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Deaf Canadians 'at risk' in times of national emergency

When the next ice storm, wildfire or terror attack happens, Canadians who are deaf or hard of hearing will be in greater peril than others because most public notification systems are not accessible to them, experts say. 

The Canadian Hearing Society estimates there are 3.15 million Canadians who are hard of hearing and 340,000 Canadians who are deaf, including an estimated 11,000 who are deaf-blind. In policy and in practice, Canada lags behind other countries in ensuring their safety in an emergency.

"Canadian deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind people do not have access to information in a way that is designed to survive a crisis," said a report produced in March by DLR Consulting for the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS).

As the U.S. braced for Hurricane Florence earlier this month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) deployed its sign language interpreters to accompany officials as they warned citizens and instructed them to get out of the way of danger.

An American Sign Language interpreter signs alongside an emergency management official during a Hurricane Florence update on CNN. (CNN/Twitter)

The agency has a variety of systems to communicate with deaf, hard-of-hearing or deaf-blind residents for disaster preparedness, action and recovery, including posting interpreted videos to its YouTube channel.  

No such co-ordination exists here.

"There are good intentions by the Canadian federal, provincial and territorial governments," the CHS report said, "but no provisions of planning, training and communication supports have been put into place to support its deaf, hard-of-hearing, and deaf-blind citizens in the event of a natural or human-induced disaster."

'A frightening experience'

In recent years, Canada has experienced catastrophic wildfires, floods and train derailments. Avalanches, ice storms and tornadoes are regular occurrences. We are not immune from terror attacks or mass shootings.

But many government agencies lack policies to address the deaf community in the event of an emergency, and what policies exist are applied inconsistently among the various levels of government and across departments.

For instance, the CRTC, the federal agency that regulates the broadcast industry in Canada, requires that all radio and TV stations and all wireless providers participate in the National Public Alerting System (NPAS). It's in the form of an audible tone. Alternate formats of the alerts may be issued, but "not every alerting authority or device has the capacity to produce or receive these formats," the website says. And alerts are not available on every type of device and every wireless network.

"When deaf people don't have access to information, it does put them at risk," said Debra Russell, president of the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters (WASLI) and lead author of the report for the CHS.

"For example, if the order is coming to evacuate and that's publicly accessible info but deaf people don't get it, they could still be in their homes when they should be evacuated.

"I think it can be a very frightening experience."

A former Ontario MPP and Canada's first deaf parliamentarian calls to mind the October 2014 attack on Parliament Hill.

"There were members of the deaf community that were there when all of Parliament Hill was locked down, so it was a safety issue and they didn't know what was happening," Gary Malkowski said in an interview with CBC News through a sign language interpreter.

Not enough interpreters

To reach the deaf community effectively would require messaging in multiple formats, for multiple platforms, because sign languages are not merely translated versions of English or French; they are distinct languages — and for some they are a first language. In Canada, the main sign languages are American Sign Language (ASL); langue des signes québécoise (LSQ); Indigenous Sign Language (ISL); and Inuit Sign Language, recognized by the government of Nunavut.

Public Safety Canada says each medium has "unique constraints."

"The CRTC sets out accessibility standards for these mediums, with the goal of ensuring that the information delivered through them, which infrequently includes emergency alerts, is available in as complete a form as possible for all Canadians, including those with auditory or visual impairments," spokesperson Zarah Malik said in an email.

But the new NPAS, which went into effect in April, is not equipped to send messages in a variety of forms, such as graphics and interpreted video. Researchers in Israel — where warning sirens ring out across the country when a threat is detected — say cellphone alerts should also have light and vibration to be accessible to all.

Alternate formats of the alerts may be issued, but "not every alerting authority or device has the capacity to produce or receive these formats," the website says. And alerts are not available on every type of device and every wireless network.

The conventional sources of information — TV newscasts, for example — also have to be adapted, experts and advocates say.

Malkowski, who is now with the CHS, says captioning only works for people who rely on captions. He would like to see Canada follow the example of Israel, Australia and New Zealand, where critical news broadcasts include live on-screen sign language interpreters. BBC News has for years had interpreters on its everyday newscasts in the U.K.

Watch an "in-vision" British Sign Language interpreter on BBC News.

The CHS has put together a pilot project demonstrating how it can be done here. 

"To see broadcasts during national disasters, from the Prime Minister's Office to the premier to the mayor, so that there are protocols and they have emergency interpreters on call lists for such emergencies," he said.

