The real devil behind rise in academic cheating during pandemic isn't online learning: expert

School boards are preparing to offer online learning options for the 2021-22 school year.

If you never cheated during an exam or an assignment at university, then you at least know someone who did.

It’s a practice as old as the educational institutions themselves. And it’s been on the rise ever since the COVID-19 pandemic forced students, teachers and faculty out of their classrooms and into online learning.

Sarah Eaton, a professor at the University of Calgary, said she has seen increases in cheating from about 40 per cent to over 200 per cent, based on reports published by schools across the country.

It’s not just Canada — other countries around the world have reported similar increases since the beginning of the pandemic. “The pandemic has really affected how we teach and learn,” she said. “It’s impacted all aspects of education.”

But online learning isn’t to blame, she said, having long researched academic misconduct in Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“There was about 20 years of research before the pandemic that showed that there was less academic misconduct in online courses compared to face-to-face learning.”

Rather, she said, it’s the fact that students were “forced into online learning when they didn’t want to be,” coupled with teachers who are inexperienced and “not well trained in how to deliver their classes in online learning.”

“You can have an awesome online learning experience, and you can have a terrible online experience,” she said. “But I think during the pandemic, students have not generally had awesome online experiences, unless they were working with a teacher who already knew how to teach online.”

As a result, students become easy prey for a US$15 billion global industry specializing in “contract cheating,” Eaton said. Contract cheating is when a student outsources their assignment to someone else in exchange for a fee — in many cases, underpaid ghostwriters for companies in the business of cheating.

With little to no legislation policing their actions, these companies are free to advertise their services to students, lure them in and keep them indebted via aggressive marketing tactics and sometimes blackmail, she said.

Most Canadian research into these companies and the nature of academic misconduct in Canada is also relatively recent. “There was one big study done in Canada, maybe about 15 years ago. And since then, there’s been very little data collected in Canada on a large scale,” she said.

Eaton, who began her own study into academic cheating in 2015, will be presenting her research at this week’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Pre-pandemic modelling, she said, suggested that over 75,000 students in Canada’s post-secondary institutions engaged in contract cheating. It’s too early to say what that number will look like post-pandemic but it’s safe to say, it’s gotten much bigger.

Going online makes it easier for students to cheat, intentionally or unintentionally, through certain behaviours that dominate digital interactions — the tendency to share for example, Eaton posited.

People online share everything, ranging from memes and photos to status updates, which could very well translate to sharing academic work and test answers. “Many educators made an assumption that students wouldn’t share online. And yet, all of us share online all the time,” she said.

It also makes it easier for companies in the business of cheating to percolate within post-secondary groups, on social media, carefully crafting messages to appeal to those struggling with homework under the weight of the pandemic.

“These companies are doing direct marketing outreach to students via Instagram, by a TikTok video, via Youtube,” she said, all the while using a rhetoric meant to comfort stressed out students.

” ‘We will help you, we will support you, we will give you a COVID discount. Your school is open from 8:30 to 4:30, we’re there for you 24/7,’ ” Eaton lists as some examples of the messaging students receive from these companies.

“They use words like ‘help’,” she said. “But what they mean is we’ll do it on behalf of the student.”

Payments are made online, usually with the help of a credit card. Personal contact details are exchanged in the process, subtly roping the unwitting student to the company to whom they’ve outsourced their homework.

And once students are reeled in, they’re kept tightly bound. With their email addresses and phone numbers on record, companies continue to ‘badger’ the students to plagiarize their schoolwork. Texts are sent within seven days of the last assignment.

Some companies continue to withdraw monthly payments from the student’s credit card as part of a “subscription fee” and threaten to report the student to their school for cheating if the student attempts to cancel their card.

It’s similar to industries selling illegal drugs or participating in organized crime, Eaton said. “Students might think doing it once isn’t so bad, or they’re experimental … especially it’s being pushed on them quite aggressively. And then find themselves not being able to get away from these companies.”

Countries like New Zealand, Ireland, Australia are already ahead of the game, with legislation making it illegal for contract cheating businesses to operate.

U.K. is catching up, having tabled similar legislation.

But Canada has been slow to address the problem, Eaton said. Relying on publicly available institutional data as well as anecdotes from fellow colleagues, she has been leading a national policy initiative analyzing the spread of contract cheating in Canadian universities and colleges.

Looking over the academic integrity policies of 80 different institutions, she and her team found only two mentions of contract cheating. “If they’re not naming the problem, we’re not solving the problem,” she said.

While most institutions include academic misconduct policies, they’re often antiquated and inconsistent. “So the way one university defines plagiarism is totally different from the way another university defines plagiarism,” she said.

Deciding on a nationwide framework used by all universities and colleges in Canada, including a definition on contract cheating, would be the first much-needed step to addressing the issue, Eaton said.

“We need to name the problem in our policies and our procedures in schools. We need to talk to students about the real risks of engaging with these companies,” she said.

The ultimate goal would be placing Canada on par with other nations by developing legislation that criminalizes these businesses.

“The real risks are from the companies, not the universities,” she said.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

The (very strong) case for COVID-19 leaking from a Chinese lab

In this Feb. 3, 2021, file photo, a security person moves journalists away from the Wuhan Institute of Virology after a World Health Organization team arrived for a field visit.

After months of being dismissed as a fringe conspiracy theory, official support is starting to build for the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic is not a freak accident of nature, but was rather the result of an accidental escape from a Chinese virology lab.

Anthony Fauci, one of the U.S.’s most visible infectious disease specialists during the COVID-19 pandemic, said this week that he was “not convinced” that the pandemic had natural origins — contradicting statements from a year prior where he

dismissed any question of a lab leak as a “circular argument.”

At the time same time, U.S. president Joe Biden also confirmed that he has ordered an intelligence review into the theory that the pandemic was sparked by a “laboratory accident.”

 Anthony Fauci at a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, May 26, 2021.

Global Times, one of the main English-language arms of Chinese state media,

dismissed

all of this week’s developments as a “blatant lie” trafficked by U.S. elites who have “festered further in morality.”

The SARS pandemic was sparked by the eating of wild meat in China’s Guangdong province. HIV leaped from apes to humans

in 1920s Congo

. But COVID-19, a pandemic that has thus far killed at least 3.5 million and cost the equivalent of several world wars, could well be the result of a single breach in laboratory hygiene.

A bad filter change, a faulty door seal or a specimen in the garbage instead of the incinerator could be the inciting incident for the costliest disaster of the 21

st

century. If true, it would be the most consequential single mistake ever made.

The National Post has been reporting since May 2020 that

there was credence to the lab leak theory

. The official line out of Beijing at the time — that COVID-19 spontaneously erupted at a Wuhan food market — was shown to be highly unlikely. China is still holding fast to the idea that the disease is purely natural in origin — and have repeatedly obfuscated international attempts to consider differently.

While the world still has no smoking gun as to COVID-19’s origins, what we do have is an ever-lengthening record of circumstantial evidence tying the Wuhan lab to COVID-19, as well as a growing roster of official voices expressing doubt in the official Chinese origin story.

Below, why the lab leak theory has always been among the most plausible theories for the origin of COVID-19.

If it wasn’t a lab leak, COVID-19’s Wuhan origins would be one of the greatest coincidences in history

The world’s first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in Wuhan, a city of 11 million located about a day’s drive west of Shanghai. Wuhan is also home to China’s first-ever BSL-4-certified laboratory; a rare classification given only to labs dealing with the world’s most dangerous pathogens.

For instance, Canada’s only BSL-4 lab — the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg — is where microbiologists deal directly with such viruses as Ebola, West Nile and the virus that caused the 1918 flu pandemic.

Opened in 2018, the BSL-4 campus of the Wuhan Institute of Virology is known to work with coronaviruses, and in particular bat coronaviruses, the likely origin of COVID-19. A

January investigation

by New York magazine is to date the most rigorous journalistic probe into the potential lab origins of COVID-19. Among other things, it noted that the Wuhan institute is home to the “most comprehensive inventory of sampled bat viruses in the world.”

 The Wuhan Institute of Virology pictured in February.

The lab also engaged in gain-of-function experiments, wherein researchers would attempt to supercharge coronaviruses in order to infect lab mice or human cell samples. The idea with gain-of-function is to find ways to combat the emergence of new viruses from nature, as occurred with SARS in 2003. But gain-of-function is also “exactly the kind of experiment from which a SARS2-like virus could have emerged,” read a

lengthy scientific breakdown of COVID-19’s origins

by the Indian news site The Wire.

In other words, if the Wuhan Institute of Virology turns out to have no connection to the birth of the COVID-19 pandemic, then a novel coronavirus with likely origins in bats will have coincidentally started infecting humans within walking distance of a lab that just happens to be the world centre of studying highly infectious bat coronaviruses.

 Driving distance from the Wuhan Institute of Virology to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, site of the first recorded public outbreak of COVID-19.

Top Chinese viral laboratories, including the one in Wuhan, have a troubling track record of lax security

In 2018, long before any notion of COVID-19 existed, U.S. diplomats fresh from a visit to the Wuhan Institute of Virology drafted a cable to Washington warning that the facility’s lax standards risked sparking a pandemic. “The new lab has a serious shortage of appropriately trained technicians and investigators needed to safely operate this high-containment laboratory,” the cable said,

according to the Washington Post

.

This week also saw the release of a U.S. intelligence report claiming that, in the fall of 2019, three workers at the Wuhan institute were hospitalized “with symptoms consistent with both COVID-19 and common seasonal illness.”

 An aerial view shows the P4 laboratory (C) at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in Wuhan in China’s central Hubei province on April 17, 2020.

Wuhan isn’t the only Chinese lab in recent years to have drawn international condemnation for potentially reckless microbiology work. In 2013, when it emerged that China’s Harbin Veterinary Research Institute was trying to synthesize a new superflu, it

attracted accusations of “appalling irresponsibility”

 from top European virologists.

The Wuhan lab also had ties to a serious security breach at Canada’s own National Microbiology Laboratory. Although the incident has no known connection to COVID-19, in July 2019 researcher Xiangguo Qiu

was escorted by RCMP

 from the Winnipeg facility allegedly due to questions surrounding an unauthorized shipment of Ebola and henipavirus samples to Wuhan in March 2019.

The WHO’s official probe into the virus’ origins were a farce

When Australia first called for an international probe into the true origins of COVID-19, Beijing lashed back with a threat of major sanctions on Australian grain imports.

A probe ultimately did come into being, but it ended up being a far cry from anything approaching Australia’s initial vision. Organized by the World Health Organization, the probe comprised a team of 17 Chinese scientists and 10 non-Chinese investigators who spent two weeks conducting interviews under the constant supervision of the People’s Republic of China. “The politics was always in the room with us on the other side of the table,” said team member Peter Ben Embarek in February.

 Peter Daszak (R), Thea Fischer (L) and other members of the World Health Organization (WHO) team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 coronavirus, arrive at the Wuhan Institute of Virology on February 3, 2021.

Researchers spent only a matter of hours at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where they requested no documents and performed no forensic examination of lab protocols. Rather, they only conducted a handful of supervised meetings wherein laboratory staff assured them that the institute saw “no disruptions or incidents” at the time of COVID-19’s emergence.

The WHO investigation hadn’t even released its final report before more than a dozen international senior medical researchers signed an

open letter

calling for a more reliable investigation to definitively rule out the possibility of a “research-related accident.”

Then, in late March, the probe’s finding were directly questioned by WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Tedros has often been criticized for a soft touch on China in regards to COVID-19. Regardless, he wrote in a

March 30 statement

“although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation.”

Lab leaks happen all the time

It’s not just Chinese virology labs that screw up the handling of potentially planet-altering pathogens. All over the world, virology labs have similarly overseen

security breaches with the potential to infect millions

.

In 2014 it emerged that labs connected to the 

U.S. Centres for Disease Control

 were guilty of, among other things, accidentally exposing a bunch of researchers to anthrax and losing vials of smallpox, the now-extinct virus that ranks as the deadliest disease in human history.

Lab leaks have caused several verified disease outbreaks. In 1977, a strange flu began surging through the Soviet Union and China. Subsequent analysis of the virus concluded that it was exactly the same as a 1949 flu strain,

raising suspicions that the outbreak had been caused by an escape from a laboratory freezer

. History’s last victim of smallpox, British woman Janet Parker, was killed by a 1978 lab screw-up at Birmingham University.

There have even been two lab leaks of SARS in the months after the disease’s 2003 outbreak had been contained. One was a student who accidentally picked up the disease in August, 2003 at a lab at the National University of Singapore. The other was a SARS researcher who

fell ill after handling biohazardous waste without gloves or a mask

.

In March, Robert Redfield, former director of the Centres for Disease Control, became one of the most prominent early backers of the “lab leak” theory when he told CNN that “the most likely etiology of this pathology in Wuhan was from a laboratory.”

A career virologist, Redfield added, “it’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect a laboratory worker.”

• Email: thopper@postmedia.com | Twitter: TristinHopper

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Canada looks beyond China and quietly draws up new Indo-Pacific strategy

People’s Liberation Army soldiers march outside the Forbidden City, near Tiananmen Square. Canada has increased participation in joint military exercises with allies in the region, including two anti-submarine warfare exercises.

OTTAWA — The federal government has been quietly deepening economic and military ties with Indo-Pacific allies, but foreign policy observers say a hesitancy by Ottawa to provide a more complete strategy in the region is due to worries over upsetting China.

Officials at Global Affairs Canada have been drawing up an Indo-Pacific strategy since about April 2019, according to people familiar with the issue, but Ottawa has been muted in public statements about the region despite increasing ties in the area.

Ottawa officially launched free trade talks with Indonesia earlier this year, and has been in separate multilateral discussions with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a bloc of 10 countries, since 2017. Canada has also increased participation in joint military exercises with allies in the region, including two anti-submarine warfare drills, and has occasionally sailed naval ships through the Taiwan Strait in what some view as a challenge to China’s sovereignty claims over the self-governed country.

Global Affairs Canada declined to clarify on Thursday when a strategy might be made public. Observers attribute the silence to worries in the Liberal government over aggravating an already frosty relationship between Canada and China.

“They may be trying to figure out how to present it in such a way that it doesn’t look like it’s a pushback against China, which might make China angry at a point where we don’t want to poke the dragon,” said Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, former member of the Canada-China Joint Committee on Science and Technology and a senior official in the Department of Finance from 1994 to 2004.

Experts in the area of trade and foreign relations have for years said Canada ought to establish a firm strategy in the Indo-Pacific region, saying it would diversify Canadian exports and protect sensitive supply chains.

Supplies of semiconductors, for example, are heavily concentrated in the general Indo-Pacific region, while Canadian exporters of agricultural products like canola are heavily dependent on China. Many Canadian companies operating in China have had difficulties on the issue of intellectual property, Johnston said, which have prompted her to call for a strategy that would help business owners diversify toward other countries.

“The more points of engagement you have with China, the more places they have to turn the screws,” Johnston said.

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated in recent years, ever since Canadian authorities arrested Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese technology giant Huawei, on a U.S. extradition request. The government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has since tried to contain further dustups, particularly after the country detained two Canadian citizens — Michal Kovrig and Michael Spavor — in what was widely seen as retaliation for the Meng arrest.

On May 3, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau met with his Japanese counterpart Toshimitsu Motegi, where the two “shared their serious concerns” about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and in Hong Kong, as well as China’s “persistent attempts” to claim sovereignty over disputed territories, according to an account of the meeting from Japan’s foreign ministry. A readout of the same meeting by Garneau’s office, by contrast, was far more subdued, referencing only “relations with China” more generally.

“They’ve been very publicly quiet on this,” said Jonathan Berkshire Miller, director of the Indo-Pacific program at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute.

Garneau’s meeting followed earlier high-level talks between Trudeau and former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2019, where the two discussed the need to maintain a “free and open Indo-Pacific region.” Canada ratified the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-country trade pact, in 2018.

Miller is sympathetic to Ottawa’s low-key approach to the issue, saying a broad Indo-Pacific strategy could be misconstrued as a purely anti-China undertaking. But such a strategy would instead consider Canada’s more general interests in one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world.

“The development of a strategy shouldn’t be seen as like a punitive measure because we’re in a downturn with China,” he said.

In a lengthy report released in March, Miller called the Indo-Pacific “arguably the world’s centre of geoeconomic and geostrategic gravity,” and called on Canada to “become an active player” in the region to help ensure a rules-based geopolitical order.

Canada is meanwhile being encouraged to deepen its military involvement in the region, including with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “the Quad,” an informal military alliance between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India. The group is widely viewed as a response to economic and military expansionism by China, which has been rapidly building military installations and strategic outposts in the South China Sea and elsewhere.

In January, Canada participated for the first with the Quad on Sea Dragon, an anti-submarine military exercise executed near the tiny U.S. territory of Guam. Months earlier, Canadian naval ship HMCS Winnipeg carried out Canada’s first active role in Keen Sword, an 11-day “combat readiness and interoperability” military drill led by U.S. and Japanese forces.

Canadian ships have meanwhile participated in efforts to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea.

Even so, Canada’s commitment to the region has been non-committal for decades, said James Trottier, a former diplomat in the Indo-Pacific region and current fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

While Canadian officials often talk about increasing ties in the Indo-Pacific, they rarely back up their statements with hard funding, several observers say. Canada has sometimes declined to attend major summits or other engagements in the region, or has sent lower-level officials to events attended by ministers of other countries.

“Our absence has been remarked upon,” Trottier said.

“They certainly are engaged on the economic front, and they have been welcomed on some of these steps on security and political engagement,” he said. “But it remains to be seen as to how serious and long-lasting those steps are.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Our never-ending lockdown on dining: How Canadian pandemic strictures stack up against the world

A sign inside a Toronto restaurant closed to in-person dining by provincial order.

This week, the BBC reported that, under COVID-19, Toronto had earned the ignominious title of being home to the world’s longest ban on indoor restaurant dining. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, Toronto has banned indoor dining for 360 days and counting, lifting restrictions only for a brief respite in the fall of 2020.

Despite near-Herculean progress on vaccination, much of Canada is still denied the privileges sweeping much of the rest of the mass-vaccinated world: indoor gatherings, live music and normal dining. In many ways, the world of May 2021 is indistinguishable from that of 12 months prior, when we were battling a still-unfamiliar virus with no clear end in sight.

Below, a quick review on how Canadian lockdowns stack up against the rest of the world.

Indoor dining has been hardest hit in Toronto and Montreal

A detailed breakdown of world restaurant closures by the BBC’s Robin Levinson-King found that the length of Toronto’s indoor dining ban clearly stands above all other major centres. London, Buenos Aires, Paris and New York all experienced similar or worse encounters with COVID-19, but on average their citizens got about 100 more days than Torontonians in which to dine out. Right now, in fact, the Ontario capital is one of the only major OECD cities that won’t even allow dining on patios.

In early March, Toronto and Montreal

were in about the same position

as New York City and Los Angeles. But in the interim two months, mass-vaccination allowed the U.S. metropolises to reopen while a third wave prompted both Canadian cities to double down on strictures.

Western Canada has been a different story. B.C. spent the fall and winter with legal socially distanced indoor dining. Rising case rates spurred a return to closure in late March, but those measures were repealed

just this week

.

 People are reflected in a window as they sit at a cafe terrace near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on May 24, 2021, as restaurants and cafes in Germany were allowed to resume business outdoors amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Across the board, Canada’s lockdown measures have been one of the least inclined to let off the brakes

The world’s data scientists have been obsessively tracking every conceivable facet of COVID-19 and government strictures have been no exception. The Oxford University COVID-19 Government Response Tracker has been running a

stringency index

that ranks countries by a series of metrics including closures, stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions.

Canada’s current rate of 75.46 is among the strictest in the world, particularly given its high rate of vaccination and dropping rates of both cases and deaths. Pandemic-ravaged India, for instance, stands at 81.94 while the United States has dropped to the low 50s and heavily vaccinated Israel stands at 43.52.

But what is perhaps more remarkable is how consistently Canada has stayed at the higher end of the index. While European and Pacific Rim countries wildly altered the stringency of their responses based on current risks, Canada has spent most of its pandemic at 70 or higher.

The effect is magnified when considering that COVID-19 has not struck equally in all regions of the country. With B.C. and Atlantic Canada remaining relatively untouched by more extreme strictures, a lot of this stringency is being carried by Ontario and Quebec.

Compared to the rest of the Americas, Canadian school closures have been on the lighter side

If there’s one major pandemic policy that separates North America from Europe, it’s in the approach to school closures. Even in the face of devastating first and second waves of COVID-19, European countries have consistently followed a policy of closing schools last and reopening them first.

Data compiled by UNESCO

had Canadian children missing 43 weeks of school since the beginning of the pandemic, compared to 27 weeks in the U.K., 30 weeks in Germany and only 11 weeks in France. The situation is similar across much of the Pacific Rim, with 11 weeks of missed school in Japan and only nine weeks in New Zealand — although both those countries saw dramatically lower caseloads than their European equivalents.

Keeping schools open in the face of the pandemic is something of which European countries have taken a measure of pride. “No other country in the European Union has left its schools open as much as France has,” Clément Beaune, France’s state secretary for European affairs, wrote in a March tweet.

However, if Canada has been quick to impose months-long odysseys of learning-from-home on its children, it’s been outmatched by the actions of the United States. UNESCO numbers show that the average American child missed nine more weeks of in-person learning than the average Canadian child. In South America, school closures have been worse than Canada’s in every country except Suriname and Uruguay.

 Students at William Aberhart High School in Calgary head back to school on Tuesday, May 25 after several weeks of online study mandated by rising cases of COVID-19.

Nobody else is banning golf

There is one defining Canadian lockdown policy that has no equivalent in the rest of the world. Ontario banned the game of golf for five weeks this spring. only lifting it after intense criticism on Saturday, May 22. The game is still

subject to tight strictures in Alberta

.

No blanket golf bans exist in any of the 50 American states,

according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America

. While in Europe, the PGA European Tour

starts this week

.

This is not to say that jurisdictions haven’t imposed brief golf bans during times of crisis, but they’ve been quickly lifted after courses were able to implement basic social distancing requirements (which, given golf is played outdoors, were rather easy).

It’s indicative of an Ontario crackdown on outdoor recreation that has no real equivalent in the latter stages of the pandemic (when most epidemiologists are agreed on the extremely low risk of outdoor spread of COVID-19). New York

may have built field hospitals in Central Park

, but they never attempted to subject it to closure, as when Toronto

banned the viewing of cherry blossoms in High Park

.

 A sign indicating that the course is closed is shown at the Beach Grove Golf and Country Club in Tecumseh on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Masking, however, has not been quite as zealous as abroad

The general rule across Canada right now is that face masks are legally required in all indoor public spaces. However, with few exceptions, Canadians have dodged one of the more overzealous mask mandates rolled out in certain parts of the U.S.: mandatory outdoor masks, even for people who are fully vaccinated. This kind of stricture

was just lifted in Hawaii

, for instance. California has also backed off on outdoor mask mandates, although

still requires residents to have a mask on them

when leaving the house.

Compared to Europe, Canada is also quite loose on what constitutes a mask. Cloth masks and even bandanas are acceptable face coverings under most government mask mandates, despite dubious evidence of their effectiveness against viral spread. In January, Germany and Austria

imposed new rules

requiring medical-grade masks in supermarkets and public transport, with France ushering in similar rules days later.

 Visitors walk past The Mona Lisa on May 19, 2021 as museums re-open in France as part of an easing of the nationwide lockdown due to the Covid-19.

• Email: thopper@postmedia.com | Twitter:

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

The secret's in the cabbage: New, true blue could eliminate the need for artificial food colouring

After more than a decade of research, scientists have found a new natural blue for food colouring.

Rare in nature, a source of natural blue for food colouring has proven to be equally elusive in the lab. From blue rice to butterfly pea powder bubble tea — blue foods are in demand. But as food companies increasingly phase out artificial colours in packaged goods, a natural substitute for synthetic “brilliant blue” has proven hard to come by.

Smarties fans have felt the sting of such food science limitations firsthand. In 2006, amid health concerns over artificial colourings, Nestlé temporarily axed blue Smarties from the pack. Replaced with pallid white, it took nearly three years for its spirulina-tinted comeback. But the freshwater algae is far from a magic blue bullet.

Now, after more than a decade of research, an international team of scientists has found a natural blue candidate in red cabbage. The study, published in

Science Advances

and led by Pamela Denish at the University of California, Davis, shows how a natural blue pigment (a type of anthocyanin molecule) in red cabbage can be used to make a long-lasting colouring in large quantities.

“It provides a natural alternative to artificial colourants, and a solution to the long-standing blue dye challenge facing the food industry,” Rebecca Robbins, Mars Wrigley senior principal scientist and one of the authors of the paper, told

Food Dive

. “We used synthetic biology and computational design tools to determine the structure of the anthocyanin, which, thanks to its unique 3D inter-molecular arrangement, can be altered to produce a rare natural cyan blue colour.”

Many of the true-blue, edible foods found in nature don’t produce blue colours, but reds and purples, said Denish, a graduate student working with Prof. Justin Siegel at the UC Davis Department of Chemistry and Innovation Institute for Food and Health. Consider the deep purple tint of blueberry juice, for example, or ruby-red hue of haskap nectar.

Synthetic “brilliant blue” (a.k.a. Blue No. 1) was originally made from coal tar, but is now mostly an oil-based additive. Its brilliance is key: while vibrant blue foods signal novelty; other shades can suppress the appetite, an instinctive response to their presence in moulds, poisonous fruit or spoiled meat, according to

Food Dive

.

Developing the right shade of natural blue also affects colour mixing, Siegel said. If the colour is off, it will result in “muddy, brown colours” rather than green when combined with yellow.

Prior to the new findings, spirulina — used in the natural blue Smarties formulation as well as many other foods and drinks, including energy bars and smoothies — was deemed to be the closest colour match to Blue No. 1.

Mars, which created the first FDA-approved natural blue food colour using the algae, announced its intention to remove all artificial food colourings in 2016. Spirulina may achieve a desirably intense blue hue, but it’s unpredictable, prone to blotchiness and can have an unpleasant taste,

Food Dive

reports.

There’s also the issue of availability. In order to give just its blue M&Ms a spirulina makeover, a Mars executive told

The New York Times

in 2016, the company would need twice the global supply.

The new cyan blue researchers identified is only present in small amounts in red cabbage, but using an enzyme they developed, they were able to produce larger quantities of the colour compound. They then used the natural colouring to make blue ice cream, doughnut icing and sugar-coated lentils, which held their hue for 30 days,

New Scientist

reports.

Denish and Siegel have founded a startup, Peak B, to focus on developing the stable, natural food colouring for commercial use. Siegel noted that similar enzymatic conversions are commonly used in food production, including cheesemaking.

The natural food dye has yet to be tested for its safety, but Kumi Yoshida at Nagoya University in Japan, one of the study’s authors, told

New Scientist

that she doesn’t expect any issues due to its established use: “Red cabbage anthocyanins have a long, long history in our diets.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

'Injecting doubt': How hard-core COVID vaccine deniers could impact the 'moveable middle'

In the video, Officer Cadet Ladislas Kenderesi, dressed in military attire, shifts his weight from foot to foot and glances at a small piece of paper.

It’s not clear if “killer vaccine” was included in his speaking notes, but soon after he used those words, Kenderesi acknowledged he would most likely “get in a lot of shit” for urging fellow members of the Canadian Armed Forces to refrain from helping distribute COVID-19 vaccines.

Just as he predicted, Kenderesi stepped into it,

and was charged this month with a mutiny-related offence

for his appearance last December at an anti-lockdown rally in downtown Toronto.

“Ugh. That speech,” Timothy Caulfield responded Tuesday when asked about anti-vax sentiment in the era of COVID-19 and how seriously it should be taken.

“We still need to strive to reduce community spread, we still need to get as many people vaccinated as soon as possible so, yes, the rhetoric emanating from the hard-core deniers matters,” said Caulfield, a University of Alberta professor in health law and policy and an expert in science denialism.

Anti-vaccination messaging could have an impact on the “moveable middle,” he said, meaning the hesitant whose calculus of the risks and benefits might still be a little “foggy.”

“You’re just injecting doubt into their calculus.”

The false assertion that the vaccinated can “shed” or spread particles of the coronavirus’ spike protein through their breath or pores, infecting others and causing reproductive issues in the unvaccinated, is just the latest claim nurtured by those wholly opposed to vaccination, said Caulfield.

In May, a butcher shop in the Greater Toronto Area banned the vaccinated for 28 days, post-vaccine, instructing jabbed customers to order online for curbside pickup or delivery only, despite assurances from experts that there is no biological path that would make the shedding of COVID-19 vaccines possible. “It’s like asking me, do I think that if someone gets this vaccine that they could develop X-ray vision,”

Dr. Paul Offit, co-inventor of the rotavirus vaccine told FactCheck.org.

A small proportion of the population holds to shedding, DNA alterations and other anti-COVID vaccination claims, polls suggest, with roughly 10 per cent of Canadian adults polled saying a flat out “no” to vaccination. In a broader public health perspective, “it probably isn’t worthwhile to try to change their minds,” or outlandish narratives, Caulfield said.

“You can’t keep banging your head into the wall all the time, you know, saying, ‘I can’t reach everyone,’”

Joe Schwarcz, director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society told The Tyee.

“No, you can’t, you have to accept that. And you fight your battles wherever you can.”

Evidence suggests that when people are publicly debunked, they double down, becoming more entrenched and more aggressive, what scientists have described as the “perverse downstream consequences of debunking.”

When researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

identified 2,000 users who shared false political news on Twitter, and replied to their false tweets with links to fact-checking websites, being corrected increased the “partisan slant and language toxicity of the users’ subsequent re-tweets,” they wrote.

While many argue that trying to dissuade the anti-vaccine community is like arguing religion or politics, “a more constructive perspective could view the anti-vax movement as a religious phenomenon,”

researchers from the London School of Health and Hygiene wrote in The Lancet.

“Just as cults are grouped together as sinister, bad or wrong, the discourse surrounding anti-vaxxers in both academic and popular circles can be dismissive and derogatory,” they wrote. That can promote an “us-and-them” division, creating martyrs and “encouraging further involvement in the movement and radicalization.” Instead they offered “a more inclusive approach, where the same inquisitive dialogue and contextual understanding that was suggested for vaccine hesitancy should be extended to members of the anti-vax movement.”

Others have accused the media of ignoring

connections between anti-lockdown protests and far-right extremism.

But the anti-vaccine community is not a homogenous group, Caulfield said. “We have to be careful about over-generalizing.”

People become attracted for ideological reasons. Some are intuitively appealing, like consent, choice, liberty. “That brings you into the community and allows you to side-step science,” Caulfield said.

“Once you’re part of that community, you become part of that echo chamber, you see people who are like you, who believe the same things — all of those things can be really influential and impact not only your perceptions, but your behaviour.”

While their numbers are similar, with about 10 per cent in each camp, there are distinctions between anti-vaxxers and the vaccine hesitant. The hard-core “no’s” are far more inclined to think COVID has been greatly exaggerated, said Jack Jedwab, president and CEO of the Association for Canadian Studies. They’re least afraid of getting COVID (by comparison, nearly one in two of those who don’t know if they’ll get vaccinated fear getting the coronavirus), they’re ferociously opposed to any restrictions and vaccine passports — for the hard-core group — are also out of the question, Jedwab said. Those rejecting the shots may also be harbouring some illusions about the limits on their lifestyle without vaccination, he said.

Still, according to the latest polls, more than eight in 10 Canadians are either vaccinated already or plan to be, the uncertain are moving into the certain category, and those who initially said “probably not” have dissipated, too.

Caulfield isn’t convinced debunking is a futile exercise.

In a recent paper,

he cites a 2019 analysis of available research that found no “backfire” effect. While it might occur in some circumstances, “it certainly isn’t such a robust and measurable phenomenon that it should stop us from mounting efforts to counter misinformation on social media,” he said.

Caulfield believes it’s important to get a sense of what attracts people to anti-vaccine communities — “what were the breakdowns in trust, what did they find inviting about these communities, so we can learn going forward.

“The problem of misinformation has been incredibly acute with the pandemic, but it’s not going away. The spread of misinformation is one of the great challenges of our time,” he said.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Forgiving CERB debt for ineligible Canadians who received 'unclear' information to cost government $240M

The Kafkaesque saga began with a miscommunication by the Canada Revenue Agency in spring 2020 as to how much income self-employed Canadians needed to have made in order to be eligible for the $2,000 a month emergency payment.

OTTAWA – About 30,000 Canadians will be able to keep $240 million in Canada Emergency Response Benefits despite originally being ineligible for the money, according to government estimates.

The Liberal government has decided to forgive the debt of all self-employed Canadians who claimed an average $8,000 in CERB overpayments — worth a total of $240 million. The claimants did not meet the benefit’s eligibility criteria due to confusing government messaging, according to information quietly published in the Canada Gazette two weeks ago.

But of those people, roughly 6,500 already voluntarily reimbursed the government after receiving an “educational letter” from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) in December warning they may not have been eligible for CERB.

In those cases, the government will take the unusual step of sending them back about $52 million in total CERB payments they weren’t qualified for in the first place, so long as they meet all other eligibility criteria. The agency said the process to apply for reimbursement will be released “soon.”

According to details in the government’s official publication, the move comes because it considers that it “would be unreasonable and unjust for the Crown to collect the debt.”

The increasingly Kafkaesque saga began with a miscommunication by the CRA last spring as to how much income self-employed Canadians needed to have made in order to be eligible for the $2,000 a month emergency payment.

At launch, CERB eligibility criteria required recipients to have made at least $5,000 before taxes in either all of 2019 or in the 12 months leading up to their application.

But due to “unclear and incorrect” information on the government’s website, an estimated 30,000 self-employed Canadians took that as total income before deducting expenses (gross income), as opposed to their net income after deductions (which is historically how self-employment income has always been calculated.)

To make things more confusing, CRA’s call centre agents were also originally provided a script that mistakenly said that CERB eligibility was based on gross income. That message was changed only a few weeks after the program was launched.

But impacted Canadians began to panic when they received an “educational” letter from the tax agency last December saying it needed proof they had made at least $5,000 in net income in 2019, or they should be prepared to pay all CERB money back. It was then that the government’s mixed messaging came to light.

In February, Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough announced that those self-employed applicants could keep the money.

“Given that the eligibility criteria with respect to self-employment income were initially unclear and that individuals applied on the basis of these criteria, these individuals may be facing hardship if required to repay these monies,” reads the Gazette.

According to the government’s official publication, the objective is “to limit the financial hardship” of Canadians who applied to CERB in good faith after possibly “receiving incorrect or inaccurate information” from the federal government on self-employment income eligibility criteria.

The government is also erasing the $240 million in overpayments in order to continue to “provide income support to workers who were unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19.”

But any Canadian who intentionally or mistakenly applied for CERB without meeting any other eligibility criteria are not impacted by this decision and will still have to repay those sums.

In a press release Wednesday, the CRA also reminded Canadians who still may not have filed their 2020 taxes to do so as quickly as possible, or risk waiting up to two months to receive any COVID-19 financial aid going forward.

That is because the agency is now doing additional eligibility verifications up front, instead of checking after the money was issued like it did at the beginning of the pandemic.

In a recent report, Canada’s auditor general found that the lack of initial verification measures, such as blocking duplicate applications in a single month, cost the government roughly $500 million CERB overpayments in just a matter of weeks.

“The CRA has implemented up-front verification measures for COVID-19 recovery benefits to help prevent fraudulent applications and ensure that those receiving the benefits are eligible. Beginning on May 31, 2021, the CRA will begin to gradually expand these up-front verification measures for individuals who have applied to the Canada Recovery Benefits,” CRA warned in a statement.

“As a result of this verification, some applicants may be required to provide additional information to support their eligibility, potentially delaying the approvals process.

The generosity of CERB has already come under scrutiny with Statistics Canada revealing that Canadians experienced “extraordinary changes in their economic well-being” during the pandemic as they gained thousands of dollars more from COVID-19 support payments than they lost in wages.

During one three month period last year, young and middle-aged households generally gained around $3,000 more through support measures, particularly CERB, than they lost in earnings. At the same time, middle-income earners in the second-lowest quintile earned additional income at roughly $2,500.

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

Why condos in the suburbs are starting to feel like condos downtown

The Thirty-Six Zorra condo tower by Altree Developments will bring another park to South Etobicoke in 2023.

Before Senator Marian Maloney Park opened in late 2019, Lindsay McBean says she never once crossed the Queensway to take her husky, Skeena, for a walk. Fast-forward two years and visits to the landscaped public expanse fronting the four-tower IQ condo complex are daily events for the 30-year resident of nearby Woolgar Avenue in South Etobicoke.

“This whole area is changing so much,” McBean says, referring to the former industrial lands bordered on the north and south by the Queensway and Gardiner Expressway, and to the east and west by St. Lawrence and Kipling avenues. “When I moved here in the ’90s, this was pure suburbia. Now it feels a lot more like downtown.”

 The three-acre Exchange District project in Mississauga will include more than 2 million square feet of retail, shopping, dining, office and commercial spaces, and a boutique hotel.

While ongoing improvements in transit, road and cycling infrastructure are reducing the time it takes for suburbanites to reach Toronto proper, condo developers are bringing downtown to the ’burbs by adding public parks and cultural venues, and importing some urban flair by replacing decades-old strip malls with contemporary dining and shopping spaces on the ground floors of mixed-use projects.

There’s a reason developers are increasingly stepping up to provide public amenities. The Ontario government’s controversial Housing Supply Action Plan amalgamated and capped the fees paid by developers to fund municipal infrastructure, making community planning more dependent on developers’ profit-driven proposals, and less dependent on taxpayer-funded municipal works.

 The Festival and Mobilio high-rise condo projects near the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre subway stop will share 45 acres of parks and 17 kilometres of trails.

This isn’t sitting well with some of the municipalities. Mississauga’s city manager and chief administrative officer Janice Baker says that “any reduction in funds as a result of this change will limit our ability to provide adequate park, recreation, library and other infrastructure. This is the very infrastructure that promotes health, social inclusion and drives quality of life in a community.”

Given the hit on municipal coffers, developers must commit to providing enough infrastructure upgrades and additions to win support for their projects from city councils. This means they must pay closer attention to prospective buyers’ off-property preferences — preferences that have changed markedly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the development industry, COVID has refocused attention on building complete communities where people can walk and cycle to the types of services they need in their daily lives,” says Matti Siemiatycki, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Geography and Planning. These communities, he adds, are becoming especially prevalent in the suburbs, where land is less costly and gentrification has yet to set in.

At the same time, the pandemic has spurred an urban exodus among millennial house-hunters who are unable to afford downtown prices but are suddenly able to avoid commuting by working more often from home. “That’s why the look and feel of these new suburban communities tends to be contemporary,” Siemiatycki says. “They are designed to appeal to young people who want that downtown lifestyle but can’t afford a downtown address.”

 Festival and Mobilio will also feature an open-air gym and a community centre with an outdoor stage.

The proliferation of large suburban projects has carried the GTA condo construction boom through the pandemic. At the end of 2020, a record 81,029 condo units were under construction across the GTA, the Urbanation real-estate consultancy reports, with starts for new units increasing 9 percent from 2019 and reaching the second-highest level on record. At the same time, a record 22,473 new suites reached completion. Of these new units, sales in the 905 region accounted for more than half of the GTA’s 2020 total for the first time ever. Sales in the City of Toronto, on the other hand, plummeted 38 percent to the lowest levels in more than 15 years.

The Festival and Mobilio high-rise condo projects near the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre subway stop are prime examples of urban amenities rising in the suburbs. In addition to sharing 45 acres of parks and 17 kilometres of trails, the neighbouring pre-construction projects by Menkes and QuadReal Property Group will feature an open-air gym and a community centre with an outdoor stage.

Camrost Felcorp’s three-acre Exchange District near Burnhamthorpe Road West and Hurontario Street in Mississauga will spread hundreds of trees over landscaped public parks, while offering more than 2 million square feet of retail, shopping, dining, office and commercial spaces, as well as a boutique hotel. “It’s become increasingly clear that it’s not enough for us to have a little rooftop dining area with a couple of trees,” says spokesman Christopher Castellano, adding that new master-planned developments allocate far more space and facilities for outdoor recreation than they used to, increasing the value of nearby residential property.

Back in Etobicoke’s Senator Marian Maloney Park, Lindsay McBean points across Zorra Avenue toward the busy construction site for Altree Developments’ Thirty-Six Zorra condo tower, which is slated to bring another park to the neighbourhood when it opens in 2023.

“I’m looking into getting a place there when I retire,” she says wistfully. “Seeing all the young people around here makes me feel young, and I want to feel that way all the time.”

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

The Davisville condo aims to evoke “the golden age of Yonge Street”

An executive concierge will be on hand in the lobby.

Five years and hundreds of completed homes later, the Rockport Group is on the verge of kicking off sales for The Davisville, its new mid-rise residence at Yonge Street and Manor Road in the project’s namesake neighbourhood.

Getting to this point hasn’t been quick or easy, says Rockport president and chief operating officer Daniel Winberg. After much back-and-forth with the city that saw the building rise from 11 to 12 storeys, lose about 3,000 square feet of total floor space and add articulated terraces to its west-facing side, The Davisville has finally settled on 86 suites spanning. Occupancy is slated for the fall of 2024.

“It’s easier to be patient when you’re invested in the neighbourhood,” says Winberg, who lived in the area for a number of years. Rockport first made its mark on Midtown in 2019 when it launched the 27-storey Montgomery Apartments six blocks north of The Davisville and unveiled the adjoining Montgomery Square, an elegant tennis-court-sized public space designed by Janet Rosenberg & Studio. Now, according to Winberg, “the community is buzzing over what Manor Square will look like,” referring to the public space slated for the northwest corner of Yonge and Manor.

After pandemic-induced delays, The Davisville’s sales centre is nearing completion across from the pre-construction site at 2100 Yonge. The centre will be fully equipped for virtual appointments. Still, Winberg says, “we’re old fashioned in the sense that we really prefer people to come and touch and feel things. So we’re really looking forward to being able to welcome people in person safely,” once in-person visits are allowed.

 Gym amenities will include a fitness studio and yoga space.

In some ways, he says, the pandemic delays have yielded valuable lessons that have been incorporated into The Davisville’s features. “What the markets learned from COVID is that people want more space. We have larger suites than most downtown condos, with ours being about 800 square feet on average.”

Several unit features, such as gas ranges in kitchens and quick-connect gas lines in expansive “urban yard” balconies and terraces, were inspired by the need to make the most of leisure time at home. Others, like a co-working and business centre with individual work pods, were inspired by the shift towards working at home. A 1Valet/Rogers Smart Community system, meanwhile, will cater to the surge in deliveries by providing parcel notifications and allowing residents to screen visitors and book amenities through the platform via their cellphones. An automated parking system with sliding pallets for parking and retrieval, and smart entry locks and thermostats in suites, round out the high-tech parade that Winberg calls “next-level.”

 An events lounge will have group seating around a fireplace.

Other features and amenities reflect the building’s boutique sensibility. An executive concierge will be on hand in the lobby, a dedicated delivery room will keep parcels secure, and a wet room will be available for washing dogs and bikes. A fireplace will warm and illuminate an event lounge, while a fitness studio, yoga space and bike storage will cater to active pursuits.

The 86 suites, seven of which are rentals, range from 487-square-foot one-bedrooms to two-plus-dens topping 1,400 square feet. Living areas will have nine-foot ceilings, floor to ceiling windows and engineered hardwood flooring, with quartz countertops and backsplashes joining custom islands or banquettes in kitchens, and bathrooms featuring quartz countertops, undermount sinks, and full-width vanity mirrors.

Two key aspects of the project have remained unchanged since its inception in 2016. For one thing, it has retained RAW Design, the architectural firm that also designed the Uovo Boutique Residences, a 11-storey project by 2114 Yonge Inc. and The Sher Corporation under construction immediately north of The Davisville. For another, it is preserving the two-storey building that has occupied The Davisville site since 1936. The work of Toronto architect Benjamin Brown, one of the first Jewish architects to sustain a successful practice in the city, the brick and limestone structure was batch-listed alongside 258 other properties in Midtown as a City of Toronto heritage site in 2017.

 Occupancy at the 12-storey Davisville is slated for fall 2024.

“We’re celebrating the heritage of Davisville Village and the Chaplin Estates,” Winberg says, adding that the angled entrances of street-level retailers will reflect the project’s Art Deco pedigree. “The goal is to bring people back to the golden age of Yonge Street.”

Who will be drawn to this mix of high technology and vintage glamour? “We’re going to get a lot of move-down buyers and empty nesters who want to stay in the area but don’t want to continue to upkeep their large homes,” Winberg says. “I also think young professionals will see a real sweet spot in our building. It’s becoming really hard to buy a home in Toronto, and we think The Davisville represents a great first-time buying opportunity.”

Ultimately, however, “we don’t have a target demo,” he adds. “We target people that want to find a home, not just a place to live.”

 

Units starting at $689,900 for 487 square feet. For more information, visit

www.thedavisville.com

Three things

While the nearby Davisville and Eglinton subway stops have north-south journeys covered, east-west transit should be vastly improved if and when the Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit line opens on schedule in 2022.

Snaking from Allen Road to Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the Kay Gardner Beltline Trail is a short walk or bike ride south of The Davisville.

After a stroll or excursion by bicycle, it doesn’t get much better than a scoop of Stracciatella at Punto Gelato, one block south at 2076 Yonge St.

Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques

The world’s oldest government-in-exile is in Ottawa

Ivonka Survilla, the 85-year-old President of the Belarusian Democratic Republic in Exile, delivers a November video address from Ottawa.

On Tuesday, the Eastern European nation of Belarus

suspended diplomatic relations with Canada

following Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s condemnation of the country

forcing down an overflying jetliner in order to arrest a dissident journalist aboard

.

It’s one of a series of diplomatic sanctions Belarus has been handing out this week, but Canada’s spat with the country carries a little-known twist: Ottawa is home to a Belarusian parliament-in-exile that has been claiming to uphold the legitimate government of Belarus for more than 102 years.

The

Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic

holds elections, mints medals, issues declarations and sees itself as the only true “guardian of the traditions of Belarusian statehood.” In a testament to Belarus’ lengthy history of autocratic government, it is the world’s longest lasting government-in-exile.

Aside from a nine-month period when it loosely governed a chunk of formerly Tsarist Russia, most of the Rada’s existence has been as a hardscrabble collection of refugees operating out of back offices and pining for the day it can “hand its mandate over to a future democratic government of Belarus.”

 A 1918 photo of the founding government of the Belarusian Democratic Republic. Soon after this photos was taken, Bolshevik forces would end all attempts to establish a liberal democracy in Belarus.

The Belarusian Democratic Republic first took shape in the chaos surrounding the end of the First World War. After the abdication of Russian Tsar Nicholas II and the subsequent Bolshevik takeover of Russia in the October Revolution, in 1918 Russia officially ended its role in the war by

ceding large swaths of western Russia to Imperial Germany

.

It was in these newly conquered lands that the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic took shape as a 77-member congress attempting to patch together a national military, civil infrastructure and foreign recognition. After the defeat of Imperial Germany in November 1918, however, Bolshevik armies swiftly moved in and established the area as a Soviet republic.

The exiled government originally moved to Prague, before the events of the Second World War pushed them to Paris and then North America. Since 1997, the Rada has been headquartered in Ottawa and headed by Belarusian-Canadian Ivonka Survilla.

While Survilla did receive a Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2013 from Conservative Senator Raynell Andreychuk, her government-in-exile has never been granted recognition by Canada. “We have never received much support from Western governments,” Mikalaj Packajeu, the Rada’s Deputy Secretary for Foreign Affairs

told Vice in 2016

.

For much of the Rada’s existence, Belarus was one of the 15 constituent republics forming the Soviet Union. The country obtained full independence in 1991 amid the breakup of the USSR, but since 1994 has been under the increasingly authoritarian rule of President Alexander Lukashenko.

Backed by overt support from neighbouring Russia, Lukashenko has overseen multiple disputed elections and the serial disappearance of political dissidents.

“Belarus is Europe’s last dictatorship, this continent’s last country that has still not managed to shrug off the dark legacy of the Soviet regime, to overcome the terrible traumas totalitarianism brought upon our nation,” Survilla

said in a 2020 speech

delivered in the midst of mass-protests across Belarus disputing another election in which Lukashenko claimed to be the blowout winner.

The government-in-exile maintains a

website

naming its 16-member presidium and hosting their official charter. The Rada also runs several social media accounts highlighting human rights abuses by the Lukashenko government.

In a

2020 interview with Latvian Public Radio

, Rada Information Secretary Aleś Čajčyc described the exiled government as a “non-material relic of sorts.” The Belarusian government-in-exile long ago abandoned any plans to once again form the country’s legitimate government. Rather, they see their mission as keeping the flames of Belarusian democracy alive until a non-autocratic government can arise in Belarus to claim them.

When the day comes that Belarus adopts a constitution and holds free elections “the functions of the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic will have been fulfilled,” said Čajčyc.

The Rada’s diplomatic influence may be non-existent, but it has inspired recognition among dissidents to the Lukashenko government. Belarusian politician Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was the main opposition candidate in the 2020 election. Her husband is in state custody for running an anti-Lukashenko YouTube account and Tsikhanouskaya has subsequently fled to Lithuania due to similar fears of arrest.

Last month, Tsikhanouskaya officially recognized Survilla for the “work she has been doing for many years for our independence.”

Europe spawned many governments-in-exile in the 20th century, but probably the most famous was the Polish government-in-exile driven to London following the country’s invasion by Nazi Germany in 1939.

The government-in-exile stayed in London following Poland’s post-war communist takeover and ceded its authority only upon the 1991 democratic election of Lech Walesa.

The Belarusian government-in-exile similarly came close to giving its blessing to the country’s first post-Soviet government in 1990, but pulled back because “the signs of how the present regime would come into being were already evident,” Čajčyc said last year.

He added, “we can only give the mandate once. That’s why it is necessary to wait for the moment when full-fledged and independent democratic institutes are set up.”

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Source: National Post Quebec Nordiques