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More policy, less pomp as Biden and Trudeau meet virtually

JAMES MCCARTEN, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, Feb 24th, 2021

President Joe Biden’s first bilateral meeting with Canada’s Justin Trudeau since taking office was high on policy, low on pomp and featured a very large swipe at Biden’s predecessor as the coronavirus forced the two leaders to convene virtually Tuesday rather than gathering with customary Oval Office fanfare.

WATCH VIDEO: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/02/23/biden-trudeau-virtual-meeting/

The two leaders – Biden in the Roosevelt Room at the White House and Trudeau in the prime minister’s office in Ottawa – delivered friendly opening remarks in front of the media, with flags from both countries on display at both ends of the long-distance conversation.

“The United States has no closer friend, no closer friend, than Canada,” Biden said.

Trudeau, in turn, commended Biden for quickly rejoining the Paris climate accord, a worldwide pact to curb climate emissions that President Donald Trump walked away from early in his term. The prime minister, who had a frosty relationship with Trump at times, worked in a jab at Trump as he praised Biden.

“U.S. leadership has been sorely missed over the past years,” Trudeau said. “And I have to say as we were preparing the joint rollout of the communique on this, it’s nice when the Americans are not pulling out all the references to climate change and instead adding them in.”

In remarks at the end of the talks, Biden for the first time publicly spoke out against the detention of two Canadian citizens imprisoned in China in apparent retaliation for Canada’s arrest of a top Huawei executive.

“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden said of the two Canadians. “We are going to work together until their safe return.”

Trudeau, for his part, publicly thanked Biden for his support in seeking the men’s release.

Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were detained in China following the arrest of Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in Canada after the U.S. requested her extradition to face charges that the Chinese telecom company executive committed wire and bank fraud and violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. She denies the allegations.

China lashed out at Canada last week for joining the U.S. and 56 other countries in endorsing a declaration denouncing state-sponsored arbitrary detention of foreign citizens for political purposes.

Trudeau’s broadside of Trump was a notable coda to a relationship marked by some notably undiplomatic moments.

The Republican president, in a fit of pique in 2018, took to Twitter to label the prime minister “dishonest and weak” after Trudeau voiced objections to Trump raising tariffs on steel and aluminum from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

Trump blew up again at Trudeau in 2019, calling him “two-faced” after the Canadian leader was caught on video mocking the American president as he spoke to other world leaders on the sidelines of a NATO conference at Buckingham Palace.

In pre-pandemic times, the Biden-Trudeau meeting would have been held with far more fanfare: Biden welcoming the Canadian prime minister with great ceremony upon his arrival, an Oval Office talk between the two leaders, a joint news conference and perhaps a luncheon.

But with both leaders stressing caution to their citizens, Biden and Trudeau set aside the typical protocol in favour talks by video conference. U.S. presidents traditionally invite the Canadian prime minister for their first meeting with a world leader.

While cable stations in the United States stuck with breaking news about pro golfer Tiger Woods’ serious car crash, Canada’s CTV and CBC carried the leaders’ opening remarks live.

The two leaders agreed to a “road map” outlining how the neighbouring countries will work together to fight COVID-19, curb climate emissions and pursue other shared priorities.

It was unclear whether Trudeau again raised with the Democratic president the idea of allowing Canada, which is struggling to vaccinate its population, to buy vaccines from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s manufacturing facility in Michigan. Canada currently is getting vaccines shipped from a Pfizer plant in Belgium.

Trudeau brought up the issue when the two leaders spoke by phone last month, Biden’s first call to a foreign leader as president. But Biden’s “first priority” remains “ensuring every American is vaccinated,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ahead of the meeting.

The prime minister’s office said in a statement that Biden and Trudeau discussed how the pandemic “will not end until everyone, everywhere has access to a vaccine” and “the importance of avoiding measures that may constrain the critical trade and supply-chain security between our countries.”

Neither leader in public remarks mentioned differences over Biden’s “Buy American” executive order or his decision to halt construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a transcontinental project that was to bring oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.

Trudeau, who supported the project, expressed his disappointment with Biden’s decision when the two spoke by phone last month.

The “Buy American” executive order that Biden signed during his first week in office is designed to encourage the federal government to spend more of the roughly $600 billion earmarked for procurement to boost U.S. factories and hiring.

Biden previously said that as part of the push he was creating a “Made in America” office to evaluate contracts and make sure waivers are used only in “very limited circumstances.” The issue is crucial to Canada since the U.S. accounts for about 75% of its exports.

