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Referee banned from working NHL games after being caught on live mic wanting to call penalty on Predators

Referee Tim Peel has been banned from officiating future NHL games after he was caught saying he wanted to call a penalty against the Nashville Predators during a game on Tuesday.

Peel was wearing a microphone for the Detroit-Nashville game Tuesday night and was heard making the comment over the TV broadcast.

“It wasn’t much, but I wanted to get a [expletive] penalty against Nashville early in the,” Peel was heard saying before his microphone was cut off after Predators forward Viktor Arvidsson was called for a tripping penalty at 4:56 of the second period.

Peel worked the game with referee Kelly Sutherland. The Predators were called for four penalties and the Red Wings three in Nashville’s 2-0 win.

WARNING: Clip contains profane language

“Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game,” Colin Campbell, the league’s senior executive vice-president of hockey operations, said in a statement issued by the NHL Wednesday. 

“Tim Peel’s conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to that cornerstone principle that we demand of our officials and that our fans, players, coaches and all those associated with our game expect and deserve,” he said in the statement. “There is no justification for his comments, no matter the context or his intention, and the National Hockey League will take any and all steps necessary to protect the integrity our game.”

The NHL’s statement was unclear on whether Peel had been fired, but TSN reported Wednesday he planned to retire following this season.

NHL players weigh in

Nashville’s Matt Duchene on a local radio appearance Wednesday wondered aloud what would have happened if Detroit scored on the power play, won the game and the Predators missed the playoffs by a point.

“The crazy part is he was talking to [teammate Filip] Forsberg in that clip, and he told our bench that,” Duchene said. “Really bizarre. I don’t think there’s a place in hockey for that.

“You’ve got to call the game. I’ve always been frustrated when I’ve seen even-up calls or stuff like that. If one team is earning power plays, you can’t punish them because the other team is not.”

Even-up — or make-up — calls are when referees will penalize one team to compensate for what they perceive to be an incorrect penalty imposed on the opposing team. 

Duchene and other players around the league cast doubt on “make-up calls” being a regular part of hockey, though he acknowledged “there’s definitely nights where you’re skeptical of it.”

“Some of the good refs definitely have a feel for the game and they know the ebbs and flows, and they know to try to keep the game as even as possible unless the play dictates otherwise,” New York Rangers forward Ryan Strome said. “But as players, all you can ask for is that they try to call it as fair as possible.”

‘The league had to do what they had to do’

Washington centre Nicklas Backstrom, a 14-year veteran, said the incident was a first for him.

“I’ve never heard anything like that,” Backstrom said. “I think it’s maybe unfortunate that it happened and came out that way. But at the same time, the league had to do what they had to do.”

Predators coach John Hynes said it probably doesn’t matter how he feels about what the official said.

“But the referees are employees of the league and rather than me comment on it, it’s an issue that I think the league will have to take care of,” Hynes said.

Most players and coaches expressed respect for on-ice officials and lamented how difficult their jobs are in keeping track of the fast-paced game. Buffalo interim coach Don Granato said he has “full faith” in the people who work for the NHL.

“[Peel] made a mistake, but unfortunately you don’t want make-up calls to be part of the game,” Edmonton’s Adam Larsson said. “I don’t think it’s right. I think if it’s an obvious one I don’t think it should be made up for.”

Peel, 54, from Hampton, N.B., has been an NHL referee since 1999.

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CBC | Sports News

Media, protesters caught in Hungary and Poland’s slow squeeze

Dozens of newspapers, TV stations and websites blank or black: this was what the national strike of private media in Poland protesting a sudden and crippling government tax on advertising looked like on Feb. 10.

In Hungary the same week, an opposition radio station was ordered by a court to turn off its microphones this coming Monday.

This is the politics of the slow squeeze in Central Europe. It’s a strategy designed by two men, the prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, and the vice-premier and de facto leader of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

Their countries, both former members of the Soviet bloc, belong to the European Union, and profit from it, but their ideas on democracy and the rule of law, principles their countries agreed to uphold when joining in 2004, are far from those endorsed by EU leaders in Brussels.

‘A 21st-century Christian democracy’

For Hungary’s Orban, democracy of the liberal kind is a dirty word. He has, instead, vowed to build an “illiberal state.”

“We have replaced a shipwrecked liberal democracy with a 21st-century Christian democracy, which guarantees people’s freedom and security,” Orban proclaimed to the Hungarian parliament in May 2018.

A year later, he told a summit of students and policy makers that “the essence of illiberal democracy is Christian liberty and the protection of Christian liberty.”

“Our task will be to turn against liberal internationalism,” he said.

Orbán speaks to the media as he arrives at EU headquarters in Brussels on Dec. 10, 2020. Earlier this month, a Hungarian court ordered the closure of one of Klubrádió, one of the last remaining independent radio stations in the country. (John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)

Kaczynski is a devout Catholic but above all a devout Pole. 

Late last year, the biggest chain of regional dailies and weeklies in Poland, with a reach of 17 million readers, was bought from a German publishing house by state-controlled petrochemical company PKN Orlen. On Feb. 4, Kaczynski explained that for two decades, the German-owned, or “non-Polish” as he prefers to put it, papers had been “demoralizing” Polish young people.  

His government’s goal was “re-polonization,” and this was a shining example. Others see the deal as a Putin-style approach.

“The consolidation of the state, the oil sector and the media is a well-known manoeuvre in the Russian scenario,” Peter Wolodarski, editor-in-chief of the major Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter and of Polish origin himself, wrote in his paper late last year. 

“This should be an alarm signal for the world.”

‘Media without choice’ read the headlines on the front pages of Poland’s main private newspapers, part of a protest against a proposed media advertising tax that journalists say is politically motivated to consolidate government control over media. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

The politics of resentment

Kaczynski, 72, and Orbán, 57, are believers in nationalism and the politics of resentment. 

Kaczynski’s view is that, in the years after communism crumbled more than 30 years ago, Poland’s liberal democratic leaders betrayed the country’s Christian principles. 

He went on record in 2005 with this apocalyptic prediction: “the affirmation of homosexuality will lead to the downfall of civilization.”

When it won elections that year, his Law and Justice party promised a “moral revolution” to root out corruption and a so-called fourth republic, in league with the Catholic Church. 

Kaczynski, seen in the lower house of parliament in Warsaw last May, is a devout Catholic and has promoted the idea of a ‘moral revolution’ in Poland. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images)

Orban, his country’s longest-serving prime minister, posted on Facebook last year a map of a pre-WWI “Greater Hungary.” The country was on the losing side of the First World War and stripped of about 70 per cent of its territory. Predictably, the post infuriated neighbouring countries. 

Orban’s vision is of a Christian Hungary with no Muslim refugees, or “invaders” as he called them in a 2018 interview.

Both Orban and Kaczynski are nationalists who refuse the dreams of a more federal, multicultural Europe and brook little or no criticism of their vision.

Media feel the squeeze

And so, the strike and the radio station.

The sudden tax on advertising threatens the existence of independent Polish media outlets, their editors said.

“This is simply extortion,” they wrote in an open letter to the government on Feb. 10.

The Polish prime minister defended the tax as “a fair step,” saying the money raised would go toward fighting COVID-19 and would level the playing field between domestic and foreign players and small and big companies.

The editors said that Polish state media, filled with ruling-party loyalists, receive huge subsidies and would likely get more to offset the tax. The independent sector would receive none, they said.

The closure in Hungary of Klubradio is a slight departure from Orban’s previous strategy, which involved government allies buying up critical media. In 2019, Reporters Without Borders said the degree of media control under the Orban government was “unprecedented” among EU member states.

An employee of Klubradio works at the station’s headquarters in Budapest. The station’s licence will expire Sunday after Hungary’s broadcast regulator refused to renew it, a move that Orban critics say was intended to silence opposition to his government. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

In the spring of 2020, a pro-Orban businessman took a 50 per cent stake in the firm that controls the advertising and revenue of Index, Hungary’s biggest news site. The editor-in-chief was soon under fire. Then he was gone. Seventy journalists resigned in protest. And Index is now a tame animal.

Klubradio’s licence, which expires Feb. 14, was not renewed last September by the government broadcasting authority for violating broadcasting rules on “six occasions in the last seven years,” according to the secretary of state for international communication and relations.

The station argued its infractions were minor and similar to those of other broadcasters that had not had their licences revoked.

The government has called allegations that the closure is part of a government crackdown on press freedom “a fiction” and part of the anti-Orbán agenda of the mainstream liberal media.

State TV decries ‘leftist fascism’

In Poland, when the Law and Justice party took power in 2015, its first priority was to fill the top positions in state-financed TV and radio with loyalists. 

The result was on display when tens of thousands of women demonstrated in October 2020 against a court ruling that struck down one of the few remaining exceptions to the near-total restriction on abortions.

The state TV channel TVP displayed a banner saying, “Leftist fascism is destroying Poland” on several occasions during its coverage of the demonstrations and opposition parties’ protests against the abortion law in parliament.  

A screen shot of an Oct. 28, 2020, newscast on the Polish state television channel TVP displaying a banner saying ‘Leftist fascism is destroying Poland’ during the anchor’s lead-in into an item on the demonstrations against a ruling further restricting abortion. (Archiwum Wiadomości/YouTube)

This bitterly contested ruling was the result of the alliance between the government of the majority Catholic country and the Catholic Church. But first, it required compliant judges.

So, soon after coming to power, the government brought in rules lowering the retirement age for judges, then replacing the departing ones with loyalists on the Constitutional Tribunal. They, in turn, handed down the abortion ruling.

A large crowd in Warsaw protests a ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal that struck down one of the few remaining exceptions to abortion restrictions Oct. 30, 2020. (Omar Marques/Getty Images)

Kaczynski’s government, which denies trying to influence the court, proceeds carefully.  After the massive demonstrations, it postponed bringing the abortion law into effect. Then, three months later, in the middle of a cold winter, it activated the ruling.

There were more nights of demonstrations by thousands of women, but there was a sense of frustration.

“This pause between the verdict and its coming into effect is typical of how they proceed,” one demonstrator named Ania told French daily Le Figaro. “They go slowly, and people get tired.” 

It was another example of the slow squeeze.

WATCH Demonstrations across Poland protest new abortion restrictions:

Thousands of people in Poland took to the streets after a new, highly restrictive abortion law came into effect. 0:46

EU intervention comes too late

Orban changed the retirement rules for judges as well, then also packed the courts with loyalists.

He then squeezed Central European University in Budapest, funded by Hungarian-American Jewish financier George Soros, a frequent target of Orban’s and the subject of various conspiracy theories and rhetoric widely decried as anti-Semitic.

The university was forced to move to Vienna after the courts said the university was illegal because it was incorporated in the U.S

The EU has tried to fight back, launching cases in the European Court of Justice and winning them. Hungary’s actions against Soros’s university were ruled illegal under EU law as was its forced early retirement of judges. Poland’s new retirement rules for judges were also deemed unconstitutional.

But the cases took several years. New judges were already in place in Poland and Hungary. The university had moved.

People attend a rally in support of Central European University in Budapest in November 2018. The school was deemed illegal because it was incorporated in the U.S., a ruling that the European Court of Justice later found violated EU law. (Bernadett Szabo/Reuters)

There are, however, worrying signs for both leaders. In Hungary, six opposition parties have united and polls show their coalition neck and neck with Orban’s party, Fidesz.

“Fidesz is gradually dropping, and this is mostly due to the virus’s economic impact and the perception that the government isn’t handling the crisis as well it should,” Tibor Zavecz, head of Zavecz Research, told BNN Bloomberg in December.

In Poland, support for the Law and Justice party has dropped from 47 per cent in May 2020 to 36 per cent in February, according to Politico’s poll of polls. Here, too, the pandemic has hurt.

But Orban doesn’t face an election until 2022 and Kaczynski not until 2023.

Until then, the work of the “moral revolution” in Poland and of “illiberal democracy” in Hungary will go on.

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CBC | World News

Doctor who caught COVID-19 variant vows to ‘vigorously defend’ against charge she obstructed contact tracing

An Ontario physician and her husband — the first people in Canada known to have caught the coronavirus variant originally detected in the U.K. — are vowing to fight public health charges alleging they hindered contact tracing efforts. 

Dr. Martina Weir and her husband, Brian Weir, who works for Toronto’s paramedic service, both said in statements issued through their respective lawyers that they are not guilty, intend to plead not guilty and will “vigorously defend” themselves against the charges.

As CBC News previously reported, it was only by chance the lab that handled the couple’s COVID-19 tests identified the variant, according to Public Health Ontario. The province does not check each positive case of COVID-19 for the B117 strain.

The couple, from Durham Region east of Toronto, are each accused of three non-criminal counts under Ontario’s Health Protection and Promotion Act that were laid last week but only formalized Tuesday. The charges include:

  • 2 counts each of “failing to provide accurate information on all persons that [they] may have had contact with during their period of communicability for COVID-19.”
  • 1 count each of obstruction for “providing false information” to public health officials.    

In Martina Weir’s case, the obstruction count alleges she gave the false information to Durham Region’s associate medical officer of health during contact tracing in relation to the coronavirus strain first reported in the U.K.

Brian Weir’s obstruction count alleges he provided false information about whether he had contact with anyone who had travelled from the U.K.

CBC News has learned that a close family member who lives in Britain flew to Canada in mid-December to spend time over the holidays at the Weirs’ home.

Initially, in its Boxing Day announcement that a then-unnamed Durham couple had tested positive for the coronavirus variant first reported in the U.K., Ontario’s Health Ministry said they had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts.” 

But a day later, the ministry issued a second statement alleging the couple had withheld information.

“Additional investigation and follow-up case and contact management has revealed that the couple had, indeed, been in contact with a recent traveller from the U.K., which is new information not provided in earlier interviews,” the ministry said in a Dec. 27 statement.

Signage at Winnipeg’s airport warns international travellers they have to isolate for 14 days. The charges against an Ontario doctor and her husband allege they obstructed health officials by not providing accurate information related to contact with anyone who travelled to the U.K. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

No indication of workplace risk

Martina Weir works as a physician at two publicly run nursing homes and three hospitals in Durham Region. 

A spokesperson for the nursing homes said Weir wasn’t at work between Dec. 11 — well before she is believed to have tested positive for COVID-19 — and earlier this week. The spokesperson said there are no concerns about any risk to the homes’ residents but that Weir’s contract employment there is under review. 

A spokesperson for the hospitals, Sharon Navarro, said staff coming to work there “must attest that they have not travelled outside the country and or had contact with anyone travelling outside the country.”

She did not answer questions about whether Martina Weir had been to work in mid-December or whether any other staff or patients who may have tested positive for COVID-19 are being screened for the B117 variant.      

Neither Weir nor her lawyer would say whether she went to work at the hospitals during the period when she was potentially contagious. 

CBC News has no indication that Weir went to work and put anyone at risk at any of her workplaces.

WATCH | What do we know about the variant 1st identified in U.K.

The B1-17 coronavirus variant, first discovered in the U.K., is now in at least 40 countries, including Canada. It has 23 mutations, including one that attaches to healthy cells like a key going into a lock. 1:56

College of Physicians aware of charges

By law, Weir has to report the charges against her to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, the provincial regulator for doctors. The college can then follow up with an investigation, and results are forwarded to a committee that decides whether to take no action, issue a caution, ask a doctor to undergo remedial training, or send the matter to a disciplinary hearing.  

The college said in a statement on Tuesday that, in general, “Countering public health best practices at any time — including during a pandemic — represents a risk to the public and is not acceptable behaviour.”

Toronto Paramedic Services, where Brian Weir works as a senior scheduler for the city’s emergency medical service, said it wasn’t aware of the charges against him and wouldn’t comment on something pertaining to its “staff as private citizens.” 

Brian Weir’s lawyer didn’t answer a question from CBC about whether Weir was at work during the period when he was potentially contagious.

CBC News has no indication Brian Weir went to work and put anyone at risk at his workplace.

The Weirs’ first appearance is set for March 10 in provincial offences court. The charges carry a maximum penalty of $ 5,000 each.  

Health workers have ‘elevated moral responsibility’

Martina Weir is believed to be the second doctor in Canada charged with a public-health offence in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. A doctor was charged in New Brunswick last year with failing to self-isolate for 14 days after he returned from a trip to Quebec to pick up his daughter. 

Bioethicist Kerry Bowman of the University of Toronto said that, in his view, health-care workers have “an elevated moral responsibility” because they are “in a position of trust with the public.” 

