F1 driver's miracle escape after car spears through barrier, splits in half, bursts into flames

Fire marshals put out a fire on Haas F1's French driver Romain Grosjean's car during the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit in the city of Sakhir on November 29, 2020.

French Formula One driver Romain Grosjean credited the halo protection bar with saving his life in a fiery crash that ripped his car in two on the opening lap of the Bahrain Formula One Grand Prix on Sunday.

Ironically, the driver later admitted to fans that he had initially been against the introduction of the safety device that protected him.

The Frenchman’s Haas car, making only its third turn of the race, speared through the barriers after careering off the track at high speed, with the force of the impact splitting the car in half and setting it aflame.

In terrifying video of the incident, the car can be seen in flames, one half of it outside the barriers, the other half inside. Grosjean, observers noticed, was in the fire for 30 seconds as marshals scrambled quickly to put the blaze out. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, he stood up and vaulted the barrier, shaking his hands as if they were in pain.

The Guardian reported

that the driver suffered second-degree hand burns, but his head was saved by the protection device which authorities had made mandatory just two years ago.

Posting to Instagram from his hospital bed, Grosjean wrote:

“Hello everyone, I just wanted to say I am OK – well, sort of OK. I wasn’t for the halo some years ago, but I think it’s the greatest thing that we’ve brought to Formula 1, and without it I wouldn’t be able to speak with you today.”

The race was won by Briton Lewis Hamilton, who has dominated this year’s driving championship. He said of the incident:

“This was horrifying, I am so grateful the halo worked, that the barrier didn’t slice his head off, it could have been so much worse. This is a reminder to people watching, this is a dangerous sport. It shows what an amazing job that F1 and the FIA (International Automoble Federation) have done over time to be able to walk away from something like that.”

— wth files from Reuters

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Toronto van attacker's porn fetish and other private moments in his psych report

Alek Minassian, screengrab of the booking video.

TORONTO — A private history of the Toronto van attack driver’s strange fetishes, schoolboy crushes, how he relieves sexual frustration and a newfound interest in religion form part of a report produced by psychiatrists examining him prior to his trial for mass murder.

Alek Minassian also told doctors he drew his inspiration for using a van as a weapon from recent terrorist attacks.

Minassian, 28, said he had his first crush on a girl in Grade 7, when he was about 11 years old. The focus of his schoolboy interest was a fellow pupil, he told psychiatrists during an extensive court-ordered examination to assess his mental state.

He also recalled having a crush on a girl in a high school biology class. He chronicled passing encounters with her, including a memorable moment when she said hello to him.

The evolution of his romantic and sexual interests was included in psychiatric notes and reports made by a medical team, portions of which were shown publicly in court but not discussed by either of the psychiatrists who testified.

His interactions with members of the opposite sex likely were closely probed because he originally said frustration over not being able to attract female interest was his motivation for his deadly attack.

 Vahe Minassian, father of Alek Minassian, is surrounded by members of the media as he leaves court with a police escort in Toronto on Tuesday, April 24, 2018. The father of the man who is on trial for killing 10 and hurting 16 more in Toronto’s van attack is set to testify today.

Minassian admits he rented a van and drove it along a busy sidewalk in Toronto in 2018, trying to kill as many people as he could. He said the attack was part of an “Incel Rebellion” — short for “involuntarily celibate,” which is an internet-fed ideology largely for men built on anger towards women and other men who are sexually successful.

(He later said he was exaggerating his attachment to the incel movement but wanted notoriety, and was comfortable with being known as an incel, like other killers he was obsessed with.)

Minassian also told psychiatrists that before his arrest he masturbated everyday to internet porn, searching for urination fetish images, which he called “pee porn.”

Minassian also started reading the Bible since his arrest, according to psychiatric notes shown in court.

His family reported this interest to Dr. John Bradford, a forensic psychiatrist, who noted the information in a report. Minassian had read the New Testament, the second portion of the Christian text that focuses on the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Minassian’s reading interest is in keeping with observations by the National Post of his pre-trial behaviour.

At a court hearing in August 2019, where lawyers and the judge were discussing whether the video of his police interrogation should be released to the media, Minassian sat quietly in the prisoner’s box holding a small Bible.

During breaks in the proceeding he hunched forward with the small book of dense type cupped in his hands. With his head lowered, he appeared to be reading intently from it.

The details from Minassian’s psychiatric examinations were not explained or recounted in court as the medical experts on the stand dwelled on other aspects of the reports, pages of which were shown repeatedly in court over a week of testimony while witnesses were asked to explain different portions of them.

The mental state of Minassian is the fundamental issue at his trial for 10 counts of murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

Although he admits he is the killer, he nonetheless pleaded not guilty, claiming he should be found not criminally responsible because his autism prevented him from understanding it was wrong.