Toronto schools had highest positivity rate in asymptomatic COVID-19 testing

BT Toronto | posted Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021

Among the regions enrolled in the province’s asymptomatic testing program for schools, Toronto had the highest positivity rate, according to new statistics released by the Ministry of Education.

Toronto’s positivity rate of 1.19 per cent was highest, followed by Peel (1.07) and Ottawa (0.85).

Hamilton and Sudbury saw no new cases identified.












“Our government has taken action to deploy asymptomatic testing province-wide, the first program of its kind in Canada, as we recognize its strength as an additional layer of protection in our schools,” Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, said in a release.

“I encourage all students, staff and families to take advantage of this program – which uses the least invasive testing options possible –  when offered for their school community.”

As of Monday at 10:30 a.m., the province says there have been 7,998 total school-related cases of COVID-19 across Ontario. Of those total cases, 5,560 have been students.

Ten schools are currently closed due to outbreaks.

Supreme Court won’t halt turnover of Trump’s tax records

JESSICA GRESKO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021

In a significant defeat for former President Donald Trump, the Supreme Court on Monday declined to step in to halt the turnover of his tax records to a New York state prosecutor.

The court’s action is the apparent culmination of a lengthy legal battle that had already reached the high court once before.

Trump’s tax records are not supposed to become public as part of prosecutors’ criminal investigation, but the high court’s action is a blow to Trump because he has long fought on so many fronts to keep his tax records shielded from view. The ongoing investigation that the records are part of could also become an issue for Trump in his life after the presidency. Trump has called it “a fishing expedition” and “a continuation of the witch hunt _ the greatest witch hunt in history.”

The Supreme Court waited months to act in the case. The last of the written briefs in the case was filed Oct. 19. But a court that includes three Trump appointees waited through the election, Trump’s challenge to his defeat and a month after Trump left office before issuing its order.

The court offered no explanation for the delay, and the legal issue before the justices did not involve whether Trump was due any special deference because he was president.

The court’s order is a win for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been seeking Trump’s tax records since 2019 as part of an investigation. Vance, a Democrat, had subpoenaed the records from the Mazars accounting firm that has long done work for Trump and his businesses. Mazars has said it would comply with the subpoena, but Trump, a Republican, sued to block the records’ release.

Vance’s office had said it would be free to enforce the subpoena and obtain the records in the event the Supreme Court declined to step in and halt the records’ turnover, but it was unclear when that might happen. In a three-word statement, Vance on Monday said only: “The work continues.”

Representatives for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case the high court ruled in involves a grand jury subpoena for more than eight years of Trump’s personal and corporate tax records. Vance has disclosed little about what prompted him to request the records. In one court filing last year, however, prosecutors said they were justified in demanding the records because of public reports of “possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization.”

Part of the probe involves payments to two women _ porn actress Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal _ to keep them quiet during the 2016 presidential campaign about alleged extramarital affairs with Trump. Trump has denied the affairs.

In July, the justices in a 7-2 ruling rejected Trump’s argument that the president is immune from investigation while he holds office or that a prosecutor must show a greater need than normal to obtain the tax records.

Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, whom Trump nominated to the high court, joined that decision. It was issued before Trump’s third nominee, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, replaced the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the court.

As part of its July decision, the high court returned the Vance case and a similar case involving records sought by Congress to lower courts. And the court prevented the records from being turned over while the cases proceeded.

Since the high court’s ruling, in the Vance case, Trump’s attorneys made additional arguments that his tax records should not be turned over, but they lost again in federal court in New York and on appeal. It was those rulings that Trump had sought to put on hold.

Conservatives win all party support of Uighur genocide vote in House of Commons

MIKE BLANCHFIELD, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021

OTTAWA — Canada’s House of Commons voted unanimously in favour Monday of a Conservative motion declaring as genocide the atrocities committed against ethnic Muslim Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang province.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and all of his Liberal cabinet ministers abstained from the politically charged vote, which took place mainly over video, and against the backdrop of all-but-frozen relations between Beijing and Ottawa.

China has imprisoned two Canadian men, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, on what the government and dozens of its allies say are bogus charges in retaliation for the RCMP’s December 2018 arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. extradition warrant.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau registered a formal abstention on behalf of the government, drawing audible jeers over the video feed.

Dozens of Liberal MPs supported the Conservative motion, which passed by a 266-0 margin, amid the cabinet abstentions in the 338-seat Commons.

The vote is largely symbolic but represents growing political opposition to widespread reports of atrocities against Chinese minorities, accusations the China’s communist leaders vociferously deny.

MPs also voted in favour of an amendment from the Bloc Quebecois to call upon the International Olympic Committee to move the 2022 Olympic Games out of China if the genocide continues.

The Liberal support came after the Conservatives called on Liberal MPs to support the party’s motion earlier in the day.

Conservative MPs Michael Chong and Garnett Genuis were joined by Uighur community members at a teleconference Monday in calling for the government’s support, suggesting that unanimity would send a strong signal to China.

“We can no longer ignore this,” said Chong, the party’s foreign affairs critic.

“We must call it for what it is: a genocide.”

The Conservatives tabled the motion in the House of Commons last week for vote to formally declare that crimes against Uighur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang province constitute a genocide.

The move was non-binding but it has angered China and its ambassador to Canada warned Canadian MPs to butt out of his country’s internal affairs days earlier.

Genuis, the critic for international development and human rights, said the Conservatives expected to have the support of opposition parties to pass the motion.

“But we believe the message will be that much stronger and clearer if as many members of the government as possible join with us and show that we are able to stand together on issues of fundamental human rights,” he said earlier Monday.

Trudeau has stopped short of agreeing with American officials, human rights advocates and legal scholars who argue the violations amount to a genocide, saying it is a loaded word that has to be used carefully. But he has said serious human rights abuses are taking place in the western Chinese province.

Trudeau and U.S. President Joe Biden will be discussing China in their virtual meeting on Tuesday.

Opposition parties indicated before the vote they were prepared to support the Conservative motion.

“New Democrats recognize that China’s measures of mass detention, forced labour, surveillance and population control, such as forced sterilization, against Uighurs and Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang meet the definition of genocide,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a statement.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said his party would support the motion so long as their amendment on the Olympics was passed.

A Green party spokesman said it would support the Conservative motion, and the Bloc amendment.

Montreal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said on Twitter before the vote that he would vote in support of the genocide motion. His backbench colleagues fell in line like virtual dominoes once the voting started.

Earlier Monday, Chong dismissed the Chinese government’s claims there is no genocide taking place in Xinjiang.

Ambassador Cong Peiwu recently told The Canadian Press that reports of millions of people in detention camps being subjected to forced labour, sterilization and other abuse is simply unsubstantiated China-bashing.

Chong rejected that denial, saying there are reams of satellite images, smuggled video and documents, accounts from escaped Uighurs and undercover reporting by major American newspapers to document the atrocities.

“The evidence has come in the form of high-definition, high-resolution satellite imagery that has been tracked over time that documents clearly the building of hundreds of detention centers,” said Chong.

The Tories were joined by Kalbinur Tursun, a Uighur who fled China and has spoken publicly against the Communist party’s treatment of her people in Xinjiang.

Speaking through a translator provided by the party, she said the world didn’t believe the horrors of the Holocaust until the concentration camps were exposed for all to see after the Second World War.

“Yesterday’s Jews are today’s Uighurs,” said Tursun.

Two weeks ago, Tursun said Chinese police contacted her with “threatening texts and phone calls reminding me to cease talking.” She said she was speaking publicly in an appeal to save the lives of her relatives back home.

A Canadian parliamentary subcommittee concluded in an October report that China’s treatment of Uighurs is a genocide, a finding China rejected as baseless. The committee heard from Uighur witnesses who gave first-hand accounts of atrocities.

“What we see before our eyes is not complicated. We see the existence of modern concentration camps,” said Genuis.

“When you think of slaves being forced to pick cotton, you might initially think of images of the Antebellum South. But that description equally describes what is happening in Xinjiang.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 22, 2021.

EXCLUSIVE: Federal hotel quarantine rules being ignored by some

VICTORIA REVAY AND ADRIAN GHOBRIAL | posted Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2021

Starting Monday, all international passengers arriving at major Canadian airports have to complete a mandatory three-day hotel quarantine once they land, along with a suite of measures meant to prevent contagious COVID-19 variants from entering the country.

WATCH: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/02/22/exclusive-federal-hotel-quarantine-rules-being-ignored-by-some/

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said the tighter border controls are meant to keep everyone safe, not punish travellers. But for some these extra measures may be seen as such.

One Toronto woman refused to comply with the new rules, citing financial concerns. She walked out of the airport to quarantine at her home, alone, as caught on camera by CityNews.

“I’m being forced to go to this hotel,” said a visibly frustrated Priya Harrynadan. “I have no money, so how am I going to go to a hotel right now? This is really stressful because I feel like they’re holding me against my will, they’re questioning me. I have no choice… she told me I have no choice, I have to go to the hotel.”

When Trudeau announced the new measures earlier this month, he estimated costs could run up to $2,000 per person. However rates at the Alt Hotel Toronto Airport and the Sheraton Gateway Hotel at Toronto Pearson International Airport, two of the hotels currently participating in the government quarantine program, start at $339 and $319 per person respectively, hotel employees say — which still adds up to around $1,000 for three days.

