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B.C. says show us evidence safe to fly if airlines drop in-flight distancing

VICTORIA — British Columbia Health Minister Adrian Dix says he wants to see the evidence that it’s safe for the country’s two largest airlines to drop their in-flight distancing policies during the pandemic.

“What I’d like to hear from Transport Canada, from Health Canada is do they agree with this,” Dix told a news conference on Monday. “The safety of passengers and the safety of all people in B.C., of Canada, in particular for us in B.C. is very important.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said spacing policies on airplanes are not within her jurisdiction, but she assumed there was evidence to support the move.

“We are concerned,” Henry said. “It’s an environment that we know people spend a lot of time in close contact with each other.”

She said it is important that people wear masks during flights and continue to practise physical distancing. People should not be travelling if they are ill, Henry said, adding that she would like to see passenger screening for signs of sickness before flights.

Air Canada and WestJet announced they are ending their on-board seat distancing policies starting Wednesday.

The carriers said Friday they will follow health recommendations from the United Nation’s aviation agency and the International Air Transport Association trade group.

Transport Canada said in a statement it issued guidance to the aviation industry, including recommendations for passenger spacing, but it is not mandatory.

“As physical distancing may not always be possible, all travellers, except those under the age of two years, and certain individuals with medical conditions, are required to wear a non-medical mask or face covering when travelling by air,” said the statement.

“Transport Canada will also now require temperature screenings for passengers at select airports.”

Air Canada said it is offering flexible rebooking options to those travelling in its economy class on flights that are close to capacity.

“While we would all like a single measure that reduces risk, we are left to use a combination of approaches to mitigate risk as far as practical,” it said in a statement.

The airline says it has taken steps that allow passengers to travel using touchless processes at the airport to obtain bag tags and boarding cards.

“We intend to continue evaluating new processes and technologies as they become available to further enhance safety.”

WestJet could not be reached for comment, but it has said its cabin crew can assist customers if there is space to accommodate them.

Dix said he would like to hear from the federal agencies to allay fears or explain why they’ve allowed Air Canada and WestJet to end the seat-distancing policies to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The minister said he will discuss the policy change with his provincial counterparts, adding he’s looking for more than just a business case from the airlines.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:AC, TSX:WJA)

Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

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Military to fly old rescue planes longer as COVID-19 delays new aircraft

OTTAWA — The Royal Canadian Air Force will fly its ancient search-and-rescue planes longer than expected as COVID-19 further delays the delivery of replacement aircraft.

Defence officials are playing down any significant impact from the latest delay, which has left the first new search-and-rescue plane built by Airbus stranded in Spain.

Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande says a recent analysis concluded the military has enough flexibility with its fleets to handle the delay.

Those fleets include six Buffalo aircraft and seven of the military’s older Hercules planes, all of which are around 50 years old and scheduled for retirement.

Lamirande says the military hopes to receive the new plane in the fall, which would be nearly a year later than originally planned.

The federal government first started looking at buying new search-and-rescue planes in 2002 before finally tapping Airbus to build 16 new C295Ws for $2.4 billion in 2016.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 blamed as work on military port first promised in 2007 sees new delay

OTTAWA — The construction of a new military refuelling station in the Arctic is facing another delay more than 13 years after it was first promised by the federal government, with one analyst raising concerns about other pressing military needs in the region.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper announced plans to build the Nanisivik deep-water port in Nunavut, along with up to eight armed Arctic patrol vessels, during a trip to the Far North in 2007.

The port, considered one of the crown jewels of the Conservative government’s Arctic strategy, was intended to provide fuel to the patrol ships and other federal vessels while expanding the military’s permanent footprint in the North.

The long-standing expectation was that the port located at the site of an old mining jetty on Baffin Island, about 20 kilometres from the community of Arctic Bay, would be ready by the time the first of those ships was delivered to the Royal Canadian Navy.

Yet while the first Arctic patrol vessel was handed over to the navy on Friday after numerous delays and cost overruns, the Department of National Defence confirmed the Nanisivik facility won’t be operational until at least 2022.

Defence Department spokeswoman Jessica Lamirande said COVID-19 scuttled this year’s construction season, which can only occur between June and September because of weather in the North.

“Due to COVID-19 delays, a small number of contractors are expected to return to the site in August to start the 2020 work season,” Lamirande said in an email.

“This means the season will be much shorter than planned and will only allow for a limited amount of work to be completed.”

COVID-19 is only the most recent challenge to plague construction of the Nanisivik facility, which was originally supposed to be up and running in 2013 and include an airstrip and be manned throughout the year.

The airstrip and year-round service were cut from the plans after the project’s original $100-million budget was found to have more than doubled to $258 million in 2013. The current price tag is estimated at $146 million, according to Lamirande.

The federal government has also faced environmental hurdles due to the need to clean up the old fuel-tank farm located on the site, which was home to a port used to ship ore from an old zinc mine. There were also structural issues with the existing jetty.

Lamirande said significant progress has been made on the facility since the first full construction season in 2015, with nearly all fuelling infrastructure in place.

But the fact the port still hasn’t been finished, despite the scope of the project having been dramatically scaled back, is both disheartening and troubling, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

Canada’s relative difficulty building a single port with limited facilities in the North contrasts sharply with Russia’s massive Arctic expansion in recent years, Perry said, and bodes poorly for needed Canadian military investments in the region.

Those include upgrading the string of increasingly obsolete radars that forms the backbone of North America’s system for incoming missiles and air- and water-based threats, as well as several airstrips in the area that will be used by Canada’s new fighter jets.

Those projects are expected to start in the coming years.

“It’s kind of dispiriting how long it has taken us to develop relatively simple infrastructure at one of the most accessible parts of our Arctic,” Perry said of Nanisivik.

“The length of time it has taken us to build doesn’t leave a lot of confidence that the other projects are going to move in a relatively quick timeframe.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2020.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Professor hits back at critics of ‘diversity’ essay in top science journal

TORONTO — A Canadian professor who sparked a backlash by using a prestigious international scientific journal to question the impact of diversity hiring on the quality of scientific research has hit back at his detractors, saying he was the victim of a social media tempest.

In a lengthy statement, Tomas Hudlicky, 69, of Brock University, says he stands by his views, which he argues were misinterpreted.

“Social media rage led to the intimidation of the executive staff of a major journal, attacked me personally (and) induced Brock University into issuing a strong moral condemnation of my views and my values with threats of taking further action against me,” Hudlicky says. “It rapidly became a full-fledged storm.”

Hudlicky’s seven-page opinion essay published in June in Germany-based Angewandte Chemie, which bills itself as one of the world’s prime chemistry journals, surveyed recent trends in organic synthesis. In it, he decried “preferential” treatment given to women and minorities.

Publication of his essay sparked a furious backlash. In an open letter, the school’s now former vice-president academic condemned what he called the “highly objectionable” and “hurtful” statements and apologized publicly, as did the publication, which withdrew the piece.

Angewandte also suspended two senior editors. Directors, including Canadian academics, resigned from its board. Accepting the paper, the journal said, had been a “clear mistake.”

Hudlicky has his supporters, who decry what they see as an attack on freedom of expression. The Canadian Association of University Teachers and Brock University Faculty Association defended him, while Derek Pyne, a professor at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., said he was suspended for a year for supporting criticism of Brock.

“It is tragic to see that, in several Western democratic societies, open discourse and debate can apparently be easily superseded by censorship, persecution and condemnation, propagated by social media,” Hudlicky says.

“The appearance and pursuit in recent years of certain new and politically correct ideologies has led to the establishment of a society in which any opposition or any dissenting opinion regarding the new norms are silenced and punished rather than discussed. This is a very dangerous trend.”

Hudlicky, a Tier 1 Canada research chair in chemistry, says Brock has damaged his professional standing. He says he has filed a grievance against the school in which he demands retraction of the critical letter along with a public apology.

“The university has nothing further to add to this discussion,” Kevin Cavanagh, a Brock executive director, said on Monday.

Angewandte Chemie did not respond to a request for comment.

Given the peer-reviewed essay generated “apparent misunderstandings and misinterpretations,” Hudlicky has edited and republished the document on his website.

“I stand by the views I wished to express in the essay, some of which are common knowledge, while others were duly cited from primary and secondary sources,” he says. “Those who condemned the essay and slandered me should have read the content more carefully, and not jumped to politically motivated conclusions.”

Among other things, Hudlicky argues hiring should be based on merit, not on a candidate’s identification with a particular group. He does say he could have been clearer and more diplomatic, and should have shown the “positive influence” of diversity on the field of synthesis.

“I do not oppose diversity in the workforce and did not oppose it in the essay,” he says. “I opposed preferential treatment of any group over another.”

Hudlicky acknowledges what he calls harmful “structural inequalities and systemic bias,” but says the best way to diversify university faculties is to hire the best candidates, who can train and mentor a diverse and inclusive group of next-generation scientists and scholars.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2020.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

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