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After opening its borders to Canadian tourists, France wants Canada to do the same

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

OTTAWA — France, which has opened its borders to Canadian tourists, is eager to see Canada reopen to the French.

The Canadian border remains closed to foreigners, with a few exceptions, and will be until at least July 21. Ottawa has extended the closure, month after month, since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

At the French embassy in Ottawa Tuesday the representative of President Emmanuel Macron’s government argued the Canadian border should be reopened to the French as soon as possible.

“The borders will have to be reopened relatively quickly now for us to put Canada back on our travel plans,” Ambassador Kareen Rispal said. “If not, it’s true that French ministers will go to the countries where they can go.”

Otherwise, the relationship between the two countries will suffer, she warned.

“The consequence of the border closure is that there are no more visits,” Rispal said. “There are no more ministers. There are no more parliamentarians. There are no more manufacturing visits. There are no more visits by artists … relationships need to be worked on every day, to nourish them.”

France permits Canadians who can prove they are fully vaccinated, or who submit a recent negative COVID-19 test and who attest to not having COVID-19 symptoms, to enter its territory.

“We are a green country,” she said, referring to the colour system used by France to designate countries where the novel coronavirus is under control.

“Canada is a green country. We would be very happy if the French could return to Canada without constraints other than being doubly vaccinated, taking tests, etc. We aren’t asking to return to Canada in a haphazard way.”

Rispal said she will be watching what the Canadian government does on July 21.

Every time the border issue has come up during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent news conferences, he has said he understands everyone’s impatience but has noted, again and again, that the pandemic isn’t over.

The first loosening of the border restrictions came on July 5, when fully vaccinated Canadians were no longer required to quarantine on their return to the country — a measure that applied to everyone who already had the right to enter Canada, such as those with student visas.

Trudeau has promised to relax border restrictions further “in the coming weeks,” and has added he won’t open the door “before the right moment” to unvaccinated foreigners.

On Monday, Macron announced that starting in August, proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 PCR test will be required to enter restaurants, go to concerts or take the train in France. For Canadian tourists, paper proof of vaccination will be sufficient, according to the ambassador.

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

Lina Dib, The Canadian Press

More than 160 unmarked graves at another B.C. residential school site, First Nation confirms

LISA STEACY | posted Tuesday, Jul 13th, 2021

Emotional support or assistance for those who are affected by the residential school system can be found at Indian Residential School Survivors Society toll-free 1 (800) 721-0066 or 24 hr Crisis Line 1 (866) 925-4419.

PENELAKUT (NEWS 1130) — The Penelakut Tribe has confirmed more than 160 unmarked, undocumented graves at the site of a former residential school on their territory near Vancouver Island.

The Kuper Island Indian Residential School, located off the coast of Cheamainus in the Southern Gulf Islands, operated between 1889 and 1975 and was run by the federal government and the Roman Catholic Church. The building was demolished in the 1980s and Kuper Island was renamed as Penelakut in 2010.

“We understand that many of our brothers and sisters from our neighboring communities attended the Kuper Island Industrial School. We also recognize with a tremendous amount of grief and loss, that too many did not return home,” says a statement from Chief Joan Brown that was shared online by Cowichan Tribes.

“It is impossible to get over acts of genocide and human rights violations. Healing is an ongoing process, and sometimes it goes well, and sometimes we lose more people because the burden is too great. We are at another point in time where we must face the trauma because of these acts of genocide. Each time we do, it is possible to heal a little more.”

The institution was known as “Canada’s Alcatraz” because of its remote location, and because of documented cases of children who died trying to escape.

This comes after similar discoveries at other sites in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

In May, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation confirmed, using ground-penetrating radar,  that the remains of 215 children — some as young as three years old — had been found. The search of the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which was once the largest in Canada’s residential school system, renewed calls for all former sites to be searched across the country.

Less than a month later, the Cowessess First Nation confirmed 751 unmarked graves were uncovered on the grounds of the former Marieval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan. Later in June, the Lower Kootenay Band said a search using ground-penetrating radar found 182 human remains in unmarked graves near Cranbrook, close to where the Kootenay Indian Residential School once stood.

