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FIRST READING: Pandemic border closures suddenly aren’t racist anymore


Just in time for Chanukah, a Canadian university banishes kosher food

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First Reading is a daily newsletter keeping you posted on the travails of Canadian politicos, all curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every Monday to Thursday at 6 p.m. ET (and 9 a.m. on Sundays), sign up here.

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TOP STORY

Omicron is here! Only days after the new omicron COVID-19 variant was first discovered in South Africa, Canada has become the site of the variant’s first confirmed North American cases. As of press time, Ontario had confirmed roughly half a dozen cases , and Quebec had confirmed one. So far, every new variant of COVID-19 has been more infectious, but it hasn’t been an inherently more dangerous version of the disease. The notorious Delta variant infected more people, for instance, but it wasn’t any more likely to kill patients or land them in hospital (and it was generally stopped by vaccination). So far, that seems to be the case with Omicron, but the WHO is holding off on a definitive announcement until more data rolls in.

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The variant was able to grab a beachhead in Canada despite the federal government actually meeting the threat with strong border policy for a change . In the chaotic opening months of the pandemic, Canada resisted even minimal screening of flights incoming from hard-hit areas of China, and public health officials even implied that such measures were racist . This time around, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra placed an immediate 14-day ban on entries from Southern African citizens, with enhanced screenings on all Canadians returning from the region. All of which has prompted Postmedia columnist Lorrie Goldstein to ask if Ottawa will “finally admit those who called for banning flights from China at the start of the pandemic were right and they were wrong?”

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If the World Health Organization has stuck to its usual policy of naming variants after sequential letters of the Greek alphabet, this variant should have been called either “Nu” or “Xi.” The WHO skipped “Nu” on the grounds that it sounded too much like “new,” and would have been confusing. As to skipping “Xi,” let’s just say the WHO has a bit of a problem with making decisions that might anger China (whose leader just happens to be named “Xi”).

China’s been dealing with a Xi variant since 2013.
China’s been dealing with a Xi variant since 2013. Photo by Li Gang/Xinhua via AP

IN OTHER NEWS

Canadian real estate was already hideously unaffordable when Justin Trudeau was first sworn-in as prime minister in 2015. But despite Trudeau’s repeated promises to tackle affordable housing, the interim six years have seen real estate prices soar by more than 70 per cent , according to a new analysis by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute . This means that the average Canadian home has gotten $300,000 more expensive since the Liberals first took office. Put another way, for every day that Trudeau has been prime minister, the average house has gotten $136 harder to afford.

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Nova Scotia’s Mic Mac Mall has resurrected “Woody,” a talking Christmas tree beloved by locals as a holiday tradition. To foreign audiences, however, images of the cherubic tree have inspired reactions of horror and confusion. The U.K.’s Metro newspaper, for one, branded the tree the “creepiest ever.”
Nova Scotia’s Mic Mac Mall has resurrected “Woody,” a talking Christmas tree beloved by locals as a holiday tradition. To foreign audiences, however, images of the cherubic tree have inspired reactions of horror and confusion. The U.K.’s Metro newspaper, for one, branded the tree the “creepiest ever.” Photo by Mic Mac Mall

CULTURE WARS

Just in time for Chanukah, a student union at the University of Toronto has banned kosher food providers from campus unless they can provide evidence that they are explicitly anti-Israel . The measure, which was passed by the Scarborough Campus Student Union, was reportedly made in order to banish caterers that “normalize Israeli apartheid,” according to a report in The Jerusalem Post . Jewish on Campus, a North American non-profit that tracks university anti-Semitism, wrote in a statement that the “litmus test” only applies to Jewish food providers; everybody else remains free to sell food to students without first stating their opinions on Middle East politics.

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Faced with an uptick in gun crime, Quebec Premier François Legault appeared to lay the blame at the feet of video games . The comments, which largely escaped mainstream attention, were made as Legault tried to promote greater participation in minor hockey. “It’s clear that a little boy who is at home, who is playing video games, who has three lives, it’s not a problem if he shoots because he restarts with a second life,” Legault said in comments published by La Tribune . “If he plays hockey, he’ll understand that life is something else altogether.”

As tens of thousands of Canadians adjust to once again working in an office, the CBC is here to warn that the transition is hardest of all for non-white people. Why? Because they will now be assailed once again with toxic “micro-aggressions” such as coworkers mispronouncing their names .

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s daughter Krista Ford Haynes has emerged as a fierce critic of the vaccine mandates being pursued by her father’s government . After Haynes’ husband, a Toronto Police officer, was placed on unpaid leave for failing to show vaccine credentials, she posted an Instagram video (strangely recorded from the seat of an exercise bike) imploring fellow mandate opponents to keep faith as “evil does not win.”

The Czech Republic has also been busy swearing-in parliamentarians after a recent election. The process has been complicated, however, by the fact that their president, Milos Zeman, is currently COVID-19 positive. So, they built a special plastic box for him and have enlisted an aide to wheel him around while wearing a hazmat suit.
The Czech Republic has also been busy swearing-in parliamentarians after a recent election. The process has been complicated, however, by the fact that their president, Milos Zeman, is currently COVID-19 positive. So, they built a special plastic box for him and have enlisted an aide to wheel him around while wearing a hazmat suit. Photo by Roman Vondrous/Pool/AFP

SOLID TAKES

Labour lawyer (and frequent National Post columnist) Howard Levitt is over the moon at news that an Ontario teacher’s union is now conducting race-based voting at its meetings . According to Levitt, the measure helps expose the depths to which “some segments of the union movement, particularly in the public sector, have descended.” Last week, a local of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation passed a new rule under which meetings would first categorize attendees by race and then weight the votes of non-white members as much at the white members, regardless of how many people were in each cohort.

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Rupa Subramanya opposes the popular notion that the developing world largely remains unvaccinated against COVID-19 for the sole reason that rich countries are hoarding all the shots. In a National Post column , she tracks how vaccination programs in the developing world are being held up not so much by supply, but by logistical issues and widespread rates of vaccine hesitancy. It’s simplistic and misleading to reduce the complex reality of differential vaccination rates around the world to the singular cause of inequitable access to vaccine doses,” she writes.

Fighting water with water: Rising waters rolling in from the United States are threatening to once again compromise flood defences in Abbotsford, B.C. Here, the Canadian Army deploys a “tiger dam” that fills with water in order to act as a flood barrier.
Fighting water with water: Rising waters rolling in from the United States are threatening to once again compromise flood defences in Abbotsford, B.C. Here, the Canadian Army deploys a “tiger dam” that fills with water in order to act as a flood barrier. Photo by Abbotsford Police Department

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