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Slow vaccination rate for children, paramedic mental health : In The News for Jan. 25

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 Jan. 25 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

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 Jan. 25 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

As the Omicron variant continues to strain Canadian hospitals, a vaccine hesitancy expert is voicing concern about the slow vaccination rate of children between the ages of five and 11. 

In the two months since the approval of child-sized doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, only 51 per cent of children in that age group have had at least one dose.

That's compared to more than 72 per cent of 12 to 17-year-olds in the two months following approval for that age range.

Kate Allen, a post-doctoral research fellow at Centre for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto, says while she had predicted parents would be slower to have their younger children vaccinated, the rate is even lower that she expected.

Preliminary data on national life expectancy from Statistics Canada shows the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to an average seven-month decline -- the largest decrease recorded since 1921 when the vital statistics registration system was introduced.

COVID-19 was the third leading cause of death in Canada in 2020, though Statistics Canada adds that the pandemic may have also contributed indirectly to a number of other deaths across the country.

The largest declines in life expectancy were observed in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, with the drop greater for men at more than eight months, than for women, at nearly five months.

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Also this ...

Groups representing Canada's paramedics are calling for improved mental health services as staff shortages and unprecedented call volumes take a toll on workers.

Dave Deines, president of the Paramedic Association of Canada, said ambulance-paramedic services across the country are reporting increases in call volumes and decreases in staff because of the pandemic and the overdose crisis.  

CUPE in Ontario said it conducted a survey of more than 14-hundred of its unionized paramedics in October that found 92 per cent said they were understaffed and the workload is hurting their mental and physical health.

The Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals said an internal report obtained by the union shows ambulances were idled for a cumulative 17-thousand hours in October due to limited staff. 

Manitoba Shared Health said in a statement that it has made recruitment a significant area of it's focus.

The latest available data from B-C Emergency Health Services showed mental health was represented in about 46 per cent of all its long-term disability claims in 2020.

Troy Clifford, union president with the Ambulance Paramedics of B-C, said the government can't recruit and retain enough workers and he's calling for better wages and benefits to entice people to join and stay in the field.

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And this ...

A First Nation in British Columbia is expected to release preliminary results today of a geophysical examination at the site of a former residential school.

Chief Willie Sellars of the Williams Lake First Nation has said the first phase of the investigation at the former St. Joseph's Mission Residential School has been challenging for its members and area First Nations.

He said in a written statement in November that the investigation has opened old wounds as people have recounted stories of abuse.

But he said the information has been helpful as part of the first phase of the investigation involving technical experts.

The investigation near Williams Lake comes after the use of ground-penetrating radar led to the discovery last year of what are believed to be hundreds of unmarked graves at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

Following what was found in Kamloops, similar searches were done at former residential schools across the country.

Last week, the federal government announced it will transfer thousands more documents related to residential schools to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation in Winnipeg.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said a new agreement with the centre outlines how and when the documents will be sent so the organization can make them available to residential school survivors.

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What we are watching in the U.S. ...

WASHINGTON _ The Pentagon ordered 8,500 troops on higher alert Monday to potentially deploy to Europe as part of a NATO ``response force'' amid growing concern that Russia could soon make a military move on Ukraine. U.S. President Joe Biden consulted with key European leaders, underscoring U.S. solidarity with allies there.

Putting the U.S.-based troops on heightened alert for Europe suggested diminishing hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will back away from what Biden himself has said looks like a threat to invade neighbouring Ukraine.

At stake, beyond the future of Ukraine, is the credibility of a NATO alliance that is central to U.S. defense strategy but that Putin views as a Cold War relic and a threat to Russian security.

For Biden, the crisis represents a major test of his ability to forge a united allied stance against Putin.

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said about 8,500 U.S.-based troops are being put on alert for possible deployment _ not to Ukraine but to NATO territory in Eastern Europe as part of an alliance force meant to signal a unified commitment to deter any wider Putin aggression.

Russia denies it is planning an invasion. It says Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO's own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that has failed to reach any breakthrough, and key players in the drama are making moves that suggest fear of imminent war. Biden has sought to strike a balance between actions meant to deter Putin and those that might provide the Russian leader with an opening to use the huge force he has assembled at Ukraine's border.

The Pentagon's move, which was done at Biden's direction and on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's recommendation, is being made in tandem with actions by other NATO member governments to bolster a defensive presence in Eastern European nations. Denmark, for example, is sending a frigate and F-16 warplanes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces, and France stands ready to send troops to Romania.

NATO has not made a decision to activate the Response Force, which consists of about 40,000 troops from multiple nations. That force was enhanced in 2014 _ the year Russia seized Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and intervened in support of pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine _ by creating a ``spearhead force'' of about 20,000 troops on extra-high alert within the larger Response Force.

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What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

ISLAMABAD _ Pakistan has a woman on its highest court for the first time.

Ayesha Malik's swearing-in on Monday as a justice on Pakistan's Supreme Court was a landmark moment for the Islamic nation where women often struggle to get justice _ especially in cases involving sexual assault.

Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad administered Malik's oath-taking in Islamabad. The event had been a controversial development for Pakistan's male-dominated judicial system. Malik's appointment, confirmed last week by Pakistani President Arif Alvi, silenced some of her critics who opposed her promotion on technical grounds.

Congratulations flowed from the top, with Prime Minister Imran Khan tweeting of Malik, 55, ``I wish her all the best.''

Pakistani Sen. Sherry Rehman shared a photo of Malik's oath-taking on Twitter. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also tweeted, saying Malik's swearing in was ``a great day for Pakistan.''

The process to elevate Malik from the Punjab provincial high court, which she joined in 2012, had been unusually contentious. A nine-member judicial commission recommends judges for promotion.

Five members of the commission supported Malik's appointment, while the other four opposed it.

Malik's allies hope her appointment clears the way for more promotions of women in Pakistan's courts.

Women in Pakistan struggle to get justice - especially in cases involving sexual assault. Authorities and society cast doubt on the victims in many cases.

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On this day in 1997 ...

In his first major international speech since becoming Quebec's premier late the previous year, René Lévesque told the Economic Club of New York that Quebec independence was inevitable.

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In entertainment ...

Comic Samantha Bee says she believes humour is always the cure, particularly at a time when the world has never been more fraught. 

It's the lens through which her TBS late-night series "Full Frontal" has operated for seven seasons, along with Bee's weekly interview podcast, "Full Release."

Reached by phone in New York, the Toronto-native says she's looking forward to joining this week's Hot Docs Podcast Festival with a remote, live edition of "Full Release" on Friday.

The podcast premiered in July 2020, and while it proved to be the perfect pandemic vocation as a solely audio format, Bee had been plotting one for several years.

With guests ranging from Canadian gynecologist Jen Gunter to writer Roxane Gay and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, "Full Release" offers a space for Bee to focus on a single subject, for up to an hour.

"The show itself is editorial and the podcast is a conversation," says Bee. "It's me being led by my own curiosity and getting a full portrait of a person, hearing their story and understanding where they're coming from."

It also means she's finally getting to spend time with people she actually likes. Because if you know "Full Frontal," then you're well aware that Bee is often speaking to or taking down controversial politicians and policies, from Ted Cruz to Jeb Bush, through a distinctly feminist position.

As Bee describes it, her objective on "Full Frontal" has always been "to press the gas pedal and go," knowing time is limited and there are "boxes to be checked" It has made her a polarizing figure on the left and the right, earning her a label she says she personally enjoys: "the queen of confrontation."

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ICYMI ...

WASHINGTON _ U.S. President Joe Biden responded to a question about inflation on Monday by calling a Fox News reporter a vulgarity.

The president was in the East Room of the White House for a meeting of his Competition Council, which is focused on changing regulations and enforcing laws to help consumers deal with high prices. Reporters in the room shouted a number of questions after Biden's remarks.

Fox News' Peter Doocy asked Biden about inflation, which is at a nearly 40-year high and has hurt the president's public approval. Doocy's network has been relentlessly critical of Biden.

Doocy called out, ``Do you think inflation is a political liability ahead of the midterms?''

Biden responded with sarcasm, ``It's a great asset _ more inflation.'' Then he shook his head and added, ``What a stupid son of a bitch.''

The president's comments were captured on video and by the microphone in front of him. Doocy laughed it off in a subsequent appearance on his network, joking, ``Nobody has fact-checked him yet and said it's not true.''

Doocy told Fox News' Sean Hannity that Biden called him later to the clear the air. Doocy said Biden told him, ``It's nothing personal, pal.''

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2022

The Canadian Press