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How parts of Canada are going about vaccinating teachers against COVID-19

This weekend, teachers and school staff in Ontario’s Niagara region are getting their first chance at a COVID-19 vaccine, thanks to the recommendation of the area’s vaccination co-ordination task force. 

The group had previously flagged education workers as a priority and now the timing just made sense, said task force chair Dr. David Dec, a family physician based in Niagara Falls, Ont.

Many educators are under the age of 55 and cannot access mass clinics still aimed at older populations, nor can they receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine rolling out in pharmacies and some doctors’ offices. But now prioritized, Niagara-area teachers off for the April break next week can easily attend daytime vaccination clinics, Dec said.

As provinces and territories move into the next phase of their coronavirus vaccination campaigns, educators and school staff are starting to join the priority groups becoming eligible for shots. While different approaches are being used thus far, some emerging trends may offer lessons for bringing this immunization drive to all education workers.

Our thinking has thus far been to vaccinate the most at-risk populations first, Dec said, starting with long-term care and nursing homes, because “we knew that if you’re in that congregate setting, and if you bring that virus into that setting, then it can transmit like wildfire.”

Yet, we don’t seem to appreciate that classrooms are also congregate settings, he said. “They’re a bunch of people bunched-in close together.” 

A push to vaccinate school staff in Ontario’s Niagara Region now makes sense, since being off for April break next week makes it easier to attend daytime vaccination clinics, says Dr. David Dec, chair of the region’s vaccination co-ordination task force. (Regional Municipality of Niagara)

This push to prioritize educators is a “proactive approach,” according to Dec. “Everybody wants the schools to stay open, so if this is a small part of doing that, then I think it’s the right thing to do.”

Here is a look at how some jurisdictions are approaching the challenge.

B.C. starts in Surrey 

Annie Ohana recalls feeling “absolute elation” upon learning at her union’s annual general meeting in March that school staffers in Surrey, B.C., would be prioritized next in the vaccine rollout, with officials citing how hard the Fraser Health region has been hit by COVID-19.

“I remember lining up for the shot on that Sunday and all of us smiling ear-to-ear — behind our masks, of course — and very much [feeling] just relief,” Ohana said of getting her first dose two weeks ago.

Teacher Annie Ohana says she was elated when she learned teachers and school staff in Surrey, B.C., were being prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine. But she says she’s concerned about colleagues in other regions that haven’t had a similar rollout. (Mike Zimmer/CBC, Submitted by Annie Ohana)


Yet the L.A. Matheson Secondary School teacher recognizes that it’s only a first step, since students, families and other B.C. education colleagues are still waiting for their chance.

“I got an exposure notice Sunday [for] my classroom. About half my class was missing yesterday. It’s good to feel that, ‘OK well, at least I had the first dose and so hopefully that can help me.’ But the reality is my kids don’t and many of their family members don’t yet,” Ohana said.  

The campaign hasn’t moved as quickly as she’d anticipated out to educators in other B.C. regions, who haven’t yet been prioritized. The province’s teachers continue to push for safety measures like mask mandates and improved ventilation as well, she said.

“The more protected we are, the more we can keep the schools open.”

WATCH | Amid a third wave, educators are beginning to get priority for COVID-19 vaccines: 

Most Ontario schools are staying open during an emergency stay-at-home order and education workers in COVID-19 hot zones will be prioritized for vaccinations, something already being done in Quebec and British Columbia. 1:45

New Brunswick blitz

Last month, New Brunswick high schools were also put on the priority list. Beginning March 22, the province launched a campaign offering vaccinations to all in-school secondary staffers, which took just over a week. It came ahead of a return to full-time in-person learning for high schoolers that was set for Monday, but later cancelled amid a rise in cases.

“In the region where the vaccination clinics were happening, they closed the school down completely [for the day]. All of the school staff had the opportunity to go to the vaccination clinic, get the vaccines done,” said Rick Cuming, president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Association and co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation.

The clinics were very well attended, according to Cuming, who is based in Fredericton. However, one major lesson that emerged, he said, was the need to account for the fact that some people will inevitably experience mild-to-moderate vaccination side-effects such as fever, fatigue and muscle pain — also among the symptoms listed for COVID-19 screening at schools. This was something Ohana, the teacher in Surrey, also noted.

“We have a supply teacher shortage … we certainly feel that effect here in the best of times, and then under this COVID situation, anybody that’s showing symptoms can’t show up into the school,” Cuming said.

“Our schools certainly noticed that in the days that followed the vaccine clinics.”

One lesson that came out of New Brunswick’s vaccination blitz for high school staffers was to be aware that some will experience post-vaccination symptoms such as fever, fatigue and muscle pain — which are also among the symptoms listed for COVID-19 screening at schools, says Rick Cuming, co-president of the New Brunswick Teachers’ Federation. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Similar to Ohana, Cuming noted that the education workers not yet vaccinated — New Brunswick’s elementary and middle school teachers, administration and support staffers in those schools, as well as bus drivers and supply teachers — are anxiously awaiting their chance to get a shot.

Quebec, Ontario target hot spots

Following Niagara Region’s announcement this week about accelerating education sector vaccinations, the Quebec and Ontario governments also took a step in that direction, but primarily focusing on hot spot regions. 

In late March, a vaccination blitz targeting two Montreal neighbourhoods seeing rapid spread of the coronavirus variant first detected in the U.K. expanded to include teachers. On Wednesday, Quebec announced plans to start vaccinating Montreal’s essential workers — including school and daycare staff — as of this weekend.

Educators in Montreal are now being considered essential workers and prioritized for a COVID-19 vaccine, but that ‘should have been the case a while ago,’ says teacher Andrew Adams. School and daycare staffers in the city could book their appointments as of Friday. (CBC)

“I’m ecstatic to hear that teachers are finally being considered essential workers. That should have been the case a while ago,” said Andrew Adams, who teaches Grade 7 and 8 English at Montreal’s LaurenHill Academy.

The same day, as Ontario declared a third state of emergency and a new stay-at-home order, it also announced it was opening vaccination access to special education workers provincewide along with school staff in at-risk Toronto and Peel region neighbourhoods, starting next week during the April break. Officials in both Quebec and Ontario said the plan is to scale up vaccination in other regions of concern as soon as supply allows in the coming weeks. 

Though the Ontario government’s announcement means some educators will soon get their first injections, union leader Harvey Bischof is looking for a more robust rollout beyond Toronto and Peel, which is located west of the city. Those two public health regions closed schools and shifted to remote learning this week.

“If it doesn’t reach face-to-face educators in [other provincial] hot spots where there are significant reasons for concern … then it’s potentially a case of too little, too late,” said Bischof, the president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, from Brantford, Ont.

Halton, the region northwest of Niagara, announced Friday it is also moving ahead to prioritize school-related workers and child-care staff among the essential workers able to get a COVID-19 vaccine as of April 16.

A more robust vaccination rollout must quickly reach school staff in the many hot spot regions of Ontario, says Harvey Bischof, president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Bischof said he also wants to see schools in high-risk regions remain in remote learning until three weeks after educators can receive a shot, so the vaccine has time to take effect.

He’s heartened to see some regions and local public health units “striking out on their own” beyond decisions being made at the provincial level, like Niagara’s move to vaccinate all school staffers and Peel and Toronto shuttering in-person learning this week.

“We’ve had quite a few school boards across the province now call for the priority vaccination of educators. We’ve seen some medical officers of health and public health units take really important steps,” he said. 

Back in B.C., high school teacher Ohana recognizes the pandemic is complex, “a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” but she wants politicians and decision-makers to be more willing to pivot their vaccination rollout strategy. 

“It was great to see [officials] kind of re-tinker things and say, ‘OK, it’s not just about age. We need to consider positions and jobs.'”

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CBC | Health News

The PlayStation 5 DualSense’s Joystick Drift Is Only Going to Get Worse

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It looks like the reports of PlayStation 5 controller drift are real and the problem isn’t going away. According to a new analysis of the DualSense, the problem is fundamental to the design of the joystick itself. Worse, it’s not even unique. Apparently, all controllers built these days suffer from the same flaws.

iFixit recently tore down the DualSense controller to analyze what might be going wrong with the failed units. We’re seeing growing reports of PlayStation 5 controllers exhibiting drift immediately after unboxing. Drift is a phenomenon where the controller constantly moves in a single direction, absent any player input commanding it to do so. The effects of drift on gameplay depend on the title and the severity of the problem. In some cases, you may be able to compensate by setting a larger dead zone.

Drift has been an item of conversation since the Nintendo Switch’s JoyCons began having problems of their own. After consumer outcry and media attention, Nintendo created its own JoyCon repair program. It has not, however, created a new version of the console that doesn’t suffer from this issue. This is one potential reason to avoid the Switch Lite. Its integrated controllers are susceptible to the same failures, only you can’t swap a bad controller out for a good one.

What’s Wrong With the PlayStation 5 DualSense?

According to iFixit, Sony is using some very standard hardware inside the DualSense.

[B]rand name notwithstanding, this joystick module looks extremely familiar. You may already recognize it from the prior-gen PlayStation’s controller, the DualShock 4. Or from the Xbox One controllers. Maybe the Nintendo Switch Pro controller. Or, somewhat confusingly, the $ 180 Xbox One Elite controller. Underneath that plastic cap, the dirty secret is that they all use the same joystick hardware.

The analysis then steps through an explanation of what a potentiometer is and how controllers use them to translate joystick motions into on-screen movement. Sony gets very low marks for how difficult it is to detach the potentiometer from the circuit board; anyone wishing to repair the controllers will need to deal with 16 solder joints and two wires.

PlayStation 5 potentiometer. Image by iFixit.

iFixit does a good job explaining why all potentiometers eventually fail (it boils down to wear and tear). The closest the article comes to an explanation for why the PS5 might be failing is a link to an Alps RKJXV ThumbPointer joystick assembly. This product, which is apparently used in a wide range of joysticks, is rated for 2,000,000 “directional operations.” According to iFixit, players can start hitting that limit within 4-7 months if they play just two hours per day.

If you’re wondering how Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony can use the same hardware with only Nintendo and Sony suffering drift, we’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is that you have an eye for asking the right questions. The bad news is that Microsoft may indeed have the same problem.

Microsoft is actively attempting to prevent customers from having their case heard in court. It wants the judge to instead compel its users into private arbitration, where a much higher percentage of decisions tend to be in favor of corporations and individuals would be forced to deal with the company individually. There’s a counter-argument in play that the license terms for Xbox Live make no mention of controllers. Nevertheless, all three console manufacturers have been sued for this issue.

The JoyCon, Xbox, and PlayStation 5 controller issues all stem from the same hardware. Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are prioritizing cost over reliability. Each manufacturer uses components that are not rated for the amount of time gamers will actually play over multi-year periods, especially if more than one person in the household games. The PlayStation 5’s problem is apparently not unique, and absent some design alterations, it isn’t going away. If they aren’t going to fix it, the three companies ought to at least make the problem easier to repair.

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Yes, the pandemic will end — but COVID-19 isn’t going away any time soon

As the months passed in 2020, and a mysterious new virus spread around the world, prompting lockdowns and whirlwind scientific research, it was hard to shake one burning question: Was COVID-19 ever going away?

Now, in many places, after weeks of climbing case counts, infections and deaths are finally dropping again. Millions of people are getting vaccinated around the world. And here in Canada, shipments of doses are scaling up as provinces are rolling out long-awaited vaccination plans.

It’s a time for hope. But there is also a renewed sense of uncertainty. 

The downward case trends could soon reverse thanks to several fast-spreading variants, which show this coronavirus is capable of shrewdly shape-shifting and, potentially, evading our current slate of vaccines. And those shots? Many countries don’t have a single dose, leaving millions of people vulnerable. 

Against that backdrop, answers are finally emerging to the question that’s haunted much of the world since before SARS-CoV-2 had a name.

Yes, this pandemic will end. 

But after having so many months to spread and evolve, this virus — and the illness it can cause — will likely be with us, to some degree, for years to come.

“We’re not going to vaccinate our way to getting COVID off the face of the earth,” warned Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and professor at McMaster University in Hamilton. 

Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist in Hamilton, Ont., and an associate professor at McMaster University, says the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 will likely stick around even after the pandemic ends. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

He’s not alone in making that prediction. Yet, it’s not as dire as it sounds. 

The doldrums and devastation of pandemic life have an expiry date, experts tend to agree, while the virus behind COVID-19 could remain as a constant presence along some spectrum ranging from occasional flare-ups to a seasonal illness, or something in between.

“Cold, flu and COVID,” Chagla said. “You know, at the end of the day, it may just be one of these illnesses.”

‘Very hard’ to control virus, even with vaccines

Those outcomes seem more likely because, by this point in the pandemic, the virus has touched down in countries around the world, ranging from landlocked nations to remote regions to islands like New Zealand and Australia.

With that amount of human hosts, it’s now hard to imagine stamping out every trace.

“The virus has been circulating in people for too long for us to eradicate it with a vaccine,” said Alyson Kelvin, a vaccinologist with VIDO-InterVac in Saskatoon.

It’s a challenging combination of the virus’s vast spread, Chagla said, and the fact it causes a respiratory illness with a pre-symptomatic phase where people can spread the virus unknowingly.

“It’s very, very hard — even with vaccines — to control it.”

That’s in part because many countries are far behind on vaccination efforts, and for some, shots remain months or even years away. Any pockets of unvaccinated populations could see a longer tail to the pandemic, or outbreak flare-ups, well after the countries that are rapidly vaccinating citizens. 

Medical personnel prepare to work inside a COVID-19 treatment centre in Lilongwe, Malawi, on Jan. 18. The African country has been hit hard during its second wave of the pandemic, but still has no access to vaccines. (Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images)

“Then, certainly, that would allow for the selection of new variants, which could potentially come back into a vaccinated population,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security in Washington, D.C. 

“So I think that we’ve been very short-sighted in how we’ve thought about vaccination as a control strategy on a national scale rather than a global one.”

Even through previous, decades-long global vaccination efforts, we haven’t eradicated the vast majority of pathogens, she said. 

Animal reservoirs also remain widely available for SARS-CoV-2, Kelvin said, with reports of minks and cats both being infected, for instance, offering ample hosts beyond the human variety.

WATCH | New research suggests Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could curb transmission: 

New research conducted in Israel shows that if a person is infected with COVID-19 after receiving a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine there’s less coronavirus in the system, and that could mean the vaccine may help prevention transmission. 1:55

COVID-19 could become a seasonal illness

It’s not an ideal-sounding future: a virus that’s basically everywhere, popping up in different countries and animals and who knows where next.

But the all-consuming lockdowns and hardship of the past year likely won’t be sticking around post-pandemic, experts told CBC News.

That’s because, as Chagla put it, this virus could become part of regular life in a way that, for most of us, won’t be top of mind, at least not very often.

“You’ll probably see this circulate again, as something that will drive people to hospital from time to time, but hopefully not overwhelm health-care systems,” he said.

And Chagla anticipates we’ll still see long-term care outbreaks of COVID-19, but hopefully never to the degree of hospitalizations and deaths that shook Canadian families throughout much of 2020 and so far in 2021. 

A patient receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Mount Brydges, Ont., on Thursday. (Kate Dubinski/CBC News)

“I think that will become a seasonal disease like the flu where, you know, you’ll probably get a vaccine every year, maybe two to three years,” said Dr. Saahir Khan, an assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine.

“And I think the mortality rate will go down — and had already gone down a lot — as we get better at treating it.”

Rasmussen agreed there’s potential for COVID-19 to one day be more like influenza. That also makes it tough to predict exactly how the virus will operate.

“A lot of people assume that when a virus becomes endemic, it also becomes attenuated,” she said, referring to the process where an infectious agent becomes weaker, and potentially even harmless.

But when it comes to influenza, there can also be emergent strains that are more pathogenic and have higher mortality rates than your typical seasonal flu.

“And flu is different, also, because every year there’s different flu strains going around,” Rasmussen said.

There’s also the possibility SARS-CoV-2 could wind up something like its milder family members — common cold coronavirus — by mutating every couple of years to evade population immunity, then infecting people again, then mutating after its hosts developed immunity to that new strain.

“Then the cycle would repeat itself,” Rasmussen said. “I think that something like that could certainly happen with COVID. The good news, though, is that if that does happen, we should be able to protect people by giving them booster vaccinations.”

WATCH | WHO says wealthier countries buying up too much vaccine supply: 

The wealthier countries of the world are buying up too much of the COVID-19 vaccine supply and leaving too little for poorer countries, says WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. 0:57

Booster shots in development

Various vaccine manufacturers are already racing to develop booster shots after research suggested several types of shots might falter against the highly contagious coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa, known as B1351.

Kelvin stressed that, for Canada — a country so far plagued by vaccine shipment delays — ongoing support for homegrown vaccine research like hers will be crucial.

“We’ll really have to rely on our Canadian innovation and our Canadian ability to make vaccines and make them quickly,” she said. “Especially if the virus is changing, we’ll need that here.”

While the future still remains uncertain — and this pandemic often feels like it’s dragging on indefinitely — post-pandemic life for Canadians is within reach, faster than many imagined, she said.

She pointed to the 1918 flu pandemic, caused by an H1N1 virus, which ravaged the world for nearly 2½ years and claimed up to 100 million lives during four successive waves.

“I think if we look back on that, which is hard to do in our modern society, we’re moving at much better speed, we have a … decreased casualty rate,” she said. 

“So, in a way, we’re doing a lot better than they did.”

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Why the experts think Belarus isn’t going to be Putin’s next Ukraine

If there is a glimmer of a silver lining for Canada, the U.K. and its allies as they watch the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in Belarus, it’s this: Russia probably doesn’t want another Ukraine — and it certainly can’t afford one.

The imposition of sanctions by both countries Tuesday against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, his son and six other Belarusian government officials in the wake of a disputed presidential election was the outcome of a delicate diplomatic dance that took weeks — even though some European nations chose to remain wallflowers.

Former Canadian diplomat Colin Robertson said the Magnitsky-style sanctions would have had more punch if they’d been part of a wider multinational effort.

“In the case of Belarus, we have gone after the kingpins and we hit them where it hurts — their pocketbooks and ability to travel,” he said. “It would have been better if it were a G7 rather than just Canada and the U.K., but I guess it’s a reflection of EU solidarity.”

Some experts, meanwhile, say they think there’s a better-than-even chance that — although they’re not aimed at Russia — the economic penalties will prompt dialogue and lead to de-escalation.

“The Russians don’t want another Ukraine,” said Andrew Rasiulis, a former senior Canadian defence official now with the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. “They don’t want another problem on their border.”

Police detain a demonstrator during an opposition rally to protest the official presidential election results in Minsk, Belarus, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (Associated Press)

While surface comparisons can be made between the situation in Belarus now and the six-year-old war in Ukraine, the geopolitical and economic landscapes are different, said Rasiulis, who once ran the Directorate of Nuclear and Arms Control Policy at the Department of National Defence.

Unlike the Ukrainians who took part in the anti-government, post-election protests in Kyiv that preceded the Russian invasion and annexation of the Ukrainian territory of Crimea in 2014, those demonstrating in Minsk are not demanding closer association with the West or using much anti-Russian rhetoric. Belarusians are, primarily, rising up to demand good government.

And Moscow is in a weaker economic position now than it was in 2014 — in part because of the punishing sanctions imposed after its seizure of Crimea and armed intervention in eastern Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko on Dec. 20, 2019 in St. Petersburg, Russia. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

For Belarus, getting hit by international sanctions following a presidential election is almost a regular thing.

In 2006, in reply to a heavy-handed response to protests, the U.S. and European Union levelled sanctions on dozens of Belarusian individuals and state-run companies. The EU eased up in 2016 when Lukashenko released political prisoners, but Washington has maintained an array of restrictions on Belarusian officials, including the president himself.

Penalizing the powerful

Robertson said the West has learned the hard way that targeted punishments, such as those imposed on Tuesday, will be more effective in the long run.

Experts at the U.S.-based RAND Corporation and elsewhere have warned repeatedly over the past decade that targeting key Belarusian state-owned enterprises (such as chemical and petrochemical industries) and restricting the flow of capital would cause higher economic damage to the country as a whole and hurt many ordinary citizens.

The chances of political concessions appear to be higher when you hit the business elite and the cronies, says one recent study by the think-tank.

That report, which looked at Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe and ways to contain it, said efforts to promote a more liberal Belarus were unlikely to succeed and could provoke a strong response from Moscow.

Convincing the Kremlin

William Courtney and Michael Haltzel, two noted U.S. experts on Eastern Europe, argued in a RAND Corporation blog post last month that western countries should support mediation and calls for a new presidential election with credible international monitoring.

Russia, they said, is the key — and Moscow could be enticed to go along.

“A more democratic, Eastern Slavic state on Russia’s border might be difficult for the Kremlin to accept, but the European Union and the United States could make clear that any improvement in relations with Moscow would depend on it not intervening coercively in Belarus,” wrote Courtney, a former ambassador, and Haltzel, a former policy adviser to U.S. Senator (now Democratic presidential nominee) Joe Biden.

Canada, Latvia and other western nations have called for mediation, said Rasiulis — who is convinced Moscow is more interested in keeping Belarus in its orbit than in Lukashenko’s political survival.

The Institute for the Study of War, another prominent U.S. think-tank, has warned that some of the Russian army units which took part in a recent joint military exercise may not have returned home from Belarus last week as planned.

Rasiulis said that while it’s clear Russian is keeping the option of force on table, he has a hard time believing Moscow would launch a violent crackdown because of how it would alienate the people of Belarus.

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‘We’re not going to apologize’: U.S. officials defend crackdown in Portland

Top U.S. Homeland Security officials say they have no intention of pulling back in Portland, Ore., and defended the federal crackdown on anti-racism protests in the country, including the use of unmarked cars and unidentified officers in camouflage.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) sent law enforcement units to Portland to back up the Federal Protective Service responsible for guarding government facilities after receiving intelligence about planned attacks around July 4, the DHS officials said.

“DHS is not going to back down from our responsibilities. We are not escalating, we are protecting,” Chad Wolf, acting secretary of Homeland Security, told Fox News.

President Donald Trump condemned protests in Portland and violence in other “Democrat-run” cities on Sunday as his administration moves to intervene in urban centres he said have lost control of demonstrations. Protests began across the country after the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in Minneapolis in late May.

Last week, federal officers started cracking down on crowds, using tear gas to disperse protesters and taking some into custody in unmarked cars.

WATCH | Tear gas fired at demonstrators during a protest in Portland:

Protests over racism and police brutality have been going on in Portland, Ore., almost daily for over 50 days since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. The Trump administration has deployed federal agents from the Department of Homeland Security to crack down on the protests. 4:22

Officers without clear identification

On Monday morning, Portland Police provided details on another tense night between protesters and federal law enforcement in the city, saying federal agents used tear gas to disperse a crowd that had gathered outside a federal courthouse downtown.

A Black Lives Matter protester burns an American flag in Portland. (Noah Berger/AP Photo)

Wolf said federal law enforcement was doing its job.

“We’re not going to apologize for it,” he said. “We’re going to do it professionally and do it correctly.”

The clampdown in Portland has drawn widespread criticism and legal challenges as videos surfaced of officers without clear identification badges using force and unmarked vehicles to arrest protesters without explanation.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deputy secretary, said the federal officers wore the same uniforms every day and the crowds knew who they were. He also defended the use of unmarked cars as routine.

“Unmarked police vehicles are so common it’s barely worth discussion,” he told CNN.

Ken Cuccinelli, the acting Department of Homeland Security deputy secretary, said the department would respond the same way as it has in Portland if federal authorities received the same kind of intelligence in other places in the U.S. (Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo)

Cuccinelli said if federal authorities receive the same kind of intelligence threat in other places, they would respond the same way.

“It’s really as simple as that,” he said.

Democrats demand answers

On Sunday, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives demanded internal investigations into whether the Justice and Homeland Security departments “abused emergency authorities” in handling the Portland protests.

Portland’s mayor called the intervention an abuse of federal power and said it was escalating the violence. Oregon’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the federal agencies, saying they had seized and detained people without probable cause.

Cuccinelli dismissed local leaders’ calls to leave the city.

“We will maintain our presence,” he said.

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Major League Soccer’s return isn’t going smoothly

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The shaky-looking MLS is Back Tournament kicks off tomorrow night

The name was meant to sound triumphant. But, a month after announcing it, Major League Soccer is limping toward its comeback event inside a fanless “bubble” at Disney World.

Here’s what’s gone wrong so far and a few other things to know about the tournament:

One team has already been dropped and another’s status is up in the air because of COVID-19 outbreaks. FC Dallas was removed yesterday after 10 of its players and a coach tested positive since their arrival at the bubble.Today, MLS postponed Wednesday’s Nashville-Chicago match — one of two scheduled for opening night — after five Nashville players tested positive and another four produced inconclusive results. The league said it will decide whether Nashville can stay in the tournament once additional test results come back. Also, one player from Columbus Crew SC tested positive.

The schedule is a mess. In addition to the Nashville-Chicago postponement, Toronto FC’s opening match vs. D.C. United was pushed back from Friday night to Sunday morning at 9 a.m. ET because TFC didn’t arrive in Florida until yesterday (it needed more time to complete testing). Meanwhile, MLS is still trying to figure out what to do about Dallas’ matches. They were supposed to open Thursday vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC. As of our publish time, Vancouver’s first scheduled game was July 15 vs. San Jose. The first of the three Canadian teams to play will be the Montreal Impact. They open Thursday vs. New England. Read more about the last-minute scramble to revise the schedule here.

The league’s reigning MVP pulled out. Carlos Vela won the award last year after scoring a league-high 34 goals and helping Los Angeles FC win the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record. His wife is pregnant, so he decided to stay home. Vancouver was also hard-hit by opt-outs: five of its players decided not to participate. Despite Vela’s absence, LAFC is still favoured by oddsmakers to win the tournament. Most betting shops give the reigning MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders the second-best odds. Online bookmaker Pinnacle listed MLS Cup runner-up Toronto as the No. 6 favourite, Montreal 13th and Vancouver 23rd.

The format is similar to the World Cup’s. Dallas’ absence leaves 25 teams. They’re divided into six groups, and the plan is for them to each play three group-stage matches over the next 16 days. Montreal and Toronto are in a group with D.C. and New England. Vancouver is grouped with Seattle, San Jose and (on paper, anyway) Dallas. The top two finishers in each group advance to the single-elimination knockout stage, along with the four best third-place finishers. That stage begins July 25 with the round of 16 and culminates with the championship final on Aug. 11.

After this, MLS hopes to resume its regular season. It was halted in mid-March after everyone had played only two matches. The plan is for teams to play a revised scheduled, which the league is still working on, out of their home stadiums. Everyone’s three group-stage matches from the tournament would count in the regular-season standings.

Marky Delgado’s TFC team is among the favourites to win a tournament that hasn’t exactly gone according to plan. (Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

It’s going to be a busy month (hopefully) for pro sports

The NHL and its players’ association took another big step toward bringing hockey back when they announced late yesterday that they’ve reached a wide-ranging tentative agreement that paves the way for this summer’s expanded playoff tournament. The deal includes all the details of the NHL/NHLPA’s return-to-plan plan and a four-year extension to their collective bargaining agreement. All that’s left now is for the NHL’s board of governors (the owners) and the players’ union’s executive committee and full membership to ratify it. Those votes are expected to happen by the end of the work week. Learn more about the deal in this video by CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo.

Pretty much all the most interesting things about the return-to-play plan had already been reported (and covered in this newsletter) before yesterday’s announcement. But we did get something new: actual, official, firm dates. Assuming the deal is ratified in the next few days, training camps for the 24 playoff teams will open in their home cities this coming Monday (July 13). Teams will report to their assigned hub city (reportedly, but still not officially, Edmonton for the Western Conference and Toronto for the East) on July 26. The playoffs will start Saturday, Aug. 1.

Major League Baseball also finally gave us some dates last night when it released the schedule for its shortened regular season. It starts with a pair of night games on Thursday, July 23 (the Yankees visit World Series champion Washington at 7 p.m. ET, followed by Giants-Dodgers at 10 p.m. ET). Everyone except the Yanks and Nats plays the following day — including the Blue Jays’ season opener at Tampa Bay at 6:40 p.m. ET. Toronto starts with five straight road games (three at Tampa, two at Washington) before its home opener vs. the Nationals on July 29. The Jays would like to play that in Toronto, but they’re still awaiting approval from the Canadian government to host regular-season games. 

Now that we finally have specifics from baseball and the NHL, it feels like a good time to update our North American pro sports calendar. Given the gloomy state of the U.S. right now, I’d suggest marking these dates in pencil, not pen. But, assuming everyone’s plans hold up, here’s a look at the key dates from now through Aug. 1, presented in this wonderfully handy graphic designed by CBC Sports’ Sophie Baron:

(CBC Sports)


Patrick Mahomes’ contract isn’t quite as good as it sounds. The agency that negotiated the superstar quarterback’s new deal with the Kansas City Chiefs is touting Mahomes as the “first half-billion player in sports history.” This is based on the agency’s claim that Mahomes agreed to a “10-year extension worth $ 503 million” yesterday. That’s a bit of a stretch, though. Mahomes still had two years left on his rookie contract, and his new deal includes $ 25 million in incentives that he may or may not reach. So, really, he’s got a 12-year deal for $ 477 million.

On the surface, that compares favourably to baseball superstar Mike Trout’s 12-year, $ 426.5-million contract. But Trout’s money is fully guaranteed. Mahomes was guaranteed “only” $ 63 million at signing, and $ 141 million in the event he gets injured. That’s still an obscene amount of money, and Mahomes is set for life. But the fact that the NFL’s best player, who’s still only 24 years old, can command so much less guaranteed money than baseball’s is another reminder that pro football is a very tough business. Read more about Mahomes’ big extension here. And if you’re interested in the finer details of the deal and exactly how much money Mahomes is likely to pocket, I suggest this piece by ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

And finally…

Curling is in for some sweeping changes. Literally. As part of its new guidelines for making the game safer to play during the pandemic, Curling Canada is asking recreational players in clubs across the country to use only one sweeper at a time. The governing body is also calling for markings on the ice to help keep non-throwing players away from each other, and for players to forego the traditional post-game handshakes. Those are just some of the new regulations in Curling Canada’s 29-page guide to the 2020-21 season. Read more about the changes here.

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CBC | Soccer News

Trump or no Trump, Canada’s relationship with the U.S. isn’t going back to ‘normal’ soon

For 21 seconds on Tuesday morning, Justin Trudeau said nothing. Between the end of a reporter’s question about Donald Trump and the start of the prime minister’s response, there was a long, tense silence.

Anyone could have filled that silence with a stream of awful images and ideas from the last few days, and the last four years, in American life. But if it’s possible for silence to say something, this one spoke to the weight of this moment and the profound challenge ahead for the United States of America — and for this country and its leadership.

After four years of vulgarity and chaos — and with a deadly virus taking lives and ravaging local economies — the United States of America is seething. Canada’s second-oldest ally and largest trading partner is in turmoil. Its president has now sent federal security officers after peaceful protesters. He is threatening to deploy military personnel under powers granted to him by the Insurrection Act of 1807.

On Tuesday morning, Trudeau was asked if he would condemn the president publicly — and what message he would be sending if he didn’t. The reporter finished asking the question, but Trudeau remained quiet. Twice, he opened his mouth as if he was about to say something, but no words came. Finally, he started to respond:

Asked about U.S. President Donald Trump threatening the use of military force against protestors in the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau paused for 21 seconds before saying “we all watch in horror and consternation.” He did not comment on Trump. 2:59

If Trudeau had taken the position from the start that it was one of his responsibilities to condemn Donald Trump whenever the president did something deserving of criticism, the prime minister might have found himself offering comment almost every day for the last four years.

The Trudeau government has criticized the administration’s acts directly on occasion — its policy of locking children in cages, for instance. But Trudeau has said more than once that his chief responsibility is to protect the economic and social welfare of Canadians — implying that upsetting the American president could have real ramifications for Canada.

‘Horror and consternation’

The risk, as many have argued, is that Trump’s excesses will be normalized — though Trudeau would say that he has neither shied away from speaking about his own values, nor hesitated from criticizing Canadian politicians whose behaviour is objectionable. The flip side of worrying about normalizing Trump is the simple fact that nothing the Canadian prime minister says is likely to have any effect on the result of this fall’s presidential election.

Given Trudeau’s flair for public performance (at least during his first four years as prime minister), some will assume that half-minute pause was a planned bit of theatrics. In politics, it’s always hard to distinguish the staged from the sincere. But even a consciously planned pause would still be a statement on the unique outrage of this moment.

But it’s very possible that Trudeau genuinely was struggling to find the right words.

“We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” Trudeau finally said.

“It is a time to pull people together. But it is a time to listen. It is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades. But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges, that black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart after visiting Saint John Paul II National Shrine, Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Washington. (Patrick Semansky/The Associated Press)

The weakness of ‘great’ nations

So, after thinking about it for 21 seconds, the prime minister still stopped short of directly criticizing the president (though words like “horror” and “consternation” might speak volumes).

But this moment is about a lot more than whether a prime minister should criticize a president. It’s also about what happens when a country can’t look in the mirror and deal with what it sees.

There are those who recoil from Trudeau’s willingness to acknowledge this country’s shortcomings — as if a prime minister’s job is to remind Canadians that they live on the greatest country on earth. But the United States — a country that has long insisted on its greatness — now might serve as an object lesson of what can happen when a country refuses to deal with its weaknesses and failures.

The American writer George Packer recently likened the United States to a “failed state.” And that was before tear gas was used to clear the way for a president’s photo op.

There’s no way back to 2015

For other countries watching events in the U.S. with growing alarm, avoiding its fate begins with combating racism and inequality at home. Black Canadians have every reason to demand that the Trudeau government take their concerns seriously. But racism isn’t our only point of vulnerability. From reconciliation to social welfare, Canada’s work is incomplete.

Still, Canadians aren’t mere spectators when things go wrong in American politics. Justin Trudeau’s father said Canada is a mouse in bed with an elephant. In 2020, the elephant is sick. Yes, it has survived bouts of serious illness before, but it’s wishful thinking to imagine that we will all wake up one morning to find that the current fever has broken and things are quickly returning to some kind of pre-2016 “normal.”

Over the last four years, Canada has been forced to renegotiate NAFTA under threat of chaos, has coped with thousands of asylum seekers showing up at the southern border, has endured tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, the collapse of American leadership on climate change and attacks on the international institutions that gave this country a voice in global affairs.

Right now, the border between Canada and the United States is closed to all but essential travel, an unprecedented and economically damaging shutdown driven by the spread of COVID-19. With our American cousins struggling to fight the disease (a fight that no doubt will be made harder by the strife of recent days), it’s not clear when it will be possible to safely reopen that border.

Meanwhile, Canada has had to make a special effort to ensure that vital medical supplies manufactured in the United States can get across the border to this country.

The official U.S. relationship with the world might change with a different president. The next four years might be easier for Canada as a result. But the domestic dysfunction in the United States will not be easily fixed — and the last four years show just how little can be taken for granted in American life these days.

If Trudeau’s government has not been blind to the global and continental questions raised by the last four years, it’s also not clear that it has found any real answers. It’s no surprise that two Canadian academics recently proposed dusting off the “third option” doctrine that Pierre Trudeau’s government developed in the 1970s — the last time the United States seemed to be coming apart.

That’s the challenge facing Canada’s leadership now — to advance a pluralistic, democratic society at a time of pandemic and climate change, while living next door to a stricken superpower.

Twenty-one seconds is enough time to begin to think about everything that confronts us now. But a full answer goes well beyond the latest outrage in the United States.

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CBC | World News

B.C. teachers raise alarm about going back to classes after COVID-19 cases in Quebec schools

As students from across British Columbia head back to class on a voluntary basis today, some teachers say their employer is giving them little choice but to return to work in what they call an unsafe environment. 

This comes after at least 41 staff and students in Quebec tested positive for COVID-19 in the first two weeks after elementary schools outside the Montreal area reopened.

“I find it really unfortunate and very offensive, actually, because I think parents have the right to know [that] we can’t ensure that your kids are going to be socially distant all day in a classroom,” said one teacher from the North Vancouver School District.

CBC News has agreed not to name the teacher as she fears speaking out could cost her her job.

She has mapped out her class with measuring tape and says there’s not enough space for kids socially distance in it. Other than directional tape on the floor, she says, there’s no other means to help kids keep a safe distance.

Staggered schedules

The North Vancouver School District told CBC News that while the directive to stay two metres apart should be followed, “it may not be feasible and is not expected at all times in the school setting.”

The district added that classroom composition has been arranged “in thoughtful ways” with staggered schedules to reduce density with more time outside.

B.C.’s Ministry of Education said limits on the number of children “should help kids social distance.” For kindergarten to Grade 5, up to 50 per cent of students are allowed in the school at once. In higher grades, the limit is just 20 per cent.

The ministry added that some classrooms will need to be amalgamated to make up for some teachers not returning. 

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has dismissed concerns about schools reopening. “We know how to deal with this, we know that it is not easily spread, and we know we can prevent it by putting in place the measures that we have in our schools.”  

Teachers seeking accommodations

Teachers who do not feel safe returning say they feel there’s little choice. 

The North Vancouver teacher says her employer is providing little accommodation even for those who are immune-compromised. That means instead of being able to work from home, teachers who feel unsafe to go back or who cannot access childcare, in some cases must go on unpaid leave or use sick days. 

Nicole Jarvis, a teacher at the École Salish Secondary School thinks reopening is a good idea but doesn’t think everyone should be forced to return to the workplace.

“I am deeply hoping that colleagues who have requested work from home accommodations will be granted so,” Jarvis said.

It’s something the B.C. Teachers Federation also has concerns about.

“It’s been a bit of a struggle, because the reasons why people are seeking accommodations [are] different under a pandemic, including child care being closed because because of COVID-19,” said Terri Mooring, president of the B.C. Teachers Federation.

Nicole Jarvis is a teacher at the École Salish Secondary School. She personally feels excited to return to class but hopes teachers who do not feel it is safe won’t be forced to return. (Nicole Jarvis )

Mooring added that the problem of teachers being granted accommodation in a timely manner is that there is a much larger number of teachers seeking it in a very short time period. 

But she said that “it is incumbent upon the employer to provide accommodations to members with appropriate medical information from their doctor to the point of undue hardship.” 

B.C. School Trustees Association president Stephanie Higginson says not every person who doesn’t want to return to work will be accommodated.

“It’s just not possible, nor would it be the responsible thing to do,” said Higginson.

She stresses that public health officials and scientists have deemed B.C. classes safe to return to. 

No budget increase

The Ministry of Education said there will be no budget increases to support teachers or custodians for the June reopening, however according to Higginson and Mooring, districts are getting creative.

According to Mooring, since the pandemic hit and schools closed, some now have a surplus after needing fewer supply teachers and fewer bus drivers, for example. She says some of that surplus can be used for additional custodians and cleaning supplies.

British Columbia Teachers’ Federation president Teri Mooring says there is a large number of teachers seeking accommodation in a short time period. (Michael McArthur/CBC)

Other districts have moved custodial schedules.  

“We’ve switched the shifts so our night-time cleaning staff is doing the cleaning in the day and then we’ll have more of a skeleton crew on at night,” said Jarvis, who is also a union representative with local 36 of the BCTF.

She also added that teachers can ask the custodians for cleaning supplies if they want to do extra cleaning in high-traffic areas. 

Teachers won’t be provided with personal protective equipment, according to their employer, but they are able to bring their own, saying provincial health guidelines say that hand washing and surface cleaning are more effective at combating the virus.

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CBC | Health News

Simmerling, Labbé keep each other going after Tokyo 2020 (and retirement) is delayed

Not many people may realize it, but athletes often avoid walking, like it’s the plague. But what happens when avoiding the plague (in this case, COVID-19) leads to more walking?

That’s been the case for Canada’s only three-sport Olympian, Georgia Simmerling.

“It sounds hilarious, but I’ve been walking more,” she says from her home in Calgary. “As a cyclist, walking takes away from your training.”

In lockdown, this isn’t the only surprising thing that’s changed for both Simmerling and her girlfriend of three-and-a-half years, fellow Olympic bronze medallist in soccer, Stephanie Labbé. For one thing, they now know what their backyard looks like without snow.

“It’s been a shock. I’m usually gone from end of February until mid-November. So, yeah, this is different, but I think we’re embracing it and really enjoying the time,” Labbé says. “We were supposed to spend four days together in four months, now we’ve been together for six weeks.”

Georgia Simmerling, left, is a member of the Canadian women’s team pursuit track cycling team, while her partner Stephanie Labbé, background, is a goalkeeper for the Canadian women’s soccer team. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

That officially makes this their longest stretch of living together. Simmerling, with her hand lovingly on Labbé’s shoulder, jokingly says, “We’re past the honeymoon phase.”

Timelines disrupted

Labbé is the goalkeeper for the Canada’s soccer team and Simmerling is a vital member for Canada’s team pursuit in track cycling. Thankfully, their respective teams have already qualified for the Tokyo Games. However, the COVID-19 lockdown measures have rocked them. This Olympic couple had planned to retire.

Now, instead of four months until retirement, they face 16 months. A daunting task.

“It was a hard pill to swallow,” Simmerling says. “As a cyclist, you push yourself to get these base miles in. Then, I was like, ‘oh my gosh, I need to do that all again.’ I’ve accepted it, but that grind…you can’t fake that.”

Georgia Simmerling has kept her competitive spirit strong during the quarantine measures – regularly racing against her coach, who’s in New Zealand. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

After weeks of emotional ups and downs, Labbé cautiously says they’ve just gotten to a place of acceptance.

However, getting to this point hasn’t been without effort.They set up a little Zen area and would spend roughly 30 minutes meditating every other day.

“During our most vulnerable phase post-announcement [of the Tokyo 2020 delay] we began doing a lot of meditation together in the basement,” she says. “That was definitely helping.”

An unexpected training gap

Returning home from Germany and France respectively in early March, Simmerling and Labbé assumed the physical distancing measures would be short lived.

“You just kinda think you’re grinding it out at home for a week or two, but then everything changes,” Labbé says.

One challenging element was unexpected. Injuries sustained by Simmerling over her career to her jaw, wrist, and leg, she has 34 pieces of metal holding her together, and that takes help.

Injuries sustained by Georgia Simmerling over her skiing career has resulted in 34 pieces of metal holding her together. But with lockdown measures, she has no access to physiotherapy. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

“Six weeks with no physio/treatment,” Simmerling says with exasperation. “It’s one of the hardest things for athletes, especially for older athletes. To be expected to keep training just as hard but without any treatment.”

She and Labbé describe how different their isolated training regimes are, adding to the stress on their bodies. Simmerling’s adjusted by doing, “majorly long warm-ups” before her daily traning regimen.

Labbé feels they’ve now found a happy medium in their training.

“[We’re] pushing at times, but then if we need a day off, we take it.”

Another key component for their training is remembering to get outside. Training in the basement or garage wasn’t enough to sustain their spirits.

In recent years, Stephanie Labbé has begun to open up about her struggles with depression throughout her professional career. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

However, in the midst of change some things remain the same. For Simmerling, that’s her competitive spirit. Through virtual races, she’s competing against her coach Matt Shallcrass, who lives in New Zealand. Simmerling doesn’t like to lose.

“There’s no way in hell I’m letting my coach beat me,” she says.

After one race, she had pushed so hard she was puking afterwards…but she’d won. Labbé piped in saying she too works hard on the bike trainer, but she hasn’t puked. 

Simmerling happily admits, “Everyone, I guess, beats to their own drum.”

Strength in numbers

In recent years, Labbé has begun to open up about her struggles with depression throughout her professional career.

“I used to isolate a lot, but now I’ve been reaching out and leaning on other people.”

“Like me,” Simmerling jumped in, happy to be someone Labbé leans on.

As athletes that thrive on a structured environment, Simmerling and Labbé have had to lean on one another during a time of extreme upheaval. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

Thankfully, a shared sponsor (B2ten) stepped in to help athletes connect in a virtual house party. Athletes like Erica Wiebe, Melissa Bishop and Rosie MacLennan, were in attendance, to name a few.

“It was just so cool to connect with a bunch of these women and of course, they’re going through the exact same things we are. But you wouldn’t know until you reach out,” Simmerling says.

She’s has also faced her own struggles in adapting to a less structured life.

“As athletes, we’re so goal driving, we live in this structured environment, and we actually thrive on that. So, when that’s taken away from you, there are just so many question marks. It’s been a bit challenging.”

Thankfully, there’s strength in numbers.

“It helps having someone in the same house that’s going through the same thing, that understands everything,”  Labbé says. “You don’t really have to talk about it, because we both kinda know exactly what’s going on.”

“Also, having [our dog] Rio brightens our day,” she says, with genuine love in her voice. “Dogs help so much.”

Simmerling and Labbé’s dog, Rio, has also helped comfort the two atheltes during the pandemic. (Kelly VanderBeek for CBC Sports)

What’s next?

Roughly 48 hours before the Tokyo Games were officially cancelled, Simmerling and Labbé had an important conversation. They asked each other, if the Olympics were postponed, would the other keep going?

Their answers came almost immediately.

“Yeah, of course we’d keep going,” Labbé said. “We were both excited about that [retirement], but at the same time, excited to push ourselves for this year…for what it is.”

With nothing left to prove in their respective careers, the road ahead is still unclear yet daunting with retirement so close, yet so far. Simmerling eloquently sums up their current state of mind.

“We’ve done a really good job at focusing on what we can control, and right now, that’s tomorrow.”

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CBC | Sports News

George MacKay on Life After the Oscars and Going Wild Post-Quarantine (Exclusive)

George MacKay Talks Quarantine, ‘The True History of the Kelly Gang’ and the Oscars (Exclusive) | Entertainment Tonight

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