Rhondda Reynolds is training some of those interpreters. The head of the bachelor of interpretation program at Toronto's George Brown College says it's not easy to step into a critical situation in progress. 

Gary Malkowski is a former Ontario MPP who was Canada's first deaf parliamentarian. He's now with the Canadian Hearing Society and wants to see TV and internet broadcasts include sign language interpreters in times of national emergency. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

"It's on the fly and it has to be good, it has to be accurate," Reynolds said. "So the adrenaline is pumping, of course, because ultimately this is not something you can pre-plan."

The bigger challenge, she says, is that there simply aren't enough interpreters, trained or in training, to meet that demand.

National strategy

Co-ordination among jurisdictions is another challenge.

Public Safety Canada spokesperson Karine Martel said in an email that local authorities take the lead in communications during emergencies, and referred CBC News to provincial and territorial emergency management organizations for their policies on the use of sign language interpreters.

The issue of broadcasts would fall under the CRTC, Martel added.

The CHS report said there should be a national strategy to address the needs of the deaf community if Canada is to live up to its commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which recognizes access to communications and personal safety as human rights. 

— With files from CBC's Kas Roussy, Marcy Cuttler

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China will fight U.S. protectionism 'at any cost'

China warned it would fight back “at any cost” with fresh measures to safeguard its interests if the United States sticks to its protectionist actions, after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened an extra $ 100 billion US in tariffs in a worsening trade dispute between the world’s two biggest economies.

Responding to Trump’s comments, the commerce ministry on Friday reiterated in a statement that China was not afraid of a trade war even though it did not seek one, and said the conflict had been provoked by the United States.

“If the United States disregards the objections of China and the international community and persists in unilateralism and trade protectionism, the Chinese side will follow through to the end, at any cost, and definitely fight back resolutely,” a spokesperson was quoted as saying in the statement posted on the ministry’s website.

The Chinese foreign ministry issued an identical statement, which added that Beijing will continue to monitor tariff moves from the United States.

Chinese state media had earlier on Friday slammed Trump’s threat of more trade action as “ridiculous” after the U.S. president had directed trade officials to identify tariffs on $ 100 billion US more Chinese imports, escalating an already high-stakes trade dispute between the two nations.

“This latest intimidation reflects the deep arrogance of some American elites in their attitude toward China,” the state-run Global Times said in an editorial.

Analysts at Oxford Economics warned that a full-blown trade war will have damaging consequences.

“Importantly, these threatened tariffs will be subject to negotiation, and therefore shouldn’t be considered as final,” the analysts wrote in a note to client.

Escalating concerns

“A (full blown) trade war meanwhile would have a more pronounced effect. The U.S. and China would suffer significant slowdown in real GDP growth “a cumulative loss around 1.0 percentage point,” and cut global economic growth to 2.5 per cent in 2019 from 3.0 per cent in Oxford’s baseline scenario.

The escalating tit-for-tat trade actions between the two economic superpowers have roiled global financial markets, as investors worried about the impact on world trade and growth, hitting equities, the dollar and a range of riskier assets such as copper and boosting safe-havens such as the Japanese yen and gold.

The dollar fell in Friday’s trade,while U.S. stock futures  and most of Asia’s stock markets were in the red.

Trump said in a White House statement that the new tariffs were being considered “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” against earlier U.S. trade actions, which included a proposed $ 50 billion US of tariffs on Chinese goods.

“This is what a trade war looks like, and what we have warned against from the start,” said National Retail Federation President and CEO Matthew Shay.

“We are on a dangerous downward spiral and American families will be on the losing end,” Shay added in a statement, urging Trump “to stop playing a game of chicken with the U.S. economy.

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Mike 'The Situation' Sorrentino Is 'At Peace' Ahead Of Tax Evasion Sentencing (Exclusive)

Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is headed back to television for the upcoming revival season of Jersey Shore Family Vacation, but that doesn’t mean he’s the same person fans remember from his wild party days on the show’s original run.

ET’s Katie Krause caught up with the 35-year-old reality star at the show’s premiere party at Hyde Sunset in Los Angeles on Thursday, and he opened up about getting sober and his attempts to bring his life together over the last two years.

“[I’m] 28 months sober, I’m very proud, it’s one of my finest accomplishments and it was a huge challenge,” Sorrentino admitted. “Its a ‘one day at a time’ thing and [I’m] just showing people that it’s very possible.”

