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In today's Morning Brief, we look at how revelations in Bob Woodward's new book about U.S. President Donald Trump have prompted new questions about the Canadian government's response to COVID-19.

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Woodward's Trump revelations raise questions about Canada's response to COVID-19

The revelations in journalist Bob Woodward's new book about what U.S. President Donald Trump knew about the threat posed by COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic have prompted new questions about the Canadian government's response to the virus, given how much intelligence is shared between the two countries.

Trump told Woodward on Feb. 7 that the U.S. knew that the virus was essentially airborne, and that COVID-19 was deadlier than even the most "strenuous" cases of the flu. Trump has been widely criticized for saying such things in private while downplaying the risk in public and failing to adequately warn the American people about the virus. He has defended his public statements about the virus, saying he didn't want to create "panic" and "cause serious problems for the country."

But Canadian officials also were reluctant to issue dire warnings about the threat posed by the virus in the early days of the pandemic. Health Minister Patty Hajdu even suggested at one point that the news media was stoking fears about the novel coronavirus. Hajdu and senior public health officials were saying publicly that the risk of transmission was low in Canada right up until early March. When the risk level suddenly jumped to "high" on March 15, the government scrambled to impose an economic lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.

Wesley Wark, a professor at the University of Ottawa and one of the country's foremost experts on Canada's intelligence agencies, said the U.S. likely had better reconnaissance on the virus than the Canadian government did in the early days. But Wark believes it's "very likely" that some information about the real threat posed by this virus flowed from the U.S. to Canada, especially at the "liaison" level between U.S. officials and Canadians embedded at the embassy in Washington.

Wark said that, like many U.S. officials, the federal government here downplayed some hard truths of the pandemic, such as the risk of asymptomatic transmission. "It seems clear to me that Canadian officials — even though they didn't have, I don't think, access to the more alarming intelligence the U.S. had — were clearly concerned in ways similar to the Trump administration about creating panic, sowing confusion in the Canadian public, and they were certainly concerned about the resource implication of taking earlier measures against COVID-19," he told CBC News, citing the government's initial reluctance to close borders and impose quarantines on returning travellers. Read more on this story here.

In the streets

(TUT.BY/AFP/Getty Images)

An opposition supporter stands in front of law enforcement officers blocking the street during a rally on Sunday in Minsk, Belarus to protest the presidential election results. Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, 66, who has been in office for 26 years, has vowed that he will not give up power to the opposition, which claims its candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, was the rightful winner of the Aug. 9 election.

In brief

Ontario's COVID-19 cases are rising at a rate not seen for months, raising the pressure on Premier Doug Ford's government and public health officials to take fresh action to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The average number of new COVID-19 infections confirmed daily in the province has doubled in a stretch of just three weeks. Ontario's daily count has exceeded 200 on each of the past three days, something that hasn't happened since early June. A senior provincial official told CBC News that there is "a growing sense of concern" in the government and among public health leaders over the rise in Ontario's COVID-19 numbers. If the trend continues, the official said the province would consider measures targeted at the specific locations and activities that are contributing to the infection rate. Toronto, Ottawa and Peel Region, which includes the cities of Brampton and Mississauga, account for the bulk of the province's new cases. Read more here on the situation in Ontario.

The sister of a woman killed in a boat crash involving entrepreneur Kevin O'Leary and his wife is frustrated with the justice system, and says that one year later, the families of the victims still don't have answers as to what happened that night in August 2019. "It's almost like a slap on the wrist for them and a slap in the face for the families," said Paula Brito, speaking for the first time since her sister, Suzana Brito, died from injuries sustained in the crash on a lake north of Toronto. "I feel that there hasn't been any accountability for what happened." Brito and her parents filed a wrongful death lawsuit in November 2019 against O'Leary and his wife, Linda, who was behind the wheel, as well as the owner and the driver of the other boat, seeking $2 million in damages. It's just one in a flurry of legal actions that are all temporarily on hold after the O'Learys filed a motion in court denying any negligence and liability in the crash and seeking to prevent any additional claims being made against them in other courts. Read more on this story here.

Much of southern B.C. has been shrouded in haze for days as smoke from the wildfires raging in Washington state and Oregon has drifted north, prompting Environment Canada to issue a special air quality statement for Metro Vancouver. The low air quality can have very real physical health effects, at a time when respiratory health is already top of mind. So if you're feeling under the weather — how can you tell whether your symptoms are related to COVID-19, or a side effect of poor air quality? Sarah Henderson, a senior environmental health scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, said that distinguishing between the two can be tough, as many symptoms of COVID-19 and signs of irritation from smoke can be similar. "There are some symptoms of COVID that we really wouldn't expect to be associated with smoke ... things like a fever, body aches, chills — those types of symptoms are unlikely to be caused by the smoke. However, there are symptoms that are very similar between the two and that's a dry cough, sore throat, runny nose and a headache," she said. Read more about the air quality issues here.

Watch | Air quality concerns rise as U.S. wildfire smoke hovers over B.C.:

Air quality concerns rise as U.S. wildfire smoke hovers over B.C.

3 years ago
Duration 3:41

Both Halle Berry and Regina King had their directorial debuts shown at this year's Toronto International Film Festival, and both are generating considerable excitement. King's One Night in Miami includes stories told from the past of each of its four iconic main characters: Malcolm X, Cassius Clay (just before he would take the name Muhammad Ali), Sam Cooke and Jim Brown. Berry's Bruised, meanwhile, had its world premiere at the festival on Saturday night as a "work in progress," but it has already landed a $19 million US deal with Netflix. It's a star turn for two women known primarily for their work in front of the camera, rather than behind it. Read more about the two films here.

Statistics Canada will issue its latest calculation of the consumer price index on Wednesday, and once again, there will be many who feel the figures simply don't reflect the rising costs they face for daily necessities from food to housing. For people like Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem, worried about the prospect of deflation — the falling prices that most economists fear can lead to deeper recession — public distrust of the data they rely on sends a mixed message. Macklem said last week that the public is better off if people understand how the bank tries to keep inflation on target. "Those benefits hinge importantly on people really understanding the regime and that really comes down to the importance of listening to Canadians and communicating with Canadians," Macklem said recently. But in some ways, complete confidence in the way Statistics Canada counts inflation may not be an entirely good thing when prices are not rising fast enough. Read more analysis from CBC business columnist Don Pittis.

Now for some good news to start your Monday: Jack and his beanstalk may have met his match in a P.E.I. boy who's grown a sunflower three times his size. Seven-year-old Landon Jorritsma of Meadowbank grew the sunflower after his Grade 1 teacher gave him a gift bag of seeds this summer. Landon went home, planted the seeds on his family's beef farm and tended to them over the months. With some patience and care, the sunflower continued to grow and reached more than 3.6 metres in height. On the first day of school this week, he brought in his gargantuan flower and showed it to his teacher, Loretta Anderson. Check out the photo of the towering sunflower and read more here.

Front Burner: WE Charity's rise to prominence — and unexpected fall

Back in 1995, a 12-year-old in Thornhill, Ont., was so moved by a newspaper story about the death of a boy in Pakistan who fought against child labour that he created a charity called Free the Children. Craig Kielburger, along with his brother Marc, went on to create a mass movement of youth activism.

But 25 years later, and following a political controversy related to a student volunteer grant program, the Kielburgers announced they were stepping down and closing the Canadian arm of WE Charity. 

Today, Marie-Danielle Smith and Jason Markusoff of Maclean's magazine report on the stratospheric rise — and the unexpected fall — of WE.

Today in history: September 14

1926: The federal Liberals, led by William Lyon Mackenzie King, defeat the Conservatives under Arthur Meighen in a general election.

1936: Dorothea Palmer is arrested and charged with distributing birth control medicine and information in Eastview, Ont., then a predominantly French-speaking, low-income suburb of Ottawa. Her lawyers argued that her work was not for profit but "for the public good." She was acquitted of all charges. 

1959: The Soviet space probe Luna 2 becomes the first man-made object to reach the moon as it crashes onto the lunar surface.

1969: The American oil tanker SS Manhattan becomes the first commercial vessel to navigate the Northwest Passage.

1987: The Toronto Blue Jays hit 10 home runs in an 18-3 romp over the visiting Baltimore Orioles, setting a major-league record for most home runs in a nine-inning game. 

With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press and Reuters

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