Don't like Canada's new mandatory quarantine? It's part of why New Zealand is now back to normal

Remember crowds? This one enjoys a SIX60 performance last week in Hastings, New Zealand, which has reported just 25 COVID-19 deaths.

On Friday the Government of Canada announced a new program prescribing

mandatory supervised hotel quarantines

for all travellers entering the country. It’s one of the strictest measures yet imposed in the fight against COVID-19, but it’s a measure with good precedent: New Zealand, one of the most enthusiastic adopters of mandatory hotel quarantines,

has been ranked the best performing county in an index of almost 100 countries

based on their containment of the coronavirus.

As we here in Canada undertake the grim task of

reviewing our ICU triage protocols

, New Zealanders are

packing into stadiums without masks

and celebrating New Year’s Eve in

dense crowds

just like the old days. COVID-19 has killed 18,000 Canadians and counting, while New Zealand is at 25 deaths. The Pacific Island nation had a breach this week, with a couple of positive cases of the South African COVID variant, all linked to the same quarantine facility in Auckland. While New Zealand has been lucky, it largely has itself to credit for its success.

Being an island in the middle of nowhere does help

New Zealand is a developed country plugged into world trade with a vibrant tourist sector, so there’s no inherent geographic reason they couldn’t have been hit by COVID-19 as hard as everybody else. Notably, another English-speaking island nation — Ireland — counted the world’s

highest COVID-19 rate

recently. But when it comes to containing pandemics, it’s no accident that some of the countries best able to ward off COVID-19 (Taiwan, Japan, Singapore) have been islands. If Canada wants to close its borders, it has to worry about more than 100 land crossings with the United States, not to mention a porous 9,000 kilometre border littered with illicit conduits. But when New Zealand wants to crack down on who gets in, all it really has to do is keep an eye on its

six international airports

.

The country’s isolation and small size also means it had far fewer foreign arrivals potentially seeding New Zealand communities with COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. In all of 2019,

3.8 million people entered New Zealand from abroad

, including both tourists and citizens returning home. By contrast, in 2019 Canada counted

22.1 million foreign arrivals

and 12.3 million of its own citizens returning home from foreign countries. In addition, while most foreigners coming into New Zealand hail from Australia — another country largely sidestepped by the pandemic — Canada had to contend with having a number of direct air links with many of the earliest COVID-19 epicentres, such as Italy, Iran and New York City.

Borders closed much, much earlier

Even after China imposed a complete lockdown on Wuhan, the city that spawned COVID-19, Canadian public health officials vigorously resisted all requests for a travel ban or even basic screening of air travellers from the affected areas of China. In one statement that has failed to age well, Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam told a Commons committee

on January 29, 2020

“as I have always said, the epidemic of fear could be more difficult to control than the epidemic itself.” New Zealand, like its Pacific Rim neighbours such as South Korea, Taiwan and Japan, had no such qualms. On February 2, before it had even recorded any confirmed cases, New Zealand

completely closed its border

with China and implemented tight screening on all other incoming travellers. By March 20, they had ramped up border controls to shut out basically anyone except New Zealand residents.

These measures were directly in opposition to the recommendations of the World Health Organization, who at the time were claiming that travel restrictions were “

ineffective in most cases

.” The border closures did not prevent COVID-19 from breaking out in New Zealand communities, but when paired with some of the world’s strictest lockdown measures, it allowed the country to completely purge itself of active cases by August. “Rapid, science-based risk assessment linked to early, decisive government action was critical,” concluded

an assessment in the New England Journal of Medicine

.

The Kiwis take their quarantine way more seriously

It is very, very difficult to get into New Zealand right now. Even if you’re a New Zealand citizen, returning home is a highly regulated process that requires booking a spot in what’s known as

Managed Isolation and Quarantine

(MIQ). All arrivals are immediately sent to government-managed hotels where they are isolated for 14 days, provided with meals and tested regularly. The system is currently booked up 

until April

, so any Kiwi looking to jet overseas for a wedding or to sit at the deathbed of a loved one faces the prospect of being locked out of their home country for at least three months.

Until the new restrictions, Canada’s quarantine of international travellers, by contrast, has depended largely on the honour system. As of January 7, incoming travellers to Canada needed to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test, but prior to that the only real requirement was that foreign arrivals needed to pledge to quarantine for 14 days. Incredibly, Canada didn’t implement even basic airport temperature checks until

July

.

The New Zealand system is expensive (

roughly $6,000 per arrival

) but it’s very effective. As of October, 2020, the MIQ system had caught 215 cases of travellers entering New Zealand with a COVID-19 infection. On one particular flight from Dubai, seven passengers were found to be infected once in MIQ,

despite the fact that they had tested negative for COVID-19 just before departure

.

There is much less red tape getting in the way

The critical early days of Canada’s response to COVID-19 was constantly hamstrung by different departments tripping over each other and often providing conflicting information. All 13 of Canada’s provinces and territories had to devise their own independent COVID-19 response plans, often with contradictory measures. In Alberta, neighbourhood-level COVID-19 data was provided from the get-go without controversy. Next door in B.C., meanwhile, health authorities

claimed for months

that such granular data would make the pandemic worse. Meanwhile, inaction at higher levels often led to massive gaps in Canada’s response. In May, for instance, Alberta

had to dispatch its own screeners

to Calgary and Edmonton airports after reports of federal authorities failing to provide basic quarantine guidance to international arrivals.

By contrast, New Zealand is a country of only five million people with a unitary government; they have one kind of license plate, one tax authority and one ministry of health managing the COVID-19 response.

More than 80 per cent of New Zealanders

have retained faith in their country’s lockdown measures in part because of consistent and honest messaging from a single source. On a broader level, New Zealand is also a country that has become adept at tackling logistical challenges on its own. When the nearest help is a three-hour flight away in Australia, New Zealand doesn’t have the luxury of neglecting defence, disaster preparedness or emergency response.

 A nurse speaks to people at a COVID-19 testing facility on August 12, 2020 in Auckland, New Zealand.

The parts of Canada that acted most like New Zealand have fared best

Canada’s pandemic response has been marred with obvious oversights that made the situation much worse than it needed to be. Most notably, a

cascade of policy failures

ensured that long-term care homes would be the

deadliest in the world

when it came to COVID-19. But there are pockets of the country that have largely avoided the carnage seen in the likes of Montreal or Toronto. Vancouver Island’s 900,000 people have suffered only 17 deaths. The Atlantic provinces have

consistently kept cases at single

digits despite largely keeping their economies open, and Nunavut now has zero active cases after

experiencing only one death.

In all these cases, the success was due largely to the region’s efforts to control who was allowed in. The Atlantic provinces banded together into a quarantine bubble that requires

pre-travel approval and mandatory self-isolation for outsiders

. Vancouver Island has been able to informally cut itself off from the mainland by forbidding non-essential travel on BC Ferries. And Nunavut has had the most New Zealand-y policy of all by

operating its own government-supervised quarantine hotels

.

New Zealand’s response hasn’t been perfect. While New Zealanders have generally proved willing participants in their government’s plan to become an epidemiological fortress, they’ve still done dumb things like 

visit each other’s rooms in quarantine hotels.

  But in basic terms, eliminating COVID-19 in a population is easy: Control who gets in, and then mercilessly isolate everyone else until the virus has been denied a chance to spread. In the end, New Zealand has simply proved more willing and capable to do so.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Opioid overdose deaths occur less often in areas with more cannabis retail storefronts, study shows

Canada legalized cannabis use in 2018 and since then, licensed cannabis retail outlets, called dispensaries, have been popping up with regularity.

The more legal cannabis dispensaries a region has the fewer opioid deaths they suffered, according to a detailed new study published in a top-tier medical journal. Most sharply reduced were deaths from fentanyl overdoses.

In areas with one legal storefront cannabis dispensary, opioid death rates were an estimated 17 per cent lower than average. In areas with two dispensaries, there was an estimated 21 per cent reduction in mortality rates, the study found.

The results — based on U.S. data — suggest marijuana use as an alternative to opioids in pain management could improve health prospects.

What the study doesn’t do, however, is specifically declare a direct cause of lower opioid death rates.

“Our findings suggest that higher storefront cannabis dispensary counts are associated with reduced opioid-related mortality rates at the county level,” the authors write. “While the associations documented cannot be assumed to be causal, they suggest a potential association between increased prevalence of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries and reduced opioid-related mortality rates.”

The study by Greta Hsu, at the University of California, Davis, and Balázs Kovács, at Yale University, was published this week in The BMJ, a respected medical journal previous known as the British Medical Journal.

It follows a Canadian study published this week that found legalizing cannabis led to a “marked decline” in the volume of opioids prescribed across Canada.

The Canadian study, published in Applied Health Economics and Health Policy journal, concludes that “easier access to cannabis for pain may reduce opioid use for both public and private drug plans.”

Another Canadian study, published last month and based on a large prospective examination of Canadian medical cannabis patients, found cannabis use significantly reduced the use of prescription opioids.

Published in the journal Pain Medicine, the Canadian academics concluded: “The high rate of cannabis use for chronic pain and the subsequent reductions in opioid use suggest that cannabis may play a harm reduction role in the opioid overdose crisis, potentially improving the quality of life of patients and overall public health.”

The BMJ study focusses on the extreme outcomes of opioid use.

“This association holds for both medical and recreational dispensaries, and appears particularly strong for deaths associated with synthetic (non-methadone) opioids, which include the highly potent synthetic opioid fentanyl and its analogs,” the study says.

“This study highlights the importance of considering the complex supply side of related drug markets and how this shapes opioid use and misuse.”

Canada legalized cannabis use in 2018 and since then, licensed cannabis retail outlets, called dispensaries, have been popping up with regularity. Although cannabis remains illegal under U.S. federal law, an increasing number of U.S. states have legalized its use and sale, some for recreational use but more frequently for medical use.

Deaths from overdoses of opioids — a class of drugs that include heroin, prescription pain relievers such as oxycodone, and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, a particularly powerful pain killer — have risen sharply in many countries, including Canada. Fentanyl, in particular, has caused wide alarm.

The researchers, using U.S. data, said highly addictive opioids represent more than two thirds of all U.S. drug overdose deaths in 2018. According to Canadian government data, there were 17,602 apparent opioid-related overdose deaths in Canada between January 2016 and June 2020.

Researchers have looked at what impact cannabis dispensaries have on the use, abuse and impact of other drugs in the past, and have returned with mixed results.

In response, the two U.S. researchers drilled down to a more local level to compare data in U.S. counties that actually have dispensaries, rather than look at statewide or nation-wide data.

Their study also took into account how many dispensaries were operating in each county, probing how the count of cannabis dispensaries relates to opioid deaths.

Their data set spanned from 2014 to 2018, the first year that structured data on dispensaries was available, and ending with the most recent period for detailed health statistics.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Facebook warns Canada against taking Australia's 'aggressive' tack in making them pay for news content

Facebook and Google now account for 80 per cent of digital advertising revenue in Canada, according to the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project.

OTTAWA — Representatives of Facebook Canada warned Ottawa against the hasty introduction of rules that would force social media giants to pay for news content shared on their platforms, after Australia took an overly “loud and aggressive” tack on the same issue.

Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, told the House of Commons heritage committee on Friday that the Australian government had effectively announced its plans to force the company to pay for the news content with minimal warning, souring negotiations and causing negative outcomes for both sides.

“I was personally a bit troubled that those conversations had not happened before we heard very loud and aggressive commentary about us stealing content — which was false,” Chan said. “And I think that if we had had conversations, and productive ones, earlier, if we had actually talked to each other, we probably would be in a much better situation than we are today.”

