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COVID-19

‘Not a high risk:’ Three young adults explain why they haven’t got a booster shot

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By Fakiha Baig

Banin Hassan says there is only one reason she would consider getting another shot of a COVID-19 vaccine to boost her first two doses.

“If they make it mandatory and restrict activities or travel from my life again, I would consider it ’cause I love to travel,” says the Hamilton-based consultant, who is 27.

“Other than that, there isn’t anything that would change my mind.”

Canadian government data shows young adults lag other age groups in getting boosted. About 35 per cent of people between 18 and 29 have received a third dose. That goes up to 42 per cent for 30- to 39-year-olds. On average, 72 per cent of Canadians 40 and older have received theirs.

A Calgary-based doctor who has studied vaccine hesitancy says he is not surprised young adults are behind.

“Even before the booster, with the second and the first dose, we did see much lower uptake in the 25 (group) compared to the 65-plus community,” says Dr. Jia Hu, who leads a group that advises on how to increase uptake.

Hu is the CEO of 19 to Zero, made up of doctors, nurses, economists and other experts, who aim to help governments, companies and communities across Canada build trust in vaccines.

“One thing that allowed us to get vaccine uptake rates higher in the 30-range was vaccine mandates, because I don’t think there’s hesitancy in this population (about the shots themselves),” Hu says. “In that age group, people are less concerned about COVID causing severe illness. Mandates let them live life again.”

Hassan’s partner, Humam Yahya, 28, acknowledges the benefits vaccines provide in reducing severe illness, but questions the need to keep getting shots.

“You just get a booster every eight months or 10 months and there’s no end date to it,” he says. “You’re just taking these vaccinations … and I’m sure they have great benefits, but also we don’t know the long-term side-effects.”

He says he was fearful at first about getting COVID-19 because he has asthma.

“I sheltered myself a lot. But then a lot of friends that did get COVID, their side-effects and what they got was nowhere near what I thought it would be, so I lost a lot of fear there.”

Hassan adds some distant family members died early in the pandemic. More recently she’s observed close family members and friends who had COVID-19, but with mild symptoms.

“My father has kidney failure and he’s on his fourth dose. I’m fully understanding of him needing to do that because his health is a bit more compromised. I would even encourage him to continue getting it. For me, I don’t find COVID a high risk at this point,” Hassan says.

She and Yahya say some friends, particularly women, had bad reactions to the vaccine, so the couple is wary of too many doses.

Liza Samadi, 25, a pharmacy assistant from Hamilton, says she hasn’t gone for a booster because it’s not mandatory.

“I was really lazy,” she says with a laugh.

“I just kept delaying, but then I ended up getting COVID (in January) so I was, like, ‘OK, I guess I’m pretty boosted enough for now so there’s no need for me to get it.'”

Samadi says her whole family has had COVID-19, so they’re not in a rush to get boosted, but would go for a third shot if it became mandatory.

Hu says he “strongly, strongly, strongly” recommends all Canadians get boosted because protection from two doses wanes after about six months “and the booster gets you right back.”

He does say that while booster uptake in young adults is too low, he doesn’t believe 18- to 29-year-olds with COVID-19 will overwhelm hospitals.

But he adds: “Do I think some 25-year-olds still might get hospitalized and die?” he says.

“Yeah, I do.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Monday May 2, 2022.

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

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Alberta

Judge decides ‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich stays out on bail

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OTTAWA — Tamara Lich, a key organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” protest that gridlocked Ottawa for weeks, will remain released on bail while awaiting trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips said he made his decision because she has followed her bail conditions, her surety has supervised her well and she’s already had a “taste of jail,” which he said lowered her risk to reoffend.

The judge said he does not accept that Lich breached her release conditions by agreeing to receive an award, and added Lich can be trusted to respect the conditions of her release.

She was released in March 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 terms of Lich’s release were intended to prevent a similar protest from happening in the national capital, the judge said, adding the court does not seek to control people’s political views.

“The courts are not a thought police. We seek only to control conduct to the extent that certain behaviour will violate or likely lead to violation of the law,” he said.

The protest is over and has left Ottawa, he said, adding it would be “practically impossible” to mount a similar protest in the city again.

Lich’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said in an interview Wednesday that he was pleased with the decision.

“She’ll be able to conduct her life in a lot more normal fashion as a result of the judge’s ruling,” said Greenspon.

Moiz Karimjee, a Crown prosecutor, said last week that Lich violated one of her bail conditions by agreeing to accept an award for her leadership during the Ottawa protest, and should be sent back behind bars to wait for her trial.

Greenspon argued last week her bail conditions should be loosened to allow her to come to Ontario and use social media.

He told the court 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.

However, Phillips said Wednesday the ban on Lich’s access to social media is warranted.

“Social media can be a problematic feedback loop where people get egged on and caught up in group activity they would never perform on their own,” he said.

Social media “undoubtedly contributed to and even drove” Lich’s conduct related to the protest, and her separation from it is necessary to lower her risk of reoffending, said Phillips.

Noting that Lich is in her late 40s, Phillips said she should be able to remember “how to use the social skills she surely built up before the advent of the internet.”

Lich is able to communicate by many other means, including email, phone or meeting in person, he said.

Greenspon said while he would have liked to see the social media ban reversed, “the most important thing was the rejection of the Crown’s efforts to to put her back in jail for agreeing to accept an award.”

The judge did amend her release conditions to allow her to visit Ottawa.

Lich’s motivation for coming to the city cannot be disclosed because it is under a court-ordered publication ban.

Phillips reiterated the high unlikelihood that Lich could organize an event resembling the convoy protest.

While she’s permitted to come to Ottawa, Lich is not allowed to visit the downtown core so as not “to walk around the very neighbourhoods she is alleged to have traumatized,” he said, except to attend court or meet with legal counsel.

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

The “Freedom Convoy” protest evolved into a weeks-long demonstration that congested the streets of Ottawa in February.

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

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

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19

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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