Conservatives to call aides to Sajjan, Trudeau to testify about Vance allegations
Gen. Jonathan Vance, when he was chief of the defence staff, delivers remarks at an Ottawa security conference in March 2020. Vance announced his retirement in July 2020 and officially stepped down from his post in January, before allegations of inappropriate behaviour surfaced. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

The federal Conservatives plan to summon two senior Liberal aides to testify on when they first learned of sexual misconduct allegations surrounding the military's former top soldier — and account for what they did about the accusations.

The Tories said they will ask the House of Commons defence committee on Monday to have Zita Astravas and Elder Marques appear in the coming days, as opposition parties continue digging into the government's handling of the allegations against Gen. Jonathan Vance.

Astravas was Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan's chief of staff and Marques was a senior adviser to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in March 2018, when former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne says he first raised an allegation against Vance to the minister.

Walbourne did not reveal the nature of the allegation, citing a promise of confidentiality to the complainant. But Global News has reported that it was a lewd email that Vance allegedly sent to a much more junior soldier in 2012, before he became chief of the defence staff.

Five days after the meeting between Walbourne and Sajjan, the former ombudsman went out on medical leave. An email, obtained by CBC News, shows that Astravas had been brought into the loop.

"In your conversation with Ms. Sherman [a senior Privy Council Office official], I trust you raised the allegations relating to the [Governor-in-Council] appointment that you raised with the Minister," Astravas wrote to Walbourne on March 5, 2018.

The Privy Council Office is the department that supports the Prime Minister's Office.

Astravas, who is now chief of staff to Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, and Marques, who left the Liberal government in late September, also discussed concerns related to the Canadian Armed Forces' commander, according to a Globe and Mail report.

WATCH | Trudeau reacts to comments by former military ombudsman:

Trudeau reacts to comments by former military ombudsman

Politics News

2 days ago
2:39
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reacts to former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne's claims that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan mishandled concerns about possible misconduct by Gen. Jonathan Vance. 2:39

Tories to summon Sajjan for 2nd round of questioning

Trudeau has said he wasn't aware of any specific allegation against Vance, telling reporters on Friday that "the ombudsman did not provide sufficient information ... to be able to follow up on these allegations."

Sajjan, for his part, has refused to confirm that Walbourne notified him of any allegations against Vance and told the committee that he was as surprised as anyone when Global News reported two allegations of inappropriate conduct against the former defence chief last month.

"Canadians need to get answers from those directly involved in this Liberal coverup," Conservative defence critic James Bezan said in a statement on Sunday.

"That's why we will be moving a motion to have Minister Sajjan's former chief of staff, Zita Astravas, and senior Trudeau adviser Elder Marques testify at defence committee."

The Conservatives have indicated that they also plan to call Sajjan back for a second round of questioning.

Military police investigating

The Global News report alleges Vance had an ongoing relationship with a subordinate that started more than a decade ago.

The report alleges the relationship continued after he was named chief of the defence staff in 2015, at which time he promised to root sexual misconduct from the Armed Forces.

Global has also reported on the allegations about Vance sending the email to a much younger female officer in 2012, suggesting they go to a clothing-optional vacation resort.

Vance has not responded to repeated requests for comment from The Canadian Press, and the allegations against him have not been independently verified. Global News has reported that Vance has denied any wrongdoing.

Military police have launched an investigation. Sajjan has also promised a separate, independent probe, but it has yet to begin.

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 5:33 pm
At least 15 dead, hundreds hurt after explosions rock military barracks in Equatorial Guinea
People search through rubble following explosions at a military base, according to local media, in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, on Sunday. (TVGE via Reuters)

A series of explosions at a military barracks in Equatorial Guinea killed at least 15 people and wounded more than 400 others, state television reported.

State television TVGE read out a statement from President Teodoro Obiang Nguema that said the explosions were due to the "negligent handling of dynamite" in the military barracks, located in the neighbourhood of Mondong Nkuantoma, in the port city of Bata. He said the explosion occurred at 4 p.m. local time on Sunday.

"The impact of the explosion caused damage in almost all the houses and buildings in Bata," the president said in the statement, which was in Spanish.

Equatorial Guinea, a tiny West African country of 1.3 million people located south of Cameroon, was a colony of Spain until it gained its independence in 1968.

Health officials said that they believed there were people missing in buildings damaged by the blast.

Smoke rises from destroyed structures in Bata on Sunday. (TVGE via Reuters)

There were some discrepancies with the death toll, with TVGE reporting 20 dead, a Health Ministry tweet saying 17 and the president's statement mentioning 15.

State television showed a huge plume of smoke rising above the explosion site as crowds fled, with many people crying out, "We don't know what happened, but it is all destroyed."

The Health Ministry made a call for blood donors and volunteer health workers to go to the Regional Hospital de Bata, one of three hospitals treating the wounded.

The ministry tweeted that its health workers are treating the injured at the site of the tragedy and in medical facilities, but it feared people were still missing under the rubble.

People receive aid at a hospital in the port city of Bata on Sunday. (TVGE via Reuters)

Images on local media seen by The Associated Press show people screaming and crying as they run through the streets amid debris and smoke. Roofs of houses were ripped off and wounded people were being carried into a hospital.

The blasts were a shock for the oil-rich nation. A doctor calling into TVGE, who went by his first name, Florentino, said the situation was a "moment of crisis" and that hospitals were overcrowded. He said a sports centre set up for COVID-19 patients would be used to receive minor cases.

"It is important for us to ask our brother countries for their assistance in this lamentable situation since we have a health emergency [due to COVID-19] and the tragedy in Bata," he said.

Canada's acting high commissioner to Nigeria, Nicolas Simard, offered "our deepest condolences" over Twitter.

A radio station, Radio Macuto, said on Twitter that people were being evacuated within four kilometres of the city because the fumes might be harmful.

Following the blasts, the Spanish Embassy in Equatorial Guinea recommended on Twitter that "Spanish nationals stay in their homes."

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:22 pm
Hajdu talks vaccine certificates as Tam looks to 'optimism' of inoculation rollout

Canada looking into how to share unused vaccine doses with lagging countries

Politics News

11 hours ago
10:53
Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that Canada is looking into the process for redirecting its extra doses of COVID-19 vaccines to countries that need them. 10:53

As the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, Canada's health minister says requiring a vaccine passport to travel internationally is a "very live" issue as more Canadians receive shots and countries consider loosening border restrictions. 

"It's being discussed around the world. I'm a member of the G7 health ministers, we meet every couple weeks. This has been on our agenda," Patty Hajdu said Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

She said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra is also discussing the concept with international partners.

Some jurisdictions are looking to use proof of immunization against COVID-19 as a way to allow travel within and between countries. 

Last month, the World Health Organization ruled that national authorities should not require such certificates for travel because it's still unclear how well vaccines minimize transmission of the virus, a point Hajdu herself acknowledged.

The concept has also drawn criticism for privacy and equity concerns.

"The intent is to co-ordinate," Hajdu said. "You can imagine the confusion in international travel if there's different certifications that are required."

Tam 'optimistic' about pandemic's future

Providing proof of immunity is one of several issues under consideration as countries turn to mapping out the next steps of their pandemic response. 

In a separate interview, Canada's chief public health officer said Sunday she's increasingly optimistic about the future of the global health crisis — but cautions that some measures may stick around for months to come. 

"I think we can be buoyant by that more optimistic outlook because it is a pretty tremendous thing that we have, which is several, not just one, but several, really great vaccines," Dr. Theresa Tam told CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton. 

WATCH | What still worries Dr. Theresa Tam one year into the COVID-19 pandemic:

What still worries Dr. Theresa Tam one year into the COVID-19 pandemic

Politics News

12 hours ago
9:33
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said in an interview on Rosemary Barton Live that the government is closely monitoring the new coronavirus variants and how vaccines respond to them. She says public health measures need to be in place to bring cases down. 9:33

"But with that sense of optimism comes ... the need to just hang on in there for a bit longer, because I do think that if these vaccines are provided to as many people as possible, we can break the most severe consequences, the crisis phase of this pandemic."

Canada has now approved four COVID-19 vaccines. The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccines are two-dose shots, while the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only a single dose. 

Masks, distancing not going away soon

When asked how long Canadians should expect to keep up with mask wearing and physical distancing amid the country's vaccine rollout, Tam said such guidelines won't disappear any time soon. 

"These viruses come in invisible ways, and so we need to keep up those measures," Tam said, adding that while approved vaccines are effective at staving off the most serious outcomes of COVID-19, there are still those who may not be fully protected.

"With that in mind, I think these habits are going to continue for some time. But we want to stop the more restrictive measures as soon as possible."

A woman wears a face mask as she walks along a street in Montreal in February. Tam says mask wearing and other public health measures will likely continue in the months to come. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Avoid comparing vaccines

The country's inoculation campaign has picked up steam in recent weeks. On Friday, the federal government announced that manufacturer Pfizer had agreed to accelerate the delivery of 3.5 million doses of its vaccine.

Some provinces have also moved to delay the second dose of two-shot vaccines after new national recommendations were issued earlier this week. 

While the delay would allow more Canadians to receive their first jab, differing efficacy percentages between shots has led to a degree of public hesitancy over which inoculation is best.

Like other public health experts, Tam cautioned against comparing the efficacy of different vaccines head-to-head.

"What is the fundamental fact about these vaccines is that they are all very effective when it comes to preventing serious outcomes, such as hospitalizations ... really serious illness and many deaths as well," she said, adding that the millions of people who have been vaccinated worldwide is evidence of that.

"I think people should feel very confident as they go in, to get whatever vaccine is being offered to them, that they are really great for that purpose."

That's advice Hajdu also backed on Sunday.

"Take the first vaccine that you're offered," she said. "It's really, really important that you get protected from a really terrible case of COVID that could lead to your death."

Hajdu says she could have done many things differently

The health minister was also asked about comments she made just over one year ago, in which she said banning travel between Canada and China would do little to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

"The long-term implication of shutting down borders is one, they're not very effective in controlling disease ... in fact, they're not effective at all," Hajdu said in February of last year.

Hajdu said those statements came from international health regulations, which she said still indicate that border measures are not entirely effective at halting transmission. 

"When I look back — as a new health minister following the advice of my department — of course, I think, there are many things I think I could have done differently," Hajdu said.

"The story is not done yet. The research will be done for decades. I just hope I am alive when we get a full analysis of what worked well and what didn't globally around the COVID-19 pandemic response.

For Tam, part of the story will end when she sees hospitalizations and deaths from the illness decline.

"That is really important. We have to monitor to make sure ... that the vaccine's effectiveness continues," she told Barton. "So I think that is where we will arrive at a good place, and we need the world to be around us there as well."

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 11:40 am
Queen salutes front-line workers in Commonwealth Day message

Queen Elizabeth salutes front-line workers across commonwealth

CBC News

38 minutes ago
2:48
The Queen's message stressed the importance of community, even at a distance, during the pandemic and how international solidarity will be key to a prosperous future. 2:48

Queen Elizabeth, sharing her annual Commonwealth Day message on Sunday, stressed the importance of community, even at a distance due to the coronavirus pandemic.

She saluted the work of front line workers across the Commonwealth and said that during these "testing times" people can appreciate "how we are connected to others."

The Queen was to be joined by other senior royals for the special broadcast to mark one of the most important events on her calendar.

Breaking from tradition in previous years — when members of the Royal Family and representatives of the Commonwealth nations would gather for a multi-faith service in London — the Queen appeared on television to deliver the address, pre-recorded at Windsor Castle due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those joining her for the BBC One program, called A Celebration for Commonwealth Day, include Prince William and his wife Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, as well as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall.

Absent this year are William's brother, Prince Harry, and Harry's wife, Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, who attended last year's event held at Westminster Abbey.

Millions are expected to tune in several hours after the Commonwealth Day program for the couple's televised interview with American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

Harry and Meghan are expected to explain, directly to the public for the first time, why they stepped back as working members of the Royal Family last year during the two-hour special, airing at 8 p.m. ET.

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 11:14 am
Could your race affect your home's value? Air Canada agrees to COVID-19 refunds: CBC's Marketplace cheat sheet
Three CBC employees of white, Black and South Asian background posed as owners of this house in Oakville, Ont., for Marketplace's investigation into racial bias in home appraisals. (David Macintosh/CBC)

Miss something this week? Don't panic. CBC's Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need. Want this in your inbox? 

Get the Marketplace newsletter every Friday.

Race could affect home's estimated value

Almost a million home appraisals happen in Canada every year, and the outcomes can determine the terms of a mortgage or whether a homeowner can make use of equity for things like renovations or paying off debts.

Several real estate professionals and homeowners told CBC Marketplace that racial discrimination exists in the appraisal industry, but it's hard to prove. So we conducted a test to find out if an owner's race could affect the value of a home.

WATCH | Apprasial concerns not taken seriously, broker says:

Real estate broker says low home appraisal concerns weren't taken seriously

Marketplace

3 days ago
1:03
Chukwu Uzoruo says after he raised questions about the low estimate, his concerns were dismissed by the company that conducted the appraisal. 1:03

Three CBC employees of white, Black and South Asian background posed as homeowners of the same detached house in Oakville, Ont. Two appraisals were booked for each "homeowner," and the visits were documented with hidden cameras. Read more

Air Canada to offer refunds, sources say 

If you're holding onto a flight credit from Air Canada for a trip cancelled because of the pandemic, you might be able to get it converted into cash sometime soon. The company has agreed to offer refunds as part of a potential bailout package from the federal government, according to sources.
Unifor president Jerry Dias told CBC News he has spoken with both Air Canada and the federal government officials negotiating with the airline who confirmed that Air Canada agreed "a long time ago" to offer refunds in exchange for a bailout. Read more

Back in the fall, Marketplace reported on the fight for airline refunds.

Air Canada has agreed to offer refunds for flights cancelled because of the pandemic, according to sources. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Long-term care homes still breaking COVID-19 rules

Ten months into the COVID-19 pandemic, inspectors were still catching Ontario long-term care homes violating crucial infection prevention and control measures.
A CBC News data investigation has found one in 12 long-term care facilities in the province were caught breaking pandemic-specific government directives between June 2020 and January 2021. Many infractions occurred during or after outbreaks.
"To have egregious infractions in terms of not following standard operating procedure for things like infection prevention and control, these operators need to be held to account," said Dr. Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. Read more

Marketplace has been investigating the challenges inside long-term care homes for years, including before the pandemic.

Geriatrician Dr. Nathan Stall says long-term care home operators not following COVID-19 rules must be held to account. (David Common/CBC)

What else is going on?

Faulty block heater blamed for car fire a day after vehicle was in shop for repair, lawsuit alleges
Manitoba Public Insurance sues Toyota Canada, Winnipeg auto dealership, over block heater that was subject to safety recall.

Ontario man battles Bell and contractor after worker uses power tool to clean his car
Owner compensated after Go Public inquiries, but expert says many others never see a dime.

This Co-op brand almond butter has been recalled due to undeclared cashew 
Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

This Goldroast brand cereal has been recalled due to undeclared milk 
Recalled products should be thrown out or returned to the store where they were purchased.

This week on Marketplace

CBC employees Serenity Palia, left, Stephanie Matteis, middle, and Asha Tomlinson, right, posed as homeowners to test the effect of race on home appraisals. (David Macintosh/CBC)

You've probably noticed that the real estate market is hot, extremely hot, despite the fact that we're still in the middle of a pandemic. 

So no doubt, there are a lot of appraisals happening right across Canada. When you think about the purpose of a home appraisal, it's supposed to be an "unbiased" estimate of the true or fair market value of a home. The outcome is critical for a mortgage or refinancing. It can also determine whether you can make use of equity for things like putting your kids through university or college.
But we've discovered that it's a highly subjective process and, in most of the country, not government-regulated. We've heard from many Black Canadians who say racial bias is flying under the radar.
This issue first caught my attention when my brother received a low appraisal on his home in California and believed race was a factor. He complained to the bank and got a much higher estimate, in line with other homes on the same street. Then the New York Times published an investigation last year featuring a mixed race couple who initially received a low appraisal. They then took down any signs that African-Americans lived in the home for their second appraisal. It came back 40 per cent higher.

Same deal with another American couple who had their white friend stand in for the second appraisal — the estimate was 50 per cent higher than the first. 
On our episode tonight, you'll hear from Black homeowners who are ready to speak out, sharing their experiences. We also conduct a first-of-its-kind test to find out if your race can affect the value of your home. Two CBC employees and I pose as homeowners of a rented house just outside Toronto. We get wired up with hidden cameras and document six appraisals happening in real time. The results are eye opening.  

And we bring one of our homeowners face-to-face with the industry.

You don't want to miss this very important investigation. 

Catch up anytime on CBC Gem.

— Asha Tomlinson and the Marketplace team

Marketplace needs your help

Do you get harassing phone calls demanding you owe the CRA money for unpaid taxes? Or callers claiming you've got a virus and need tech support? If so, we want to hear from you. We're hoping you can send us a video message detailing your experience so we may use it in our upcoming stories. 

Here's what we'd like you to include in your message to us:  

  1. Your name and where you're from.
  2. Which phone scam do you get called about the most? (e.g. CRA, tech support, SIN, bank investigator, etc.)
  3. How often do you get scam calls?
  4. How do you respond to the callers? (e.g. hang up, don't answer, confront them, etc.)
  5. Who do you think is responsible for cracking down on scammers?

You can email us at marketplace@cbc.ca or upload your video here. If you have any questions about the process, feel free to reach out to us by email for a full list of instructions.

Watch past episodes of Marketplace anytime on CBC Gem.

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 9:00 am
Pope Francis meets with father of drowned Syrian boy, visits Iraq town devastated by ISIS
Pope Francis speaks to Abdullah Kurdi, left, after a Mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil, Iraq, on Sunday. An image of Kurdi's son, Alan, 3, made headlines in 2015, after the Syrian boy drowned in the Mediterranean Sea — drawing global attention to Europe's refugee crisis. (Vatican Media via The Associated Press)

Pope Francis has met with the father of Alan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian boy who drowned crossing the Mediterranean Sea in 2015 and whose image drew global attention to the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe.

Following a Mass on Sunday in the Iraqi city of Erbil, Francis met with Abdullah Kurdi and spent a long time with him, the Vatican said.

Through an interpreter, the Pope listened to Kurdi's story and expressed sympathy for the loss of his family. Abdullah thanked the pontiff for his words.

The Kurdi family, who hail from Kobane in Syria, took the route of many Syrian and other migrants by sea in a small boat from Turkey heading for Greece. When their boat capsized, Alan Kurdi, one of his brothers and his mother perished.  The image of Alan's body, washed up on Turkish shores, came to symbolize the perilous journey to Europe and drew international condemnation. The father now runs a charity in Erbil.

The Canadian government came under fire after it emerged the family had been trying to come to Canada with the help of a relative, Tima Kurdi, who lives in British Columbia.

Pontiff visits Mosul

Pope Francis was also in the Iraqi city of Mosul on Sunday, where he listened to Christian and Muslim residents recount their lives under brutal ISIS rule. Fighters of ISIS, a Sunni militant group that tried to establish a caliphate across the region, ravaged northern Iraq from 2014 to 2017, killing Christians as well as Muslims who opposed them.

Francis flew into the northern city by helicopter to encourage the healing of sectarian wounds and to pray for the dead of any religion.

The 84-year-old Pope saw ruins of houses and churches in a square that was the old town's thriving centre before Mosul was occupied by ISIS from 2014 to 2017. He sat surrounded by skeletons of buildings, dangling concrete staircases and cratered ancient churches, most too dangerous to enter.

The Pope attends a prayer service Sunday for victims of war with the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, left, at Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul, Iraq. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

"Together we say no to fundamentalism. No to sectarianism and no to corruption," the Chaldean archbishop of Mosul, Najib Mikhael Moussa, told the Pope.

Francis, who is on a historic first trip by a pope to Iraq, was visibly moved by the earthquake-like devastation around him. He prayed for all of Mosul's dead.

"How cruel it is that this country, the cradle of civilization, should have been afflicted by so barbarous a blow, with ancient places of worship destroyed and many thousands of people — Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and others — forcibly displaced or killed," he said.

The Pope arrives to hold a minute of silence at what's left of the centuries-old Al-Tahera (Immaculate Conception) Church near Hosh al-Bieaa Church Square in Mosul on Sunday. (Yara Nardi/Reuters)

"Today, however, we reaffirm our conviction that fraternity is more durable than fratricide, that hope is more powerful than hatred, that peace more powerful than war."

Intense security has surrounded his trip to Iraq. Military pickup trucks mounted with machine guns escorted his motorcade, and plainclothes security men mingled in Mosul with the handles of guns emerging from black backpacks worn on their chests.

In an apparent direct reference to ISIS, Francis said hope could never be "silenced by the blood spilled by those who pervert the name of God to pursue paths of destruction."

He then read a prayer repeating one of the main themes of his trip, that it is always wrong to hate, kill or wage war in God's name.

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 7:50 am
Czech Republic provides cautionary tale of what works and what doesn't in fighting COVID-19
A woman wearing a face mask walks across an empty Charles Bridge in Prague on March 1 as the Czech government mandated further restrictions to curb the spread of COVID-19. The Czech Republic is one of the European Union's hardest-hit countries after initially posting the lowest number of cases as a percentage of population in the 27-member bloc. (David Cerny/Reuters)

From best to worst in just one year.

Put another way, winning the opening battle is no guarantee of winning the war.

This is the story of the Czech Republic and COVID-19. This was a country seemingly well prepared — a member of the European Union since 2004 after overthrowing its communist government in 1989, modestly rich and boasting a solid health-care system.

As the virus crept into Europe in early 2020, the Czech government acted. Starting in March of last year, the country of 10.6 million people went into almost total lockdown and stayed locked down for five weeks. Shops, schools, even the borders were shut. Masks had to be worn outside.

The Czech Republic became the poster child of Europe with the lowest number of cases as a percentage of population in the European Union.

But by March 2021, the situation was catastrophic. According to World Health Organization statistics, the Czech Republic now leads the world in new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population — 1,597 as of Saturday.

That's a multiple of the rate in neighbouring countries and more than 10 times the rate in Germany next door, where the rate is 138 per 100,000 over the latest two-week period. More than 21,500 Czechs have died from the virus.

Medical workers move a COVID-19 patient into an ambulance at a hospital overrun by the disease in Cheb, Czech Republic, on Feb. 12. The small city near the German border has a death rate six times the national average. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

Cheb, a small city of 32,000 near the German border, is nothing short of a disaster zone. With a death rate six times the national average, ambulances parked in the street with COVID-19 sufferers because there are no hospital beds and patients sent to other regions, now the city itself is sealed off from the Czech Republic itself.

On Friday, the Czech government officially asked Germany, Poland and Switzerland to take some COVID patients because it couldn't care for them.

Medical experts blame government

A slew of Czech experts — doctors, epidemiologists, virologists — point their finger at whom they see as the culprit: their own government.

"The situation is desperate," Dagmar Dzurova, a professor of demographics at Charles University in Prague, said in an interview with CBC News.

Patients wait in the COVID-19 admissions room at the Regional Hospital Mlada Boleslav, in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic, on Friday. More than 21,000 Czechs have died from the disease. (David Cerny/Reuters)

"They committed three fatal mistakes: relaxing the rules, first in September before regional elections, then before Christmas in December, when restrictions were again lifted prematurely. And in January we didn't react in time to the new mutations, when we knew the [strain first found in the U.K.] was already in Europe."

Others are even harsher.

"This is a government run by a businessman," Dr. Frantisek Duska, associate dean of medicine at Charles University and head of the ICU unit of University Hospital Vinohrady in Prague, said in an interview with Denik-N, a Czech news site. "And he's a trickster and a liar."

The businessman is Andrej Babis, a billionaire, owner of a giant agricultural conglomerate and prime minister of the Czech Republic. He's now a very worried man.

"These will be hellish days," Babis told his fellow citizens in late February as he announced severe new restrictions.

"We have to do it to prevent a total collapse of our hospitals. If we don't, the whole world will watch Bergamo in the Czech Republic," he said, referring to the Italian province of one million where, officially, 3,300 people with COVID-19 died in 2020.

Andrej Babis, prime minister of the Czech Republic, is shown last September in Poland. In late February, he announced severe new restrictions, including compulsory mask-wearing and limiting movement to a person's local district. Most shops, with the exception of food stores, are closed. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Those restrictions, to last three weeks from March 1, include the compulsory mask-wearing and limiting movement to a person's local district. Most shops, with the exception of food stores, are closed.

Like neighbouring Slovakia — a country of more than five million people with the highest death toll per million people in the world, according to German data company Statista — the Czech government is ordering vaccines from China and wants the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, despite the fact that the European Union has approved neither so far.

But Dzurova of Charles University and 40 other scientists and doctors published an open letter to the government at the end of February saying these measures were now not enough. They called for a complete shutdown of the country for 40 days.

"Sooner or later, the government will hear us," Dzurova said. "The test and trace system hasn't worked. There is no other way to lower the incidence of the virus in the population."

Mixed signals from officials

What is seen as government ineptitude, along with growing distrust of their leaders among voters, hasn't helped.

Dropping the insistence on wearing masks outside while keeping schools closed until last summer, when stores were reopening in the spring, deepened confusion and dissatisfaction, according to intensive care physician Duska.

Restricting compensation to 60 per cent of salary for people under quarantine only increased dissatisfaction.

Thousands of demonstrators take part in a protest against the government's restrictive measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, in the capital of Prague on Jan. 10. (Petr David Josek/The Associated Press)

The cavalier disregard displayed by the government's health minister for restrictions he himself had announced only made things worse.

In late October, the country's biggest tabloid newspaper, Blesk, had a front-page photo of Dr. Roman Prymula leaving a restaurant without a mask. The restaurant was open illegally. He had eaten illegally and put his mask aside.

Prymula was fired.

But one result, among others, is that a number of underground taverns have opened for business, as people argue that they have the same rights as their ministers.

Political manoeuvring at the top of the state has deepened public distrust. The country's president, Milos Zeman, is a populist and an admirer of both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. His position is largely ceremonial, but that didn't stop him from negotiating to have the Russians deliver some of their Sputnik V vaccine.

WATCH | Recognition grows for Russia's Sputnik V vaccine:

Growing recognition for Russia’s Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine

The National

22 days ago
3:45
Russia's Sputnik V vaccine has been a political and medical victory for the country, with many nations now scrambling to get doses. But others, particularly former Soviet states, remain suspicious of the vaccines, and of Russia's intentions in promoting it. 3:45

Zeman hadn't consulted Health Minister Jan Blatny, who was reportedly furious.

Zeman then decided a new health minister was needed, and he announced in a television interview on Feb. 27 that Blatny was suffering from burnout. "He's very, very tired."

But Babis, the prime minister, disagrees and says Blatny won't leave, at least not until the end of March. The public is hardly reassured.

A man receives a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine during a trial run of a mass vaccination centre, located inside a gym in the town of Ricany, near Prague, on Feb. 25. (David Cerny/Reuters)

Another populist is ex-president Vaclav Klaus, 79, who served until 2013. He's a COVID skeptic and has appeared in public frequently without a mask. He has railed against vaccinations and even attended an anti-mask demonstration in Prague in January.

Klaus, who now has COVID-19, has stopped demonstrating.

But he has contributed to the public's distrust and disbelief about new restrictions. As has the conviction, held by Duska and others, that the state's response to the crisis has been disjointed and disorganized. For instance, masks — at first compulsory and then not — are now compulsory again.

Government faces reckoning

In the midst of this, Babis manoeuvres to save lives and save his government. National elections are to be held in September.

As his country has gone from first to last in the virus tables, his ANO party has seen its support slip from more than 30 per cent to 26 per cent in the polls as of March 2, according to Politico Europe's Poll of Polls. The opposition Pirate party has climbed steadily and is now at 25 per cent, neck and neck with ANO.

Police officers near Breitenau, Germany, check vehicles at the border with the Czech Republic on Feb. 15, following the introduction of restrictions by Germany due to the coronavirus pandemic. (David Cerny/Reuters)

Babis, too, could be a casualty of COVID-19.

All of this is happening on the 100th anniversary of the publication of The Good Soldier Svejk. This most famous Czech fictional character stumbled through the First World War unscathed as he blindly obeyed every mad order he was given, always with a smile.

"A Genius or an Idiot?" was the headline of an article marking the anniversary of the satirical novel. In the case of the Czech government, both descriptions could apply, within just one year.

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
Italian politicians targeting LGBTQ people to divert attention away from the COVID economy, experts say
A man waves a Pride flag past the Colosseum during a Rome Pride flash mob on June 13, 2020 in Rome. Lifelines for LGBT youth in Italy and elsewhere in Europe are thinly stretched amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images)

Two years ago, Francesco, then 18, became homeless overnight.

His mother, an evangelical Christian, called the police to evict him from the family's home in the southern Italian city of Naples, saying his relationship with his boyfriend was corrupting his younger sister.

"I was literally kicked out on the street with no help from the police or social services to try to resolve the situation," Francesco recounted. CBC News has agreed not to use his last name.

"My boyfriend and I tried to find work to support ourselves, but it's difficult to get hired for young, gay people in a city like Naples. You're constantly made to experience your normality as abnormality."

Francesco from Naples, southern Italy, was left homeless after his family kicked him out, saying his relationship with his boyfriend was corrupting his younger sister. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Through a network of Italian LGBTQ associations, the Gay Center in Rome — one of few Italian refuges for young LGBTQ kids in distress — was alerted to Francesco's situation and took him and his boyfriend in. The group home provided housing, food and support for more than a year, until the two were able to launch a new, independent life in the Italian capital.

But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these kinds of lifelines for LGBT youth in Italy and elsewhere in Europe are even more thinly stretched – putting thousands of young gay and transgender people, trapped in families that refuse to accept them, at even greater risk.

Alessandra Rossi, who helps run the centre in Rome, worries about all the young people calling the centre during the lockdowns, crying out for help with isolation and depression.

"With fewer jobs and university residences shutting down, many youth had to move back home," said Rossi. "The loneliness for LGBTQ kids back with families who reject [their sexual identity] is even more acute. The community and networks that kept them going before the pandemic are now cut off, making the situation even more dramatic."

Large numbers of LGBTQ youth isolated, depressed

In a survey of 2,445 Italian LGBTQ youth carried out by the Gay Helpline after the first lockdown in the spring of 2020, half of respondents reported facing problems of acceptance and support from their families, with 70 per cent feeling isolated and 56 per cent feeling depressed.

"We have cases of kids coming out to their parents during the lockdown and parents punishing them by taking away their computers and cell phones, claiming they're protecting them from gay propaganda," she said. "It's led to a lot of suffering, especially for the teenagers who have had to withstand constant rejection and pressure all on their own."

Alessandra Rossi of the Gay Center in Rome worries about young gay and transgender kids trapped in homophobic families during COVID-19. (Megan Williams/CBC)

Rossi says in her experience as a group home worker, homophobic fathers are more likely to resort to physical violence in reaction to a child coming out. Mothers, she says, tend to exert psychological pressure on their gay or trans children to conform — not just to heterosexual norms, but stereotypical gender roles.

"For lesbian daughters, it's even more complicated," she said, "because there's all the cultural pressure to look 'feminine,' with long hair and skirts and that sort of thing. It's especially tough for those transitioning to men, where it's important for them to bind their breasts, cut their hair and dress in [a] masculine way, and with families forbidding that."

What is just as concerning during the pandemic, say experts, are politicians targeting gay and trans people as a way to divert attention away from the economic challenges of COVID.

Last month, the ILGA-Europe, an LGBTQ rights group, sounded alarm bells about the rise in homophobic language and political hate speech against transgender people in Europe during the pandemic.

In its latest annual report, it found that politicians in 17 countries in Europe and Central Asia, Italy among them, have verbally attacked LGBTQ people.

'LGBT-free zones' in Poland

The situation in countries such as Poland, where a nationalist government has been openly hostile to its gay population and where 100 regions, towns and cities passed anti-gay resolutions, creating so-called "LGBT-free zones," is especially difficult.

This week, a Polish court acquitted activists accused of offending religious sentiment for producing images of a Roman Catholic icon that included the LGBTQ rainbow — a form of protest, the activists say, against a homophobic Polish Catholic Church.

Under Pope Francis, the Italian Catholic Church has been more tolerant of LGBTQ people — with one Rome parish offering shelter to migrant trans sex workers during the pandemic and the Pope telling parents of LGBTQ children that the Church loves their children.

But Italy, one of the last major European countries to recognize same-sex unions in 2016, still doesn't offer legal protection against hate speech to gay and trans people.

It's a situation Italian MP Alessandro Zan has been trying to address for several years.

Alessandro Zan, Italian MP and LGBT activist, is hoping the anti-LGBT hate speech bill he is sponsoring will pass after six attempts. (Chris Warde-Jones for CBC)

Zan, a member of Italy's Democratic Party, has sponsored an amendment to Italy's penal-code provisions on hate speech and crimes that would add LGBTQ, gender and disability to groups already protected under the law, which protects against hate based on religion, ethnicity and nationality.

"Italy is in one of the last positions in Europe when it comes to recognizing civil rights and human rights. That's why we need advanced legislation. For civil society and for all society," said Zan.

The bill has sparked a national debate, including among religious leaders, and has divided the country. An international petition gathered over 77,000 signatures in support. Far-right organizers, opposing the law, argued it would violate freedom of speech.

If passed, Zan says it would likely outlaw as hate speech attacks like one launched by far-right Italian Sen. Simone Pillon, a member of the Lega party and organizer of so-called Family Day rallies against same-sex marriage and parenting.

After Pillon repeatedly accused an LGBTQ group of "luring minors" and "distributing pornography" for handing out gay-positive sex education brochures, a lower court found him guilty of defamation. Late last month, a court of appeals absolved him.

Like Rossi, Zan is especially concerned about the lack of protection against Italy's LGBTQ community at a time when its members, especially younger ones, are more isolated than ever. This year alone, ILGB documented 138 hate crimes against Italy's gay community, including violent attacks and murders of gay and trans couples.

There have also been several cases of politicians denouncing LGBTQ people, with Rome City Coun. Massimiliano Quaresima stating at a meeting last summer that "homosexuality is a disease … caused by vaccines."

While Zan's anti-hate speech bill has failed to pass into law six times, it did pass Italy's lower house in November and will soon be voted on in the Senate. But with a new government headed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi that includes members of the far-right, observers say it's far from certain it will pass.

Zan, though, says he believes enough of his fellow politicians will support it.

"It's important to approve this law because one can change the mentality, the mind of people," said Zan.

And he hopes that by passing an anti-hate-speech law in Italy, a strong message that Europe is firmly on the side of civil rights will be sent to Poland, Hungary and other countries where LGBTQ groups face even more violence with fewer protections than Italy.

Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
From Prairies to Bollywood: Record deal shows power of TikTok to get diverse artists noticed
Hitesh Sharma, who goes by the name Tesher, is a 25-year-old South Asian-Canadian rapper, producer and musician from Regina. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)

Last year, a 25-year-old rapper, producer and musician from Canada checked the YouTube page of one of his remixes. In the comments section, someone had written: "Like if you came from TikTok."

Surprised and confused, Hitesh Sharma headed over to the social media app. He discovered one of his remixes had been used in 500,000 users' videos. 

"I hadn't promoted it. It had just spontaneously happened," said Sharma, who goes by the stage name Tesher. 

Sharma's remix of Old Town Road by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus, with Ramta Jogi from the Bollywood film Taal, had gone viral. 

That led people to discover his catalogue, including Young Shahrukh, a song inspired by Shah Rukh Khan, the Indian actor known as the King of Bollywood. Sharma had written, rapped and produced the song alone on a whim in his Toronto apartment.

"People were using it to make makeup tutorials, dance videos ... they were showing off their outfits. They were making gaming montages — you name it. It was all over the platform," said Sharma. 

Soon, Young Shahrukh had about one million views on YouTube, SoundCloud and Spotify. 

That's when Sony Music India came calling. It released Young Shahrukh on the label. It was Sharma's first big record and claimed the #1 spot on the BBC Asian Music Chart. 

As of this March, Young Shahrukh has had over 20 million views across YouTube.

Sharma is part of a wave of up-and-coming South Asian-Canadian musicians that aren't just inspired by Bollywood, but a mixture of musical styles brought on by their upbringing, their location and Western influences. He's also one of several musicians to get widespread attention and success from TikTok, as the app is helping artists from diverse cultural and musical backgrounds break into the mainstream.

WATCH | Musician Tesher explains how he made his hit Young Shahrukh:

Early beginnings  

Sharma's love for remixes that toy with Bollywood began at an early age. 

In Regina, where he was raised and is currently living during the pandemic, he began performing for crowds as young as 12 years old. Sharma's father, a videographer, would record weddings, birthdays and parties for members of the city's South Asian community, and would recommend his son to do the DJing. 

"That kind of got me even more into that zone of trying to find a way that I can not only appease the Indian crowd, but also mix in the music that I'm hearing and appeal to people that have been like me, that have grown up here with the music that is popular in the Western world."

Hitesh Sharma grew up in a musical home, which he says shaped who he is today. (Submitted by Hitesh Sharma)

Sharma grew up listening to everything from Bollywood and Punjabi Bhangra music to Kanye West and Jay-Z to country music by artists like Eric Church, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton.

"And all those influences came together to kind of inform the kind of music that I make."

The music of Slumdog Millionaire, which won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for best score in 2009, mixed electronic beats and South Asian music and is seen as a milestone for getting Western exposure for Indian music. ((Ishika Mohan/Fox Searchlight) )

World music on the Western stage

For a long time, the term "world music' was used to label nearly everything that didn't come from a British or North American musical tradition.

"But now things have started to change," said Sharma.

"Because now, in 2021, we've heard so much, it's time to start borrowing from other cultures and other influences, and I think it's just natural. That's the way the music evolves." 

Sathish Bala, the CEO and founder of DesiFest, an annual South Asian music festival in Toronto, points to a major cultural milestone being the 2009 film Slumdog Millionaire.

"When it came out, it had a very interesting soundtrack that nobody was used to: the blend of EDM and hip hop beats into South Asian music." 

Sathish Bala is the CEO and founder of DesiFest, Canada's largest South Asian outdoor music festival. (Sathish Bala/Facebook)

"We started to see these little moments of vision into what our culture is looking at as inspiration," said Bala. "But there's no blueprint. The South Asian independent artist scene in North America is ... very young." 

Now entering its fifteenth year, DesiFest has grown by leaps and bounds alongside Canada's roster of South Asian musicians.

"It was only in the last 10 years where we started to see the rise of the independent artists, people that were creating content that wasn't for the [Bollywood] movies," Bala said. 

      1 of 0

      Going viral

      TikTok is also playing a part in getting South Asian musicians exposure.

      "The algorithm definitely is a little bit of a mystery, but anybody can go viral on that platform right now, and so that's definitely an advantage. Everybody is also looking at that screen," Sharma said. 

      Platforms like YouTube and Instagram are filled with accounts with massive followings and brand partnerships. This can make it difficult for lesser known artists to compete, said Sharma.

      But TikTok is still relatively new. 

      "I think the advantage of TikTok is it's kind of the wild, wild west right now. There's less barriers to entry," said Sharma.

      Like Sharma, South Asian-Canadian musician Jonita Gandhi's professional music career started online.

      Gandhi, who now lives in Bombay, India, began making YouTube cover songs in collaboration with American composer Aakash Gandhi when she was 17 years old. The videos quickly went viral. 

      "I think at the time it was kind of novel for me to be doing that because there weren't that many South Asians who were kind of putting content out on YouTube," Gandhi said.

      "It kind of served as like a demo reel."

      Gandhi grew up in the greater Toronto area and lived there until her success on the platform got the attention of Bollywood. She then moved to India and began a career as a playback singer, a performer whose singing is pre-recorded for use in Bollywood films. 

      Since then, Gandhi has worked with the likes of A.R. Rahman, the Oscar and Grammy award-winning composer and musician, perhaps best known in North America for his score for Slumdog Millionaire

      "Because I grew up in Canada, I feel like I have a unique perspective and many different musical influences that I'm now trying to combine in my music and represent someone who's not just Indian but also an Indo-Canadian," said Gandhi. 

      Jonita Gandhi, who now lives in Mumbai, India, began making YouTube cover songs in collaboration with American composer Aakash Gandhi when she was 17 years old. The videos quickly went viral.  (Submitted by Akanksha Namdeo)

      Recently she was at a party where friends were gushing about Tesher — and that he's Canadian.

      "And I was like, 'Yeah! I'm so happy! Represent!' I feel like we're taking over."

      Going mainstream

      A year after his initial success with Young Shahrukh, Sharma is hard at work on what's to come next — something he's not willing to divulge right now. 

      He is confident that Indian languages and South Asian musical influences will break into Western popular music charts. 

      "Spanish music goes big because they have the co-sign of artists like Cardi B and Justin Bieber. They come on and they lend their voice to it and they help embolden it," Sharma said.

      "I'm not saying that we need a non-South Asian artist to help embolden South Asian music to make it go mainstream, but I think we're just waiting.... And I know for a fact we're going to hit that point where our music is played in tandem with an Ed Sheeran record or a Drake record."

      As of March 2021, Tesher's song Young Shahrukh has had over 20 million views across YouTube.  (Tesher/Facebook)

      Like Sharma, Gandhi thinks "ethnic Indian music" has mainstream music potential.

      "There are so many more artists now who are of Indian descent or who come from Indian musical backgrounds, who are crossing over or collaborating with people from different genres.... And I think that's always been a goal of mine, to erase those lines, because it's all just music."

      Gandhi sings in more than 10 Indian languages. She doesn't speak all the languages, but feels that including them in her lyrics connects her to a wide range of audiences. She dreams of having a song in Punjabi or Hindi gain traction in the mainstream.

      "The world is becoming so small, in a good way.... I'm just waiting for it. I feel like it's going to happen."

      Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      Advocates urge Liberals to cancel 'devastating' cut to services for Canadians with print reading disabilities
      Kim Kilpatrick of Ottawa has been blind since birth and reads primarily in braille. She said she's shocked the federal government is cutting funding to two organizations that distribute accessible reading materials. (Joan Anderson/SUPPLIED)

      Advocates for Canadians with disabilities related to reading printed text have launched a protest campaign after the federal government abruptly announced it would cut their funding — a surprise move they say will be "devastating" in the middle of a pandemic.

      Print disabilities include any condition which negatively affects someone's ability to read traditional print materials. Such conditions include blindness, dyslexia, Parkinson's and cerebral palsy.

      According to the Liberal government's 2020 Fall Economic Statement, funding for the Centre for Equitable Library Access (CELA) and the National Network for Equitable Library Service (NNELS) is being phased out over four years from the current level of $4 million. Funding for both services is to be eliminated by the 2024-25 fiscal year.

      The proposed allocation of funding from the 2020 Fall Economic Statement, which shows federal funding for CELA and NNELS reduced to zero by the 2024-25 fiscal year. (Government of Canada)

      "It felt like a bit of a punch in the gut. We know that the federal government has said to us that they feel this work is important," said Kevin Millsip, executive director of the B.C. Libraries Cooperative, the parent organization for NNELS.

      Millsip said that while NNELS does get a small amount of money from provincial and territorial governments, the federal government provides most of its public funding. Federal funding cuts would force the organization to lay off staff, many of whom have visual impairments, he said.

      Both CELA and NNELS use federal funds to curate and distribute accessible books, such as braille and audio books. CELA provides access to a collection of almost 900,000 titles.

      The two organizations have received the funding from the federal government for the past four years.

      Kaden Faris, an accessibility tester with NNELS, conducts a demonstration at the 2019 Annual Accessibility Summit in Toronto organized by NNELS. NNELS uses some of its $1 million in federal funding to put on the event. (NNELS/SUPPLIED)

      Kim Kilpatrick has been blind since birth and reads primarily by braille. She said she was surprised by the timing of the planned cut.

      "I was really, really surprised that this is the time they'd choose to cut something which is helping us get through this isolation and COVID," she said. "We think about all of the money that we're spending around this time — this is sort of a drop in the bucket."

      The organizations said the federal government never warned them that the cut was coming. Now, they're worried about having to dramatically reduce their production of accessible reading material.

      "This will have a devastating impact on our users. People with disabilities are already disproportionately affected, particularly with the pandemic right now," said Laurie Davidson, CELA's executive director. 

      "So certainly now is not the time to do the cuts. But on an ongoing basis, this is essential work to make sure that everyone has equitable access to reading."

      "Our government recognized that in order to find a long term solution to the problem of making published materials accessible to people with print disabilities, we needed to bring partners from different sectors to the table," said Marielle Hossack, a spokesperson for Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough.

      "The Fall Economic Statement signalled our continued commitment to embrace the potential of new technology and production practices that are inclusive from the start. By supporting a wide range of initiatives that address social issues and barriers that confront persons with disabilities, we can offer greater support and have a long-lasting impact on the production and distribution industry.

      "With all this in mind, we know the pandemic has created real challenges for this transition in publishing. We are committed to continue working with the disability community every step of the way to find the right solutions."

      Opposition responds to cut

      Both CELA and NNELS have reached out to sympathetic ears in the opposition parties.

      "We'll do everything that we can to ensure that [the government] understands that this is the wrong decision, and that they need to ensure that this funding remains," said Raquel Dancho, Conservative critic for future workforce development and disability inclusion.

      "I urge Qualtrough to change her mind on this and support Canadians who have visual impairments."

      Daniel Blaikie, NDP critic for future workforce development and disability inclusion, said he plans to write to the government about the issue.

      "It seems to me that these organizations have been reliably providing an important service," Blaikie told CBC News.

      "The amount of money they need to do that is a drop in the bucket when we talk about the overall federal budget, and they've spent a number of years developing the capacity and the skills in order to deliver this. It seems a shame that they'd be winding that work up when Canadians with visual impairments continue to need accessible materials in order to be able to do any number of things."

      CELA and NNELS estimate that fewer than one in 10 books available in Canada are in an accessible format. They also estimate that around three million Canadians have a print disability — a number Millsip said will grow as the population continues to age.

      The fall economic statement says the funding is meant to be a "transition" toward "industry-based production and distribution" of accessible reading materials — meaning the government is hoping the private publishing industry will pick up the work being done by CELA and NNELS now.

      But Davidson and Millsip said they don't believe that's a solution to the lack of accessible reading material in Canada.

      "Industry will not be able to fill the gap," Davidson said.

      She said that while publishers have made strides in producing accessible versions of books, they still don't do it for most titles — and when they do, they tend to opt for audio books instead of braille.

      "Braille has a smaller user base, and yet is very important to people who are blind and read by braille," Davidson said.

      Cathy McMillan, the founding director of Dyslexia B.C., said she believes the funding cuts will damage an industry that is already underfunded.

      Cathy McMillan of Port Moody, B.C. and her two daughters have dyslexia. She said Canada has lagged behind the U.S. when it comes to providing accessible reading materials. (Cathy McMillan/SUPPLIED)

      McMillan and both of her daughters are dyslexic. She said that when it comes to providing accessible reading options for people with print disabilities, Canada has lagged behind the United States.

      "[My daughter's] whole high school existence, we were gearing up for her to go to the U.S., because access to materials like that was better," McMillan said.

      "It's pretty sad that Canada isn't great for access to print materials for people with print disabilities, and they're effectively going to make it worse."

      Millsip said he believes the government can afford to backtrack on the planned cut.

      "It's been clear to us throughout this pandemic that when there's a will, there's a way. And what we're saying to the federal government is, 'Find the will, and make the way, to restore this funding,'" he said.

      "Why would you make cuts to this community, at this time? There's no logic there."

      Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      Why winter exercise can be especially hard on the lungs
      A woman jogs in a quiet park in Ottawa, Ont., in January 2021. Vigorous outdoor exercise during cold winter months can constrict and irritate lungs and cause a chronic cough. (CBC)

      Canadian Olympic hopeful Katherine Stewart-Jones can't remember when she first started experiencing a cough she and other cross-country skiers call "race hack," but she said it was probably when she started competing in her early teen years.

      "Sometimes, it goes like all the way into your back ... it's just this burning sensation," she said. "I'll lean over and just don't want to get up for a while because it hurts.

      "Generally, I'll get a race hack pretty much every race I do, but for sure, if it's cold out, it's affected me a bit more."

      The 25-year-old skier from Chelsea, Que., says she slows down on cold days when she's training but on race days, she pushes herself hard, sometimes so hard it can take weeks for the post-race coughing to subside.

      "It would be interesting to do some more research on it ... Like, are we ruining our lungs for the rest of our lives?"

      Katherine Stewart-Jones, a 25-year-old elite cross-country skier, skis along a winter trail. The Olympic hopeful says she first began experiencing symptoms of what she and her fellow skiiers call 'race hack' in her early teens. (Nordic Focus)

      Michael Kennedy, an associate professor in kinesiology at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, has been interested in the effects of cold weather on lungs for more than a decade.

      His curiosity comes from working as a wax technician for Canadian elite cross-country skiers in the early- to mid-2000s while he was still getting his PhD. He travelled with teams for months and noticed how breathing issues would worsen as the ski season wore on.

      "By the time you got to national or the spring season races in March, they were hacking all the time, so they basically had chronic cough," he said. "It's not healthy to have chronic cough."

      A graphic representation of Stewart-Jones shows the airways in her lungs and how they appear like tree branches. (Sködt McNalty/CBC Graphics )

      The condition for some can lead to problems such as interrupted sleep or speech, and yet, a chronic cough is sometimes normalized in Canadian cross-country ski culture, he said. 

      Kennedy's last study on cold-weather exercise, published in 2019 in the journal Respiratory Physiology & Neurobiology, looked at the effects of running a five-kilometre race outdoors in –15 C weather on 16 physically fit men and women compared to a lab-controlled test. All the participants exercised regularly in the cold, whether it was running outside, cross-country skiing or ski mountaineering.

      All participants reported having some type of respiratory symptom after running in the cold (most said they had a cough), and breathing tests revealed that nine out of the 16 showed symptoms of bronchoconstriction, or narrowing of the airways, consistent with levels that would be considered exercise-induced asthma.

      As the winter athlete begins to heavily inhale cold, dry air, the bronchioles can begin to constrict as if they are under threat. (Sködt McNalty/CBC Graphics)

      What happens to lungs in the cold

      A main issue with exercising in the cold, especially in temperatures –15 C and colder, is the lack of moisture in the air. 

      When dry air hits the lungs, especially when someone is breathing heavily, it can provoke the lungs to react as if they were under threat. The airways essentially constrict to protect themselves.

      Kennedy has compared the effects of room temperature dry air against cold dry air, and his findings suggest that dry air that's also cold can provoke even more of a reaction, which may explain why chronic cough is so common among winter athletes, he said. 

      Some research from around the world is beginning to suggest people who spend years exercising in cold, dry conditions might become more sensitive to lung irritants over time, according to Kennedy, although he cautions more data in this area is still needed. 

      "Over time, if you repeat that irritation or that provocation, the lung just becomes less capable of healing itself," said Kennedy.

      A cross section of a bronchiole shows how muscles constrict to make the airway more narrow. It is the same process that takes place in people experiencing asthma symptoms. (Sködt McNalty/CBC Graphics)

      Ways to protect your lungs

      Gordon Giesbrecht, the director of the Laboratory for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, agrees the cold, dry air can be an issue for anyone who engages in heavy cardiovascular activity on a regular basis in the winter. He likens the experience of lung constriction to trying to take a deep breath through an ever-narrowing straw.

      "You can't freeze your lungs," he said. "You're not going to cause any damage although it is possible that continuous long-term training in the cold actually does make you more susceptible to this (bronchoconstriction)."

      Both Giesbrecht and Kennedy say a simple face covering, such as a fabric mask, neck warmer or scarf, can go a long way to protecting the lungs from being irritated.

      "If you cover your mouth, you're essentially warming the air and humidifying the air in a very productive manner," said Kennedy. "So essentially, your lung has to deal with less cold, dry air."

      A simple face covering, such as a mask, scarf or neck warmer, can help humidify and warm air before it hits the lungs. (Brian Morris/CBC)

      He also suggests that athletes take time to warm up before they exercise and take it easy on very cold days by slowing down their pace. 

      He hopes his work helps to change the culture of winter sport in Canada so that athletes take steps to prevent symptoms such as chronic cough, lung pain and wheezing.

      "One of the things I want to do in the next 10 years is try to prevent some of this acute disfunction from happening by improving the behaviours of younger skiers or winter sports athletes," Kennedy said.

      Later this month, he plans to begin his next study — a survey of cross-country skiers and biathlon athletes asking them to elaborate on any respiratory symptoms they have so researchers have a better sense of the scope of the issue. He plans to expand the study to winter runners and other recreational athletes as well.

      For now, Stewart-Jones brushes off the concerns about cold-weather exercise on her breathing. No serious athlete, including herself, would turn down a race because it's –18C, she said. As far as face coverings go, she wears them if her skin is at risk of freezing but she avoids them otherwise — neck warmers, like masks, can make it slightly more difficult to breathe. 

      "I guess it's so normal and common for people to have irritated lungs that it's not something I think about," she said between a couple, short bursts of coughing after competing in Oberstdorf, Germany, at the World Championships in late February.

      "For sure it feels like it's probably not great for my lungs long term."

      Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      What's an NFT? And why are people suddenly spending millions on them?
      Sheldon Corey owns the rights to this digital image, which he uses as his avatar on social media website Twitter. (Sheldon Corey)

      At first blush, Sheldon Corey's Twitter avatar, shown above, isn't the sort of thing you'd think is worth $20,000 US. But to the Montreal investor, it's worth every penny — if not more.

      The image is part of a collection of digital files known as CryptoPunks, which were first created more than three years ago.

      Created by a computer algorithm by software developer Larva Labs, there are about 10,000 of them out there. They were given away almost for free when they were created, but over time they have come to be very valuable to a certain subculture of people because they are among the first examples of an emerging type of digital investment known as non-fungible tokens or NFTs.

      While the image itself can be easily duplicated, what gives Corey's NFT its value is that its digital ownership is unimpeachable. Logged on a digital ledger known as a blockchain that can't be forged, the ownership can be publicly verified by anyone who cares to look, and Corey is its undisputed owner in perpetuity, or at least until he decides to sell it.

      But he has no plans to sell.

      "It's something I'm going to hang on to," he said in an interview. "It's doubled in value already." 

      The "non-fungible" portion of NFTs simply means they can't be exchanged for another asset of the same type, and can instead only be transferred in exchange for some sort of money, typically ethereum or bitcoin. (Conventional money is perhaps the best example of a "fungible" asset since it can be exchanged for others of the same type. Canadian dollars for a certain amount of American ones, for example. Or two dimes and a nickel for a quarter.)

      NFTs are exploding in popularity right now, swept up in the mania for digital assets such as bitcoin. The most expensive CryptoPunk is currently valued at about $2 million. And about half of the 50 most valuable ones in the world have changed hands in the past month alone.

      CryptoPunks may be among the oldest, but they are far from the only ones.

      Digital artist Mike Winkelmann — better known by his online alias, Beeple — made headlines recently for selling the NFT of the 10-second video he created, shown below, to an investor for $67,000 US last fall.

      The buyer, Miami-based art collector Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, sold that NFT this week for almost 100 times what he paid, setting what's believed to be a new record for NFTs at $6.6 million US. To him, he was buying a valuable piece of art akin to any other works from the great masters of their day, worthy of hanging in any museum you could name.

      "You can go in the Louvre and take a picture of the Mona Lisa and you can have it there, but it doesn't have any value because it doesn't have the provenance or the history of the work," he said this week. "The reality here is that this is very, very valuable because of who is behind it."

      Newer NFTs are starting to get into prickly issues such as royalties. But most, like Corey's CryptoPunk, do not.

      He says he's also invested in a few newer types of NFTs called Hashmasks — one of which is shown below — that come with the ability to sell the naming rights.

      "There's a secondary market for naming them so they are generating their own revenue source," he said.

      Booming business

      OpenSea, the largest marketplace for buying and selling NFTs, booked almost $90 million US worth of transactions last month. That's up from $8 million US the month before and just $1.5 million this time last year.

      Maria Paula Fernandez says even if NFTs are currently in a bubble, the underlying technology has real value that will last long after the bubble bursts. (The Golem Network)

      Maria Paula Fernandez is an adviser to the Golem Network, a peer-to-peer marketplace for computing power that runs on the ethereum network. While NFTs have been around for a few years, she said in an interview that they are hyped right now due to a "very large influx of new users coming into ethereum by way of some very crazy incentives in the space."

      Translation? There's a lot of new money pouring in.

      Much like conventional art, the beauty of digital art may be in the eye of the beholder, but to Fernandez the real value of NFTs is in how they can certify ownership.

      "They're super versatile," she said. "But the main benefit is the certificate of provenance and authenticity of an artwork."

      She says it's not surprising that the artistic community has jumped on board, because the conventional business model for artists and art lovers has its own set of problems. She cites the example of a New York art gallery that came upon previously undiscovered works by Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock and others, and sold them to dozens of investors for more than $80 million.

      "The ink was right, the paper was right, people that know Rothko vouched for it," she said.

      Despite the way the gallery owner obtained them being "a bit shady" and the verification of their status "super opaque", customers couldn't wait to get their hands on rare gems from such revered artists.

      There was only one problem: they were all fake, forgeries by a talented Chinese artist. "All these millionaires, including the owner of [auction company] Sotheby's, got scammed because in the art world, provenance is created by a consensus," she said.

      "With NFTs there is no question, it's either there or it's not. Period."

      Going mainstream

      It's not just hobbyists with more cryptodollars than sense throwing money into the space, either. Canada's Grimes and Tennessee's Kings of Leon both made millions this week selling artwork and music, respectively, via NFT.

      Billionaire technology investor Mark Cuban is a big backer of them, and auction house Christie's is currently selling another Beeple work until March 11, calling it the first "purely digital" piece of art it has ever sold. Based on demand, the current record sale price for a Beeple mentioned above may be short-lived.

      The NBA has jumped into the space with both feet, establishing something called NBA Top Shot, which is probably best described as sports cards for the digital era.

      Instead of buying a pack of physical cards, fans and investors can buy NFTs of videos of memorable on-court moments. Since launching five months ago, the service has attracted 100,000 buyers and racked up more than $250 million in sales.

      So far the most valuable is the NFT of a dunk by superstar LeBron James. It recently sold for more than $208,000. (The Mona Lisa may belong to the Louvre, but the NFT in question is owned by a Twitter user with the apt moniker of YoDough. You can watch it yourself for free, here.)

      NFTs are a bit like hockey cards: collectibles that retain their value mostly because they are perceived to have it by those who care about them.

      Speaking as an art lover, Fernandez says she wouldn't personally poster her wall with the LeBron dunk, but she still calls Top Shot a "great use case" to show the value of NFTs.

      "Of course it's not as special as a [sports card] you can hold and love and feel all that beauty, but this one lives forever," she said. "You don't have to protect it or put it in a safe, [but] you can have a very expensive collectible for your life."

      Emelia Thiara is managing director at Kingswap, a Singapore-based decentralized marketplace that allows trading in cryptocurrencies and NFTs. While the technology has been around for a while, she says the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a surge in interest in NFTs, as digital assets become more mainstream.

      Corey owns the NFT for this piece of digital art, which is a Hashmask currently called Watermelon, but he may sell the naming rights to the piece to someone else. (Sheldon Corey)

      She says it's easy to think some of the assets are trivial, but so are a lot of physical collectibles. People collect high-end watches such as Rolex and save them for decades. "All that has no value to anyone who's not into the subculture, but to whoever is in the subculture it is hugely valuable," she said.

      "It may seem silly ... and doesn't make sense, but at least [an NFT] is recorded on a blockchain," she said. 

      Fernandez admits that the feverish activity and meteoric price rise of some NFTs could be evidence of a bubble, but she's convinced the underlying technology will have real value even if the current frenzy fizzles out.

      "The only way to prove this isn't a bubble is if there are still creators willing to keep working, and technologists willing to keep investing in the platforms," she said.

      "Never in the history of art has it been easier to sell your work for millions."

      Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      Tensions with palace rise ahead of Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah
      Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, will speak with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in an interview to be broadcast Sunday evening. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

      Hello, royal watchers. This is your regular dose of royal news and analysis. Reading this online? Sign up here to get this delivered to your inbox.


      Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, may have stepped back as working members of the Royal Family. But the attention often focused on the couple now living in California was at a fever pitch this week ahead of their televised interview Sunday night with talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.

      Headlines swirled on both sides of the Atlantic, reinforcing an impression of growing tensions and a public relations tug-of-war between the couple and Buckingham Palace. 

      The American network CBS released clips from the interview, which included Harry's worries about similarities between the treatment of Meghan and his late mother, Diana, and Meghan accusing the palace of "perpetuating falsehoods."

      In the U.K., media headlines spun particularly around a Times newspaper report of allegations that Meghan bullied palace staff, something the palace has said will be investigated.

      All of this comes as Harry's grandfather Prince Philip continues what has become a lengthy stay in hospital, which has led some to question whether the interview should be broadcast at all right now.

      So far, any delay seems unlikely and any sense that things will settle down after the interview seems remote.

      Harry and Meghan, shown at Canada House in London in January 2020, stepped back as senior members of the Royal Family last year. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/Reuters)

      "I think the winner is likely to be the media and particularly Oprah," British PR expert Mark Borkowski said over the phone from the U.K. this week.

      "It isn't going to come out as well as [Harry and Meghan] thought, but at the end of the day, their market is the U.S.A. and North America."

      While the broadcast — initially pegged at 90 minutes and since expanded to two hours — may focus on specifics of their royal life after their marriage in 2018, it's also widely seen as part of their effort to chart their course outside the upper echelons of the Royal Family.

      "Some of the things that they're likely to say that might rile the Royal Family might rile the British media — that's obviously a decision they've made because they're building a brand," said Borkowski.

      And their choice of interviewer would appear to have its own strategy, too.

      "I think Oprah is probably the best role model for who they'd like to become in terms of what she stands for, the qualities, the philanthropy, the ideals that she espouses," said American public relations expert Howard Bragman. 

      Oprah Winfrey, whose interview with Harry and Meghan will be broadcast Sunday night, was a guest at their wedding at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England, on May 19, 2018. (Ian West/Reuters)

      It is a case, Bragman said over the phone from Los Angeles, "where [Canadian philosopher and communications theorist] Marshall McLuhan's 'the medium is the message' is certainly at play."

      Bragman expects "a classic Oprah interview."

      "She's not going to be easy on them. Nobody would respect her. She wouldn't respect herself and that's not what she's known for," he said. 

      "She's going to ask the tough questions but in an empathetic way. She's been there. Anything you're talking about, which is giving up your privacy, the scrutiny, some of the backbiting they've had to deal with, she's had to deal with these things. "

      The interview Sunday evening comes a few hours after members of the Royal Family will take part in a television broadcast to mark Commonwealth Day. It will include a message from the Queen, with Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge; and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, also expected to take part.

      The broadcast replaces the annual Commonwealth Service usually held at Westminster Abbey in London, which is not possible this year given the COVID-19 pandemic.

      It's also in stark contrast to last year's Commonwealth Service, where senior members of the Royal Family all came together at the abbey, with much observation focusing on how Harry and Meghan were — or weren't — perhaps getting along with other members of the family. 

      Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, front, with Harry and Meghan, behind, attend the annual Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey in London on March 9, 2020. (Phil Harris/The Associated Press)

      From Borkowski's perspective, the Royal Family "is still struggling" with how to deal with all that is swirling around Harry and Meghan right now.

      High-profile royal interviews have a shaky track record for turning out as the interviewees might have hoped or intended. There were deep repercussions from Diana's interview with the BBC in 1995, and from Prince Andrew's with the BBC in 2019, in the wake of controversy over his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

      Both Borkowski and Bragman will be riveted to Sunday's interview, and expect a lot of other people will be, too. (Deals have been struck to show the interview Sunday or early next week in dozens of countries, ViacomCBS Global Distribution Group has said.)

      "It's still going to have a long tail," said Bragman. "People will talk, people will look at clips, people will analyze body language, hair and outfits and they'll tear it apart."

      Overall, Borkowski doesn't expect it will end well.

      "It's going to fall into two categories. Americans are probably going to love it," he said. "The Brits are going to say, how dare you."

      Borkowski suggests there might have been another way for Harry and Meghan to get their message out, as they work on building their brand, and their deals with Netflix and Spotify and so on.

      "Let their content do the talking," he said. 

      Prince Philip still in hospital

      Prince Philip remains in a London hospital more than two weeks after he was admitted for treatment of an infection. He has also had a heart procedure. (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

      While details remain relatively scant regarding Prince Philip's condition in hospital, Buckingham Palace has said he is recovering after a "successful procedure" for a pre-existing heart condition.

      The Queen's 99-year-old husband was admitted to hospital in London for treatment of an infection on Feb. 16 after feeling unwell.

      Earlier this week, he was transferred to St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which has Europe's largest specialized cardiovascular unit, the BBC reported. 

      Philip underwent the procedure on Wednesday, and the palace said the following day that he would be staying in hospital to rest and recuperate for a number of days. On Friday morning, Philip was transferred back to the central London hospital where he had been admitted more than two weeks ago.

      As is routine when it comes to matters of royal health, few details have been made public regarding Philip.

      Given that, many outside the palace walls try to assess the situation in any way they can, observing how other members of the Royal Family — including the Queen — appear to be carrying on with their normal duties.

      A police officer stands near King Edward VII's Hospital, where Prince Philip returned in London on Friday. (John Sibley/Reuters)

      Any comment a member of the family makes spreads quickly. On Wednesday, Philip's daughter-in-law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, was at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in London when a volunteer asked her about him.

      "We heard today that he's slightly improving," the BBC reported Camilla saying. "So, that's very good news. We'll keep our fingers crossed."

      Philip has had various stays in hospital in recent years, including for a hip replacement just before Harry's wedding three years ago. The current stay is reportedly the longest he has had.

      What's in a royal baby name?

      Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, have named their son August Philip Hawke Brooksbank. He was born Feb. 9 at London’s Portland Hospital. (Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank via AP)

      Tapping past generations for a new baby's name is common in all families, royal or otherwise.

      The latest royal baby's name is in keeping with that practice — but the choice made by Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, represents a far less common option than monikers such as Elizabeth or George that recur with some regularity on royal birth certificates.

      August Philip Hawke Brooksbank was born on Feb. 9, and his name was announced several days later.

      "He is named after his great-grandfather and both of his great x5 grandfathers," Eugenie wrote on Instagram.

      The great-grandfather is Prince Philip. Hawke comes from the Brooksbank side of the family.

      And August is a nod to Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, whose full name was Franz August Karl Albert Emanuel.

      Eugenie's name has its own connections to Victoria, who had a granddaughter named Victoria Eugenie. 

      In a video posted online the other day in connection with Eugenie's work founding the Anti-Slavery Collective, she talked of aspirations for her child.

      "I think my child hopefully will be one of those people who will continue to see the world as a place that can be changed," Eugenie said in the interview recorded before August's birth.

      "I hope that the world will be a place where my child can have hope and continue to know that they can make a big difference."

      Royally quotable

      "It is obviously difficult for people if they've never had a vaccine, because they ought to think about other people other than themselves."    

      — Queen Elizabeth, during a video call with health officials overseeing COVID-19 inoculations across the United Kingdom.

      Royal reads

      1. Prince William and Kate urged people to get a COVID-19 vaccination during a video call with people preparing to get their shots. [BBC]

      2. Prince Harry got fresh about leaving royal duties in an appearance on The Late Late Show with James Corden (the host was also a guest at Harry and Meghan's wedding). (CBC)

      3. Hortense Mancini, a mistress of Charles II, set trends ahead of her time, establishing a salon in 17th-century London where her female peers had the same freedoms as men, new research shows. [The Guardian]

      4. Another high-profile royal interview won't be investigated by police in London. Controversy had swirled in recent months over the interview Harry's mother, Diana, gave the BBC in 1995. [ITV]


      Sign up here to have The Royal Fascinator newsletter land in your inbox every other Friday.

      I'm always happy to hear from you. Send your ideas, comments, feedback and notes to royalfascinator@cbc.ca. Problems with the newsletter? Please let me know about any typos, errors or glitches.

      Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      Prioritizing people with specific conditions for COVID vaccine slows race for herd immunity: N.S.'s top doctor

      Some advocates say people with disabilities should be prioritized for vaccines

      The National

      1 day ago
      2:06
      A group that advocates for people with disabilities says they should be prioritized for early vaccination, but Nova Scotia's top doctor, whose son has severe disabilities, disagrees. We talk to the mother of a girl with Down syndrome, which puts her daughter at greater risk of harm from COVID-19. 2:06

      Amanda Robinson used to work part time five days a week for an organization that supports adults with disabilities. She went to bingo and bowling on the weekends and attended a Friday night social.

      It all disappeared when COVID-19 struck.

      Robinson, 36, has Down syndrome and is largely non-verbal. Her mother keeps her close to home these days because she worries about what will happen if her daughter contracts the coronavirus. 

      "Amanda going out puts her life at risk every day and she doesn't even know it," said Carolin Robinson, outside her family's home in Halifax. 

      Robinson points to research in the U.K. that suggests people with Down syndrome who contract COVID-19 have a significantly increased risk of death. She is among the advocates across the country calling on governments to prioritize vaccinating people with disabilities. 

      Amanda Robinson, left, with her mother, Carolin, and her brother, Aaron, in their Halifax home. (Eric Woolliscroft/CBC)

      Some Canadian provinces are prioritizing people with various disabilities to varying degrees, but Nova Scotia, which currently has 29 active cases of COVID-19, is among those that are not, unless the individuals live in congregate settings such as group homes. 

      Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, says the province is focusing on vaccinating by age, beginning with people 80 and older, and working down by brackets of five years at a time.  

      "We certainly understand lots of different groups thinking about their own risk or the risk within their group, and I understand that perspective," he said during a recent interview at Nova Scotia's Department of Health. 

      In fact, Strang understands better than most. 

      His son, who turns 16 in September, lives with severe physical and intellectual disabilities, including autism, chronic pain and a mutation in the GRIN2A gene that causes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders.  

      Speed is key 

      But Strang insists age is "by far" the biggest risk factor. He also said it's important to have a vaccine program that is fast and efficient, and trying to figure out how to prioritize a range of conditions would significantly delay the overall process.  

      "It'll be so much slower," he said.

      Because of his age, Strang's son is going to be among the last to be vaccinated, he said. "But he's going to be well protected because we've rapidly built herd immunity all around him."

      Nova Scotia has a higher percentage of people living with disabilities than any other province in Canada. 

      Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, with his son, now 15. Despite the fact his son has severe physical and intellectual disabilities, Strang says he's confident in the province's age-based approach to determining the order for vaccinating the public. (Submitted by Dr. Robert Strang )

      Krista Carr, the executive vice-president of Inclusion Canada, a national organization that works on behalf of people who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, wants all provinces and territories to create a separate vaccination category for people with disabilities and to clearly define who that will include. 

      She acknowledges different disabilities might need to be prioritized in different ways. For example, some people may need to be moved up the list because they've been more isolated or unable to protect themselves by physically distancing because they rely on support workers, and others need to be prioritized because of their physical health. 

      "People with disabilities often have co-occurring health conditions that go along with their disability, so that puts them at higher risk for the virus," she said. 

      She said by not creating a separate category to prioritize their vaccination, "we're telling people with disabilities they don't matter, and that's just the wrong message to send." 

      Some provinces are prioritizing in various phases

      British Columbia plans to vaccinate people who are "clinically extremely vulnerable" including "adults with very significant developmental disabilities that increase risk" in Phase 3. 

      New Brunswick intends to vaccinate people who have "select complex medical conditions," including people who live with Down syndrome, in Phase 2.

      Ontario has released a specific list of conditions that put people at an "increased risk of serious illness and death regardless of age" and will be included in Phase 2 vaccinations.  

      Alberta says it will prioritize people "with underlying health conditions" in its Phase 2, but it has not yet determined the list of conditions that will qualify. 

      Strang not 'rigid' in thinking

      Strang says he is very comfortable with Nova Scotia's approach but is not "rigid" in his thinking and will make changes if there is a shift in the science, epidemiology or vaccine supply.

      Robinson says the idea of building herd immunity doesn't give her peace of mind. She says the risks are just too high and the statistics too stark. 

      "All my life, I've been fighting for her," she said. "I'm her voice, and I wonder when I don't need to be her voice, that it just happens because it should."

      Robinson said she's not asking for her daughter to be first, just prioritized, so she can feel safer, sooner. 

      Posted on 7 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      NHL star's mom donates kidney to arena manager who let her boys skate extra hours
      Graham Nesbitt, left, received a donated kidney from Bonnie O'Reilly, right, on Wednesday at a hospital in London, Ont. O'Reilly's sons, Ryan and Cal, became professional hockey players after skating in an arena managed by Nesbitt when they were young. (Twitter: St. Louis Blues)

      They're grown men playing professional hockey now, but when Bonnie O'Reilly's boys were growing up in Seaforth, Ont., Graham Nesbitt was a local legend. 

      As manager of the local arena in the community of about 3,000 people, located an hour north of London, Nesbitt would open the doors on snow days or after regular hours so scores of local kids could skate. 

      "They'd call and say, 'Is there any way we can get onto the ice before school?'" recalls Graham's son, Joe Nesbitt. "He'd have the arena open at 6:30 a.m. so people could skate. He just wanted kids to be active and busy, not getting into trouble. It was his outlet as a kid and he wanted to pass it on."

      Both of O'Reilly's sons went on to play in the NHL. Ryan is the captain of the St. Louis Blues, and after winning the Stanley Cup with the team in 2019, he brought it back to Seaforth and nearby Goderich.

      Her other son, Cal, played for a few different NHL teams and is currently with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League. 

      Now, for the guy who helped give her sons and other kids a bit of extra ice time, O'Reilly has given the assist of a lifetime. On Wednesday, she donated one of her kidneys to Nesbitt, who is 65. The transplant surgery took place in London, and both Nesbitt and O'Reilly are recovering well. 

      The St. Louis Blues shared a photo on social media of Nesbitt and O'Reilly giving the thumbs up from adjacent hospital beds. 

      On Thursday, Pam Nesbitt, Graham's wife, expressed her gratitude on Facebook. 

      "From our family to you and yours Bonnie, thanks for the gift of a lifetime," she said. "Your selfless act means more than you'll ever know."

      Nesbitt retired as Seaforth's arena manager in 2003, going on to work for Olympia Ice Resurfacing and later the Ontario Recreation Facilities Association. 

      He's known all over southwestern Ontario as a good guy to call if your arena ice isn't coming in right or the resurfacing machine goes wonky. 

      'My dad is just blown away by this'

      In 2011, Nesbitt was diagnosed with IgA nephropathy, also known as Berger's disease. Patients with the disease build up an antibody in the kidneys that over time can limit their ability to filter blood. Medication helped control Nesbitt's condition until 2019, when it became clear he'd need a kidney transplant. 

      Many in the the Seaforth area stepped up for Nesbitt, offering to become donors. 

      Ryan O'Reilly shares the Stanley Cup with his 99-year-old grandmother after winning the NHL championship in 2019. Ryan and his brother, Cal, were often given extra ice time by Nesbitt when they were young players, and on Wednesday, Ryan's mother Bonnie donated a kidney to Nesbitt. (Allison Devereaux/ CBC News )

      When O'Reilly was identified as a good match, she agreed to give Nesbitt one of her kidneys. 

      "She says that 'What you've done for my boys, helping them achieve their goal of playing professional hockey, it's the least we can do,'" Joe Nesbitt said, quoting O'Reilly. "My dad is just blown away by this." 

      To him, the donation is evidence of the special bond that often forms among hockey families. 

      "Your team growing up, you become more than just a team, you kind of become family," Joe Nesbitt said. "It's kind of left me speechless. 

      "Something my dad's always taught me is to be kind and helpful and generous to everybody," he said. "It just goes to show that those thoughtful acts and caring for people, it pays off. It truly paid off for my dad and saved his life."


      More info about living kidney donation

      You can learn more information about living kidney donation here:

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 3:59 pm
      Acting chief of defence staff addresses 'beyond troubling' culture in Canada's military
      Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre listens to speakers during a change of command parade for the Canadian Army in 2019. Eyre released a statement on Saturday stating that elements of the culture in Canada's military must change. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

      Acting chief of the defence staff Lt.-Gen. Wayne Eyre says aspects of Canada's military culture "need, must and will change," as two of the country's former military leaders face allegations of sexual misconduct.

      "Certain behaviours and attitudes exhibited towards our personnel are beyond troubling," Eyre wrote in a statement to members and families of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) on Saturday.

      "None of us should ever tolerate, or condone, behaviour or attitudes that threaten the well-being of our people. The road ahead will not be easy, but we will emerge a stronger, better, and more effective Force."

      The House of Commons defence committee is probing accusations of sexual misconduct against former chief of the defence staff Gen. Jonathan Vance after allegations of inappropriate behaviour were first reported by Global News last month. 

      Admiral Art McDonald, who succeeded Vance after the top military commander's retirement, voluntarily stepped aside from his post in February as he is investigated by the military's National Investigation Service on unspecified allegations. CBC News has reported that the claim involves a female crew member and an incident a decade ago aboard a warship participating in a northern exercise.

      Military police are also investigating claims that Vance had an inappropriate relationship with a female subordinate and, in a separate incident, sent a racy email to another woman of lower rank.

      Leaders told to redouble efforts to communicate with staff

      Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan appointed Eyre as acting chief after McDonald vacated his role. 

      In his statement, Eyre noted that "much has been said and written recently about the CAF," before he committed to enact change.

      The acting chief also acknowledged that the pressures of military life have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including "large pockets within our organization who are running on overdrive as they underpin our operational and institutional demand."

      Eyre encouraged staff to look after one another, reach out for assistance and to know they do not need to suffer alone.

      "I expect leaders at all levels to redouble their efforts to communicate, to listen, to really understand and to respond to the individual circumstances of our people," he wrote. 

      On Wednesday, former military ombudsman Gary Walbourne told the Commons committee he had warned Sajjan about an allegation against Vance in a 2018 meeting but said the minister refused to look at the evidence provided.

      The minister briefly rebutted Walbourne's testimony, saying he disagreed "with parts" of Walbourne's version of events without specifying what he took issue with.

      Conservative committee members have now proposed to expand its study of sexual misconduct issues to examine the recent allegations made against McDonald. 

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 2:05 pm
      India's farmers' protests mark 100 days — here's what's happening now
      As the farmers' protests in India hit their 100th day on Saturday, the core concerns of protesters remained unchanged — they say agricultural laws passed last year will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations. (Altaf Qadri/The Associated Press)

      Thousands of Indian farmers blocked a massive expressway on the edges of New Delhi on Saturday to mark the 100th day of protests against agricultural laws they say will devastate their income.

      Farmers stood on tractors and waved colourful flags while their leaders chanted slogans via a loudspeaker atop a makeshift stage.

      Thousands of them have hunkered down outside New Delhi's borders since late November to voice their anger against three laws passed by India's Parliament last year.

      Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government says the laws are necessary to modernize agriculture, but farmers say they will leave them poorer and at the mercy of big corporations.

      What's happening now?

      Samyukta Kisan Morcha, or Joint Farmers' Front, said the blockade would last five hours.

      "It is not our hobby to block roads, but the government is not listening to us. What can we do?" said Satnam Singh, a member of the group.

      The farmers have remained undeterred even after violence erupted on Jan. 26 during clashes with police that left one protester dead and hundreds injured. But they could soon run into problems.

      A major highway near New Delhi was blocked on Saturday, as ongoing protests against new farm laws in India reached their 100th day. (Altaf Qadri/The Associated Press)

      For 100 days, Karnal Singh has lived inside the back of a trailer along a vast stretch of arterial highway that connects India's north with New Delhi. He camped outside the capital when it was under the grip of winter and smog. Now, the city is bracing for scorching summer temperatures that can hit 45 C.

      But Singh, like many other farmers, is unfazed and plans to stay until the laws are completely withdrawn.

      "We are not going anywhere and will fight till the end," Singh, 60, said on Friday, as he sat cross-legged inside a makeshift shelter in the back of his truck.

      The mood at the Singhu border, one of the protest sites, was boisterous on Friday, with many farmers settling into their surroundings for the long haul.

      Huge soup kitchens that feed thousands daily were still running. Farmers thronged both sides of the highway, and hundreds of trucks have been turned into rooms, fitted with water coolers in preparation for the summer. Electric fans and air conditioners are also being installed in some trailers.

      Protests expected to continue during harvest season

      Farmers say the protests will spread across the country soon. The government, however, is hoping many of them will return home once India's major harvesting season begins at the end of the month.

      Karanbir Singh dismissed such concerns. He said their community, including friends and neighbours back in the villages, would tend to farms while he and others carried on with the protests.

      Protesters are seen blocking the KMP Expressway in Haryana, India, on Saturday. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

      "We'll help each other to make sure no farm goes unharvested," Singh said.

      But not all farmers are against the laws. Pawan Kumar, a fruit and vegetable grower and ardent Modi supporter, said he was ready to give them a chance.

      "If they [the laws] turn out to not benefit us, then we will protest again," he said. "We will jam roads and make that protest even bigger. Then more common people, even workers, will join. But if they turn out to be beneficial for us, we will keep them."

      Support in Canada for farmers

      The farmers have drawn support for their cause from far outside of India's borders, including in Canada.

      Supportive rallies have been held in Ottawa, Vancouver and other Canadian cities since the farmers in India began pushing back against the agricultural reforms.

      Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has weighed in on the protests, with remarks he made in December drawing counter-comment from the Indian government.

      What's next? 

      Multiple rounds of talks between the government and farmers have failed to end the stalemate. The farmers have rejected an offer from the government to put the laws on hold for 18 months, saying they want a complete repeal.

      The legislation is not clear on whether the government will continue to guarantee prices for certain essential crops — a system that was introduced in the 1960s to help India shore up its food reserves and prevent shortages.

      A portion of Saturday's protest actions in Haryana, India, are seen in the reflection of a farmer's sunglasses. (Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters)

      Farmers also fear that the legislation signals the government is moving away from a system in which an overwhelming majority of farmers sell only to government-sanctioned marketplaces.

      They worry this will leave them at the mercy of corporations that will have no legal obligation to pay them the guaranteed price anymore.

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 11:16 am
      'Canada's hockey dad' Walter Gretzky to be remembered at hometown funeral

      Walter Gretzky funeral service

      CBC News

      3 minutes ago
      Live
      Wayne Gretzky's father will be remembered by family and friends in Brantford, Ont. Canada's most beloved hockey dad died earlier this week at the age of 82. 0:00

      A funeral is being held today for Walter Gretzky, the man being remembered as 'Canada's hockey dad'.

      Gretzky, the father of five adult children — including hockey legend Wayne — died on Thursday at the age of 82.

      "For my sister and my 3 brothers, Dad was our team captain — he guided, protected and led our family every day, every step of the way," Wayne Gretzky said in an emotional post on social media following his father's death.

      Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a private family service is being held at St. Mark's Anglican Church in Brantford, Ont., just a few blocks from the home where Walter Gretzky and his late wife, Phyllis, raised their family.

      Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis called Gretzky's passing "a profoundly sad day for all those who knew and loved Walter," saying the hockey patriarch's impact on his community extended beyond the ice.

      Wayne Gretzky is hugged by his father, Walter, after being presented with a car during the pre-game ceremonies for Gretzky's last game in the NHL, as a New York Ranger, on April 18, 1999. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

      Glen Gretzky told the Brantford Expositor that his father had dealt with a series of health issues over the years. He said family had gathered at his father's Brantford home to be with him in his final hours.

      "We always said he's had nine lives," Glen said. "But he was unbelievable. He just wouldn't stop and nothing would keep him down."

      The backyard rink

      It was in Brantford that Walter Gretzky famously built a backyard rink where Wayne, who would go on to be known as the Great One, honed his hockey skills from an early age.

      "His birthday falls in January, so it was the winter that he turned three that he had skates on," Walter Gretzky said, when recalling Wayne's early days during a conversation with CBC back in 1982, as his eldest son was playing in the NHL playoffs.

      WATCH | Walter Gretzky, Canada's hockey dad:

      Remembering ‘Canada’s hockey dad’ Walter Gretzky

      The National

      16 hours ago
      2:03
      NHL players, league officials and everyday Canadians reacted to the passing of Wayne Gretzky's father, Walter, after his death at age 82 following a long battle with Parkinson's disease. 2:03

      That support continued throughout Wayne Gretzky's pro hockey career, something that the people who shared the ice with No. 99 noticed.

      "We all know that the relationship between Wayne and Walter was incredible," said Mark Messier — the Hall of Fame hockey player who won four of his six Stanley Cups playing alongside Wayne — when speaking with CBC News recently.

      "I think it's something to be emulated, the way he nurtured Wayne."

      That included supporting his famous son when a controversial trade sent Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings in 1988.

      "If Wayne is going to be happy there and he enjoys it, then certainly I won't regret it," his father said at the time.

      Hockey sticks, cards and flowers are seen on a snowbank beside Walter Gretzky's reserved parking spot at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Centre in Brantford, Ont., on Friday, following news of Walter's death. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

      Outside a Brantford arena named for Wayne, an impromptu memorial has sprung up for Walter Gretzky in the wake of his death.

      Flowers, cards and hockey sticks have been left at the side of the parking spot reserved for him.

      They are among the many tributes being made to Gretzky since news of his death has spread.

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 10:38 am
      Iraq's top Shia cleric welcomes Pope into his home for talk on peaceful coexistence
      Pope Francis, right, meets with Shia Muslim leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq on Saturday. (The Associated Press)

      Pope Francis and Iraq's top Shia cleric delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence Saturday, urging Muslims in the war-weary Arab nation to embrace Iraq's long-beleaguered Christian minority during an historic meeting in the holy city of Najaf.

      Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani said religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq's Christians, and that Christians should live in peace and enjoy the same rights as other Iraqis. The Vatican said Francis thanked al-Sistani for having "raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted" during some of the most violent times in Iraq's recent history.

      Al-Sistani, 90, is one of the most senior clerics in Shia Islam and his rare but powerful political interventions have helped shape present-day Iraq. He is a deeply revered figure in Shia-majority Iraq and his opinions on religious and other matters are sought by Shias worldwide.

      The historic meeting in al-Sistani's humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah's office and the Vatican.

      Early Saturday, the 84-year-old pontiff, travelling in a bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz, pulled up along Najaf's narrow and column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in Shia Islam. He then walked the few metres to al-Sistani's modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades.

      Pope Francis arrives to meet with the Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, in Najaf, Iraq on Saturday. (Vatican Media/Reuters)

      A group of Iraqis wearing traditional clothes welcomed him outside. As a masked Francis entered the doorway, a few white doves were released in a sign of peace. He emerged just under an hour later, still limping from an apparent flare-up of sciatica nerve pain that makes walking difficult.

      The "very positive" meeting lasted a total of 40 minutes, said a religious official in Najaf, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief media.

      The official said al-Sistani, who normally remains seated for visitors, stood to greet Francis at the door of his room — a rare honour. Al-Sistani and Francis sat close to one another, without masks.

      The official said there was some concern about the fact that the Pope had met with so many people the day before. Francis has received the coronavirus vaccine but al-Sistani has not.

      The Pope removed his shoes before entering al-Sistani's room. Al-Sistani spoke for most of the meeting. Francis was served tea and a plastic bottle of water, but only drank the latter. Francis paused before leaving al-Sistani's room to have a last look, the official said.

      The Pope arrived later in the ancient city of Ur for an interfaith meeting aimed at urging Iraq's Muslims, Christians and other believers to put aside historic animosities and work together for peace and unity. Ur is the traditional birthplace of Abraham, the biblical patriarch revered by Christians, Muslims and Jews.

      Pope Francis, left, attends an inter-religious meeting near the archaeological area of the Sumerian city-state of Ur, 20 kilometres south-west of Nasiriyah, Iraq on Saturday. (Andrew Medichini/The Associated Press)

      "From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters," Francis said. "Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion."

      Religious leaders stood to greet him. While Francis wore a mask, few of the leaders on the tented stage did. The meeting was held in the shadow of Ur's magnificent ziggurat, the 6,000-year-old archaeological complex near the modern city of Nasiriyah.

      The Vatican said the historic visit to al-Sistani was a chance for Francis to emphasize the need for collaboration and friendship between different religious communities.

      In a statement issued by his office after the meeting, al-Sistani affirmed that Christians should "live like all Iraqis, in security and peace and with full constitutional rights." He pointed out the "role that the religious authority plays in protecting them, and others who have also suffered injustice and harm in the events of past years."

      WATCH | Pope Francis visits Iraq in his first trip during the pandemic:

      Pope Francis visits Iraq in his first trip during the pandemic

      The National

      13 hours ago
      2:04
      Pope Francis is on a historic visit to Iraq despite the global pandemic. After a year of laying low in Vatican City, he's resumed his travels with a message of unity for a country ravaged by religious violence. 2:04

      Al-Sistani wished Francis and the followers of the Catholic Church happiness, and thanked him for taking the trouble to visit him in Najaf, the statement said.

      For Iraq's dwindling Christian minority, a show of solidarity from al-Sistani could help secure their place in Iraq after years of displacement — and, they hope, ease intimidation from Shia militiamen against their community.

      Iraqis cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders.

      "We welcome the Pope's visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani," said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. "It is an historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people."

      1st trip abroad since start of pandemic

      Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and met with senior government officials on the first-ever papal visit to the country. It is also his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and his meeting Saturday marked the first time a pope had met a grand ayatollah.

      On the few occasions where he has made his opinion known, the notoriously reclusive al-Sistani has shifted the course of Iraq's modern history.

      In the years after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion he repeatedly preached calm and restraint as the Shia majority came under attack by al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremists. The country was nevertheless plunged into years of sectarian violence.

      His 2014 fatwa, or religious edict, calling on able-bodied men to join the security forces in fighting the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) swelled the ranks of Shia militias, many closely tied to Iran. In 2019, as anti-government demonstrations gripped the country, his sermon led to the resignation of then-prime minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.

      Iraqis have welcomed the visit and the international attention it has given the country as it struggles to recover from decades of war and unrest. Iraq declared victory over the Islamic State group in 2017 but still sees sporadic attacks.

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 10:09 am
      World must do more to support democracy in Myanmar: Bob Rae
      Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae says the international community must do more to support the democratic movement in Myanmar. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

      Bob Rae says the international community must support the democratic movement in Myanmar as protesters there continue to risk their lives to protest against last month's military coup.

      Canada's ambassador to the United Nations says it's the only way to honour the courage shown by those standing up for democracy.

      "I do think that what we're seeing now is an unprecedented level of support for a widespread and deep democracy within Myanmar," Rae said in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.

      "We have not seen demonstrations of the kind we're seeing in Myanmar for four generations. And I think it's really important for us to stress that."

      WATCH: Protesters clash with security forces in Myanmar

      Protesters return to Myanmar's streets; estimated 18 people killed

      CBC News

      5 days ago
      3:55
      Security forces in Myanmar opened fire and made mass arrests as they sought to break up protests against the military's seizure of power. A UN human rights official said there was 'credible information' that 18 people were killed. 3:55

      The death toll in Myanmar, also known as Burma, continues to rise as police and military officials crack down on the protests.

      The UN says more than 50 people have died, and about 1,000 others — including civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi — have been detained.

      Persecution of Rohingya

      Suu Kyi came under heavy criticism for her failure to stop the military from its campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority — a failure that led Canada to strip her of honorary Canadian citizenship in 2018.

      Rae, who served as Canada's special envoy to Myanmar on the Rohingya crisis until 2018, was asked if that past makes it more difficult to organize international support for her.

      "The short answer to that is, of course it does, but it doesn't stop us from doing it," he said. "The fact remains that she was democratically elected leader of a political party that won an election and that has to be recognized."

      Canada has imposed sanctions on military officials already. But Myanmar is not a member of the United Nations Security Council and the fear is that China or Russia would veto any measures the UN might take.

      The UN's special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Bergener, called Friday for the Security Council to present a unified front in demanding an end to the coup and the release of those detained.

      "It is critical that this council is resolute and coherent in putting the security forces on notice and standing with the people of Myanmar firmly, in support of the clear November election results," she said.

      Calls for 'collective action'

      "There is an urgency for collective action," she added. "How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?"

      Rae believes there's a consensus that more can be done to stop the violence now.

      "I think we do have to look at what else can we do to isolate the military, to freeze their assets wherever we can find them, and to work with every conceivable partner that we can find to create the conditions for the transition to democracy," he said. 

      A member of a South Korean civic group holds a sign as she attends at a rally against Myanmar's military coup in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 3, 2021. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

      "It's going to be extremely difficult, but I think this issue is far from over. The outcome is not by any means settled."

      But time is running short. The images emerging from the protests show unarmed people being shot by authorities and ambulance attendants being beaten when they try to assist the injured.

      Tin Maung Htoo lives in London, Ontario. He's been posting some of those videos and photos on social media, including one of a 19-year-old woman, Kyal Sin, who was shot dead while wearing a t-shirt that said, "Everything will be OK." 

      "When I look at the video ... she is the only female ... at the forefront, blocking and confronting the police and the military on the street," he said in a separate interview for The House.

      "She was also taking control. Telling other colleagues, 'Be careful, be careful. You cannot be tired. Keep fighting. Keep standing. Keep holding.' That was the message she was [saying] in Burmese."

      The House speaks to Tin Maung Htoo of the Burmese Canadian Action Network about Myanmar’s military coup. Then, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bob Rae, discusses his own calls to ensure democracy is restored. 15:06

      Calls for Canada to do more

      Tin is the coordinator of a new group called Burmese Canadian Action Network. His group wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau this week urging Canada to do more to help end the violence.

      "Burma has been under totalitarian, authoritarian rule for half a century," he said. "So when these people think this is enough, enough is enough ... they want to move forward."

      Tin said he believes people will continue to risk their lives for democracy — to show the world that the military can't be allowed to win.

      That same message was delivered last week by Myanmar's then ambassador to the UN during a special meeting of the general assembly.  

      "Now is not the time for the international community to tolerate the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Myanmar's military," Kyaw Moe Tun said. The country's military rulers fired him the next day.

      Rae said that speech — and the daily protests on the streets — demonstrate rare courage.

      "And I think it's a reminder that courage is probably the most important of all the virtues, because it's the virtue that makes all the other things possible in life," he said. "Without courage, we have nothing."

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      Dr. Seuss on your shelf? These experts share ways to tackle problematic favourites with your kids

      6 Dr. Seuss books pulled from publication

      The National

      3 days ago
      2:01
      Dr. Seuss Enterprises says it will no longer public six Dr. Seuss books, including If I Ran the Zoo and Scrambled Eggs Super!, because of racist and insensitive depictions in them. 2:01

      News this week that Dr. Seuss Enterprises will stop publishing six books by the children's lit icon — titles that "portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong" — doesn't come as a surprise to some book-lovers, but it's forcing many others to revisit what may have been childhood favourites through a new, more modern lens. 

      Decades may have passed since reading one of these titles, or perhaps there's a book that you've shared with a child in your life more recently, but many are pondering just what to do. Get rid of problematic books? Just skip certain pages? Keep them around and try to explain?

      It's a complex, layered discussion and one that Vancouver parent Aisha Kiani welcomes, since it can apply beyond just the six Dr. Seuss titles in the news this week. 

      The Dr. Seuss books that will no longer be published. All six will be pulled from publication because of racist and insensitive imagery, Dr. Seuss Enterprises said Tuesday. (CBC)

      "I'm happy that we can start talking about the lens in which stories are written," they said. "I think it's important to use [these Seuss books] to explain examples of what we don't need to be doing anymore."

      Kiani has had difficult talks over literature with their own son, for instance when the youngster brought home Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after "all his friends loved it."

      Be wary of nostalgia

      "We kind of did a deep dive into what the characters represent, the time in which the story was written and the political background and the beliefs of the author," said Kiani. 

      Vancouver parent Aisha Kiani founded I Dream Library to highlight titles by queer, trans, Black, Indigenous authors and authors of colour to help Canadian schools and families access a greater diversity of books. (CBC)

      Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, first published in 1964, saw Dahl use offensive, anti-Black colonialist stereotypes when introducing factory owner Willy Wonka's "Oompa-Loompa" workers (a characterization that was revised in later editions). More recently, Dahl's family apologized for anti-Semitic remarks the late author made during his lifetime. 

      We shouldn't simply succumb to nostalgia, which can result in passing prejudices and biases onto the next generation, said Kiani, who founded an educational resource highlighting books by queer, trans, Black and Indigenous authors and authors of colour. The goal of I Dream Library is to help Canadian schools and families access a greater diversity of books.

      "What ends up happening is sort of a generation-to-generation subconscious bias is handed down, where we are not conscious of stereotypes that are present in story structure, dynamics, characters and the way we speak to each other in books.... Prejudices that we are then teaching our children just by the nature of sharing things that we love," they said. 

      "We need to feel excited about offering solutions to creating a more kind world and not hold on to these relics of the past for the sake of nostalgia."

      Remember that kids 'pick up on a lot of things' 

      How impressionable children and young people are is something else to keep in mind: while they may be eagle-eyed in discerning certain details, they're still forming the ideas about the world around them, says children's book author and teacher Nadia L. Hohn.

      Canadian author Nadia Hohn said she supports the move to stop publishing six of Dr. Seuss's books. 'There are a lot of classics that are just out of step with right now, and they have been problematic for a long time,' she said. (Groundwood Books)

      "Children pick up on a lot of messaging.... They pick up on a lot of things, stereotypes and roles, and they are very aware," noted the Etobicoke, Ont.-based writer, who recalls experiencing racism from as young as kindergarten.

      "[This is] the time to be aware of how the messages come across to them. And if they've seen one group in particular portrayed in a very negative light, they may start to form ideas about that group."

      Books that include depictions reinforcing negative stereotypes can be harmful to some students and internalized and carried by others long afterwards, Hohn noted. Because of this, she is considerate of the books she brings to her classroom.

      "I want to make sure that all the students feel affirmed, and they don't feel put down, and they feel represented, and they don't have to hide and feel like they have to be embarrassed about who they are."

      Encourage critical thinking

      Encountering offensive content while reading with your child might force a parent to pause, but just turning or hiding the page isn't the answer, says Toronto educator D. Tyler Robinson. 

      "When you skip over that work, you fail to bring an important conversation to that young person who's looking to you as the primary educator in their lives," he said.

      "What they learn and what they internalize over time is that, instead of doing the hard work of being critical about racist notions, about prejudice that exists in popular culture ... it's normal for Dr. Seuss to make a children's book and it's normal for him to have racist depictions of non-white cultures."

      WATCH | D. Tyler Robinson on building an inclusive mindset with his toddler:

      Be intentional in picking books, talking to kids about them, says educator

      CBC News

      1 day ago
      2:36
      D. Tyler Robinson, co-creator of a high school course deconstructing anti-Black racism, on how he's setting the groundwork at home with his toddler and underlining 'that everybody is normal. It's not just whiteness is normal.' 2:36

      In order to help move society to a better place, we need to dig into challenging discussions and put work into educating the younger generation, said Robinson, who led development of a new anti-racism course for high schoolers. 

      "That means that if you need to do a little bit of homework and you need to reach out to folks and have conversations, or you need to do some research and ... educate yourself so that you can better educate your kids, then that is what's required." 

      Robinson also encourages pushing children and teens to think critically about what they see. At the youngest ages, it might start with reading a book together, asking a child what they think about certain aspects and hearing their thought process. 

      With the Grade 12s taking his anti-racism course, he and his colleagues are marshalling conversations and teaching students to really listen before responding to what classmates are saying — "getting them to focus on the substantive differences between their opinions instead of getting into ad hominem attacks."

      Just like reading and writing begins with the alphabet before gradually learning more and more sophisticated communication, a step-by-step approach is needed in teaching students anti-racist thinking and "building up their capacity to have conversations that involve conflict," he said. 

      Revisit with context

      Children's author Hohn noted that books like the six Dr. Seuss titles can be useful for older students, teachers in training or children's literature scholars to study because "we also have to avoid the possibility [of] sweeping it under the rug like they didn't exist. All these things did exist and we need to make sure that they don't come back again."

      WATCH | Seuss scholar Philip Nel on being ready for uncomfortable talks about race:

      'Be prepared to have deeply uncomfortable conversations,' says Seuss scholar

      CBC News

      1 day ago
      1:55
      Kansas State University professor Philip Nel on the careful context needed and willingness to lean into difficult discussions when exploring Dr. Seuss and race. 1:55

      Appropriate context and being fully prepared for uncomfortable conversations are both needed to properly reexamine Seuss, whose oeuvre includes books with positive messages about treating people fairly as well as racist imagery, says Kansas State University English professor Philip Nel, author of Was the Cat in the Hat Black? The Hidden Racism of Children's Literature and the Need for Diverse Books.

      "[Seuss] is on the one hand writing these parables which intend to promote equality and tolerance but he's also embedding in his books other images which do the opposite," said the children's literature scholar. "If you grew up in a racist culture, that's in your head and it stays there unless you really want to root it out."

      Nel sees hope in the wider cultural shift of people being more willing to ask themselves tough questions in order to broaden their understanding. 

      "Some of us are more willing to ask questions.... 'What if the book that I loved as a child might be damaging to children today? What should I do? Should I continue to read that book, teach that book, or how should I teach it? What should I say about it?' And I think that's a positive development."

      Posted on 6 March 2021 | 4:00 am
      Why hospitals are beginning to reuse or recycle masks, IV bags, drills they used to throw out

      Canadian researchers looking for ways to cut down PPE waste

      The National

      8 hours ago
      2:01
      Across Canada, research engineers and physicians are developing recycling systems and pushing for more sustainable options to reduce hospital waste. That's because the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a surge in use of personal protective equipment, which has meant more plastics ending up in landfills. The federal government estimates 63,000 tonnes of COVID-19 related PPE ended up as waste last year. 2:01

      It may not be intuitive, but safely reusing medical equipment that has been previously used by doctors or patients can help hospitals save on health care costs, prevent supply shortages and have beneficial knock-on effects for the whole population, say some doctors.

