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  • Winnipeg police, transit interactions on the rise, but violence makes up small percentage
    by Sam Thompson on September 17, 2021 at 10:09 am

    So far this year, Winnipeg police have responded to nearly 26,000 Transit-related ‘events’ — about 500 more than the entire year in 2020, and 800 more than in 2008.

  • Today’s coronavirus news: Cambodia vaccinating 6-to-11-year-olds before schools reopen; Florida surpasses 50K COVID deaths
    by Star staff and wire services on September 17, 2021 at 10:04 am

    The latest coronavirus news from Canada and around the world Friday. This file will be updated throughout the day. Web links to longer stories if available.5:44 a.m.: Florida surpassed 50,000 coronavirus deaths since the pandemic began, health officials reported Thursday, with more than one fourth of those succumbing this summer as the state battled a fierce surge in infections fuelled by the delta variant.The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tallied 50,811 deaths after adding more than 1,500 COVID-19 deaths provided Thursday by the state’s health department. Those reported deaths occurred over various dates in recent weeks. Florida has the 11th worst per-capita death rate among the 50 states, the CDC says. New Jersey, Mississippi and New York have had the worst, but Florida has risen from the 17th spot in the past two weeks.Overall, about one in every 400 Florida residents who were alive in March 2020 has since died of COVID-19. Only cancer and heart disease have killed more Floridians during that period, according to state health department statistics. Those have each killed about 70,000 Floridians. Gov. Ron DeSantis spoke sombrely when asked about surpassing 50,000 COVID-19 deaths during a Fort Lauderdale news conference promoting the use of monoclonal antibodies, a treatment for people infected with the disease that reduces death and hospitalization if given early.5:42 a.m.: Cambodia began vaccinating 6-to-11-year-olds Friday so students can safely return to schools that have been closed for months due to the coronavirus.Prime Minister Hun Sen inaugurated the campaign to vaccinate the children, speaking live on state television and his Facebook page as his grandchildren and young family members of other senior officials were shown being given their jabs. “To protect children’s health and their lives is our duty because we want to make sure that once they go back to their schools, these children and their teachers are safe from COVID-19,” Hun Sen declared.Cambodia already has been vaccinating older children, and Hun Sen said he ordered health officials to study if children ages 3 to 5 can also be vaccinated. No date has been announced for schools to reopen.Nearly 72% of Cambodia’s almost 17 million people have received at least one COVID-19 shot since vaccinations began in February. China’s Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines account for most inoculations.5:42 a.m.: Mississippi has surpassed New Jersey as the state with the highest rate of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., with roughly 1 of every 320 Mississippians having succumbed to the coronavirus. The state’s top health official on Thursday warned that more deaths will come. “We’re recording well over 2,500 (cases) a day, in recent days, far more than we’d like to see,” said State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs. “A lot of that’s going to translate into the tragedy.” Since the start of the pandemic, at least 9,165 people in Mississippi have died of the virus. The state has a population of roughly 3 million and has had one of the worst vaccination rates in the country.New Jersey was throttled in the spring of 2020 at the start of the pandemic, long before vaccines were available. Of specific concern during the delta variant surge in Mississippi have been pregnant mothers, Dobbs said. Over the course of the pandemic, 15 pregnant women in Mississippi have died of coronavirus, according to the Department of Health. Eight of those deaths occurred between July 25 and Sept. 16.The age range of the mothers who died was between 23 and 40, with the median age being 30. Dobbs said 60% were Black. None of the women were fully vaccinated. One woman had received her first shot. As for health conditions, “some were overweight, but so are the majority of Mississippians, so I don’t think that that’s much of a surprise,” Dobbs said.5:42 a.m.: Seattle and King County officials have issued a health directive requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test to enter certain establishments and attend large outdoor events. Public Health-Seattle & King County Health Officer Dr. Jeff Duchin issued the order Thursday to go into effect Oct. 25. Duchin says high levels of preventable COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and increased deaths driven by the highly contagious Delta variant prompted the order. The order applies to outdoor events with 500 or more people and indoor establishments such as museums, theatres, gyms, restaurants and bars. The order does not affect outdoor dining, takeout orders and shopping in places including grocery stores.5:42 a.m.: Nevada officials believe some state employees may follow through on threats to quit their jobs if forced to get COVID-19 shots.But they said Thursday they expect most will comply with Gov. Steve Sisolak’s mandate that workers at health care facilities and prisons be vaccinated by Nov. 1 or face administrative leave or reassignment. DuAne Young, the governor’s policy director, says they are developing contingency plans in the event more people quit their jobs than expected and monitoring the situation closely. He says they believe there will be some attrition, but in the end, most state employees will “step up and do what is right.”5:41 a.m.: Alaska’s state epidemiologist says Alaska is experiencing “one of the sharpest surges” in COVID-19 in the country.Dr. Joe McLaughlin added that it’s not clear when the situation might stabilize. He says a lot will depend on vaccination rates and measures such as masking and distancing.Health officials says hospitals are stressed, with staffing and capacity issues. The state health department reports 20% of patients hospitalized in Alaska have COVID-19.Meanwhile, Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau announced Thursday that as a condition of employment, staff must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Dec. 15.5:41 a.m.: South Korea has reported more than 2,000 new cases of the coronavirus, nearing a one-day record set last month, continuing an alarming surge as the nation enters its biggest holiday of the year.The 2,008 cases reported Friday was the 73rd consecutive day of over 1,000 despite officials enforcing the country’s strongest social distancing rules short of a lockdown in capital Seoul and other large population centres for the past 10 weeks.More than 1,500 of the new case came from the greater Seoul area, home to half of a population of more than 51 million, where infections have surged as schools reopened and people returned from summer vacations in recent weeks.There are concerns that transmissions will worsen nationwide the Chuseok holiday break, the Korean version of Thanksgiving that begins over the weekend and continues through next Wednesday. Millions usually travel across the to meet relatives during Chuseok.“We plead once again that people who aren’t fully vaccinated not to visit their aging parents who are in their 60s or older,” Deputy Health Minister Lee Ki-il said during a briefing. “In the greater capital area, transmissions are continuously happening at indoor gyms, cram schools, churches and wherever there’s many people in confined spaces. Capital area residents should always keep in mind that they could get infected any where at any time, and be very careful.”5:41 a.m.: Australians will soon have a third COVID-19 vaccine option with 1 million Moderna shots about to arrive in Sydney.Moderna will arrive in two shipments on Friday night and over the weekend, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.Australians currently have access to Pfizer and AstraZeneca as authorities race to build the population’s immunity against the delta variant that has taken hold in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.Pfizer is the preferred option for many because of the slight risk of blood clots from AstraZeneca.Moderna, like Pfizer, is an mRNA vaccine. Australia has failed to source sufficient Pfizer to meet demand, while there is a surplus of locally manufactured AstraZeneca.Over 70% of the Australian population aged 16 and older had taken at least one dose of a two-shot vaccine, Hunt said.5:34 a.m.: China has reported another 62 cases of COVID-19, even as the number of Chinese citizens fully vaccinated has topped 1 billion.All but one of the cases was detected over the previous 24 hours in the eastern coastal province of Fujian in China’s latest outbreak of the delta variant, the National Health Commission said on Friday. Of those, 31 were in the major port city of Xiamen, with 28 others in the city of Putian and one in the city of Quanzhou. That came a day after health officials announced that more than 1 billion Chinese, or 72% of all 1.4 billion citizens of the world’s most populous country, have been fully vaccinated. The National Health Commission says 2.16 billion doses have been administered.Nearly 300 cases have been detected in Fujian over the past week, prompting authorities to lock down affected neighbourhoods, close schools and entertainment venues and restrict travel out of the province.China has largely stopped the spread by imposing restrictions and mass testing whenever new cases are found. It also limits entry to the country and requires people who arrive to quarantine in a hotel for at least two weeks. The efficacy of Chinese vaccines has been questioned, however, and it’s not clear how many of those newly infected had received their jabs. China has recorded a total of 4,636 deaths among 95,577 cases of COVID-19, with 916 people currently receiving treatment for the disease.5:31 a.m.: Sri Lanka on Friday extended the COVID-19 lockdown by another two weeks amid pressure from medical experts.The current lockdown was to end on Tuesday. A special meeting of the COVID-19 Control Committee chaired by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa decided to extend the measures until Oct. 1, according to presidential spokesman Kingsly Rathnayaka.Medical experts have said although Sri Lanka has seen a decline in daily cases, oxygen requirements and deaths, it remains at risk. The last 24 hours saw 2,314 confirmed cases. The lockdown was first imposed on Aug. 20 and extended four times.The government has allowed export-oriented factories and agriculture work to continue, in addition to essential services. Sri Lanka has so far reported 496,423 confirmed cases and 11,699 deaths. 5:31 a.m.: With just three days now until the federal election, the main party leaders will be keeping the campaign throttle wide open today as they chase any still undecided votes in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is to begin his day with a scheduled announcement this morning in Windsor, Ont.Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is also in southwestern Ontario. He’ll be making an announcement in London, Ont., early this afternoon before moving on to St. Catharines, Ont., for an event with supporters this evening.NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has a packed agenda which begins this morning in Sherbrooke, Que., where he’ll talk about the Trudeau government’s record on climate change. Singh will then head east to Sackville, N.S. to visit a local business this afternoon before moving on to Halifax to meet with supporters.Much of yesterday’s campaigning was dominated by the leaders pointing fingers and firing broadsides of blame at each other over the spiralling COVID-19 crisis in Alberta.As the clock ticks down to Monday’s election the latest polling suggests the race between the Liberals and Conservatives is still too close to call.It remains to be seen whether the high level endorsements Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole received this week — Trudeau from former U.S. president Barack Obama and O’Toole from former prime minister Brian Mulroney — will help tip the scales.5:30 a.m.: As an emergency alert blared across the province notifying Albertans of another round of public health restrictions, some felt a range of emotions: anger, confusion, exhaustion.Edmonton mother Amanah Khursheed remembers looking at her husband.“Here we go again,” she said as her phone lit up Wednesday evening.The notification told her that Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency to protect the health-care system.New restrictions — including gathering limits and a proof of vaccination program for non-essential businesses — began Thursday, as Alberta’s health system nears collapse during a fourth wave of the pandemic.“Every few months we go into lockdown and we’re hearing false promises from our leaders,” Khursheed said in an interview.“The whole pandemic … I don’t think, from the beginning, was managed right.”Medical experts had warned the United Conservative government about potential for the Delta variant to spread exponentially, when Premier Jason Kenney celebrated his “Open For Summer” plan. Read the full story from the Canadian Press here.

  • Yeah, whatever: The 2021 general election is Canada’s first Gen-X election
    on September 17, 2021 at 10:00 am

    Overshadowed by Baby Boomers and Millennials, should Generation X have high hopes now that all Canadian party leaders were born between 1965 and 1980? Yeah, sort of, whatever.

  • It’s all fun and games until Jagmeet Singh reaches 60,000 people on Twitch
    by Raisa Patel – Ottawa Bureau on September 17, 2021 at 10:00 am

    OTTAWA — Five nights before election day, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh sat by himself at the back of an echoing gaming studio in Vaughan, Ont., as two computer monitors and a ring light illuminated his face.Then, he drew a picture of himself defeating Justin Trudeau at the ballot box.Singh was spending his Wednesday night with 10 popular streamers — hailing from cities across Canada and the United States — on Twitch, a livestreaming platform where users often play online games together.The two other major party leaders, in comparison, chose to spend their evenings congregating with their bases in Quebec. Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole took part in a rally in Orford attended by more than 100 people, where he received an in-person endorsement from former prime minister Brian Mulroney. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau rallied with supporters late at night in Longueuil, drumming up support and taking selfies with voters.Singh, meanwhile, spent an hour and a half playing a game called Gartic Phone, a combination of Pictionary and telephone. In the game, someone issues a prompt — “Trudeau losing the election to Jagmeet” was an option one player, who wasn’t Singh, supplied — and another player draws it. That image is then shown to the next player, who writes a description of the image, followed by another player who then draws a new picture based on the new description. Play continues until everyone has had a turn adding to the chain — the results are often amusing, and the final product can sometimes be light years away from the original concept.But even though Singh was sharing laughs with gamers online while his competitors were mingling with Canadians in a sought-after province, he wasn’t sketching absurd things on the internet just for fun.More than 60,000 people tuned into the livestream; an audience generated not just from Singh’s Twitch following, but from among the several million followers of the streamers he was playing with. There was a constant flow of comments beneath the stream’s chat box: people pumping up Singh or declaring that the NDP had their vote — plus the typical vulgarity that comes with engaging online. People were encouraged to chat with Singh by texting a cell number displayed at the bottom of the screen, and off to the right was a QR code that took viewers to the NDP’s webpage on how to vote. In the middle of the event, the NDP leader took a moment to tell the audience about his day packed with whistle stops and went over some of his party’s platform pledges.Earlier in the day in Essex, Ont., Singh made the argument that knocking on doors or rallying with people late at night doesn’t make much sense, so why don’t you just meet them where they are?Meeting people where they are is a longtime campaign strategy, and it’s certainly not exclusive to the NDP. But the New Democrats have capitalized on the online and digital space this election in a way other parties haven’t, turning to platforms like Twitch, TikTok and Nintendo, which are popular with the public but remain niche in politics. Singh’s Wednesday Twitch stream was only the second time he’s appeared on the website; the first was with U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in late 2020.The use of the platform is an interesting choice for Singh. Twitch is owned by Amazon, the e-commerce giant the leader has repeatedly attacked throughout the campaign as an example, he says, of a corporation not paying its fair share. And in March, more than 600 Amazon workers contracted COVID-19 at a facility in Brampton, a city where just an hour before, Singh was mobilizing supporters. “I’m going to use any platform that I can to reach out to people and to speak to people,” Singh told reporters that morning, adding that he won’t stop criticizing the company.“I still use my cellphone, even though I think telecom companies are exploiting people,” he said.And while seeing a federal party leader having fun online seems at odds with the seriousness of Canada’s current political and public health landscape, that doesn’t mean unconventional strategies shouldn’t be deployed, says the NDP’s digital director Amneet Singh Bali.“The pandemic has been difficult for folks, and they have found joy in the smallest things. Getting online and playing games with people on the internet, versus being able to do it in person, is one way to do that,” he said.“If Jagmeet could have made someone laugh a little bit last night, but also talked to them about some serious topics, I think he’s accomplished his job.”As for the prompt about Trudeau losing the election to Singh, it was one of the few phrases that seemed to be clearly understood by all players. Halfway through the round, a player called Northernlion interpreted Singh’s drawing of Trudeau crying at the ballot box as “the NDP wins all 338 ridings in a landslide.” In the world of online gaming, at least, anything is possible. Raisa Patel is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @R_SPatel

  • Insiders fear Conservatives are losing the election as party makes a last-minute appeal for help
    by Alex Boutilier – Ottawa Bureau,Stephanie Levitz – Ottawa Bureau,Robert Benzie – Queen’s Park Bureau Chief on September 17, 2021 at 10:00 am

    OTTAWA—The Conservative campaign is making a last-minute appeal for more volunteers as the federal election heads into a crucial weekend for mobilizing supporters and getting out the vote.But senior party sources are concerned about an “enthusiasm gap” among the party faithful, particularly in the GTA, that could cost the Conservatives in tight riding contests.“I certainly see a lack of enthusiasm amongst the people I talk to,” said one Tory source, discussing the situation on the condition they not be identified.“That sort of went away when it looked like we were going to win. Everyone loves a winner.”That early Conservative optimism at the outset of the campaign has dissipated as the polls tightened. And while most public polling puts the party neck-and-neck with the Liberals, more pessimistic Tories acknowledge that a tie in national voter support likely signals another win for Justin Trudeau.That’s because the Conservative vote has traditionally been concentrated in Western Canada, where the party is immensely popular — and that skews the national numbers. In 2019, the Conservatives won the popular vote with overwhelming Western support, but still won fewer seats than Trudeau’s Liberals.“There’s a lot of little things that I don’t think bode super well. Desire for change (among the electorate) is still too low, Erin (O’Toole’s) personal numbers are better but not great, the advance poll data shows no significant growth in seats where we (could win),” the source said.Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer faced intense pressure to step down after the 2019 election, particularly for his failure to deliver seats in the GTA — a region seen as critical for the Conservatives to win back power after six years in opposition.O’Toole, who represents the Ontario riding of Durham, won the resulting leadership contest in part by pledging to deliver Toronto-area seats.But there are troubling signs for the party in Ontario as the campaign enters its final days.The Star talked to five party sources who are involved either directly and indirectly in the campaign about “ground game” efforts in the GTA. Three acknowledged that the party is having difficulty attracting volunteers for in-person activities like canvassing door to door.“There are ridings that should have a ton of volunteers (that) have little. There’s some ridings in the 905 where they’ve got like eight solid volunteers and that’s it,” said one source.“(And) they’re happy to have the eight that they have.”That opinion is not universally shared, and the situation varies from riding to riding. It also appears to be connected to the candidate. Four sources said ridings like Thornhill, where party stalwart Melissa Lantsman is running in a Conservative-held riding, are doing fine.“Neighbouring ridings with candidates who are less good at this are not,” one source told the Star.The Star shared the findings of this reporting with the Conservative campaign. In a statement, the campaign said the Star’s sources “are misinformed” and that the party has “never in their history been better prepared for an election, as you will see on Monday.”“Justin Trudeau broke Canadians’ trust when he called an unnecessary election, so how can Canadians trust anything he says?” asked Chelsea Tucker, spokesperson for the O’Toole campaign. A senior campaign source was more blunt.What the Star’s sources are saying “is pure crap,” the source said. “For the past year we’ve been reading these people telling us that Erin O’Toole can’t win. “Now, victory is within reach, and they can’t stand the thought that they were wrong all this time.”On Wednesday, the party sent an email blast to supporters urging them to sign up to help their local campaigns.“That means we need to knock on more doors and make more phone calls. In order to defeat Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government, we must connect with voters and identify supporters,” said the email, which was obtained by the Star.“It’s the final stretch of the campaign and we can’t afford to slow down now.”New polling from Campaign Research, a firm run by longtime Conservative operative Nick Kouvalis, suggests the party’s get-out-the-vote efforts are going to be crucial, particularly in fending off an insurgent People’s Party of Canada running to O’Toole’s right.“It looks close, but I really don’t think Erin is going to win,” said one senior provincial Tory, pointing to the Campaign Research finding that the People’s Party is siphoning enough votes from the Tories in key Ontario ridings to help re-elect the Liberals.That includes the potential loss of Tory seats in places like Barrie and Aurora and the re-election of Liberal MPs in ridings the Conservatives hope to pick up in Oakville, King City, Richmond Hill, St. Catharines, and Kitchener-Waterloo, among others.“That PPC vote could wipe out all those narrow (2019 election) wins and take target seats off the table,” said the provincial Tory.“And there’s really nothing Erin can do at this point,” said the PC insider, expressing concern about the enthusiasm People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier has generated at rallies in southwestern Ontario.Another provincial Tory said the threat of Bernier effectively boxed in O’Toole so the federal leader couldn’t embrace vaccination mandates.“Doug Ford was firing (Chatham area MPP) Rick Nicholls (for refusing to get a COVID-19 shot) and Erin O’Toole couldn’t even tell you guys how many of his candidates were vaccinated,” said the second Tory, referring to O’Toole’s refusal to discuss Conservative candidates’ vaccination status.“We’ve taken that issue off the table. They didn’t.” Stephanie Levitz is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @StephanieLevitzRobert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzieAlex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

  • Campaign race for home has main federal party leaders in Eastern, Central Canada
    on September 17, 2021 at 9:13 am

    With just three days now until the federal election, the main party leaders will be keeping the campaign throttle wide open today as they chase any still undecided votes in Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.

  • Dead whale dilemma: what do you do when a 60-tonne carcass washes ashore? If you’re these Nova Scotia researchers, you get to work
    by Steve McKinley – Halifax Bureau on September 17, 2021 at 9:00 am

    SAMBRO, N.S.—The first thing that hits you is the smell.It’s an implausible fishy-gamey smell, by times light and occasionally cloying.It’s a smell you should get used to — it’s going to stay with you. It will infiltrate your clothing, your hair, your skin and — most inconveniently — your memories. So much so that later, freshly scrubbed, looking at your photographs, that smell will reappear to haunt your nostrils.The source of that smell is, incongruously, magnificent.Up ahead, pulled up from the ocean shoreline, are the remains of a blue whale; as a species, the largest creatures ever known to exist on this planet. The biggest of this endangered species can grow as long as 33 metres and weigh up to 190 tonnes — slightly shorter than the space shuttle, and the weight of eight school buses.This particular blue whale was more modest — a recently matured female, likely about 10 to 15 years old, 25 metres long and probably weighing around 60 tonnes.It’s believed she washed ashore overnight on Sept. 8 as a storm lashed the eastern coast of Nova Scotia, finally coming to rest on a nudist beach about 30 kilometres south of Halifax.Swarming over her now are a team of hip wader-wearing, knife-wielding biologists and volunteers in the process of answering the burning question: What do you do when 60 tonnes of whale washes up dead on one of your beaches?If you’re Danielle Pinder, you’re probably the first one on the scene.She’s a response co-ordinator for the Marine Animal Response Society (MARS), a non-profit conservationist organization that’s usually the first response to reports of marine mammals in distress in the Maritimes. Those incidents may involve animals entangled in nets or wounded or stranded on beaches, perhaps still alive, and sometimes — as in this case — dead.Over the years, this is the third blue whale carcass Pinder has responded to — she’s never seen a live one. And while beached blue whales are relatively infrequent, sadly, the also-endangered northern right whale is a more common casualty. In 2015, 2017 and 2019, Pinder remembers, there were multiple whale carcasses washing up on Maritime shores. And that can take its toll on MARS staff and volunteers.“Whenever we get the call, our hearts immediately sink,” she says.“It’s really upsetting to hear that at first. And then you kind of switch into work mode and you say, ‘OK, what can we do to figure out what happened to it?’“And then, after everything’s done, you kind of decompress a little bit. And it kind of hits you again, especially for some of our MARS people. They’ve been doing this for years. And sometimes, in the summer, when you’re on your fifth or sixth one of these for the right whales in particular, it’s mentally just devastating and it’s really hard to process all of that.”In ideal cases — insomuch as dead whales can be considered ideal — MARS is able to do a necropsy. Their team, including their veterinarians, will carefully open the carcass, take samples for researchers and check for lesions, signs of bleeding or hemorrhaging, signs of disease or parasites, hopefully being able to determine the cause of death along the way.In this case, with the storm bashing the whale carcass against the rocks, the damage was extensive enough that a necropsy was pointless. The options at that point are to tow the carcass out to sea to let the ocean and its scavengers take care of it, or to preserve the skeleton for museums and research.Since a blue whale skeleton is a rare find, MARS works with other organizations — the province’s Department of Natural Resources, the federal DFO, and Researching and Casting International — to remove the skeleton and dispose of the flesh.The first problem with this carcass, said Jason MacIntosh, area manager for the province’s Natural Resources department, was that the whale washed up on a remote beach, where heavy machinery couldn’t access it without disturbing a fragile ecosystem.The solution was to tow the whale off the nudist beach and land it further down the coastline, where a nearby road could provide access to an excavator, which pulled the carcass off the beach to where it could be processed.That endeavour did not come without its risks, MacIntosh explains.“We were very worried about the whale breaking apart,” he said. “But one of the biologists that was on site made a determination that the whale was still structurally sound. In fact, they felt very confident that if we strapped it by the tail, it would not pull apart.”Once the carcass is relocated, the aforementioned swarm of biologists and volunteers gets to work. Using only knives — power tools are too dangerous and get gunked up quickly — they begin to separate flesh from bone.It’s hard and sweaty work; each of them is covered from feet to elbows in whale remains, and the flesh is tough enough that the knives they use only last 10 to 15 minutes before they must be sharpened again.But the fruits of their labour emerge: a set of vertebrae here, part of the jaw there, some ribs over there. As each bone is exposed, an excavator lifts mounds of flesh from the carcass and stacks it to the side, there to be later loaded into a dump truck and taken to a burial site.Once separated and cleaned as much as possible, the bones fall into the hands of Research Casting International, based in Trenton, Ont., whose specialty is putting together exhibits for museums all over the world. They’re responsible for the three skeletons installed at the ROM this summer, and the whale skeleton at Memorial University in Newfoundland, among others.They have a museum interested in this particular blue whale skeleton, says general manager Matt Fair, but he’s not able to say which one just yet.First, though, those bones have to be cleaned, and the way to do that is to bury them in a compost of manure and sawdust — which includes a species of dermestid beetle — in an oxygen-rich environment. There, over the course of a year, the remaining flesh is removed.Then there’s a pressure wash and a degreaser to try and remove the remaining oils in the bones. After a final wash, the skeleton is ready to be sent to its new home.This process is old hat for Fair — this is the 13th whale he’s collected, and his fourth blue whale. But this one came with something he hadn’t seen before.Before the cleaning of the carcass began, he and the other workers joined in a ceremony with Mi’kmaq First Nation’s Angela Swan.“They did a smudging around the whale, and that was to send the spirit of the whale back to the Creator,” he said.“It was a moving ceremony and at the end, an eagle flew over and then it landed. And then a second eagle came and flew over the carcass, and then both eagles picked up, flew over once more and went away.“They feel that was part of the spirit leaving and the eagle carrying it to the Creator.“That is something that I think is the most amazing thing about this particular job.”Steve McKinley is a Halifax-based reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @smckinley1

  • At least 20% of Ontario PPC candidates have participated in hostile anti-vaccine protests. Why some say their attendance legitimizes dangerous beliefs
    by Grant LaFleche – Standard Reporter on September 17, 2021 at 9:00 am

    People’s Party of Canada candidates are participating in and organizing increasingly rancorous protests targeting hospitals and politicians, a strategy that coincides with the once-fringe party’s rapid rise in public support.At least 20 per cent of Ontario PPC candidates have attended the often vitriolic protests where attendees push a kaleidoscope of conspiracies and vaccine misinformation, Torstar has found.A review of local news stories and the social media accounts of all 116 Ontario PPC candidates found 25 made posts about taking part in the protests, which have drawn the ire of hospital officials and politicians.Torstar’s review shows the candidates are helping to fuel the protests, which have at times turned violent. After one in London, a now-expelled PPC riding president was criminally charged for allegedly throwing gravel at Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, and another in Cambridge featured calls for his execution. Candidates’ attendance also helps legitimize the conspiratorial beliefs of some of the protesters and entrench them into Canadian political culture, said Alison Meek, a historian at King’s University College, at the University of Western Ontario.“We ignore it at our peril,” said Meek, who studies the rise and evolution of conspiracy theories and political extremism.“If people think with this election that this is all just going to go away, history has shown that, no, it won’t. And we need to be vigilant. We need to be aware.”When Torstar reached out to PPC leader Maxime Bernier regarding his candidates’ presence at the protests, a senior party spokesperson replied: “Get lost, f—ing idiot.”The PPC’s support nationwide reached 7.3 per cent as of Thursday, eclipsing both the Green party and the Bloc Québécois, according to Vox Pop Labs polling for the Star. That could put the party within reach of claiming at least one seat in the House of Commons. At a protest in Burlington, with the Joseph Brant Hospital visible in the background, PPC candidate Michael Bator used the event to galvanize support for his campaign.“We’re going to go purple but we gotta get the word out,” he said in a video recording, posted online Sept. 3. “I need troops to help me.”The tone of the protests, which commonly feature vulgar “f— Trudeau” flags, is echoed in the social media posts by Bernier, who has labelled Trudeau a “fascist psychopath” on Twitter. In addition to the candidates who have attended protests in Ontario, more than a dozen others have promoted the events on their social media channels, urging followers to take part. More than half of all Ontario PPC candidates have shared vaccine disinformation and opposition to vaccine mandates and passports.Torstar also confirmed PPC candidates in other provinces, including B.C., Alberta and Quebec, participated in protests. Like Bator, many candidates post photos and videos of protests on their social media accounts. Anthony Zambito of the Dufferin-Caledon riding posted a live Instagram video of an anti-vaccine protest outside a Toronto restaurant, featuring a woman holding a sign that compared vaccine mandates to the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany, complete with a yellow Star of David patch.Chelsea Hillier, daughter of independent MPP Randy Hillier and candidate for Elgin-Middlesex-London, tweeted a photo of herself at a hospital protest holding her clenched fist in the air. “We are NEVER GOING TO STOP standing up for our freedoms. I promise my constituents I will resist, at all costs, the authoritarian mandates,” she wrote. Meanwhile, Windsor-Tecumseh candidate Victor Green has turned his presence at a hospital protest into a promotional video for his campaign modelled after a television news segment. The Star reached out to every Ontario PPC candidate that attended protests. Most of those requests went unanswered. Three declined to answer questions.“When our current government provides the scientific data that warrants COVID-19 a pandemic, I would be more than willing to speak with you,” wrote Corrado Brancato, the PPC candidate for Barrie-Innisfil. London-West candidate Mike McMullen — who attended two hospital protests in London — rejected any notion the events were negative or divisive. “There was several thousand people outside of the (London Health Sciences Centre) hospital. So I attended that, it’s in my riding, to support the people there and what they believe because nobody’s speaking for them,” McMullen said in an interview. “The idea of a politician is to bring people together on both sides of the argument and stop the division.”McMullen said he opposed any kind of political violence, but would not criticize the vulgar language used at protests. He said HE “absolutely, absolutely” agrees with Bernier’s claim that Trudeau is a fascist, and falsely equated quarantine hotels for international travellers to the Gulag.Barbara Perry, the director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, said Bernier has done what other populist leaders abroad have done: ride a wave of discontent to build a political movement.Bernier, a former Conservative MP who left the Tories after a failed leadership bid, became a folk hero in the anti-lockdown, anti-mask and anti-vaccine communities by appearing at protest rallies throughout the pandemic. “He’s found a theme. He’s found a subject matter that will bring people into the fold,” Perry said. “He knew there were enough people angry at the lockdown and all the public health restrictions. And he played to that.” Perry called the relationship between the PPC and the protests that attract disparate conspiracy theorists, a “chicken and the egg situation,” with one constantly fuelling the other. While PPC candidates often portray these protests as grassroots movements, Meek said the party itself plays a significant role in sustaining them.“Within conspiracy theories in general, you do tend to see an element not just of grassroots, of mobs, of people concerned, but of organization, whether it’s media, whether it’s political parties,” Meek said. “I think we are seeing that today.”On Wednesday, Bernier vowed on Twitter to spend the last weekend of the campaign joining “Albertans in their fight against this despot” after Premier Jason Kenney invoked a state of emergency and announced a vaccine passport as the province’s hospital system is on the verge of collapse.However, while the PPC’s fortunes have risen in the polls, Meek and Perry say targeting hospitals may ultimately work against them come voting day. For many voters, they say, that is crossing a line.“It might be a good media strategy to get attention, but it may not be a good election strategy to get votes. People are at their emotional wit’s end,” said Meek. “The 80 per cent or more of people who are vaccinated are sick of being held hostage by those who are not.” The election is unlikely to stop what the PPC have unleashed, Perry said, particularly if Trudeau is returned to power, “because they really hate him.”Already, post-election protests are being promoted on social media across the country.“This is becoming part of our civic, and uncivil, political discourse in Canada now,” she said. “I am frankly surprised that the leaders from the big parties have not said anything about this or how to address it after the election.”Meek said she is worried that, like in the United States, the movement will reshape the Canadian political environment. Finding ways to calm the waters, in a world where conspiracy theories multiply online at a frightening pace, may be a Sisyphean effort. “There is no putting the genie back in the bottle,” she said. Grant LaFleche is a St. Catharines-based investigative reporter with the Standard. Reach him via email: [email protected]

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