“We’re in this awful race right now, over these difficult winter months, with vaccines and the variant and everything else,” he said. “So it’s very … very serious.”

University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman says health-care workers have ‘an elevated moral responsibility’ because they are ‘in a position of trust with the public.’ (Stacey Janzer/CBC)

According to Statistics Canada, 17 of the country’s biggest police forces responded to more than 16,800 potential violations of provincial laws and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic between March and August. The data does not indicate how many of those cases resulted in fines or charges.

At the federal level, the Public Health Agency of Canada said earlier this month that between late March 2020 and Jan. 5, 2021, police have laid eight charges, given out 126 tickets and issued around 200 warnings for alleged violations of the Quarantine Act, which applies to people entering Canada from abroad.

Have a tip to share on this story? Contact Zach Dubinsky at 416-205-7553 or zach.dubinsky@cbc.ca, or send us a secure, anonymous message through SecureDrop.

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CBC | Health News

Caught between relief and disbelief, Vlhova claims emotional slalom World Cup win

Shortly after winning the first women’s World Cup slalom of 2021 on Sunday, Petra Vlhova kneeled with her face down, torn between relief and disbelief.

The Slovakian skier’s win came five days after her four-year-long joint winning streak with Mikaela Shiffrin ended.

In tough conditions due to fog and rain, the overall leader from Slovakia beat Katharina Liensberger of Austria by five-hundredths of a second.

Shiffrin was 0.27 behind in fourth, forced to wait for her 100th career World Cup podium, a milestone reached by only four female skiers in the 54-year history of the sport.

Leading after the first run, Vlhova thought she had squandered her chances in a rough final run with several mistakes on the deteriorating course.

“During my run, I thought, `OK, the race is done.’ But I found something inside, I pushed more and more and more until the finish,” she said. “It’s amazing and a really emotional victory.”

At a night race in Semmering last Tuesday, Michelle Gisin became the first skier other than Vlhova or Shiffrin to win a World Cup slalom in 29 races since January 2017, when Frida Hansdotter triumphed in Flachau.

Vlhova and Gisin are 1-2 in both the slalom and the overall standings.

On Sunday, the Swiss skier was 0.22 behind in third as the top four from the first run remained unchanged.

After Vlhova and Shiffrin dominated women’s slalom racing in recent years, Liensberger and Gisin seem to have closed the gap.

Canada’s Mielzynski finishes in top 5

Gisin become the first Swiss slalom winner in 19 years with her victory in Semmering, and Liensberger has been on the podium in all four slaloms this season.

“They are really fast,” Vlhova said. “We are really close, I have to ski always to my limit because they push me a lot.”

In Sunday’s race, the gap between Shiffrin in fourth and Canada’s Erin Mielzynski in fifth was a massive 1.13 seconds. It was the native of Guelph, Ont., first top-five result since November 2015.

Shiffrin led the best showing by the U.S. ski team in a women’s slalom in 14 years, as four American racers qualified for the decisive leg for the first time since 2007.

Paula Moltzan finished 14th, Katie Hensien 18th, and Nina O’Brien failed to finish her final run.

Defending overall champion Federica Brignone skipped the race in order to train for upcoming speed events in Austria.

Relief for Zagreb following quake

Heavy rain on Saturday weakened the surface of the Crveni Spust course just outside Croatia’s capital. Course workers added salt that hardened the top layer but also created a lot of bumps.

Even Croatian great Ivica Kostelic struggled on the course. The 2011 men’s overall champion lost his balance and fell during a pre-race camera run.

The race took place five days after a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit central Croatia. Race organizers said they would donate 10 per cent of the prize money to a relief fund for people whose houses have been damaged or destroyed.

The Croatian ski federation matched that donation, raising the total amount to $ 60,000 US. 

The women’s World Cup continues with speed races in St. Anton, Austria, next weekend.

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CBC | Sports News

The great PPE panic: How the pandemic caught Canada with its stockpiles down

This is the fourth in a series of articles looking at some of the lessons learned from the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic and how Canada moves forward.

To hear Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand describe it, Canada’s effort to supply frontline workers during the pandemic has been a significant — if uneven — success.

“We did procurement like it has never been done before,” said Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand. “We are in an urgent scramble to secure personal protective equipment and we will not let up until that task is accomplished.”

The federal government, she said, has conducted just under a hundred flights to Canada carrying Chinese personal protective equipment (PPE) and bringing supplies from the U.S. and Europe.

It was a remarkable, last-ditch effort. But could it have been avoided?

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand listens to a question during a news conference in Ottawa, April 16, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Dr. Sandy Buchman, president of the Canadian Medical Association, gives Ottawa credit for pulling every lever it could when the need for PPE became critical. “But they wouldn’t have had to scramble to do that if we had adequate stockpiles, and the same goes for medication,” he told CBC News. “We should have maintained and had them available.

“We had a pandemic plan in place but we didn’t actually have things ready. We didn’t have adequate personal protective equipment for frontline health care workers.”

In fact, Canada still doesn’t have the PPE it needs to keep those essential workers safe.

Read more from the series:

Just take a look at the nation’s capital. Thirty out of some 600 Ottawa paramedics are currently reassigned from front-line duties because of a lack of N95 masks, according to their union.

CUPE ambulance rep Jason Fraser told CBC News that when he began as a paramedic during the SARS epidemic in 2003, he and his co-workers were fitted out with state-of-the-art respirators. 

“For 17 years, the gold standard of mask has been the N95 masks,” he said. “And due to a global shortage or difficulty obtaining proper PPE, all of a sudden surgical masks are OK protection.”

Fraser said his members don’t want to work with anything less than N95s and don’t believe they’d be asked to do so were it not for preventable shortages.

