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COVID-19

Defence minister stands by military’s vaccine mandate amid months-long review

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5 minute read

By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

The Liberal government is defending the military’s continued use of a vaccine mandate for Armed Forces members as a condition of employment amid pressure to end the requirement and questions about when a promised “tweak” will finally be unveiled.

The Canadian Armed Forces has required since December that all troops receive two shots of a recognized COVID-19 vaccine or face disciplinary proceedings, including forced removal from the military.

While the vast majority of service members have bared their arms for shots, more than 1,100 have not. More than 400 of those have since hung up their uniforms, either voluntarily or involuntarily, with more on their way out.

The requirement remains in place even though mandates for other federal workers have been suspended. The government announced this week that vaccination requirements for international travellers will also be lifted on Saturday.

It was in this context that Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre this week called on the Liberals to end what he described as the military’s “discriminatory and unscientific vaccine mandate,” though the decision is ultimately up to chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Anita Anand voiced support for the mandate as she and other federal ministers briefed Canadians on hurricane recovery efforts in Atlantic Canada.

“It’s a force that must be ready at all times to conduct domestic and international military operations, sometimes in places with limited or no access to specialized medical care, sometimes in very close quarters with their fellow Canadian Armed Forces members,” she said.

“Therefore, the Canadian Armed Forces has a more stringent requirement to enforce health protection measures.”

Anand did note that Eyre is taking a second look at the requirement after the government lifted its mandates for other federal employees. “Pending this review,” she added, “(Eyre)’s directives remain in effect for CAF members until further notice.”

Exactly when that review may be completed remains a mystery, however.

Defence Department spokesman Daniel Le Bouthillier described the review on Thursday as “a complex issue,” with the military having to “balance medical and legal imperatives, ethical considerations, and operational requirements.”

“The CAF will continue to take a measured approach and make a decision when deemed operationally safe to do so.”

The department first reported that the mandate was being re-examined in June, and a draft copy of a revised vaccine policy obtained by the Ottawa Citizen in July suggested vaccine requirements for military personnel would be lifted.

The draft document, which officials said was not approved by Eyre, said military personnel and new recruits would no longer have to attest to their vaccination status.

The document also noted potential legal difficulties ahead to deal with people who were kicked out of the military because of the vaccine mandate, suggesting they could be forced to apply for re-enrolment.

By contrast, other unvaccinated federal public servants were put on leave without pay but allowed to return to their jobs when the mandate was suspended.

However, Eyre indicated in an interview with The Canadian Press last month that a “tweak” was coming in weeks as he tried to find the “sweet spot” between the military’s medical, legal, operational and ethical requirements.

At the same time, he called the mandate necessary to keep the military ready to respond to any emergency, noting that the force was called upon to assist in hospitals and long-term care facilities in Canada, and that many allies and foreign nations still have mandates.

“We need to maintain our operational viability going forward,” he said. “So over the course of the next number of weeks, we will tweak the policy, we’ll put out something amended.”

A number of serving members have unsuccessfully challenged the mandate in court, while some groups and individuals opposed to vaccine mandates, pandemic lockdowns and the Liberal government have used the military’s continued requirement as a rallying point.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 29, 2022.

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Business

US and global markets sink as unrest in China spreads

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By Elaine Kurtenbach And Matt Ott in Bangkok

Wall Street is heading lower ahead of Monday’s opening bell amid widespread protests in China calling for Xi Jinping to step down and an end to one-party rule.

Futures for the Dow Jones industrials fell 0.5% and the S&P slipped 0.7%.

Crude prices neared a low point for the year partially due to unrest in China, and have fallen for three consecutive weeks. Crude prices are now negative for 2022 and, after soaring above $120 in June, a barrel of benchmark U.S. crude can now be had for less than $74 per barrel.

The upheaval in China is the greatest show of public dissent against the ruling Communist Party in decades. Protestors are railing against policies aimed at eradicating the coronavirus by isolating every case, a policy that may have contributed to the death toll in an apartment fire in Urumqi in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

“For investors, when it comes to China, trying to predict with any degree the reopening certainty that has no certainty, basis, or track record to go by is looking like a dangerous game in the context of the disquieting protests and the colossal challenge China’s leaders now have on their hands,” Stephen Innes of SPI Asset Management said in a commentary.

Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases could further disrupt manufacturing and transport, adding to headaches over supply chains and inflation.

Apple fell almost 2% in premarket trading as the China manufacturing closures have hit the iPhone maker especially hard. Apple had been warning of shortages for its latest model, the iPhone 14, since early this month. Analysts now say those shortages could be even worse than previously thought.

Dan Ives of Wedbush Securities said Monday that disruptions in China could cut the number of available Apple’s iPhone 14 models between 5% and 10% this quarter, with some Apple stores seeing inventory shortages of up to 40%.

“The reality is that Apple is extremely limited in their options for holiday season and are at the mercy of China’s zero Covid policy which remains a very frustrating situation for Apple as well as the Street,” Ives wrote in a note to clients.

Casino operators in China who also have been negatively impacted by China’s strict COVID-19 policies finally got some good news as Macao tentatively renewed the casino licenses of MGM Resorts, Las Vegas Sands and Wynn Resorts. Shares in the Las Vegas-based companies all rose between 2% and 6% in premarket.

In Europe at midday, Germany’s DAX and the CAC 40 in Paris each lost 0.9%, while Britain’s FTSE 100 gave up 0.4%.

In Asian trading Monday, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 1.6% to 17,297.94 and the Shanghai Composite index lost 0.8% to 3,078.55.

Shares in telecoms equipment maker ZTE fell 4.2% after U.S. regulators banned sales of its products in the U.S.

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it was banning the sale of communications equipment made by ZTE and Huawei Technologies and restricting the use of some China-made video surveillance systems, citing an “unacceptable risk” to national security.

Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index shed 0.4% to 28,162.83 and the Kospi in Seoul lost 1.2% to 2,408.27. In Sydney, the S&P/ASX 200 declined 0.4% to 7,229.10 following the release of weaker than expected retail sales data.

Bangkok’s SET was 0.2% lower while the Sensex in Mumbai added 0.3%.

There are a number of highly anticipated economic indicators coming out this week. The Conference Board business group will release its report on consumer confidence and the U.S. releases its data on November employment on Friday.

Anxiety is riding high over the ability of the Federal Reserve to tame the hottest inflation in decades by raising interest rates without going too far and causing a recession.

The central bank’s benchmark rate currently stands at 3.75% to 4%, up from close to zero in March. It has warned it may have to ultimately raise rates to previously unanticipated levels to rein in high prices on everything from food to clothing.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell will speak at the Brookings Institution about the outlook for the U.S. economy and the labor market on Wednesday.

U.S. benchmark crude oil slid $2.40, falling to $73.88 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, and has now fallen for three consecutive weeks.

Brent crude, which is used to price oil for international trading, sank $2.60 to $81.11per barrel.

The dollar fell to 138.32 Japanese yen from 139.28 yen. The euro rose to $1.0474 from $1.0379.

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Freedom Convoy

Emergencies Act inquiry studies fundamental rights and freedoms at stake in protests

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The inquiry into the Liberal government’s historic choice to invoke the Emergencies Act to quell weeks-long demonstrations against COVID-19 mandates last winter is now moving into its public policy phase.

The Public Order Emergency Commission is expected to hear this week from about 50 experts who will share their perspectives on the use of the Emergencies Act, including whether it needs updating.

A session this morning will focus on fundamental rights and freedoms at stake in public protests, as well as their limits, while an afternoon session will explore financial governance, policing and intelligence.

Other topics to be discussed this week include cryptocurrency, international supply chains and criminal law, with discussions largely driven by policy papers the inquiry commissioned earlier this year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act on Feb. 14 after thousands of protesters associated with the “Freedom Convoy” blockaded downtown Ottawa and key border crossings.

Calling a public inquiry is a requirement under the emergency legislation and Justice Paul Rouleau, the commissioner of the inquiry, must submit his report to Parliament by Feb. 20, 2023.

“I look forward to hearing the thoughts and views of the experts and the discussion and analysis of these key policy issues,” Rouleau said in a statement last Thursday.

“This will assist the commission in considering what recommendations to make on the use of and potential modernization of the Emergencies Act and on any areas where we consider further study or research should be undertaken.”

The policy phase follows six weeks of public hearings at the Library and Archives Canada building in downtown Ottawa, culminating in Trudeau’s hours-long testimony on Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2022.

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