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Canada on guard against new virus strain behind COVID-19: In The News for Dec. 23

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 23 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of Dec. 23 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Canada's top doctor says federal officials are mobilizing their genome sequencing networks in an effort to catch a potentially more infectious strain of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the strain has not yet been detected in Canada.

One particular lineage of the SARS-CoV-2 virus is appearing to dominate infections in the U.K., with an epidemiologist there suggesting mutations on the new strand could be making it 70 per cent more infectious. Experts say more data is needed before they can verify that, however, and they expect current vaccines to still work on the new strand.

Viruses are constantly changing and mutating, says Tam, and Canada has been undergoing sequencing on COVID viral samples for months in an effort to track those kinds of alterations.

News of the revamped strand in the U.K., which has already been found in other parts of the world, has made those efforts more important. And given the way COVID spreads, Tam says she wouldn't be surprised to see this new lineage driving infections in several countries.

"It may become one of the more common strains," Tam told a news conference Tuesday. "We know how this virus transmits in hidden ways, so it's a possibility for sure. 

"But by having a bit of lead time and getting set up, we will be able to detect it should it appear in Canada."


Also this ...

A judge is facing a review after he visited a Metis man at his protest camp on Saskatchewan's legislature grounds following his ruling that the man was entitled to stay there.

The Canadian Judicial Council says a panel will look into the actions of Court of Queen's Bench Justice Graeme Mitchell.

The council referred to "complaints" in its release, but did not say who filed them. 

Mitchell heard the case last summer when the provincial government tried to remove Tristen Durocher from the legislature grounds in Regina.

The Metis man had walked 635 kilometres from northern Saskatchewan, set up a teepee and began a fast to draw attention to the high rate of suicide among Indigenous people. 

The provincial government argued that Durocher was violating park bylaws that prohibit overnight camping and said his presence posed a safety risk. Durocher's lawyer said the ceremonial fast was protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mitchell said in his ruling Sept. 11 that park bylaws failed to provide exemptions to allow for "constitutionally protected political and spiritual expression" and must be changed. He also ruled that the legislature grounds are, in effect, a public square where dissent is legitimately expressed. 

Mitchell visited Durocher in his teepee two days later as his 44-day hunger strike came to an end. 


What we are watching in the U.S. ...

The U.S. Justice Department is suing Walmart, accusing it of fueling the nation’s opioid crisis by pressuring its pharmacies to fill even potentially suspicious prescriptions for the powerful painkillers.

The civil complaint filed Tuesday points to the role Walmart’s pharmacies may have played in the crisis by filling opioid prescriptions and Walmart's own responsibility for the allegedly illegal distribution of controlled substances to the pharmacies at the height of the opioid crisis. 

The Justice Department alleges Walmart violated federal law by selling thousands of prescriptions for controlled substances that its pharmacists “knew were invalid,” said Jeffrey Clark, the acting assistant attorney general in charge of the department’s civil division.

Federal law required Walmart to spot suspicious orders for controlled substances and report those to the Drug Enforcement Administration, but prosecutors charge the company didn’t do that.

In an email statement to The Associated Press, Walmart says the Justice Department’s investigation is “tainted by historical ethics violations." 

It said the “lawsuit invents a legal theory that unlawfully forces pharmacists to come between patients and their doctors, and is riddled with factual inaccuracies and cherry-picked documents taken out of context."

Walmart noted it always empowered its pharmacists to refuse to fill problematic opioids prescriptions, and said they refused to fill hundreds of thousands of such prescriptions. 


What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

 Every continent on Earth has now been touched by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chilean authorities say 58 people who were at two military bases in Antarctica or on a navy ship that went to the continent tested positive for the new coronavirus.

So far no other country with a presence in Antarctica has publicly reported any other cases.

Chile's army announced Monday that 36 people at the Gen. Bernardo O'Higgins Riquelme Antarctic base have tested positive, and on Tuesday the health minister for the Biobio region in Chile said there are 21 infections involving people aboard the Chilean navy's Sergeant Aldea supply vessel.

One more case was reported in Las Estrellas' village, where civilian personnel working at the Lieutenant Rodolfo Marsh Martin Air Force Base live, said Eduardo Castillo, regional health secretary for the Magallanes area, which oversee Chilean operations in the Antarctic. The Sargento Aldea ship docked at that village, he added.

The army said the first group of 36 people includes 26 members of the military and 10 civilian employees of a maintenance contract company. It said none so far had shown complications.

The first three people on the Sergeant Aldea vessel tested positive last week and all 208 crewmembers are being quarantined aboard that ship, according to the navy. It said the vessel had serviced the base on the Trinity Peninsula between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10.


On this day in 1983 ...

Jeanne Sauve, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons, was appointed Canada's first female governor general. The former broadcaster and federal cabinet minister had also been the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons.


In entertainment ...

Michelle Latimer's documentary "Inconvenient Indian" is being pulled from distribution and its upcoming screening at the Sundance Film Festival by the National Film Board.

The decision comes after the accuracy of the filmmaker's Indigenous identity was called into question last week.

In a statement Tuesday, the NFB said it held conversations with the Indigenous participants who appeared in the documentary, its Indigenous Advisory Group, and producer Jesse Wente.

The organization said it will continue speaking with Indigenous communities to "explore an accountable path forward for the film," which is based on Thomas King's award-winning book.

Latimer had previously said she was of Algonquin, Metis, and French heritage, from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg and Maniwaki area in Quebec, but a CBC investigation last week challenged those claims and raised issues over her self-identification.

The filmmaker has since said she "made a mistake'' in naming Kitigan Zibi as her family's community before verifying the linkage. In a statement, she said she has reached out to elders and community historians to receive guidance and obtain verification.

On Monday, Latimer resigned as director of "Trickster," the Indigenous CBC-TV series she co-created.



Tesla CEO Elon Musk says his counterpart at Apple declined a meeting when he was once considering selling the electric car maker.

In a tweet Tuesday, Musk said he reached out to Apple CEO Tim Cook “to discuss the possibility of Apple acquiring Tesla (for one-tenth of our current value). He refused to take the meeting.”

Tesla’s market value is US$616 billion, as of the close of trading Tuesday. One-tenth of that is $61.6 billion.

Musk said he approached Cook “during the darkest days of the Model 3 program,” a reference to Tesla’s first electric car designed for the mass market. As recently as 2018, Tesla was struggling to meet its vehicle production goals and turn a profit.

Tesla's fortunes have changed since then. The automaker is finally making money on a consistent basis after years of losses and continues to hit milestones for deliveries of its vehicles.

Musk's tweet followed published reports suggesting Apple is working on developing its own electric cars.

Apple declined to comment.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 23, 2020

The Canadian Press