Calls for apology from Pope renewed after confirmation of unmarked graves 

After the unmarked graves were located — something First Nations leaders have stressed was not a discovery but rather a confirmation of what Indigenous communities have long known — theTk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation and the Cowesses First Nation have both said an apology from the Pope l is a crucial first step toward reconciliation.

One of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 was for the leader of the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for its role in a system that saw 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children taken from their families and confined in conditions that constituted cultural genocide.

“We call upon the Pope to issue an apology to Survivors, their families, and communities for the Roman Catholic Church’s role in the spiritual, cultural, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children in Catholic-run residential schools,” the commission wrote.

In 2018, Pope Francis said he would not be making an apology despite a formal request from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and pleas from survivors and their families. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said that while the Pope acknowledged the commission’s findings and expressed regret for past wrongs, he “felt he could not personally respond.”

On June 6, more than a week after the announcement from the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation, Pope Francis made a statement. He said he was “following with sorrow” the news of an unmarked burial site brought. He added the “shocking” discovery is a call for Canadian religious and political authorities to keep working toward reconciliation.

“I join with the Catholic church in Canada in expressing closeness to the Canadian people traumatized by the shocking news,” he said. “This sad discovery increases the awareness of the sorrows and sufferings of the past.”

The Pontiff has made no further statements.

A delegation of Indigenous leaders will visit the Vatican later this year to press for a papal apology.

Calls for Canada to investigate all sites of former residential schools 

The United Nations is among those who have called on Canada to perform an exhaustive investigation into uncovering the remains of residential school children across the country On June 2, the federal government announced it was providing First Nations communities with funding to conduct such searches at former sites.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission issued its final report on residential schools more than five years ago. The nearly 4,000-page account details the abuse inflicted on Indigenous children after they were taken forcibly from their families to institutions where they were forbidden to speak their language and punished brutally for any attempts to practise their culture. Physical and sexual abuse were rampant.

The commission identified the names or information of more than 4,100 children who died in the residential school system. However, the exact number remains unknown.

With files from NEWS 1130 Staff and 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

Iraqi health officials: 58 dead in fire at coronavirus ward

QASSIM ABDUL-ZAHRA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 13th, 2021

BAGHDAD (AP) — The death toll from a catastrophic hospital blaze in a city in southern Iraq the previous day rose to 58 on Tuesday, medical officials said.

Two health officials said that more than 100 people were also injured in the fire that torched the coronavirus ward of al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the city of Nasiriyah on Monday.

Earlier, officials had said the fire was caused by an electric short circuit, but have not provided more details. Another official said the blaze erupted when an oxygen cylinder exploded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to journalists.

The new ward, opened just three months ago, contained 70 beds.

Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi chaired an emergency meeting in the wake of the fire and ordered the suspension and arrest of the health director in Dhi Qar province, where Nasiriyah is located, as well as the director of the hospital and the city’s director of civil defense. A government investigation was also launched.

It was the second time a large fire killed coronavirus patients in an Iraqi hospital this year. At least 82 people died at Ibn al-Khateeb hospital in Baghdad in April, when an oxygen tank exploded, sparking the blaze.

Qassim Abdul-zahra, The Associated Press

Immunized but banned: EU says not all COVID vaccines equal

MARIA CHENG, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Jul 13th, 2021

LONDON (AP) — After Dr. Ifeanyi Nsofor and his wife received two doses of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in Nigeria, they assumed they would be free to travel this summer to a European destination of their choice. They were wrong.

The couple — and millions of other people who have been vaccinated through a U.N.-backed effort — could find themselves barred from entering many European and other countries because those nations don’t recognize the Indian-made version of the vaccine for travel.

Although AstraZeneca vaccine produced in Europe has been authorized by the continent’s drug regulatory agency, the same shot manufactured in India hasn’t been given the green light.

EU regulators said AstraZeneca hasn’t completed the necessary paperwork on the Indian factory, including details on its production practices and quality control standards.

But some experts describe the EU move as discriminatory and unscientific, pointing out that the World Health Organization has inspected and approved the factory. Health officials say the situation won’t only complicate travel and frustrate fragile economies but also undermine vaccine confidence by appearing to label some shots substandard.

As vaccination coverage rises across Europe and other rich countries, authorities anxious to salvage the summer tourism season are increasingly relaxing coronavirus border restrictions.

