Don’t give opioid-based cough, cold medication to children, Health Canada warns


Young children and adolescents should not be given cough and cold products containing opioids, such as codeine, after a safety review found early opioid use « may be a factor in problematic substance use later in life, » Health Canada says.

In an advisory issued Monday, the federal agency said « as a precautionary measure, » those under 18 should not use products containing codeine, hydrocodone and normethadone — the three prescription opioids authorized to treat cough symptoms in Canada.

Health Canada said the safety review of cough and cold products « did not find any strong evidence linking cough and cold products that contain opioids with opioid use disorders in children and adolescents, » but found « early use of opioids may be a factor in problematic substance use later in life, » the advisory says.

The agency also found there is « limited evidence » to support the effectiveness of these products in those under 18, noting other products are available to help relieve cough and cold symptoms in children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) changed its guidelines for such medication last year, saying the « risks … outweigh the benefits » for those under-18.

Health Canada noted the use of prescription cough and cold products with opioids has fallen among children and adolescents over the past five years: youth prescriptions represent only about four per cent of the total dispensed in Canada.

Non-prescription products containing codeine are already labelled to make it clear they should not be used by children.

Health Canada is also asking manufacturers to update their product safety information to reflect the recommendation.


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‘Significant snowfall’ a possibility for tonight in GTA, Environment Canada warns


The city may be in for yet another down comforter of snow — Environment Canada put out a special weather statement Sunday warning of the potential for “significant snowfall” later today.

The statement was put out shortly before 2 p.m., explaining that “localized pockets of flurries” could affect areas near the west end of Lake Ontario as northeast winds increase this afternoon.

Torontonians at the intersection of Yonge and College Sts. make their way through a snow storm in Toronto on Feb. 13. The city could receive another gust of snow Sunday night as flurries move in.
Torontonians at the intersection of Yonge and College Sts. make their way through a snow storm in Toronto on Feb. 13. The city could receive another gust of snow Sunday night as flurries move in.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star file photo)

The snowfall is expected to pick up in the evening and continue through to Monday morning before tapering off.

The general expectation is 5-10 centimetres of snow across Toronto, but areas near Oakville, Hamilton and Grimsby could get as much as 15 cm, as well as areas of the city closer to the water.

The greatest amount of snowfall for Toronto on this date, according to historical records, was 11.2 cm in 1941.

The weather agency is warning that travel could be dangerous as the blowing snow increases, particuarly on the Monday morning commute. Fortunately, Monday is the Family Day holiday.

Temperatures are expected to hit a high of -5 C on Monday, with a low of -15 C with the wind chill.

Alexandra Jones is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @AlexandraMaeJ


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Global Affairs Canada warns Canadians to avoid ‘all’ travel to Venezuela


Global Affairs Canada has updated its official travel advisory for Venezuela to warn Canadians to avoid all travel to the South American country because of the ongoing humanitarian and political crisis there.

« Avoid all travel to Venezuela due to the significant level of violent crime, the unstable political and economic situations and the decline in basic living conditions, including shortages of medication, food staples, gasoline and water, » Global Affairs says on its website.

Venezuela is a major oil producer that has been wracked by hyperinflation, food shortages and rising violent crime since Nicolas Maduro came to power in 2013 by a thin margin following the death of socialist leader Hugo Chavez. 

Maduro was inaugurated Jan. 10 to another term in office following a widely boycotted election that many foreign governments — Canada included — described as a fraudulent.

Maduro’s government accuses the U.S. and other countries of launching an « economic war » against Venezuela, blaming foreign sanctions against his country for most of its problems.

The change to the official travel advisory comes a day after the Liberal government hosted a gathering of foreign affairs ministers from the Lima Group of countries in an effort to find a resolution to the crisis gripping Venezuela.

At the close of that meeting in Ottawa on Monday, the Lima Group — Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia — officially elevated Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to the status of a « fully fledged » member of the group.

Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, swore himself in as interim president last month and was quickly recognized as such by Canada, the U.S. and other nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia.

Bolivia, Cuba, Turkey, Mexico and Russia, among others, have not followed suit and continue to back Maduro as the rightful president, accusing the U.S. and others of interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.

« It is very important to understand that Guaido derives his legitimacy from the National Assembly, which is the sole remaining democratically constituted body in Venezuela, » Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said at the closing press conference of the Lima Group meeting.​


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Elections Canada chief warns political parties are vulnerable to cyberattacks – National


OTTAWA – Canada’s chief electoral officer is “pretty confident” that Elections Canada has good safeguards to prevent cyberattacks from robbing Canadians of their right to vote in this year’s federal election.

But Stephane Perrault is worried that political parties aren’t so well equipped.

“They don’t have access to the resources we have access to,” Perrault said in an interview Monday, noting that “securing (computer) systems is quite expensive… Even the larger parties have nowhere near our resources and you’ve got much smaller parties with very little resources.”

READ MORE: Feds unveil plan to fight foreign interference in 2019 federal election

Moreover, with thousands of volunteers involved in campaigns, he said it’s difficult to ensure no one falls prey to “fairly basic cyber tricks,” like phishing, that could inadvertently give hackers access to a party’s databases.

“You can spend a lot of money on those (security) systems and if the human (fails), that’s the weak link.”

Elections Canada has been training its own staff to resist such tricks and, along with Canada’s cyberspying agency, the Communications Security Establishment, will be meeting with party officials again next week to reinforce the need to train their volunteers.

Perrault said he was “really disappointed” that omnibus legislation to reform Canada’s election laws, passed just before Christmas, did not include measures to impose privacy rules on parties, which have amassed huge databases of personal information on voters. At the very least, he said, Canadians should be able to find out what information a party has collected on them and demand that it be revised or removed.

WATCH: ‘Naive’ to assume Canada not a target for election interference

The legislation requires only that parties publish a policy for protecting personal information. There is no requirement to report a breach and no oversight by the privacy commissioner.

Should a party’s computer system be hacked and the information used to embarrass the party, as occurred to the Democrats during the 2016 U.S. presidential contest, Perrault said Elections Canada would have no role in investigating the matter.

That would be up to security authorities and the party involved. Under a “critical election incident protocol” announced last week, five senior bureaucrats would be empowered to decide when an incident is serious enough to warrant publicly disclosing it in the midst of a campaign.

Elections Canada would only be involved if a hacker used the information gleaned from a party’s databases to interfere with Canadians’ right to vote – for instance, by spreading disinformation about how, where and when they should vote.

READ MORE: Liberals introduce bill to deter foreign meddling in elections. Critics say it’s not strong enough

“The important thing is that Canadians are not prevented from voting. From my perspective, that’s the No. 1 priority,” Perrault said.

In its own operations, Perrault said Elections Canada has done everything it can to prevent cyberattacks.

“Overall, I think we’re pretty confident we are where we need to be at this point.”

But he added: “It’s certainly uncharted territory for us. We’ve seen the Americans go through this and Brexit and France and Germany, so we have a sense of the potential out there. But we’ve never had to prepare for an election like this.”

WATCH: Stopping cyberattacks and foreign meddling in elections

Since the 2015 election, Perrault said Elections Canada has rebuilt its information-technology infrastructure with sophisticated security improvements, based on advice from the Communications Security Establishment, which now monitors those systems 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“No system is 100-per-cent proof but they’re much more concerned about the parties than about Elections Canada,” Perrault said.

In addition, he said the agency has set up a team to monitor social media and to quickly counter any disinformation about the right to vote. As well, it will have a repository on its website of every public communication from Elections Canada so that individuals can verify the legitimacy of information they see on social media or elsewhere that purports to be from the agency.

“We really want to be the trusted source of information on the electoral process.”

READ MORE: New Canadian cybersecurity centre to look at election interference threats

The recently passed legislation included a number of measures aimed at preventing foreign interference and deliberate disinformation campaigns in Canadian elections, including giving the commissioner of elections greater powers to investigate and compel testimony, prohibiting the use of foreign money and requiring social-media giants to keep a registry of all political ads posted on their platforms.

But arguably the best hedge against cyberattacks is the fact that Canada still relies on paper ballots that are counted by hand.

“You can’t hack that,” Perrault said.


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Calgary Uber driver warns against sending kids solo in rideshare service


For one Uber driver, there is little he hasn’t seen. From being sexually harassed to being assaulted and yelled at, the Calgary driver says there are many challenges of the job.

But it wasn’t the attacks that were of concern for him this week. Instead, it was a series of events concerning children that prompted him to speak out.

Global News has agreed not to identify the Uber driver out of concern of negative repercussions to his job.

The driver said in three instances on Monday, when he arrived at a pick-up location, no adult was around. Instead, each of the three times a child tried to get into his vehicle.

“I had received three requests for minors, unbeknownst to me,” he said. “I didn’t realize they were minors until I approached their houses and they stepped out.”

Toronto ride-sharing drivers say car seats becoming contentious issue with passengers

The children were between seven and 10 years old, according to the driver.

He canceled all three rides but the experiences left him shaking his head. He is advising parents to call a cab instead, as taxi companies have proper protocols in place to deal with minors.

“Not [all Uber drivers have] good intentions as I do,” he said.

But the City of Calgary refutes that safety issue.

Chief livery inspector Abdul Rafih said all drivers, taxi or Uber, go through the same strict vetting process which includes a police background check and vulnerable sector check — which investigates whether someone has been convicted of a sexual offence and was pardoned.

He said the city’s safety checklist and thorough background checks speak to the trust parents have in the taxi and ridesharing system.

“We check all drivers to ensure all passengers are safe in that mode of transportation,” Rafih said. “They understand, namely parents, that they can at times allow their child to enter a mode of transportation and safely arrive at their destination.”

For its part, Uber said its policy explicitly prohibits drivers from picking up children under the age of 18. People who use the app are also not allowed to let minors ride unattended.

“Every trip is GPS tracked and no trip is anonymous, safety doesn’t end with background checks,” Uber spokesperson Kayla Whaling said. “We have a two-way feedback system with a support team who is dedicated 24/7 to monitor the feedback of trips.”

Skip the bag lunch: Students opt for delivery over food from home and cafeterias

Drivers who are unsure of a rider’s age can also ask them to provide identification or a driver’s licence for confirmation, according to Uber.

The Calgary Uber driver is also asking parents to put the onus on themselves and warned them against being too trusting.

“Parents are relying too much on Uber to move their children around from location to location. Let’s be diligent as adults and take care of our children,” he said.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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Drug, vaccine shortages likely to continue, warns N.S. pharmacy association


An ongoing shortage of common drugs and vaccines is likely to continue and will possibly worsen, warns the head of the Pharmacy Association of Nova Scotia.

Over the last few months, health providers across the country have been left scrambling to deal with supply gaps in blood pressure medications, antidepressants and vaccines for travellers. 

« It’s a sense of helplessness, » said Curtis Chafe, a pharmacist and the chair of the provincial association.

He said the shortage is the worst he’s seen in a career spanning nearly two decades.

« You want to make the patient healthy and look after them, but your hands are tied in the most part. »

According to a survey conducted last fall for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, one in four adults in the country has either personally been affected by a shortage in the last three years or knows someone who has. 

In the past, pharmacists would have trouble getting lesser-known drugs, said Chafe. Now it’s more commonly used medications that are off the shelves, including those that contain valsartan to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

In that case, certain valsartan products were recalled last year because of a contaminant in the manufacturing process.

Nova Scotia’s International Travel Clinic has been rationing yellow fever vaccines since last summer, dividing what is typically one dose into as many as five. (Robert Short/CBC)

But often, the cause of the shortage is unknown. The lack of answers frustrates front-line workers like Chafe.

« The thing is, there’s not very much transparency when it comes to drug shortages, » he said.

« We have to do a little detective work and even then we don’t know what the root cause is. We don’t know whether or not it’s a quality assurance issue with the raw material … we don’t know if a factory failed an inspection. We don’t know if there was any kind of disaster or flood in the factory. »

The common antidepressant Wellbutrin is also hard to find across the country. And last year, people with severe allergies were left scrambling during an EpiPen shortage.

Travellers are being advised to plan ahead when it comes to getting their vaccines, as Nova Scotia’s International Travel Clinic has faced many shortages. (Robert Short/CBC)

At the International Travel Clinic in Dartmouth, Public Health officials are grappling with a shortage of the vaccines for yellow fever and hepatitis B. The clinic offers consultations and vaccines for people traveling outside of the country.

Its shelves of the common hepatitis A and B vaccine Twinrix have just been restocked, and the shots are being used « judiciously, » said Cara-Leah Hmidan, health protection manager for Public Health.

The clinic, which has seen people come from across the Atlantic region seeking shots, is warning would-be travellers not to wait until the last minute to get vaccinated. 

« We had one client from Newfoundland who is travelling to a high-risk area, » said Hmidan. 

The clinic has been rationing doses of its yellow fever vaccine since last summer because of production issues. That means one vial is now being shared between three to five people who receive it at the same time, said Hmidan.

Cara-Leah Hmidan says people have travelled from Newfoundland and New Brunswick to the travel clinic in Dartmouth in search of hard-to-find vaccines. (Robert Short/CBC)

« There are some logistics around that, » she said. « We have somebody co-ordinating that behind the scenes so we don’t waste anything. »

The change of dose means instead of being protected for life, travellers are now protected for just a year.

While the clinic is facing shortages, Hmidan said there is enough hepatitis B vaccine available for the province’s school immunization program.

Chafe said he doesn’t want people to stress or panic about the shortages. Health professionals will do everything possible to find suitable alternatives, he said.

« We can work to get your blood pressure covered, which is the important thing — not necessarily that you’re on a specific chemical, and work to make sure that you’re not at risk for having bad outcomes, » he said.


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Watchdog warns it’s ‘becoming harder’ for low-income Ontarians to get ahead


The province’s financial watchdog says “it is becoming harder for lower-income Ontarians to move up” the ladder as salary increases have sputtered in recent years.

In a 49-page report to the legislature on wage growth, distribution, and mobility, the financial accountability office (FAO) found that “between 2000 and 2016, the after-tax income of the median Ontario family grew only modestly.”

Amid protests, Tories pass bill that scales back workers’ rights and freezes minimum wage

“The decline in relative income mobility indicates that the income distribution in Ontario has become more entrenched over the last 35 years,” the FAO concluded Thursday.

“As the share of Ontarians trading places on the income ladder has declined, the differences in income have become more permanent, reinforcing existing income inequalities.”

The report comes after the Progressive Conservative government cancelled a planned $1 increase to the $14-an-hour minimum wage that had been scheduled for Jan. 1.

“It has become more difficult for Ontarians to ‘get ahead’ — that is, move up the income distribution,” the FAO said.

“In this report, upward income mobility is defined as the share of working-age Ontarians who move up at least one income quintile over a five-year period,” the office continued.

“This share declined from 41 per cent in the early 1980s to 32 per cent more recently. The decline was most pronounced for lower-income Ontarians.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the FAO found the gap between rich and poor is growing and becoming more insurmountable since 2000.

“During this period, the incomes of the poorest 40 per cent of Ontario families increased much more slowly than the incomes of the richest 40 per cent of Ontario families,” the report said.

“Families with a higher incidence of low income, particularly working-age people living alone and single-parent families, experienced absolute declines in their real after-tax income.”

Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said the Tories “heard loud and clear that life became harder during 15 years of Liberal government.”

“That is why we are committed to putting more money in peoples’ pockets and creating and protecting jobs in Ontario,” said Fedeli, noting on Jan. 1, the “low income individuals and families tax (LIFT) credit took effect, helping 1.1 million Ontarians.

“The vast majority of those earning $30,000 per year or less will pay no personal income taxes when they file their 2019 tax returns,” the treasurer said, adding the government also extricated Ontario from its cap-and-trade environmental alliance with Quebec and Ontario.

That should save families about $260 a year on energy costs.

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie


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Health Canada warns of heavy-metal toxins in products sold by A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic


Health Canada is warning that products sold by ayurvedic clinics in B.C. and Ontario may pose serious health risks, after some were found to contain lead and mercury.

An advisory issued Monday said inspectors had seized products, ingredients and equipment from A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic Ltd. in Surrey, B.C., and from an affiliated clinic in Brampton, Ont.

« The seizures came after the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control informed Health Canada of a case of heavy metal toxicity involving a patient who was using products from the Surrey clinic, » Health Canada said.

« Laboratory testing identified lead and mercury in the products. »

Lead and mercury are heavy metals that may pose serious health risks when consumed in excessive amounts. Children, pregnant women and breastfeeding women are particularly susceptible.

Symptoms of lead poisoning include:

  • Anemia
  • Headaches/irritability/ slowed thinking
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Miscarriages/stillbirth

None of the seized health products are authorized for sale by the federal regulator. Selling unauthorized health products is illegal in Canada.

Health Canada is warning against using all products by A1 Herbal Ayurvedic Clinic.

The BCCDC advises discarding all products by the clinic, and seeing a physician if you have used any of the products and are concerned about your health.

Ayurvedic products are used in traditional Indian healing practice and are often imported from India.

While many products can be used safely, improper manufacturing processes may result in dangerously high levels of heavy metals in the final product, health officials say.


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China tells U.S. to back off Meng extradition demand and warns of ‘further response’


OTTAWA—China is stepping up criticism of the United States over the American demand that Canada extradite Meng Wanzhou, saying the Trump administration should drop its pursuit of fraud allegations against the Huawei executive and warning of a “further response” if the U.S. doesn’t “correct its mistakes.”

On Tuesday, Chinese government spokesperson Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing that the U.S. should “immediately correct its mistake, withdraw its arrest order for Ms. Meng Wanzhou and refrain from making a formal extradition request to the Canadian side.”

Asked whether there would be an impact on high-stakes trade talks now underway between the U.S. and China if the extradition were to proceed, Hua replied: “This case is a serious mistake and we urge the U.S. to immediately correct its mistake.”

“What the U.S. has done, with its egregious nature, severely infringes upon the legal and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens. China is firmly opposed to that. We urge the U.S. side to take seriously the solemn position of the Chinese side, take measures to correct its wrongdoings and withdraw its arrest order for the Chinese citizen. China will make further response in view of the actions taken by the U.S.”

To date, China has mainly taken public aim at Canada.

On Tuesday, the foreign ministry spokesperson nevertheless continued to blast Canada for arresting Meng.

“Be it Canada or the U.S., they need to grasp the seriousness of the case and take measures to correct their mistakes.”

Hua slammed the “ridiculous logic” of security concerns about Huawei’s technology equipment, and suggested the extradition process is being used as a way to target Huawei.

“The flagrant and unwarranted suppression on Chinese hi-tech companies will be proved to be terribly wrong by history. I believe that fairness and justice will prevail.”

“We keep stressing that security issues need to be backed up by facts. The U.S., Canada and several of their so-called allies have been going all out to create a sense of panic worldwide to the effect that whoever uses China’s hi-tech communications equipment will be spied on by China. But, do they have any evidence?! No. If they can offer no evidence, they’d better halt their ridiculous blabbering which only makes them a laughingstock for all.”

A week after Meng’s arrest was publicly revealed, the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing summoned the Canadian ambassador first, then the U.S. ambassador to formally raise objections in private.

But no U.S. citizens are known to have been targeted by Chinese state security forces as a result while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called China’s detention of the two Canadian men “unlawful” and “unacceptable” and demanded their release after meeting with Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Chrystia Freeland last month.

Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former employee of Canada’s embassy in Beijing now working for International Crisis Group, and businessman Michael Spavor are being held in an undisclosed location, in cells where the lights are kept on round the clock, and they are interrogated for four hours a day.

A day after she first questioned the credibility of the more than 140 scholars and diplomats who signed an open letter urging China to release the two Canadian detainees, Hua intensified her criticism of them, according to a Chinese government translation posted on the government’s website.

She accused the letter writers of “deliberately creating a sense of panic” and said they “interfered in China’s judicial sovereignty” by trying to “pile on pressure” on China with the much publicized letter.

“Do they wish to see an open letter undersigned by the 1.4 billion Chinese people addressed to the Canadian leader? I believe that the voice for justice from the Chinese people must be much louder than the sound made by just over 100 people.”

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc


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Ford warns that Ottawa’s carbon pricing plan could cause a recession


Premier Doug Ford is warning of a recession if the federal government forces a carbon tax of Ontario.

In remarks prepared for a luncheon speech to the Economic Club, the premier said Monday the tax would be a “disaster” because “there are already warning signs on the horizon.”

“The risk of a carbon tax recession is very real,” he added in the speech.

Environment Minister Rod Phillips defended Ford’s use of the word recession, saying it is “entirely appropriate.”

“There are negative economic consequences when you start over-taxing Ontarians,” he told reporters.

A recession is typically described as two consecutive quarters of a shrinking economy.

More to come


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