Neurotoxin may have caused diplomats’ illness in Cuba: study

HAVANA (Reuters) – Fumigation against mosquitoes in Cuba and not “sonic attacks” may have caused some 40 U.S. and Canadian diplomats and family members in Havana to fall ill, according to a new study commissioned by the Canadian government.

The incidents took place from late 2016 into 2018, causing the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to charge that diplomats were attacked by some sort of secret weapon. Canada has refrained from such charges.

The United States in 2017 reduced its embassy staff to a minimum and Canada followed more recently, citing the incidents and the danger posed to staff from what has become known as the “Havana Syndrome.”

Various scientific studies have yet to identify the cause of the diplomats’ cognitive ailments, ranging from dizziness and blurred vision to memory loss and difficulty concentrating.

The Canadian study by a team of researchers affiliated with the Brain Repair Centre at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Health Authority studied Canadian victims and even the brain of a pet dog after its demise in Canada.

The study was the first to include diplomats for whom there was baseline medical testing from before their postings in Havana, so as to better compare with the tests from afterwards. Canada started implementing the practice after diplomats first started complaining of sickness.

The researchers said they had detected different levels of brain damage in an area that causes symptoms reported by the diplomats and which is susceptible to neurotoxins. They then concluded that cholinesterase, a key enzyme required for the proper functioning of the nervous system, was being blocked there.

Some pesticides work by inhibiting cholinesterase, the report said, and during the 2016-2018 period when diplomats became ill normal fumigation in Cuba was stepped up due to the Zika epidemic in the Caribbean.

The report said the diplomats’ illnesses coincided with increased fumigation in and around residences where they lived. One of the authors of the study, Professor Alon Friedman, clarified in an email to Reuters that both Canadian and Cuban authorities were fumigating.

“We report the clinical, imaging and biochemical evidence consistent with the hypothesis of over-exposure to cholinesterase inhibitors as the cause of brain injury,” the study concluded while cautioning that other causes could not be ruled out and more study was needed.

Friedman said it was not clear whether the broader Cuban population was affected by the fumigation and if not, why, but his team was planning a further study on this together with Cuban scientists.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Canada bids to reassure U.S., other allies after intelligence official arrested

Cameron Ortis, director general with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's intelligence unit, is shown in a court sketch from his court hearing in Ottawa, Canada, September 13, 2019. Lauren Foster-MacLeod/Handout via REUTERS

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada is working to reassure the United States and other allies after a top police intelligence official was charged with leaking secrets, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday.

Cameron Ortis, a director general with the national police force’s intelligence unit, had access to highly sensitive domestic and foreign intelligence, and his arrest last week sparked fears of a possible major security breach.

Ortis was charged on Friday under a 2012 security information law used to prosecute spies.

Security experts say the case could damage Canada’s standing inside the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing network that also includes the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

“We are in direct communications with our allies on security, not only the Five Eyes group,” Trudeau said during a campaign stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

“We are also working with them to reassure them, but we want to ensure that everyone understands that we are taking this situation very seriously.”

Canadian security officials are working urgently to see what if any data might have been leaked, said a senior source with direct knowledge of the situation.

Canada’s allies are working on the assumption that if any secrets were shared, China and Russia are likely to have been the main beneficiaries, said a second source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Canadian officials say China, in particular, has been aggressively seeking to obtain sensitive information.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp., citing government documents, said the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation had tipped off Canada as it probed a separate criminal matter. The FBI discovered in 2018 that someone had contacted the head of Canadian company Phantom Secure offering to sell secrets.

The chief executive of the firm last year pleaded guilty to facilitating international narcotics traffic by supplying drug cartels with encrypted communications devices.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Commissioner Brenda Lucki is expected to provide a “short update” and answer questions on the case on Tuesday at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT).

On Monday, Lucki said the leaks could have hurt allied nations’ intelligence operations and promised that “mitigation strategies are being put in place as required.”

(Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Edmund Blair and Bernadette Baum)

Explainer: What do you do after a data breach?

FILE PHOTO: The logo and ticker for Capital One are displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

(Reuters) – A hacker has stolen the personal information of over 100 million people from Capital One Financial Corp, the company said this week, in the latest high-profile breach of sensitive consumer data.

Security experts say data breaches will continue to happen as cyber criminals and state-backed hackers target the protected information held by companies and government agencies.

Such attacks leave consumers vulnerable to fraud and identity theft. Here are some steps you can take to assess the severity of the breach and better secure yourself:

WHAT WAS COMPROMISED?

Breaches often cover a wide range of data. Information which is already publicly available, such as your name or email address, is seen as less of a concern.

Other details, however, can be extremely sensitive and need to remain private. For example, full credit card numbers, which could be used to make fraudulent purchases in your name, or passwords for your online accounts.

Even if stolen, the data may still be protected by encryption. Hacks by foreign governments are also usually seen as less dangerous for general consumers compared to data thefts by financially-motivated criminal gangs because most spy agencies do not sell or trade such information.

Much of the information stolen from Capital One was already public, including names and addresses of over 100 million people in the United States and Canada. But the breach also included 140,000 Social Security numbers which could be used to steal people’s identities.

To assess the severity of the breach, try and determine what information was compromised and in what format it was stolen.

AM I AFFECTED?

Try to establish if your data is likely to have been compromised in the breach. Are you a customer of the affected company? Do you know what data they hold on you? Does the breach only concern data collected in a specific time period?

Answering those questions will allow you to judge the level of risk, but remember some organizations may hold your data without you being aware. Those include credit-reporting companies such as Equifax Inc <EFX.N>, which suffered a breach in 2017 that affected 147 million people.

Breached companies are usually obliged to notify the people who are impacted, but this does not always happen immediately. Affected companies will typically post guidance for consumers on their own websites about data breaches.

Under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), companies have to inform victims of severe data breaches “without undue delay.” They must then describe in “clear and plain language” the nature of the breach, the likely consequences and what measures being taken to deal with it.

IS THIS A SCAM?

If you think you data was compromised, be on high alert for scams and fraud.

Watch your bank account balances and payment card statements carefully, especially if you believe your financial information has been compromised. If you spot any unusual activity, contact your bank or card provider immediately and inform the appropriate law enforcement agency.

Be aware of so-called “phishing” websites purporting to offer information about the breach, or even compensation, but actually set up by criminals to try and trick you into revealing more personal details or making a payment to the wrong account.

Fraudsters may also contact you directly, by phone or email, and could now be armed with large amounts of detailed personal information which will make them harder to spot. If you’re unsure about someone’s identity, find the affected company’s contact information and contact them independently.

Experts recommend changing passwords frequently and using a combination of letters, characters and symbols to maintain a complex passphrase that is less likely to be guessed.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs and Christopher Bing; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Susan Thomas)

Trump administration opens door to importing medicine from Canada

A pharmacist counts pills in a pharmacy in Toronto in this January 31, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Mark Blinch/Files

By Michael Erman

(Reuters) – The Trump administration took a first step on Wednesday toward allowing the importation of medicines from Canada, an action the president has advocated as a way to bring cheaper prescription drugs to Americans.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it and the Food and Drug Administration will propose a rule that will allow it to authorize states and other groups to pursue pilot projects related to importing drugs from Canada.

The agency also said that it would allow drugmakers to bring drugs that they sell more cheaply in foreign countries into the United States for sale here, potentially enabling them to sell below their contracted prices in the U.S.

Drug industry shares were lower slightly, with the NYSE Arca Pharmaceutical Index <.DRG> off 0.25 percent versus a broader flat market. Wall Street analysts said importation was far from being put into place and was limited to certain drugs from Canada.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said he has had prior discussion with Canada about importation and that it would be up to the states, pharmacies and distributors to address any hurdles.

“There are hurdles of course, but the hurdles now are known. They are being laid out and they are surmountable,” he said during a call with reporters.

Canadian officials were not immediately available for comment. Reuters has previously reported that Canada opposes any U.S. plans to buy Canadian prescription drugs that might threaten the country’s drug supply or raise costs for its own citizens.

Many drug purchase agreements in Canada forbid the re-export of drugs to other countries, according to a Canadian government memo obtained by Reuters.

“Given the size of the U.S. market and of large states such as Florida, which alone is two-thirds of the population of Canada, reliance on imports from Canada would have limited viability as a long term solution to the high cost of drugs in the U.S.,” Health Canada said in a statement on July 17.

Evercore ISI analysts Ross Muken and Michael Newshel said in a research note that any implementation is still far away given the technical steps of rulemaking and that the proposals will face challenges. For instance, he said, most Republicans in Congress oppose importation.

The first part of the proposal would allow states, wholesalers or pharmacists to submit plans for pilot projects for Canadian drugs if their raw materials are manufactured in the same plant as the U.S. version and are in line with the FDA’s approval. It would exclude biologics, infused drugs, injected drugs, inhaled drugs for surgery and certain parenteral drugs.

The Trump Administration has experienced several recent failures in its efforts to bring down drug prices. Its plans to make drugmakers disclose prices in TV ads had to be thrown out after it lost a legal battle with drugmakers, and it abandoned efforts to force pharmacy benefit managers to pass discounts onto Medicare recipients.

Drug pricing is an important election issue for Trump and also for Democrats, many of whom have said they would support importing medicines to lower U.S. drug prices. Pharmaceutical companies have opposed importing medicine.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Michael Erman and Caroline Humer in New York and Allison Martell in Toronto; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Canadian police descend on tiny Manitoba hamlet as teen murder suspects spotted

Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) continue their search for Kam McLeod and Bryer Schmegelsky, two teenage fugitives wanted in the murders of three people, near Gillam, Manitoba, Canada July 28, 2019. Manitoba RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canadian police descended on a tiny hamlet in northern Manitoba on Sunday after a reported sighting of two teenage fugitives wanted in the murders of three people, including American and Australian tourists.

The days-long manhunt for Kam McLeod, 19, and Bryer Schmegelsky, 18, which has crossed half the country, shifted to the area of York Landing, Manitoba, about 3,000 km (1,865 miles) from the crime scenes in British Columbia.

“Multiple resources are being sent to York Landing, Manitoba, to investigate a tip that the two suspects are possibly in, or near, the community,” the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said on Twitter. ” … despite reports, there’s no-one in custody at this time.”

The pair were originally reported as missing on July 19 but were later described as suspects in the killing of American Chynna Deese, 24, and her boyfriend, Australian Lucas Fowler, 23. Police charged the fugitives last week with the second-degree murder of Leonard Dyck, 64, a Vancouver botany professor. ]

Police had concentrated their search in recent days in the harsh terrain in the Gillam, Manitoba, area, more than 1,000 km (620 miles) north of Winnipeg, deploying drones, dogs and military help before shifting focus to York Landing on Sunday.

An official there said there had been sightings of the pair around the community’s landfill.

Chief Leroy Constant of York Factory Cree Nation&nbsp;said heavy winds were limiting police helicopters and drones.

“We are urging everyone to remain indoors with windows and doors locked. Patrols of the community will be done on a 24-hour basis,” he said in a statement.

(Writing by Amran Abocar; Editing by Paul Tait)

U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal will help stave off U.S. recession: U.S. Chamber CEO

By Andrea Shalal and Jonas Ekblom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Approval and implementation of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement will provide a major boost to the U.S. economy and help stave off a recession, Thomas Donohue, chief executive of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said on Thursday.

Donohue, whose organization is spearheading a major campaign to win passage of the trade agreement, said moving ahead with the USMCA would also help pave the way for trade agreements with China, the European Union, Japan and other countries.

“It is a major component in keeping us out of a recession,” Donohue told Reuters after a news conference with other trade associations pushing the U.S. Congress to ratify the replacement for the current North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

He said the timing was critical given other drags on the U.S. economy, including troubles at top U.S. exporter Boeing Co, which this week reported its biggest-ever quarterly loss due to the spiraling cost of resolving issues with its 737 MAX.

Boeing has reduced production of the grounded jet and suspended deliveries, but on Wednesday warned it might have to shut production completely if it runs into new hurdles with global regulators.

The single-aisle plane was grounded worldwide in March after two fatal crashes in Ethiopia and Indonesia.

“A reduction in our economic growth and our trade is taking place with the Boeing problem,” Donohue said. “They’ll survive this, they’ll move forward.”

House of Representatives Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democrats, who control the chamber, for not bringing the USMCA up for a vote before lawmakers leave for their summer recess.

“What will this do? Only make our country stronger, more prosperous, create more jobs, make the debate with China even in a stronger position for America and make the future better than it is today. But they didn’t do anything about it,” McCarthy told reporters at a news conference.

Donohue and other business leaders cited growing bipartisan support for the USMCA and expressed optimism that the House would move to ratify the agreement in September.

Nearly 600 trade and commerce groups sent a letter urging lawmakers to approve the deal as soon as possible.

“If we don’t move positively on Canada and Mexico, it will be very, very difficult for us to muster the goodwill in other places to get agreements with China, with Japan and the EU,” Donohue told a news conference.

Leaders from the United States, Mexico and Canada signed the agreement in November, but it must be ratified by lawmakers in all three countries.

House Democrats have promised to block the deal until their concerns over environmental, labor and pharmaceutical aspects of the agreement are met, but Donohue and others said they were upbeat those issues could be resolved.

White House officials say the agreement would add about half a percentage point of economic growth to the U.S. economy, creating several hundred thousand jobs and sparking up to $100 billion in new investments in the United States.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is due to meet with Democratic lawmakers about the agreement again this week, with a focus on enforcement issues.

Industry leaders said moving forward would reduce uncertainty and free businesses to make new investments.

“The thing we hear most about the need to move forward with this agreement is the need to provide certainty,” said Matthew Shay, president of the National Retail Federation.

The group said it would use state fairs and events in local districts in coming weeks to pressure lawmakers to back passage of the deal while campaigning against its opponents.

“We will be activating our grassroots network and targeting key districts,” Donohue said. “You can’t be pro-jobs and anti-USCMA.”

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

American caravan arrives in Canadian ‘birthplace of insulin’ for cheaper medicine

Type 1 diabetes advocates from the United States depart a Canadian pharmacy after purchasing lower cost insulin in London, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osor

By Tyler Choi

TORONTO (Reuters) – A self-declared “caravan” of Americans bused across the Canada-U.S. border on Saturday, seeking affordable prices for insulin and raising awareness of “the insulin price crisis” in the United States.

The group called Caravan to Canada started the journey from Minneapolis, Minnesota on Friday, and stopped at London, Ontario on Saturday, to purchase life-saving type 1 diabetes medication at a pharmacy.

The caravan numbers at approximately 20 people, according to Nicole Smith-Holt, a member of the group.&nbsp;Smith-Holt&nbsp;said her 26-year-old son died in June 2017 because he was forced to ration insulin due to the high cost. This is Smith-Holt’s second time on the caravan.

Caravan to Canada trekked the border in May for the same reasons, which Holt-Smith said was smaller than the group this week. She said Americans have gone to countries like Mexico and Canada for more affordable medications in the past and continue to do so.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported in May that Canadian pharmacists have seen a “quiet resurgence” in Americans coming to Canada looking for cheaper pharmaceuticals.

Insulin prices in the United States nearly doubled to an average annual cost of $5,705 in 2016 from $2,864 in 2012, according to a study in January.

Allison Nimlos, a Type 1 diabetes advocate from the United States, shows the less expensive Canadian insulin she purchased (right) after leaving a Canadian pharmacy in London, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Allison Nimlos, a Type 1 diabetes advocate from the United States, shows the less expensive Canadian insulin she purchased (right) after leaving a Canadian pharmacy in London, Ontario, Canada June 29, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

While not everyone purchased the same amount of insulin, Smith-Holt said most people are saving around $3,000 for three months of insulin, and as a whole, the group is saving around $15,000 to $20,000.

Prescriptions for insulin are not required in Canadian pharmacies Smith-Holt said, but the caravan has them so they can prove to the border patrol they are not intending to resell them when returning to the United States.

Quinn Nystrom, a leader of T1International’s Minnesota chapter, said on May via Twitter that the price of insulin in the United States per vial was $320, while in Canada the same medication under a different name was $30.

T1International, a non-profit that advocates for increased access to type 1 diabetes medication, has described the situation in U.S. as an insulin crisis.

“We know that many people couldn’t make this trip because they cannot afford the costs associated with traveling to another country to buy insulin there,” said Elizabeth Pfiester, the executive director of T1International in a press release.

An itinerary states the caravan will stop at the Banting House in London, Ontario later in the day. The Banting House is where Canadian physician and scientist Frederick Banting, who discovered insulin, lived from 1920 to 1921, and is called the “birthplace of insulin”, according to the Banting House website.

Smith-Holt said the group is not currently planning any future trips, but they could be organized in the near future depending on need. She hopes for long-term solutions in the United States like price caps, anti-gouging laws, patent reform and transparency from pharmaceutical companies.

(Reporting by Tyler Choi, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying by Russia asks Trump to help

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, speaks inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing to consider an appeal to extend his detention in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying called on U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Britain, Canada and Ireland to help him as he appeared in court at an appeal hearing on Thursday.

Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in jail.

Whelan said last month that he had been threatened by a Russian investigator in custody and harassed, accusations that added to strains in U.S.-Russian relations.

“Mr president (Trump), we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect and defend American citizens wherever they are in the world,” Whelan told reporters at a hearing in Moscow on Thursday.

“I am asking the leaders and governments in Ottawa, Dublin, London and Washington for their help and public statements of support,” he said, standing inside a glass cage.

Whelan’s lawyer has said his client was framed and that he was given a flash drive by an acquaintance that he thought contained holiday photos, but that actually held classified information.

Whelan was in court on Thursday to appeal against the extension of his custody until Aug. 29. The court ruled against him.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Canadian inquiry calls deaths of indigenous women ‘genocide’

A woman holds a sign during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

OTTAWA (Reuters) – The deaths in Canada of more than a thousand aboriginal women and girls in recent decades was a national genocide, a government inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women concluded in a report on Monday.

The 1,200-page report, which resulted from an inquiry launched by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government in 2016, blamed the violence on long-standing discrimination against indigenous people and Canada’s failure to protect them.

It also made sweeping recommendations to prevent future violence against indigenous women.

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie take part in a moment of silence during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie take part in a moment of silence during the closing ceremony of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, June 3, 2019. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police revealed in 2014 that 1,017 aboriginal women had been murdered between 1980 and 2012.

The inquiry, which was beset by delays and staff resignations, opened painful wounds as it heard testimony from 468 family members of missing or murdered women.

“The truths shared in these National Inquiry hearings tell the story and or, more accurately, thousands of stories of acts of genocide against First Nations, Inuit and Métis, women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people,” the report read.

The 2SLGBTQQIA group refers to two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual people.

“This violence amounts to a race-based genocide of Indigenous Peoples, including First Nations, Inuit, and Métis, which especially targets women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people.”

The final report, called “Reclaiming Power and Place,” was presented during a ceremony in Gatineau, Quebec, near the Canadian capital, and was attended by some of the hundreds of family members of those missing or murdered, and by government officials including Trudeau.

While aboriginal people account for only about 4 percent of Canada’s population, they on average suffer from higher rates of crime, poverty and addiction.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Paul Simao)

Philippines sends trash back to Canada after Duterte escalates row

Philippine customs officials inspect cargo containers containing tonnes of garbage shipped by Canada at Manila port November 10, 2014. Mandatory credit BAN Toxics/Handout via REUTERS

By Ronn Bautista

SUBIC, Philippines (Reuters) – The Philippines has started returning dozens of shipping containers full of trash to Canada after a long-running row over waste exports that has tested diplomatic ties amid threats from firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte.

The 69 containers were loaded overnight onto a vessel at the port of Subic, northwest of Manila, and left on Friday for a month-long journey to the Canadian city of Vancouver.

A Philippine court in 2016 declared the import of 2,400 tonnes of Canadian waste illegal. It had been mislabeled as plastics for recycling.

Canada said the waste, exported to the Philippines between 2013 and 2014, was a private commercial transaction done without the government’s consent.

“The government of Canada is taking all the necessary measures to ensure safe and environmentally sound transport, handling and disposal of the waste in Canada,” Mark Johnson, spokesman for Canada’s environment and climate change ministry, said in an email statement.

The Philippines had accused Canada of stalling, prompting angry rebukes from Duterte, a volatile but hugely popular president known for his tirades against Western governments.

He threatened to declare war on Canada, dump the trash in front of its embassy in Manila, or personally sail with the waste and leave it in Canadian waters.

His spokesman, Salvador Panelo, said he hoped ties with Canada would now return to normal.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin said diplomats whom he had ordered to leave Canada in protest had now been told to return. Locsin posted a picture on Twitter on Friday of the ship departing Subic, with the message “Baaaaaaaaa bye”.

The Philippines is the latest Southeast Asian nation to take issue with developed nations they say use the region as a dumping grounds for waste.

Malaysia, the world’s main destination for plastic waste after China, said on Tuesday it would return as much as 3,000 tonnes of waste back to the countries of origin.

Environmental activists gathered in Subic as the containers were being prepared, holding banners that said “never again” and “we are not the world’s dump site.”

Some carried cardboard boxes made to look like shipping containers bearing signs that read “good riddance” and “Canada take back your trash”.

“The waste trade is a very unacceptable practice. It is a deplorable practice,” Greenpeace Philippines director Lea Guerrero told reporters.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales in MANILA; Editing by Martin Petty and Darren Schuettler)