’s a trade-off the province deems necessary due to the ongoing supply shortage.

“We have taken the approach to focus on the most vulnerable populations, in light of temporarily reduced vaccine availability from the federal government and uncertainty about the stability of supply, as well as provincial epidemiology,” the Ministry of Health said in a release.

The province said it plans to accelerate the vaccination of all long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care residents across Ontario, with first doses administered by February 5, 2020 — 10 days faster than originally scheduled.

The province warns that the new, faster timeline is contingent on no further delivery delays.

The Ministry will also “reallocate vaccines to ensure the 14 public health units that have not received any vaccine to date can begin to vaccinate their vulnerable populations starting this week.”

The accelerated plan will also see delays in when some receive their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

Outside of the most vulnerable residents, the province is extending the intervals between dose 1 and 2 for all other groups to no more than 42 days for the Pfizer vaccine. Moderna vaccinations will remain at the 28-day interval.

Because of the current Pfizer vaccine shortage, no new doses will be received in Ontario this week. Next week over 26,000 are expected to be received.

Adding to the uncertainty of vaccine supply, the province says the federal government has not given Ontario its allocated vaccines for the week of Fed. 8 or 15.

The province has administered over 285,000 doses of vaccine since it first became available.

House of Commons passes motion to designate Proud Boys a terrorist entity

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2021

The House of Commons has passed a motion to designate the Proud Boys a terrorist entity.

The motion passed with unanimous consent, but at this point it’s not an official designation.

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair is still gathering evidence to possibly make it an official designation.

If that happens, the Proud Boys would join groups like al-Qaeda, Hezbollah and the Islamic State on Canada’s national list of terrorist organizations.

Founded by Canadian Gavin McInnes, the Proud Boys are a right-wing group that is unapologetically misogynist and increasingly linked to white supremacy and hate.

The group was banned by Facebook and Instagram in October 2018 for violating their hate policies.

The Proud Boys first made headlines in Canada when several self-identified members in the Royal Canadian Navy disrupted an Indigenous protest in Halifax in 2017, and has since grown its international profile and membership.

Several members were reportedly among those who stormed Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., following a speech by Donald Trump last week.

Trump impeachment goes to Senate, testing his sway over GOP

LISA MASCARO AND MARY CLARE JALONICK, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jan 26th, 2021

WASHINGTON — House Democrats delivered the impeachment case against Donald Trump to the Senate late Monday for the start of his historic trial, but Republican senators were easing off their criticism of the former president and shunning calls to convict him over the deadly siege at the U.S. Capitol.

It’s an early sign of Trump’s enduring sway over the party.

The nine House prosecutors carried the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol, making a solemn and ceremonial march to the Senate along the same halls the rioters ransacked just weeks ago. But Republican denunciations of Trump have cooled since the Jan. 6 riot. Instead Republicans are presenting a tangle of legal arguments against the legitimacy of the trial and questioning whether Trump’s repeated demands to overturn Joe Biden’s election really amounted to incitement.

What seemed for some Democrats like an open-and-shut case that played out for the world on live television, as Trump encouraged a rally mob to “fight like hell” for his presidency, is running into a Republican Party that feels very differently. Not only are there legal concerns, but senators are wary of crossing the former president and his legions of followers — who are their voters. Security remains tight at the Capitol.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, asked if Congress starts holding impeachment trials of former officials, what’s next: “Could we go back and try President Obama?”

Besides, he suggested, Trump has already been held to account. “One way in our system you get punished is losing an election.”

Arguments in the Senate trial will begin the week of Feb. 8, and the case against Trump, the first former president to face impeachment trial, will test a political party still sorting itself out for the post-Trump era. Republican senators are balancing the demands of deep-pocketed donors who are distancing themselves from Trump and voters who demand loyalty to him. One Republican, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, announced Monday he would not seek reelection in 2022, citing the polarized political atmosphere.

For Democrats the tone, tenor and length of the upcoming trial, so early in Biden’s presidency, poses its own challenge, forcing them to strike a balance between their vow to hold Trump accountable and their eagerness to deliver on the new administration’s priorities following their sweep of control of the House, Senate and White House.

Biden himself told CNN late Monday that the impeachment trial “has to happen.” While acknowledging the effect it could have on his agenda, he said there would be “a worse effect if it didn’t happen.”

Biden said he didn’t think enough Republican senators would vote for impeachment to convict, though he also said the outcome might well have been different if Trump had six months left in his term.

In a Monday evening scene reminiscent of just a year ago — Trump is now the first president twice impeached — the lead prosecutor from the House, this time Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, stood before the Senate to read the House resolution charging “high crimes and misdemeanours.”

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said failing to conduct the trial would amount to a “get-out-jail-free card” for others accused of wrongdoing on their way out the door.

Republicans appear more eager to argue over trial process than the substance of the case, he said, perhaps to avoid casting judgment on Trump’s “role in fomenting the despicable attack” on the Capitol.

Schumer said there’s only one question “senators of both parties will have to answer before God and their own conscience: Is former President Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection against the United States?”

On Monday, it was learned that Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the trial, as he did during Trump’s first impeachment, potentially affecting the gravitas of the proceedings. The shift is said to be in keeping with protocol because Trump is no longer in office.

Instead, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D- Vt., who serves in the largely ceremonial role of Senate president pro tempore, is set to preside.

Leaders in both parties agreed to a short delay in the proceedings that serves their political and practical interests, even as National Guard troops remain at the Capitol amid security threats on lawmakers ahead of the trial.

The start date gives Trump’s new legal team time to prepare its case, while also providing more than a month’s distance from the passions of the bloody riot. For the Democratic-led Senate, the intervening weeks provide prime time to confirm some of Biden’s key Cabinet nominees.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., questioned how his colleagues who were in the Capitol that day could see the insurrection as anything other than a “stunning violation” of the nation’s history of peaceful transfers of power.

“It is a critical moment in American history,” Coons said Sunday in an interview.

An early vote to dismiss the trial probably would not succeed, given that Democrats now control the Senate. The House approved the charge against Trump on Jan. 13, with 10 Republicans joining the Democrats.

Still, the mounting Republican opposition to the proceedings indicates that many GOP senators will eventually vote to acquit Trump. Democrats would need the support of 17 Republicans — a high bar — to convict him.

One by one, Republican senators are explaining their objections to the unprecedented trial and scoffing at the idea of trying to convict Trump now that he’s no longer in office.

Rand Paul of Kentucky said that without the chief justice presiding the proceedings are a “sham.” Joni Ernst of Iowa said that while Trump “exhibited poor leadership,” it’s those who assaulted the Capitol who “bear the responsibility.” New Sen. Tommy Tuberville of Alabama said Trump is one of the reasons he is in the Senate, so “I’m proud to do everything I can for him.”

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., is among those who say the Senate does not have the constitutional authority to convict a former president.

Democrats reject that argument, pointing to an 1876 impeachment of a secretary of war who had already resigned and to opinions by many legal scholars. Democrats also say that a reckoning of the first invasion of the Capitol since the War of 1812, perpetrated by rioters egged on by a president as Electoral College votes were being tallied, is necessary.

A few GOP senators have agreed with Democrats, though not close to the number that will be needed to convict Trump.

Mitt Romney of Utah said he believes “what is being alleged and what we saw, which is incitement to insurrection, is an impeachable offence. … If not, what is?” Romney was the only Republican senator to vote for conviction when the Senate acquitted Trump in his first impeachment trial.

___

Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

Too soon to know if Canada’s COVID-19 case decline will continue, Tam says

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2021

It’s still too soon to know whether the recent downward trend in new COVID-19 cases will continue, Canada’s chief public health officer said Sunday as several provinces grappled with outbreaks that threatened to derail their fragile progress.

