#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 2 December Update

Main news continues to be with respect ongoing sharp spike in infections along with death rate increases:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: Alberta ahead of Germany, Japan ahead of Australia
 
Deaths per million: British Columbia ahead of Philippines, Canadian North ahead of Japan
 
COVID Comparison Chart.002COVID Comparison Chart.003
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 25 November Update, Picard on Alberta

Main news continues to be with respect ongoing sharp spike in infections along with death rate increases:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: Italy ahead of UK, Prairies ahead of Ontario, Canada less Quebec ahead of India, Canadian North ahead of Pakistan
 
Deaths per million: Italy and UK now ahead of Quebec, Prairies and Alberta ahead of India, Pakistan ahead of Atlantic Canada, Canadian North ahead of Japan
 
November 4-25 increase:
 
Infections per million: Greatest increase in Canadian North and Western provinces, moving ahead of many European countries
 
Deaths per million: Similar pattern with respect to deaths
 
 

André Picard’s critique of Premier Kenney and his government’s response to the pandemic:

Feckless.

That’s the only way to describe Alberta’s “tough” new measures.

In response to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in the province, Premier Jason Kenney declared a “state of public health emergency” on Tuesday.

He started out with a little muscle flex, saying “no indoor social gatherings will be permitted, period.” Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people.

But then we learned that restaurants will be open for in-person dining, bars will remain open, and so will casinos, gyms, stores, primary schools (Grades 7-12 are going to remote learning).

Heck you would be hard-pressed to find anything that will be closed.

Places of worship are allowed to hold services with one-third of capacity, just as they are now but “we are moving from recommendations to rules.”

Mr. Kenney also earnestly announced that masks would now be mandatory in the province’s two big cities, Calgary and Edmonton. But they already are mandatory because municipal governments have been a lot more pro-active and sensible than the province.

What we saw Tuesday was inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.

But Mr. Kenney’s true nature was revealed when he began prattling on about how he has resisted a lockdown because it would be an “unprecedented violation of constitutional rights.” He once again heralded the importance of “personal responsibility” while, at the same time, announcing rules that clearly suggest people don’t have to be very responsible.

Acting forcefully to protect citizens from the ravages of a global pandemic is not a violation of their rights. Quite the opposite.

Just hours before Mr. Kenney spoke, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced the closing of all restaurants, fitness and recreational facilities, libraries, museums, casinos and more for at least two weeks.

Why? Because the province had a “surge” of 37 cases. Thirty-seven. Business owners actually demanded the lockdown, saying severe rules are the only way to retain consumer confidence.

Alberta recorded 1,115 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, along with 16 deaths. And that was the lowest rate in a while, because testing is way down. In recent days, Alberta has had more cases than Ontario, which has more than three times the population.

The testing system is overwhelmed. The contact tracing system has collapsed. Hospital beds, and all-important intensive care beds in particular, are filling up fast. There are dozens of outbreaks in hospitals and care homes and schools.

Alberta’s pandemic response was great for many months – the Premier was right to underline that fact. But the harsh reality today is that public health and hospitals alike are dangerously close to losing control of the situation.

Mr. Kenney said it himself: “If we don’t slow the ER and ICU admissions, it will threaten our health system.”

But then, in the next breath, he was back to talking about how it’s essential to keep businesses open.

Who knows what the public will make of this Jekyll and Hyde discourse? The between-the-line message seems to be: It’s business as usual.

Yes, the pandemic is a blow to the economy; yes, it’s taking a toll on our mental health; yes, there is a lot of collateral damage.

But if there’s one thing we have learned – or should have learned – is that all that will continue, along with the harm of COVID-19, unless you go all-in to slow the spread of the virus.

Mr. Kenney said the “balanced approach” he has chosen will ensure that the spread of the coronavirus is interrupted while allowing businesses to remain open. But you can’t have it both ways.

The evidence from around the world is crystal clear: This approach is a fast-track to failure. Not only will the virus continue to spread, but the economy won’t flourish because people will still be scared.

Quebec has been in lockdown for more than two months – with rules that are way more strict that what Alberta is imposing – and it’s barely able to keep its COVID-19 numbers static, never mind lower them.

Does anyone seriously believe Alberta will be able to do better by essentially doing nothing?