Previously, the Quarantine Act stated that all travellers had to complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine at home. It is unclear how many travellers haven’t been complying with that order.

Cara Zwibel, a lawyer for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says she has been asking the federal government for that data, but they haven’t made it public.

She believes that could mean the new hotel quarantine rules are a violation of the Charter of Rights in terms of leaving and entering the country.

“It’s going to be difficult for the government to forcibly take people to go to hotels if they don’t want to go,” she said. “We really don’t know if there’s good evidence that says … before this rule was in place there were a lot of people who were not following those rules, who were not isolating at home. To me that would be the only justification for this.”

In addition, there are some other bumps in the road — along with getting tested upon arrival, a pre-confirmed hotel booking must be presented once you land at the airport. But pre-booking a hotel has been anything but easy.

Cindy Rajacic’s 70-year-old mother flew to Serbia to be with her dying brother. She’s due to arrive in Canada on Tuesday, but it took Cindy almost 24-hours to book her a hotel room. She says the process needs to be simplified.

“Please put things in place where we can reach someone. We want to abide by all the rules, but give us other options,” she said.

With files from News Staff

Residents asked to put the brakes on region hopping come Monday

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Feb 22nd, 2021

As York Region prepares to move into the province’s Red-Control zone on Monday while Toronto and Peel remain under stay-at-home orders for at least two more weeks, concerns are being raised about region-hopping leading to further spread of the COVID-19 variants.

Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, says public health officials identified upwards of 700 cases of COVID-19 variants across Canada on Saturday – a finding she said lends new urgency to her calls to maintain personal COVID-19 precautions.

While overall daily case counts continued to trend downwards, Tam noted that the latest cases of variants of concern could fuel a bigger third wave of the pandemic.

Federal projections released Friday suggest COVID-19 variants could fuel 20,000 new cases per day by mid-March if public health restrictions are relaxed.

COVID-19 ‎biostatistician Ryan Imgrund says governments need to look at the reproductive value – not just case counts – as it predicts where the numbers will go. Using Thunder Bay as an example, he says they are currently in the Red-Control zone but they are showing Grey-Lockdown numbers.

“We knew they would start to show Grey numbers because they’ve had a reproductive number significantly above one for three to four weeks now. And we know that when we see cases go up, we shouldn’t be surprised that all of a sudden Yellow becomes Orange and Orange becomes Red.”

When Toronto and Peel were shut down in December, and York was still open, the province saw a rise in cases as Ontarians hopped from region to region.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says they don’t want people travelling between regions at this point.

“This isn’t a reopening, everything is back to normal. Not at all,” she said. “Please stay in your own region, please follow the public health measures and sooner or later everyone will get to that place.”

Vaughan mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua stopped short of calling on visitors to stay out of the region come Monday.

“I’m not here to divide people. I think that in the GTA we share in the risk and benefits of our common citizenship,” he said. “I think what you have to do when you come to York Region, you have to respect the rules, the laws and regulations of the region and of the province.”

United Airlines grounding 24 aircraft after engine failure incident over Denver

BT Toronto | posted Monday, Feb 22nd, 2021

United Airlines says it is removing 24 Boeing 777 aircraft from its fleet “out of an abundance of caution” following Saturday’s incident over the skies of Denver.

The move comes after a United Airlines flight out of Denver bound for Hawaii was forced to turn back moments after takeoff when it suffered a catastrophic failure and rained pieces of the engine casing on a neighbourhood, narrowly missing a home.

There were no injuries among the 231 passengers and 10 crew on board.

“Since yesterday, we’ve been in touch with regulators at the NTSB and FAA and will continue to work closely with them to determine any additional steps that are needed to ensure these aircraft meet our rigorous safety standards and can return to service,” United said in a statement.

The airline adds a small number of customers are likely to be inconvenienced by the grounding.

The National Transportation Safety Board said in a separate statement that two of the engine’s fan blades were fractured and the remainder of the fan blades “exhibited damage.” The NTSB did caution that it was too early to draw conclusions about how the incident happened.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration on Sunday issued an Emergency Airworthiness Directive which will require immediate or stepped-up inspections of Boeing 777 airplanes equipped with certain Pratt & Whitney engines.

“We reviewed all available safety data following yesterday’s incident. Based on the initial information, we concluded that the inspection interval should be stepped up for the hollow fan blades that are unique to this model of engine, used soley on Boeing 777 airplanes,” read a statement from FAA Administrator Steve Dickson.