Dr. Theresa Tam said there’s been an improvement in the COVID-19 numbers in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, but the disease is regaining steam elsewhere.

“While community-based measures may be starting to take effect in some areas, it is too soon to be sure that current measures are strong enough and broad enough to maintain a steady downward trend across the country,” she wrote in a statement.

Some long-standing virus hot spots have made headway in lowering the number of new cases in recent weeks, but are still fighting outbreaks and flare-ups as they race to vaccinate vulnerable communities.

The federal public safety minister announced Sunday that the Canadian Armed Forces will support vaccine efforts in a large swath of northern Ontario.

Bill Blair said on Twitter that armed forces personnel will support vaccine efforts in 32 communities of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, a collection of 49 First Nations spanning about two thirds of the province.

The military has previously been asked to help with the vaccine rollout in First Nations communities in Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba.

In a statement, Tam said the prospect of vaccines has offered Canadians “hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight.”

But in the meantime, she stressed that all Canadians need to keep following health measures, even after they’re immunized.

She said following public health measures will also reduce the spread of new variants of COVID-19, including the ones identified in the U.K., Brazil and South Africa.

Waterloo-area church defies COVID lockdown, hosts in-person services again

JASKIRAN KOONER, 570 NEWS AND NEWS STAFF | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2021

A Waterloo-area church went ahead with Sunday morning services despite current COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and a new, firm warning from the Province.

A steady stream of cars was seen arriving at Trinity Bible Chapel in Woolwich despite the fact the Attorney General obtained an order Friday from the Superior Court of Justice, compelling the church to obey the Reopening Ontario Act or possibly be held in contempt of court.

“We do not stand in contempt of the heavenly courts though,” said pastor Jacob Reaume in his opening remarks. “In fact, I believe the heavenly courts are smiling on us.”

“Sometimes it feels like we’re under siege by the entire country right now,” said Reaume, adding that they’ve received support from thousands of people across the globe.

The church service was streamed on YouTube as well.

Reaume said that he hopes more churches will come out into the open about their meetings.

“We have a message of hope when everyone else is talking despair,” he said. “The church must meet for the glory of God, and for the love of our neighbours.”

He also claimed that MPP Randy Hillier was in attendance.

Hillier, who sits as an independent in the legislature and has been a vocal critic of the Ford government’s lockdown, tweeted a photo on Sunday which appeared to be from the inside of the church.

One man who was not a member of the church, was seen holding a sign which read, “Don’t interfere with religious services.”

“There is this intent of the police to interfere with services, and Canadian rights are that police should not interfere with religious services,” he said.

Waterloo Regional Police were not present during the service, however, bylaw officers were seen around the area.

Regional Police later issued a statement on Twitter, stating that they were aware of the gathering and are working with public health and the Region of Waterloo by-law officers to “ensure appropriate action is taken.”

Source: President Biden to drop Trump’s military transgender ban

LOLITA C. BALDOR AND ZEKE MILLER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2021

President Joe Biden is set to issue an executive order to reverse a Pentagon policy that largely bars transgender individuals from joining the military, dumping a ban ordered by President Donald Trump in a tweet during his first year in office, a person briefed on the decision tells The Associated Press.

Biden has been widely expected to overturn the Trump policy in his early days in office. The White House could announce the move as early as Monday, according to the person briefed on the decision who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the order.

The move to reverse the policy has the support of Biden’s newly confirmed defence secretary, retired Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, who spoke of the need to overturn it during his Senate confirmation hearing last week.

“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said. “If you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve.”

The decision comes as Biden plans to turn his attention to equity issues that he believes continue to shadow nearly all aspects of American life. Ahead of his inauguration, Biden’s transition team circulated a memo from Ron Klain, now the White House chief of staff, that sketched out Biden’s plan to use his first full week as president “to advance equity and support communities of colour and other underserved communities.”

The move to overturn the transgender ban is also the latest example of Biden using executive authority in his first days as president to dismantle Trump’s legacy. His early actions include orders to overturn a Trump administration ban on travellers from several predominantly Muslim countries, stop construction of the wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, and launch an initiative to advance racial equity.

