'Totally unacceptable': U.S. secretary of state calls on China to free Two Michaels

Antony Blinken, U.S. secretary of state, attends a virtual meeting with Justin Trudeau, Canada's prime minister, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021.

Top politicians in the United States and Canada sounded off on China on the weekend, condemning the detention of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and signalling plans to co-operate in securing the release of the two Canadians.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the detentions “totally unacceptable,” in an interview with CBC News aired on Sunday.

“Using people, human beings, as pawns for political purposes, it is totally unacceptable conduct by any country,” said Blinken, who met virtually with Canadian officials on Friday as part of a round of talks last week between the Canadian federal government and U.S. President Joe Biden’s new administration.

Kovrig and Spavor, known in Canada as the two Michaels, have been detained in China on espionage charges since December 2018. Canadian officials have decried their detention as political retribution or “hostage diplomacy” by China, since their arrests came shortly after the RCMP detained Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with Chinese telecom giant Huawei, on an extradition request from the United States.

“We stand strongly with Canada when it comes to the need to see the two Michaels released immediately and unconditionally,” Blinken told

CBC

. “We will continue to stand with Canada on that. I’ve made that clear in my own conversations with Chinese counterparts and we look forward to the day when they’re able to return home.”

Blinken’s comments on the matter echoed those of Biden, who pledged to help bring back the two Canadians during his summit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau last week.

“Human beings are not bartering chips,” Biden said. “We’re going to work together until we get their safe return.”

But it’s not clear exactly how the two nations will achieve that.

“These are processes that are ongoing,” Trudeau told a news conference on Friday. “The United States is taking their role in this very seriously and we look forward to working with them on bringing the two Michaels home as soon as possible.”

Blinken has repeatedly declined to comment on questions about whether the U.S. is considering a so-called deferred prosecution agreement — a form of plea deal that could allow Meng to return to China in return for an admission of wrongdoing.

Last week, a Justice Department spokesman confirmed to The Canadian Press that prosecutors were continuing to seek Meng’s extradition to the U.S., where she is facing fraud charges.

In an

interview

with NBC’s Meet the Press that aired on Sunday, Trudeau said Canada will honour its extradition treaty, accusing China of using “trumped-up” charges “to try and pressure us to release” Meng.

“The relationship with China in Canada is deeply coloured by the fact that they have arbitrarily detained two Canadian citizens, simply because we lived up to an extradition treaty with the United States,” he said in the pre-taped interview.

“They, shortly afterwards, arrested two Canadian citizens on national security trumped-up charges and have detained them for about 800 days and counting now, in an attempt to try and pressure us to release the executive. We, of course, are a country of the rule of law. We will not do that. We live by our treaties and live by the rule of law.”

Trudeau said his talks with Biden were “very positive in us working together to try and resolve this situation and hold China to account.”

After his meeting with Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau on Friday, Blinken praised the Canadian government’s work on snuffing out politically motivated imprisonment around the globe, by getting countries to sign onto its Declaration Against Arbitrary Detention.

The declaration, a project initiated by former foreign affairs minister François-Philippe Champagne, is from a coalition of more than 50 countries opposed to the state-sponsored political detention of foreign nationals.

“Obviously we have to focus on bringing the two Michaels home, but more broadly we have to work together to establish a basic norm in international conduct that this is simply unacceptable,” Blinken told CBC on Sunday. “That takes time. It takes effort — it takes sustained effort.”

Over the weekend, Michael Kovrig’s wife, Vina Nadjibulla,

told Global News

that she hopes the government will “seize this moment” and convert the fresh U.S. support into action.

“What I took away from that is that President Biden has compassion for the unjust suffering that our Michael and Michael Spavor are going through, as well as that he understands that Canada has been paying a really high price since it accepted the extradition request from the U.S. two years ago,” she said.

Asked how her husband was doing, Nadjibulla said she has received letters from him and noted “he is staying mentally strong.”

“His situation is so incredibly, unspeakably difficult and he continues to stay focused on what he can control,” she said.

—With files from The Canadian Press

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

What slavery looked like in Canada

A runaway slave alert published in the Quebec Gazette on  July 29, 1779.

They came in great, dusty columns trudging north; the persecuted refugees of a new country founded on freedom and liberty.

These were the United Empire Loyalists; the thousands of men, women and children loyal to the Crown who were forced into Canada by the victory of rebel forces in the American War of Independence. “Neither confiscation of their property, the pitiless persecution of their kinsmen in revolt, nor the galling chains of imprisonment could break their spirits,” reads a stirring monument to the loyalists in Hamilton, Ont.

And they brought their slaves with them.

 A memorial statue of United Empire Loyalists in Hamilton, Ont.

When Canadian historians talk about Africans coming here after the American Revolution, they generally focus on the Black Loyalists; freed slaves escaped from American masters who were emancipated by the British and settled in Nova Scotia. But not every African brought to Canada after the Revolutionary War was free.

In the official Act of Parliament that welcomed white Loyalist refugees to British North America, they were permitted to bring along “any negroes” in their possession without paying duty to the Crown. As many as 2,500 Black slaves were brought to Nova Scotia, instantly making it the most slaveholding territory in both the Maritime colonies and New England. “During the late 18th century practically every county in mainland Nova Scotia had slaves, and this story remains to be told,”

wrote historian Ken Donovan in 2014

.

In historical accounts of North American chattel slavery, Canada usually appears only as an enlightened Eden. We were the final stop of the Underground Railroad, and the place that legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “the real Canaan of the American bondmen,” a reference to the biblical Promised Land.

But if Canada came off as the good guy during the United States’ great reckoning with slavery, it’s only because British North America had undergone its own nightmare of human bondage. Only a generation before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Canada had been a place where human beings were listed for sale in newspapers, where enslaved children were given as gifts, where authorities hunted down fugitive slaves and where the murder and rape of enslaved Africans was endorsed by the Crown.

The Canadian slave most well-known to history is probably a young woman named Angélique, who was tortured and hanged in 1734 following accusations that she had set fire to a large section of Montreal. The man who pulled the lever that caused Angélique to plunge to her death was himself a slave.

 An image depicting Angelique is shown in a video projection in Montreal.

James McGill, founder of McGill University, owned three black slaves and

two Indigenous children

. Marguerite d’Youville, the first Canadian-born Catholic Saint, likely owned an enslaved domestic servant. When the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant was corralling Indigenous armed resistance to the American Revolution, he owned as many as 40 black slaves.

The Montreal Gazette published ads of slaves for sale, or offering rewards for escaped slaves. “FOR SALE: A Young healthy Negro Wench between 12 and 13 years of age, lately from Upper Canada, where she was brought up,” reads

one from 1795

.

The first Canadian slave is generally believed to have come to Quebec City in 1628. Soon, New France was actively encouraging the use of both African and Indigenous slavery to build and serve the growing colony. Later, after the conquest of New France in the Seven Years’ War, Canada became the westernmost outpost of a British Empire that, for a time, was the world’s leading slave trader.

 Spiros Haliotis takes a picture of the James McGill statue on the front lawn of McGill university on Monday June 15, 2020. The statue has recently generated calls for removal given McGill’s ownership of slaves.

The arrival of unchallenged English rule to the continent after the Seven Year’s War arguably made the lot of Canada’s slaves worse, at least on paper. While French law had generally recognized slaves as humans of diminished rights, under English law any slave within Canada was mere property: Rape, murder, and assault did not apply, as the law required those offences to be committed against someone who was legally considered a human being.

Slavery in the British Empire would be dramatically reversed in the early 19

th

century thanks to one of the most remarkable campaigns of political activism. After only a generation of coordinated boycotts, letter-writing campaigns, and other political pressure tactics, a nation of slave traders transformed into one that now saw anti-slavery as proof of its national superiority. By the 1840s, Great Britain was spending half of its naval budget on

anti-slavery patrols off the West African Coast

.

In Canada, the march towards emancipation was jumpstarted three decades earlier, largely due to the grassroots actions of the country’s own black community. In 1793, witnesses on the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake saw the troubling scene of a screaming woman named Chloe Cooley being violently forced onto a boat by a group of armed men taking her to the United States. The action was perfectly legal; Cooley was owned by one of the men, United Empire Loyalist Adam Vrooman, who was well within his rights to beat her into compliance and sell her south. What made the incident noteworthy, however, was Cooley’s fierce and dogged resistance.

 An ad published in the Quebec Gazette on July 5, 1787.

The incident prompted Peter Martin, a free Black Loyalist and veteran of the Revolutionary War, to appeal to Upper Canadian authorities. Appearing before an executive council whose names now adorn streets and landmarks across Canada (John Graves Simcoe, William Osgoode, Peter Russell), Martin told of the “violent outrage” committed against Cooley by men who intended to “deliver her against her will to persons unknown.”

What Martin would help inspire was the 1793

Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada

. Although it ranks as the first piece of anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire, it was by no means a radical document. The act enshrined the legality of slavery, but banned the importation of slaves and set out a program to free the children of Canadian slaves once they had reached age 25.

Nevertheless, it began the slow fizzling out of an institution that would be definitively ended with London’s passage of the 1833 Slave Emancipation Act. Notably, although the act offered compensation to any slaveowner who had seen their slaves freed by the Crown, not one request came in from British North America.

 John Graves Simcoe who, as the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, oversaw the passing of the first anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire.

By the time the question of slavery had begun to burst into

open conflict

in the United States by the 1850s, the institution was already so far in Canada’s rearview mirror that British North America had shifted quite comfortably into a haven for abolitionist sentiment. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman was able to live quite openly in what is now St. Catharines, Ont., despite her actions of shepherding fugitive slaves to freedom being considered a federal crime in the United States.

Vocal abolitionists, meanwhile, were at the pinnacle of Canadian political power. At the same time as he was helping to negotiate the creation of modern Canada, publisher George Brown was publicly accusing the United States of perpetrating the “sum of all human villainies.”

Some Canadians sympathized with the seceded South during the American Civil War, seeing them as a fellow victim of American aggression. But Brown had no patience for this, saying in an 1863 speech that Canadians had a moral duty to back the pressing of Civil War in the United States until the stain of slavery was incontrovertibly abolished. “I do most heartily rejoice, for the cause of liberty, that Mr. Lincoln did not patiently acquiesce in the dismemberment of the republic,” he said.

While slavery and its legacies play a massive role in the American story, its presence in Canada is virtually unknown. Until recent years, one of the only dedicated books about slavery in Canada was the 1960 tome Two centuries of slavery in French Canada. Meticulously researched by the renowned historian Marcel Trudel, it upended a popular conception among Quebecers that slavery, if it existed, had been forced upon them by their English conquerors. The book was so controversial in Quebec that Trudel was

compelled to leave the province for a teaching position in Ottawa

, according to novelist Lawrence Hill.

 The Death of Major Peirson, a painting notable for depicting a soldier of African heritage fighting on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary War. While many enslaved would gain their freedom as a result of escaping to British lines, thousands continued to be held in bondage by those who stayed loyal to the Crown.

It’s perhaps easier for Canadians to overlook its slavery past because human bondage never became a defining practice the way it did in the United States. “Canada might not have been a slave society — that is, a society whose economy was based on slavery—but it was a society with slaves,” wrote Canadian historian Afua Cooper in her 2006 book, The Hanging of Angelique, a chronicle of Canadian slavery.

There are estimates that over the 200 years of Canadian slavery, between 4,000 and 8,000 Africans and Indigenous people (known as “panis”) were held in bondage. Even at the height of slavery in Montreal, slaves constituted

only 0.01 per cent

of the population. By contrast, at the outbreak of the American Civil War,

slaves constituted 40 per cent

of the population of the Confederate States of America.

The result was a society and economy wholly geared towards slavery in ways that never quite materialized in Canada. Full-time bounty hunters roaming the countryside for fugitive slaves, columns of shackled men and women being marched into frontier settlements, vast plantations of slaves overseen by whip-wielding overseers; these were all scenes distinct to the territories south of the Mason Dixon line.

 A Canadian runaway slave advertisement from the late 1700s. Note the use of a dedicated etching that printers kept on hand for such advertisements.

But perhaps our biggest contrast with the United States is that most African-Canadians do not have a direct familial link to Canadian slavery.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. grew up only 90 minutes away from the plantation

where his great-grandfather had been held as a slave

. Oprah Winfrey can trace her last name to Absalom Winfrey, a man who had purchased her great-great-grandfather Constantine. The slave ancestors of basketball star Michael Jordan lay buried in unmarked graves on Georgia plantations.

But in Canada, the ancestors of most African-Canadians arrived in the country long after abolition. T

here are 1.2 million

Black Canadians by last count, 50 per cent of whom are first-generation immigrants. For most Black Canadians, any slave ancestors were held in Jamaica or Mississippi, not in Montreal or Kingston.

There are indeed slaves in the family tree of Viola Desmond, the Canadian anti-segregation activist featured on the $10 bill, but they were owned in

Virginia

. “We have a duty to remember slavery, but it is not an identity, and we cannot let slavery define Black history in Canada,”

reads a 2020 pamphlet on Canadian slavery

by the Quebec artist and author

Webster

.

What has become definitive of Canadian slavery, however, is Canadians’ willingness to forget it ever happened. Afua Cooper has famously called it “Canada’s best-kept secret.”

As early as 1833, books on Canadian history began to contain the falsehood that “slavery never tarnished the Canadas,” according to Done With Slavery, a 2010 study of Montreal’s black community.

The issue was even put before a US court in the 1850s, when the four adult children of a Missouri slave woman asserted they were free because their mother had been born in Canada. Incredibly, the trial featured a string of former Quebecers who swore under oath that they had never seen slavery on Canadian territory. “There was no other slavery there than the slavery of white people being hired to others … if slavery had existed there I should have known it,” testified one former Quebecer, as quoted in Done With Slavery.

In 1859, Jacques Viger, the first mayor of Montreal, felt so alarmed by the apparent erasure of Canadian slavery that he was compelled to publish a brief collection of historical documents proving that Canadians had indeed once held their fellow humans in bondage. One of the most obvious proofs was that in the 1763 terms dictating the conquest of New France, the British affirmed that “the negroes and panis of both sexes shall remain, in their quality of slaves.”

“Did slavery exist in Canada?” Viger wrote to his mid-19

th

century audience. “Yes, slavery existed in Canada.”

• Email: 

thopper@postmedia.com

 | Twitter: 

TristinHopper

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Fact check: How much does Ontario's COVID-19 vaccine rollout lag other provinces?

Premier Doug Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliott watch personal support worker Anita Quidangen receive the second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 4, 2021, becoming the first person in Ontario to receive both doses.

Critics have been decrying the speed, or lack thereof, at which the Ontario government is vaccinating its people against the coronavirus. Well ahead of the game — according to per cent of population inoculated — are all three territories by a long chalk, as well as Quebec and P.E.I.

While vaccine procurement is a federal task, deployment is up to each province and territory. In December, Quebec gave long-term care residents their jabs straight from distribution centres within the facilities themselves. Upon receipt of its vaccine doses in December, British Columbia also sent them straight to long-term care homes. But Ontario held on to its inventory for three weeks before shipping it to such facilities, doing so only after vaccine-handling criteria were changed.

Ontario began with Toronto and Ottawa test sites in late December, so it could

write a “playbook”

on how they administered the vaccinations, how they handled the vaccine and what they learned from it.

But former federal health minister Jane Philpott

told the CBC that

“There’s no point gained for doing this in a slow and steady fashion. There are no points gained for pacing ourselves or rationing out the vaccine.”

By Feb. 26, 1.78 million doses had been administered across the country to 3.33 per cent of the total population. (Just over 2.44 million doses had been delivered to the provinces.)

Of those 1.78 million doses, 1.27 million people received just one dose and 511,975 have received two.

But are Ontario vaccination counts so far behind the others, as critics charge?

Comparison figures (from east to west) show that the province’s rate of administering doses is 10th of 13 jurisdictions.

The

number of people fully vaccinated

and the

per cent of the total population vaccinated (at least one dose)

in each province, by end of day Feb. 26, break down thus:

  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 7,466; 2.460
  • Prince Edward Island: 5,165; 4.390
  • Nova Scotia: 12,105; 2.034
  • New Brunswick: 11,036; 1.956
  • Quebec: n/a; 4.671
  • Ontario: 258,014; 2.618
  • Manitoba: 28,557; 3.111
  • Saskatchewan: 22,485; 3.987
  • Alberta: 82,989; 2.807
  • British Columbia: 73,808; 3.470
  • Yukon: 4,309; 25.761
  • N.W.T.: 1,934; 32.214
  • Nunavut: 4,107; 18.521

And following is the current

plan for vaccine rollout across the country

. Click on the headers below to go to each province’s official vaccination plans.

Newfoundland and Labrador

The province is in Phase 1 of its vaccine rollout. Those with priority include:

  • health-care workers on the front lines
  • residents, staff and essential visitors at long-term care homes
  • people 85 years and older
  • adults in remote or isolated indigenous communities.

(Essential visitors are those considered, by the care team, to be paramount to the resident’s physical care and mental well-being, including assistance with feeding, mobility, personal care, communication or significant behavioural symptoms.)

The province had received 26,800 doses, and by Feb. 23 had administered a total of 20,285 inoculations (60 per cent of doses administered). Total inoculations counts both the number of single-dose and two-dose vaccinations.

Prince Edward Island

The first phase of the province’s rollout is underway. This targets:

  • residents and staff of long-term and community care
  • health-care workers with direct patient contact
  • those 80 and older
  • adults in Indigenous communities
  • truck drivers and other rotational workers.

The next phase, scheduled to begin in April, will target those older than 70 and essential workers.

The province intends to make the vaccine available to everyone in late summer and fall.

P.E.I. has received 14,715 doses and has given 12,176 inoculations in total (83 per cent).

Nova Scotia

The first phase of vaccines will be given to long-term care residents, patient-facing health-care workers, those 80 and older, and at-risk groups including First Nations and African Nova Scotian communities.

Though no dates are given for moves to the next phases, the second will include:

  • anyone who works in a hospital and may come into contact with a patient
  • community health-care providers such as dental and pharmacy workers
  • correctional facilities, shelters, temporary foreign worker quarters
  • those working in food security industries
  • the general population in the 75 and older age cohort.

The third phase will include all Nova Scotians, in five-year age ranges.

Nova Scotia plans to have vaccine available to at least 75 per cent of the population by the end of September 2021.

The province has given 32,019 doses of the 61,980 received (52 per cent).

New Brunswick

The focus now is on vaccinating those in long-term care homes, health-care workers with direct patient contact, those 16 and older in First Nations communities and New Brunswickers aged 85 and up.

The next phase, to begin in April, includes:

  • residents and staff of communal settings
  • pharmacists and dentists
  • first responders
  • critical infrastructure employees
  • individuals aged 70 and up
  • workers who regularly cross the provincial border.

From June onward, vaccinations will go to school staff, students aged 16 to 24, health-care workers with indirect patient contact, and those with two or more chronic health conditions.

Availability of the vaccine will be limited until mid- to late summer, the government says, but once the supply is continuous, the entire population will be offered the shots.

So far, 26,317 doses have been administered of  35,105 doses received (56 per cent).

Quebec

Throughout the province, those aged 85 and older can

make an appointment

to get vaccinated. Anyone accompanying such a person can also book a vaccination for that same time, if they are over 70 and care for the person three or more days a week.

The province plans to vaccinate those in:

  • residential and long-term care centres
  • health- and social services workers
  • isolated and remote communities
  • people 80 years or older.

Access for other ages will roll out in 10-year age increments.

Quebec has administered 400,540 injections of 537,825 doses received (75 per cent).

Ontario

Phase 1 of three phases reserves inoculations for those in long-term care, high-risk retirement-home residents, certain classes of health-care workers, and people who live in congregate care settings.

Currently, the start dates for vaccinations in Ontario are as follows:

  • 80 and older, and adults receiving chronic home care: starting March 15
  • 75 and older: April 15
  • 70 and older: May 1
  • 65 and older: June 1
  • 60 and older: July 1
  • anyone who wants to be immunized: Aug. 1.

To date, 643,765 doses have been administered of 903,285 received (71 per cent).

Manitoba

Most people aged 95 and up, or 75 and up for First Nations people, health-care workers, laboratory workers handling COVID specimens, people working at testing sites or outpatient care are being vaccinated in Phase 1. All personal-care-home residents should have received their two doses by the end of February.

In early March, eligibility expands to:

  • most people over 80
  • First Nations individuals over 60
  • eligible age ranges will be lowered over the coming months
  • at this time, the plan does not include a separate category for essential workers but will be considered as vaccine supplies increase.

The province has received 102,360 doses and has administered 71,469 (66 per cent).

Saskatchewan

Long-term care residents and staff, health-care workers at elevated risk of COVID-19 exposure, seniors over the age of 70 and anyone 50 or older living in a remote area are in the current Phase 1 category. In all, nearly 400,000 doses are required to finish this stage. Eligible residents will be contacted by phone or letter.

Mass vaccinations by age group should begin by April, depending on supply. It will roll out into the general population:

  • in 10-year increments
  • starting with those aged 60 to 69
  • for those living in emergency shelters
  • for individuals with intellectual disabilities in care homes
  • for people who are medically vulnerable.

Police, corrections staff and teachers are among the front-line workers not prioritized for early access to shots. The government says supply is scarce.

Saskatchewan has administered 69,451 doses of 74,605 received (93 per cent).

Alberta

People born in 1946 or earlier are now being immunized. First shots are expected to have been given by the end of March for:

  • all eligible First Nations and Metis seniors and others 65 and older living in a First Nations community
  • those aged 75 and older can get inoculations as of the first week of March at select pharmacies in Calgary, Edmonton and Red Deer. Pharmacies will contact eligible people.
  • second shots will be administered within 42 days after initial doses.

The province is working on categorizing target populations for future phases.

Alberta has received 274,965 doses and has administered 207,300 (75 per cent).

British Columbia

The province’s first phase launched in December, targeting health-care workers in hospitals, paramedics, residents and staff at long-term care homes, and remote indigenous communities. Some mobile clinics are being offered.

The second phase, running February and March, includes:

  • people aged 80 and more
  • indigenous elders 65 and up
  • indigenous communities that didn’t receive vaccine in the first phase
  • health-care workers and vulnerable populations in certain congregate settings.

The third phase, to start in April and last until June, will reach people aged 60 to 79, and those 16 and older who are clinically vulnerable, such as cancer patients.

B.C. has given 252,373 injections of 323,340 doses received (78 per cent).

Northwest Territories

N.W.T. has vaccinated 42 per cent of its adult population, and expects enough vaccine to offer inoculations to 75 per cent of its adult population by the end of March.

  • clinics are underway or completed in all 33 of the territory’s communities
  • Yellowknife is prioritizing residents and staff in long-term care homes
  • vaccination of the general population will begin in late March.

N.W.T. has given 16,454 injections of 19,100 doses received (86 per cent).

Yukon

The government has vaccinated:

  • high-risk health-care workers
  • adults 70 and older
  • people who are marginalized
  • people living in group settings.

Uncertainty about supply has delayed immunization for the general public in Whitehorse.

Yukon has administered 15,174 doses of 18,900 received (80 per cent).

Nunavut

Vaccine clinics for the general population have been scheduled for all communities, dependent on vaccine supply. The territory expects to immunize 75 per cent of its residents over the age of 18 by early April.

Currently, in Iqaluit, Nunavut’s capital first-dose immunization is going on for:

  • staff and residents of shelters
  • people aged 45 years and up
  • staff and inmates in correctional facilities
  • first responders and frontline health-care staff.

Nunavut has administered 11,383 doses of 23,900 received (48 per cent).

— with files from The Canadian Press

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

What slavery looked like in Canada

A runaway slave alert published in the Quebec Gazette on  July 29, 1779.

They came in great, dusty columns trudging north; the persecuted refugees of a new country founded on freedom and liberty.

These were the United Empire Loyalists; the thousands of men, women and children loyal to the Crown who were forced into Canada by the victory of rebel forces in the American War of Independence. “Neither confiscation of their property, the pitiless persecution of their kinsmen in revolt, nor the galling chains of imprisonment could break their spirits,” reads a stirring monument to the loyalists in Hamilton, Ont.

And they brought their slaves with them.

 A memorial statue of United Empire Loyalists in Hamilton, Ont.

When Canadian historians talk about Africans coming here after the American Revolution, they generally focus on the Black Loyalists; freed slaves escaped from American masters who were emancipated by the British and settled in Nova Scotia. But not every African brought to Canada after the Revolutionary War was free.

In the official Act of Parliament that welcomed white Loyalist refugees to British North America, they were permitted to bring along “any negroes” in their possession without paying duty to the Crown. As many as 2,500 Black slaves were brought to Nova Scotia, instantly making it the most slaveholding territory in both the Maritime colonies and New England. “During the late 18th century practically every county in mainland Nova Scotia had slaves, and this story remains to be told,”

wrote historian Ken Donovan in 2014

.

In historical accounts of North American chattel slavery, Canada usually appears only as an enlightened Eden. We were the final stop of the Underground Railroad, and the place that legendary abolitionist Frederick Douglass called “the real Canaan of the American bondmen,” a reference to the biblical Promised Land.

But if Canada came off as the good guy during the United States’ great reckoning with slavery, it’s only because British North America had undergone its own nightmare of human bondage. Only a generation before Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Canada had been a place where human beings were listed for sale in newspapers, where enslaved children were given as gifts, where authorities hunted down fugitive slaves and where the murder and rape of enslaved Africans was endorsed by the Crown.

The Canadian slave most well-known to history is probably a young woman named Angélique, who was tortured and hanged in 1734 following accusations that she had set fire to a large section of Montreal. The man who pulled the lever that caused Angélique to plunge to her death was himself a slave.

 An image depicting Angelique is shown in a video projection in Montreal.

James McGill, founder of McGill University, owned three black slaves and

two Indigenous children

. Marguerite d’Youville, the first Canadian-born Catholic Saint, likely owned an enslaved domestic servant. When the Mohawk leader Joseph Brant was corralling Indigenous armed resistance to the American Revolution, he owned as many as 40 black slaves.

The Montreal Gazette published ads of slaves for sale, or offering rewards for escaped slaves. “FOR SALE: A Young healthy Negro Wench between 12 and 13 years of age, lately from Upper Canada, where she was brought up,” reads

one from 1795

.

The first Canadian slave is generally believed to have come to Quebec City in 1628. Soon, New France was actively encouraging the use of both African and Indigenous slavery to build and serve the growing colony. Later, after the conquest of New France in the Seven Years’ War, Canada became the westernmost outpost of a British Empire that, for a time, was the world’s leading slave trader.

 Spiros Haliotis takes a picture of the James McGill statue on the front lawn of McGill university on Monday June 15, 2020. The statue has recently generated calls for removal given McGill’s ownership of slaves.

The arrival of unchallenged English rule to the continent after the Seven Year’s War arguably made the lot of Canada’s slaves worse, at least on paper. While French law had generally recognized slaves as humans of diminished rights, under English law any slave within Canada was mere property: Rape, murder, and assault did not apply, as the law required those offences to be committed against someone who was legally considered a human being.

Slavery in the British Empire would be dramatically reversed in the early 19

th

century thanks to one of the most remarkable campaigns of political activism. After only a generation of coordinated boycotts, letter-writing campaigns, and other political pressure tactics, a nation of slave traders transformed into one that now saw anti-slavery as proof of its national superiority. By the 1840s, Great Britain was spending half of its naval budget on

anti-slavery patrols off the West African Coast

.

In Canada, the march towards emancipation was jumpstarted three decades earlier, largely due to the grassroots actions of the country’s own black community. In 1793, witnesses on the streets of Niagara-on-the-Lake saw the troubling scene of a screaming woman named Chloe Cooley being violently forced onto a boat by a group of armed men taking her to the United States. The action was perfectly legal; Cooley was owned by one of the men, United Empire Loyalist Adam Vrooman, who was well within his rights to beat her into compliance and sell her south. What made the incident noteworthy, however, was Cooley’s fierce and dogged resistance.

 An ad published in the Quebec Gazette on July 5, 1787.

The incident prompted Peter Martin, a free Black Loyalist and veteran of the Revolutionary War, to appeal to Upper Canadian authorities. Appearing before an executive council whose names now adorn streets and landmarks across Canada (John Graves Simcoe, William Osgoode, Peter Russell), Martin told of the “violent outrage” committed against Cooley by men who intended to “deliver her against her will to persons unknown.”

What Martin would help inspire was the 1793

Act to Limit Slavery in Upper Canada

. Although it ranks as the first piece of anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire, it was by no means a radical document. The act enshrined the legality of slavery, but banned the importation of slaves and set out a program to free the children of Canadian slaves once they had reached age 25.

Nevertheless, it began the slow fizzling out of an institution that would be definitively ended with London’s passage of the 1833 Slave Emancipation Act. Notably, although the act offered compensation to any slaveowner who had seen their slaves freed by the Crown, not one request came in from British North America.

 John Graves Simcoe who, as the first Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada, oversaw the passing of the first anti-slavery legislation in the British Empire.

By the time the question of slavery had begun to burst into

open conflict

in the United States by the 1850s, the institution was already so far in Canada’s rearview mirror that British North America had shifted quite comfortably into a haven for abolitionist sentiment. Abolitionist Harriet Tubman was able to live quite openly in what is now St. Catharines, Ont., despite her actions of shepherding fugitive slaves to freedom being considered a federal crime in the United States.

Vocal abolitionists, meanwhile, were at the pinnacle of Canadian political power. At the same time as he was helping to negotiate the creation of modern Canada, publisher George Brown was publicly accusing the United States of perpetrating the “sum of all human villainies.”

Some Canadians sympathized with the seceded South during the American Civil War, seeing them as a fellow victim of American aggression. But Brown had no patience for this, saying in an 1863 speech that Canadians had a moral duty to back the pressing of Civil War in the United States until the stain of slavery was incontrovertibly abolished. “I do most heartily rejoice, for the cause of liberty, that Mr. Lincoln did not patiently acquiesce in the dismemberment of the republic,” he said.

While slavery and its legacies play a massive role in the American story, its presence in Canada is virtually unknown. Until recent years, one of the only dedicated books about slavery in Canada was the 1960 tome Two centuries of slavery in French Canada. Meticulously researched by the renowned historian Marcel Trudel, it upended a popular conception among Quebecers that slavery, if it existed, had been forced upon them by their English conquerors. The book was so controversial in Quebec that Trudel was

compelled to leave the province for a teaching position in Ottawa

, according to novelist Lawrence Hill.

 The Death of Major Peirson, a painting notable for depicting a soldier of African heritage fighting on the side of the British during the American Revolutionary War. While many enslaved would gain their freedom as a result of escaping to British lines, thousands continued to be held in bondage by those who stayed loyal to the Crown.

It’s perhaps easier for Canadians to overlook its slavery past because human bondage never became a defining practice the way it did in the United States. “Canada might not have been a slave society — that is, a society whose economy was based on slavery—but it was a society with slaves,” wrote Canadian historian Afua Cooper in her 2006 book, The Hanging of Angelique, a chronicle of Canadian slavery.

There are estimates that over the 200 years of Canadian slavery, between 4,000 and 8,000 Africans and Indigenous people (known as “panis”) were held in bondage. Even at the height of slavery in Montreal, slaves constituted

only 0.01 per cent

of the population. By contrast, at the outbreak of the American Civil War,

slaves constituted 40 per cent

of the population of the Confederate States of America.

The result was a society and economy wholly geared towards slavery in ways that never quite materialized in Canada. Full-time bounty hunters roaming the countryside for fugitive slaves, columns of shackled men and women being marched into frontier settlements, vast plantations of slaves overseen by whip-wielding overseers; these were all scenes distinct to the territories south of the Mason Dixon line.

 A Canadian runaway slave advertisement from the late 1700s. Note the use of a dedicated etching that printers kept on hand for such advertisements.

But perhaps our biggest contrast with the United States is that most African-Canadians do not have a direct familial link to Canadian slavery.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. grew up only 90 minutes away from the plantation

where his great-grandfather had been held as a slave

. Oprah Winfrey can trace her last name to Absalom Winfrey, a man who had purchased her great-great-grandfather Constantine. The slave ancestors of basketball star Michael Jordan lay buried in unmarked graves on Georgia plantations.

But in Canada, the ancestors of most African-Canadians arrived in the country long after abolition. T

here are 1.2 million

Black Canadians by last count, 50 per cent of whom are first-generation immigrants. For most Black Canadians, any slave ancestors were held in Jamaica or Mississippi, not in Montreal or Kingston.

There are indeed slaves in the family tree of Viola Desmond, the Canadian anti-segregation activist featured on the $10 bill, but they were owned in

Virginia

. “We have a duty to remember slavery, but it is not an identity, and we cannot let slavery define Black history in Canada,”

reads a 2020 pamphlet on Canadian slavery

by the Quebec artist and author

Webster

.

What has become definitive of Canadian slavery, however, is Canadians’ willingness to forget it ever happened. Afua Cooper has famously called it “Canada’s best-kept secret.”

As early as 1833, books on Canadian history began to contain the falsehood that “slavery never tarnished the Canadas,” according to Done With Slavery, a 2010 study of Montreal’s black community.

The issue was even put before a US court in the 1850s, when the four adult children of a Missouri slave woman asserted they were free because their mother had been born in Canada. Incredibly, the trial featured a string of former Quebecers who swore under oath that they had never seen slavery on Canadian territory. “There was no other slavery there than the slavery of white people being hired to others … if slavery had existed there I should have known it,” testified one former Quebecer, as quoted in Done With Slavery.

In 1859, Jacques Viger, the first mayor of Montreal, felt so alarmed by the apparent erasure of Canadian slavery that he was compelled to publish a brief collection of historical documents proving that Canadians had indeed once held their fellow humans in bondage. One of the most obvious proofs was that in the 1763 terms dictating the conquest of New France, the British affirmed that “the negroes and panis of both sexes shall remain, in their quality of slaves.”

“Did slavery exist in Canada?” Viger wrote to his mid-19

th

century audience. “Yes, slavery existed in Canada.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Netflix will create CanCon but wants more flexibility than traditional broadcasters get, MPs told

Bill C-10 specifies that the CRTC has the authority to force online services, like Netflix, to make financial contributions to Canadian content, and impose “conditions” on them.

Netflix is fine with the CRTC requiring it to contribute to Canadian content, but those regulations should be tailored to the streaming service and be less stringent than the rules traditional broadcasters have to abide by, its Canadian representative told MPs.

“We are not saying that we do not wish to contribute. We want to participate in the system. It’s just that doing so should be done in a manner that takes into consideration the nature of our service,” Stéphane Cardin, Netflix’s director of public policy, said during an appearance at the Heritage committee Friday.

Cardin called for an approach that creates a “flexible framework that will enable the CRTC to tailor conditions of service applying to online undertakings, and to recognize the different ways that online services contribute.

“Simply imposing the regulatory obligations of licensed Canadian broadcasters on online entertainment services would not be an appropriate approach,” he said. “Services like Netflix do not perform the same roles as traditional broadcasters, nor do we have the same content strategy.”

Cardin appeared at the committee as part of its study of Bill C-10, the bill tabled by Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault in November that amends the Broadcasting Act and sets up the CRTC to begin regulating online streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. The bill is in its second reading. It specifies that the CRTC has the authority to force online services to make financial contributions to Canadian content, and impose “conditions” on them, which the government has said would include rules around, for instance, making Canadian content easily discoverable on the service.

It leaves the details of what those contributions and rules would look like to the CRTC, though Guilbeault has said more detailed instructions will be provided to the CRTC once the bill passes. On Friday, the committee also voted to ask the heritage minister to provide that draft policy directive to the committee. A spokesperson for Guilbeault said the minister will make the draft directive available.

Right now, licensed broadcasters are required to spend 30 per cent of their revenue on Canadian content. TV service providers, like cable companies, also have to contribute five per cent of their TV service revenues to fund CanCon.

Cardin said imposing a 30 per cent spending requirement on online services wouldn’t be fair or equitable. He argued the company receives no regulatory benefits from the CRTC, and doesn’t carry news or live sports, the two categories where most of the traditional broadcasters’ CanCon funding is spent.

He warned imposing stringent rules on online services could lead to some of them choosing not to enter the Canadian market. “An overly burdensome regulatory framework could result in reduced choice for Canadians. As new global services are launched, some may decide not to enter the Canadian market at all, while others may avoid regulation by providing their content through a Canadian intermediary instead of setting up here.”

But two broadcasters who also appeared before the committee Friday urged the government to ensure that both traditional and digital players face comparable regulatory obligations.

Susan Wheeler, Rogers’ vice-president of regulatory media, said there should be “regulatory fairness” between Canadian companies and foreign streaming companies, and that Bill C-10 should direct the CRTC to impose comparable obligations on all media players.

“It is critical that Canadian domestic broadcasting companies do not have more onerous obligations than U.S.-based big tech giants,” she said.

Troy Reeb, the executive vice-president of broadcast networks for Corus, said a level playing field doesn’t mean the online platforms should have the same obligations imposed on them as traditional players.

“New players should not have to play by the old rules. The level of regulation currently applied to Canadian broadcasters is simply untenable in a world of open competition.” He said all players, “foreign and domestic, digital and traditional, must have a more flexible, less onerous set of obligations, than Canadian broadcasters have now.”

The MPs also passed a motion not related to the study of C-10, calling for Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to appear at the committee. The motion asks him to accompany Facebook’s head of public policy for Canada, Kevin Chan, for a follow-up meeting to Chan’s appearance on Jan. 29, and to address the conflict the company has recently had with the Australian government over its attempt to impose a framework that would force Google and Facebook to come to pay news publishers.

In 2019, Zuckerberg was subpoenaed by the House of Commons ethics committee to appear at an international grand committee on privacy and democracy, but did not appear.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

The price of worship during COVID: Ontario church is fined and an Alberta pastor sits in prison

Supporters protest as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church appears in court after he was arrested for holding Sunday services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Stony Plain, Alta., on Wednesday, February 24, 2021.

The authority of God, and the necessity of worship during a time of great tribulation supersedes the imposition of measures to stop the spread of COVID-19, argue a number of churches across Canada that are facing legal action for holding services in violation of lockdown rules against indoor gathering.

The latest, Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario, west of Toronto, has been ordered to pay $38,000 in fines and $45,000 in legal costs for holding services in defiance of Ontario’s limit on 10 people per indoor gathering, and of a court injunction ordering them to follow the rules.

“Our offence is that we believe that God is our Supreme Authority, above and beyond all parliaments and courts,” wrote Pastor Jacob Reaume in a blog post about the fines. “Christians, throughout history, have often found themselves conflicted when earthly rulers order them to do what God forbids or forbids them from doing what God commands. In such instances, we must obey God over government.”

That church isn’t the only one. In one high profile case, Pastor James Coates, who ministers to GraceLife Church in Parkland County, just outside of Edmonton, has been behind bars since Feb. 16. He has refused to abide by bail conditions that would see him released, which include not attending or holding services.

Coates was charged in mid-February with violating public health orders. Following his release, he was arrested again for violating his conditions of release. His lawyers have argued the lockdown provisions violate Charter rights to religious freedom.

His trial is set for May 3 and he remains in the Edmonton Remand Centre.

In Canada, Charter freedoms are not absolute — the government can restrict them, but they must justify them, said Kristopher Kinsinger, an Ontario lawyer who’s written for the

National Post

about churches and restrictions.

“That’s not infinite and there are limitations there,” Kinsinger said. While the goal has been to restrict gatherings to protect public health, that could change as vaccines become more available.

“The justification for restriction on assemblies, not just for religious groups, but for everyone, is going to be harder and harder to justify,” he said.

Coates is represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a right-wing legal advocacy group that is also fighting against restrictions on church services in British Columbia, representing more than a dozen ticketed groups and individuals. Recently, they won a legal spat against the B.C. government, which had sought an injunction preventing services until the case could be heard.

There have been small protests at Coates’s hearings. And, in Calgary, Pastor Tim Stephens, who heads Fairview Baptist Church, held a full in-person church service last Sunday in support of Coates.

 Trinity Bible Chapel in Waterloo, Ontario, has been ordered to pay tens of thousands of dollars in fines and legal costs for defying Ontario’s COVID-19 restrictions.

The Edmonton Interfaith Centre, meanwhile, has argued in a letter to the community that religious citizens should not be following public health orders “begrudgingly and minimally, but willingly and with an overabundance of care.”

“This may require certain sacrifices of self and of freedom, but such is the path of love,” the letter says.

It is signed by several Muslim leaders, as well as representatives from Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, United and Unitarian Christian churches.

As for Reaume’s church in Waterloo, the fines now total $83,000 for holding services. While the case dates back to services held in December, on Jan. 22, an Ontario court was unequivocal with an injunction: No more than 10 people were allowed to worship.

The church went ahead, two days later, holding a service with more than 200 participants. “Risking reputation and financial viability to offer eternal hope and warm Christian fellowship to a world in despair is an act of love that I am certain Jesus smiles on,” Reaume wrote.

The church and its elders were brought before the court and, this week, the sentence was delivered. The

church’s website

says it is open for in-person services on Sunday.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Are all these COVID-19 border measures legal? The Quarantine Act explained

A person looks out of a window at a quarantine hotel in Mississauga, Ont., on Wednesday.

Whatever their efficacy in fighting off COVID-19, it’s clear that Canada’s current border controls are on a scale unprecedented in modern times. Since

March 25

, 2020, all travellers entering Canada have been required to undergo 14 days of mandatory self-isolation, subject to fines or even arrest in the case of non-compliance. And now, incoming air travellers face

mandatory confinement to a hotel

paired with mandatory testing.

These policies would be inviting a cascade of Charter challenges under normal circumstances, but for now it’s all kosher due to them being a function of the Quarantine Act. Rewritten after the 2003 SARS pandemic, the act extends near-dictatorial powers to government during times of public health crisis. But the question is how long the Act can guide federal policy before inviting pushback.

Like all virtually all federal COVID-19 measures, mandatory hotel quarantine came about as the result of an

Order in Council

(sort of like a Canadian equivalent to an executive order) issued by the Prime Minister’s Office and justified by the Quarantine Act.

 Three Canadian farm workers at the time of the 1918 Spanish Flu. The flu pandemic was the last time mass-quarantine measures against asymptomatic people were imposed across Canada. In the century since, quarantine measures were largely applied selectively against individuals showing signs of infection, such as tuberculosis patients.

There are a few aspects of Canada’s border measures that don’t quite jibe with the 2005 act, most notably a section that forbids any screening technology that demands “entry into the traveller’s body of any instrument or other foreign body.” While this technically forbids the infamous “brain tickling” nasal swab, any objectors could simply be administered a gargle test.

Regardless, the Quarantine Act extends very broad powers to public health authorities to indefinitely detain anyone who doesn’t follow their orders, and even to authorize “

arrest without warrant

.”

The Quarantine Act is no different from the

Public Health (Control of Disease) Act

in the U.K., or a

series of quarantine-related federal regulations

under United States law: All of them basically invest public health officials with near-dictatorial powers to address a health crisis, with the only real restriction being the public pushback in the event of going too far.

“The mandated length of quarantine must be based on the best available evidence to ensure individual liberty is not restricted any longer than necessary,” reads an analysis by the Alberta Law Review Society issued in the wake of Canada’s then-unprecedented SARS quarantine measures in 2003.

The Quarantine Act is very similar to Canada’s Emergencies Act, the

1985 law

that effectively allows the federal government to declare martial law (or, as the Act puts it, “special temporary measures that may not be appropriate in normal times”). The Emergencies Act is very useful if, say, Russian ground forces occupy Ellesmere Island, but it can spark political blowback if used too readily.

 Not on our watch, Russia.

The most notable example of this was the 1970 imposition of the War Measures Act, the predecessor to the Emergencies Act, in response to the abduction of two government officials by terrorists agitating for an independent Quebec. Nearly 500 Quebecers with even the most tenuous links to political violence were detained without bail as a result.

But while the Emergencies Act is subject to the “supervision of Parliament,” the Quarantine Act is entirely at the prime minister’s discretion. Ultimately, the only political check on the Act is changing who sits in the prime minister’s chair.

Usually, government quarantines are over before any legal challenge can pick up steam, but with Quarantine Act measures related to COVID-19 now approaching their first anniversary they are beginning to attract legal scrutiny.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has filed an action in federal court alleging that mandatory hotel quarantine is an unwarranted violation of Section 6 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees that “every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.”

The Centre is also the measure as a violation of Section 9, which guarantees Canadians “the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned.” As Justice Centre President John Carpay said in a

recent statement

, “quarantine, particularly of healthy or asymptomatic individuals, is the functional equivalent of house arrest and the Justice Centre will not allow it to continue unchallenged,”

Given the disproportionate way hotel quarantine is being applied, there’s also the possibility that the policy runs afoul of Section 15, which bars discrimination. Mandatory hotel quarantine weirdly only applies to arriving air travellers; anybody entering Canada by road or rail need only present a negative COVID-19 test. That could become relevant if any group of a particular “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability” disproportionately relies on air travel to enter Canada.

If the challenge ever found its way before a judge, the Constitutionality of mandatory hotel quarantine could ultimately hinge on whether the public health situation is dire enough to justify the continued use of the Quarantine Act.

Canada’s Constitution allows governments to violate the rights of its citizens, but it has to be based on a “pressing and substantial concern” and further a goal that is “rationally connected to the limitation imposed on an individual’s rights.” When this power has previously been tested before the Supreme Court, governments have even been given leeway to overreact – providing the overreaction was rational given the circumstances.

As the Court put it, quarantine measures may pass legal muster if they are governed “by the application of common sense to what is known, even though what is known may be deficient from a scientific point of view.”

As Cara Zweibel with the Canadian Civil Liberties Association told the

National Post

, “the government bears the burden of justifying the restrictions.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Information posted on Chinese social media platforms could be used for 'hostile activities,' Bill Blair warns

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair speaks to the Special Committee on Canada-China Relations, February 25, 2021.

OTTAWA – Canadians should be wary of using Chinese social media platforms because information posted there may be used for “hostile activities” by foreign states, says the federal public safety minister.

If you regularly post on Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat, Weibo or even TikTok, the Canadian government has a stern warning for you: be careful, because hostile countries may be watching in an attempt to use that data against Canada’s interests.

During a meeting of the parliamentary committee on Canada-China relations Thursday evening, Liberal MP Jean Yip asked Public Safety Minister Bill Blair if Canadians should be concerned about using social media platforms that are owned by Chinese companies.

“There is a legitimate concern that sometimes the information that’s publicly available on those platforms can be used by the hostile activities of state actors,” Blair responded, adding that Canadians should exercise “caution” on those applications.

This is the first time a cabinet minister has so clearly spelt out concerns about all Chinese-owned social media platforms, which combined have millions of users in Canada.

Many data and privacy experts have warned over the years that these apps harvest large amounts of data from their users (not unlike North American companies like Facebook or Google). But there is an added concern with platforms like WeChat due to the sweeping powers the Chinese government has to seize data from companies based on its soil.

Earlier in January, the Winnipeg Free Press revealed that the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) have resisted joining TikTok — an app that allows users to post short videos and “duet” those of others which has exploded in popularity among North American youth — because it considers the app to pose “huge security risks”.

This came months after the U.S. government announced it was banning TikTok and WeChat, originally a messaging and calling app that now offers a host of other services, due to national security concerns.

At the time, the Trump administration said it was concerned that Beijing was exploiting the apps and the troves of data they collect in order to gather information about users and spread Chinese propaganda.

The owners of both applications at the time, respectively ByteDance and Tencent Holdings, gave assurances that the Chinese government did not have access to its user data and that in TikTok’s case, it was never even hosted in China.

In his opening statement, Blair repeatedly warned of China’s increasing attempts of foreign interference in Canada, as well as its role in the current opioid crisis. But he dodged questions by opposition MPs on whether his government would ban Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei from Canada’s 5G network.

“While foreign interference is top of mind for my portfolio, it is by no means the only issue on the plate. It’s no secret that China is one of the main source countries of fentanyl, as well as the precursor chemicals used to make this highly potent and deadly synthetic opioids,” Blair said.

“Over the past four years, the Canada Border Services Agency has made 335 seizures totalling over 42.2 kilograms, and of these seizures, 129 listed China as the source country of those drugs.”

Opposition MPs also grilled Blair about a report by the Globe & Mail that Canada had outsourced handling of its visa application centre in the Chinese capital to a company that is owned by Beijing police.

The minister was unable to say which government officials had awarded the original contract to VFS Global, which then dealt with Chinese police-owned Beijing Shuangxiong Foreign Service Co, because he said it was done in 2008, before his government came to power.

When pressed multiple times on if he had concerns about the contract, Blair repeated that he’d been assured no data had been taken from Canadian files.

“Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has an IT department that provided assurances that all our information is in fact secure. There has been no suggestion of espionage or any concern raised, only the fact that a Chinese official entity was involved in this company,” Blair said.

“So your government is totally satisfied with this arrangement and satisfied that it should continue in perpetuity?” NDP MP Jack Harris asked.

The minister responded without saying if the contract with the Beijing police-owned company would continue indefinitely.

“I’m satisfied that IRCC has not identified any concerns and they have provided strong assurances that Canadian data and Canadian interests are well protected in the system they have in place,” he said.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Alberta releases a pandemic budget, with money for COVID-19 and economic recovery

Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews delivers the 2021 Alberta budget in Edmonton, Thursday Feb. 25, 2021.

EDMONTON — The Alberta UCP government has released a pandemic budget meant to carry the Western province through the rest of the COVID crisis and prepare Alberta for economic recovery.

The previous provincial budget, released this time last year, came just at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted every facet of Canadian life. This one, after months of lockdowns, increased spending on support programs, education and health-care systems.

Finance Minister Travis Toews highlighted that the budget is a way to carry the province through the pandemic while also laying the groundwork for an economic recovery.

The Western province has been struggling with a major economic contraction. Much of the 2021 budget concentrates on the traditional issues facing Alberta: oil prices, market access for oil, and concerns over the amount of money flowing from Alberta to other provinces via equalization payments.

The province said it has spent $1.5 billion on health-care expenses related to the pandemic, and the 2020-21 budget continues that spending, setting aside a $1.25 billion contingency fund for health care and other spending “required to beat the pandemic, such as for personal protective equipment, vaccine roll-out costs or support to protect the lives of Albertans.”

More broadly, the budget allocates $2.2 billion over the next three years for health-care infrastructure projects. Renovations of hospitals and medical centres are planned, projects that double as providing health-care services while also providing jobs.

The budget also moves in a slightly new direction, too, with a whole section devoted to how Alberta can help Canada broadly in recovering from the pandemic. While this section recycles many old themes, such as market access for oil and natural gas, it reiterates just how important these sectors are to the country and calls on the federal government to “recognize and publicly support Alberta’s energy industry.”

“With just 12 per cent of Canada’s population, Alberta attracted almost 30 per cent of capital investment in the country … on average over the past 10 years,” the budget says.

There are hints, though, of other things happening in the province, both in terms of potential future economic activity, and of a government evaluating its priorities. For example, the province is spending $20 million over four years on “research and commercialization of pharmaceutical and vaccine treatments” at the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute.

Emergency budget provisions are also top of mind. The government has allocated $750 million to tackle emergencies, including wildfires and floods. This is not new money, but has been identified more clearly this budget. The money can be moved around, the budget says, to be used on “unanticipated priorities,” as necessary.

There are a number of other budget provisions that could mean a reshaping of Alberta’s cities, as well as the province’s transportation links.

The UPC government has set aside $2 million for a feasibility study on a railway and resource corridor, potentially linking Alberta and Alaska. This money will be used to inform “next steps regarding proposals for new rail lines … and related resource corridors.”  The transportation links, especially, are part of a push to make Alberta a “logistics hub” for goods.

Public transit was also addressed in the budget. Some $485 million — part of previous commitments — is set aside for light rail in Edmonton and Calgary. Bridges and highways are also slated for updates and construction across the province.

Tourism is another economic priority for the Alberta government. The province plans to double tourism by 2030, spending $66 million over the next three years. Various tourism initiatives will receive direct investment, including $8.4 million to the David Thompson corridor for tourism and recreation site upgrades.

Even though this spending is well above what the United Conservatives planned for — hitting an $18 billion deficit and ballooning the overall debt to more than $115 billion — it still remains tethered to a fiscal anchor. Department officials said Alberta is one of the only Canadian jurisdictions to maintain a fiscal anchor during the pandemic, with the budget striving to keep debt-to-GDP within 30 per cent.

In that theme, the budget also reiterates the UCP government’s commitment to bringing down per-capita spending in the province and to reach a balanced budget. Even then, there are pressures. A staple of government revenue, tobacco taxes continues to provide less money “from lower consumption” — even though it still contributed $752 million into government coffers. A tax on vaping products was put on hold, the government said.

The 2021-22 budget has no new taxes or tax increases. Still, Toews insisted they were still en route to getting the province’s finances under control.

“We will continue to follow through on our commitments — so that every Albertan can feel confident as we continue to navigate through these challenging times — together,” Toews told the legislature.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

New, accurate saliva test could be easy-to-use 'game changer' in battling COVID pandemic: Toronto scientists

A passenger receives a COVID-19 test at Toronto's Pearson airport on February 1, 2021. The new antigen COVID test will be used starting March 1 in a federal research project at the airport.

Toronto scientists say they’ve developed a new, saliva-based test for the COVID-19 virus whose precision and ease of use could make it a “game changer” in combating the pandemic.

The antigen test requires subjects to simply spit out a sample, needs no health worker to administer an uncomfortable nasal swab and could be processed relatively quickly in a mobile laboratory, say the researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute.

Perhaps most crucially, their initial trial run on saliva samples from known COVID patients suggests the test is just as accurate as the gold-standard PCR technology used most commonly now in Canada.

With an ability to test hundreds of people per hour using minimal staff – and producing results in one to four hours – it could be easily deployed to screen individuals without symptoms, such as school staff and students or employees at a factory, they say.

The test is still in the experimental phase, and the

first small study

was posted on a “preprint” site without peer review.

But if the early results are validated, it would offer a novel addition to the arsenal of non-PCR testing options that many experts say should be used much more widely to get ahead of the virus’s spread.

“This assay can be a game changer,” predicted study author Eleftherios Diamandis, a Mount Sinai medical biochemist and University of Toronto professor.

“There is a big information gap, and we need tools to really address this gap,” said co-author Ioannis Prassas, a scientist in Diamandis’s lab. “We don’t have the amount of information required to maximize our responses to the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, a separate Canadian company is unveiling another testing innovation that it also predicts could have a significant impact.

Fredericton, N.B.-based LuminUltra said its GeneCount system uses PCR technology, but the samples can be tested on site with mobile equipment, rather than needing a centralized lab. Results are available in less than two hours, it said in a statement Wednesday.

The test will be used starting March 1 in a federal research project at Pearson International Airport.

So far in the pandemic, Canada has mostly employed polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, designed to detect genetic evidence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 disease. It’s the most accurate technology available. But the assays require a health-care worker to administer a nasal swab and have to be processed in busy labs, sometimes with results delayed a day or more.

The chief alternatives now are rapid tests that seek out antigens, the virus proteins that trigger the body’s immune system. They’re less precise but can be administered almost anywhere and processed in as little as 15 minutes, though usually still require nasal swabbing.

Saliva tests have a key advantage, allowing individuals to readily and comfortably provide samples on their own. But saliva contains only small amounts of virus, and the accuracy to date has been relatively low, said Diamandis.

A

University of Ottawa study

published last month found PCR testing using saliva samples was useful, though did not catch as many cases from the same group of subjects as swabbing.

Diamandis and Prassas typically study cancer-related issues. But pivoting to COVID, they collaborated with Meso Scale Diagnositics, a Maryland-based company, to develop a technique for antigen testing of SARS-CoV-2 that uses “electroluminescence” — light generated by a strong electrical current — to increase precision.

They assessed the system’s effectiveness on saliva samples provided by 90 COVID patients from Toronto-area hospitals, and 15 controls not known to be infected.

The results of the blinded experiment were similar to that of PCR tests, they reported.

A larger study with 1,000 samples is underway and should be completed by mid-April, while discussions with companies interested in commercializing the technology are already underway, said Diamandis.

The group’s system would not be as fast as the current rapid antigen tests. The results now take three to four hours to complete, though the researchers hope to reduce that to one to two hours.

But a mobile lab could be taken to schools, nursing homes or workplaces in the back of a minivan, providing relatively quick and very accurate tests, said Prassas.

Other experts have said even less-precise rapid tests should be deployed widely to screen people without symptoms and proactively identify potential outbreaks. The federal government has provided 38 million rapid tests to the provinces, though relatively few have been used.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques