Quebec police investigating violent arrest involving Black teenagers

Violent arrest investigated

Videos circulating on social media over the weekend of Quebec City police involved in a violent arrest with Black teenagers prompted reactions across the province, including from the premier.

François Legault issued a tweet on Sunday, saying he was made aware of the troubling footage.

"We need to shed light on the event," Legault said.

Quebec City police said they are investigating the violent arrest after videos showing officers dragging, hitting and pinning down Black youths in the snow began circulating on social media on Saturday.

Police issued a news release saying the videos are from an interaction that took place between Nov. 26 and 27. The release said they're deeply concerned by the behaviour of the officers and are looking into the circumstances.

"The SPVQ has been made aware of videos circulating on social networks involving police officers who allegedly intervened in a way that greatly concerns the management of the police service," spokeswoman Marie-Pier Rivard with the Quebec City police said in a statement.

Police didn't provide further details on the interaction or the identity of the people involved in the videos.

Professional boxer Eric Martel-Bahoeli, however, said he recognized one of the young Black men in the video.

"First of all, I was extremely surprised to see the youngster I know, and secondly I was shocked not to say extremely scandalized when I saw the gesture the police officer made, which was gratuitous," Martel-Bahoeli said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Martel-Bahoeli said the police have no excuse for such behaviour.

"Clearly you can see he's immobilized with his arm behind his back," he said, adding he was still waiting for news on the young man's condition. "To do that to a young person, so gratuitously, it has no place."

The arrest only adds fuel to racial tensions between police officers and the Black community, continued Martel-Bahoeli.

"It's not normal in 2021, when you look at Quebec City and you look at the police force, which is supposed to be representative of the population, and that there are zero Black police officers in Quebec," Martel-Bahoeli said.

Robert Pigeon, former chief of Quebec City's police force, said in 2020 that the force had no people of color among its officers.

Newly elected Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand and Benoit Charette, the Quebec minister responsible for fighting racism, also reacted to the videos.

Charette said the footage, which Marchand called "troubling," undeniably raises questions.

"I will follow the conclusions of the investigation with great attention," Charette said.

Quebec Liberal Party Leader Dominique Anglade is requesting an independent investigation but the Quebec police watchdog has yet to issue a statement on the matter.


Government to introduce bill outlawing conversion therapy for adults

New conversion therapy bill

The federal government is set to table a new bill to ban conversion therapy on Monday, which if passed would outlaw practices that seek to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

It will beef up a bill which died when Parliament was dissolved ahead of the September election, and is expected to ban the discredited practice completely.

Conversion therapy has included electric-shock therapy and intensive sessions to repress non-heterosexual attraction.

The government has said outlawing conversion therapy is a priority.

Its new bill, to be introduced by Justice Minister David Lametti and Gender Equality and Youth Minister Marci Ien, is expected to gain wide cross-party support. But more than half of the Conservative caucus opposed the government’s previous attempt to ban conversion therapy practices.

The original bill only outlawed conversion therapy if adults did not consent to it, though it banned it for children.

No Conversion Canada, an advocacy group which has been campaigning to outlaw the practice for years, said the latest version would be “a significantly stronger bill than last time.”


India pushes renewed trade talks with Canada in aftermath of two Michaels China woes

India, Canada trade talks

Canada and India are quietly setting the stage to reboot formal free trade talks as the Trudeau government seeks economic alternatives to China following the dispute over the Meng Wanzhou-two Michaels affair.

Trade negotiators from both countries have held four "consultative meetings" in the last year via video, and the most recent one in October saw the two sides trade preliminary proposals, said Anshuman Gaur, India's deputy high commissioner to Canada.

"They talked about the approaches and the possible path forward," he said in an interview this past week.

The renewed engagement is a result of India's aggressive new trade policy, dubbed "early harvest," which has seen the country attempt to make incremental steps towards full-scale free trade deals with Britain, the European Union, Australia, the United Arab Emirates and now Canada.

It also comes as the federal government emerges from the aftermath of its three-year diplomatic deep freeze with China after Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig were recently returned safely to Canada. They spent more than 1,000 days in Chinese prisons in what is widely viewed as retaliation for the RCMP's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on an American extradition warrant in 2018.

Canada is seeking to lessen its economic dependence on China and diversify into new Asian markets. It recently launched formal trade talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – known as ASEAN – a 10-country bloc that includes the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand.

