November 25th, 2020

Pandemic survey and Giller Prize winner: In The News for Nov. 10


By The Canadian Press on November 10, 2020.

The trial for the man who killed 10 people and hurt 16 others after driving a van down a Toronto sidewalk is set to get underway today. Duty counsel Georgia Koulis, left to right, Alek Minassian, Justice of the Peace Stephen Waisberg, and Crown prosecutor Joe Callaghan are shown in court in Toronto, in an April 24, 2018, sketch. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what’s on the radar of our editors for the morning of Nov. 10 …

What we are watching in Canada …

The trial for the man who killed 10 people and hurt 16 others after driving a van down a Toronto sidewalk is set to get underway today.

Alek Minassian, 28, of Richmond Hill, Ont., faces 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder.

He has admitted in court to planning and carrying out the attack on April 23, 2018.

The judge has said the case will turn on Minassian’s state of mind at the time.

He is expected to raise a defence of being not criminally responsible for his actions that day.

Minassian told a detective just hours after the incident that he carried out the attack as retribution against society because he was a lonely virgin who believed women wouldn’t have sex with him.

The trial was set to begin in February, but difficulties getting Minassian’s psychological and medical records pushed it back to April.

The pandemic then shuttered courts, pushing the trial back to November.

Also this …

A new poll finds that more than two-thirds of Canadians say they would support a curfew if the pandemic became serious enough.

The online survey by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies says that 67 per cent of Canadians would back a temporary nighttime curfew – from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. – to curb viral spread in dire circumstances.

However, respondents’ enthusiasm varied widely by age, with young people less disposed to the notion.

The prospect of a curfew has been floated in several provinces, with Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister mulling it last week before backing off the idea on Monday.

Leger vice-president Christian Bourque says Canadians’ receptiveness to stricter COVID-19 measures stands in stark contrast to waves of resistance in the United States, and stems from deeply rooted differences in national character.

The online poll surveyed 1,534 adult Canadians and 1,002 Americans between Nov. 6 and 8, and cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration threw the presidential transition into tumult, with President Donald Trump blocking government officials from co-operating with President-elect Joe Biden’s team and Attorney General William Barr authorizing the Justice Department to probe unsubstantiated allegations of voter fraud.

Some Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, rallied behind Trump’s efforts to fight the election results. Few in the GOP acknowledged Biden’s victory or condemned Trump’s other concerning move on Monday: his firing of Defence Secretary Mark Esper.

The developments cast doubt on whether the nation would witness the same kind of smooth transition of power that has long anchored its democracy. The Electoral College is slated to formally confirm Biden’s victory on Dec. 14 and the Democrat will be sworn into office in late January.

On Monday, Barr authorized U.S. attorneys to probe “substantial” allegations of voter irregularities and election fraud, though no widespread instances of that type of trouble in the 2020 election exist. In fact, election officials from both political parties have publicly stated that voting went well and international observers also confirmed that there were no serious irregularities.

Biden campaign lawyer Bob Bauer said Barr’s memorandum authorizing investigations “will only fuel the ‘specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims’ he professes to guard against.”

Biden pressed forward with plans to build out his administration, assembling a team of experts to face the surging pandemic. But the federal agency that needs to greenlight the beginnings of the transition of power held off on taking that step. And the White House moved to crack down on those not deemed sufficiently loyal as Trump continued to refuse to concede the race.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

Brazil’s health regulator has halted clinical trials of the potential coronavirus vaccine CoronaVac, citing an “adverse, serious event.”

The decision posted on Anvisa’s website Monday night elicited immediate surprise from parties involved in producing the vaccine.

The potential vaccine is being developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical firm Sinovac and in Brazil would be mostly produced by Sao Paulo’s state-run Butantan Institute. Sao Paulo state’s government said in a statement it “regrets being informed by the press and not directly by Anvisa, as normally occurs in clinical trials of this nature.”

Butantan said in a statement that it was surprised by Anvisa’s decision and that it would hold a news conference Tuesday.

The CoronaVac shot has already stirred controversy in Brazil, where President Jair Bolsonaro has cast doubt on its prospective effectiveness. He sparked confusion last month when he publicly rejected it, saying Brazilians would not be used as guinea pigs. The declaration followed news that his health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, had agreed to purchase CoronaVac doses produced locally by Butantan.

Bolsonaro has often expressed mistrust of China, particularly on the campaign trail in 2018, although he has softened his rhetoric somewhat in office. Also, Sao Paulo state’s Gov. João Doria has become a political rival and an outspoken critic of the president’s pandemic response.

Anvisa said in its statement that the event prompting the trial’s suspension occurred Oct. 29, without saying what transpired.

“With the interruption of the study, no new volunteer can be vaccinated,” its statement said.

Dimas Covas, who leads Butantan, said on TV Cultura late Monday that a volunteer had died, but that the person’s death was not due to the shot.

On this day in 1979 …

A Canadian Pacific freight train carrying deadly combustible chemicals derailed in the heart of Mississauga, Ont. Chlorine gas leaked from a punctured tanker and within 24 hours, 220,000 people, most of the city’s population, had been evacuated. No lives were lost.

In entertainment …

Toronto-based writer Souvankham Thammavongsa is the winner of this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Thammavongsa received the $100,000 honour Monday night for her fiction debut, “How to Pronounce Knife,” published by McClelland and Stewart.

Thammavongsa smiled as she showed off the trophy to her two friends at her Toronto home. In her acceptance speech, she thanked her parents for providing the inspiration for the title piece in the short story collection.

“Thank you to my mom and dad,” she told the camera. “Thirty-six years ago, I went to school and I pronounced the word ‘knife’ wrong. And I didn’t get a prize. But tonight there is one.”

In their citation, jurors hailed the book as “a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose.”

Born in the Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and raised in Toronto, Thammavongsa traces the stories of immigrants building new lives far from home, straining against the mores of both societies as they search for a sense of belonging.

The characters of “How to Pronounce Knife” are caught in this cultural confluence: a mother who becomes infatuated with country singer Randy Travis; a failed boxer who trades in his gloves for a nail file at his sister’s salon.

The story “Slingshot,” which is part of the collection and won the U.S.-based O. Henry Award for short fiction, features a 70-year-old woman who finds herself in an amorous entanglement with a 32-year-old neighbour.

Thammavongsa is also a rising star in poetry circles, touting four published collections.

She won the Trillium Book Award for Poetry for her 2013 volume “Light.” Her 2007 collection, “Found,” inspired by her father’s scrapbook, was adapted into a short film.

ICYMI …

Humans first caught the virus that causes COVID-19 from animals and research now suggests it could also be the other way around.

A study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment has found the novel coronavirus could be spread to whales and other marine mammals through improperly treated sewage and wastewater.

“We saw there were dozens of whales and sea mammal species that were predicted to be as susceptible or more susceptible than humans,” says Graham Dellaire, a pathologist at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Dellaire says he’s not aware of any actual cases of COVID-19 among whales and seals.

But a genetic analysis found the animals have the same receptor on the cells in their bodies that make humans susceptible to the virus. In fact, modelling the virus’s behaviour suggests some animals such as beluga whales are even more vulnerable than people.

At the same time, research is emerging to suggest that the COVID-19 virus is shed in human feces and can live for up to 25 days in water.

“There’s definitely an opportunity, if there was steady effluent leaking into a waterway, that live virus could build up along coastlines to a level high enough to potentially infect a marine mammal – particularly those close to shore,” Dellaire says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 10, 2020

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