According to Section 16 of the Criminal Code of Canada, a person is not criminally responsible for a crime committed “while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.”

Minassian’s lawyers are trying to prove that high standard applies to their client.

Minassian was examined by two different psychiatric teams, each arranged by his lawyers. They came to different conclusions.

For a week and a half, court heard from Bradford and a member of his team who specializes in autism, Dr. Rebecca Chauhan.

Chauhan took no stand on the criminal responsibility issue.

Bradford testified he did not think Minassian met the Section 16 threshold and does not recommend a verdict of not criminally responsible. He did, however, entertain a “hypothetical possibility” of such a verdict based on opinions from other psychiatrists yet to testify.

That opinion is expected this week, when Dr. Alexander Westphal, a U.S. psychiatrist specializing in autism, is scheduled to testify. Westphal is expected to say Minassian’s autism is a mental disorder capable of rendering him not criminally responsible.

Controversially, Westphal refused to testify unless the court — hosting the trial online through the Zoom video platform because of COVID-19 restrictions — agreed videos of his interviews with Minassian would never see the light of day outside of the courtroom and that any portions of his videos shown in court would be under tight restrictions on who was watching.

The Crown prosecutors are expected to also call two medical experts; both are expected to disagree with Westphal’s conclusions.

• Email: ahumphreys@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Beyond the numbers: Who is dying of COVID in Canada, and how?

Doctors are looking for markers to predict the likelihood of “critical events” and death from COVID-19 — signs, like fast breathing, high blood pressure or elevated proteins in the blood, that someone might go from sitting on the edge of his or her hospital bed eating lunch, to sudden intense distress, to being sedated, and being lost.

The woman was 52, and the mother of two boys, ages 12 and 15. Seeing her, lying helpless, with her lungs shredded by COVID, reminded Dr. Peter Goldberg of the first wave of the virus, back in early spring, when “it was like a forest fire, and all I had was a garden hose.” No matter what the doctors tried, steroids, everything, her carbon dioxide levels kept rising. At some point they couldn’t ventilate her, they couldn’t get the carbon dioxide out. She died, “and we watched this,” says Goldberg, head of the critical care program at the McGill University Health Centre.

Goldberg never had the chance to speak with the woman, who died of destructive lung disease. She was sedated from the moment she was transferred in from another hospital. “What were her fears? Her hopes? None of that,” he said. It’s assumed that people who are sedated have an inability to be fearful, but it is one of the unknowns, another by-product of the virus, where patients, in grave conditions, are kept unconscious.

Thankfully, Goldberg is not seeing as many forest fires, but when they do strike, the experience of watching a person’s condition unravel, as a physician, is heart-wrenching. The virus is relentless. The woman, despite being relatively young, had several underlying health problems. Pre-COVID, she might have lived to be a grandmother. Today, she is another statistic, and what doctors still don’t fully comprehend is the “crapshoot” nature of COVID-19. Who will get ill? Who will be asymptomatic? Who will be 52, and leaving boys without a Mom? Age is an important variable, as are underlying conditions, but Goldberg has watched as a 44-year-old health-care worker, in otherwise good shape, perished from COVID-19.

The pandemic, to a large extent, has become a story of numbers, a daily summary of cases and deaths, of numbers tested and numbers testing positive. The statistics are dry, nameless, but some patterns have emerged. Doctors are developing models and looking for markers to predict the likelihood of “critical events” and death — signs, like fast breathing, high blood pressure or elevated proteins in the blood, that someone might go from sitting on the edge of his or her hospital bed eating lunch, to sudden intense distress, to being sedated, and being lost.

Canada could cross the threshold of 20,000 to 60,000 daily cases by the end of December, the most recent federal modelling warns. As of Friday, the official death count stood at 11,856. So far, 2,756 people have died in the second wave, beginning August 18. Manitoba and Quebec have the highest per capita death rates, but deaths are increasing at a faster rate than cases in all regions, according to University of Toronto infectious disease researcher Dr. Tara Moriarty.

And globally, Canada has the third highest case fatality rate (3.4)  to date among medium-large, high-income peer countries, Moriarty says, “higher even than Spain, France, the USA and Germany.”

This alarming trend is likely because testing in Canada has predominantly focused on people with symptoms and those at greater risk of serious infection, not younger, lower-risk people. The case fatality ratio only estimates the proportion of deaths among identified, confirmed cases. Nationally, the number of tests performed per detected case is nearly as low as it was at the worst of the first wave, “meaning that we’re likely significantly underestimating the full size of the epidemic,” Moriarty says.

There was a time in April and May when Goldberg was meeting twice a week with hospital ethicists to have “very disturbing” conversations about how to ration care. With the Quebec government projecting hospitalizations may double before Christmas, those conversations are now being resurrected.

“I don’t think the community knows that these conversations are going on. We’re talking about

them

— we’re not talking about something esoteric about ourselves. We’re talking about how ICUs, if we reach the limitation of our capacity to treat COVID patients, then we’re going to have to make decisions about who gets the bed,” Goldberg says.

Some doctors, desperate to turn the narrative around, tired of the pandemic denialism, have begun to describe scenes inside hospital walls. Last weekend, Dr. Abdu Sharkawy sat down in his makeshift office at Toronto General Hospital

and tweeted, “So – this is the COVID ward.”

The emotional dispatch described the hollowness of the hallways, the quiet and isolation, and what it’s like to witness respiratory extremis, “where awkward gasps of air hit like body blows.” He tweeted about the meagre Italian he used to get to know an 82-year-old man, “one of the better-looking ones on the COVID ward.” He was able to sit on the edge of his bed. He was eating. He was looking so good, Sharkawy called his daughter and, in a conversation that now haunts him, told her he felt confident her dad would turn the corner. Four-and-a-half hours later, the man suffered a massive stroke and couldn’t move the left side of his body. Things moved faster than they had time to prepare for. He became less aware, less conscious, and ultimately, in respiratory extremis. “The way his abdomen was contorting and the way his muscles in his chest wall and thoracic cage were contracting — when I contrast that to the same guy who poked fun at me in my broken Italian, that was truly heartbreaking for me,” Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist, said in an interview with the

National Post

. “He didn’t use a cane. He was full of personality. He was gregarious, he had his wits abut him, he was a father. He was life.”

“These are the stories, this is the burden of trauma that I’m seeing inside those walls,” he says. “I feel like so much of this pandemic has been reduced to this narrative of what form of life is more valuable or expendable than other forms of life.”

What lives are being lost to COVID?

The older, those with underlying diseases, those with weak immune systems. Of the more than 9,500 people in Canada who succumbed to COVID in the first wave, between March and July, 90 per cent had at least one other cause, condition or complication reported on the death certificate, according to Statistics Canada.

Dementia or Alzheimer’s, the most common conditions associated with COVID-involved deaths, were listed on the death certificate of 42 per cent of women, and 33 per cent of men. More than half of seniors aged 80 and older living in long term care have dementia.

Cancer, nervous system disorders like Parkinson’s or ALS, respiratory disease, diabetes, kidney failure, heart disease, high blood pressure and pneumonia — all increase the risk of a lethal case of COVID. All are more common among people aged 65 and older, who accounted for 94 per cent of all COVID-involved deaths in the first wave. But they also affect millions of Canadians. Some three million are living with diabetes, more than seven million with hypertension.

The World Health Organization defines a death due to COVID as a death resulting from a “clinically compatible illness, in a probable or confirmed COVID-19 case,” StatsCan says. “There should be no period of complete recovery from COVID-19 between illness and death.”

Death from COVID is not unlike dying from an infectious respiratory disease. Respiratory failure is the “primary driver of passing” about a third of the time, says Dr. Anand Kumar, an intensive care doctor with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. “If these are young people or middle-aged people we can offer some extraordinary support measures, like putting you on cardiopulmonary bypass basically.” A machine pumps and oxygenates the blood. You can do that for a period of time, maybe weeks, and hope that the lungs are healing. About two-thirds develop multiple organ failure, where their heart starts to fail, the kidneys fail, the liver starts to give out. This tends to occur in people on dialysis or with diabetes-related organ injury. “The one unusual way that people with COVID-19 die is with bleeding and clotting problems,” Kumar said.

The other stark difference is pandemic restrictions banning visitors and family, meaning people dying of COVID are dying alone. “If there is anything more distressing than seeing someone die, it is seeing them die alone, or a nurse holding up a phone on Zoom or Skype so that family members can watch this,” Goldberg said. Everyone gloved and gowned. The physical intimacy and comfort, touching skin to skin, lost.

The majority of people with COVID have mild symptoms. But Goldberg says we need to get the denominator down, the number of people getting infected.  In Quebec, there aren’t the same hospitalizations or ICU admissions as the first wave, though Goldberg worries that the numbers are ticking up. He worries about “long-haulers,” the people who don’t seem to be fully recovering from COVID-19. He worries about the mass of ICU survivors, like the once-previously healthy man who came into hospital with COVID five weeks ago, ended up on extracorporeal life support (that heart-lung bypass system) and now, while he’s breathing on his own again with oxygen, is so de-conditioned “he may be 60, but he probably feels like he’s 90.”

“We’re going to be following some of the sequelae of this acute, news-grabbing issue for the next several years. Only it won’t be so news grabbing, because it will just be people with chronic disease that happened a long time ago with something we called COVID.”

