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Yellow vests in Canada bear no resemblance to protesters in France: ambassador

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OTTAWA — Canada’s ambassador to France says this country’s yellow-vest protest movement bears little resemblance to the “gilets jaunes” who started it all in France.

Isabelle Hudon says the movement in Canada appears to have been appropriated by far-right extremists espousing racist, anti-immigrant views and even indulging in death threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

By contrast, she says the yellow vests in France started last November with a protest against a fuel tax and mushroomed into a more generalized protest against the heavy tax burden imposed by French political and business elites on the middle class.

While violent individuals have been involved in the French protests, some of which have devolved into riots, Hudon says she’s never seen the protests there linked to race or immigration.

Hudon, who was in Canada along with five other envoys to brief ministers at a cabinet retreat last week, says it appears to her that protesters here have adopted the symbol of their French counterparts — the yellow safety vests all drivers in France are required to carry in their vehicles — but do not share similar complaints or objectives.

During a stop in Moncton, N.B., over the weekend, she was surprised to see some yellow-vest protesters brandishing signs with what she called “violent words on immigration.”

“It’s not at all the kind of messages that the real gilets jaunes in France would deliver,” Hudon said in an interview.

“It’s not at all the same dynamic in Canada from what I heard and from what I saw,” she added. “It’s almost like here in Canada they’re seeing a strong brand and they’re branding their voice under the yellow vest but I’m not sure that it’s totally the same, or at all the same. But it’s almost like they’re borrowing the brand, the gilets jaunes, and you know what? It’s highly visible.”

The Facebook page for Yellow Vests Canada, which boasts more than 100,000 members, says the group’s mission is “to protest the CARBON TAX and the Treason of our country’s politicians who have the audacity to sell out OUR country’s sovereignty over to the Globalist UN and their Tyrannical policies.”

“We are also against the government attempting to buy off the media in an election year and conspire with social media companies to censor our speech. We CANNOT have a free and democratic society unless WE HAVE FREE SPEECH and the ability to express it as far and wide as we wish.

“We are Canadian Patriots who refuse to allow this country to walk down the path of Tyranny. God Bless.”

Protesters sporting yellow vests who’ve turned up at events across the country have displayed widely varying agendas, from supporting pipelines to denouncing a non-binding United Nations compact on global migration. Most are virulently opposed to Trudeau.

The group’s Facebook page has been rife with messages advocating or hoping for the prime minister’s death. A moderator for the page has said the group doesn’t tolerate hate messages and is trying to eliminate them from the site.

Brett Mineer, a Kamloops, B.C., radio host who earlier this month posted a tweet critical of the racist elements and conspiracy theories peddled among the yellow-vest crowd, was bombarded with threats and abusive comments, including suggestions that his wife should be raped and he should be beaten.

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COVID-19

HIV spike among B.C. drug users associated with COVID-19 lockdown, research says

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By Brieanna Charlebois in Vancouver

A new study says reduced access to HIV services during early COVID-19 lockdowns in British Columbia was associated with a “sharp increase” in HIV transmission among some drug users.

The study by University of British Columbia researchers says that while reduced social interaction during the March-May 2020 lockdown worked to reduce HIV transmission, that may not have “outweighed” the increase caused by reduced access to services.

The study, published in Lancet Regional Health, found that fewer people started HIV antiretroviral therapy or undertook viral load testing under lockdown, while visits to overdose prevention services and safe consumption sites also decreased.

The overall number of new HIV diagnoses in B.C. continues a decades-long decline.

But Dr. Jeffrey Joy, lead author of the report published on Friday, said he found a “surprising” spike in transmission among some drug users during lockdown.

Joy said transmission rates for such people had previously been fairly stable for about a decade.

“That’s because there’s been really good penetration of treatment and prevention services into those populations,” he said in an interview.

B.C. was a global leader in epidemic monitoring, which means the results are likely applicable elsewhere, Joy said.

“We are uniquely positioned to find these things,” he said. “The reason that I thought it was important to do this study and get it out there is (because) it’s probably happening everywhere, but other places don’t monitor their HIV epidemic in the same way that we do.”

Rachel Miller, a co-author of the report, said health authorities need to consider innovative solutions so the measures “put in place to address one health crisis don’t inadvertently exacerbate another.”

“These services are the front-line defence in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Many of them faced disruptions, closures, capacity limits and other challenges,” Miller said in a news release.

“Maintaining access and engagement with HIV services is absolutely essential to preventing regression in epidemic control and unnecessary harm.”

The Health Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Researchers said the spike among “select groups” could be attributed to a combination of factors, including housing instability and diminished trust, increasing barriers for many people who normally receive HIV services.

British Columbia is set to become the first province in Canada to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of hard drugs in January, after receiving a temporary federal exemption in May.

Joy said this decision, alongside measures like safe supply and safe needle exchanges, will make a difference preventing similar issues in the future.

“The take-home message here is, in times of crisis and public health emergency or other crises, we need to support those really vulnerable populations more, not less,” he said.

“Minimally, we need to give them continuity and the access to their services that they depend on. Otherwise, it just leads to problems that can have long, long-term consequences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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Tragedies unite Humboldt Broncos mom and James Smith Cree Nation artist

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By Mickey Djuric in Regina

Celeste Leray-Leicht received many condolence gifts after the Humboldt Broncos bus crash that claimed the life of her son, but it was a beaded green and yellow ribbon with a white heart that stood out.

Leray-Leicht wore it for years after her son Jacob Leicht died. It now lives on her vehicle’s visor, next to a photo of her children when they were little, alongside a poppy.

She always felt a connection to the beaded ribbon because of the heart.

“My son Jacob, he was a Valentine baby, so I’m drawn to hearts,” Leray-Leicht said from her home in Humboldt, Sask., east of Saskatoon.

On April 6, 2018, near Tisdale, Sask., 16 people were killed and 13 were injured when an inexperienced truck driver ran a stop sign, crashing into a bus that was taking the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team to a playoff game.

Leray-Leicht’s son played with the Broncos and was 19 when he died in the crash.

She never knew who gifted her the beaded pin, but she found out when she headed out to James Smith Cree Nation, northeast of Saskatoon, to drop off food and other donations earlier this month.

Bernard Constant Community School on the reserve has become a gathering hub after a stabbing rampage on Sept. 4 that killed 10 people, nine of whom were James Smith Cree Nation members. Eighteen others were injured. Both suspects have died.

The school is where funerals and wakes were held, where volunteers continue to cook throughout the day to keep members fed as they recover. It’s also where people come to pray.

On Sept. 11, it became the place where two women, dealing with devastating loss, came face to face for the first time.

While in the school’s gym, Leray-Leicht met Lissa Bear, who is a member of James Smith Cree Nation, and has been grieving alongside her community.

She’s also the Indigenous artist who anonymously gifted her the beaded ribbon that had always reminded Leray-Leicht of Jacob.

To Leray-Leicht’s surprise, Bear had approached her saying she had sent her the pin years ago.

“And I said ‘I just looked at that pin half an hour ago,” Leray-Leicht said. “We were kindred spirits. We instantly hit it off.”

Leray-Leicht said it was remarkable to meet Bear, despite the tragedies that unite them.

“I think God is in the details and I don’t really believe in coincidences too much. I think we’ll become good friends,” said Leray-Leicht. “It was just so special to me.”

Bear declined to comment, but gave consent to Leray-Leicht to share the story.

Humboldt and James Smith Cree Nation are 125 kilometres apart, but are connected through their grief.

Since the mass stabbing, families from Humboldt have silently attended funerals, donated food and offered support to people in the Indigenous community.

“As adults and leaders in the community, it’s our responsibility to try and find as many supports as we can for our youth and for our adults without reliving the trauma over and over again,” Leray-Leicht said.

Students in Humboldt wrote messages of hope on hearts for James Smith Cree Nation, something a nearby community did for them in 2018 after the bus crash.

At a vigil in Humboldt on Sept. 14, the hearts were placed in baskets alongside chocolate Hershey hugs, and were given to James Smith Cree Nation Chief Wally Burns. They asked him to pass them along to the youth of his community.

“When asked ‘what do you need?’ and they say prayers, I can relate,” said Leray-Leicht, who helped plan the vigil. “That’s all I remember thinking — ‘That’s what we needed, too.’ Prayers to lift us up to survive this devastating loss.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 24, 2022.

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