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Japan bolts whaling commission, but tensions may ease | News

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The Japanese government has made good on years of threats by bolting the International Whaling Commission (IWC), but its decision may also offer a way out of tensions that looked inextricable.

Japan, which calls whaling part of its cultural heritage, said on Wednesday it would withdraw from the seven-decade-old commission which since 1986 has banned commercial killing of the ocean giants.

But while Japan vowed to forge ahead with full-fledged commercial hunts off its coast, it put a halt to its most provocative whaling – annual expeditions to the Antarctic which use an IWC loophole that permits whaling for scientific research.

Australia and New Zealand have been outraged by Japan’s incursions into waters they consider a whale sanctuary and activists harassed the whalers in often dangerous chases.

Patrick Ramage, a veteran watcher of IWC negotiations, called the announcement an “elegantly Japanese solution” that looks on the surface like defiance but will likely mean a much smaller hunt.

“What this provides is a face-saving way out of high seas whaling. And it is difficult to see that as anything other than good news for whales and the commission established to manage and conserve them,” Ramage, programme director for marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, told AFP news agency.

Ramage said that the IWC, where Japan will now have observer status, can focus on increasingly serious threats to whales such as climate change, plastic pollution, ship-strikes and accidental net entanglement from the soaring fishing industry.

“It will be a net positive to allow the commission and its member countries to move beyond what has been a disproportionate and warping debate on whaling,” he said.

Norway and Iceland also hunt whales but remain within the IWC, instead formally registering objections to the ban.

The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which opposes any killing of whales and attempted to stop Japan’s fleet forcibly in the Antarctic, declared victory over Tokyo’s announcement but vowed not to accept any whaling by the three countries.






WATCH: Japan announces IWC withdrawal to resume commercial whaling

Mounting obstacles

For Japan, which generally prides itself on its contributions to international organisations, whaling has been a rare space in which it confronts its usual Western allies, with Japanese officials at IWC meetings railing against what they see as cultural imperialism.

While whale meat is rarely eaten in modern Japan, whaling has become a matter of principle for the powerful fishing business and port cities such as Shimonoseki, the home base of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But Japan’s whalers also faced serious obstacles outside the IWC. The Nisshin Maru, the world’s only remaining whaler factory ship and flagship in the “scientific” expeditions, is 31 years old and set for replacement.

Japan – adamant that it has always followed the letter of the law – also in 2014 lost a lawsuit filed by Australia at the International Court of Justice, which rejected Tokyo’s argument that its whaling was for science, although the narrow ruling allowed the Japanese government to reconstitute its programme.

And CITES, the global conference that governs wildlife trade to protect endangered species, in October reprimanded Japan for shipments of meat of sei whales, the main type it kills on the high seas.

Japan’s coastal whaling is expected to focus on minkes, the smallest of the great whales whose stocks are widely considered healthy.






WATCH: Which countries are trying to overturn whale hunting ban?

Latest shift for IWC?

The Cambridge, England-based IWC was established after World War II to manage whaling, seeking to ensure meat for a hungry Japan and, less successfully, to contain the Soviet Union’s prolific slaughter of whales.

After the IWC voted for the moratorium, Japan sought to pack the commission with allies – often small developing countries with no whaling tradition – but has continuously failed to reach the two-third threshold it needed.

As one of the earliest results of international environmental diplomacy, the IWC has advocates who say it must be preserved.

Peter Stoett, a professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology who has written a book on the IWC, said Japan’s withdrawal marked a setback for the commission which will no longer have universal membership.

But he said Japan’s absence could reorient the IWC once again to focus on science and diplomacy to address climate change and other urgent threats to whales and other cetaceans.

“As dramatic as this is, the major threat to cetaceans today is not coming from harpoons,” Stoett said.

“The end of all whales could come, but that would be because the oceans are just too warm for the ecosystem support structure that they need,” he said.






EARTHRISE: Antarctic sanctuary – The Weddell Sea quest

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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