Canada says U.S. ties could be undermined if Michigan shuts pipeline

By Nia Williams and David Ljunggren

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -A day before Michigan’s deadline to close down a key crude oil pipeline, Canada on Tuesday issued its strongest remarks so far about the move, warning that it could undermine relations with the United States, its closest ally and trading partner.

Canadian company Enbridge Inc is preparing for a legal battle with Michigan and courting protests from environmental groups, betting it can ignore the state’s Wednesday deadline to shut down Line 5, which runs under the Straits of Mackinac.

The Canadian government, intervening in the case to back Enbridge, said in a U.S. federal court filing that Michigan had no right to act unilaterally since a 1977 Canada-U.S. pipeline treaty guarantees the free flow of oil between the two nations.

“This case raises concerns regarding the efficacy of the historic framework upon which the U.S.-Canada relationship has been successfully managed for generations,” Ottawa said.

Michigan’s move “threatens to undermine important aspects of that cooperative international relationship”, it added.

The brief said Canada would suffer “massive and

potentially permanent disruption” from a shutdown. Line 5 brings 540,000 barrels-per-day of oil from western Canada to Ontario, Quebec, Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

Canada has been lobbying Washington officials to keep the pipeline open in what is likely to be an election year in Canada. The White House has so far kept quiet.

“We¬†don’t weigh in on that … it will be decided in court,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told reporters on Tuesday when asked about the White House’s position on Line 5.

In November, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer gave Enbridge six months to shut down the pipeline that runs four miles (6.4 km) along the bottom of Lake Michigan-Huron, citing fears it could rupture.

The order needs a confirmatory order from a judge to enforce it, and Enbridge and Michigan are disputing whether the issue should be heard in state or U.S. federal court.

The sides are in court-ordered mediation, with the next session scheduled for May 18.

“We will not stop operating the pipeline unless we are ordered by a court or our regulator, which we view as highly unlikely,” Enbridge spokeswoman Tracie Kenyon said in a statement this week.

Joe Comartin, Canada’s consul general in Detroit who is arguing on behalf of Ottawa, said litigation could drag on until at least 2024.

“I don’t see a court jumping the gun and ordering it closed … until the litigation and constitutional issues are resolved,” he said by phone.

Ontario estimates the city of Sarnia, across the border from Michigan, could lose 5,000 refinery and chemical plant jobs. Industry lobbyists say thousands of U.S. jobs are in danger.

Environmentalists and indigenous groups opposed to Line 5 say the potential job losses are exaggerated. They plan “Evict Enbridge” rallies in Mackinaw City, Michigan, on Wednesday and Thursday.

Michigan is reviewing what it could do if Enbridge ignores the order, said a spokeswoman for the Michigan Attorney General.

Canadian crude market forward prices suggest most traders do not expect a shutdown in coming months, but the uncertainty is concerning, said one Calgary-based market source.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Nia Williams; Editing by David Gregorio and Marguerita Choy)

Canada authorizes Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 12 to 15

TORONTO (Reuters) -Canada is authorizing the use of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in children from 12 to 15, the first dose to be allowed for people that young, the federal health ministry said on Wednesday.

“The department determined that this vaccine is safe and effective when used in this younger age group,” Supriya Sharma, a senior adviser at the ministry, told a briefing. “We are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Canada’s federal government has bought tens of millions of doses of vaccines but critics complain the pace of inoculation is lagging amid bottlenecks in the 10 provinces, which are responsible for administering the doses.

Sharma said Pfizer, which is working with German partner BioNTech SE, would be required to provide information on the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine in the 12 to 15 age group.

Around 20% of the 1,249,950 cases of COVID-19 in Canada have been reported in people under the age of 19. Canada has also recorded 24,396 deaths.

(Reporting by Allison Martell in Toronto and David Ljunggren in Ottawa, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

Exclusive-Canada taken to court over COVID policy that pushes asylum-seekers to U.S

By Anna Mehler Paperny

TORONTO (Reuters) – Canada’s pandemic-era policy of turning back asylum-seekers trying to enter between official border crossings is unlawful and violates their rights, a legal action filed on Tuesday alleges.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers filed the legal action in federal court claiming the policy is unlawful because it fails to consider the situation of asylum-seekers and whether they have reasonable alternatives available.

The policy also denies asylum-seekers their right to a hearing, according to a copy of the legal action seen by Reuters.

It is the first legal action against this policy since it was instituted in response to COVID-19 in March 2020.