• Email: skirkey@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

PMO sends readout of Trudeau scolding O'Toole over 'COVID misinformation' in phone call. But the call hadn't happened

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scolded Conservative leader Erin O’Toole over “COVID misinformation” in a telephone call on Friday afternoon, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. Except the call hadn’t happened.

According to a “readout” of the “call” sent at 4.34 p.m. by the PMO, Trudeau updated O’Toole on several issues. Then, “the Prime Minister also raised concerns around COVID-19 misinformation being promoted by Conservative Members of Parliament, given Conservative MPs recently downplayed the deaths of Canadians in Alberta due to COVID-19 and compared COVID-19 to the flu.”

Shortly afterwards, Melanie Paradis, director of communications for O’Toole, tweeted, “This is awkward. The call isn’t until 5.15pm today,” adding that she was at that moment sitting with the Conservative leader.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner also posted, “I was literally just sitting with @erinotoole and can verify he was not on the phone with @JustinTrudeau.”

Other parliamentarians were more scathing of the premature release.

“This is truly the most deceitful government this country has ever had,” said Quebec senator Leo Housakos. “And Justin Trudeau is truly the most deceitful Prime Minister. They are constantly focused on propaganda rather than dealing honourably in the manner befitting the office he holds.”

The alleged misinformation centred on

a Toronto Sun story

that revealed that data from the Alberta government showed that 76.3 per cent of people who had died of COVID-19 in the province were dealing with three or more underlying conditions.

“Only 2.3% of deaths – 11 people – were otherwise healthy persons, dying without any underlying conditions. And those 11 include people who were very advanced in age,” said the Sun story.

Alberta Conservative MP Rachael Harder later posted the column on her Facebook page, prompting Patty Hajdu, the health minister, to accuse the Conservatives in the House of Commons of spreading “fake” and “dangerous” misinformation.

The readout put out by the PMO said, “Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with Leader of the Opposition Erin O’Toole. The Prime Minister updated Mr. O’Toole on President-elect Biden’s incoming administration. The Prime Minister highlighted our priority of fighting COVID-19, as well as several key issues and opportunities including climate change, trade, NATO, support for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the Keystone XL project, and Buy America, which the Prime Minister raised in his conversation with the President-elect.”

The PMO later confirmed the readout was sent out because of “a mistake by staff.”

Before the call between the two leaders, O’Toole sent a letter to Trudeau outlining his priorities. The letter touched on many of the issues raised by the readout including COVID being the top priority.

However, after COVID O’Toole said dealing with the threat posed by China was the next major issue, and Canada should seek to join an existing dialogue among the U.S., Australia, India and Japan to oppose Chinese military expansionism.

With files from The Canadian Press

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Lobbying watchdog says three cases have been sent to RCMP for criminal investigation since start of pandemic

Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger.

OTTAWA – The federal lobbying watchdog says she has referred three files to the RCMP for criminal investigation since the beginning of the pandemic in a year that has seen a significant uptick in lobbying.

“Since April 2020, I have opened 16 preliminary assessments, and currently have five ongoing investigations. Also since April, I have referred three investigation files to the RCMP. As of today, there are 11 files with the RCMP,” Commissioner of Lobbying Nancy Bélanger revealed to members of the ethics committee Friday.

Bélanger told MPs that the Lobbying Act did not allow her to comment on the progression of these specific cases because any one of her files “may become criminal investigations, and I can not jeopardize that.”

The commissioner was called to detail her office’s work as questions have swirled throughout the summer about the lobbying activities by both WE Charity and the husband of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

During her testimony, Bélanger said that 2020 has been a busy year for lobbyists, particularly due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since February, lobbyists have provided details with respect to more than 21,000 arranged and oral communications. When compared to the same period in 2018 and 2019, it’s clear that more communications are occurring in 2020,” Bélanger said.

To illustrate the increase, the commissioner said lobbyists registered nearly 2,000 communications per month during the past summer, a 25 per cent increase compared to the monthly average of 1,500 in previous years.

Unsurprisingly, “health” was the main lobbying topic through the spring months as the pandemic first rolled through the provinces, before discussions shifted mainly to the topic of “economic development” in May, Bélanger said.

Allegations of lobbying wrongdoing have made headlines during the pandemic, particularly over the summer.

In late August, the commissioner confirmed that she had launched a “preliminary assessment” into media reports by Vice and the National Post that Rob Silver, husband to Trudeau’s chief of staff, had unsuccessfully pressed members of the Finance Ministry and the Prime Minister’s Office to make changes to the wage subsidy that would uniquely benefit his employer.

This came less than a month after it was revealed that the government was paying up to $84 million to Silver’s employer, mortgage company MCAP, to administer its COVID-19 emergency commercial rent assistance program for small businesses.

 Robert Silver, who is married to Katie Telford, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Chief of Staff.

