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Disturbing death of First Nations youth in B.C. group home sparks calls for an investigation

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17-year-old found dead in his bedroom closet in Abbotsford, B.C., 4 days after going missing

The case of a 17-year-old First Nations youth in care who was found dead in his bedroom closet days after he was reported missing has First Nations organizations demanding a thorough investigation.

The disturbing details are outlined in a joint press release from the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, First Nations Summit, The B.C. Assembly of First Nations and the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada.

According to the release, the young man was under the care of a delegated Aboriginal agency through a consent agreement when he was found dead in the closet of his Abbotsford group home Sept. 18.

The release says his body had been there for at least four days.

It goes on to say that agency staff informed his mother of his disappearance on Sept. 14. When she confirmed there had been no communication from her son, the agency filed a missing person’s report.

According to the release, after his body was found, “Abbotsford police and the child coroner assigned to the case quickly determined there were no grounds for further investigation or an autopsy, leading the family to reach out directly for support from First Nations leadership in seeking answers and justice.”

Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Kukpi7 Judy Wilson said the lives of First Nations children deserve the same attention and action as any other child.

“The decision of the police to not investigate thoroughly into the circumstances of his death is affirmation of the systemic racism that devalues the lives of Indigenous peoples,” said Wilson.

“We demand immediate action and full accountability by the Abbotsford Police Department and the province of B.C.,” said Terry Teegee, B.C. Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief.

According to the release, an autopsy was ordered after B.C. First Nations leaders spoke out.

Reported missing Sept. 15

The Abbotsford Police Department says the youth was reported missing by a group-home care worker on Sept. 15, and the department’s missing person investigator was assigned to the case. 

Police said he was known to police from previous missing persons reports. 

“There was no indication that he was suicidal or using drugs or alcohol. Police were advised that he had no cellphone or money,” said Const. Jody Thomas. 

“The care worker believed it was likely he was with relatives or at a friend’s residence.”

Thomas said officers interviewed friends and family members, issued a missing persons bulletin and searched day and night for the youth. 

She says the Abbotsford police major crime unit took over the investigation after the teen was found. 

Detectives concluded that no criminality was suspected in the death. 

“The AbbyPD expresses its sincere condolences to the family and friends of this young man and to all others affected by his tragic death,” said Thomas. 

The BC Coroners Service is now investigating to determine cause of death and any contributing factors. 

In a statement, B.C.’s representative for children and youth said she was aware of the case and is reviewing it. 

“I have been in contact with the First Nations Leadership Council, and my office will proceed according to our mandate,” said Jennifer Charlesworth.

She said legislation dictates that any investigation by her office into the youth’s death has to wait until one year after the death or until the coroner’s investigation is complete, whichever comes first. 

“As with all tragic deaths of children and youth receiving government services, we know that there will be important learnings from this terrible situation,” said Charlesworth.

B.C.’s Ministry of Children and Family Development did not comment on the youth’s death, saying government communications are limited during the provincial election. 


Source: cbc.ca

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Dr. Fauci’s restaurant-owning cousin wishes he would ease up on lockdowns

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While Dr. Anthony Fauci continues to urge caution in opening up bars and restaurants in his role as national coronavirus czar, another Anthony Fauci — his Staten Island cousin — slings sauce in his popular Italian restaurant and laments what his relative has done to the dining industry.

“They shouldn’t do the lockdowns. Especially now. If you don’t abide by the rules … shut that area down, but don’t shut down the whole industry,” said the 84-year-old founder of La Fontana, Anthony Fauci.

His son, Joe Fauci, 57, who runs the now-iconic eatery in Oakwood, echoed his dad’s concerns, while still expressing admiration for his famous relative.

“In the beginning, I thought he was fabulous, but then a few times he flip-flopped on different things. He had us all locked down at a tremendous rate,” Joe told The Post. “They should have loosened things up when it was slowing down in the summer. Everything else was loosening up except the restaurant business.”

Dr. Fauci, 79, has in the past said he was open to a nationwide lockdown to halt the spread the deadly virus. In recent months he has said that probably won’t be necessary, but still resisted moves to get things back to normal. In September he called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to fully reopen bars and restaurants “very concerning.”

Anthony Fauci and his doctor cousin both hail from Brooklyn. The Faucis trace their roots to Naples and Sicily. Curiously the Staten Island part of the clan pronounces their last name as “Faw-See,” while the famous doctor uses “Fow-Chee.”

“My father and his father were first cousins. His grandfather and my grandfather were brothers,” the Staten Island Anthony told The Post, recalling how his younger brother would bring mail to Dr. Fauci’s family drug store in Bensonhurst.


Dr. Anthony Fauci

Dr. Anthony Fauci

While geographically near, the two Fauci branches were not close. Joe and Anthony Fauci have never met their famous relative.

But they had their own success. Since its opening in 1983, La Fontana became a neighborhood staple and GOP gathering place. Former Staten Island Congressman and GOP kingmaker Guy Molinari was a regular before his death in 2018. His daughter, former Rep. Susan Molinari, and Assemblywoman Nicole Malliatakis also come by frequently.

“La Fontana and the Fauci family have become part of many peoples’ lives,” wrote Vito Fossella, yet another former Staten Island congressman, in a glowing tribute.

Joe Fauci said despite their differing philosophies, he was still “very proud” of Dr. Fauci and that overall he was doing a “spectacular job” leading the White House coronavirus task force.

Before the pandemic, business had been booming. In 2017 La Fontana opened a second location in Annadale, La Fontana Sorellena. The business has been forced to operate at 25 percent capacity like all restaurants, but has a fiercely loyal customer base. Joe Fauci warns the worst for restaurants is yet to come.

“Nobody is paying any expenses. But in a couple of months from now, you will see how bad it will be,” he warned. “When the smoke clears, a lot of these guys are going to be in a lot worse shape.”

In June, Joe Fauci and La Fontana played host to a summit of 40 restaurant owners and elected officials to discuss plans to speed up reopening.


Anthony and Joe Fauci

Anthony and Joe Fauci

Joe Fauci — who voted early for Trump — said he has been unhappy with the leadership of Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio during the pandemic.

“The nursing home debacle destroyed us. I can’t understand why they can’t admit when they were wrong,” he said of Cuomo’s executive order forcing nursing homes to take in patients with COVID-19.

He pointed to the handling of BLM protests as an example of a double COVID standard.

“I don’t understand how De Blasio can let them riot and protest, 5,000 people with no masks on, but we can’t go to church with 10 people,” he said.

Anthony Fauci agreed. “I don’t want to tell you what I think about [de Blasio]. You won’t be able to print it. Him and that other jabroni, Cuomo.”


Source: nypost.com

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Harry Potter’s magical beasts and real creatures live in new London exhibit

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The occamy, a vibrant teal feathered serpent. The demiguise, a shaggy gray monkey lookalike with owlish eyes. And the niffler, a long-snouted mole impersonator.

These magical beasts live famously in Harry Potter’s wizarding world, but they can still teach us a thing or two about our own incredible creatures — especially the threatened and endangered ones.

London’s Natural History Museum is delivering the very real message of wildlife conservation in a new exhibit that head curator Lorraine Cornish describes as the institution’s best and most ambitious.

“It’s a bit unusual for us,” Cornish told The Post. “It’s really a creative and interesting way of messaging that people and the planet can thrive together.”

The show’s Dec. 9 opening has been a long time coming — two years of planning and a seven-month delay after the coronavirus pushed back a May opening.

Now, though, “Fantastic Beasts: The Wonders of Nature” — a nod to the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” textbook by Newt Scamander from J.K. Rowling’s world of Potter — is ready except for final touches.

Visitors will be pulled through time — from hundreds of years ago to modern times.


"Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature," the Natural History Museum’s hotly anticipated exhibition, will open in London in December.

Ancient drawings of dragons, unicorns and mermaids show how the human imagination has always morphed bits and pieces of real creatures into make-believe ones. Dinosaurs might be the underpinning for dragons, for example, or manatees for mermaids.

“These creatures grew out of stories passed down about strange or frightening encounters with real animals,” Cornish said.

Magizoologist Scamander, who is both wizard and magical-creature researcher, and the museum’s scientists travel to faraway places seeking out the rarest of creatures, imagined and real.

Then, they point out parallels. The demiguise can vanish, the cuttlefish camouflages itself from enemies. The occamy can shrink enough to hide in a teapot, pufferfish can inflate themselves several times over.


"Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature," the Natural History Museum’s hotly anticipated exhibition, will open in London in December.

And the storybook beings even play a role in helping visitors understand the importance of protecting all creatures in the natural world.

Just like how Scamander tries to save the last pair of graphorns in “Fantastic Beasts” — the rhino-looking creature has two golden horns that repel spells — researchers are working to save New Zealand’s flightless Kakapo. And they’re succeeding.

“The story of the Kakapo bird is inspiring, filled with hope,” Cornish told The Post.

Roughly 100 of the museum’s 80 million specimens will be mingled with props from the “Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” films, distributed by Warner Bros. The movie company and the BBC are the museum’s partners for the exhibit.


"Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature," the Natural History Museum’s hotly anticipated exhibition, will open in London in December.

The show wraps up in the summer, then starts a five-year international tour. Cornish wouldn’t comment on whether New York City will be a stop, but she smiled — and then on to talk about the exhibit’s goal.

“We want to change the way we treat the world.”


Source: nypost.com

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Things fall apart in the United States — and Canada takes a hard look in the mirror

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We assume we’re immune to the forces now threatening the American experiment. We shouldn’t.

John Turner, who passed away in September, was particularly fond of a phrase that could stand now as an abiding lesson for everyone who has watched the chaotic last four years of the American experiment.

“Democracy,” the former prime minister used to say, “does not happen by accident.”

He seemed to have meant that as a call for democratic and political participation. It works equally as well as a broader statement on democracy itself and the steady progress it’s supposed to facilitate — neither of which can be taken as automatic or inevitable.

“America is no fragile thing,” former president Barack Obama said nearly four years ago as he prepared to leave the White House. “But the gains of our long journey to freedom are not assured.”

The United States has offered the world a demonstration of how things can fall apart — not in one cataclysmic moment, but slowly and steadily over a long period of time as institutions and ideas erode and crumble.

Every other country on earth has to deal with the ramifications of what’s happening now in the U.S. But beyond those consequences, there’s another question for every other democracy: how do you make sure your own country doesn’t end up like that?

An age of optimism ends

Everything was not all right for the United States before 2016 — but it was easier to take a great many things for granted. “Until recently, we Americans had convinced ourselves that there was nothing in the future but more of the same,” the American historian Timothy Snyder wrote in On Tyranny. “We allowed ourselves to accept the politics of inevitability, the sense that history could move in only one direction: toward liberal democracy.”

Four years later, the United States is a global symbol of political and state dysfunction, “constitutional hardball,” corruption, misinformation, tribalism, racism, nationalism, conspiracy theories, falsehood, distrust and civil unrest.