Between March 21, 2020, and April 20, 2021, Canada turned back 387 asylum-seekers trying to cross between ports of entry, according to the Canada Border Services Agency.

Even though Canada said they could return at a later date to make refugee claims, the legal action argues Canada is not ensuring that the turning away of refugees is temporary.

Canada has previously said the turn-back policy, which it has been renewing monthly, is a necessary public health measure. Canada also says it has assurances from the United States that “most” asylum-seekers will be returned to Canada to pursue refugee claims.

But the United States deported at least one asylum-seeker turned back under this policy, according to the man’s lawyer and correspondence seen by Reuters. Others were held in a detention center.

Canada’s Public Safety Minister could not immediately be reached for comment.

Burundian Apollinaire Nduwimana tried to cross into Canada in October at Roxham Road, which has become a common destination for asylum-seekers skirting the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA).

Under the STCA, asylum-seekers crossing at a formal port of entry along the Canada-U.S. border are turned around and are often held in U.S. immigration detention. Last month, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the contested agreement after a lower court ruled the pact violated asylum-seekers’ fundamental rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Nduwimana aimed to avoid being turned back under the STCA, only to be turned back under the new policy. Canadian border officers handed him to U.S. authorities, who, he says, brought him to the immigration detention center at Batavia, New York.

According to his lawyers, U.S. authorities tried multiple times to deport him to Burundi, to which Canada has deferred deportations for reasons of humanitarian crisis.

Nduwimana is not directly affected by this legal action. But his case demonstrates the potential repercussions of this policy, lawyers say.

He was allowed to enter Canada under an exemption to the turn-back policy after being detained for five months. He has now filed a refugee claim.

He was one of nine turned-back asylum-seekers granted a national interest exemption letter by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marco Mendicino. According to the government, seven have come to Canada.

(Reporting by Anna Mehler Paperny in Toronto; Editing by Denny Thomas and Matthew Lewis)

Canada’s oil sands region becomes country’s COVID-19 hotspot

By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) – Canada’s remote oil sands region in northern Alberta has become a COVID-19 hotspot, disrupting essential annual maintenance work at its massive oil sands plants.

The oil-rich province of Alberta is battling the highest rate of COVID-19 in Canada as the country grapples with a third wave of the pandemic, and on Thursday hit a record for new daily infections, topping 2,000 a day for the first time. The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, home to the oil sands, has the highest rate of active cases per capita in the province.

Maintenance work is critical for production from Canada’s oil sands, which hold the world’s third-largest crude reserves and produce 3.1 million barrels per day, accounting for roughly three-quarters of the country’s total output.

Twelve oil sands plants including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Horizon and the Suncor Energy-owned Syncrude project are tackling outbreaks while in the middle of annual maintenance projects that require flying in extra workers from as far away as Atlantic Canada.

In total, there are 822 active cases at oil sands sites, according to Alberta Health. One worker has died.

Suncor has pushed back the maintenance turnaround on the U2 upgrader at its base plant site by at least a month to see if infections subside, said Terry Parker, executive director of the Building Trades of Alberta, representing 18 local unions.

“It’s a very stressful situation right now that they are facing,” Parker said, adding some workers were leaving the oil sands because of fears about becoming infected. “The owners are taking the precautions necessary, and we are still contracting this disease.”

A Suncor spokeswoman said the company is making minor adjustments to pre-work and day-to-day activities, but it remains on track with its planned maintenance.

CNRL, Suncor and Syncrude said COVID-19 safety protocols are in place. They have implemented rapid testing and isolation camps in a bid to slow the COVID-19 surge.

One contractor at CNRL’s Horizon plant, which has 328 active cases, the highest among the oil sands sites, said workers are tested every four days but that seemed to be having little impact on the outbreak.

“You have 8,000 people on site for four weeks, it’s going to be a thing,” he said, declining to be named because he is not authorized to speak to media.

Indigenous leaders this week called for stricter measures to control the spread of the virus and accused Alberta Premier Jason Kenney of “prioritizing profits over lives” by allowing infected workers to come to the region.

Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labor, called on Kenney to shut down work sites with outbreaks across the province, including the oil sands, to get the virus under control.

“This is a recipe for needless infection and needless deaths,” McGowan told Reuters.

Alberta has more than 21,000 active COVID-19 cases, including 632 people in hospital.

(Reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by Christopher Cushing)

U.S. adds 116 countries to its ‘Do Not Travel’ advisory list

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. State Department has added at least 116 countries this week to its “Level Four: Do Not Travel” advisory list, putting the UK, Canada, France, Israel, Mexico, Germany and others on the list, citing a “very high level of COVID-19.”

On Monday, the State Department said it would boost the number of countries receiving its highest advisory rating to about 80% of countries worldwide.

Before Tuesday, the State Department listed 34 out of about 200 countries as “Do Not Travel.” The State Department now lists 150 countries at Level Four. It declined to say when it would complete the updates.

The State Department said on Monday the move did not imply a reassessment of current health situations in some countries, but rather “reflects an adjustment in the State Department’s Travel Advisory system to rely more on (the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s) existing epidemiological assessments.”

The recommendations are not mandatory and do not bar Americans from travel.

Other countries in the “Do Not Travel” list include Finland, Egypt, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland and Spain. Some countries like China and Japan remain at Level 3: Reconsider Travel.”

Most Americans already had been prevented from traveling to much of Europe because of COVID-19 restrictions. Washington has barred nearly all non-U.S. citizens who have recently been in most of Europe, China, Brazil, Iran and South Africa.

On Tuesday, the United States extended by a further 30 days restrictions in place for 13 months that bar non-essential travel at its Canadian and Mexican borders.

Nick Calio, who heads Airlines for America, a trade group representing major U.S. carriers, told a U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday that policymakers needed to find a “road map” to reopening international travel.

Earlier this month, the CDC said fully vaccinated people could safely travel within the United States at “low risk,” but its director, Rochelle Walensky, discouraged Americans from doing so because of high coronavirus cases nationwide.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney)

COVID-19 cases in Canada’s most populous province could treble: CBC

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) – Modeling shows that cases of COVID-19 in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, could treble by the end of May unless tough restrictions are imposed, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. said on Friday.

Some hospitals say they are already close to breaking point as a rapidly worsening third wave rips through the province, and the head of its main nurses organization has called for a full lockdown including a curfew.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has so far resisted such wide-ranging steps but is under increasing criticism for how his government has handled the epidemic, is due to make an announcement at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Time (1830 GMT).

Ontario, which accounts for 38% of Canada’s population, announced a record 4,736 daily cases on Thursday and the CBC cited sources as saying this could rocket to 18,000 by end-May if current trends continued.

Canada’s response to the pandemic has been complicated by the division of responsibilities between the 10 provinces and Ottawa, which helps fund healthcare but is not in charge of medical services. The federal government is buying vaccines but the provinces are responsible for inoculations.

Ottawa said Moderna – blaming supply problems – would only be delivering 650,000 doses by the end of April as opposed to 1.2 million. It also said one to two million doses of the 12.3 million doses scheduled for delivery in the second quarter may be delayed until the third quarter.

“We are disappointed, and while we understand the challenges facing suppliers … our government will continue to press Moderna to fulfill its commitments,” Federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said in a statement.

Separately, a group representing doctors urged authorities to take “extraordinary measures.”

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) said the 10 provinces should band together to pool resources and allocate them where they were most needed.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and John Stonestreet)

Pfizer, Moderna COVID-19 vaccines highly effective after first shot in real-world use, -U.S. study

By Ankur Banerjee and Vishwadha Chander

(Reuters) – COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc with BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc reduced the risk of infection by 80% two weeks or more after the first of two shots, according to data from a real-world U.S. study released on Monday.

The risk of infection fell 90% by two weeks after the second shot, the study of just under 4,000 vaccinated U.S. healthcare personnel and first responders found.

The study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) evaluated the vaccines’ ability to protect against infection, including infections that did not cause symptoms. Previous clinical trials by the companies evaluated their vaccine’s efficacy in preventing illness from COVID-19.

The findings from of the real-world use of these messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines confirm the efficacy demonstrated in the large controlled clinical trials conducted before they received emergency use authorizations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The study looked at the effectiveness of the mRNA vaccines among 3,950 participants in six states over a 13-week period from Dec. 14, 2020 to March 13, 2021.

“The authorized mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provided early, substantial real-world protection against infection for our nation’s healthcare personnel, first responders, and other frontline essential workers,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

The new mRNA technology is a synthetic form of a natural chemical messenger being used to instruct cells to make proteins that mirror part of the novel coronavirus. That teaches the immune system to recognize and attack the actual virus.

The CDC study comes weeks after real-world data from Israel suggested that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 94% effective in preventing asymptomatic infections.

Some countries, including Britain and Canada, are allowing extended gaps between doses that differ from how the vaccines were tested in clinical trials in order to alleviate supply constraints. In the trials, there was a three-week gap between Pfizer shots and four weeks for the Moderna vaccine.

In Britain, authorities said in January that data supported its decision to move to 12 weeks between the first and second Pfizer/BioNtech shots. Pfizer and its German partner have warned that they had no evidence to prove that.

(Reporting by Ankur Banerjee and Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot)

Canada needs stricter health measures to counter rapid spread of COVID-19 variants – officials

By Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon

OTTAWA (Reuters) – COVID-19 variant cases are increasing rapidly in several parts of Canada and longer-range forecasts show that stronger public health restrictions will be required to counter the spread of the disease, health officials said on Friday.

Canada is expecting enough coronavirus vaccine doses to double its supply by the end of next week as it ramps up its vaccination program. But more transmissible variants now account for a high proportion of new cases, health officials said.

“Increasing case counts, shifting severity trends and a rising proportion of cases involving variants of concern is a reminder that we are in a very tight race between vaccines versus variants,” Canada’s chief medical officer, Theresa Tam, told reporters.

While Canada has handed out first shots to many of the most vulnerable and very elderly, recent data shows that young adults between 20 and 39 years of age are driving new cases now, health officials said.

Many parts of the country have begun to relax some health restrictions put in place to beat back a second wave, but Tam said Canadians should buckle down now to avoid a sharp rise in cases and a third wave.

“We are closer now than ever, but it is still too soon to relax measures and too soon to gather in areas where COVID-19 is still circulating in Canada,” Tam said.

“So as Passover, Easter and Ramadan approach, make plans to celebrate safely, including having virtual celebrations to protect each other as we make this the last big push to keep the path clear for vaccines,” she said.

As of Thursday, Canada had reported 22,790 deaths and 951,562 total coronavirus cases. On Friday, the officials told reporters that new modeling showed the domestic death toll could rise to between 22,875 and 23,315 by April 4, with total cases rising to between 973,080 and 1,005,020.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer and Julie Gordon; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern rail deal seen boosting farm sales

By Rod Nickel and Ankit Ajmera

(Reuters) – Canadian Pacific’s $25 billion deal to buy Kansas City Southern will create a rail network from Canada to Mexico that farm groups say could smooth the flow of their goods to market.

The deal, subject to approval by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, would combine CP’s cross-Canada network, which stretches as far south as Kansas City, Missouri, with its U.S. rival’s network, which extends south into Mexico.

Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Iowa-based Soy Transportation Coalition said the deal could increase market access for customers of each railway.

“Many current Canadian Pacific customers currently only have access to export terminals in the Pacific Northwest,” Steenhoek said in a statement. “Similarly, current Kansas City Southern customers may enjoy new access to markets served by the Canadian Pacific network.”

Mexico is a major buyer of U.S. corn and Canadian canola.

“This will open up a whole new set of opportunities for grain shipments,” said an industry source close to the deal.

Canadian grain handlers also see potential for enhanced sales, but are awaiting details on how much of a priority the combined company will place on customer service, said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, whose members include Cargill Ltd and Richardson International.

CP has effectively moved Canadian grain in the past year, but its spending on upgrading its network has lagged the agriculture sector’s growth during the past five years, Sobkowich said.

For Canadian oil, the merger may offer modest benefits for producers who ship with CP, said John Zahary, chief executive of Altex Energy, which operates rail uploading terminals connected to Canadian National, which handles more oil volumes.

The combination is likely to increase industry price competition and is thus unlikely to face regulatory roadblocks, analysts said.

“This is by default negative for the other railroads, including Canadian National, which faces a longer haul competitor into the Gulf Coast and Midwest,” J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Ossenbeck said in a research note.

Kansas City shares jumped 13% to $252.80 but were still well short of the offer price of $275, a move that analysts attributed to the extended lead time for the deal, which is not expected to close until the middle of 2022.

Shares of Canadian Pacific fell about 5%.

CP Chief Executive Keith Creel approached Kansas City Southern CEO Pat Ottensmeyer late last year to discuss a deal, the industry source said, adding that the two executives know each other well.

While it is the biggest M&A deal announced thus far in 2021 and is the largest ever involving two rail companies, it ranks behind the 2010 takeover of BNSF by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway for $26.4 billion.

The cash-and-stock offer has an enterprise value of about $29 billion, implying an 18 times multiple to Kansas City’s 2021 earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA) estimate, according to analysts.

That is higher than Kansas City’s current multiple of 14 times, making any competing bids unlikely, Ossenbeck said.

(Reporting by Ankit Ajmera and Sanjana Shivdas in Bengaluru, Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Maiya Keidan in Toronto; Editing by Christian Plumb, Anil D’Silva and Jonathan Oatis)

Exclusive: U.S. looks to Canada for minerals to build electric vehicles – documents

By Ernest Scheyder and Jeff Lewis

(Reuters) – The U.S. government is working to help American miners and battery makers expand into Canada, part of a strategy to boost regional production of minerals used to make electric vehicles and counter Chinese dominance.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Commerce is hosting a closed-door virtual meeting with miners and battery manufacturers to discuss ways to boost Canadian production of EV materials, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The move comes as demand for electrified transportation is set to surge over the next decade.

Conservationists have strongly opposed several large U.S. mining projects, leading officials to look north of the border to Canada and its supply of 13 of the 35 minerals deemed critical for national defense by Washington.

Tesla Inc, Albemarle Corp, Talon Metals Corp and Livent Corp are among the more-than 30 attendees at Thursday’s meeting who will discuss ways Washington can assist U.S. companies expand in Canada and overcome logistical challenges, according to the documents.

The U.S. Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The event comes after U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau committed last month to building an EV supply chain between the two countries.

Since Biden’s election, three U.S. mining companies have invested in Canada, where mining accounts for 5% of the country’s gross domestic product, versus roughly 0.9% in the United States.

Canada’s Fortune Minerals Ltd, which is developing a cobalt mine in the Northwest Territories, has also held funding talks with the U.S. Export/Import Bank, its chief executive told Reuters.

“The United States is really taking this seriously,” CEO Robin Goad said.

Lithium-ion batteries are dangerous to transport over long distances, so automakers prefer to have them built near assembly plants. That should aid efforts by Ontario and Quebec to develop their own battery cell plants with both provinces close to U.S. automakers in Michigan and Ohio, industry executives said.

“The border between Canada and the U.S. is inconsequential with respect to EVs and EV minerals,” said Arne Frandsen, CEO of mining investment group Pallinghurst, which is the largest shareholder in Nouveau Monde Graphite Inc, which is building a graphite mine and anode plant in Quebec.

Pallinghurst joined Livent last November to buy the Nemaska lithium project in Quebec, in what will be North America’s largest lithium mine. Both projects are slated to open by 2024 just as automakers launch dozens of new EV models.

“We do see Canada as a natural fit for expansion as the whole battery supply chain is going through a huge self-reckoning about sourcing,” said Livent CEO Paul Graves.

Livent has supply deals with BMW and Tesla.

’51ST STATE’

To be sure, the United States is also trying to boost domestic production of EV metals, which the Biden administration has said is critical.

But Washington is increasingly viewing Canada as a kind of “51st State” for mineral supply purposes and plans to deepen financial and logistical partnerships with the country’s mining sector over time, according to a U.S. government source.

Both countries are members of the Energy Resource Governance Initiative, a pact to share mining experience and resources.

Canadian firms are also able to apply for U.S. government grants under the U.S. Defense Production Act and other U.S. funding programs. There are no U.S. tariffs on Canadian EV battery metals or EV parts.

“You’re beginning to see Canada become an important part of the North American EV supply chain,” said Keith Phillips, CEO of Piedmont Lithium Ltd, which in January bought 20% of Sayona Mining Ltd, a developer of a Quebec lithium project.

Canada’s First Cobalt Corp is building the continent’s only cobalt refinery, part of an effort to wean the EV industry off supplies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, where child labor has been used. Cobalt is used to make battery cathodes.

Adding to the appeal of Canada, some of the country’s mines bill themselves as environmentally friendly and promise to use hydroelectric power to reduce their carbon emissions.

The United States knows “that we are the most-secure and most-resilient source of metal imports for them,” Canadian Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan told Reuters.

Last week, privately-held USA Rare Earth invested in Search Minerals Inc’s rare earths project in Newfoundland in eastern Canada.

While USA Rare Earth already controls a rare earths deposit in Texas, executives said they wanted access to more of the minerals used to make electronics and weapons.

“You can’t just rely on projects in the U.S. for supply,” said Pini Althaus, USA Rare Earth’s CEO. “You have to collaborate with Canada.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston and Jeff Lewis in Toronto; Editing by Amran Abocar and Marguerita Choy)