At the time, the Prime Minister’s Office assured that a voluntary screen had been set up between Chief of Staff Katie Telford and her husband, and that she had no dealings in either matter.

The commissioner’s office also acknowledged in September that it had opened a file on WE Charity’s dealings with the government leading up to its controversial $543.5-million deal to administer the Canada Student Service Grant in late June.

The organization pulled out of the deal one week later, but reports over the summer continued to reveal close ties between the WE organization and both Trudeau’s and then-Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s families.

Bélanger told the ethics committee that every file begins as a “preliminary assessment,” which may or may not evolve into a full-fledged investigation. There are then two main outcomes for an investigation: her office tables a report detailing her findings in Parliament, or she refers the file to investigative authorities, “most often the RCMP.”

“Offences under the Lobbying Act include failing to register, failing to file a monthly communication report, providing inaccurate information and lobbying while subject to the five-year provision,” Bélanger explained. Her last point referred to the five-year lobbying ban imposed on public office holders who leave government.

Bélanger also took advantage of the committee meeting to push for certain reforms to the Lobbying Act that she thinks would help her do her job and make lobbying rules clearer to both public office holders and lobbyists.

 Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, left, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak on stage at a WE Charity event in New York in 2017.

She would like Parliament to eliminate what is referred to as the “significant part” threshold for in-house lobbyists, meaning that any employee who is tasked with lobbying for their company would have to register with her office.

Currently, the law only requires an employee to register if lobbying constitutes 20 per cent of their work.

She also said she would like all distinctions between in-house lobbyists and consultants to be eliminated from the law.

“I believe that this would increase fairness and clarity and ensuring that both corporations and organizations are subject to the same requirements,” Bélanger said.

• Email: cnardi@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

'It certainly caught everyone off guard': Distress in Ontario community after shooting death of one-year-old baby

Investigators examine the scene of a fatal shooting in Kawartha Lakes, Ont., Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. Ontario's police watchdog agency says they are probing an incident in which a child was shot dead and two others, including an officer, injured.

There are still few details beyond the barest of facts about the tragedy that unfolded on Thursday in a small Ontario community northeast of Toronto: A police chase that began after a child abduction report ended along a fog-shrouded 37-kilometre stretch of secondary highway that runs between Bobycageon and Lindsay. Shots were fired in a confrontation between the police and the suspect, and

a one-year-old baby in the backseat was dead from a gunshot wound,

the father hospitalized with grave injuries and a police officer also injured.

The Special Investigations Unit, which investigates instances when police officers in Ontario kill, seriously injure or sexually assault someone, has been called in to investigate what happened.

Multiple residents reached in the vicinity of the incident said they saw or heard police vehicles go by, but little else, assuming, in some cases, there had been a car crash due to the extremely heavy fog, and police were responding.

Andy Letham, the mayor of Kawartha Lakes, told the

National Post

the community was shocked. With everyone already on edge because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thursday’s tragic event added an extra layer of distress to his rural community.

“In a small community like this, it certainly caught everybody off guard.”

The tragedy began with a child-abduction call at roughly 8:45 a.m. Thursday, in the Municipality of Trent Lakes, a county north of Peterborough with a long history in the lumber industry and a population of some 5,000 people.

The SIU says a Toyota Tundra pickup truck was seen in the Municipality of Kawartha Lakes, due west of Trent Lakes, shortly afterward.

A police chase followed and an attempt to stop the truck. Along Pigeon Lake Road, the truck crashed into an Ontario Provincial Police cruiser and a vehicle belonging to a civilian, the SIU said in a news release. The crash injured an officer who was standing outside the police vehicle.

The SIU then says an “interaction ensued,” and three police officers opened fire at the father. The father, a 33-year-old, was “struck and airlifted to the hospital in grave condition.”

 People protest outside the SIU headquarters in Mississauga, Ont. following an incident in Kawartha Lakes, Ont., on Thursday, November 26, 2020.

The child was in the backseat, the SIU reports. “Inside the vehicle was the man’s son, a one-year-old boy, and he was fatally wounded,” OPP spokeswoman Monica Hudon told reporters.

The scene, in photos and footage, shows leafless trees and scrubby fields on either side of the two-lane highway. A nearby resident told the

Post

parts of the road remained closed.

On Friday, in an update, the SIU said the father remains in hospital, as does the injured OPP officer.

It has not been confirmed who fired the fatal shot that killed the child.

The SIU said three police firearms had been seized and were to be sent for forensic examination. A fourth weapon, a handgun, was found inside the pickup truck, and investigators were waiting to take possession of it.

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Government asks for more time in disclosing massive trove of pandemic response documents to MPs

OTTAWA — Canada’s top federal civil servant says hundreds of government employees are working to compile an enormous trove of documents — potentially a million pages or more — related to the government’s pandemic response, but they need more time before it can be disclosed to MPs to examine.

Depending on how heavily the documents are redacted, they could shed light on the government’s COVID-19 vaccine plan and why Canada hasn’t been able to produce some of the vaccines domestically.

The document disclosure was ordered in a Conservative motion passed in the House of Commons on Oct. 26. The motion would have MPs study every aspect of Canada’s pandemic response, from vaccine procurement to rapid testing to paid sick leave and more.

The motion gave the government until Nov. 30 to disclose the documents, but allowed a seven-day extension if necessary.

“Preliminary estimates suggest that there are millions of pages of relevant documents,” said a letter from Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart to the Commons health committee.

Shugart said compiling the documents has entailed “a significant amount of time and resources.” He said the public service is working to narrow the scope, but the government will need until Dec. 7 to hand it over.

“Even with this scoping down, we estimate that we will be dealing with hundreds of thousands of pages of material,” Shugart’s letter said. “For this reason, it will not be possible to process these records and fully meet the requirements of the motion within the timelines proscribed.”

When ready, the documents will go to the House of Commons law clerk, Philippe Dufresne, to review for redactions for personal privacy and national security. The motion also allows redactions on information that could interfere with vaccine contract negotiations.

Opposition MPs are wary about what the law clerk will receive, as they’ve already been battling the government over how it applied redactions to WE Charity documents instead of letting the law clerk do the work.

However, Dufresne told the health committee on Friday that he hasn’t yet received any documents, so he can’t say whether the government is doing its own redacting.

Dufresne also told the committee he can’t yet say what information he’d have to redact to protect vaccine contract negotiations.

“Do you anticipate a delivery schedule for vaccines being something that you would redact?” asked Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.

“We would have to see what is provided to us by the government, and we would have to see the context,” Dufresne responded.

It will take a while for MPs to see the full trove. Dufresne said he’s added staff resources, but his office can still likely only process 50,000 pages a week.

For that reason, the committee passed a motion — despite Liberal objections — to have Dufresne’s office process the vaccine-related documents as his first priority.

• Email: bplatt@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

John Ivison: This is a time the federal government can afford not to spend more

Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.

In broad terms, we know what will be in Monday’s fiscal update because the government told us in

its throne speec

h.

Political historians will remember that two months ago – about five years on the pre-COVID space-time continuum –

the Liberals promised to introduce a “resiliency agenda.”

This implied billions of dollars of new spending on COVID relief, but also on “building back better” projects like pharmacare, childcare, climate change and new social benefits.

It is unclear how much of that agenda has succumbed to the emerging realization that the government spent far too much money on the first wave, which will hamper what can be disbursed now.

As the OECD noted,

Canada’s household income rose 11 per cent in the second quarter, even as GDP tumbled 10 per cent, in large measure because the federal government pushed $56 billion out of the door in income support, to replace just $23 billion in lost income.

The splurge has left Canada with the largest deficit to GDP ratio in the G20.

Sources suggest the focus of this update will be the pandemic, rather than the much-vaunted Great Reset.

There will likely be support for more childcare, which almost everyone agrees is needed to get women back into the workforce.

The government is expected to follow through on its promise to tax “extreme wealth” by addressing what it called “avoidance” by digital giants like Netflix and Amazon.

There will be no clear fiscal anchor but finance minister Chrystia Freeland will signal her general approach to gaining control of a deficit estimated by Scotiabank at $425 billion this year. At a speech she made to the Toronto Economic Forum last month, she said the government’s expansive approach to fighting the pandemic is “not infinite.” She said the government will impose limits upon itself, “rather than wait for the more brutal external restraints of international capital markets.” Just don’t expect those limits to be outlined in this update.

There will be support for distressed sectors like trade, tourism and hospitality but negotiations with the airline industry are ongoing, so it is likely to be left out.

All of this is being positioned as a “down-payment” on what is to come. “But those down-payments have to be useful (in fighting the pandemic),” said one person with knowledge of the update.

A broader recovery plan, and perhaps some of the big ticket spending items like pharmacare, may have to wait for the spring budget – for good reason.

The CD Howe Institute’s fiscal and tax working group estimated in a paper released on Friday that the price tag for the measures in the speech from the throne would be an additional $19-$44 billion, depending on which policies are introduced and how quickly.

This group, co-chaired by former federal Liberal finance minister John Manley and former Saskatchewan finance minister Janice MacKinnon, includes some of the country’s finest policy minds – former senior finance bureaucrats Michael Horgan and Paul Boothe, tax guru Jack Mintz and respected economists like Glen Hodgson and Stéfane Marion of National Bank Financial. They have travelled the road, they know where the holes are deepest and, as a group, they are concerned about planned increases in government spending.

“This amount of unfunded spending would leave the country vulnerable to adverse shocks and is likely not sustainable,” the working group concluded.

