Anger, COVID misinformation mar some local meetings across Canada
In general, Canada has not witnessed with frequency the scenes playing out at the local level in the United States, where public health officials have resigned after receiving threats from members of the public and chaotic community meetings have taken place.
But it is happening from time to time, with vaccine mandates a newer topic of contention after previous dissent over lockdowns and closures.
In Calgary, a mayoral candidate and current councillor said he has been subjected to online threats and seen his campaign signs vandalized. This occurred after a recent council meeting in which he brought up COVID-19’s strain on local hospitals and the spillover impacts for other residents with other health issues, pointing to the postponement of his young daughter’s needed kidney surgery.
“We are letting false narratives and misinformation fly like it is the gospel. I’m done with it,” Jeff Davison said at the recent meeting.
In Regina, opposition to the city manager deciding to implement the province’s first municipal vaccine passport system led to several speakers at a council meeting questioning the severity of the pandemic and the efficacy of the vaccines.
“The dire urgency of the pandemic in 2020 is lessened,” said one speaker, an arguable statement given the province’s current case and hospitalization counts, which on a per capita basis are about the highest in Canada.
A British Columbia disinformation expert says a recent incident surrounding a council meeting in Dawson Creek, B.C., illustrates why small communities need to think deeply about who they give a platform to.
Inside council chambers ahead of a Sept. 2 meeting, several presenters made arguments comparing B.C.’s voluntary vaccine card to 1930s Germany and sharing false information about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
One of those presentations is being circulated on multiple social media platforms by anti-vaccination groups, racking up tens of thousands of views on YouTube as well as Twitter, TikTok and Facebook. The presentation in question was made by a woman who, in local small business listings, identifies herself as the owner of an “alternative clinic” that uses “energy healing” and “psychic readings” along with herbal teas and essential oils to help clients.
Ahmed Al-Rawi, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University who specializes in disinformation, said the presence of the video on the city’s official website lent it additional credibility, as did the appearance of Dawson Creek’s logo and the fact that the presenter was speaking inside council chambers. Without context around why she was being allowed to speak, he said, the setting added a sense of legitimacy to what she was saying, no matter how incorrect the content.
Moving forward, the town’s mayor said, he will not consider allowing impromptu presentations from members of the public, no matter the topic.
Sometimes a more vexing situation has emerged when it’s public officials who are spreading misinformation. That’s been the case with two leaders in Ontario’s Niagara region, based on reporting from The Standard in St. Catharines and the Niagara Falls Review.
West Lincoln Mayor Dave Bylsma has downplayed the seriousness of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, participating in anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests and suggesting that orange juice and vitamins would help protect against the virus. He was also stripped of several responsibilities in his community and at the regional level after messaging a prominent local activist to ask whether her menstrual cycle had been impacted by receiving a COVID-19 vaccine.
In Niagara Falls, a controversy has developed after one councillor complained about incurring migraines because of the mayor enabling the use of scented essential oil diffusers during council meetings during the pandemic.
“We’ve used them since the beginning of COVID,” Mayor Jim Diodati told the Review last month. “We were using them, originally, because there’s a number of us, myself included, who have been through chemotherapy, and we use them as extra COVID measures.”
There is no current evidence that essential oils help with preventing coronavirus spread, and Health Canada and the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. have sent out advisories warning consumers to be suspicious of products that claim to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19.
From The National
Air and rail travellers, federal public servants need to be vaccinated by month’s end: government
All travellers aged 12 and older taking flights leaving Canadian airports or travelling on VIA Rail and Rocky Mountaineer trains must be fully vaccinated before boarding effective Oct. 30, the federal government announced on Wednesday.
“For the vast, vast majority of people, the rules are very simple — to travel, you’ve got to be vaccinated,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “If you haven’t gotten your shots yet but want to travel this winter, let me be clear, there will only be a few extremely narrow exceptions, like a valid medical condition.”
It will be up to air, rail and marine operators to “establish processes to verify vaccine status,” a government official told CBC News, adding the government expects these companies to accept provincial vaccine passports as proof of status. A standardized, pan-Canadian proof of vaccination document for international travel is still in the works, but the details have not yet been announced.
To qualify as a “fully vaccinated traveller,” a person must have received a full series of a Health Canada-approved COVID-19 vaccine — a combination of approved shots is also acceptable — with the last dose having been administered at least 14 days prior to the day of travel. A government official said that there will be a “short transition phase” to allow travellers to show a negative COVID-19 molecular test result instead of proof of vaccination — up until Nov. 30.
“Vaccine mandates work,” Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said.
“These mandates will push us to a higher enough degree of vaccination so that our economy can continue to be open and our kids can go to school.”
All employers in federally regulated air, rail and marine transportation sectors will be required to implement mandatory vaccination policies for their organizations. After a short phase-in period, these companies will be required to guarantee their employees are fully vaccinated; unvaccinated workers would be forced off the job.
While a number of airlines around the globe have announced vaccination requirements for staff and even passengers on international routes, there have been few vaccine mandates announced so far pertaining to domestic flights, with exceptions being in Pakistan, Malaysia and some Persian Gulf states.
All airline and airport staff, including people who work at restaurants or retail stores in the post-security area, must be fully vaccinated. All employees of federally regulated railways, including rail crew and track employees, must have their shots. Marine operators with Canadian vessels must also ensure their workers are vaccinated.
Trudeau also said Wednesday the government is following through on pledges made during the recent federal election campaign to require all government, Crown Corporation and RCMP employees to be vaccinated.
Read the full story
Saskatchewan issues with rapid test supply a potential prelude for Canadian school year
Ontario and Alberta took steps on Tuesday to address increasing demand for the use of rapid antigen tests in schools, as parents and policymakers appear to be realizing that last year’s strategy of pulling out entire classes of unvaccinated but otherwise healthy kids over one or two positive COVID-19 cases isn’t going to be a tenable strategy if more adults are to return to in-person work anytime soon.
Last week, the Saskatchewan government announced it was developing plans to expand the public distribution of these self-tests that can be quickly administered, with a new supply of 475,000 self tests to go to elementary schools.
Carla Holinaty, a family doctor in Saskatoon and parent to two children, said their school ran out of tests early Tuesday morning — the first day the kits were distributed to families.
Holinaty said the demand shows parents are trying very hard to keep their kids safe.
“I think it really demonstrates just how fearful a lot of these families are and how desperate they are to try and do anything they can to protect their kids.”
Last week, an Ottawa-based doctor said demand was overwhelming when she publicly announced on social media that she would make tests available to parents.
The shortage is also being seen in the U.S., where a prominent advocate for using rapid tests even amid high vaccination rates argued recently that the country needed an “Operation Warp Speed” for their production, a reference to the ramp-up of vaccine production seen since 2020. The situation is a contrast to some countries in western Europe, where rapid tests were made widely available beginning early in 2021.
Surging demand for COVID-19 tests from U.S. employers has exacerbated a countrywide shortage of rapid tests in recent weeks and is driving up costs for state and local testing programs, industry executives and state officials told Reuters this week.
“Employer demand has gone crazy,” said Quidel chief executive Doug Bryant. “We won’t be able to meet all the requests that we’re having.”
Testmakers, including Abbott Laboratories, Quidel and LumiraDX are scaling up production to meet rising demand. But significantly boosting test output will take weeks to months, half a dozen industry executives told Reuters.
Nearly a dozen state governments said they are grappling with shortages of rapid tests. In Missouri, limited supplies of Abbott’s Binax Now rapid tests, which typically sell to states for around $5 each, have forced it to consider other, more expensive options, a spokesperson for the state’s public health agency said.
It appeared the Biden administration was prepared to address this supply issue, with an announcement on Wednesday of the purchase of $1 billion US worth of tests.
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