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Ombudsman slams new restrictions on mental-health support for veterans’ families

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OTTAWA — Canada’s veterans ombudsman is calling on the federal government to reverse recent restrictions on the provision of mental-health support to members of veterans’ families who need treatment because of their loved one’s service in uniform.

The demand from ombudsman Nishika Jardine is in a scathing report released Tuesday, one year after Ottawa imposed the restrictions following outrage over Veterans Affairs Canada having paid for Christopher Garnier’s counselling sessions.

The son of a veteran, Garnier was convicted in 2017 of having murdered an off-duty police officer in Halifax and was in prison at the time his treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was being covered by the government.

The Liberal government responded to the controversy by ordering Veterans Affairs staff to take a second look before approving funds and services for veterans’ families, particularly those convicted of serious crimes.

Family members can now only get federal support if their own treatment aids the recovery of a relative who served in uniform, and if the treatment is set up by the veteran’s doctor. They are also only allowed 25 sessions per year, and can’t see more than one professional at a time.

Jardine’s report suggests the new restrictions have harmed many veterans’ families, who the ombudsman says face unique challenges such as constant moves and long separations.

There is also the stress that comes from knowing a loved one is deployed on a potentially dangerous mission, and the many difficulties that come from living with someone who has returned and is now suffering from physical and mental injuries.

“To be really crystal clear, we’re talking about when their mental-health issues can be clearly linked to their being part of a military family,” Jardine said in an interview.

“We’ve come to agree to acknowledge that when a military member serves or a veteran has served, that their family serves right alongside them.”

The report quotes a disabled veteran whose young child had started having panic attacks after Ottawa cut their support and the wife of a veteran suffering from PTSD and whose children have similarly been able to access support only with federal help.

“They did not ask for this, they did not ask for a broken father, all they often want is a dad who is not sick, a normal dad,” the report quotes the wife, who is not named.

“How do you give this to them? They seek counselling to help them understand via age-appropriate methods and skills that are beyond my scope as a mother.”

Some of those quoted also questioned how the government could justify the restrictions when Canadian Armed Forces commanders have repeatedly stressed how supporting military families at home contributes to successful missions abroad.

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LIFESTYLES

University of Windsor establishes first Canadian transportation cybersecurity centre

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The University of Windsor will be the site of Canada’s first organization dedicated to countering threats to the connected transportation marketplace.

The SHIELD Automotive Cybersecurity Centre of Excellence will focus on developing the skills, innovations and policy to secure connected and autonomous vehicles.

Researchers will partner with industry, government and community stakeholders.

Co-founding and heading up the centre will be Dr. Mitra Mirhassani of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Dr. Ikjot Saini of the School of Computer Science.

In the past year, the two University of Windsor professors were both recognized as being among Canada’s top talents in the automotive cybersecurity field.

“Hardware and software vulnerabilities could put personal information and vehicle safety in jeopardy,” said Mirhassani.

“Transportation systems are especially susceptible to attacks from malicious actors due to the complexity, implementation costs and lifecycles of equipment and platforms.”

The SHIELD centre is a continuation of the Windsor region’s focus on developing its cybersecurity ecosystem.

The province has already designated the area as the regional tech development centre for cybersecurity and border logistics.

The cybersecurity centre got a further boost this week with the announcement of a memorandum of understanding with the Automotive Parts Manufacturing Association (APMA).

APMA and SHIELD will collaborate to develop market-based technologies to meet the needs of producers and consumers and build academic programs to address industry’s evolving requirements.

“We hope that this partnership will help to advance a cybersecurity culture shift in the industry in Canada,” said APMA president Flavio Volpe.

“There is much work to be done to protect our collective interest in advancing this country’s globally competitive automotive sector.”

The centre will also promote the sharing of knowledge among parties to advance standards and enhance policies in the field.

Part of the plan is to offer micro credentialing through the university’s Continuing Education programs.

“We plan to offer consultation and test services to small- and medium-sized Canadian companies that will help them stay up to date,” said Dr. Saini.

“Open-access publications and public webinars will widely share the latest information.”

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Hamilton police charge ‘Hugs Over Masks’ protest organizers in two separate events

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TORONTO — Hamilton, Ont., police say they have charged two organizers of an anti-mask protest group for holding events that allegedly violated public health rules.

Police say the events were held in downtown Hamilton on Jan. 3 and Jan. 10.

The force alleges that 40 people attended first event and 60 attended the second.

Current provincial restrictions limit gatherings to a maximum of 10 people outdoors.

Police say they informed the “Hugs Over Masks” organizers that the planned Jan. 10 gathering would result in charges, but they went ahead with the event.

They say a 27-year-old man and 38-year-old woman are facing charges under the Reopening Ontario Act that carry a minimum fine of $10,000 if convicted.

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Ontario issues stay-at-home order to start Thursday as Ford declares state of emergency

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Premier Doug Ford is declaring another state of emergency, effective immediately, in response to surging COVID-19 infection rates.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Ford announced Ontario is issuing a stay-at-home order, effective 12:01 a.m. Thursday.

It requires people to stay home except for essential activities such as accessing health care or shopping for groceries.

The new measures also include restricting the hours of operation for non-essential retail stores such as hardware stores to between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Addressing big box stores, which are allowed to remain open, Ford said an inspection blitz is coming to ensure they are following proper protocols.

“I’m going to come down on them like an 800-pound gorilla,” he said.

Schools in Hamilton, Toronto, York, Peel and Windsor-Essex will not return to in-person learning until Feb. 10.

Other public health regions, including Halton and Niagara, will find out when students can return to class by Jan. 20.

Schools will now require students in grades 1-3 to wear masks and masks will be required outside where physical distancing can’t be maintained.

Child-care centres for non-school aged children will remain open.

The premier announced the restrictions shortly after the province released new projections that show the virus is on track to overwhelm Ontario’s health-care system.

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