The Liberal government's Nov. 23 throne speech acknowledged that priority when it said: "A changing world requires adapting and expanding diplomatic engagement. Canada will continue working with key allies and partners, while making deliberate efforts to deepen partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and across the Arctic."

International Trade Minister Mary Ng discussed the possible deal with her Indian counterpart, Piyush Goyal, this past summer in Rome at a meeting of the G20.

"India and Canada, absolutely, I think have opportunities to deepen our commercial and trade relationship," Ng said in an interview.

Canada began trade talks with India more than a decade ago under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper. The on-off process stopped again in 2018 when Canada was in the middle of its intense renegotiation of the North American Free Trade agreement with the U.S. and Mexico that was instigated by former American president Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a controversial visit to India in February 2018 where he and his family faced sharp criticism back home for dressing up in traditional Indian clothing.

Gaur shrugged off any suggestion that Trudeau rubbed his country the wrong way, saying the need to focus on the U.S. and Mexico was understood.

None of that, he said, diminishes India's interest in doing business with Canada in an attempt to boost the $12.8 billion in annual bilateral trade between the two countries.

That has made Canada one of the priority countries in India's "early harvest" trade strategy, which is a veritable stepping-stone approach to speeding up progress towards broader free trade deals. It involves pursuing partial progress in bringing down tariffs on some goods and services while leaving more difficult issues unresolved for later, more comprehensive free trade agreements.

"We try to formalize agreement on those areas where the differences are the least and we continue discussing on some of the areas on which have greater divergence," said Gaur.

India's pursuit of trade deals comes as many countries, Canada included, are taking stock of their position with China amid growing concerns about human rights.

Like China's leader, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also been widely criticized for perpetuating human rights abuses, including in a September Human Rights Watch report that accused his government of subjecting its critics to surveillance, politically motivated prosecutions, harassment, online trolling, tax raids and the shutting down of activist groups.

Gaur suggested Canada and India can build on a common trait that neither share with China: their common law legal heritage inherited from Britain.

"Parliamentary democracies have a greater understanding of the other's system. There has to be more trust between them," said Gaur. "That degree of familiarity, that assurance that this is a rule of law country, this is a democratic country, is a very strong motivator for a lot of people to look at India as a potential trade partner."

Gaur said China will remain an "important trading partner for everybody" given its massive manufacturing capabilities and the size of its market.

"But diversifying and building more connections is not usually to be seen in context of limiting your relationship with someone else," he said during an interview at the India High Commission in Ottawa.

Ng, meanwhile, said "Canada always pursues its trade based on Canadian values and the interests that are guided by Canadian interests first and foremost."

The Business Council of Canada, which represents the most powerful chief executives of Canadian companies, is also very bullish on India and is conducting research on the possible benefits of an expanded trade relationship.

Trevor Kennedy, the council's director of trade and international policy, said India is a "complicated country to negotiate with" because it is a federation of broad, regional interests. But its sheer size and high level of growth mean Canada must make a concerted effort, noting others are pursuing deals with India.

"Whether it's rising protectionism in the U.S. or a new version of China, big markets like India are really critical because they do provide us with some alternatives," said Kennedy.

"We don't want to be left behind if our major trade partners are charging ahead."

Aside from agricultural products and natural resources (uranium is a key Canadian source of power for Indian nuclear reactors), Kennedy said the potential for growth in financial services between the two countries is strong. He cited rising investment by the Canada Pension Plan and firms such as Manulife.

This week, a delegation of 40 Indian information technology companies toured Canada, making stops in the Maritimes, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and Waterloo, Ont.

"The Canadian government has invested a lot in sectors like artificial intelligence and machine learning. And now is the time to reap the benefits by scaling up, with partnering with Indian IT companies," said Gaur.

The behind-the-scenes work between government negotiators is well under way, said Gaur, especially following the most recent virtual meeting of trade officials.

"They have shared position papers" and both sides are getting a "better understanding of each other's position," said Gaur.

India hopes to have Canada's response in the coming weeks, hopefully before Christmas, he said, "because our political leaders are pushing very strongly."


Canadians to get biggest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 over COVID variant fears

Big drop in gas expected

Canadians should experience the largest drop in gasoline prices since 2009 on Sunday as fears about a virulent new COVID-19 variant are expected to provide a break of 11 cents per litre at the pumps.

Dan McTeague, president of Canadians for Affordable Energy, says the national average price could drop to about $1.32 per litre but begin to rise again midweek.

Global crude oil prices plunged Friday over fears about a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron that spurred Canada to ban entry for foreign nationals who travelled through southern Africa.

Despite the upcoming decrease, national gasoline prices have surged nearly 43 per cent in the past year as the reopening of the global economy from pandemic lockdowns prompted a recovery in crude prices.

The January crude oil contract fell 13.1 per cent or US$10.24 on Friday and stands at US$68.15 per barrel.

The Canadian Automobile Association says that as of early Saturday morning, Manitoba had the lowest average pump price of $1.35/L, followed closely by Alberta at $1.377, while Newfoundland and Labrador was the highest at $1.583 with British Columbia at $1.558.

CSIS efforts to derail threats to 2019 election sometimes skirted law: watchdog

Spy operations skirted law

Canada's intelligence service sometimes strayed from the law when trying to disrupt threats from hostile foreign states in the 2019 election campaign, the national spy watchdog has found.

In a newly released report, the National Security and Intelligence Review Agency sheds fresh light on the Canadian Security Intelligence Service's use of powers, ushered in six years ago, to actively counter threats.

Such measures could involve CSIS altering websites, blocking communications or financial transactions, and interfering with tools or devices.

The review agency looked at the topical issue of threat-reduction measures, approved in the context of the 2019 federal election, that were intended to ward off threats to Canada's democratic institutions.

In the run-up to the election, Canada's cyberspy agency, the Communications Security Establishment, warned there would be some kind of online foreign interference.

The CSE cautioned the meddling was unlikely to be on the scale of Russian interference against the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But it said Canada could expect foreign adversaries to try to sway voters by focusing on polarizing social and political issues, promoting the popularity of one party over another, or trying to shape the public statements and policy choices of a candidate.

In its report, the review agency says most of the threat-reduction measures taken by CSIS during the period satisfied requirements spelled out in legislation governing the spy service.

It concluded, however, that in an unspecified number of cases the actions ran afoul of the CSIS Act because there was no clear link between a person implicated under the measure and the actual threat.

The review agency's classified report was presented to the government in February but a version with sensitive material deleted was made public only this week. Any details of specific disruption operations were excised from the document.

For all of the threat-reduction measures studied, the review agency found CSIS had met obligations, set out in a ministerial direction, to consult government partners and complete an assessment of the operational, political, foreign relation and legal risks of each measure.

The review agency's legal assessment of the measures looked at requirements in the CSIS Act that the spy service have "reasonable grounds to believe that a particular activity constitutes a threat to the security of Canada" and that the measure be "reasonable and proportional in the circumstances."

Most of the measures "satisfied the requirements of the CSIS Act," the report says.

But in a "limited number of cases" the spy service's inclusion of people "without a rational link" to the threat meant the measures "were not 'reasonable and proportional' as required under the CSIS Act."

One type of measure — no description was provided — entailed third parties acting on CSIS's behalf. Such a relationship would require CSIS to fully consider the Charter of Rights and Freedoms implications of its measures, and could require the spy service to obtain warrants before taking certain measures, the report says.

Overall, while CSIS use of threat reduction "remains limited," the intelligence service has been applying the powers to the full spectrum of national security threats, the report notes.

The review agency made recommendations including development of an accountability framework for compliance with legal advice on threat-reduction measures, such as documenting when and why such advice was not followed.

In a written response included with the report, CSIS says the Justice Department provides advice to ensure measures remain lawful and respect the rights of Canadians, adding the spy service "diligently applies these principles and guidance."

CSIS spokesman John Townsend said Friday the service welcomes the review body's contributions "in the spirit of continuous improvement."

"CSIS will always champion a sophisticated discussion on national security issues, especially those grounded in a Canadian context," he said.

"In today’s dynamic threat environment, government, civil society and the private sector must work together to protect our national interests."

Indigenous leaders denounce Quebec Premier Legault as 'paternalistic,' 'arrogant'

Quebec Premier denounced

Indigenous leaders in Quebec on Friday denounced Premier François Legault for his decision not to meet with them during a two-day economic summit in Montreal.

Ghislain Picard, chief of the Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador, criticized Legault for speaking with reporters after the speech and for not meeting with Indigenous leadership.

"He did not have time to meet with the chiefs, but he did have time to speak to the media," Picard said at the conference, called the Grand Economic Circle of Indigenous People and Quebec.

Picard said Legault was in "electoral mode," adding that the premier's refusal to meet in person with the chiefs "shows a certain level of arrogance."

Indigenous leaders said Legault had only planned to deliver remarks to the gathering but then finally agreed to take three questions at the end of his speech from those in attendance.

Réal McKenzie, chief of the Innu Matimekush-Lac John of Schefferville, Que., asked Legault about royalties owed to Indigenous Peoples in exchange for the use of their lands. John Martin, chief of the Micmacs of Gesgapegiag, asked the premier about First Nations communities being excluded from accessing natural resources.

Neither chief said they were satisfied with the premier's responses.

The two-day event, which concluded Friday, aimed to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous business people together.

During his speech, Legault announced a $10-million investment over five years for First Nations Executive Education, a program based at HEC Montréal business school.

Earlier Friday, Indigenous Affairs Minister Ian Lafrenière announced a $3.3-million investment for a hotel project in Kahnawake, south of Montreal.

Media experts agree action is needed, but urge caution on how streaming is regulated

Old won't work for new

The Liberals have promised to quickly reintroduce legislation aimed at reforming the Broadcasting Act, which has media experts cautioning the government against bringing newer media platforms under an old regulatory framework.

"I think everyone agrees that it's an older piece of legislation that doesn't fully reflect the environment that we live in,” said Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor and the Canada Research Chair in internet and e-commerce law.

The Liberal government introduced a bill, known as C-10, in November 2020 that would bring global online streaming companies, such as Netflix and YouTube, under the Broadcasting Act. It came under intense criticism over whether it would regulate user-generated content. The bill died in the Senate when Parliament was dissolved for the September election.

While its risks to the free speech of Canadians got the most attention, if the promised new legislation resembles Bill C-10, then several of its features would have a significant effect on Canada’s cultural industries.

On-demand streaming services — for streaming music, television and movies — would be obligated to provide funding to Canadian content as well as actively promote it, including work by marginalized and under-represented groups, through what are called discoverability requirements.

This could include a requirement for a streaming service to highlight Canadian content through its recommendation tools, such as personalized music playlists or curated film selections.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) supervises traditional broadcasters and enforces federal policies. This new legislation would empower the CRTC to do the same for online media services but is vague when it comes to how the regulatory body would perform that function. Critics have called this an unrealistic overreach, questioning how the CRTC could monitor all content published on the internet.

Gerry Wall, president of consulting firm Wall Communications, produced a study on the economic effects of music streaming for the federal government in 2018, and has recently completed a second study which is forthcoming.

Wall and Geist both said that setting discoverability requirements on streaming services is not easily done for several reasons.

Geist said the notion of discoverability in Canada emerged at a time when traditional broadcasters would prioritize content from the United States over Canadian content because it was more profitable. Today, on-demand streaming services operate under a different business model and are incentivized to cater their catalogue to the subscriber's preferences.

Using Netflix as an example, Geist said, "If people are interested in Canadian content … it's clearly in Netflix's interest to provide them with that Canadian content to keep them as subscribers.”

He added that Canadian content is not hard to find in that anyone can type "Canada" in the streaming platform’s search bar and will find a suite of Canadian materials.

Geist and Wall both said that bringing discoverability to streaming services triggers a thorny debate on how Canadian content is defined today. "That's a fundamental problem, I think, that needs to be addressed,” said Wall.

The Broadcasting Act sets out criteria to define what makes a cultural work Canadian. For music, what's known as the MAPL system determines whether a musical work is Canadian if it fulfils enough conditions, like whether a song is performed by a Canadian, or if the piece was recorded in Canada.

Geist referred to this as a "tick-box exercise" that may not be equipped to fully capture the complexity of a television production that involved mostly Canadians but fails to meet the criteria because a funder was not Canadian.

“I think any sort of honest assessment about what certified Canadian content means is that it's just as likely to come up with a cop show where Toronto is designed to look like New York, as it is to come up with something that people would view as genuinely Canadian,” said Geist.

The way listeners access music through on-demand streaming is unlike the one-to-many distribution method of radio, where there was a single linear schedule of programming, said Wall. On a streaming service, the catalogue of music is accessed by users on-demand and simultaneously.

"You could break up the 24-hour day and say, 'This much of your time has to be spent providing Canadian content on that.' But how would that work in the streaming world?" he said.

Music streaming services can push music to a user through personalized and curated playlists, a process that is largely driven by a platform’s proprietary algorithms. Making Canadian artists more discoverable by granting the CRTC access to a streaming service's algorithms is a "very poorly conceived notion,” said Wall.

Andrew Forsyth is a consultant to MRC Data, formerly Nielsen Canada, a marketing data and audience insights firm. He said the government must figure out how it can properly regulate this newer media environment — a difficult task.

Wall and Geist both agree that while the Broadcasting Act needs updating, the tension is in how that is accomplished.

Wall said he does not think it's a good idea to try folding in new services and technologies into a framework designed for older means of communication that are fundamentally different.

That sentiment was echoed by Peter Menzies, senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and past CRTC vice-chair.

"The idea behind the broadcasting industry is the government is licensing people to use a Crown asset," he said. "That's something the Crown owns; it can set the rules for its use. The Crown doesn't own the internet, but it's pretending that it does."

In the world of radio, the CRTC was able to compel stations to help subsidize Canadian content by collecting prescribed amounts and transferring it to funding and granting bodies like Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records (FACTOR) and the Canadian Music Fund.

"It all depended on a licensing system,” said Wall. “Well, are you going to license Spotify? How are you going to do that?"

If the goal is to ensure streaming companies contribute to these subsidies, Menzies said this can be done by other means "without pretending that the internet is broadcasting."

Both Menzies and Forsyth said that creating a level playing field between on-demand streaming services and traditional broadcasters can be better achieved by imposing a tax on streaming services.

"You don't have to regulate the internet. Carve out the companies that you want to get money from," said Menzies.

Forsyth said the entire Canadian music industry exists because the Broadcasting Act allowed for it to flourish. "I think the problem is that the beast has been built," he said, referring to the act and all the business generated by it. Revising the act will in turn affect the country’s system of funding, support and exposure for Canadian entities, he said.

"As a starting point, the user-generated content piece has to be out," said Geist, because it fundamentally involves regulating the speech of Canadians.

He added that the legislation in its previous form was too vague and left too many details for the CRTC to decide.

Wall said he thinks the Heritage committee's list of witnesses should be opened so that digital-first creators can have their voices included in the discussion. "I don't think they ever had any input into this act, and they're the future,” he said.

Menzies said, "The hope is that they breathe deeply, take a long look at things and figure out what is it you really want to get out of things and what's the best way to get there? Because Bill C-10 sure wasn't it."

Police make second arrest in fatal stabbing of Montreal teen outside school

2nd arrest in teen's death

Montreal police say they've arrested a second person in the stabbing death of 16-year-old Jannai Dopwell-Bailey.

The suspect, identified by police as Andrei Donet, 18, appeared in court today on several charges including second-degree murder.

Dopwell-Bailey was stabbed in the upper body outside the Programme Mile End alternative high school in Côte-des-Neiges, in the city's west end, on Oct. 18. He died in hospital.

His killing, as well as those of two other teens shot in 2021, has prompted calls for governments to address the root causes of violence among youth in the city.

Police have said they were looking for as many as three people in connection with the attack.

A first suspect, a minor, appeared three days after the killing on charges of second-degree murder and conspiracy.

Safety alert: Old Spice and Secret antiperspirants recalled due to benzene

Old Spice, Secret recalled

A Canada-wide recall has been issued for Old Spice and Secret aerosol spray antiperspirant products due to the presence of benzene detected.

The U.S.-based Procter & Gamble Company issued a voluntary recall on Thursday (Nov. 25) of all lots of specific Old Spice and Secret aerosol spray antiperspirant products sold in Canada due to the presence of benzene detected, explains a press release.

The affected products are packaged in aerosol cans and were distributed nationwide through retail outlets and online. Retailers have been notified to remove the affected products, and Old Spice and Secret will offer reimbursement to customers who purchased them.

The company notes, "All other Old Spice and Secret products are not impacted by this issue and may continue to be used as intended. This represents the vast majority of our products, including body spray products, solid sticks, soft solids and gel antiperspirants and deodorant products."

To date, The Procter & Gamble Company has not received any reports of adverse events related to this recall and is conducting this recall out of an abundance of caution.

What risk does benzene cause?

Benzene is classified as a human carcinogen.

Exposure to benzene can occur by inhalation, orally, and through the skin and it can result in cancers including leukemia and blood cancer of the bone marrow and blood disorders which can be life-threatening.

Based on exposure modelling and the cancer risk assessments published by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (IRIS database), daily exposure to benzene in the recalled products at the levels detected in our testing would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.

What you should do

Immediately stop using and appropriately discard the affected aerosol spray products.

Consumers with questions regarding this recall can seek more information via P&G's Consumer Care team at 888-339-7689. Consumers can also visit Old Spice online or Secret online for more information about the impacted products and to learn how to receive reimbursement for eligible products.