In the past six months, more than 225,000 Americans have died of a contagious disease — at least in part because their government could not be roused to properly confront it — and the governing party’s members and supporters were not willing to abandon it in response.

Now, at the conclusion of another presidential election campaign, the ability of the United States to fulfil even the basic requirements of democracy — free and fair elections and a peaceful transfer of power — is in doubt. “Democracy is on the ballot in this election,” Harvard political scientist Pippa Norris recently said.

How did it come to this? There’s no shortage of possible explanations. Legislative gridlock. A poorly designed electoral system. A lack of regulation over the use of money in political campaigns. The treatment of politics as entertainment or sport. The weakening of mainstream media and the rise of partisan outlets and social media. A failure of major media outlets to properly grasp or respond to the challenges of the moment. Maybe even a national history of conflict.

Norris has argued that populist authoritarianism has been on the rise around the world because of “a cultural backlash in Western societies against long-term, ongoing social change.” In other words, those who fear losing power or being left behind have turned to leaders who speak to their grievances.

The four horsemen of a political apocalypse

In their book Four Threats, political scientists Suzanne Mettler and Robert C. Lieberman point to four broad issues that have defined every moment of crisis in the history of American democracy: political polarization; conflict over social belonging and political status along lines of race, gender, nationality or religion; high and growing economic inequality which spurs the wealthy to protect their own interests; and excessive executive power. Only now, they argue, have all four of those threats been active at the same time.

There are reasons to believe the Canadian democratic system is better designed and more durable than that of the United States. But no system is foolproof — and centralization of executive power and the overbearing nature of party discipline are longstanding concerns in Canada.

It’s not obvious that our institutions and media would respond effectively to a populist authoritarian leading one of the country’s major political parties and trampling democratic norms and rules at will. For that matter, it’s fair to ask how well our political system has responded to challenges over the past decade — everything from aggressive parliamentary tactics like prorogation and omnibus legislation to policies that specifically target immigrants and ethnic minorities.

If public cynicism is a concern, there was some solace in survey results released this week by the Samara Centre for Democracy — which found that 80 per cent of Canadians are satisfied with the state of democracy in this country. But significant skepticism remains: 63 per cent of those surveyed agreed that the “government doesn’t care what people like me think,” while 70 per cent said that “those elected to Parliament soon lose touch with the people.”

Canada is not necessarily immune to any of the forces that might be driving what has happened to the United States, including polarization.

As Mettler and Lieberman write, differences across political parties can be good and healthy. There’s a downside to fetishizing centrism or bi-partisanship. But the system can start to break down when politicians and citizens view each other as enemies rather than rivals.

Mutual contempt

“We are so locked into our political identities that there is virtually no candidate, no information, no condition that can force us to change our minds,” American journalist Ezra Klein wrote in Why We’re Polarized. “We will justify almost anything or anyone so long as it helps our side, and the result is a politics devoid of guardrails, standards, persuasion, or accountability.”

There is evidence that Canada’s federal parties and their supporters have polarized — though not to the same degree as in the United States. “As our political parties have become more ideologically distinct, their strongest partisans have tended to feel more distant from each other,” a team of researchers reported last fall.

Canadians themselves have not become more extreme in their beliefs, said Eric Merkley, a researcher at the University of Toronto — but the ideological beliefs of party supporters are now more distinct and partisans in Canada increasingly dislike those on the other side of the fence.

Americans still register higher levels of discomfort with the idea of a close association — like an in-law — being a supporter of the other party. One other possible difference, Merkley suggested, is that the social identities of Canadians — such as race and religion —are not nearly as aligned with political identity as they are for Americans. It’s also possible that American institutions are “not as capable of dealing with polarized parties” as those in other systems, such as the Westminster parliamentary model in Canada, Merkley added.

When ideology meets regional alienation

Merkley said he’s not worried yet about polarization in Canada — in some ways, it only makes sense that partisan sorting has occurred — but it is still something to keep an eye on.

In the Canadian context, stark political differences might manifest as threats to national unity — like the current split between Conservative voters in the Prairies and progressive voters elsewhere.

Consider the not-unrelated debate over climate change, which still threatens to be less about how to solve the problem than whether to even try. The challenge of transitioning to a low-carbon economy while holding the country together remains profound.

Canadian politics still seems downright placid in comparison with the United States. But the evolution of fundraising techniques and social media have also put a premium on inflaming passions and resentment to drive dollars and clicks. That sort of trend does not foretell a crisis, but it’s also not perfectly benign.

There are other reasons to worry as well. A study released by the University of British Columbia’s Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions this week found that, out of a sample of a million tweets sent to candidates during the last federal election, 16 per cent could be classified as “abusive.” Concerns about the safety of MPs and their staff were raised even before a Canadian Armed Forces reservist crashed through the gate at Rideau Hall and allegedly threatened the prime minister.

Are we forgetting how to disagree?

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, authors of How Democracies Die, have argued that democracy depends on the acceptance of two basic norms: “mutual toleration” and “forbearance.” Mutual toleration requires an acceptance that one’s political rivals are legitimate. Forbearance means that leaders will practice “self-restraint in the exercise of power” — that they will not abuse their authority to do everything they might legally do because of the real and lasting damage that could follow.

In that respect, political leaders should be regarded as stewards of the political process itself. The very fragility of democracy should impose a duty of care.

“We cannot take it for granted that democratic politics will endure if we do not pay careful attention to the democracy-enhancing (or democracy-eroding) consequences of the things we do in politics,” Mettler and Lieberman write.

