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.

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.”

The trouble with the share button: How slacktivism disrupts real change

The trouble with the share button: How slacktivism disrupts real change

Photo illustration by Spencer Nafekh-Blanchette and Alyshia McCabe. Edited from image by iStock user Gerasimov174

Sam Adam-Johnston woke up one morning in June 2020, checked his Instagram and discovered he had been tagged in a growing online trend.

The brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police a week prior had prompted protests across the world. But the anger fuelling people to take to the streets also spread digitally, as many began uploading images of a black square with the hashtag #blackoutfriday to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I believe I had been tagged by my sister or somebody very close to me,” Adam-Johnston, 22, recalled in a recent phone interview. “With everything going on, at the height of the protest as well as COVID, there was this whole idea of wanting to participate in something but being fearful for public health at the same time.”

Adam-Johnston decided to stay home and join the Instagram campaign, tagging a few close friends in the process and requesting they follow suit. Soon after, he received a message from a friend informing him of the harm his post could cause.

“They told me that it was much more productive to spread actual information, instead of posting a simple black screen,” Adam-Johnston recalled.

Sam Adam-Johnston scrolls through his Instagram feed (Photo credit: Sam Adam-Johnston)

“Initially, I thought posting it would be a very easy way to help out. But then I realized what posting that kind of content achieved … which was nothing, really.”

The realization prompted him to update his Instagram to warn people not to contribute to the #blackoutfriday challenge because it could interfere with algorithms providing actual resources, such as protest safety guides or required readings on the policing of Black lives.

Simply put, Adam-Johnston had been misled by a slacktivist campaign.

‘A project of reputation management’

Given social media’s ubiquitous presence in the lives of many young people, it has fast become the go-to place to highlight and build support online for a variety of causes. From racism and climate justice to Change.org petitions and the annual Bell Let’s Talk Day, millions will simply click the “share” button or repeat a hashtag in hopes of affecting legitimate change and feeling good about themselves. But experts and advocates fear this may interfere with getting people to go beyond their keyboards and commit to fixing real-world problems.

Matthew Flisfeder, associate professor of rhetoric and communications at the University of Winnipeg and author of the new book Algorithmic Desire: Toward a New Structuralist Theory of Social Media, defined slacktivism as a form of social, political or cultural activism found across the internet. Instead of going out and making material change, people engaging with slacktivist campaigns will make posts on social media platforms expressing their desire to act on a particular issue they feel requires attention.

Speaking during a Zoom interview, Flisfeder was quick to emphasize the “slacking” in slacktivism indicates the action taking place is mere rhetoric, concerning itself more with the appearance of doing something rather than actually affecting social, cultural or political transformation.

“People tend to want to appear as though they are acting towards change without actually doing the work to make change possible,” Flisfeder said. “A lot of the actions people are doing on social media across the board is a project of reputation management. What we’re doing when we’re posting online, to a certain extent, is managing our reputation and the way we are seen by others.”

When asked how slacktivism operates within the confines of Instagram, Flisfeder said “as a mostly visual medium, Instagram slacktivism relies on visual representation, as opposed to the representation in language and rhetoric you find on sites like Twitter and Facebook.”

Slacktivism blurs the line of creating real change

In early November, an Instagram page belonging to an organization called Plant A Tree Co. used the platform’s sticker feature to create a campaign that promised to plant a tree for every pet photo shared.

Soon after, the sticker had been reuploaded more than four million times. But did Plant A Tree Co. really have plans to plant more than four million trees? Clearly not – the organization claimed to have a partnership with a tree-planting organization called Trees for the Future, but Lindsay Cobb, a representative for Trees for the Future, was quick to deny any affiliation in an interview with CBC.

Additionally, Plant A Tree Co. stated on its website that to plant trees, it was selling necklaces, and one necklace would fund the planting of one tree. But in a questionable turn of events, the mention of the necklaces had been removed as soon as their sticker campaign gained traction on Instagram.

Nasha Choudhury, 27, works with Ottawa Biosphere Eco-City, a grassroots charity that seeks to engage people and organizations in sustainability efforts across Ottawa.

Choudhury said slacktivism blurs the line when it comes to creating real change.

“When you have groups that are out there who are posing as an actual charity when in fact they’re not, it just adds to the challenge of getting the engagement that you want.”

“In this virtual world that we live in, it’s really difficult for people to find the kinds of organizations that create the impact that they want to see,” Choudhury added. “There is just so much that people look at for a minute before moving onto the next thing.”

Ecology Ottawa’s Sana Badruddin, 30, said it feels hurtful to see slacktivist campaigns such as Plant A Tree Co.’s prosper over genuine charitable efforts, such as those of her organization.

“We have this extremely successful tree giveaway campaign within the city of Ottawa where we give out free trees to local residents who fill out a survey,” Badruddin said. “The whole point is to empower the citizens who get the trees and are tasked with planting [them].” Ecology Ottawa says it has distributed over 30,000 saplings across the city.

Volunteers with Ecology Ottawa catch some rays with their saplings during the organization’s tree giveaway campaign (Photo credit: Ecology Ottawa).

New approaches for spreading awareness

When it comes to slacktivism campaigns, though, Badruddin said the content is basically posted into oblivion because any random person can share a picture.

“It does kind of delegitimize our work because actual organizations try really hard to make sure people’s efforts are recognized when they take part in something,” Badruddin said. She entertained the idea that slacktivism might have some direct correlation with a lack of actual volunteering in Canada.

Although slacktivist campaigns continue to garner attention across various social media platforms, the question remains: Will the phenomenon ever be seen for what it is?

Badruddin is of the opinion that efforts to combat slacktivism must take place in the physical realm as opposed to the digital one, saying that “fighting social media with more social media is really weird. Ecology Ottawa is, at its core, a face-to-face organization … we use social media as a tool to create action and awareness, but you have to go about it in an intelligent way.”

Asked about his new approach to slacktivism, Adam-Johnston explained his rule of thumb when reposting content online.

“I try to stick to local issues that directly affect the people surrounding me,” he said. “When you can relate to the issue directly, because you grew up in the area or you know people impacted by it, spreading awareness feels much more validating.”

‘Wildly disappointing’: Activists pan Ontario’s period poverty program

‘Wildly disappointing’: Activists pan Ontario’s period poverty program

A partnership between the Ontario government and Shoppers Drug Mart to supply Ontario schools with free menstrual products has sparked controversy among period equity organizations. Photo by Lilian Fridfinnson.

When the Ontario government announced its partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart to provide free menstrual products to schools across the province in early October, organizations who have spent years working to address period poverty claimed victory.

“It was a huge win,” said Tait Gamble, lead volunteer with The Period Purse, a Toronto-based organization working to ensure people who menstruate have safe, healthy and dignified periods by providing access to free menstrual products. 

But the triumph was short-lived. Upon taking a closer look at the details of the plan, its limited and exclusionary nature became apparent.  

On its surface, Ontario’s plan to provide menstrual products in schools looks like a meaningful step to address period poverty. But period equity organizations say the program fails to appreciate the true extent of period poverty and excludes vulnerable populations. 

“This program was designed to not actually meet the need,” said Meghan White, co-founder and executive director of Ottawa-based Period Packs. “There’s simply not enough product being offered.”

Boxes of period products in paper bags
Period Packs provides donated menstrual products to over 30 organizations in Ottawa, including women’s centres, food banks, shelters and high schools, to work toward universal access to period products. Photo provided by Meghan White. 

According to White, the 18 million pads donated over three years will only equate to six pads per menstruator per year and the 1,200 dispensers promised means roughly one for every four schools. 

The long-term viability of the deal raises alarm bells for White, as the partnership does not require any financial commitment by the province.  

“The partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart is very peculiar. Those are all donated products. They’ve come at no expense to the province, although the way they’ve explained it, you wouldn’t know that,” she said.  

Veronica Brown, founder of Moon Time Sisters’ Ontario chapter, which supplies menstrual products to northern communities in Quebec, Nunavut and Ontario, shared in this skepticism. 

“Although it’s a start, it is a private/public corporation partnership … there’s obviously a money trail going somewhere that is not transparent,” Brown said. 

Another pressing concern for period equity organizations is the province’s exclusion of First Nations schools. 

“I read the article and I was like ‘Wow! OK, this is great, but is it including Indigenous communities?,’” Brown said. “Is this going to on-reserve high schools? No, it’s not.”

“Ninety-eight per cent of our communities are fly-in. The focus is on those without access to stores and products,” Brown said. “It’s really just one store called Northmart … they really drive the prices cause there’s no competition.”

“It’s big companies profiting off a bodily function”

This monopoly on period products in northern communities means prices for these necessities are often more than double the cost of menstrual products in urban communities —illustrating a very serious gap in equitable access. 

“A box of tampons can range from $16 to $45, leaving people to choose between these products or food security,” Kiiwetinoong MPP Sol Mamakwa said in October in Queen’s Park after the government announced its plan. 

Mamakwa, a New Democrat MPP, has been outspoken about his disproval toward the deal between the Ontario government and Shoppers Drug Mart for dividing provincial and First Nations schools. 

“Why is this government discriminating against First Nations schools?,” he asked.

The exclusion of Indigenous youth from this plan speaks to a wider issue of inequity and the long-standing conflict among various levels of government regarding who is responsible for funding First Nations community services. 

“This is for the federal government to speak to, as First Nation schools fall under their jurisdiction,” said Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “First Nation schools are not under the purview of the Ministry of Education.” 

But Davenport MPP Marit Stiles, also a New Democrat, said access to menstrual supplies “should not be a jurisdictional game.”

 “Just pony up and cover the cost of it. It’s a very simple thing and it has very immediate impacts on children and youth’s access to education.”

“If you get your period and can’t afford period supplies, you’re probably not going to school.”

Stiles first called for free menstrual products to be made available in school washrooms in 2019 but was met with a lack of urgency toward the issue of period poverty, which was disappointing given the prevalence and impacts of this issue.

Data from UNICEF and Plan International Canada. Visual by Lilian Fridfinnson.

Following backlash to the provincial program’s exclusion of First Nations schools, Minister of Indigenous Services Patty Hajdu issued a statement and tweet last month suggesting Fist Nations schools across Canada can expect free menstrual products “in the coming weeks.”

Despite this encouraging pledge, no further information about precisely when First Nations students can expect these supplies has been released, nor has information about whether Inuit and Métis communities will be included in the plan. 

Where government lagged, non-profit organizations led

Meeting immediate community needs is a “top priority” for Period Packs, White says.

“We service about 450 people a month in the Ottawa area by providing them with enough menstrual products to manage their cycle safely and with dignity,” she said. 

Two Period Packs volunteers pose for a photo with packs of menstrual products that will be distributed to people in Ottawa experiencing period poverty. Photo provided by Meghan White.

Despite Period Packs’ advocacy for period equity and work toward policy reform, the organization was insulted by the province’s plan to provide menstrual products in schools due to a lack of consultation with grassroots organizations who have been tackling period poverty for years. 

“We were all really taken aback,” White said. “Nobody working in this sphere was brought into the conversation. That’s really reflected in how ineffective this program is bound to be.”  

“They looked at some reports and came up with high-level answers to a complex, intricate, serious community issue and didn’t take the reality or peoples’ lived experience into account, which was wildly disappointing.”

This “lived experience,” for many individuals facing period poverty, looks like finding alternate ways to manage one’s cycle, particularly in situations where budgetary sacrifices are necessary to afford menstrual products.

“I’ve heard of people using sponges or rags,” Gamble said. “If you’re facing homelessness or financial insecurity and you’re forced to make a choice between food or period products, period products come second.”

Tait Gamble has worked volunteered with Period Purse since 2017. She runs menstrual product collection drives and facilitates in-school period education programs to alleviate period stigma and work toward period equity. Photo by Tim Fraser. Photo provided by Tait Gamble. 

For McGill University medical students Jiayin Huang and Owen Dan Luo, period poverty is much more than not being able to afford tampons. Lack of access to hygienic products is a health risk. 

“We’ve seen examples of patients utilizing dirty fabrics … this increases risk for a series of infections,” Dan Luo said. 

“If people start using alternative products that are less sanitary, there is an increase in urinary tract infections, as well as bacterial vaginosis,” Huang added. 

Another practice associated with period poverty involves using a tampon for longer than it’s intended, which can cause a deadly infection called toxic shock syndrome

 “There has been some documentation of individuals with period poverty experiencing toxic shock syndrome,” Dan Luo said.

Despite the serious physical health implications of period poverty, this type of marginalization also has mental health impacts. 

“There’s quite a bit of research that demonstrates people experiencing period poverty are more likely to have signs of clinical depression and clinical anxiety,” Dan Luo said. “A lot of it comes down to stigma, and we don’t do a great job of addressing it.”

Period stigma is pervasive, particularly among school-aged menstruators, according to Stiles. 

“There’s a lot of shame,” she said. “It has a big impact on participation of youth and children in schools.”

Stigma and shame associated with menstruation will likely not be mitigated by the current program, as the partnership only involves supplying products to high schools, Gamble said. 

“Most people get their period between 11 and 13, so only having them in high schools … it’s not going to be sufficient,” she said. 

Brown – who has spoken against the provincial government and this narrow attempt at period equity – shares the dissatisfaction. 

“It’s just not enough, so they don’t get a pat on the back.”