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As MPs urge support, Trudeau demurs on whether government backs COVID-19 waiver

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WASHINGTON — Justin Trudeau stopped well short Friday of endorsing efforts to lift the veil on the trade secrets behind COVID-19 vaccines, insisting instead that Canada is already doing plenty to improve access to doses around the world.

Those efforts include taking earnest part in negotiations at the World Trade Organization about a possible waiver to the rules that protect those secrets, the prime minister told a news conference.

But whether he believes such a step would have the desired effect of rapidly increasing the supply of vaccines in the developing world, Trudeau pointedly refused to say.

“We need to emphasize that these are multilateral discussions with a great number of countries who all have different perspectives,” he said in French when asked if he supports the idea.

“Canada is at the table to help find a solution. We’re not blocking any negotiations; we need to work in the right way to ensure that people around the world will be vaccinated.”

In theory, a waiver to the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, or TRIPS, would make it easier for developing countries to import the expertise, equipment and ingredients necessary to make their own vaccines.

The idea has been gaining steam in recent weeks, winning endorsements from progressive activists, lawmakers and anti-poverty groups around the world.

It got its biggest push to date Wednesday when U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai expressed American support for the idea and committed to text-based talks at the World Trade Organization.

Critics, however, call the idea wrong-headed, citing the glacial pace of WTO talks, the fact all 164 member countries would need to sign off, the complexities of vaccine manufacturing and the importance of the pharmaceutical business model that helped develop the vaccines in the first place.

Ottawa’s position on the proposed waiver has been slow to coalesce.

International Trade Minister Mary Ng initially tweeted Canada’s support for the U.S. decision and promised to work with its closest trading partner, but did not say if Canada would join the talks or advocate for a waiver.

Her promise in the House of Commons the next day committed Canada to sitting down at the negotiating table, but again left out any clues as to what position the government would take.

“We certainly are going to be actively participating in these negotiations,” Ng said Friday, adding that Canada is focused on removing “all barriers” to vaccines, including production problems, supply-chain bottlenecks or export restrictions.

To make that point, Trudeau announced a $375-million cash infusion Friday for a World Health Organization “accelerator” that fosters the development and distribution of COVID-19 tests, therapeutic drugs and vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.

Ng’s statement earlier Friday also made clear that the government “firmly believes in the importance of protecting (intellectual property).”

Diana Sarosi, policy and campaigns director for Oxfam Canada, called it a step in the right direction that Canada has agreed to talks, but assailed the government’s “wait-and-see approach” on intellectual property.

“Canada continues to prioritize profits over public health,” Sarosi said in a statement.

Others in the House of Commons, including members of Trudeau’s own government, are making their position crystal clear.

A broad coalition of parliamentarians from across the political spectrum wrote to Trudeau this week to express support for a temporary waiver. More than 75 MPs and senators had signed on by Friday afternoon.

“We’re not talking about running shoes or farm equipment — we are talking about a global health crisis, a planetary pandemic, that puts all of us at risk,” NDP MP Don Davies told a news conference.

“I think it’s a fair criticism to say that a number of countries — and I’m sorry to include Canada in this, but I must — have been stalling that process.”

Even Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole joined the fray.

“Conservatives support a temporary suspension to intellectual property rules in this pandemic to help get vaccines as quickly around the world as possible,” O’Toole said Friday.

A waiver is strongly opposed by the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a number of key world leaders who say it would be counterproductive to current vaccine production efforts and undermine the very business model that gave rise to the vaccines in the first place.

Others warn that consensus is notoriously difficult to come by at the world trade body — any single country can kill a proposal. Several prominent members, including Germany and the U.K., stand firmly opposed to the idea of a waiver.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2021.

— With files from Mia Rabson, Stephanie Taylor and Lina Dib in Ottawa

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said all signatories to the letter were MPs.

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Rampaging bear in Japan injures 4 before being shot dead

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TOKYO (AP) — A wild brown bear on the the loose all night in a city in northern Japan wounded four people, entered a military camp and disrupted flights at an airport Friday before being shot and killed by authorities.

The bear was seen wandering through the streets of Sapporo in the early hours of Friday, triggering a number of calls to police. Over the next eight hours, Hokkaido prefectural police said the bear injured a woman in her 80s, a man in his 70s and a man in his 40s before attacking a soldier.

Police said the condition of those injured was not known, but the Asahi newspaper reported that the man in his 40s suffered serious injuries to his chest, back and limbs after he was mauled by the bear while walking on the street.

Footage on local television showed the bear wandering a street in Sapporo. Chased by a car, it crossed a busy road and forced its way into the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Okadama. The bear knocked down a uniformed soldier on duty at the gate.

The soldier suffered cuts to his chest and stomach, but his injuries were not life threatening, according to the Defense Ministry.

Next the bear ran through the camp and intruded onto the runway at a nearby airport, causing several flights to be grounded.

The bear then ran into a forest, where it was shot by local hunters.

Toshihiro Hamada, an official at Sapporo city environmental department, said the bear’s presence in town was a surprise and officials were investigating how the animal ended up in town.

“We are sorry that four people were injured,” Hamada said.

Brown bears roam mainly in Hokkaido forests, but experts say they have been increasingly spotted in inhabited areas looking for food, especially during the summer.

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Follow Mari Yamaguchi on Twitter at https://www.twitter.com/mariyamaguchi

Mari Yamaguchi, The Associated Press

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Canadiens defenceman Jeff Petry talks injury, ‘scary looking’ eyes after return

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Jeff Petry’s young sons were warned by their mother that dad looked a little different.

A hand injury suffered by the Canadiens defenceman in Game 3 of Montreal’s series against the Winnipeg Jets had also eventually resulted in broken blood vessels in both of his eyes.

It gave the soft-spoken blue-liner a demonic look that startled his children — despite Julie Petry’s best efforts to calm their fears.

“Kids were at school when I came home,” Petry recalled Thursday. “(They) didn’t want to look at me and decided that I would be the villain and they’d be the super heroes and we started playing.

“That got them to relax and feel a little bit more comfortable.”

Petry wasn’t a super hero Wednesday night, but his return to the lineup helped the Canadiens secure a 3-2 victory in Sin City to even their semifinal matchup with the heavily favoured Vegas Golden Knights 1-1.

Game 3 of the best-of-seven showdown goes Friday at the Bell Centre in Montreal.

Petry was hurt June 6 when his right hand got caught in one of the holes photographers and television camera operators use along the glass. He departed that game, wasn’t available when Montreal completed a sweep of Winnipeg the following night, and sat out the opener against Vegas.

The 33-year-old was confident he’d suit up Wednesday after coming through the morning skate while sporting a specially made glove, but he didn’t take line rushes in warmups and was initially scratched before being added to the game sheet just prior to puck drop.

Once in the lineup, it didn’t take long for TV viewers and social media users to notice Petry’s eerie, blood-tinged eyes.

“He’s scary looking,” Canadiens goaltender Carey Price joked following his ninth victory of the post-season. “But he’s obviously a big part of our team and played a big game.”

Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme, who also got defenceman Jon Merrill back after he was injured during the Canadiens’ stunning comeback win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, said his team wasn’t being coy with Petry’s status.

“He was confident he was gonna play, but we needed to talk to the doctors, we needed to have the green light,” Ducharme said Thursday morning before Montreal flew home. “They wanted to make sure everything was fine.

“There’s no game there.”

Petry, who doesn’t have any vision issues, finished second on the Canadiens with 42 points during the pandemic-shortened regular season, and has four assists in 11 outings in these playoffs with the Original Six franchise now just three victories from the Stanley Cup final.

“It is the most important time of the year,” he said after logging nearly 21 minutes Thursday. “With any injury that you’re dealing with, you’re trying to cut the timeline down and get out there as quick as possible.”

Normally a player with terrific puck-handling skills, Petry said he’ll have to continue relying on his skating and stick work to get by in the defensive zone with his hand still ailing.

“It’s come along,” he said. “It was something that needed to get time — talking with the doctors, getting a timeline and coming up with what made sense, but what was realistic.

“It was just a matter of when I felt like I could play without hurting the team.”

That was certainly the case in Game 2.

RED-HOT TOFFOLI

Tyler Toffoli led the Canadiens offensively throughout the regular season.

Not much has changed in the playoffs.

The winger, who had 28 goals in 52 games in 2021, has 12 points in 13 contests this spring. Toffoli is also on an eight-game point streak — one back of the franchise record shared by Guy Lafleur (1977) and Larry Robinson (1978).

FLEURY HEADING HOME

Golden Knights netminder Marc-Andre Fleury is looking forward to playing in his home province for the first time since before the pandemic because of COVID-19 border restrictions.

The Canadiens will have 3,500 fans in attendance at the Bell Centre for Games 3 and 4 — up 1,000 as coronavirus rules continue to loosen in Quebec — but the 36-year-old is only focused on what happens between the whistles.

“I haven’t been back in a little while,” said Fleury, a native of Sorel-Tracy, about an hour’s drive northeast of Montreal. “It’s always a building that’s fun to play in. It’s usually pretty loud.

“But the goal is the same — just go in and grab the win.”

PERRY LIVING THE DREAM

Montreal forward Corey Perry fell in love with the Canadiens as a kid when his father was an Ontario Provincial Police officer not far from the Quebec border in New Liskeard, Ont.

After playing his entire career in the U.S., the 36-year-old former Hart Trophy winner and 2007 Stanley Cup champion signed with his childhood team for US$750,000 right before training camp.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“To put on that jersey each and every night and play for this franchise, it’s a special feeling,” said Perry, who has three goals and five assists in the post-season. “It’s been a dream come true.

“But there’s a lot of work left to be done.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2021.

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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

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