#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 30 December Update, including cumulative data

Will now provide the trend line and weekly data to provide a more complete picture. As the charts are self-explanatory (advise me if not), will continue to keep narrative to a minimum.

Alberta’s infection rate maintains its overall convergence with Quebec whereas the death rate of the Prairie provinces (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) have converged with Ontario’s.

The other related news, despite all the warnings and advice from political leaders, the Ontario finance minister was caught “off message” with a trip to the exclusive Caribbean of St Barts. Not the only one, Quebec MNA Pierre Arcand went to Barbados. Not to forget federal health minister Patty Hajdu’s repeated trips home to her riding during the first wave.

One expects better.

Lastly, may I wish you a happier new year.

Weekly updates below. Minor changes only:

Infections per million: UK moves ahead of Italy

Deaths per million: Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) moves ahead of Ontario

And the standard weekly charts and table.

Seasons greetings and to a more normal and better 2021

Near Orangeville ON, Moonrise
Near Orangeville ON, Moonrise

While we are very fortunate to be comparatively unaffected by the various COVID restrictions given I am retired and working from home, has had an impact in terms of family members able to join us for the holidays.

But minor compared to those less fortunate.

Thanks to all my readers for their interest in my blog and the issues it covers.

Stay well and will restart blogging in the new year.


#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 23 December Update including cumulative data

For a change and end 2020, I prepared these charts comparing infection and death rates per million for Canadian provinces with the G7 (less Canada) and top five immigration source countries (India, China, Philippines, Pakistan and Nigeria).

For the G7 average, only Japan is significantly lower. For immigration source countries, the large populations, lower infection and death rates except for India, and perhaps less comprehensive reporting, mean that rates are lower than all provinces save for Atlantic.

The charts compare the overall second-wave increase and particularly the relatively steeper increase in Western provinces for both infections and deaths.

While Canadian provincial infection rates are less than G7 (less Canada), Quebec’s death rate is higher than the G7.

And the standard weekly charts and table.

And in a rare public comment, Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf “condemned political leaders for their experiment, branding the light-touch strategy a miserable and deadly failure.”

Remember in the early days of the pandemic, when people like Tucker Carlson and Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) advocated that the U.S. follow the Swedish model of avoiding strict lockdowns and letting life carry on largely as normal amid the highly contagious virus?

Well, as the year ends, Sweden is coming to terms with a death toll that is approximately 10 times higher than neighboring Norway and Finland, and now its king has condemned political leaders for their experiment, branding the light-touch strategy a miserable and deadly failure.

“The people of Sweden have suffered tremendously in difficult conditions,” King Carl XVI Gustaf, who is traditionally tight-lipped on political matters, told the Swedish state broadcaster SVT. He added, “I think we have failed. We have a large number who have died, and that is terrible.”

Although it’s remarkable for a king to comment on policy, his actual comments were a statement of the obvious. Anders Tegnell, the country’s top epidemiologist who designed its anti-lockdown strategy, has himself admitted that too many people have died and the country should have done more to prevent the spread of the disease from the outset.

Throughout the pandemic, Swedes have been allowed to go to restaurants and bars with no social-distancing measures in place and, until recently, were allowed to hit the gym and send their kids to school. The country has also broken with the near-universal guidance of recommending that protective face masks be worn in public, except in hospitals.

The sight of Swedes packing restaurants and bars in the first wave of the pandemic led some commentators in the U.S. to urge their own leaders to follow Sweden’s example. That way, they said, the economy would be protected and the virus could make its way through the population and offer a good level of herd immunity to slow down its spread.

Since then, deaths in Sweden have soared well beyond similar-size neighboring countries, and Tegnell previously said there’s no sign that herd immunity is doing anything to slow down the rate of infection. And the Swedish economy still entered a harsh recession—although it was milder than those seen in most other European nations.

The rapid increase in new infections has even caused Sweden to partially abandon its anti-lockdown strategy, with the government imposing tougher rules to reduce the limit on public gatherings to eight people from 50, asking high schools to do their teaching remotely, and banning late alcohol sales. Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson warned last month that the measures will harm the economy but are necessary.

Speaking to Swedish network TV4 this week, Tegnell said he was shocked by the second wave of the pandemic, saying, “I think many, with me, are surprised that it has been able to come back so strongly.”

A poll published Thursday showed that support for Tegnell and his approach has collapsed over the past two months.

Source: Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf Brands His Country’s Anti-Lockdown Strategy as a Deadly Failure

Association of Justice Counsel files grievance against Canadian Human Rights Commission, amid ongoing complaints of racism, discrimination

Of note and to watch:

The Association of Justice Counsel filed a grievance against the Canadian Human Rights Commission last week on behalf of its Black and racialized members, and, according to a number of sources with information about the commission’s operations, they say there is ongoing systemic discrimination and a disproportionate dismissal of race-based complaints at the commission.

The AJC, which represents around 2,600 lawyers employed by the federal government who work for the Department of Justice, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and provide in-house legal services to various federal agencies, tribunals and courts across the country, also includes members who are lawyers with the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

The AJC says it reactivated its policy grievance on Dec. 17, which it previously filed with the Treasury Board on behalf of their Black and racialized members at the CHRC, in October, after employees raised issues of system racism with CHRC management and after CHRC Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry issued a statement on June 2 in support of Black Lives Matters.

The AJC says Black and racialized employees took the CHRC chief commissioner up on her statement in support of Black Lives Matters and provided the CHRC with a list of recommended actions to address “the complaints process, practices, and operations as well as shared Black and racialized employees’ experiences,” but said the CHRC responded by conducting a “unilateral, non-inclusive investigative process.”

The policy grievance argues that a contract has been breached. Following the filing of a policy grievance and when the employer responds, the parties involved negotiate to understand if compensation is possible. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board administers the collective bargaining process and the adjudication of grievances and complaints for the federal public sector and parliamentary employees.

“Together, the AJC and other bargaining agents representing Black and racialized members at the CHRC, have been pressing the CHRC to revisit its plans to ensure meaningful collaboration, transparency, fairness, inclusivity, credibility and psychological health and safety in their approaches,” according to the AJC’s Dec. 17 statement. “While the AJC and other [bargaining agents] have been engaging with the CHRC over the past few months, it’s apparent that trust in management’s ability to appropriately deal with the challenges before them has been put to the test as management appears to have lost the trust of those Black and racialized employees who have come forward.”

The AJC originally filed the grievance relating to racism and systemic discrimination at the commission in October, according to David McNairn, president of the counsel.

“We asked for that policy grievance to be held in abeyance while we tried to work on this issue, and recently, we’ve decided that it’s appropriate to move ahead with that,” said Mr. McNairn in an interview with The Hill Times last week.

“That policy grievance, unless it’s resolved, it would end up going directly before the board,” said Mr. McNairn, who also said that the AJC has had discussions with the management of the CHRC and have communicated about a number of items which they believe need to be done to address the situation.

“It’s a very sad and tragic story where the Canadian institution which is entrusted with protecting Canadians from racism and discrimination is itself, apparently, a source of racism and discrimination,” said Mr. McNairn. “There cannot be a greater tragedy than that, in my view. Obviously the commission has an incredibly important leadership role in setting standards for eliminating racism and systemic discrimination and has a mandate to protect Canadians.”

“So it’s extremely difficult to understand, but we have members who are employees there who are raising these issues with us, and we obviously want to stand behind our members and bring about some sort of meaningful change,” said Mr. McNairn.

According to the AJC’s website, earlier this year, employees at the commission raised issues of systemic racism with CHRC management and sought the assistance of their unions.

“When the CHRC issued a statement in support of Black Lives Matters, Black and racialized employees took the chief commissioner up on her invitation in that statement and provided the CHRC with a list of recommended actions to address the complaints process, practices, and operations as well as shared Black and racialized employees’ experiences,” according to the AJC’s website. “The commission responded by conducting a unilateral, non-inclusive investigative processes involving outside parties without consulting employees or their bargaining agents.”

‘The CHRC needs to be reformed’

Billeh Hamud, a lawyer who has represented clients at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Divisional Court, the Federal Court of Canada, and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, told The Hill Times that “as someone who has practiced in this area, [the CHRC] needs to be reformed.”

“Based on my experience, part of the problem with the commission’s complaint process is their application of the case law with respect to racial discrimination,” said Mr. Hamud. “The commission applies a stricter test of racial discrimination when reviewing complaints than the courts and tribunals. As a result, cases with merit are being rejected by the commission.”

“It’s always subtle,” said Mr. Hamud.

Mr. Hamud also said the current system is contrary to our adversarial system of justice in Canada and that specifically, complainants do not have direct access to a third party decision maker who has heard the evidence, the merits of the complaint and can make a decision.

“What’s happening with the commission right now is because you have people who do not understand the case law in terms of racial discrimination when it comes to employment, for example, and they’re making decisions [and] not referring it to the Tribunal when in most cases, they should,” said Mr. Hamud.

According to documents obtained by The Hill Times, which outline the complaints referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by ground of discrimination from 2014 to 2020, 18 complaints were received from 2014-2017 on the grounds of race, with 56 referred between 2018-2020, for a total of 74.

Accepted complaints by grounds of discrimination from January 1, 2020 to November 11 2020, came to 261, with national/ethnic origin complaints coming in at 263.

Complaints referred to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal by grounds of discrimination between January 1, 2020, to November 11, 2020, came to 47. Complaints referred as a function of national/ethnic origin came in at 44.

The Hill Times requested an interview with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, a request which was originally granted with a scheduled discussion with Chief Commissioner Marie-Claude Landry shortly before spokesperson Véronique Robitaille informed our paper that “because of shifting circumstances around the litigation process, we are unable to provide an interview for you today.”

According to the CHRC’s statement, “more than two years ago, we began a commission-wide process of internal reflection to strengthen the commission and its processes. Like many organizations, we recognize that there is much work to do to fully achieve equality and inclusion. That is why the commission has been examining how racism may manifest itself within our organization and what steps might be needed to address it.”

“While we’re pleased that the Treasury Board Secretariat reported this year that the commission was the only public service organization of its size to meet or exceed the Government of Canada’s targets for representation of all employment equity groups, we are committed to doing even more. We recognize that the Employment Equity Act, which is the basis for the TBS evaluations, needs to be modernized, and the CHRC will continue to advocate for this,” according to Ms. Robitaille.

“We know that Indigenous, Black and other racialized people face many societal, institutional and structural barriers to equality. That is why work is underway to ensure that the views and perspectives of Indigenous, Black, and other racialized employees on barriers that may exist within the Commission are heard and addressed.”

Ms. Robitaille also told The Hill Times that regarding the commission’s complaints screening process, they have solicited advice from experts over the past year, including from racialized communities from across the country, on how we can improve our complaints processes.

“Based on this and staff feedback we are making significant changes to the complaints screening tools that we use. We have also brought in experts to train our employees and commissioners, including specialized training on handling of race complaints, and launched a project to collect disaggregated data on our race-based complaints, a key recommendation which has been put forward by staff and stakeholders,” said Ms. Robitaille. “Early indications are that these changes are having a positive impact on the treatment of race-based complaints.”

Current model of the commission as ‘gatekeeper’ of complaints should be eliminated, according to report

Former Supreme Court of Canada judge Gérard La Forest, who was appointed to the top court in January 1985 and retired in 1997, chaired a panel’s report called Promoting Equality: A New Vision in June 2000 that was tasked with reviewing the Canadian Human Rights Act, decades following its passage in 1977.

According to the Canadian Bar Association at the time, “the current model of the commission as a ‘gatekeeper’ of complaints should be eliminated.”

“Victims of discrimination should be able to pursue their complaints even if the Commission does not want to be involved. We suggest a model for individual complaints which gives less of a role to the Commission as an investigative body and more to the Tribunal as an adjudicative body. The Commission should be the first point of contact for a complainant, and the Commission should make a quick determination as to whether it wants to be involved,” according to the report.

Finally, according to the Coalition for Reform of the Ontario Human Rights Commission who were cited in the report, “the existing commission style model does not reflect this fundamental distinction between public and individual interests.”

“By forcing all individual complainants to pass through the gatekeeper, there is no opportunity to directly present evidence to a decision-maker with the power to issue an enforceable order. This model creates a system that is paternalistic, disempowering and ultimately discriminatory because the only people in Canada who are forced to go through the system are the ones who are already identified as disadvantaged,” according to the report.

Atong Ater, member of the Federal Black Employee Caucus’ (FBEC) core team, told The Hill Times that “given what we have been hearing from within the Commission, particularly over the past summer, we couldn’t necessarily, in good faith, continue to engage with them.”

Ms. Ater said they informed the commission that in September, they would be putting a pause on engagements until there was progress that adequately recognized and meaningfully addressed the concerns of their Black and other racialized employees that they were bringing forward.

The AJC’s resumption of the policy grievance comes on the heels of a proposed class-action lawsuit by 12 former and current Black federal public servants alleging that Black employees have been systematically excluded from advancement and subjected to discrimination within the government for decades.

The representative plaintiffs, who have or continue to work for a number of federal departments, are seeking $900-million in damages as well as a mandatory order to implement a Diversity and Promotional Plan for Black Public Service Employees related to the hiring and promotion of Black employees within the public service.

Source: Association of Justice Counsel files grievance against Canadian Human Rights Commission, amid ongoing complaints of racism, discrimination

Why ‘Accidental Americans’ Are Desperate to Give Up Their U.S. Citizenship #FATCA

For those arguing for citizenship-based taxation, the ongoing US experience with FATCA should provide a note of caution (“found Americans” in contrast to “lost Canadians”):

Ever since the Top Salon opened its doors in 1988, it has done solid business styling hair for the residents of Harkema, in the north-west Netherlands. Yet it might soon be giving its last haircuts. “The bank wants to close my account by January 1,” says the salon owner Annie Brouwer-Hoogsteen, 53, who launched her business when she was just 21. “If they do, we cannot buy supplies, we cannot pay three hairdressers, we cannot do anything.”

Brouwer-Hoogsteen’s business is not failing, and she is not a criminal. Instead, she is being targeted because of her ties to the United States. She received automatic citizenship by being born on U.S. soil, but has no other connection to the country, having left as a baby. Like countless others around the world she is an “Accidental American,” and is now being forced to pay a price for it.

Source: Why ‘Accidental Americans’ Are Desperate to Give Up Their U.S. Citizenship

France Fast-Tracks Citizenship for Frontline Workers

Broader in scope than Canadian measures. Something for Canadian policy makers and politicians to consider:

Nine months after its president declared “war” against the coronavirus, France announced Tuesday that it has fast-tracked hundreds of citizenship applications from foreign frontline workers who have distinguished themselves in the battle.

“Foreign workers gave their time and swung into action for all of us during the Covid crisis,” said Marlène Schiappa, France’s junior minister for citizenship. “It is now up to the Republic to take a step toward them.”

The beneficiaries include not just health care workers but also garbage collectors, housekeepers and cashiers, Ms. Schiappa said.

The fast-tracking measure is a notable departure for a country that has adopted increasingly tight immigration rules. Caught in the clog of paperwork, citizenship applications can take years to complete, and the number of naturalizations has been decreasing over the years.

Some 48,000 people acquired French nationality through naturalization last year, or about 18 percent fewer than in 2015, according to statistics from the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.

#Citizenship October numbers, year-to-date down 51.8 percent

The open data citizenship numbers, previously only up to June, have now been updated to October like most of the other datasets. No particular surprise, given media coverage, and it appears that IRCC has been working through existing applications given that testing was suspended until recently with only some piloting on online testing.

Country variations year-to-date are largely comparable whereas the October 2020 to 2019 variations are much greater, with France having the lowest impact, Iraq the highest.

ICYMI: Huawei: Uighur surveillance fears lead [Danish] PR exec to quit: Time for Canadian executives to reflect

Canadian Huawei executives need to consider their position given overall the company’s links to the Chinese government, its repression of the Uighurs, the takeover of Hong Kong and last, but not least, the arbitrary detention of the two Michaels. Former political staffers in particular:

Tommy Zwicky had worked in the company’s Danish office for six months and was a former journalist.

It comes after internal Huawei documents were made public, which mentioned a “Uighur alarm” system that it had worked on with Chinese facial-recognition specialist Megvii in 2018.

Huawei said it opposed discrimination.

“We provide general-purpose connectivity products based on recognised industry standards, and we comply with ethics and governance systems around emerging technology,” it told the BBC.

“We do not develop or sell systems that identify people by their ethnicity, and we do not condone the use of our technologies to discriminate against or oppress members of any community.”

A spokeswoman for Megvii declined to comment, but the firm has previously said its systems are not designed to target or label specific ethnic groups.

It is believed that the Chinese government has detained up to a million Uighurs in Xinjiang province in what the state defines as “re-education camps”.

Beijing has consistently denied mistreatment and says the camps are designed to stamp out terrorism and improve employment opportunities.

Disputed title

Mr Zwicky had previously worked for a Danish newspaper, and before that was editor-in-chief of the Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

He officially remains under contract to Huawei until February and is unable to discuss his decision further.

He first announced his departure via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Following this, his boss characterised Mr Zwicky as being a low-level PR manager and Huawei also took issue with Mr Zwicky being described as a vice president of communications, as this signifies a senior role in its corporate structure.

However, articles published at the time of his appointment referred to the fact that this specific title had indeed been created for Mr Zwicky and quoted the chief of Huawei Denmark as saying: “Tommy is a well-known and respected name in the Danish media. With him on board, we feel confident that we can take communication to a new level.”

When asked about this, Mr Zwicky told the BBC: “My title was vice president of communications at Huawei Denmark. I have no further comments.”

His decision comes a week after French football star Antoine Griezmann ended his sponsorship deal with Huawei after raising his own concerns about “strong suspicions” that the company had been involved in developing an alert system to monitor the Uighurs.

‘Confidential’ tests

American surveillance research firm IPVM brought to light the Chinese-language documents on 8 December.

They were marked as confidential but were being hosted publicly on Huawei’s European website.

The report referenced an “interoperability test [in which] Huawei and Megvii jointly provided a face-recognition solution based on Huawei’s video cloud solution. In the solution, Huawei provided servers, storage, network equipment, its FusionSphere cloud platform, cameras and other software and hardware, [while] Megvii provided its dynamic facial-recognition system software”.

Among the functions of Megvii’s software that the report said Huawei had verified was a “Uighur alert”. 

IPVM said a separate box added to Megvii’s software was capable of determining ethnicity as part of its “face attribute analysis”.

The page became inaccessible shortly after the Washington Post asked the firm about its existence.

At the time Huawei said the document had referenced a “test”, which had not seen a real-world application. 

But the the Post later published a second article which said Huawei’s site indicated it had worked with four other companies on products advertised to have ethnicity-tracking capabilities.

In response, Huawei promised to carry out a follow-up investigation, but continued to deny it sold systems that identified people by their ethnicity.

Unsatisfactory response

Concerns about both firm’s activities in this area date back further,

The US added Megvii to a trade blacklist in 2019 over concerns that its tech was being used by the Chinese authorities to carry out “repression, mass arbitrary detention, and high-technology surveillance”.

And the same year, a group of 13 UK MPs and members of the House of Lords published a letter raising concerns that Huawei was “facilitating a programme of ethnic repression” against the Uighurs.

The BBC has been told that about this time, Westerners working for the firm asked head office for more details about work it was doing for the Chinese authorities in Xinjiang and felt they had never got a satisfactory answer.

But one noted that this it was not uncommon for companies to be wary about discussing sensitive matters with staff.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-55332671

The Limits of Narendra Modi’s Nationalism

Of note:

Narendra Modi is no stranger to protests. Since his reelection last year, the Indian prime minister’s policies have triggered a number of mass demonstrations, including his decision to revoke the constitutional autonomy of Kashmir, India’s sole Muslim-majority state, and last year’s contentious move to establish a religious test for people from neighboring countries seeking citizenship that excludes Muslims.

Source: The Limits of Narendra Modi’s Nationalism

As trial over Quebec religious symbols ban wraps up, minority rights hang in the balance

Useful summary of the issues and positions in play:

Last week, Justice Marc-André Blanchard brought a cordial end to the hearings in a case about the constitutionality of Quebec’s ban on religious symbols, which bars teachers and some other civil servants from wearing such symbols at work.

“I’m very happy with how the trial went,” Blanchard told the lawyers in Quebec Superior Court on Tuesday. He said he was taking some time off to clear his head and would have a decision likely some time after February.

The 29-day trial, which combined several legal challenges of Quebec’s Laicity Act brought by groups that included civil rights advocates, the English Montreal School Board and a teachers’ union, was, nevertheless, acrimonious at times.

Source: As trial over Quebec religious symbols ban wraps up, minority rights hang in the balance