La Soufrière volcano on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent erupted on Friday after decades of inactivity, sending dark plumes of ash and smoke billowing into the sky and forcing thousands from surrounding villages to evacuate.
Dormant since 1979, the volcano started showing signs of activity in December, spewing steam and smoke and rumbling away. That picked up this week, prompting Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves to order an evacuation of the surrounding area late on Thursday.
Early on Friday it finally erupted. Ash and smoke plunged the neighbouring area into near total darkness, blotting out the bright morning sun, said a Reuters witness, who reported hearing the explosion from Rose Hall, a nearby village.
Smaller explosions continued throughout the day, Erouscilla Joseph, director at the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Centre, told Reuters, adding that this kind of activity could go on for weeks if not months.
“This is just the beginning,” she said.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has a population of just over 100,000, has not experienced volcanic activity since 1979, when an eruption caused approximately $ 100 million in damages. An eruption by La Soufriere in 1902 killed more than 1,000 people. The name means “sulfur outlet” in French.
The eruption column was estimated to have reached 10 kilometres high, the seismic research centre said, warning other explosive eruptions could occur. Ash fall could affect the Grenadines, Barbados, St. Lucia and Grenada.
“The ash plume may cause flight delays due to diversions,” the centre said on Twitter. “On the ground, ash can cause discomfort in persons suffering with respiratory illnesses and will impact water resources.”
Local media have in recent days also reported increased activity from Mount Pelee on the island of Martinique, which lies to the north of St. Vincent beyond St. Lucia.
‘In a frenzy’
Some 4,500 residents near the volcano had left their homes already via ships and by road, Gonsalves said at a news conference on Friday.
Heavy ash fall had halted evacuation efforts somewhat due to poor visibility, according to St. Vincent’s National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO).
“The place in general is in a frenzy,” said Lavern King, 28, a shelter volunteer. “People are still being evacuated from the red zone, it started yesterday evening and into last night.”
Gonsalves said that depending on the extent of the damage, it could be four months before evacuees could return home.
Welling up with tears, he said neighbouring islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Antigua had agreed to take evacuees in and cruise lines could ferry them over — as long as they got vaccinated first.
Though that could prove to be a challenge, according to opposition senator Shevern John, 42.
“People are very scared of the vaccine and they opt out of coming to a shelter because eventually they would have to adhere to the protocol,” she said.
Shelters are also having to limit the number of evacuees they take in due to COVID-19 protocols.
John said people would have to wait for further scientific analysis to know what steps to take next.
“It can go for a few days or a few weeks,” she said. “At the moment, both ends of the island are covered in ash and very dark.”
As the procrastinators among us worry over our own tax forms, it may be a little galling to think about the shrinking share of taxes paid by some wealthy corporations.
This week the New Democratic Party is considering how to soak the rich to help pay for the less well off, but as the rich get richer and governments look for ways to pay for the pandemic, you don’t have to go to the NDP to find experts trying squeeze a bit more money out of the wealthy.
U.S. money manager Warren Buffett, the world’s fourth-richest person, has proposed a wealth tax. In the U.S., the state of New York is working on a plan to raise taxes on those earning more than a million dollars a year, joining New Jersey in an attempt to raise revenue from the richest.
And at this week’s gathering of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, world leaders, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, are going after the biggest pots of money of all. They want to raise more cash from global corporations.
Yellen on Monday urged the adoption of a minimum global corporate income tax to offset any issues stemming from U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to raise the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent.
Contribution from corporations slide
It’s not a new idea. Back in 2014, a panel struck by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development thought they had it set with a plan to reverse the slide in government revenues from the world’s biggest companies. When I wrote about it at the time in Fighting the corporate tax tricks that lead to inequality, OECD tax director Pascal Saint-Amans was confident change was imminent, as a new agreement kicked in by 2016.
The OECD was convinced it had global buy-in and that made it easy: “Because it’s political,” Saint-Amans said confidently in 2014. “When you have political support you find the technical solutions.”
But by 2016, with the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, that political consensus had collapsed and corporate tax revenue continued to slide. According to the upcoming book The World After, co-edited by Canadian scholar Jennifer Welsh, that window for change may have opened again.
Canada has been a supporter of the OECD plan and a spokesperson for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland suggested Tuesday that Canada would support those proposing the minimum tax plan at this week’s meeting.
“At this moment where governments have already asked their populations to do things out of the ordinary in the name of public health, they’ve also had to extend that logic … into their post-pandemic recovery,” said Welsh, after Yellen’s statement on global minimum corporate tax rates.
There are two main barriers to raising taxes on global corporations. One is ideological. Some people are convinced that the best way to run an economy is to leave money in the hands of the rich and the big companies because they will use that money to make us all wealthier.
Critics of that idea point to the fact that as taxes on companies and the people who own them have shrunk in rich countries, so has the share of wealth going to the poor and middle class. During the years corporate tax rates have been falling, the rich have gotten richer compared to everyone else.
But the second barrier to raising taxes on big corporations is the same one faced by states like New York trying to tax their own wealthy people. The threat of higher taxes makes people move away to places where taxes are lower.
With a good tax accountant, you don’t even have to move. All you have to do is make sure the beneficial owner, a legal corporation, officially resides in that low tax regime. Ireland, for example, offers corporate tax rates as low as 12.5 per per cent for companies that do business there. In order to earn revenue, countries compete in a race for the bottom.
