Tag Archives: Human

Dutch join teams speaking out on human rights situation in Qatar ahead of World Cup

The Netherlands national team wore T-shirts on Saturday emblazoned with the words “Football supports change,” in an apparent statement about human rights in World Cup host Qatar, ahead of its Group G qualifier against Latvia.

Defender Matthijs de Ligt had said ahead of the match that the Dutch team wanted to make a statement about the human rights situation in Qatar, saying “it’s a very difficult situation with workers’ rights there.”

The Dutch action before the game at the Johan Cruyff Arena followed expressions of support for human rights by Norway and Germany players ahead of their first World Cup qualifying matches on Wednesday and Thursday.

The German team lined up in black shirts, each with one white letter to spell out “HUMAN RIGHTS,” ahead of the 3-0 win against Iceland in Group J. Midfielder Leon Goretzka said the German players had followed Norway’s lead and that they wanted to make a statement about the 2022 World Cup.

Norway players wore shirts stating: “HUMAN RIGHTS” and “Respect on and off the pitch” before their game against Gibraltar in Group G on Wednesday.

FIFA’s disciplinary code states players and federations can face disciplinary action in cases of “using a sports event for demonstrations of a non-sporting nature.”

FIFA has not opened a case against Norway or Germany for their actions.

The Norwegian national team made a point about human rights again ahead of its game against Turkey in Malaga, Spain. Its players took off jackets for the national anthem to reveal white T-shirts with the message “HUMAN RIGHTS On and off the pitch”, but this time calling on more teams to join forces with them. The shirts also bore the names of Norway and Germany with ticks beside them and the question “Next?”

Qatar, which won the World Cup hosting vote a decade ago, has been under scrutiny over laws and conditions for migrant workers helping to build infrastructure for the tournament.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said last week Qatar has made social progress because of becoming the World Cup host.

England manager Gareth Southgate said the English Football Association and Amnesty International have been in talks. Amnesty International wrote to the FA last year urging them to put pressure on FIFA to ensure the rights of migrant workers in Qatar are properly protected.

Southgate said talks between the two organizations remain ongoing and that Amnesty are not looking for the tournament to be called off.

“I think in terms of the situation in Qatar, the FA are working closely with Amnesty International and will be talking with Qatar as well,” he said. “My understanding is Amnesty don’t want the tournament postponed or moved. They want to work and highlight issues that maybe could be improved. So, it’s important we work with organizations like that.”

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CBC | Soccer News

The human side of healing: How seeing loved ones helps COVID-19 patients

Tom and Virginia Stevens have been married 66 years, and lived together in an assisted-living facility in Nashville, Tenn., when they got COVID-19 last summer and had to be transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The couple was split up and put into separate rooms. 

“I think that traumatized them,” said their son, Greg Stevens. “They kind of live for each other, at this stage, so adding to the not-feeling-great and the stress of COVID, they separated them.”

Tom Stevens, 89, became disoriented.

“They found my dad wandering the halls and he was looking for my mom,” said Greg. 

The care team decided to bring the couple together into the same room, in the COVID-19 unit, for their two weeks of treatment — which their son credits with their recovery.

Virginia Stevens, 88, was elated by the move.

“When we finally were united together in the hospital, we just shouted ‘Hallelujah!'” she said from her son’s house, where they are all now living after being released from hospital. 

Virginia, right, and Tom Stevens at their son Greg’s home, where they have been living since recovering from COVID-19 at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (Ian Maravalli)

The Stevens’ story, which was featured in an essay by Vanderbilt ICU Dr. Wes Ely in the medical journal The Lancet, is more than a heartwarming anecdote in a year of pandemic isolation.

It illustrates a finding from a recent study of more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients, also published last month in The Lancet, that looked at delirium, which can be “highly prevalent and prolongued in critically ill patiients with COVID-19.” While the use of certain medication was linked to higher risk of delirium, family visitation — whether real or virtual — lowered it.

“We know that the human side of healing is real,” said Ely, a co-author on the study and co-director of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship Center at Vanderbilt and is writing a book about rehumanizing the recovery process with an emphasis on bringing families together to help. 

“People’s brains clear when a loved one is around them and they get anchored. So, it’s like removing sensory deprivation. This is science as well as humanities.”

Dr. Wes Ely, at his home in Nashville, is an ICU physician ta Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship (CIBS) Center. He’s writing a book about rehumanizing the ICU and recovery process after critical illness. (Ian Maravalli)

In Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre physician Donald Redelmeier supports the idea that family connection while COVID-19 patients are in the ICU has great value. 

“Delirium is always worse when there is separation from the family. It’s blatantly obvious,” he said.

“Not all married couples should be brought together, though,” said Redelmeier, adding that it depends on the couple’s relationship and that cases should be judged individually. 

Visiting constrained during pandemic

Despite those benefits, hospital visitation has been tightly curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic as an infection control measure — although one with its critics.

Advocates have flagged the crucial role of families in patient care, and health-care workers have shared the difficulty of holding up an iPad so a loved one could say goodbye.

“Generally the family is not allowed [into COVID-19 ICU areas] in Canada. There are institutional restrictions which have become much more intense with the COVID epidemic,” said Redelmeier.

Ely acknowledges the need for infection control, but says there are other options, besides isolation.

“We have to reopen these hospitals to the loved ones,” he said.

“The message is … that PPE [personal protective equipment] works, and that people need other people and doctors and nurses are not a substitute for loved ones.”

Confusing and foggy

For Sharon and Fred Reyes, in Nashville, it was more than five weeks before they could even lay eyes on each other through a glass wall in Vanderbilt’s ICU. Fred contracted COVID-19 in May 2020, and the hospital didn’t allow family visits at that time.

“It was extremely difficult to be separated from your loved one during the greatest fight of their life,” said Sharon. Her husband was close to death three times over his 80 days in hospital, she said.

Sharon and Fred Reyes sit outside their home in a Nashville suburb. Fred was hospitalized for 84 days after he contracted COVID-19 in May 2020. Sharon was not allowed to visit for the first six weeks of his hospital stay. (Ian Maravalli)

Fred describes his days in ICU as confusing and foggy. 

“I remember so many times just calling for her, just wanting her to be there,” he said of his wife. 

“So many days I just didn’t have a thorough grasp of what was happening,” he said. “I needed to have my loved one.”

When asked if he remembers that first time he saw Sharon through the ICU glass, Fred chokes up and can’t hold back tears. 

“It was quite emotional,” he said. “And though it was through the glass at first, you know, we were there communicating. We were able to communicate something that was difficult. And then we moved into a medical ICU and I was able to be with her more. And things did change dramatically.” 

WATCH | Fred Reyes recalls seeing his wife for the first time during COVID-19 treatment:

Nashville resident Fred Reyes talks about what it felt like to see his wife, Sharon, after spending more than five weeks in the ICU at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last summer. 2:05

Hopes for change

Kathy Henderson of Mufreesboro, Tenn., hopes that with the collective COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now over half a million, something might change for the better in the way patients are cared for with regards to family connection. 

“I mean a million people read that Lancet article about little old me in Tennessee,” she said of Ely’s essay, which featured the story of her own parents, Mary and Philip Hill, along with Tom and Virginia Stevens.

Kathy Henderson at her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., lost both parents to COVID-19 in September 2020. She fought to get her mom in the same hospital as her father, so they could be together. (Ian Maravalli)

Her parents contracted COVID-19 last September. Mary was sent to the local hospital but Philip was transferred to Vanderbilt because he had underlying heart issues.

Henderson had an uphill battle trying to convince both hospitals that her mom should be transferred to be with her dad. 

“I knew that if the worst did happen it would just be awful to have the two of them in separate hospitals, not even to be able to say goodbye,” she said of her parents who lived and worked together and had been married for 61 years.

“Even if I could get mom’s stretcher to pass by my dad’s window that would be better than nothing.”

Mary and Philip Hill were reunited for a tender moment in the ICU while both were being treated for COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last year. They died within six hours of one another. (Lauren Birmingham)

She was successful. Her parents ended up being treated in side by side rooms in the ICU and they were granted a moment together in the same room, in their beds, while Henderson joined them remotely on Zoom.

Mary Hill rubbed her husband’s hand and said, “I’m here Phil Hill, I’m here,” Henderson recalled.

Two days later they both passed away within six hours of each other.

WATCH | The benefits of bringing families together during COVID-19 treatment:

COVID-19 restrictions are keeping many patients apart from loved ones in the hospital, but doctors, patients and families are speaking out about the benefits of bringing families physically together during treatment. 3:32

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CBC | Health News

Made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine to begin human clinical trials Tuesday

A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is to begin human clinical trials Tuesday in Toronto, says the biotechnology company that developed the vaccine.

Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics said three doses of its vaccine, called PTX-COVID19-B, will be given to 60 adult volunteers at a clinical trial site in Toronto in the first phase of the trial on Tuesday. 

Fifteen of those volunteers will receive a placebo, and 45 will get the vaccine.

Brad Sorenson, the company’s CEO, said it’s the first time a vaccine designed and manufactured in Canada has begun clinical trials. The company has purchased a site in Calgary to mass produce the vaccine. 

The vaccine is an mRNA vaccine — which triggers an immune response in the body — and is similar to the Moderna coronavirus shot being given to people across Canada.

Quebec-based pharmaceutical Medicago began clinical trials last July of its coronavirus vaccine that is based on another technology. Unlike Providence, a large portion of Medicago’s vaccine doses will be manufactured outside the country, in North Carolina.

Canada lacks the capacity to manufacture the millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines needed to immunize people outside of a clinical setting. (Tim Smith/The Canadian Press)

Medicago’s vaccine is currently in Phase 3 clinical trials — the last stage before it can apply for approval from Health Canada and other regulators to market the product. 

Sorenson said Providence designed and built its vaccine last March.

“We reached out to the Canadian government in April and said, ‘Hey, you’ve heard of Moderna. We’re doing the exact same thing,'” Sorenson said in an interview.

“We went from concept into the clinic in under a year without the same level of support as our peers had.”

Purchased Calgary site

The federal government provided financial sponsorship and support for the early phase clinical trial through the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program. 

Currently, Canada lacks the capacity to manufacture the millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines needed to immunize people outside of a clinical setting. It’s why the federal government struck deals with Pfizer and Moderna — both manufactured abroad — to obtain the vaccines being rolled out across Canada.

While the company was developing the vaccine in pre-clinical studies, Sorenson said it also started to build the infrastructure to manufacture the vaccine in Canada as well.

The company purchased a 20,000-square-foot facility in Calgary that includes 12,000 square feet of lab space to mass produce the vaccine. The facility will be up and running in two months, Sorensen said. 

In the next phase of clinical trials, another 60 volunteers over the age of 65 will receive the vaccine or a placebo.

Initial focus was cancer research

Providence aims to expand and start Phase 3 clinical trials in May.

If the vaccine proves safe and effective in clinical trials and Health Canada approves it, the goal is to have it ready for the global market by January 2022.

Sorenson founded Providence Therapeutics in 2013 to focus on cancer vaccines.

Several scientists contributed to the pre-clinical research on Providence’s vaccine, including those at the lab of Dr. Mario Ostrowski at the University of Toronto, Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Dr. Samira Mubareka and Dr. Rob Kozak at Sunnybrook Research Institute, as well as Dr. Michael Pollanen, Ontario’s chief forensic pathologist.

In August, Ostrowski, whose laboratory performed the animal trials, said results were on par with tests of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech at that stage.

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Federal government moves to seal off Canadian companies from human rights violations in China

The federal government announced a suite of new regulations today meant to ensure that Canadian companies are not complicit in human rights abuses or the use of forced labour in China’s Xinjiang province.

The measures include new requirements for firms that do business in the region and a pledge to ban the export of products from Canada to China if there is a chance they could be used by Chinese authorities for surveillance, repression, arbitrary detention or forced labour.

“Canada is deeply concerned regarding the mass arbitrary detention and mistreatment of Uighurs and other ethnic minorities by Chinese authorities,” Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said in a news release shortly before leaving the department to become the new minister of Innovation, Science and Industry.

“Nobody should face mistreatment on the basis of their religion or ethnicity,” Champagne added.

Today’s actions represent the strongest measures yet taken by Canada in the face of growing international criticism of the Chinese government over its policies in Xinjiang — but they stop short of imposing “Magnitsky sanctions” on Chinese officials — something called for by a parliamentary committee that found China’s actions meet the definition of genocide.

Forced labour, arbitrary detention

UN experts and activists say more than one million Uighurs, Kazakhs and others have been arbitrarily held in prison-like centres for political indoctrination. China claims the centres are intended to combat extremism and teach job skills, but former residents and rights groups say they target Islam and minority languages and cultures.

A coalition of civil society organizations has also accused China of forcing hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other minorities to pick cotton by hand. The vast western province produces 85 per cent of China’s cotton and 20 per cent of the global supply, which is sold to fashion brands worldwide.

The Center for Global Policy, a Washington-based think tank, found in a December 2020 report it was very likely a major share of cotton from Xinjiang is “tainted with forced labour.”

Workers walk by the perimeter fence of what is officially known as a vocational skills education centre in Dabancheng in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Canada already bans the importation of goods produced through forced labour as part of its obligations under the Canada-U.S.-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA), Global Affairs Canada said in a news release.

The new regulations also require that Canadian companies in the Xinjiang market sign a declaration acknowledging that they are aware of the human rights situation in the province and pledging to conduct due diligence on Chinese suppliers to ensure they are not knowingly sourcing products or services from companies that use forced labour.

Global Affairs Canada also issued a business advisory warning Canadian businesses of the legal and reputational risks they face by maintaining supply chains associated with forced labour.

The new measures were announced in concert with similar actions taken by the U.K., although that government promised to impose financial penalties on companies that do not comply — something that doesn’t appear to be part of Canada’s approach.

Last fall, the House of Commons subcommittee on international human rights released a report stating that China’s persecution of this Muslim minority is a clear violation of human rights and is meant to “eradicate Uighur culture and religion.” The Chinese foreign ministry lashed out in response, accusing the committee of spreading lies and disinformation.

Canada exported $ 23 billion worth of merchandise to China and imported $ 75 billion in 2019.

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CBC | World News

Bangladesh sends Rohingya refugees to isolated island despite objections from human rights groups

Authorities in Bangladesh sent the first group of more than 1,500 Rohingya refugees to an isolated island on Friday despite calls by human rights groups for a halt to the process.

The 1,642 refugees boarded seven Bangladeshi naval vessels in the port of Chittagong for the trip to Bhasan Char, according to an official who could not be named in accordance with local practice.

After about a three-hour trip they arrived at the island, which was once regularly submerged by monsoon rains but now has flood protection embankments, houses, hospitals and mosques built at a cost of more than $ 112 million US by the Bangladesh navy. Located 34 kilometres from the mainland, the island surfaced only 20 years ago and was never inhabited.

Saleh Noman, a Bangladeshi journalist who traveled with the refugees, told The Associated Press by phone from the island that the refugees were given rice, eggs and chicken for lunch after their body temperatures were measured by health workers as a coronavirus precaution. Before they boarded the ships they were also given face masks to protect against COVID-19.

The island’s facilities are built to accommodate 100,000 people, just a fraction of the million Rohingya Muslims who have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently living in crowded, squalid refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar district.