Albertans should brace themselves because they’re in for a world of hurt in the coming weeks.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-jason-kenneys-balanced-approach-is-a-fast-track-to-failure/

@Picardonhealth How should we thank our guardian angels? Certainly not with deportation

Petty not to do so:

They call them the “guardian angels,” the thousands of personal-support workers (PSWs), orderlies, cooks and janitors who have been toiling for months in Quebec’s beleaguered and often overwhelmed long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Almost all of them are women, many from racialized communities, including a disproportionately large number from Quebec’s Haitian community.

In recent days, one subset of this overworked, underpaid work force has received a lot of attention – asylum seekers.

Why?

Because, despite doing essential work that no one else would and literally putting their lives at risk, juggling multiple part-time gigs for as little as $13 an hour, many of these front-line workers could face deportation.

That’s disgraceful, and un-Canadian.

Lawyer and social entrepreneur Fabrice Vil has been leading the social-media campaign #JeMeSouviendrai (I will remember) to get the provincial and federal governments to “regularize” the immigration status of asylum seekers working as essential workers.

“This pandemic has shown us the human face and the real sacrifices of essential workers,” Mr. Vil said on the popular Radio-Canada talk show Tout le monde en parle. “When people make a contribution to society, we need to recognize that contribution.”

Quebec Premier François Legault has been cool to the idea, but in recent days, in response to growing public pressure, he has softened his position a bit.

A little recent history helps explain the political volatility of this issue.

In 2017 and 2018, more than 37,000 people made an “irregular” border crossing and requested asylum in Canada. Most of them simply trudged up Roxham Road in Saint-Bernard-de-Lacolle, Que., exploiting a loophole in the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, which said they could only be turned back at official border crossings.

Before he was Premier, Mr. Legault took a hard line on the asylum seekers, saying Quebec could not welcome “all the world’s misery” and demanding the Roxham Road crossing be shut down. It has been. Since March, there have been only 14 “irregular” crossings and all have been sent back to the United States. Yet, “Roxham Road” remains a dog-whistle term for anti-immigration proponents.

Let’s not forget that most of the asylum seekers have been working while waiting for their cases to be processed. Many have been working in long-term care for two or three years, invisible until the pandemic hit.

When the idea of granting residency to asylum seekers was first floated, the now-Premier rejected it out of hand, saying: “We can’t open the door and say, ‘If you come here illegally, if you find a job, we’ll accept you as an immigrant.’ That’s not how it works.”

His critics responded by saying that, first of all, asylum seekers are not illegals. Further, they stressed that what is wanted is a special dispensation for those who work in health care facilities in these extraordinarily difficult times. The precise number is unclear, but believed to be at least 2,000.

Mr. Legault responded by promising to review their requests on a case-by-case basis, potentially accepting them as economic immigrants. (While immigration is a federal jurisdiction, this is a provincial program.) Federal Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino has tried to stay out of the fray, saying “all asylum claimants will receive a fair and full hearing on the individual merits of their claim.”

Quebec’s Immigration Minister, Simon Jolin-Barrette, has also announced a plan to recruit 550 temporary workers as PSWs and fast-track their permanent residency applications.

Around the same time, Quebec also announced a bold plan to hire 10,000 PSWs by offering a paid three-month training course and full-time jobs at $26 an hour. (About a $50,000 annual salary.)

The catch is that the program is only for Canadian citizens, so asylum seekers, refugees and migrant workers are shut out again.

This sparked another wave of outrage.

Wilner Cayo of the advocacy group Debout pour la dignité says the exclusion adds insult to injury.

“These women were good when it came to working for a miserable salary,” he told CBC News. “But now that this work is going to be well paid, the thank-you they get is ‘You can’t be part of the program.’”

At a demonstration last week, the sentiment was well summarized on a protester’s sign, written in Haitian Créole: “Nou pap mouri pou gran mèsi!”

Translation: “We will not die for a ‘thank you’ and we will not die in vain.”

Indeed, a proper thank-you must begin with granting permanent residency. Then full-time jobs. And speeding up family reunifications.

It’s the least we can do for these guardian angels, for services rendered selflessly.

Source: How should we thank our guardian angels? Certainly not with deportation

Paradkar: (Mostly) white covidiots at Trinity Bellwoods think the rules don’t apply to them. They’re right

Not only white folks can be covidiots. Ottawa has its share of visible minorities and whites who don’t respect social distancing visiting Dow’s Lake to look at the tulips.

André Picard notes the more fundamental issue at play, the inability of Toronto to free up more space for people (Don’t blame those who gather in parks – blame the city):

One look at images of Trinity Bellwoods Park on Saturday and it was instantly clear that idiocy is not just an affliction of the American middle class.

As a person with the luxury of living with greenery around me, I appreciate how difficult it must be to be trapped in a condo, sometimes even without balconies. I don’t blame people for wanting to break out of their confines when the sunny outside beckons so cheerily.

I get that there aren’t a lot of open spaces in the core of Toronto — although, for perspective, compared to many parts of the world, the city is positively lush.

What is bothersome is that while people around the world and even in our own city have been weathering the pandemic in far tougher conditions, in crappy apartments and crowded homes and in poverty, it was in Trinity Bellwoods that people somehow collectively felt entitled to say to hell with social distancing.

Their pleasure trumped our collective safety.

Trinity Bellwoods is considered a “gentrifying” neighbourhood with a higher concentration of white folks compared to the city. Like in all of the city, nearly half the resident are renters, and the same proportion have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the 2016 census.

Based on social-media comments and real-estate agents’ descriptions, the 32-acre Trinity Bellwoods Park is a place to be seen. That’s a concept beyond my comprehension but on Saturday it meant that people could have gone to other parks (Stanley Park, Alexandra Park) but didn’t.

I wonder if the news about who is most at risk from COVID-19 — the racialized have-nots — has created a sense of inoculation among the haves. It’s affecting those people, not us, unless we’re old. Pandemics have always killed the poorest — mainly because those are the bodies the virus comes across. People who can’t afford to hunker down necessarily place themselves at risk to keep the rest of us in comfort. Gathering in large numbers simply offers the virus more bodies to feast on.

Photographs doing the rounds on social media showed thousands of what looked like white people milling around in crowds in the west-end park, as if millions of other Torontonians were not holding back from precisely that because common sense. And courtesy. And safety.

No doubt there were racialized folks among those gathered — fools come from all races — but they were protected by the overwhelming whiteness of those around them. Had that been a sea of Black and brown folks, we’d be having a very different conversation today.

While we may call Saturday’s hordes at Trinity Bellwoods covidiots or victims of squashed housing or poor communications by the province, to me they serve as a quick snapshot as to who feels entitled to the public space in this city, who gets scrutinized and who gets penalized for existing in it.

Of course, race matters, class matters.

A couple of weeks ago, a Tamil friend in our suburban neighbourhood was taking his children for a walk, observing all social-distancing protocols. A white man working on his front lawn chided him for being outside and told him to get off the sidewalk and walk on the road.

Last month, the father of a Black teen in Ottawa accused a trustee of harassing and photo-shaming his teenage son on Facebook for shooting hoops by himself. This was before there was clarity around the use of public parks.

In Brampton, Peel Police broke up groups of people who broke social-distancing rules by playing cricket and fined them $880 each.

It was also Eid this weekend when Muslims ended the month-long fasting of Ramadan. It’s a time of celebration, but Muslim Canadians shared stories on Twitter of a visible police presence in their communities to ensure they didn’t break social-distancing rules.

In Toronto, several homeless people have also been given $880 tickets for sitting on public benches, according to Policing the Pandemic, a map that tracks criminal charges across the country. The vast majority of police enforcement thus far has been about failing to comply with distancing rules, the researchers found.

So where was the weight of all that enforcement on Saturday? How many people were fined? Mayor John Tory said the people need to “do better” and sent in bylaw officers Sunday. Is that their only accountability? To be mocked en masse and face expressions of disappointment from our leaders but bear no individual responsibility?

What about community spread? Given that Ontario’s testing and contact tracing efforts are flailing — that we don’t actually know how community transmission is spreading — will we ever be able to track how many people were endangered by the indifference of the folks at Trinity Bellwoods Park?

Has the province sought the might of the police to keep all of us safe or only some of us safe? Why does the amount of melanin in the wrongdoer dictate who gets off, and whom we choose to perceive as wrongdoer in the first place?

Guess there’s no one quite like covidiots to expose the toxic hierarchies that operate under pretty ideals of egalitarianism.

Source: Shree Paradkar(Mostly) white covidiots at Trinity Bellwoods think the rules don’t apply to them. They’re right

Fear over coronavirus prompts school board in Ontario to warn parents about racism against Chinese community

Not unexpected and always the challenge in communicating the origins of a specific risk and the impact on the community, irrespective whether historical tropes are involved or not. And I assume that some of these fears are shared by many Chinese Canadians:

The message York District School Board staff had been sending to parents on the coronavirus was pretty standard: Wash your hands; stay home if you’re sick; cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze. Then they saw the petition.

