How a single company ‘silently’ took over the world of visa processing in an age of record migration

Never before have more people been on the move. Globalization, war and climate catastrophes have pushed workers, refugees and migrants to leave their homes at record pace.

And yet budget-conscious governments around the world have increasingly turned to private, for-profit companies to handle visa processing.

Enter VFS Global.

Headquartered in Zurich and Dubai, VFS Global dominates the international visa outsourcing market.

The company, whose acronym stands for Visa Facilitation Services, has grown from being the first of its kind with a single visa office in Mumbai, India two decades ago to a global juggernaut with more than 3,500 visa application centres in 141 countries representing the interests of 65 “client governments.”

To put this into perspective, that’s the equivalent of a new visa centre opening every other day for 20 years.

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VFS Global’s website says it has processed more than 240 million visa applications since 2001 and collected close to 110 million sets of biometric data (fingerprints and photos) since 2007.

The industry and VFS Global have turned the once costly endeavour of operating consulates and embassies into a money-making opportunity for cash-strapped immigration departments.

“When it comes to outsourcing of visa processing, this is a global phenomenon,” said Federica Infantino, a researcher at the Migration Policy Centre at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. “VFS Global is the most important actor in this business. It’s the largest company providing services to governments.”

VFS Global visa application centres

Administrative tasks, such as filling out paperwork and making sure applicants submit necessary documents, once handled by high-salary bureaucrats are now handled by VFS Global visa centre employees.

These for-profit businesses have become an indispensable part of Canada’s mission to attract visitors and new immigrants, too, performing mandatory security screening, gathering applicants’ health and financial records, and offering services in local languages in formerly underserved areas of the world.

One hundred and sixty-two Canadian visa centres in 109 countries run by VFS Global handle millions of visa applications each year. A 2018 press release from the company said Canada had the “most extensive” network of visa centres in the world.

But recent crises, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, have caused people to question the effectiveness of this system.

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Complaints about inadequate resources, long delays, ill-informed staff and dysfunctional online booking portals at Canadian visa centres in Europe have emerged as defining characteristics of the struggle to bring Ukrainians to Canada.

VFS Global has also faced criticism about a past privacy breach and its business operations in China.

For Oleksandr Baranov and his wife Inna, who spent a month getting a visa for Inna’s 84-year-old mother to come to Canada after she fled the war in Ukraine, being forced to deal with a private company at a time of crisis was a source of anger and frustration.

“(They) don’t care about people,” Oleksandr said, describing his experience at Canada’s visa centre in Warsaw, Poland. “(We) are just units.”

The Baranovs have lived in Canada for two decades. In the hopes of getting a visa for Inna’s mother, they took turns flying to Poland in April to stand in line at the Canadian visa centre run by VFS Global in Warsaw.

During this time, they said they received contradictory and inaccurate information from the company’s staff. For example, they said they were told Inna’s mother needed an appointment to get her visa, but they later found out they could send her passport by mail.

The couple also tried to contact VFS Global customer support by email to get help, but said they didn’t receive a response for 18 days.

Eventually, the Baranovs received a tracking number that allowed them to monitor the application, but it wasn’t until a lawyer in Canada contacted the Canadian embassy in Warsaw on their behalf that a visa was issued.

“Honestly, I thought she would die here,” Oleksandr said.

VFS Global visa application centre Warsaw, Poland

Oleksandr's mother-in-law Lidiia Kuryliak, 84, on her way from the Polish border city of Przemysl to Warsaw, April 12, 2022.

Oleksandr Baranov

Complaints made by the Baranovs are not unique.

Alex Pawlowsky, a Canadian who lives in Berlin, was on a train in March when he met a Ukrainian woman who fled the Russian invasion and wanted to come to Canada.

Because the woman didn’t speak German or English – Pawlowsky speaks Ukrainian – he offered to help her.

When they arrived at VFS Global’s office in downtown Berlin, there were 20 or 30 people standing outside, Pawlowsky said. Some of them told him they’d been sleeping in their cars for three days. Each morning they’d wake up and stand in line with the hope of getting an appointment for a visa.

