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TORONTO STAR

Loblaws fights back on Twitter as social media storm erupts over soaring Canadian food prices (mar., 07 févr. 2023)
Loblaw wants to set the record straight as a war of words between angry consumers and Canada’s largest supermarket chain over soaring food prices heats up on social media. Amid growing criticism the company is price gouging, Loblaw’s social media team has taken to Twitter insisting they are not at fault, instead pointing the finger of blame at suppliers and manufacturers over price hikes. “While we may be the face of food inflation but we are certainly not the cause. Food prices are higher in our stores simply because the manufacturers who make the products are charging more for them,” a tweet from the company account said last week. “Food inflation is a global issue. Suppliers are raising costs and it’s costing us billions more to put food on our shelves. This is where higher prices come from,” another tweet said, directly hitting back at a twitter user criticizing the food retailer of “gas lighting” consumers. Consumers over the last several weeks have taken to social media to criticize the food retailer for its prices and record profits as Canadians grapple with the worst inflation the country has seen in decades. But a wave of anger was ignited when Loblaw confirmed it was ending its holiday price-freeze on No Name products on Jan. 31, and the company has spared no effort in responding directly to dozens of irate — and sometimes sarcastic — Twitter posts. “Wow thanks Loblaws a whole price freeze for … less than a season. Very useful,” twitter user Kyle Hutton wrote the day the price-freeze was set to end. “We froze prices to help customers at a time they needed it most and we did something to fight inflation. It meant something to Canadians,” the company said in a direct response to Hutton. Price freezing over the holiday season, from November to February, is a common industry practice. When Loblaw in October announced it would freeze prices on 1,500 No Name products until the end of January to give consumers a break, it was panned as a PR stunt and seen as evidence that retailers have more control over food prices than they’re acknowledging. “This makes me hate @loblawco more than ever. The whole claim of anything novel in this price freeze was a lie to begin with,” a twitter user said, replying to Loblaw’s recent spate of tweets. “Clapping back on Twitter doesn’t change anyone’s minds, it just shows how out-of-touch they are,” another tweet said. In one of the more controversial tweets from Loblaw, the company attempted to downplay how much profit it was making off grocery bills, despite evidence that Loblaw posted its biggest gross profit margin yet — 31.4 per cent — in the second quarter of 2022. “It’s easy to blame grocers for higher grocery prices. But on a $100 grocery bill, our profit is less than $4,” Loblaw said in a tweet. The tweet prompted several twitter users to lambast the company, its PR team and CEO of Loblaws, Galen Weston, one of Canada’s top 100 highest earning CEOs in 2021 in a recent report. “Show us your CEO’s house,” one twitter user said in response. “It’s amusing watching a company shoot itself in the foot over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again,” another added. “Damn didn’t know they teach gaslighting in PR school,” one tweet said. When asked why Loblaw thought it was necessary to respond to complaints on Twitter, the company said in an email: “There are a hundred complicated reasons that food prices are up. Unfortunately, it’s easiest to blame grocers, as we’re seeing globally. If we don’t put the truth out there, no one will.” Loblaw said the customer response to the price freeze was positive, but “It’s a different story on Twitter.” The company said it had responded to 35 tweets on Jan. 31. Public relations experts say that the strategy may not have been the supermarket’s best decision. “There is a very defensive tone from Loblaw as though they are lecturing Canadians on how things work — how food inflation and how the business world functions and how it affects us,” said Rachel Thexton, president at Vancouver-based PR firm, Thexton Public Relations. “That’s not what Canadians want to hear right now. They want to be able to fill their cart with food for their families.” Thexton added that a lack of transparency surrounding the company’s profits and where they were coming from doesn’t help their case. Kenneth Wong, Queen’s University marketing professor, said it’s a lose-lose situation for the food retailers and that there was very little to be gained from tweeting out responses to consumers who are already upset. “If you are already opposed to Loblaw’s profitability or if you have any negative sentiments towards the Weston family’s wealth, is there anything Loblaws could ever say in a twitter response that is going to change your mind? Probably not,” Wong said. “If you’re Loblaws, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.” Thexton and Wong agree that while the company is being slammed for profiting from inflation it’s not the best idea to have Weston as a Loblaw spokesperson. “Nobody wants to see one of Canada’s wealthiest in a position of educating and informing consumers on what’s going on in the economy and why the prices are being unfrozen or going up,” Thexton said. Ghada Alsharif is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Reach Ghada via email: galsharif@torstar.ca
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COVID-19 vaccine uptake plunges in Canada (Tue, 07 Feb 2023)