What Yellen has proposed and has garnered support for from countries like Germany and France and institutions like the IMF is to agree to binding laws that would set corporate taxes at a minimum rate. While official corporate tax rates have declined — currently ranging between about 12 to 35 per cent in major economies — the planned provision would also crack down on various laws and deductions that make them even lower. In 2014, by claiming it was actually earning its money under Irish tax law, Apple paid a tax rate estimated at 0.0005 per cent.
Some of those loopholes have been patched but Welsh says the current crisis may allow for wider reforms, shaming low-tax countries and the companies that benefit from them into doing their share. That doesn’t mean low tax regimes will give up their lucrative advantages without a struggle. Nor will lobbyists for large corporations necessarily cave in.
Canadian tax historian Shirley Tillotson and others told me last year that history has shown that times of crisis give governments more latitude to raise taxes. They said in a rich country like Canada there were plenty of places to look for money, but once again political will and popular acceptance of change are crucial.
Welsh said The World After is a joint project between the University of Montreal and McGill University to present a series of ideas to exploit what they saw as a “sense of great possibility” that comes at a moment of crisis.
Yellen’s proposal scheduled to be discussed this week could be part of a generational shift that Welsh and people like Buffett have been hoping for. But Welsh warns that periods of crisis can also lead to a urge for stability, a demand for tinkering rather than radical reform.
“Not all crises lead to transformative change,” said Welsh. “It takes leadership. It takes the ability to have credible proposals that are dramatic, but could actually work.”
The plan for minimum corporate taxes may fit that bill.
Thousands of staff at a Toronto hospital network have still not been vaccinated against COVID-19, prompting an internal email from its president, which has been obtained by CBC News, urging them to get immunized.
Roughly 4,000 employees of University Health Network (UHN) had not registered for their shots by Monday, according to the email sent that day by UHN president and CEO Dr. Kevin Smith.
“While our overall rate of uptake is very good, there are areas and programs where vaccination remains below 50 per cent of people,” Smith wrote.
“We must change this immediately.”
Smith also said he’s worried the hospital network’s supply of vaccines will be greatly reduced in the days ahead as Ontario “expands its list of priorities.”
The plea was made to staff at some of the highest risk for encountering the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the workplace, according to UHN spokesperson Gillian Howard, including those working in the emergency department, intensive care units, inpatient units and COVID-19 units.
Since the email was sent out, Howard said, around 1,000 more UHN workers had registered for their vaccinations, bringing the total to just over 18,000people who will be vaccinated.
The network has set up a phone line and “vaccine ambassadors” to answer questions from staff, she said.
It was not immediately clear why some employees were slow to register.
UHN includes multiple hospitals, including Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Western Hospital and Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital.
It’s not clear how many staff at other health-care networks and hospitals in the Toronto area have been vaccinated or signed up for their shots.
Women’s College Hospital, a separate facility from UHN, told CBC News around 664 of some 929 eligible staff members, about 71 per cent, have been vaccinated so far.
“However, this number is constantly changing as staff numbers fluctuate and we have many who are awaiting appointments in the coming weeks,” said spokesperson Jen Brailsford in an email.
“This is also likely an underestimate as these numbers are based on self-reporting to occupational health.”
Toronto-area hospital sites had early access to the province’s vaccination rollout, with thousands of doses given to front-line workers and other staff in recent months.
Despite that, hospital outbreaks have continued. UHN alone is currently reporting three, affecting a handful of staff and patients.
CBC News has also previously reported on how an estimated one-third of long-term care workers — who have been eligible since December — have not yet gotten their shots.
A memo from the Ontario Ministry of Long Term Care dated March 8 revealed an estimated 67 per cent of staff in nursing homes across the province have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to over 95 per cent of residents.
According to public health ethics researcher Alison Thompson, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, hesitancy among health-care workers can lead to “tricky” ethical issues in the workplace, particularly in a hospital setting.
“It basically boils down to a matter of protecting patients and their right to having a safe space for care, and their colleagues being protected … versus their individual charter right to not have to be subjected to some kind of medical intervention against their will and consent,” she said.
‘Not a good track record’
Dr. Susy Hota, medical director of infection prevention and control at UHN, said the lack of vaccine uptake during the pandemic’s third wave is disappointing.
But she stressed that while these are medical professionals, they’re also dealing with the vaccine hesitancy that’s increasingly common among the general population.
“My hospital is huge. We’re like a community in ourselves, like a little village or town,” she said.
“And there’s a diversity of different roles that people play here. And people come from different backgrounds, and different cultures and have had different past experiences.”
Hota says, from an infection control perspective, figuring out how to combat this hesitancy among health-care workers can be difficult.
“We haven’t been successful in mandating vaccinations in the past; there’s not a good track record,” she continued.
Could mandatory masks or other personal protective gear for unvaccinated workers be an option? It’s not that simple, Hota says.
For one thing, most infections in hospitals are thought to occur when workers aren’t conducting patient care and no longer wearing masks; like chatting in a break room.
“Masking versus vaccination was tried for influenza, and that didn’t succeed,” Hota added.
Thompson agrees. If each individual employer tries to implement that kind of policy, it’s much less likely to be successful, she said.
“It’s much more effective, probably, if the provincial government were to mandate that vaccines have to be administered for health-care workers, with legitimate exemptions,” she said.
We’re answering your questions about the pandemic. Send yours to COVID@cbc.ca, and we’ll answer as many as we can. We publish a selection of answers online and also put some questions to the experts during The National and on CBC News Network. So far, we’ve received more than 69,800 emails from all over the country.
Is it safe for vaccinated grandparents to see their grandkids?
It’s been an incredibly long and difficult year for so many Canadians, especially for the grandparents who’ve written to us to say they’ve gone 12 whole months without hugging, or even seeing, their grandkids over fear of getting sick or worse.
“We have stayed put at home like good little girls and boys for the past year,” wrote grandmother Gaille M. who wanted to know if vaccination might mean the family members can finally get together.
The short answer is, it’s complicated.
Despite mass vaccination campaigns underway across the country, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is still recommending that we all “avoid or keep exposure very brief” with people outside of our immediate households.
“This is a really controversial question,” said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious diseases physician and medical director of infection control at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, in a recent CBC News Network interview.
“We know the vaccines are going to reduce those grandparents’ risk of death and disability if they do get COVID-19,” said Chagla, and while vaccines “probably” reduce the risk of the grandparents transmitting it to their grandchildren, he warned it’s not entirely risk-free, especially because children cannot yet be immunized.
“When you start mixing crowds with different degrees of vaccination, where those people can go into other settings, it is a whole lot trickier,” Chagla said. That’s because the virus may spread from grandkids to other family members, or vice versa
Even if you have both doses, you may still be at risk of potentially catching the virus, explained Maria Sundaram, an infectious disease epidemiologist who studies vaccines.
“It’s likely that if you were, you might not notice it or you might have a milder illness,” Sundaram said in a recent CBC News Network interview. “So I’d say still try to take some precautions … that you’ve been taking.”
Health Canada’s Chief Medical Advisor Dr. Supriya Sharma said waiting until both parties are vaccinated offers the best level of protection.
“We don’t want to give people the sense that as soon as you’ve got your vaccine, you’ve got this cloak of invincibility and you can never get [COVID-19],” said Sharma. “They’re excellent, but there still is a potential risk.”
People should assess their individual risk tolerance, she said.
“Each situation is a little bit different, but we’re not at a place, unfortunately, yet that we can say as soon as somebody has got a vaccine, that they can go back … and do all of those things that they were doing before,” she said.
But as we learn more about the vaccines in a real-world setting, the public health guidance could soon change.
Can fully-vaccinated seniors safely get together?
Yes. People who are fully vaccinated interacting with other fully vaccinated people is “pretty low-risk” said Sundaram.
Chagla agreed, and pointed out that there are long-term care facilities that have allowed their vaccinated seniors to have controlled group activities.
“If you have two people that are vaccinated together in a single room, they’re the lowest risk people in that sense,” he said.
Though all of the approved vaccines offer a high level of protection, they don’t offer 100 per cent protection, said Sharma.
“It’s possible someone who is vaccinated could still get and transmit COVID-19,” she said.
Public Health guidelines same for everyone in Canada
A spokesperson for Health Canada confirmed on Monday that PHAC has not updated its guidelines and for the time being and remain the same for everyone, whether vaccinated or not.
Meanwhile in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated guidelines to say it’s OK for fully vaccinated people to visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors, without wearing masks or physical distancing.
The CDC also says fully vaccinated people in the U.S. can “visit with unvaccinated people from a single household” without masks or physical distancing if they are “at low risk for severe COVID-19.”
It is important to note the number of fully vaccinated people in Canada remains low. As of Tuesday, only 1.5 per cent of the population has received two doses.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said Thursday that when it comes to funding for health care, the provinces aren’t looking for the federal government to be their “banker” — they’re looking for a “partner.”
He’s at least half right.
The premiers certainly aren’t looking for a banker, because bankers typically apply pretty stringent conditions to any money they hand out (and they usually expect you to pay it back).
For the same reasons, it’s not clear how much the premiers want a “partner” either. The money they seek is money they can spend without the federal government being able to say much of anything about it.
What the provinces actually seem to be looking for is a donor.
WATCH: Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister calls out Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on health transfers
The premiers held a virtual press conference today to warn Ottawa that health care transfers must be increased in this year’s federal budget. They told reporters that all governments need to work together to reduce the wait times Canadians face in getting care. 2:44
You can see the likely compromise here: the federal government increasing funding while acting like something in between a donor and partner. But underneath the political negotiation are some long-term questions about taxes, spending and debt — questions about whether governments at all levels will have enough money to do what citizens want or need them to do in the years ahead.
Officially, the premiers are demanding that the federal government give them enough funding through the Canada Health Transfer (CHT) to cover 35 per cent of all health care costs. There’s nothing particularly magical about the number — the last time federal cash transfers covered that share of health costs was in the mid-1970s. But the premiers have decided that it feels like a fair number, or a sufficiently ambitious opening bid.
In 1977, the federal government transferred “tax points” to the provinces — effectively reducing federal taxes so that provinces could raise theirs — to cover health care costs. The current Liberal government also has signed separate agreements to provide $ 11 billion over ten years to the provinces to cover specific costs related to mental health and home care.
The provinces have a point
Raising the CHT to cover 35 per cent of all health costs incurred by the provinces would amount to an increase of $ 28 billion in new annual spending for the federal government. The provinces argue that the federal government is in a better position to carry that cost. But that’s not the same as saying it would be easy.
The provinces have a case for calling on the federal government to pay more. The parliamentary budget officer’s latest fiscal sustainability report, released last November, repeated a warning that has been offered on a regular basis over the last several years: assuming that an aging population leads to rising health care costs, the combined “subnational” debt-to-GDP ratio will continue to climb unsustainably into the future.
According to the PBO, provinces would need to either raise taxes or cut annual spending by a combined $ 12 billion to stabilize their collective debt-to-GDP ratio at the pre-pandemic level of 24.1 per cent.
The federal government’s debt-to-GDP ratio, meanwhile, is set to decline over the long term. In fact, according to the PBO’s calculations, the federal government could cut taxes or increase spending by $ 19 billion and still expect to get back eventually to its pre-pandemic debt-to-GDP ratio of 28 per cent.
It’s time to talk about taxes
A transfer of $ 28 billion from the federal government to the provinces would flip those calculations. The premiers have their own report from the Conference Board of Canada that says the federal debt-to-GDP ratio would increase to 60 per cent and then very slowly decline to 57 per cent by 2038 — though the Conference Board calculates that provincial debt-to-GDP eventually would continue to rise.
It’s debatable what sort of debt-to-GDP ratio the federal government can now carry responsibly. While provincial conservatives might be happy to take that $ 28 billion, federal Conservatives might be even happier to criticize the federal debt levels that would result.
But it’s also possible that someone here needs to think about raising taxes — and most federal governments are going to be reluctant to surrender fiscal room to the provinces if it means those provinces can avoid raising taxes, or even cut them.
But Trudeau seems to be in no rush to start the health care aspect of that conversation. “As I’ve said to the premiers, we will be there to increase those transfers,” he told reporters on Friday. “But that conversation needs to happen once we are through this pandemic.”
Room for compromise
While the Liberals might be willing to increase the unconditional transfer to some degree, they also have other health care priorities that they’d like to pursue — expanding pharmacare and improving the conditions of long-term care (including a commitment to new national standards).
Put those things together and the provinces might end up with an offer to increase the federal contribution through a combination of conditional and unconditional funds — though perhaps not nearly equivalent to $ 28 billion in new money.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole has insisted that he would be prepared to increase the transfers without conditions. He’s also stopped short of saying that a Conservative government would actually put up the full $ 28 billion.
Barring a quick change in government, though, the premiers and the prime minister might realize — as any number of first ministers before them have done — that they’re ultimately tied together.
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When Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank welcomed their first child — a son —a few days ago, there was an official announcement from Buckingham Palace.
There was also comment from the palace a few days later as word spread that Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, are expecting their second child.
But in each case, any official royal comment almost seemed overshadowed by how the couples chose to initially spread their happy news, turning in particular to social media to share carefully curated black-and-white photographs that ultimately revealed few details.
Those photos, and the couples’ actions, provide insight into how life for those a little further down in the line of succession may evolve in a Royal Family that will have fewer working members.
“With some of the more junior royal babies who will not grow up to undertake full-time royal duties … it’s becoming more and more up to their parents to shape what degree of announcement takes place, or if there’s an announcement at all,” said Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris.
Take, for instance, how Harry and Eugenie’s cousin Zara Tindall and her husband, Mike Tindall, announced that they are expecting their third child: the former rugby player shared the news on his sports podcast late last year.
For Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, the arrival of their son — August Philip Hawke Brooksbank — was a bit more in keeping with some past royal births, although the new parents opted out of any kind of photo call before driving away from the hospital.
“There was some media interest in their departure from the hospital, but they didn’t do one of those occasions where the baby is presented to assembled media, even though it’s clear that media were gathering,” said Harris.
Eugenie did, however, share a photo on Instagram of the baby’s hand being held by the hands of his new parents, and more photos were released and posted Saturday.
The announcement last Sunday from Harry and Meghan, who are living in California, garnered international headlines. It also reflected themes emerging around the couple who, Buckingham Palace confirmed Friday, will not be returning to royal duties after stepping back as working members of the family last year. At that time, they talked of seeking a more private, independent life for themselves and their first child, Archie.
“Harry and Meghan are very much engaging with the media on their own terms,” said Harris.
But as they do that, how much and what kind of privacy are they ultimately seeking? For some observers, that’s been a matter of debate.
One tabloid headline — “Publicity-shy woman tells 7.67 billion people: I’m pregnant” in the Daily Star — attracted attention in recent days, with some calling it mean-spirited and others feeling it captured a certain irony of the moment.
The announcement of Meghan’s pregnancy came a few days after she won a privacy case against the Mail on Sunday newspaper over publication of excerpts from a letter to her father and just before a U.S. television network said that it will broadcast an interview with Meghan by celebrity host Oprah Winfrey. Later in the show, which will air on March 7, they will be joined by Harry.
The new babies — those recently arrived or on the horizon — will be great-grandchildren to Queen Elizabeth, but among that generation, their paths in life will likely vary widely depending on how close they are to the throne.
For Prince George, third in the line of succession, and his younger siblings, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, children of Prince William and Kate, the path looks a little more clear.
“George, Charlotte and Louis all have the title of his or her royal highness and an expectation of undertaking full-time royal duties, whereas their cousins and second cousins do not, and as they grow older will probably find that they drop out of the public eye,” said Harris.
Still, they may attract attention now and then.
“Even in the past, comparatively junior members of the Royal Family who lived more private lives still attracted some media interest simply because of these royal connections — even those who had quite distant royal connections,” said Harris, pointing to how a few years ago, the Daily Mail tracked down the person who was last in line to throne.
Archie and his new brother or sister in particular may draw a bit more attention than others of their generation, simply because of who their parents are.
“It’s not surprising that Archie and his sibling … seventh and eighth in line to the throne, are going to attract a great deal of media attention both as members of the Royal Family and because their parents are famous people in their own right,” said Harris.
What’s private and what’s public?
The question of royal privacy was also at play in recent days as news reports focused on a British parliamentary process known as Queen’s Consent and delved into whether Elizabeth might have lobbied the U.K. government to change a draft law in order to conceal her private wealth.
The Guardian reported that government memos discovered in the National Archives show that in the 1970s, the Queen put pressure on government ministers to change proposed legislation “to prevent her shareholdings from being disclosed to the public.”
Buckingham Palace said Elizabeth was shown legislation that might have forced her to reveal her private finances “by convention,” the BBC reported.
On the Royal Family’s website, it says there is “a long established convention that the Queen is asked by Parliament to provide consent (which is different to assent) for the debating of bills which would affect the prerogative or interests of the Crown.”
Consent has not been withheld in modern times, the website said, except when advised by the government.
For those outside the palace and Parliament, it could all seem a bit murky.
“It’s a further example of what I call the confused distinction between what is private and what is public when it comes to the monarchy,” Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, said via email.
“Indeed, the law has struggled with the idea of the Queen owning property privately, because once upon a time all land simply belonged to the Crown — it gets confusing very quickly.”
Queen’s Consent was considered a formality, Prescott said, “just a part of the parliamentary process that was perhaps thought to be … a historical hangover as much as anything.”
But the Guardian “has given examples of where it appears that there is a bit more to it than that, especially when the interests of the Queen, or the Prince of Wales, through the Duchy of Cornwall, are involved,” Prescott said.
Still, this doesn’t appear to veer significantly into the realm of royal meddling.
“The examples revealed by the Guardian show that the Queen, or her advisers, have not sought to change government policy in general, but consider how it applies to the Crown, and especially the Queen’s own personal estate,” Prescott said.
“The concern is that the monarch could use this procedure to really place their stamp on government policy, perhaps indicating where they disagree and would like government policy to be changed…. There is no evidence that this is the case.”
And there’s no evidence any version of Queen’s Consent could now reach into Commonwealth countries.
“The U.K. Parliament no longer has the power to legislate for Commonwealth countries such as Canada or Australia,” said Prescott.
Prince Philip in hospital
Prince Philip continues to rest at a central London hospital, where he was admitted earlier this week after feeling unwell.
As is the general custom when it comes to matters of royal health, there have been few details released about his condition.
But royal sources have reportedly described Queen Elizabeth’s husband as being in good spirits when he went into hospital and said that the admission came as a precautionary measure and was not related to COVID-19.
Philip, 99, and Elizabeth, 94, both had their first COVID-19 vaccinations last month.
“The thing that really resonated with me when I started to understand better what it means to have more women around a peacebuilding table was the effect of how peace can last for longer.”
— Sophie, Countess of Wessex, as she took part in an online seminar to talk about the importance of promoting the work of women peacebuilders in conflict zones.
Royals in Canada
The pandemic and ongoing travel restrictions mean royal visits to Canada are unlikely any time soon, but the Royal Family did draw attention to the country the other day.
As Britain was marking the 50th anniversary of decimalization of its currency, the Royal Family’s Twitter feed was diving into monetary trivia, and it came up with a Canadian angle related to the monarch.
In 1935, Canada became the first country in the world to use her image on its currency, when it printed the then nine-year-old Princess Elizabeth on the $ 20 bill.
From Australia to Antigua, Trinidad to Tuvalu, The Queen’s portrait has graced the currencies of 35 different countries — more than any other individual in history.<br><br>📸 Canada was the first to use her image in 1935, when it printed the then 9-year-old Princess on its $ 20 notes. <a href=”https://t.co/3sgPJN4HFT”>pic.twitter.com/3sgPJN4HFT</a>
Since then, and particularly after she became Queen in 1952, there have been numerous images of the Queen on Canadian bills and coins.
Four effigies of Elizabeth have appeared on circulation coins, with new versions introduced in 1953, 1965, 1990 and 2003.
The Royal Canadian Mint also issued a special 50-cent Golden Jubilee circulation coin in 2002, replicating the effigy of Elizabeth that appeared on the 1953 Canadian coronation medallion, a Mint spokesperson said via email.
Elizabeth’s image has also appeared in numerous renditions on bills over eight decades.
In 2015, to mark the Queen becoming the longest-reigning monarch in Canada’s modern era, the Bank of Canada issued a commemorative $ 20 note.
The most current image of the Queen on Canada’s bank notes is based on a photograph taken in 2010, a bank spokesperson said via email.
The portrait on the $ 20 bill issued two years later was taken by Ian Jones and commissioned by the bank.
The images of the Queen on the bills and coins in wallets and pockets across the country seem unlikely to be altered in the near future.
The mint said there are no plans to change the image on circulation coins and the bank said it has no plans at this time to redesign the current $ 20 note featuring the Queen.
On the streets of Yangon, the mood captured by news cameras seems friendly, even festive. Young people with brightly painted faces and determined looks fill parks and intersections day after day. Their signs ask “Where is democracy?”
Not here. For all the upbeat music and colourful costumes, worry weighs heavily on a Myanmar whose uneven march toward real people power has been blocked by a military with other plans. For all the talk of a peaceful transition to democracy, tanks block roads and soldiers shoot protestors. A 20 year-old woman died this week after being hit with a real bullet.
The country’s military coup, now three weeks old, is settling into a tense standoff with the generals on one side and a wide swath of Myanmar’s civilian population on the other, vowing not to give up until they achieve full democracy.
Coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing took charge after sweeping aside the results of an election last year which saw Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party score a landslide victory. Suu Kyi is now being held, charged with a few minor offences to justify her detention.
Hlaing has promised a new multiparty vote next February, and to “hand over power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy.”
For the teens and twenty-somethings on the streets, the shock is real — perhaps greater than the generals have bargained for.
The youth grew up with very different expectations.
“We are young, we have a future,” said Nyi Nyi Nyang, a 24 year-old playing electric guitar to the protest lyrics. “But this dictatorship can destroy all our dreams.”
He is a digital marketer, a job that didn’t even exist here until a decade ago, he told a freelance CBC News crew. That’s when a previous military dictatorship’s barriers to the outside world started crumbling and the internet flooded in. It spread from one per cent to over 43 per cent penetration, bringing mobile phones, social media and a new vision of western freedoms — not to mention new ways of organizing opposition being used in places like Hong Kong and Bangkok.
Young people have embraced all that.
“We want peaceful change,” said a protestor who goes by the initial M, and reached by CBC by telephone. “We don’t have guns. Our hands are empty, only the mobile phones.”
But they are not the only ones who protest the military’s actions in increasing numbers. A widespread civil disobedience movement — popularly known as CDM — has brought the country’s government and the generals’ cash flow to a near standstill.
Doctors and nurses were the first to stop obeying official orders, immediately after the coup. They were joined by many civil servants, bank employees and rail workers who went on strike. Every day, cars block key intersections, their hoods up under the pretence of mechanical trouble.
People have also started boycotting corporations owned by the generals: from Myanmar Beer to Red Ruby cigarettes, from banks to bowling alleys. For them, losing power could also mean losing this lucrative stream of extra income.
WATCH | Doctors and nurses refuse to obey orders under military coup:
Myanmar’s military government has laid several charges against the country’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the coup. The charges are seen as a way of keeping her in custody while the military tightens its grip during a state of emergency. 1:59
In response to the protests, the army has given itself broad new powers of search and arrest, and has made penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent with tough prison terms. It has arrested more than 500 people, including Suu Kyi and other leaders of the NLD. And it has launched a nightly curfew, regular internet outages, and raids across the country, under the cover of darkness.
The impasse is real and it is unpredictable, says Thant Myint-U, a historian and author of The Hidden History of Burma. He’s worked with the United Nations and as a special advisor to the president of Myanmar. His grandfather was former UN Secretary General U Thant.
“We’re in uncharted territory,” he said in an interview with CBC News from Bangkok. “If the military begins to buckle as a result of these protests, then it’s hard to see exactly where things might go.”
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been in similar situations before. Under previous generals, it was a military dictatorship for half a century before 2010, a starkly unequal society divided along lines of race, poverty and power.
When people demanded more democracy in 1988 — holding nationwide protests and work stoppages, enlisting the support of civil servants and indeed the police — the army responded with deadly force. Hundreds of civilians were killed before the military regained control.
Since then, the generals have been careful to cede power only under their terms.
“That didn’t happen because of protests. That didn’t happen because of a grassroots revolution. That didn’t happen because of [international] sanctions,” said Myint-U.
“It happened because the generals were confident. They themselves wanted to move along a certain path toward giving up a little bit of power.”
But Myint-U says this is a different era, and with this month’s coup they may have miscalculated.
“I don’t think they counted on the kind of really visceral anti-military feeling that they’ve unleashed over these past couple of weeks,” he said.
“They thought they could do this in a fairly easy way, that they would take over. They would put Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. They would probably deregister [her political party] the NLD. They would have new elections. And then the parties that were friendly to them would somehow win the elections.”
But despite the opposition — and the social and generational changes — sweeping Myanmar, Myint-U doesn’t anticipate splits in the close-knit military which could lead to a street-level victory for the protestors.
“This is not an army that’s ever broken ranks,” he said. And for all the influence of the internet and other ways Myanmar has opened up, “almost everything has been done to keep the army itself relatively isolated from the rest of the world.”
So far, the generals have been undeterred by sanctions imposed on them Thursday by Canada and the UK for army “repression” and human rights abuses or by similar sanctions imposed by the United States. General Hlaing seems indifferent to demands from the U.S., India, Japan and Australia, that he “swiftly restore the democratic system” or to calls by the UN to avoid using force on civilians.
Still, the protestors persist.
Twenty-four year old Phyo Thandar Kyaw says they are afraid, just like earlier generations fighting for democracy in Myanmar.
“My mom told me about what happened in the 1988 uprisings and how they were scared,” she says. “Now I feel like it’s happening again.”
But as fellow protestor Yan Naung Soe adds, this time “we have more educated young generations and more solutions.” More ways, they insist, to defeat the old generals.
House prosecutors concluded two days of emotional arguments in Donald Trump’s impeachment trial late Thursday, insisting the Capitol invaders believed they were acting on “the president’s orders” to stop Joe Biden’s election
The prosecutors argued the defeated president’s pattern of spreading false and violent rhetoric will continue to vex American politics if left unchecked.
The prosecutors described in stark, personal terms the horror they faced that day, some of it in the very Senate chamber where Trump’s trial is underway. They displayed the many public and explicit instructions Trump gave his supporters — long before the White House rally that unleashed the deadly Capitol attack as Congress was certifying Biden’s victory.
Five people died in the chaos and its aftermath, a domestic attack unparalleled in U.S. history.
Videos of rioters, some posted to social medial by themselves, talked about how they were doing it all for Trump.
The House of Representatives has charged Trump, a Republican, with inciting an insurrection.
WATCH | Democrats use Republican officials’ own words condemning Trump’s complicity to make their case:
House manager Joe Neguse used Republicans’ video statements about Trump’s involvement in encouraging the riot to further the Democrats’ argument that he incited violence. 2:08
“We were invited here,” said one rioter. “Trump sent us,” said another. “He’ll be happy. We’re fighting for Trump.” Five people died.
“They truly believed that the whole intrusion was at the president’s orders,” said Rep. Diana DeGette of Colorado. “The president told them to be there.”
She went on to say, “This was not a hidden crime. The president told them to be there, so they actually believed they would face no punishment.”
The prosecutors drew a direct line from his repeated comments condoning and even celebrating violence — praising “both sides” after the 2017 outbreak at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia — and urging his rally crowd last month to go to the Capitol and fight for his presidency. He spread false claims about election fraud, even there has been no evidence of it, and urged his supporters to “stop the steal” of the presidency.
Lead impeachment manager Jamie Raskin said that the litany of examples showed “obvious intent” as Trump told his supporters to come to Washington, and then to “fight like hell” just before they laid siege to the U.S. Capitol.
Raskin showed clips of Trump encouraging violence and also sanctioning violence afterward — including his telling a crowd to “knock the crap out of” a protester at one of his speeches. He told the crowd that he would pay their legal fees if they did. Another clip showed him saying it was “very, very appropriate” when some of his supporters attacked a protester at a Trump event. “That’s what we need a little bit more of,” Trump said.
‘Trump would do it again’
And, said Raskin, Trump would do it again if he were elected in the future. “Is there any politician leader in this room who believes if he’s ever allowed by the Senate to get back into the Oval Office, Donald Trump would stop inciting violence to get his way?” he asked.
“Would you bet the lives of more police officers on that? Would you bet the safety of your family on that? Would you bet the future of your democracy on that?”
In urging senators to convict Trump, Raskin said Trump knew that if he egged them on, “his most extreme followers would show up bright and early, ready to attack, ready to engage in violence, ready to fight like hell for their hero.”
House impeachment manager Rep. David Cicilline plays video at Trump’s impeachment trial of two staffers who recount what it was like to be hiding in the U.S. Capitol as rioters gained access and shots were fired on Jan. 6. 1:19
Raskin implored senators in his closing speech Thursday to exercise “common sense about what just took place in our country” and find Trump guilty of inciting an insurrection.
He said senators have the power under the Constitution to find Trump guilty of having betrayed the oath of office the nation’s founders wrote into the Constitution.
Another impeachment manager warned senators that acquitting Trump could have lasting consequences for the country. Rep. Joe Neguse said that “if we pretend this didn’t happen, or worse, if we let it go unanswered, who’s to say it won’t happen again.”
Trump team arguments begin tomorrow
Trump’s lawyers will launch their defence on Friday. They are expected to argue that his words were protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment and just a figure of speech.
According to Trump senior adviser Jason Miller, they are planning to begin and wrap up their defence in his impeachment trial in less than a day, using far fewer than their allotted argument hours.
The House managers spent much of Wednesday recounting the events that led to the riot and highlighting the threat to former vice-president Mike Pence.
‘Hang Mike Pence’
Senators on Wednesday were shown searing security footage the pro-Trump mob stalking the Capitol hallways chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” and searching for Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Previously unseen videos showed the view from inside the Capitol as rioters smashed windows and fought with police, coming within 30 metres of the room where Pence was sheltering with his family. The mob had set up a gallows outside.
WATCH | A recap of Wednsday’s presentation by the impeachment managers:
The Democrats used never-before-seen footage of the Capitol Hill riots as they laid out their case that the attackers were incited by the former president. 3:34
The footage, which also included body-camera views of brutal attacks on Capitol police, showed Pence and lawmakers being hustled to safety steps ahead of an advancing mob. Five people who were at the Capitol died that day, including a police officer and a woman who was fatally shot by Capitol Police.
Trump had repeatedly said Pence had the power to stop the certification of the election results, even though he did not.
“The mob was looking for Vice-President Pence,” Representative Stacey Plaskett said, narrating footage that showed the crowd threatening Pence and searching for Pelosi.
Trump singled out targets
“President Trump put a target on their backs and then his mob broke into the Capitol to hunt them down,” she said.
Democrats face a difficult task in securing a Senate conviction and barring Trump from ever again seeking public office. A two-thirds majority in the Senate must vote to convict, which means at least 17 Republicans would have to defy Trump and his continued popularity among Republican voters.
The ‘Not Guilty’ vote is growing after today. <br><br>I think most Republicans found the presentation by the House Managers offensive and absurd.
“I am holding out hope that the forcefulness of this argument will still sway some. I believe there are more Republicans that are open to conviction than is publicly clear at this point,” said Democratic Senator Chris Coons.
But while several Republican senators said the footage showed on Wednesday was emotional, many added it did not change their minds.
“I didn’t see a case there that a prosecutor can make in court against the president,” Republican Senator Roy Blunt said.
“Today’s presentation was powerful and emotional, reliving a terrorist attack on our nation’s capital, but there was very little said about how specific conduct of the president satisfies a legal standard,” added Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
By Thursday, senators sitting through a second full day of arguments appeared somewhat fatigued, slouching in their chairs, crossing their arms and walking around to stretch.
Republican, Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, said during a break: “To me, they’re losing credibility the longer they talk.”
Trump is the first U.S. president to be impeached twice and the first to face trial after leaving office. His first impeachment trial, which stemmed from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden, ended in an acquittal a year ago in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate.
Myanmar’s democracy has been widely celebrated but never certain. It was a hope, of its people and of the Western world, a desire that may have been just a fragile fantasy.
Yes, five years ago the outgoing military government seemed content to hand over much of its power. That was when Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in the country’s first popular elections.
Indeed, at the time, the old government’s newspaper called for “genuine national reconciliation” and even pointed out the dangers of rule by generals. “Military might alone cannot unite people, and may even lead to war and bloodshed,” it proclaimed.
Nobody in a Myanmar military uniform is saying that now — not as soldiers round up de facto leader Suu Kyi and members of her civilian government, rejecting the results of an even bigger election victory for the NLD over the generals’ proxy parties and staging a military coup. Their justification is an allegation of “election fraud” that’s been dismissed by Myanmar’s election commission.
After declaring a state of emergency, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and a platoon of senior officers will run the country undemocratically for the next year, just as previous military leaders ran Myanmar for 50 years before its first democratic government was elected in 2015.
But the fact is, even as civilian politicians passed laws and Suu Kyi represented the country at glittering state visits to Beijing, London and Washington, even as Myanmar was held up as an imperfect but inspiring example of peaceful transition to democracy, the generals never gave up power.
The coup was their answer, says Yun Sun, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, a non-partisan think-tank based in Washington, D.C.
“It’s an unsettled contest,” Sun, who specializes in East Asia, said via Skype. “Although we may have seen the democratic process progressing slowly, the core issue of civilian-military relations in Myanmar has never been definitively answered.”
Back in 2008, the generals drafted a constitution that “carved out the protections they wanted for their political privileges,” she said.
WATCH | Myanmar coup sparks international condemnation:
The military has seized power in Myanmar and detained Aung San Suu Kyi as well as other elected officials, sparking international concern for the Rohingya minority, many of whom fled past military crackdowns. 1:58
It guarantees them a quarter of the seats in parliament, the right to name key ministers of defence and of the interior, and to the ability to declare a state of emergency that effectively unravels the democratic gains — as they have now done.
Their roadmap was to what they called a “discipline-flourishing democracy,” one that dangled the carrot of a multi-party civilian system, with generals holding the stick of “discipline” if they didn’t like the results.
If they felt the “chill” of the people’s rejection, as Sun put it, and the threat that a popular government would take away their constitutional powers.
‘If there’s any group of people on the planet that needs this less, it’s the people of Myanmar’
That was the minefield Suu Kyi tried to navigate for the past five years, striving to satisfy her supporters’ desire for freedom — and the belief they had finally won it — while holding off the military threat. Living up to her image as an international icon of the democratic struggle, the honours of a Nobel Peace Prize and other accolades was an extra, super-human challenge.
In the end, she failed at all of this, likely tainting her role as flag-bearer for Myanmar’s democracy movement.
“The people of Myanmar have been through so much,” said Tom Andrews, the UN’s special rapporteur on Myanmar, told CBC News in a phone interview. “They’ve lived under brutal military regimes for some time. They’re gripped with this pandemic. They are battling an economy that has them on their heels. If there’s any group of people on the planet that needs this less, it’s the people of Myanmar.”
WATCH | Bob Rae calls for internationally co-ordinated response to Myanmar coup:
Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, weighs in on the coup in Myanmar and calls for an internationally coordinated response: “If you have individual countries going off and doing different things, it doesn’t have any impact.” 3:47
Suu Kyi tried to reassure the generals of their influence, involving them in government decisions and justifying their actions in a scorched-earth military campaign to kill or drive the Rohingya minority out of Myanmar.
“She clearly was not happy with being put in the public position of having to defend the army around the world,” said Bob Rae, Canada’s UN ambassador and Ottawa’s former special envoy on Myanmar. “And at the same time, not have the ability to basically control them.”
“This really is the nub of the issue between her and the military,” Rae said on the CBC’s The Current.
International community may have played a role
She reportedly hasn’t had direct contact with Hliang in more than a year.
Suu Kyi’s Myanmar also disappointed North American and European leaders, who might have hoped for a Western-oriented transformation.
Betrayed by her unwillingness to defend the Rohingya and uphold human rights, they ostracised Myanmar and imposed sanctions on its military leaders.
But in so doing, the Western world seems to have driven Myanmar back into the arms of China, which was ready to finance huge infrastructure projects for dams and deep sea ports, pipelines and energy ventures.
Suu Kyi may have been suspicious of Beijing’s motives, says Sun. “She was not willing to do everything the Chinese wanted her to do,” she said.
Myanmar’s leader was trying to balance “how to benefit [Myanmar’s] economy without sacrificing the country’s security,” she said.
China may offer a lifeline
In the end, though, Myanmar had no choice in signing big deals with China and may have even fewer options now.
Despite this, China hasn’t signalled its support for the coup — simply “noting” the events and hoping that “all sides … can appropriately handle their differences.”
Beijing’s relations with Myanmar’s generals haven’t been entirely smooth and a years-old dispute over Chinese meddling in ethnic insurgencies near the border between the countries has left suspicion on both sides.
Still, with the United States and the West threatening increased sanctions against the new military government, China may well gain influence and financial leverage over Myanmar by default — an irresistible financial lifeline.
The generals may have taken power in Myanmar, their efforts to guarantee control may have been successful for now. But it’s not clear if that victory will last.
WATCH | Protest against the coup in Yangon:
The sound of banging pots and car horns reverberated through Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, in the first widespread protest against the military coup. 0:33
With the Western world’s hopes and efforts at democracy-building dashed, it is lining up against them.
And Myanmar itself isn’t the same country it was before this tentative transition to people power. No longer cut off from the rest of the world as it was a decade ago, citizens have watched, witnessed and absorbed democratic trends through their leaders and smart phones.
More than ever, they see themselves as voters, political participants and even activists who aren’t willing to accept the generals’ “disciplined democracy.”
At least, not without making noise, as they were in the city of Yangon last night — with videos showing them clanging pots and blaring horns expressing their anger.