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Pawlowsky said the only instructions at the visa centre were in English, on a sign posted on the front door. It said that “due to high demand,” biometric data (fingerprints and photos) needed to get a visa couldn’t be collected without first booking an appointment online.

But when the woman Pawlowsky was with tried to book an appointment, there were none available, he said. She ended up leaving the visa centre in Berlin empty-handed and made an appointment in Paris scheduled for three weeks later.

“What I saw there was really shocking and embarrassing,” Pawlowsky said. “I felt somewhere between nausea and like I wanted to cry.”

People waiting outside VFS Global visa application centre in Berlin, Germany.

People waiting outside Canada's visa application centre in Berlin, Germany during the week of March 21, 2022.

Alexander Pawlowsky

The government insists it’s doing everything it can to speed up the visa application process for people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada has waived biometric requirements for Ukrainian children, elderly people and anyone who received a Canadian visa in the past decade. It also shifted employees and equipment to Warsaw and Berlin to help take fingerprints and photos.

Isabelle Dubois, a spokesperson for Immigration Canada, said capacity at visa centres in Europe has doubled since the Russian invasion, to more than 18,000 appointments a week.

The government also said it has met its goal of processing Ukrainian visa applications within two weeks or less in 93 per cent of cases.

VFS Global declined to participate in an interview for this story.

In a written statement, the company said that it plays no role in deciding who gets a visa and that it has no control over how long it takes for a visa to be issued once a passport is sent to the government for processing.

“The outflow of Ukrainian refugees seeking safe haven is without precedent,” the company said. “We have proactively taken a series of actions in impacted countries. We quickly mobilized resources from around the globe to provide extra support to client governments amid a surge of applications.”

According to the company, this includes opening four “pop-up” Canadian visa centres in Europe between April 14 and April 27: two in Poland, one in Slovakia and another in Hungary.

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The company also said it has hired as many Ukrainian-speaking staff as possible to work at visa and customer support centres and that it added a page to its website with information for Ukrainians trying to come to Canada.

“When we become aware of any situation where applicants feel underserved, we do our best to resolve the problems as soon as possible,” the company said.

Traditionally, every part of the process to get a visa was handled by consulate and embassy officials. The same people who decided if someone got a visa also handled administrative tasks, such as tracking down incomplete files, filling out basic forms and meeting with applicants to collect required documents.

That all changed in 2001 when Indian entrepreneur Zubin Karkaria persuaded the U.S. government to let him run a pilot project handling the administrative side of visa processing at its Mumbai consulate.

According to various Indian newspaper articles, Karkaria is a Zoroastrian priest who worked at a friend’s travel agency while in university. He received a knighthood from French president François Hollande in 2016 for his work promoting France as a travel destination. VFS Global’s website describes him as a “pioneer of the global visa services industry.”

“Embassies were dealing with growing piles of administrative work,” Karkaria told Forbes magazine in 2018. “We conceptualized a simple but absolutely unique solution of managing the visa process for governments.”

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The company quickly grew when governments realized private-sector employees could handle much of the work done by consulates and embassies, often at a discount.

In general, this is because visa outsourcers work on a user-pay model, where operating costs are passed onto visa applicants in the form of service fees.

VFS Global CEO Zubin Karkaria

Zubin Karkaria, CEO and founder of VFS Global.

YouTube/Kouni Group

And while Canada’s arrangement with VFS Global is somewhat different – Canada pays VFS Global to operate its network of visa centres – experts say it would be “extraordinarily expensive” to offer the same level of service using bureaucrats.

“My impression was that this was a cost-cutting exercise,” said Victor Satzewich, an expert in Canadian visa policy and a sociology professor at McMaster University.

Satzewich was conducting research in Southeast Asia at the time Canada began working with VFS Global on a large scale.

He said his conversations with immigration officials – his research was conducted in Manila in the early 2010s – left him with the sense that consulate staff welcomed the privatization of certain tasks because it freed up time and meant they no longer needed to chase after applicants.

“VFS Global and outsourcing was a real godsend for them because it took away a lot of the back and forth that exists,” Satzewich said.

By 2018, Canada had signed contracts worth $185 million with VFS Global and TT Services, a subsidiary of VFS Global, to run all of its visa centres around the world for the next five years.