Earlier this month, the European Union introduced its digital COVID-19 certificate, which allows EU residents to move freely in the 27-nation bloc as long as they have been vaccinated with one of the four shots authorized by the European Medicines Agency, have a fresh negative test, or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.

While the U.S. and Britain remain largely closed to outside visitors, the EU certificate is seen as a potential model for travel in the COVID-19 era and a way to boost economies.

The officially EU-endorsed vaccines also include those made by Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. They don’t include the AstraZeneca shot made in India or many other vaccines used in developing countries, including those manufactured in China and Russia.

Individual EU countries are free to apply their own rules for travelers from inside and outside the bloc, and their rules vary widely, creating further confusion for tourists. Several EU countries, including Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, allow people to enter if they have had non-EU-endorsed vaccines; several others, including France and Italy, don’t.

For Nsofor, the realization he could be barred was “a rude awakening.” After a tough year of working during the pandemic in Abuja, Nsofor and his wife were looking forward to a European vacation with their two young daughters, perhaps admiring the Eiffel Tower in Paris or touring Salzburg in Austria.

Nsofor noted that the Indian-made vaccine he received had been authorized by WHO for emergency use and had been supplied through COVAX, the U.N.-backed program to provide shots to poor corners of the world. WHO’s approval included a visit to the Serum Institute of India factory to ensure that it had good manufacturing practices and that quality control standards were met.

“We’re grateful to the EU that they funded COVAX, but now they are essentially discriminating against a vaccine that they actively funded and promoted,” Nsofor said. “This will just give room to all kinds of conspiracy theories that the vaccines we’re getting in Africa are not as good as the ones they have for themselves in the West.”

Ivo Vlaev, a professor at Britain’s University of Warwick who advises the government on behavioral science during COVID-19, agreed that Western countries’ refusal to recognize vaccines used in poor countries could fuel mistrust.

“People who were already suspicious of vaccines will become even more suspicious,” Vlaev said. “They could also lose trust in public health messages from governments and be less willing to comply with COVID rules.”

Dr. Mesfin Teklu Tessema, director of health for the International Rescue Committee, said countries that have declined to recognize vaccines cleared by WHO are acting against the scientific evidence.

“Vaccines that have met WHO’s threshold should be accepted. Otherwise it looks like there’s an element of racism here,” he said.

WHO urged countries to recognize all of the vaccines it has authorized, including two Chinese-made ones. Countries that decline to do so are “undermining confidence in lifesaving vaccines that have already been shown to be safe and effective, affecting uptake of vaccines and potentially putting billions of people at risk,” the U.N. health agency said in a statement this month.

In June, the Serum Institute of India’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, tweeted that he was concerned about vaccinated Indians facing problems traveling to the EU and said he was raising the problem at the highest levels with regulators and countries.

Stefan De Keersmaeker, a spokesman for the EU’s executive arm, said last week that regulators were obligated to check the production process at the Indian factory.

“We are not trying to create any doubts about this vaccine,” he said.

AstraZeneca said it only recently submitted the paperwork on the Indian factory to the EU drug regulatory agency. It didn’t say why it didn’t do so earlier, before the agency made its original decision in January.

Public health experts warned that countries that decline to recognize vaccines backed by WHO are complicating global efforts to safely restart travel.

“You can’t just cut off countries from the rest of the world indefinitely,” said Dr. Raghib Ali of the University of Cambridge. “To exclude some people from certain countries because of the vaccine they’ve received is wholly inconsistent because we know that these approved vaccines are extremely protective.”

Nsofor said he and his wife are still deciding where to take their summer vacation and are leaning toward Singapore or East Africa.

“I didn’t realize there were so many layers to vaccine inequity,” he said.

___

Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Angela Charlton in Paris, and Lorne Cook in Brussels, contributed to this report.

Baby dies after being struck by vehicle on driveway in Brampton

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Jul 12th, 2021

A baby has died after what police call a “deeply tragic accident” in Brampton overnight.

Emergency crews were called to the scene on Royal Salisbury Way, in the Williams Parkway and Highway 400 area, just after midnight on Monday.

Peel police said a one-year-old girl was on the driveway of a home when she was struck by a vehicle.

The baby was rushed to hospital with critical injuries where she later died.