While he’s worked hard to fight his addictions, being brought back into a world of drinking and craziness could have been a real problem for many recovering alcoholics. However, Sorrentino said he made sure to just focus on his own health, and not concern himself with everyone else while filming in the Jersey Shore house.

“The mindset was coming from a grateful standpoint, a blessed standpoint,” he explained. “Stay in your lane and run your own race. They could be drinking, they could be having fun, but that’s not my race, because if I look over to the person next to me, guess what? I’m going to trip over my own feet and you’re going to win the race and The Situation is not going to let that happen.”

“I challenged myself to have fun, dance, and be at a club till 5 am and show people it’s possible to have fun,” he added. “And you’ll see, because The Situation turns up more than some people do when they’re even drinking.”

As Sorrentino has dedicated himself to staying clean and healthy, his love life has also flourished with girlfriend Lauren Pesce at his side. The reality star — who has been very open in the past about the role she played him helping him through his darkest times — was effusive about his lady love.

“Definitely, she is the one, for sure,” Sorrentino shared. “She’s been through good times and bad times, the ups and downs, she saw me at my worst and she deserves me at my best.”

However, there’s still a tough road ahead for Sorrentino, who pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion in January, alongside his brother, Marc Sorrentino. The reality star could face a sentence of five years in prison when his sentencing hearing occurs on April 25.

Until then, it appears that Sorrentino’s legal troubles will actually play a part of the upcoming season of Jersey Shore, at least to an extent.

“I discussed it [on the show] to the best of my ability,” he said. “You want to have respect for the system, the judge, and things like that so I did my best to better myself, become better and not bitter.”

“I continue to better myself and I’m like, ‘How can I continue to better myself?’ and I’m like, ‘You know what, let me help others,'” shared Sorrentino, who now serves as the director of public outreach for a rehab facility in New Jersey and conducts speaking events to engage with people who are struggling with addiction. “So I’m trying my best to continue to take on challenges and continue to move forward.”

Ultimately, Sorrentino says he’s “at peace” with him impending sentencing, no matter the outcome, and he’s looking forward to the new season of Jersey Shore as an opportunity to reintroduce himself to the public.

“I just want people to see the new Situation! The new and improved Situation,” he explained. “And you’ll be surprised what you see.”

Jersey Shore Family Vacation premieres April 5 on MTV.

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Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion

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North Korea calls off meeting with Mike Pence 'at the last minute,' White House says

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence was all set to hold a history-making meeting with North Korean officials during the Winter Olympics in South Korea, but Kim Jong-un’s government cancelled at the last minute, the Trump administration said Tuesday.

A potential meeting between Pence and the North Koreans had been the most highly anticipated moment of the vice-president’s visit to Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he led the U.S delegation to the opening ceremonies. Ahead of Pence’s visit, Trump officials had insisted they’d requested no meeting with North Korea, but notably left open the possibility one could occur.

There was no indication that a meeting had indeed been planned — and then cancelled on short notice — until Tuesday, more than a week after Pence returned to the United States. The State Department said that Pence had been “ready to take this opportunity” but would have used it to insist Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“At the last minute, DPRK officials decided not to go forward with the meeting,” said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, using an abbreviation of the North’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “We regret their failure to seize this opportunity.”

Pyeongchang Olympics Opening Ceremony

Kim Yo-jong, top right, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, sits alongside Kim Yong-nam, president of the Presidium of North Korean Parliament, and behind Pence during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

A Trump administration official said the U.S. had expected the meeting to occur Feb. 10, the last day of Pence’s three-day visit to the Olympic Games. The administration did not say exactly how much notice it received from North Korea that the meeting had been called off, nor where the meeting would have taken place or under what conditions.

Nor was it immediately clear whether North Korea scheduled the meeting before the vice-president arrived in South Korea or after he had already arrived. The day before landing in Pyeongchang, Pence told reporters that “we haven’t requested a meeting with North Korea.”

“But if I have any contact with them — in any context — over the next two days, my message will be the same as it was here today: North Korea needs to once and for all abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions,” Pence said.

North Korea had no immediate response to the news out of Washington. But North Korean officials had said previously that they had no interest or intention of meeting with Pence in Pyeongchang during the games.

A potential high-level interaction between the U.S. and North Korea, which would have broken years of estrangement between the two countries, loomed prominently over the Winter Games, where North Korea made a last-minute move to send its athletes to compete on a combined team with South Korea, the host of the games.

