COVID-19 Update: 35 deaths over three days | Trudeau invokes Emergencies Act | RCMP seize guns, arrest 13 at Coutts – Calgary Herald


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There are few more anticipated announcements by Alberta’s tourism sector than what may be coming later this week from the federal health minister.

On Friday, Min. Jean-Yves Duclos said “changes at the border will be coming very soon.”

Dave Kaiser, president and CEO of the Alberta Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA), was trying to be positive about the outlook for the sector on Monday, but admitted it was difficult to do so.

The potential lifting of travel restrictions was music to his ears, even if it was not known what those changes will be as of yet.

“In 2014, Alberta and Calgary was the top-performing city in Canada and now it is pretty much the bottom,” he said, of the drop in hotel occupancy.

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The first day in months that Alberta students were not required to wear masks in class was marked with school walkouts and a failed court challenge, as the premier continued to downplay safety concerns.

Mask use is now optional in Alberta schools as of Monday, one of the first steps in the United Conservative government’s plan to ease nearly all COVID-19 restrictions by March 1.

In Calgary, about 50 students walked out of class at Nelson Mandela High School Monday afternoon in protest of the decision. A similar demonstration also took place at Central Memorial High School.

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Here are today’s COVID-19 numbers released by Alberta Health:

For the first time since its creation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is invoking the Emergencies Act, giving the government far-reaching powers, allowing the government to freeze financial accounts, press tow truck operators into service and end blockades.

Trudeau said the protests are causing havoc to the lives of people in Ottawa and doing serious economic damage across the country.

“Here in our capital city, families, small businesses have been enduring illegal obstruction of their neighborhoods, occupying the streets, harassing people and breaking the law. This is not a peaceful protest,” Trudeau said.

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The Alberta RCMP arrested 13 protesters described as being part of a “criminal organization” at an illegal blockade at the Coutts border crossing, after finding they had access to a cache of guns, armour and ammunition.

The arrests were followed later in the evening by reports from Mounties protesters were leaving the area, potentially putting an end to their lengthy occupation of the border village.

The investigation into the group — which the RCMP said had a “willingness to use force against the police” if attempts were made to disrupt the blockade — began earlier this week, as they joined the anti-COVID-19 mandate protest blocking Highway 4, south of Lethbridge.

In a news release, Mounties said they executed a search warrant early Monday morning on three trailers associated with the group, finding 13 long guns, handguns, multiple sets of body armour, a machete, a large quantity of ammunition and high capacity magazines.

Read more.

Premier Jason Kenney is holding an unrelated press conference right now, but he is currently reading this release from the Alberta RCMP.

“I would just like to thank the RCMP for their diligent investigation and the successful execution of this enforcement action.”#ableg #abpoli

A group of Alberta parents is among those taking legal action in a bid to reverse the province’s decision to scrap masking requirements for school-aged children.

Edmonton law firm Roberts O’Kelly Law filed for an emergency injunction late Sunday that would maintain in-school mask mandates, meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, until the issue could be heard in front of a judge. Monday marks the first day in months masks will be optional in Alberta schools, one of the first steps in the United Conservative government’s plan to ease nearly all COVID-19 restrictions by March 1.

Applicants include the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and a group of parents of children with disabilities, who argue their children will face discrimination if mandatory masking in schools is axed.

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Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said several trucks are being moved from a residential area on Monday afternoon in the nation’s capital after reaching an agreement.

“The convoy leaders have started to act on their commitment to move several trucks from the residential district south of Wellington. This is a complex multi-day operation in support of our residents,” Watson wrote on Twitter.

This comes after an injunction was granted by an Ontario judge to enforce noise and idling bylaws related to the weeks-long protest against COVID mandates in Ottawa.

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has begun consulting the provincial and territorial premiers this morning about invoking the Emergencies Act to give the federal government extraordinary powers to deal with protests that have shut some border crossings with the United States and paralyzed parts of Canada’s capital.

Citing unnamed sources, CBC said Trudeau planned to invoke the Emergencies Act, a rarely used provision that allows the federal government to override the provinces and authorize special temporary measures to ensure security during national emergencies anywhere in the country.

It has only been used once in peacetime – by Trudeau’s father, Pierre Trudeau – during the so-called “October Crisis” in 1970. It was invoked twice during the two world wars, when it was known as the War Measures Act.

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Ontario is ending its vaccine certificate system on March 1, when capacity limits will lift as well, Premier Doug Ford announced Monday, though he said masking requirements will remain for now.

Ford insisted the step is not a result of pressure from anti-vaccine mandate protesters.

“Today’s announcement is not because of what’s happening in Ottawa or Windsor, but despite it,” he said.

“The extraordinary measures that we introduced during this pandemic were always intended as a last resort. I stood at this very podium and promised you that these tools would only be used for as long as they were absolutely necessary and not one day longer. The removal of these measures has always been our objective.”

Public health indicators have been improving, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore presented a plan to lift the COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine certificates, Ford said, a plan that has been in the works since before protesters began occupying downtown Ottawa.

Ontario is fast-tracking previously announced steps to lift restrictions, including moving the next step of its reopening plan up to Thursday instead of next Monday.

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Two-thirds of Canadians believe it’s time to drop COVID-19 restrictions and begin living with the virus, according to a new poll.

The survey, conducted by Maru Public Opinion for Postmedia, revealed that 64 per cent of respondents believe that unless hospitals and intensive care units are affected by a sudden surge of COVID-19 patients that compromises the care of other people, governments should lift pandemic restrictions.

Respondents living in Quebec (71 per cent), Alberta (65 per cent) and Ontario (65 per cent) were found to be the most likely to hold this view. Those who are least likely reside in British Columbia (48 per cent), Manitoba and Saskatchewan (41 per cent), and Atlantic Canada (39 per cent).

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The end of Alberta’s indoor mask mandate is just two weeks away, leaving Calgary facing yet another decision about local mask rules.

City council first approved the mandatory face-covering bylaw in July 2020. It’s been the law of the land to wear a mask in publicly accessible indoor spaces almost ever since, apart from a stretch of roughly two months last summer when pandemic containment measures were widely lifted across Alberta, only to be restored as hospital capacity strained under the fourth wave.

Apart from exemptions for people who have specific medical conditions or are unable to remove their own mask, the Calgary bylaw makes it clear that everyone older than two is expected to wear a mask in city facilities, on public transit and in public places like malls and office building lobbies.

March 1 marks the next stage of the United Conservative government’s plan to lift public health rules, including indoor masking, but Calgary’s mask rules are entirely in council’s hands. This week’s council meeting might be the opportunity they have to decide what to do — and there doesn’t appear to be consensus among politicians about the next step.

Read more.

Students at a Calgary high school are planning a walkout on Monday afternoon as a demonstration against the province’s lifting of the mask mandate meant to stem the spread of COVID-19 within schools.

Premier Jason Kenney announced the province’s plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions last Tuesday, beginning with the immediate axing of the restrictions exemption (vaccine passport) program. Starting Feb. 14, students in kindergarten to Grade 12 will no longer be required to wear masks and children under the age of 12 will also be removed from public masking requirements.

If hospitalization numbers continue to decline, all remaining school requirements, including cohort rules and capacity limits, will also be lifted on March 1.

Monday is the first day since September that most Alberta students will have the option to don masks or not in class. Not all students are excited by the change, and plans for walkouts to protest it have made their way to schools across the province.

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Mounties issued dozens of provincial tickets this weekend to protesters at the illegal Coutts blockade that has now stymied traffic at the border town for more than two weeks in protest of COVID-19 public health measures.

RCMP Cpl. Troy Savinkoff told Postmedia Sunday afternoon officers had issued 53 tickets over the past 24 hours, most under the Traffic Safety Act. One arrest was made of an impaired driver.

Mounties also disabled three excavators they believed were headed to the Coutts “in an effort to reinforce the blockade.”

Savinkoff said the number of vehicles involved continues to change, but that as of about 4 p.m. Sunday, there were 42 commercial and passenger vehicles, 10 recreational vehicles and 16 tractors at the border blockade, across the northbound and southbound lanes of Highway 4.

He said he expects enforcement of vehicles on roadways to continue, but said he can’t comment on how officers will approach the coming days.

Read more.

Police officers from local, provincial and federal agencies moved in unison to clear a protest blocking Canada’s busiest land border crossing Sunday morning, adding to public frustration over the passive response to the initial convoy protest that continues to lay siege outside Parliament in Ottawa.

In this tale of two cities, as police in Windsor, Ont., removed a blockade, arrested protesters, and towed away trucks, civilian residents of Ottawa moved into the street on their own to block truckers and supporters of the occupation that enters its third week with little sign of a resolution.

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Three members of the Canadian Special Operations Forces are under investigation for allegedly supporting the protests against COVID-19 restrictions in Ottawa, the Department of National Defence said on Sunday.

Commander Major-General Steve Boivin said in statement that an investigation was launched after senior leadership was made aware on Feb. 1 that one member was possibly involved. On Feb. 10, another investigation was initiated to look into the involvement of two other members.

“The Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) does not condone its members supporting and/or actively taking part in causes that jeopardize the apolitical imperative associated with their functions,” he said.

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WINDSOR — Canadian police said on Sunday they have arrested more protesters opposing COVID-19 restrictions and blocking a key trade route along the border with the United States, more than 24 hours after authorities moved in to impose a court order.

This comes after a tense standoff between Canadian police and demonstrators on Saturday, as the court order and threats of arrest have failed to end the blockade of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, which entered its sixth day on Sunday.

“Enforcement actions continue at the demonstration area with arrests being made. Vehicles being towed. Please continue avoiding the area,” the Windsor Police said in a tweet on Sunday morning, without giving more details of how many had been arrested.

Read more.

Alberta psychiatrists raising alarms over youth mental health and the lack of services to help them say the pandemic compounded issues on the rise for the last decade.

Dr. Sterling Sparshu, president of the Alberta Psychiatric Association’s (APA) section of child and adolescent psychiatry, said there have been huge pressures on the system and on children’s mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, on top of already existing issues that have been on the rise for at least a decade.

“We have this background of youth becoming increasingly sick, struggling with more illness, struggling with more severe illness, and mounting pressures on our health-care system, where that’s leading to significant delays in care,” Sparshu said, arguing the pandemic has resulted in a lot of the natural supports for children going away.

“So things like the ability to regularly engage in sports, things like going on vacation, spending time with family, spending time with friends, having the support of teachers, both socially and academically, to thrive at school.”

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After two years of COVID-19 health measures, psychology and mental health experts are seeing reports of higher stress and anxiety in Albertans who remain cautious about the transition to lifting restrictions.

Alberta was the first province in Canada to end its proof of vaccination program on Wednesday, with most restrictions lifting at the end of the month. The province’s approach was jarring for some, especially Albertans who are at higher risk of severe outcomes.

Dr. Scott Patten, professor of psychiatry at the University of Calgary, said treating anxiety usually involves finding ways to overcome challenges that a perceived threat or danger presents. But the situation is different for stress or anxiety with COVID-19.

“That’s a situation where a real concern about a real danger might cause a person to become more isolated or withdrawn, all of which could feed into the anxiety and make it worse. It’s a real difficult situation for vulnerable populations,” Patten said.

“Anxiety is not all good or all bad. It’s a natural, understandable response. But in other situations, it could evolve into a mental health issue that can be very distressing, and very disabling as well.”

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Calgary-based independent truck drivers who regularly make trips to Montana say the blockade at the Coutts border is costing them money and potentially creating safety hazards on the roads.

Harvir Singh Brar missed out on nearly two weeks of work due to the protest at the Coutts border. Brar owns two trucks and runs a small independent trucking firm. He is contracted by a major shipping firm to take freight to Sweetgrass, Mont., and exchange trailers with American drivers coming from the U.S.

He said if he doesn’t make the trip, he doesn’t get paid.

“For two weeks, all of our trucks are sitting in the yard,” said Brar.

Read more.

Less than a week after unveiling its plans to roll back COVID-19 restrictions, the Alberta government is facing multiple calls to release the data and recommendations it got before making the decision.

Former Alberta cabinet ministers have differing opinions on whether the information — which is currently protected under cabinet confidentiality — should be made public.

Alberta is one of several provinces to announce plans to roll back restrictions. Alberta’s mandatory vaccine passport program has already ended and as of Monday, masks will no longer be required for students in the province’s schools. Additional stages lifting more restrictions come into effect on March 1, if hospitalization numbers trend down.

News of the restrictions being loosened has led to requests from municipalities and one of Alberta’s largest school boards to see the province’s data and recommendations made by chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

Read more.

Travel across the U.S.-Canada border at Coutts has been suspended as large trucks and other vehicles continue to block access in protest of COVID-19 mandates.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) said it has temporarily suspended services at the Coutts border crossing until further notice on Saturday.

“The CBSA recognizes border disruptions affect both travellers and industry and we are working to restore normal border operations at this port of entry as quickly as possible,” the agency said in a statement.

“Thank you for your patience while we get operations back on track.”

Read more.

For the third weekend in a row, protesters converged in downtown Edmonton, snarling traffic Saturday.

Despite the city getting a court injunction barring loud noise, the sound of honking horns and megaphones echoed through the city core for hours after hundreds of people gathered around noon in the plaza outside the Federal Building at the legislature.

Protesters waved Canadian flags and held signs denouncing media organizations as “fake news,” calling for an end to “illegal vaccine mandates,” and for “freedom from fascism” as they marched from Violet King Henry Plaza to City Hall. Later, vehicles continued to drive around the area of the legislature honking alongside cheering crowds.

In an emailed statement Saturday, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said he was disappointed to hear protesters had been honking throughout the downtown again, especially after the city was granted the injunction to put a stop to the noise.

“While I can’t direct police, I do encourage them to enforce the injunction,” he said.

Read more.

More than half of the funding for the Canadian trucker convoy protesters on some online platforms is coming from the United States, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

Trudeau said he spoke with U.S. President Joe Biden about the American and “global” influences on the protests against COVID-19 mandates, which have blocked streets in downtown Ottawa and border crossings to the U.S.

“We talked about the U.S.-based flooding of the 911 phone lines in Ottawa, the presence of U.S. citizens in the blockades and the impact of foreign money to fund this illegal activity,” Trudeau told reporters.

Biden “expressed concern not just for the impacts right now, but the indication that there is international support from the United States and from elsewhere around the world for these protests,” Trudeau said.

Read more.

As Freedom Convoy marks its second week entrenched in the Canadian capital, a new poll is providing some of the clearest evidence yet that this affair could end up dealing a catastrophic blow to the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Although Canadians sympathize with the anti-mandate demands of Freedom Convoy, they increasingly hate the protests themselves. A new Maru Public Opinion poll found that 56 per cent of Canadians don’t have an iota of sympathy for Freedom Convoy — and two thirds wouldn’t mind seeing their blockades cleared by military force.

But Canadians are also turning their ire on a “weak” government response and an intransigent prime minister whom they blame for “inflaming” the situation. The Maru poll, which was conducted from Feb. 9 to 10, found that only 16 per cent of Canadians would vote for Trudeau based on his actions of the last two weeks.

Read more.

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