American politics is Canada’s second-favourite spectator sport. And we have long defined and measured ourselves by how unlike the United States we are. Though the term fell out of use during the Obama era, it used to be that accusing someone of participating in “American-style politics” was a grievous charge in Canada.

That oppositional tendency might serve Canada well now. But this is hardly the time for anyone to feel smug. The United States is reminding us now that nothing is guaranteed, nothing can be taken for granted.

Democracy can be silly and entertaining and a wonder to behold. But it is not a game.


Source: cbc.ca

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Why our immune system might be better at fighting COVID-19 than we think

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Conflicting studies on coronavirus antibodies, COVID-19 immunity driving confusion


There’s a lot of confusion — and speculation — about immunity to COVID-19 at the moment. 

You may have seen the headlines this week implying that antibodies the immune system creates to fight off the coronavirus decline rapidly after infection, jeopardizing the hope for long-term immunity from the virus. 

But the issue is both more complicated than it may seem and more hopeful. 

The preprint study, which has not undergone peer review, found the number of people with detectable antibodies in their blood in England fell from six per cent of the population at the end of June to just 4.4 per cent by mid-September.

The researchers concluded there was “decreasing population immunity” and “increasing risk of reinfection” and that the community study of 365,000 patients clearly showed detectable antibodies were in decline.

But while the study and its discouraging conclusion made headlines around the world, experts say there’s a lot more to consider before we can definitively say coronavirus antibodies don’t last long enough to protect us. 

Drop in antibodies after infection is expected

One key factor to keep in mind is that it’s not uncommon for immunity to drop after an infection, said Alyson Kelvin, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University and virologist at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology evaluating Canadian vaccines with the VIDO-InterVac lab in Saskatoon.

“Simply showing that antibodies decline after an infection does not simply mean we are no longer protected,” she said. “Our immune system is more complicated than that — which is a good thing.” 

A drop in detectable antibodies is actually expected after an infection and that high levels of antibodies remaining after an illness has passed could actually be a bad thing, Kelvin said.

“Typically, we would associate high levels of an activated immune response when there is no threat with more of an autoimmune disease,” she said. 

“So we do want to see somewhat of a decline to know that our bodies are in check after we’ve cleared the virus.”

The other important factor is that the immune system can actually remember how to make new antibodies when needed to fight off future infections, by storing types of protective white blood cells in the body called B cells. 

Kelvin said just because there aren’t detectable antibodies in the blood doesn’t mean we don’t have reservoirs of these immune memory cells stored in other parts of our body like in our bone marrow.

“That’s usually where your memory B cells would kind of hide out, waiting for another exposure,” Kelvin said. “Because you’re not going to have these circulating antibodies when you’re not being exposed, you kind of need to put them away for when you need them.” 

Conflicting studies cause confusion

Another study, published this week in the journal Science and peer reviewed, may have added to the confusion over immunity to the coronavirus. 

It looked at antibody responses in the plasma samples of more than 30,000 COVID-19 patients in New York City’s Mount Sinai Health System between March and October. 

It came to a much different conclusion than the preprint study: that more than 90 per cent of patients produced moderate to high levels of antibodies that were both powerful enough to neutralize the virus and lasted for many months after infection. 

A new study out of the U.K. has found COVID-19 antibodies can disappear quickly from people who’ve had the virus, which experts say makes herd immunity unlikely without a vaccine. 3:33

One difference in the two studies is that the preprint looked at patients ranging from asymptomatic to severe, while the published study focused on hospitalized patients who were primarily symptomatic. 

“There seems to be some type of split where milder cases after infection don’t have this notable increase in antibody responses for long periods of time,” Kelvin said. “That might be more evident in people who have more severe infection.” 

Researchers in the New York study concluded that the antibodies they found were likely produced by “long-lived plasma cells in the bone marrow,” something that backs up the idea that dormant immune memory B cells could be hiding there.

“This study suggests that the majority of those people infected with SARS-CoV-2 [the coronavirus that causes COVID-19] will produce protective antibodies, which will likely protect from reinfection,” Kelvin said. 

“This would support the notion that we will be able to produce a vaccine that is safe and leads to a protective immune response.” 

How our immune system responds to the coronavirus 

After an exposure to a virus from either an infection or a vaccination, the body goes through what’s called an “expansion phase” where these memory immune cells produce antibodies in response to it — something Kelvin likens to climbing a mountain. 

Once the body believes it has cleared the infection and reached the top of the mountain,  those antibodies then start to decline during what is known as the “contraction phase,” the start of the descent down the mountain.  

As you get to the bottom of the mountain, the body moves into a “memory phase,” where the most effective antibodies get stored until the next exposure — like the experience you might have to better climb the mountain next time.

At that point, B cells are not thought to be detectable in the bloodstream, instead going into immune reservoirs in the body such as bone marrow, which means they could be missed by researchers only focusing on antibodies in the blood.

“We don’t yet know what level of these antibodies is actually needed to prevent infection,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease specialist and associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Alberta. 

“But there are lots of examples of low antibody levels getting boosted up quickly when you are re-exposed to an infectious agent due to B cell memory pumping out antibodies on re-exposure.” 

Another tool our body uses to help fight infection are T cells, a different type of white blood cell stored in the body that can also attack the virus the next time they encounter it but are a separate arm of the immune system

A recent paper published in the journal Cell found that a balance of both T cells and B cells produced in the body could lead to a better outcome after infection from the coronavirus, and Kelvin said understanding more about T cell immunity could be helpful for vaccine development. 

