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10 per cent of Ontario public schools has a COVID-19 case with 74 more cases reported


The number of new COVID-19 cases in public schools across the province has jumped by 74 in its latest report, to a total of 749 in the last two weeks.

In its latest data released Monday morning, the province reported 48 more students were infected for a total of 430 in the last two weeks; since school began there has been an overall total of 736 cases.

The data shows there are 10 more staff members for a total of 106 in the last two weeks — and an overall total of 203.

The latest report also shows 16 more individuals who weren’t identified for a total of 213 in that category — and an overall total of 373.

There are 483 schools with a reported case, which the province notes is 10 per cent of the 4,828 public schools in Ontario.

Four schools are currently closed, according to the Ministry of Health figures, two in York Region and two in Ottawa.

Holy Name Catholic Elementary School in King City and Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Elementary School in Woodbridge are closed until Oct. 26.

In Ottawa, École secondaire catholique Franco-Cité, a French Catholic high school, closed after 15 people tested positive while St. Jerome elementary school closed after two staff tested positive.

There is a lag between the daily provincial data at 10:30 a.m. and news reports about infections in schools. The provincial data on Monday is current as of 2 p.m. Friday so it doesn’t include weekend reports. It also doesn’t indicate where the place of transmission occurred.

The Toronto District School Board updates its information on current COVID-19 cases throughout the day on its website. As of Monday at 9 a.m., there were 118 TDSB schools with at least one active case — 128 students and 43 staff.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board also updates its information on its website. As of Monday at 10:25 a.m., there were 68 schools with a COVID-19 case, with 68 students and 20 staff infected.

Epidemiologists have told the Star that the rising numbers in the schools aren’t a surprise, and that the cases will be proportionate to the amount of COVID that is in the community. Ontario reported 704 new cases overall on Monday — 244 in Toronto, 168 in Peel, 103 in York Region and 51 in Ottawa.

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Cheyenne Bholla





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RCMP charge Ontario man over ‘hoax,’ say claims he fought for ISIL in Syria duped media


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RCMP has announced charges against a Burlington, Ontario man, saying he claimed to have gone to Syria to fight with ISIL in 2016, but was instead involved in an elaborate hoax.

On Friday, RCMP O Division’s Integrated National Security Enforcement Team (OINSET) announced the arrest of Shehroze Chaudhry, 25, “in connection with a hoax regarding terrorist activity.”

OINSET investigates people who have left Canada to join terror groups, or who later come back to Canada after being involved in terrorism overseas.

According to a release, Chaudhry did “numerous” media interviews with outlets, in which he claimed he went to Syria to fight for ISIL, and committed terrorist acts. Now, RCMP says it was all a hoax, and says Chaudhry was arrested for causing alarm in this country.

“The interviews were published in multiple media outlets, aired on podcasts and featured on a television documentary, raising public safety concerns amongst Canadians,” RCMP said.



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Anti-carbon tax sticker law unconstitutional, Ontario court finds


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The stickers show the federal carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of gas now, rising to 11 cents a litre in 2022. They do not include information about rebates available to residents.

Morgan said in the decision that the message was “blatantly advantage-seeking by a political party and a misuse of a governing party’s legislative power.”

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He pointed to a statement Energy Minister Greg Rickford made in April 2019 in which he said the province would “stick it to the Liberals and remind the people of Ontario how much this job-killing, regressive carbon tax costs.” That, said Morgan, shows the true purpose of the sticker was partisan.

Rickford said he respects the court decision, “but our government will always stand up for the people of Ontario when it comes to matters that make everyday life more expensive for hardworking families.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association, which brought the challenge, is thrilled, according to the director of its fundamental freedoms program.

“CCLA is very pleased that the Court recognized these stickers for what they are, an attempt to compel private entities to convey a government’s partisan political message,” Cara Zwibel said in a statement.

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A spokesman for the Ministry of the Attorney General declined to comment, saying the department is reviewing the decision.

“As this matter is still in the appeal period, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further,” Brian Gray said.

But the Official Opposition urged the government not to appeal.

“He has already wasted enough of people’s money on his anti-carbon price stickers that don’t stick — a partisan and dishonest propaganda campaign,” NDP Energy and Climate Crisis Critic Peter Tabuns said in a written statement.

