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In The News for June 8 : Wildfires leave most of Canada under smoky haze

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 June 8 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
People make their way of the Rideau Canal in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Forest fire smoke continue to shroud the national capital region, triggering air quality advisories. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

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 June 8 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

The battle against hundreds of wildfires continues, as almost every jurisdiction in Canada remains under either heat or air quality warnings from the federal government.

The day after what was supposed to be national Clean Air Day, dozens of alerts remain in place for unseasonable heat or smoky air quality that kept millions of Canadians coughing and squinting. And forecasts suggest that air quality risks for the GTA, the Niagara region and southwestern Ontario will only increase through the end of the week.

Wednesday saw one of Canada's worst days in history for air quality. 

Environment Canada's air quality health index listed Ottawa and Gatineau, Que., as the worst in Canada on Wednesday, with a very high risk warning. The agency dropped the special air quality statements for those areas early Thursday morning.

The eastern United States is also seeing devastating effects from wildfire smoke drifting south from Canada, with cities like New York and Washington, D.C., issuing air quality warnings of their own.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke on the phone with U.S. President Joe Biden about the issue on Wednesday. Both leaders agreed the situation pointed to the urgency of addressing climate change. 

The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre database showed Wednesday afternoon that 440 fires were burning in nine provinces and two territories. More than half were considered out of control.

The amount of land burned surpassed the 40,000-square-kilometre mark Wednesday, making the 2023 fire season Canada's fourth-worst on record before the summer has even officially begun.

At the current pace of burning, the all-time record is expected to be surpassed by next week.


Also this ...

Internal emails from the agency tasked with regulating the price of patented drugs in Canada shows discord and division was sparked by a letter from the health minister, culminating in an indefinite pause on major drug-price reforms and several resignations.

Emails released to the House of Commons committee on health suggest some on the regulator's board believed the crisis that followed the minister's letter threatened the very survival of the agency.

"We are experiencing a significant conflict that must be resolved to ensure the survival, integrity and proposer conduct of business for the (Patented Medicine Prices Review Board)," former acting chair Melanie Bourassa Forcier wrote to the board members on Dec. 4, 2022.

She resigned from her post the next day. 

The emails show the conflict began last November, when the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board was in the process of consulting on the finer points of recently adopted rules that would drastically change how drug prices are set in Canada.

Innovative Medicines Canada, a pharmaceutical lobby group, requested a meeting to talk about its concerns on Nov. 18.

Ten days later, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos wrote to the acting chair and suggested the process be paused to give drug companies, patient groups, provincial ministers and himself more time to understand the changes.

"I respectfully ask that the board consider pausing the consultation process, so as to work collaboratively, with all stakeholders, to understand fully the short and long-term impacts of the proposed new guidelines," Duclos wrote. 

The letter was received with surprise by the arm's-length agency, which until that point had thought the minister was on board with its plan, and kicked off an intense 10-day-long argument that ended in the suspension of the new rules. 


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

WASHINGTON _ U.S. President Joe Biden has invited thousands of LGBTQ+ individuals to celebrate Pride Month in a high-profile show of support at a time when the community feels under attack like never before and the White House has little recourse to beat back a flood state-level legislation against them.

Biden was announcing new initiatives to protect LGBTQ+ communities from attacks, help youth with mental health resources and homelessness and counter book bans, White House officials said.

The White House was closely monitoring air quality due to hazardous smoke from Canadian wildfires to determine whether to proceed with plans for a Thursday night picnic featuring food, games, face painting and photos. Queen HD the DJ was handling the music; singer Betty Who was on tap to perform.

Karine Jean-Pierre, the first openly gay White House press secretary, said Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their spouses are strong supporters of the LGBTQ+ community and think that having a celebration is an important way to "lift up'' their accomplishments and contributions.

She said LGBTQ+ people need to know that Biden "has their back'' and "will continue to fight for them. And that's the message that we want to make sure that gets out there.''

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest advocacy organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer individuals, earlier this week declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ individuals in the United States and released a guidebook outlining laws it deems discriminatory in each state.

Just a few days into June's Pride Month, the campaign said it acted in response to an "unprecedented and dangerous'' spike in discriminatory laws sweeping statehouses this year, with more than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced and more than 70 signed into law so far _ more than double last year's number.

Biden was announcing that the Department of Homeland Security, working with the Justice and Health and Human Services departments, will partner with LGBTQ+ community organizations to provide safety resources and training to help thwart violent attacks.

Separately, HHS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development will provide resources to help LGBTQ+ young people with mental health needs, support in foster care and homelessness.


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

ROME _ Pope Francis awoke Thursday after a good first night in the hospital following a three-hour operation to remove intestinal scar tissue and repair a hernia in his abdominal wall, problems that developed following previous surgeries.

Dr. Sergio Alfieri, director of abdominal and endocrine sciences at Rome's Gemelli hospital, said Wednesday's operation was successful and there were no complications or other pathologies discovered. Alfieri, who also removed part of Francis' colon in 2021, told an evening press conference that the pope was awake, alert and even joking.

"When will we do the third one?'' he quoted Francis as saying.

The pontiff was expected to remain in the 10th floor papal suite at Gemelli for several days, and all papal audiences were cancelled through June 18. The Vatican was expected to provide a medical update later Thursday.

The operation was scheduled after Francis had complained about increasing bouts of pain and intestinal blockages. After going to Gemelli on Tuesday for checks, Francis was admitted Wednesday following his general audience and underwent the procedure a short time later.

The surgery was likely scheduled now to give Francis plenty of time to recover before embarking on planned travel later this summer: an Aug. 2-6 trip to Portugal for World Youth Day, and an Aug. 31-Sept. 4 trip to Mongolia.

During the operation, doctors removed adhesions, or internal scarring, on the intestine that had caused a partial blockage. Alfieri revealed that in addition to the 2021 colon surgery, Francis had undergone previous abdominal surgeries sometime before 2013 in his native Argentina, which had also caused scarring.

To repair the hernia that had formed over a previous scar, a prosthetic mesh was placed in the abdominal wall, Alfieri said. He added that the pope was suffering from no other pathologies, that the tissue removed was benign and that after he recovers, he should be fine.

A feared protrusion, or bulging of the intestine through the hernia tear, was apparently not found.


On this day in 1866 ...

The first meeting of the Canadian Parliament was held in Ottawa. The meeting was held in the Parliament buildings, which were still unfinished. Construction on the complex had begun in 1857, when Queen Victoria chose Ottawa to be the national capital, and would not finish until 1877.


In entertainment ...

TORONTO _ When Roger Reeves was named the winner of this year's Griffin Poetry Prize on Wednesday night, his head fell to his hands and his mind went blank. 

The Austin, Texas-based writer was awarded the $130,000 honour at a ceremony in Toronto for his collection "Best Barbarian," which jurors praised for charting "ruptures and violences enacted across time and space — particularly against Black humanity."

It took a beat for thoughts to return to Reeves after he heard his book's name called out, he said. But when they did, he thought of his people.

"This is for my people. For my people, and for my people over the centuries, people that have fought, that have bled, that have worked, and people that have danced, that have enjoyed," he said in a brief interview after the ceremony. 

"I think the first thing that I would say is this is always for our people: for our people that had helped us get here."

Reeves is also the recipient of a Whiting Award and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.

The other shortlisted works, which each receive $10,000, are "The Hurting Kind" by Ada Limón, "The Threshold" by Egyptian-Canadian Iman Mersal and translated by Robyn Creswell, "Exculpatory Lilies" by British Columbia-based writer Susan Musgrave and "Time Is a Mother" by Ocean Vuong.

Award organizers said this year's three judges each read 602 books of poetry, including 54 translations from 20 languages, submitted by 229 publishers from 20 different countries.


Did you see this?

ATLIN, B.C. _ A man who helped return a 140-year-old Tlingit robe to the British Columbia First Nation where it was created says it's as if the regalia called out to its people and they are bringing it home.

The intricately woven Chilkat robe, made of mountain goat wool and yellow cedar bark, was purchased by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation in northwestern B.C. for almost $40,000 after it went up for sale online by a Toronto-based auction house last year.

The robe arrived in Whitehorse Wednesday and will travel 175 kilometres south to the First Nation's traditional territory in Atlin, B.C., where it's expected to go on display and may be used in future ceremonies.

While the community celebrates the return of a piece of its heritage, the First Nation said Indigenous people should not be forced to buy back regalia that was stolen from them.

It's calling on the federal government to take action to prevent similar situations in the future.

Tlingit elder and master carver Wayne Carlick said his heart "probably exploded'' when the robe's close connection to his community was confirmed after he saw it online.

As an artist and residential school survivor, Carlick said looking at the robe and understanding the history it represents makes him emotional.

"I think about when I got home from residential school, I didn't see any art, I didn't see any language, I didn't see any dancing or singing. People were suffering and really hurting and there was no art,'' he said in an interview from the airport in Vancouver.

"It took a long time before I started seeing First Nation's art, West Coast First Nation's art, and so it took a long time to get to this point.''

Carlick said getting the robe back is a chance for the younger generation to see art in a way he couldn't at their age, and to learn about the nation's history and resilience.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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