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People are ‘fed up’: Quebec follows Ontario’s lead and loosens COVID-19 restrictions


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The Quebec government announced the loosening of some COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday, following the lead of Ontario and other provinces amid indications the Omicron surge may be peaking in some areas.

Quebec Premier François Legault said the province would adopt a go-slow approach, which will see gathering limits raised on Monday for private functions, as well as the reopening of restaurants at 50 per cent capacity and a resumption of some sports activities for those under 18. Other restrictions will be eased for religious, entertainment and sports venues on Feb. 7.

“We are all aware that a lot of Quebecers are fed up, they’re fed up with the restrictions,” Legault told a news conference in Montreal. But he added that any reopening has to be cautious and gradual. “We have to take it easy,” he said.

Last Thursday, the Ontario government confirmed it would start easing health protection orders by boosting the size of social gatherings and reopening businesses such as restaurants, gyms and cinemas with capacity limits — part of a plan to lift all constraints by mid-March.

Premier Doug Ford said the phased reopening was in response to public health indicators showing “that the worst is behind us.” The premier pointed to a reduced rate of hospital admissions and a declining percentage of positive COVID-19 tests.

The number of people with COVID-19 in Ontario hospitals, however, went up Tuesday to 4,008 from 3,861 on Monday. The number of people in intensive care also rose slightly to 626 from 615 — and the province reported 64 new deaths. Ford said Tuesday he doesn’t see the province’s mask mandates ending any time soon.

In Alberta, the health authority confirmed a patient died while waiting for care in an emergency ward.

Alberta Health Services spokesman Kerry Williamson said the patient had been triaged at the Red Deer Regional Hospital and reassessed by emergency staff Sunday, but died before receiving further care.

He said the death is being investigated and it’s not yet known whether it was the result of a long wait.

Alberta has a record 1,377 people in hospital with COVID-19.

B.C.’s provincial health officer lifted restrictions on youth sports tournaments, allowing them to resume on Feb. 1.

However, Dr. Bonnie Henry also extended the use of the proof-of-vaccine card until June 30, saying the card is an important tool to allow restaurants, fitness centres, and events to continue to operate.

In Quebec, health officials reported 85 more deaths linked to COVID-19, and the province’s Health Department reported that hospitalizations fell by 21, to 3,278. The number of people in intensive care remained unchanged at 263.

Meanwhile, GoFundMe has frozen the $4.2 million raised over the past 11 days by organizers of a truckers protest that is calling for an end to vaccine mandates for truck drivers who cross the Canada-U. S. border. GoFundMe has said the money will remain locked until it receives documentation about the distribution of the cash.

Tamara Lich, who is also secretary of the fledgling Western separatist Maverick Party, launched the campaign on Jan. 14, saying the money would be used to cover the cost of accommodation, food and fuel for those taking part in the “Freedom Convoy.”

The Ottawa-bound convoy set off from Vancouver on Sunday and passed through Regina late Monday with 1,200 rigs joining the procession, according to police.

The trucks later converged in nearby Balgonie, Sask., where a Calgary woman, who would only give her name as Delores, said the convoy was more than a protest against vaccine mandates. She said it’s also about an “us versus them” mentality that applies to the vaccinated and unvaccinated.

Under new rules, Canadian truckers must be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a 14-day quarantine when they cross the border from the United States.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, students returned to school Tuesday after learning from home since Jan. 4, when the province’s COVID-19 case counts were still spiking. All students were required to take two rapid tests before classes began. Still, the province’s teachers association says its members feel it’s not yet safe to open schools.

The province reported a slight drop in COVID-19 hospitalizations Tuesday, with 20 receiving care, down one from the day before — but five of those patients remain in critical care.

In New Brunswick, three more people died from the disease and hospitalizations continued to rise. The province’s chief medical officer, however, said the hospitalization increase was below previous projections, which she attributed to people reducing their contacts.

Nova Scotia reported five COVID-19-related deaths Tuesday. In total, 136 people in the province have died after being infected with the novel coronavirus. As of Tuesday, there were 304 people in hospital who had tested positive for COVID-19, including 92 patients in a specialized care unit.

Health officials in P.E.I. confirmed Tuesday that another person had died as a result of COVID 19, bringing the province’s total to nine deaths since the pandemic began.

In Nunavut, the Baffin Island community of Igloolik remained under a strict lockdown as COVID-19 continued to spread among the 1,600 residents. Chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson said most of the calls to the territory’s COVID-19 hotline have been from Igloolik, where household exposures have risen dramatically.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022.

— With files from Morgan Lowrie and Christopher Reynolds in Montreal and Mickey Djuric in Regina

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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Inflation could put more Canadians at risk of going hungry, say experts

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By Adina Bresge in Toronto

Experts and advocates anticipate that more Canadians could be at risk of going hungry as inflation continues to outpace many consumers’ grocery budgets.

Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at University of Toronto, said steepening inflation rates are likely to increase the prevalence and severity of food insecurity in Canada. That could mean financial concerns will prompt people to reduce meal sizes, skip meals or even go a day or more without eating.

Overall food costs rose 8.8 per cent compared with a year ago, while Canadians paid 9.7 per cent more for food at stores in April, the largest increase since September 1981, Statistics Canada reported Wednesday.

Compared with a year ago, the cost of fresh fruit was up 10 per cent, fresh vegetables gained 8.2 per cent and meat rose 10.1 per cent. The cost of bread rose 12.2 per cent, while pasta gained 19.6 per cent and rice increased 7.4 per cent.

While all consumers are prone feel the pinch at the checkout aisle, these numbers pose particular concern for low-income people who are less able to absorb the price hikes, forcing some to make compromises at a detriment to their dietary needs, Tarasuk said.

“As prices of basic commodities rise, it’s very worrisome to think that we have such a large swath of the Canadian population sitting in circumstances are insufficient to come up with the costs.”

The 2020 Canadian Income Survey found that 11.2 per cent of Canadians lived in households that had experienced moderate and severe food insecurity, and 4.6 per cent more had experienced marginal food insecurity.

Concerns over being able to consistently put food on the table is a pervasive and persistent problem in Canada, said Tarasuk, and as income levels lag farther behind inflation, the situation looks to get worse with far-reaching impacts.

Food insecurity is a “toxic condition” that has been linked to physical and mental health problems, Tarasuk said. As mounting costs threaten to draw more people into food security and compound the stress on those who are already struggling, inaction on this issue could have consequences for the health-care system and life expectancy, she said.

Tarasuk said only a fraction of food-insecure people turn to charity. But a couple of food banks reported that soaring food prices have accelerated the surge in demand for their services during the COVID-19 crisis.

“This is a crisis on a crisis,” said Neil Hetherington, CEO of Daily Bread Food Bank. “These (inflation) numbers are meals that people will be going without.”

The Toronto-based food charity saw 160,000 client visits in March, up from 123,000 in March 2021, said Hetherington.

He projected that number will increase to 225,000 visits per month by this time next year, but said he hopes that’s an overestimate.

“I’m an incredibly optimistic guy, but I am very concerned about the next couple of years,” said Hetherington.

In the first three months of 2022, the Calgary Food Bank logged a 29 per cent year-over-year increase in demand for its food hampers, said communications co-ordinator Betty Jo Kaiser.

Last month, the organization distributed food support to nearly 9,500 people, 75 per cent of whom were first-time clients, said Kaiser.

“We do not expect a slowdown in demand,” she said. “We brace ourselves for continued and rising need.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

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Jail ‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich again, Crown argues in Ottawa court

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By Laura Osman in Ottawa

The Crown is accusing “Freedom Convoy” organizer Tamara Lich of breaching her bail conditions and prosecutors argue she should go back to jail until her trial.

A judge initially denied Lich bail after her arrest during the massive protest that overtook downtown Ottawa for more than three weeks in February, but she was released in March after a review of the court decision.

She appeared virtually on Thursday in Ontario Superior Court, where lawyers wrangled over how the bail hearing should proceed.

Lich and fellow protest organizer Chris Barber are jointly accused of mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.

She was released with a long list of conditions, including a ban from all social media and an order not to “support anything related to the Freedom Convoy.”

The Crown says Lich has violated one of her bail conditions by agreeing to accept a “freedom award” from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, a legal advocacy group that supported the protest.

The organization planned to honour her at a gala celebration for inspiring “Canadians to exercise their Charter rights and freedoms by participating actively in the democratic process,” and leading the “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa.

That protest evolved into a weeks-long demonstration that gridlocked the streets of Ottawa and eventually led the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act in an effort to dislodge the participants.

“Ms. Lich has suffered for the cause of freedom by spending 18 days unjustly jailed, and exemplifies courage, determination and perseverance,” the organization wrote in a statement on its website, which the Crown included in its notice of application.

The website said Lich would attend the award dinner in Toronto on June 16, if a review of her bail conditions would allow her to attend, as well as events in Vancouver and Calgary.

The Toronto event is expected to include a keynote address by columnist Rex Murphy.

During the protest, Keith Wilson, a Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms lawyer, spoke on behalf of the convoy protesters at a news conference and described Lich as a client.

“Tamara Lich ought to be detained,” the Crown’s notice of application concludes.

Meanwhile, Lich’s lawyers plan to argue that her bail conditions are too restrictive and should be reconsidered.

Her lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, told the court Thursday that the social media ban imposed on Lich was unnecessarily broad and has had a huge impact on her life while she’s been out of custody.

He said she wishes to be in contact with her 94-year-old grandmother by social media and communicate with her friends and family.

The hearing is expected to last two days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

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