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Twitter dustup, apology not firsts for Minnesota Rep. Omar

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Amy Forliti, The Associated Press


Published Tuesday, February 12, 2019 2:00AM EST

MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar has relished the attention attached to becoming one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, eagerly engaging with supporters and critics on social media.

But Omar’s quick thumbs also have caused problems for herself and Democratic leadership. On Sunday, she suggested on Twitter that members of Congress are being paid to support Israel — a comment that drew swift criticism on social media as being anti-Semitic and led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to condemn the statement and demand an apology.

Omar apologized, saying she is “Listening and learning, but standing strong.” She then reaffirmed what she called “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.”

She and Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib won November elections to become the first Muslim women elected to Congress, a status that has brought extra scrutiny of their public statements on Israel and Palestinians. Omar also is the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber, after floor rules were changed to allow the head scarf.

Omar replaced Democrat Keith Ellison, who ran for state attorney general, in representing a Minneapolis-area district that is heavily liberal and includes thousands of Somali-Americans as well as significant Jewish populations.

Omar’s family fled Somalia when she was just 8 as civil war tore the country apart. They spent four years in a Mombasa, Kenya, camp with tens of thousands of other refugees. At age 12, the family was sponsored to move to the United States, eventually settling in Minnesota.

Her interest in politics was sparked by her grandfather, and she used his Qur’an for her swearing-in ceremony.

As she was heading to Washington for the event, she tweeted a picture of herself at the airport with her father, writing, “23 years ago, from a refugee camp in Kenya, my father and I arrived at an airport in Washington DC. Today, we return to that same airport on the eve of my swearing in as the first Somali-American in Congress.”

Omar has also had to contend with allegations from conservative bloggers that she married her brother to carry out immigration fraud, claims that were picked up in an ad campaign against her last fall by Minnesota Republicans. Omar broadly denied those allegations, calling them “disgusting lies,” but declined to provide documents or answer specific questions about them. She said it would only “further the narrative of those who oppose us.”

Omar is part of a freshman class of women who went to Washington with the goal of shaking things up. A recent “Saturday Night Live” skit parodied them as action heroes, giving Omar the nickname, Ilhan “Get the Hi-Job Done” Omar. The congresswoman retweeted the video along with an emoji of a bicep flexing.

Monday’s dustup isn’t the first time Omar has come under scrutiny for her Twitter posts. She apologized just last month over a 2012 tweet in which she wrote, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She said she had intended to criticize an Israeli military action and didn’t realize that the “hypnosis” imagery was regarded as an anti-Semitic trope.

She was also criticized after tweeting last month that Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, was “compromised” — something that she later admitted to CNN was based on her opinion, not on any evidence.

Omar sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees foreign assistance and foreign policy issues. She has been named to the House Education and Labor Committee.

In her first month in Congress, she has joined with colleagues to introduce the Freedom of Religion Act, designed as a challenge to President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban and she has spoken out against the administration’s immigration policies.

Omar’s political career took off in 2016 when she made history as the first Somali-American to serve in a state Legislature in the U.S. Her tenure in the Minnesota House was brief but still came with national exposure, appearing on a Time magazine cover and in a Maroon 5 music video.

She also had a run-in with a Washington, D.C., taxi driver who she said called her “ISIS.”

Stuck in a Republican-controlled chamber, her legislative portfolio in Minnesota was relatively thin. She repeatedly sought money to help combat a 2017 measles outbreak that impacted the Somali community. She also worked to renovate a popular community centre in her district.

After Omar was elected to Congress, she said she was looking forward to going to Washington and planned “to hold this administration accountable and be a true check and balance.”

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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