Some provinces easing COVID restrictions as hospitalizations stabilize

Restrictions begin to ease

A number of provinces are tweaking their public health protocols to ease restrictions as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to show signs of stabilizing.

Saskatchewan's government said Isolation rules would be relaxed today as the province transitions to treating COVID-19's highly communicable Omicron variant like other common respiratory viruses such as influenza.

The changes include no longer requiring close contacts of people who test positive for the coronavirus to self-isolate.

In Ontario cinemas, theatres, arenas and concerts will be reopening Monday, with capacity limits, but also with the ability to serve snacks and drinks.

Indoor dining will be back on the menu at restaurants, and Premier Doug Ford said Thursday that some non-urgent surgeries would be resuming.

Indoor dining at restaurants, with capacity limits, will also resume in New Brunswick starting Saturday, and students there are to return to in-person classes on Monday.

In Quebec, officials reported a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday, although 56 new deaths were linked to the virus.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau will be working from home for a while after being exposed to COVID 19.

The prime minister said in a tweet Thursday that he learned of the exposure the previous night, adding that despite a subsequent rapid antigen test that was negative, he would follow public health rules and isolate for five days.


Parliamentary security, police preparing as truckers' protest convoy nears Ottawa

Ottawa prepares for convoy

The first trucks in a massive national convoy that was organized to protest the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers are due to arrive in the Ottawa area today.

The convoy of big rigs has been gaining participants and supporters as it rolls across the country from all directions for a weekend rally in the capital.

In Toronto Thursday crowds of people lined part of the route, waving Canadian flags and holding up signs denouncing the vaccine mandate as they cheered the truckers on.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest, which has been condemned by the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino has warned people not to dismiss the protesters as simple freedom fighters, saying nobody wants to see the Parliament Hill demonstration descend into anti-government violence.

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said Thursday that he would meet with some of the truckers, adding that he and his MP's have long stood against the vaccine mandate they now face. But he also denounced those involved in the convoy who are espousing racist and extremist ideas.

Meanwhile, police in Ottawa stressed they would not tolerate any criminal behaviour as they made plans to deal with thousands of demonstrators at Saturday's so called "freedom rally."

Several thousand people are expected in Ottawa as early as Friday as part of the Canada Unity group demanding an end to vaccine mandates and COVID-19 restrictions. Some of the group's leaders are calling for a peaceful event, but statements from some associated with the group have included threats of violence.

Mendicino said multiple police forces — including the Ottawa Police Service, RCMP and Parliamentary Protective Service — are co-ordinating the response and are making decisions independent of any government involvement.

"Police and our partners are focused on providing a safe environment for the community and demonstrators," the Ottawa Police Service said in a statement on Twitter.

"We are aware of inappropriate and threatening language on social media related to this event. We welcome peaceful demonstrations. That said, public safety is paramount — there will be consequences for persons engaging in criminal conduct, violence and/or activities promoting hate."

The road in front of Parliament Hill is to be closed to general traffic, with two lanes reserved for the convoy and two for emergency vehicles.

Buildings in the Parliamentary district are being closed and locked except for essential staff as of Friday and workers warned of threats of physical damage.

Christian Laplante, an asset manager at Public Services and Procurement Canada, also said "vulnerable areas on Crown sites are being secured as a precautionary measure."

"There are some security concerns regarding the anticipated energy and disruptive goals of this convoy," he wrote Friday to people with offices in government buildings in the area.

"Please be prepared to secure your operations as you see fit."

Kim Ayotte, the City of Ottawa's general manager of emergency and protective services, said in a statement Thursday that "impacts are anticipated to be felt" from Friday to Sunday as demonstrators arriveinthe downtown core.

The city is working with the Ottawa Police Service to develop traffic and parking management plans, and updates will be shared throughout the weekend, said Ayotte.

He said the city is working with police and other partners to ensure the safety of the public is maintained, and that dedicated lanes are kept clear for emergency vehicles.

The protest was spawned after truckers stopped being exempted from the vaccine mandate at the Canadian border on Jan. 15. It means non-Canadian truckers won't be allowed in unless they are vaccinated and unvaccinated Canadians need to quarantine for two weeks after delivering their load.

The United States policy preventing unvaccinated Canadian truckers from entering the U.S. took effect Jan. 22.

A GoFundMe page set up by organizers has garnered $6.4 million in donations. The money is to go toward the cost of fuel, food, and accommodations for participating protesters, according to the fundraising campaign page.

A spokesperson for GoFundMe said in a statement Thursday that it is following its "standard verification process" and working with the campaign organizer to ensure funds are distributed as the organizer has stated, in compliance with the law and its terms of service.

An initial $1 million has been withdrawn by the organizer to cover fuel costs of participants "who are peacefully protesting," the spokesperson said.

Canada Unity's website includes a "memorandum of understanding" demanding Gov. Gen. Mary Simon and the Senate join with them to order the federal and all provincial and territorial governments to lift any remaining COVID-19 restrictions, waive all fines and cancel "illegal" vaccine passports.

There is nothing in the Constitution allowing for such orders to occur and Mendicino said nobody should "trivialize the organizers' distorted claims that this is a protest about freedom."

"It's not," he said Thursday in an interview. "It's about a fringe group, many of whom are not truckers, who are spreading lies, about vaccines, about health workers, and frankly, about the media. And the vast majority of Canadians reject those extremist views. And they understand that if we really want to safeguard our freedoms and vaccines and vaccine mandates are the best way to get ourselves out of the pandemic."

Canada Unity organizer Tamara Lich, a member of the Maverick Party, which advocates for greater autonomy for Western Canada or its separation from the country, has urged people to remain peaceful and asked convoy participants to report anyone inciting violence or spouting hatred.

But there are links between some convoy participants and white supremacist ideology, and in one YouTube video, that has since been taken down, one man pushed for the protest to become a repeat of the riot that overtook the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., a year ago.

In another video posted Thursday on the group's Facebook page, one supporter said "failure is not an option. Surrender is not an option."

Mendicino said there are bright lines around hate speech, lies and calls for violence that cannot be measured as free speech or legitimate protest.

"I think there has to be a very clear point of departure from what is free speech and expression and the kind of incitement to encourage others to take up arms, to create a Jan. 6 riot type event here in Canada," he said. "And there needs to be a very bright line of condemnation and denunciation around that."

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has disavowed the protest and said more than 85 per cent of truckers are vaccinated. Many truckers have also posted on social media they continue to do their jobs and that the convoy doesn't speak for them.

O'Toole promises change after internal report into Conservative's election loss

O'Toole promises change

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole says changes will be made to his team and to the party after an internal review revealed what went wrong in the recent election and took aim at issues from the party's past found to be holding it back.

The review by former Alberta MP James Cumming was presented Thursday to Conservative MPs on the final day of the party's two-day caucus retreat, which was held ahead of Parliament's return Monday.

Caucus was briefed on the findings that were compiled using the feedback Cumming received from some 400 people, including campaign staff, candidates, MPs and senators.

The review landed at a time when O'Toole faces division among his MPs and grassroots members. Some of his critics are pushing for his leadership to be put to an early confidence test by mid-June instead of waiting until a scheduled vote at a national convention in 2023. At least three of the party's riding associations have requested an earlier vote.

After two days spent facing his MPs, O'Toole heaped the election campaign's failings onto his own shoulders.

"I'm responsible for the loss," O'Toole told reporters at a press conference late Thursday.

When it came to his performance on the hustings, O'Toole said the review confirmed he spent too much time in a broadcast studio the party built at a hotel in downtown Ottawa that served as a set for campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Doing so meant he became disconnected from Canadians, he said.

As well, O'Toole said he was overly scripted in his public messaging in the final stretch of the campaign and failed to address certain issues Canadians had hoped to hear about.

"We didn't showcase some of the great policies we had for Western Canada," O'Toole said. "All of these decisions are my responsibility."

Many of the Conservatives' MPs hail from the party's heartland in Saskatchewan and Alberta, where some of them lost votes in last September's election. That set off concerns that O'Toole's failed attempt to gain support in Ontario and Quebec by taking a more moderate stance on a host of issues ended up costing the party some of its traditional support.

Three Conservative sources who were briefed on the report shared more of its findings and recommendations. They spokeon the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The Canadian Press has not viewed the report.

One of the recommendations, the sources said, is for the party to find ways to recruit a more diverse slate of candidates for the next election.

The review also pinpointed how the party needs to improve its outreach to different cultural communities where the Conservative brand has not recovered from damage inflicted during the 2015 campaign.

The sources said the review found that in major cities — where Conservative support must grow if it hopes to form government — the party is still dealing with fallout from former prime minister Stephen Harper's promise to set up a tip line to report "barbaric cultural practices."

Sources say the review recommends the party should improve its outreach by improving its communications. One example provided was the need for Conservatives to have a presence on the messaging app WeChat, which is used by some Chinese Canadians.

In the last election, the Conservatives lost three ridings in Metro Vancouver and the Greater Toronto Area that are home to many residents of Chinese descent. That left some in the party wondering about the domestic impact of O'Toole's tough criticism of Beijing's actions.

Among other things, O'Toolehas faced criticism from some fellow Conservatives for shifting his position on issues such as gun control, conscience rights, the carbon tax and defunding the CBC.

One source said the election review identified better planning was needed to prepare for attacks on issues that have been used as wedges against Conservatives, such as firearms.

In the last race, O'Toole inked a footnote into his platform to clarify he would maintain the Liberal government's ban on so-called assault-style weapons, despite the campaign document promising the opposite.

He was also dogged with questions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly his position on vaccine mandates and the immunization status of his candidates.

According to the sources, the review concluded that Canadians generally lack trust in the party because of its well-reported infighting and the fact that it has gone through two leadership races in the past five years, which has also made it difficult to tackle issues around outreach.

In 2017, Andrew Scheer was elected Conservative leader following the 2015 defea. He led the party in the 2019 election and resigned shortly afterwards amid an intense pressure campaign for him to step aside. O'Toole took over the party reins in 2020.


Mayor fears Rocky Mountain coal-mining concerns will be ignored after meeting Kenney

At odds over coal mining

An Alberta mayor says he's concerned a massive public outcry over coal mining in the province's Rocky Mountains will be ignored after hearing Premier Jason Kenney tell him he remains an "unapologetic supporter" of the industry.

"It's very clear to me that Premier Kenney is 100 per cent behind the coal mining companies," said Craig Snodgrass of High River after meeting with the premier, Energy Minister Sonya Savage and his local member of the legislative assembly, Roger Reid, earlier this month.

The comments came to light this week after Snodgrass informed town council about the meeting, which took place at Snodgrass' request. High River's council has been a vocal opponent of the industry's expansion.

The meeting occurred about two weeks after the government received public consultation reports on the expansion of the industry. Snodgrass said he asked for the meeting with the province to see if the reports had shifted Kenney's stance from that expressed in year-end interviews.

"I wanted to see, 'Are you serious about your comments?' He absolutely gave me his 100-per-cent honest opinion on it, whether I like it or not."

Although the reports have not been made public, submissions posted to the committee's website suggest many, if not most, Albertans are opposed to seeing widespread open-pit coal mining on some of the province's most beloved landscapes and the headwaters of most of its drinking water.

Kenney is not, said Snodgrass.

"He made it very clear that he is an unapologetic supporter of the industry," said Snodgrass. He said the premier referred dismissively to the work of the coal consultation committee, which collected 605 emailed submissions, held 59 meetings across the province and published 16 technical papers and 36 meeting submissions.

"The only thing he said is that it is information that forms part of the decision."

In an emailed statement, Kenney spokesman Justin Brattinga said the reports will be forthcoming.

"The Alberta government is taking time to review the coal policy committee's reports and is planning to release the reports once a thorough review of the findings has been completed," he said.

"We will also provide our response to the committee's recommendations when the reports are released."

Coal development has been controversial in Alberta since spring 2020 when the United Conservative government suddenly revoked a policy that had protected the summits and foothills of the Rockies from open-pit coal mines since 1976. Within weeks, thousands of hectares were leased for coal exploration.

New Democrat Opposition politicians said Kenney's remarks showed the government isn't listening to Albertans.

"One cannot claim to be listening and say their mind is made up," said Shannon Phillips of Lethbridge, a city which would be downstream of many of the potential mines.

Environment critic Marlin Schmidt called on the government to release the reports.

"We want to know exactly what the coal committee heard from Albertans and what it's recommending to government," he said. "The thousands of Albertans who have participated in the consultations will be able to tell whether the coal policy committee accurately captured what they heard."

Snodgrass said his impression was that not everyone at the meeting shared Kenney's certitude.

"I do know members of the UCP, Sonya (Savage) and cabinet ministers, most of them are taking (the reports) seriously," he said.

But Schmidt said it's the premier who matters most.

"A split in cabinet doesn't matter. If there's disagreement, the premier will win."

Crowds gather in Ontario and New Brunswick to cheer on trucker convoy

Crowds cheer on truckers

Crowds cheered, waved flags and hoisted signs in Ontario and New Brunswick on Thursday as parts of a large national convoy of truckers headed for Ottawa to protest the federal government's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border drivers.

The movement, which began in British Columbia days earlier, has been picking up participants across the country, with local truckers joining in at different points.

In a packed mall parking lot north of Toronto, supporters threw cash and food up to truckers in their vehicles on Thursday, while others held up signs protesting the government as transport trucks gradually rolled out.

Mike Fabinski, who has been a trucker for 20 years, said the federal vaccine mandate means he won't be able to work cross-border routes anymore.

"You want to be vaccinated, go ahead, your choice. I don't want to be vaccinated, that's my choice," said the Barrie, Ont., resident. "I was going non-stop until they started last Saturday. Now I cannot go. I cannot work no more."

Rob Irons said he showed up to support the truckers because he believes the vaccine mandate will cause supply chain issues.

"It makes no sense when these truckers never, rarely get out of their truck," he said. "They don't give (the virus) to anybody. I don't understand it."

Others said they planned to join the convoy and make the trek to Ottawa, where a weekend protest is planned.

"It's all about peace. It's all about freedom. It's all about getting the Canadian way of life back. We are not here to turn it to violence," said Dean Brown, who was planning to drive to the capital.

"The people who are in charge of this (convoy) are blocking people who are insisting or suggesting violence."

The federal government ended truckers' exemption to the vaccine mandate on Jan. 15, meaning Canadian truck drivers need to be fully vaccinated if they want to avoid a two-week quarantine when they cross into Canada from the U.S.

Some with extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest against the mandate. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance, which has condemned the convoy protest, says more than 85 per cent of the 120,000 Canadian truck drivers who regularly traverse the border are vaccinated, but that up to 16,000 may be sidelined due to the new restriction, exacerbating supply chain problems.

Out east, hundreds of people waving signs and Canadian flags lined the sides of the Trans-Canada highway and an overpass in Lincoln, N.B., to show their support for a part of the convoy headed to Ottawa from Atlantic Canada. Many of the signs read "Freedom," "Canada Proud" and "Know Your Human Rights."

"We're standing up for our freedoms. We're just fighting for our right to choose," said Sharon Lee Saulnier of Jemseg, N.B., as she waited for the trucks to arrive.

Chris Harrison of Hampton, N.B., said he was there to voice his opposition to the COVID-19 vaccines.