His comments come as Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault has signalled an intention to introduce similar rules in Canada. France has also promised similar policies, which call on web giants like Facebook and Google to pay publishers for the content shared or curated on their platforms.

Facebook has called the new rules unworkable, and has threatened to pull its news service in retaliation. Google also disputes the regulations, and on Jan. 22 threatened to withdraw its search engine service in Australia.

The issue is part of an international fight between U.S. tech giants and domestic publishers and broadcasters, who say that the fast-growing platforms have been siphoning off revenues as readership goes increasingly online.

Facebook and Google now account for 80 per cent of digital advertising revenue in Canada, according to the Canadian Media Concentration Research Project. Meanwhile, publishers have struggled to replace a collapse in print advertising revenue over the last 20 years, leading to widespread retrenchment. Those companies have in turn been lobbying Ottawa to make amends, claiming that they drive a substantial amount of traffic and are therefore entitled to a bigger chunk of the profits.

“Newspapers are dropping like flies in this country, and this is one of the biggest issue, if not the biggest issue right now,” Conservative MP Kevin Waugh said.

“They see their product, exclusively on Facebook, and they’re not getting their due share of revenue from it.”

Guilbeault, in an interview with the National Post in September, said his office was working on rules that would force tech giants to pay for news content, without expressing how exactly it would be enforced. The minister said he would push back against what he called the “bullying attitudes” of American tech behemoths, after they threatened to pull services in Australia.

Chan said that Facebook’s opposition to the rules is “mechanical” in nature: Facebook doesn’t actually control the news its users share, and so it would ultimately be forced to pay for the use of commodity for which it does not control. Executives at the company have said their business model simply couldn’t withstand such uncertainty.

“If we are then required to pay for what they share, then you can appreciate how quickly that breaks down, and we’re unable to accommodate.”

 Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, appears, virtually, before the House of Commons heritage committee on January 29, 2021.

Chan and other Facebook executives have also claimed that news outlets provide only a small amount of traffic on its platform. Facebook also links back to the website of the publisher, which in turn generates huge amount of traffic for newspapers, they say.

“Newspaper publishers in Canada benefit from free distribution on Facebook, which we estimate to be on the order of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Chan said.

Also on Friday, Chan told the committee that Facebook would be welcome to new regulations from Ottawa to control what is and is not considered acceptable speech online.

His comments come after some have called for stricter rules around online hate speech, bullying and harassment, saying companies or governments ought to have clear guidelines around what people can say online.

“For having private companies decide what is and isn’t acceptable speech online is not sustainable longer term, and lacks transparency and accountability,” Chan said.

Guilbeault, in an earlier testimony before the committee on Friday, said new rules around online speech would be unveiled in the spring. He also suggested that tech companies were seeking government regulation as a way to sidestep recent criticism that they’ve done too little to curb online hate themselves.

“Why are the platforms like Facebook asking that the government regulate online hate speech? Between you and I, I think it’s to maybe share the heat that comes from all the pressure that all those companies are feeling right now,” he said.

Chan, along with former CBC executive Richard Stursberg, wrote an op-ed for the Globe and Mail in November calling for consistent regulations across developed nations to restrict

“YouTube, Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and the rest need to meet the same standards,” they wrote. “The alternative is a fractured internet, governed by private rules rather than public ones.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Incoming travellers will face mandatory hotel quarantine while they await COVID tests: Trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks via videoconference during question period in the House of Commons on Monday, Jan. 25, 2021.

Travellers coming into Canada will be forced into mandatory hotel quarantines, part of a suite of measures designed to keep Canadians at home as the government grows increasingly concerned about the risk of new COVID variants that appear to be more transmissible.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the quarantines and several other restrictions on Friday outside Rideau Cottage.

Trudeau said travelers will pay for their hotel stay of up to 72 hours while waiting for a negative COVID test. He estimated the cost at approximately $2,000 as they will have to pay for lodging, food, COVID tests and  security ensuring they remain inside.

Anyone testing positive for the virus will have to finish their quarantine in a designated quarantine facility, where the government will cover the costs.

Travellers testing negative will be able to finish their 14-day quarantine at home, but Trudeau said the government would step up surveillance of those quarantines. Private security firms have been hired to knock on doors of returning travellers to ensure they’re staying at home, and the government will be making regular phone calls as well.

Starting Sunday and extending to the end of April, Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat will cancel trips to sun destinations in Mexico and the Caribbean. All international passenger flights arriving in Canada must land at only four airports, in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal, as part of this stepped up screening.

Trudeau thanked the airlines for taking the steps to help limit the spread of the virus.

“We all agree that now is just not the time to be flying,” he said. “By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time when we can all plan those vacations.”

Canadians returning from abroad already have to get a negative COVID test 72 hours before they arrive and will now have to have one when they arrive in Canada, and at the 10-day point of their quarantine.

Cases from international travel make up a small fraction of the current cases, but new international variants of the virus are more transmissible, raising concerns they could spread into the community much more rapidly.

“We know that just one case of the variant that comes in could cause significant challenges and that’s why we need to take extra measures,” Trudeau said. “Yes, it is extremely low the percentage of cases that are traced back to international travel, but it’s not zero.”

The testing requirements will go into place at airports in the coming weeks and the government is also planning to require tests for travellers at land borders with the United States.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he would begin testing travellers at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport beginning Monday. The U.K. variant was found in a long-term care home in Barrie, Ont., where the virus spread especially rapidly.

Ford said the province can’t want to screen travellers.

“The time for decisive action is now,” he said. “We need to screen every single person coming into the country.”

Two new variants of the virus that were first identified in the U.K. and South Africa have shown in early research to be both easier to spread and more likely to cause severe illness.

Vaccine results from two leading candidates, Johnson and Johnson and Novavak both showed their vaccines are less effective against the South African variant.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said the government has identified 85 cases of the U.K variant in Canada so far, along with nine cases of the variant from South Africa.

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician and professor at McMaster University, said this is almost an echo of the early days of the pandemic, when a wave of March break travellers accelerated the pandemic. 



“You got a huge injection of people back to the country with COVID-19 and that led to significant amounts of transmission,” he said. 

He said the government’s new restrictions won’t catch everything, but it’s another layer of protection and will help health officials stay ahead of the problem.  

“It’s not going to keep it out the door. I think there’s always Swiss cheese holes in the model but it’s going to at least slow it down to the point where we realize what’s going on.”

Travel to the country has been limited to Canadian citizens and permanent residents since last March when the pandemic began. A new requirement went into place earlier this year requiring travellers to have a negative test before they arrive in Canada.

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole charged the restrictions wouldn’t be necessary if the Liberal government had done a better job with rapid testing and vaccine procurement.

“Lockdowns and restrictions were put in place to buy governments time to get permanent solutions like vaccines, rapid testing, variant testing capacity and therapeutics — these tools now exist,” he said. The problem is, Justin Trudeau hasn’t succeeded in bringing them to widespread use in Canada.”

He said the tightened rules will only further restrict an airline industry in crisis, which the government has failed to help.

“Canadian airline jobs are in jeopardy. We continue to see more airline workers lose their jobs and regional routes close — they have no idea when support from the Liberal government is coming, if at all.

New Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government was also working on a financial aid package for airlines, but insisted that was separate from their commitment to cancel flights.

He said the air sector has to come back as part of the economy’s return.

“Our government understands that a strong air sector is vital to the economy and the well being of Canadians,” he said. “Airlines have been forced to take drastic measures and the sector cannot respond to these challenges on its own and so, the federal government is developing an assistance package.”

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Email: rtumilty@postmedia.com

More to come …. 

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Canadian Heritage minister, top bureaucrats deny 'cozy' relationship between department and Facebook Canada

Canadian Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault testifies via videoconference before the House of Commons heritage committee on Friday, January 29, 2021.

OTTAWA – The minister and top bureaucrats responsible for Canadian Heritage say there was nothing wrong with how Facebook Canada’s head of public policy reached out to an official at the department — which is co-leading efforts to regulate Internet giants — to share a job posting for a policy worker.

“We came to a conclusion that sharing publicly available information is not a reprehensible act. I would also add that we are taking at heart issues regarding values and ethics… and I am very confident that my staff are meeting the highest standard with respect to conflict of interest and values and ethics,” Canadian Heritage Deputy Minister Hélène Laurendeau told members of the Heritage committee Friday.

The minister in charge of the department, Steven Guilbeault, expressed a similar point of view, all the while taking umbrage against critiques from opposition MPs that Facebook and the department have a “cozy” relationship.

“Did it violate any code of ethics? The answer is no. How many times did it happen in the last year? Once. I take issue with the fact that we would question the ethical value of our civil service in Canada based on something that’s simply not there,” Guilbeault added after Laurendeau.

“There is no coziness, plain and simple.”

Guilbeault was the first to testify during a new study of the relationship between Facebook and the federal government by the Canadian Heritage committee, as requested by the NDP.

The issue is of concern to opposition parties as Heritage Canada is currently co-leading efforts to create new legislation that will regulate a host of web companies’ activities (such as Facebook’s), including managing online hate speech and taxing their digital products and services.

Questioned by opposition MPs as to when the legislation will finally be tabled in Parliament, Guilbeault did not give a more precise answer than “this spring.”

“Like many Canadians, our government is concerned about the current imbalance that favours the web giants at the expense of Canadian businesses,” Guilbeault said in his opening remarks. “The economic and social stakes resulting from the situation are too important for us to just stand idly by.”

“Our government is committed to regulating digital platforms and putting them to work for Canadians,” he added.

The study was requested by opposition parties following media reports that Facebook’s Canadian Head of Policy Kevin Chan had emailed a senior official at Canadian Heritage in early 2020 inquiring about a “promising senior analyst” within the public service that Facebook could hire.

A copy of the emails was obtained via access to information and first reported by Toronto Star.

In his message to heritage department official Owen Ripley, Chan, who previously held top senior advisory roles in the federal government, said that the web giant was offering a “challenging,” “fascinating” and lucrative job within Facebook’s public policy team.

Chan added that he was open to hiring public servants who took a temporary leave of absence from their department to come work for Facebook. That means that they could later return to their public sector jobs if the department allowed it.

“I am happy to circulate to a few people who might be good candidates,” replied Ripley, who holds the title of director general, broadcasting, copyright & creative marketplace at Canadian Heritage.

In front of committee members Friday, Chan said that neither he nor Facebook had done anything wrong by sending out that email.

“The facts are the following: the job was publicly listed and openly advertised on the Facebook careers site, shared widely on social media and with a broad set of public policy professionals in the private, non-profit and public sectors,” he told MPs.

Rachel Curran, the former director of policy for Prime Minister Stephen Harper who was eventually hired for the policy job at Facebook Canada, added that it’s normal for a company to cast a wide net when hiring for such a job.

“The public policy talent pool in Canada is quite small,” Curran explained. “It’s quite common for job postings to be circulated widely in the private sector, the public sector, and among government employees.”

Still, both opposition members and media advocacy groups such as Friends of Canadian Broadcasting weren’t convinced by Guilbeault, Facebook or Heritage Canada’s explanations.

“We’re concerned when we see a personal email from Kevin Chan to one of your employees in the department. This is too cozy, and as opposition members, we’re concerned with this,” Conservative MP Kevin Waugh insisted.

Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux said he was surprised that Guilbeault did not sound concerned by the emails between Facebook and his department.

“You do not sound like you think this is a grave matter. Do you not find it to be a preoccupying situation?” the MP asked.