The members said that now is not the time to raise taxes to pay for any planned increases and suggested a thorough review of existing programs to find savings. But longer term, if the government is intent on new spending, it should be matched by increases to the GST, the group said.

“Proposed spending should be assessed alongside proposed tax financing in a transparent manner. Only then would Canadians be able to assess how much they value the proposed initiative,” the members said.

The working group said an increase of two percentage points in the GST/HST, offset with a low income tax credit to neutralize the regressive impact, would raise $15 billion.

That would not be politically popular but the government could make the proposal more palatable to progressives by implementing an increase in the capital gains inclusion rate, from 50-75 per cent that would raise a further $5 billion.

Justin Trudeau ruled out tax increases in August, saying the last thing Canadians need is to see a rise in their cost of living.

But something has to give or the centre will not hold.

Nobody wants tax increases but, equally, you can’t have nice things without paying for them.

This government has a tendency to present its spending plans as cost-free – at least to this generation.

How often have we been told “we can’t afford not to….”?

There seems to be a dawning realization that compulsive spending disorder eventually leads to distress and impairment.

Freeland should signal that there are times when we can afford not to.

• Email: jivison@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Quebec City mosque killer will now be eligible for parole after 25 years. Did the court get it right?

People hold pictures of the victims at a vigil to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Quebec City mosque shooting, in Quebec City, Jan. 29, 2018.

The Quebec City mosque spree killer will be eligible to apply for parole after 25 years in prison, 15 years earlier than his trial judge ordered, after the Quebec Court of Appeal struck down the practice of “stacking” sentences for murder.

Alexandre Bissonnette, who was 27 at the time of the crime in 2017, pleaded guilty to six counts of first degree murder and six of attempted murder, and got one of the harshest criminal penalties since the end of capital punishment: a life sentence with no parole eligibility for 40 years.

It was a grotesque massacre of people at evening worship, an act of racist hatred prompted by the federal government’s recent pledge to accept more refugees, and conducted by a young man in thrall to far-right online material.

Six people died: Mamadou Tanou Barry, 42, Abdelkrim Hassane, 41, Khaled Belkacemi, 60, Aboubaker Thabti, 44, Azzeddine Soufiane, 57, and Ibrahima Barry, 39. Many others were injured, and a nation horrified.

“This judgment is not about the horror of Alexandre Bissonnette’s actions on January 29, 2017, nor even about the impact of his crimes on an entire community and on society in general,” three judges of the Quebec Court of Appeal wrote in the unanimous ruling. “It is, rather, first and foremost, about the constitutionality of a provision of the Criminal Code.”

The provision in question is a Stephen Harper-era change to the Criminal Code that allows judges to order consecutive periods of parole ineligibility for first degree murder. So someone who killed four people could be sentenced to 100 years before being allowed to apply for parole.

When it was passed in 2011, the effect was to increase the minimum prison term for murder beyond the 25 years set in place after Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976. In cases of multiple murders, judges could order that parole ineligibility periods be consecutive, rather than concurrent, in 25-year increments. It became known as “stacking” periods of parole ineligibility.

For the first time, Canadian courts were considering prison terms that far exceed the normal human lifespan. According to the new ruling, this is part of what makes the law unconstitutional, as a violation of the Charter right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment.

Discretion is not the issue. Judges might not be required to impose a cruel and unusual punishment, the appeal court noted, but the law is unconstitutional simply because it allows them to.

Sentencing someone, for example, to 150 years in prison is “absurd.” Such figures might give some people a sense of satisfaction, but they are deceptive nonetheless. A court must not make an order that can never be carried out,” the ruling reads.

“Such senselessness cannot stand and is, in and of itself, cruel and unusual punishment that is degrading because of its absurdity. It is a sentence that will always be grossly disproportionate. It contemplates a possibility that will never be able to come to fruition.”

 In a police interview, Quebec mosque shooter Alexandre Bissonnette recounted the attack, and told the SQ that terrorist attacks around the world had been on his mind for months before the shooting.

There are several cases of stacked sentences for murderers of fewer victims. For example, the law was used for Douglas Garland of Alberta, who got 75 years for killing an elderly couple and their young grandson. Justin Bourque of New Brunswick also got 75 years for killing three police officers. Dellen Millard of Ontario got 75 years for killing his father, a former girlfriend, and a stranger.

It has also been rejected by judges, for example in the case of Toronto serial killer Bruce McArthur, whose life sentence for eight murders came with a simple 25-year parole ineligibility period. His trial judge said his guilty pleas and advanced age meant that even doubling his ineligibility to 50 years was not justified. He can apply for parole when he is 91.

Even then, parole is never a sure thing, and first-time applicants usually fail, then have to wait another two years. Paul Bernardo, for example, applied for parole in 2018, after he had served his minimum 25 years. He made his case in a public hearing, and was swiftly refused.

