The pandemic exposed the vulnerability of international students in Canada

Universities and colleges need better, more easily accessible and culturally competent mental health services targeted to the needs of international students. (Shutterstock)

When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, students in Canadian universities and colleges faced many challenges. Classes moved online, students were asked to leave campus residences and many students lost jobs or faced reduced work hours.

While some domestic students could return home, many international students could not go back to their home countries, either because of the cost or because of border restrictions.

Roommates in shared dwellings struggled to adhere to proper social distancing measures. Media reports suggested the pandemic had made international students more vulnerable to adverse events and had posed unique challenges for them.

In fall 2020, we decided to ask international students how they were faring, using a survey and in-depth interviews. We hoped that a better understanding of the challenges they encountered could inform an effective policy response. What the students told us revealed intense psychological, academic and financial vulnerabilities, often occurring in conjunction with one another.

Growing number of international students

The number of international students in Canadian colleges and universities has grown rapidly over the past decade, while the number of domestic students has remained relatively constant. According to Statistics Canada there were 142,170 international post-secondary student enrolments in fall 2010; there were 388,782 in fall 2019. Based on data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) there was a 35 per cent dip in the number of new study permits issued in 2020, presumably because of the pandemic; however, the number rebounded to the pre-pandemic level by the end of 2021.

The IRRC study permit data also shows that more than half of all international students come from either India or China. Since 2017, India has become the top source country.

Universities and colleges have made strenuous efforts to attract international students, who pay three to four times the tuition of domestic students.

Facing closed or restricted campus facilities has been difficult for many students.

Survey of international students

In our survey, we were not seeking a representative sample of international students based on where they came from or where they were going to school. Instead, we hoped to hear from anyone willing to share their experiences.

We advertised the survey on social media and wrote to campus clubs, student unions and international student offices. About 1,000 international students answered at least some of the survey questions, and roughly 600 completed the whole survey. Our sample included students from 84 countries. About 46 per cent of respondents were from India and seven per cent were from China. Other nationalities represented included: the Philippines (3.7 per cent); the United States (3.4 per cent); Colombia (3.3 per cent); Nigeria (3.3 per cent) and Iran (2.4 per cent).

After the survey ended in February 2021, we conducted in-depth interviews with 25 survey respondents.

Psychological stress

We asked students four questions that sought to capture how often they felt anxious or depressed in the previous two weeks. Importantly, the four questions constitute psychological scales that are correlated with clinical diagnoses of depression and anxiety.

Based on their answers, about 55 per cent of our respondents were at risk of depression and about 50 per cent were at risk of an anxiety disorder. In interviews, international students spoke of loneliness, mental exhaustion, panic attacks and social isolation.

Students reported that they found counselling centres at their schools hard to reach and that attempts to make appointments did not work out due to the large number seeking help. At best, there were long waits to get appointments. Shivajan Sivapalan and Yasir Khan, two doctors who work in student health and wellness services, report that international students face significant barriers in accessing health supports.

Dr. Shivajan Sivapalan and Dr. Yasir Khan discuss how to improve health access for international students in a presentation through the India Research Centre for Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at the University of Guelph.

Academic stress

A significant minority of our respondents — about 30 per cent — reported that they had not adapted well to online instruction. International students overwhelmingly felt that online courses undermined their overall educational experience because of the lack of interaction with fellow students.

Almost two-thirds identified lack of interaction as an obstacle to online learning. Lack of interaction with peers was also chosen as the most important obstacle by the greatest number of respondents.

Inability to experience and adapt to Canadian culture, lack of social networks, and inability to use campus space and amenities were other factors that undermined their overall educational experience.

Financial stress

Media reports have highlighted the financial precarity of international students, as have reports from non-profit organizations such as One Voice.

Journalist Nicholas Hune-Brown’s excellent story, “Students for Sale,” notes that the study-work-immigrate dream is being heavily marketed abroad with admission to a Canadian university or college as the entry point. He details how some arriving students are carrying heavy debts from home, along with massive family and community expectations.

Our survey and interviews showed that the loss of parental or spousal income and the loss of wages from off-campus employment created the greatest financial hardships for international students.

When we asked international students “how concerned are you about your ability to pay for your education,” almost 80 per cent were either “concerned” or “very concerned.”

In interviews, students specifically identified a persistent and pervasive feeling of not receiving adequate value for the fees they were paying. One said:

“I feel like we’re getting kind of the short end of the stick with paying almost double [of] … domestic students during the pandemic.”

Another said:

“ … now it feels like I’m paying $10,000 per semester to teach myself.”

Intersecting vulnerabilities

Roughly two-thirds of our survey respondents experienced financial stress, just over 70 per cent psychological stress, and almost 40 per cent academic stress. Over 25 per cent felt both financial and psychological stress but not academic stress; about 20 per cent felt all three kinds of stress.

While some students experience all three forms of stress together, others experience only one or two or none at all. We observed that psychological, academic and financial stress interacted with each other, compounding the collective toll. For example, not having a job can increase anxiety; high levels of anxiety can affect focus and, in turn, academic performance.

People march towards Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s Toronto office at a rally led by current and former international students calling for changes to immigration rules during COVID-19, in September 2020.

Policy gaps

The difficulty that our interviewees had in getting help to deal with their psychological distress suggests that universities and colleges need better and more easily accessible and culturally competent mental health services targeted to the needs of international students.

Several community groups or community-partnered campaigns like the Pardesi Project at Sheridan College have also pointed out the need for better mental health services. That said, we know of no comprehensive analysis of mental health services tailored to international students in Canadian universities and colleges.

The financial precarity that many international students experience suggests a need for targeted and sustained financial support, including emergency grants and loans and the extension of tuition fee payment deadlines.

While Canada was comparatively generous in allowing international students who met the eligibility requirements to receive the $2,000 per month Canada Emergency Response Benefit, there was no sustained financial support offered by Canadian universities and colleges. Emergency support would acknowledge the financial situation in which international students find themselves. Even without the pandemic, the loss of a job or a lengthy spell of illness or injury can spell financial disaster.

International students pay significant tuition fees and, as future permanent residents and citizens, contribute to Canada’s success. There is an urgent need to understand their unique vulnerabilities and to develop effective policy responses.

Anil Varughese’s research was funded by a Partnership Engage Grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canadian Federation of Students as the community partner.

Saul Schwartz’s research was funded by a Partnership Engage Grant from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council with the Canadian Federation of Students as the community partner.

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Who’s to blame in the Ukraine-Russia standoff? It depends on perspective

A Ukrainian soldier sit in the trench on the line of separation from pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine in January 2022. (AP Photo/Andriy Dubchak)

In the West, the current standoff between Ukraine and Russia has typically been presented as one in which a righteous Ukraine is standing up to bullying by a scheming, even Machiavellian Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may indeed like to see himself as Machiavellian, but otherwise this characterization is only one point of view.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly speaks during a news conference with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels in January 2022.
(Johanna Geron, via AP)

During a recent visit to Kyiv, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly reaffirmed Canada’s solidarity with Ukraine over the Russian-dominated separatist territories in the east. She also reiterated her government’s desire to see Ukraine join NATO.

But Ukraine is arguably not an ideal candidate for portrayal as a righteous victim by Joly or anyone else. While it has made some progress in terms of democratization, Ukraine is not a bastion of democracy and the rule of law in a part of the world otherwise lacking in those qualities.

Low rating on democratic progress

The U.S.-based non-governmental organization, Freedom House, gave Ukraine a paltry 39 out of 100 for its 2021 democracy rating, describing the country as “transitional or hybrid” in terms of democratic progress. Even Joly has had to acknowledge that Ukraine has some way to go in both of these regards.

What’s more, Ukraine hasn’t been an honest broker in negotiations with Russia over the future of the predominately Russian-speaking eastern Ukrainian territories. Ukraine has done very little to provide the citizens of those territories with the autonomy negotiated back in 2014 and 2015 under the Minsk Protocols. Moscow has hardly gone out of its way to look for compromise and good will, but then neither has Kyiv.

It’s also important to remember that this swath of Russian-speaking Ukrainian territory did not end up as part of an independent Ukraine through some sort of popular revolution. Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev believed, likely with some justification, that the U.S.S.R. collapsed and an independent Ukraine was born thanks to the machinations of a power-hungry Boris Yeltsin and other Soviet republican leaders, including Ukraine’s Leonid Kravchuk.

By getting rid of the U.S.S.R., these Soviet leaders removed their principal political rival, Gorbachev, in what seemed more a power grab than a reflection of popular sentiment.

Back in December 1991, Yeltsin and Kravchuk certainly didn’t have a popular mandate to sign the U.S.S.R. out of existence. In early 1991, a significant majority of the Soviet population made it quite clear in a Soviet Union-wide referendum that it favoured the preservation of the U.S.S.R. in at least some form.

Signing the agreement to dismantle the former Soviet Union and establish the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991.
(RIA Novosti Archive), CC BY-SA

Premature end?

Had the U.S.S.R. survived, having a large Russian population in eastern Ukraine would not have been a cause for concern. Many Soviet citizens saw themselves as Soviet as well as another nationality. But of course that didn’t happen, and the U.S.S.R. was brought to what Putin certainly sees as having been a premature end.

It is worthwhile trying to see current events from a Russian perspective. Putin’s show of force can be seen as a move to defend a Russian minority in Ukraine — and a local majority — from an anti-Russian government in Kyiv that has not kept its side of the bargain.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting in Moscow, Russia, on Jan. 21, 2022.
(Alexei Nikolsky, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

More broadly, Russian moves can also be seen as an attempt to ward off the encroachment of a hostile military bloc — NATO — into territory that has historically been dominated by Russia.

There is also probably some truth to German Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach’s recent suggestion that Putin is looking for international respect — both for himself and Russia. If the West treats Russia like a pariah, it is more likely to act like one.

In what’s now an intensely polarized situation, diplomats and politicians on all sides of the current crisis in the Ukraine would do well to remember that their cause represents only one point of view. If a peaceful resolution to the crisis is to be found, then a Russian perspective cannot simply be ignored.

Alexander Hill does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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More migrants seek asylum through reopened Canadian border

There’s a renewed stream of migrants seeking refuge in Canada after a 20-month ban on asylum requests designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Families are once again lugging suitcases and carrying children across a remote, snow-covered ditch to the border.

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When two ecosystems collided, ichthyosaurs re-evolved the ability to consume large prey

A specimen of the newly discovered species of ichthyosaur had teeth that showed it was capable of consuming large prey. (Cortés, Maxwell, Larsson), Author provided

The land contact between North and South America has long been a fountain of research. The Isthmus of Panama — the narrow strip of land between the two continents — fully emerged about 3.5 million years ago. It allowed contact between terrestrial North and South American mammals, and resulted in wide-scale invasions of placental mammals into South America and the ultimate extinction of most southern marsupials.

In the late Jurassic, 150 million years ago, Earth was emerging from a relatively cool period, the supercontinent Pangea was breaking up, and a spike in extinction intensity rippled across the ecosystems. During the following period, known as the Early Cretaceous, the planet was warming, global sea levels and atmospheric oxygen were rising and the continents continued to fragment.

As a result, two entirely isolated oceans, the Eastern Pacific and the Western Tethys, which would later become the Atlantic Ocean, came together across the Hispanic Corridor. This union of oceans during a time of relatively high temperatures created a perfect storm for ecosystem evolution and drivers for novel biodiversity in the Neotropics — an event that would transform the course of marine ecosystems for the next 60 million years.

Biodiversity hotspot

Hispanic Corridor.
(Climate Archive), Author provided

Our research team, consisting of scientists from Colombia, Canada and Germany, explored the Neotropics by using the fossil record from the Paja Formation, a poorly studied shallow marine deposit in central Colombia that was laid down just after the formation of the Hispanic Corridor. Our main goal is to understand the origin and evolution of this marine ecosystem, and if it served as a potential ancient biodiversity hotspot — an epicentre for new species to originate and flourish.

We discovered a new species of ichthyosaur, the giant fish-like marine reptile. While examining a beautifully preserved skull specimen of the species we named Kyhytysuka sachicarum, we recognized this to be the first Cretaceous hypercarnivore ichthyosaur.

The skull of Kyhytysuka sachicarum.
(Cortés, Maxwell, Larsson), Author provided

The new species evolved from Jurassic ichthyosaurs in the Tethys, but differed in that it had unique teeth for an ichthyosaur: there were several different tooth shapes that served different purposes, ranging from piercing to saw-tooth cutting to crushing.

This large ichthyosaur represents a revival of hypercarnivory (eating large prey). Although some early evolving ichthyosaurs did this, they moved to small fishes and invertebrates for the next 70 million years. Kyhytysuka somehow re-evolved the capacity for hypercarnivory during this time and place of intense ecological upheaval.

Large marine animals

Kyhytysuka was also one of the last surviving ichthyosaurs. Most ichthyosaurs went extinct by the end of the Jurassic — only a few made it into the Cretaceous but none survived past 100 million years ago. The fossil record in the Paja Formation preserves hints of the changing marine ecosystem.

3D animation of Kyhytysuka sachicarum.

These rocks preserve some of the largest marine animals ever discovered, including several ichthyosaurs, enormous whale-sized pliosaurs, the first long-necked elasmosaurs and a 10-metre-long crocodile that was the last survivor of a long lineage of Jurassic marine crocodiles.

The fossil record also contains the oldest known marine turtles in the lineage of today’s sea turtles as well as the origins of several crustaceans that survive today .

The information in the fossil record helps us reconstruct ancient food web interactions based on what was present in the Eastern Pacific and the Western Tethys prior to their contact and what was present during their contact in the Paja Formation. Changes to these ancient food webs promise to shed light on the environmental and ecological factors involved in the long-term sustainability of ecosystems.

An artist’s reconstruction of an Early Cretaceous ecosystem, created for Hace Tiempo, the first illustrated book about Colombia’s geological history.
(Hace Tiempo/C. Jaramillo and Guillermo Torres Carreño), Author provided

Careful inspection of fossils from this unique time and place offers a new window into what happens when ecosystems collide. So far, we’re finding this facilitates the evolution of enormous top predators and several evolutionary origins of new lineages that would persist for millions of years.

These results provide relevant data for better understanding of the consequences of the Jurassic-Cretaceous extinction on marine animals and, ultimately, of the advent of today’s marine ecosystems.

Dirley Cortés received funding from the BESS-NEO program, NSERC CREATE 46283-2015, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, the Anders Foundation, the 1923 Fund, and Gregory D. and Jennifer Walston Johnson, and the Fonds de recherche Nature et technologies Quebec (FRQNT). DC received particular subventions to this project by the Redpath Museum’s Delise Alison Award- 2019, the Sigma Xi Grant-in-aid-of-Research (GIAR), Canada-2019, and the Quebec Center for Biodiversity Science excellence award-2019 (QCBS). This work is part of DC’s PhD thesis dissertation at McGill University.

Hans Larsson receives funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

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Lower drug prices are a priority for Canadians, but not for the federal government

Changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board regulations, which are intended to help lower drug costs in Canada, were originally scheduled to take effect in July 2020. (Shutterstock)

Once again, the federal minister of health has postponed changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board (PMPRB) regulations for another six months until July 1, 2022.

The excuse is that bringing the amendments into force during the COVID-19 pandemic requires preparedness and consultation and the government needs to further engage stakeholders — the pharmaceutical industry and its allies.

The process of changing the regulations started in June 2016 when the PMPRB released a public discussion paper. Changes were necessary because of the high cost of drugs in Canada: The PMPRB reported in 2019 that only the United States, Switzerland and Germany had higher drug prices. On a per capita basis, Canada spent the third-highest amount in the world on drugs in 2021, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Lowering drug prices was part of the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan — although pharmacare gets only a passing mention in the latest mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the new Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

Finally, the multinational drug companies were not living up to their end of the bargain: in 1987 they agreed to spend 10 per cent of sales revenue on research and development in Canada in return for Canada changing its rules about drug patents. By 2019, that figure had shrunk to 3.9 per cent.

Delayed by two years

The PMPRB changes were initially supposed to come into effect on July 1, 2020, but were delayed for six months. The reasons, according to the federal government, were “to minimize the imposition of new administrative burden on industry” and to give stakeholders more time to provide feedback because of the impact of the pandemic.

Efforts to lower drug prices were part of the groundwork for a national pharmacare plan.

Fast forward six months and there’s another six-month delay. This time, a spokesperson for Health Canada said that the industry needed more time to adjust to new reporting requirements while dealing with the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

On June 24, 2021, seven days before the changes were to start, the federal government decided that industry needed even more time because of the pandemic. On that occasion, Health Canada said, “It is not anticipated that further delaying these amendments will be needed.” But as the announcement on Dec. 23 showed, another delay was necessary.

Lobbying efforts

Are the pandemic and the need for more discussions the only reasons for these repeated delays? The multinational drug companies, as represented by their lobby group Innovative Medicines Canada (IMC), have been very vocal in their opposition to the changes.

Innovation, Science and Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne is reportedly rebuilding bridges with Big Pharma.

IMC disputed the need for them, the benefits that would result and claimed that drug companies would either not launch or delay the launch of new drugs in Canada. The only evidence for the latter threat was a report from Life Sciences Ontario, an organization whose membership includes multiple multinational drug companies.

If the pandemic meant more discussions were necessary, it also meant more lobbying by the industry. According to an investigative article in The Breach, an online media outlet, IMC lobbied elected representatives and government officials 55 times in 2021.

“Lobbyists for U.S.-based pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson … paid designated office holders in Canada a combined 116 visits since October 2020.”

The bulk of the lobbying was to make sure that Canada didn’t support any relaxation of patent standards at the World Trade Organization. But in light of reports that then Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne had “made it a mission to rebuild bridges with Big Pharma,” some of that lobbying was very likely also around the PMPRB changes.

Besides lobbying and predicting repercussions like delayed drug launches, the industry has also attempted to buy its way out of the changes. IMC offered to spend $1 billion over 10 years to boost local manufacturing and commercialization, and on new programs to improve access to drugs for rare diseases on the condition that some of the pricing changes be scrapped.

Vocal opposition

IMC was backed up by various patient groups. Durhan Wong-Reiger, president and CEO of the Canadian Organization for Rare Disorders (CORD), warned that “draconian” restrictions on drug prices won’t solve Canada’s budget problems.

Chris MacLeod, the founder of the Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society, said burdensome drug-pricing measures could cut Canada out of the latest COVID-19 vaccines and treatments being developed around the world.

Canadians pay some of the highest prescription drug costs in the world.

On its website, CORD lists over 25 drug companies among its “corporate leaders.” The website of the Cystic Fibrosis Treatment Society doesn’t say if it has any relationships with drug companies.

Likewise, a group of “concerned Canadian doctors” recently wrote an opinion piece in the Hamilton Spectator. In it they argued that the federal government should halt implementation of new federal drug pricing regulations until a thorough consultation that includes physicians is undertaken.

Their reasoning is that if the regulations went ahead, Canadians will have increasing difficulty accessing effective new drugs. The article did not mention whether any of the signatories had financial conflicts of interest with drug companies.

Finally, there has been pressure from outside Canada. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the lobby group that represents giant American drug companies, made it clear that in its view the changes “will significantly undermine the marketplace for innovative pharmaceutical products, delay or prevent the introduction of new medicines in Canada and reduce investments in Canada’s life sciences sector.”

In its annual report, the Office of the United States Trade Representative warned that the U.S. “will continue to monitor the implementation and effects of … changes to the Patented Medicine Prices Review Board’s pricing regulations.”

Rising drug costs for Canadians

While the federal government has been bowing to the pharmaceutical industry, the amount that Canadians spend on medicines has continued to rise. In 2020, Canadians spent an estimated $32.7 billion, 4.3 per cent more than the previous year. Meanwhile, more than two-in-five Canadians are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs in 10 years.

A report from the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions estimates that the lack of affordability of prescription drugs could be causing 370 to 640 premature deaths due to heart disease every year, and 270 to 420 premature deaths annually of working-age Canadians with diabetes.

More than two-in-five Canadians are concerned about their ability to afford prescription drugs in 10 years.

Added to these grim numbers, job losses due to the pandemic have meant the loss of benefits including insurance for prescription drugs. An Angus Reid poll reports while seven per cent of Canadians gained prescription drug coverage during the year ending in October 2020, 14 per cent lost it during the same year.

Canadians have been waiting more than five years for lower drug prices. It’s time to stop waiting.

In 2019-2021, Joel Lexchin received payments for writing a brief on the role of promotion in generating prescriptions for Goodmans LLP and from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for presenting at a workshop on conflict-of-interest in clinical practice guidelines. He is a member of the Foundation Board of Health Action International and the Board of Canadian Doctors for Medicare. He receives royalties from University of Toronto Press and James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. for books he has written.

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Fear of COVID-19 and fear of change are dangerously intertwined for 2022

At the end of 2021 there was a correlation between worldwide Google searches for the term “fear of change” and “fear of COVID.” (Shutterstock)

Omicron has renewed people’s fear of COVID-19, while at the same time starkly surfacing our other embedded fear — fear of change.

In looking at Google Trends, my research shows that at the end of 2021 people googled “fear of COVID” and “fear of change” at rivalling rates. This result projects an increasingly widespread Omicron-driven fear accompanied by an increasing and intertwined fear of change.

As they inextricably entwine, fear of change and fear of COVID-19 are foreshadowing a year of intense “fight, flight and freeze.”

As a change management scholar, over the years a few simple clichés have sustained themselves. Generally, we hate change because it shakes up the status quo, predictability and our naive sense of control. Clinical psychologist Carla Maria Manly says, “Our brains are hardwired to prefer routine and consistency.”

The pandemic has shaken up many of our routines, feelings or normalcy and ability to maintain consistency. So as people continue Googling “fear of COVID” and “fear of change” at rivalling rates, we need to think about their impacts and how we can get out of this fear cycle.

Trying to control change

For a long time, we have been told to embrace linear, mechanistic thinking that teaches what happened before will likely happen again, and so old solutions work best for new problems.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has turned that thinking on its head. We fear COVID-19 because of its befuddling failure to be controlled, the way its changed our lives and the risk of illness and death.

An article published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Fear of COVID-19 Infection Across Different Cohorts: A Scoping Review,” put it succinctly by stating studies identified “various domains of fear related to the fear of COVID-19 infection.” These included, “fear of oneself or their family members getting infected, fear of having economic losses and being unemployed, or fear of avoidance behaviours toward gaining knowledge about the pandemic,” as well as “fear of making decisions [about actions like] whether to visit parents or not, whether to look for information on death rates or not, etc.”

But perhaps it shouldn’t be so scary. If we think of COVID-19, we can flatten the fear with facts, and when it comes to change, consider how its been around for billions of years.

Instead of trying to control change, we should take solace from organizational consultant William Bridges who looks at events in our lives more as psychological “transitions” than change, where we let go of how things were (endings), and enter a “neutral zone” of “creating new processes and learning” often feeling confusion and distress.

According to Bridges, beginnings involve new understandings, values and attitudes. He’s offering a process for accepting that yesterday’s solutions, cultures, structures and systems are no longer applicable — a means of letting go.

The big question is whether we can let go of yesterday, experience deep reflection and start a new beginning.

Instead of trying to control change we should see it as a transition.

2022 and the fear ahead

Fear is an excellent accelerator for those with specific agendas, for those with divisive intentions and for those fiercely protecting their own definition of status quo.

In my doctoral work on public protests, I found an ocean of reviewed literature on how a state of fear can trigger anger, outrage, a demand for action, a disintegration of trust and even civility.

Today, we are very afraid.

A public opinion poll by Ipsos in December 2021 showed that in over 28 countries surveyed, 32 per cent of respondents agreed that COVID was the “world’s number-one worry.”

In a study of American Twitter data published in September 2021, researchers found that the public trusts the vaccine but are also experiencing a mixture of fear, sadness and anger.

Google Trends provides real-time data for comparing the search terms “fear of change” versus “fear of COVID.” For example, on Jan. 12, 2022, at 2 p.m. PST, the average for all countries was equally 53 per cent for searches about fear of COVID-19 and fear of change.

What’s in store?

Forecasting is inherently tricky and as meteorologist Edward Lorenz said, change can be subject to sensitive dependence on initial conditions, meaning even a very small thing can set off a ripple effect of immense consequence.

In a nutshell, Lorenz cautions when it comes to thinking people can nail down a perfectly predictable future based on only what they know and ignoring what they don’t and often can’t know. Short term projections can be OK, longer term not so much. And if people don’t have certainty, they get very uncomfortable and fearful.

As science writer David Robson wrote in the BBC, “the fear of coronavirus is changing our psychology.” He said:

“Due to some deeply evolved responses to disease, fears of contagion lead us to become more conformist and tribalistic, and less accepting of eccentricity. Our moral judgements become harsher and our social attitudes more conservative when considering issues such as immigration or sexual freedom and equality. Daily reminders of disease may even sway our political affiliations.”

In other words, thanks to COVID-19, our fear of all manner of change becomes both magnified and deeply intractable.

So, what to do in the twisted fate of 2022? In my book Corporate Personality Disorder: Surviving and Saving Sick Organizations I argued that fear can be explained as an amalgam of powerlessness and the unknown — COVID-19 has led many of us to feel powerless.

Overcoming this fear, whether it be fear of change or fear of COVID-19 requires personal empowerment and knowledge. But the trick is defining whose power and what knowledge.

Eli Sopow does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Why the Tonga volcano cued tsunami warnings for the North American Pacific coast

Beachgoers watch waters rise during a tsunami advisory on a beach in Santa Cruz, Calif. (AP Photo/Nic Coury)

On Jan. 15, a tsunami warning went out to residents of British Columbia and the west coast of the United States. The warning was issued after the eruption of the Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai volcano in Tonga in the Southwest Pacific.

Tsunami literally means “harbour wave” in Japanese — a tsunami comprises a series of waves separated by 10 to 60 minutes. While wind waves reach a maximum height and later crash, a tsunami wave is a massive water mass moving with great height and speed, bringing debris and boulders from the bottom of the ocean with it. The force of this water wall can have enough force to knock down an adult, move cars and destroy buildings that aren’t tsunami-proof.

Tsunamis are generated when great masses of water move suddenly and with great force, such as the seafloor elevating quickly, as in an earthquake, landslide or volcanic eruption. Ten years ago, an earthquake in Haida Gwaii, B.C., resulted in the evacuation of areas as far away as Hawaii due to the threat of a tsunami.

Tonga eruption

The massive underwater eruption of the volcanic island Hunga-Tonga-Hunga-Ha’apai contained a level of force only seen once every 1,000 years, creating the conditions for a tsunami that could travel across the Pacific Ocean.

Read more:
Why the volcanic eruption in Tonga was so violent, and what to expect next

There are many underwater volcanoes, that constantly erupt, such as those in the mid-Atlantic ridge. Most volcanic eruptions near or underwater generate waves only noticeable to measuring instruments.

What made the eruption in Tonga different? Usually, magma is released from these volcanoes slowly, which allows the water to provide insulation and cool the outer surface of the magma. And although the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai has had other eruptions in the past decades, these haven’t reached the level of explosivity and energy this one presented. Past eruptions in 2014 and 2009 were related to the sides of the volcano, while this 2022 eruption most likely was the the “centre” of the volcano — the caldera — collapsing.

Travelling waves

Tsunami alerts may be issued even if the eruption or earthquake occurs on the other side of the world. The waves produced by an earthquake or eruption in this case may travel through the ocean with a speed of roughly 890 km/hr (assuming an average ocean depth of six kilometres). For comparison, that is the same speed of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner on a transcontinental flight.

On the open sea, the waves are fast but their height is hardly distinguishable. When approaching shallower waters near the coasts, the speed of the wave decreases, but its height increases. Changing depths of the ocean floor allow the crests of the waves to increase in energy and height as they get closer to the coast. This is why tsunamis are so hazardous at the coasts — a wall of water moving towards the coast can quickly reach heights from tens of centimetres to tens of metres. One of the highest heights recorded was in 2011, when a tsunami wave reached 40 metres high in Japan.

In the case of the waves generated by the eruption in Tonga, some coasts were hit with waves that were one metre high in Hilo, Hawaii, and up to two metres in Japan, where conditions allow for waves to reflect.

For people 9,000 kilometres away from an eruption — like the west coast of continental North America — there is plenty of time to send alerts and prepare. On Vancouver Island and Haida Gwaii, authorities requested that people stay in place and not head to the shores. Tsunami waves may not always occur with great force, but shallow coastlines may flood.

With the threat of tsunamis on the B.C. coast produced by the Tonga explosion, authorities had time to prepare and notify residents. But unlike volcanic explosions, earthquakes are far more difficult to forecast, and often do not provide advance notice.

Tsunami preparation

Tsunami alerts activate an emergency response, and when the threat is not realized, it produces an opportunity to assess how people respond in advance of potentially more devastating events, like a closer eruption or a significant earthquake.

While B.C.‘s tsunami advisory was lifted, tsunamogenic earthquakes — those that may result in tsunamis — are a threat in locations situated on the Ring of Fire, around the coasts of the Pacific Ocean.

For people living on coastal areas at risk of tsunamis, the B.C. government recommends that they stay away from the shoreline during advisories and follow any emergency instructions.

Cindy Mora-Stock does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Ancient DNA suggests woolly mammoths roamed Canada more recently than previously thought

Genetic material found in permafrost sediments from the Yukon contains rich information about ancient ecosystems. (Julius Csotonyi/Government of Yukon), Author provided

In 2010, small cores of permafrost sediments were collected by a team at the University of Alberta from gold mines in the Klondike region of central Yukon. They had remained in cold storage until paleogeneticists at the McMaster Ancient DNA Centre applied new genomics techniques to better understand the global extinction of megafauna that had culminated in North America some 12,700 years ago.

These tiny sediment samples contain an immense wealth of ancient environmental DNA from innumerable plants and animals that lived in those environments over millennia. These genetic microfossils originate from all components of an ecosystem — including bacteria, fungi, plants and animals — and serve as a time capsule of long-lost ecosystems, such as the mammoth-steppe, which disappeared around 13,000 years ago.

How exactly these ecosystems restructured so significantly, and why large animals seem to have been the most impacted by this shift has been an active area of scientific debate since the 18th century.

We can now use environmental DNA to help fill the gaps that have driven this debate.

Ancient DNA, cutting-edge technologies

Bacterial, fungal and unidentifiable DNA make up over 99.99 per cent of an environmental sample. In our case, we wanted a way to selectively recover the much smaller fraction of ancient plant and animal DNA that would help us better understand the collapse of the mammoth-steppe ecosystem.

For my doctoral research, I was part of a team that developed a a new technique to extract, isolate, sequence and identify tiny fragments of ancient DNA from sediment.

We analyzed these DNA fragments to track the shifting cast of plants and animals that lived in central Yukon over the past 30,000 years. We found evidence for the late survival of woolly mammoths and horses in the Klondike region, some 3,000 years later than expected.

We then expanded our analysis to include 21 previously collected permafrost cores from four sites in the Klondike region that date between 4,000 to 30,000 years ago.

With current technologies, we not only could identify which organisms a set of genetic microfossils came from. But we were also able to reassemble those fragments into genomes to study their evolutionary histories — solely from sediment.

Synthesis of dated bones, ancient environmental DNA and archaeological sites in Yukon and Alaska.
(Tyler J. Murchie)

Tremendous environmental change

The Pleistocene-Holocene transition, which occurred about 11,700 years ago, was a period of tremendous change across the globe. In eastern Beringia (the former Eurasian land bridge and unglaciated regions of Yukon and Alaska), this period saw the collapse of the mammoth-steppe biome and its gradual replacement with the boreal forest as we know it today.

This brought about the loss of iconic ice age megaherbivores like the woolly mammoth, Yukon horse, and steppe bison, along with predators such as the American scimitar cat and Beringian lion, among many others.

We found ancient environmental DNA from a diverse spectrum of ancient fauna, including woolly mammoths, horses, steppe bison, caribou, rodents, birds and many other animals.

We were also able to observe how ecosystems shifted with the rise of woody shrubs around 13,500 years ago, and how that correlated with a decline of DNA from woolly mammoths, horses and steppe bison. With this remarkably rich dataset, we observed four main findings.

There was a surprising consistency in the signal between sites, suggesting our data was representative of ecological trends in the region.

Woolly mammoth DNA declines prior to the Bølling–Allerød warming, a warm period at the end of the last ice age, suggesting that megafaunal losses may have been staggered.

Forbs (herbaceous flowering plants) make up a substantial component of the mammoth-steppe ecosystem alongside grasses.

There is a consistent signal of woolly mammoth and Yukon horse persistence into the Holocene, as much as 7,000 years after their disappearance from fossil records.

An evolutionary tree showing the location and relationship of horses and their relatives with genomes reconstructed from bones and sediment.
(Tyler J.Murchie), Author provided

When paired with other records, our genetic reconstructions suggest that the transition out of the last glacial period may have been more drawn out than dated bones alone would suggest.

Mammoths, for example, may have declined in local population abundance thousands of years earlier than other megafauna, which is potentially correlated with the first controversial evidence of humans in the area. Further, grassland grazing animals may have persisted for thousands of years in refugia (habitats that support the existence of an isolated population), despite the environmental shift.

Woolly mammoths alongside humans

Our data suggest that horses and woolly mammoths may have persisted in the Klondike until approximately 9,000 years ago and perhaps as recently as 5,700 years ago, outliving their supposed disappearance from local fossil records by 7,000 years. However, it is possible for ancient environmental DNA to survive erosion and re-deposition, which could mix the genetic signals of different time periods, necessitating a degree of caution in our interpretations.

Until recently, there was no evidence of mammoth survival into the mid-Holocene. But studies have now shown that mammoths survived until 5,500 and 4,000 years ago on Arctic islands.

Researchers at the Centre for GeoGenetics in Copenhagen found evidence for the late survival of horses and mammoths in Alaska until as recently as as 7,900 years ago. They also found evidence of mammoths surviving as recently as 3,900 years ago in Siberia, alongside woolly rhinoceros to at least 9,800 years ago.

Steppe bison, which were thought to have disappeared and been replaced by the American bison during the Pleistocene, have likewise been found to have survived even as recently as perhaps just 400 years ago. We were able to observe the presence of distinct genetic lineages of both woolly mammoths and steppe bison in the same sediment samples, which suggests that there were likely distinct populations of these animals living in the same area.

There is a growing body of evidence that many ice age megafauna probably survived well into recorded human history, roaming the north during the Bronze Age and while builders worked on the pyramids of Egypt.

Researchers in Denmark found evidence of woolly rhinoceroses surviving in Siberia at least 9,800 years ago.

Genetic archives of our ecological past

The growing sophistication of environmental DNA methods to study ancient genetic microfossils highlights just how much information is buried in sediments.

Permafrost is ideal for preserving ancient DNA, but as this perennially frozen ground thaws and degrades with a warming Arctic, so too will the genetic material preserved within, and the evolutionary mysteries they once held.

Advances in paleogenetics continues to push the boundaries of what was once relegated to science fiction. Who knows what undiscovered evolutionary information remains frozen in ordinary sediments, hidden in microfossils of ancient DNA?

Tyler J. Murchie currently receives funding from the CANA Foundation, a non-profit organization with horse rewilding initiatives.

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What is a climate stress test? A sustainable finance expert explains

Banks around the world are evaluating the potential impact of climate change and government regulation on their lending practices. Energy-intensive sectors, like coal and oil, tend to suffer most. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Imagine this: You take out a mortgage to purchase your dream home. But the rate you were quoted has expired, and when you go to renew it you find there’s been a major hike in interest rates. With this new rate, you are no longer able to afford your monthly payments.

How do you avoid this nightmare situation? The answer is a stress test.

In the simplest terms, a stress test helps individuals and institutions mitigate risk and make better decisions by playing out big economic shocks — like a major jump in interest rates or a global pandemic — to ensure they have what it takes to weather the storm.

A stress test is a “what if” exercise, where we contemplate scenarios that would pose the most harm to our financial systems and well-being in order to determine how we can best manage through them. They’re now being increasingly applied to future climate change and the financial risks that come with it.

Physical risks, transition risks

The 2008 financial crisis put the need for better risk planning into sharp relief, especially for financial institutions. It’s no coincidence that we have seen a steady rise in the use of this tool since that time.

Today, financial regulators, banks and policy-makers use stress tests to uncover weak points in how financial institutions operate and identify changes that will help buffer them (and our larger financial system and everyone who depends on it) from harm.

Climate action failure, extreme weather events and biodiversity loss, are the top three global risks over the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Perception Survey.
(World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2022)

So, what’s a climate stress test? It is the same what-if exercise, conducted through the lens of different climate scenarios that have diverse and significant financial consequences.

On the one hand, there are physical climate risks. Think, for example, of extreme weather events, such as floods, droughts, ice storms or heat waves, that can damage property, disrupt supply chains, increase insurance costs, and shut-down operations. In scenarios where global temperatures rise higher, the physical risks increase.

Read more:
B.C. floods reveal fragile food supply chains — 4 ways to manage the crisis now and in the future

On the other hand, there are also transition risks. This refers to the material impacts of various degrees of climate ambition and action.

For example, new or more stringent government policies aimed to further reduce carbon emissions or at a faster pace will have different financial impacts on different companies, depending upon their climate-readiness, and on different sectors.

Scenarios aren’t predictions

Climate scenarios take both types of risk into consideration, physical and transition. Like other types of stress tests, these scenarios aren’t predictions. Imagining what would happen if interest rates skyrocket isn’t the same as predicting that they will.

Investments in carbon-intensive sources of electricity production, like coal, carry a greater risk of defaulting during the energy transition.

However, given the established scientific consensus that climate change risks are increasing and the high degree of uncertainty these risks create, climate stress tests are an important tool to assess the sustainability of companies, investments and our financial system overall. And there is increasing momentum behind this practice.

For example, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) and the Bank of Canada recently released a major report examining four climate scenarios over a 30-year horizon, from 2020 to 2050, that varied in terms of ambition, timing of global climate, and pace of global change:

Baseline scenario: A scenario with global climate policies in place at the end of 2019.

Below 2 C immediate: An immediate policy action toward limiting average global warming to below 2 C.

Below 2 C delayed: a delayed policy action toward limiting average global warming to below 2 C.

Net-zero 2050 (1.5 C): a more ambitious immediate policy action scenario to limit average global warming to 1.5 C that includes current net-zero commitments by some countries.

Physical risks dominate

The results of the analyses were clear.

First, delayed action will lead to higher economic shocks and risks to financial stability. The longer we wait to act, the more drastic and sudden those actions will be.

Second, while every sector will need to contribute to the transition, the analysis showed that “significant negative financial impacts emerged for some sectors (e.g., fossil fuels) and benefits emerged for others (e.g., electricity).”

Third, macroeconomic risks are present, particularly for carbon intensive commodity exporting countries like Canada.

Read more:
Canada praised for climate leadership despite scathing watchdog report on climate-policy failures

The European Central Bank also conducted a climate stress test with similar findings. It determined that climate change represents a systemic risk — especially for portfolios in specific economic sectors and geographical areas. For example, in the mining and agriculture sectors, or in oil-dependent regions like the Gulf States.

It also found physical risks will be more prominent in the long run, compared to transition risks. The physical risks of climate change on real estate in coastal regions or on supply chains is expected to be greater than the effects of changes in carbon pricing or other policies.

These findings have clear implications for companies and investors. Now more than ever the business case for prioritizing and evaluating corporate climate resilience is clear, especially as investors and lenders increasingly incorporate climate data into their financial decisions.

For example, it is now more broadly understood how climate policy changes could abruptly impact a company’s valuation and financial outlook. This makes climate policy foresight critical, for corporate leaders and investors alike.

As climate stress tests become increasingly common, their findings and implications will reverberate across the entire financial industry. Savvy leaders will both watch this conversation closely, and take the necessary steps to adapt and thrive.

Ryan Riordan receives funding from Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

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Co-housing and dementia villages: Social innovations offer alternatives for long-term care

Canada’s LTC can become a seamless, human-centered system that helps senior citizens get the care they need. (Shutterstock)

COVID-19 has amplified existing cracks in the long-term care (LTC) system in Canada. We need socially innovative solutions to help seniors age safely and with dignity.

From co-housing to community paramedicine programs, home-based primary care to publicly funded dementia villages, there is hope on the horizon.

As a social innovation designer, I study complex challenges with the aim to find the common approaches needed to solve these issues and not just manage the symptoms.

To better understand the challenges of the LTC system in Canada, I interviewed stakeholders involved in approaches attuned to individuals’ needs at different stages of aging — all of which are socially innovative.

Here are some solutions that can help when it comes to redesigning the LTC system.

Senior co-housing

One of the goals outlined in the National Institute on Ageing’s National Seniors Strategy is to help seniors stay active, engaged and maintain their independence. But many seniors struggle finding suitable housing — especially affordable housing.

While retirement homes exist, for many the costs are out of reach — so some are choosing co-housing.

Louise Bardswich is a retired college dean and co-owns a home in Port Perry, Ont. She and three other women pulled their resources together to build a shared home.

This co-owned home was designed to allow the housemates to share space, build community and comfortably age in place.
(Louise Bardswich)

Their home features design elements that will allow them to age in place — like wheelchair accessible bathrooms, a spacious kitchen and a guest room that can be used for a live-in caretaker. The housemates pool their resources to cover costs, Bardswich estimates her monthly costs at $1,100.

While $1,100 is not affordable for everyone, its considerably cheaper than a LTC facility in Ontario — the long stay semi-private option is $2,280.04 per month.

Co-housing can be difficult due to zoning bylaws but legislation put forth in 2019 called the Golden Girls Act, named after Bardswich and her fellow co-owners, aims to make it easier for seniors to create co-housing.

Community paramedicine programs

An integral part of supporting older adults to continue living safely in their homes is ensuring that they have access to the services they need. One innovative example is community paramedicine programs. These programs use existing trained emergency medical personnel to provide primary health care to people who may have a difficult time leaving the home to see a doctor.

JC Gilbert is the deputy chief in charge of operations at the County of Simcoe Paramedic Services. In the five years since the launch of its community paramedicine programs, Gilbert says there’s been a positive impact on patient’s overall well-being and reduced emergency calls. “We’re seeing people able to cope with their illness much better at home.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health currently funds the development of community paramedicine programs across every region of Ontario.

Home-based primary care

House Calls is a primary health care practice for home-bound seniors living in Toronto, led by Dr. Mark Nowaczynski and SPRINT Senior Care.

Dr. Nowaczynski explains that seeing people at home gives health practitioners the ability to gain a more holistic understanding of a patient’s health and well-being that is not possible during an office visit. The level of care he and his team provide can prevent hospitalizations and admissions to nursing homes.

This video shows what happens during an initial home-based primary care visit.

According to Dr. Nowaczynski, House Calls serves 450 seniors with an average age of 89. “We make it possible for our patients to live out their days at home and die at home,” he says.

Dr. Nowaczynski estimates that in Toronto there are 100,000 to 150,000 seniors who would benefit from home-based primary care. Between House Calls and other programs, “We’re probably meeting the needs of not even two per cent of that population. So, we are barely scratching the surface and the consequences of that are that there’s a large population of seniors who are receiving inadequate ongoing care.”

Making it possible for people to age at home has been shown to reduce the reliance on the health care system and be cost effective. Some countries have even shifted more of their health-care budget to community and home-based care. Denmark spends 36 per cent of its LTC funding on care in designated buildings (like nursing homes), and the rest on home and community-based care.

In Canada, only 13 per cent of its LTC budget goes to home and community-based care.

Dementia villages

Dementia villages are communities of care designed to give their residents freedom and choice within a safe and supporting environment.

The first dementia village in the world opened in 2009 in the Netherlands. The Hogeweyk is an intentionally designed village with 23 houses for 152 seniors living with dementia. The village has a bar, restaurant, theatre, grocery store, streets and gardens for residents to use and enjoy. It is publicly funded and runs on a budget comparable to conventional nursing homes.

Providence Living in partnership with Island Health will open Canada’s first publicly funded dementia village care model in Comox, B.C. With construction starting this year, it will feature smaller households that support freedom of movement, access to nature and connection with the community.

Candace Chartier, president and CEO of Providence Living, explains that this village concept is not just about the physical design but encompasses a shift in the model of care in which residents, staff, family members work together to create a home environment where residents can thrive.

These examples show potential for the future of LTC in Canada — the challenge is to make them the new standard of care instead of a patchwork of services that result in wait lists, drive-up health care costs and create confusion for seniors and their caregivers.

Canada’s LTC can become a human-centred system that helps seniors get the care they need. But first we need to make humane, dignified care for seniors a top priority.

Sarah Tranum does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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How businesses can best help employees disconnect from work

A pedestrian views his smartphone as he crosses a city street. Right-to-disconnect laws are aimed at improving the work-life balance of employees, but giving them more freedom over how they work might be a smarter approach. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A number of countries have recently introduced legislation giving employees the legal right to disconnect electronically from work. Originating in France, right-to-disconnect initiatives mandate that organizations cannot expect employees to be available outside of their established working hours.

Read more:
The right to disconnect: Why legislation doesn’t address the real problems with work

This legislation has now expanded to Ireland, Canada, Spain and other countries.

However, by maintaining a focus on a set of established working hours during which employees must be available, the right to disconnect simply takes the physical time clock off the wall and figuratively puts it into the cloud. Although an important initiative, a greater focus on employee autonomy is needed to maximize the benefits intended by these laws.

Although the right to disconnect may foster high performance by allowing employees to recharge their batteries, the major intent is to promote employees’ work-life balance by allowing them to disengage from work, handle different responsibilities and ensure their well-being. Right-to-disconnect laws signal a greater focus on employee well-being, and a rejection of the idea that workers need to be “always on.”

The aim of right-to-disconnect laws is to enhance work-life balance. But is there a better way?

Limitations of the right to disconnect

But right-to-disconnect legislation has limitations. It focuses on specific hours employees are free to disconnect and establishes a window during which they must be accessible.

However, establishing working hours during which employees must be available is a holdover from the industrial age when the value of employees was based on the inputs they provided — physical labour, for example. It fails to recognize that the value of today’s employees is often based on their outputs, including creative work.

However, when organizations implement policies that allow employees the freedom to choose for themselves when and how to disconnect, the well-being and performance benefits of disconnecting are maximized.

For example, someone working at home may choose to disconnect in order to go for a run at 2 p.m. and then work at 8 p.m., after their kids are asleep. Also, different people operate more effectively at different times of the day.

Similarly, an employee completing a series of intense meetings might want to take a break before re-engaging in work. Giving employees the right to disconnect on their own terms may be the best formula for promoting both performance and well-being.

After hours of video meetings, employees often need to take a breather mid-day.

Fostering autonomy

These benefits can be maximized when work is designed to provide employees with an appropriately high level of autonomy, which refers to the discretion employees have over how, when and, increasingly, where they complete their work tasks. Numerous classic and contemporary studies demonstrate the value of employee autonomy.

For example, research shows that employees who have the freedom to choose how to structure their workday and schedule their tasks (work-scheduling autonomy) have higher levels of work engagement and innovative work behaviour.

Other studies indicate that allowing employees to make decisions (decision-making autonomy) and choose for themselves how to perform tasks (work-method autonomy) reduces mental strain, increases work motivation and improves job performance.

Similarly, research shows that when employees have the discretion to choose where to work (location autonomy) they select environments that promote both their productivity and well-being.

As these studies demonstrate, there are a variety of forms of autonomy. Employee well-being and performance will be enhanced if greater autonomy, of various types, is built into right-to-disconnect initiatives.

In structuring work this way, organizations effectively separate work hours from work outputs and focus squarely on results rather than the time clock. Doing so also reduces concerns over how to manage employees remotely.

Overseeing an employee’s work behaviour may not, in fact, be necessary as long as workers are generating outputs on time, within budget and at an acceptable level of quality. As long as employees are meeting organizational objectives, when, how and where they work may be largely immaterial.

If workers are high-performing, it shouldn’t matter when, where and how they work.

Limits to autonomy

Different jobs have different levels and forms of autonomy they support. For instance, an emergency room nurse cannot choose to work from home or independently decide when to arrive at the hospital for a shift. The relationship between autonomy and work outcomes may vary depending on the nature of the work and the employer.

Issues such as the nature of the work, co-ordination requirements, dealing with deadlines or crises, work standards and employee tenure should all be considered in deciding how much autonomy is warranted. But the general principle should be to provide as much autonomy as a job will allow and support employees in their exercise of it.

Additionally, work groups should have the opportunity to establish the parameters of autonomy themselves and revisit this issue on a regular basis.

The right to disconnect is an issue that has emerged due to technological developments that have allowed organizations to keep employees tethered to work 24/7. Implementing this right effectively requires overcoming the industrial age mentality that imposes constraints on employee autonomy that are unnecessary, and possibly counterproductive, in the modern age.

The best way to help employees disconnect from work is to allow them the autonomy to choose for themselves how, when and where to disconnect.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Ottawa beacon, pipe bands, town criers to mark Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

The Queen has made no secret of her affection for Canada, which she has visited 22 times during almost seven decades on the throne Now Canada is preparing to honour the 95-year-old royal — Canada’s head of state and the world’s longest serving monarch — with a series of tributes to mark her 70 years on the throne.

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‘Worst part of my life’: 20 more former students of Michael Gregory file statements alleging sexual abuse

WARNING: This story contains graphic details of abuse of minors and may be triggering to some readers. New details are emerging around alleged abuse by Calgary teacher Michael Gregory as 20 more former students filed court documents this week saying he used his position of power to mentally torment and sexually abuse them.

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Solving the puzzle of cystic fibrosis and its treatments is a Nobel Prize-worthy breakthrough

The discovery of the cystic fibrosis gene led to treatments and long-term survival for patients. (Shutterstock)

The nomination deadline to recognize transformative discoveries for the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine is fast approaching. These nominations are by invitation only and are due by the end of January.

Besides those for the lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines, several others are prominent. This includes the discovery of the cystic fibrosis gene and the drugs to treat the disease. The disease was first identified in 1938, and is no longer a cause of near-certain deaths in infants. Today, Canada leads the world with a 52-year median age of survival for patients with cystic fibrosis.

Indeed, it was in Canada that the field of cystic fibrosis research had its breakthrough in 1989 when the gene that causes cystic fibrosis was discovered along with the prevalent mutation that caused the disease. It was in Toronto that geneticist Lap-Chee Tsui, working with biochemist Jack Riordan and physician and geneticist Francis Collins, who then at the University of Michigan, designed a strategy to discover not only the gene but also the mutation that causes cystic fibrosis.

Single gene mutation

Cystic fibrosis affects the fluidity of secretions from lungs, pancreas, liver, sweat glands and other organs, making them thicker and stickier. The recessive genetic defect is due to a mutation in a single gene. Tsui had discovered that a segment of chromosome 7 harboured the mutant gene in patients.

When the disease was first identified in 1938, cystic fibrosis killed most patients in infancy. Now many live into their 50s.

Collins innovated methods to zero in and whittle down the DNA into fragments, and used genetic mapping markers to narrow down DNA sequences housing the cystic fibrosis gene. Using these fragments, the team fished out corresponding DNA fragments extracted from sweat gland cells of patients.

Sweat glands in cystic fibrosis patients are unable to reabsorb salts during perspiration. Riordan used easily accessible tissue samples with sweat glands from cystic fibrosis patients and their parents to grow sweat gland cells. Extracted RNA was then used to make a DNA copy, exactly as we do today for PCR tests to detect the presence of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The sequencing of this DNA then enabled them to deduce a single gene product from the patients’ sweat gland cells. They then used a computer to translate the sequence into the protein this gene product generates. In this way, Tsui, Riordan and Collins deduced a single protein made up of 1,479 amino acids.

Comparing sequenced proteins

The genius of the experimental design was now to do the same for sweat gland cells isolated from the parents of cystic fibrosis patients. Proteins are made of long sequences of amino acids. When the normal protein amino acid sequence was compared with the cystic fibrosis sequence, a single amino acid known as phenylalanine was missing from the mutant protein. They had discovered the major mutation affecting about 70 per cent of cystic fibrosis patients.

Lap-Chee Tsui, Canadian Medical Hall of Fame Laureate 2012.

The function of the protein they had uncovered was unknown at that time but there were clues that revealed its similarity to other proteins that transported substances including ions into and out of cells. Today we understand the mechanism of how the protein works as a channel that enables chloride ions to leave cells.

It is these chloride ions that enable the surface of the lungs, pancreas, sweat glands and the liver, as well as the kidney and male reproductive tract, to remain bathed in fluid and unclogged.

Treatment breakthroughs

Patients and their families have been in the forefront of the discovery process. Besides being caregivers and advocates for their children, they also supplied tissues for the discovery research. As the diagnosis and care of patients have improved, a further breakthrough was the development of drugs to treat cystic fibrosis. These have had a dramatic effect, doubling the life expectancy of patients such that today patients may reach adulthood and beyond.

Two types of drugs are available; these are known as potentiators and correctors. The potentiators help the cystic fibrosis protein maintain a channel for the chloride ions that help keep the surface of the lungs and other organs bathed in fluid.

The correctors stabilize the fragile mutant protein. The enhanced stability enables enough of the protein to bypass the quality control machinery that otherwise would target the mutant protein for degradation in one of the trash systems of the cell (the proteasome). With the combination of the corrector drugs that enable the mutant protein to access the surface of lung, pancreas, liver and sweat gland cells, and potentiator drugs that keep the ion channel open, the protein can perform its duty.

In the lungs, this chloride channel enables the fluidity of mucus that would otherwise accumulate infectious bacteria and prevent normal lung functioning, especially breathing.

How fluid builds up in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis.

Remarkably, the gene causing cystic fibrosis was discovered without knowledge of how the protein worked in cells. Furthermore, the discovery of the drugs used to treat it were discovered without knowledge of exactly how the drugs worked.

Thousands of labs globally uncovered how proteins such as the chloride channel work in cells, how they are made, how the quality control machinery could select such a subtle change as a single amino acid loss to target the mutant protein for degradation and exactly what is meant by increased protein fragility, how cells decode this and how the potentiator and corrector drugs work. This is basic science research at its best.

Applying the discoveries

The immediate consequences of the breakthrough of Tsui, Riordan and Collins in 1989 were not only for the cystic fibrosis community. In 1990, they proposed the Human Genome Project based on the proof of principal discovery of the cystic fibrosis gene they had uncovered.

Collins left the University of Michigan to direct the Human Genome Project as head of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This was followed in 2009 by his appointment as overall director of the NIH, a post he held until December 2021. For the drug discovery effort, it is the talented researchers in biotech and academia that discovered how to make the drugs and how they worked, with the most recent discovery in January 2022.

That the breakthroughs made by Tsui, Riordan and Collins are still yielding new insights speaks to its significance and ongoing relevance in science and medicine. The much longer lives of people with cystic fibrosis speak to its great importance to patients and their families.

John Bergeron gratefully acknowledges Kathleen Dickson as co-author.

John Bergeron does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Teaching music online in the pandemic has yielded creative surprises, like mixing ‘Blob Opera’ and beatboxing

Blob Opera, developed by Google and AI artist David Li, lets students manipulate a soprano, alto, tenor and bass quartet of blobs. (YoutTube/Google Arts & Culture)

Learning to make music is a full mind-and-body activity. Whether teaching how to play a musical instrument, or how to sing, teachers rely on learners’ physical cues to help them progress — cues that are often obscured either by watching someone on a screen or listening through a microphone. As a music educator, I’d hazard that few school music teachers would opt to teach their students remotely.

However, as many teachers and students have discovered in the last two years of on-and-off virtual school, music lessons during the pandemic have unearthed some pleasant surprises.

Going online has forced music educators to adapt existing ideas, or adopt existing technology, to discover, invent and share ways to reach students to keep music education alive.

Instrument-free music

During the pandemic, most school-based music teachers have faced the challenge that elementary students don’t have access to instruments at home. This often leaves online tools as the default. As school budgets are always stretched, it’s important for programs to be very inexpensive or preferably free.

At the elementary level, students can enjoy and learn from apps such as Incredibox, where students can explore beatboxing, combining rhythms and sound effects to create unique pieces. Beatboxing musicians who create complete musical works manipulating their breathing, mouths and throats inspired this tool’s development.

Or teachers can introduce students to choral exploration in Blob Opera, a “machine learning model trained on the voices of four opera singers,” developed by Google and AI artist David Li. In Blob Opera, students manipulate four operatic blobs — a soprano, alto, tenor and bass quartet — and can have them sing a variety of pieces on global stages. Students can “take the blobs on tour” where they might sing a Korean folk song in Seoul, or a piece by composer Erik Satie in Paris.

‘Making Blob Opera with David Li,’ video by Google Arts & Culture.

On various platforms, students are able to share their creations live with teachers and classmates. I’ve found that when we introduce technology to students, they often take it in unexpected directions. One student I was teaching set up a rhythm on Incredibox and left that window open and playing to accompany a Blob Opera set: not an obvious musical pairing but a wonderfully creative one.

Learning from home with instruments

Even before the pandemic, some music researchers were interested in helping educators overcome hurdles with teaching instrumental music online and how online lessons could benefit children in rural locations. However, singing and playing instruments online comes with its own set of technological issues, the most prominent of which is time lag — what some of my students refer to as “glitchiness.”

Technological issues can make for some frustrations with virtual instrumental music instruction.

However, research conducted during the pandemic suggests that teaching students how to play instruments online can offer music teachers the chance to redefine curriculum, set new goals for students and consider new criteria for evaluation.

For students who have access to instruments at home, music teachers can use a flexible accompaniment app like SmartMusic. Without altering pitch (a critical capability), students can change playback speeds, manipulate the nature of accompaniment they hear, activate a metronome and even click on individual notes in a score to show the fingering and sound of the note for specific instruments.

This program costs money, but schools are able to purchase site licenses, thus making the resource accessible to more students.

Read more:
Investing in technologies for student learning: 4 principles school boards and parents should consider

Sound exploration

Google’s Chrome Music Lab suite offers learning for K-8 students. Younger children can explore rhythm, or teachers and students can explore melody, harmony, form, duration, rhythm, timbre and tempo to compose relatively complex electronica, save projects and submit them for assessment.

At the secondary level, teachers can encourage students to explore and collaborate on Bandlab, a program akin to Apple’s Garageband. Students can compose pieces using standard western notation on the web-based Noteflight — especially accessible because it requires no downloads or sharing of personal information.

Some online offerings promote healthy movement at home. Ollie Tunmer, British body percussionist and former STOMP cast member, hosts professional development for teachers and short lessons for kids.

Body percussionist Ollie Tunmer leads an online lesson.

Other teachers have posted clips exploring form and movement in music, based on techniques from an approach to teaching rhythmic movement, listening and embodied music intuition known as Dalcroze Eurythmics and subsequent work by early childhood music educator John Feierabend.

Making music education more inclusive

Aside from making music at home accessible for many students, online learning that focuses more on pop music, electronica and rhythm-heavy musics tends to shift the curricular emphasis away from predominantly western art music like “classical” genres.

Music researcher Margaret Walker examines how music education in the West has traditionally advanced European exceptionalism and cultural superiority. Walker is one of many music educators promoting music education that reflects the cultural diversity of learners. Music education researcher Lucy Green found that students who have more choice about their own repertoires are more successful and stay with music longer.

Revising music curricula to be more inclusive may involve both introducing new forms of music, but also repositioning canonical artists like Mozart and Bach within a broader musical context to allow entry and success for more learners.

Read more:
Handel’s ‘Messiah’ today: How classical music is contending with its colonial past and present

Learning about music

Music curriculum calls not just for making music but also learning about music. Online read alouds, — narrated stories accompanied with music — existed before the pandemic but likely became even more useful in remote contexts. Favourites of my students include Sergei Prokofiev’s 1936 composition Peter and The Wolf and the 2015 children’s book Trombone Shorty by Troy Andrews.

Actor Angela Bassett reads ‘Trombone Shorty.’

Music educators and students also benefit from the isolation-inspired composite style videos such as the Kingston Youth Orchestra’s performance of Cold Play’s “Viva La Vida,” especially when students cannot currently attend live performances.

For younger children, Evan Mitchell, conductor of the Kingston Symphony, launched a children’s online music series, Harmon in Space! The series sees Harmon, a fuzzy dog puppet, isolated on a spaceship. Harmon’s limited social contact happens via online chats with musical friends — members of the Kingston Symphony. The first episode has over 11,000 views on YouTube. When I interviewed Mitchell, he said he has received many letters from children concerned for Harmon’s safe return to Earth.

No one wants remote music education to become the norm for most students. But the creative minds who have made it feasible, fun and often productive have given us unexpected gifts and welcome strains of beauty amidst global noise.

Robbie MacKay does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Canada praised for climate leadership despite scathing watchdog report on climate-policy failures

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson is overhauling a methane-reduction program after a scathing report from Canada’s environment commissioner. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

When the International Energy Agency (IAE) released its update report on Canada in mid-January, it was largely a summary of the Canadian fossil fuels landscape coupled with praise for the federal government’s climate policy commitments and Canada’s climate leadership.

Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson was clearly pleased, issuing a statement that the IEA report vindicated the government’s climate progress: “This report, in my mind, is a validation of the work that the federal government has been doing over the past six years.” The statement included a message from Fatih Birol, IEA executive director: “Canada has shown impressive leadership, both at home and abroad, on clean and equitable energy transitions.”

Yet it was only a few short months ago that Environment and Sustainable Development Commissioner Jerry DeMarco released a scathing report on Canada’s climate record . Canada, he wrote, “has become the worst performer of all G7 nations since the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted in 2015. We can’t continue to go from failure to failure; we need action and results, not just more targets and plans.”

The commissioner’s report is blunt, and signals that it will hold the government accountable for its climate-related policy failures going forward. It methodically details multiple shortcomings of the federal government’s climate strategy and policy, including its relationships with other levels of government, and what can be done to remedy these shortcomings.

The good news

The IEA report wasn’t entirely favourable. It recommended Canada develop a national emissions reduction plan, including clearly defined targets for reducing emissions in the oil and gas sector, and focus on bolstering electricity production and connections between provinces.

Yet it danced around Canada’s most controversial climate policy shortcomings. It made no mention of the continuing investments in fossil fuel supply, roughly $38 billion per year or its failure to establish an end-date for fossil fuel emissions, even though the IEA’s own net-zero 2050 report specified the need to end investments in coal mines and oil and gas supply projects.

According to the latest projections by the Canada Energy Regulator, oil sands production currently at three million barrels per day is projected to rise to 3.9 million barrels per day by 2032 and then decline slightly to 3.4 million barrels per day by 2050.

The IEA report implied the planned increase in oil sands production would endanger the future safety of the planet, but it only gently pressed Canada to “further reduce the environmental impact of oilsands development in order to balance ambitious environmental targets with the economic benefits of resource development.”

Read more:
How to build a better Canada after COVID-19: Launch a fossil-free future

There may be several reasons why the IEA did not come down hard on Canada. It likely wanted to emphasize positive actions that Canada has taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, Canada is one of the few nations that has enacted its net-zero commitment into law. Perhaps, more cynically, the agency was reluctant to alienate a major energy producer and funder.

There was little reaction from the Alberta government and the oil and gas industry, suggesting that the IEA report posed no threat to their production plans going forward.

Reality check

In contrast, the commissioner’s report, Lessons Learned from Canada’s Record on Climate Change, notes that despite repeated commitments to reduce emissions at multiple climate summits, Canada’s emissions have increased by more than 20 per cent since 1990. Canada’s emissions continued to increase by 3.3 per cent even after the 2015 Paris Agreement — the same year Justin Trudeau was elected.

The report notes that Canada is among the highest carbon emitters per capita. It is the world’s fourth-largest oil producing country, after the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia. According to the report, 53 per cent of Canada’s oil is exported, and Canada’s continued oil production growth will come exclusively from the oil sands.

The global average of carbon emissions generated from producing oil was 19 kilograms per barrel, according to Rystad Energy. But a barrel of oil from Canada’s oilsands generates nearly four times as much — 73 kilograms of carbon.

Read more:
A tenth of active and abandoned oil and gas wells in northeastern B.C. are leaking

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development’s report includes the following reminders and critiques:

The experience of climate change is highly unequal within Canada and internationally.

Canada needs to move the debate from whether the country should significantly reduce its emissions toward a discussion on how emissions should be reduced.

Federal investment of $12.6 billion in the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) is an example of policy incoherence in relation to moving forward on climate commitments.

Limited co-ordination between different levels of government has led to ad hoc or contradictory climate policy measures such as identification, assessment, measurement and management of climate related risks and opportunities.

The onshore portion of Natural Resources Canada’s Canada Emissions Reduction Fund, which offered up to $673 million per company, did not, according to the commissioner’s 2021 audit, ensure credible and sustainable reductions in the oil and gas sector’s greenhouse gas emissions or value for money spent.

Current securities legislation in Canada requires the disclosure of certain climate-related information such as the impact of climate change on a company or an investment fund’s returns. However, there is no standard framework for corporations to report climate-related financial disclosures in a comparable and transparent framework.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sits beside U.S. President Joe Biden at an event about the Global Methane Pledge at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, on Nov. 2, 2021.

The path forward

In 2022, according to the report, the environmental commissioner will share its audit work with Parliament and Canadians regarding the government’s promises to ensure it has in place strong actions to meet its climate targets. These include carbon pricing, just transition for workers and communities, hydrogen strategy, greening government operations and climate resilient infrastructure, as well as a study on climate-related financial disclosure.

Read more:
Why green hydrogen — but not grey — could help solve climate change

The commissioner is a rare arm of government willing and able to speak truth to power. It is an independent body within the Office of the Auditor General that reports directly to Parliament. It is not subject to political manipulation.

Although it cannot legally obligate the government to make good on its promises, the commissioner can show the Canadian public — and the world — when government climate policies are just words on paper or unfulfilled promises.

In fact, in response to the commissioner’s report, Wilkinson said he would overhaul the methane-reduction program to give it more transparency and better outcomes.

Therein lies hope that this time it will be different.

Bruce Campbell is affiliated with the following organizations with charitable status: Canadian Centre for Policy alternatives, research associate ; executive member group of 78;

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Jair Bolsonaro’s administration is hurting the lives of LGBTQ+ sex workers in Brazil

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gives a press conference in January 2022. (AP Photo/Marcelo Chello)

Brazil has achieved accomplishments related to the rights and visibility of marginalized communities in the last two decades — from social innovations to educational change. However, LGBTQ+ sex workers of all genders are facing stigmatization and discrimination.

A major cause for this is Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s far-right president. When he was elected in 2018, the violence against LGBTQ+ sex workers began to be state endorsed, making it much harder for sex workers to do their jobs.

This discrimination is furthered because Brazil is a predominantly conservative society with a fast-growing fundamentalist Pentecostal population.

According to Brazilian anthropologist and professor at Universidade Federal da Bahia, Luiz Mott, every 26 minutes an LGBTQ+ person was murdered or took their own life, in 2020. Brazil is dangerous for LGBTQ+ people.

Bolsonaro has said some heinous things about LGBTQ+ people and sex workers. He publicly declared (translated from Portuguese) “I’m not going to fight or discriminate, but if I spot two men kissing in the street, I’ll beat them up,” and that “90 per cent of adopted boys are going to be gay and will be sex workers for the couple.” He said in a TV interview on Participação Popular[If] the kid begins to look gay-ish, you just beat him up really bad and this will fix him. Right?

Recently my research has led me to look into the shift occurring at venues where male sex workers, specifically men who have sex with men, labour in Rio de Janeiro and Recife. Rio de Janeiro is an international hub for gay tourism and Bolsonaro’s voting home base. While Recife is becoming one of the major cities in the northeast for domestic gay tourism, it is one of the cities with the largest number of anti-Bolsonaro votes.

Sex work in Brazil

Sex work and soliciting sex are not criminalized in Brazil, but sex work in general is not regulated. The regulation has been sitting in the National Congress, waiting to be voted on since 2012. It comes in the form of Bill 4211/2012, also called “Projeto de lei Gabriela Leite,” and has been facing fierce resistance from conservative lobbyists in the house.

The debate about sex work regulation was sanctioned by the social demand for public policies during the governments of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Feminist and LGBTQ+ movements pushed this debate but were repressed with the election of Bolsonaro.

Wallace Louzada Hansen (pictured) is a sex worker and friend of the author, he has been negatively impacted by Bolsonaro’s administration.
(Wallace Louzada Hansen), Author provided

The reality for sex workers in Brazil is grim. Through my research I’ve interviewed and met many male sex workers. One of the men I interviewed told me it was better to be undocumented, face racism and social invisibility in Canada than to be a sex worker in Rio de Janeiro.

He explained that he left Brazil because he was exposed to sexual, physical and psychological violence at work. When I asked if he ever tried going to the police he replied “because the police are also the ones who could rape me at raids. So, I wanted nothing from them.”

Until Bolsonaro’s election win, sex workers had been gaining rights. His ultra-far-right, homophobic, racist and mysogynistic views have made the reality much worse.

In an interview with Huck Magazine, anthropologist Thaddeus Blanchette says brothels were on the decline before Bolsonaro came into power, but now they’re opening back up. Blanchette says:

“What that means is this whole structure of negotiations with the police, with the law and with judges has to be renegotiated. And of course, in this process the workers have no rights whatsoever. Instead, these brothels are a major income generator for Rio’s police and militia gangs.”

Bolsonaro’s necropolitical agenda targeting LGBTQ+ people, sex workers and other marginalized people together with the COVID-19 pandemic has been disastrous.

The squat known as Casa Nem is occupied by members of the LGBTQ+ community who are in self-quarantine as a protective measure against COVID-19 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
(AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)

In 2022, I will conduct research that I am sure will reveal a country devastated by the pandemic, with LGBTQ+ people facing social persecution. While the results will no doubt be painful, the research will be conducted during a crucial moment for Brazil.

This year, the country completes 200 years of independence and, more importantly, will have a federal election — former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva leads all polls.

The conservative reaction to the possible return of a socialist and LGBTQ+ friendly government is unpredictable and since male sex workers are not well organized — unlike their female peers — their vulnerability is a major concern.

Bolsonaro’s leadership has had detrimental impact on the LGBTQ+ community. I’m hopeful that a new government will be elected and the country will be able to get back on track when it comes to regulating sex work, implementing protective bills and improving the lives for sex workers across the country. Because sex work is work.

Alberto C. B. de Souza does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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And just like that … #MeToo changed the nature of online communication

The male cast of ‘And Just Like That’ — Chris Noth on the far right — pose before the show’s premiere in December 2021 in New York. (Shutterstock)

And Just Like That … was the most-watched series debut ever released on HBO Max. It was almost predictable that this hotly anticipated follow-up to the iconic series Sex and the City would attract a large audience.

But what was perhaps even more predictable, especially given today’s increasingly incendiary internet, was a series-related scandal amplified by social media.

First, Peloton’s stock price went on a bumpy ride downwards due its role in a pivotal plot point in this Sex and the City reboot. The popular home exercise bike was depicted as being involved in the death of series stalwart John James “Mr. Big” Preston, played by Chris Noth.

Then there was a Ryan Reynolds-driven online video response to the plot twist. He produced an ad entitled “He’s Alive!” This cheeky piece of crisis communications featured Mr. Big living his best life and still embracing his inner Lothario. The ad featured the actor with a romantic partner in front of a fireplace with a Peloton in view.

And finally, multiple sexual assault allegations were then levelled against Noth. This led to the pulling of Reynolds’ ad and the removal of Noth’s scenes from the season finale, airing in early February 2022. And just like that, Noth was gone from the show.

These developments unfolded quickly. They show how social media can fuel important social movements following acts of reprehensible behaviour like those alleged against Noth. They also speak to society’s long overdue reckoning with issues like sexual assault and harassment in concert with movements like #MeToo.

#MeToo went viral due to celebrity advocacy

Social media has an unparalleled ability to amplify messages given today’s prevalence of digital media. One of the best examples is #MeToo, which obviously is closely tied to the Noth scandal.

Contrary to popular conception, this movement wasn’t new when it went mainstream in 2017. Tarana Burke started #MeToo in 2006. That was well before it became a Hollywood-driven hashtag.

It went explosively viral more than a decade later, fuelled by posts from high-profile actresses like Alyssa Milano, Jennifer Lawrence and Uma Thurman.

As many as 19 million people responded to a tweet from Milano suggesting women share their stories, and the hashtag was born. This iconic hashtag was followed and shared, tweeted and retweeted, by an incredible number of allies. Many people bravely shared their harrowing experiences with sexual assault and harassment. Others posted in solidarity, using the hashtag, not just on Twitter but on Instagram and Facebook. A movement had begun.

But how do social media movement hashtags like #MeToo actually become viral?

The amplifying force of hashtags

The #MeToo movement is indicative of broader changes in how we communicate. Social movements are now inextricably linked to their associated hashtag. Think of #ArabSpring, #BlackLivesMatter and #OccupyWallStreet. It is nearly impossible to think about sexual assault and harassment in 2022 without #MeToo.

In this January 2018 photo, protesters gather for a women’s march against sexual violence in Los Angeles.
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Hashtags amplify messages regardless of the underlying content. Tweets with hashtags earn twice as much engagement as those without. Similarly, tweets with one or more hashtags are 55 per cent more likely to be retweeted.

By distilling a complex movement down to its core, hashtags emphasize its essential elements. They also make them more shareable for social channels. Longer content can be ignored given the limits on how much information a person can consume in today’s hyper-competitive attention economy.

Hashtags not only quicken a message’s speed, but also broaden its geographical reach.

The global nature of hashtag activism

We communicate most frequently and intensely with those who directly surround us. This tendency to communicate with those close by was so ingrained in our distant past that sending someone who lived far away a handwritten letter was once considered a revolutionary means of communication.

But social media communication — especially for business — is often locally focused. Even politicians also routinely use social platforms to communicate with constituents.

But the advent of hashtag activism has allowed key social movements to transcend their local origins and become international.

This might be best demonstrated by #BlackLivesMatter’s global reach in the aftermath of the tragic killing of George Floyd. After this horrific incident, daily use of the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag surpassed one million posts. That was similar to #MeToo’s explosion a few years earlier as it became a global rallying cry for women. Hashtag activism can create a viral local response, but also propel it to the furthest reaches of the globe.

A nun prays with other members of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., after walking from the White House to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in June 2020 as part of Black Lives Matter protests.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The future of social media-driven movements

Like other massively successful hashtags, #MeToo derives its power from being concise and memorable. It communicates a much deeper message than the hashtag itself.

It also embraces the zeitgeist. The fight for equality across gender, race and income lines has become increasingly prevalent. These issues continue to be shared via social media. Like the most powerful hashtags, #MeToo moves seamlessly between online and offline spaces, reinforcing one another.

It’s difficult to predict the characteristics that guarantee an online social movement will gain traction in the physical world and have staying power. But social media’s unparalleled powers of amplification across time and space will undoubtedly contribute to the next global social movement.

Dino Sossi does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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5 tips for choosing the best YouTube fitness videos to change your exercise behaviour

Behavioural change techniques frequently used in in-person fitness training were often absent from YouTube videos. (Shutterstock)

Every January, New Year’s resolutions regarding exercise means there’s a surge in intentions be more physically active. Typically, gyms and recreation centres see a boost in membership sales and attendance at the beginning of the year.

However, the restrictions placed in response to COVID-19 have encouraged many to turn to digital alternatives for exercising. One popular avenue for digital fitness is YouTube. Early in the pandemic, YouTube fitness creators saw dramatic increases in their popularity.

It’s clear that these YouTube fitness videos represent an accessible, free and convenient means to engage in pandemic-safe forms of exercise. What’s less clear to researchers is how YouTube fitness videos compare to traditional in-person instruction.

Behaviour change techniques

As physical activity and digital health researchers, my colleagues and I were interested in whether YouTube fitness creators used any behaviour change techniques in their videos to improve exercise practice and adherence. Behaviour change techniques are established strategies that can help to prompt, motivate and/or sustain behaviour changes like exercise. They include things like setting goals, planning for action, repetition and self-monitoring progress.

As gyms and rec centres rotate between restrictions and guidelines for when and how they can operate during the pandemic, YouTube fitness videos can provide an entertaining and valuable alternative.
(Pexels/Mikhail Nilov)

In a study to be published in Journal of Health Psychology, we looked at the 15 most popular YouTube fitness channels (as of Dec. 31, 2020) and studied the top five most popular videos for each channel to see what kinds of behavioural change techniques they used, if any.

Overall, videos used on average 12.5 behaviour change techniques. The most frequently used ones were demonstration of the behaviour, instruction on how to perform the behaviour and unspecified social support, which includes things like encouraging and motivating words.

How the videos introduced the behaviour change techniques also varied. For example, some creators didn’t talk during their workouts, while others voiced-over their workouts or spoke while working out. One channel, Roberta’s Gym, didn’t even feature a real person exercising, but rather a 3D model of a person performing the exercises.

Restrictions placed on gyms and recreation centres in response to COVID-19 have encouraged many to turn to digital alternatives for exercising at home.
(Pexels/Tim Samuel)

The number of behavioural change techniques used also ranged from only one to 27. In fact, many of the behaviour change techniques that are frequently used with in-person training such as setting goals, creating plans or giving feedback, were mostly absent in these videos — likely a limitation of the video format.

We were also interested in whether the number or type of behavioural change techniques used was related to the popularity of a creator’s videos. Surprisingly, neither the number of behaviour change techniques used nor the use of any specific one was associated with a video’s views, likes or comments.

From this, we gather that there are likely other factors that play a role in a video or creator’s popularity. It may be that people may relate to the look of a video, the instructor’s personality or the type of workouts that a particular creator has. The enjoyment or entertainment value of videos may also contribute to this popularity.

5 tips for choosing YouTube fitness videos

Behavioural change techniques are established strategies that can help to prompt, motivate and/or sustain behaviour changes like exercise.
(Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch)

For those looking to find a YouTube fitness channel that can help them stick to their exercise-related New Year’s resolutions, or just as a fun and accessible alternative to other forms of exercise, here are a few tips:

1. Sample around

Don’t feel limited to just what’s popular. We’ve listed some of the most popular channels here, but there are hundreds (if not thousands) of YouTube fitness creators. Our study found that the more popular channels didn’t necessarily use more behaviour change techniques, so if you’re the type of person who benefits from more encouragement and structure, refer to our list of who is using more of them.

Table of the most popular YouTube fitness channels and behaviour change techniques (BCTs) used in an average video.

2. Find what fits you and your schedule or routine

Among the top 15 channels we examined, nearly all of them incorporated high-intensity interval training (HIIT) in their videos. A lot of people like HIIT and there are established benefits to practising it in terms of both health and time. However, if the idea of a high-intensity workout puts you off, then there are plenty of popular creators that focus on longer, more steady workouts or workouts aimed at beginners.

3. Do more of what you like

A YouTube fitness channel that leaves you feeling accomplished, capable and energized after a workout is a great indication that you’ve found something that works. The better people feel about themselves and the exercise they’ve done is a strong predictor of whether they will return to exercise again.

4. Mix it up

As previously mentioned, there is no end to the fitness content on YouTube. From bodyweight exercises to yoga, dancing, weight training or walking, there are countless ways to change up what your workout looks like. Keeping exercise interesting is a great way to keep sticking to goals.

5. Take part in the community

Feeling socially supported can help people stay motivated to exercise and overcome barriers that may arise. Many creators run fitness challenges or have social media pages where you can interact with others who are also following the same videos. Some creators also host live workouts, where you can show up at a certain time and follow along and chat with them in real time.

Bringing in a friend or family member who would enjoy working out (or the results thereof) can help keep both of you accountable to your goals.

As gyms and recreation centres rotate between restrictions and guidelines for when and how they can operate, YouTube fitness videos present an entertaining and valuable alternative.

Wuyou Sui does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Groundwater — not ice sheets — is the largest source of water on land and most of it is ancient

Groundwater is used for irrigation and drinking water, but those wells are rarely more than one kilometre deep. A huge volume of salty water exists as much as 10 kilometres below the Earth’s surface. (Shutterstock)

Outside of the world’s oceans, groundwater is one of the largest stores of water on Earth. While it might appear that the planet is covered in vast lakes and river systems, they make up only 0.01 per cent of the Earth’s water. In fact, we now know there is 100 times as much groundwater on this planet as there is freshwater on its surface.

Groundwater is the water contained beneath the Earth’s surface. It’s stored in the tiny cracks found within rock and the spaces between soil particles. It can extend deep into the subsurface, at least as much as 10 kilometres.

As groundwater researchers, we’re interested in how governments and industries might use these extensive groundwater reservoirs, such as for storing liquid waste and carbon dioxide. But groundwater may also have environmental functions that have not yet been revealed — this body of water remains hidden, with very few windows available for us to explore it.

One of Earth’s largest stores of water

While scientists have known for at least five decades that groundwater makes up a large fraction of the world’s water, estimated volumes of groundwater had focused on the upper two kilometres of the Earth’s crust.

A recent analysis that looked 10 kilometres beneath the surface found that the true volume is likely twice as large. These new estimates mean that groundwater is the largest continental reservoir of water — even more than all the water contained in the continental ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, which were long thought to be the Earth’s second-largest stores of water.

The relative sizes of the Earth’s water reservoirs. Groundwater makes up about 60 per cent of the water on land.
(AGU/Geophysical Research Letters), Author provided

Previous groundwater estimates arrived at lower volumes because they only considered groundwaters at shallower depths. But permeable rocks are found down to at least 10 kilometres below the Earth’s surface and can hold water in cracks and pores. While these spaces only account for a small volume of the rock mass, they add up to nearly 44 million cubic kilometres of water in the upper 10 kilometres of rock, enough to fill more than 10,000 Grand Canyons.

Groundwater matters because it can provide reliable water for homes, irrigation and industry. But these wells tend to be less than 100 metres deep and they rarely approach one kilometre. Most of the groundwater contained in the rock below that is saline, sometimes several times saltier than seawater, and unusable for drinking water or irrigation.

Scientists know much less about the groundwater stored more than one kilometre deep. Yet they have determined that rain and snow falling in North America can circulate to depths of one to four kilometres. Beneath these depths there is only ancient water with other origins, last in contact with the atmosphere more than tens of thousands of years ago, but sometimes in excess of a billion years ago.

Read more:
Ancient groundwater: Why the water you’re drinking may be thousands of years old

The circulation of this deep groundwater is controlled by the forces that drive flow, such as topography, and the permeability of the rock. For example, rainwater and snowmelt circulate more deeply in mountainous areas than flatter regions. Groundwater can flow at speeds of metres per year in sandstones and limestones, or nanometres per year in intact igneous and metamorphic rocks, due to extreme variations in the permeability of different rocks.

Environmental functions of deep groundwater

All of this has helped contribute to the treatment of deeper groundwater as being separate from shallow groundwater resources. For example, oil and gas producing regions often only protect groundwater to a certain depth, without consideration of the strength of the connections between shallow and deep groundwaters.

This assumed disconnect is also the basis for a number of waste isolation projects, including the geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide, also called carbon capture and storage, and of nuclear waste repositories in Canada, Finland and elsewhere.

Onkalo was built to house high-level radioactive waste for at least 500 years. The storage facilities are set 500 metres deep in 1.9-billion-year-old rock on the coast of Finland.
(Teemu Väisänen/Wikimedia), CC BY-SA

Deep groundwaters may only be weakly connected to the rest of the hydrologic cycle but this does not mean they are unimportant to the functioning of our planet. Microbes have been found in most subsurface environments with temperatures below 80 C, typical for depths of three to four kilometres. This subsurface life likely accounts for more than 10 per cent of the Earth’s total biomass, and yet the links between deep groundwater circulation and subsurface life are largely unexplored at this time.

There’s clearly still much to learn about deep groundwater. Our windows into the deep subsurface are limited to deep mines, oil and gas wells and a handful of research sites.

New approaches are required to understand deep groundwater, its environmental functions and interactions with the rest of the hydrologic cycle over deep time, both in the past and into the future.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, Global Water Futures

Jennifer C. McIntosh receives funding from NSF EAR (2120733), Keck Foundation, and CIFAR Earth4D: Subsurface Science and Exploration Program.

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Legal reform is needed to protect young women from the growing threats of online sexual violence

Online sexually violent behaviour can include sharing intimate images without consent. (Shutterstock)

The increase in online interaction created by COVID-19 has generated a spike in girls and young women being subjected to what’s called technology-facilitated sexual violence (TFSV). The term refers to everything from sharing someone’s nude photos without their consent to sending unsolicited pictures of one’s own genitals.

TFSV, a range of harmful and sexually aggressive online behaviours, affects 88 per cent of all Canadian university undergraduate women. Younger teens are also affected by these behaviours.

Survivors have few legal options, and have recently been found to be at higher risk of suicide. This highlights the need for more education and legal reform around these acts, which some legal experts say should be criminal.

Early exposures

“No matter how much you think you’re protecting your child, they can still get to them,” says Heather Mackie of Vancouver, B.C., whose name has been changed to protect the identity of her daughter.

Two years ago, Mackie’s then 12-year-old daughter, Emma (not her real name), created an Instagram account for her fictional character on Roblox, a popular online gaming platform whose users are mostly under 16 years old. What Emma next received in her inbox shocked her, and her mother.

“It was a picture of a man’s genitals,” says Mackie. Emma was visibly upset. “She deleted it and blocked him. We then deleted the account.”

Experiences like Emma’s are common. A recent Canadian survey of university-aged women found 6.4 per cent had their first experience with online sexual harassment between 12 and 14 years of age.

Experts differ slightly in how they classify forms of TFSV, with one classification including image-based sexual abuse (non-consensual sharing of victims’ images), video voyeurism and unsolicited sexual images, which is what Emma received.

Another definition adds online sexual aggression and coercion, including extortion, blackmail and bribery, as well as online harassment of people based on their gender or sexuality.

Terminology is important. According to Rosel Kim, staff lawyer at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund in Toronto, terms such as “cyberviolence” downplay the severity of the act. “Cyberviolence is not separate from violence,” she says.

Another term, “revenge porn,” blames its victims, and is better described as a form of image-based sexual abuse.

“Revenge porn” laws, like the one proposed in Newfoundland and Labrador, make the dissemination of intimate images illegal without consent.

Read more:
Revenge porn is sexual violence, not millennial negligence

Which brings us back to Emma, who a year later had a second incident. She was on the now-defunct social networking app Houseparty and witnessed a friend being harassed online.

“The language they used was shocking,” says Mackie, whose daughter took screenshots of the chat and reported the incident to the police liaison officer at her school. The bully had sent an image depicting anal penetration of a popular children’s cartoon character, and the rest was “mostly words telling her to go kill herself.”

Words that, as it turns out, can lead to real harm.

Online violence and suicide

“Sexual violence has been around forever, but the context has shifted (online),” says Amanda Champion, a criminology PhD candidate at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C.

Champion is the co-author of a 2021 study that clarified the psychological link between TFSV and suicide. According to her findings, TFSV victims’ public exposure makes them targets for bullying, which can lead to depression and the feeling that they’re a burden to friends and family.

This “perceived burdensomeness” leads victims to “believe that you’re so much of a burden that your death is worth more than your life,” which opens the door to suicide, Champion says.

In Canada, this process was starkly illustrated in 2012, when 15-year-old Amanda Todd died by suicide after a nude screenshot of her was shared online without her consent. A year later, 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly raped and then bullied over shared photos of the assault, also ended her own life.

In light of these stories, lawyers have been pondering how to hold perpetrators accountable for TFSV while protecting survivors.

Legal options

In Canada, not a lot of people realize they can report TFSV to the police, says Suzie Dunn, a law and technology professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax. “It’s downplayed by society and even by police. People are still conceptualizing whether or not these are true harms,” she says.

When it comes to legal options, Kim and Dunn say the key is understanding what TFSV victims’ goals are. “Maybe they want images to be taken down, or an apology — not necessarily to put a person in jail,” says Kim.

Sometimes, the victims of TFSV are unclear what legal options are available to them.

Under the Canadian Criminal Code, an offender may be charged with voyeurism, obscene publication, criminal harassment, extortion or defamatory libel. However, if the only goal is to have harmful content taken down, then pursuing a criminal charge may be more trouble than it’s worth, Kim says.

The first barrier is convincing the police that there’s enough evidence to charge an offender. Then once in court, “you have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” — a high burden of proof, says Kim. During trial, the accused’s lawyer may also expose a survivor to further trauma.

Lastly, the criminal justice system moves slowly — and without a conviction, harmful content stays up, says Dunn.

The need for legal reform

Dunn says Canada lags behind other nations such as Australia when it comes to education, research and legislation around TFSV.

Since 2015, Australia has had an eSafety Commissioner, “the world’s first government agency committed to keeping its citizens safer online.” Kim and Dunn say Canada should have a similar government-funded statutory body that advocates in this area.

Starting points for advocacy may include implementing more expedient image take-down laws and regulating social media companies such as Facebook, agree Dunn and Kim.

“These platforms make money through engagement. What’s engaging content is often extreme content that tends to be abusive or violent,” says Kim.

In last fall’s federal election, the Liberals promised to rework online harms legislation within 100 days of Parliament’s Nov. 22 return — that timer is set to expire on March 2.

Anyone with concerns about online sexual violence is encouraged to visit CyberTip for resources, support and information.

Anthony Fong does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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How modern witches are enchanting TikTok

WitchTok is the subculture of pagans who use TikTok to share spells, learn about mythology and connect with co-religionists. (northeasternherb, showthe8thhouse, greenwitchmystics/TikTok)

Even before religious gatherings were forced to go virtual, one community in particular, contemporary pagans, were online — performing virtual rituals or discussing theology on chat forums.

Continuing this lineage is WitchTok, the subculture of pagans who use TikTok to share spells, learn about mythology and connect with co-religionists.

Contemporary paganism is an umbrella term encompassing many traditions, including Wicca, heathenry and Druidry. Generally speaking however, pagans are united by a reverence for nature and belief in one’s ability to interact — through ritual practices — with deities and energies throughout the universe.

As young people search for religion, or simply spirituality, many are turning to witchcraft. This might be because teens are inspired by TV shows, because witchcraft’s cottage-core esthetic reflects design trends, or perhaps, because a religion that values nature seems appropriate amid ecological crises.

Regardless of precisely why people belong, WitchTok connects people to this community and its practices.

Read more:
TikTok is a unique blend of social media platforms – here’s why kids love it

Since “joining” is as simple as clicking the hashtag, WitchTok is quite fluid and diverse. Some posts come from Wiccans who have been practising for decades, others from teens who may not even call themselves a witch (yet).

WitchTok includes people from different backgrounds educating and inspiring each other, but debates over what makes an “authentic” witch also crop up and have become quite contentious.

So what exactly are witches doing online? Broadly speaking, videos on WitchTok can be split into four main categories: entertainment, spells, promoting businesses and rants.

Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling

For many, WitchTok largely exists for entertainment. Popular videos display witchy décor throughout one’s home, or act out skits about living with a witch.

Entertaining posts are hardly frivolous. Creating content allows one to publicly proclaim their religious identity. Joining a trend, through comments or follow-up videos, connects witches with their broader community. Especially for witches “in the broom closet,” who do not publicly self-identify, simply seeing videos in one’s feed can offer validation.

Just follow these simple steps …

WitchTok is also a place to learn. Many videos share detailed steps for performing spells. One popular form of magic on WitchTok is spell jars. These can serve myriad purposes, with different ingredients offering protection, love or wealth.

Those who merely stumbled into WitchTok, perhaps through the hashtags #SelfCare or #Spirituality, discover the existence of magical practices. Novices who are actively exploring witchcraft can expand their knowledge. One might learn, for example, the magical properties of cinnamon.

Witches also troubleshoot for others, suggest alternative ingredients, or advise how to avoid magical malpractice. Fire safety, for instance, is a popular topic of conversation.

With many diverse perspectives online, WitchTok is also a space of collaboration. Users debate the difference between fresh or packaged herbs, or whether it is appropriate to perform certain types of magic.

The ‘witchy’ marketplace

One cannot ignore the commercial aspects of WitchTok. Take spell jars, for example. Each spell requires a well-stocked pantry. Even if someone grows their own herbs, many spells require glass vials. Other accoutrements for magic — incense for “cleansing,” candles for “sealing” — must also be bought. Through videos and comments, WitchTok advises where to purchase items.

Among the many businesses promoted on WitchTok, most popular are small-scale independent retailers, who sell crystals, tools and even assembled kits with everything one needs to perform magic.

Also popular are larger metaphysical stores, which cater to a broader “spiritual” clientele, but generally sell herbs, incense and other materials required for witchcraft.

From videos spotlighting products to sharing interactions with customers, WitchTok offers businesses a platform to connect with potential customers.

‘Sharing my two cents’

Everyone needs to vent, and this seems especially true online. Many videos involve ranting, as witches voice their opinions on various issues, such as which traditions are open or closed for borrowing.

Topics obviously shift over time; the creator who was cancelled in November might be forgotten by January. However, posts allow the broader community to construct outlooks on important issues. How does magic work? What sort of training is required?

Posting a video lets someone articulate where they stand on, say, performing hexes on another person. By commenting, others rebut or affirm that opinion. Even the passive act of liking a post can reinforce that outlook.

On a technological level, the more someone interacts with certain topics, the deeper TikTok’s algorithms draw you into specific discourses. Upon liking a video about hexes for instance, someone’s feed will soon be filled with instructional videos.

Finding connections in a modern world

Regardless of the type of content someone shares, WitchTok is an important outlet, allowing witches to express themselves as individuals and as a community.

WitchTok first helps Witches connect. Many witches, for various reasons, feel uncomfortable declaring their affiliation. Others live in areas without an offline community. WitchTok lets such people make important, affirming connections.

As a place to learn, social media is important for both novices and experienced practitioners. From advice on performing spells to discussing interactions with deities, WitchTok helps people deepen their knowledge of magic and witchcraft.

Finally, while the witchy esthetic is hardly unique to TikTok — many have noted its mainstream growth in recent years — exposure to products required for spells or popular décor help cement a certain style. As businesses promote themselves, WitchTok also drives traffic towards particular retailers and goods.

Whether someone is scrolling mindlessly or actively conducting research, WitchTok connects witches to their practices and community.

Chris Miller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Everyone should be concerned if the federal government bypasses the Canada Gazette

People gather to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates and masking measures during a rally in Kingston, Ont., in November 2021. Ottawa’s proposals to bypass publishing vaccine mandate guidelines goes against the principles of good governance. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Lars Hagberg

In late 2021, Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan signalled that his department would skip publication in the Canada Gazette of any new regulations on enforcing the federal government’s vaccine mandate for the core public service.

The Canada Gazette is the official publication of the Canadian government that publishes notices of statutes, regulations, proclamations and other business of government and Parliament.

As reported in the subscription-only Hill Times, O’Regan’s proposal to bypass the Gazette was apparently aimed at making good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s October 2021 promise to ensure the well-being of Canadians by making sure public servants were vaccinated.

While the government consulted with select stakeholders on the measures, bypassing publication in the Gazette — an important first stage in the regulation process — undercuts good governance principles of transparency, accountability and public trust.

The Trudeau cabinet’s directive allowing for this exception is consistent with recent moves by the federal government away from traditional values of procedural fairness and caution in order to act swiftly during the pandemic.

In his 2020 report to the prime minister, the clerk of the Privy Council, who is the head of the public service and the body that supports cabinet in its work, stated:

“Agility is our mindset: as this global pandemic quickly evolves, so too will our response.”

In June 2021, Trudeau praised the public service for “finding innovative ways to support the government’s efforts” to mitigate the pandemic’s impact.

Quick government responses have been necessary during the pandemic. However, government agility and immediate responsiveness at the expense of procedural safeguards can have significant consequences. Dispensing with democratic checks is a step to be taken with caution and eyes wide open.

Statutes and regulations

A vital component of the rule of law is that governments can act only within the authority granted to them by national constitutions. Statutory power is the most important instrument governments possess to convert policy choices into action.

Statutes are formal exercises of government policy decisions that are passed by Parliament before implementation by the public service. Parliamentary scrutiny ensures elected governments are held to account, and that their actions are brought into public light.

In contrast, regulations are cabinet decisions taken in accordance with statutes to implement laws, and aren’t subject to the same level of parliamentary scrutiny.

Under the Statutory Instruments Act, regulations are examined by the clerk of the Privy Council and the deputy justice minister, not Parliament, to ensure compliance with Canada’s Constitution and Parliament’s statutory authority prior to taking effect. Regulations become public when published in the Canada Gazette.

People line up for their vaccination appointments outside an ice hockey arena to receive their COVID-19 booster shots at Jabapalooza, a pop-up vaccine clinic, in Ottawa in December 2021.

Importance of Gazette publication

Canada Gazette publication of regulations before they take effect evolved as a standard and recognized system of announcing these decisions to the public and inviting input on them. Although there are exceptions to this process, it’s the accepted convention.

A 1901 edition of the Canada Gazette.
Government of Canada

The government must respond to the public input before registering the regulations with the clerk of the Privy Council and posting the regulations and response in the Gazette. The regulations are publicly distributed after approval by the governor general.

After coming into force, regulations are reviewed by a parliamentary committee that may recommend changes to the regulatory authority if a problem is found. If the two bodies cannot agree on a solution, Parliament can recommend disallowance of the regulation. However, revoking regulations can be difficult.

Skipping publication in the Canada Gazette dispenses with a time-honoured procedural safeguard that allows these decisions to be known to both Parliament and the public.

This leads to an interesting twist of potential relevance here. If regulations aren’t published in the Gazette, they’re still valid.

But they’re also in violation of the democratic principle that all laws must be knowable to the public. Violating that principle means that members of public cannot be subject to penalty for failure to comply.

In essence, they’re not enforceable because citizens don’t know about their responsibilities under the regulations if they aren’t first published in the Gazette.

Questions, consequences for democracy

Canadian democratic practices have developed over hundreds of years to prevent the misuse of government power and to build public trust. They ensure that expediency does not override transparency, accountability and good governance.

The question for Canadians is whether expediency warrants the avoidance of process and democratic safeguards.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau receives his COVID-19 vaccine booster shot at a pharmacy in Ottawa.

The current proposal to go around the Gazette may appear necessary for the government to act quickly to ensure vaccine mandates are observed. But is such urgency really warranted given the government promise has already been delayed for more than two months?

Is there a compelling reason not to publish the regulations and receive public input when the government has proclaimed loudly to its workforce that everyone must be vaccinated or face consequences? Or is it engaging in meaningless action if the regulations aren’t enforceable, thereby taking public credit for tough action but evading responsibility for actual enforcement?

The most important implications of this proposal are for the longer term because dispensing with safeguards in our system can open the door to future government actions being taken without regard for checks on the use of power.

In our view, bypassing the Canada Gazette for such important regulations is contrary to good governance and could erode public trust in government.

The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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