The United Nations has voiced concern that refugees be allowed to make a “free and informed decision” about whether to relocate to the island in the Bay of Bengal.

Rohingya refugees were transported on a Bangladeshi naval vessel to Bhasan Char, or floating island, in the Bay of Bengal. (The Associated Press)

The director of infrastructure development on Bhasan Char, Commodore Abdullah Al Mamun Chowdhury, told reporters on the island that the international community has nothing to worry about regarding the safety of the refugees.

He said he expects that the UN and others would be convinced about the overall arrangements after visiting the island. Asked when that would be, he answered that the government is working on it.

On Thursday, 11 passenger buses carrying the refugees left Cox’s Bazar on the way to the island. They camped overnight in school buildings in the southeastern city of Chittagong. Authorities in Cox’s Bazar did not say how the refugees were selected for relocation.

About 700,000 Rohingya fled to the camps in Cox’s Bazar after August 2017, when the military in Buddhist-majority Myanmar began a harsh crackdown on the Muslim group following an attack by insurgents. The crackdown included rapes, killings and the torching of thousands of homes, and was termed ethnic cleansing by global rights groups and the UN.

WATCH | Former Myanmar soldiers detail mass atrocities against Rohingya:

For the first time, two deserters of Myanmar’s army are in custody of the International Criminal Court in the Hague where they have described a military campaign in 2017 of mass murders and destruction of the Rohingya Muslims. 1:53

Foreign media have not been permitted to visit the island.

Contractors say its infrastructure is like a modern township, with multifamily concrete homes, schools, playgrounds and roads. It also has solar-power facilities, a water supply system and cyclone shelters.

Refugees reportedly feel pressured to relocate, UN says

International aid agencies and the UN have vehemently opposed the relocation since it was first proposed in 2015, expressing fear that a big storm could overwhelm the island and endanger thousands of lives.

The UN said in a statement Wednesday that it has not been involved in preparations for the relocation or the selection of refugees and has limited information about the overall plan.

“The United Nations takes this opportunity to highlight its longstanding position that Rohingya refugees must be able to make a free and informed decision about relocating to Bhasan Char based upon relevant, accurate and updated information,” it said.

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Friday that they “have heard some reports from the camps that some refugees may be feeling pressured into relocating to the island of Bhasan Char or may have changed their initial views about relocation and no longer wish to move.”

“If so,” he said, “they should be allowed to remain in the camps in Cox’s Bazar.”

A health worker checks the temperature of the arriving Rohingya refugees on Bhasan Char. (Saleh Noman/The Associated Press)

Dujarric said the UN has also seen “troubling images of some distressed refugees” during Thursday’s relocation and has shared its concerns with Bangladesh authorities.

“Our longstanding position, which bears repeating, is that comprehensive technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of life on Bhasan Char should take place before any relocation,” Dujarric said. “That’s essential for us in terms of providing a way forward for any UN engagement on this process.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch on Thursday urged the government to cancel the relocation plan.

Camps overcrowded, but most fear returning to Myanmar

The current refugee camps near the town of Cox’s Bazar are overcrowded and unhygienic. Disease and organized crime are rampant. Education is limited and refugees are not allowed to work.

Still, most Rohingya are unwilling to return to Myanmar due to safety concerns. Bangladeshi officials didn’t have an estimate of how many refugees would be willing to be relocated to the island.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly told the UN and other international partners that her administration would consult them before making a final decision on the relocation, and that no refugees would be forced to move.

Bangladesh attempted to start sending refugees back to Myanmar under a bilateral framework last November, but no one was willing to go.

The refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are overcrowded and unhygienic, but most Rohingya are unwilling to return to Myanmar out of fear for their safety. (Shafiqur Rahman/The Associated Press)

The Rohingya are not recognized as citizens in Myanmar, rendering them stateless, and they face other forms of state-sanctioned discrimination.

A UN-sponsored investigation in 2018 recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the violence against the Rohingya.

Myanmar is defending itself in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Netherlands, after the West African nation of Gambia brought a case backed by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Canada and the Netherlands over the crackdown.

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CBC | World News

Japan’s detention of ex-Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn was wrong, human rights panel says

A panel of human rights experts working with the United Nations said Monday that former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn was wrongly detained in Japan and has urged “compensation” for him from the Japanese government.

The Japanese government denounced the report as a “totally unacceptable” viewpoint that will change nothing in the country’s legal process.

In its opinion published Monday, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Ghosn’s arrest in Japan in late 2018 and early 2019 was “arbitrary” and called on Japan’s government to “take the necessary steps to remedy the situation of Mr. Ghosn without delay.” A determination of whether detention is arbitrary is based on various criteria, including international norms of justice.

While Ghosn is no longer in Japan, having fled in a dramatic operation last year that drew headlines worldwide, the opinion could weigh on minds in courtrooms in the country and beyond. It could affect, for example, the possible extradition of two Americans, Michael Taylor and his son, Peter, whom Japanese prosecutors say helped the executive sneak out of Japan.

Ghosn, a 66-year-old with French, Lebanese and Brazilian citizenship, led Japanese automaker Nissan for two decades, rescuing it from near-bankruptcy.