Government procurement records show VFS Global and TT Services received an additional $100 million through amendments to these contracts between 2021 and 2022.

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But advocates and researchers have raised concerns about visa outsourcing, including worries migrants are being “commodified.”

Maria Luisa Sánchez-Barrueco, a senior lecturer of European law at the University of Deusto in Bilbao, Spain, said companies like VFS Global aren’t really interested in whether visa applicants get approved, so long as they’re paying for services, especially more expensive “premium” services.

This includes things such as text-message updates and access to one of VFS Global’s “premium lounges.” The company describes its lounges as “modern-day, smooth and seamless,” and as a place where would-be travellers receive personalized care, dedicated customer support and faster submission of their visa applications.

The cost of lounge access varies by country. In India, it costs $56 to access the premium lounge at a Canadian visa centre. In Thailand, it’s $98 and in the United Arab Emirates, it’s $143. Anyone in the UAE who wants a United Kingdom visa can pay $184 to get into the premium lounge or $420 for “platinum lounge” access.

VFS Global also offers “visa at your door” service, which is when visa centre staff show up at a home or business and complete the application process there. The company’s website says this service is popular with “large groups of travellers, especially those from smaller cities, corporates (sic), film crews, celebrities, travel agencies and high net worth individuals.”

“The companies don’t want more migrants. They want more and better visa applicants because that is where they earn money,” Sánchez-Barrueco said.

VFS Global visa application centres.

Maria Luisa Sánchez-Barrueco at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium on April 20, 2022.

Maria Luisa Sánchez-Barrueco

Sánchez-Barrueco spent five years studying visa outsourcing and the relationship between VFS Global and the Spanish government. Her research was primarily completed in Ecuador and included conversations with people who wanted a visa to travel to Spain.

Among her key findings was the idea that “commodification of short-term migration” led to an exponential increase in the privatization of visa processing.

“This phenomenon spread in a very silent way,” she said.

Sánchez-Barrueco also found visa applicants were willing to provide sensitive health and financial records if it meant getting a visa faster.

For example, a young woman told Sánchez-Barrueco that if VFS Global asked for her father’s financial records as part of her application to study in Spain, she would hand them over because she needed to get her visa “as soon as possible.”

“Something we shouldn’t disregard is the wealth of information visa applicants are sharing with this company,” she said.

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Sánchez-Barrueco said her work also revealed that the person running Spain’s visa centre for VFS Global in Ecuador was a former Spanish consulate official.

While she has no evidence that suggests this is a common phenomenon, or that this person’s appointment resulted in any inappropriate actions, she was nevertheless concerned about the potential conflict of interest and the possibility that this person could use his past position to influence decisions about who gets a visa.

“This is very shady in my view,” Sánchez-Barrueco said.

VFS Global, meanwhile, said it adheres to all privacy laws of the countries it works for and that its employees ask for necessary documents only, which are then purged from its computer system once an application is complete.

The company also said it handles “non-judgmental and administrative” tasks,  meaning it’s not involved in deciding who gets a visa, and that its employees aren’t aware of the outcome of the cases they work on.

Concerns have also emerged about visa outsourcing and the possible exploitation of vulnerable migrants.

A 2019 investigation carried out by British newspapers The Independent and Finance Uncovered found the U.K. Home Office, which is responsible for immigration, made £1.6 billion (about C$2.5 billion) in profits from visa applicants during the five-year period after it signed a deal with VFS Global. This was a nine-time increase over what it made during the five-year period before working with VFS Global.

The report found the average amount of money the government made from each visa applicant increased from £29 ($47) in 2014 to £123 ($197) in 2019.

Most of this increase, the report said, was because the government took a cut of the profits VFS Global made selling applicants premium services, such as lounge access, text message updates and express visa processing. Lawyers told the newspapers migrants may feel pressured to purchase these services in order to secure a visa.

“Profiteering by private companies has no place in public services,” British Labour MP Dianne Abbott said at the time.

The U.K. denied it made any profits from selling premium or value-added services. The Home Office told The Independent any revenue it earned because of its relationship with VFS Global was used to pay for other immigration-related costs.

VFS Global said its premium services were “developed in response to specific demands from applicants for greater accessibility, personalization and convenience.” The company also said these services are clearly labelled as optional.

