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Quebec public health director resigns, cities erosion of public opinion over measures

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s director of public health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, tendered his resignation on Monday, citing an erosion in public trust as the province grapples with record hospitalizations during a fifth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier François Legault accepted the offer, with Arruda’s departure confirmed to The Canadian Press by the premier’s office.

His resignation comes as the province is in the midst of a surge of COVID-19 cases fueled by the more transmissible Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

On Monday, Quebec reported 2,554 hospitalizations due to COVID-19 — a new pandemic high — as well as 248 intensive care cases. The province has reported 11,966 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Arruda wrote in a letter dated Monday that his office has offered public health opinions and recommendations amid uncertainty and based on the best available knowledge and various expert opinions.

But he acknowledged there was a “certain erosion” in public support for health measures.

“Recent comments about the credibility of our opinions and our scientific rigor are undoubtedly causing a certain erosion of public support,” Arruda wrote. “In such a context, I consider it appropriate to offer you the possibility of replacing me before the end of my term of office.”

Arruda’s contract was renewed for three years in August 2020.

In recent weeks, the province has brought back several stringent health measures including a curfew for a second year in a row amid rising infections and hospitalizations.

There were also calls to replace Arruda previously over comments that the use of rapid tests or even wearing a mask gives a false sense of security.

Legault will hold a news conference on Tuesday to address the departure.

Legault had given Arruda a vote of confidence on Dec. 30 in announcing several further measures including the curfew, with the premier insisting he was the right person to lead the public health department.

Arruda has been at the forefront of the province’s COVID-19 pandemic response since it was declared in March 2020, seen as a reassuring figure as the province was hit hard during the pandemic’s first wave.

Arruda had held the post of public health director since the summer of 2012. In his resignation letter, he offered to serve the government in a different post.

“Do not see in this gesture an abandonment on my part, but rather the offer of an opportunity for you to reassess the situation, after several waves (of the pandemic) and a context in constant evolution,” Arruda wrote.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 10, 2022.

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Alberta

Judge denies bail for protester charged in southern Alberta border blockade

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. — A judge has denied bail for a man charged with conspiracy to commit murder at a border blockade in southern Alberta.

Chris Carbert, who is 45, appeared by video in Court of Queen’s Bench in Lethbridge on Friday to hear the decision after a bail hearing last week.

Reasons for Justice Johnna Kubik’s ruling are protected by a publication ban.

Carbert and three other men are accused of conspiring to kill police officers at a blockade near Coutts, Alta., in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions.

One of the men, Christopher Lysak, was denied bail in March.

Anthony Olienick, whose bail hearing began this morning, and Jerry Morin also remain in custody.

The Crown has already indicated it plans to try the four men together.

They are to return to court on June 13.

The protest near Coutts began in late January and lasted for almost three weeks.

Fourteen people were charged in February after RCMP found a cache of long guns, handguns, body armour, large amounts of ammunition and high-capacity magazines in three trailers.

Police allege a group at the protest was willing to use force if the blockade was disrupted. Officers described the threat as “very serious.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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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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