@Justin_Ling #COVID19: How did it come to this?

One of the best overviews I have seen:

After a year of struggling with this pandemic, science has developed a relatively good grasp of COVID-19.

We know that it is difficult to catch the virus from surfaces: Sanitizing your groceries and obsessively covering your hands in hand sanitizer is probably unnecessary.

We know community spread is driven, in large part, by large outbreaks and super-spreader events: Big gatherings lead to explosions of cases.

We know that indoor transmission is particularly dicey because the virus is easily aerosolized: Many people can get sick very quickly if they congregate indoors.

We know that outdoor transmission is possible, but unlikely: A combination of air flow and UV light means the virus can’t get very far.

We know vaccines are incredibly effective and safe, but that herd immunity will be needed to stop community spread: They can protect the elderly but won’t stop community spread until the vast majority of people are vaccinated.

While there’s clearly room for smart people to disagree on the details of those conclusions, they have been born out by an emerging body of science. New variants have changed the math a bit, but haven’t fundamentally altered those facts. Early in the pandemic, when these truths and solutions were murkier and less clear, absolute lockdowns, stay-at-home orders and border closures were the safe and prudent choices. Advice on washing your hands and not touching your face were reasonable, cautious, suggestions.

It’s a year later. Those five facts are now incredibly well documented in the scientific literature.

Understanding more about the virus has allowed more effective strategies to come into focus: Avoid indoor gatherings whenever possible. When they can’t be avoided, have as few people indoors as possible, keep people apart from each other, make sure they mask up, and circulate air with good HEPA filters. Where possible, move people outside—and actively encourage the outdoors as an alternative for people who may ignore good public health advice.

Those solutions, of course, are easy to write and hard to implement. Warehouses, prisons, meat processing plants, greenhouses, schools: Even when these places follow the rules most of the time, religious adherence around the clock can be hard to maintain.

So that’s why mass, randomized, testing and aggressive contact tracing is necessary to catch outbreaks before the virus moves down the chains of contact and creates new outbreaks. Shutting down those locations where the outbreaks occur is necessary. When things slip through the cracks and community spread begins, short-term circuit-breaker lockdowns should be a last resort to get cases under control.

There’s no real debate about this. These strategies work: As Atlantic Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, and a host of other states have proved them effective.

And yet, most of Canada is in the midst of a punishing third wave. Public health officials continue to insist washing our hands will get us out of this mess. Politicians warn us to stay indoors, avoid the outside.

Ontario’s health-care system is hanging on by a thread. Other provinces could be in a similar spot soon.

We are here, in large part, because many of our politicians have ignored the core facts of the COVID-19 virus and the main strategies that will clearly fight the pandemic.

Heading into the spring, off the back of the second wave, the premiers of these provinces have insisted that they were special. That they could reopen the economy—and brag to their voter base about their rosy jobs numbers—without consequence. The leaders of every province west of New Brunswick have laboured under the belief that their gyms, places of worship, and workplaces could open, even amid uncontrolled community transmission, and nobody would get sick. These governments have been sure that they have grown more clever, more agile, more adept than the virus.

Those governments have been wrong, and people have died because of it.

And when things have gone wrong, all the things governments promised us they had done turned to sand. In most of the country, mass testing was promised and not delivered—Ontario and Quebec require appointments, and have not expanded their testing capacity in any significant way since last year. Contact tracing has been essentially abandoned on a provincial basis. Circuit-breaker lockdowns didn’t touch the industries most responsible for spreading the virus.

Governments have begged us to stay at home—except if you need to go to work in an Amazon warehouse (600 cases); the Cargill chicken processing plant (82 cases); the Saskatchewan Penitentiary (more than 260 cases); St. Michael’s Ukrainian Catholic Parish, where congregants could gather without masks (10 cases); Mega Gym, which the Quebec government permitted to re-open (400 cases), and so on.

It is infuriating to find ourselves in the third wave, only to learn that we haven’t learned a damn thing.

Governments have pointed to the variants as some terrifying change in the equation. And, yet, look at Ontario’s data: This is just a ramped-up version of the same virus we’ve been fighting since March, 2020.

In late February of this year, in the lull between waves, nearly 60 per cent of cases could be attributed to a specific outbreak and/or a close contact of someone who tested positive. (A bit more than a third of cases had no known epidemiological link, a failure in and of itself.) In late March, as the third wave was in full swing, that proportion remained unchanged.

Where those outbreaks have occurred haven’t changed much, either.

Around 30 per cent were in congregate living or care spaces: Hospitals, prisons, shelters. Around 30 per cent were in schools. The remainder, about four-in-10 outbreaks, were workplaces.

Recently, Ontario has provided more visibility on the types of workplaces experiencing outbreaks: Hairdressers, restaurants and retail stores are responsible for vanishingly few superspreader events—between the three, they caused just eight per cent of overall outbreaks.

Even as case counts were climbing, and outbreaks were being reported across the province, people congregated on patios at bars and restaurants. In mid-March, before that naughty behaviour was banned, bars and restaurants reported eight outbreaks across the province: 37 cases in total. (This proportion hasn’t changed since last summer, when case counts were low and bars and restaurants were open.) That same week, there were 66 outbreaks in warehouses, food processing plants, and farms: 479 cases.

Dig into the data, as the Globe & Mail has done, and the absurdity becomes more acute: these outbreaks are happening in facilities that manufacture sporting goods. A retail marketing firm. An Amazon warehouse.

Many outbreaks also occurred in settings run by governments. There has been widespread transmission of the virus inside prisons and jails—which governments have been criminally inept at preventing. Shelters, too: Ontario’s data shows there are 32 ongoing outbreaks in shelters across the province.

This story is about the same from one province to the next. The data speaks for itself: Workplaces and schools are driving transmission of this virus. Were the whole country to lock themselves in their closets, except for those students and “essential” workers, the crisis would continue.

An emerging body of research explains what’s happening here. From the start of the pandemic, leaders have told us that the concern is about the transmission of droplets—and, rightly so, because the early science suggested that saliva particles from speaking, coughing or sneezing was the main driver of transmission. Good science is increasingly telling us that the virus is aeresolized.

That means we ought to be less fearful of tiny blobs of the virus covering everything—our hands, our faces, our picnic blankets—and more worried about the air around us. If you think about the virus that way, it becomes immediately obvious how much less risky it is to sit with some friends for a picnic, or on a restaurant patio. Conversely, how risky it is to run a warehouse with hundreds of workers, exerting themselves.

Have governments addressed this? No. Instead, governments have proffered curfews, as though the virus hunts at night. Parks have been closed. Camping has been banned. Outdoor mask mandates have been implemented. Outdoor gatherings limited. Police patrols to harass people out for walks.

Even as projections have shown Ontario teetering on the brink of a deadly crisis, Premier Doug Ford’s solution was to limit outdoor gatherings and to shut outdoor recreation sites.

But here’s the rub: Provinces know outbreaks aren’t happening in parks, or on patios. Quebec public health officials have acknowledged that they have no evidence to prove transmission is happening outdoors. Peer-reviewed studies have said that, on the high end, some eight per cent of global COVID-19 cases were linked to transmission outdoors. On the other end, Ireland studied its own data and found 0.1 per cent of cases occurred outside. Air quality monitoring done in Italy in the height of the second wave found the prevalence of the virus in the open air waseither negligible or not high enough to lead to transmission. (Though researchers admitted that dynamics could change in very crowded areas.)

Scaremongering about outdoor transmission, and instituting curfews is a feat of social engineering. This an effort to ignore the data, withhold information, and twist the facts to scare us.

The conspiracy-minded will see that as an exercise in population control: Politicians getting their jollies off by playing dictator.

The reality is more mundane—governments are doing this because they are frozen with indecision. Actually acknowledging the reality of the data means acknowledging this catastrophe was caused by governments’ idiotic reopening plans: Plans that were warned against by public officials at the time. Doing that means taking action that will hurt employment numbers, which could hurt our politicians fragile egos. Confronting this data and science also means admitting that all of our advice about washing your hands and not touching your face has been useless. And accepting that reality means provinces requiring sick leave, so people can go home if they’re ill.

Governments are loath to do any of that. They would rather shower us in meaningless pablum about how we, as citizens, need to do our part. The implication, of course, is that we are to blame for this crisis. That it’s us wayward youth who are driving this pandemic. Our lack of personal responsibility means they have to ground us to our rooms. Stay home, for god’s sake!

If our politicians stop blaming us for outbreaks, we may start blaming them.

And for good reason.

We need to stop talking to people like they are infants to be controlled. Especially when the politicians issuing these stay-at-home orders have zero credibility with which to be lecturing anyone. Any bit of trust people have in Doug Ford, Francois Legault, Scott Moe, Brian Pallister, and John Horgan has been shredded, and lit on fire.

In Atlantic Canada, the territories, and in Indigenous communities across the country, politicians of various political stripe show what real leadership looks like. How effective management means trusting the public while also accepting responsibility.

The rest of our provincial politicians need to act immediately to undo the damage they have enabled. Businesses need to be shut, unless they are absolutely essential. Those that need to remain open need stringent measures to deal with air quality. Given the pressure it puts on parents and students, schools should probably remain open: But, again, actual measures need to be taken to reduce the risk of that aerosolized transmission.

And we need to provide clear, coherent advice to people on what to do. Advice that follows the science.

We need to avoid indoor gatherings as much as possible. We should wear masks whenever possible. We should give each other two metres of distance. We should stay home when we have any symptoms, check our temperatures daily, and get tested if we feel sick.

But we also need to tell people what is safe. And it is very safe to go outside—it is extraordinarily safe, in particular, if you give people a little extra space and avoid crowded areas.

Have a picnic. Hold a barbecue in your backyard. Go for a walk. Play tennis. Go camping.

People need hope. Lying to them won’t engineer a solution. Politicians need to do their job.

Source: How did it come to this?

Indigenous, Black youth spend more time in Ontario court system, according to report

Yet more evidence of system bias in our court system:

Young people charged with crimes in Ontario are waiting longer for their cases to be resolved, prolonging their time behind bars or extending onerous bail conditions – a situation that disproportionately affects Black and Indigenous youth.

The finding is part of a comprehensive report on youth bail by the John Howard Society of Ontario that is set for release on Tuesday. The research draws on provincial justice data and interviews with people who’ve endured the youth criminal-justice system.

The report, titled Unequal Justice, portrays a system that made huge advances after the passage of the Youth Criminal Justice Act in 2003, but has slipped of late in its treatment of a vulnerable subsection of the population.

Last year, The Globe and Mail found that racial bias pervades the adult correctional system as well. An investigation revealed that risk-assessment scores used to determine parole decisions, treatment plans and security classifications in adult federal prisons discriminated against Black and Indigenous inmates.

“Looking at young people, there’s an opportunity here, early on, to stop a lifetime of involvement with the justice system,” said Safiyah Husein, senior policy analyst with the John Howard Society of Ontario. “So if we are able to connect these children with the resources and supports they need early, then we can prevent them from cycling in and out of the justice system for the remainder of their lives.”

The Youth Criminal Justice Act, which applies to people between 12 and 17 years of age, has largely succeeded in doing just that. In 2000, Canada’s rate of youth incarceration was among the highest in the Western world, at 17.64 per 10,000. Today, it’s 3.79.

But those gains have come with huge racial disparities. The proportion of whites among youth in secure detention, the most restrictive form of youth custody, declined to 28 per cent from 39 per cent between 2006 and 2016. Over the same period, the rate remained flat for Indigenous prisoners, at about 10 per cent, and increased to 21 per cent from 19 per cent for Black inmates.

“The rate of youth detention has decreased overall since the implementation of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, but the question is, are those positive impacts being felt by all? They’re not,” said Fareeda Adam, staff lawyer at the Black Legal Action Centre. “And specifically Black and Indigenous youth are not seeing these benefits.”

John Howard researchers found some heartening news in the court data. For instance, they determined that around 59 per cent of youth cases in 2017 recorded a bail decision at the initial court appearance. However, the number of young people who have to appear before a court five or more times before receiving bail is on the rise, to 9 per cent of cases in 2017 from 5 per cent of cases in 2009.

And those appearances are becoming more spaced out. While five appearances equated to roughly 2½ weeks in custody as of 2006, it stretched out to three weeks by 2017.

While such a stint might seem short from the outside, just a few days in detention can shift a young person’s mindset permanently.

“Whether it’s group care or jail, the system teaches you to run away from people who do anything negative toward you, or physically fight them,” said Liam Smith, a 22-year-old Belleville-based youth peer mentor.

Mr. Smith helps teens navigate the criminal-justice system. He says many of them are encumbered with impossible bail conditions.

“They get these silly conditions like ‘keep a curfew’ and ‘keep peace and good behaviour,’ ” Mr. Smith said. “What happens if the court tells a kid he has to be somewhere at 9 o’clock but due to circumstances he can’t control, he doesn’t have a bed and has to sleep on the streets? That’s a bail breach. He can get arrested for that.”

Those bail breaches come with administration-of-justice charges that can further entrench a young person in the justice system, the report states.

The report calls for an end to such “boilerplate” bail conditions, an increase in funding for programs that divert youth from jail, a renewed focused on expediting release for detained youth and the adoption of a strategy to address the overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous youth in the justice system.

“Once we have a robust system of community-based alternatives to jail, we can fully realize the goals of the Youth Criminal Justice Act,” said Ms. Husein, the John Howard analyst.

Source: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-indigenous-black-youth-spend-more-time-in-ontario-court-system/

Ford government says it’s changing judicial appointments to promote diversity. Racialized lawyers accuse it of ‘power grab’

Of note. The annual reports by the Ontario Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee allow for assessment of these changes:

Organizations representing racialized lawyers have all come out against the Ontario government’s proposed changes to judicial appointments, which the attorney general says are partly needed to improve diversity on the bench. 

Major organizations representing Black, Asian, South Asian and Muslim lawyers told the Star they didn’t ask for these changes. They argue the new system will lead to the perception that the appointments of provincial court judges in Ontario is no longer an independent and impartial process and could allow for provincial governments to make patronage appointments. 

“We see this as a power grab dressed up in the very thin veneer of purported diversity,” said Nader Hasan, a member of the legal advocacy committee of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association. 

“Our view is that diversity and excellence are best preserved by maintaining the independence and integrity of the current process.” 

Added Raphael Tachie, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, “It’s challenging to read something that says, ‘We’re doing this to increase the diversity of the judiciary,’ when the equity-seeking groups didn’t ask for it.”

In an omnibus justice bill tabled at Queen’s Park last month, Attorney General Doug Downey proposed several changes to the way provincial court judges are appointed. 

It includes significant changes to Ontario’s Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee (JAAC), the independent panel of judges, lawyers and members of the public that vets judicial applicants and submits a ranked short list of at least two candidates to the attorney general. 

Under the proposed amendments, that shortlist would grow to at least six candidates. “It allows for a bigger look at what’s out there in terms of creating some diversity and creating more choice,” Downey told the Star when he tabled the bill. 

The attorney general could also reject the six-person shortlist and ask to see the names of the next six candidates, as he is currently permitted to do with the two-person shortlist. Downey says he has already asked the committee to provide shortlists with more than two names, and that this change merely formalizes that practice. 

Janani Shanmuganathan, a board member of the South Asian Bar Association, argues that allowing the attorney general more choice in who to appoint to the bench leaves room “for a partisan or patronage appointment — some sort of appointment based not on the selection criteria or on who is best fit for the job, but for other reasons.”

A spokesperson for Downey maintained that the proposed changes reflect feedback received from lawyers and “justice-sector partners” and will ensure the appointments process remains non-partisan. 

“We believe it is responsible to update the system to help Ontario’s bench better reflect the evolving diversity of the province’s communities,” Nicko Vavassis said in an email. 

Another proposed change would mean the three legal organizations with representatives on the committee — the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario Bar Association and the Federation of Ontario Law Associations — would no longer pick their own representatives, but would submit a shortlist of candidates for the attorney general to choose from.

“That will allow us to manage balance and diversity on the committee itself as well,” Downey told the Star last month. 

The attorney general already picks the seven community members on the 13-person committee.

Legal groups representing racialized lawyers say improving diversity on the bench is a laudable goal, but say they struggle to see how the government’s more significant changes would accomplish that. 

“Is there a problem with diversity on the JAAC itself? I don’t think there is. No one has complained there is an issue,” said Emily Lam, chair of the advocacy and policy committee and board member at the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers. 

“The irony is Mr. Downey himself has described JAAC as the gold standard, so why does he need these changes?” Lam said. 

“The concern is that this is actually for partisan purposes, and I think that transparency and fairness call for a discussion to be had by Mr. Downey with stakeholders and the public before taking any further steps.” 

The Federation of Ontario Law Associations said it did not receive much of an explanation from Downey for the proposed change to selection of committee members. 

“It has been suggested that it might be to achieve some greater diversity; however, given that the (attorney general) appoints the majority of the committee and the fact that our bench is quite diverse, it does not appear that we have an issue in this regard,” federation chair Bill Woodward said in an email. 

“This change gives the appearance of allowing the (attorney general) to have even greater control over the composition of the JAAC.” 

The Law Society of Ontario and the Ontario Bar Association have not objected to the proposed changes, and told the Star that they support a system that produces diverse judges. 

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/provincial/2021/03/02/ford-government-says-its-changing-judicial-appointments-to-promote-diversity-racialized-lawyers-accuse-it-of-power-grab.html

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 11 November Update

Main news continues to be with respect to rapid increase in infections in most countries and provinces:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: France ahead of New York, Italy and Sweden ahead of Quebec, British Columbia ahead of Philippines
 
Deaths per millionUK ahead of USA, France ahead of Sweden, Canadian North ahead of Nigeria
 
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 4 November Update

Main news continues to be with respect to infections and relative increase of COVID cases and deaths in Prairie provinces:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: Germany now ahead of Alberta, Canada, India, Prairies now ahead of Philippines
 
Deaths per million:nPrairies now ahead of Australia
 
 
 
 

After Ottawa monument is vandalized, Ontario adopts International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘working definition of anti-Semitism’

Of note despite some of the valid concerns that the definition may be interpreted too broadly with respect to legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies:

The Ontario cabinet has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s “working definition of anti-Semitism” after recent vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra said Premier Doug Ford’s ministers “took swift and decisive action” Monday to recognize the definition even before the passage of legislation currently before the house.

“After a heinous act of anti-Semitism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa … it is crucial that all governments be clear and united in fighting anti-Semitism and our adoption of the working definition has done just that,” Calandra said Tuesday.

“The government of Ontario is proud to adopt and recognize the working definition of anti-Semitism. We stand with Ontario’s Jewish community in defence of their rights and fundamental freedoms as we always have and always will,” he said.

Four years ago, the IHRA, an intergovernmental organization with 34 member nations, including Canada, adopted the definition that reads: “anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.”

“Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities,” the definition continues.

While MPPs are currently reviewing Bill 168, the proposed Combating anti-Semitism Act, Calandra said the cabinet wanted to move more quickly with a largely symbolic gesture.

Ontario is the first province in Canada to use the working definition.

In a statement, Michael Levitt, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said “we applaud the government of Ontario for joining the dozens of other governments around the world in adopting the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, a vital tool in the ongoing fight against hatred and discrimination targeting the Jewish community in Ontario.”

“Jews continue to be subjected to vile rhetoric and propaganda and still remain the minority group most targeted by hate crime, which is nothing less than an affront to our basic democratic values as Ontarians,” said Levitt, a former Liberal MP.

Not everyone was happy with the move.

While the New Democrats supported Bill 168, they expressed concern that the “government secretly adopted the definition, behind closed doors and passed it by Ford edict instead of by democratic vote.”

“Anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic acts of hate are growing in Ontario, and we need to take concrete actions as a province to stomp out this growing, racist movement,” said NDP MPP Gurratan Singh (Brampton East).

Source: After Ottawa monument is vandalized, Ontario adopts International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s ‘working definition of anti-Semitism’

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 28 October Update

Main news continues to be with respect to infections:
 
Weekly:
 
Infections per million: UK higher than Quebec, Alberta higher than Canada, Germany higher than Ontario, Prairies higher than British Columbia 
 
Deaths per million: Prairies higher than Atlantic Canada, both higher than Pakistan
 
October 7-28 increase:
 
Infections per million: Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan) join European countries in highest percentage increase
 
Deaths per million: Highest increase in Prairies, particularly Manitoba and Saskatchewan 
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 21 October Update

Apart from overall large increases in infections in most jurisdictions, and corresponding increases in death rates in some, overall country and jurisdiction ranking largely unchanged.

Deaths per million: no change
 
Infections per million: Sweden now higher than UK (so much for herd immunity), Japan ahead of Atlantic Canada
 
Weekly:
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 14 October Update

No changes in relative ranking as overall rate of infections climbs in most jurisdictions:

Weekly:
 
 

#COVID-19: Comparing provinces with other countries 7 October Update

Highlights:

Deaths per million: USA now ahead of UK

Infections per million: France and Quebec ahead of Sweden, Japan ahead of Atlantic Canada

Weekly: