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Grocery store closures loom amid labour, product shortages

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Grocery stores are struggling with rising labour and product shortages that could threaten Canada’s food security, experts say.

Employee absenteeism due to workers calling in sick and COVID-19 protocols has hit about 30 per cent at some stores and is continuing to rise, Gary Sands, senior vice-president of public policy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, said Tuesday.

Without access to rapid testing in many provinces, he said workers are repeatedly forced to isolate for a week or more after an exposure to COVID-19.

If the situation worsens, some grocery stores won’t be able to stay open — threatening food security in rural and remote areas that rely on a sole independent grocer, Sands said.

“If we have to keep sending people home, at a certain point stores are not going to be able to operate,” he said. “We’re very frustrated with the lack of rapid test kits for grocers.”

Health Canada has made some rapid test kits available directly to companies in critical sectors, including the food industry, with 200 or more employees.

But many independent grocery stores don’t meet that threshold, putting those kits out of reach, Sands said.

Yet many grocers cannot obtain rapid tests through provinces either, he said.

“Independent grocers are in a myriad of communities in this country where there is no other grocery store,” Sands said. “If those stores close, you’ve got a food security issue.”

Meanwhile, stores are also experiencing a shortage of goods stemming from supply chain issues, including a shortage of truckers, packaging and processing delays and the Canadian winter.

Grocers rely on “just in time” delivery, meaning even transient issues like inclement weather can cause delays and shortages, Retail Council of Canada spokesperson Michelle Wasylyshen said.

Still, empty shelves at some supermarkets should only be temporary, she said, noting that retailers are exploring all avenues to get products to stores as quickly as possible.

But some supply chain issues could be longer lasting, such as the trucker shortage intensified by the federal government’s new vaccine mandate.

“The issue with the truckers having to be vaccinated is causing some delays, especially with the supply of fruit and vegetables from California,” Sands said.

“Grocers in Central Canada are mostly reporting just delays of a couple weeks, but in the West the shortages seem to be more significant.”

In some cases, Sands said grocers are short nearly 40 per cent of their usual stock of a variety of products.

“Especially in the West, some grocers are saying the situation is as bad as it was in the spring of 2020 in terms of supply,” he said.

It’s not just the produce aisle that experiencing shortages. Soups, cereals and cleaning supplies are all running lower than normal, Sands said.

Many shoppers have noticed empty shelves where Kellogg’s cereal is normally stocked, for example.

Kellogg Canada said in an emailed statement that higher at-home consumption coupled with supply chain challenges have impacted the availability of some products in Canada, such as Kellogg’s Rice Krispies cereal.

The company said the “intermittent shortages” reflect the challenging operating environment all manufacturers are experiencing, adding that it’s working hard to get Kellogg’s cereal brands back on store shelves.

About 1,400 union workers at Kellog’s plants in the United States were on strike for several weeks last year. An agreement was reached Dec. 21.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.

Brett Bundale, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

Ottawa interim police chief Steve Bell didn’t ask feds to invoke Emergencies Act

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Ottawa’s interim police chief says he did not ask the federal government to invoke the Emergencies Act during the “Freedom Convoy” in February.

The Liberals have said law enforcement asked for additional powers that could only be granted by declaring a national emergency.

Last week, however, Commissioner Brenda Lucki also said the RCMP did not ask the federal government to use the act.

Ottawa interim chief Steve Bell spoke to a parliamentary committee today, along with representatives from the Ontario Provincial Police, the RCMP and Gatineau police, about issues with jurisdiction in downtown Ottawa.

The committee on Procedure and House Affairs is examining whether the Parliamentary Protective Service should have jurisdiction over Wellington and Sparks streets, in addition to its current oversight of the parliamentary precinct.

Bell says there will need to be clarity on the boundaries of each organization’s responsibility if any changes are made, and clarity about what happens when events such as protests cross over those boundaries.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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Crime

Multiple reports say Marner’s SUV was stolen in an armed carjacking in west Toronto

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There are multiple reports that an SUV belonging to Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner has been stolen in a carjacking in the city’s west end.

The Toronto Sun, Global News and City TV all quoted unnamed police sources as saying Marner’s black Range Rover was taken outside a movie theatre in Etobicoke.

Police confirmed there was a carjacking without any injuries, but would not give any information out on the victims or witnesses.

The Sun says Marner was shaken but not hurt.

Police tweeted they were called to The Queensway and Islington Avenue area around 7:46 p.m. for reports of a man robbed of his car.

Authorities are looking for three suspects armed with two handguns and a knife, who took off in the stolen vehicle.

Marner and the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday in a seventh and deciding game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

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