He was arrested in November 2018 on charges of breach of trust, in misusing company assets for personal gain, and violating securities laws in not fully disclosing his compensation. He denies wrongdoing.

In December, he fled Japan to Lebanon while out on bail awaiting trial, meaning his case will not go on in Japan. Interpol has issued a wanted notice but his extradition from Lebanon is unlikely.

Opinion not binding

The five-member working group, which is made up of independent experts, called on Japan to ensure a “full and independent investigation” of Ghosn’s detention, and asked the government “to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of his rights.”

The working group said that “the appropriate remedy would be to accord Mr. Ghosn an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations.”

The opinions of the working group are not binding on countries but aim to hold them up to their own human rights commitments. One of its past rulings involved the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who was likewise deemed to have had his human rights violated.

The panel of human rights experts working with the United Nations has previously issued a ruling in the case of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, likewise concluding that his human rights were violated. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

The panel, which is independent from the United Nations, noted a string of allegations from Ghosn and his representatives, such as that he was subjected to solitary confinement and long interrogations during day or night, and denied access to court pleadings. His team claimed that interrogations of Ghosn were aimed to extract a confession.

Japan’s system has been repeatedly criticized by human rights advocates. The panel cited previous concerns about Japan’s so-called “daiyo kangoku” system of detention and interrogation that relies heavily on confessions and could expose detainees to torture, ill-treatment and coercion.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the government had applied “appropriate procedures” in the case, and it could not provide full information to the working group before a trial had begun. For that reason, the ministry said it would be inappropriate for the working group to make a decision on the Ghosn case “based on limited information and biased allegations” from him and his team.

“The opinion is totally unacceptable, and is not legally binding,” the ministry statement said. It also warned that the opinion could set a dangerous precedent, and “encourage those who would stand criminal trial to entertain the idea that flight can be justified and prevent the realization of justice and the proper functioning of the criminal justice system in each country.”

“Japan can by no means accept the opinion of the Working Group regarding the case of the defendant Carlos Ghosn,” it added.

Ghosn alleges conspiracy

Ghosn lawyer Jessica Finelle welcomed the “brave” decision by the panel and said its members had been “hard on the Japanese legal system” and the way that Japanese authorities treated Mr. Ghosn, “specifically, violating numerous times his presumption of innocence, presenting him as guilty, orchestrating two of his arrests with the media …”

She said Ghosn was “very happy” and “relieved” about the opinion.

He “somehow is getting back his dignity because he’s been humiliated during this time that he was held in Japan,” she said.

Ghosn has accused Nissan and Japanese officials of conspiring to bring him down to block a fuller integration of Nissan with its French alliance partner Renault SA of France.

Ghosn’s lawyers filed a petition with the working group in March last year, appealing to its role to look into cases in which governments are alleged to have wrongly detained individuals under agreed international human rights conventions.

Its members declined to speak to reporters about the opinion, the UN human rights office said.

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She survived the Holocaust and died of COVID-19. Her family says pandemic’s human toll is lost in the numbers

The last time Jeff Shabes saw his mother alive, dementia had transported her back to the nightmare of her childhood, screaming out for her late mother and father in Siberia where they fled from occupied Poland and terrified she’d miss her train to safety. 

Malvina Shabes survived the atrocities of the Holocaust. But COVID-19 took her in only a matter of days.

In their final moments together, Jeff Shabes — sitting across the room in full protective gear — repeated to his mother the stories she so loved to tell him, like how as a little boy, he made her sandwiches when she was unwell after suffering a miscarriage.

“I hadn’t called my mother ‘mummy’ in, I don’t know, 45 years,” he said. “So I referred to her as, you know, ‘I love you mummy, you’ll always be a part of our lives and memories. And it’s OK to close to your eyes. We want you to close your eyes and be with dad.”

As he left the room, the screaming went on. But Shabes was sure his mother heard him. Less than 24 hours later, she was gone.

Somewhere along the lines though, as the spectre of a global pandemic went from looming threat to daily reality, the human toll behind daily case counts and testing numbers seems to have slipped from collective sight, he said.  

“That’s one of the reasons that I agreed to do this. It’s the main reason,” Jeff Shabes told CBC News.  

‘So much more than just a number’

“We have to educate people that these are not just 1,500 cases a day and 13 deaths. There are families that are suffering not just after the loved one has passed away, but during … It’s so much more than just a number.”

Born in Krakow in 1929, Malvina Shabes was forced to flee Poland at the age of 10 along with her two-year-old brother, grandparents and nanny. Their journey ended in Siberia, Russia, at a labour camp, where food could be scarce and they often had to be hidden to survive. 

Born in Krakow in 1929, Malvina Shabes was forced to flee Poland at the age of 10 along with her two-year-old brother, grandparents and nanny. She arrived in Canada in the 1940s at the age of 19 and married soon afterward. Her husband of 60 years died seven years ago. (Submitted by Jeff Shabes)

After the war, Malvina went back to Poland briefly and onto Germany, before coming to Canada in the late 1940s at the age of 19. Not long afterward, she married and had two sons, Jeff and his brother Steven.

Over the years, family and friends were her number one priority, Jeff said. When her own mother was diagnosed with blood cancer, she and her brother resolved to find a doctor who could help. Her mother survived until the age of 93. 