Ontario has challenged Ottawa’s right to impose a carbon tax, and the Supreme Court is set to hear that case in September.

— With files by Shawn Jeffords.



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99 more COVID-19 cases in Ontario, province reports


There are 99 new cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, according to the Ministry of Health.

“Locally, 29 of 34 public health units are reporting five or fewer cases, with 21 of them reporting no new cases,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said Monday on Twitter.

No additional deaths were reported for the second straight day. There have been three fatal cases of COVID-19 in Ontario in the past week.

Elliott noted the province conducted 25,567 tests on Sunday up from 23,813 on Saturday.

There are 32 people in the province’s hospitals with coronavirus, 16 of whom are in intensive care. Of those, 10 patients are on ventilators.

Queen’s Park says 2,789 people have died from the virus since the pandemic struck in March, but the Star has determined there have been at least 2,827 COVID-19 deaths in Ontario.

The difference of at least 38 fatalities is because early in the outbreak, some deaths were not included in official tallies.

That’s because COVID-19 tests had not been conducted before the people — most of whom were elderly residents of long-term-care homes — died.

The government says there have been 40,745 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Ontario. But as of Friday, a Star count of regional public health units found 42,548 cases.

The Star’s tally includes some patients reported as “probable” COVID-19 cases, which means they have symptoms, travel history or contacts that indicate they likely have the disease, but haven’t yet received a positive test from a lab.

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Ontario non-profit tackling racism in justice system through education, enhanced reporting


A newly launched not-for-profit organization is embarking on a mission of tackling anti-Black and systemic racism in the justice system by working to directly support those impacted during the sentencing process and to better educate the legal community.

Faisal Mirza, a criminal trial and appeals lawyer, is one of three directors who recently launched The Sentencing and Parole Project.

The initiative, which has been in the works for months, has three focus areas: Addressing the over-representation and mistreatment of racialized residents in correctional facilities; proving education as it relates to anti-Black and systemic racism to all those involved in the justice system; and providing courts with enhanced pre-sentence reports.

READ MORE: Minorities over-represented in Canadian prisons, report finds

“You have systemic discrimination into society intersecting with systemic discrimination in the justice system, so they don’t live in silos,” Mirza told Global News in an interview.

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“In society, you will have a disproportionate number of racialized people living in the lower socio-economic conditions they will experience … which numerous studies have now documented.”

Indigenous, Black inmates disproportionately in Canadian correctional facilities

According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s (OCI) 2018-2019 annual report, Indigenous and Black inmates were over-represented in Canada’s corrections system.

While the 2016 Census found that approximately 4.9 per cent of Canada’s population is Indigenous, the OCI report said 28 per cent of those in custody were Indigenous — an 11 per cent overall increase compared to 10 years earlier.

Census data estimated Black residents make up almost 3.5 per cent of Canada’s overall population, but the OCI report found eight per cent of those in custody are Black — an overall one per cent increase compared to 10 years earlier and a two per cent decrease compared to three years earlier.


READ MORE:
Canada’s prison watchdog disturbed by ‘Indigenization’ of correctional system

Issues have been raised about mistreatment in correctional facilities. The report noted “though still low,” discrimination complaints appeared to be trending upward. The OCI said reports of discrimination from Black inmates represented 37 per cent of all complaints between 2008 and 2018.

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The OCI report also noted there has been a disproportionate increase of inmates who identify as being Muslim, noting there has been a 74 per cent increase over 10 years — now representing 7.73 per cent of the overall population. The report said the reason for this increase was unclear.

Meanwhile, the OCI found there was a “relative and proportional decline” in the total number of white inmates. As of 2018-2019, 52 per cent of those in custody are white — down overall by 14 per cent. 2016 Census data estimated almost 73 per cent of Canada’s population is white.

Pre-sentence reports and the call for enhanced information

Mirza said when it comes to the justice system and addressing systemic racism, an area that needs immediate attention is the pre-sentence report process.

Pre-sentence reports are often requested of probation officers by judges in cases where someone has been found guilty of a serious criminal offence. The specific policies and use of pre-sentence reports vary by province and territory. Judges are not bound by pre-sentence reports and can potentially use the reports as one of multiple factors in sentencing.