Guilbeault responded that he had inquired about the situation with the head of the department soon after media reports emerged and he was reassured when told that there had been no ethical breaches.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Recovered addict sues Quebec man who was 'biggest pot dealer in New York City history' for cost and pain of addiction

Jimmy Cournoyer is said to have owned a Bugatti Veyron, similar to the one pictured here, known as the fastest street-legal production car. At bottom, a Cornwall dock known as a hot spot for drug smuggling. Cournoyer pleaded guilty to feeding tons of potent Canadian marijuana to the United States.

A recovered drug addict in New York has been trying to sue a flamboyant Quebec man, dubbed the “King of Pot” for flooding the U.S. with a billion dollars worth of Canadian marijuana, claiming she became hopelessly addicted because of his business.

Jimmy Cournoyer, now 41, remains in a U.S. prison, serving a 27-year sentence ordered in 2014 after being declared the “biggest pot dealer in New York City history.”

More recently, he has been fending off Consuelo Barbetta, who was seeking $5 million in damages from him for her 18 years of substance abuse.

“I did not spend a minute sober” for four years at her peak of drug use, she complained to a New York judge.

“It would be relevant for Cournoyer to be held fully accountable for his contribution, as any other responsible party should also be,” Barbetta said.

“Both me, and Cournoyer, were between New York and California during the time my addiction was at its worst and his business was at its best,” she wrote in her lawsuit.

The main problem with her lawsuit, a New York judge told her this summer, is that she hadn’t provided evidence she had any contact with Cournoyer or even “knows anything about him except what she read of his conviction in the newspaper.”

Self-represented, she was given leeway to amend her claim. Her amendment fared no better. Her motion was dismissed by Judge Brian Cogan, the same judge who oversaw the massive 2019 trial against Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Barbetta “is merely guessing that defendant may have had a hand in her illegal drug purchases,” Cogan wrote in his decision.

Her claim was made under the Drug Dealer Liability Act, which allows consumers to seek civil damages against those selling illegal substances, just as those injured by faulty products can sue manufacturers.

She sought to hold Cournoyer accountable for his years moving cannabis from Canada into the United States.

“I was addicted to marijuana for almost 20 years, having smoked 20 pounds of marijuana before my first attempt at sobriety in 2008,” she told court.

Her drug use “consumed all my time and affected my productivity. Heavy smoking consequently affected my physical health and saturated my expenses. Equating to over a million-dollar excursion, all my money was wasted on drugs.”

 A suitcase of cash entered as evidence in Jimmy Cournoyer’s trial.

She started smoking pot in 2000, “smoked compulsively” and was “unable to stop” from 2004 to 2008, when she first tried to quit. At her peak, she spent $70,000 a year on cannabis.

“I smoked so much my lungs hurt, my tongue burnt, my lips and fingers yellowed,” she said. She drove from dealer to dealer buying small amounts smoking as she drove, each time telling herself this was her last time — but she kept driving and kept buying. She was “driving until my hips and knees cramped, and my hand calloused from gripping the wheel.”

“Every penny I earned was spent on buying weed,” she said.

Her addiction ruined her dreams of becoming a dancer, which she had spent years training for, and forced her to abandon a graduate degree. She finally managed to quit, she said, and was two years clean when filing her suits last year.

“First and foremost, my predominant concerns about Jimmy Cournoyer is the magnitude of his contribution to drug trafficking within the country, and within this state,” she wrote.

Police started investigating Cournoyer’s massive importation ring at the “same time my addiction was at its worst, and lasted through its dissipation, which persisted until sometime after his arrest.”

She blames Cournoyer for bringing pot into her community, and others: “Don’t even get me started on the Hells Angels,” she wrote.

While Cogan showed sympathy for her circumstances, he dismissed her suit for being “too speculative to support a plausible claim.”

“She simply assumed that since defendant was a substantial drug dealer and she bought a lot of drugs, she must have, at some time, purchased some of the drugs that he distributed.”

U.S. prosecutors said Cournoyer was a masterful drug baron who went from growing a little marijuana in his Laval, Que., apartment as a teenager to running a “massive international drug consortium.”

Before his arrest, he lived a playboy lifestyle, driving exotic sports cars, entertaining friends at an island resort and partying with celebrities and his international model girlfriend.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

California hospital forfeits vaccine supply after urging ineligible teachers to lie for early jabs

The elementary teachers at the Santa Clara district school who got vaccinated were still doing distance teaching.

Officials at the County of Santa Clara, south of San Francisco, learned this week that in order to get vaccinated at an area hospital, teachers at a local school pretended to be eligible healthcare workers — at the invitation of the hospital itself.

The Good Samaritan hospital had said on Jan. 12 it was “only in a position to be vaccinating healthcare workers” and had not as yet reached out to the second tier, for people 75 and older. The county began an investigation a week later when it came to their attention that teachers appeared to be jumping the hospital’s queue.

The invitation triggering the issue, which School Superintendent Paul Johnson says he received from the hospital’s chief operating officer, indicated there was a special deal available for vaccinations for the teachers for one day only,

the Los Angeles Times

reports.

Johnson in turn emailed his staff to advise that “the COO of the hospital … has cleared (Los Gatos Union School District) staff to sign up under the healthcare buttons” on the registration forms.

The county lawyer, James R. Williams,

said in a Jan. 25 news conference

(at 17:30 of the video), that he found the hospital’s actions “very concerning” as

it appeared to be “affirmatively suggesting” that school district employees commit perjury by “registering themselves as if they were healthcare workers.”

As a result, the county refused further vaccine allocations to the hospital. All scheduled teacher appointments were cancelled, but Williams said the hospital would get enough doses to allow anyone who had had their first needle to get their second.

The county health department says protocol allows for the administration of vaccines to those in lower tiers if the county “has maximized use of the vaccine” to higher tiers. A hospital spokeswoman said they found extra appointments available on one day, and was able to offer slots to 65 educators. (Los Gatos teachers have not yet returned to classrooms, but vaccinations will not be mandatory when they do.)

The Los Angeles Times wrote

that a statement from the hospital on Saturday contended it had mistakenly expanded its vaccination group to the next tier, which includes educators and child-care workers, but did so to avoid wasting vaccine doses that had already been thawed.