CBC News wants to learn more about the Canadians we have lost during the pandemic. If you would like to share the story of someone who has died of COVID-19, email us at COVID@cbc.ca

Malvina and her husband celebrated 60 years of marriage before he died seven years ago. But in recent years, she began experiencing dementia.

She was moved to a home that specialized in care for dementia patients and found a way to adapt, participating in virtually all of its programs to the extent that she could and her appearance — as ever — remained immaculate. 

“She always had her hair done and her nails done,” Shabes said with a laugh, recalling how he’d never seen his mother with grey in her hair until recently. “She was really truly quite the matriarch and an elegant person.”

In recent years, Malvina Shabes was moved to a home that specialized in care for dementia patients and found a way to adapt, participating in virtually all of its programs to the extent that she could and her appearance — as ever — immaculate. She insisted on elegance, her hair and nails always done, her son told CBC News. (Submitted by Jeff Shabes)

‘Easy to lose track of the faces, the lives, the tragedy’

But stories like Malvina’s are increasingly lost amid the daily din of numbers, said Toronto geriatrician Nathan Stall. That’s not just a matter of sentiment, he said, but ultimately has an impact on policy itself.

“Once you pass a milestone like like 10,000 deaths, it becomes easy to lose track of the faces, the lives, the tragedy the families are experiencing,” Stall said. “And that could be something that would motivate us to change our approach during the second wave.”

WATCH | New figures show the second wave could be hitting long-term care homes:

By far most Canadian COVID-19 deaths have been in long-term-care homes, where residents and staff have faced unsafe conditions. New figures show it could be about to happen all over again. 1:59

Canada surpassed 11,000 COVID-19 deaths this week. 

Somewhere over 96 per cent of those who have died in Canada of COVID-19 are over the age of 60. And close to 80 per cent were long-term care residents, Stall said. 

“I would argue that those people aren’t the types of people that most Canadians identify with. There’s a bias we speak about called an identifiable lives bias … We react most emotionally and most directly when it comes to public policy and action for the types of lives that we identify with.” 

Consider a turning point in Canada’s COVID-19 story, he said: “It wasn’t the death of a long-term care resident… it was actually the NBA shutting down. It was Sophie Gregoire Trudeau catching COVID. It was Tom Hanks. That’s what actually made us act.”

Nathan Stall, a geriatrician at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Toronto, said Canadians have to some extent lost sight of the human toll behind COVID-19 numbers. (CBC)

Now, as a second wave has taken hold, there appears to be more of focus on business and keeping doors open rather than on the human cost of the resurgence, he said.

“There seems to be a sort of acceptance, a really chilling acceptance of the death of older adults and those living in long-term care homes.”

‘Waking up everyday and checking the numbers’

Holding provincial news briefings outside a long-term care home rather at businesses would be one way to keep the focus on victims and workers on the frontlines, Stall said. 

“If we dehumanize what’s going on with COVID-19, I think it’s easy for the population to also think that there is this acceptable trade-off.

“I think in some respects, the Canadian experience has been waking up everyday and checking the numbers… But I think that our leaders could play a role in changing that and putting the focus back on the tragedy that so many Canadians are experiencing and sadly will continue to experience over the next several months.” 

Asked late last week by CBC reporter Mike Crawley about whether his apparent focus on the impact of COVID-19 on businesses was equal to his concern for the pain of families, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference: “Nothing weighs more on me than when I talk to family members on the phone… I met a lady the other day that came up to me and said, ‘I want to thank you for doing a great job and I lost both my parents in long-term care a week apart two weeks ago.

“I take hundreds of calls. I’m one of the few elected officials in this country … that’s up till midnight in his office taking personal calls and listening to the concerns. Does that weigh on Mike? It weighs on me, I can assure you… if you don’t think this weighs on me, you don’t know me very well.”

Statistics are ‘people with the tears wiped off’

Since his mother’s death last Tuesday, Shabes and his family have held prayers each night.

But like so many families that have lost loved ones to the virus, their grieving process has been anything but normal. 

Since his mother’s death last Tuesday, Jeff Shabes and his family have held prayers each night. But like so many families that have lost loved ones to the virus, their grieving process has been anything but normal.  (CBC)

“We can’t be there to just hold on to one another,” he said. “It’s a time for consolation and really the beginning of a long healing process. We don’t have that.”

Reasons like that mean Canadians can’t afford to lose sight of the lives behind the numbers, Stall said.

“There’s a line that I’ve come back to often during the pandemic from really one of the most famous epidemiologists who died nearly a century ago, Sir Austin Bradford Hill,” he said.

“Health statistics represent people with the tears wiped off.”

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Engineer who designs gels to mimic human tissues wins Canada’s top science prize

A Toronto chemical engineering professor has won the $ 1 million Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal, the country’s top science prize, for her work designing gels that mimic human tissues.

The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) announced Tuesday that Molly Shoichet, professor of chemical engineering and applied chemistry and Canada Research Chair in Tissue Engineering at the University of Toronto is this year’s recipient of the award, which recognizes “sustained excellence” and “overall influence” of research conducted in Canada in the natural sciences or engineering.

Shoichet’s hydrogels are used for drug development and  delivery and regenerative medicine to heal injuries and treat diseases.