      It could also potentially make a dent in the mountains of hospital waste generated each year. In Canada alone, non-hazardous hospital waste could amount to nearly 300 tonnes a day.

      Andrea MacNeill, a surgical oncologist at Vancouver General Hospital is one of several doctors across Canada trying to make the shift from the single-use and disposable equipment hospitals rely on to more reusable masks, gowns and surgical supplies. 

      They're also finding ways to recycle single-use items, such as IV bags and tubing.

      MacNeill, a clinical assistant professor who is launching a reusable devices lab at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, acknowledges that patients often don't like the idea of using something that has already been used on another patient.

      "There is an almost visceral reaction to the idea of reuse," she said. "I think we've been successfully marketed the notion that single-use consumables are safer from an infection prevention perspective, and there's very little, if any, data to back that up."

      Conversely, she said, there's is a lot of data showing that reuse is safe when done properly, similar to using the same restaurant utensils as thousands of other patrons.

      "There's no difference between that and using medical devices that have undergone safe-reuse protocols," MacNeill said.

      And there are potential health and environmental benefits to doing so, she suggests.

      Preventing equipment shortages

      For one thing, reusable equipment could potentially prevent some of the supply problems seen when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit in early 2020.

      At that time, some hospitals, long-term care homes and other front-line facilities faced dangerous shortages of personal protective equipment. Some reportedly even had to stop doing front-line work as a result.

      WATCH | Ottawa paramedics faced shortage of PPE:

      Ottawa paramedics facing shortage of PPE

      CBC News

      8 months ago
      7:02
      Paramedics in Ottawa are lacking N95 masks and say they can’t do their job without proper protection. It’s not clear when they will get more respirators. They are trying to find alternative sources of masks that meet provincial standards. 7:02

      "Part of the reason for that is that we have developed increasing reliance on single-use items, so disposable N95 [respirators], disposable gowns," MacNeill said.

      That was less of a problem at Vancouver General Hospital, where she works, which was well stocked with reusable gowns and respirators.

      "Because it's a lot easier to scale up your reuse cycles, so your laundering of your gowns or your replacement of the filters of your reusable respirators, than it is to actually manufacture more of something," MacNeill said.

      She said supply-chain disruptions such as the ones seen during the pandemic can be expected to become more frequent with future pandemics and climate change-related catastrophes, and the health-care system needs to find ways to address such vulnerabilities.

      Dr. Ali Abbass, an anesthesiologist and chief of environmental stewardship and sustainability at St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto, holds IV bags that are being recycled as part of a PVC recycling program. (Yuri Markarov/Unity Health Toronto )

      "One of those is focusing more on reusable supplies rather than single-use consumables."

      Since the start of the pandemic, more research has gone into ways to clean and reuse PPE, such as N95 masks, and some provincial governments have invested in reusable gear. For example, the Manitoba government ordered a million reusable N95 masks that can we worn up to 30 times.

      Early prototype designs of reusable N95 masks being designed by Precision ADM in Winnipeg. The government of Manitoba has ordered one million, one of several efforts underway to move away from single-use equipment and toward reusable medical supplies. (Submitted by Precision ADM)

      The shortages have also prompted some hospitals to stockpile used masks in case they run out of new ones and need to clean and reuse them.

      Reuse can save money

      Reusing supplies rather than throwing them away can also cut costs, and some of those savings can be reinvested in patient care.

      Since December 2018, St. Joseph's Hospital in Toronto has been reusing disposable items such as blood pressure cuffs, fingertip oxygen sensors and surgical drill bits that are normally used once before being thrown away. Now, instead of being trashed, they're cleaned, sterilized, tested and repackaged by a company called Stryker Sustainability Solutions.

      The company says each device is individually tested after processing, must meet a U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirement to be "substantially equivalent" to a brand new device and carries a warrantee and liability policy similar to those from the original manufacturer.

      In 2020, Toronto St. Joseph's Hospital estimates it was able to reprocess about 900 devices and purchase 600 new ones, saving about $20,000, including $4,000 in waste-hauling costs, said Dr. Ali Abbass, an anesthesiologist and chief of environmental stewardship and sustainability at St. Joseph's.

      WATCH | Dr. Ali Abbass shows some ways his hospital is cutting medical waste

      Hospitals are finding new ways to reduce medical waste

      CBC News

      1 day ago
      1:45
      Anesthesiologist Dr. Ali Abbass shows how they're reducing operating room waste at St. Joseph's Health Centre in Toronto 1:45

      Normally many of the metal items need to go in a sharps container, which is expensive to haul away.

      "If you put it in the Stryker collection container, it's free," said Abbass, who reached out to the company after hearing about its programs at U.S. hospitals. Abbass said the program is relatively new in Canada after being approved by federal regulators.

      The system also reduces environmental costs, as Stryker can reprocess each device five to seven times — reducing the number of new ones that need to be made, Abbass said.

      "To me, every hospital in the country should implement it."

      When reuse isn't possible, recycling may be

      Of course, not all materials are durable enough to be cleaned and reused. 

      That has been the case for disposable medical masks along with IV bags, oxygen masks and oxygen tubing. 

      For those, recycling may be an option — but one that hasn't been widely used.

      Abbass says that's likely in part due to the "ick factor," where hospital waste is perceived to be infectious.

      It's also often hard to find a market even for household plastics that have been recycled let alone recycled medical plastics.

      "There's lots of factors, I think that are in flux," Abbass said. "And one has to keep following up, I find, to see whether something that isn't recyclable may now be or vice versa.

      In 2009, Abbass heard of a program in Australia that recycled items made of PVC, such as IV bags, oxygen masks and oxygen tubing. He got in touch to ask how it worked, then found a recycler in Ontario, Norwich Plastics, willing to give it a try. 

      A pilot program for recycling those items from patients who aren't infectious started at St. Joseph's in 2016. 

      Andrea MacNeill, a surgical oncologist at Vancouver General Hospital, says switching from single-use to reusable medical supplies in hospitals can cut down on the harmful environmental effects of medical waste and help hospitals avoid some of the shortages they've faced on the pandemic. (Andrea MacNeill)

      It's already generated several thousand pounds of recycled PVC that's being used to make items such as automotive parts, garden hoses and highway sound barriers.

      Abbass said his hospital alone uses 400,000 IV fluid bags and 70,000 oxygen delivery devices a year. He thinks the majority of them could be sent for recycling if staff are educated about the process and recycling bins are placed in the right places.

      The program is gradually being expanded to other parts of the hospital and has launched at six other hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area, with plans to expand to B.C.

      Mask recycling ramping up

      Medical masks have not been widely recycled, but some efforts have started up recently. They have been collected for recycling at schools in Ontario and Quebec, for example.

      Collection of masks from some Vancouver hospitals also started in February, as part of a collaboration between Burnaby, B.C.-based mask manufacturer Vitacore and Ravi Selvaganapathy, director of McMaster University's Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in Hamilton. It expects to have collected 200,000 masks by the end of March and aims to expand to hospitals across the country over the next four months.

          1 of 0

          Selvaganapathy's lab will receive 25,000. They'll be melted down for recycling, and the research team is experimenting with pulling them into thin fibres. 

          "Those can be then chopped up into little bits and can be used as filler materials, for example, in concrete and composites," he said.

          They're testing the strength of concrete that contains recycled masks to see if it's stronger than regular concrete.

          He sees the potential to integrate recycled plastic from masks into all kinds of other materials used in sports equipment or aircraft. "They could be buried in all of these products," he said.

          Emissions impact

          MacNeill says the ideal situation is to never have to worry about whether something goes into the recycling bin or garbage can and whether the recycled material can be sold and made into something else.

          "My ideal system is absolutely zero waste," she said, "because what we are purchasing is entirely purpose-built reusable instruments that are actually designed for durability and quality."

          She recognizes that's a challenge, given that hospitals have been relying heavily on single-use medical supplies since the 1980s in response to the products being marketed as safer and more convenient.

          "Nobody was thinking about what the impacts were of manufacturing all of these plastics and of ultimately disposing of them," she said. 

          Now, even health regulators in the U.S. factor in the use of disposables when considering a hospital for accreditation, she said.

           The World Health Organization estimates that high-income countries currently generate an average of  0.5 kg of hazardous waste and more than three kilograms of non-hazardous waste per hospital bed per day. Canada had 91,000 hospital beds in 2018-2019, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, suggesting its hospitals could be producing 273 tonnes of non-hazardous waste per day.

          MacNeill notes that waste and pollution generated by the health care industry is unhealthy for everyone.

          "We have a moral imperative to first do no harm," MacNeill said. "And that includes to the rest of the population who's not currently a patient, but who is potentially being adversely affected by the implications of the care we're delivering right now." 

          WATCH | The operating room anesthetic gasses hurting the environment:

          The anesthetic gasses hurting the environment from operating rooms

          The National

          2 years ago
          3:04
          The health-care industry in North America has a pollution problem. One study showed it generates more than eight per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. But a few changes in the operating room could go a long way in helping the planet. 3:04

          The greenhouse gas emissions from health care are also an issue, she said. 

          "If we could decarbonize health care, it would be nearly equivalent to eliminating air travel. So we actually have a massive opportunity."

          That's something the National Health Service in England has acknowledged by committing to produce net zero emissions.

          MacNeill is confident it's something Canada can also achieve, too. "One hundred per cent, we can get there."

          Posted on 6 March 2021 | 4:00 am
          The provinces might get their health funding boost — with strings attached
          Prime Minister Justin Trudeau takes part in a press conference with Ontario Premier Doug Ford (on screen) Oct. 8 2020. Trudeau is under pressure to boost health funding to the provinces. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

          Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday that when it comes to funding for health care, the provinces aren't looking for the federal government to be their "banker" — they're looking for a "partner."

          He's at least half right.

          The premiers certainly aren't looking for a banker, because bankers typically apply pretty stringent conditions to any money they hand out (and they usually expect you to pay it back).

          For the same reasons, it's not clear how much the premiers want a "partner" either. The money they seek is money they can spend without the federal government being able to say much of anything about it.

          What the provinces actually seem to be looking for is a donor.

          WATCH: Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister calls out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on health transfers

          "I'm not your banker": Manitoba premier calls out prime minister on health care transfers

          Politics News

          2 days ago
          2:44
          The premiers held a virtual press conference today to warn Ottawa that health care transfers must be increased in this year's federal budget. They told reporters that all governments need to work together to reduce the wait times Canadians face in getting care. 2:44

          You can see the likely compromise here: the federal government increasing funding while acting like something in between a donor and partner. But underneath the political negotiation are some long-term questions about taxes, spending and debt — questions about whether governments at all levels will have enough money to do what citizens want or need them to do in the years ahead.

          Officially, the premiers are demanding that the federal government give them enough funding through the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to cover 35 per cent of all health care costs. There's nothing particularly magical about the number — the last time federal cash transfers covered that share of health costs was in the mid-1970s. But the premiers have decided that it feels like a fair number, or a sufficiently ambitious opening bid.

          There is no requirement that CHT funds be spent on health care. Right now, the funding provided by the CHT is equal to about 22 per cent of all health costs incurred by the provinces (though there is a long trail of context behind that number).

          In 1977, the federal government transferred "tax points" to the provinces — effectively reducing federal taxes so that provinces could raise theirs — to cover health care costs. The current Liberal government also has signed separate agreements to provide $11 billion over ten years to the provinces to cover specific costs related to mental health and home care.

          The provinces have a point

          Raising the CHT to cover 35 per cent of all health costs incurred by the provinces would amount to an increase of $28 billion in new annual spending for the federal government. The provinces argue that the federal government is in a better position to carry that cost. But that's not the same as saying it would be easy.

          The provinces have a case for calling on the federal government to pay more. The parliamentary budget officer's latest fiscal sustainability report, released last November, repeated a warning that has been offered on a regular basis over the last several years: assuming that an aging population leads to rising health care costs, the combined "subnational" debt-to-GDP ratio will continue to climb unsustainably into the future.

          According to the PBO, provinces would need to either raise taxes or cut annual spending by a combined $12 billion to stabilize their collective debt-to-GDP ratio at the pre-pandemic level of 24.1 per cent.

          The federal government's debt-to-GDP ratio, meanwhile, is set to decline over the long term. In fact, according to the PBO's calculations, the federal government could cut taxes or increase spending by $19 billion and still expect to get back eventually to its pre-pandemic debt-to-GDP ratio of 28 per cent.

          It's time to talk about taxes

          A transfer of $28 billion from the federal government to the provinces would flip those calculations. The premiers have their own report from the Conference Board of Canada that says the federal debt-to-GDP ratio would increase to 60 per cent and then very slowly decline to 57 per cent by 2038 — though the Conference Board calculates that provincial debt-to-GDP eventually would continue to rise.

          It's debatable what sort of debt-to-GDP ratio the federal government can now carry responsibly. While provincial conservatives might be happy to take that $28 billion, federal Conservatives might be even happier to criticize the federal debt levels that would result.

          But it's also possible that someone here needs to think about raising taxes — and most federal governments are going to be reluctant to surrender fiscal room to the provinces if it means those provinces can avoid raising taxes, or even cut them.

          Alberta Premier Jason Kenney's government is cutting the corporate tax rate — a decision that could lead to some awkward moments when the provinces and Ottawa get down to negotiating a boost in the federal health transfer. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

          The Alberta government, for instance, is in the process of cutting its corporate tax rate from 12 per cent to eight per cent. (When he was Quebec's premier, Jean Charest semi-famously used a boost in federal transfers in 2007 to hand out a pre-election income tax cut.)

          One way or another, a conversation about the resources needed to tackle the challenges of the post-pandemic world is necessary — and maybe inevitable.

          But Trudeau seems to be in no rush to start the health care aspect of that conversation. "As I've said to the premiers, we will be there to increase those transfers," he told reporters on Friday. "But that conversation needs to happen once we are through this pandemic."

          Room for compromise

          While the Liberals might be willing to increase the unconditional transfer to some degree, they also have other health care priorities that they'd like to pursue — expanding pharmacare and improving the conditions of long-term care (including a commitment to new national standards).

          Put those things together and the provinces might end up with an offer to increase the federal contribution through a combination of conditional and unconditional funds — though perhaps not nearly equivalent to $28 billion in new money.

          Conservative leader Erin O'Toole has insisted that he would be prepared to increase the transfers without conditions. He's also stopped short of saying that a Conservative government would actually put up the full $28 billion.

          Barring a quick change in government, though, the premiers and the prime minister might realize — as any number of first ministers before them have done — that they're ultimately tied together.

          The provinces want money. The federal government wants to advance some legacy-defining priorities. And the public might not be terribly interested in jurisdictional arguments right now.

          These are the makings of a beautiful, if acrimonious, partnership.

          Posted on 6 March 2021 | 4:00 am
          Why the rise of bitcoin could be the first shot in a currency revolution
          Based on surging prices, the total number of bitcoins trading was collectively worth more than $1 trillion US at one point last month. By that measure, the coin is worth more than the Russian ruble or the Thai baht. (CBC News)

          Oliver Dobson lives in a town outside of Canada's financial nerve centre, a nearly three-hour drive from Toronto. How he earns his living is worlds apart from the traditional business of Bay Street.

          For the past few years, Dobson has been trading in cryptocurrencies, stockpiling a horde of digital coins that have suddenly skyrocketed in price. In the real world, he lives off of cash savings, but on the Internet, he works in myriad ways to harvest these tokens.

          He considers it his full-time job.

          "I'm very frugal with my money," Dobson said. "I focus my time stocking up on these coins, so that when they explode [in price], I can take advantage of it."

          Prices for these cryptocurrencies, which have less familiar names like ether and nano, are exploding because they're riding on the coattails of bitcoin, which has been on a feverish run. The going rate has catapulted from about $9,000 per bitcoin a year ago to a peak of roughly $58,000 in late February, according to CoinDesk.

          The tidal wave has showered digital wealth on Dobson and other Canadians with a stake in the game, while attracting large players from Wall Street like never before. 

          Bitcoin's flirtation with mainstream acceptance and the gravity-defying climb in the price — along with some white-knuckle dips — have made headlines around the world and even captured the attention of the doubters. 

          Underneath the mania is a potential sea change in the world of finance that observers say was made possible by a global pandemic. And what's at stake is nothing less than a war for the future of money.

          But there are plenty of skeptics. They warn bitcoin is a highly speculative investment play with no real value backing it up and that investors run the risk of crushing losses.

          Oliver Dobson estimates banks handle only 10 or 20 per cent of his finances. He says he manages the rest in crypto networks. (Submitted by Oliver Dobson)

          Create money out of thin air'

          The rally has made Dobson's seemingly bizarre occupation all the more lucrative. Among other methods, he said he uses bitcoin to buy other digital coins on crypto exchanges and sell them when they rise in price. He also keeps his eye out for so-called airdrops, where crypto startups release free tokens or coins as part of a marketing stunt.

          "If you're asking me, how do you make your money? I guess in a way, you just go try random stuff and they might just create money out of thin air and hand you some."

          The new wave of bitcoin and cryptocurrencies has its share of colourful characters. It also has some heavy hitters from legacy finance.

          Wealthy investors and big institutions, such as PayPal Holdings Inc., Mastercard Inc., Visa Inc. and Tesla Inc., are embracing bitcoin in various ways, signalling broader approval of crypto for the first time. 

          The 2018 rout

          To understand how this happened, and what it all means, it's helpful to look back at the last bitcoin wave, which ended when investors watched vast sums of wealth get wiped out in a brutal crash.

          Invented as an alternative to national currencies in the depths of the financial crisis in 2009, bitcoin enjoyed one of its sharpest climbs almost a decade later, in 2017. The going rate escalated from less than $3,000 per coin to nearly $20,000 in six months.

          This bitcoin boom was driven not by big institutions like banks and pension funds, but by amateur, regular investors making a bet on new technology, said Alex McDougall, the managing director of portfolio management at the bitcoin and digital asset fund manager 3iQ in Toronto.

          People were drawn to an alternative to the legacy banking system, McDougall said. Bitcoin and its underlying technology presented a possible end-run around these gatekeepers, allowing people to do their own banking without a large financial institution.

          "We saw this potential move towards a radically open world and an entire new generation of wealth could be created in an entirely different type of market participant," McDougall said. 

          Monty Kohli, a 25-year-old cryptocurrency investor, says he believes in the ethos of decentralized finance and continues to have money tied up in digital coins. (Submitted by Monty Kohli)

          "We also saw a ton of scams and fraud and a bunch of, quite frankly, B.S. that sprung up around the market."

          The price of bitcoin ultimately crashed in 2018, dropping more than 80 per cent in a year. Left in the ashes were people who lost their life savings.

          Monty Kohli, a cryptocurrency investor in his early 20s at the time, didn't face catastrophic losses, but still watched up to $8,000 in wealth disappear. Despite the setback, he believes in the ethos of decentralized finance and continues to have money invested in digital coins, but it's money he said he can afford to lose.

          Now 25, Kohli said he's a bitcoin banker. He said he loans out tokens in a secondary, crypto market where he collects interest, though he maintains a day job working in the finance department of a Toronto company.

          "My time horizon for investing is quite long and so that's where I can also afford to take some risk in my portfolio," he said.

          While long-time core believers like Kohli remain in the game, some bigwigs on Wall Street are suddenly stepping in from the sidelines. And that's part of what makes this latest bitcoin wave so different.

          COVID-19 fuelling the latest bitcoin rally

          "There is relentless demand," said Edward Moya, a New York-based senior market analyst with the currency trading company Oanda Corp. "What we're starting to see is Wall Street, Main Street are really embracing the crypto world. Even when we have significant sell-off days, there is still strong demand, and it's global."

          Moya said the arguments in favour of an alternative to government-issued currency haven't changed all that much, but critical conditions have shifted in the past year, making that case more persuasive. 

          "If we did not have COVID, we would not be talking about bitcoin right now," he said.

          Central banks around the world have been pumping trillions of dollars into their economies to help them survive crippling lockdowns and various restrictions meant to control the spread of COVID-19.

          A major concern with all the pandemic-related stimulus is that it threatens to 'devalue or debase' national currencies, said Gavin Brown, a senior lecturer and associate professor of financial technology at the University of Liverpool. (Gavin Brown)

          A major concern with all of that stimulus is that it threatens to "devalue or debase" national currencies, said Gavin Brown, a senior lecturer and associate professor of financial technology at the University of Liverpool. "The purchasing power is less because, quite simply, there's more of it and therefore it's worth less."

          Bitcoin, on the other hand, is "not controlled by a central bank; it doesn't have any domicile; doesn't have any formal governance structure like you would expect with a company or a nation state," Brown said.

          "Instead, the supply of bitcoins is controlled by mathematical code and computer code, which means that the supply side of bitcoin is known at all times. It will never be more than 21 million [coins in circulation]."

          Critical infrastructure allows for big investments

          Cash was already on the decline for years, while the pandemic has accelerated demand for fast and convenient digital payments, analysts at the investment bank J.P. Morgan said in a recent report.

          "The pandemic has boosted demand for digital services and also for 'alternative' currencies as multiple rounds of stimulus, accommodative monetary policy, and excess savings have boosted money supply, leading to record inflows into bitcoin investment vehicles."

          Critical storage infrastructure is one development making cryptocurrency more accessible to institutional investors. Here, an illustration of bitcoin's logo stands on a PC motherboard. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

          Another important change is that critical storage infrastructure required to hold large sums of bitcoin for institutional investors is now available. Tesla revealed in early February it had bought $1.5 billion US in bitcoin, something that "would have been almost impossible just a couple of years ago due to the lack of institutional controls and infrastructure at play," Brown said.

          It's not only easier for some large institutions to invest, the academic said, it's also more publicly acceptable — entirely different than the 2017 surge.

          A bet or an investment?

          Some bright minds in finance don't buy all of the enthusiasm. Stephen Poloz, the former governor of the Bank of Canada, said in an interview that bitcoin is more of a speculative investment play than it is a currency. 

          "Even the pros who deal in bitcoin often use the word 'bet' rather than 'invest,' which suggests in our minds it's sufficiently volatile; it really is close to gambling as opposed to actual investment, since the asset itself has no intrinsic value," said Poloz, a special advisor at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt.

          "But that doesn't mean that it can't become mainstream."

          Stephen Poloz, a special advisor at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt and a former governor of the Bank of Canada, says bitcoin trading is akin to gambling. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

          Poloz said the Toronto Stock Exchange took important steps in this direction by listing two bitcoin exchange-traded funds. It means investors can put money into bitcoin under a regulated system of controls that ensure those investments are backed by the coins.

          Dobson, the crypto token trader, said the funds traded on the stock market and other developments, such as PayPal's foray into bitcoin, represent the antithesis of why cryptocurrencies exist in the first place.

          "Would you appreciate it if you agreed yesterday to buy a car paying in bitcoin and then you go to pick it up today and it cost you 16 percent more today than yesterday?- Stephen Poloz, former governor of the Bank of Canada

          "The whole point of cryptocurrency is that it's peer-to-peer, decentralized digital currency; it's immutable, it's uncensorable, and it's yours, purely yours," he said.

          "They don't give you access to withdraw your coins, so you never actually own them."

          Dobson estimates that banks handle only 10 or 20 per cent of his finances and he manages the rest in crypto networks.

          "Dollars don't make more dollars," he said, meaning he can make higher returns holding onto cryptos than national currencies, "so I keep basically everything I possibly can out of dollars. I do everything in my power to make sure that the amount of Canadian dollars that I'm holding is the smallest amount that I can get away with."

          But Poloz argues bitcoin can't replace national currencies in part because it takes far longer to process transactions. If, for example, someone used bitcoin to buy a cup of coffee, the drink would likely be cold by the time the payment cleared. While the technology could theoretically improve to make payments faster, he said there is no fundamental value behind the coins, leaving the price vulnerable to wild swings.

          "Would you appreciate it if you agreed yesterday to buy a car paying in bitcoin and then you go to pick it up today and it cost you 16 per cent more today than yesterday?" he said. "That's not the kind of volatility that you can endure in something that is being used for payments."

          'A real seismic shift'

          There is no shortage of predictions of where bitcoin's latest wave is headed. The financial services firm UBS Wealth Management reportedly warned investors there is little stopping cryptocurrency prices from falling to zero. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said she worries about potential investor losses.

          People pass in front of a crypto currency 'Bitcoin Change' shop near the Grand Bazaar on December 17, 2020 in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose/AFP/Getty Images)

          Brown, the fintech academic from the U.K., said there probably will be a correction, or drop, in the price of bitcoin over the coming weeks and months, but he expects the appeal of a decentralized currency won't disappear.

          "It allows them to move money without a payment intermediary," he said. "The idea of doing banking without a bank ... that is a paradigm that flies in the face of not just centuries of financial development but millennia. That's a real seismic shift."

          Still, Brown doesn't believe bitcoin will someday dominate global finance. Where this is ultimately headed, he predicts, is a digital currency war.

          There are three groups that Brown believes will be competing for supremacy: decentralized coins, like bitcoin; corporate coins, such as one launched by J.P. Morgan and the currency Facebook proposes; and, finally, future digital currencies backed by central banks.

          "There's a three-way fight for the future of money."

          Posted on 6 March 2021 | 4:00 am
          At home for a year, office workers complain of aches, pains and Zoom fatigue
          Researchers at Stanford University considered what it is about videoconferencing that causes such mental exhaustion for some people. (Girts Ragelis/Shutterstock )

          As a physiotherapist, Matthew Laing is seeing first-hand the consequences for many people who have been working from home for nearly a full year because of the pandemic.

          He says he frequently hears the same complaints from clients: neck, back and shoulder pain that bothers them throughout the day because they're stuck and not moving.

          "I've got clients who just don't move for eight hours a day," said Laing, who is based in Toronto. "We're human beings, we're not meant to be in a sedentary position, not moving at all."

          Back in March 2020, when many companies directed most of their staff to leave the office and telecommute in an effort to slow the spread of a scary new coronavirus, the experience of working from home felt novel, perhaps even exciting for some workers.

          At the very least, it was considered a blessing to have the option, particularly as workers in other sectors, such as health-care workers and grocery store staff, didn't have the same choice, and many other workers were laid off because of the pandemic's economic toll.

          But working from makeshift setups with non-ergonomic chairs and unorthodox workspaces has caused its share of physical strain. And collaborating with colleagues remotely for so long has only worsened a COVID 19-era ailment of another kind: Zoom fatigue.

          WATCH | Zoom fatigue is taking its toll:

          The physical and mental side effects of Zoom fatigue

          The National

          2 days ago
          2:01
          Zoom fatigue has become a pandemic side effect for people working from home. It has led to neck, back and shoulder pain, and made workers overly aware of their facial expressions because of constant videoconferencing. 2:01

          "The novelty has worn off," said Peter Flaschner, a director of the marketing firm Klick Health, who started working from his Toronto living room and kitchen a year ago.

          He's since turned a room upstairs into a temporary office. "We've become quite adept at this," he said, referring to collaborating with colleagues remotely.

          A year ago, few would have foreseen how widespread videoconferencing would become. Trials are held online, world leaders attend international summits virtually, and even Queen Elizabeth makes appearances via a webcam at Windsor Castle.

          Queen Elizabeth has been holding virtual meetings while staying at Windsor Castle during the pandemic. (Twitter/Royal Family)

          Downloads of the pandemic's hottest video chat software, Zoom, exploded. The company said last spring 300 million daily participants were meeting on the platform. This past week, it reported total revenue of $882.5 million US, up a whopping 369 per cent year-over-year for the quarter ending Jan. 31.

          But with that added usage came increased complaints of Zoom fatigue, the term given to the unique brand of mental exhaustion caused by hours of videoconferencing on any app, including Microsoft's Skype and Teams, Cisco Webex and Google Meet.

          "I've never put my finger on why being on Zoom all day is so mentally and physically exhausting," Giancarlo Fiorella, a Toronto-based investigator for the website Bellingcat, tweeted

          "There's a reason why TED talks are 18 minutes," said Anthony Bonato, a Ryerson University mathematics professor, referring to the popular series of online lectures. "Zoom fatigue is real."

          Researchers at Stanford University recently considered what makes videoconferencing so tiring. They pointed to four factors:

          • The unnaturally prolonged simulation of close-up eye contact. 
          • The mental strain of watching other attendees for visual cues. 
          • A reduction in mobility from staying in the same spot. 
          • Constantly seeing yourself in real time. 

          Their work was published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior. Stanford communication professor Jeremy Bailenson points out in the article, "The arguments are based on academic theory and research, but also have yet to be directly tested in the context of Zoom, and require future experimentation to confirm."

          Still, "this is a huge transformation to the way we normally talk," fellow Stanford communication professor Jeff Hancock told CBC News over Zoom from his home in Palo Alto, Calif. "It's like walking around with a mirror hanging around in front of us."

          He said Zoom fatigue is bound to affect people of different genders and races to varying degrees, particularly when it comes to the way individuals pay attention to — and perceive — their own image, what's known as self-focused attention.

          "There's a lot of work in psychology that shows people that have higher levels of self-focused attention are more likely to feel anxious or even more likely to get depressed," said Hancock, a B.C. native. "And we find the same kind of thing here [with Zoom fatigue]."

          What to do about it

          Bailenson recommends turning off "self-view" mode as much as possible, as well reducing the size of the videoconference window so it doesn't take up the entire screen. He hopes platforms such as Zoom will change default settings so the user isn't automatically faced with their own image any time they enter a video meeting, unless that's what they choose.

          As for the aches and pains, Laing, the physiotherapist, recommends doing small exercises between meetings to break up the time spent in front of the computer screen.

          "It's not about changing what they're doing during those meetings … instead, it's actually to get them to maximize the time between meetings," he said.

          Matthew Laing, a registered physiotherapist and the owner of Foundation Physiotherapy in Toronto, says it's important to move around between online meetings. (Taylor Simmons/CBC)

          Laing recommends at-home workers get up — even for 30 seconds at a time — to do a few squats or stretches. Even going up and down stairs can help break the monotony and physical inertia.

          "Just pacing around between meetings … can go a long way," he said.

          Others have a longer-term solution. While vaccines start to help fight the spread of COVID-19, the eventual return of face-to-face meetings may prove to be the only cure for Zoom fatigue.

          "If we could do hybrid [meetings], that would be just great, if it means more people are able to participate," said Dipika Damerla, a municipal councillor in Mississauga, Ont. A hybrid meeting would have a mix of virtual and in-person attendance, once public measures allow for it. 

          The city, like many others, has been holding public meetings via videoconference.

          And it hasn't always gone according to plan.

          A presenter at a recent council meeting asked for her presentation to be delayed.

          "What issues are you having?" staff asked.

          "My Powerpoint presentation isn't opening," the presenter replied, reflecting a recurring pandemic-era scenario.

          Damerla herself shared a habit to which many videoconference participants can relate, even a year into the pandemic.

          "I still start to speak with the mute button on."

          Posted on 6 March 2021 | 4:00 am
          Meghan accuses Buckingham Palace of 'perpetuating falsehoods'
          Meghan has accused Buckingham Palace of 'perpetuating falsehoods' about her and her spouse. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/The Associated Press)

          Prince Harry's wife, Meghan, has accused Buckingham Palace of "perpetuating falsehoods" about her and her spouse, saying the royal couple would not be silent in telling their story.

          Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, made the comments to American talk-show host Oprah Winfrey in an interview about why they quit their royal roles that is due to be broadcast on U.S. television on Sunday.

          An advance excerpt of the interview was released on Wednesday, hours after Buckingham Palace said it was "very concerned" about reports in the Times of London newspaper that assistants working for Meghan two years ago had been bullied by her.

          Harry and Meghan issued a statement denying that she had bullied anyone.

          "How do you feel about the Palace hearing you speak your truth today?" Winfrey asked Meghan in the excerpt.

          Meghan responded: "I don't know how they could expect that after all of this time we would still just be silent, if there is an active role that The Firm is playing in perpetuating falsehoods about us." The Firm is the name that the British Royal Family sometimes uses to describe itself.

          Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are expecting their second child. The couple stepped back from royal duties in January 2020 and moved with their first child, Archie, to Southern California. (Misan Harriman)

          "And if that comes with risk of losing things, I mean, there's a lot that's been lost already," Meghan said.

          The interview was recorded before The Times newspaper ran a report citing unnamed sources as saying an aide to Harry and Meghan had raised a complaint in October 2018 alleging that Meghan had reduced some of her assistants to tears and treated others so badly that they had quit.

          The paper said Harry had urged the aide, who has now left their staff, to drop the complaint, and it never progressed.

          Royal HR team looking into allegations

          The Times said it had been contacted by former staff members who wanted the public to gain insight before the Winfrey interview aired — and that lawyers for the couple had labelled the allegations a smear orchestrated by the Palace.

          Reuters could not independently verify the report.

          "We are clearly very concerned about allegations in The Times following claims made by former staff of The Duke and Duchess of Sussex," Buckingham Palace said in a statement.

          The Royal Household "does not and will not tolerate bullying or harassment in the workplace."

          It said its HR team would look into the allegations, and that members of staff involved at the time would be invited to participate.

          'Saddened by attack'

          A spokeswoman for Meghan said earlier that she was "saddened by this latest attack on her character, particularly as someone who has been the target of bullying herself and is deeply committed to supporting those who have experienced pain and trauma."

          Meghan and Harry, who married in May 2018, stepped back from their official duties in March last year to forge new careers and a financially independent life in California.

          WATCH | Meghan accuses palace of lying in Oprah interview:

          Meghan accuses palace of lying in Oprah interview

          The National

          3 days ago
          2:00
          In a preview of an interview with Oprah, Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, says Buckingham Palace is ‘perpetuating falsehoods’ after a British newspaper reported allegations of bullying by Meghan before she and Prince Harry stepped away from being senior royals. 2:00

          That decision was confirmed last month, when they also handed over all their royal patronages. They said their move was fuelled in part by intense press intrusion.

          However, Meghan had also previously indicated that she felt she did not have the full support of the Royal Family.

          In court documents submitted as part of her successful privacy action against the mass-circulation Mail on Sunday, her lawyers said she had felt "unprotected" while she was pregnant with their son Archie.

          Posted on 4 March 2021 | 2:49 am