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Red Deer oil worker tells of harrowing ordeal trying to get back into Canada

“I’m not a bad person. I have no criminal record. I’m just a regular Canadian like anybody else,” said Richard Santin.

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Red Deer oil worker Richard Santin is no stranger to high-stress situations, yet he found himself in an ordeal like no other over the weekend.

Waiting on a layover in Toronto for a flight to Calgary, he was told by law enforcement and airport officials he needed to take a COVID-19 test and self-isolate for three days minimum at a government-approved facility.

Upon landing in Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Santin told the Western Standard he was followed into the washroom by several police officers to take another PCR test.

But, that was only the start of the problem, said Santin, who had already taken a PCR test with a negative result in Bahrain.

Valid for 72 hours, he was told he needed to take another test by Air Canada.

Santin thought he had exemption status as a Canadian worker working abroad, but that was not honoured.

Jet-lagged from his trip home from Bahrain, where he spent two months working – including two days in self-isolation – Santin was determined to return home to his wife, Victoria, and their two children, aged five and seven.

“I want to make the right choice and get home. I should be at home right now with my kids, yet I found myself in this position where I was made to feel that I did something bad,” said Santin.

“It sucks that I’m not in Alberta with my family,” he said, attributing his calm demeanour during the harrowing experience to his desire to return home.

“I’m stuck in a situation where I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t.”

“Because Air Canada had mentioned, I needed to do a COVID test, and law enforcement was trying to get me into these government-approved hotels for three days or less until I got the results. 

“I just came from Bahrain in the Middle East, coming home from work. I wasn’t out catching rays and having a suntan at the beach.”

He was told at the testing area by public health officials if he didn’t take a domestic COVID-19 test, he would be subject to a fine of upwards of $3,000 if he refused to comply.

Santin agreed to another test but needed to contact his employers, family and use the public washroom close to the testing area before proceeding.

Then, several law enforcement officers followed him into the washroom before leaving the area shortly after.

“After a couple of hours of phone calls, airport personnel asked me if I had made a decision, after having used the washroom, and all of a sudden, police officers approached me and said I was being recorded. I said that’s a great idea. I will videotape you too. That’s when I turned on my camera, and then all of a sudden, they started to back off. It almost felt like it was a shield,” Santin said.

“I’m not a bad person. I have no criminal record. I’m just a regular Canadian like anybody else.”

Others who had gotten off the same flight weren’t subject to the same level of scrutiny and were allowed to leave the airport. 

Two other oilfield workers who worked in the Middle East region and who reside in Toronto did not self-isolate in a government-approved quarantine facility.

However, others were not so lucky either. An older woman, in a similar position as Santin, sat beside him, hyperventilating as she had an apparent panic attack.

From his conversations with her, she had told him she was a Toronto resident but was denied the option to self-isolate at home.

An officer also issued her a fine as she continued hyperventilating.

“It’s not only happening to me,” he said. 

“For those individuals with anxiety or other health-related concerns, this was nothing short of a traumatic experience for them.”

During an interview with the Western Standard, he was twice confronted by law enforcement and airport personnel.

Santin was accused of “playing games” by one of the individuals who confronted him.

Taken aback by the accusation, he remained calm and assured them he was not playing games.

He told them he was on the phone with loved ones and his employer, who expressed grave concerns over the ordeal.

Another rudely pointed out he left his luggage unattended before he had to use the washroom, as there were no toiletry facilities in the COVID-19 testing area.

“It’s an international rule not to leave your luggage unattended. You cannot trust anybody. We almost had to cease it,” the official said.

Santin apologized as he looked for his water bottle.

They repeatedly asked if he would take the COVID-19 test, to which he said yes.

“I followed all the necessary precautions on a previous work tour, where I self-isolated at home for 14 days. And yet the officials are treating me as if I committed some big crime, which is ridiculous,” Santin said.

He was taken aback by the lack of compassion and patience when asked valid questions regarding the self-isolation procedure. 

“I have the utmost respect for the health and safety of all people, but I was made to feel otherwise,” he said.

“Is this the direction our country wants to head down? Is this how we want to be treated as Canadians?”

Five minutes later, he approached airport personnel and law enforcement, stating: “Just so you guys know, I’m okay with doing that test. So don’t get that wrong.”

In response, they had informed him he was being recorded.

When he asked about the hotel he needed to book, they grew impatient when he admitted to not knowing which hotel was government-approved.

He was then told he would be fined if he did not book a government-approved hotel room. This was reiterated by a Public Health official named Brian told him he needed to book a room.

“You either need to book a hotel room now, or we will take down your information and issue you a fine,” he said.

One of the police officers, who became increasingly agitated, said Santin was free to go and did not need to take the PCR test, while issuing him a fine.

However, the public health official told Santin the test was mandatory.

The officer then stormed off, flustered by the ordeal.

After taking the PCR test, he was met with further barriers as several airport personnel requested he have a blue sticker added to his passport to indicate he was awaiting his test results.

After considerable back-and-forth, Santin was given a clear sticker and able to leave after spending over five hours in the airport.

Shortly after he flagged down a cab to go to a nearby hotel – but decided to go to a government-approved one.

He said the cab driver was considerate and helped him find accommodations on the outskirts of town.

The cab driver gave Santin a word of support, stating the government has taken its COVID-19 response too far by creating a culture of fear, distrust, and paranoia.

On Sunday, Santin said he was in better spirits but remained adamant on his desire to see his family soon.

On his experience at Pearson International Airport, Santin said the officials who confronted him “really need to learn some people skills.”

“That was a bad experience. No one should ever go through that type of treatment.”

He hopes his experience will garner more conversations on the country’s COVID-19 response, with the desire to make Canada a better place to live moving forward.

As of Monday, he received a negative test result and is focused on booking a flight to Calgary, where he will drive home to self-isolate further from the comfort of his home.

Dhaliwal is a Western Standard reporter based in Edmonton

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SLOBODIAN: Decade long investigation into Manitoba residential school involves nearly 100 officers and 700 interviews

The First Nation recently undertook a search of the site using ground-penetrating radar technology but has not released the results.

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A “large and complex” decade-long investigation by RCMP has been underway into allegations of sexual abuse at a former residential school in Manitoba’s Sagkeeng First Nation.


The Fort Alexander Residential School opened in 1905 on Sagkeeng First Nation, located 120-km north of Winnipeg. In 1970 it was converted to a day school that operated for several years.


Manitoba RCMP issued a press release Tuesday confirming the major crimes unit began looking into allegations of abuse in February 2010, then launched a formal criminal investigation the following year.


RCMP began by gathering information, including reviewing archival records in both Ottawa and Manitoba. They went through thousands of documents such as student and employee lists and quarterly returns.


This involved more than 80 officers who interacted with more than 700 people across North America in an effort to find possible victims and witnesses.


“After compiling and collating all this data, investigators developed an investigative plan that began with the canvassing of people whose names had been identified in the documents as well as a door-to-door canvas in the Powerview/Fort Alexander area, where the school had been located,” said the statement.


The criminal investigation launched in 2011 involved 75 formal witnesses and victim statements.
Recently, Sagkeeng Chief Derrick Henderson said elders and survivors have long spoken about abuse at the school and children that went missing.


The First Nation recently undertook a search of the site using ground-penetrating radar technology but has not released the results.


“Violation of the privacy rights of those involved in this investigation will not only cause further trauma to everyone involved, but also potentially compromise this highly sensitive investigation,” said Henderson. “We ask that the trauma our community has experienced and continues to live every day is respected and that those affected are afforded their privacy at this time.”

RCMP are working closely with First Nations leaders and no other criminal investigations into former residential schools are underway in Manitoba, said RCMP.

Slobodian is the Senior Manitoba Columnist for the Western Standard  lslobodian@westernstandardonline.com

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BC increases vaccine efforts amid slowing rates, including ‘vax vans’

“Over the next two weeks, BC will push hard to vaccinate as many eligible people as possible.”

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BC health officials want more people rolling up their sleeves for the COVID-19 shot, and say they will be increasing efforts in the coming weeks to do just that.

Dr. Bonnie Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Dr. Penny Ballem addressed BC’s vaccine roll-out plan during a Tuesday morning news conference.

Among their announced efforts are “walk-in Wednesday” which will take place August 4 when 20,000 jabs will be made available with no need to book in advance.

Walk-in Wednesday is part of the “Vax for BC” campaign.

“I’d like to begin by thanking each and every one of the millions of British Columbian’s, like me, who have stepped up to be vaccinated,” said Henry.

“Because of this small act, we have been able to re-open our province.

“While we have made tremendous progress with our immunization plan, there is of course more work to do. We know that some people still struggle to find a convenient time in their day to get immunized, and others may still have questions, and be hesitant about the vaccine.

“So starting today, we are making it even easier for people to get vaccines. To help protect themselves, and their loved ones against COVID-19.”

Henry said the province will be introducing “custom vax vans” so people will be able to get vaccinated on their lunch break or “while cooling off at a lake.”

The province is also reducing the wait time between first and second doses from eight weeks to seven weeks.

There are currently 906,772 eligible people who have not received a dose, roughly 19.6% of the population older than 12, according to data from July 23.

Interior health has an un-vaccinated population of 26.2% while Northern health has 32.5% without a first shot.

On Monday, the Surrey Board of Trade wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Health Minister of Canada Patty Hajdu, BC Premier John Horgan, and Minister of Health Adrian Dix urging them to “implement a proof-of-immunization model.”

“We support a centralized, Canada-wide approach to COVID-19 proof-of immunization that could be easily used to confirm vaccination status for international and domestic use,” said Anita Huberman, CEO, Surrey Board of Trade.

“Without inter-provincial harmonization, Canada risks a piecemeal approach, making life more difficult and unpredictable for individuals and employers during an already uncertain time.”

Last week, YVR airport implemented separate lines for vaccinated and un-vaccinated individuals prior to reaching customs.

The separation of lines – which was put in place as a federal policy – has since been removed following extensive public push-back.

As for enforcing proof-of-immunization policies at concerts, night clubs, and sporting events – an increasing number of British Columbian’s are cozying up to this idea.

Reid Small is a BC correspondent for the Western Standard
rsmall@westernstandardonline.com

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Feds silent on $120M loan to company not ‘worthy of taxpayers’ largesse”

Both CMHC and the Department of Social Development declined to respond to questions.

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Federal agencies yesterday remained mum about a $120 million housing loan to one of Canada’s wealthiest developers, after Cabinet earlier defended the loan as critical, said Blacklock’s Reporter.

“This project will help over 300 local families find rental housing units,” Ahmed Hussen, minister responsible for housing, told reporters. “That’s why the government is taking action to increase the supply of rental housing through projects like the one we’re announcing.”

Cabinet on July 19 announced the $120 million loan to build 302 apartments in Brampton, Ont. The developer is Choice Properties Real Estate Investment Trust. The company’s CEO was paid $3 million in salary and benefits last year, according to corporate filings.

“This project will help over 300 local families find rental housing units,” Hussen’s department said in a statement. “A solid and reliable supply of rental housing is critical to ensuring more Canadians have access to housing that is affordable.”

Choice Properties is owned by George Weston Ltd. The developer’s 2020 net income totaled $451 million. The loan was approved through a federal program, the Rental Construction Financing Initiative, that extends 10-year, easy-term credit “for certainty during the most risky periods of development,” according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

Both CMHC and the Department of Social Development declined to respond to questions. The news website Press Progress cited data from Canada Mortgage and Housing that of 302 apartments in the Brampton project, as few as 61 would rent at below-market rates. The building is scheduled for completion by 2023.

“We know that finding an affordable place to live is a challenge for many Canadians in communities across the country,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at the time. “Today’s announcement is great news for families in Brampton. The Government of Canada will continue to invest to increase affordable housing options.”

George Weston Ltd. reported net earnings of $1.6 billion last year. It also operates the Loblaw Companies Ltd. supermarket chain that in 2019 received a $12 million federal grant to install new freezers. “Canadians might wonder why the Liberals handed over $12 million to Loblaw’s, one of Canada’s richest companies,” Conservative MP Mark Strahl (Chilliwack-Hope, B.C.) earlier told the Commons.

The freezer grant was paid under a Low Carbon Economy Fund. A now-disbanded ecoEnergy program similarly paid grants to large corporations in the name of energy efficiency.

Sobeys Inc. received $1.48 million in ecoEnergy grants in the period from 2006 to 2013. Loblaw Companies received $801,000. A total $207,968 was paid to McDonald’s Restaurants and $153,960 to Sears Canada.

“These companies are flush,” Liberal MP John McKay (Scarborough-Guildwood, Ont.) said in an interview at the time. “Companies, given their financial statements, don’t seem to be worthy recipients of taxpayers’ largesse.”

Mike D’Amour is the British Columbia Bureau Chief for the Western Standard.
mdamour@westernstandardonline.com

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