Police believe a family member was behind the wheel of the car at the time.

No charges have been laid.

Visitation held Sunday evening for Toronto officer who died in line of duty

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

Mourners trickled into a funeral home north of Toronto Sunday to pay their last respects to a police officer who died in the line of duty.

The visitation for Const. Jeffrey Northrup at the Kane-Jerrett Funeral Home in Thornhill, Ont., was open to the public.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Toronto Mayor John Tory were among those who attended.

Emergency Task Force officers donning grey uniforms and vests also turned out to pay respects.

Investigators have said Northrup was killed in a deliberate act last week while responding to a report of a robbery in a parking lot at Toronto City Hall, and a 31-year-old man has been charged with first-degree murder in his death.

Northrup’s casket will remain in Thornhill until Monday’s funeral at BMO Field in Toronto’s Exhibition Place.

The service is not open to the public, but will be broadcast live.

At Sunday’s visitation, only 15 mourners were allowed in the main reception area at a time due to public health restrictions meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Quarantine exemptions lure visitors to Canada in advance of busy travel weekend

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

WASHINGTON — The number of incoming visitors to Canada has been gradually increasing in the days since travel restrictions began easing for fully vaccinated, eligible travellers — and the country’s border agents are expecting more this weekend.

The Canada Border Services Agency says incoming traffic last week increased about 25 per cent after quarantine rules were waived Monday for fully vaccinated Canadians, permanent residents and others already allowed to cross the border.

But despite the agency’s best efforts to publicize the requirements, roughly half of the people seeking the exemption had to be turned away, said Denis Vinette, vice-president of the agency’s travellers branch.

“It’s a question, I think, of folks not understanding the rules,” Vinette said in an interview.

Only Canadian citizens, permanent residents and eligible foreign nationals who have gone two weeks since a full course of one of the four COVID-19 vaccines approved by Health Canada — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson — are exempt from quarantine.

Canada has exceptions in place for foreign nationals who are immediate family members of a Canadian citizen or permanent resident, as well as a process to allow extended family members and international students to apply for entry.

Of those who were denied the exemption last week, most had either had only one dose of a two-dose vaccine, had not waited the requisite 14 days after their last shot or had received a vaccine not cleared for use in Canada, Vinette said.

“The big thing for folks to understand is what qualifies as a fully exempted traveller under Canada’s definition,” Vinette said in an interview Friday.

“It is about having had one of the four Health Canada vaccines. It’s about having had the full regimens, or both shots, and having had 14 days pass after your second shot.”

Travellers are also required to use the ArriveCAN app or online portal to submit their vaccine information and the results of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before departure.

Air Canada and WestJet are also helping to promote the rules with signage in airports, and airport authorities and provincial public health agencies are also doing their part, Vinette said.

The agency is anxious to make sure people understand what has changed and what has not in order to prevent excessive delays or tie-ups at border control points, he added.

He said the delays have not been extensive, except for at busy border crossings like Windsor-Detroit, Fort Erie, Ont., and the Pacific Highway crossing in B.C., where peak wait times were sometimes close to 45 minutes.

That could be changing this weekend.

“We ask people to be patient at the border if they find that there are long lineups and folks coming in for the weekend,” Vinette said.

“It’s our first test, if you will, especially in the land border environment.”

The ArriveCAN portal can be accessed either via the Apple or Android app or online via the federal government’s website at canada.ca. Travellers must use the latest version of the app, which was updated when the rules changed.

As for when the restrictions will be relaxed further, that remains an open question.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday he has no intention of jeopardizing Canada’s recovery from the pandemic by prematurely opening the border. He said the next step would be easing the restrictions on fully vaccinated travellers who aren’t Canadian, but didn’t say when that might happen.

South of the border, patience for the return of Canadian visitors has been running low.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who represents the border state of New York, urged the two countries to come up with a mutual plan to reopen the border as soon as possible _ and failing that, for the U.S. to take unilateral action.

“If an agreement cannot be reached, the United States must do two things,” Schumer said in a statement last week.

“Expand the definition of essential travel to include vaccinated Canadian citizens with family, property, educational, medical, or business interests (in the U.S.), and unilaterally open the northern border to those vaccinated Canadians.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2021.

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