He points the finger of blame mainly at the Ontario government. But a shortage of N95s has been an issue in many places across the country.

PPE stock in poor shape

Canada’s pandemic response got off to a rocky start when it came to the basic tools: masks, gowns, gloves and other products.

Canadian PPE stockpile levels were woefully low when the pandemic hit; materials were allowed to expire without being used or even donated, and then ended up in landfills. The Trudeau government was widely criticized for sending 16 tons of PPE to China at a time when the novel coronavirus was still mostly a Chinese problem, and the Public Health Agency of Canada was still mistakenly assessing the risk to Canadians as “low.”

A cargo aircraft delivers medical supplies and protective equipment to Montréal–Mirabel International Airport. (Daniel Thomas/Radio-Canada)

Anand said her department responded to those shortages by fostering the creation of a Canadian PPE industry from scratch.

“Forty-four per cent of our contracts by dollar value are made with domestic manufacturers,” she said.

“This is an incredible effort on behalf of Canadians themselves to protect Canadians. So that is a heartening story and it’s also an important lesson learned.”

It’s a lesson nearly everyone involved in fighting the pandemic agrees has to be learned — if Canada wants to avoid the same experience when the next pandemic hits.

The preppers weren’t prepared

One nation that hasn’t had to worry about PPE is Finland. Its history of Soviet invasion left it with a siege mentality that manifested itself in the construction of a secret network of bunkers stocked with supplies to carry its people through times of war or disaster — including a huge stockpile of masks.

Canada also has a National Emergency Stockpile System (NESS), launched in 1952 at the height of the Cold War and originally intended to help Canada survive a nuclear attack.

Lately, the system’s rationale has changed somewhat. “We began to move away from beds and blankets and increased our holdings of antiviral medications and key treatments,” Sally Thornton of the Public Health Agency of Canada told MPs at a committee hearing in May.

“We do not focus on PPE and that wouldn’t be a major element, because we count on our provinces, within their respective authority, to maintain their stockpile.”

Some MPs found that answer highly unsatisfactory, given that the NESS last year threw out two million N95 masks that had been allowed to expire.

Stockpile ‘completely unready’

“The stockpile system proved completely unready for COVID-19, and the degree of unreadiness goes well beyond the explanation that COVID-19 was was unexpected in terms of its impact and scale,” said Wesley Wark of the University of Ottawa, an intelligence expert who studied the NESS’s response to the pandemic.

“It was clearly underfunded. Cabinet ministers and senior officials have admitted that fact.”

Health Minister Patty Hajdu said in April that “federal governments for decades have been underfunding things like public health preparedness, and I would say that obviously governments all across the world are in the same exact situation.”

Inventory analyst Olivia Ivey organizes a stack of boxed personal protective equipment inside the massive warehouse in Langley, B.C. where the Provincial Health Services Authority receives and distributes millions of pieces of PPE. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

What Hajdu said is true — although her own government closed warehouses and left the stockpile even smaller than it found it. NESS’s annual budget is only about $ 3 million and both the Harper and Trudeau governments routinely spent even less on it. It has a regular staff of just 18 people.

“But beyond its underfunding,” said Wark, “it basically lacked any kind of strategy as far as I can tell to prepare for an emergency …”

“There was really no planning done to integrate the federal government’s stockpile system with those held by the provinces and territories. It’s not until February — a month into the COVID-19 crisis — [that] the federal government wakes up to the fact that they don’t even know what is held in provincial and territorial stockpiles, nor do provinces and territories know what’s held in the federal stockpile. That points to a basic strategic failure.”

The come-as-you-are pandemic

When March arrived, Wark said, “the stockpile system had to transition into being a kind of portal for trying to get supplies hastily mobilized from domestic suppliers or international sources into Canada and passed on to provinces and territories.

“You know, I think the whole thing was just a desperate scramble. And it didn’t need to have been that way, if proper attention had been paid to the important role that the stockpile system was meant to play.”

A pandemic is a bad time to start shopping for emergency supplies. With COVID-19 engulfing one country after another, Canada found itself competing with dozens of other countries, as well as private U.S. hospital networks, to acquire the most sought-after items. 

Anand said the government has learned that lesson and will ensure that stockpiles of PPE, medicines and other essentials are maintained in future.

Stockpiles alone won’t solve the problem, she said, because PPE products have expiry dates and a major pandemic would at least start to exhaust any stockpile.

“Another part of the puzzle is also to make sure that we’ve got relationships with a diverse range of suppliers who can produce these goods so that we have priority when it comes to making sure that we have that product,” she said.

Unreliable suppliers

Canada’s two main markets for acquiring PPE supplies — the U.S. and China — have been problematic.

China’s PPE market quickly flooded with new companies that previously had been making things like baby toys or auto parts. They began to churn out PPE of wildly varying quality.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump ordered 3M to stop fulfilling contracts to provide N95 masks to other countries, and halted a shipment to Ontario in April. Thanks mainly to dogged resistance to that order by 3M executives, the threat was averted.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, holds a 3M N95 mask as she and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visit 3M headquarters in Maplewood, Minn., March 5, 2020. (Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP)

But it it all served as a reminder of the risks involved in depending on other countries for essential supplies in a global emergency. Ontario Premier Doug Ford vowed to make his province self-sufficient.

“I’m not going to rely on President Trump,” he said. “I’m not going to rely on any prime minister of any country ever again. Our manufacturing, we’re gearing up and once they start, we’re never going to stop them.”

Anand said she is working to end Canada’s dependence on foreign sources. 

“The strategy from procurement has been to diversify our supply chains to make sure that we are not reliant on one country or one jurisdiction alone,” she said.

“We would very much aim to have domestic production of every item here in Canada.”

That would mean persuading the Canadian manufacturers that switched production over to medical equipment — such as clothing maker Stanfields in Nova Scotia — to stay in the game once the crisis passes.

Mixed messages on masks

The government’s early advice against wearing masks confused many Canadians, who suspected (correctly, as it turned out) that the guidance defied common sense.

That confusion also affected people in the medical field.

“I have been astounded that we are not being told to wear masks,” one occupational therapist told CBC News on March 31, describing conditions at the rehab hospital where she worked. “We are even being told we can’t wear our own masks and will be reprimanded and potentially disciplined for doing so.”

Some Canadian hospitals even had security guards order people to remove masks before they could enter.

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face shield, an N95 mask and gloves is seen in the ambulance bay outside the emergency department at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., April 12, 2020. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Calgary ER physician Joe Vipond told CBC News the government’s position on masks struck him as irrational from the beginning.

“And I see that changing, but boy it’s slow!” he said.

He said that his own province of Alberta was “pretty late to the PPE bandwagon”.

“I know in B.C. on March 25 every single hospital and every single long term care facility were mandated to wear masks in all situations, in order to avoid pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic spread,” he said.

In Alberta, he added, that decision came “a good three weeks after. And so I think a lot of ways we were quite lucky to avoid a lot of transmission within our acute care facilities. That didn’t work out so well for our long term care facilities.

“I know there was one outbreak at the Lloydminster hospital and also in Winnipeg that were blamed on lack of universal masking. There was always a concern about N95, and we were told to be very cautious in our use.”

Vipond blamed the relentless search for cost efficiencies, cheaper vendors and just-in-time delivery for the shortages.

“There is value in having stockpiles and there is value in having your own domestic control over things,” he said. “I’m hoping that we recognize the value of being a masters of our own domain.”

Mike Villeneuve, CEO of the Canadian Nurses’ Association, agrees with Vipond about the patchwork nature of PPE access across the country.

“It’s been a story of great success in many places … and the complete opposite in others — you can’t seem to get it, or it’s locked up, or I’m encouraged to not use it because it’s expensive,” he said.

“Our view is that we should err on the side of protecting people, and whatever the cost of an N95 mask is, [it’s] small compared to the cost of a life.”

‘A sense of mistrust’

Villeneuve said the fact that rules on PPE use varied from place to place led nurses to suspect PPE policies were being driven not by the best science but by harsh realities of supply and shortage.

“How come that filters down so differently across 13 jurisdictions, hundreds of employers and different practice settings and so on, when a nurse in a practice setting in Alberta is doing the same thing as a nurse in the same setting in Manitoba?” he said.

“That sort of sets up a sense of mistrust.”

Anand said that it’s up to provinces to set such policies — but she doesn’t rule out the federal government making uniform recommendations. 

She said her department soon will be rolling out new PPE supplier competitions on its supply hub website.

“We have had 26,000 businesses respond to our call out to suppliers, 26,000 businesses wanting to step up and assist in the Team Canada effort,” she said. And while only about 17,000 of those companies are Canadian, Anand argued it “suggests is that there is capacity in the Canadian economy to become self-sufficient in the area of PPE.”

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Pandemic benefit cheats could get caught by new CRA measures — but not soon

The Canada Revenue Agency is planning new measures to check up on Canadians receiving emergency benefits during the COVID-19 crisis.

But officials say the back-end “clean up” of potentially fraudulent benefit claims promised by federal politicians — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — won’t actually happen until next year’s taxes are filed.

CBC News learned of the new measures from a briefing with senior CRA officials. It was conducted under the condition that comments not be attributed to specific individuals.

Earlier this month, CBC News reported on instances of Canadians claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) even though they were not eligible.

During the briefing, the CRA officials repeated what federal politicians have said more than once — that they believe most Canadians are honest. One official acknowledged, however, that fraud rates for this $ 35 billion program could be higher than for most federal programs and could reach two or three per cent.

And Canadians who are dishonest in their CERB applications may not face any special consequences for lying. CRA officials said their “primary line of defence” will be to simply claw back any money a claimant was not entitled to receive.

CRA wants to know when you worked

Employers are going to be asked for more information about their employees this year.

The CRA is still finalizing plans to get the details of how much employees were paid on a monthly basis during the COVID-19 outbreak. In a normal year, the CRA would get only the annual total.

CERB recipients are supposed to have been forced to stop working because of the pandemic, although they can earn up to $ 1,000 a month while receiving the benefit.

One official said that detailed wage information will allow them to check benefit claims.

“That puts us in a really strong position, because we can look at their earnings by month and we can compare that to their CERB claims … and we can see … [if they] were they earning more than $ 1,000 in March or $ 1,000 in April, and were they claiming the Canada Emergency Response Benefit at the same time.”

New verification for ‘high risk’ cases

Officials also said they recently introduced a new verification procedure for applications flagged as “high risk”. 

For example, said one senior CRA official, a “very old person” who applies for CERB might be asked for more information — because it’s less likely that person would have had a job to lose.

Anyone whose application is flagged as high-risk would need to call a toll-free number to have their application processed.

“In a rare case, you’re going to have people who can’t complete their application because when we press them on some information, it turns out that they’re not eligible,” the official said.

That safeguard is in addition to what the CRA calls its “first line of defence” — the automatic check done on all CERB applicants. Officials say this ensures the application isn’t being made in the name of someone who is deceased, under 15 years old or incarcerated in a federal institution.

Last month, however, Radio-Canada reported that at least two CERB payments were sent to provincial jails in Quebec. The payments were caught by corrections officials.

‘Back end’ verification comes next year

Federal officials have promised more work will be done in the future to ensure that those receiving CERB should be getting it.

“We knew that there would be a need to clean-up after the fact, to go after fraudulent cases, and we will do that,” Trudeau said Tuesday.

CRA officials said that much of that work will happen in January and February, when the CRA starts to get the T4 information from employers that summarizes individuals’ earnings. The CRA will then compare that to CERB claims.

“Much of the back end validation is not going to happen until essentially tax time of next year,” a senior CRA official told CBC News.

Federal officials have pointed out that, overall, government programs have a fraud rate of less than one per cent. CRA officials say it’s too soon to say what the fraud rate will be for the CERB.

“When we think about a program, we think about a risky program, we’re thinking maybe 2 per cent, maybe 3 per cent,” one senior official said.

People line up at a Service Canada office in Montreal on Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Limited consequences for dishonesty

CRA officials said if people are found to have received benefit money they don’t deserve, the aim will be to get the money back.

“I think our focus will be about getting the money back and really not about penalizing,” said one official.

The official suggested that most of those who are double-dipping — by receiving both the CERB and EI, for example — have done so by mistake.

Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough also told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos that for both the CERB and the new pandemic benefit for students, the emphasis will be on getting money back from ineligible applicants. 

“There’s not going to be penalties, and we’re not going to punish people if they did it in good faith,” she said. “But at the end of the day, there’s rigour at the end of the process and we will figure that all out.”

Watch: Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough on CERB fraud

Employment and Workforce Development Minister Carla Qualtrough discusses how emergency benefit claims are processed, as well as when students can expect the CESB in their bank accounts. 8:11

On Monday, the CRA introduced a new option on its “My CRA account” online portal to make it easier for people to pay back benefits they want to return. They could include people who accidentally received both EI and CERB, as well as those who have gotten a job and are no longer eligible for CERB, said one official.

On the very first day the option was available, even without the CRA advertising it, close to 15,000 repayments were made, he said.

“Canadians are honest and we want to make it easy for them to repay it if they become ineligible,” he said.

Problem applications are still being flagged, say officials

A recent report by The National Post said that federal workers had been told to ignore cheating and that some 200,000 benefit applications had been flagged as possibly fraudulent.

That figure is inaccurate, Qualtrough told Power & Politics.

“I can’t give you a definitive answer on every single day, but there are not currently 200,000 red flagged claims that are being paid that shouldn’t be,” she said.

Qualtrough also was asked whether employees of her department had been told not to impose “stop pay” orders even if they see suspicious activity.

“I don’t want to get caught up in language, but guidance was definitely given in that regard, yes,” she said.

The CRA shared some of the guidance it’s giving call centre employees.

‘”You are there to help people in these difficult times,” reads an internal department memo.

The memo also notes there are still eligibility requirements for CERB: “[P]lease make sure that the callers can attest in good faith that they meet the requirements as set out in the application.”

The memo also says that employees should let callers know that if they are re-hired, or earn more than $ 1,000, they will have to repay the benefits.

“Certainly our position [is that] if somebody is clearly not eligible and there’s clear evidence that they’re not eligible, we would not want that person to get the CERB, if there’s clear evidence of that,” said the senior CRA official.

More than 7.8 million people have applied for CERB as of May 10, according to government statistics.

Much of the work of verifying CERB claims is automated but more work will still need to be done, said the senior CRA official.

“We will use more people for verifications, certainly we will. All these programs do cost money.”

The CRA has an entire branch that deals with verification, he said, and this year its focus will be on pandemic measures.

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‘We are not animals’: Refugees caught between Turkey and Greece have nowhere to turn

“I swear to God I’m really tired,” 18-year old Syrian Ibrahim Gazel said, standing in a field of dashed dreams.

He was crowded with others who’d flocked to Turkey’s northern border with Greece after Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would open the frontier.

Gazel said Turkish police had even directed him where to cross. But he was stopped by Greek border police, then beaten and sent back to Turkey, he said.

“They took our bags and they forced us to take off our shoes and they hit us with batons.” 

Ibrahim Gazel, 18, left Syria six years ago hoping for a better future in Europe, but refugee life in Turkey has worn him down. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

That’s why he finds himself sleeping rough in a park on the edge of the Turkish city of Edirne, about six kilometres from the border.

But when he says he’s tired he’s not talking about this recent journey. He’s talking about six years growing up as a refugee in Turkey.

He fled Syria’s war with his older brother at the age of 12, after they’d lost their parents. “We don’t want any money from Europe or anybody. We just want a life. We’re human beings,” he said. “We’re not animals.”

Shuaa al Abdullah and her family are Syrian refugees trying to stay warm as they settle in for a long night in Edirne, near Turkey’s border with Greece. 0:32

An older man in an overcoat stands beside him with red eyes, blinking back tears. Somewhere along the way he’s lost his dignity and he knows it.

President Erdogan’s invitation to migrants to make their way to Europe via Turkey’s border crossings into Greece is widely seen as provocation aimed at the European Union for failing to do more to help Turkey cope with nearly four million Syrian refugees. But for the people who made their way to the border, already heaped in misery, it was a cruelty.

There’s a Syrian woman huddled under a tree with a fire lit to warm her two children through the night as they sleep on the ground. She asks if the border is really closed.

And there is an Iraqi family sitting on the ground next to a wheelchair, with their teenage daughter shrouded in blankets beside them. She has cerebral palsy. They came in the hopes of seeking better medical care somewhere in Europe.

Rusul Ali and daughter Dalya are refugees from Iraq. The 13-year-old girl has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. We found them on a hillside in central Edirne unsure of their next move. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

All the while, Greece and Turkey have been lobbing insults and tear gas across the border.

Turkey’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylo, announced he’ll deploy 1,000 special officers along the border with Greece. Asked if Turkey shouldn’t advise the migrants not to cross given Ankara’s claim that Greece is firing on them, he insisted Greece doesn’t have the right to turn people back.

“Greece cannot do this,” he said. “Human rights organizations should handle the situation. The European Union refugee agency keeps silent.” 

Greece has accused Turkey of spreading lies about its border police and how they’re treating refugees. But it’s clear there is some brutal message-sending going on.

Payanda Nazari, 28, tells a tale similar to that of Ibrahim Gazel. Nazari tried to cross the river into Greece near the sleepy village of Doyran on Thursday night.

“[The Greek border guards] asked ‘Where are you from?’ We told them Afghanistan and they [took] our shoes. Our pants. Our everything. Money, ID cards. We have nothing.”

With Greece refusing entry to refugees, 28-year-old Payanda Nazari and some of his family tried to sneak across the river that borders with Turkey. Greek authorities caught them, he says. His dad ended up in hospital and Nazari was stripped of his coat, shoes, money and ID. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Nazari speaks English he says he learned on a U.S. base in Afghanistan. He said his father, who made the crossing with him, was injured and taken to hospital.

Workers from a Turkish NGO called The Lighthouse Association confirmed that some people were being stripped of their belongings by Greek police and sent back over the border, many of them just in their underwear.

“If the European Union supported Turkey after all this situation, I guess this crisis wouldn’t be happening now,” said aid worker Ali Duman, handing out shoes and jackets to a group of asylum seekers outside the town’s mosque.

“This is like a chain reaction. What’s happening in Idlib is affecting Turkey. And now it’s starting to affect Europe as well.”

Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime has been engaged in a brutal offensive backed by Russia against the last remaining rebel enclave in the country.

Ali Duman, with the Turkish NGO The Lighthouse Association, distributed food and clothes to refugees who had tried but failed to cross into Greece. He told CBC he’s done humanitarian work in Idlib too, adding, ‘We have to stop what’s going on in Syria.’ (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

More than a million people have been displaced from their homes since December, many camped out along the Turkish border.

Erdogan fears another massive influx of refugees, part of the reason he pushed so hard for a Russian-sponsored ceasefire in Idlib this past week and issued his ultimatums to the European Union.

Greece says it has repelled some 35,000 migrants trying to cross over from Turkey in recent days. Pawns in a much larger game, their fate remains uncertain. The camp where Gazel was sleeping earlier this week has since been completely cleared of people.

There’s no sign that they were ever there.

Central Edirne on Friday after police cleared the area of refugees who had rushed to northern Turkey hoping to cross into Greece. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

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Joaquin Phoenix Is Seemingly Caught Off Guard by Clip on ‘Kimmel’: ‘I’m Embarrassed’

Joaquin Phoenix Is Seemingly Caught Off Guard by Clip on ‘Kimmel’: ‘I’m Embarrassed’ | Entertainment Tonight

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Dannielynn Birkhead Has Caught the Acting Bug — Is She Following in Mom’s Hollywood Footsteps? (Exclusive)

Dannielynn Birkhead Has Caught the Acting Bug — Is She Following in Mom’s Hollywood Footsteps? (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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Man caught smuggling nearly 5,000 leeches in luggage

A Niagara Falls, Ont., man has been fined $ 15,000 after he was caught flying into Canada with a suitcase full of leeches.

Ippolit Bodounov tried to smuggle 4,788 live, medicinal leeches in his carry-on luggage on Oct. 17, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC). He’d just flown from Russia to Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.

Bodounov carried the leeches in a large reusable grocery bag, said Gerry Brunet, operations manager of ECCC’s wildlife enforcement directorate, based in Burlington, Ont. Within that bag were 10 smaller, dampened cloth bags.

A dog working with border agents smelled the leeches, Brunet said. 

“This is our first large-scale illegal leech import,” he said, though the ministry sees a lot of illegally imported reptiles, turtles, tortoises and snakes. 

The ministry sent the leeches to the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, where Sebastian Kvist, curator of invertebrate zoology, identified them as hirudo verbana, a threatened medicinal leech.

Surprisingly, all the leeches survived, Kvist said. 

About 240 were then sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where DNA sequencing of their stomach contents and found they were caught in the wild.

A wildlife enforcement officer looks at some of the confiscated leeches. (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

People have been harvesting the breed for medicinal purposes since medieval times, Kvist said. “New age medicine” practitioners use them for everything from lessening arthritis pain to preventing baldness, he said, although there’s no scientific proof that this works.

The only proven use of leeches in medicine, he said, is to stimulate blood flow in reattached fingers and toes. In some cases, they also deter strokes. Medicinal leeches sell for between $ 8 and $ 20 per leech, he said.

Not only are they threatened, and unregulated, but they’re an invasive species too. Kvist said some leech populations exclusive to Europe have been found in Alberta because people drop them in local lakes when they’re done with them.

Bodounov pleaded guilty on May 24 to violating the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act.

A wildlife enforcement officer and Sebastian Kvist, a leech expert at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, identify the species. (Environment and Climate Change Canada)

He was fined, and also banned for a year from importing, exporting and possessing any animals regulated through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Brunet said illegal wildlife trade is worth about $ 20 billion a year. 

“Canada does not tolerate the exploitation of threatened species for profit,” he said. 

Some leeches were sent to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, where tests determined they were caught in the wild. (Shutterstock)

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