One positive note is that memory B cells, which have the capacity to protect against future infections, have already been detected in both symptomatic and asymptomatic COVID-19 patients, as pointed out in another study published in the journal Nature this week. 

Kelvin said COVID-19 patients who develop severe disease or die after being infected with the virus may have a lower ability to generate antibodies because it is possibly targeting and destroying those B cells

“These results would support the idea that ‘herd immunity’ through natural infection will not lead to long-lasting immunity,” she said. “Which will instead keep our vulnerable populations at risk of death.”  

Other coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, can also provide hints as to how long the dormant antibodies might stick around waiting to protect us from infection down the road. 

“In both SARS and MERS, for years after antibodies were no longer detectable, immune memory cells geared for specific responses to both viruses could still be found in recovered patients,” said Dr. David Naylor, co-chair of the federal government’s Immunity Task Force.

“Bottom line: It seems really likely based on millions of people infected, the duration of the epidemic and the still very small percentage of reinfections that there is pretty durable immunity to SARS-CoV-2 after an initial infection.” 

Vaccines safest way of achieving immunity

It’s important to keep in mind that research showing declining antibodies over time does not necessarily mean there is somehow less of a chance that we’ll be able to develop safe and effective vaccines in the coming months. 

“There’s still lots to learn about durability of immunity,” Naylor said.

No one expects any of the vaccine candidates to grant “indefinite immunity,” and they may work more like an annual flu shot, he said.

“The immediate issue is whether vaccines will achieve and maintain enough overall immunity to keep spread under control so we can get on with our lives.” 

Regardless, Kelvin says that immunity gained from vaccines is safer than achieving it through rampant infections, a concept also known as herd immunity. 

“More work is needed to understand how long immunity lasts,” she said, adding that while a vaccine might not offer long-lasting protection either, it doesn’t come with the same risk of death faced by patients with COVID-19.

“So having a safe and effective vaccine would be the best way of controlling outbreaks.”



Source: cbc.ca

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Why two Americans, one pro-Biden and one pro-Trump, are voting for the first time after decades in Canada

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One says Donald Trump has hurt the reputation of the U.S.; the other says Joe Biden will ruin the economy

Virginia St-Cyr had never voted in her life, until a few weeks ago.

The 88-year-old who grew up in Finney, Kan., has called Montreal home for the past six decades but never felt the urge to vote in the U.S. election. Nor could she vote here, because she never became a Canadian citizen.

Finally though, the desire to vote came calling this year, and urgently.

“He has to be defeated,” St-Cyr said of U.S. President Donald Trump outside her Town of Mount Royal home on the island of Montreal. “I watched all the things that have gone on these past four years, and it’s tragic.”

St-Cyr moved to Montreal for love. When she left the U.S. in 1955, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, but she was too young to vote in the 1952 election that he won — at that time, the voting age was 21.

In all the years since, St-Cyr said, she watched what happened in her country of birth but never took the time to fill out an absentee ballot.

According to the U.S. government’s Federal Voting Assistance Program, just over 620,000 Americans living in Canada are eligible to vote, but in 2016, only 5.3 per cent actually voted.

American Virginia St-Cyr has been living in Quebec since 1955. She’s never voted in an election here or in the U.S. But this year, she decided she had to. 3:33

St-Cyr said she believes Trump has diminished the reputation of the U.S. with his behaviour and policies, something that embarrasses her.

She said that given the tight race between Trump and his Democratic challenger, former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden, her vote could make a difference.

“It was important for me [to vote] because the division in the United States between these two parties became like a chasm,” she said. “It has torn apart the country these past four years, and there has to be some healing.”

No middle ground, Trump backer says

Over in Blenheim, Ont., Liz Nooyen agrees — on the division within the U.S., that is.

“I don’t think I saw the divide in the country that I saw before, or that I see now. There’s no middle ground anymore,” she said from her farm near Windsor.

“I see Trump as trying to avert a financial disaster for the country, and I think that’s what’s needed right now.”

After meeting her Canadian husband at a horse show in Ohio, the New Jersey native made the move to Canada 30 years ago.

Until now, she’d never voted in a U.S. election. This year felt different.

“I think shutting things down and taxing the crap out of corporations as Biden would like to do is going to cause financial disaster,” she said.

Nooyen disagrees with the shutdowns of some sectors of the economy because of the pandemic, not because of skepticism over the coronavirus, but because she feels Americans can make their own decisions on whether or not to follow public health recommendations.

For Nooyen, her vote is about the economy, and she strongly opposes Biden’s plan to raise taxes on businesses and wealthy Americans.

“It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes that corporations make a lot of money, but they employ a lot of people, and those corporations take the risks in business to stay in business and keep the country working,” she said.

“If you want to tax them and make it harder for them to do business and make their profits, they will leave.”

Nooyen said she can overlook the often-publicized aspects of Trump’s behaviour.

“I don’t think Trump is a wonderful guy,” she said. “But I think he’s doing a good job running the business of the U.S.”

Both Nooyen and St-Cyr have sent in their absentee ballots and got confirmation that their votes were received. Now, both will wait to see just who will be president come Nov. 3.


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‘Everyone’s really tired’: Why combatting the second wave will be mentally harder than the first

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COVID fatigue is part of it. But so is trying to handle so many new routines at once

British Columbia’s health minister knows you are probably a bit cranky right now. 

“It’s not ending, and it’s not going to end soon, and that creates its own anxiety,” Adrian Dix said to CBC News on a day where B.C. recorded 272 new cases of COVID-19, in a month where the average number has doubled. 

“Everyone’s really tired.”

What’s happening in British Columbia right now is happening across much of Canada: Manitoba recorded a record-high 480 cases on Friday, Alberta has a record-high 5,172 active cases, and every province outside the Maritimes has seen a surge since the summer ended. 

And it’s also happening in much of the northern hemisphere right now, as countries that seemingly contained the virus for much of the summer are seeing thousands of cases a day. 

In other words, plenty of people are being asked to batten down the hatches once again, as the long-anticipated effects of colder weather fully take hold. 

But the challenges over the next four months won’t be as hard as the unofficial and official forms of lockdown that took place at the beginning of the pandemic. 

They will be harder. 

More things to keep track of

Part of the reason, of course, is “COVID fatigue” — the fact people have been inundated with information about the pandemic for months, with routines and rules regularly being modified, causing an added layer of frayed nerves that didn’t exist in March and April. 

However, Dix believes an extra layer of difficulty will come from the additional guidelines people will have to grapple with for months to come, rather than simply being told to stay at home. 

“We’ve got more things to do now,” he said.

“We’ve got to keep schools open. We’ve got to keep, to a maximum extent, businesses open. We’ve got to address the mental health and addiction consequences of the restrictions that are in place.”

It’s why Dix says he understands stories like those in Chilliwack, where a children’s soccer club needed to hire security after parents became unhappy with contact tracing and limited crowd sizes. 

But he hopes people don’t see those stories and think they’re reflective of the broader population. 

“I think the stories, to a degree, seem jarring because they’re actually quite unusual, right?” he said.

“I understand people are frustrated. You go to your child’s soccer game, and you just want a moment away from the pandemic … but put on the bright side — they’re still playing soccer.”

Winter of discontent?

What happens if cases rise to a point where those soccer games are no longer possible? Or the types of rallies that protest health restrictions continue to grow? 

For the moment, Dix isn’t having that conversation.

“What’s essential to our public health strategy is trust,” he said. 

“I think people in British Columbia have been very good to one another, and, uh, I find it actually quite moving.”

What’s also moving — sharply up — is the trend-line for COVID-19 cases. 

And while Dix’s positive tone and communitarian language has remain unchanged for a long time, there is the risk the public will tune him out if active cases double in November and December like they did in October. 

If that happens, the core assumption of the government’s strategy — that mask mandates and punitive measures were as unlikely to work as reducing transmission of the virus down to zero — will begin to be challenged more strenuously. 

For now though, the message from the government is much the same as it was months ago: contact tracing and enhanced testing will get B.C. through the winter.   

But patience will help as well. 

“We’re trying to be positive and ask people to do things and be respectful of people and not to criticize people,” he said.

“We’ve got to get through this for a long time together, and I think that’s the best way to do it.”   


Source: cbc.ca

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What’s the germiest surface in a supermarket? You might be surprised

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Marketplace swabbed more than 130 surfaces in 24 grocery stores

In light of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Canada’s biggest grocery store chains have increased their cleaning and disinfecting measures. But how well is that working?

CBC’s Marketplace visited 24 grocery stores around Toronto to swab the following high-touch surfaces: shopping cart handle, front of the shopping cart, baby seat, basket handle, freezer door handle and PIN pad.

In total, Marketplace collected more than 130 samples from the country’s biggest chains and some of their subsidiaries — Walmart, Costco, Sobeys and Freshco, Loblaws and No Frills, Metro and Food Basics.

The samples were then tested by an accredited microbiological laboratory in Mississauga, Ont.

The goal was not to compare the grocery chains but to determine which surfaces in general have the most germs.

As research on COVID-19 evolves, scientists say surfaces are not the main way the novel coronavirus is transmitted. But high-touch surfaces can nonetheless be a way for other types of pathogens to spread.

The lab tested the swabs for the total number of bacteria on each surface, as well as for E. coli, which is often an indication of cleanliness.

Jason Tetro, a microbiology expert, analyzed the swab results.

“The takeaway is this: Grocery stores have implemented new practices to try and improve hygiene, and as we’ve seen, it’s actually doing a good job in one [respect],” he said. “Is there room for improvement? Absolutely.”

Germiest surface

The surface with the most bacteria was the PIN pad used during checkout.

“We saw lots of bacteria [there],” said Tetro.

Marketplace producers rarely saw grocery store employees wiping down PIN pads between customers.

Tetro said that when it comes to the PIN pad, there could be room for improved cleaning. “It really is something that we need to be taking a closer look at and maybe doing some better disinfection protocols.”

The surface with the second-highest bacteria count was the basket handle. 

Tied for third place were the freezer door handle and the front of the shopping cart — the part you would grab if you were to pull the cart toward yourself.

While some surfaces had more bacteria than others, some microbiologists Marketplace spoke to, including Jeff Farber at the University of Guelph, cautioned that not all bacteria is problematic, and that sometimes a low bacteria count can still be concerning if it contains more dangerous bacteria.

Industry mindful of customer safety

The Canadian Retail Council, which represents all of the supermarkets Marketplace swabbed, said that the grocery industry has worked closely with governments and health agencies across Canada to ensure health, safety and security. 

“Designated as essential retailers, grocers led the way on how to operate safely in a retail environment, one that has since been followed by others as they have reopened or revamped operations,” a CRC spokesperson said via email. 

In a statement, Loblaw said, “We are confident that our protocols and sanitization efforts have contributed to keeping [customers] safe and well.” 

