Tag Archives: Winnipeg

This Winnipeg lab confirmed Canada’s 1st case of COVID-19. Then it set to work helping manage the crisis

On Jan. 23, 2020, doctors at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre admitted a 56-year-old man with what appeared to be mild pneumonia. Two days later, he was “Patient Zero” — the first COVID-19 case in Canada.

Four days late, it was senior research scientist Nathalie Bastien’s team at the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg that confirmed the case.

“When you want to become a scientist, when you’re a young kid, this is what you dream of, to be part of helping people and saving lives in a way by stopping the spread of the virus,” Bastien said in a recent interview from her lab. “It’s rewarding.”

Senior research scientist Nathalie Bastien and spent years after the SARS epidemic developing a universal test that could detect any type of coronavirus, but they weren’t sure it would work on the new virus, known as SARS-CoV-2 until they got the sample last January. (Public Health Agency of Canada)

Bastien’s work is one example of 150 different COVID-19 projects at the national lab, which is is the only Level 4 lab in Canada, capable of handling the world’s deadliest pathogens. 

Many of those projects are done in collaboration with academia, industry and public health partners, and more than 50 of them are related to pre-clinical research, including clinical trials in animals, testing of antibody-based therapeutics and vaccine collaborations.

It’s all part of nearly $ 2 billion in funding the lab has received in the last year as part of Ottawa’s COVID-19 pandemic response, although the lab would not give a breakdown of how that money is spent.

“Obviously, collaborating in an environment that is fast-moving, like a pandemic response, has its challenges but the willingness to work together to achieve that common goal, which is, ultimately, to protect Canadians, has been really rewarding to see,” acting scientific general Dr. Guillaume Poliquin said in a recent interview with CBC News.

Dr. Guillaume Poliquin, centre, is the acting scientific director general of the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg. (Warren Kay/CBC)

For Bastien, an expert on respiratory viruses such as the flu, SARS and H1N1, Canada’s first presumed positive case of this pandemic was an opportunity to see if years of work would pay off.

After the SARS epidemic, her team had developed a universal molecular PCR lab test that they hoped would be able to detect any coronavirus.

However, they weren’t certain it would work on SARS-CoV-2 until that first sample arrived at their Winnipeg lab.

It did work. And since then, the lab has made that first-generation test even more sensitive. Those efforts have led to the standardized PCR test now used in labs across Canada.

During the early days of the pandemic, all samples were sent to the NML from provincial and territorial public health labs to confirm the presumptive results.

The NML still helps provinces and territories if their labs are overwhelmed and also supports the PCR molecular laboratory tests being done at the border to confirm or rule out active COVID-19 infections.

As well, it’s constantly doing surveillance for variants of concern.

“We’re still working like crazy,” Bastien said.

Made-in-Canada supply chain

Scientists at the lab also stepped in to solve one of the early stumbling blocks of the pandemic, a global shortage in lab supplies and equipment needed to test swabs from possible COVID-19 patients. 

This was especially true for reagents, the chemicals needed to extract the genetic material from samples.

As backlogs for testing grew, the need for a “Made in Canada” solution became apparent.

“Half jokingly, we thought: ‘Well, if we can’t buy it, can we make it?'” Poliquin said.

Allen Grolla, pictured in West Africa in 2014. Grolla has analyzed lethal pathogens such as Ebola and Marburg where outbreaks of the deadly viruses occur, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, Kenya, Bangladesh, Hong Kong and Guandong, China. (SYLVAIN CHERKAOUI/Doctors Without Borders)

So NML managers called up biologist Allen Grolla, known as a problem-solving MacGyver. 

Grolla was enjoying his first month of retirement but agreed to return to work. 

His task was to find the right chemical cocktail to create a reagent that public health labs across the country could use to diagnose COVID-19. By April 2020, the reagent was being manufactured at New Brunswick-based LuminUltra Technologies Ltd. and shipped to public health labs across Canada.

“When we started down the pandemic road, there was a capacity to do a few thousand tests [a day]. In Canada, the latest capacity figures are over 200,000 tests per day,” Poliquin said. “Sometimes, the crisis averted is not as glamorous as the crisis solved. But at the end of the day, that’s the one that’s most important.”  

Developing vaccines

NML scientists were the ones who developed the world’s first approved Ebola vaccine, which helped save lives in Africa. So when the coronavirus pandemic emerged last year, NML scientists started developing in-house SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates.

Health Canada has approved four COVID-19 vaccines: Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson. (CBC)

There are currently four approved vaccines in Canada, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca-Oxford and Johnson & Johnson, but NML is focused on developing ones that could be effective against some of the variants of concern. There is one promising candidate that has started pre-clinical trials in animal model testing, Poliquin said.

The lab is also conducting animal tests of vaccine candidates being developed at Canadian university and industry labs to see if they’re ready for human trials.

Early warning system

Another project the lab is working on is a study with the Canadian Water Network that monitors the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. The NML is providing technical guidance to labs across the country and helping them make reliable comparisons of data across communities.

Poliquin said that work made a difference in the Northwest Territories last December, when the lab alerted public health officials to community spread.

“They were seeing an increase in the amount of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their wastewater in the community, where they knew of a single case that was isolated,” Poliquin said. 

“That really didn’t jibe with what we were observing. The Northwest Territories, in response, did some proactive testing and identified another five individuals that were then isolated. And from there, the signal intensity decreased. So I think that’s compelling evidence that using wastewater as an early warning system can, in fact, help avert larger outbreaks.”

The NML is providing technical guidance to communities testing their wastewater for the coronavirus. Here, researchers at the University of Ottawa test that city’s wastewater. (Pierre-Paul Couture/CBC News )

Quick investment is key

Dr. David Butler-Jones has been watching to see how his former colleagues are managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

He was Canada’s first chief public health officer between 2004 and 2014 and co-ordinated the response during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak, which resulted in 428 confirmed deaths in Canada. An estimated 40 per cent of Canadians were immunized in a national vaccination campaign that began in October 2009. 

Butler-Jones also led the Public Health Agency of Canada from its creation and directed PHAC’s efforts to build up and co-ordinate provincial public health systems.  

Dr. David Butler-Jones was Canada’s first chief public health officer from 2004 to 2014. He says Canada learned from the SARS epidemic that funnelling money quickly into research is key when a crisis hits. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

While he says he’s seen a “diminishment in funding” in PHAC and NML’s budgets since 2012, Butler-Jones is pleased one of the big recommendations after SARS has been followed — funnelling money quickly into research where and when it’s needed.

Often, it can take more than a year between concept and development to writing proposals and receiving funding.

“When you’re in the midst of a pandemic or a crisis, you need that money now and you need to do the research,” Butler-Jones said.

Not the time to celebrate

Back in Toronto, public health officials have set up a field hospital in the parking lot of Sunnybrook Hospital’s Bayview campus with 100 beds to take the stress off the intensive-care wards as they prepare for a possible third wave of the pandemic.

A mobile field hospital, pictured March 10, 2021, is being assembled in an empty parking lot at the Bayview campus of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto amid fears of a third wave of COVID-19. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Poliquin knows his own teams have been working full-out for more than a year. He hopes they eventually get a break and the thanks they deserve.

“We’ve all been so busy,” he said. “It’s been less of a time to sit back and reflect on our successes and more of a time to put our heads down and get the work done.

“I think there will be a time and a need to celebrate everything that was achieved.… But the work isn’t done yet.”

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CBC | Health News

Widespread closures in Winnipeg as region moves to code red pandemic response starting Monday

Broad shutdowns will start in Winnipeg and surrounding areas on Monday as Manitoba moves its capital area to the red, or critical, level — the highest stage of its pandemic response scale — following days of record-shattering COVID-19 case announcements.

Movie theatres, concert halls, sports facilities and restaurant dining rooms in the region will be ordered to close starting Monday, as officials struggle to control a rising tide of cases.

Elective and non-urgent surgeries and diagnostic procedures in the region will be suspended to preserve capacity in a strained health-care system, said Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin on Friday.

“You can just see these numbers in the last week, the strain on our health-care system … we were left with no choice,” said Roussin. “We have to deal with this virus and the transmission now.”

The rest of Manitoba will move up to the orange, or restricted, level starting Monday, Roussin said. The order will limit gathering sizes to five and reduce capacity in public-facing businesses.

The new measures will be in place for at least two weeks, Roussin said Friday.

They come as Manitoba announced a record-breaking 480 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, although that number includes cases identified over the past several days due to a backlog in reporting, Roussin said.

A total of 104 people are in hospital due to COVID-19, including 79 in Winnipeg, as of Friday. Nineteen patients are in intensive care, and Manitoba’s ICU capacity is at 96 per cent, said Lanette Siragusa, chief nursing officer for Shared Health.

“The numbers today will strike fear in many Manitobans,” Siragusa said.

“I speak to our [health-care] staff, as much as I speak to the public, when I say that I know that you are scared.”

Closures in the Winnipeg region will also extend to museums, libraries and galleries. Restaurants may still offer take-out and delivery services. Fitness facilities will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity and masks are mandatory, even while exercising.

WATCH | ‘No choice’ but to tighten restrictions, chief public health officer says:

While widespread closures and capacity restrictions have significant impacts on people, Manitoba’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin says a concerning trend of rising COVID-19 cases and strain on the healthcare system in recent days forced the province to introduce the latest round of rules meant to slow the spread of the illness. 0:42

Visitation at hospitals in the area will be suspended, with case-by-case exceptions for patients receiving end-of-life care, in labour and pediatric patients.

No changes will be made to schools in the Winnipeg area, which are already at the restricted orange level, the province said. Retail stores in the region must limit capacity to 25 per cent or five people, whichever is higher.

“We are at a turning point right now,” Roussin said. “If we don’t make a dramatic change, we’re going to see our health-care system significantly strained.”

‘Today is a hard day’

Across Manitoba, outside of Winnipeg, the orange-level restrictions will reduce capacity at restaurants, bars, retail stores, museums, galleries and libraries to 50 per cent.

The province is encouraging Manitobans to limit the number of people from each household who go shopping.

A variety of establishments outside the city area — including movie theatres, concert halls, libraries and more — must collect and keep contact information for people who enter. Casinos in those regions must close.

The announcement comes hours after several Manitoba doctors signed and published a letter to the premier and health minister in the Winnipeg Free Press urging government to lock down.

Health officials have plans to expand health-care system capacity, including converting beds and creating new ones outside of hospitals for the least-sick, non-COVID-19 patients, in order to make room for COVID-19 cases, Siragusa said.

“Today is a hard day,” she said. “It’s really difficult to give the messages and I’m sure it’s difficult to hear them.”

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CBC | Health News

Mother mystified by Winnipeg toddler’s ‘terrifying’ condition after coming down with COVID-19

Doctors are investigating the case of a Winnipeg toddler with symptoms suggesting a rare, inflammatory illness potentially linked to COVID-19, the girl’s mother says.

The 21-month-old child is fighting to recover, even after she no longer tested positive for COVID-19.

The mother says health-care providers treating her daughter are concerned the girl may have developed Kawasaki disease, which is also known as multi-system inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C) in children.

Inflammatory syndromes can result from the body’s reaction to new viruses — not just the new coronavirus. But doctors in Canada, and scientists around the world, are investigating for a link to COVID-19.

Public health officials say no cases of the conditions connected with COVID-19 have been confirmed in Manitoba so far.

“Honestly, it’s just terrifying … Doctors don’t have the answers,” said the girl’s mother, who CBC is not naming due to concern about stigma.

The toddler’s parents didn’t know what to make of her symptoms. She had a red, puffy rash, vomiting and diarrhea, a tender abdomen and a recurring fever that spiked to 38.9 C (102 F).

“She refused to eat, barely had anything to drink,” said her mother.

Pediatricians they contacted were cautious about sending the child to a hospital, and told the mother to try Tylenol, thinking the girl had a flu.

On April 28, two days after the girl’s symptoms arose, the family learned the husband had been exposed to a co-worker who later tested positive for COVID-19.

They went for testing immediately, and blood work confirmed the toddler had COVID-19, the mother said.

WATCH | Toronto doctor answers questions about inflammatory syndrome following COVID-19

Dr. Samir Gupta said some children are showing symptoms of a rare disease that resembles Kawasaki syndrome, but it’s not certain that’s what they have. 5:53

At that point, Manitoba had fewer than 25 active cases of the disease and was announcing plans for reopening.

“It was absolutely devastating,” the mother said. “How could it possibly be COVID … with the cases being so low?”

‘More unknowns than knowns’

A provincial spokesperson said since Kawasaki disease isn’t required to be reported in Manitoba, officials can’t confirm investigations into the illness in Manitoba.

The spokesperson said Manitoba pediatric infectious disease experts are in constant communication with specialists in Ontario and Quebec.

Hospitals in Ontario, Quebec, B.C. and Alberta are examining possible cases of MIS-C. Experts say the illness is difficult to diagnose and cases remain ill defined.

“There are way more unknowns than knowns,” said Rae Yeung, a professor of pediatrics, immunology and medical sciences at the University of Toronto, and staff pediatrician and rheumatologist at the Hospital for Sick Children.

“Right now, the big challenge is that there is not one diagnostic test … that can actually tell us whether a child has MIS-C or Kawasaki disease, [which are] all one hyper-inflammatory syndrome,” said Yeung.

“As we’re learning, the one common denominator is that they have massive immune activation. But many things can cause massive immune activation.”

When she’s not sick, the child in Winnipeg is “very chatty. She’s energetic, running around,” said her mother. 

COVID-19 sucked that energy away as the toddler mostly slept.

Eventually, “she was only awake approximately three hours in a 24-hour period,” her mother said.

After she tested positive, doctors admitted the toddler to the hospital for treatment and testing to rule out anything else that may have been making her sicker.

Initially, doctors hoped her body could fight off the disease on its own, her mother said. But the family has been in and out of the hospital for weeks as her condition remained serious.

Last week, the toddler’s health took a turn for the worse. But on May 28, tests showed she’s now negative for COVID-19 and is fighting a new medical battle.

Doctors then raised the possibility of MIS-C or Kawasaki, the mother said, and will now begin further tests to help understand exactly what is making her daughter so ill.

“You just kind of feel helpless because you can’t make [your children] feel better,” she said.

“You don’t want to see them sick, especially with something so serious as a pandemic. You just wish you could take their pain away.”

The syndrome with many names

Yeung calls MIS-C “the syndrome with many different names,” because depending on where you are in the world, it might be called different things.

“I think this is part of the reason why it’s led to some confusion and a lot of anxiety, in fact, among not only families, but also caregivers and health-care professionals,” she said.

Much of what’s known about the disease remains hypothetical, she said, and research is needed to understand more. At its core, the syndrome can be characterized by inflammation, especially in blood vessels, caused by a hyperactivation of the immune system.

“What we’re seeing in all of these syndromes is hyper inflammation —  just an overactive immune system that’s gone into overdrive, affecting multiple organs in the body,” she said.

The illnesses in that family are triggered by a “tickle” to the immune system, Yeung said, starting with anything from strep throat to the novel coronavirus. Canada documents roughly 100 to 150 cases of Kawasaki disease a year, she said.

But epidemiology in Europe, the U.S. and Canada has suggested a pattern, as cases of inflammatory syndromes in children emerge roughly four to six weeks following the peak coronavirus outbreak in each population.

Many, even most, of the children diagnosed with these illnesses don’t initially test positive when swabbed for COVID-19, Yeung said, but blood work often shows the children had the disease previously.

It’s still not clear exactly how many cases of the inflammatory illness there are in Canada, Yeung said. She said at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, they’re seeing roughly three to four times the volume of these illnesses over normal years.

Yeung is helping lead research, in partnership with the Canadian Paediatric Society and the Public Health Agency of Canada, with doctors across the country to determine where cases are and help understand them better.

“I think sharing knowledge and alerting the public is a very important component of this,” Yeung said.

The mother of the Winnipeg toddler said she wanted to share her story to spread information and urge caution from parents.

“It’s rare, but it’s serious,” the mother said. “If you’re in doubt, take your child to the hospital.”

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CBC | Health News

Khari Jones received death threats as CFL player in Winnipeg

Khari Jones doesn’t have to look far for a reminder that racism exists in Canada.

The Montreal Alouettes head coach divulged during a teleconference Tuesday he received death threats while he was the quarterback of the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers because of his interracial marriage. Jones is black and his wife, Justine, is white.

An emotional Jones — speaking just over a week after a white policeman kneeled on the neck of a black man, resulting in a tragic death in Minneapolis — said the threats came in the form of letters that remain in his possession.

“It’s just a reminder you always have to be on alert a little bit,” Jones said. “It could’ve been one person but one is still too many and to do that on the basis of a person’s skin colour is horrible.

“Every once in a while, every blue moon I take a look at them. They never found the person who wrote the letters — he used a fake name — but he’s still out there, people like him are still out there. That was 20-something years ago and it’s still happening.”

WATCH | Eskimos lineman Justin Renfrow says he feels safer living in Canada:

After experiencing a violent incident of racial profiling in his home city of Philadelphia, Edmonton Eskimos offensive linesman Justin Renfrow made a decision to spend as much time in Canada as possible. 14:25

Jones, 49, played parts of five seasons with Winnipeg (2000-04). The soft-spoken and amiable Jones was named the CFL’s outstanding player in 2001 after leading the Bombers to a 14-4 regular-season record and Grey Cup appearance.

The five-foot-11, 195-pound Jones played for B.C., Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Hamilton from 1997-07. He rejoined the Bombers in October 2007 and retired as a member of the franchise. Jones began his CFL coaching career in 2009 as Hamilton’s quarterback coach.

Sadly, the threatening letters weren’t Jones’s first exposure to racism.

Wrongly arrested at gunpoint

In the early 1990s during Jones’s college days at UC Davis, Jones said himself, his brother, and some friends were wrongly arrested at gunpoint, forced to the ground and handcuffed by white policemen in Sacramento, Calif.

“It was a case of mistaken identity but we called it, at the time, being black while walking,” Jones said. “That’s just something that had happened with people you knew and it happened to me, four or five of my friends, my brother was there.

“It’s a horrible feeling to be pointed out for something like that.”

Jones’s eyes welled up discussing the tragic death last week of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died in Minneapolis while in police custody. With Floyd handcuffed and lying face down, Derek Chauvin, a white policeman, kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes, the final two minutes 53 seconds after Floyd became unresponsive.

Video of the incident was readily available on television and social media. After watching, Jones took to Twitter on Monday — a rarity for the Alouettes coach — to express his pain, anger and sadness over Floyd’s death.

“I can’t stop thinking about George Floyd,” Jones tweeted. “He is me.

“Breonna Taylor [a black woman fatally shot March 13 by Louisville police officers] is my daughter. I’m angry, hurt, and sad.”

WATCH | Canadian athletes speak out against racism:

Canadian athletes have been speaking out against racism and for change, including tennis youngster Felix Auger-Aliassime, basketball legend Steve Nash, and Olympians Kia Nurse, Karina LeBlanc and Perdita Felicien 2:38

Jones, entering his second season as Alouettes head coach, said he posted the tweet after talking with Montreal starting quarterback Vernon Adams Jr. Following the Floyd incident, Jones wrote his players about what he’d experienced in his life.

“That’s just what I felt when I saw the video,” Jones said. “The inhumanity of it was something that struck a chord in me, for sure, and I think in a lot of the world.

“I won’t watch it again. It’s in there now.”

Jones said he hasn’t spoken to his two teenage daughters about Floyd’s death. But he doesn’t feel he really has to.

“I just couldn’t stop crying [after watching the video] so they knew how it affected me and I think it affected them as well,” he said. “I’ve spoken to them a little bit over the years … fortunately we’ve moved quite a bit in Canada and for the most part, every place we’ve lived has treated my girls well and treated us well.

“I think fortunately for them they haven’t had to deal with [racism] on a first-hand basis all that much, if at all. I’ve often discussed with them what it can be like in the States, in certain places in particular, just to be aware and to be careful out there. “

But Jones said it is always a challenge.

“When you’re black, you know some things might happen to you,” he said. “I knew what to do and how to try to behave when I was stopped for a traffic ticket or something.

“There’s just a different way you have to respond to things when tensions are heightened. Canada is, believe me, much better and I feel much better about the social climate but there are still issues.”

CFL clubs, players speak out

Last weekend, the CFL and its nine teams all issued statements condemning racism. Saskatchewan Roughriders linebacker Solomon Eliminian, the president of the CFL Players’ Association, also outlined his experiences in a letter to union members.

Montreal running back James Wilder Jr. has been a vocal advocate as well. The former Florida State star has participated in peaceful protests in Houston, where he’s currently training, and been active denouncing racism on social media.

“I think James is a smart person, I’m going to talk with him,” Jones said. “I never want to push the players one way or the other.

“I think these are smart men, they see what I see and they have brains too. I want them to do what they feel is necessary and some things go beyond your job. I’m proud of the players for their responses. I want to go protest too, I want to be out there too. I understand his [Wilder’s] pain and frustration with everything.”

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CBC | Sports News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tough to explain to a 7 year old

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CBC | Sports News

Online claims that Chinese scientists stole coronavirus from Winnipeg lab have ‘no factual basis’

The Public Health Agency of Canada is denying any connection between the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg, two scientists who were escorted out of the building last summer, and the coronavirus outbreak in China.

Baseless stories claiming that the two scientists are Chinese spies and that they smuggled the coronavirus to China’s only Level 4 lab in Wuhan last year have been spreading on all major social media platforms and on conspiracy theorist blogs. One article from a conspiracy blog was shared more than 6,000 times on Facebook on Monday. 

The story even made its way on Chinese-owned social media app TikTok, where a video pushing these claims was watched more than 350,000 times.

“This is misinformation and there is no factual basis for claims being made on social media,” Eric Morrissette, chief of media relations for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada said in response to queries by CBC News.

The conspiracy theory seems to be based on a distorted reading of reporting from CBC News published last summer. One of the first mentions occurred Saturday on Twitter, where businessman Kyle Bass claimed that “a husband and wife Chinese spy team were recently removed from a Level 4 Infectious Disease facility in Canada for sending pathogens to the Wuhan facility.”

The conspiracy theory seems to be based on a distorted reading of reporting from CBC News published last summer. One of the first mentions occurred Saturday on Twitter, where businessman Kyle Bass claimed that ‘a husband and wife Chinese spy team were recently removed from a Level 4 Infectious Disease facility in Canada for sending pathogens to the Wuhan facility.’

In the tweet, which was shared over 12,000 times, he linked to a story CBC News broke in July, revealing that a researcher, her husband, and some of their graduate students, were escorted out of the National Microbiology Lab (NML) in Winnipeg amid an RCMP investigation into what’s being described as a possible “policy breach” and “administrative matter.” 

The RCMP and Health Canada have both stressed that there was no danger for public safety.

CBC reporting never claimed the two scientists were spies, or that they brought any version of the coronavirus to the lab in Wuhan.

Experts like Fuyuki Kurasawa, director of the Global Digital Citizenship Lab at York University, say disinformation about the coronavirus is creating a ‘social panic’ online. (Derek Hooper/CBC News)

Experts say the disinformation is creating a “social panic” online.

“We’ve seen already on Twitter and Reddit and other platforms that there have been calls to ban travellers from China from entering North American or Europe — that there have been individuals targeted to be supposedly pulled off flights or stopped at the Canadian border or the U.S. border,” says Fuyuki Kurasawa, director of the Global Digital Citizenship Lab at York University. 

“The broader damage is that there grows a mistrust toward both government authorities, public health officials, the media, authoritative sources of media, and there there becomes a social media environment where speculation, rumour and conspiracy theories take over and wash out the factual information that is being promoted online.”

This claim that China smuggled the coronavirus out of a Canadian lab has been circulating on Twitter. (CBC)

Kurasawa is already seeing that spread from the online world to the real world.

“Individuals will take it on themselves to become vigilantes, where they’ll try to spot someone who supposedly is either holding the truth about some hidden truth about the coronavirus or a person who may be a carrier or supposed carrier of the virus because they appear to have certain symptoms, and then they’ll ask the general public to take matters into own hands,” he says.

Kernels of truth in disinformation

Dr. Xiangguo Qiu is a medical doctor and virologist from Tianjin, China, who came to Canada for graduate studies in 1996. Qiu is still affiliated with the university there and has brought in many students over the years to help with her work. She helped develop ZMapp, a treatment for the deadly Ebola virus which killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa between 2014-2016.

Her husband Keding Cheng works at the Winnipeg lab as a biologist. He has published research papers on HIV infections, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), E. coli infections and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. 

One month later, CBC discovered that scientists at the NML sent live Ebola and Henipah viruses to Beijing on an Air Canada flight March 31. The Public Health Agency of Canada says all federal policies were followed. PHAC will not confirm if the March 31 shipment is part of the RCMP investigation.

This social media posting appeared on Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter. (CBC)

Contrary to posts on Twitter, the coronavirus was not part of this shipment. And there is no confirmation Qiu or Cheng were the scientists behind the shipment.

In another followup story using travel documents obtained in Access to Information requests, CBC reported that Qiu made at least five trips to China in 2017-18, including one to train scientists and technicians at China’s newly certified Level 4 lab.

She was invited to visit the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory of the Chinese Academy of Sciences twice a year for two years, for up to two weeks each time. The lab does research with the most deadly pathogens.

Heidi Tworek, assistant professor in international history at University of British Columbia, says governments and public health agencies have to be more effective at communicating to the public because disinformation will spread faster than facts. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC News )

PHAC has denied any connection between the RCMP investigation, Qiu’s visits to Wuhan or any Canadian research, with the coronavirus outbreak. 

However, PHAC would not comment on the current status of Qiu and Cheng, citing privacy reasons.

Communicate more effectively

Heidi Tworek, assistant professor in international history at the University of British Columbia, says governments and public health authorities need to do a better job of communicating facts at times like this, including in the languages of the communities impacted.

“It’s incredibly challenging during fast-moving outbreaks of any disease to balance between information to keep the public safe and prevent something from becoming a massive epidemic and also trying to provide truthful information and also providing enough so you don’t end up with a vacuum, which is where disinformation can flourish,” Tworek says.

“We’ve seen in previous outbreaks it’s been difficult to get this right, but I’d emphasize this is actually a crucial element of what we need to be thinking about into the future — how do we actually communicate well and swiftly with general public with all types of health scares? This will not be the last time we face disinformation during a potential epidemic.”

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Winnipeg youth choir opens Jets game with Canadian anthem sung in Ojibwe


The Strong Warrior Girls Anishinaabe Choir treated Winnipeg Jets fans to the Canadian national anthem sung in Ojibwe for the very first time at a professional sporting event.

The Strong Warrior Girls Anishinaabe Choir treated Winnipeg Jets fans to the Canadian national anthem sung in Ojibwe for the very first time at a professional sporting event. 1:12

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Drought Bowl: Winnipeg, Hamilton look to capture long-awaited Grey Cup victory

From the teams that brought us the Fog Bowl in 1962 and the Wind Bowl in 1965, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats are now preparing for what many are calling the Drought Bowl.

On Sunday in Calgary these two storied franchises will look to end Grey Cup droughts that have lasted for decades – Winnipeg last won the Cup in 1990, while Hamilton last won it in 1999. The modern-day incarnations of the two teams have clashed in the championship game eight times, with Winnipeg holding a 5-3 advantage.

The combined 47 years without winning the championship is the second-longest Grey Cup drought by the two competing teams, only eclipsed by the 48 years since B.C. and Toronto met in the 1983 game.

Now just 60 minutes of football stands between the Ticats and Bombers and the end of a woeful streak. But the players haven’t really thought about all the drought talk.

“It’s not desperation to end the drought, we just want to be great and legendary. We want to be part of the Grey Cup glory forever,” Ticats receiver Luke Tasker said.

It’s a similar sentiment shared by CFL Defensive Player of the Year, Willie Jefferson.

“I’m fired up. I’m amped. The team is feeling the same way,” he said. “We don’t talk about the drought. We hope to end it,  but that’s not something we talk about.”

WATCH | Relive all 7 Ticats vs. Bombers Grey Cup matchups:

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have matched up in the CFL’s biggest Game seven times, the earliest in 1953 and the latest in 1984. Watch highlights from all seven games. 3:17

Storylines abound at Grey Cup 107

There is never a shortage of stories during Grey Cup week and this year is no different. The two coaches of the teams, Mike O’Shea of the Bombers and Orlondo Steinauer of Hamilton, once played on the same team and now are coaching against each other in the biggest game of the season. And the two quarterbacks starting on Sunday have had remarkable journeys getting to this point.

There’s the history between the Ticats and the Bombers.

In the 1962 Grey Cup played between the two teams a blanketing fog rolled in off Lake Ontario in Toronto midway through the game. It was so bad the CFL suspended play on the Saturday and finished the last nine minutes and 29 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter the next day. It remains the only Grey Cup game played over two days.

Not a single point was scored the following day as the Blue Bombers held on for a 28-27 victory over Hamilton to win the Grey Cup.

At the 1965 Grey Cup between the ‘Cats and Bombers weather wreaked havoc again. A wicked 65 km/h wind swirled around before the game, prompting a discussion between the officials and coaches.

In an unprecedented move, the league changed the punting rules for the championship in Toronto that day. It was decided that they would implement somewhat of a fair catch rule for the Grey Cup game. When kickers punted into the wind, the play was ruled dead as soon as the returning team caught the ball. It remains the only time in the history of the game this has happened. Hamilton defeated Winnipeg 22-16 at Exhibition Stadium.

And now the Drought Bowl. It appears weather won’t be playing a factor this time. A quick look at the forecast shows an idyllic day in Calgary for the 107th Grey Cup between the two teams.

Key players to watch

Both starting quarterbacks who began the season for each team will be on the sidelines for this game – Matt Nichols for the Bombers and Jeremiah Masoli for the Ticats both suffered season-ending injuries making way for Winnipeg’s Zach Collaros to make his second Grey Cup start and Hamilton’s Dane Evans to make his debut.

The Bombers acquired Collaros from Toronto after he was traded to the Argos by Saskatchewan. Since Collaros took over for Winnipeg late in the season they’ve been a different team, winning both playoff games on the road in hostile territory.

Evans has been nothing short of sensational for the Ticats. He helped guide the team to a 15-3 regular season record and in his first-ever CFL playoff start looked unflappable, picking apart the Edmonton Eskimos en route to a 36-16 Eastern Division Final victory to get to the Grey Cup.

And then there’s the CFL’s 2019 Most Outstanding Player, Brandon Banks, who on any play can make a spectacular catch or run on the field to score. He’s still haunted by his punt return touchdown late in the 2014 championship game that was called back and gave Calgary the victory — he would love nothing more than to play a pivotal part in helping Hamilton capture the title on Sunday.

For Winnipeg, 2019 Defensive Player of the Year Willie Jefferson is a game-changer. Whether it’s pressuring quarterbacks or knocking down passes, Jefferson is a daunting defensive player —  Evans is going to have to deal with Jefferson all game on Sunday.

Staying relaxed and focused

The pressure of Canada’s football prize can be too much for some, as the idea of being a Grey Cup champion dances in the minds of players and coaches.

That’s why Hamilton coach Steinauer has been doing everything he can this week to keep his team stay relaxed throughout the festivities in Calgary.

Winnipeg Blue Bombers’ Rasheed Bailey looks on as teammate Nic Demski catches the ball during Saturday’s practice prior to the 107th Grey Cup in Calgary, on Sunday. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

“There were a lot of people dancing out there today,” Steinauer said after Friday’s practice. “They have fun but it’s been this way all season.”

Steinauer says he set the vision for his team — that in 2019, considering the staff he had and the players he had, he was going to keep things light off the field and hyper-focused on the field.

The coach even went as far as putting white lines on the floor of their facility leading to meeting rooms to remind the players that inside the stripes, they need to be as present as possible.

“It’s the habits and this group in 2019 understands that. There isn’t just one way to win a championship, but this is what works for this team,” Steinauer said.

“The vision came from me. We spent time in the offseason as a staff and it was important to find people to support that vision.”

Winnipeg’s coach O’Shea won three championships as a player and also stresses the importance of habits to his team.

“I try to keep it as routine as possible,” O’Shea said. “This week is an extended road trip where you get to be with your teammates a little longer and eat more with them.”

He’s also trying to keep things light for the Bombers and isn’t over emphasizing the enormity of Sunday’s clash.

“We’re here. That’s all that matters.”

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NHLPA files grievance against Winnipeg Jets on behalf of Dustin Byfuglien: reports

The NHLPA filed a grievance against the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday challenging their suspension of Dustin Byfuglien, according to multiple reports.

Byfuglien, 34, had been granted a personal leave at the outset of training camp, but was later barred without pay to help give the Jets room against the salary cap.

At the end of October, it was announced Byfuglien underwent surgery for a high-ankle sprain. However, the Jets said Byfuglien was deemed fit to play at his 2018-19 season-ending physical, with no sign of ankle issues. The team also said he made it clear he was ready to retire.

Byfuglien was supposed to earn $ 8 million US in the second-last year of his contract this season.

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‘It was a very sad day’: Teemu Selanne reflects on trade from Winnipeg Jets in new memoir

It took less than four seasons of NHL Hockey for all of Winnipeg to fall in love with Teemu Selanne, and for Selanne to fall right back in love with the city that drafted him as a teenager.

“I’m a very open person and I like people — the relationship what we created … between me and the fans here it was just something incredible,” Selanne told CBC Manitoba’s Weekend Morning Show host Nadia Kidwai.

The former Winnipeg Jet is back to promote his autobiography titled My Life, co-authored by Ari Mennander. The book was originally released in 2014 in Finnish.

“I was so lucky and happy that I got started here,” said Selanne. “It’s so hard to describe the feeling when I arrived there and and how how anxious the people were to make me play well.”

The transition from the top professional league in Finland, to the NHL and his first training camp as a Jet, was a challenge for the young Fin. 

“The competition is so hard … I remember the competition in the training camp and all the fights and everything I lost, [thinking] I don’t know if I’m ready for doing this,” said Selanne.

The cover of Selanne’s book cover is of an image of him during his time with the Winnipeg Jets. (Ahmar Khan/CBC)

His book outlines how Selanne had a Hall of Fame career, playing 23 seasons in the NHL, and how he handled the fame associated with being a professional athlete.

“There’s no real surprise, the discipline lifestyle, [writing about] what you have to do to be able to play and have success in the league. [At times] it is pretty tough to go out and try to just enjoy when there are so many people coming and making the big deal that you were there,” he said.

The Finnish Flash was adored by fans and media alike for his play on the ice, and his savvy, friendly behaviour off the ice; but, he said not everyone felt the same.

“I felt that you know a of lot of older guys especially in the industry didn’t like it. I felt a little bit embarrassed because I didn’t think I was that good, but the headlines were about me,” he said.

Early in his career, when he was traded from the Jets, he began to realize he couldn’t control what people think about him — just how he played on the ice.

“The only thing I can control is how I behave and how I react from different things, but sometimes I feel a little bit embarrassed about the attention I got. I tried to remind myself that I don’t know how I could do things different.”

The trade

Selanne’s departure from the Jets came in February 1996, when he was traded to Anaheim, a moment he said changed the trajectory of his career.

Weeks prior to the trade, Selanne remembers reading stories in the newspaper that the team couldn’t afford to have three highly-paid players, so they would be forced to deal either him, Alexei Zhamnov or Keith Tkachuk.

Leading up to the eventual trade, the new owner of the Jets, Richard Burke, called Selanne to ease his concerns. He recalls Burke telling him not to worry about the trade buzz and that he was going to be a part of the franchise’s future.

“He didn’t have to call me and I felt good that he called and I was very happy because I didn’t want to get traded,” said Selanne.

Winnipeg Jets’ Teemu Selanne in his rookie season. (Phil Snell/The Canadian Press)

Then, one afternoon as he was practicing with the team, head coach Terry Simpson pulled Selanne off the ice telling him there was a call waiting for him in the office.

 “I still had a helmet on … I didn’t know what was going on, but I didn’t really expect that [general manager] John Paddock was going to call and tell me that I got traded,” said Selanne. 

“It was a very sad day.”

Selanne recalled at the time he was overcome emotions and the daunting task of rejigging his entire life — including traveling with his wife who was nine months pregnant at the time.

“I was shaking … I always heard stories the first trade is the hardest and it was right … it happened so quick, the next day I was gone. I never got to say goodbye to my teammates, friends or fans,” he said.

Growing up in Finland there were no trades, you represented the team you wanted, and Selanne expected the same would happen in North America.

“I was so naive, I thought that Winnipeg was always going to be my home, I did everything I could to make them happy and to put this city on the map. That trade changed everything, I woke up and realized that the NHL was all business, it completely changed the way I see the world,” he wrote in his book.

Teemu Selanne signs a copy of his co-written autobiography for a fan as part of his book tour at the Chapters Polo Park. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Immediately following the trade, Selanne felt he had not only failed his family, but the entire fanbase, too.

“You almost feel that you failed, like they were not happy with me, and that’s what probably hurts most,” he said.

But, the trade proved to be a lesson for the young Fin: despite the emotions involved in the game, at the end of the day it always comes down to numbers.

“I just learned how brutal the business can be in all this, there’s no feeling between the team and the player and when you’re gone, you’re gone,” he said.

Despite the initial feeling of rejection after being traded, Selanne said Winnipeg has and always remains a special place in his heart.

“I think the feeling for the city, the fans and people just hasn’t changed … [the] first time after the trade when I came to play as an Anaheim Duck, the welcome I got from them it was just incredible,” said Selanne.

Selanne will visit Toronto, Hamilton and Thunder Bay as part of his book tour.

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