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Let the games begin, and raising a louder alarm in B.C. : In The News for July 23

Last Updated Jul 23, 2021 at 1:35 am PDT

Blue Impulse of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force flies over the main National Stadium, Wednesday, July 21, 2021, in Tokyo. The National Stadium will host host the many of the events for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics that start July 23. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)

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 July 23…

What we are watching on the world stage …

TOKYO — Tokyo’s pandemic-delayed Summer Olympics officially get underway today with a largely spectator-free opening ceremony.

The stands at Tokyo’s Olympic Stadium will be empty save for a handful of officials, guests and members of the media as the festivities begin at 8 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET).

Even the number of athletes participating is likely to be smaller than most years, due to strict COVID-19 protocols at the Olympic Village.

The Canadian Olympic Committee said Thursday that only a small contingent of 30 to 40 athletes — roughly a tenth of the total delegation — will take part.

The opening ceremony was rocked by an 11th-hour scandal on Thursday, when the director was fired over a Holocaust joke he made during a comedy show in 1998.

Earlier this week, a composer whose music is expected to be used at the ceremony was forced to resign because of past bullying of his classmates.

What we are watching in Canada …

British Columbia’s emergency co-ordination agency is working to expand its use of a public alert system for large-scale and potentially fatal disasters, as hundreds more residents have been forced from their homes because of wildfires. 

Alert Ready is a Canada-wide system that allows government officials to issue public safety alerts through major television and radio broadcasters, as well as compatible wireless devices. 

Pader Brach, executive director of regional operations with Emergency Management BC, said the system is being looked at for a variety of hazards, although he could not say if it would be in place for this wildfire season. 

“We know that minutes count and we’re certainly committed to making the Alert Ready system a priority,” Brach told a news conference.

The system is already in use for tsunami threats and Amber Alerts, however it was not used during the “heat dome” in June in which the BC Coroners Service has said the typical death rate tripled. 

About 4,300 properties were under evacuation orders Thursday due to wildfires scorching British Columbia’s south, which is further challenged with drought conditions and water shortages. Nearly 18,000 additional properties are under alert, meaning residents are warned to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice. 

Ian Meier, executive director with the BC Wildfire Service, said strong winds fanned the flames of several wildfires Thursday, causing them to grow and prompting additional evacuations. 

Aggravating the fire situation are drought and water shortages affecting the southern half of the province. 

Also this …

OTTAWA — The military officer who previously oversaw Canada’s vaccine rollout campaign says his reputation has been “irreparably tarnished” by the government’s decision to abruptly replace him in May and publicly reveal he was being investigated for sexual misconduct.

Maj.-Gen. Dany Fortin’s assertion is contained in an affidavit sworn last week but only publicly revealed on Thursday as part of his legal battle to reverse his dismissal from the Public Health Agency of Canada, which he alleges was improper and politically motivated.

Fortin was removed from the vaccine rollout on May 14, just five days before the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service referred a sexual misconduct investigation to the Quebec prosecution service to determine whether criminal charges should be laid.

Through his lawyers, Fortin has denied any wrongdoing.

Fortin’s lawyers filed an application last month with the Federal Court seeking an expedited judicial review of the decision to fire him from his posting at PHAC, and asking for the decision be quashed and for his reinstatement at the agency or another position.

In the affidavit sworn on July 13, Fortin says the impact of the decision to remove him and reveal the misconduct investigation “on my reputation and career has been devastating.”

Fortin says he received an exemplary performance review only three days before he was removed from the vaccine campaign, and was “at the peak of my career,” with expectations of a promotion or other opportunity upon finishing his job with PHAC.

Due to the decision to remove him, however, “I have no assignment, although I remain a member of the CAF. As far as I know, I am not being considered for any positions and I appear to have been bypassed for promotion. Currently, my career appears to be over.”

What we are watching in the U.S. …

WASHINGTON — Senate Democrats are raising new concerns about the thoroughness of the FBI’s background investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Those concerns arose after the FBI said it had received thousands of tips and had provided “all relevant” ones to the White House counsel’s office. 

FBI director Christopher Wray, responding to longstanding questions from Democrats, disclosed in a letter late last month that it had received more than 4,500 tips as it investigated the nominee’s past following his 2018 nomination by former president Donald Trump. The process was the first time that the FBI had set up a tip line for a nominee undergoing Senate confirmation.

A group of Democratic senators said in a letter to Wray dated Wednesday that his response “raises significant additional questions.” They called on him to explain, among other things, how many tips the FBI decided were relevant and what criteria agents used to make that determination and what policies and procedures were used to vet the tips. The senators also asked for more information about the tip line, including how it was staffed and how the tips were recorded or preserved.

Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court in October 2018 after a rancorous process in which claims emerged that he had sexually assaulted women three decades ago. He emphatically denied the allegations.

What we are watching in the rest of the world …

BEIJING — A senior Chinese health official says China cannot accept the World Health Organization’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19. 

National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin says he was “rather taken aback” by the call for a further look into the pandemic’s origins and specifically, the theory that the virus might have leaked from a Chinese lab. 

He dismissed that theory as a disproved rumor. 

“It is impossible for us to accept such an origin-tracing plan,” he said at a news conference called to address the COVID-19 origins issue.

The head of the WHO acknowledged last week that it was premature to rule out a potential link between the pandemic and a leak of the coronavirus from a Chinese lab. Zeng says the lab in the city of Wuhan has no virus that can directly infect humans. 

The search for where the virus came from has become a diplomatic issue that has fueled China’s deteriorating relations with the U.S. and many American allies. The U.S. and others say that China has not been transparent about what happened in the early days of the pandemic. China accuses critics of seeking to blame it for the pandemic and politicizing an issue that should be left to scientists.

The Biden administration in a statement Thursday criticized China’s rejection of the WHO’s plan for the second phase of a study into the origins of COVID-19.

“We are deeply disappointed,” the statement said.

Most experts don’t think a lab leak is the likely cause. The question is whether the possibility is so remote that it should be dropped, or whether it merits further study.

On this day in 1944 …

The Canadian Army went into action in northern France during the Second World War as a separate unit for the first time. Until then, it had been under British command.

In entertainment …

TORONTO — Telefilm says it’s putting $12 million towards production of 29 English- and French-language, lower-budget features across Canada — a list that also includes a project from acclaimed filmmakers Hubert Davis and Kathleen Hepburn. 

Feature films from actors Deragh Campbell, Fab Filippo and Aaron Poole are also among those getting support.

Campbell, who starred in the award-winning 2019 Canadian film “Anne at 13,000 Ft,” co-wrote the drama “A Portrait” with frequent collaborator Sofia Bohdanowicz.

Bohdanowicz, whose previous projects include “Never Eat Alone” and “Maison du Bonheur,” directs the Ontario and Quebec project. 

Filippo, star and co-creator of the upcoming CBC series “Sort Of,” directs the Ontario drama “The Time We Met” by screenwriter Jonas Chernick.

Poole, whose acting credits include the films “Disappearance at Clifton Hill” and “This Beautiful City,” wrote and makes his feature directorial debut on the Ontario drama “DADA.”

And Davis, nominated for an Oscar in 2005 for the short documentary “Hardwood,” directs the Ontario drama “The Well.”

The screenwriter is Hepburn, known for her acclaimed films “The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open” and “Never Steady, Never Still.”

Other lower-budget films getting Telefilm support include the Nova Scotia drama “Three Schizophrenics Walk Out of a Bar” from writer-director Barrie Dunn, who helped develop the series “Trailer Park Boys,” where he played Ray LaFleur.

Thursday’s funding announcement came a day after Telefilm said it achieved its 50 per cent gender parity target for financing films with women in key creative roles during the 2020-2021 fiscal year. 

The Crown corporation said of the films it financed in that period, 50 per cent had a woman as a producer, while 54 per cent had a woman as a screenwriter. Fifty-four per cent of those films also had a woman as a director. 

ICYMI …

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A town of 30 people in Newfoundland and Labrador has been connected to a group of fourth-grade science students in Boston after a tiny shipwreck on a nearly deserted coast of the province.

The boat, which is less than two metres long, was built by a science class at Harvard-Kent Elementary School. It was thrown off course by tropical storm Elsa.

Emily Bryant, education manager with the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, said the institution partnered with the class to build the boat, which is named the HK Pride. She says a main goal of the project was to help the kids explore the world.

Sherrie Feaver and her husband John Feaver salvaged the small ship from the rocks this morning near the small town of McCallum, N.L.

Feaver said she heard on social media about the boat running aground near McCallum, so she went looking for it.

She said she and her husband took their own boat about 40 minutes up the shore until they spotted it and it’s now on their lawn waiting to be picked up by the federal Fisheries Department to be repaired and delivered to a school in Harbour Breton, N.L.

The Boston museum sent a mayday through Twitter on Monday about the wreck, asking anyone nearby to help retrieve it.

“We don’t know this part of the world and we we’re looking at the satellite maps and we’re like, ‘Oh gosh,'” Emily Bryant, the museum’s education manager, said in an interview on Thursday. “We didn’t have high hopes because it did seem so remote.”

When news of the boat hit social media, everyone in town was excited, said Feaver. With all that empty coastline for the boat to land, she said it’s quite a stroke of luck it wound up near people.

“She’s a little bit damaged — not a lot, just a bit on the bow,” Feaver said. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 23, 2021

The Canadian Press