Vaccine hesitancy in the Prairies, abuse of asylum seekers : In The News for June 17

·10 min read

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of June 17 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

The rush to get initial doses of COVID-19 vaccines appears to be slowing down in the Prairies, with the rate of the eligible population getting a first shot hovering around 70 per cent in the three provinces.

Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, is warning that the country has to up its vaccination game, so efforts are being made to persuade more people to roll up their sleeves.

"We're seeing sort of a saturation of first doses ... and that is a concerning phenomenon that we need to address," Dr. Philippe Lagace-Wiens, a medical microbiologist at St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg, said in an interview this week.

Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, is seeing the same trend in Alberta. He is optimistic the province can surpass 80 per cent "if we really try."

"It's going to be tough. It's going to require that we use every tool at our disposal," Caulfield said.

Lagace-Wiens and Caulfield say people who have not yet been vaccinated include outright pandemic deniers, people who are hesitant and those who face mobility, cultural or socio-economic barriers.

Recent data compiled by the Manitoba government has attempted to lay out the size of each group.

The data, a compilation of opinion surveys and online feedback first released in March, estimated 69 per cent of Manitobans were "keeners" intent on getting doses as soon as they could.

It said another 12 per cent were likely to get the vaccine but were not in a rush, about nine per cent were skeptical and undecided, and fewer than 10 per cent were adamant that they would not get a shot.

The government released updated data this month that estimated the number of keeners had risen while all other categories had dropped.

Governments are trying carrots more than sticks to win over the hesitant. Manitoba and Alberta are offering lotteries with prizes totalling millions of dollars. There are ad campaigns urging people to get a vaccine to protect their loved ones, or to help move a province to the point where it can reopen concert venues, theatres and large sporting events.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said this week his government will not hold a lottery.

"You get to protect your family, your friends, your loved ones and everyone around you from this COVID virus," Moe said Tuesday.

"If you like to gamble, then I would suggest to you don’t get your shot. The prize is not what you think."

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Also this ...

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International say Canada detains thousands of asylum seekers every year in often abusive conditions where people of colour appear to be held for longer periods.

The two leading human rights organizations documented in a joint report how people in immigration detention, including those fleeing persecution and seeking protection in Canada, are regularly handcuffed, shackled and held with little to no contact with the outside world.

The secretary-general of Amnesty International Canada says the country’s abusive immigration detention system is in stark contrast to the rich diversity and the values of equality and justice that Canada is known for.

Ketty Nivyabandi says there should be no place in Canada for racism, cruelty, and human rights violations against people coming to this country seeking safety and a better life.

The Canada Border Services Agency says on its website that individuals may be detained for a number of reasons, including if they have criminal convictions, if they lack “ties to the community” or if they may be a danger to the public or the security of Canada.

It says a national immigration detention framework introduced in 2016, with a five-year investment of $138 million, created a “better, fairer” system that supports the “humane and dignified treatment of individuals while protecting public safety.”

Nivyabandi says Canada should sign and ratify the United Nations' Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture to further prevent violations and open detention sites for international inspection.

She adds Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are calling on the Canadian authorities to end the inhumane treatment of people in the immigration and refugee protection system by gradually ending immigration detention in Canada.

The 100-page report says people can be held for months or years on immigration-related grounds. Detainees who are from communities of colour, particularly Black detainees, appear to be held for longer periods, often in provincial jails, it says.

The report says Canada locked up 8,825 people between the ages of 15 and 83, including 1,932 in provincial jails between April 2019 and March 2020.

During the same period, 136 children were put in detention to avoid separating them from their detained parents, including 73 children under age six.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International found that Canada has held more than 300 immigration detainees for longer than a year since 2016.

The report includes 90 interviews with former immigration detainees and their relatives, mental health experts, academics, lawyers, civil society representatives, and government officials.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

WASHINGTON — The United States will soon have a new federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the nation.

The House passed a bill Wednesday that would make Juneteenth, or June 19th, a federal holiday. The House voted 415-14 to make Juneteenth the 12th federal holiday.

Juneteenth commemorates when the last enslaved African Americans learned they were free. Confederate soldiers surrendered in April 1865, but word didn’t reach the last enslaved Black people until June 19, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to Galveston, Texas.

The bill now goes to President Joe Biden's desk for his signature.

It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983.

“Our federal holidays are purposely few in number and recognize the most important milestones," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY. “I cannot think of a more important milestone to commemorate than the end of slavery in the United States."

The Senate passed the bill a day earlier under a unanimous consent agreement that expedites the process for considering legislation. It takes just one senator’s objection to block such agreements.

Some Republican lawmakers opposed the effort. Rep. Matt Rosendale, R-Mont., said creating the federal holiday was an effort to celebrate “identity politics."

“Since I believe in treating everyone equally, regardless of race, and that we should be focused on what unites us rather than our differences, I will vote no," he said in a news release.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

GENEVA — U.S. President Joe Biden and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have exchanged cordial words and plotted out modest next steps on arms control and diplomacy.

But the two leaders emerged from their much-anticipated Swiss summit Wednesday largely where they started — with deep differences on human rights, cyberattacks, election interference and more.

They did reach an important, but hardly relationship-changing agreement to return their chief diplomats to Moscow and Washington after each was called home as the relationship deteriorated in recent months. And Biden and Putin agreed to start working on a plan to fortify their countries’ last remaining treaty limiting nuclear weapons.

But their three hours of talks on the shores of Lake Geneva left both men standing firmly in the same positions they had started in.

“I’m not confident he’ll change his behaviour," Biden said at a post-summit news conference, when he was asked about what evidence he saw that former KGB agent Putin would adjust his ways and actions. “What will change his behaviour is the rest of the world reacts to them, and they diminish their standing in the world. I’m not confident in anything.”

Both the White House and Kremlin had set low expectations going into the summit. They issued an joint statement after the conclusion that said their meeting showed the “practical work our two countries can do to advance our mutual interests and also benefit the world."

Putin showed defiance at questions about Biden pressing him on human rights, but he also expressed respect for the U.S. president as an experienced political leader.

He noted that Biden repeated wise advice his mother had given him and that American president also spoke about his family — messaging that Putin said might not have been entirely relevant to their summit but demonstrated Biden's “moral values.”

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On this day in 1958 ...

The collapse of the half-finished Second Narrows bridge at Vancouver killed 18 workers and injured 20.

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In entertainment ...

TORONTO — "Kim's Convenience" star Simu Liu says there's a lesson to be learned from the way the hit Korean-Canadian family comedy ended.

The Toronto-raised actor addressed the situation on the CBC series in a virtual chat with musician and actor Sook-Yin Lee at the Banff World Media Festival, following up on his Facebook post earlier this month that decried a lack of East Asian and female representation among writers for the show.

Liu said the show had an "overwhelmingly white" team of producers who shut out creative input from the cast of Asian Canadians.

Liu acknowledged creative differences can exist on any show but said he was upset about the way producers cancelled "Kim's Convenience" — a show lauded for its cultural representation.

"To see such a Canadian success story snuffed out in such an anticlimactic and almost pathetic kind of way, it did not befit a show of that calibre and of that social reach and social quality," Liu told Lee in Wednesday's Banff chat.

"It really got me thinking about the importance of representation. And when I say representation, I mean so much more than what you see on the surface in front of the screen. I think it is so important to have voices in the decision-making process that are sensitive to the groups that your show or your production represents.

"In the case of 'Kim's Convenience,' that was Korean Canadians, that was East Asian Canadians, and we rightly felt like we didn't have that voice in the writers' room or at the creators' table."

A representative for the show said Wednesday "the producers don't have any further comments at this time."

The star of Marvel's upcoming film "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is among several cast members to speak publicly about being unhappy with the way producers ended the show after its fifth season because co-creators Ins Choi and Kevin White were moving on to pursue other projects.

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ICYMI ...

OTTAWA — A Parliamentary committee says the rights of air travellers need to better protected, while airlines and airports should be in line for more financial help as the industry recovers from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But the standing committee on transport, infrastructure and communities says any financial support from the government should be on the condition that airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers for pandemic related cancellations and that they restore regional routes in the country.

Airlines dropped multiple routes in regions, including Atlantic Canada, during the pandemic as passenger volume plummeted with COVID-19 restrictions.

The report acknowledges the air transport industry will need extended financial relief that outlasts existing government subsidies, and that programs like wage subsidies and rent relief must continue past the summer for airlines and airports.

Vance Badawey, A Liberal MP who is chair of the committee, said in a statement that the recommendations are "aimed at maintaining the sector's competitiveness, protecting jobs and ensuring the health and safety of workers, passengers and the Canadian public.”

The committee report says any federal aid should be aimed at protecting existing jobs and rehiring workers. It also calls on the government to form a detailed aviation restart program, something that airlines and travel operators have been calling for to help the industries develop a clear plan for the coming months.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2021

The Canadian Press

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