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Northern Sask. outbreak reveals plight of Indigenous communities during COVID-19

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TORONTO —
Provinces are slowly opening up businesses after seeing positive results from weeks of coronavirus measures, but as cases decline in certain regions, Indigenous communities in remote locations are seeing a new surge.

In Saskatchewan, there’s been a large outbreak in the northern community of La Loche, where more than 160 people have contracted the virus.

The nearby Clearwater Dene First Nations has 21 cases, according to The Canadian Press, and two Indigenous elders who lived at the local seniors’ home in La Loche have died.

Advocates are saying the government should have seen this coming.

“This is very predictable,” Dr. Anna Banerji, an infectious disease specialist and co-chair of the Indigenous Health Conference at the University of Toronto, told CTV News.

“There are many longstanding disparities between Indigenous communities and non-Indigenous communities. There are severe overcrowding in some of these communities, a lack of … water security, a lack of food security in these communities.”

One of the current struggles that Indigenous communities are facing during the pandemic is a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Banerji, along with Indigenous leaders from across Canada, created a petition more than a month ago urging the federal government to take more steps to assist Indigenous communities.

She pointed out to CTV News that within Indigenous communities, there are often disproportionately high rates of chronic disease and other illnesses, such as “diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure … which are all risk factors for COVID.”

In a press briefing this weekend, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller acknowledged that Indigenous communities “have a higher risk of being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.”

The government has sent 129 PPE shipments to First Nations communities in Saskatchewan, he said, with 59 shipments sent to northern Saskatchewan communities.

A community-led response has also sprung up, aiming to get supplies to La Loche and other communities like it.

A Saskatoon family physician started a fundraiser on Thursday aiming to raise $15,000 to help send supplies to the northern community and by Sunday, the GoFundMe had already received more than $38,000.

“We’ve also been working with volunteer organizations that are also trying to get PPE rapidly up to the communities,” Banerji said.

She said they were working with organizations making cloth masks as well, and were trying to figure out “the logistics on how to get some of these masks into the communities.”

One organization is Ilisaqsivik, an Inuit charity based in Nunavut which is focused on community wellness.

“People can donate money to them to get the local community members to buy materials and supplies and make masks and distribute the masks in the Arctic,” Banerji said.

Many reserves and Indigenous communities closed their land borders to outsiders early on in the pandemic, hoping to limit exposure. Because of this and the remote location of many northern communities, some regions that had low case numbers during the past few weeks are only seeing a spike now.

“This situation demonstrates that the onset of COVID in some Indigenous communities may have been delayed by remoteness,” Miller said. “We need to remain vigilant.”

The remote location of many communities, particularly fly-in areas, may have contributed to the delay in the virus reaching them, but it also creates issues with getting supplies in, and seriously ill patients out.

Banerji said this was one of the issues she was worried about weeks ago.

“Part of [our petition to the federal government] was asking for more funding, equitable funding across the different Indigenous communities, especially fly-in communities, where there can be major delays in getting people out,” she said.

She added that these remote communities in most cases don’t have access to ventilators.

The current situation is all the more troubling for Indigenous community members who have not forgotten the last time the federal government failed Indigenous communities during a virus outbreak.

When H1N1 struck Indigenous communities in Manitoba more than 10 years ago, Health Canada caused an uproar by responding to the community’s need with a disturbing gift: shipments of body bags.

It’s something that sticks in the mind. Banerji said that “some communities were decimated,” during H1N1 and also during smallpox before that.

Miller said that the government was learning from the mistakes made during those H1N1 outbreaks in Indigenous communities in 2009.

He also acknowledged the need for more data on just how COVID-19 is affecting the Indigenous population in Canada.

Miller pointed out that demographic data regarding Indigenous cases of COVID-19 are only gathered on reserves, even though Indigenous peoples live all over Canada.

“Given that La Loche is a Metis, Dene community of an overwhelming majority, the presumption than is that the entire 179 cases or so [in La Loche and the surrounding area] are Indigenous,” he said. “And that’s a gap in the data, frankly.”

When it comes to tracking how many Indigenous peoples are contracting the virus within cities hard-hit by the pandemic, such as Toronto or Montreal, he said, “that data is just not there.”

Advocates and health experts have been asking for weeks for health officials to be collecting more demographic data in relation to the pandemic, but The Canadian Press reported Wednesday that the Public Health Agency of Canada was still only considering it.

Canada’s Chief public health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, acknowledged Wednesday that there were holes in the data.

Miller is now joining the call, saying in the press briefing that demographic data needs to be recorded for cases of COVID-19 among Indigenous peoples living outside of reserves. He said that in order for this to happen, provincial governments and health agencies would need to step up.

“We need to be able to put forward tailored measures to prevent further outbreaks, as well as to expand and improve effective interventions if they occur,” he said.

In a step forward, he announced that the government is putting $250,000 towards an initiative to “implement a COVID-19 tracking and response platform for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis.

“This project will include the development of a COVID-19 consortium comprised of federal, provincial, territorial First Nations, Inuit and Metis partners, and their data analysis will help inform the response to COVID-19 by Indigenous communities with the support of the federal government,” he said.

Banerji is hoping that the plight of Indigenous communities will wake up those in power.

“Much more needs to be done, and I think we need to listen to the Indigenous leaders as far as their communities and what the communities need,” she said.

“We really need long-standing changes in … the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the government of Canada and the Canadian population.”

Until there are equitable policies regarding housing, food security, healthcare and education, she said, these communities may remain vulnerable to disasters.

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Corrections watchdog urges moratorium on doctor-assisted deaths in Canadian prisons – Kamloops This Week

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Thanksgiving, large gatherings to blame for surge in COVID-19 cases in Ontario, officials say

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As Ontario saw record numbers of daily COVID-19 cases over the weekend, health officials on Monday are putting some of the blame on large gatherings that may have taken place over Thanksgiving two weeks ago. 

In York Region, 16 people, including three infants, are believed to have contracted the novel coronavirus following a Thanksgiving gathering. 

Three families gathered at a home in Vaughan over a span of two weeks around the Thanksgiving weekend.

At least one person attended despite having mild symptoms. 

One family member then went to work while symptomatic and infected two additional individuals. 

“Every time we socialize with anyone beyond our immediate household, there’s a risk that we enter into,” said Dr. Karim Kurji, York Region’s medical officer of health. 

“This particular cluster illustrates that sort of a risk.”

In the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Health Minister Christine Elliott pointed at Thanksgiving gatherings as one of the factors for the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. 

“We are also starting to see some of the numbers go down in some of the modified areas but because of the impacts of Thanksgiving, we’re not seeing that happening quite as quickly as we’d like to,” Elliott said.

Weddings, religious service exempt from provincial gathering limits

This past weekend, nearly 100 people, many without masks, congregated outside a Toronto church for a wedding on Saturday. 

A woman, whose identity CBC News agreed to protect because she fears repercussions from the community, was passing by when she saw the gathering and spoke out.

“It was wrong,” said the woman.

“It was going against everything we’re being asked to do right now and it gives the impression that what they’re doing matters more than keeping the rest of the people safe,” she said. 

Ontario has restricted gatherings to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors in areas that are in Stage 2 — Toronto, Peel Region and Ottawa.

But religious services, like weddings — even in hotspots like Toronto — are exempt, as long as the venue is at less than 30 per cent capacity. 

In a briefing Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the rules may need to be changed.

“I think we have to take another look at those regulations,” he said. 

“Any large gathering, no matter how careful you are, has a certain risk associated with it.”

PC MPP under fire for maskless photo at indoor gathering

Meanwhile, a Progressive Conservative MPP is under fire for not wearing a mask while posing for a group photo.

Sam Oosterhoff posted the picture on social media over the weekend but later deleted it. 

“I think it was shocking,” said Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca on Monday. 

“I think it was inappropriate and I think there definitely needs to be consequences for Mr. Oosterhoff.”

Oosterhoff, who is also the parliamentary assistant to the education minister, apologized for the picture, saying he should have worn a mask when taking the photo, given the proximity of the people around him.

Critics have called for his resignation, saying he was not following his government’s pandemic guidance. 

In the province’s daily COVID-19 briefing, Premier Doug Ford said that’s not going to happen. 

“Hey guys, everyone makes mistakes,” said Ford. 

“I have 100 per cent confidence in Sam. He does a great job representing his area. People love him out there and he came out and apologized.”



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‘A community champion,’ philanthropist and former Ticats owner, David Braley dies at 79

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Hamilton is mourning the loss of David Braley, a former owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats with three decades of success in the Canadian Football League, a supporter of sport in the city, and an honoured philanthropist. 

Braley, who had owned the BC Lions since 1997, passed away in his Burlington, Ont. home at age 79, says a media release from the team.  

In a tweet, Mayor of Hamilton Fred Eisenberger called Braley a “community champion.”

“David Braley’s contributions live on and continue to make our city a better place,” he wrote. “His passion for community, arts & sport was immeasurable.”

He also journeyed into politics, when former Prime Minster Stephen Harper appointed Braley to the Canadian Senate in 2010, where he served for nearly three years. 

He was appointed to the Order of Canada in 2019 “for his contributions to the Canadian Football League, and for his entrepreneurial and philanthropic leadership in his community.” 

His philanthropy was remembered in a tweet Monday from Hamilton Health Sciences which said “We are profoundly saddened by the passing of David Braley. He was a champion for the people of Hamilton and contributed so much to improving medical education and research to the benefit of the global community.”

In a media release Bob Young, caretaker of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, said “I and the Tiger-Cats mourn David’s passing. He was an enthusiastic Hamiltonian and a wonderful benefactor to our community’s hospitals and universities. The CFL and Hamilton communities have lost a great leader and champion today.”

The first team Braley owned in the Canadian Football League (CFL) was the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1989 to 1992, when it returned to community ownership.

During his first season of ownership, the Ticats went to the Grey Cup.

“While David was well known for his role with the BC Lions, he was also always, at heart, a Ticat fan. Our sincerest condolences go out to David’s family, and his wide circle of friends and admirers across our community,” said Young. 

Braley went on to collect four Grey Cups during his time as an owner in the CFL. Three of them were with the BC Lions, and his last was with the Toronto Argonauts, which he owned from 2010 to 2015.

The Argonauts won the 100th Grey Cup in 2012. 

He also acted as chairman of the CFL’s Board of Governors and served as an interim commissioner from March to November in 2002. 

Braley was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2012), McMaster Sports Hall of Fame (2007) and Hamilton Sports Hall of Fame (2006).

Tributes to man whose name adorns buildings across the city are being posted on social media. 

Along with contributions to football, Braley championed sport in Hamilton by helping to bring the World Cycling Championships to the city in 2012. 

He was also part of southern Ontario’s successful bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games, which saw Tim Hortons Field host all 32 soccer matches. 

“David Braley…was our champion in every sense of the word,” said CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie in a statement. 

“David didn’t just talk about this idea. He lived it. An owner of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, as well as the Argos and Lions, he often stepped in to sustain and turn around franchises when they needed him the most.”

Braley was born in Montreal in 1941, but moved to Hamilton two years later. The Ticats say he discovered his true passion for football after attending his first Tiger-Cats game at Ivor Wynne Stadium. 

He played high school football at Westdale Secondary School, studied sciences at McMaster University, and worked with General Motors Acceptance Corporation in Hamilton and then with London Life Insurance.

In 1969, he purchased William Orlick Industries, which is now known as Orlick Industries, and transformed it into a leading manufacture of aluminum die-cast auto parts that provided hundreds of jobs in the Hamilton area. 

Braley has donated over $125 million to various organizations, says the Ticats media release. 

From August 2006 to June 2007, he donated $50 million to McMaster’s medical school and another $5 million for the university’s athletic centre, which is named after him. 

Braley also gave $10 million to Hamilton Health Sciences for a new cardiac, vascular and research institute, also named after the philanthropist, and $5 million to St. Joseph’s Healthcare for operating rooms and kidney care. 



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