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CP NewsAlert: Health officials suspect 17 monkeypox cases in Montreal area

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MONTREAL — Public health authorities are investigating 17 suspected cases of monkeypox in the Montreal area.

Dr. Mylène Drouin told reporters today the cases have not yet been confirmed by a laboratory, but she says recent outbreaks in Europe and a case reported in the United States suggest they are likely cases of the virus.

She says the first cases were reported on May 12 from clinics specializing in sexually transmitted diseases.

Monkeypox is typically limited to Africa, and rare cases in the United States and elsewhere are usually linked to travel there. A small number of confirmed or suspected cases have been reported this month in the United Kingdom, Portugal and Spain.

Drouin said the disease is transmitted by close contact and droplets and there is no reason for people to panic.

More coming.

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Russell Martin bids farewell to Blue Jays fans after retiring in May

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By John Chidley-Hill in Toronto

Russell Martin’s favourite memory at Rogers Centre is the same as many Toronto Blue Jays’ fans: Jose Bautista’s infamous bat flip in Game 5 of the 2015 American League Division Series.

“Just the electricity of the crowd, you could feel the ground trembling and the energy was insane,” said Martin. “That’s definitely one moment that just sticks out more than any other.”

Martin added another memorable moment on Friday, throwing out the opening pitch in front of a packed Canada Day crowd at Toronto’s ballpark. He formally announced his retirement from baseball on May 28 and making an appearance at Rogers Centre was his opportunity to say thanks and farewell to Blue Jays fans.

Before the game Martin said he hoped for a “couple of claps, a couple of laughs” when he came out to throw the opening pitch. Instead, he got a rousing standing ovation from the packed ballpark and a tribute video narrated by Bautista featuring messages from several former teammates.

He threw the opening pitch to Blue Jays catcher Gabriel Moreno, who wears No. 55 as a tribute to Martin. Mustafa (Moose) Hassan, Toronto’s clubhouse operations manager, told Martin last season that Moreno was going to wear his number and connected the two catches by phone.

“It’s awesome,” said Martin. “He gave me a call and I just told him there’s a lot of a lot of hits left in that jersey and I wish him the best.”

Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Martin is one of the most accomplished Canadians to ever play for the Blue Jays. The catcher had a .225 batting average, 66 home runs and 211 runs batted in, as well as an all-star game appearance, in his four seasons with Toronto.

He said that playing in Toronto on Canada Day has a different feel than a typical game at Rogers Centre.

“You feel the energy of the crowd and the crowd gets hyped for Canada Day,” said Martin, sitting in the Blue Jays dugout before the matinee game against the Tampa Bay Rays. “It’s special because you get the red jerseys and the crowd feels like you’re in the playoffs, even though it’s not the playoffs.

“You have that energy that you don’t really don’t get in a regular-season game.”

Martin began his career with the Los Aneles Dodgers before moving on to the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto, and then playing one last season back with L.A. He finished his career with a .248 average, 191 home runs, 771 RBIs, and four all-star games.

He said that he has generally stopped watching baseball, instead focusing on raising his children and playing golf. When asked if he might come out of retirement and represent Canada at an international tournament like the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Martin said it was unlikely.

“I’m so out of shape right now. As much as I’d like to think I could do it, I’m  not even close to being in playing shape,” he said with a laugh. “I have too much respect for the guys that spend a lot of time in their off-season, they go to work and they’re in tune.

“They’re like fine-tuned racecars right now. I’m like a beat up Chevy.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.

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Police make arrests after anti-vaccine mandate soldier leads march into Ottawa

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OTTAWA — Police arrested four people in downtown Ottawa Thursday after a Canadian soldier charged for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine requirements led a procession into the city and delivered a speech on “freedom” to a rapt crowd of about 1,200 supporters.

James Topp was charged in February with two counts of conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline for comments made while wearing his uniform and has since been leading a four-month march to the capital from Vancouver.

His march has been supported by many of the same figures involved in the “Freedom Convoy” that snarled downtown Ottawa for weeks until police used force to end what they and the government described as an illegal occupation.

Cheers and chants of “Freedom!” erupted as he arrived at the National War Memorial on Thursday evening. He knelt, weeping, with his hand on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier before he spoke to the crowd, thanking them for their support and urging them not to give up.

“I have met thousands of people in my journey from Vancouver to Ottawa and a lot of them have lost hope. They feel lost. They’re angry. They’ve lost faith in the system. We’ve already started something,” he said.

“Heed the call. Assemble. Organize yourselves. Plan. What’s the answer? Non-violence. Peace.”

But not long after Topp’s remarks, police said they were responding to a “situation” in the area and arrested four people over incidents including assaulting officers. Police later said the arrests happened after an interaction with officers “became confrontational and one officer was choked.”

In the immediate aftermath of the arrests, dozens of officers surrounded the war memorial, holding back the crowd. One officer poured water into his eyes as a woman nearby yelled about police using pepper spray. Others heckled police about their “taxpayer-funded” salaries and pensions.

At the same time, however, most members of the crowd continued to mill about happily and peacefully and line up for photographs with Topp. Tourists and families were also wandering by the scene, appearing puzzled as they snapped pictures of the war memorial.

As the sun began to set, fireworks could be heard in downtown Ottawa. Two young women set off firecrackers while officers looked on.

Topp’s arrival in the capital and promises of a new round of protests starting Canada Day have set residents on edge. Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson and the city’s interim police chief, Steve Bell, have promised to crack down on any illegal activity.

Earlier Thursday, Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre joined the final leg of Topp’s march. Poilievre walked alongside Topp west of downtown Ottawa, where hundreds of people had gathered to see the army reservist.

Video of the meeting shows Poilievre expressing his opposition to vaccine mandates and citing to Topp a famous quote by then-prime minister John Diefenbaker about being a “free Canadian” when he signed the Canadian Bill of Rights in 1960.

When Topp said he wanted reinstatement and reparations for anyone who lost their job because of vaccine mandates, Poilievre replied: “Everybody who lost their job simply because of a COVID mandate should be restored to their job, no question about it.”

The two also spoke about the divisions within Canada, with Poilievre saying: “People are desperate for hope … I think it’s time to put this country back together, and heal the wounds and reunite our country.”

The two were then followed by about 200 supporters, many of them carrying Canadian flags and some sporting camouflaged backpacks and other gear, as they walked down the sidewalk of a major street for about half an hour before Poilievre left.

A few hours later, hundreds of people gathered in a park south of downtown Ottawa for the final stretch to the National War Memorial. A long line of marchers, including at least one wearing a black armoured vest, snaked along the length of the park.

At one point the crowd was treated to a speech by a man wearing a military beret and civilian clothes who denounced defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre’s order that all Canadian Armed Forces members be fully vaccinated. Members of the crowd booed loudly.

Poilievre’s appearance with Topp comes as the presumed Conservative leadership front-runner has been accused of unabashedly cozying up to anti-vaccine protesters and other groups associated with the “Freedom Convoy.”

Tamara Lich, a leader of the convoy that gridlocked Ottawa in February, briefly appeared in court on Thursday after allegedly breaching one of her bail conditions. Lich, who faces multiple charges including mischief and obstructing police, will remain in custody until her bail hearing on Tuesday.

Many marchers declined to be interviewed, saying they did not trust that their words would not be twisted.

But Ottawa resident Richard Gervais, who was among the hundreds of people marching along the Rideau Canal to downtown Ottawa, called Topp an “inspiration to us all.”

“Here he is, the most peaceful, the nicest, the most decent human being you could possibly ever want to meet, and he’s walking across Canada to make a point,” he added.

Gervais said his adult son was one of the hundreds of federal public servants forced to take leave without pay because he refused to get vaccinated.

While the requirement has since been suspended, “we never know when they’re going to come back,” said Gervais. “And we know that it can come back in the flimsiest of excuses.”

He went on to accuse the World Economic Forum of trying to take away Canada’s sovereignty while questioning the severity of COVID-19 and the efficacy of vaccines. All of these claims have figured prominently in the discourse surrounding the “Freedom Convoy.”

Topp has said he has no plans to lead an occupation of the capital, and invited Ottawa police to work with him to facilitate his march through the city.

However, an organizer for a group calling itself Veterans 4 Freedom said in a recent video posted to YouTube that it plans to set up a semi-permanent camp east of Ottawa called “Camp Eagle” and hold events in the city all summer.

While police have since managed to prevent similar protests from taking over the city, stopping planned demonstrations from getting out of hand during Canada Day is likely to be complicated by the presence of thousands of people celebrating the holiday.

The charges against Topp relate to two videos posted online in the winter in which the army reservist appears in uniform criticizing vaccine requirements for military personnel and other federal employees.

Canadian Armed Forces members are severely restricted in the comments they can make while in uniform, particularly when it comes to criticizing government policies, in large part to protect the military from any perception of politicization.

His lawyer has argued such restrictions should not apply to policies that affect Armed Forces members personally.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Thursday said police are taking their responsibility to keep people safe during Canada Day celebrations “very seriously,” while Ontario Premier Doug Ford called on those intending to protest in Ottawa to respect the law.

More than two dozen Conservative MPs hosted Topp and other leading figures in the “Freedom Convoy” on Parliament Hill last week, posing for pictures, promising their support and listening to a lecture on the purported dangers of COVID-19 vaccines.

Health Canada says only vaccines that meet strict safety, efficacy and quality standards are approved for use in the country, and the benefits of COVID-19 vaccines continue to outweigh the risks of the disease. About 85 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose.

Topp told the MPs that he was marching in part to get all vaccine mandates repealed, as well as to demand the reinstatement of anyone who lost their job because of such a requirement and compensation for wages lost.

At the same time, he and the others raised the spectre of civil war in describing the state of the country.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022.

Lee Berthiaume and Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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