Check the calendar. Has it been more than six months since you’ve gotten a COVID shot? Experts are concerned with how many people have had any COVID-19 vaccine, regardless if it’s their first vaccine or fifth, in the past six months. Those who are farther than six months from their last vaccine have a higher chance of a breakthrough infection and the viral load will also be higher, explained Dawn Bowdish, a professor at McMaster University and a Canada Research Chair in aging and immunity. “Unfortunately the messaging that was so ubiquitous early in the vaccine campaign was that a vaccine would be two doses. And in truth, we know from decades of vaccinology that two doses is rarely sufficient to give long lasting, what we call immune memory, really long lasting responses,” Bowdish said. In the past six months, only a quarter (24 per cent) of Canadians have received a booster dose or completed their primary series. “Most Canadians seem to think there’s a magic number of vaccines and then they’ll be done,” Bowdish added, saying some people may think they only need one or two boosters but “that’s not supported by either the data on how this vaccine works or how the virus works.” The low percentage of people who have been vaccinated in the last 6 months has left experts to wonder what’s changed since the beginning of the pandemic when uptake was high, and they worry about what’s to come as the subvariant XBB.1.5 makes its way through Canada. Bowdish added that longer term health complications such as cardiac, respiratory and long COVID issues are linked to how bad someone’s symptoms are and how much virus they had in them. Dr. Isaac Bogoch, infectious disease physician, said his biggest concern is the uptake of any COVID-19 vaccine, booster or primary series in the last 6 months in the 60 and over age category. Because those over 60, and especially those over 80 are at the highest risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. As for why more people aren’t rolling up their sleeves and getting this done, Bogoch said there’s likely many different issues rather than one single answer. “Have we made these vaccines accessible to this population? Have we really worked hard to lower as many barriers as possible to enable people to receive these vaccines?” Bogoch said it takes money, energy and commitment to bring vaccines to people rather than bringing people to the vaccine, and at the beginning, vaccine uptake was “remarkable.” “We brought vaccines door to door. We did home vaccines. We had free public transportation to vaccine clinics. We had 24 hour vaccine clinics. We put vaccine clinics where people worked or had recreational activities or in community centres or at temples where people congregated,” Bogoch said. Experts agree targeted campaigns to specific groups may help increase uptake, as well as ensuring vaccines are accessible. Bogoch said it’s important to ensure vaccine campaigns use age-appropriate and culturally appropriate information. Community outreach is also important, Bogoch said, such as working with local community and cultural groups to enable public trust in vaccines. He added misinformation and disinformation may be another reason stopping people from getting vaccinated. “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to really improve vaccine uptake,” Bogoch said. Dr. Fahad Razak, internal medicine physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and former director of Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, said though Canada had “relatively slow access” to vaccines, the country still had the highest vaccination rate among comparable wealthy countries. “Clearly we have a population in Canada and Ontario that if you give them the information, you explain why it’s needed, they’ll go out and get vaccinated,” Razak said, compared to other populations like the U.S. which had one of the lowest vaccination rates with anti-vaccine people who would not budge on it, even with outreach and education campaigns. “But if you look at us now, compared to other nations, we’re very much middle of the pack,” Razak added. Razak echoed Bogoch, in that the strategies that appeared to work in the beginning like educational campaigns, role modelling, outreach to high risk groups and bringing the vaccines to people’s homes and communities, made it easier for people to get vaccinated. “I think there’s an opportunity there to get the vaccination rate higher,” said Razak, who also stressed the importance of getting the bivalent booster, which is targeted towards Omicron. Kelly Skjerven is a Toronto-based general assignment reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: kskjerven@thestar.ca
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Probe of allegations of leadership abuses at Trillium Health Partners ended last year. So when will it be public? (Tue, 07 Feb 2023)
An independent investigation of complaints of abuse of power by hospital leadership at Trillium Health Partners wrapped up last year, but the province has yet to make the report public. The Star has learned a third-party review of hospital administration, including allegations that leaders at THP used “oppressive acts of intimidation” against physicians at the hospital, was submitted to the Ministry of Health last fall. THP has strongly disputed claims against its leadership. Despite repeated requests from the Star, the ministry has not responded to questions regarding the status of the report or provided a timeline for its release. According to provincial law, the minister of health is to make such reports public. In the absence of the third-party review, doctors who brought forward complaints have been left uncertain as to whether anything will be done to address their concerns, their lawyer says. The ministry told the Star in June 2022 that it would appoint an independent third party to review complaints against leadership at THP. The move followed claims made by an anonymous group of physicians who alleged actions by hospital leaders led to physicians being silenced, taking medical leaves of absence or leaving the hospital system altogether, raising questions, they said, about whether the hospital system can provide safe care. The allegations, laid out in a pair of letters authored by lawyers representing the anonymous group of physicians, include claims that hospital leaders used tactics to intimidate doctors, such as threatening to revoke hospital privileges. At the time, Trillium Health Partners disputed the claims and said it welcomed the third-party review. THP, which includes Credit Valley Hospital, Mississauga Hospital and the Queensway Health Centre, is one of the largest community-based hospital systems in Canada. Brooke Shekter, a lawyer at TTL Health Law who represents the anonymous group of physicians, said she was informed the provincially appointed inspector submitted his report to the Ministry of Health in late October. The Star has learned the inspector was Dr. Jeff Turnbull, whose previous leadership positions have included chief of staff at The Ottawa Hospital; chief of clinical quality at Health Quality Ontario, now a part of Ontario Health; and medical director of Ottawa Inner City Health. Turnbull confirmed to the Star by email that he accepted the role of third-party inspector “in late summer” and submitted the report “in the late fall.” He said he was unable to comment on the report and could not provide details of when it is to be released as he is “not part of that decision making process.” Shekter said she has asked for a copy of the report seven times between Nov. 21 and Jan. 31 but the ministry has yet to provide it. Instead the ministry has said it will provide Shekter with an update “in the coming weeks.” “They are legally required to make this report public,” she said. “I cannot fathom any reasonable explanation for the lengthy delay or for stonewalling responses for the report.” In an email to the Star, a THP spokesperson said the hospital organization has “not yet received, nor have been briefed on a final report.” “The staff, leadership and board of Trillium Health Partners have done everything asked of us by Dr. Turnbull as he conducted his independent, third-party review,” spokesperson Keeley Rogers said. “While we have collectively engaged in dozens of conversations with Dr. Turnbull as he conducted his work, we have not yet received, nor been briefed on a final report. “Out of respect for the process, questions about Dr. Turnbull’s work are best placed with the Ministry of Health,” Rogers said. In a followup email, Rogers said THP “has made informal inquiries with respect to the expected timing (of the report), although no dates or timelines have been received.” In June, THP board chair Christine Magee stated in a letter to the ministry, which was made public on THP’s website, that the board was requesting “an expeditious third-party review” and that it has “full confidence in the hospital leadership,” including its chief of staff. Among the claims made by the group of anonymous doctors include allegations that chief of staff Dr. Dante Morra was among those in leadership who abused their power toward physicians, which has led to a “detrimental impact on patient care.” A May 2022 letter, authored by Shekter on behalf of the physicians, alleges that Morra has threatened to revoke hospital privileges, resulting in doctors who “either leave THP or remain silent in the face of poor hospital management for fear of their livelihoods.” A lawyer for Morra told the Star in June that his client welcomed the third-party review and that Morra’s “duty is to protect the public and ensure standards in conduct, quality and performance.” Last week, THP’s board of directors announced that Morra, who’s held his post since 2013, has completed his full term as chief of staff. “This was announced on Dr. Morra’s 10-year anniversary and is a succession that has been planned for some time, in alignment with our Professional Staff Bylaws, which set out term limits of 10 years for chief leadership positions,” Rogers told the Star. She added that Morra will remain at THP as the inaugural chief of clinical innovation, a role that starts May 1. In January 2022, THP completed an internal review of the initial complaints made by the anonymous group of physicians, and found that the claims could not be substantiated. The physicians argued, through Shekter, that the internal review was insufficient as they had not been consulted and that a third-party inspector was required. Shekter said the physicians who initiated the complaints remain anonymous because her clients “have serious concerns about facing retribution from this investigation.” Since the 2022 media reports on this matter, other THP physicians have come forward to her law firm with similar concerns regarding hospital leadership, Shekter said, adding she cannot say how many because they, too, are fearful of retribution. “This investigation was appointed under legislation,” Shekter said, adding there is a “reasonable expectation” the report would be made public given the clear language in the Public Hospitals Act and that there is a “reasonable expectation it would have been made public in a timely manner.” “The lack of response, and the lack of disclosure of the report, contrary to their obligations under the Public Hospitals Act, starts to raise concerns about the integrity of the process.” Megan Ogilvie is a Toronto-based health reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @megan_ogilvie
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More than one third of Toronto’s condos are owned by investors, new StatCan report finds (Tue, 07 Feb 2023)
A whopping 36 per cent of the condos in Toronto are owned by investors, according to a new report published by Statistics Canada via the Canadian Housing Statistics Program. In some smaller markets, investors account for well over 80 per cent of condo ownership, and across Ontario overall, almost 42 per cent are owned by investors. The report defines an investor as someone who owns at least one residential property that is not used as their primary place of residence. The data is pulled from early 2020, before the pandemic feeding frenzy hit and prices shot up by more than 50 per cent across the country as interest rates reached historic lows. Investors own about half of the condos built from 2016 through early 2020, said the report, which sheds some light on the long-standing question about the impact of investors in Canada’s largest housing market. “Toronto is heading in the direction of global cities like New York City, Manhattan especially, London, and Shanghai, where they have up to 80 per cent of their condo market taken by investors,” said Simeon Papailias, managing partner of Royal LePage’s REC Canada. “We’ll end up in the exact same place where downtown Toronto is a commercial commodity that is rented out.” The report shows that condos are more popular with investors than houses. In Ontario, investors account for 20 per cent of all property owners — less than half the amount for condos. That’s because condos are cheaper and the deal structure is more flexible, said Papailias. Pre-construction condos allow investors to be flexible with the deposit amount — it can be 10 per cent right away or five per cent over the construction period — making it a more accessible real estate option than a detached home, he said. Pre-pandemic, few investors were international buyers. Many were purchasing real estate as a retirement investment or a way to help their children get a foothold on the property ladder. In Toronto, the downtown core had the highest concentration of investors and more than 112,000 condos were investor-owned compared to 53,000 houses. But some smaller municipalities trump Toronto’s condo investor numbers. In the Woodstock area, the share of investor-owned condos was 95 per cent, in Sarnia it was almost 87 per cent, and London was more than 86 per cent, according to the report. While smaller city condos are more affordable for investors compared to Toronto prices, student housing also plays a significant factor in investor interest, said Ron Butler, mortgage broker of Butler Mortgages. “For many university cities like London, when condos are built they’re advertised as being ideal for students, so investors snatch them up because it’s a great rental opportunity,” he said. In places like Sarnia or Windsor, people are leaving the GTA to find more affordable housing, especially those on welfare or disability benefits, who need to pay the lowest possible rent but want to remain in southern Ontario, Butler said. There was also a higher rate of business-owned investment properties among the condo stock than the housing stock in Ontario. Businesses owned 13.4 per cent of condos for investment purposes — the highest share among the provinces, according to the report. Businesses and corporations that own condos fall into two primary categories, said John Pasalis, head of real estate brokerage Realosophy. There are individual investors who have a business and therefore capital in their corporation. “These business buyers are buying through their business name rather than their individual name for various tax reasons and advantages,” he said. “These are typically mom and pop individual investors.” The second type of investors are big institutional investors, where companies raise millions of dollars to buy a block of condos to rent them out. “We don’t know the distribution of these two types of business investors and how it splits up,” Pasalis said. “But it’s likely more common in Ontario because it’s where the financial hub of the country is.” As of July 2022, multi-property owners that are corporations account for ownership of just under four per cent of residential properties in Ontario, according to land and commercial registry company Teranet. However, the report does not address what is a growing concern in the market — the number of investors who are over-leveraged and the investors who overextended themselves in the pandemic when interest rates were at all-time lows. “Typically we see that when there are a disproportionate number of investors in a region, that region has the biggest boom and bust in prices,” Pasalis said. Since the February 2022 price peak, GTA condo prices have dropped by more than $112,000 or around 14 per cent. The drastic fall in prices and soaring interest rates has resulted in troubling headwinds for the pre-construction condo market which saw sales plunge and thousands of projects delayed in 2022. “Right now investors dictate what gets built in the condo market,” Butler said. Around 75 per cent of condos need to be sold before the building gets made, and 80 per cent is typically sold to investors. If they back out of buying prebuild condos, fewer new-builds are constructed. “Investors also dictate what type of condo gets built, as most want something that is small and inexpensive that they can turn into short-term rentals,” he said. “Investors drive this ultra small product development with these tiny suites, making it difficult for families to move in and raise children.” Currently, there aren’t troubling numbers for forced sales from over-leveraged investors, said Pasalis. There will be an increase in distressed sellers this year, but it won’t reach levels seen in the 2008 U.S. financial crises, he said. “Investors are averse to losses; they’re optimists,” Pasalis said. “Even if they’re over leveraged they’re more inclined to take on more debt with the hope that things get better soon as opposed to selling. When there were zero distressed sales last year, whatever we get this year will seem like a lot when we compare it to 2022.” Clarrie Feinstein is a Toronto-based business reporter for the Star. Reach Clarrie via email: clarriefeinstein@torstar.ca
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Poor building infrastructure in Turkey set the stage for widespread destruction from earthquake (Tue, 07 Feb 2023)
Why was the earthquake so deadly in Turkey? The extraordinary power of the quake and Turkey’s long-standing infrastructure problems, made for a deadly combination, according to experts. The earthquake hit Monday with the strength of about 130 atomic bombs, according to Prof. Ovgun Ahmet Ercan, a well-known Turkish geophysicist. And it was closely followed by more than 145 aftershocks, according to Turkish authorities — including one that was almost as large as the first initial quake. A second quake struck hours later with a magnitude of 7.5, its epicentre in the Elbistan district of Kahramanmaras. According to Turkish authorities, at least 2,921 people were killed in ten Turkish provinces, with nearly 16,000 injured. The death toll in government-held areas of Syria rose to 656 on Monday night, according to the Syrian Health Ministry, with at least 450 people dead in rebel-held areas, according to groups in those regions. “People still haven’t gone back to their houses due to the possibility of another earthquake and they are in mosques and roads,” Shahmir Ferotan, a 25-year-old student of the Faculty of Medicine living in Adana, Turkey told the Star on Monday. “We have long anticipated a big earthquake in this region, but we did not expect it to be so unusually strong and destructive,” said Prof. Ahmet Cevdet Yalciner, a prominent Turkish disaster management