“The problem with the conventional pre-sentence report is that it is insufficient and inadequate, and over the past several decades we’ve relied on those conventional pre-sentence reports to provide essential information about offenders and the reality is that they fail to do so,” he said, noting while some submitted reports are decent others have just basic biographical details with limited background information.

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READ MORE:
Ontario judge chastises Quebec over ‘useless’ and ‘inflammatory’ sentencing report

“What we’ve tried to do is address that gap in information because we think it’s critical for judges to have that information in order to fairly sentence people — in order to get to the right determination.”

In Ontario’s pre-sentence report process, information gathered by a probation and parole officer includes factors relating to personal and family details, education and employment history, substance use and addictions, character and behaviour, a response to community supervision, an overall assessment and recommendations for the court. The officer can potentially gather information from interviews with the person charged, family members and police sources.

At the Sentencing and Parole Project, an enhanced pre-screening report prepared for the court is written by a clinician or an expert with medical training. They too can potentially conduct interviews with the person charged as well as with family and friends.

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The enhanced report more broadly considers the person’s social history — how they identify, background on their family, their social environment, their social relationships, education, lived experiences with anti-Black racism, work history, jail conditions, substance use and addictions, their character and behaviour, and an overall assessment and summary. The enhanced report may also include more detailed interview notes and contacts.

“It’s very difficult for an individual over the span of a single interview that lasts a few hours to tell them about what it was like to grow up in an impoverished neighborhood, what it was like to have significant police presence and negative experiences with the police, what it was like to be streamed in the education system and be subject to unfairness,” Mirza said, noting systemic disadvantages have affected the ability to get employment for many.

“So it’s very hard for a probation officer to get that information from an individual because they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the time, they don’t have the training, and they don’t seem to be able to develop the trust relationship in order to pull that information out.

“If you can’t identify what the person has gone through, got them up to that point, then you can’t really figure out what programs that they should be put into and then that’s where you get the problems and the jails.”

Mirza said the enhanced pre-sentence report process is newer in Ontario, noting it took quite a bit of time to get the first test case report done. He said The Sentencing and Parole Project can now potentially file an enhanced report between 60 and 90 days, a time period consistent with conventional reporting.

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‘Level the playing field’

While Mirza said the enhanced pre-sentence report process is newer in Ontario, he cited “pioneering” work in Nova Scotia by social worker Robert Wright.

He said courts in Nova Scotia aren’t waiting for defence lawyers to get legal aid funding and that enhanced pre-sentence reports are routinely ordered by judges.

Mirza said some lawyers have brought that approach to Ontario, adding over-representation of racialized residents in the justice system is a major concern.

READ MORE: UN council to discuss report calling on Canada to address anti-Black racism

“[The reports] provide the type of information that’s required for fairness, for decisions to be based on accurate information, so they’re evidence-based decisions. [It’s} no different than if somebody had a mental health issue — you would want the judge to know the particulars of that mental health issue so that they could use that information to determine what the right disposition is and what the right programs are for the individual,” he said.

“When they receive a report, it’s not an ‘aha’ moment. It’s an, ‘I understand. I get it. I’ve been exposed to this,’ right? And I can connect the dots so that when the individualized information is presented, they move away from the one-size-fits-all approach.”

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READ MORE:
Increasing calls for Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

Mirza said providing access to enhanced reports helps “level the playing field” for those who are marginalized and don’t have money to get privately funded pre-sentence reports prepared by social workers and doctors.

“They provide that information and the courts will look at that and say, ‘you know, this is a good person who did something wrong.’ And then the filter through which those people are examined is entirely different,” he said.

“This is a very important piece of the puzzle and we think that there needs to be a recognition that these better pre-sentence reports are required for everyone, and in particular for people who are over-represented, to understand their experiences with racial inequality and poverty.”

Educating the legal community, calls for other measures

When it comes to tackling systemic discrimination, Mirza said the provincial and federal governments have a lot of work to do and need to make investments.

He said education and government action needs to start at the earliest levels of education, citing recent reports of allegations of racism at the Peel District School Board.


READ MORE:
Is the Liberal government’s promise to repeal mandatory minimum sentences dead?

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As for other justice system reforms, he called for mandatory anti-Black racism training for all those in the justice system, improved use of force and de-escalation training, and scrapping mandatory minimum sentences.

“Anti-Black racism is at the forefront right now because of the social movement that’s going on and it presents an opportunity for us to do some inflection and look at what are the deficiencies in our justice system.”

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© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.





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Ontario will target hot spots and vulnerable workers in next round of COVID-19 testing


A new testing strategy for COVID-19 will see “targeted campaigns” to check workers in Ontario communities with hot spots and key sectors where the virus spreads easily, including auto manufacturing, food suppliers and major retailers.

Officials unveiled the new blueprint Friday, with elements echoing what Premier Doug Ford has been saying for more than a week — and what epidemiologists have been pushing for much longer — to get a better picture of the illness as the economy reopens.

“It’s really to be proactive and understand what’s happening,” said Dr. Vanessa Allen of Public Health Ontario, who was instrumental in cobbling together a network of provincial, hospital and private labs to expand testing capacity.

For example, workers at LCBO stores were offered testing in the last few days along with Toronto police, said Dr. Dirk Huyer, Ontario’s chief coroner, who was brought in to lead the testing strategy. Several liquor store workers have tested positive in the last few months.

If there are concerns about the virus in a particular business, mobile teams will be sent in to test, he added.

There are also plans to support “enhanced testing” for hospital workers and their families, residents and staff in retirement homes, and more testing in nursing homes, where a first testing blitz of all residents and staff was completed two weeks ago after the new coronavirus raced through hundreds of facilities. About 30 per cent of retirement home testing has been completed.

That testing will continue next week in addition to testing open to the public at Ontario’s 131 assessment centres, which changed their criteria two weeks ago to allow anyone with one symptom of COVID-19 to be swabbed, along with people with no symptoms but occupational risk of exposure, such as health-care workers, their families and grocery-store workers.

Previously, people with mild or moderate symptoms were turned away from testing centres and told to self-isolate at home. Confusion over eligibility prompted Ford to issue a plea for people to get checked under the new criteria.

The goal going forward is to “identify, contain and monitor” new cases and spread of COVID-19, officials said, releasing figures showing 55 per cent of test results are available the next day and 82 per cent within two days.

Aside from communities with a higher number of cases, officials will also focus on “high-risk” individuals, such as hospital patients and cross-border workers.

Officials are aiming to increase Ontario’s lab capacity to get ready for the fall, when more respiratory symptoms will pop up and create “a need for greater testing,” Allen said.

Ontario’s testing for COVID-19 has ramped up this week and is close to peaks rarely reached as the number of cases since the illness arrived four months ago approached 29,000 with almost 2,300 deaths.

Ministry of Health figures released Friday show 18,525 nasal swabs were processed at a network of provincial, hospital and commercial labs across the province the previous day.

The provincial daily lab capacity is just over 20,000.

Results were in progress on another 13,351 samples and there have now been 680,687 tests processed in the province of 14.5 million, or 4.7 per cent of the population.

There were another 391 confirmed and probable cases as of 11 a.m. Friday, according to a Star compilation of data from health units in the previous 24 hours.

That raised the total number of cases to 28,544 and 2,272 deaths.

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About 66 per cent of cases have been in the Greater Toronto Area.

To date, at least 1,625 nursing-home residents have died, and there are outbreaks in 123 homes, down six from the previous day. But 1,476 nursing-home residents and 1,113 staff members are still fighting active cases of the highly contagious virus that spreads easily in close quarters.

The Ministry of Health said there were 826 Ontarians in hospital for COVID-19, with 129 in intensive care and 100 on ventilators. While the first two numbers were down from the previous day, there were six more patients who had to be put on ventilators to breathe.

Just under 21,000 Ontarians have recovered from the virus.

Rob Ferguson





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First nurse in Ontario dies of COVID-19, province warns of new symptoms in kids


Ontario has lost its first nurse to COVID-19 and is amending the definition of the disease to include symptoms of a serious inflammatory syndrome that causes persistent fever and abdominal pain in children.

The registered nurse, Brian Beattie, worked at the Kensington Village long-term-care home in London, Ont. which declared an outbreak in early April and has lost five of its 78 residents to the highly contagious virus.

It’s not known how Beattie contracted the illness, which has also infected a handful of other staff at the home.

“He was the definition of dedication, and he considered his colleagues and residents to be his ‘other family,’” Ontario Nurses’ Association Vicki McKenna said Wednesday.

“While there will be much discussion about Ontario’s pandemic preparedness and protection of nurses and other health-care workers, this is not the time for speculation,” she added, noting the Ministry of Labour has been contacted to investigate the death.

More than 3,000 health-care workers, the majority of them in nursing homes, have contracted COVID-19, and several personal support workers have died from the illness. As of Tuesday, 180 nursing homes across the province were dealing with outbreaks.

Overall, the novel coronavirus has sickened more than 22,000 in Ontario since it first emerged here in late January and killed just over 1,800, including at least 1,239 long-term care residents.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said doctors are being advised to watch for a condition that is similar to Kawasaki Syndrome in children.

“Recent reports in Canada and internationally indicate that there may be an increase in multisystem inflammatory vasculitis, a rare but serious …illness that impacts children who have been diagnosed with COVID-19,” she said in a statement.

U.S. media have been reporting on this as an atypical presentation of the illness in children, which has appeared in a number of states.

Aside from the persistent fever and abdominal pain, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and a rash.

“Parents should contact their health care providers immediately if their children are having these symptoms,” Elliott said, acting on the advice of chief medical officer Dr. David Williams.

While recent data suggests the majority of COVID-19 infections in children are mild, the province will begin tracking this new condition. The Ministry of Health said people under 19 account for five per cent of coronavirus cases and none are known to have died.

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Rob Ferguson





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Is COVID-19 peaking in Ontario?


Public health modelling predicts Ontario could hit its COVID-19 peak this week and then start to decline, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Barbara Yaffe says.

If Ontario residents continue to practice social distancing — something the vast majority have been doing — then the crisis could begin to ebb after the peak, she said.

“There will still be cases, but we’ll be on the downside,” Yaffe said Monday. “So that does give me a glimmer of hope but with some caution built in.”

Ontario confirmed 421 new COVID-19 cases Monday, the second day in a row with a 6% increase in new cases.

The province has 7,470 confirmed cases overall with 291 deaths, a daily increase of 17.

The greatest number of lives lost — 120 — has been among residents of long-term care homes where there have been 89 outbreaks.

Premier Doug Ford said he wants every resident in a long-term care home tested for COVID-19.

“We have a duty to take care of those who cannot look after themselves,” Ford said, adding his own mother-in-law is in a residence that his wife, Karla, is not allowed to enter.

Ontario public health testing guidelines do not go that far. They recommend that even in cases where COVID-19 has been confirmed in a long-term care home or retirement home, only asymptomatic contacts of the confirmed case, including residents in adjacent rooms, be tested.

The Ontario government has yet to order part-time workers to stop going to multiple jobs at different long-term care facilities, although it is recommended, Yaffe said.

Such a move, as has occurred in British Columbia, would likely still have an effect in stopping the spread of the coronavirus in long-term care homes, she said.

A pregnant nurse, who told the Toronto Sun a week ago that staff in long-term care homes were not being given appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), said they are now supplied with gowns and masks.

“But I think it was really too late,” the source said Monday. “The government missed it… That’s why we’re really getting growing numbers of infected older people in nursing homes, because they missed that.”

In the two most deadly outbreaks, 22 residents died at the Seven Oaks long-term care facility in Scarborough and 29 residents passed away at the Pinecrest Nursing Home in Bobcaygeon.

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Ontario boosting COVID-19 capacity to test almost 20,000 people a day by mid-April


Ontario plans to be able to run 5,000 COVID-19 tests a day by the end of this week and aims to perform almost 20,000 tests a day by April 17, provincial health officials say.

That’s a big step up from the roughly 2,500 tests Ontario has been processing each day. This is all part of a plan to both clear a massive testing backlog and to prepare for the expected strain on the system as the pandemic spreads in the province.

“In Ontario we have taken immediate and important steps to increase our provincial testing capacity,” said Helen Angus, Ontario’s deputy health minister and chair of the COVID-19 Command Table. She said partnerships with hospital and community laboratories will help ramp up capacity. By April 17, Angus said labs across Ontario will be performing 18,900 tests a day.

Instead of the majority of COVID-19 swab samples going to the provincial lab — as they now do — samples will be sent to private and hospital labs that have the capacity, starting immediately. Other geographical areas in the province, particularly the North, will have added capacity under the new plan.

Despite that increased capacity, there are no plans to test everyone who is sick.

“It is not feasible and it is not desirable,” said Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Ontario’s deputy chief medical officer of health. “I know people are worried and there is a lot of fear and concern out there and somehow getting a test result could make you feel better, but it may give you a false sense of security.”

Ontario is prioritizing health-care workers and others who by the nature of their job or where they live (residents and workers in nursing homes and homeless shelters as an example) are at risk of infection, and also the very sick who are hospitalized with severe respiratory symptoms. Others are encouraged to stay home, self-isolate, and if they develop severe respiratory symptoms, chest pains or extreme lethargy go to a hospital emergency.

And not everyone at the site of an outbreak needs to be tested, officials said. Using long-term-care facilities as an example, health officials who briefed the media Thursday said that if three people on a nursing home floor test positive, and others are sick on that floor, there is no need to test them as they are presumed to have the virus and will be treated as if they do.

As of Thursday morning, Ontario had increased its daily testing capacity to 2,439, although officials overstated that during the briefing, saying Ontario was currently at “3,000 to 4,000 tests a day.” Provincial data showed that as of Thursday morning the testing backlog — number of samples taken but not processed — was 10,965, a number that has been steadily growing but with a slower growth rate in the past few days.

Scientists are learning with each day’s experience. Officials at the briefing said the testing protocol and testing sensitivity has grown as scientists in Canada and around the world learn more and more about the novel coronavirus. “Lab tests are now so sensitive that even the smallest trace of COVID-19 can be detected,” Angus said.

Starting Thursday, Ontario is reallocating COVID-19 tests that would normally have been done at the Public Health Ontario laboratories to hospital and private labs. Angus said Ontario has had strong response from private labs that want to help out.

Officials reiterated Thursday that Ontario continues to prioritize health-care workers, people in long-term-care facilities and homeless shelters, patients hospitalized with severe respiratory symptoms, and people in “remote First Nations reserves,” and returning travellers with symptoms.

“We recognize that not everybody at this point can be tested quickly and not everybody really needs to be tested in terms of the clinical treatment they would get,” said Yaffe, the associate chief medical officer of health.

“The ones we are prioritizing are where there is an impact on a lot of other vulnerable people and so the result needs to be done quickly,” Yaffe said.

As to how many the province is missing due to this testing protocol, Yaffe said they do not know. “Many, many thousands of people” have used the province’s online assessment tool, she said.

“As we expand the number of tests we will have a better sense of the prevalence in the population,” said deputy health minister Angus.

Officials said doctors still have leeway to determine who will be tested, along with the provincial priorities.

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Matt Andersen, president and CEO of Ontario Health, said the province estimates it can add 4,000 additional completed tests each week, growing to a capacity of close to 20,000 by the middle of April.

A big concern provincial health officials have is Ontario residents returning from winter vacations. “There’s real concern about the snowbirds coming back and make sure we are looking at them and pulling out all the stops to get them to stay home” and self-isolate, said Angus.

Kevin Donovan





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Labour leaders threaten general strike as they protest outside Ontario PC convention


NIAGARA FALLS, ONT.—Ontario is careening toward a general strike unless Premier Doug Ford changes his ways, a key labour leader warned outside a convention hall where the Progressive Conservatives debated their next steps in running the province.

Carrying protest signs and waving union flags, about 1,000 people gathered in biting cold winds Saturday as Ford and an equal number of cabinet ministers, MPPs and party activists started developing the PC platform for the June 2022 election.

“If the Conservatives don’t listen to us … we will shut this province down,” declared Patty Coates, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, which organized the event to fight what she called Ford’s “regressive agenda.”

Inside the convention later in the day, Ford said the government is sticking to its “pro-business, pro-jobs, pro-people government” and repeated a promise he has not yet been able to keep – putting beer and wine in corner stores.

“My friends, the 2022 campaign starts today, starts now,” he told delegates during an 18-minute dinner speech in which he boasted of cancelling unnecessary green energy projects, planning new subway lines in Toronto and pledging “we’re here for the little guy.”

“Absolutely nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to stop us,” Ford vowed. “Our economy is firing on all cylinders.”

He took aim at the Liberals who will elect a new leader in two weeks after a campaign that has seen former cabinet minister Steven Del Duca take a commanding lead.

“The people we’re up against are the same ones who ran this province into the ground.”

Ford did not take questions, but Government House Leader Paul Calandra brushed aside the prospect of a broad labour disruption.

“We’re always willing to listen to anybody who wants to bring their opinions forward,” he told reporters amid unusually tight security and restrictions for a political convention by any party.

Journalists’ identities were checked and bags searched before they were escorted to a news conference with Calandra and Ford’s speech under instructions not to roam the convention hall where delegates were emerging from policy discussions.

“There is hot debate,” Calandara added. “Grassroots members would like to have that opportunity to have those discussions in private.”

Behind closed doors, former Ford campaign head Kory Teneycke advised delegates to hold steady in the face of opposition, particularly “those who have gotten fat from the largesse of past regimes” as the government works to balance the budget in 2023.

“Being a party of responsible choices is not just thankless, it’s often met with protests, anger and vitriol,” he says in a video obtained by the Star.

Other sources inside the convention told the Star party members were voting, among other items, on resolutions from social conservatives, including one from former PC leadership candidate Tanya Granic Allen to axe the old Liberal sex education curriculum which Ford initially opposed and later relented after a consultation with parents.

In education sessions, there were concerns raised that the government is not getting its message out on countering the rotating teacher strikes and there was talk of more “choice” in education, particularly for faith-based schools – a promise that former PC leader John Tory made in the 2007 election campaign only to be soundly defeated by then-premier Dalton McGuinty.

Calandra apologized “unreservedly” to CBC reporter Mike Crawley who was repeatedly interrupted by a guard from Viking Security Corp. while doing a live report on the sidewalk outside the convention centre on Friday night.

“It wasn’t something that the PC party had asked to be done,” Calandra maintained.

But a co-owner of Viking challenged Calandra’s response.

“It was laid out ahead of time and in that moment,” Tammy Rolland said in a telephone interview with the Star, referring to an advance briefing with party officials and orders given on the scene. “He told me he was told to do it,” she added, referring to the guard.

At the rally outside Saturday, leaders of several unions, from teachers to health care and grocery store workers, hopped on the back of a flatbed truck to take the government to task for its 1 per cent public sector wage cap, plan for larger class sizes, more online learning, changes to autism funding that have left parents scrambling, and stalling the rise to a $15 minimum wage.

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“Let this government know that we will hold them accountable … for what they’re doing to working families,” Coates added.

“They need to change course.”

The crowd arrived on buses from as far away as Windsor and Ottawa, with two protesters bearing elaborate effigies of Ford and many sporting buttons saying “I am the people,” a twist on the premier’s victorious 2018 campaign slogan and theme song “for the people.”

The event followed Friday’s much larger encirclement of Queen’s Park by thousands of teachers from four unions whose one-day strike shut down every school in the province.

“This isn’t just about education,” Liz Stuart, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said during 90 minutes of speeches.

“Next comes health care. Next comes all our public services — unless we push back.”

Sarah Labelle of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents tens of thousands of civil servants, echoed the OFL’s threat of widespread labour unrest.

“If it takes a general strike down the road we’re not scared.”

New Democrat MPP Wayne Gates, who represents Niagara Falls in the legislature, said the government has proven itself incapable of managing the province with a number of high-profile policy reversals after measures have backfired.

“They can’t even make licence plates,” he added in a mocking tone, referring to a problem that dogged Ford’s administration all week.

New double-blue plates which went into distribution Feb. 1 are hard to read in the dark because they give off a glare under some lighting conditions.

After initially denying the problem first raised by a Kingston police officer in a tweet that went viral, Government and Consumer Services said Thursday a fix is the works and plates already issued will be replaced.

The plates have been dubbed “propaganda plates” because they are in Conservative blue colours.

Rob Ferguson





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