Archive for August, 2019

Canadians among least optimistic cure for cancer is imminent: Poll

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

For all the running, cycling, ribbon-wearing, and head-shaving done by residents of Canada and the western world, we are actually the least optimistic that a cure for cancer will be found within our lifetime, suggests a new international survey.

According to the Ipsos Reid survey, conducted for Canada杭州夜网, residents of this country are the fourth least likely, among international residents surveyed, to believe a cure is within reach.

Fifty-one per cent of Canadians surveyed said they believe a cure is imminent.

The only nations more skeptical were Germany, Italy, and Hungary. Following Canada, was Britain, the United States, Poland, France, Belgium and the Dutch.

Meanwhile, 78 per cent of Indians surveyed said they believe a cure for cancer will be discovered before they die.

Argentina, China, Mexico and Russia were also among the top five most optimistic countries, followed by Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

"I just wonder whether part of the optimism is benign or blissful," said Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright, noting confidence was strongest in countries that are arguably less sophisticated in terms of their medical knowledge.

"Other countries that are on hot pursuit everyday trying to find a cure for this, their populations know that it’s much more difficult."

Terrence Sullivan, president and CEO of Cancer Care Ontario, said talking about a cure for cancer is difficult, because of the many facets of the disease.

"Cancer is not one disease – it’s hundreds of different diseases," said Sullivan, who is also an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.

"It’s not like saying you’re going to reduce heart disease or eliminate HIV infection.

"The whole idea of curing the disease is a very good aspiration, but what we’re learning is effective ways of winning the game of yards with cancer," he said.

"The disease that killed Terry Fox would likely not have killed him if he were diagnosed today – not because of one big bang, but because of multiple developments in technique, from surgery to chemotherapy to radiation, that would have given him a better shot at survival," he said. "It’s not a silver bullet, but it’s multiple weapons that are being used now."

Sullivan said a general sense of optimism in some countries may spill over into the realm of medical advancements, despite the odds being stacked against an all-encompassing cancer cure being discovered any time soon.

"India is having a spectacular decade with respect to their economy, so there’s no reason to believe this wouldn’t confer greater buoyancy," he said. "Economic development improves life expectancy, so there are real relationships there. Countries that are showing rapidly expanding economies will have optimism."

Wright, the pollster, said he considers himself among the 49 per cent of Canadians who believe a cure is imminent.

That said, he said he can sympathize with those who appear less hopeful.

Noting five of his wife’s friends have beat breast cancer in the past five years and are now leading healthy lives even though some have undergone mastectomies and hysterectomies in the process, he suggested the poll may be more a sign of "sober thought."

"The question was whether or not we’re ever going to see a total cure," he said. "Maybe what were seeing in this is . . . maybe not a cure, but maybe a management of it. Maybe the capacity to deal with it and an understanding that it’s not a death sentence. It’s just a conditional quality-of-life issue."

He suggested cancer is now a disease that’s "under control" and that fewer people are dying from it than was the case 20 years ago.

Sullivan mirrored those thoughts and reflected on his own career when discussing the progress made in the field of cancer research.

"Twenty years ago, when I first got exposed to the field of cancer, survival rates were pretty poor, but today, close to two-thirds of the population (with cancer) is living five years or more," Sullivan said, adding that the key for Canada is "being organized and aligned as a country so we have well-organized, articulated plans" to combat cancer.

"In many common types, like prostate cancer and thyroid cancer, about 95 per cent of the population living five years or more from those conditions."

Some conspiracy theorists argue that should a cure actually be found, the billion-dollar cancer research industry might cease to exist, putting thousands out of work. But Wright doesn’t buy it.

"I think in this age of transparency, where you can announce something in the morning on Twitter or the Internet and in the afternoon the entire world can know about it, I just don’t think that’s a valid issue," he said.

As part of the poll, more than 24,000 adults were surveyed in 23 countries representing three-quarters of the world’s GDP.

The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Netanyahu defends attack on aid convoy after meeting with Harper

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his country’s deadly military attack on a humanitarian aid flotilla Monday on grounds his soldiers were "mobbed, clubbed, beaten and stabbed" when they boarded a ship that refused to go to a dock for a weapons search.

"Our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed," Netanyahu said during a photo opportunity with Prime Minister Stephen Harper before cutting short a visit to Ottawa and cancelling meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington to return to Israel.

Both Harper and Obama issued statements of regret about the loss of at least 10 lives and injuries of others during the incident and both said they wanted more information, which Netanyahu promised to reveal as details emerged.

The incident prompted a wave of international condemnation and calls for an inquiry, as Israel said it was forced to board the ships to uphold its blockade of the Gaza Strip, Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

"As I told you, Canada deeply regrets this action, the loss of life and the injuries that occurred and obviously we’ll be looking in the days that follow to get all the information we can get to find out exactly what has transpired," Harper said. He was sorry his meetings with Netanyahu were "coloured by this."

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s statement of regret was sharper: "While we will always support Israel’s right to self-defence, a measured response is important when dealing with security threats in this region," Ignatieff said. "Given the loss of civilian lives, we are expecting clarification on exactly what happened. Canada’s objective is, and always will be, to achieve peace in the Middle East. This incident does not help us meet that objective."

Netanyahu said Harper and Obama "both understand" Israel has to protect its security from threats by Hamas.

"They are amassing thousands more rockets to fire at our cities, at our towns, at our children," Netanyahu said. "Our policy is this: we try to let in all the humanitarian goods into Gaza, all peaceful commodities, food, medicine and the like. What we want to prevent coming into Gaza are rockets, missiles, explosives, and war material that could be used to attack our civilians. This is an ongoing policy and it was the one that guided our action (Sunday)."

He said Israeli authorities were successful with five of the six ships in the flotilla which were ordered to take their cargo to the Port of Ashdod for a weapons search.

"The sixth ship, the largest, which had hundreds of people on it, not only did not co-operate in this effort peacefully, they deliberately attacked the first soldiers that came on the ship," Netanyahu said. "They were mobbed. They were clubbed. They were beaten, stabbed. There was even a report of gunfire. And our soldiers had to defend themselves, defend their lives or they would have been killed."

An activist from Victoria was on the Free Gaza flotilla -but not the ship that where the assault took place – according to Victoria-based website, Peace, Earth and Justice News.

The website said Monday that Kevin Neish was not harmed in the incident. Neish earlier told the website that he had "spent the last few days practising non-violent means of preventing the Israeli navy from boarding and seizing the ship, as they have done in the past."

Neish had planned to stay in Gaza and to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, acting as a human shield to assist and protect Palestinian workers repairing water and sewer systems and their fishing fleet, according to the website.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said the United States "deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding this tragedy."

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay condemned Israel’s use of military force as "disproportionate." The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights joined calls for an "immediate and credible" inquiry into the interception and urged Israel to lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

"We need to establish exactly what happened. However, nothing can justify the appalling outcome of this operation, which reportedly took place in international waters," Pillay said in a statement.

With files from Vancouver Sun

Israeli Defence Force footage:

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Critics say Oliphant recommendations don’t go far enough

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

OTTAWA – Justice Jeffrey Oliphant warned Monday that without changes to Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act, other federal politicians could make the same kinds of ethical breaches that he found former prime minister Brian Mulroney did.

"Canadians… are entitled to expect their politicians to conserve and enhance public confidence and trust in the integrity, objectivity, and impartiality of government," Oliphant wrote in the four-volume report that concluded his commission of inquiry into Mulroney’s business and financial dealings with lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber.

"Mr. Mulroney’s actions failed to enhance public confidence in the integrity of public office holders."

Oliphant found that Mulroney violated the ethics code that guided parliamentarians at the time; that he acted inappropriately in failing to disclose his dealings with Schreiber and payments he received from Schreiber; and that Mulroney’s business dealings with Schreiber "were not appropriate."

Oliphant praised the current Conflict of Interest Act and its companion Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons but the former Associate Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba said the circumstances of Mulroney’s dealings with Schreiber may not be unique and could happen to another politician.

"Put bluntly, if the events that prompted this commission of inquiry were to occur today, I am not persuaded that (Parliament’s) Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner would learn about them because there is no process or procedure in place that would allow her to detect them."

Some, though, said Oliphant wasted an opportunity to go much further with his recommendations for change.

"Ultimately, no amount of conflict of interest codes are going to teach somebody the difference between right and wrong," said NDP MP Pat Martin. "You could have a conflict of interest code as thick as a Manhattan phone book and somebody who is willing to violate it will."

As for the government, it did not take a position one way or the other on Oliphant’s report.

"It makes a number of recommendations and the government will be reviewing those recommendations," Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told the House of Commons.

Oliphant said the existing Conflict of Interest Act contains "ambiguities" that may make it difficult for politicians and senior government officials "to understand the extent of their legal obligations."

He called on the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner to set up ethics training programs specifically for ministers and encouraged all party leaders to provide similar training for MPs. He said the Conflict of Interest Act ought to apply to conduct Canadian politicians engage in not only while they are in Canada but elsewhere in the world.

Oliphant also said the Conflict of Interest Act ought to apply to politicians after they leave office and it ought to prohibit apparent or perceived conflicts of interest in addition to real ones.

The advocacy group Democracy Watch applauded the recommendations but said more changes ought to be considered.

"Oliphant has unfortunately ignored many other loopholes that allow for secret donations and lobbying, and unethical actions by part-time cabinet staff, MPs and their staff, and others in federal politics," Democracy Watch co-ordinator Duff Conacher said. "The system is the scandal, and until the system is cleaned up, scandalous situations will continue to occur regularly."

Justice Jeffrey Oliphant’s ethics changes:

As part of his commission of inquiry into the business and financial dealings of former prime minister Brian Mulroney and lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber, Justice Jeffrey Oliphant argued the following changes ought to be made to Canada’s Conflict of Interest Act:

– Expand the definition of "employment" to include providing services as a consultant.

– Revise the definition of "conflict of interest" to include "an apparent conflict of interest."

– Require public office holders to disclose the identities of those with whom they seek, negotiate or accept an offer of employment.

– Extend the actions covered by the Conflict of Interest Act to conduct that occurs outside Canada.

– Require ministers to take ethics training from Parliament’s ethics commissioner.

– Force public office holders to uphold the Conflict of Interest Act even after they leave office.

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Class sizes to go down in labour deal

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

MONTREAL — The unions representing the majority of the province’s elementary and high school teachers are hailing a new collective agreement signed on the weekend that will mean smaller class sizes, more staff to work with children with behavioural difficulties, and moves to attract more people to the profession.

The changes, some of which teachers have been pleading for since 1993, are expected to improve Quebec’s record on student retention and its high school graduation rate, which hovers around the 70-per-cent mark. Some of the changes will come into effect at the start of the school year in September. If the collective agreement is accepted by the unions’ members, it will lead to the hiring of 3,200 new teachers.

The adoption in principle of the collective agreement, signed Friday night only two months after the last contract expired, signifies a marked change in relations between the teachers’ unions and Quebec. Their last contract was imposed by decree in 2005.

"For us, this is great because we’re sure (the reduction in class sizes) is going to help reduce the numbers of dropouts, which is a huge concern," said Serge Laurendeau, head of the Quebec Provincial Association of Teachers (QPAT), which represents about 8,000 teachers who work in English schools.

"By having smaller classes in high school, you’ll have more time to devote to those students. We’re sure this will improve success rates and reduce dropout rates."

The agreement signed with QPAT and the Fédération des syndicats de l’enseignement (FSE), which together account for 70,000 of Quebec’s 100,000 elementary, high school, vocational and adult education teachers, focused on three targets regarding working conditions.

– At least $60 million in funding that brought extra support for elementary and high school students was maintained, and another $20 million was granted to provide additional services for children with behavioural disorders. Those services may include extra teachers, special classes or even a new centre to help the children integrate into regular classes, Laurendeau said.

– Class sizes will be reduced in certain grades, going from a maximum of 29 students in Grade 6 to 20 students at schools in low-income neighbourhoods. Class sizes in all elementary grades are expected to drop by three students.

Over the next few years, class sizes in Grades 7 and 8 are to fall by four students, from the current maximum of 32. In addition, classes with children who have behavioural or developmental problems will have fewer students.

The smaller class sizes will lead to the hiring of at least 3,200 teachers and involve new spending of $200 million a year, the unions estimate.

"Finally, we are getting some breathing room for our teachers," FSE president Manon Bernard said.

– As well, it will be easier for prospective teachers to attain part-time status and the resulting benefits in job security, sick pay and insurance, with the aim of attracting more people to the profession. Prospective teachers at adult education centres, for example, will have to work only 240 hours to achieve part-time status, as opposed to the 480 hours required in the past.

Laurendeau extolled the speed with which the deal was signed, saying it was possibly the first time in the history of provincial negotiations that teachers’ unions signed a new contract only two months after the old pact expired.

"Normally it takes over a year, 15 months," he said.

The unions have been working since 2007 on a contract that would satisfy all sides to avoid being hit with another decree, he said. And the Quebec government has recognized the province’s low retention and graduation rates "were major problems to which we had to find solutions, and they listened to what we were asking for," Laurendeau said.

The government was happy with the outcome, Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said. "Important steps for the educational success of our students have been taken," she said in a statement.

The Quebec Federation of Parent Committees also said it was pleased by the additional measures announced, and that the students’ school year was not jeopardized by rancorous contract talks.

Negotiations aren’t over yet, however. Talks with the Fédération autonome de l’enseignement, representing another 32,000 teachers, continue.

And while the deal signed this weekend dealt with teachers’ working conditions, the one covering salaries and pensions is being negotiated by the Common Front of unions this summer. Teachers are seeking a five-per-cent pay raise over five years.

"It’s not going to go as easy," Laurendeau said. "We know there are budget parameters, the budget has been approved and the government has said it wants to run a zero deficit.

"It doesn’t take away the chance there could be strikes in the fall."

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Thai PM defends crackdown ahead of censure debate

Friday, August 23rd, 2019

BANGKOK – Thailand’s premier on Monday defended a deadly army crackdown on anti-government protesters as he prepared for a grilling in parliament on his handling of the crisis.

"The government and army had no intention to attack people," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said ahead of the two-day no confidence debate.

"What had happened was there was a militia group which attacked the military and that led to clashes. We will explain this fact and we show our sincerity by allowing an independent committee to investigate" the events, he added.

The Red Shirts’ street rally, broken up on May 19 in an army assault on their vast encampment in the retail heart of Bangkok, sparked outbreaks of violence that left 88 people dead, mostly civilians, and nearly 1,900 injured.

The Red Shirts were campaigning for elections they hoped would oust the government, which they view as undemocratic because it came to power with the backing of the army after a court ruling threw out the previous administration.

The main opposition Puea Thai party is expected to demand answers from Abhisit’s administration on why it sent armed soldiers firing live rounds – instead of riot police – to restore order in the protest-hit capital.

Both sides want to produce photographs, videos and documents related to the protests and bloodshed during the censure debate.

But the opposition boycotted a panel set up to review footage of the violence, casting doubt on whether they would be allowed to show their own evidence in parliament.

"If we can’t show clips then after the debate we will show them on stages in different provinces that are not under a state of emergency," Puea Thai spokesman Prompong Nopparit said over the weekend.

The government lifted a night-time curfew on Saturday, saying the situation was returning to normal, but it left in place emergency rule across more than one third of the country, including Bangkok.

Abhisit banned public gatherings of more than five people and gave broad powers to police and military under the state of emergency invoked on April 7 after Red Shirts occupied a commercial district and stormed parliament.

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