More than 8,000 people were calling for school boards in the region north of Toronto – a region in which the top reported ethnic origin is Chinese – to not allow students whose family members had travelled to China within 17 days to come to school.

On Monday, the York board released a note to parents to address another virus: anti-Chinese xenophobia.

“We are aware of an escalated level of concern and anxiety among families of Chinese heritage,” wrote Juanita Nathan, the board’s chair, and Louise Sirisko, its education director. “Individuals who make assumptions, even with positive intentions of safety, about the risk of others, request or demand quarantine can be seen as demonstrating bias and racism.”

Though public-health officials across the country have urged Canadians to take a measured response to the coronavirus, a panic akin to the one from 2003’s SARS outbreak has already taken hold. To date, there is one confirmed and one presumptive case of the new virus in Canada.

Avvy Go felt a tickle in her throat on the subway ride to work Monday, but willed herself to suppress the cough. She feared coughing on public transit as a Chinese woman might make her a pariah as it did for so many other Asian-Canadians during the SARS outbreak.

In Yellow Peril Revisited, a 2004 report about the impact of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) on Canada’s Chinese community, Ms. Go, the director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, detailed the myriad ways SARS affected her clients: Many suffered job losses after Chinese restaurants saw a steep drop in business; Asian claimants who appeared before the Immigration and Refugee Board faced staff wearing masks; and tenants reported being threatened with eviction by their landlords because they were Chinese.

Ms. Go shared much of this when she testified at Ontario’s public hearings on the SARS crisis but she was disappointed to find nothing about racism in the inquiry’s 2007 report. Recommendations on how to respond to racist rhetoric would have been helpful for future outbreaks such as this one, she said.

“As they prepare for the virus, they [should] also prepare for the virus of racism and have everything in place at the same time,” she said.

When Toronto Chinatown Business Improvement Area chair Tonny Louie addressed the crowd at Saturday’s Lunar New Year parade, he felt the need to explain his sore throat.

“I reminded everybody there that I do not have the virus. I just happen to have a cold,” he said.

The next day, he noticed a drop in business throughout downtown Toronto’s Chinatown and its dozens of restaurants – something he blames on fears about the virus. He repeated the message that the district was safe, as was the food, and called on politicians to have meals in Chinese restaurants as then-prime minister Jean Chrétien did during the 2003 SARS outbreak to signal to Canadians that doing so was safe.

But that sort of PR move might not be enough to counter racist messaging, given the power of social media.

In the past few days, video of a woman eating a bat with chopsticks in a restaurant has gone viral, with many suggesting, in posts heavy with racist rhetoric, that Chinese people eating foods seen as unusual to a Western palate has contributed to the outbreak.

The way in which the video has been shared has vilified and othered Chinese people, says Kevin Huang, executive director of the Hua Foundation, a Vancouver-based non-profit that promotes racial equity.

Rather than thinking of the coronavirus as an us-versus-them situation, Mr. Huang suggests using a global lens.

“Removing our Western exceptionalism and … humanizing [Chinese people] allows us to think about a more global concerted effort to try and contain this virus,” he said.

Why people would share misinformation like that while ignoring facts from public-health agencies speaks to how racist content “feeds into already pre-existing underlying biases or prejudices,” York University sociologist Harris Ali said.

In a research paper about SARS and the stigmatization of the Chinese population in Canada, he found that racist sentiments that had previously been internalized or only shared during private conversations “found explicit expression during the outbreak.”

Mr. Huang says the way some have drawn a connection between the virus and Chinese food is part of a long history of “yellow peril” or anti-Chinese sentiment.

Government policy that disenfranchised Chinese people, such as the head tax (an immigration tax imposed on Chinese arrivals), “fed into these tropes of this disgusting, uncivilized cultural grouping,” he said.

He has seen rampant misinformation and panic spread among Chinese-Canadians, too, some of whom are reacting to alarmist Chinese media reports. Last weekend, two Lunar New Year events in Vancouver were cancelled because of fear of the virus’s spread.

Ms. Go feels confident the Canadian health-care system is much better equipped to deal with containing coronavirus than it was with SARS, but she has little optimism about how it will contain the public’s fears.

“Unfortunately, because of the underlying racist attitudes that exist in Canadian society, it doesn’t matter what scientific evidence is there of how the disease has been contained, people will still believe what they believe,” she said.

Source: Fear over coronavirus prompts school board in Ontario to warn parents about racism against Chinese community Though public-health officials have urged Canadians to take a measured response, a panic akin to the one during 2003′s SARS outbreak has already taken hold
Fear, fear, fear.

The word appears repeatedly in the headlines and stories about the new coronavirus.

But what is fear? What causes us to be fearful? How can we assuage the public’s distress?

The dictionary definition of fear, the noun, is “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat;” and the verb, “to be afraid of (someone or something) as likely to be dangerous, painful, or threatening.”

In public health terms, “fear” is our perception of risk, of danger.

We tend to be more fearful of new threats to our health, such as coronavirus, than of well-established ones, such as influenza, no matter how irrational that is.

To date, there have been about 4,500 recorded cases of Wuhan coronavirus and 106 deaths. By comparison, three to five million people contract serious flu cases requiring hospitalization annually and somewhere between 290,000 and 650,000 die. Yet, both are respiratory illnesses spread in a similar fashion.

When it comes to being fearful, better the devil we know than the one we don’t, apparently.

If the unknown fuels fear – and it does – then our best weapon against coronavirus is knowledge.

The good news is that the science is advancing at breakneck speed and with an unprecedented level of co-operation.

The coronavirus genome was decoded in fewer than 10 days and the results shared publicly. As a result, researchers are already working on novel treatments and potential vaccine targets.

Scientific journals, normally highly protective of their papers, have agreed to share them with public-health officials prior to publication and lifted their paywalls for articles about coronavirus.

That means we already have a sense of how infectious coronavirus is (moderate) and a sense of who is being infected (a broad range of people) and who is dying (largely patients with underlying chronic conditions).

But, of course, good science alone cannot assuage fear.

The way public-health officials and the media communicate information is key to shaping perceptions. Increasingly, there is a wild card in this equation – social media.

The mainstream media fearmongers, however inadvertently, by using exaggerated language like “killer virus” and by fixating on body counts. When you constantly update the number of cases and deaths, you wildly amplify incremental change. Of course people will be scared. Imagine if we sent out push alerts for every tuberculosis death (1.5 million a year) and every measles death (140,000 annually).

Finding the balance between providing up-to-date information on a new threat and putting that threat into context is not easy.

On social media, there is too often little attempt to do so. From WeChat to Twitter, wild rumours and outright falsehoods fly routinely, as do unhinged demands such as shutting down all air traffic from China, quarantining all travellers and so on, with many of these purported measures driven by thinly veiled racism and xenophobia rather than science. (For the record, there is little evidence that massive quarantines or thermal screening of passengers has any benefit in stemming transmission of diseases like coronavirus.)

The most difficult communications challenge, however, lies with public-health officials who have to simultaneously track the shifting science, ratchet up preparedness and calm public fears.

Peter Sandman, a former professor of journalism at Rutgers University and a risk-communications guru, says the one thing public officials (or the media) should never do is tell people not to panic. That’s because, in crisis situations, people rarely do panic.

Prof. Sandman actually has a brilliant list of tips for those who need to calm people’s fears about unknown threats such as the coronavirus:

  • Don’t over reassure; talk about most likely scenarios rather than worst case ones;
  • Acknowledge uncertainty; paradoxically, saying “I don’t know” reassures the public;
  • Deliver clear, consistent messages;
  • Don’t be dispassionate; when experts speak of their personal fears, it makes them more relatable;
  • Give people things to do to protect themselves, such as urging handwashing; what fuels fear is powerlessness;
  • Don’t worry about panic, as was already mentioned.

What each of these elements has in common is that they are about building trust. What calms people’s fears is not just having information, but trusting the source of that information.

Risk communication is fraught with peril – and more often than not, we won’t get it quite right – but it is also essential.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is … fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Source: What should we fear more: Coronavirus or fear itself? During an outbreak such as the coronavirus, building trust through communication is key: André Picard

Opinion: Canada shouldn’t welcome birth tourists

Two columns the same day in the Globe on birth tourism. Always nice to see some of my analysis provoking more public discussion:

Starting with the stronger piece by health reporter, André Picard:

Birth tourism is the name given to the practice of pregnant women travelling to Canada from other countries – predominantly China – to give birth. They do so because children born on Canadian soil automatically become Canadian citizens.

The children, known as passport babies, can eventually benefit from lower university tuition, visa-free travel to many countries, and even sponsor other family members to become citizens. For wealthy Chinese nationals, it’s a golden ticket out of a country with a repressive regime.

But the practice raises the question: Should Canadians hospitals – unwittingly or not – be selling citizenship?

Until recently, birth tourism was viewed as a marginal issue. Statistics Canada reported that, out of 383,315 births in 2016, only 313 babies were born to mothers who don’t live in Canada. But anecdotal reports suggested the real number of passport babies was much higher.

Andrew Griffith, a fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, did a deep dive into data from the Canadian Institute for Health Information and foundthere were 3,223 births by non-residents in Canadian hospitals in 2016, excluding Quebec.

That number has since jumped to 4,099 in 2018.

Some of those births could be international students or temporary residents working in Canada, but there is no question the large majority travelled with the express purpose of giving birth in this country.

In B.C., Richmond Hospital alone had 453 births by non-resident mothers last year, 23 per cent of all births. Mackenzie Health in Richmond Hill, Ont., had 229 birth tourists, 13.3 per cent of its births.

Birth tourism is not cheap – roughly $60,000, including hospital fees and a three-month stay in a “birth house,” facilities that have sprung up, mostly around hospitals in suburban Vancouver and Toronto.

There are more than two dozen birth houses in Richmond, B.C. alone. Brokers in China widely advertise the benefits of giving birth in the “maple syrup kingdom,” and collect hefty commissions.

Kathleen Ross, president of Doctors of B.C., recently spoke out about the practice, saying it is straining hospital resources and putting doctors in an impossible position.

While it would be unethical for a doctor to not assist a woman giving birth, some, such as Dr. Ross, have been stiffed by clients who didn’t pay. (An obstetrician is paid between $600 and $1,500 for a birth but they must collect privately if a patient is not covered by medicare.)

Hospitals also had problems collecting from birth tourists. The South China Morning Post reported on the case of the “million-dollar baby,” a patient who had a complicated birth and racked up costs totalling $312,595, then skipped town. Last year, Vancouver Coastal Health Authority sued Yai Xia, alleging she now owes $1.2-million with interest dating back to 2012.

Most hospitals now demand upfront payments, ranging from $8,000 to $15,000. Whether the parents pay or not, the passport babies still have Canadian citizenship. Canada is only one of about three dozen countries in the world which grants birthright citizenship – automatic citizenship to anyone born on Canadian soil. This has been the practice since 1947.

The government of Stephen Harper considered changing the law but determined it would result in too many unintended consequences. Canadians generally use birth certificates to access government services; if citizenship was in question, they would require passports, and 40 per cent of Canadians don’t have a passport.

Birth tourism rankles the public because it feels like cheating. Both Liberal MP Joe Peschisolido and Conservative MP Alice Wong have tabled petitions in the Commons demanding change. It’s not a coincidence that they both represent ridings with large immigrant populations. Newcomers appreciate the difficulty obtaining and the privilege of citizenship.

The answer is not to toss out the jus soli (right of the soil) principle that is part of Canada’s heritage, but to address the specific challenge posed by birth tourism.

The way to do that is to adopt visa restrictions – denying visas to women who are coming to Canada expressly to give birth, and to crack down on both brokers and birth houses. We could also go the way of Australia, which modified its laws so that citizenship was granted only if one of the parents was a citizen or permanent resident, or the child lives at least 10 years in the country.

Neither Canadian identity nor the Canadian health system is threatened by birth tourism. The central issue is fair play: Canada should remain a welcoming country but not one whose citizenship is for sale.

Source: Opinion: Canada shouldn’t welcome birth tourists

Political columnist Konrad Yakabuski:

No one was surprised to learn that Donald Trump was wrong when he declared that the United States is “the only country in the world” that grants birthright citizenship. The U.S. President rarely lets the facts get in the way of an opportunity to score political points on the backs of immigrants.

Unsurprisingly, he was also wrong in suggesting he could revoke U.S. birthright citizenship, which is entrenched in the U.S. Constitution, with the simple stroke of his own pen. But on the eve of midterm elections that will determine control of the U.S. Congress, stoking outrage toward illegal immigrants who give birth on American soil is par for the course for Mr. Trump.

Unfortunately for Canada’s Conservatives, who adopted a resolution at their August convention calling for an end to “birth tourism” in this country, Mr. Trump’s outburst now risks tainting our own debate about birthright citizenship. Even before the U.S. President evoked ending birthright citizenship in his country, opponents seized on the passage of the Tory resolution to score points of their own. New Democratic Leader Jagmeet Singh attacked the “division and hate” peddled by Conservatives. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s principal secretary, Gerald Butts, accused the Tories of seeking to “strip people born in Canada” of their Canadian passports.

To be clear, any attempt by the Conservatives to scapegoat certain immigrants for political gain should be condemned. But so should Liberal and NDP attempts to tar the Tories with labels they don’t deserve merely for raising concerns about a phenomenon that undermines the integrity of our immigration laws. Birth tourism, the practice of foreign women coming to Canada to have their babies merely to obtain a Canadian passport for their offspring, is by all accounts a real and growing problem. Is it a big enough problem to warrant an end to birthright citizenship here? Unfortunately, we don’t have good enough data to know. Statistics Canada data on births to non-resident mothers provide an incomplete picture and conflict with evidence reported by hospitals.

In the United States, birthright citizenship emerged as a constitutional principle in the wake of the U.S. Civil War to ensure that freed slaves were entitled to all the rights and privileges of white citizens. It is rooted, hence, in that country’s long struggle against slavery and racial discrimination. Any attempt to deprive those born on American soil of U.S. citizenship would not only require a near-impossible constitutional amendment, it would needlessly reopen old wounds.

In Canada, the issue is not nearly as fraught with symbolism as it is south of the border. Birthright citizenship is a feature of our immigration law, not the Constitution, and can be changed with an act of Parliament. What’s more, federal lawyers recently argued that Canadian citizenship could not be claimed by the Canadian-born children of Russian spies, insisting that even this Liberal government believes the principle of birthright citizenship has its limits.

In most cases, foreigners who travel to Canada to give birth are not desperate, nor are their children at risk of becoming stateless, since they would inherit their parents’ citizenship, anyway. Most appear willing to pay hefty non-resident medical fees to have their babies delivered at Canadian hospitals or stay at for-profit “birth houses” catering to Chinese tourists.

Canada would not be the first country to end birthright citizenship, in part to end the practice of birth tourism. Several developed countries, including Australia, have done so in recent decades. As Canada becomes one of the last “rich” countries outside of the United States to grant automatic citizenship to those born on its soil, we should expect the incidence of birth tourism to increase in the future. That suggests we need to be prepared to have this debate, sooner or later.

The August Conservative resolution called for legislation to eliminate birthright citizenship “unless one of the parents of the child born in Canada is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada.” Leader Andrew Scheer insisted the policy was aimed strictly at ending “abuse” of our immigration laws, adding: “Conservatives recognize that there are many Canadians who have been born in Canada by parents who have come here to stay and have contributed greatly to our country. I will not end the core policy that facilitates this.”

It would be premature to change our immigration laws before we evaluate alternatives, such as stricter visa requirements, to prevent birth tourism. Ottawa also needs to collect better data to determine the scope of the problem. But we should not let the spectre of Mr. Trump stop us from having a debate about our immigration laws that, if we wait too long, could become inevitable.

Source: Opinion: Canada shouldn’t welcome birth tourists

Our health needs a healthy civil service: Picard

André Picard on the importance of a strong regulatory capacity and public service. His comment on Blueprint 2020 (highlighted) is unfortunately all too true:

Among other things, we need drug regulators who can regulate rigorously, free of political and corporate pressures. More broadly, we need a public service that works, and is free to work, in the public interest.

It’s not enough to have laws – let’s not forget that drug regulations were similar in Canada and the U.S. at the time thalidomide came along – we need people who can give those laws life, to embrace the spirit and not just the letter of the law, especially when it comes to ensuring public safety.

In short, we need to foster a new generation of Dr. Kelseys.

Sadly, we are doing exactly the opposite.

We have a public service that is muzzled, emasculated, derided and decimated.

There are about a quarter-million federal public servants in Canada, a considerably lower figure than from a decade ago. They serve a broad variety of functions from, overseeing national parks to ensuring aviation safety, and everything in between.

It is in our best interest, economically as well as socially, that every one of those workers serves a useful function.

Yet consultations with the public servants show that they feel mired in red tape and frustrated by cumbersome processes that leave them unable to do their jobs. That’s why the Privy Council has undertaken an initiative to transform the public service, dubbed Blueprint 2020.

The plan features some lovely rhetoric, such as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper saying in the introduction: “An agile, efficient and effective Public Service is essential to the well-being of Canadians.” And it is chock-full of good intentions.

But Blueprint 2020 lacks of a clear philosophical bent and strong political commitment to an independent, empowered public service.

What is required, especially in these difficult economic times, is a scientific, non-partisan approach to drafting and implementing policy.

While it is fashionable to bad-mouth the bureaucracy and sing the praises of free market, public regulation plays an essential role as a ballast to corporate excesses driven by self-interest.

The role of government, duly elected, is to formulate legislation and other policies in what it believes is the best interests of citizens. But its role is not to micromanage and bark orders down the line. Rather, elected officials should depend on civil servants for thoughtful, independent advice, especially on scientific matters.

What we need today is evidence-based policy-making if, for no other reason than it produces better policy.

Public servants should not be toadies, singing the praises of ill-conceived or partisan initiatives. Nor should they be muzzled. They should be offering constructive criticism to ensure policies are workable and fair, and analysis and insight that helps avoid unintended consequences.

For this, we need to create an atmosphere where public servants can innovate, take risks, and, as Dr. Kelsey did, call B.S. when necessary.

If we want better government and more sensible public policies, we need to give public-sector employees autonomy, authority and responsibility.

That, rather than a celebration of individual heroics, should be Frances Kelsey’s legacy.

Our health needs a healthy civil service – The Globe and Mail.

Canadians deserve stronger response on assisted death

More on the lack of balance on the assisted death advisory panel (see earlier Federal government appoints panel to review assisted dying but critics fear bias):

Just as importantly, to improve end-of-life care there needs to be a commitment and investment in palliative care – but that is a complement, not a substitute, for right-to-die legislation.

A panel of experts could be helpful in making recommendations. But the threesome chosen by the government features Harvey Max Chochinov, the Canada research chair in palliative care at the University of Manitoba; and Catherine Frazee, former co-director of the Ryerson-RBC Institute for Disability Studies Research and Education, both of whom are opponents of assisted death; and Benoît Pelletier, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa and proponent of asymmetrical federalism (meaning he’s not a big believer in federal legislation).

The three are top-flight academics but they come to the table with clear biases – or a perception of bias – that strips the exercise of any real credibility. There is little doubt the government wants them to recommend the most restrictive rules imaginable.

This is an issue that cries out for rules that are consensual and compassionate, not restrictive and partisan. The nitty-gritty of right-to-die legislation should be determined by an all-party committee of elected representatives.

Let’s not forget the most important admonition of the Supreme Court, that denying the choice of a hastened death to those who are suffering “intolerably and permanently” amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. Delaying a correction to this injustice is doubly and unnecessarily cruel.

Canadians deserve stronger response on assisted death – The Globe and Mail.

Ottawa’s treatment of refugees is shocking – André Picard

Hard to disagree with Picard’s assessment:

The IFHP cuts outraged physicians who provide care to immigrants and refugees and non-governmental organizations who sponsor them because they were mean-spirited, bureaucratic and ethically challenging.

They also “saved” very little money; IFHP costs fell to about $65-million. But those savings were illusory because refugees did to not stop having babies, getting sick and suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes, regardless of their country of origin. They just ended up emergency rooms, where no one is turned away and, having no insurance, they were billed, bills they could not pay. Essentially, the costs were shifted from Ottawa to cash-strapped hospitals; in response, a number of provinces offered health coverage to refugee claimants but grudgingly, because it’s Ottawa’s jurisdiction and responsibility, constitutionally.

There was also a lawsuit and, in a landmark ruling this past July, Madam Justice Anne Mactavish ruled, to no one’s surprise, that the cuts were unconstitutional. What was surprising was the court deeming the cuts to be “cruel and unusual punishment” because they were aimed at the most poor and oppressed among us, targeted at “innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.” Judge Mactavish gave the government four months to fully restore the program.

The government’s response to being chastised in this manner was to dig in its heels. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander, once a respected diplomat, hinted the order would be defied. The government went to court and asked for the Nov. 4 deadline to be extended, which a judge rejected out-of-hand.

Then, at the last minute, on the court-imposed deadline, Mr. Alexander announced that the ruling would be appealed and, in the meantime, the program would be restored, but only partially and temporarily.

This is as shocking – if not more so – than the original cuts.

The IFHP should have been fully restored to its pre-2012 form. Period. No ifs, ands or buts.

Since when is a government allowed to partially respect a court order? How is this not contempt of court? The government has every right to appeal a court ruling but it should treat the institution with respect, not crass cynicism.

Ottawa’s treatment of refugees is shocking – The Globe and Mail.