Ottawa protest arrests, more provinces loosening restrictions: In The News for Feb. 2


Published February 2, 2022 at 5:23 am

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Feb. 2 …

What we are watching in Canada …

The Ottawa Police Service says it has charged two men following demonstration-related investigations as the anti-COVID-19 vaccine mandate protest continues to keep the capital at a standstill.

Police say 37-year-old Andre Lacasse was charged on Sunday with carrying a weapon to a public meeting, while 29-year-old Matthew Dorken was charged with mischief under $5,000.

Ottawa residents frustrated with the incessant blare of truck horns, traffic gridlock and harassment by some members of the protest have questioned how police have handled the demonstration.

Police and city officials have stressed the need to avoid inflaming the situation in a way that could prompt serious violence.

Canada Unity, the group behind the convoy, originated during the 2019 pro-pipeline convoy to Ottawa but morphed into an anti-COVID-19 restriction protest after the pandemic began.

Demonstrators have suggested they plan to remain in Ottawa until all COVID-19 public health restrictions are lifted.

Police estimate they have spent roughly $800,000 per day to supervise the protest and respond to emergencies, and there are calls for some of the millions of dollars raised in support of the demonstration to make reparations for some of the actions of those involved.

The Private Motor Truck Council of Canada cited the desecration of the National War Memorial and the Terry Fox statue downtown, as well as the harassment of servers and patrons of the Shepherds of Good Hope homeless shelter. The council suggests Canada Unity make a donation to the Terry Fox Foundation, the Royal Canadian Legion and the Shepherds of Good Hope.

On Tuesday, the House of Commons passed four unanimous consent motions introduced by the Liberals, including to condemn the use of Nazi and antisemitic symbols, anti-Muslim rhetoric and the waving of racist flags.

The fourth motion effectively called on the House to declare there is nothing peaceful about the protests that harass residents of Ottawa, particularly those who identify as LGBTQ.

Also this …

More provinces say they are preparing to loosen COVID-19 restrictions in the coming weeks, despite virus-related hospitalizations remaining high.

British Columbia’s provincial health officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said gathering restrictions will begin to slowly be eased later this month.

Even as Alberta reported a record 1,585 people in hospital with the virus, Premier Jason Kenney said he is optimistic the province will be able to relax some public health measures and remove its vaccine passport program by the end of February, providing hospital pressures decline.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced yesterday that gyms and spas, which have been closed since Dec. 20, will be able to reopen on Feb. 14.

He also said he is scrapping a plan to tax people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19, saying the plan has proven to be divisive at a time he wants to bring Quebecers together.

After allowing restaurant dining rooms to reopen Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he will continue with plans to further ease restrictions on Feb. 21 and March 14, despite a warning from the province’s scientific advisory panel.

On Tuesday, a panel of scientists that advises the provincial government said that COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions will likely rise following this week’s reopening, with modelling showing “prolonged” pressure on the health system.

Prince Edward Island’s chief public health officer said she will announce a loosening of restrictions next week, which could include isolation requirements for travellers arriving on the island as well as restrictions on organized gatherings and recreational activities.

And this …

Experts say the Omicron wave appears to be cresting but it’s difficult to predict what lies ahead.

Professor Bernard Crespi, an evolutionary biologist at Simon Fraser University, says Omicron broke through people’s health defences, while its quick spread left a higher degree of natural immunity.

He says that means it will be difficult for the next variant to get a foothold because people either have immunity or have been vaccinated.

However, Crespi says there’s always a possibility that the next variant will spread like Omicron and we’ll end up with more hospitalizations and deaths

He says the transition from pandemic to fully endemic, with something like the common cold, could take anywhere from a few years to perhaps dozens or hundreds of years.

Doctor Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Toronto, says the impact of the next variant can be blunted by a combination of vaccinations, masking and other public health guidelines, just as it was done with Omicron.

Doctor Nelson Lee, interim director of the Institute for Pandemics at the University of Toronto, says he believes the virus that causes COVID-19 will transition to an epidemic with seasonal waves like the flu.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

SALT LAKE CITY _ A deep-red state that’s home to some of Donald Trump’s most vocal conservative critics will welcome members of the Republican National Committee this week for a meeting in which party officials are expected to solidify the former U.S. president’s status as the GOP standard-bearer ahead of the midterm elections.

Utah _ home to U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, co-founders of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project and 2016 presidential candidate Evan McMullin _ will serve as the backdrop for discussions over issues that are important to Trump, including participation in presidential debates and a resolution censuring the two Republicans on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

There are few overwhelmingly Republican states where Trump’s demeanour clashes with the political culture like he does in Utah, a conservative bastion that prides itself on maintaining political civility in polarizing times. The state has mostly bucked leftward political shifts that have swept neighbouring Nevada, Colorado and Arizona. Republicans, who control the governor’s mansion and the statehouse, say the state’s low unemployment and rapid economic growth provide a model for the benefits of conservative governance and political discourse.

“We’ve got something that you’ll hear a lot about: It’s called the Utah way,” said McMullin, who is now running for the U.S. Senate as an independent. “Usually, it has something to do with finding common ground to solve problems. I mean, that’s what has defined our politics.”

In closed-door meetings this week, RNC members are expected to discuss a proposal to force candidates seeking the party’s nomination to pledge not to participate in debates run by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has played a defining role in presidential contests for the last 30 years. The item, rooted in Trump’s long-standing criticisms of the commission, is expected to be voted on by the full membership this summer.

RNC members are also expected to resume a debate over whether to retain Iowa and New Hampshire as the first two states to vote, or change the order, as Democrats are mulling. Committee members may also take up a resolution about expelling GOP Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney from the party for joining the Jan. 6 House committee.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

SEOUL, South Korea _ North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and his wife attended a Lunar New Year’s Day concert in Pyongyang where he received thunderous cheers from audience members and artists who praised him for heralding a “new era” of national power, state media reported.

The North’s official media has been highlighting Kim’s authoritarian leadership following a spree of missile tests in January, which some experts see as an attempt to pressure Washington over deadlocked nuclear negotiations after two years of pandemic border closures and economic decay.

The Biden administration has called for the U.N. Security Council to meet Thursday to discuss North Korea’s most recent test of an intermediate-range missile potentially capable of reaching Guam, a key U.S. military hub in the Pacific. Sunday’s test signalled a resumption of major weapons testing that Kim had suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with then-U.S. President Donald Trump.

Talks between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled since the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for a major release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.

The Korean Central News Agency on Wednesday said Kim and his wife, Ri Sol Ju, were greeted with “stormy cheers” after arriving at Pyongyang’s massive Mansudae Art Theater for Tuesday’s concert. KCNA said the audience appreciated that Kim was “ushering in on this land a new world and a new era when the people’s ideals and happiness and desire for building a powerful country are comprehensively translated into reality.”

The North’s accelerated weapons tests, which came amid efforts to strengthen internal unity and tighten the government’s grip over the economy, possibly reflect a sense of urgency within Pyongyang’s leadership for outside relief, analysts say.

Sunday’s flight test of the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile marked the longest-distance weapon the North has tested since 2017, when it twice flew Hwasong-12s over Japan and, separately, three intercontinental ballistic missiles that demonstrated the potential to reach deep into the American homeland.

On this day in 1999 …

The death of groundhog Wiarton Willie was announced. Canada’s most famous rodent weather forecaster had been emerging from his burrow in Wiarton, Ont., for 10 years to predict how much longer the winter would last.

In entertainment …

NEW YORK _ Whoopi Goldberg was suspended for two weeks Tuesday as co-host of “The View” because of what the head of ABC News called her ‘wrong and hurtful comments” about Jews and the Holocaust.

“While Whoopi has apologized, I’ve asked her to take time to reflect and learn about the impact of her comments. The entire ABC News organization stands in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues, friends, family and communities,” ABC News President Kim Godwin said in a statement.

The suspension came a day after Goldberg’s comment during a discussion on “The View” that race was not a factor in the Holocaust. Goldberg apologized hours later and again on Tuesday’s morning episode, but the original remark drew condemnation from several prominent Jewish leaders.

“My words upset so many people, which was never my intention,” she said Tuesday morning. “I understand why now and for that I am deeply, deeply grateful because the information I got was really helpful and helped me understand some different things.”

Goldberg made her original comments during a discussion on the show Monday about a Tennessee school board’s banning of “Maus,” a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Nazi death camps during the Second World War. She said the Holocaust was “not about race… it’s about man’s inhumanity to other man.”

The flare-up over Goldberg’s remarks this week highlighted the enduring complexity of some race-related issues, including the widespread but strongly contested notion that only people of colour can be victims of racism.

“Effective immediately, I am suspending Whoopi Goldberg for two weeks for her wrong and hurtful comments,” Godwin said in her statement.


For the second year in a row, Canada’s famous furry forecasters will be offering their seasonal predictions to a virtual audience.

In the interest of public safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be no crowds for Groundhog Day predictions in Nova Scotia and Ontario today.

Folklore has it that if a groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, he’ll retreat to his burrow, a sign that winter will go on for six more weeks, and if he doesn’t, it means spring will arrive early.

In Nova Scotia, Shubenacadie Sam is set to emerge from her home to make her prediction around 7 a.m. ET.

About an hour later in Ontario, Wiarton Willie – a brown groundhog stepping into the role this year instead of an albino one – is expected to take his guess.

Last year, Wiarton Willie was nowhere to be seen in a video marking the day, with officials calling an early spring after throwing a fur hat into the air – a move they said recalled the tradition’s first edition more than 60 years ago.

Months later, the town of South Bruce Peninsula, where the community of Wiarton is located, publicly acknowledged that Willie had died of an abscessed tooth.

Mayor Janice Jackson said the albino rodent died “quite a while before the last Groundhog Day,” but didn’t specify when, and noted that a brown groundhog would take his place this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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