New COVID-19 variant prompts Canada to announce new travel restrictions

New COVID-19 variant prompts Canada to announce new travel restrictions

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos announced new restrictions for travellers from seven southern African countries at a press conference on Friday. The government also urged Canadians to avoid travelling to the region. Screenshot is taken from CBC live broadcast. 

By Sophie Kuijper Dickson & Adam Beauchemin

Canada will implement travel restrictions to mitigate the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant recently detected in South Africa, federal officials announced Friday.

“Emergence of new variants is unfortunately not unexpected,” said Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam during press conference on Friday, adding that, to date, there are no indications of the variant’s presence in Canada. 

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced Canada will impose restrictions on travel from seven countries in southern Africa: South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini. 

The Omicron variant was first detected by South Africa and announced in a press conference Thursday.

While South Africa has seen an acceleration in cases, Tam said it’s too soon to say whether it is because of more relaxed health measures or because the virus has gained a biological advantage.

All Canadians who have arrived in Canada from any of the restricted countries within the past 14 days must remain in isolation until they receive a negative test result. 

Canadians arriving from travel-restricted countries will be tested upon arrival and asked to quarantine until they produce a second negative test. Foreign nationals will be prohibited from entering the country if they have been in any of the seven restricted nations within 14 days. 

Duclos noted the number of travellers Canada has been receiving from the restricted nations is small, an estimated average of 50 people day, which he said will allow the government to closely monitor the isolation and testing of those individuals. 

While officials only announced restrictions on seven countries, Alghabra stated the government has not ruled out the possibility of adding more measures as events unfold. 

Tam explained this variant is of significant concern because of the high number of mutations it contains, which may cause increased transmissibility as well as a weakened immune response among carriers. 

However, she emphasized there is still not enough information on the nature of this variant to fully understand its potential impact. 

“We know very little about this variant right now including how transmissible it is and whether it increases severity of illness or what the impact is on the vaccine,” Tam said, adding the vaccine is still the most important and effective means of protection against all strains.  

“There are still approximately three million Canadians, 12 years and older, who haven’t received a single dose of vaccine,” Duclos said, urging Canadians to get vaccinated now. 

Ukrainian-Canadian youth use social media to promote the memory of Holodomor as Russian aggression continues

Ukrainian-Canadian youth use social media to promote the memory of Holodomor as Russian aggression continues

Former Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union president Roman Grod, passes the ceremonial mace, known as a bulava in Ukrainian, to the new president, Danya Pankiw, on Sept. 27, 2021. Photo provided by Danya Wasylyk.

Canadian-Ukrainian youth are taking to social media to reclaim the legacy of Holodomor as the 88th anniversary of the man-made famine approaches on Saturday.

“It’s really a newer concept that this famine is now recognized as a genocide and has the name Holodomor, which means death by starvation,” said Danya Pankiw, 22, the president of the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union.

Sixteen countries have recognized the genocide as such, including Canada which did so in 2008.

As Russian presence intensifies at the Ukrainian border, young Canadian-Ukrainians are reflecting on this crucial moment in their collective history in a way previous generations have not.

“The older generation’s perspective is that it was not something to put a name to, often due to their own survivor’s guilt,” Pankiw said. “The youth are branding it for what it was in order to raise awareness.”

The famine swept the Soviet Republic of Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 claiming the lives of an estimated 3.9 million people.

Dasha Akhova, 22, has roots in both Russia and Ukraine and currently studies at the University of Toronto’s Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies. She said that social media helps put a spotlight on a range of voices from the Ukrainian diaspora as they explore the complexity of their identity.

“For me, Holodomor today is about setting the record straight,” she said Friday. “We are purging the extent of this Russian pressure and realizing how much it affected our identity.” 

Last year, the Ukrainian Canadian Students’ Union members posted QR codes across university campuses that led to a webpage with information on Holodomor. This year, their information campaign continues in the form of infographics posted to Instagram and organizing academic panels. A group of Ukrainian immigrants established the union in 1953 to preserve their culture but it has since shifted its focus toward advocacy work.

Pankiw further contextualized this cultural resurgence as part of the broader context of youth-led justice movements across Canada. 

“At this point in time there is a lot going on with other communities in Canada uncovering their past and Holodomor sits with that,” Pankiw said.

Pankiw said that the work of Ukrainian-Canadian youth is being widely recognized.

Pankiw was invited to represent Canadian-Ukrainian youth as part of a delegation that met with former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko in Toronto last week. Poroshenko was in Canada to attend the Halifax International Security Forum.

“I think that really speaks to [how] our parent’s generation really see how important and impactful we are for the future of the diaspora,” Pankiw said of the invitation.

“So we are going back to those roots and seeing how we can construct a very inclusive Ukrainian national identity.”

‘Nothing about us without us’: Scholars weigh in on key legal issues facing trans people in Canada

‘Nothing about us without us’: Scholars weigh in on key legal issues facing trans people in Canada

Samuel Singer is an assistant professor at the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa. Image credit: Website of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law – Common Law Section

Trans-rights scholars and advocates stepped up their criticism of Canada’s legal landscape on Friday, acknowledging the fight for basic human rights has created “huge fatigue.”

The panel discussion, hosted by the University of Ottawa’s Public Law Centre, comes at a time of heightened controversy after the Québec government introduced a bill seeking to limit the ability to change sex identification documents to only those who have undergone gender-confirmation surgery.

D.T., a law student, said having to constantly fight for basic human rights is exhausting.

“This comes with huge fatigue,” they said. “This takes a toll on the mental health and the resilience of the people who are directly concerned.”

Many trans-rights advocates hope to get rid of the discrepancies that exist between creating legislation and actually applying it.

“The people who put pen to paper for policies do not consult, do not consult properly and do not know who to consult,” said William Hébert, an assistant professor in the faculty of public affairs at Carleton University.

“Policy-makers and those who enforce those policies are not the same people, and there is a lot of tension there,” Hébert said.

As advocates continue to fight for their rights to be recognized by policy-makers, D.T. said they are worried trans people are trapped within a stereotype of vulnerability. 

“[Trans people] have to show and explain their suffering so the law can change and so decision makers can become their allies and sympathize with them,” D.T. said, specifying this is the only way the community will receive the legal changes it needs.

Samuel Singer, an assistant professor at the faculty of law at the University of Ottawa, acknowledged that leadership needs to be informed by trans peoples’ expertise.

“There is an expression in trans advocacy communities I think probably exists in many other contexts – nothing about us without us,” he said.

One example of such leadership could be seen in Thursday’s appointment of Amita Kuttner as the interim leader of the federal Green Party. Kuttner, an astrophysicist and former candidate for B.C.’s Burnaby-North Seymour riding, is the first trans leader of a federal party.

Amita Kuttner, the interim leader of the federal Green Party. Image credit: Creative Commons

For trans people to succeed, D.T. said allyship efforts need to create opportunities.

“If someone has enough privilege to be in a place where they can give up a little bit of their [authority] to create some space for a rising trans star or for any rising trans person, then do it,” they said.

“Trans people will prove worthy of the trust that you put in them, but you just need to trust in them first.”

‘Am I going to be stuck renting forever?’: A closer look at Ottawa’s housing crisis — and demands on the federal government to help fix it

‘Am I going to be stuck renting forever?’: A closer look at Ottawa’s housing crisis — and demands on the federal government to help fix it

Ottawa city councillors look to provide reassurance to Ottawans struggling to find affordable places to live in the city. Photo by abdallahh through Creative Commons licence, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

For Josh Horton, the housing crisis is personal.

The 32-year-old young professional living in Ottawa knows first-hand what it’s like searching for a place to rent in the city.

Josh Horton has been left wondering if he will ever be able to afford to buy a house. Photo by Josh Horton.

After dealing with a series of disastrous roommate situations as a student, Horton wanted to live alone. But this decision would not turn out to be an easy choice. Home ownership was out of reach, so his focus had to be on finding a place he could afford.

“It almost makes you wonder if purchasing is ever going to be an option for someone, especially someone who’s still early in their career,” Horton said. “Am I going to be stuck renting forever, or will I ever actually be able to achieve a purchase?”

After finishing school and securing a better paying job, Horton was able to move out of his student apartment in favour of a nicer rental with amenities such as laundry and air-conditioning.

But this upgrade cost him nearly double his previous rent. This was a price he was willing to pay, but experience has left him thinking about his future.

Rising vacancy rate

Young people struggling to find affordable rentals in Ottawa are looking for politicians to take direct action against rising housing costs, but experts say there are no easy solutions to fix the crisis.  

Rising rental rates are leading to vacancy rates in Ottawa that are well above pre-COVID numbers.

In October 2020 – in the midst of the pandemic – the vacancy rate in Ottawa was 3.8 per cent. That’s up from 1.8 per cent in October 2019.

Rising rental rates have affected young people’s ability to find apartments in the city, such as this apartment pictured on 1830 A Baseline Road in Ottawa. Photo by Mansur Omar via Unsplash.

Many apartments in Ottawa have been repurposed into short-term rental units. The number of short-term rentals in Ottawa has grown rapidly, with listings increasing by 83 per cent since 2016 and the number of exclusively short-term rental units increasing by 254 per cent over the same period, according to a 2019 rental market snapshot produced by Prism Economics and Analysis.

Ottawa’s short-term rental bylaw, approved in April 2021, restricted short-term rentals to only principal residences in residential zones. 

‘Federal government has to come to the table’

While the city’s short-term rental bylaw may help ensure more affordable rentals were available on the market, some argue the federal government, which has launched a 10-year, $70-billion National Housing Strategy to fund and finance affordable housing in Canada, also has a major role to play in reducing the strain on housing and rentals in the city.

But Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney says it’s not enough.

“If the federal government doesn’t begin to seriously fund the national housing strategy, there is not a city in this country that will get itself out of chronic homelessness and out of a serious core housing need,” said McKenney, who also serves as council liaison for housing and homelessness.

Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney stressed the importance of advocacy groups to support those in need in Ottawa and throughout the country.  Photo by Justyna Neon Lilith Czujko.

“The federal government has got to come to the table and fund its strategy. It’s got to give more money for new units.”

For Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King, potential solutions to the housing crisis may lie in public housing and further access to funding. 

“I would like to see more public investment because public housing authority has control over what they build, and they have access to programs that really cater to making things affordable to people in lower income brackets,” King said.

For people worried about their ability to find affordable and appropriate places to live, McKenney recommends joining advocacy groups such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN).

“We have to advocate together. We have to fight together to make it better,” McKenney said.  “I would suggest people join a group like ACORN, work with people who share your concerns, but also will help advocate for you.”

ACORN Canada is a local and national organization of individuals and families of low and moderate income fighting for social and economic justice throughout Canada.

For King, his message to people in Ottawa and across the country is simple: the government and council are listening.

“We recognize this is one of the number one challenges for people. We know that, in terms of safety, in terms of just this basic human right, people need a safe place to live, and they need it to be affordable,” King said.

“We really need the federal government and the provincial government to step up to the plate and say, ‘It’s worthwhile, we’re going to invest in a real way in public housing.’”

‘There isn’t really a clear answer’

For Jonathan Malloy, a political science professor at Carleton University, the solution to the housing crisis is far from easy.

“All politicians would love to solve this problem, but there isn’t an obvious solution that doesn’t have other repercussions,” Malloy said.

One solution often proposed is to increase the supply of homes and rentals. However, Malloy said, increasing supply leads to trade-offs that must be considered. “There are issues about simply trying to service them. If our suburbs keep growing and growing, how do you serve those suburbs in terms of services and public transit? There are other costs involved.”

While renters in Canada continue to hear promises from political parties who take minimal action, Malloy said it is easy to become frustrated when nothing seems to change. But talk is critical to raising awareness to the issue.

“There isn’t really a clear answer on the political left or right, there’s not really a single clear answer, but politicians feel that they need to keep talking about it because it’s such a priority for people, and so they keep talking about it even though they don’t really have any solutions,” Malloy said.

‘Make the market more affordable for people’

Horton would like to see it be made easier for people like him to purchase their first home. 

“I would like to see a company that would do something realistic to actually make the market more affordable for people,” Horton said.

A step in the right direction for him would be for government to prioritize loan programs for first-time home buyers.

“If there was something that they could do to help with the market itself, I think that would be important,” Horton said. “Because housing prices just keep on going and going.”

Ottawa residents want change, but voter turnout remains low for municipal elections

Ottawa residents want change, but voter turnout remains low for municipal elections

Residents gathered outside Ottawa Police Services headquarters on Tuesday evening to protest a proposed increase to the police budget.

Back in October, Catherine McKenney called for a judicial review into the city’s LRT service during a virtual council meeting. At the time, the city’s Confederation LRT line had been stopped in its tracks for weeks following a Sept. 19 derailment.

The Somerset councillor’s push for a judicial review led to a heated debate regarding council procedure, during which Mayor Jim Watson muted Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans’ mic as she was making a point of order.

Watson later apologized to Deans, saying in a radio interview with CFRA’s Leslie Roberts he had only done so to maintain “some semblance of order.”

But after a move by protestors this week to block a busy downtown intersection in response to a police budget increase, Watson tweeted he welcomed “protests that are peaceful and not those that break the law,” leading some to wonder if the mayor is out of touch

Less than a year remains before Ottawa residents head to the polls and cast their ballots in the October 2022 municipal election. Between the string of LRT service interruptions, increases to police funding despite demands to defund and concerns of developer influence, there is growing dissatisfaction among residents who feel their concerns are ignored by the city council. 

McKenney, who says they are seriously considering a run for mayor next year, believes the discontent felt by residents stems from feeling dismissed and disregarded by the way the council conducts its business.

“People are asking for one thing and the majority of council is doing another,” McKenney said. 

“People are asking for real action on climate, and we’re not funding that. People are asking for less developer influence and we’re not doing that, the tax break to a Porsche dealership is an example. People are asking us to refund social and mental health services … and we’re not doing that, we keep providing huge increases to the police budget. People are asking for better transit, put the LRT aside for a minute and just think about transit and how we move around the city. We’re not doing that.”

These issues, McKenney believes, will likely be top of mind for frustrated residents when next year’s election day finally rolls around. 

McKenney stopped short of assigning blame to any individual councillor but emphasized that the “strong mayor model” of the current council prevents elected officials from effectively responding to the concerns raised by those they represent. 

By “strong mayor model,” McKenney is alluding to the group of city councillors, sometimes dubbed “the Watson Club,” who regularly vote in line with the mayor.

“The evidence is there, the mayor has almost 15 votes on every issue,” McKenney said, adding the city would suffer if debate during council meetings is not permitted. “Once you have a process where the mayor wins every single vote, where there is a group of councillors who will always vote with [him], it does not do this city any good.” 

Four young Ottawa residents sitting outside police headquarters on Elgin St. during Tuesday’s protest on the police budget increase.

“Of course, a mayor wants to see the city evolve in his or her vision. But you must have a debate and sometimes you have to lose because no one person, no matter who you are, knows what’s best for the entire city on every issue.”

McKenney isn’t the only councillor who has observed Ottawans’ rising discontent.

On Tuesday evening, Capital Coun. Shawn Menard tweeted: “I don’t think people realize the demand for change that this term of Council is creating in Ottawa. It’s larger than anything I’ve seen in recent history, much bigger than the 2010 sentiment.”

Menard was referring to the 2010 municipal elections that saw seven incumbent councillors, including then Mayor Larry O’Brien, lose their jobs following a protracted months-long transit strike. It was the same year that ushered in the Watson era.

Residents who were frustrated with the 51-day long strike – a result of OC Transpo bus drivers and city hall failing to reach an agreement on scheduling – headed to the polls and chose to elect an almost entirely new council.

The 2010 municipal election was first time since the city’s amalgamation that an incumbent councillor lost their position.

Watson, who has yet to confirm whether or not he has decided to seek re-election, has dismissed speculation his decision would be impacted by recurring issues facing the city’s LRT services, including the public inquiry announced by the provincial government on Nov. 17.

Should he run, he will be a force to reckon with. In the two previous elections, Watson has captured more than 70 per cent of the vote.

Rideau-Goulbourn Coun. Scott Moffatt, who was first elected in 2010, said concerns about councillors voting in line with the mayor are exaggerated. 

“It’s not uncommon … there are members of council who are adamantly against the mayor and don’t want to be seen voting with him and there are members of council who vote alongside the mayor without ever really knowing why,” said Moffatt, who has announced he will not seek a new term of council in 2022. 

“But I think there’s far less votes where this is the case.”

Too early to predict how elections will go but some residents are adamant that change is necessary

Even though some pockets of the city’s population are becoming increasingly vocal with their frustrations, it is too early to predict whether the Watson era will end in 2022.

“In some ways, people have been a bit shell shocked ever since the amalgamation of the city,” said Donald Swartz, a long-time member of Free Transit Ottawa. 

According to Swartz, when the eleven neighbouring municipalities amalgamated in 2001 to become the city of Ottawa, it significantly altered the composition of city council.

Swartz, who is Free Transit Ottawa’s representative at the Ottawa Coalition for a People’s Budget, said he believes the work community groups are doing may impact how council approaches the way it serves residents.

The coalition is made up of several community groups who joined forces to release the 2022 Alternative Municipal Budget to pressure Ottawa city council to reconsider how funding is allocated to the city’s budget.

“Whether it’s going to be enough to change the composition of the next council, in any significant way, is far from clear. But I think it will push us in that direction,” Swartz said.

Farnaz Farhang, a member of Coalition Against More Surveillance, points to decisions made by councillors sitting on the Ottawa Police Services Board as a further example of city officials ignoring community demands.

Rideau-Rockliffe Coun. Rawlson King has said delegations who show up to Ottawa Police Services Board meetings and demand board members vote to reallocate police funding towards social services simply do not understand the division of power between municipalities and provinces. 

“The type of advocacy and questions isn’t suited to the Ottawa Police Services Board,” said King, adding that residents should take their concerns to the provincial government, not city councillors. “The reality is we’re constrained by what we can do.”

But Farhang doesn’t buy it. She said she believes councillors have the power to reallocate funds to community services and supports and said community organizations are determined to keep pressuring councillors to better meet the needs of residents. 

“Whatever happens we’ll keep pushing and we’ll keep showing up and we’ll keep working together,” said Farhang. “It’s just about keeping this pressure and momentum on them and make councillors think twice about what they’re doing.”

Voter turnout in municipal elections is notoriously low

But will this determination to push for change translate into votes next year?

As the municipal elections draws near, the old concerns about voter turnout will become more relevant. 

Elections Canada data shows that voter turnout federally is low, especially among younger demographics, but it hit a record low of 59 per cent in 2008. 

Despite a slight increase in the last municipal election, voter turnout has never reached past 54 per cent and was as low as 33 per cent in 2003. (From City of Ottawa).

Although there was a spike in youth voter turnout in 2015, the year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau swept to power, the voting rate for younger Canadians was still more than 20 percentage points lower than that of the older 65 to 74 age group.  

By 2019, the gap had widened to 25 percentage points lower.

Similar data doesn’t exist to indicate the level of engagement of younger Ottawans in municipal elections, but if it did, it may tell the same story.  

Which is cause for concern considering the impact local politicians can have on the day-to-day lives of residents. 

Though younger residents may find the mechanisms of municipal politics opaque, difficult to understand and even alienating, McKenney stresses decisions council makes impact their lives to an extent other levels of government don’t.

“I tell people all the time, ‘If you’re going to vote in one election, you should vote in the municipal election because what [council] can do in four years [can] change how you live.’ There’s nothing close to that with a member of provincial parliament or member of parliament.”

Ultimately, it’s in the best interest of younger Ottawans to get involved in local politics and vote, the councillor said.

“Given that we’re only 11 months from an election, get involved now. Make sure to cast your vote so that we can represent you in the best way that we can.” 

Young people question future of Ottawa’s LRT amid continuous disruptions

Young people question future of Ottawa’s LRT amid continuous disruptions

Anne Akin, 20, is a student at UOttawa who looks forward to the public inquiry into the LRT disruptions. Photo by Rukhsar Ali.

by Rukhsar Ali and Amitava Kar | Nov. 19, 2021 | News |

Young transit riders said Friday they are not convinced a public inquiry into Ottawa’s recently reopened light-rail transit system will fix its issues for good.  

The goal of the inquiry is to get to the bottom of the continuous service disruptions facing the LRT’s Confederation line, Caroline Mulroney, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, said in a press release Wednesday.

LRT service resumed on Nov. 12 after it was down for 54 days due to a derailment which inconvenienced thousands of Ottawa residents. But within the first week of reopening, two of the city’s trains came to a forced stop — each for almost an hour — causing more delays for returning commuters, including students commuting to and from school. 

“I’m glad they’re looking into it, and I hope it’s not like a fluff thing and they actually look into what the problems are,” said Anne Akin, a University of Ottawa biology student who commutes to campus from Stittsville, a community approximately 30 kilometres west of downtown Ottawa.

“I don’t really know the difference between a public and a judicial inquiry, but I know that a good number of people, including Mayor Jim Watson, voted against the judicial inquiry, so I kind of wanted it to happen.”

Confusion on what a public inquiry entails was a common theme among students who spoke to The Raging Twenties about the upcoming probe.

Public inquiries are seen as more transparent than judicial inquires because of the publicity they enjoy and the number of witnesses that are called, according to a judicial report.

Some members of Ottawa’s city council, who have been pushing in recent weeks for greater transparency into the issues related to LRT service and maintenance, praised the news.

“The inquiry will answer some important questions, such as why the LRT keeps breaking down despite so much money and expertise being invested in it,” Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper said.

The city has other ways of looking into the LRT problem, such as a judicial inquiry or an internal audit by the auditor general. But Leiper favors a public inquiry into the issue as the best possible option.

“The city has approved an inquiry by the auditor general, but frankly speaking, the auditor general does not have the power or resources to see this through,” Leiper said.

He added young people should be more engaged in city hall and raise their voices to hold the city government accountable. “The kind of affordable and environmentally-sustainable cities young people want to live in largely depend on an efficient mass transit system,” Leiper said.

Emily Gough, 22, a psychology student at the University of Ottawa, said she isn’t happy with the LRT’s performance.

“When I first came to Ottawa in 2017, I was really excited about having a more robust transit system here,” said Gough, who moved from Halifax to attend school. “But over the years, I’ve just been extremely disappointed with how OC Transpo has regulated itself.”

She said there’s been a lot of “inaction by the municipal government” when it comes to the LRT and wants a more reliable commuting experience.

Gough said offering free transit for OC Transpo commuters for the month of December isn’t enough compensation for students who already pay for semester-long bus passes.

“As a student, I’m already paying $400 to have a transit pass, so I wasn’t really appreciative of what they did,” Gough said. “It’s not free for me. I’m still paying for it and I’m not getting reimbursed.”