expert. There hasn’t been an equally strong earthquake in the region for more than 1,500 years, Yalciner said, making it harder to predict the level of damage in densely populated cities. Yet, in Turkey’s case, the extent of the destruction is caused by more than just the intensity of the earthquake. “The harsh weather conditions on top of the strong tremor is a contributing factor but Turkey has been experiencing infrastructure problems since its establishment. We should have built solid and durable structures,” said Yalciner. He also pointed to the failure to finish a redevelopment project in a timely manner, following a deadly 1999 earthquake. Turkish experts agree that new buildings’ constructed in compliance with 2007 and 2017 earthquake regulations reduced destruction relatively, but they highlight that the measures taken did not go far enough. Those regulations determined all buildings would be evaluated for structural integrity and risks for earthquakes. “Very positive steps have been taken to mitigate further risks in the last 23 years, but policies should have been implemented much more strictly, we should have educated our engineers better,” Yalciner said, adding that renovation of older buildings has not been completed in compliance with the recent regulations. “This extraordinary devastation is perpetuated by the persistence in repeating faulty urban policies and politically charged decisions like the 2018 zoning amnesty law,” said Professor Pelin Pinar Giritlioğlu, president of the Istanbul Branch of the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects. She explained that as part of the 2018 zoning amnesty, licences were given to buildings built before 2017 which may not have adhered to building codes or zoning, in return for a fee paid to the government. In Turkey, 13 million structures were legalized under this law. The 1999 quake, which killed more than 17,000 people, marked a turning point in Turkish history for urban development and transformation and TOKI (community housing administration, overseen by the Ministry of Environment, Urbanization and Climate Change) was supported both financially and politically to lead the transformation, Giritlioglu explained. “However, this process quickly lost its social intent. With the laws enacted by the central government, a system of arbitrary licensing was created for construction companies which distorted the initial urbanization goals. The construction of structures was legal on paper but contained flaws that fuelled disasters.” “The policy shift led to an unregulated, untransparent system. The construction companies were also able to move as they pleased and did not comply with regulations.” “The South East is suffering great damage now, including public buildings such as hospitals, police stations, schools, municipal buildings, bridges and airports, all built after 2007. And these places should be the safest in case of disaster, the places where the earthquake victims will be provided for,” she said. “All sane earth scientists, including me, said that this earthquake came with bells ringing years ago,” said Turkish geologist Prof. Dr. Naci Görür in a live interview with FOX TV. Görür said that a number of scientists predicted the disaster beforehand, but claimed the government did not act on their warnings. “Not one cared to listen to what we had to say.” With files from Marjan Sadat and The Associated Press Public buildings and lands have been privatized as well as military owned sites, especially after the coup attempt in 2019, Giritlioglu explained.
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Here are ways you can help international relief efforts in Turkey and Syria (Tue, 07 Feb 2023)
A devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit a region near the border of Turkey and Syria on Monday, killing more than 4,000 people and injuring thousands more. Authorities fear the death toll will continue to climb as rescuers search for survivors. How can you get involved? Here’s a list of organizations that Canadians can donate to in order to help relief efforts in the area. International Rescue Committee The International Rescue Committee is an organization focused on helping those whose lives and livelihoods have been affected by conflict and disaster, according to its website. The IRC said that, in 2021, it reached 31.5 million people in various countries that have been affected by crises. The agency has implemented an emergency response to help families in Turkey and Syria. People who make a monthly gift for the first time will have their gift matched by the organization. Oxfam Canada Humanitarian Coalition Oxfam Canada has set up a relief fund for the region. Meryem Aslan, Oxfam International’s spokesperson in Ankara, said that the organization “is gathering urgent information to assess the scale of devastation and what people most urgently need.” Typically, Oxfam and its partners provide protection, water and sanitation, shelter and food support, Aslan said. Turkish Red Crescent The Turkish Red Crescent is looking for donations to support their efforts with food, shelter and more. The Turkish Red Crescent was established in 1868 and provides aid for those who are “needy and defenceless” in disasters, according to its website. Donations of 15 Turkish lira (approximately $1) can also be made by texting “EARTHQUAKE” to 2868. Care The humanitarian organization Care has set up a Turkey-Syria Earthquakes fund. According to its website, Care works to “save lives, defeat poverty and achieve social justice.” The organization said it worked in over 100 countries in 2020 and reached more than 90 million people through the course of 1,300 projects. Care is looking for donations for emergency aid including for food, shelter, hygiene kits, cold weather supplies and cash assistance. IHH Humanitarian Foundation The IHH is a humanitarian organization that, since 1992, has been delivering aid to people who are in need. According to its website, after evolving into an official organization in 1995, it spread across five continents. The IHH says it will deliver water, food and emergency supplies to the region. The organization will also be distributing food prepared in a soup kitchen to 100,000 people every day. Its mobile soup kitchen is also en route to the area. Doctors Without Borders After the earthquake, Doctors Without Borders provided support to the 23 health facilities across Idlib and Allepo. “We are currently assessing the situation and needs in Idlib, northern Aleppo and south Turkey to scale up our response accordingly, as the number of deaths and injuries is increasing by the hour,” the organization said in a statement. Doctors Without Borders is a Nobel Prize-winning emergency humanitarian medical organization. According to its website, the organization has helped tens of millions of people since its founding in 1971. Save the Children Save the Children, an organization that advances children’s rights around the world, has teams on the ground in the affected regions to assist in response. “Children will need urgent support to access food, shelter and warm clothing,” reads the organization’s Children’s Emergency Fund form. According to their website, The Children's Emergency Fund enables a quick response to crises around the world. Nearly 90 per cent of donations made to Save the Children are used to benefit children along with their communities. Islamic Relief Canada Islamic Relief Canada is looking for donations to assist in efforts in Turkey and Syria. According to their Turkiye Syria Earthquake Appeal, $130 can provide a cash grant for a family to purchase basic essentials, $150 can provide a food pack for a displaced family and $275 can provide two families with emergency shelter. The Islamic Relief says it “works with communities to strengthen their resilience to calamities, and we provide vital emergency aid when disasters occur.” The organization says it aims to be “first on the ground” when there are emergencies. Project Hope Project Hope is an organization providing support for individuals involved in crises and disasters. It has created an earthquake response for relief efforts in Turkey and Syria. The organization is providing medical supplies and aid to Turkey and Syria. Project Hope says that for 60 years it has “worked on the front lines of the world’s health challenges, partnered hand-in-hand with communities, health care workers and public health systems to ensure sustainable change.” It works in five main areas: “disasters and health crises; infectious diseases; noncommunicable diseases; maternal, neonatal and child health; and health policy.” With files from The Associated Press Thea Gribilas is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star's radio room in Toronto. Reach her via email: tgribilas@thestar.ca
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Insiders say Justin Trudeau’s about to make his ‘best offer’ for more health funding. Here’s what we know (Tue, 07 Feb 2023)
OTTAWA—Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will reveal to premiers on Tuesday a multibillion final offer boosting health funding over 10 years with major new spending for mental health, the Star has learned. The new accord will include a higher guaranteed rate of annual increases than has been the case for more than a decade, sources say. But give-and-take negotiations are not on the agenda for a so-called “working meeting” as the premiers continue to demand more “new” money from Ottawa. Trudeau, who spoke Monday with Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson as chair of the premiers’ council, plans to unveil what one federal source called “our best offer” to meet immediate and long-term needs of provinces and Canadians. “It’s not take it or leave it,” said the official, speaking confidentially in order to discuss internal deliberations. “But it’s also not (that) we’re going to come in and lowball folks and ‘you’re going to have to drag more money out of us.’ We’re trying to move ahead. We’re not going to just rehash old arguments.” The federal plan is to inject billions more beyond immediate planned increases to the Canada Health Transfer, in two ways: new additional money along with a newly raised guaranteed “floor” for annual increases to the CHT, and via separate individual or “bilateral” health deals with provinces. It will include major new spending on mental health — though not the creation of a dedicated Canada Mental Health Transfer that the Liberals promised in the 2021 election campaign. “We will be there putting more money on the table,” Trudeau told reporters Monday. “But it’s also important to make sure that the focus is on results and outcomes for Canadians including with better use of health data, more supports for people where they need them across the country.” The prime minister promised there would be enough “flexibility” in the proposal to reflect the different needs and priorities of various provinces. Newfoundland Premier Andrew Furey said it was “a good sign” Trudeau was sitting down with the provinces and territories. “As you’re aware, they’re under no obligation to negotiate and that’s been the posture of previous government,” said Furey, harkening back to his experience as a medical doctor. “There’s only one taxpayer, there’s only one patient. In all my years of care, never once did a patient ask me who’s paying for this.” Premiers, including Ontario’s Doug Ford, were still not fully apprised of the federal offer and what the possible per-capita share would mean for their own budgets. But there was an acknowledgment that the premiers’ demand for an extra $28 billion in annual spending with a guaranteed 5 per cent increase each year was unlikely. Right now, the CHT is tied to a moving three-year average of nominal gross domestic product growth, but it guarantees at least a “floor” of at least a 3 per cent increase to provinces. A federal source said there were ongoing intense discussions through the weekend, and that the result will “skew in favour of the provinces as opposed to the department of finance.” Details were being tightly held in part because Trudeau promised to premiers he would reveal the numbers to them first, as officials downplayed it as any kind of summit for negotiations. “It’s not a first ministers’ meeting, first of all. It’s a working meeting between first ministers,” said a second federal source. “And they’ve been asking for a federal proposal and for the prime minister to come and make a proposal and that’s what we’re doing.” “Everything will be clear once the prime minister’s tabled it,” that insider said. A third federal official said the mood going in “is positive.” The federal offer will include billions of dollars — not just for direct transfers to provinces, but for bilateral agreements. That would allow provinces to agree to target areas of “shared priorities” — particularly Ottawa’s call for better electronic health data collection and improved sharing of it between doctors and patients as well as different levels of government. While Quebec Premier François Legault bristled when asked if his province could accept conditions to the new funding, he indicated his willingness to work with Ottawa. “It’s important to say that we already have a … long-term plan in Quebec, so we know what are our priorities, we know how to invest the money,” said Legault. “We don’t need the federal government tell us how to invest the money,” he said, conceding that his province would be fine with improved sharing of health data. Ottawa also wants to ensure new federal money goes to expand access to family doctors and reduce ER and surgical wait times. Ford has said he could “live with” certain conditions in exchange for a significant boost to Ottawa’s share. But Ontario officials were skeptical of the federal calculations of what constitutes “new money.” It will be up to federal and provincial officials to sit down and work out in the weeks ahead how much the offer would mean for each province. What was clear Monday night is the long-standing disagreements over the accounting of health spending would continue. Trudeau views a budgeted increase to the health transfer, scheduled to kick in with the start of the new fiscal year, rising from $45.2 billion to $49.3 billion in 2023-24 as “new” money, and it will make the case that its further 10-year offer will enable long-term stable funding to secure improvements in health delivery. “It’s part of the money that provinces are currently not getting, that they will be getting, but in addition to that, there is more money on top of that, both in terms of the CHT and then in the bilateral agreements,” a federal source said. Dr. Alika Lafontaine, president of the Canadian Medical Association, said he was hopeful that in contrast to last fall’s collapse of talks between the federal and provincial health ministers, that there is a possibility of reaching agreements. “This feels different. Now, there’s a different energy, there’s a convergence of priorities,” he said, attributing the shift to the high-profile and heartbreaking personal stories of patients, families and health workers in a system in crisis that emerged and made headlines in the intervening months. The CHT was already projected in the fall fiscal update to grow from $45.2 billion in 2022-23 to $58.6 billion in 2027-28. The provinces want the 3-per cent “escalator” to rise, and they want the overall federal share of health spending to rise from 22 per cent to 35 per cent. But Ottawa disputes that accounting, insisting it already funds one-third of health care thanks to direct income taxation powers that were transferred to the provinces decades ago. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, speaking to reporters alongside several union leaders representing health workers in a strained system, said the federal share of spending should rise to 50-50, “not overnight,” but he demanded Trudeau direct any new money towards solving staff shortages that ail the system. “Any agreement that does not include clear commitments to hire health-care workers would be a failure,” he said. Singh again condemned Ford for allowing more private-sector delivery of publicly funded services, warning it would “cannibalize” Canada’s public system by luring away doctors and nurses. Despite holding the balance of power in the minority parliament, he said he would not withdraw support for Trudeau if the prime minister fails to bar any new funding from being used to pay for services delivered in private facilities. Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc Robert Benzie is the Star's Queen's Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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Ontario judge was wrong to rely on anti-vaccine misinformation: Court of Appeal (Mon, 06 Feb 2023)
In granting a mother decision-making authority regarding her children getting vaccinated against COVID-19, a Hamilton judge erred in relying heavily on the anti-vaccine posts the woman submitted to the court — “nothing but something someone wrote and published on the internet,” Ontario’s top court ruled Friday. The Court of Appeal overturned the decision made last year by Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz, and instead granted authority to the father. The parents in the case are separated and are split on the issue of vaccination for the two youngest children, who live with their mother. The father, identified only as C.G., argued in court last year that there’s no medical reason not to vaccinate the children. The mother, identified as J.N., argued there was sufficient doubt about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness. The children said they did not want to be vaccinated. The Court of Appeal’s decision is not an order that the children — who were 10 and 12 at the time of Pazaratz’s ruling — be vaccinated. It simply means that it is now solely the father’s responsibility to address the topic of COVID-19 vaccines with them. “There is no reason to doubt the appellant’s motivation and stated desire to approach this very sensitive issue in a measured way and with a view to the children’s best interests,” wrote Justice Jonathon George for a unanimous three-judge appeal panel. J.N. represented herself before the Court of Appeal. “We are very pleased with the outcome,” said C.G.’s appeal lawyers, Erin Pleet and Jonathan Richardson. “The father would appreciate privacy at this time.” The top court found that Pazaratz placed far more weight on the mother’s submissions than on the father’s, who had presented information from Health Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society showing that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, including for children. The mother, meanwhile, mostly submitted online posts “primarily from those who cast doubt on the importance and safety of the vaccine,” George wrote. “The information relied upon by the respondent was nothing but something someone wrote and published on the internet, without any independent indicia of reliability or expertise.” In his initial ruling, Pazaratz described the father as “dogmatic, intolerant and paternalistic,” while saying that the mother’s sources were “qualified and reputable.” The judge also refused to take “judicial notice” that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, saying information about them was a “moving target.” (Judicial notice means something is so widely known and accepted that a judge doesn’t need expert evidence to accept that it’s true.) Pazaratz pointed to the forced sterilization of Inuit women, residential schools, and the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II to argue that courts should be hesitant to “take judicial notice that the government is always right.” The top court described those comparisons as “inapt.” “In my view, the motion judge fell into error by not assessing whether each document presented by the respondent (mother) was reliable, independent, unbiased and authorized by someone with expertise in the area,” wrote George in the appeal decision. “Instead of engaging in an analysis of the evidence presented, he embarked on a lengthy discussion about whose materials were more thought-provoking, which has no bearing at all on whether the respondent’s materials were admissible and should be given any weight.” Some of the doctors cited by the mother have been accused of spreading misinformation about the vaccines, yet they were relied upon as experts by Pazaratz despite there being “no apparent or verifiable expertise,” George wrote. Pazaratz’s description of some of the authors as “leaders in their fields … seems to be based on nothing more than their ability to either create a website or be quoted in one.” The judge also “seemed to find justification for the respondent’s position that the children should not be vaccinated” by relying on a Pfizer fact sheet submitted by the mother that outlined potential side effects of the vaccine. George pointed out that the company is required by law to disclose potential side effects. “The motion judge treated the respondent as an expert in assessing pharmaceutical disclosure, while essentially dismissing those who are best positioned to interpret this information — public health authorities — who know how to factor the possibility of side effects into the approval process,” George wrote. The appeal court said there’s no question that there is a COVID-19 pandemic, that the disease kills people, and that the vaccines have received approval from Health Canada. “It is simply unrealistic to expect parties to relitigate the science of vaccination, and legitimacy of public health recommendations, every time there is a disagreement over vaccination,” George wrote. Jacques Gallant is a Toronto-based reporter covering courts, justice and legal affairs for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @JacquesGallant
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All eyes on Raptors boss Masai Ujiri as NBA trade speculation hits fever pitch on Twitter (Mon, 06 Feb 2023)
The eyes of the NBA world are on the Raptors with the NBA trade deadline just days away, and speculation over possible deals that could reshape the franchise hit a fever pitch late Monday afternoon. Senior NBA insiders fed the fire as the league awaited confirmation of the blockbuster trade first reported Sunday afternoon that sent Kyrie Irving from the Nets to the Mavericks for Spencer Dinwiddie, Dorian Finney-Smith, a 2029 first-round pick and two second-round choices. ESPN insider Adrian Wojnarowski tweeted just after 4:30 p.m. ET that the deal hadn’t been finalized because the Nets were trying to bring in a third team to expand the trade. Then came the “Woj bomb” that had all Raptors fans furiously refreshing their Twitter feed for the next few hours. A few minutes later, senior NBA correspondent Marc Stein added this: He followed that jaw-dropper with more inside information on another Raptors star. In the end, it was just a lot of smoke with the Nets-Mavericks deal finalized by 7 p.m. Leave it to the Star’s Doug Smith to sum it up succinctly: The Raptors, 25-30 and tied for 10th with Indiana for the final play-in berth in the tight Eastern Conference, have been seen around the league as the team with the most attractive potential trade pieces in VanVleet, Siakam, O.G. Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. Both VanVleet and Trent are expected to decline the player options on their contracts this summer and become free agents, so there’s a risk that they can leave without the Raptors getting anything in return. The Star’s Bruce Arthur was the first to report last month that at least one NBA team had offered three first-round picks for Anunoby. VanVleet, Siakam, O.G. Anunoby have spent their entire NBA careers with Toronto and are the last connection to the team’s 2019 championship. But some fans are urging the team to “blow it up,” and “tank” to lose more games the rest of the season to increase their lottery odds to draft French phenom Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite. Now the NBA world is waiting to see whether the Raptors front office of vice-chairman Masai Ujiri and general manager Bobby Webster will pull off a trade that could reshape the franchise — or stand pat with a roster that was expected to improve on last season’s 48-34 record. “Ujiri being Ujiri, who has always played poker at his own pace, figures to be more than happy to make the rest of the NBA wait until their prices meet his demands,” the Star’s Dave Feschuk wrote. The NBA trade deadline is Thursday at 3 p.m. Feb. 7, 2023 — Update: This story has been changed from a previously published version to reflect the latest standings following Monday’s games. Patrick Ho is a rewrite editor working on the Star's digital desk in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @patrick_ho_007
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