Since taking office, the Trump administration has been working to increase economic pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear programs while also threatening military action, insisting at the same time that a diplomatic solution would be preferable for all sides. Yet for months the Trump administration had offered inconsistent messages about what conditions would be needed for a tête-à-tête — such as whether North Korea would have to agree that its nuclear program was on the table before the United States would be willing to sit down.

‘Perhaps they were never sincere’

Pence’s office, acknowledging the scrapped meeting on Tuesday, said North Korea had “dangled a meeting” in hopes that doing so would entice the vice-president to ease up on the North. Pence’s office suggested that North Korea later bailed because it became clear he would hold firm on the U.S. stance if a meeting did occur.

Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, said that the planned meeting — first reported by the Washington Post — would have included an “uncompromising message” delivered by Pence about the “maximum pressure campaign” the Trump administration is waging to try to deter North Korea from proceeding with its nuclear program.

“Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down,” Ayers said.

Kim Yo-jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, attends Olympics in Pyeongchang5:24

Pyongyang sent its nominal head of state, Kim Yong-nam, the highest-level visitor to the South from the North in recent memory. It also sent Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong. Ostensibly, Pence would have met with one or both of those significant North Korean figures.

Pence’s guest for the Olympic Opening Ceremonies was Fred Warmbier, the father of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who died in 2017 shortly after he was released from North Korean detention. Pence also announced in the run-up to his visit that the Trump administration was preparing to unveil a particularly tough round of sanctions punishing the North for its nuclear weapons program.

Pence’s trip came after President Donald Trump days earlier hosted a group of North Korean defectors in the Oval Office, including Ji Seong-ho, whom the president had referenced in his State of the Union address. The White House cast that meeting as part of the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign to counter the North Korean nuclear program. The plan centres around rallying the international community to further isolate North Korea both diplomatically and economically.

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Trump blames Congress for Russia relations 'at an all-time low'

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday Washington’s relationship with Russia is at an “an all-time and very dangerous low,” and blamed Congress for the situation, a day after he signed into law sanctions against Moscow.

The accusation came on the same day Russia announced its foreign minister Sergei Lavrov would meet in the coming days with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The counterparts will talk on the sidelines of an ASEAN regional security summit scheduled for Aug. 6-8 in Manila.

Congress overwhelmingly approved the sanctions last week, leaving Trump with little choice but to sign the legislation although he has long expressed a desire for better ties with Russia. He signed the bill on Wednesday but strongly criticized it.

He complained the measure, which allows Congress to stop him from easing sanctions on Russia, infringed on his presidential powers to shape foreign policy.

“Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low,” Trump said in a Twitter post on Thursday. “You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!” he added, referring to a bitter setback last month when his fellow Republicans, who control both chambers in Congress, failed to push healthcare legislation through the Senate.

Trump’s desire for better ties with Moscow has been hamstrung by the findings of U.S. intelligence agencies that President Vladimir Putin’s government meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign. U.S. congressional panels and a special counsel are investigating. Moscow denies any meddling and Trump denies any collusion by his campaign.

Congress passed the new sanctions to punish Russia over the election interference and the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

Pence tries to reassure Baltic states

Republican U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, who stood beside Trump on Wednesday for an immigration plan announcement they both are pushing, was asked about Trump’s tweet in an MSNBC interview. He agreed U.S.-Russian ties were “at a very low point,” but rejected the president’s blame.

“Ultimately, the responsibility falls primarily on Vladimir Putin,” Cotton said, pointing to Russian actions over Ukraine, arms control treaty violations and alleged meddling in various Western nations.

“We need to confront, put pressure on Vladimir Putin at every point.”

Despite Trump’s public misgivings about the sanctions, Vice-President Mike Pence presented a tough stance against Russia during a tour of Baltic states this week. Pence assured the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — all once part of the Soviet Union — that they would have U.S. support in the event of Russian aggression.

Russia will hold large-scale military maneuvers in nearby Belarus this month.

Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate was asked for his reaction to Trump’s tweet. He told MSNBC: “I can just tell you we saw real bipartisanship on Capitol Hill when it came to these sanctions. Democrats and Republicans agreed we had to tell North Korea, Iran and Russia ‘enough was enough.'”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev denounced the sanctions on Wednesday and the Kremlin reiterated this on Thursday.

“Nobody should doubt that Russia will protect and defend its interests,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters. “We in general believe that this policy of sanctions is short-sighted, unlawful and hopeless.”

Even before Trump signed the bill, Putin on Sunday ordered the United States to cut about 60 per cent of its diplomatic staff in Russia by Sept. 1 and took away a summer house used by U.S. Embassy staff.

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