NSERC said Shoichet’s work has led to the development of several “game-changing” applications of such materials. They “delivered a crucial breakthrough” by allowing cells to be grown in three dimensions as they do in the body, rather than the two dimensions they typically do in a petri dish.

Her collaborations with biologists have led to applications to treat cancer, stroke and degenerative blindness. 

Hydrogels are polymer materials — materials such as plastics, made of repeating units — that become swollen with water.

“If you’ve ever eaten Jell-o, that’s a hydrogel,” Shoichet said. Slime and the absorbent material inside disposable diapers are also hydrogels.

Shoichet’s hydrogels are specially designed to mimic tissues inside the human body.

“Most of our tissues are very soft, and that’s what hydrogels are.”

The work of Molly Shoichet, right, and members of her research lab, including Katarina Vulic, left, involves developing new materials that mimic human tissues. Her collaborations with biologists have led to applications to treat cancer, stroke and degenerative blindness. (Roberta Baker/University of Toronto)

Shoichet was born in Toronto, and studied science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. After graduating, she worked in the biotech industry alongside “brilliant biologists,” she said. She noticed that the biologists’ research was limited by what types of materials were available.

As an engineer, she realized she could help by custom designing materials for biologists. She could make materials specifically suit their needs, to answer their specific questions by designing hydrogels to mimic particular tissues.

“There’s no existing material that has the properties we’re looking for,” she said. “And so we end up inventing these new materials.… that’s so exciting.”

Her collaborations with biologists have also generated three spinoff companies, including AmacaThera, which was recently approved to run human trials of a long-acting anesthetic delivered with an injectable hydrogel to deal with post-surgical pain.

Shoichet noted that drugs given to deal with that kind of pain lead to a quarter of opioid addictions, which have been a deadly problem in Canada and around the world.

“What we’re really excited about is not only meeting that critical need of providing people with greater pain relief for a sustained period of time, but also possibly putting a dent in the operation,” she said. 

Shoichet added that she was caught up in the excitement of the biotech sector in Boston in the 1990s, and wants to create that kind of community in Toronto. Many of her students end up pursuing careers in the U.S., she said. “But really, Canada has invested so much in their education. And wouldn’t it be great if we had more opportunities for students to get work?”

Secret kept for 5 months

Shoichet, 55, previously served as Ontario’s first chief scientist and has won dozens of accolades for her work, including another top NSERC prize, the Killam Prize for engineering. She has been named a L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Laureate and an officer of the Order of Canada.

“But,” she said, “I think this is the pinnacle.”

She first got the overwhelming news by phone in May, which was when NSERC had intended to announce the award before postponing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shoichet and the students and staff in her lab are finally able to share their big secret after five months.

The money will fund their research and give Shoichet’s team the opportunity to ask and answer scientific questions on a broader scale, since it’s not tied to a particular project, she said.

“We make our biggest discoveries and advance knowledge the greatest when we just have that opportunity to think and be creative,” said Shoichet. “It’s wonderful just to have that opportunity to explore.”

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Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler urges change to improve human rights in U.S.

Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler says he never envisioned his hometown of Minneapolis-St. Paul would serve as the spark for U.S.-wide protests against police killings of African-Americans.

During a 40-minute conference call with reporters on Tuesday, Wheeler urged his fellow citizens to vote for candidates who will improve human rights in the U.S. and said the violence sweeping America obscures the positive conversations taking place across the country about the need for change.

“For the most part, I’d say I’m proud of my hometown for the response and for the people standing up and not tolerating this anymore,” Wheeler said, speaking via Zoom from south Florida, where he is living with his family and training in preparation for the possible resumption of National Hockey League play.

“If you watch the news and you see, you know, tons of peaceful protests and people clearly upset, clearly sick and tired of the same conversation, but doing it in a way that is promoting real change.”

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case with everyone. Unfortunately, there are people that are taking advantage of those situations and doing some destruction to people who have worked a long time to establish small businesses — and so that’s been really heartbreaking.”

Wheeler addressed reporters three days after he issued a statement decrying the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“Growing up outside Minneapolis, I always felt sheltered from racism. That’s because I was,” Wheeler wrote in an image posted to Twitter on Saturday night.

“Most people I grew up with looked like me. I never had to be scared when I stopped at a traffic light or saw the police in public. My kids will never know that fear either.

“I’m heartbroken that we still treat people this way. We need to stand with the black community and fundamentally change how the leadership in this country has dealt with racism. I’m sorry it has taken this long, but I’m hopeful that we can change this NOW.”

On Tuesday, Wheeler expressed regret he didn’t speak out sooner — and suggested other white athletes should do the same.

“We have to be as involved in this as black athletes. It can’t just be their fight,” he said, referring to former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling gesture during the singing of the U.S. national anthem in 2016.

“I wanna be real clear here: I look in the mirror about this before I look out at everyone else. I wish that I was more involved sooner than I was. I wish that it didn’t take me this long to to get behind it in a meaningful way.”

“But I guess what you can do is try to be better going forward. That’s kind of been my position is I want to be a part of the change going forward.”

Wheeler did in fact speak out in 2016. He chastised U.S. president Donald Trump for disrespecting Kaepernick’s right to express himself.