CBC Marketplace tested more than 130 swabs from across 24 different grocery stores to reveal which surfaces have the most bacteria. 4:25

Metro said it’s been working closely with Public Health units across Ontario and that its “operations team is in daily contact with our stores to reinforce our operational best practices and safety protocols.” 

Walmart said via email that it continues to take measures to support the well-being of customers and associates through “regular cleaning of high-touch areas such as checkouts, payment terminal keypads and shopping carts.”

Some grocers provided more specific information on their cleaning measures. For example, Costco said that frequently touched surfaces like the debit machine are sanitized every hour, while Sobeys said it has started rolling out PIN pad covers to make the surface easier to clean.

Cleanest surface a surprise to experts

The cleanest surface in grocery stores was the shopping cart handle.

“I’m literally shocked that it’s the lowest [bacteria count], because it should be the highest,” said Tetro. He has swabbed grocery carts in the past and has found them to have high bacteria counts and traces of E.coli — but not this time. 

Alexandra Calle, an assistant professor of microbiology at Texas Tech University, has also swabbed shopping cart handles, and was similarly surprised at the low bacterial count found in this test.

What’s changed? Tetro and Calle said it seems the enhanced cleaning protocols supermarkets have implemented in this area are working. 

The majority of the carts swabbed by Marketplace producers had either just been sprayed and wiped by an employee or were chosen from a row of carts with a sign indicating they had recently been sanitized. From what the producers saw, most shopping carts were regularly cleaned after each use. 

“You try to have a benchmark — what should we be looking for when it comes to a bacterial number? Well, now we know,” Tetro said. “We should be doing as good as the shopping cart handle.”

Runner-up for the cleanest surface was the baby seat. Tetro suspects this is because the baby seat is likely being sprayed by some of the disinfectant that’s aimed at the shopping cart handle.

“That bystander effect is making a baby seat actually safer than anytime I’ve ever seen it in the past,” he said.  

Sanitizing solutions

None of the surfaces Marketplace swabbed had E. coli, a fecal coliform often found in the digestive tract. 

When E. coli is found on highly touched surfaces, it’s an indication that whoever touched the surface last did not properly wash their hands, likely after using the washroom. 

For Tetro and other microbiologists Marketplace spoke with, the fact that E. coli wasn’t found on any of the surfaces is another sign that cleaning protocols and proper hand-washing — or at least applying hand sanitizer when entering a grocery store — are working. 

“Hand sanitizer, as we all know, is really good at getting rid of E. coli,” said Tetro.

Tetro’s tips

Despite the increased sanitation measures grocery stores have instituted, Tetro said there are additional steps shoppers can take in order to practise good hygiene.

When paying for your groceries, Tetro recommends using the tap feature where it’s available. (In April, Mastercard and Visa raised the tap limit on all credit card transactions from $100 to $250 to facilitate more contactless payments.)

When cleaning surfaces, Tetro said to remember that cleaners and disinfectants need time to work. This is known as contact time, and it varies depending on the sanitization product. 

Tetro says a common way germs spread is through our hands. 

“You have to realize, you touch your face about 16 times every hour,” he said. “You cannot help it, that’s just who you are.”

He suggests using “an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, 62 to 70 percent ethanol or alcohol for 15 seconds of wetness on your hands …. [That’s] going to be efficient to keep you safe.”


Source: cbc.ca

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For voters in battleground Pennsylvania, a series of pitfalls could upend U.S. election

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From vote counts to ‘naked ballots,’ how people vote in state could impact final result

To vote in Pennsylvania in Tuesday’s presidential election means navigating a minefield of bureaucratic, legal and political hurdles.

South Philadelphia resident Montana Tyler is a case in point. While she got to vote by mail, her mother, daughter and the 82-year-old woman she works for as a caregiver didn’t even receive the mail-in ballots they requested.

So like thousands of others across this crucial battleground state, she found herself lining up for hours outside Philadelphia City Hall, one of dozens of special election sites, to make sure their request to vote by mail didn’t fall through the cracks.

“This has been the most horrific experience that I have ever received and I’m quite sure most people that live in the United States have ever gone through for voting,” Tyler said.

This is the first presidential election in Pennsylvania to be conducted largely by mail-in ballots. The state changed its election laws in 2019 to make voting by mail more accessible, but the process has been fraught with a surge in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic, a series of lawsuits and uncertainty around the United States Postal Service.

All of these voting issues, observers worry, have the potential to shift the balance of power in the state and possibly upend the presidential race itself.

A key race for both parties

The focus on which votes get accepted and which votes get counted is especially important in a vital battleground state such as Pennsylvania, which once backed the Democrats but narrowly swung to the Republicans in 2016.

Its 20 electoral college votes are seen as key for the White House ambitions of both U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Joe Biden — and given that Trump beat Hillary Clinton by only 44,292 votes in 2016, any attempt to invalidate or suppress the vote is seen as potentially tipping the balance of power in the state.

RealClearPolitics, a U.S. political news site and polling data aggregator, shows a tight race in Pennsylvania between Biden and Trump — with the former Democratic vice-president ahead by just 3.6 points as of Friday evening, 49.5 per cent to 45.9 per cent for Trump.

With so much riding on the outcome in Pennsylvania, it’s become a battleground in the courts with numerous election-related lawsuits — as Republicans, primarily, challenge everything from registration and voting deadlines to signatures, as well as a bid to allow poll watchers at satellite early voting sites.

