Federal government updates advice on booster shots, confirms purchase of antiviral COVID pills

Federal government updates advice on booster shots, confirms purchase of antiviral COVID pills

Canada’s Minister of Public Services and Procurement, Filomena Tassi, announces Canada’s purchase of 1.5 million courses of antiviral pills at a press conference on Friday. Screenshot is taken from Global News broadcast.

By Hafsatou Balde & Sam Konnert

In a week that saw several provinces expand eligibility for booster shots to combat COVID-19, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization on Friday recommended the use of booster shots for people over the age of 18, but emphasized that adults over 50 should be prioritized.

The announcement came among concerns about the new Omicron variant, which was first reported last week.

“It’s still too early to understand what the effect of this variant is going to look like,” said Puja Bagri, a project analyst at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

“Our best information is coming from South Africa, but their population is very different in terms of vaccination rates compared to Canada.”

Meanwhile, Filomena Tassi, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement, announced Friday the federal government has signed an agreement with Pfizer and Merck for the purchase of 1.5 million courses of COVID-19 oral antiviral pills, both in stage three of Health Canada authorization.

“Access to effective and easy-to-use treatments is critical to reducing the severity of COVID infections and will help save lives,” the minister said.

Sarthak Sinha, an MD PhD candidate at the University of Calgary who specializes in tissue scarring and cell regeneration, said he sees the antiviral medication as an essential step in attacking the virus at the right time.

He explained there are two stages to the body’s response to COVID-19, and the pills are most effective in the first stage.

“The antiviral pills the government announced are best administered acutely after symptom onset,” Sinha said.

In the second stage of the body’s response to the virus, according to Sinha, the pill is not as effective. “The late stage of response is when people become hypoxic, they get really sick and have to go to the hospital,” he said.

The second stage of fighting COVID-19 is not driven by the virus, he said, and is instead driven by the body’s hyperinflammatory response.

While steroids like Dexamethasone are good for later stages of infection, he added a combination of the two therapies will have the greatest benefit for patients. “Early intervention mitigates risk for severe disease,” Sinha said. “That’s the overarching concept.”

With the Dec. 1 announcement that Alberta is opening up boosters to those 18 and up and Ontario outlining plans to offer a third dose for people over 50 as of Dec. 13, Bagri said she thinks other provinces may eventually follow suit.

“We should be taking care of key populations that may be more vulnerable first,” Bagri said. 

“Testing and sequencing hand-in-hand – that’s how we’re going to really capture the spread of this variant,” Bagri said.

On Friday, the province of Ontario reported 1,031 new cases of COVID-19. It’s the first time since May 30 the number has surpassed 1,000 new cases.

Numbers like this make the possibility of a booster appealing to people like Nitika Sharma, a 26-year-old student at Carleton University who received her second dose back in June.

“Once they ask us to get the shot, I’ll be the first person in line,” she said.

Beijing Olympics raise questions

Beijing Olympics raise questions

The National Stadium was the host stadium for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and will be used again as the host stadium for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Photo credit: Slices of Light/ Flickr

Canada is expected to send 85 athletes to Beijing to participate in the winter Olympic Games in February – 44 men and 41 women.

But the location of the games is a subject of controversy.

 Earlier this week, the Bloc Quebecois MP Alexis Brunelle-Duceppe introduced a motion in the House of Commons calling on the International Olympic Committee to postpone the games for one year, so that an international observation mission could visit Xinjiang, where crimes against humanity targeted against Uyghurs are alleged to be occurring.

“The Chinese government… is violating every provision of the United Nations Genocide Convention,” Brunelle-Duceppe said.

He also called for China to be withdrawn from the Olympics if it refused to host the mission. Brunelle-Duceppe’s motion was blocked.

On Tuesday, Pascale St-Onge, the federal minister of sport, said Canada has not yet decided whether or not to boycott the games.

“The decision has not been yet made, we are still in discussion,” St-Onge told reporters outside the House of Commons. “In regards to the government, we obviously respect the independence of the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic committees with respect to Team Canada’s participation in the Olympic Games. At the moment, our priority is the safety and security of all athletes.”

Margaret McCuaig-Johnston, a senior fellow at the Institute for Science, Society and Policy at the University of Ottawa, said Canada’s decision will have to balance the interests of athletes and human rights.

“The Olympics are a big celebration of sports, but also international togetherness. And especially the opening and closing ceremonies are big celebrations of the host country. They get to put on a big extravaganza of the best entertainment their country has to offer,” she said.

“We don’t want our athletes to have to lose the opportunity of their career, something they’ve worked [on] for many years. If they didn’t attend at all, they would then have to work another four years — it’s a lot to ask them to give up.”

McCuaig-Johnston said Canadian athletes will have to consider how their participation in opening and closing ceremonies will be seen when they return home. “They will have to answer questions about why they went to big celebrations in China, when millions of people are being tortured and victimized.”

Transit, affordable housing among concerns for students heading into election year

Transit, affordable housing among concerns for students heading into election year

After a year that saw a host of issues including rising rental costs, LRT service problems, and the ongoing pandemic, many are looking for changes to be made. Photo taken by William Eltherington.

Young Ottawans say their priorities for local politicians heading into an election year include addressing ballooning housing costs, LRT service disruptions, climate change and rising police budgets.

The Raging Twenties asked several students about what kinds of issues they are concerned about going into 2022. The election is set for Oct. 24.

University of Ottawa student Jenna Mitchell Dueck, who studies international development and globalization, said there are several issues that need to be addressed but climate change, affordable housing and police budgets are top of mind for her.

While she said she does not always pay attention to municipal politics, someone who stands for those issues would likely motivate her to vote.

She added issues like affordable housing can help address large-scale problems such as climate change.

“If it’s possible for people to actually live and have a place to stay that they can afford, that doesn’t take their entire paycheque, then climate change and other things can also be addressed, she said. “It’s all interrelated.”

Dueck added a lot of young people are concerned about how much money is going to Ottawa police.

Transit is “definitely an issue for students,” said Alexander Elinov, a third-year student at the University of Ottawa.

Students walking on UOttawa campus.
“If it’s possible for people to actually live and have a place to stay that they can afford, that doesn’t take their entire paycheck, then climate change and other things can also be addressed,” Dueck said. “It’s all interrelated.” Photo taken by William Eltherington.

Combined with the transit issues in the city, he said the competitiveness of the urban rental market has forced students to live further outside the city.

The unreliability of the transit system has made others choose to walk instead.

“I do know friends that kind of have to ‘bite the bullet’ and have had to walk an hour or so,” he said.

Capital Coun. Shawn Menard said among the issues young people should be paying attention to prior to next year’s election are accountability at city hall, developer influence, transit and climate change. 

“There are several areas where the council has fallen short,” he said. “We don’t see enough student affordable housing because we’re not holding developers to account and are allowing developers to influence municipal candidates during elections.”

Students should be more concerned over what developers are allowed to build in Ottawa which is driving up rents, he added. 

Meanwhile, one of the biggest issues from the year is from the problems related to the LRT, which has reduced trust in the system. 

On Wednesday, Menard introduced a motion to the transportation committee to study free transit to potentially help with affordability and encourage more to use the system.

“A lot of students have student debt and need an economical way to get around,” he said. “For students it would be a huge economic uplift.”

Menard, who has sparred with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson online and at some council meetings, said he is ready to see a change in leadership.

He said he has worked closely with Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, who has also been an advocate for better transit accountability and has stated they are considering running for mayor.

Menard added he is waiting for Watson to announce whether he will seek re-election in 2022 before making any decisions regarding his own political future. “McKenney definitely reflects my values,” he said.

Christmas Cheer spreading joy to those who need it most

Christmas Cheer spreading joy to those who need it most

Santa takes a jolly stroll toward hosts Patricia Boal and Graham Richardson of Bell Media to take centre stage at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Rajpreet Sahota.

The Christmas Cheer Foundation hosted their annual breakfast fundraiser on Friday morning to raise money for local charities that provide community support services for young Ottawa residents in need.

The annual breakfast helps youth experiencing financial and mental health issues across Ottawa, which have been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bethany McNee received help from Youville Centre, one of the organizations supported by the foundation, when she graduated from their high school program as a teen mom in 2006.

“I started at the school when my daughter was six months. At the time I was in an abusive relationship and the counsellor I worked with there helped me build the courage to leave the relationship,” McNee said. “If it wasn’t for YouVille, I don’t think I ever would have graduated.”

Operation Come Home is another one of the charities that receives funding from the annual event. They offer multiple services including a drop-in center, food bank and mental health and substance use counseling.

“The average age of a homeless person is getting younger every year. We’ve seen more youth than we have before in spite of the pandemic,” said John Heckbert, the associate executive director at Operation Come Home, explaining that there has been an increase of those reporting economic and mental health stress during the pandemic.

Marieanne Simard, a 23-year-old Ottawa resident, visited Operation Come Home for mental health and addiction counselling in 2017.

“Operation Come Home have and still helps me with mental health, housing, food bank and others. They’ve been and still are a big support in helping me become the better person I am,” Simard said.

“It’s an opportunity to come together as a community to see people in person [and] celebrate the Christmas season,” said Christmas Cheer board chair Jim McConnery explaining that the donations from the event will be going towards 22 food-related charities.

“As a group, we’re raising immaterial amount of money for charity. This is a great Ottawa tradition that we’ve had for so many years. It’s a special way for the community to come together,” he said.

The event was held virtually as well as in-person at the Shaw Centre. The event also featured performances by musicians Twin Flames, Steph La Rochelle, Natalie MacMaster and Ontario’s first poet laureate Randell Adjei.

32 years after Montreal Massacre, activists wonder what’s changed?

32 years after Montreal Massacre, activists wonder what’s changed?

Plaque commemorating the lives of the 14 women killed at École Polytechnique during the 1989 Montreal Massacre found outside the university. Photo by: Wikimedia Commons

Patrizia Gentile was a 19-year-old student at Montreal’s McGill University in 1989 when a shooter opened fire into a class of engineering students at École Polytechnique, targeting and killing 14 women. The experience solidified her as a feminist and academic against gender-based violence.

Today, as an associate professor who specializes in human rights, social justice, and women and gender studies at Carleton University, she continues to commemorate the 14 female students whose lives were cut short more than 30 years ago on Dec. 6, an event since known as the Montreal Massacre.

For Gentile, the anniversary is a day of remembrance. Over the years, she’s attended events in Montreal and Ottawa, from visiting the women’s monument at Minto Park to saying the names of the 14 women who were murdered. Through it all, she could not shake the feeling the tragedy left behind.

“It was like a tattoo … on our memory,” Gentile said. “It galvanized my own personal journey around my sexuality and being a feminist and made me more of a feminist.”

This year’s vigil will be broadcast virtually on the Women’s Event Network Facebook page at 6 p.m. Monday.

“My generation really did see this as a political moment, so I think for us Dec. 6 is not just ‘Let’s take a moment and think about violence,’” she said. “It is specifically about how this horrific massacre happened because people were identified as women.”

What strikes Gentile every year is the large number of women from younger generations who attend the memorials. She explained she is overcome with sadness when she sees the crowds because it solidifies that gender-based violence is still present in people’s everyday lives.

This year’s memorial comes weeks after a report from Ontario’s Association of Interval and Transition Houses highlighted that 58 women in the province were victims of femicide over the past year.

‘These women could have been me and my friends’

For 23-year-old Laura Stoyko, a software developer and University of Manitoba computer engineering graduate, the events that unfolded long before she was born still impact her life.

“To think that those women could have been me and my friends,” she said.

In 2019, Stoyko ran the University of Manitoba’s 30th anniversary memorial.

“It was just heartbreaking to think these women, all they wanted was to study, to be an engineer and to help the world,” she said. “Someone decided they weren’t going to be able to do that anymore.”

Stoyko said she still sees few women in the room at her work. Efforts to bring more women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields must start at a young age and must address how children are socialized differently, she explained. As girls drop out of those fields, it closes the door on future studies and careers.

“A big part of it is outreach and showing what engineering actually is,” Stoyko said. “Once you’re in first-year engineering, women are more likely to stay until the end, so it’s not a problem of keeping them, it’s the problem of how we actually get them there.”

Referring to the impact gender-based violence has on Canadian women today, Gentile said not much has changed since the 1989 massacre. According to Statistics Canada, more than four in 10 women have experienced some form of psychological, physical or sexual violence at the hands of a partner in their lifetime.

Gentile said 32 years of history shows the legal and political systems alone are not doing enough to solve gender-based violence. Canadians need to integrate the issue into daily conversations, she said, not just once a year.

“The impact is still seismic [and] violence is politicized,” Gentile said. “The impact has done nothing on the everyday […] epidemic of violence against women, femmes, trans women, non-conforming people is relentless.

“It has not changed.”

Students call on Carleton U to divest from fossil fuels

Students call on Carleton U to divest from fossil fuels

Climate Action Carleton members at Friday’s Divestment Sit-In. Pictured from left to right: Andres Reyes, Sophie Price, Devan Sharma, Alex Zelenski, Steph Vienneau, Megan Williamson, Rebecca Chhom, Holden Heppler. Photo taken by Ella Milloy.

Students, faculty and community members converged on the Carleton University campus Friday to urge the school’s administration to divest from fossil fuels.

Climate Action Carleton, a student-led sustainability organization, organized the afternoon rally to raise attention to its #DivestNow campaign, which the school’s board of governors was expected to discuss at its 3 p.m. meeting.

Steph Vienneau, a third-year environmental studies student who helped organize Friday’s event – which drew about 50 people, said it provided an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of divestment to the Carleton community.

“Divestment is a topic at the board of governor meeting today,” Vienneau said. “They will be discussing whether it is practical for Carleton and whether they want to pursue it. Our goal today is to show just how much support we have.”

The #DivestNow campaign calls on Carleton University and the University of Ottawa to divest the university’s endowment funds from the fossil fuel industry. It also demands that both universities disclose all financial holdings of their investment portfolios and reinvest the divested funds into sustainable alternatives.

Vienneau explained the #DivestNow campaign represents a way for Carleton to become a leader in the divestment conversation.

“I think the #DivestNow campaign matters a lot because an academic institution like Carleton has a lot of agency in what they do,” Vienneau said. “Making a statement like divesting from fossil fuels, like so many other universities have, sends a strong message to the government, to investors and to industries that fossil fuels are no longer tolerable.”

Student-led divestment initiatives have taken root at post-secondary institutions across Canada and around the world to encourage university and college administrations to sell stocks, bonds and other funds that are invested in the fossil fuel industry.

Several high-profile Canadian universities, such as the University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia and Université Laval in Québec City, Que., have already announced their divestment plans.

Additionally, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed its support of post-secondary institutions divesting from fossil fuels in an article published in October.

Climate Action Carleton is one of many student groups within the broader Divest Canada Coalition. Made up of 30 groups from institutions across Canada, the coalition works to get post-secondary administrations to recognize the threat of climate change and address that threat by divesting fully from the fossil fuel industry and investing in sustainable alternatives.

Angela Dittrich, a 22-year-old York University graduate student who is jointly studying law and environmental studies, is an active member of Fossil Free, a divestment group at York University.

Dittrich said working collaboratively with other divestment groups within the Divest Canada Coalition has been a rewarding experience.

“It’s been really powerful to be able to talk to other divestment campaigns and learn from them,” Dittrich said. “We get to talk to the groups that have secured divestment, see what worked for them and what didn’t and just talk about the struggles and the victories together.”

Mary Stuart, a 22-year-old environmental studies major at the University of Ottawa and member of Climate Justice uOttawa, said she believes young people have a huge role to play in holding institutions accountable.

“Young people have a huge stake in seeing real climate action be taken seriously because we’re worried about our future,” Stuart said. “Young people really want a better future in terms of achieving climate justice. Not only are they fighting the climate crisis but they’re re-imagining a society that supports the well-being of people in general.”

Stuart added the climate crisis presents an opportunity to critically examine the root causes of the issue, including colonialism and capitalism.

“There’s a real drive to reimagine the way that we live and the relationships we have with each other and the planet,” Stuart said.