Contact your doctor if you have experienced any problems that may be related to using these products.

Adverse reactions or quality problems experienced with the use of this product may be reported to Health Canada online or by regular mail.

  • Complete and submit the report online
  • Regular Mail: Complete the form online, under the Submit Options section, select “Print and submit by post” and mail to the address provided. For any questions, call 1-866-662-0666.

In one bill, Liberals push sick leave and crack down on health-care worker harassment

Liberals push sick leave

The federal Liberals have introduced a two-for-one piece of legislation that would provide sick leave to some workers, and bring the law down on anyone harassing health-care employees.

The bill would provide 10 days of paid sick leave to federally regulated workers, a contingent that makes up a small percentage of the overall Canadian workforce.

Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan said Friday the sick leave plugs a hole in the country's social safety net that the pandemic exposed.

He added that the government will work with provinces and territories so they can replicate the federal promise for workers under their jurisdiction.

At the same time, the legislation would create two new offences in the Criminal Code: one for anyone threatening a health-care worker, those who assist them, and anyone trying to access health services, and a second for anyone caught obstructing access to a health-care facility.

The punishment for either would be up to 10 years in prison.

Justice Minister David Lametti acknowledged that the Criminal Code already includes general offences that protect people from intimidation, threats, violence and obstructing people's enjoyment or use of property. But he said these amendments would give police and prosecutors additional tools to specifically protect health-care workers and users.

They would also provide a higher maximum sentence, as the current general sentence for intimidation carries a maximum of five years, he said.

The two issues were at the top of the government's legislative agenda when MPs returned to Parliament Hill this week for the first time since the Sept. 20 election.

The Liberals want to see the measures through the House of Commons before the middle of December when MPs go on a holiday break.

Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association, is asking MPs to quickly consider the bill, saying that legislative action is necessary to prevent avoidable tragedies.

Variant prompts ban on travellers from southern Africa

Southern Africa visitor ban

Canada has banned visitors from southern Africa after the discovery of a new variant of concern in the region.

The new variant, deemed Omicron, first emerged in South Africa and coincided with a steep rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in that region in recent weeks, according to the World Health Organization.

Meanwhile Global Affairs will issue an advisory to discourage non-essential travel to South Africa and neighbouring countries.

Currently there are no direct flights from South Africa to Canada.

Opposition parties and provincial premiers have called for strict border measures to prevent cases of the potentially dangerous new variant from being imported into Canada.

More Coming.

Conservatives call for border restrictions in face of new COVID-19 variant

Call for border restrictions

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole has called for the government to immediately strengthen border screening in the face of a highly mutated new variant of COVID-19.

The World Health Organization will meet Friday to discuss variant B.1.1.529, which originated in South Africa.

Several nations around the world have already moved to stop air travel from southern Africa.

O'Toole has called on the Canadian government to issue travel advisories, banning non-essential travel to and from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.

The Conservatives also want to see mandatory screening at all international airports from affected counties, regardless of vaccination status and mandatory quarantine for all travellers from those countries.

The party was critical when the government delayed closing Canada's borders at the outset of the pandemic in 2020, and O'Toole said the government should not delay now.

"With reports of the spread of a new COVID-19 variant, we have a small window of opportunity to act, and we must move now," O'Toole said in a statement Friday morning.

Alberta and Ontario's premiers have also called for all travellers originating from those countries to be banned from Canada until more is known about the variant.

There are no direct flights from South Africa to Canada.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Transportation Minister Omar Alghabra are expected to hold a news conference with Canada's chief public health officer Friday afternoon to discuss the new variant.

"We are currently in discussions in monitoring what’s happening and discussions about what measures we can implement," Alghabra told reporters Friday.

Canada currently requires a negative molecular COVID-19 test to enter the country, even for fully vaccinated travellers. As of Tuesday, all travellers will need to have two doses of a WHO-approved vaccine to travel to or within Canada.

Not much is known about the new variant, according to the WHO's COVID-19 technical lead Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove.

"Researchers are getting together to understand where these mutations are, and what that potentially may mean for our diagnostics or therapeutics in our vaccines," she said at a briefing Thursday.

The WHO's team will discern whether the variant should be considered a threat, and therefore a variant of concern.

In question period Friday, Conservative MPs asked government ministers repeatedly about the plan to protect Canadians from a potentially dangerous new variant.

"We’ll not hesitate to take action to protect Canadians," said Associate Minister of Health Carolyn Bennett.

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