The cumulative effect of the court battles and controversy has meant a lot of sleepless nights for election officials, including Philadelphia election commissioner Lisa Deeley.

In an interview with CBC News outside the early voting site at Philadelphia City Hall, she said she’s never experienced an election like this one.

“I have never, ever — and I don’t know that we ever will [again] — because it’s just everything at once, it’s all these new changes. It’s the pandemic,” Deeley said. “These are unique times.”

Fear of ‘naked ballots’

Deeley’s biggest fear is the issue of “naked ballots.” She has warned that it could result in potentially hundreds of thousands of votes being rejected.

Pennsylvania law requires voters to put their ballot in a secrecy envelope and then place it in the return envelope before mailing it back or dropping it off at a designated box. Failure to use the secrecy envelope that comes with the ballot is considered a naked ballot, and it’s discarded.

In September, the state Supreme Court ruled against Democrats that ballots mailed back without the secrecy envelope would not be counted.

“That’s just a vestige from the past when we would count absentee ballots at the precinct level. We haven’t done that in years,” Deeley said. “We’re going to be counting at an industrial level, so there’s no chance that voters’ identities are in any way going to be compromised.”

When Philadelphia held a primary election in June, she said, six per cent of mail-in ballots were rejected because of this rule. Projecting that number state-wide could result in 300,000 to 400,000 ballots getting tossed, Deeley said.

That’s a significant number in a state decided by a slim margin in the 2016 election and where the overwhelming majority of mail-in ballots are from voters registered as Democrats.

“For one vote that has been applied for properly … to see that voter not have their voice heard or their vote counted simply because of a technicality is really, really unfair,” she said.

Post office controversy

Even for those voters who received their mail-in ballots, there are still potential pitfalls. The simple act of mailing a ballot has become politicized and a source of controversy. Accusations against the Trump administration of interfering with the post office over the summer, combined with the president’s ongoing attacks against the legitimacy of mail-in ballots, make many voters nervous.

“I don’t trust the mail to get there in time. I wanted to make sure it counted,” Theresa Van Praet said after placing her ballot in a drop box set up outside the country office in Levittown, just northeast of Philadelphia.

On a sunny afternoon, there’s a steady stream of cars as people pop out to place their mail-in ballots inside the box — which is itself a source of litigation. It’s guarded by an officer with the sheriff’s department, ensuring the one-person, one-ballot rule is followed, with security cameras in place.

In continually suggesting that mail-in ballots are rife with fraud, Trump has pointed to examples in Pennsylvania — in one case elevating a minor clerical error to the national spotlight.

“There’s a lot of controversy,” said Sherry Walters, who came to the Levittown drop box with her daughter, Jessica, who was voting for the first time.

“I never had a problem with the mail, but there’s just a lot of stuff going on, so we just wanted to give the best shot for our vote to go where we want it to go.”

When will votes be counted?

But just when the votes piling up in those drop boxes and received by mail will be counted is yet another fault line in Pennsylvania.

Along with Michigan and Wisconsin, Pennsylvania is one of the key battleground states where mail-in ballots can’t be counted ahead of time. Instead, counting can begin on election day or possibly later in some counties that prioritize counting in-person voting first. 

In the crucial swing state of Pennsylvania, mail-in voting controversies are top of mind as people do what they can to make sure their vote is counted. 1:09

With more than 62 per cent of mail-in ballot requests coming from Democrats, according to Pennsylvania’s secretary of state, some election law experts suggest that early results — which will be weighted toward in-person voting — will likely skew toward the Republicans, since they are more likely to show up to vote in person on election day.

After numerous court battles, Pennsylvania will accept mail-in ballots up to three days after the election, as long as they’re postmarked by election day on Tuesday. 

The U.S. Supreme Court has twice rejected petitions from Republicans to change this, although it could revisit the issue after the election — forcing counties to hold any ballots that arrive after 8 p.m. on Tuesday separately in case they get tossed out by the courts.

Trump wants results on election night

In Philadelphia County, the state’s largest, Lisa Deeley said one thing is certain when it comes to the vote count: “There will not be full election results on Nov. 3, that is one thing that’s for sure.

“We’ll have what we have on Nov. 3, and we will continue to count in a 24-hour cycle.”

Election observers worry that could lead to a nightmare scenario where, in a close election, early results are dominated by Republican in-person voting — showing an advantage for the president, who this week said he wants a result on election night.

Several changes to the mail-in voting process and a slew of legal challenges in Pennsylvania means thousands of votes in the U.S. election could potentially be thrown out in the crucial swing state. 3:06

“I think on [Nov. 3], we’re going to over-perform, and we’ll see what happens at the end of the day, hopefully it won’t go longer than that,” Trump said on Wednesday during a campaign stop in Las Vegas.

“Hopefully the few states remaining that want to take a lot of time after Nov. 3 to count ballots — that won’t be allowed by the various courts.”

The fear is that Trump will double up on his claims of fraud as those ballots are counted after election day, especially if they add to the Democratic vote totals, and that he could turn to the courts to try to invalidate the results.

Deeley said officials in Philadelphia are working to maintain the integrity of the process, “so voters and all the world, as they wait, can be assured that we are going to count as quickly and as accurately as possible.”

Montana Tyler and others in the line in Philadelphia believe in the process but know that election night is going to have them on the edge of their seats.

“Everyone’s on pins and needles,” Tyler said. “Election night, I don’t think anybody’s going to be sleeping, they’re going to be up biting their fingernails and praying.”


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What do you want to know about the U.S. election? Your questions help inform our coverage.


Source: cbc.ca

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