At Bissonnette’s sentencing in 2019, the 40-year period was a compromise. The prosecution wanted all six periods to run consecutively, making it 150 years. The defence wanted the normal life sentence with no parole eligibility for 25 years.

 Police survey the scene of a shooting at a Quebec City mosque on Sunday, Jan. 29, 2017.

The trial judge decided that the sentences for first five counts would run concurrently, but 15 years should be added for the sixth count. This was legally suspect and criticized from the start, because the law seems only to allow the judge to sentence in 25 year increments: 50, 75, 100.

This new appeal ruling overturns that sentencing decision, in part because the trial judge was “rewriting the legislative provision, rather than simply striking it down.”

It also strikes down the stacking provision as unconstitutional. The ruling is not binding on other provinces, although the issue may yet be addressed by the Supreme Court.

The trial judge should have simply struck down the stacking law, not write himself a new one, the Quebec Court of Appeal found. Instead, his ruling “intruded on the legislative sphere,” the judgment says. By analyzing both the letter of the law and quoting extensively from the parliamentary debate around it, the three judges of the Court of Appeal found that “Parliament’s choice to limit the (stacking) exercise to fixed periods of 25 years was deliberate and at the very heart of the provision.”

This new ruling applies the sentencing law as it would have been without the stacking provision, meaning Bissonnette’s six 25-year periods without parole eligibility are now running concurrently, and he can apply for parole after serving 25 years.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

First COVID-19 vaccine could get Canadian approval next month, health officials say

OTTAWA – Canadian regulators could approve the first promising COVID-19 vaccine as early as next month, but it will likely take weeks after that for Canadians to be able to get a dose.

Government officials held the first of what they promise will be weekly briefings on the rollout for COVID-19 vaccines, a question which has dominated the House of Commons this week. Several companies have reported strong results from their last phase of clinical trials and countries around the world are making plans for their rollout.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

said earlier this week

Canadians would likely not get the first doses of any vaccines, because Canada doesn’t have manufacturing capacity here.

Pfizer’s vaccine, which has shown to be very effective in clinical trials, is the furthest along in the review process and could be approved in the U.S. by mid-December.

Dr. Supriya Sharma, the chief medical advisor at Health Canada, said they’re working closely with U.S. and other international approval bodies and she is confident if the data proves accurate they will be approving the vaccine around the same time.

“We’re expecting to make a final decision on the vaccines around the same time as both the U.S. FDA and the European Medicines Agency,” she said.

Sharma said if that schedule holds true, they expect doses to arrive in early January and possibly even earlier.

“We’re talking about January in terms of getting our first shipment. If everything goes well and if it goes smoothly they might be earlier,” she said.

Health Canada has instituted a rolling regulatory process for COVID-19 vaccines, allowing companies to submit data piece by piece, rather than waiting until all information is available before submitting their product for approval.

Sharma said that should help speed up the process, but regulators still have to review thousands of pages of information and data.

Pfizer and Moderna are the furthest in that process and both use a new technology, with manufacturing based in other countries. There is no manufacturing capability in Canada for their vaccines.

Arianne Reza, assistant deputy minister, procurement, said they are in regular talks with manufacturers and have been assured vaccines will begin to flow soon after regulatory approval.

“We’ve talked with the vaccine manufacturers and they have assured us that the minute regulatory approval goes through they will be able to go quite quickly afterwards.”

The government has not revealed the precise delivery timelines in their contracts with manufacturers. Government sources speaking on background said when they were first detailed in the summer, the contracts specified only delivery dates in the first quarter of 2021, but talks have continued since to refine timelines.

Health ministers in several provinces have said this week they need more details from Ottawa to plan a vaccine campaign.

Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner said there is too little clarity for something so essential.

“Provincial governments are saying the same thing. We’ve got Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario within the last 24 hours saying that they don’t have details,” she said. “These are basic questions that should have been answered months ago. What has the government been doing for 11 months?”

Rempel Garner said if Canada’s vaccine rollout comes after other countries the government is going to have to explain to the Canadians who die from the virus in the interim why they didn’t do better.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, said while the vaccines will be available in early 2021 the initial numbers may only provide enough to vaccinate a small part of the population.

“It’s important to note that the initial supply of these vaccines will be limited,” he said.

Njoo confirmed that between Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines, the government was expecting six million doses in the first three months of the year, enough to vaccinate three million Canadians.

He said however they expected the number of doses will rise considerably as the year goes on.

“As we move on throughout the year we certainly anticipate getting the rest of our doses from those two companies,” he said.

He said he is hopeful all Canadians could have the vaccine by late 2021 and most would be vaccinated before next September, but he cautioned it will be a challenge.

“If everything goes according to plan, but there’s always lots of moving parts.”

• Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques