Calls for refugee sponsors grow as study suggests millions of Canadians open to it

Karina Reid watched as the little boy, fascinated by the running tap water, jumped into the bathtub.

“This is the best day of my life!” then four-year-old Delphin said.

Delphin and his pregnant mother Atosha Ngage had just arrived in Canada earlier that day in February 2019. They stayed at a refugee camp in Namibia after leaving their home in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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The little family arrived in Canada through the Blended Visa Office Referred Refugees (BVOR) program, one of the country’s three resettlement streams to sponsor refugees. Reid, along with five of her friends, sponsored Ngage, who was pregnant with her second child, and Delphin.

“It was the most life-changing experience for them but also for me,” Reid said in an interview. “It changed my entire view of the world.”

Reid is one of the many Canadians who have brought a refugee family to Canada via the BVOR program. It’s the most distinctive of the three refugee resettlement programs; the others are Government-Assisted Refugees (GAR) and Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR).

The BVOR program allows private citizens and non-governmental organizations to step up and sponsor individuals or families with whom they don’t have prior relationships.

“We also refer to this kind of sponsorship model as `sponsoring the stranger,”’ said Louisa Taylor, director of Refugee 613, a communications hub that works to build inclusion and welcome newcomers.

Taylor said people in her circle know how “powerful” and “transformational” the experience of sponsorship can be for both newcomers and sponsors. Usually, these stories are relayed through word of mouth, such as Reid’s case.

However, there has been no data or resources to help promote the BVOR program properly, Taylor said.

“So recruiting new sponsors has long been a struggle,” she said.

In the hopes to rectify this, Refugee 613 partnered with the Environics Institute to conduct a market study on refugee sponsorship in Canada. The project was funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada but all data gathered are owned by Refugee 613 and Environics.

The study involved a representative sample of 3,000 Canadians ages 25 and over and with household incomes of $30,000 or more, which translates to roughly 24 million individuals.

Results suggest close to one-fifth of the target population, who haven’t been involved in sponsoring a refugee or refugee family yet, say they could definitely or likely see themselves participating in the program at some point over the next few years.

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“This translates into a pool of approximately four million Canadians who are open to potential recruitment into the program,” the report reads.

In contrast with BVOR, the Private Sponsorship of Refugees program has had no issues with recruiting sponsors, Taylor said.

“For the most part, PSR sponsors are motivated because they are sponsoring a relative or a friend or a friend of a friend,” she said. “So the PSR program has largely become a way to reunite families.”

Between 2015 and 2016, when Canadians became exposed to the idea of supporting Syrian refugees and the issue of refugee resettlement became an issue, Taylor said the BVOR program was oversubscribed.

However, since then, the program’s annual target of around 1,000 people has never been met.

“That causes a lot of pressure within government if you’re not meeting your targets,” Taylor said. “You’re seen as a failed program.”

Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino told reporters Friday that BVOR is one of those streams that had some challenges around “finding a proper alignment between what the community needs and what is the best fit for refugees.”

Taylor said the new data proves that there’s still interest in sponsoring refugees and refugee families to Canada.

“The next question is: how do we reach them and what messages do we share with them to show them that not only is there still a need, there’s a whole spectrum of organizations ready and willing to walk people through this process?” she said.

“They may just find it’s the most powerful experience of their lives.”

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It’s been more than two years since Reid and her friend picked up Atosha Ngage and Delphin at the airport. Since then, there have been powerful memories shared between people who were once complete strangers.

They’ve made snow angels, gone to the pool and shared lots of laughs.

Reid said the program is one of the best-hidden gems in Canada. Through it, she met people she would treasure for a long time.

“The BVOR program is life-changing,” Reid said. “It opens doors to curiosity, understanding and wanting to make your community a better place like.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Diplomats to meet in Vienna for more nuclear talks with Iran

Further talks between Iran and global powers were planned Sunday to try to negotiate and restore a landmark 2015 agreement to contain Iranian nuclear development that was later abandoned by the Trump administration.

Senior diplomats from China, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain were due to meet at a hotel in the Austrian capital.

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Top Russian representative Mikhail Ulyanov wrote in a tweet Saturday that the members of the members of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, “will decide on the way ahead at the Vienna talks. An agreement on restoration of the nuclear deal is within reach but is not finalized yet.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister for political affairs said Sunday that almost all JCPOA agreement documents had been readily negotiated and that the diplomats involved would shortly return to their home countries _ not only for further consultations with their respective governments but also for final decision-making.

“We are now in a situation that we think almost all the agreement documents are ready,” Seyyed Abbas Araghchi said in Vienna ahead of the meeting.

“Of the main issues that remain disputed, some have been resolved and some remain, but it has taken on a very precise form and it is quite clear what the dimensions of these disputes are,” he added.

“We will stop the talks and return to the capitals for a few days not just for further consultations but for decision-making,” the Iranian top negotiator in the Vienna talks said. “But now, I can not say exactly for how many days.”

The U.S. does not have a representative at the table when the diplomats met in Vienna because former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the deal in 2018. Trump also restored and augmented sanctions to try to force Iran into renegotiating the pact with more concessions.

However, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has signaled willingness to rejoin the deal under terms that would broadly see the United States scale back sanctions and Iran return to 2015 nuclear commitments. A U.S. delegation in Vienna is taking part in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as go-betweens.

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Sunday’s meeting is the first since Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election earlier this week.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi puts hard-liners firmly in control across the government at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though still short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Raisi also has become the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office, over his involvement in the 1988 mass executions, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

COVID-19: Saskatchewan launches Step 2 reopen plan

Saskatchewan is loosening more COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday as the province launches Step 2 of its reopen plan amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

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Saskatchewan met part of the threshold for Step 2 on May 24 when more than 70 per cent of the age 30 and older population was vaccinated with their first dose. The province still needed to wait three weeks until after Step 1 was launched, a requirement set out by the reopening roadmap.

As part of Step 2, there will be no table capacity limit for restaurants and bars, however, physical distancing must be maintained or there must be barriers between tables. Dance floors and buffets are still not allowed.

Private indoor gatherings will be limited to 15 people, up by five from the Step 1 gathering limit of 10 people. Private outdoor gatherings can have up to 150 people.

A maximum of 150 people will be allowed at event facilities, casinos, bingo halls, theatres, libraries and recreational facilities. An occupancy level must be maintained that can allow staff and customers to physically distance by at least two metres.

There are no capacity thresholds on retail and personal care services, but physical distancing must be maintained.

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All long-term care and personal care home residents can welcome four visitors at a time indoors and nine visitors at a time outdoors. This is allowed for both vaccinated and unvaccinated residents. Residents and visitors must still take precautionary measures including masking and physical distancing.

The province set the Step 3 reopen date to July 11 on Saturday when it was reported 70 per cent of residents 18 and older had received their first vaccine dose.

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For all remaining public health restrictions to be lifted, including the masking mandate and gathering limits, three weeks need to pass after 70 per cent of residents aged 12 and older have received their first vaccine dose and Step 2 has began.

As of Saturday, 68 per cent of residents 12 and older have received their first dose.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

No injuries reported in targeted Surrey shooting between two vehicles

A Saturday night shooting between two vehicles in Surrey’s Newton area is believed to be targeted, RCMP say.

Mounties responded to a report of shots fired by occupants of a silver SUV at a white jeep at 8:40 p.m., in the 7300-block of 128 Street.

Both vehicles reportedly sped away before the Jeep crashed near the intersection of 128 Street and 76 Avenue.

In a release, RCMP confirm the occupants of the white jeep were not injured.

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The motive remains unknown.

Investigators will be in the Newton area over the weekend for follow up and canvassing.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the Surrey RCMP or Crime Stoppers.

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Motorcyclist dead after crash in Toronto's west end, police say

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Toronto police say a motorcyclist has died after a crash in the city’s west end late Saturday.

A police spokesperson told Global News emergency crews were called to the corner of Forty Second Street and Lake Shore Boulevard West, a short distance away from the entrance of the Long Branch GO Station, at around 10:15 p.m.

The circumstances leading up to the motorcycle crash weren’t clear as of early Sunday, but the spokesperson said the driver had serious injuries and subsequently died at the scene.

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The force of the crash caused heavy front-end damage to the motorcycle.

Officers closed part of Lake Shore Boulevard West for nearly four hours while investigators gathered evidence at the scene.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

1 dead, another in hospital after driver crashes into Florida Pride parade

A driver slammed into spectators Saturday evening at the start of a Pride parade in South Florida, killing one man and seriously injuring another, authorities said

The pickup truck driver acted like he was part of the Wilton Manors Stonewall Pride Parade but then suddenly accelerated when he was told he was next, crashing into the victims, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis said, according to WSVN-TV. Wilton Manors is just north of Fort Lauderdale.

Authorities said one of the victims later succumbed to his injuries. The other victim is expected to survive, police said.

The driver of the pickup truck was taken into custody. Authorities did not immediately give further details about the victims or say whether they think the crash was intentional. Fort Lauderdale Police Detective Ali Adamson told reporters that authorities are investigating “all possibilities,” with the help of the FBI.

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Adamson said authorities are speaking with the driver, but she did not say whether he had been charged.

Trantalis said he believes the crash was “deliberate” and an attack against the LGBTQ community.

Photos and video from the scene showed Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz in tears while in a convertible at the parade.

In a statement Saturday night, Wasserman Schultz said she was safe but “deeply shaken and devastated that a life was lost.”

“I am so heartbroken by what took place at this celebration,” she said. “May the memory of the life lost be for a blessing.”

Spectator Christina Currie told the South Florida SunSentinel that she was with her family at the start of the parade.

“All of a sudden there was a loud revving of a truck and a crash through a fence,” Currie said. “It was definitely an intentional act right across the lanes of traffic.”

Wilton Manors police tweeted Saturday night that the public is not in danger.

“Though authorities are still gathering information, we know two individuals marching to celebrate inclusion and equality were struck by a vehicle,” Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said in a statement. “This tragedy took place within feet of me and my (Broward Sheriff’s Office) team, and we are devastated having witnessed this horrific incident.”

June is Pride Month, commemorating the June 1969 police raid targeting gay patrons at the Stonewall Inn in New York that led to an uprising of LGBTQ Americans and served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

Here's how provinces are faring as Canada fully vaccinates 20% of eligible population

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Canada tallied another 880 new cases of COVID-19 as the country marked another milestone in its efforts to vaccinate its population against the virus.

More than 75 per cent of its eligible population — those 12 years and older — have now received at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine while over 20 per cent have been fully vaccinated, according to COVID-19 Tracker.

The number comes as public health officials reported another 31 new deaths, bringing the national death toll to 26,054. To date, over 1,408,157 people have been diagnosed, of which 1,369,841  have recovered, while over 36,717,453 tests have been administered.

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With over 31.7 million doses having been administered across the country, Canada now boasts about 1.19 doses administered per 100 people daily as of Thursday — among the top five highest rates in the world.

Here’s how several provinces are faring currently in their vaccine outreach and daily case counts.

Ontario reported another 355 new cases on Saturday, as well as 13 more deaths linked to the virus. A total of 541,880 COVID-19 cases have been identified in the province since the pandemic began, and the death toll now stands at 9,007.

Ontario has had more doses administers than all other provinces, though its population is the highest. Over 74.5 per cent of eligible Ontarians have received at least one dose, while just over 21 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Quebec reported 160 new cases on Saturday and nine new deaths. The province currently has the highest proportion of its eligible population partially vaccinated against COVID-19, with 79.2 per cent of its population having received at least one dose. Its fully vaccinated numbers are comparatively low to other provinces, however, with just 17.75 per cent of eligible people fully vaccinated.

Alberta’s total COVID-19 cases and deaths now stand at 231,259 and 2,289 after Saturday’s updates, respectively.

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The province’s percentage of partially vaccinated people is lower than the national average, however, standing currently at 70.4 per cent, though it has the highest proportion of fully vaccinated eligible people at 27.3 per cent.

Saskatchewan added 54 more cases on Saturday, pushing its total COVID-19 infections to 48,381. The province did not add any new deaths on Saturday, with its fatalities standing at 562. Currently, Saskatchewan has the lowest percentage of eligible people vaccinated among all provinces at 68.3 per cent, though its fully vaccinated eligible population is among the highest at 26.6 per cent.

Manitoba recorded another 151 new cases on Saturday, as well as three new deaths. The province has vaccinated at least 72.9 per cent of its eligible population, while over 23.4 per cent have been given two shots.

British Columbia did not release new updates on its COVID-19 numbers Saturday, though currently over 75.8 per cent of its population has received at least one dose and nearly 18 per cent have been fully vaccinated.

New Brunswick has, to date, given at least one vaccine to over 76 per cent of its eligible population while about 17.5 per cent have been given two shots. Five new cases were added by the province today and no new deaths, pushing total COVID-19 infections to 2,316.

Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador have the lowest percentages of their eligible population fully vaccinated, though both have over 77 per cent having received at least one dose.

P.E.I. has registered over 74 per cent of its eligible population as having received their first vaccine, while 13.3 per cent have been given two shots.

Both N.L. and P.E.I. did not release new COVID-19 data on Saturday.

— With files from Twinkle Ghosh and Sean Boynton

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Kelowna garden project grows food for children in need

The first birdhouses and butterfly fundraiser for Food for Thought, a not-for-profit that ensures no child goes hungry in the Central Okanagan, sent gardeners a flutter to adorn their home gardens for a good cause. Sydney Morton checked out the inaugural event.

Food For Thought’s first annual Birdhouse and Butterfly fundraiser gave locals a chance to purchase hand-painted items to beautify home gardens and raise funds for the not-for-profit that ensures children in the Central Okanagan don’t go hungry.

“We have seen children coming to school on a Monday morning having not eaten anything all weekend which is just unimaginable where we live in the Central Okanagan,” said Cheryl Hoffman, Food For Thought project manager.

Food For Thought offers breakfast programs in Lake Country, Kelowna and West Kelowna, and its backpack program that sends children off for the weekend with a bag of healthy food has more than doubled.

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“Over the last year I can say that our volunteers have never worked harder and our community has never worked harder to meet the increasing need,” said Hoffman.

“With Kelowna increasing, the cost of food, it’s just become more challenging, so we are now growing food.”

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At their garden on Helen’s Acres in the heart of Kelowna, they have harvested fresh lettuce, basil, radishes and soon peas to add to students’ lunches. The garden space was a pandemic project that has proved to be fruitful.

“Because of COVID there was nothing that we were doing travelling, participating in other things so we spent a lot of hours in here,” said Marilyn Block, Food For Thought volunteer.

“It’s just amazing to see how much this garden has grown since mid-March and putting the in the backpacks and is amazing as well,” said Barb Carpenter, Food For Thought volunteer.

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The funds raised through the latest fundraiser will help build more accessible garden boxes to produce even more food for the growing number of children who go to school with light lunch kits.

The garden boxes can be dedicated to anyone who wishes to make a donation, for more information visit their website 

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

As Montreal nightlife begins to return, promoters hope to reverse pre COVID decline

Downtown Montreal bar and music venue Turbo Haus has begun to reopen after one of Canada’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns, but remaining restrictions mean last call is at midnight, patrons must remain seated and dancing is forbidden. Like many other small music venues in the city, Turbo Haus isn’t putting on concerts.

Things are “still a long way from being back to normal,” co-owner Michelle Ayoub says.

People like to think nightlife is part of what defines Montreal, but there are questions about how it will bounce back from the pandemic.

Daniel Seligman, the creative director of POP Montreal, an annual music festival, said putting on a show at a small venue wasn’t particularly lucrative before the pandemic, and health restrictions have only added costs and lowered capacity, reducing potential ticket revenue.

“It makes putting on shows in smaller venues financially much more difficult,” he said.

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He’s planning a few concerts over the summer, including some performances outdoors. This year’s festival is scheduled to go ahead, as usual, in September, but it will be in a more limited form, he said in a phone interview Thursday. Most artists will be from the Montreal area due to uncertainty around border restrictions.

“One thing I’ve learned this past year and a half is instead of planning to do things four months from now, five months from now, you can only really look a month, six weeks in the future to have any kind of real idea of what is possible,” he said.

Ayoub is also getting ready to start presenting live music but is moving slowly due changing restrictions. “We’re not rushing to book the shows, but we are very eager and we’re already starting to slowly but surely look at dates and take holds, but we’re going very cautiously,” she said in a phone interview Thursday.

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Nightlife is in Montreal’s DNA, said Mathieu Grondin, the co-founder of MTL 24/24, a non-profit organization that works to promote the city’s nightlife. That reputation began during the Prohibition era in the in United States, Grondin said, when Montreal one of the only places where white and Black Jazz musicians shared the stage. That reputation continued through the disco era and into the rave scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Montreal has always seen itself, portrayed itself and sold itself as a nightlife city,” Grondin said. “A good part of the tourism that comes here are night tourists, they come for the nightlife … there won’t be an economic recovery of downtown Montreal without the recovery of nightlife.”

But he said that despite the city’s reputation, other cities have become more open to nightlife than Montreal.

Toronto, for example, has since 2019 had a “night mayor,” a member of city council who is responsible for promoting the nighttime economy, and Grondin said Toronto has also become more open to extending closing time for large events.

Grondin said he hopes a recent conference he helped organize with the City of Montreal will help change the city’s approach. Among the ideas discussed at the conference were the adoption of the “agent of change principle” in noise bylaws.

That principle — which London and several large Australian cities have adopted after the closure of a large number live music venues — sees new arrivals in a neighbourhood responsible for mitigating the noise impact.

“If I open a bar next to your house, I have to make sure that my bar is not causing you any problems,” Grondin said. But at the same time, developers converting commercial buildings into condos in a neighbourhood of nightclubs and bars are responsible for soundproofing their buildings.

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Another suggestion was moving some elements of Montreal’s nightlife out of increasingly residential areas in the city centre, he said.

Heidy Pinet, a Montreal DJ, said she thinks that’s a good idea, as the city becomes more gentrified and smaller venues close. Pinet played her first gig since September on June 11, and while she said it felt good to be back performing, something was missing with a maximum of two people per table and no dancing allowed.

“If we look at New York, right now they are fully reopening and they’re letting clubs and concert venues run at full capacity with no masks, but they do ask for proof of vaccination, which I think is a solution that we should consider,” she said.

Ayoub said she’s lucky, most of the staff she had before the pandemic have come back, except for a few people who got what she calls “grown-up jobs.”

But there are still frustrations. While many COVID-19 mitigation measures make sense to her, evolving rules about closing time — some of which appear to be motivated by the Montreal Canadiens performance in the NHL playoffs — have been frustrating and led to fears that if the Canadiens are eliminated, the rules could change again.

And while Ayoub thinks that even before the pandemic, Montreal’s nightlife was on the decline, there are elements of the old normal she wants to see again.

“I want to be allowed to put on shows, I want to be allowed to pack rooms, I want to be allowed to bring in artists from around the world,” she said.

Grondin said he’s also looking forward to a more normal fall. “I’m hoping we will have a Halloween party without masks, but with masks,” he said. “With Halloween masks, but without a COVID mask.”

© 2021 The Canadian Press

3 children, 2 adults injured after shooting at toddler's birthday party in west-end Toronto

Three children and two adults have been injured after a shooting at a toddler’s birthday party in Toronto‘s west end, officials say.

“There’s nothing more brazen than children outside in a gathering and this kind of violence happening outside right in front of them and then being victims,” Insp. Kelly Skinner told reporters Saturday night.

“It’s absolutely tragic.”

It was just before 8 p.m. when emergency crews were called to an outdoor area residential complex on Tandridge Crescent, southeast of Islington Avenue and Albion Road, decorated with inflatables and balloons.

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Skinner said a one-year-old boy, a five-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy and a 23-year-old man were among the wounded. Paramedics rushed all of the victims to trauma centres with police escorts.

A Toronto Paramedics spokesperson previously Global News a child was transported in life-threatening condition while another child and an adult were in serious condition. The spokesperson said the third child and an adult also had injuries minor injuries.

Initially it was reported one of the adults was shot, but a police spokesperson later told Global News the individual suffered an unspecified medical episode during the incident and that they weren’t shot.

Skinner said the birthday party where people were gathered was for a one-year-old, but she did not confirm if the one-year-old injured was for whom the birthday party was for.

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She told reporters since it was still early in the investigation, the motive of the shooting was unclear and it wasn’t known if it was targeted or random. Authorities did not release any more information on the circumstances leading up to the shooting.

As of early Sunday, suspect information wasn’t released. However, Skinner said there were “multiple” people involved.

Meanwhile, she appealed to anyone in the area who might have information or video (surveillance or dash-cam) to call 23 Division at 416-808-2300.

“This is a tragedy. There were three children who were shot here tonight. We absolutely need your help,” Skinner said.

— With files from David Lao

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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