However, Williams said the explanation he received from the hospital “does not appear to be related to wastage.”

In another twist to the tale,

the San José Spotlight reports, Johnson at first seemed to believe the offer was made in gratitude for the teachers having raised funds for meals for the hospital’s frontline workers at the onset of the pandemic. He wrote in his staff email that the hospital wanted to offer vaccines to the school district because they had not forgotten the “kindness” of the staff. He later walked back that statement.

Williams said the optics of anyone being able to jump vaccination queues in return for “meals and other things provided” was concerning. Vaccine supplies will be reinstated once “discussions” conclude between the hospital and the county.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

New book claims KGB started grooming 'vain and greedy' Trump forty years ago

Then-U.S. President Donald Trump, left, chats with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they attend the APEC Economic Leaders' Meeting on Nov. 11, 2017.

A new book makes shocking claims that Russia’s KGB started grooming Donald Trump 40 years ago, repeatedly saving him from financial ruin, and that when the reality-show entrepreneur became U.S. president in 2017, it was time for him to repay the favour.

Investigative reporter Craig Unger’s new book also alleges that Trump established further ties to Russia during his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein,

the Daily Mail reports.

The deceased sex offender allegedly relied on the same Russian pimps who supplied women to oligarchs with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Trump was a dream for KGB officers looking to develop an asset,” Yuri Shvets, a former KGB major living in the U.S., is quoted as saying in the book. “Everybody has weaknesses. But with Trump it wasn’t just weakness. Everything was excessive. His vanity, excessive. Narcissism, excessive. Greed, excessive. Ignorance, excessive.”

The

press release

for American Kompromat: How The KGB Cultivated Donald Trump, And Related Tales Of Sex, Greed, Power, And Treachery describes the book as “a story of dirty secrets, and the most powerful people in the world.”

Unger, who has written for The New Yorker, Esquire Magazine and Vanity Fair among others, has written previous bestselling books about questionable connections between world elites, two of which include, House Of Bush, House Of Saud, and House Of Trump, House Of Putin.

Kompromat is Russian for “compromising information” and the term, which originated in the Stalin era, is used to refer to compromising material that can be used to threaten or blackmail a politician or other public figure. These Kompromat operations can also leverage power “by appealing to what is for some the most prized possession of all: their vanity,” the press release says. “From Donald Trump to Jeffrey Epstein, kompromat operations documented the darkest secrets of the most powerful people in the world and transformed them into potent weapons.”

People have long speculated about why Trump was so friendly with Putin, and Unger’s books asks: “Was Donald Trump a Russian asset? Just how compromised was he? And how could such an audacious feat have been accomplished?”

Unger says his book is based on exclusive interviews with dozens of high-level sources, including former officers in the CIA, former FBI counterintelligence agents and former Soviet KGB agents, including Shvets.

In the book, Shvets says the KGB “began cultivating Trump as a prospective asset” in the early 1980s, the Daily Mail reports.

“When people start talking about Trump’s ties to the KGB or Russian intelligence, some are looking for this super-sophisticated masterplan, which was designed decades ago and finally climaxed with Trump’s election as president of the United States,” Shvets said, but the KGB didn’t actually know whether their investment would pay off.

“That’s the way the KGB sometimes operated. It was like throwing spaghetti against the wall and seeing what would stick,” Unger writes.

All of Trump’s business relationships in Russia and ties to oligarchs are “part of a long, ongoing Russian intelligence operation” approved by the Kremlin, Unger writes.

Trump allegedly first came to the KGB’s attention in 1980, when he opened the Grand Hyatt hotel, his first major Manhattan real estate project.

He visited Joy-Lud Electronics to buy hundreds of television sets for the hotel, but the small discount store was actually a front for the KGB, and Shvets says he is “99 per cent” sure the shop owners gave Trump’s details to the KGB.

Unger writes that, for the Soviets, Trump’s “most appealing quality” was his personality — “vain, narcissistic, highly susceptible to flattery, and greed,” the Daily Mail reports. “Deeply insecure intellectually, highly suggestible, exceedingly susceptible to flattery, Trump was anxious to acquire some real intellectual validation — and the KGB would be more than happy to humor him.”

Unger’s book details numerous examples of times Trump benefitted financially from rich Russians tied to the KGB.

For example, Tamir Sapir, a partner in Joy-Lud electronics, allegedly helped bail out the Trump SoHo development in New York and Putin-linked mobsters allegedly laundered money by buying luxury Trump condos with cash.

In an excerpt published in

Vanity Fair

, Unger details how Trump and Epstein became friends and eventually fell out in 2004 when Trump outbid Epstein for a 62,000-square-foot mansion in Palm Beach that was being sold at a bankruptcy auction. Trump later sold the property for a profit. Epstein allegedly threatened to sue Trump, who allegedly retaliated by urging the Palm Beach Police Department to start an investigation into Epstein’s relationships with young girls in 2005.

“Their friendship frayed beyond repair, Epstein became less discreet as the keeper of Trump’s secrets and was not averse to showing off potentially compromising photos of him and Trump. An associate of Epstein’s who asked not to be identified told me that Epstein showed him one photo of Trump with a topless young girl,” Unger writes.

Unger also speculated that Russia’s Federal Security Service, the main successor agency to the Soviet Union’s KGB, may have attained “kompromat” material from among Epstein’s alleged collection of compromising photos and videos of his famous friends and young women, the Daily Mail reports.

Trump has not responded to any of the allegations in the book.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

How dead is dead? The heart can stop and re-start several times as a person dies, new study finds

After the agonizing decision was made to remove life support, the monitors stayed in place — a catheter in the radial artery in the dying person’s wrist to measure blood pressure. Five sticky pads with electrocardiogram leads on the chest and abdomen. Second by second, beat-by-beat, the monitors recorded any signals of a pulse, blood pressure or electrical activity of the heart, all with the goal of answering: when the heart stops, does it stay stopped?

