Canadian, U.S. truckers warn vaccine mandates will disrupt supply chains

By Steve Scherer and David Shepardson

OTTAWA/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The main trucking lobbies in Canada and the United States are warning that vaccine and testing requirements for workers will further disrupt supply chains because there is already a dire shortage of drivers.

Canada will require vaccines for truck drivers starting in January, while the Biden administration has issued rules requiring truck drivers at companies with 100 or more employees to be vaccinated or submit to weekly testing.

More than two-thirds of goods traded between Canada and the United States travels on roads and highways. For most of the pandemic, truckers crossed the border regularly as they were considered essential workers to keep supply chains flowing.

“We know that there already is disruption in the supply chain; this is going to intensify it,” said Stephen Laskowski, president and chief executive of the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), which represents some 4,500 carriers.

It estimates that 10-20%, or between 12,000-22,000 of Canadian truck drivers, and 40%, or some 16,000 of U.S. truck drivers traveling into Canada would be sidelined if the requirement begins.

“This is not a trucking issue. This is a Canada-U.S. economic issue,” Laskowski told Reuters, adding about 70% of that C$650 billion ($507 billion) U.S.-Canada trade moves by truck.

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), together with others, is seeking to block U.S. President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate in court.

A U.S. appeals court issued a temporary stay last month blocking the requirements. The court found “all else equal, a 28 year-old trucker spending the bulk of his workday in the solitude of his cab is simply less vulnerable to COVID-19 than a 62-year-old prison janitor.”

The Justice Department has asked another court to throw out the temporary stay, and a decision could come as soon as mid-December.

Supply chain problems caused by the pandemic has contributed to inflation in both countries rising to decades high.

“Given the nature of our industry and makeup of our workforce, (it) could have devastating impacts on the supply chain and the economy,” ATA President and CEO Chris Spear said in a statement.

In written comments filed with the Labor Department, the ATA said the nation’s motor carriers could lose up to 37% of their drivers to “retirements, attrition to smaller carriers and/or conversion to independent contractor owner-operators.”

Motor carriers move 70% of all U.S. freight tonnage.

Laskowski said there are already 18,000 job vacancies for truck drivers in Canada and he is pushing to delay the Jan. 15 deadline to give companies more time to deal with the situation.

Canada’s Transport, Health and Trade ministries did not comment when asked whether truckers would be given more time.

A Transport Ministry spokesman said it encourages “all Canadian industries to develop COVID-19 vaccination requirements for their employees.”

Despite the potential disruptions, some 70% of Canadians support Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s strict mandates, according to an EKOS Research poll.

“We’ll be seeing shortages of goods in stores” if the vaccine requirement deadline is not delayed, said Perrin Beatty, president of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

($1 = 1.2826 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

 

U.S., partners take punitive action against Belarus

By Daphne Psaledakis and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Thursday imposed restrictions on dealings in new issuances of Belarusian sovereign debt and expanded sanctions on the country, targeting dozens of individuals and entities in an action coordinated with partners including the EU.

Washington increased pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, targeting the country’s defense, security and potash sectors as well as officials and Lukashenko’s son in the move aimed at making Belarus accountable for allegedly orchestrating a migrant crisis in Europe.

The action was coordinated with Canada, Britain and the European Union. In a joint statement the group called on Lukashenko’s government to immediately and completely halt its orchestrating of irregular migration across its borders with the EU.

“Those, in Belarus or in third countries, who facilitate illegal crossing of the EU’s external borders should know this comes at a substantial cost,” the statement said.

The action came as East-West tensions have risen over the refugee crisis on the borders between Belarus, a Russian ally, and Poland and Lithuania.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it would retaliate against the EU sanctions. In a statement, it said: “The goal of this policy is to economically strangle Belarus, to complicate and worsen the life of Belarusians.”

“As a response, as we have previously said, we will take harsh, asymmetrical but adequate measures.”

It did not immediately comment on the action from the United States, Canada or the United Kingdom.

The U.S. Treasury Department issued a directive restricting Americans from transacting in, provision of and other dealings in new Belarusian sovereign debt with a maturity greater than 90 days issued on or after Thursday by the country’s finance ministry or Development Bank.

POTASH SECTOR

Washington also imposed sanctions on Belarus’s state-owned tourism company, Republican Unitary Enterprise Tsentrkurort, and seven Belarusian government officials over the migrant crisis.

EU countries have accused Belarus of creating a migrant standoff nL1N2SM0RR on the bloc’s eastern borders by encouraging thousands from the Middle East and Africa to try to cross into Poland and Lithuania, in revenge for Western sanctions on Minsk.

Lukashenko denies doing so and pins the blame for the crisis on the EU.

Rights groups say at least 13 people have died as migrants have camped in freezing conditions at the border.

Entities related to the potash sector were also blacklisted on Thursday. Britain targeted one of the world’s largest potash fertilizer producers, Belaruskali, while Washington imposed sanctions on several entities in an effort to limit the financial benefits Lukashenko’s government derives from potash exports.

Washington had already blacklisted the state-run Belaruskali in August, but added its exporting arm, the Belarus Potash Company, and another potash producer, Slavkali. Shares of global potash producers rose on Thursday following the announcement.

The U.S. Treasury issued a general license, authorizing activities necessary for the wind-down of transactions involving the Belarusian Potash Company or its subsidiary, Agrorozkvit LLC, until April 1.

Belarus Potash Company did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

DEFENSE FIRMS

Washington also blacklisted state-owned cargo carrier Transaviaexport Airlines, which it accused of shipping thousands of tons of ammunition and weapons to foreign conflict zones such as Libya, and two of its aircraft, as well as five entities that produce or export defense materials.

The defense firms listed included the makers of riot control barriers and armored vehicles that were deployed against demonstrators protesting the August 2020 election, a surveillance system maker and the state weapons exporter that provides cash for the government.

Brian O’Toole, a former Treasury official now with the Atlantic Council, said Thursday’s move helped the United States catch up with previous European Union action while also leaving “significant” room for escalation, giving Washington leverage to continue to pressure Minsk.

“This is exactly what you want to see out of the U.S. It’s a big action, it will have lots of impact, and there’s still lots of head room,” he said.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis, Simon Lewis and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Polina Devitt in Moscow; Robin Emmott in Brussels and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg and Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Matthew Lewis, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Frances Kerry)

 

Washington caps year of drills to deter China with ten-day military exercise

By Tim Kelly

USS CARL VINSON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday completed ten days of joint military drills in Asian waters with Japan and other allies as it ups the ante on deterring China from pursuing its territorial ambitions amid growing tension in the region over Taiwan.

The ANNUALEX drill included 35 warships and dozens of aircraft in the Philippine Sea off Japan’s southern coast. The U.S. and Japanese forces were led by the nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson carrier, which was also joined by ships from Canada, Australia, and for the first time, Germany. On Tuesday, the Vinson was being shadowed by a Chinese navy ship.

“We try to deter aggression from some nations that are showing burgeoning strength that maybe we haven’t experienced before,” U.S. Seventh Fleet commander Vice Admiral Karl Thomas said at a briefing aboard the carrier.

The exercise was meant to “tell those nations that maybe today is not the day,” he said.

Thomas was accompanied by the commander of the exercise, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Vice Admiral Hideki Yuasa. Home to the biggest concentration of American forces outside the United States, Tokyo is Washington’s key ally in the region.

Increasing pressure by China on Taiwan is causing concern in both Japan and the United States. Japan worries that key sea lanes supplying it will come under Beijing’s sway should it gain control of the island. That move would also threaten U.S. military bases in the region.

China, which views Taiwan as a breakaway province, says its intentions in the region are peaceful.

The ten-day exercise caps a year of drills between the United States, Japan and other countries, including Britain, France, Germany and the Netherlands.

London this year deployed its new $4.15 billion aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth to the region, culminating in a visit to Japan in September along with two destroyers, two frigates and a submarine.

To get there, it sailed through the contested South China Sea, of which China claims 90%. Also in September, Britain’s HMS Richmond passed through the Taiwan Strait separating the island from mainland China, prompting a rebuke from Beijing.

Tokyo, in its latest annual defense strategy paper, identifies China as its main national security threat and said it had a “sense of crisis” regarding Taiwan as Chinese military activity around the island intensifies.

The British carrier joined a Japanese carrier, along with the Vinson – which operates F-35 stealth jets – and the USS Ronald Reagan, for a rare four-carrier training exercise in the waters around Japan.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

Alcohol and auto parts: Canada’s warehouses fill up as floods stop flow of goods

By Julie Gordon, Rod Nickel and Nichola Saminather

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s warehouses are filling up with everything from furniture to alcohol, after floods in British Columbia washed out critical rail and road lines, disrupting already strained supply chains.

A week after a phenomenon known as an atmospheric river brought a month’s worth of rain in two days to the Pacific coast province, road traffic between Vancouver’s port, Canada’s busiest, and the rest of the country remains largely suspended.

Canadian Pacific Railway is set to restart service on Tuesday, while Canadian National Railway plans to reopen to limited traffic on Wednesday.

Shippers, meanwhile, are seeking extra storage space and eyeing alternative routes to move key manufacturing components. The disruptions come ahead of the busy holiday shopping season, with the Retail Council of Canada estimating a “significant” hit to companies. Still, Christmas won’t be totally ruined.

“People will be able to get gifts for holiday season,” said Greg Wilson, director of B.C. government relations for the Retail Council of Canada, adding consumers may need to make compromises on their wish lists.

From forest fires to floods, natural disasters are exposing Canada’s supply chain vulnerabilities, piling pressure on retailers and manufacturers already grappling with global supply chain clogs.

In Vancouver, warehousing and trucking firm 18 Wheels Logistics has filled every inch of its existing storage space with alcohol, auto parts and other goods. It signed a lease for another 180,000 square feet, the equivalent of two city blocks, to deal with excess demand.

“It’s quite a bit of space to take on,” said Chief Executive Adrian Wen.

Wen’s firm is also re-routing trucks laden with perishable goods and high-demand auto parts across the border into Washington state on a more circuitous route to destinations in Alberta and further east in Ontario and Quebec.

He said the trip takes two extra days for a firm relying on 350 drivers.

The infrastructure and emergency cost of the flood alone has been pegged at more than C$1 billion ($787 million), according to local officials. That does not include the hit to farmers, retailers and other businesses.

Logistics firm Volume Freight said it has secured storage in Vancouver for trapped goods from tires to furniture and is arranging for trucks to haul product from the city to provinces further east, via the United States, a costly endeavor.

“Right now, everyone is sitting and waiting… Everyone’s just in limbo,” said Chief Operating Officer Danica Sabourin, adding even when rail lines reopen, delays will last weeks due to the backlog.

The Port of Vancouver, which moves about C$240 billion of goods a year, said anchorage demand is “high and nearing capacity across all vessel types.”

On the other side of the disaster, a driver for Lipsett Cartage was forced to leave his truck loaded down with 94,000 pounds of steel in Kamloops, a city in British Columbia that is north of some of the worst flooding.

The company flew the driver back to Regina, but was unable to make a single shipment to or from Vancouver last week, whereas it usually does 10.

“It’s a mess,” said office manager Zoe Lipsett. “We’re absolutely to the wall, having companies call us, asking ‘How are we going to do this?'”

For Toronto-based shopping bag seller Progress Luv2Pak, the floods are the latest hurdle cutting them off from two long-delayed containers stuck at the Vancouver port.

Even when the shipments are released, Progress will have to find an alternative route to get them east, President Ben Hertzman said.

“I’m pretty numb to it by this point. I wake up everyday kind of expecting there to be another piece of chaos in the supply chain,” he said.

($1 = 1.2700 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Julie Gordon in Ottawa and Nichola Saminather in Toronto; additional reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal; Writing by Julie Gordon; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Canada floods cut rail link to Vancouver port; one dead

By Artur Gajda and Rod Nickel

MERRITT, British Columbia (Reuters) -Floods and landslides that have killed at least one person have cut all rail access to Canada’s largest port in the city of Vancouver, a spokesperson for the port said on Tuesday.

Two days of torrential rain across the Pacific province of British Columbia touched off major flooding and shut rail routes operated by Canadian Pacific Rail and Canadian National Railway, Canada’s two biggest rail companies.

“All rail service coming to and from the Port of Vancouver is halted because of flooding in the British Columbia interior,” port spokesperson Matti Polychronis said.

At least one person was killed when a mudslide swept cars off Highway 99 near Pemberton, some 100 miles (160 km) to the northeast of Vancouver.

Two people were missing and search and rescue crews were combing through the rubble, officials said.

Vancouver’s port moves C$550 million ($440 million) worth of cargo a day, ranging from automobiles and finished goods to essential commodities.

The floods temporarily shut down much of the movement of wheat and canola from Canada, one of the world’s biggest grain exporters, during a busy time for trains to haul grain to the port following the harvest.

Drought has sharply reduced the size of Canada’s crops this year, meaning a rail disruption of a few days may not create a significant backlog, a grain industry source told Reuters.

Del Dosdall, senior export manager at grain handler Parrish & Heimbecker, said he expected some rail services could be restored by the weekend. Another industry source said he expected the shutdown to last weeks.

OIL PIPELINES SHUT DOWN

Floods have also hampered pipelines. Enbridge Inc shut a segment of a British Columbia natural gas pipeline as a precaution.

The storms also forced the closure of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which carries up to 300,000 barrels per day of crude oil from Alberta province to the Pacific coast.

Copper and coal miner Teck Resources Limited said the floods had disrupted movement of its commodities to its export terminals, while potash exporter Canpotex Ltd said it was looking for alternatives to move the crop nutrient overseas.

Directly to the south of British Columbia, in the U.S. state of Washington, heavy rain forced evacuations and cut off electricity for more than 150,000 households on Monday.

The U.S. National Weather Service on Tuesday issued a flash flood in Mount Vernon, Washington, “due to the potential for a levee failure.”

Some areas of British Columbia received 8 inches (20 cm) of rain on Sunday, the amount that usually falls in a month.

Authorities in Merritt, some 120 miles (200 km) northeast of Vancouver, ordered all 8,000 citizens to leave on Monday as river waters rose quickly, but some were still trapped in their homes on Tuesday, said city spokesman Greg Lowis.

Snow blanketed the town on Tuesday and some cars could be seen floating in the flood waters up to 4 feet (1.22 m) deep.

The towns of Chilliwack and Abbotsford ordered partial evacuations.

Abbotsford also issued an emergency warning on Tuesday night, asking all residents to evacuate the Sumas Prairie region immediately as deteriorating conditions posed a significant threat to lives.

Rescuers equipped with diggers and body-sniffing dogs started clearing mounds of debris that have choked highways.

The landslides and floods come less than six months after a wildfires gutted an entire town in British Columbia as temperatures soared during a record-breaking heat dome, raising new worries about climate change.

(Reporting by Artur Gajda in Merritt and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Nia Williams in Calgary, Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, Brad Brooks in Lubbock, Texas and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; editing by Ed Osmond, Jonathan Oatis, Aurora Ellis and Sandra Maler)

Canada defends pandemic policy on asylum-seekers while letting more enter through exemptions

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – The Canadian government is trying to quash a legal challenge to its policy of turning back asylum-seekers entering the country between border crossings, saying the group bringing it lacks standing, even as it has granted a growing number of exemptions to the policy.

The parties were in court on Thursday arguing over who should be able to bring a case in the public interest.

Since March 2020, Canada has turned back at least 544 asylum-seekers trying to cross from the United States between ports of entry, government figures show.

The government says its policy is justified by the COVID-19 pandemic and the exemptions it has granted prove recourse is available.

Refugee lawyers said that these exemptions are inadequate, as at least one asylum-seeker was deported from the United States after receiving an exemption, and belie the policy’s justification.

“Refugee travel is not discretionary,” said Maureen Silcoff, a refugee lawyer and past president of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, which earlier this year challenged the policy.

The government argues that the association lacks legal standing and its challenge should be struck.

The association is neither the intended beneficiary nor the target of the rule and “has no real stake or genuine interest in the outcome of this litigation,” the government said in a court filing. It said asylum-seekers who have been turned back should bring the case.

Refugee lawyers said those asylum-seekers, some of whom end up in U.S. immigration detention, are poorly placed to challenge the policy.

Starting in July, Canada increased the number of National Interest Exemptions it issued to asylum-seekers who had been turned back, enabling them to enter Canada and file refugee claims.

Between March 2020 and July 2021, Canada had granted just eight such exemptions. By Oct. 14, that number had risen to 159 exemptions, according to documents filed in court.

Canada’s immigration ministry did not respond to questions about the criteria for these exemptions.

Canada has a Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States under which asylum-seekers who present at a land border crossing are turned back. It has been challenged twice but upheld most recently this spring.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Toronto says police not vaccinated by Nov 30 will be put on unpaid leave

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Members of Toronto’s police, the largest municipal force in Canada, will be placed on unpaid leave if they do not provide proof of complete inoculation against COVID-19 by Nov. 30, officials said on Thursday.

The move is the latest announcement in a crackdown by professional bodies across Canada. The police force said 90% of members had disclosed their vaccine status and of those, 94% had received two shots.

The Toronto Police Service employs over 5,500 officers and more than 2,200 civilian staff.

“Effective on November 30, 2021, any member … who has not disclosed their vaccination status or is not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will have rendered themselves unable to perform their duties. These members will be placed on an indefinite unpaid absence,” it said in a statement.

“The safety of our workplaces and the health of our members is of critical importance to the Service.”

Canada’s federal Liberal government said earlier this month it would place unvaccinated federal employees on unpaid leave if they had not proved their inoculation status by Oct 29.

Public broadcaster Canadian Broadcasting Corp said on Thursday it had set a Dec. 1 deadline for all staff, contractors, producers, vendors and guests to be fully vaccinated.

Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children placed 147 of its employees on unpaid leave on Thursday for failing to submit proof of full inoculation, a spokeswoman said.

The Ottawa Hospital, one of the biggest in Canada, has told 318 staff they will be put on unpaid leave unless they get fully vaccinated by Nov. 1, a spokesman told CTV news on Thursday.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Canada’s healthcare system ‘very fragile’, even as coronavirus recedes – official

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Healthcare systems across Canada are still very fragile from efforts needed to fight COVID-19, even as signs suggest a fourth wave is starting to recede, a top medical official said on Friday.

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said it was important for health workers to get vaccinated and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed.

“Everybody’s exhausted. And if health care workers have to go into quarantine for example, after exposure, the system simply isn’t going to be sustainable,” she told a briefing. “Our health systems are still very fragile.”

Official data show that as of Oct. 8, 81% of Canadians aged 12 and over have received two shots against COVID-19.

That said, COVID-19 is still posing serious problems in the western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which lifted most restrictions in July only to see cases soar.

“Surveillance data from this week indicates that although the virus continues to surge and present ongoing challenges in several areas … overall we’re observing a decline in COVID-19 disease activity nationally,” Tam said.

She also urged Canadians to get their annual shots against the flu, which is worst in the winter months.

“This is definitely not the year to have influenza wreak havoc,” she said.

Ontario, the most populous of the 10 provinces, on Friday began to allow residents to download proof of vaccination on to their devices as a QR code, as well as an application that will allow businesses to verify it.

While businesses such as restaurants and arenas have been required to ask for proof of vaccination since Sept. 22, this took the form of PDFs, which critics noted were easy to edit.

(Additional reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Canada to put federal workers who refuse COVID-19 vaccination on unpaid leave

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) -Canada’s federal employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and are not exempt from getting the shots will be put on administrative leave without pay, officials said on Wednesday, while domestic air, train and cruise ship travelers and workers will soon have to show proof of vaccination.

Federal employees will be required to show proof of vaccination through an online portal by Oct 29. Workers and travelers on trains, planes and cruise ships operating domestically must show they have been inoculated by Oct. 30.

The introduction of these vaccine mandates was a cornerstone pledge by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his campaign for re-election. The Liberals returned to power in a closely contested election last month, but fell short of winning a majority.

Canada’s vaccine policy will be one of the strictest in the world.

Fiji in August forced public servants to go on leave if unvaccinated. If still not inoculated by November, they will lose their jobs. Later this month, Italy will require proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection for all the country’s workers.

Canada’s vaccine mandate for federal workers, first promised on Aug 13, will be reassessed every six months and stay in place until the policy is no longer required, one official said.

For travelers, a negative COVID-19 test will not be accepted as a replacement for proof of vaccination after Nov. 30, officials said. Children under 12, who are not yet eligible for vaccination in Canada will be exempted from the travel mandate.

Last week, Trudeau said he would introduce his new Cabinet this month, and lawmakers would be back in parliament this fall.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa, Additional reporting by Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Berkrot)

Canada formally invokes 1977 pipeline treaty with U.S. over Line 5 dispute

By Nia Williams and Sebastien Malo

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -Canada on Monday formally invoked a 1977 treaty with the United States to request negotiations over Enbridge Inc’s Line 5 pipeline, escalating a long-running dispute over one of Canada’s major oil export pipelines.

Line 5 ships 540,000 barrels per day of crude and refined products from Superior, Wisconsin, to Sarnia, Ontario, but the state of Michigan wants it shut down over worries that a leak could develop in a four-mile section running beneath the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes.

Enbridge ignored Michigan’s order to halt operations earlier this year. The sides are embroiled in a legal battle, and took part in court-ordered mediation. The government of Canada has been pushing counterparts in the United States to intervene to help keep the pipeline open.

In a letter to the federal judge presiding over the case, Gordon Giffin, legal counsel for the Canadian government, said Canada had formally invoked Article Six of the 1977 Transit Pipelines Treaty.

The treaty, designed to stop U.S. or Canadian public officials from impeding the flow of oil in transit, has never been invoked before.

Canada’s foreign ministry and the U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Enbridge spokeswoman Tracy Larsson said Michigan had let parties know it is not committed to further mediation.

“We greatly appreciate the efforts of ‘Team Canada’ – from the Government of Canada to the provinces of Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Saskatchewan for their commitments and efforts to keep Line 5 open,” she said in an email.

(Additonal reporting by Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by David Gregorio)