Immigration Canada said it makes no money when applicants buy premium services from VFS Global under the terms of its current contract with the company.

Applicants can also submit their visa applications to the government directly through an online portal, although biometric data must still be collected from a visa centre.

When asked if the government has ruled out any future profit-sharing arrangements with the company, Immigration Canada didn’t say.

“Value-added services offered at VACs are optional services designed for the benefit of the applicant who chooses to use them and to improve client service,” Dubois said.

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But a recent “Letter of Interest” published by the government as part of its plan to renew its visa outsourcing contracts shows Immigration Canada is looking to expand the types of services visa centres offer, including more premium and value-added services for applicants who are “willing to pay additional fees.”

Meanwhile, a review of past financial statements released by Immigration Canada shows the department collected twice as much revenue from “immigration service fees” in 2020 ($766 million) than it did in 2013 ($305 million).

The statement for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2020, showed the department earned $177 million more than it spent processing visa applications for visitors, students and workers that year.

The most recent financial statement, released in August 2021, shows the department expected to earn $1 billion in revenue from immigration service fees last year, but fell short because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The period covered by these financial statements lines up with the time Immigration Canada has worked with VFS Global to expand its network of visa centres on a worldwide scale. It also coincides with a jump in visitor visa applications, from 1.2 million applications in 2012 to 2.2 million applications in 2019. During this time, the acceptance rate for visitor visa applications fell from 82 per cent to 64 per cent.

Another concern about visa outsourcing is that once governments decide to hand over control to a private company, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to go back.

Sánchez-Barrueco, the Spanish researcher, said it’s “unthinkable” that governments could take back the administrative work now handled by private visa centres.

The cost of redeploying immigration staff to consulates and embassies would be prohibitive, she said. It would also likely be difficult to get the technology needed to perform large-scale biometric security screening.

“The company knows it. It knows that it has governments wrapped around its fingers,” she said.

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Infantino, the researcher from Italy, said another reason why governments might not want to go back to the way things used to be is that visa outsourcing shields immigration officials from accountability.

If, for example, visa applicants are given misleading or erroneous information, it’s the company that bears the brunt of any complaints, not the government, she said.

She also questions the claim that VFS Global and visa outsourcers, in general, perform only administrative work. She said the mere presence of private, for-profit companies in the visa application process changes the relationship between governments and anyone trying to get a visa because it creates “distance” between them.

Visa centre staff can influence decisions about who gets a visa by correctly or incorrectly deciding if an application is complete and if required supporting documents meet specifications, Infantino said.

She also said dealing with an intermediary deprives applicants of the opportunity to appeal directly to someone with decision-making authority.

“It’s very hard to locate responsibility in outsourcing processes, always, in whatever sector we are talking about,” Infantino said.

“Outsourcing of visa processing has been very successful because state actors basically get rid of many responsibilities.”

VFS Global visa application centres face scrutiny.

Federica Infantino, a researcher at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, June 2021.

European University Institute

This apparent absence of accountability was on full display for Anastasia Aslanova and Mykhaylo Byelostotskiy when they tried to get Aslanova’s sister and her two daughters to Canada after they fled the war in Ukraine.

Aslanova’s sister was staying in Germany, trying to get visas for herself and her seven- and nine-year-old daughters. but her daughters’ visa applications took several weeks longer than hers to process.

The family said they tried contacting the Canadian government and VFS Global for help but were unable to get any answers.

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“There is no way, like there’s zero option, to contact somebody,” Byelostotskiy said. “You’re talking to just the wall.”

Byelostotskiy also said the instructions provided by VFS Global and the government for how to submit passports to the embassy for final approval were “terribly cruel” because of how confusing they were.

“You have to deal with some website run by a company, which is not even part of the government,” he said. “It’s this VFS Global, which is absolutely unfriendly.”

Ukrainian coming to Winnipeg, Manitoba

Oleksandra awaits visas for her two daughters,

Anastasia Aslanova / Supplied

VFS Global said its staff receive “high-quality training” to ensure they have the skills needed to perform required tasks. The company also said its employees are “thoroughly trained on (Immigration Canada’s) processes and procedures and customer service.”

Oleksander, who flew to Poland to help his mother-in-law get a visa, said his experience at the Canadian visa centre in Warsaw made him feel like no one cared about his mother-in-law and the trauma she experienced fleeing the Russian invasion. He also said it felt like no one was accountable and like the government abandoned its authority.

“It’s sort of like a pillow,” he said. “Customers are fighting with the visa centre and no one is going to the Canadian embassy.”

Oleksandr said his mother-in-law worried that the amount of time it took to process her visa was because Canada wasn’t going to accept her. He said this created “psychological pressure” and stress for her. He said he hopes no one else has to experience this.

“It’s torture,” Oleksandr said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Flames defeat Stars in overtime to advance to second round of playoffs

The Calgary Flames won a playoff series for just the second time in the last 17 years with Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Dallas Stars in the seventh and deciding game of their series.

Johnny Gaudreau scored the overtime winner at 15:09.

He collected a rebound and put a sharp-angled shot over Stars goalie Jake Oettinger, who made 61 saves in the game.

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The Flames will face the Edmonton Oilers in the Western Conference’s semifinal in the first post-season Battle of Alberta since 1991. The series opens Wednesday in Calgary.

Tyler Toffoli and Matthew Tkachuk scored their first goals of the series for the Flames.

Calgary’s goalie Jacob Markstrom stopped 26 shots and had an assist in the win.

Jamie Benn and Vladislav Namestnikov scored for the Stars.

After reaching the Stanley Cup final in 2004 when Calgary fell in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning — 2005 was a lockout year — the Flames didn’t win another playoff series until 2015 when Calgary was bounced in the second round by Anaheim.

Calgary (50-21-11) headed into this year’s playoffs the higher seed atop the Pacific Division, while Dallas (46-30-6) earned the first wild-card spot in the conference.

Playoff success scant in recent years, the Flames were under considerable pressure to win the first Game 7 in 16 years in front of a sellout at the Saddledome, and back up a stellar regular season with some post-season progress.

Calgary outshot Dallas 52-23 over three periods Sunday, but the score was deadlocked heading into the first overtime period of the series.

Oettinger stopped Gaudreau on his doorstep near the 11-minute mark of the third, followed by Markstrom stoning Jacob Petersen on a breakaway.

The Flames drew even in the second period on Tkachuk’s goal a second after a Dallas minor expired.

Markstrom head-manned the puck to Gaudreau, who dished to Tkachuk for a sharp-angled shot top corner at 8:44.

Namestnikov made it 2-1 for Dallas just 31 seconds after Toffoli had tied the game.

Namestnikov one-timed a wrist shot by Markstrom on a lateral feed from Joe Pavelski off the rush at 2:17.

Toffoli tipped in Oliver Kylington’s shot from the boards just inside the blue-line at 1:46.

The Flames outshot Dallas 17-8 in the first period, but the visitors led 1-0 on Benn’s goal 40 seconds after puck drop.

Tyler Seguin from the side of the net fed Benn in the mid-slot and the Stars’ captain beat Markstrom stick side.

Dallas was without top-line centre Roope Hintz due to an upper-body injury and forward Luke Glendening with a lower body injury for Game 7. Forward Radek Faksa, also suffering an upper body injury, did not play Sunday’s third period.

Calgary’s top shutdown defenceman Chris Tanev was also scratched with an undisclosed injury.

Almost half of the 2022 edition of the Flames had never won a playoff round, while the Stars were deep in that experience having lost to the Lightning in the Cup final two years ago in Edmonton.

The series was a goaltending showcase.

On the back of a breakout performance by 23-year-old Oettinger and punishing defence around their crease, the Stars held a high-scoring offence to 10 even-strength goals in seven games.

Markstrom saw less rubber than Oettinger, but made the acrobatic, timely saves to give his team a chance to win in every game and held off the Stars when Dallas pressed early in the extra period.

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The Stars boasted more recent Game 7 experience having edged the Colorado Avalanche in overtime two years ago to reach the conference final.

But Flames coach Darryl Sutter has coached an abundance of them with his 8-3 record now unmatched by any other NHL coach in wins.

Calgary opened the series with a 1-0 win and a 2-0 loss at home before earning a split at American Airlines Center.

