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COVID-19

Alberta Premier says he won’t ‘take lectures’ from federal health minister on COVID

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CALGARY — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he won’t “take lectures” from federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu on how to handle COVID-19.

Hajdu earlier penned a letter to her Alberta counterpart saying she agrees with the Canadian Paediatric Society’s description of Alberta’s move to lift all COVID-19 measures as an “unnecessary and risky gamble.”

“We’re not going to … take lectures from Minister Hajdu, particularly when it appears that she and her boss (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau are hell-bent on a federal election campaign,” Kenney said Friday at a news conference in Bowden, Alta., about drought support for farmers.

“If they really are that concerned about COVID, then why is she getting ready to put up campaign signs?”

Kenney went on to describe Hajdu’s letter as a political ploy and criticized her handling of COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

He said the federal government should respect the advice of Alberta’s top doctor, as his government does.

Hajdu is one of many political leaders and health-care experts across the country who have spoken out about Alberta’s decision to eliminate COVID-19 isolation, testing and contact tracing measures.

Dozens of people chanted “test, trace and isolate” outside the legislature in Edmonton on Friday. It was the ninth consecutive day of protests, which have also taken place in Calgary.

Organizers said they will continue to protest every day until Aug. 16 – the day quarantine requirements lift in Alberta for people infected with COVID-19.

David Walsh, 14, said even though he is fully vaccinated, he is concerned for his peers when they return to school in September.

“It’s idiotic, quite frankly,” Walsh said. “I’m worried about asymptomatic people in the school … and not having to isolate anymore is concerning. I’m worried about my classmates and those who have been fed misinformation and haven’t been vaccinated.”

Businessman Rob Sproule attended the protest with his wife and children. He said he is gravely concerned about a fourth COVID-19 wave.

“No other jurisdiction has gone this far. Dropping restrictions is one thing. You don’t have to take it one step further and treat COVID like it’s the cold. It’s not a cold,” said Sproule.

As concerns mount, so are cases in Alberta. Thursday marked the single highest daily case count since July 1 with 397 new infections. Alberta also had the highest active case count in all of Canada, according to federal data.

On Friday, the province reported 369 more cases, and 11 new hospitalizations.

Dr. Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary, said severe outcomes as a result of community transmission is the biggest concern.

“If this trend continues, I think we’re going to have to face some tough decisions on how to slow it,” said Jenne.

“If, however, we see a stronger disconnect between rising cases in the community and limited hospitalizations, then that’s an indication we can continue moving forward.”

Earlier Friday, Alberta’s Opposition NDP called on Kenney to release internal modelling that the government says supported its decision to eliminate its public health measures.

NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said the government needs to release the data so Albertans can make decisions on their health and gauge the risks.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, has said the modelling looked at transmission and severe outcomes related to the highly contagious Delta variant.

Hinshaw said the modelling suggests cases will rise for a month but will have a limited impact on the province’s acute care system.

Chris Bourdeau, a spokesman for Alberta Health, said in a statement that Hinshaw’s decisions are based on “thorough medical analysis, using the best data available from Alberta and around the world.”

Bourdeau said Hinshaw will release some data next week, but did not clarify if the internal modelling will be included.

Late Friday afternoon, the province released a 126-page independent report into its response during the first wave of the pandemic.

The review looked into the government’s response to acute and continuing care, the economic consequences of the pandemic, messaging on COVID-19, the government’s decision-making process and procurement of personal protective equipment.

It made three recommendations, including one for the province to work collaboratively with other stakeholders, such as municipalities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2021.

— With files from Fakiha Baig in Edmonton

Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

City auditor criticizes Ottawa police over handling of ‘Freedom Convoy’ protests

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By David Fraser and Cindy Tran in Ottawa

The City of Ottawa’s auditor general says police did not adequately share intelligence about last year’s “Freedom Convoy” protests, affecting the city’s ability to plan for the protests.

In reports released on Wednesday, the auditor general also found that the Ottawa Police Service did not properly engage with the city’s emergency management and traffic management offices.

Auditor general Nathalie Gougeon’s office put out three reports evaluating how the city and other municipal bodies, such as the Ottawa Police Services Board, responded to the protests that paralyzed the national capital’s downtown for weeks last winter.

Gougeon is recommending that the city and its police force formalize their communications and responsibilities to better prepare for major events and protests in the future.

The “Freedom Convoy” protesters arrived in Ottawa at the end of January 2022 and were cleared out in mid-February after the federal government invoked the Emergencies Act.

While protesters had a variety of goals and many expressed grievances about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, they were largely united in rejecting COVID-19 public-health restrictions.

The auditor general found that Ottawa police reached out to some city services ahead of the protest, but not the city’s office of emergency management. That office initiated contact with the police on Jan. 24, five days before the majority of protesters arrived.

“Due to a lack of timely notification, the city was unable to commence co-ordinated planning activities until mere days before the arrival of the protestors,” says one of Gougeon’s reports.

Intelligence shared with the city was also “not sufficient” to allow for effective planning, Gougeon concluded. “In the days leading up to the convoy’s arrival, city departments received very little information from the (police).”

Reports describe how police prepared a 46-page traffic plan based on available intelligence in advance of the protest’s arrival — but only a “brief single-page plan showing police unit posts” was shared with city officials.

The failure to provide a traffic plan or work with city transit experts resulted in an inability to properly plan and alter bus routes, reports say.

City staff found themselves “reacting” to police demands, such as a request for assistance moving barriers, but were not privy to any of the communications or decision-making behind the requests.

Traffic managers “found the situation chaotic,” the auditor general found.

“It was not until February 21, 2022, two days prior to the end of the protest, when the city’s traffic management unit’s expertise was utilized by the (police), and the city obtained knowledge of the detailed traffic plan from there onwards,” one of the reports says.

The reports also detail the Ottawa Police Services Board’s similar frustrations over how police were sharing information related to the “Freedom Convoy.”

Gougeon’s office found that despite attempts to obtain necessary operational details about what police were doing, the civilian oversight body did not receive information consistently.

“It impacted their ability to effectively undertake their oversight responsibilities during the convoy protest,” says a report about the board’s experience.

The police services board only received information about the protest from police on Jan. 24 — the same day that the city’s emergency management office reached out to the force, it said. “This was after a regularly scheduled board meeting, where there was no mention of the upcoming convoy protest.”

And the board did not receive detailed information on police priorities, “nor did a fulsome consultation take place” — so it was unable to fulfil its policy “to consult on the mission, objectives and priorities of the event,” the report says.

Gougeon concluded that the city readily supported the Ottawa Police Service throughout the “Freedom Convoy.”

But the report identified numerous challenges and shortcomings from the city when it came to helping residents, communicating with councillors and departments and managing traffic.

More than 1,600 Ottawa residents and business owners participated in a consultation and shared their experiences. Many expressed feeling abandoned and ignored by the city, the audit found.

Several residents in the “red zone,” the area that was most affected by the demonstrations, had difficulty accessing resources such as grocery stores, medication and transportation. While the city posted links to resources, community groups were the ones to take matters into their hands to help residents, a report about the city’s response says.

“Residents found these community initiatives to be most helpful to them during the emergency. It appeared to them that none of these initiatives were city-led,” says the report.

The audit found that the city received numerous bylaw reports, but many were not addressed due to staff safety concerns. According to the auditor general, 229 respondents noted that they received no response or action to reports they filed.

“Residents felt ignored and abandoned by the city as a result of the lack of enforcement and communication,” Gougeon determined.

The auditor general made 35 recommendations about how the city and police should respond to future emergencies, including improving communication to city councillors and investing in a system that would allow residents to make bylaw reports with greater ease.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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COVID-19

Emergencies Act commission report to be delivered Feb. 20

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The federal commission looking into the Liberal government’s decision to use the Emergencies Act is being granted an extension to deliver its report to the cabinet and the public at the same time this month.

The Public Order Emergency Commission is investigating use of the act to end the “Freedom Convoy” protest, which paralyzed downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks in the winter of 2022.

Justice Paul Rouleau was given 360 days to deliver his report.

An order-in-council creating the commission has been changed to remove a Feb. 6 deadline to submit the report to the government.

The new deadline is Feb. 20, the final day allowed under law for the report to be given to Parliament and released to the public.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government invoked the Emergencies Act in February of last year, giving extraordinary powers to authorities to limit protesters’ movements and freeze bank accounts.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.

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