Concert curfew for London, Ont. gets bad reception from council committee

A pitch from city staff that aims to place a curfew on weekday concerts in London, Ont., has failed to garner an endorsement from local politicians.

City staff recommend limiting amplified concerts on weekdays to only operating between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. If approved, the new rule would go into place after Labour Day and would apply to concerts held at Harris Park or Victoria Park, both of which are City of London property.

On Tuesday, city councillors sitting on the community and protective services committee (CPSC) had their first crack at debating the matter.

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The recommendation comes in response to complaints lodged at the city and councillors during 2019’s Park Jam Festival in Harris Park.

“Complaints were largely about how the Thursday, September 5, 2019 portion of the event was aligned with the first day of school, being September 6, 2019,” said a report prepared by the city’s director of recreation and sport Jon-Paul McGonigle.

City staff hope the concert curfew would “limit the disruption caused by special events on a school and/or workday,” the report added.

The recommendation would serve as an “interim solution” for the fall of 2021 before city staff conduct a more fulsome review on London’s special events policies for spring of 2022.

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Ward 1 Coun. Shawn Lewis was quick to denounce the recommendation with comments laden with references to the film Footloose, which centres on a teenager’s push to overturn a small town’s ban on dancing.

“This is London, not Bomont. Especially as we come out of the pandemic recovery, I think our job is to be more Ren McCormarck, not so much Rev. Moore. We want people to go downtown and cut footloose a little bit on the evenings when they’re able to do so,” Lewis said.

The complaints surrounding Park Jam’s 2019 festival were initially brought forward in council by Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga, but she told her fellow CPSC members that the recommendation was not her intention.

“I was looking to see what kinds of bylaw we could look at to protect… Harris Park,” Kayabaga said, nothing that Park Jam’s 2019 festival had used the park for a period of two weeks.

“This, to me, does not sound like it reflects any of the conversation that we had two years ago.”

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Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih motioned the committee to ignore the recommendation, adding that London needs to help its entertainment and music sectors thrive.

“I recognize for some its difficult and the noise can be of a nuisance for some. For the vast majority of Londoners, it’s something they enjoy and something that they look forward to,” Salih added.

The committee voted unanimously in favour of Salih’s motion, meaning the concert curfew is expected to be ignored when full city council meets on Aug. 10.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

'She lost her will to live': Ontario caregiver reflects on mother's time in long-term care during COVID

WATCH ABOVE: In the wake of her mother’s death, an Ontario woman who became an advocate during the pandemic for caregivers and residents of long-term care reflects on the many problems in the system. As Caryn Lieberman reports, she met with Minister Rod Phillips to share her insight.

Maureen McDermott dreaded the day she could no longer care for her 91-year-old mother at home.

“My mom is the most important person in my life. I grew up with a very large family. I lost all four of my siblings and it was just her and I,” she said.

With Elsie’s growing medical needs due to COPD, a chronic inflammatory lung disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia, McDermott said she soon realized she needed help.

“I think there was a bit of denial and just hoping that it would stay the same. But, you know, conditions did get worse … it was becoming unsafe. So we had to make the decision that I swore I would never, ever do and put her into long-term care,” she recalled.

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McDermott visited her mother at River Glen Haven (RGH) in Sutton, Ont., daily and cried, she said, each time she left.

“It was definitely worse than the day that she passed, unfortunately, handing her over, handing her care over to basically what looked like inside as an institution was the hardest thing that I ever had to do in my life,” McDermott said.

However, she said she was reassured that her mother was being well cared for and appreciated the flexibility the home offered.

“River Glen Haven was not first on our choices of long-term care, but I could walk in there at noon or midnight and the level of care she was receiving from the frontline workers was the level of care I would give. And it almost appeared that, you know, they just cared about her as much as I did,” she said.

It was in December 2019 and soon after Elsie settled that COVID-19 crept into long-term care homes across Ontario, and it was the most vulnerable that ended up being the most impacted by the virus.

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“Then the lockdown happened. Even then, right at the beginning, we were, sort of, of the mindset going, ‘OK, this is being responsible, so will adhere to that, no problem,’ thinking it was going to be maybe a week or two. Well, we all know what happened,” she recalled.

“We all know that those turned into window visits. After that, the communication was cruel.”

A COVID-19 outbreak was declared at the facility and a total of 36 RGH residents died after contracting the virus. Dozens more fell sick with the virus, including staff. In late May 2020, Southlake Regional Health Centre took over temporary management of the home.

“My mother on Mother’s Day was diagnosed positive with COVID. At least 11 or 12 people had passed already inside the building from COVID, some of them getting diagnosed and passing within 24 hours with being diagnosed positive,” McDermott said.

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“I am pushy, but I’m an advocate and I’m trying to do better for my mom and I’m trying to do better for long-term care.

“I felt like she was safe where she was and then she wasn’t.”

That is when McDermott said the phone calls and emails started. She reached out to MPPs, MPs, and the Ontario minister of long-term care’s office. Then she took to Twitter where she posted videos outside her mother’s facility and messages.

“What I really quickly realized within this province is that we have no choices. There are no choices for home care that are accessible or affordable,” she said.

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“The waitlists to get into more esthetically pleasing long-term care buildings was over two years. And there’s just no waiting … Alzheimer’s and dementia … they can’t be put on hold to wait for us to be accommodated

It would be more than 100 days before she was able to visit her mother again.

“The deterioration that happened was just absolutely heartbreaking. It was like 10 years happened in one hundred and six days,” she said. ”

“She lost her will to live. She didn’t want to live in that environment anymore.”

McDermott recently met with the new Long-Term Care Minister Rod Phillips through Zoom along with several other caregivers and advocates.

“I don’t envy him or anybody stepping into the role, in the mess, that was left by the previous minister, but I’m hopeful,” she said.

“He mentioned that he was fully vaccinated now and has passed two weeks from his second one and is intending on walking inside of long-term cares unannounced, which is huge applause from the caregiving community … Not two weeks to prepare and for everything to be shiny.”

In a statement, Phillips told Global News he has been meeting with various residents, staff and stakeholders, including McDermott, since he assumed his new portfolio.

“I appreciate all their ideas to improve long-term care for our elders,” he wrote.

“There is a tremendous amount of work to do as we rebuild and repair Ontario’s long-term care sector, including building 30,000 new beds in the next decade, increasing the average amount of direct care to four hours per day per resident and updating legislation with enhanced accountability measures to ensure residents receive the highest quality of care.”

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McDermott said she is also pushing for caregivers to have a permanent voice in the long-term care of loved ones.

“We’re the ones paying for this. We’re the ones making these choices for our loved ones. Long-term care is only there to fulfill those needs that we could no longer fulfill, not to take over their lives, not to take over their care programs, not to take over any decisions as to who gets to care for them,” she added.

In May, McDermott’s mother Elsie died at age 93. Elsie survived COVID-19 but McDermott said the conditions the pandemic had created took a toll.

“All of it, the isolation, the broken Skype calls … to be denied access to love her and hold her and give her some hope, it was torture that only those who have experienced it would ever understand,” she said.

“She had wished to die. In fact, I found a wire coat hanger in her bed and she had scratches, and I feel that she was attempting to take her own life.”

Read more:
The Canadian long-term care dilemma — where are we headed?

In her mother’s memory, McDermott vowed to keep fighting for residents of long-term care in hopes of seeing changes to the system.

“It’s corrupt. It’s driven by profits. It’s driven by a group that has very little to do with the inside operations of long-term care. There is very little empathy,” she claimed.

When it came to the situation at RGH, the chief operating officer of RGH’s parent company, ATK Care Group, issued a statement in response to the concerns.

“From our outbreak, there has been significant change, not only due to the directives implemented by the (Ontario) Ministry of Long Term Care, but also through the general changes in our society such as COVID-19 vaccines and through greater knowledge and understanding of the virus,” Jordan Kannampuzha wrote in part.

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“River Glen Haven is proud to have over 80 per cent of our staff fully vaccinated and we continue to promote vaccinations for all staff, residents, caregivers, and community members … We do not admit a new resident to any room with more than one person in it.

“With these directives in place RGH will only have 77 residents instead of our normal occupancy of 119 residents. However, when it comes to staffing we continue to staff our home as if we were operating at our full 119 residents.”

Meanwhile, it’s been two months since McDermott lost her mother but she said the grief is still unbearable at times, recalling Elsie’s final moments.

“I put my hand on her heart and I felt the last beat of her heart and she was gone,” she said.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

How has Saskatchewan handled COVID-19 since restrictions lifted?

It has been over two weeks since Saskatchewan‘s COVID-19 public health measures were lifted on July 11.

Since then, the COVID-19 situation in the province has been relatively quiet, but the new case count continues to rise.

That’s from Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease specialist based in Regina, who said the uptick in cases is predominantly driven by outbreaks in the far north region of Saskatchewan.

Global News

Global News

Wong said there is no way of knowing where the province goes moving forward from the current situation, however, he pointed to what’s happening in the United States with the Delta variant significantly affecting unvaccinated populations.

“This leads to acute care strain and all kinds of problems, so we are certainly keeping our fingers crossed that we are not going to see that,” said Wong. “It’s hard to know at this point in time how bad it’s going to be (here), though.”

As of Tuesday, 74 per cent of residents 12 and older have received their first dose while 62 per cent of those 12-plus are fully vaccinated.

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Wong said there’s hopefully only a small proportion of people who are very much against the idea of receiving a COVID-19 shot.

If that’s the case, he figures this leaves the province with two-thirds of unvaccinated individuals who are hesitant because they have questions about the vaccines such as safeness and efficacy.

He expects it will be extremely difficult for jurisdictions to reach vaccination targets without implementing additional measures to have unvaccinated residents finally roll up their sleeves.

“We need new strategies that are going to be targeted at local and community levels in order to try and figure out exactly where the pockets of unvaccinated individuals are,” Wong suggested.

“We need to educate, engage and make it available all at the same place at the same time in order to get better uptake, which is an extremely labour-intensive activity.”

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Appropriate time for vaccine shift

On Monday, the provincial government announced the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) will transition its vaccination rollout to go from mass vaccination to focused outreach starting Aug. 8.

The government said in the statement that its new strategy will target those in the province who are under and unvaccinated.

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, epidemiologist and professor of community health and epidemiology at the University of Saskatchewan, said now is the right time for the province to shift its COVID-19 vaccination delivery.

Muhajarine, who also serves as lead for public health, health systems and social policy for the COVID-19 Rapid Response Network (CoVaRR-Net), believes the switch from mass vaccination to the targeted outreach plan is a significant approach to boost vaccine rates before the fall.

“It’s about really bringing vaccines to where people work, play, watch sporting events and gather, so I think this is entirely appropriate,” noted Muhajarine.

Global News

Global News

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He also thinks this will pay dividends in terms of improving vaccine rates for first and second doses, however, he acknowledged more needs to be done in the coming months.

“I think it is not just for a short period of time, but it is as long as it takes for us to get to that level of vaccine coverage, which is probably 85 per cent or better that we are aiming to get to,” he added.

“We’re still vulnerable out there and we can’t really relax thinking COVID is gone. We’re far from it.”

The shift will see walk-in clinics be set up at a number of public venues, including summer events, retail locations, powwows, provincial parks and recreation areas.

Pharmacies will continue to provide COVID-19 vaccinations by appointment.

—With files from David Giles

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

COVID-19 case numbers in B.C. continue to rise as province records 150 new infections

The number of new COVID-19 cases in British Columbia continues to rise as officials reported another 150 infections on Tuesday.

Nearly two-thirds of the new cases are in the Interior Health region, which reported 95 infections. Elsewhere, there were 32 cases in the Fraser Health region, 17 cases in Vancouver Coastal Health, three in Northern Health and three in Island health.

British Columbia’s seven-day average of cases dipped to 36 in early July, but has now climbed to 99 cases.

No deaths from the disease were reported, leaving B.C.’s COVID-19 death toll at 1,768.

The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 rose slightly to 44 while the number of patients in intensive care increased by five to 22.

There are 783 active cases in the province, an increase of 88 from Monday.

On Monday, B.C. health officials reported 267 new cases of COVID-19 over a 72-hour span, along with one death.

The province said Tuesday that 80.7 per cent of people aged 12 and older have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine while 62.3 per cent have received two doses.

Earlier in the day, B.C. officials kicked off a new COVID-19 vaccination campaign to encourage as many people as possible over the next two weeks to get immunized at places that are convenient, like beaches and summer camps.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the new strategy, called Vax for BC, gives residents who aren’t vaccinated and those who’ve waited at least seven weeks since their first shot a chance to visit walk-in clinics.

A campaign on Aug. 4 dubbed Walk-in Wednesday will make 20,000 doses available at clinics before a push later in the month and in September to target young people returning to school.

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“People in B.C. will be able to get vaccinated on your way to work, during your lunch break, or even when cooling off at the lake,” Henry said.

The campaign aims to increase immunization by switching from mass clinics to mobile clinics where advance booking is not required but is encouraged.

“These next two weeks are crucial to our immunization campaign and most importantly, protecting our province and putting the pandemic in our rear-view mirror,” she said.

—With files from Richard Zussman and The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Active cases of COVID-19 continue to increase in Alberta, as 134 new cases reported Tuesday

WATCH ABOVE: With low case numbers and a large portion of the population vaccinated against COVID-19, many Albertans are getting reacquainted with having fun. But health experts warn, the good times may not stick around. Morgan Black reports.

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta continues to increase, up to 1,173 active cases Tuesday from 1,083 a day earlier.

Alberta reported 134 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, from 5,428 tests. The province’s seven-day average positivity rate is 1.99 per cent.

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Of the 1,173 active cases, 725 are in the Calgary zone, 211 are in the Edmonton zone, 92 are in the South zone, 80 are in the North zone, 63 are in the Central zone and two are in an unknown zone.

There are 82 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 21 of them in intensive care.

Three additional COVID-19-related deaths were reported Tuesday, bringing the province’s death toll from the disease to 2,325.

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As of July 26, 75.5 per cent of Albertans 12 and older had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 63.9 per cent of eligible Albertans are now fully vaccinated with two doses.

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health took to Twitter Tuesday to say that less than half of Albertans 20 to 29 years old are fully vaccinated — “a number we need to increase.”

“Vaccines save lives, and even younger Albertans need the protection that comes with getting vaccinates,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

All Albertans 12 and older are eligible to be vaccinated. Details on how to book an appointment can be found online or by calling Health Link at 811.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

COVID-19: 5 new cases confirmed in Simcoe Muskoka

Due to the 'direct effects' of Ontario's COVID-19 vaccination program, chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore said on Tuesday that an estimated 31,280 cases of COVID-19 among people over 18 have been prevented in the province.

The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit confirmed five new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the local total number of cases to 12,363, including 255 deaths.

Local public health also reported 68 new cases of a coronavirus variant on Tuesday, bringing that total to 5,047, including 21 that are active.

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Two of the new cases are in Barrie, while two are in Bradford and one is in Innisfil.

One of the new cases is community-acquired, while the rest are all still under investigation.

Meanwhile, 68.4 per cent of the region’s population has received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 54.1 per cent has received both necessary doses.

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Ontario reports 129 new COVID-19 cases, 5 deaths

Of the region’s total 12,363 COVID-19 cases, 98 per cent — or 12,077 — have recovered, while two people are currently in hospital.

On Tuesday, Ontario reported 129 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the provincial total up to 549,576, including 9,321 deaths.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Edmonton Oilers place James Neal on waivers day before NHL free agency begins

WATCH ABOVE: Some recent videos about the hockey world.

In a move widely seen as a formality in order to buy out the remaining two years on his contract, the Edmonton Oilers placed forward James Neal on waivers on Tuesday.

Edmonton Oilers’ James Neal (18) celebrates a goal scored by Alex Chiasson on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021.

Edmonton Oilers’ James Neal (18) celebrates a goal scored by Alex Chiasson on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) during first period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021.


The 33-year-old from Whitby, Ont., was acquired by the Oilers two years ago in a trade that sent Milan Lucic to the Calgary Flames.

The one-time 40-goal scorer had just five goals and five assists in 29 games with the Oilers last year despite being one of their highest-paid forwards.

Watch below: Some Global News videos about James Neal.

If the Oilers buy out Neal’s contract, the team would be penalized under the NHL‘s salary cap system but would also have more money it can spend when NHL free agency begins on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Edmonton Oilers announce 2-year deal for goalie Mike Smith 

A number of players who played for the Oilers last season will be free to sign with any NHL team as of Wednesday, including Tyson Barrie, Dmitry Kulikov, Slater Koekkoek, Jujhar Khaira, Dominik Kahun, Alex Chiasson, Tyler Ennis and Patrick Russell.

READ MORE: Yamamoto among players to receive qualifying offers from Edmonton Oilers 

The Oilers are believed to be keenly interested in signing Zach Hyman, a winger who spent the past few seasons playing with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last season, the 29-year-old Toronto native scored 15 goals and collected 33 points in 43 games with the Leafs.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Officials, experts agree: U.S. employers have legal right to mandate COVID-19 shots

WATCH: Navigating vaccination status and safety in the workplace

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The state of California. New York City. Hospitals and nursing homes. Colleges and universities. Employers are putting COVID-19 vaccine requirements into place and it’s getting attention. But what happens if workers refuse?

Federal guidance out this week suggests the law is on the side of employers. Vaccination can be considered a “condition of employment,” akin to a job qualification.

That said, employment lawyers believe many businesses will want to meet hesitant workers half-way.

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Can employers require a COVID-19 vaccine?

Yes. Private companies and government agencies can require their employees to get vaccinated as a condition of working there. Individuals retain the right to refuse, but they have no ironclad right to legal protection.

“Those who have a disability or a sincerely held religious belief may be entitled to a reasonable accommodation under civil rights laws, so long as providing that accommodation does not constitute an undue hardship for the employer,” said Sharon Perley Masling, an employment lawyer who leads the COVID-19 task force at Morgan Lewis.

Employees who don’t meet such criteria “may need to go on leave or seek different opportunities,” she added.

The U.S. Justice Department addressed the rights of employers and workers in a legal opinion this week. It tackled an argument raised by some vaccine skeptics that the federal Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act prohibits employers from requiring vaccination with shots that are only approved for emergency use, as coronavirus vaccines currently are.

Department lawyers wrote that the law in question requires individuals be informed of their “option to accept or refuse administration” of an emergency use vaccine or drug. But that requirement does not prohibit employers from mandating vaccination as “a condition of employment.”

The same reasoning applies to universities, school districts, or other entities potentially requiring COVID-19 vaccines, the lawyers added. Available evidence overwhelmingly shows the vaccines are safe and effective.

The Justice Department opinion followed earlier guidance from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that federal laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace “do not prevent an employer from requiring all employees physically entering the workplace to be vaccinated for COVID-19.”

The EEOC listed some cases in which employers must offer exemptions. People who have a medical or religious reason can be accommodated through alternative measures. Those can include getting tested weekly, wearing masks while in the office, or working remotely.

Who is requiring the vaccine?

The Department of Veterans Affairs on Monday became the first major federal agency to require health care workers to get COVID-19 vaccine. Also on Monday, the state of California said it will require millions of health care workers and state employees to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or get tested weekly. And New York City will require all of its municipal workers _ including teachers and police officers _ to get coronavirus vaccines by mid-September or face weekly testing.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Biden administration is holding the door open to mandates for other federal workers. “We will continue to look at what steps we need to take for our workforce,” she said Tuesday.

In the corporate world, the push for vaccines has been more piecemeal. Delta and United airlines are requiring new employees to show proof of vaccination. Goldman Sachs is requiring its employees to disclose their vaccination status, but is not requiring staffers to be vaccinated.

Michelle S. Strowhiro, an employment adviser and lawyer at McDermott Will & Emery, said there are costs for employers requiring vaccines. There’s the administrative burden of tracking compliance and managing exemption requests. Claims of discrimination could also arise.

But ultimately, the rise in the delta variant and breakthrough cases in fully vaccinated people has “served as extra motivation for employers to take a stronger stand on vaccination generally,” she said. “Employers are going to be looking toward vaccine mandates more and more.”

Read more:
Can your employer mandate you to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Is there any other alternative to mandates?

Instead of requiring vaccines, some companies are trying to entice workers by offering cash bonuses, paid time off and other rewards. Walmart, for example, is offering a $75 bonus for employees who provide proof they were vaccinated. Amazon is giving workers an $80 bonus if they show proof of vaccination and new hires get $100 if they’re vaccinated.

What are options for employees who don’t want the vaccine?

Most employers are likely to give workers some options if they don’t want to take the vaccine. For example, New York City and California have imposed what’s being called a “soft mandate” — workers who don’t want to get vaccinated can get tested weekly instead.

If an employer does set a hard requirement, employees can ask for an exemption for medical or religious reasons. Then, under EEOC civil rights rules, the employer must provide “reasonable accommodation that does not pose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.” Some alternatives could include wearing a face mask at work, social distancing, working a modified shift, COVID-19 testing or the option to work remotely, or even offering a reassignment.

Will workplace mandates turn the tide on vaccine hesitancy?

It’s too early to tell.

“Every employer that decides to mandate vaccination paves the way for other employers to feel safer doing so,” said Masling.

A recent legal decision may help move the needle. In June, a federal district court in Texas rejected an attempt by medical workers to challenge the legality of Houston Methodist Hospital’s vaccine mandate. The court found such a requirement in line with public policy.

Dorit Reiss, a law professor who specializes in vaccine policies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, said “more businesses will have confidence they can mandate the vaccine.”

She believes most companies will go the route of a soft mandate, with alternatives for employees who remain reluctant.

“I think it’s a reasonable option,” she said.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Human remains found in Stead, Man. confirmed to be Clifford Joseph: RCMP

Manitoba RCMP say they’ve found the remains of a man whose alleged homicide led to a manhunt that ended in gunfire with police earlier this summer.

On Tuesday afternoon, police said human remains found July 18 in Stead, Man., have been confirmed to be Clifford Joseph, the 40-year-old father who disappeared in the area June 7.

Read more:
RCMP: Human remains discovered as search for Clifford Joseph continues

RCMP have previously said they were investigating Joseph’s disappearance as a homicide, and have identified 34-year-old Eric Wildman as their suspect.

Wildman led police on a more than week-long manhunt that ended in his arrest at a home outside of Belleville, Ont., on June 18.

Police in Ontario say they were met with gunfire when officers moved in to arrest Wildman, although no injuries were reported.

Before he was captured, Manitoba RCMP warned the public that officers found police tactical equipment, patches and other items resembling officer uniforms when they searched his truck.

Read more:
Manitoba manhunt ends with gunfire, arrest of Eric Wildman in Ontario

They also found a significant number of firearms and ammunition in the truck, they said.

Wildman faces firearms charges as well as attempted murder charges in Ontario.

Police in Manitoba said Tuesday no arrests have been made in relation to Joseph’s disappearance and no charges have been laid.

Wildman is the main suspect, Manitoba RCMP have said, after Joseph wasn’t seen again after leaving his home north of Winnipeg on June 7.

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His vehicle was found abandoned later that day.

Manitoba RCMP have not said how Joseph was killed or how investigators believe Wildman is connected to his death.

More to come…

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Pride gatherings grow, petition to designate corner of Whyte Avenue

A counter-protest of sorts — and a show of support and inclusivity — continues to grow each week at a popular Edmonton street corner.

Every Friday for the last several months, a group of LGBTQ community members and allies has been gathering at the corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway Boulevard.

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“It started out as a need or a desire to counter-protest the street preachers,” one of Pride Corner organizers, Erica Posteraro, told Global News on Tuesday. “One in particular has been on that corner on Whyte Avenue every Friday for almost 11 years now.

“When you’re near them you sort of get messages of condemnation, they are quite queer-phobic, saying queer people are going to hell, they need to turn from their ways and repent, that we’re living in sin.”

Street preachers are often seen there, holding signs that read: “Jesus Christ came to the world to save sinners,” and can be heard saying things like: “It’s not a matter of the heart; it’s a matter of the will” through a microphone and speaker.

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“I think a lot of people in Edmonton are very frustrated with that,” Posteraro said. “That’s why it has kind of picked up and caught on as well as it has. A lot of people are just frustrated and feel unsafe on that corner.

“So we basically wanted to go in and sort of change the narrative and make it a fun and happy and positive place and especially one where queer people can feel safe walking on that corner.”

Edmontonians have been gathering at the same corner every Friday from about 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., to show support for the LGBTQ2S+ community, often waving Pride flags, dressed up in rainbow colours and carrying signs of their own.

Some of the Pride signs read: “You can’t pray this gay away” and, “Born this way.”

“It was just something we started as doing to counter-protest and to let them know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere and you can’t just continue, as an institution, doing this to queer people,” Posteraro said.

“And now it has developed into this beautiful community — way bigger than we ever could have dreamed of. So it’s been amazing.”

“We go there, we play music, we hold signs supportive of the queer community, and just dance and let passersby know that Edmonton overall is a place of inclusion and acceptance,” she said.

The Pride Corner group even crowd-funded to buy a large portable speaker to play music at the corner.

“In this very delicate social time — when it’s already hard enough for queer people to just exist in the world, for queer youth who are kicked out of their homes just for coming out or being who they are — it’s already hard enough.

“We are still people, we deserve to have happiness and love and go throughout our lives feeling safe.”

Posteraro says there’s been conversation — and sometimes tension — between Pride Corner supporters and the street preachers.

Read more:
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“I think that’s something that definitely us as organizers, and a lot of the people that show up, do see value in — is to not just continually ‘other’ everybody.

“We’re all humans, we’re all trying to get through and it’s really vital to have those conversations just so that we can get more of an idea of where they’re coming from… they might not have any queer people in their lives… Showing them that this harms us, that we are people as well and their words and their actions do ripple out and have real-life consequences for queer people.”

Now, there are calls to permanently designate the corner of Whyte Avenue and Gateway Boulevard “Pride Corner on Whyte.”

A petition is asking Edmonton city council and the Old Strathcona Business Association to make the “Pride Corner” name official.

As of Tuesday, the petition had nearly 7,500 names.

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The organizer, Brian Deacon, explained the origins of the spot.

“Claire Pearen began to protest the street preachers every Friday to show that hate speech against the 2SLGBTQ+ community does not belong in Edmonton,” he writes on the page.

“Since then, the movement called ‘Pride Corner on Whyte’ has grown and every Friday, many people join to dance, to wave Pride flags and to hold signs.

“Why do the people of Edmonton do this? To show that hate will not be tolerated.”

Posteraro said they are overwhelmed by the response to the Friday gatherings and the petition to designate the corner.

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“That would be really significant for the community just because historically that corner always has been an area of fear of unacceptance,” she said.

“It would just be really nice to have it transformed into an area of love and support for queer community members.”

The Pride Corner group will continue showing up every Friday afternoon, Posteraro says, through snow, hail, rain and heat waves. And other supporters and allies are welcome to join.

“Every time I show up and there’s 20-30 people there, I’m just floored and honoured.”

Her message to those passing by?

“There never needs to be any shame for being who you are. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s what makes the world turn: all of our amazing differences.

“It’s important to know that when you’re feeling alone, there is always going to be someone there,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing wrong with being who you are. That is how you’re meant to be.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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