The directive does not affect Boeing 777 aircraft operated by Air Canada, who say their planes are fitted with a different engine.

Airlines in Japan and South Korea also operate planes with the Pratt & Whitney engine. Japan Airways and All Nippon Airways have decided to stop operating a combined 32 planes with that engine, according to Nikkei.

Nikkei reported that Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism also ordered the planes out of service, and the ministry said an engine in the same PW4000 family suffered unspecified trouble on a JAL 777 flying to Haneda from Naha on Dec. 4. It ordered stricter inspections in response.

Files from The Associated Press were used in this report

U.S. vaccine rollout vastly outpacing Canada’s: what can we learn from American push?

MELISSA COUTO ZUBER, THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Monday, Feb 22nd, 2021

Canadians perusing social media may be coming across photos of their American peers bearing wide smiles and vaccination cards that show they’ve been inoculated against COVID-19.

A recent ramping up of the United States’s vaccine rollout has it vastly outpacing its northern neighbour, and some Canadians are wondering why distribution here is lagging so far behind.

Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious disease doctor in South Carolina, says that while the speed of the American rollout has been impressive lately, it’s not been without its faults.

Communication between states has been mostly lacking, she says, and the absence of a uniform standard for vaccine eligibility has led to inconsistencies across jurisdictions. Some states, for example, include teachers high on their priority list while others are still working on inoculating those 80 years and older.

Confusion in the early stages of the rollout caused frustration and dampened trust, she added. And while the shift to a new presidential administration last month has led to some improvements, Kuppalli says there’s room for more.

“I don’t think we’re the model of success,” she said in a phone interview. “We’ve had a lot of challenges. … but it’s getting better.

“Communication is better, there’s definitely greater transparency, and states have been very forthcoming in ramping up vaccine measures and rolling out mass vaccination sites. So all that’s helping.”

The U.S. was vaccinating an average of 1.7 million Americans per day this week, and had administered at least one dose to more than 12 per cent of its population as of Friday.

Canada, which recently dealt with weeks of shipping delays and disruptions from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, has doled out nearly 1.4 million doses since its rollout began mid-December, covering about 2.65 per cent of its population with at least one dose.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday vaccine delivery is set to rapidly increase, however, with provinces preparing to roll out almost a million and a half doses over the next three weeks.

The Americans have many factors in their favour when speeding up vaccine distribution, experts say, including a much more expansive supply than Canada’s that’s bolstered by production from U.S.-based Moderna.

While having supply is the first step, Kuppalli says getting those vaccines into pharmacies, where they can be easily administered, has also helped. The American government announced weeks ago its aim to supply vaccines to about 40,000 drugstores in the coming months.

Canada has not yet reached the pharmacy stage of its vaccine rollout, but Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease expert with the University of Toronto, expects that to happen once we have enough supply to branch out.

“We have the exact same plan, we just need the critical mass of vaccines,” said Bogoch, who’s also on Ontario’s vaccine distribution task force. “When we get that, you’re gonna see from coast to coast vaccines offered at many different settings.”

While pharmacy distribution makes sense for a quick rollout, it also can lead to problems with wasted doses if people aren’t showing up for their appointments, says Kelly Grindrod, a professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines need to used within a relatively short timeframe after they’re thawed from ultra-cold storage temperatures, Grindrod says, and once a vial has been punctured, that interval decreases further.

She says Canada has been learning from wastage setbacks other countries are experiencing, and she expects Plan B lists to be compiled of individuals who can quickly fill in when no-shows arise.

Those lists have to be made fairly though, she cautions.

“You have to make sure there’s no queue-jumping. So it’s not your friend coming in, it’s actually people who would fall normally on the next round of priority.”

Grindrod says queue-jumping – where people with lower risk of contracting the virus or experiencing a bad COVID outcome are vaccinated before higher-priority groups – has been more culturally unacceptable in Canada than it has in the U.S., a country without a universal health-care system.

So there’s some justifiable outrage, she adds, when Canadians see American friends boasting about getting their jabs, especially if they’re not in high-risk populations.

“Equity is probably the most important principle of the Canadian vaccine rollout,” Grindrod said. “And I’m not sure that’s the case in the U.S.”

While the American rollout has had its faults, Grindrod admires some of the more unique approaches happening south of the border to ensure high-risk groups can get their doses.

She noted the recent role Black churches have played in co-ordinating inoculation drives among typically underserved neighbourhoods, and the pharmacists who have been driving vaccines into remote communities to inoculate those who can’t easily get to an immunization centre.

“You’re seeing really positive examples where communities themselves are helping to create effective outreach,” she said.

“So I think those are the real lessons we can learn from the U.S.”

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