On Tuesday, Wheeler suggested Trump is exacerbating violence in the U.S. right now.

“What happened last night in Washington with the president was unfortunate and kind of just pours gas on the fire a little bit,” he said, referring to Trump’s use of police to forcibly remove protestors near a church in order to stage a photo op with a bible.

“I don’t think anyone’s condoning rioting and looting and destroying businesses and that behavior. On the flip side of that, the whole issue that started this, is police violence.”

Tough to explain to a 7 year old

Wheeler said it was hard for him to explain the police killing to his children.

“They watched George Floyd die on TV. So that’s that’s been really challenging,” he said, adding it was particularly difficult to convey to his seven year old.

“He’s asking why won’t he get off his neck? And to have to explain that to him, to try to explain to him that, you know, to a seven year old, that the police, that he feels are out there to protect us and look out for us, that that’s not always the case,” he said. “That’s a hard conversation to have.”

Wheeler said it was difficult for him to speak out because the culture of hockey does not condone individualism. 

Athletes, he said, have a platform they must use to promote positive change.

“I strongly feel that this has nothing to do with politics,” he said.

“You can vote for whoever you want. You can have your opinions about policy and Republicans, Democrats, all that. But I mean, these are human rights, fundamentally. 

“If you’re American, you need to be very educated and vote, not just for the national election, not just for the president, but in your local votes, you know, state, city, county, all these ways that we can try to change the system and put the right people in power so that these things aren’t happening any more.”

Wheeler was not the only Winnipeg NHLer speaking out. Chicago Blackhawks forward Jonathan Toews posted a statement on Instagram stating the need to acknowledge both the African-American struggle and the human rights conditions for Indigenous people in Canada.

“I can’t pretend for a second that I know what it feels like to walk in a black man’s shoes. However, seeing the video of George Floyd’s death and the violent reaction across the country moved me to tears,” Toews said.

“It has pushed me to think, how much pain are black people and other minorities really feeling? What have Native American people dealt with in both Canada and US? What is it really like to grow up in their world? Where am I ignorant about the privileges that I may have that others don’t?”

After Wheeler spoke to media, the Winnipeg Jets issued a statement denouncing racism.

Wheeler also spoke about the potential for the NHL’s return and the difficulties it may cause players who are parents. He also called those concerns insignificant at the moment.

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NASA set to resume human spaceflight from U.S. soil with SpaceX launch

SpaceX, the private rocket company of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, was set to launch two Americans into orbit on Wednesday from Florida on a mission that would mark the first spaceflight of NASA astronauts from U.S. soil in nine years.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was due to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center at 4:33 p.m. ET, launching Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on a 19-hour ride aboard the company’s newly designed Crew Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.

They were to blast off from the same launch pad used by NASA’s final space shuttle flight, piloted by Hurley, in 2011. U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence were scheduled to visit Cape Canaveral to view the launch in person.

Prospects for an on-time liftoff hinged on the weather, with forecasters late on Monday citing a 40 per cent chance that storms over eastern Florida could force a postponement. If that happens, the next launch window would be Saturday afternoon.

A successful mission would achieve NASA’s top priority, as articulated by agency chief Jim Bridenstine, of resuming launches of “American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.”

Over the past nine years, NASA astronauts have had to hitch rides into orbit aboard Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft.

For Musk, Wednesday’s launch represents another milestone for the reusable rockets his company pioneered to make spaceflight less costly and more frequent. It would also mark the first time that commercially developed space vehicles — owned and operated by a private entity rather than NASA — have carried Americans into orbit.

The last time NASA launched astronauts into space aboard a brand new vehicle was 40 years ago at the start of the shuttle program.

Musk, the South African-born high-tech entrepreneur who made his fortune in Silicon Valley, is also the CEO of electric carmaker and battery manufacturer Tesla Inc.

Hurley, 53, and Behnken, 49, NASA employees under contract to fly with SpaceX, are expected to remain at the space station for several weeks, assisting a short-handed crew aboard the orbital laboratory.

Aerospace giant Boeing Co, producing its own space launch vehicles in competition with SpaceX for NASA business, is expected to launch its CST-100 Starliner vehicle with astronauts aboard for the first time next year.

Astronauts Doug Hurley, foreground, and Bob Behnken work in SpaceX’s flight simulator at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., as SpaceX teams in Firing Room 4 at the Kennedy Space Center and the company’s Mission Control in Hawthorne, Calif., along with NASA flight controllers in Mission Control Houston, run a full simulation of launch and docking of the Crew Dragon spacecraft on March 19, 2020. (SpaceX via Associated Press)

NASA has awarded nearly $ 8 billion US to SpaceX and Boeing combined for development of the rival space launch systems.

Bridenstine declared the crewed SpaceX flight a “go” last week after NASA and the company convened for final engineering checks.

The Hawthorne, Calif.-based rocket company, founded by Musk in 2002 and formerly known as Space Exploration Technologies, has never previously flown humans into orbit, only cargo.

SpaceX successfully tested Crew Dragon without astronauts last year in its first orbital mission to the space station, but that vehicle was destroyed the following month during a ground test when a valve for its in-flight abort system failed, causing an explosion. The ensuing nine-month investigation ended in January.

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