How long should doctors wait to feel comfortable someone is truly, permanently dead before moving to take the organs?

“One of the fundamental principles of organ donation is that you must be dead to donate,” said critical care physician Dr. Sonny Dhanani. Yet anecdotes and stories persist of people “coming back to life” after cardiac arrest, after flatlining without a pulse. “We wanted to provide scientific evidence ….that one is dead before donation,” Dhanani said.

In a

study published this week

in the

New England Journal of Medicine

, Dhanani and his co-authors monitored the heart rate, blood pressure and oxygen saturation levels of hundreds of people who had life support withdrawn, from the moment breathing tubes and heart-supporting drugs were removed, to 30 minutes after declaration of death.

The finding, said Dhanani, was surprising: in 14 per cent of cases, the heart stopped and then re-started. Brief bursts of cardiac activity — a heart beat, a pulse — occurred as soon as 64 seconds, and as long as four minutes and 20 seconds, after a period of “pulselessness.”

No one regained consciousness or survived. No one came back from the dead. There was no true circulation. The heart finally stopped, completely. “However, transient resumption of cardiac activity did occur, which suggests that the physiologic processes of somatic (bodily) death after removal of life-sustaining measures occasionally include periods of cessation and resumption of cardiac electrical and pulsatile arterial activity,” Dhanani and his team report.

This wasn’t auto-resuscitation, or the so-called Lazarus phenomenon, where in a smattering of cases reported worldwide, the heart spontaneously starts beating, and keeps beating, in people pronounced dead after emergency CPR for cardiac arrest was stopped.

But Dhanani said the study supports the current “no touch” rule in Canada to wait five minutes after the heart stops before declaring death and proceeding to organ donation. In other countries, hands-off protocols vary from two to 10 minutes. It may be debatable whether five minutes is too short, “but my answer is, no,” Dhanani said. “Five minutes is logical, as it is the current standard in most places.”

More than 4,000 people in Canada are awaiting a life-saving transplant. Dhanani worried that there wasn’t uniform acceptance of organ donation because of misunderstandings, and “stories, unrelated to organ donation, about people coming back to life following a determination of death.”

Death is determined in one of two ways: brain death, when people are medically and legally dead, but their hearts are still beating, and circulatory death — irreversible loss of heart function. While most organs come from people declared brain dead, about 30 per cent are now retrieved from circulatory death donors.

 Dr. Sonny Dhanani: “People don’t die right away.”

Once life support is withdrawn, the heart contracts vigorously, and is slowly starved of oxygen and blood. The cells of the muscle begin to die off, blood pressure drops and the heart goes into cardiac arrest. Blood flow stops. There’s no perfusion, first and foremost to the brain, but also to the other organs.

Organ donation is a carefully choreographed sequence: Doctors must wait the minimal time before being certain the loss of circulation is permanent, and declaring death, but not so long that the organs deteriorate from lack of blood flow.

The new study, dubbed DePPaRT — or the Death Prediction and Physiology after Removal of Therapy study — was conducted at 16 adult ICUs in Canada, three in the Czech Republic and one in the Netherlands.

It involved 631 people who had suffered a catastrophic illness or accident, and whose grieving families agreed to have their loved one’s vital signs recorded after they were removed from life support. In all cases, families agreed there would be no attempt at CPR, and “imminent death was anticipated.”

Still, the classic “flatline” of death isn’t so smooth. “People don’t die right away,” said Dhanani, chief of critical care at CHEO in Ottawa. In the new study, death after cardiac arrest was declared as soon as one minute after life support was withdrawn, but as long as 11 days, five hours and 54 minutes. The median time was 60 minutes. A computer program analyzed each person’s waveforms to see when electrical activity and pulse stopped and restarted.

Doctors and staff standing in the ICU said they saw unassisted resumption of cardiac activity in 13 people.

 Heather Talbot and her son Jonathon, who died in 2009. Jonathon, 22, was declared brain dead after a car crash. His kidneys, livers and lungs were donated. Heather Talbot was a consultant for the DePPaRT study, contributing ideas on how to approach families of dying patients.

But when the researchers looked back at the data picked up by the monitors, there was a stop, and then a re-start, in 67 of 480 people with complete waveform data.

One systematic review involving a total of 30 people showed a return of cardiac activity in zero to three per cent of people after withdrawal of life support. The longest duration of no pulse before heart activity resumed was one minute and 42 seconds. Also surprising in the new study was that electrical activity of the heart can continue for minutes after the blood pressure stops.

“With the heart being an organ that is very strong and robust, the idea that it pauses before finally stopping in some cases is actually quite reasonable, physiologically, and probably not unreasonable for us to expect it does so,” Dhanani said.

He’s reassured that no one came back to life. There was no alertness or consciousness. When cardiac activity did re-start, it was short-lived, most often for about five seconds. In one case, it lasted 13 minutes and 14 seconds.

“I think if doctors and nurses are aware that this can happen, that they’ll expect it, they’ll counsel families,” Dhanani said.

If heart activity does resume within five minutes, the protocol holds that the “no touch” clock must re-start, “which I think adds a layer of safety, and hopefully trust, for the medical community and the public.”

Calgary was the largest Canadian site. Dr. Christopher Doig is head of critical care medicine at the University of Calgary and a study co-author. He’s worked in the ICU for almost 30 years, and has been at the bedside of hundreds who have died. “It’s not unusual to see a flatline on the electrical tracing of the heart, followed by electrical beats,” Doig said, “or a minute or so where there was no heart beat, and then a heart beat, again.” He doesn’t, however, recall ever seeing it happen as long as four-and-a-half minutes out.

“But this is why this research was important,” Doig said. “It helped confirm that this event can occur, but it also provides reassurance” that, under the current five-minute rule, “the duration of time is satisfactory. That somebody, when they have their organs recovered, is truly dead.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

A 21st century holocaust: Why China's actions in Xinjiang are being called genocide

In the last month, a

series of bipartisan declarations

have emerged from the United States accusing the People’s Republic of China of perpetrating “genocide” in its treatment of Uyghur minority populations in the country’s northwest. While a parliamentary subcommittee has urged in recent months that Canada follow suit, there have been no such declarations from the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Below, a quick primer on what China is doing in its northwest, and why international observers are calling it one of the most systematic attempts at state genocide since the Holocaust.

‘Largest mass incarceration of a minority population’

Starting in earnest around 2017, the People’s Republic of China has been opening a vast network of “re-education centres” in Xinjiang, in the country’s northwest. Between one and two million mostly Muslim Xinjiang residents — ethnic Uyghurs most prominent — have been forcibly sent to these centres for “crimes” as simple as

going to Mosque or texting a relative in Turkey

. A

2018 statement

from the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China called the system “the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today”

China has persistently referred to these facilities as “

boarding schools

” or “vocational training centres,” even when they clearly include guard towers and high walls topped with razor wire. A leaked

2019 video

showed large groups of blindfolded, freshly shaved Uyghur men being forced to kneel on the ground to await processing at a Xinjiang train station.

Using satellite imagery, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute has

meticulously assembled 3D models

of nearly 400 Uyghur detention facilities in Xinjiang. A

2018 Reuters investigation

analyzed local government construction tenders to confirm that these facilities were designed to be fully equipped with prison-like surveillance and security systems.

Former detainees, some of whom have

recently testified before a Canadian House of Commons subcommittee

, have reported being subjected to brutal regimens of indoctrination, with torture and sexual abuse of dissenters. In recent years, evidence

has also emerged

of Uyghur detainees being used as forced labour in Chinese factories.

‘In the future, the idea of Uyghur will be in name only, but without its meaning’

When it comes to regions bristling under Chinese rule, Tibet generally gets most of the world’s attention. But Xinjiang has had an uneasy relationship with Communist China from day one.

The region is heavily Muslim with ethnic and cultural origins that are much more in line with neighbouring Uzbekistan. The region only became viewed as a definitively Chinese territory upon its conquest by the Qing Dynasty in the 1870s. In the 1930s and 1940s, the region twice capitalized on political instability in China to break away as an Islamic republic, and pressure to do again was

re-ignited by the 1991 collapse of the neighbouring Soviet Union

. The interim three decades have seen incidents of

ethnic riots

in Xinjiang and violence from Uyghur separatists, such

as a 2010 suicide bombing that killed seven.

 One of the most widely circulated images depicting conditions within the re-education camps. Taken in 2017, it was originally part of a post touting government “deradicalization” efforts.

The presidency of Xi Jinping saw an immediate ramping-up of repression in Xinjiang with the launch of the “Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism.” Even before the opening of re-education centres, Xinjiang residents had their passports confiscated and saw their cities peppered with police checkpoints.

The deadliest genocides of the 20

th

century were carried out with punch cards and paper ledgers. A particularly chilling dimension to China’s actions in Xinjiang is how authorities have fully mobilized the resources of a 21

st

century surveillance state. Between 2016 and 2017, roughly the entire population of Xinjiang was required to turn over biometric data such as DNA samples and iris scans in a program dubbed

Physicals for All

.

Uyghur economist Ilham Tohti, who fled Xinjiang in 2017 after being accused of “separatism,”

told Human Rights Watch

that the ultimate goal is to thoroughly purge Xinjiang of all inkling of distinct identity and “identify with the country, such that, in the future, the idea of Uyghur will be in name only, but without its meaning.”

‘They have some problems with their thoughts’

Chinese authorities have been quite explicit about branding Uyghur’s culture and their Islamic faith as a mental illness or an “ideological virus.” In a

Tweet earlier this month

, China’s US Embassy claimed that by “eradicating extremism” in Xinjiang, Uyghur women were “no longer baby-making machines.”

Internal Chinese documents

leaked to the New York Times

reveal that when Uyghurs inquire about relatives who have gone missing at the hands of authorities, they are told to “treasure this chance for free education that the party and government has provided to thoroughly eradicate erroneous thinking, and also learn Chinese and job skills.” When BBC investigators asked residents in the Xinjiang city of Dabancheng in 2018 about the emergence of a new high-security “re-education” centre in their midst,

one replied

that it was for the tens of thousands of Xinjiang residents experiencing “problems with their thoughts.”

One pro-internment article aimed at Uyghur readers

claimed

that “being ‘infected’ by religious extremism and violent terrorist ideology but not receiving immediate ‘re-education’ is similar to contracting an illness but not seeking a cure, or becoming a drug addict but refusing treatment.” A counsellor at one of these facilities told Chinese reporters that once detainees “study well and their mental state is healthy, they will be able to live happily in society.”

In December, 2019, Xinjiang Governor Shohrat Zakir held a

news conference

in which he praised the “graduation” of Uyghurs from the centres, saying “with the help of the government, stable employment has been achieved and their quality of life has been improved.”

‘They want to destroy us as a people’

From the available evidence, China’s actions in Xinjiang lack the targeted mass-murder that characterized genocides such as the Holocaust or the Holodomor, the Soviet Union’s engineered starvation of several million Ukrainians. The

United Nations Convention on Genocide

, drafted only months after the liberation of Nazi death and forced labour camps, characterized genocide as any deliberate attempt to inflict “physical destruction” on a people. In this, the convention’s framers saw fit to also characterize a genocidal regime as one “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.”

An AP investigation last year found that China’s Xinjiang crackdown

has been accompanied

by a wave of forced sterilization, birth control and abortion. The Xinjiang birth rate is now indeed in freefall, with population growth in some regions

falling by more than 80 per cent

. .

The AP interviewed Gulnar Omirzakh, who was slapped with exorbitant fines and ordered to insert an Intrauterine Device after she had her third child. “To prevent people from having children is wrong … they want to destroy us as a people,” she said.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques