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COVID-19

Coronavirus invasion of major league baseball was bound to happen sooner or later

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Well, we knew something like this coronavirus invasion of major league baseball was bound to happen sooner or later. Now, all we can do is hope that other sports organizations do not go through similar messes.

But don’t bet against it happening somewhere else, and soon.

My guess from the beginning was that baseball would be first on the list of pending and potential disasters. Operating without the semblance of a safety “bubble” was accurately described as  either arrogant or foolhardy — of course all players would avoid mingling in the public or attending places where individuals sing or dance or cavort in nameless ways.

Hockey, so far, owns the biggest safety record: thousands of tests and no positive findings. In addition, few of the NHL’s players have openly elected to step away from the test, quarantine and isolate-when-necessary philosophy introduced by commissioner Gary Bettman, whose political instincts have ranked him among the least popular and most effective leaders in the sport’s history.

In a Bettman-directed universe, favoured hockey stories would all be politically correct, linked only to hard-fought victories, lovable team pets, young children and well-publicized contributions to charity by league, franchise or a smiling individual.

Today, it is obviously unfair to take offence at his quiet-at-all-cost stance. As long as occasional players choose to come forward when COVID-19 affects them, much of the media, and therefore most of the dedicated, banner-waving outsiders will be content with whatever information becomes public.

No such refuge is possible for baseball, despite the good fortune provided when Canadian decision-makers ruled against the possibility that U.S teams could cross a mostly-locked border and fly freely through our land for as long as necessary to complete a 60-game season and possible playoff games. Try to imagine the fuss that would be brewing at this moment if anyone who had been within reach of the Miami Marlins was scheduled to land at Pearson Airport in Toronto any time in the near future!

On Tuesday, it was reported that four more Marlins had been found with the infection, bringing the team total to 17; two coaches and 11 players were infected previously. At least half-a-dozen games have been cancelled or postponed, with more schedule changes expected.

Predictably, players who first objected to the baseball plan to operate without clear protection spoke out quickly. Los Angeles Dodgers lefthander David Price was among the first to remove himself from the season.

“Now we’ll really get to see if baseball is going to put players’ health first,” he said. “Part of the reason I’m at home right now is because players’ health hasn’t been put first.”

Washington manager Dave Martinez, whose Nationals are in a four-game home-and-home series with the Toronto Blue Jays, also commented: “My level of concern has gone from an eight to about a 12. I’m going to be honest with you: I’m scared.”

“Cheer up, things could be worse.” So, we cheered up. Things got worse.

COVID-19

‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich expected to have bail hearing today

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OTTAWA — Tamara Lich, an organizer of the “Freedom Convoy,” is set to appear in an Ottawa court today for a bail hearing after being arrested last week for allegedly breaching one of her bail conditions.

She was arrested in Medicine Hat, Alta., where she lives, on a Canada-wide arrest warrant sought by the Ottawa police.

Police transported her to the capital and she briefly appeared before an Ottawa judge on Thursday before remaining in custody over the weekend.

Lich was a key figurehead of the massive protest that overtook the capital’s downtown streets for more than three weeks in February.

She 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.”

Police have not said which condition she’s accused of breaching.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 5, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

Poilievre among those marching with soldier charged for criticizing vaccine mandates

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By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre joined the final leg of a march led by a Canadian soldier charged for speaking out against COVID-19 vaccine requirements that has sparked promises⁠ — and fears — of a new wave of protests in the capital.

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.

His 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.

Poilievre walked alongside Topp for about half an hour after the two met in the parking lot of a strip mall west of downtown Ottawa shortly before noon, where hundreds of people had gathered to see the army reservist.

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

When Topp says he wants the reinstatement and reparations for anyone who lost their job because of vaccine mandates, Poilievre said: “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.

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.”

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 to the National War Memorial.

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.

“Folks, be considerate this weekend, you’re going to Ottawa, be considerate. It’s Canada Day, we’re Canadians, just everyone have a good time, a safe time, stay healthy and safe and spend time with your families,” Ford said.

Ford said he is disappointed to see such protests return to the capital.

“I’m all for peaceful protests and you can demonstrate, but no shenanigans this weekend, just be peaceful and let the people of Ottawa enjoy their weekend,” he said.

“Honestly, we shouldn’t even be going through this. It’s disappointing, but it is what it is.”

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.

“We won’t be intimidated by any group that plans to disrupt the celebrations,” Mayor Jim Watson said during a briefing earlier this week. “We’re prepared and we will not tolerate any illegal activity by anyone.”

Bell said police are prepared for a number of different scenarios, and will respond quickly to any illegal activity, including efforts to set up structures such as stages.

In late April, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a request from Bell to appoint up to 831 RCMP officers to help with the Rolling Thunder motorcycle events, and made those appointments valid until July 4.

The city is warning that vehicles will be ticketed and towed if they’re found violating no-stopping zones, although the full extent of the areas that will be off limits has not been determined.

Many Ottawa residents remain angry at how the city and police handled the “Freedom Convoy” protests, with several community groups banding together to launch a citizens’ inquiry into how that protest was handled.

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

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