Biden is also scheduled to hold a ceremonial swearing-in ceremony on Monday at the White House for Austin, who became the nation’s first Black defence secretary.

It was unclear how quickly the Pentagon can put a new policy in effect, and whether it will take some time to work out details.

Until a few years ago service members could be discharged from the military for being transgender, but that changed during the Obama administration. In 2016, Defence Secretary Ash Carter announced that transgender people already serving in the military would be allowed to serve openly. And the military set July 1, 2017, as the date when transgender individuals would be allowed to enlist.

After Trump took office, however, his administration delayed the enlistment date and called for additional study to determine if allowing transgender individuals to serve would affect military readiness or effectiveness.

A few weeks later, Trump caught military leaders by surprise, tweeting that the government wouldn’t accept or allow transgender individuals to serve “in any capacity” in the military. “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” he wrote.

It took nearly two years, but after a lengthy and complicated legal battle and additional reviews, the Defence Department in April 2019 approved the new policy that fell short of an all-out ban but barred transgender troops and military recruits from transitioning to another sex and required most individuals to serve in their birth gender.

Under that policy, currently serving transgender troops and anyone who had signed an enlistment contract before the effective date could continue with plans for hormone treatments and gender transition if they had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

But after that date, no one with gender dysphoria who was taking hormones or has transitioned to another gender was allowed to enlist. Troops that were already serving and were diagnosed with gender dysphoria were required to serve in their birth gender and were barred from taking hormones or getting transition surgery.

Under the Trump policy, a service member can be discharged based on a diagnosis of gender dysphoria if he or she is “unable or unwilling to adhere to all applicable standards, including the standards associated with his or her biological sex, or seeks transition to another gender.” And it said troops must be formally counselled and given a chance to change their decision before the discharge is finalized.

As of 2019, an estimated 14,700 troops on active duty and in the Reserves identify as transgender, but not all seek treatment. Since July 2016, more than 1,500 service members were diagnosed with gender dysphoria; as of Feb. 1, 2019, there were 1,071 currently serving. According to the Pentagon, the department spent about $8 million on transgender care between 2016 and 2019. The military’s annual health care budget tops $50 billion.

All four service chiefs told Congress in 2018 that they had seen no discipline, morale or unit readiness problems with transgender troops serving openly in the military. But they also acknowledged that some commanders were spending a lot of time with transgender individuals who were working through medical requirements and other transition issues.

School set to resume for 100,000-plus Ontario students on Monday

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Jan 25th, 2021

More than 100,000 students from regions outside the GTHA will be heading back into the classroom on Monday.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced last week that the province’s Chief Medical Officer had cleared the way for in-person learning to resume across seven public health units including Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge, and Peterborough Public Health.

In a statement released Sunday, Lecce reaffirmed that the province’s goal continues to be keeping students and staff safe. He added that “tougher layers of protection” have been introduced, such as targeted asymptomatic testing, enhanced screening, mandatory masking for students in Grades 1-3 and outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained.

The head of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation is calling on the province to immediately pause in-person learning until appropriate safety measures are in place.

“The best kind of learning is in-person, face-to-face, with the support of education workers and teachers,” says Harvey Bischof. “But, as long as we don’t have a government that is going to really implement the safety measures that the medical experts are telling them they should then I think we need to hit pause for a bit.”

Bischof adds the province has rejected medical advice when it comes to smaller class sizes and better ventilation in schools.

The president of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Sam Hammond, has said it makes no sense to send students, teachers, and education workers back to school while the province is locked down.

On January 12, the Ford government announced that elementary and secondary students in Windsor-Essex, Peel, Toronto, York Region, and Hamilton would continue to learn remotely while it continues to closely monitor public health trends in those regions.

Elementary students and secondary students in the seven Northern Ontario public health units returned to in-person learning on January 11.

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