"I'm here because I believe in freedom," Harrison said. "We should have a choice."

Roger Reid, a trucker from Hants County, N.S., stepped out of his truck and was greeted by people with bags of food and other supplies. Reid said he was taking part in an effort to restore rights and freedoms.

"It's got nothing to do with the vaccines anymore," he said. "They tell us to do the vaccine, they tell us to do this and that, and they keep taking everything away from us. It's for everybody, not just us."

The Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association doesn't support the convoy, with its executive director saying the protest has gone beyond vaccine mandates.

"It's at a point where it's not even about the trucking and vaccine mandate, it's about freedom and all kinds of groups are in it, and trucking is in the forefront because it started with us, and I'm afraid it doesn't look good for the industry," Jean-Marc Picard said in an interview Thursday.

Picard said he's concerned about talk of blockades at the New Brunswick borders with Nova Scotia and Quebec this weekend.

When asked about the convoy, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said he knows people are tired of COVID-19 and of restrictions.

"It isn't about trying to restrict people from their basic rights and freedoms. It's about finding a path to protect everyone's health and safety," Higgs said. "It's not about our country losing our freedoms, we all value that."

Meanwhile, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he understands "where the truckers are coming from" but also encouraged vaccination against COVID-19.

"I support truckers, but I also support getting vaccinated," he said in a radio interview with AM800.

In a joint release earlier this week, the federal government and Canadian Trucking Alliance acknowledged "unprecedented challenges" to a sector that ships the vast majority of food and consumer products, but stressed vaccination as the route to economic health.

Lithium mine takeover by Chinese company did get thorough security review: Champagne

Takeover was reviewed

Industry Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says the pending takeover of a Canadian lithium mining company by a Chinese state-owned company was subjected to a thorough national security review — contrary to what some experts and Conservative politicans have asserted.

Champagne says the critics don't understand the process required under the Investment Canada Act for reviewing all foreign investments, no matter how small, which includes an evaluation by multiple federal departments and national security and intelligence agencies, as well as consultation with Canada's allies.

Under additional guidelines Champagne himself introduced, he says that review is enhanced when the transaction involves a state-owned enterprise or critical minerals — as was the case with last fall's proposed takeover of Neo Lithium Corp. by China's Zijin Mining Group Ltd.

Only if that initial review concludes there's any potential risk to Canada's national interests or security is the matter referred to cabinet to decide whether to launch a more intensive security review.

In the case of Neo Lithium, he says that was not necessary because the initial review found there was no potential risk.

Champagne was testifying at a meeting of the Commons industry committee, triggered by the Conservatives who contend the Neo Lithium transaction should have been subjected to an extended security review.

$1M of Freedom Convoy funds released by GoFundMe

$1M convoy funds released

GoFundMe has released an initial $1 million of ‘Freedom Convoy’ fundraising money after temporarily freezing the account earlier this week.

CTV News is reporting that convoy organizers have provided GoFundMe with a plan for the money’s distribution. The fundraiser is now sitting at a staggering $6.4 million.

“The trust and safety of our global community is our top priority,” GoFundMe said in a statement.

“That is why we're following our standard verification process and working directly with the campaign organizer to ensure the funds are distributed as stated by the organizer and in compliance with the law and our Terms of Service.”

“Our goal is to protect the generosity of donors and ensure that all donations go to those intended. As part of our verification process, we require full transparency from the organizer about the flow of funds to ensure there’s a clear plan and donors are informed on how the funds will be spent.”

GoFundMe organizer Tamara Lich announced on social media Thursday the money was “released” while simultaneously claiming it was never actually frozen.

“GoFundMe is releasing some money,” she said in a brief Facebook live broadcast. “We got ‘er done. It was a bit of a process but the team back home, I can't thank them enough. Wow, they've been working around the clock to make this happen and we just got confirmation so we're good. Isn’t that funny? It was never frozen to begin with,” she said.

The convoy protesting COVID restrictions and vaccine mandates left B.C. on Sunday and reached parts of Toronto on Thursday. It is expected to arrive in Ottawa on Saturday, where police are preparing for up to 10,000 demonstrators.

Postal workers can wear their N95s at work — but only with a company mask on top

Posties can wear N95s

Canada Post says its employees will be able to wear their own N95 masks at work, but only if they wear a disposable medical mask provided by the corporation on top.

Some postal service employees doing tasks with a greater risk of catching COVID-19 — for example working in a pair to unload a van inside — are being given N95 masks, but a "fit test by a qualified professional" is required before they can be worn.

The Crown corporation drew criticism last week for refusing to let employees bring their own N95 masks to work.

It said employees had to use a Canada Post-issued non-medical cloth or disposable medical mask, or they would be sent home.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers said research shows N95 masks offer better protection against the more transmissible Omicron variant than disposable medical masks.

Canada Post issued new guidance on masks to its employees on Thursday, saying it is distributing millions of high-grade medical masks to them. It said it expected all postal workers to receive a "level 2" mask, which has three layers, by the end of February.

A spokeswoman for CUPW said it welcomed the distribution of the higher-grade masks but said it should consider distributing N95 masks to all workers as well.

Jon Hamilton, a spokesman for Canada Post, said employees would not be allowed to wear their own N95 masks without the mask provided by the corporation on top.

"As an employee, you have to wear a Canada-Post-provided mask," he said.

Canada Post said in its memo to employees that it is required to verify the safety of N95s, and any respiratory device used in the workplace.

It said, without exception, N95 masks require a "fit test" before they can be worn.

"The fit is crucial to their effectiveness; therefore, a qualified fitter must conduct a fit test for each individual," the guidance says.

The update says that because it has more than 50,000 employees across the country, providing fit tests to everyone "is not feasible in the short term."

The Public Health Agency of Canada says medical masks and N95-type respirators offer better protection and have to meet certain standards in Canada.

PHAC says non-medical, cloth masks can be worn but don't have to meet any standards.

Michelle Johnston, spokeswoman for federal Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan, has said that nothing in the Canada Labour Code or Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations precludes workers from wearing a higher-quality face covering if they would like to use a higher grade of mask or respirator.

Bodies identified: Family from India tried to cross into U.S. by foot from Manitoba

Border bodies identified

A family of four Indian nationals was only in Canada for a week before their bodies were found frozen in Manitoba near the Canada-U. S. border, RCMP said Thursday as new details emerged about the deaths believed to be linked to a human smuggling operation.

The High Commission of India in Ottawa and RCMP released the identities of the four who died. They were Jagdish Baldevbhai Patel, a 39-year-old man; Vaishaliben Jagdishkumar Patel, a 37-year-old woman; and their children Vihangi Jagdishkumar Patel, an 11-year-old girl; and Dharmik Jagdishkumar Patel, a three-year-old boy.

Investigators believe the family was attempting to cross into the United States by foot around Jan. 19 during severe winter weather and died from exposure.

Police provided some details into the family's journey from Gujarat, a state in western India.

The family arrived in Toronto on Jan. 12 and that was their first point of entry, said RCMP Chief Supt. Rob Hill.

Hill said the family made its way to Manitoba but he couldn't confirm the date of arrival. Police believe the Patels were dropped off near the border near Emerson.

"This is an extended period of time for a family who is unfamiliar with Canada to be travelling across the country. A part of the investigation is determining whether this travel was facilitated in some way by an individual or individuals," Hill said.

RCMP are asking anyone with information related to the family's time in Canada to come forward. That could include people who may have interacted with the Patels at restaurants, gas stations or hotels.

"Think about what they went through and step forward," said Hill.

Police originally said one of the victims was a male teen. RCMP, apologizing for the error, said the frozen bodies and the family's clothing made identification difficult.

Mounties continue to work with authorities at the national and international level. They said no one was in custody on the Canadian side.

The family was from Dingucha, a village in Gujarat, said Amritbhai Vakil, a relative. Vakil, who lives in the U.S., described the village as quiet with almost every home having a family living in the U.S., United Kingdom, Australia or Canada.

Vakil said family in India were aware the Patels had travelled to Canada, but lost touch with them days after they landed.

The father came from a well-to-do middle-class family, he said. Patel helped his father farm and worked in a school and as a salesman, Vakil said.

"I don't know what they wanted to do in the U.S."

The High Commission of India said in a release that the family's immediate relatives had been informed.

RCMP found the bodies after U.S. border patrol agents advised police that they had picked up a group of Indian nationals on the U.S. side.

Two people were found in a van in the U.S. with a man who now faces human smuggling charges. A group of five were picked up by border patrol officers a short distance away.

Steve Shand of Deltona, Fla., faces counts of transporting or attempting to transport illegal aliens. He was released from custody on Monday.

Court documents state one of the individuals told officers his group had been walking for 11 hours through the bitter cold. The man said he had paid a large amount of money to get a fake student visa in Canada and was expecting a ride to a relative's home in Chicago after he crossed, the documents say.

The U.S. Border Patrol said the seven people who did cross have been released while they are being processed for deportation.

The High Commission of India said there are ongoing conversations with Canada about issues related to migration and the welfare of citizens residing in either country.

"On longer-term issues that this tragedy has brought into focus, (there's) the need to ensure that migration and mobility are made safe and legal and that such tragedies do not recur."

Canada can do more to help Ukraine besides sending weapons: experts

Should Canada do more?

The debate around sending weapons to Ukraine was being panned as a “red herring” on Thursday, as several experts suggested Canada can better support the eastern European country in its standoff with Russia in other ways.

The comments came one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced this week a package of support for Ukraine. That includes expanding Canada’s efforts to train the Ukrainian military, bolstering its cyber defences, as well as financial assistance.

The prime minister also said Canada would be sending metal detectors, thermal binoculars, rangefinders, armour plates and other non-lethal military equipment. Not on the list, at least not yet: weapons.

Trudeau repeatedly declined to explain the decision on Wednesday, and members of Canada’s influential Ukrainian community were still scratching their heads on Thursday.

“We have not received any feedback from the government on the decision,” said Ihor Michalchyshyn, executive director of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, which has been one of the loudest voices calling for the provision of Canadian arms to Ukraine.

“All of our NATO allies are doing this. The situation has changed rapidly in the last week and days, hour by hour. So it's very difficult to understand why Canada will not join the United Kingdom, United States and other (NATO allies).”

Yet while foreign policy experts were divided over why the Liberal government decided not to send arms to Kyiv, several shared the view that a planeload of Canadian guns was unlikely to make much of a difference to whether Russia attacks.

University of Ottawa professor Roland Paris, who served as Trudeau's first foreign policy adviser, said the debate in Canada around whether to provide weapons has become bigger than the actual benefit that would be gained.

“The delivery of lethal arms is not going to change the overwhelming preponderance of Russian forces in the region, or change the fact Russia has the capacity to sweep across Ukraine if it's determined to do so,” he said.

“The whole debate about lethal arms for the Ukrainian government is maybe the least important of the various tools that are available to increase the costs of a Russian invasion.”

Paris instead pointed to the threat of economic sanctions as a more effective deterrence measure, and said what would really send a message would be if NATO — including Canada — strengthened its military presence in eastern Europe.

Canada currently has about 540 soldiers in Latvia leading a NATO battlegroup designed to defend against a Russian attack in the Baltics. It also has 200 military trainers in Ukraine, with Trudeau promising on Wednesday that another 60 will be added.

Carleton University professor Fen Hampson also questioned the idea of Canada providing arms to Ukraine, noting the Ukrainian military uses different equipment than its Canadian counterpart, which is struggling to buy new equipment for itself.

“This may be a bit of a red herring,” he said, adding Canada’s support to Ukraine’s cyber defences is much more important. “Cyber warfare really has become kind of the first line of attack where Ukraine can use some help.”

Trudeau did leave the door open to revisiting the decision in the future, but Wednesday’s announcement continued Ottawa’s pattern of refusing to arm Ukraine starting with Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in 2014.

Harper at that time indicated his reluctance to provide weapons to Ukraine stemmed more from wanting to work in collaboration with the U.S., which at the time was not sending arms to the country.

The official Opposition Conservatives have criticized the government’s decision not to send weapons to Ukraine.

Canada isn’t the only NATO member not sending arms; Germany has also said it will not provide weapons, which has reportedly triggered annoyance and consternation in Kyiv and Washington.

Organizer of Sunwing party flight says his group was unfairly abandoned by airlines

Party flight organizer upset

The organizer of a controversial Sunwing party flight to Mexico says his group was unfairly abandoned by the airline.

James William Awad told reporters at a news conference today that Sunwing, along with Air Canada and Air Transat, should be "ashamed" of themselves for refusing to fly his group back to Canada based on videos of the flight that circulated on social media.

He says the airlines stranded 154 Canadians in Mexico without knowing whether members of the group could afford to keep paying for hotels and food.

Awad, 28, held the news conference with the flags of Canada, Quebec and the United States behind him and interspersed his answers with promotional commentaries about his business.

Journalists were told they could each ask one question and would be removed if they attempted to ask a followup.

The Dec. 30 flight to Cancun drew condemnation after videos of the on-board party showed unmasked passengers in close proximity singing and dancing in the aisle and on seats, as some clutched bottles of liquor, snapped selfies and vaped.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau described the group at the time as "idiots" and barbarians. Transport Canada has launched an investigation into the flight.

Parliamentary security, police preparing as truckers' protest convoy nears Ottawa

Police plan for 10,000

Security forces on Parliament Hill are preparing for up to 10,000 protesters to set up camp in downtown Ottawa this weekend to push back against lockdowns and vaccination mandates.

A memo the Parliamentary Protective Service sent to MPs and staff members shows the road running in front of Parliament Hill will be closed to general traffic, with the two lanes furthest from the Hill reserved for the protesters and the other two kept clear for emergency vehicles.

Accurate estimates of the number of protesters and counter-protesters expected are difficult to obtain but the document says Hill security are not expecting more than 10,000 people.

Ottawa police are warning residents to avoid travelling in the city and to expect delays.

The group billing itself as Canada Unity is demanding that the Governor General and Senate combine forces to order the federal and all provincial and territorial governments to lift any remaining COVID-19 restrictions, waive all fines and cancel "illegal" vaccine passports.

Some are more threatening in their language, with one post on the group's Facebook page saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should "watch out on Saturday," and commenters demanding he be assaulted, arrested, and imprisoned.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre warned against painting all the convoy participants as extremists just because some in the ranks may be expressing those views.

Some organizers have asked for the event to be peaceful and tried to distance the official protest from extremist elements.

In an op-ed published by Postmedia news outlets, Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole said he is upset that some want to use the convoy to incite violence.

"To these groups I say: your threats of political violence, hate and bigotry have no place in a free and democratic society," O'Toole wrote. "In fact, you risk hurting the chance for truckers to peacefully protest and have their voices heard."

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has disavowed the protest and said more than 85 per cent of truckers are vaccinated. Many truckers have also posted on social media they are continuing to do their jobs and that the convoy doesn't speak for them.

Ontario Provincial Police spokesman Bill Dickson says the police are monitoring all of the convoys but will not give any specific numbers because things keep changing.

One group left Thunder Bay, Ont. Thursday morning and was dividing in two about 100 kilometres northeast away at Nipigon. Some were headed to spend the night in Sault Ste. Marie and others in Cochrane.

Police in the Ontario cities of Belleville and Kingston were preparing for another convoy to pass through their cities Thursday, warning the public of road closures to accommodate the group.

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