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Another mass burial site, navigating COVID-19 expertise : In The News for June 24

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 24 ... What we are watching in Canada ...

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 24 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

A First Nation in southern Saskatchewan will hold a virtual news conference this morning following what it describes as "the horrific and shocking discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves'' at the site of a former residential school.

The Cowessess First Nation says the number of unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School will be the most substantial to date found in Canada.

Premier Scott Moe said all of Saskatchewan mourns for those buried at the site about 160 kilometres east of Regina.

"I understand many were children and it is heartbreaking to think that so many children lost their lives after being separated from their families, and away from the love and solace only a family can provide,'' Moe tweeted Wednesday night.

"Sadly, other Saskatchewan First Nations will experience the same shock and despair as the search for graves continues across the province."

Moe said he has spoken with Cowessess Chief Cadmus Delorme and Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations to offer the full support of the provincial government as they deal with the tragic discovery.

"We are grateful of the work Indigenous leaders are undertaking and will continue to offer our unwavering support as we work together to help bring closure to survivors, families and communities in our province.''

Perry Bellegarde, the chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said in a tweet late Wednesday that the finding at Cowessess is "absolutely tragic, but not surprising."

"I urge all Canadians to stand with First Nations in this extremely difficult and emotional time.''

The National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation says on its website that the Cowessess school was built in 1899 by Roman Catholic missionaries.

The federal government began funding the school in 1901 and took over its administration in 1969. The school was turned over to the Cowessess First Nation in 1987, and it was closed 10 years later.

Last month, the Tk'emlups te Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia announced the discovery of what are believed to be the remains of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School.


Also this ...

As scientific and medical discourse plays out in real time online and in the media during the COVID-19 pandemic, observers specializing in science and risk communication say Canadians must be even more discerning in choosing which expert voices they listen to and amplify.

The recent government guidance on mixing and matching mRNA vaccines amid delivery delays is one of the latest issues to stir up public debate, including within the scientific community.

While access to a wide variety of sources and less institutional gatekeeping are positive overall, the sheer volume of information can contribute to confusion, particularly when it is changing so quickly, said Tim Sly, an epidemiologist and risk communication expert at Ryerson University.

"Science itself is doing the best it can, is running as fast as it can, just to keep up to date with the knowledge," he said.

Over time, "the weight of the evidence changes," and a clearer message emerges, he said. But in the meantime, "every day, every radio station's got two or three experts on their phone-in show," he said.

As well, an emergency room physician's perspective on the available knowledge will likely be different from that of a virology expert or someone working with vulnerable communities -- a distinction that may not be immediately evident to the public, he said.

Doctors themselves are among those highlighting the highly specialized nature of expertise related to the pandemic.

"We’re clearly at a crossroads in the COVID social media world. Lots of different opinions. Lots of experts," Dr. Shady Ashamalla, head of general surgery at Toronto's Sunnybrook hospital, said in a tweet earlier this week.

"But just remember being an expert in one thing doesn't make you an expert in being a cancer surgeon doesn’t make me an expert in infectious disease and so on."

Media outlets, too, must be mindful of which voices they are elevating as experts on any given topic, said Sarah Everts, a former scientist and science journalist now teaching at Carleton University.

In covering the pandemic, media can't assume that "literally anybody who's a scientist can pontificate on all aspects of science with the same level of expertise," she said.

It's also important to communicate to the public "the background of the person whose voice you're amplifying with a quote or an opinion, and why you're letting them spout that opinion, as opposed to somebody else," she said.

The global health crisis is bringing to light the "inherent messiness" of science, and media must be careful when seeking sources and information on an issue where there has yet to be a consensus, Everts said.

"This is the first time that the public is really watching science happen in real time," she said.


And this...

For the first time since 1993, the Montreal Canadiens are one win away from the Stanley Cup final.

Tonight's game — being played in Montreal — coincides with Quebec's Fête nationale holiday.

At some Montreal bars, patrons have been told to arrive between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. if they want to get a table to watch the 8 p.m. game.

Quebec's COVID-19 restrictions require bar patrons to be seated and dancing is not allowed.

Bar operators in downtown Montreal say the Habs' playoff run has led to a dramatic increase in business, following months of COVID-19 closures.

Still, some say they're worried victory celebrations may get out of control.


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

WASHINGTON — Declaring that the federal government was “taking on the bad actors doing bad things to our communities,” U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced a series of efforts to stem a rising national tide of violent crime. 

But questions persist about how effective the efforts will be in calming what could be a turbulent summer. Crime rates have risen after plummeting during the initial months of the coronavirus pandemic, creating economic hardship and anxiety. 

Biden’s plan focuses on providing money to cities that need more police, offering community support and most of all cracking down on gun violence and those supplying illegal firearms.

“These merchants of death are breaking the law for profit,” Biden said. “If you willfully sell a gun to someone who’s prohibited, my message to you is this: We’ll find you and we’ll seek your license to sell guns. We’ll make sure you can’t sell death and mayhem on our streets.”

But there are also tricky politics at play.

The steps he outlined are aimed at going hard after gun dealers who break federal law and establishing strike forces in several cities to help stop weapons trafficking. He also said he would seek more money for the agency that tracks the nation's guns.

But the rest of his new strategy boils down mostly to suggestions for beleaguered localities. He's encouraging cities to invest some of their COVID-19 relief funds into policing and pushing alternative crime reduction steps such as increased community support and summer jobs for teenagers — often both targets and perpetrators of violence.


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

MOSCOW — Residents of Russia’s capital are wilting under hot temperatures that on Wednesday hit an all-time high for June since records started being kept. 

The mid-afternoon temperature of 34.8 C edged above the 34.7 that was recorded in 1901, according to Roman Vilfand, scientific director of Russia's meteorological service. 

He said the heat is due to a stationary anticyclone hovering over the European section of Russia. Moscow temperatures in June average about 22 C and many residents weren't adapting well. 

“This is hell, plain hell,” said Tanya Tretyakova, who was seeking shade under a tree in central Moscow's Muzeon park. 

Another park visitor, however, was delighted. “I’m really enjoying it because I was born in Uzbekistan and I feel like I’m right at home,” said Alina Zhuyzik.

Vilfand took a broad, philosophical approach. 

“From my point of view, stationary stability is good in society. ... For the atmosphere, stability is a bad factor,” he told the TV station Dozhd.


On this day in 1968 ...

A Montreal St-Jean Baptiste Day celebration exploded into a riot in front of prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Around 300 people were arrested and 130 were treated in hospital for injuries. Trudeau refused to leave the reviewing stand, even after a thrown bottle narrowly missed his head. He led the Liberals to victory in the next day's federal election.


In entertainment ...

TORONTO — After last year's pandemic-tailored showcase the Toronto International Film Festival is billing this year's event as more of a "big theatrical experience" with an Alanis Morissette documentary and a special IMAX event planned for Denis Villeneuve's "Dune."

The 46th edition runs Sept. 9 to 18 with more than 100 films screening digitally and in-person.

For the first time, TIFF's Film Circuit outreach program will host indoor festival screenings for one night at venues across the country, with details yet to be announced.

Organizers say Ontario and Canada's accelerating COVID-19 vaccinations should permit more in-person events and a bigger lineup than last year, when a hybrid model offered just 60 features.

"For us there are two big themes this festival: one is just how excited we are about bringing people back to the cinemas, and afterwards we'll be reopening the TIFF Bell Lightbox," TIFF co-head and executive director Joana Vicente said in an interview.

"The other is really leading the conversation around the necessity of representation. Diversity, equity and inclusion will be part of (the whole festival), whether it's our industry activities, our talks, and also be reflected in the selection as well."

U.S. filmmaker Alison Klayman directs HBO's Morissette documentary "Jagged," which details the Ottawa-raised singer-songwriter's rise from teenage pop star to international rock chart-topper.

The festival will also screen the highly anticipated sci-fi epic "Dune," co-written and directed by Quebec's Villeneuve, as a world exclusive IMAX special event at the Cinesphere Theatre at Ontario Place. TIFF will also screen "Dune" at theatres in Toronto and Montreal.



BILLINGS, Mont. — A drought blanketing the western U.S. is drying up waterways, sparking wildfires and leaving famers scrambling for water. Next up: voracious grasshoppers.

U.S. agriculture officials are launching what could become their largest campaign since the 1980s to kill grasshoppers in western states. Ranchers fear the insects will strip bare the public and private rangeland where cattle graze. 

In central Montana, more than 80 kilometres from the nearest town, rancher Frank Wiederrick fears he'll have to sell his cows as the infestation worsens. 

“They're everywhere," Wiederrick said. “Drought and grasshoppers go together and they are cleaning us out."

Scientists say such outbreaks could become more common as climate change shifts rainfall patterns. Grasshoppers thrive in warm, dry weather, and populations already were up last year, setting the stage for an even bigger outbreak in 2021. 

To blunt the grasshoppers' economic damage, the U.S. Department of Agriculture this week began aerial spraying of the pesticide diflubenzuron to kill grasshopper nymphs before they develop into adults.

A 2021 grasshopper “hazard map” shows densities of at least 15 insects per square metre in large areas of Montana, Wyoming and Oregon and portions of Idaho, Arizona, Colorado and Nebraska.

Left unaddressed, federal officials said the agricultural damage from grasshoppers could become so severe it could drive up beef and crop prices.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2021

The Canadian Press