The Flames then won 2-1 at home and lost 4-2 in Dallas to send series back to Calgary for the finale.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

Kim Jong Un blasts officials over slow medical deliveries amid North Korean outbreak

North Korea ordered a nationwide lockdown on Thursday after confirming its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak, after holding for more than two years a claim of a perfect record keeping out the virus. According to reports early Friday, the country also reported its first confirmed COVID-19 death, after state media said hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blasted officials over slow medicine deliveries and ordered his military to respond to the surging but largely undiagnosed COVID-19 crisis that has left 1.2 million people ill with fever and 50 dead in a matter of days, state media said Monday.

More than 564,860 people are in quarantine due to the fever that has rapidly spread among people in and around the capital, Pyongyang, since late April. Eight more deaths and 392,920 newly detected fevers were reported Monday, the North’s emergency anti-virus headquarters said.

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State media didn’t specify how many were confirmed as COVID-19, but North Korea is believed to lack sufficient testing supplies to confirm coronavirus infections in large numbers and is mostly relying on isolating people with symptoms at shelters.

Failing to slow the virus could have dire consequences for North Korea, considering its broken health care system and that its 26 million people are believed to be unvaccinated, with malnourishment and other conditions of poverty.

Kim during a ruling party Politburo meeting on Sunday criticized government and health officials over what he portrayed as a botched pandemic response, saying medicine supplies aren’t being distributed to pharmacies in time because of their “irresponsible work attitude” and lack of organization, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.

The Politburo had issued an emergency order to immediately release and quickly distribute state medicine reserves and for pharmacies to open for 24-hour shifts, but Kim said such steps weren’t being properly implemented. Kim ordered the medical units of his military to get involved in stabilizing the supply of medicine in Pyongyang, KCNA said.

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Kim and Politburo members after the meeting made on-site inspections of pharmacies in a district in Pyongyang, where Kim lamented that most of the shops were in poor condition and lacked storage spaces and criticized some pharmacists for not wearing proper white gowns.

North Korea acknowledged a COVID-19 outbreak for the first time last Thursday, saying an unspecified number of people had tested positive for the omicron variant. It instituted a lockdown and Kim ordered public health officials, teachers and others to identify people with fevers so they could be quarantined.

North Korea’s claim of a perfect record in keeping out the virus for 2 1/2 years was widely doubted. But its extremely strict border closure, large-scale quarantines and propaganda that stressed anti-virus controls as a matter of “national existence” may have staved off a huge outbreak until now.

It’s not clear if North Korea’s urgent messaging about its outbreak indicates a willingness to receive outside help.

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The country shunned millions of vaccine doses offered by the U.N.-backed COVAX distribution program, likely because they carried international monitoring requirements.

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol said in Parliament on Monday that the South was willing to send vaccines, medicine, equipment and health personnel to the North if it’s willing to accept. South Korean officials say Pyongyang so far has made no request for Seoul’s help.

Inter-Korean relations have deteriorated since 2019 after the larger negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea collapsed over disagreements involving the North’s nuclear arsenal and U.S.-led sanctions.

Kim has previously praised China’s pandemic response and urged his officials to learn from it, which may indicate North Korea is more willing to accept help from its major ally. Chinese officials said last week that Beijing was ready to offer help but they had no information about any such request being made.

Even as he called for a lockdown of cities and counties to slow the spread of COVID-19, Kim also stressed the country’s economic goals should be met, which likely means huge groups will continue to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites.

While accelerating his missile tests in brinkmanship aimed at pressuring Washington for economic and security concessions, Kim has been grappling with domestic challenges and a pandemic-shocked economy, pushing him to perhaps the toughest moment of his decade in power.

State media in recent weeks have emphasized farming campaigns to protect crops amid a drought during rice-planting season, a worrisome development in a country with chronic food shortages. Kim is also intent on achieving his stated goals in a five-year national development plan announced in early 2021 after he showed unusual candor by acknowledging that his previous economic plans weren’t working.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

High Streamflow Advisory issued for South B.C. Interior rivers

Repeated rain along with warming temperatures are causing water levels in some area rivers to rise. A High Streamflow Advisory has been issued for some part of the Southern Interior, BC. Victoria Femia reports Victoria Femia has more on a RECENT High Streamflow Advisory.

Recent rainfall paired with snowmelt is causing rivers and creeks to rise in some parts of the Interior, prompting the B.C. Ministry of Forests and the River Forecast Centre to issue a High Streamflow Advisory for a number of rivers in the region.

The advisory means river levels are rising or are expected to rise quickly, but that no major flooding is expected.

It will affect South Interior Rivers between Vernon, Salmon Arm and Falkland, including the Whiteman River, Salmon River and surrounding streams.

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Threat of Okanagan flooding rises with temperatures

Up to 20 millimetres of rain is expected to hit areas of the North-West Okanagan and areas around Salmon Arm and Falkland, it will likely last through to Monday. Along with rain, freezing levels could rise to 2,500 meters over the course of the day.

The Ministry says at this time there is uncertainty over which areas will receive the highest amounts of rainfall. Adjacent areas of the South Interior, including the Shuswap, Okanagan, and Nicola-Thompson regions may also experience a higher streamflow in response to rain and snowmelt.

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The North Westside Fire Department has a self-serve sandbag station set up for residents to pick up as needed, in case of emergency.

The Ministry is advising the public to stay clear of any fast flowing rivers and potentially unstable riverbanks during the high-stream flow period.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Rider nation disappointed over training camp cancellation amid CFL work stoppage

Four CFL teams cancelled the start of training camp on Sunday as contract talks between the league and its players' association have broken off, beginning the CFL's first work stoppage since 1974.

The Saskatchewan Roughriders cancelled Day 1 of training camp in Saskatoon on Sunday after the CFL Players’ Association (CFLPA) bargaining committee told players with seven of the league’s nine clubs not to report to training camp.

Negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) are ongoing after the current one expired at midnight Saturday.

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The Roughriders said an announcement would be made about future practices. The team’s training camp was scheduled to run from May 15 to June 3.

“This is one of those classic examples of ‘only in the CFL, here they go again.’ It’s just absolutely mind-boggling,” said Rob Vanstone, sports editor for Regina Leader Post.

Vanstone said he doesn’t blame the players for the stance they’re taking.

“I think that management, the league went into the negotiations with a sense of complacency, thinking ultimately that the players would just capitulate and just take whatever was given to them on the weekend as the expiration of the CBA loomed and obviously they haven’t done that and bravo to the players for doing it.”

On Sunday, some members of the team got a workout in outside Griffiths Stadium in Saskatoon.

The CFL lost its entire season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and had a shortened one in 2021.

Roughrider fans are disappointed by the news.

“A lot of us have been looking forward to getting back to normal and getting back to sports and the longer that there’s delays the less interested some people are,” Sarah Sliva said.

Some fans also expressed a level of understanding for the position that players are in.

“As a fan you’d like to see them out there and not miss any time but you totally understand that the players are in a position where they feel as though they are bargaining for a good deal, so you try to keep it in perspective and hope that the season gets started on time,” Joe Lamey said.

Vanstone believes the players have more leverage than they’ve ever had in negotiations, which have caused the first work stoppage since 1974.

Issues reportedly on the table include the salary cap, the number of padded practices and the length of the new agreement.

“Ultimately it always comes down to money. You can resolve the non-monetary issues probably in one session but ultimately it’s about division of revenue or anticipated revenue,” Vanstone said.

Other teams that formally cancelled practice on Sunday include the Montreal Alouettes, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and Toronto Argonauts. It’s unclear when the CFL and CFLPA will resume negotiations.

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Fans and other stakeholders across the league are hopeful that at this time next week, CBA talks are in the rear view mirror. Vanstone thinks this could be the case.

“If they want to get a deal that is more favourable for them than what is currently on the table, I think all they have to do is wait until Tuesday, maybe even Monday,” Vanstone said.

“And suddenly there is beads of sweat forming and knees are getting a little shaky because I think the league went into this not at all prepared for what the players have done.”

— With files from The Canadian Press, and Global News’ Matthew Rodrigopulle and Kelly Skjerven

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Kelowna Music Collectors' Show returns after three year hiatus

Music lovers looking for their next great find were relieved to see the Kelowna Music Collectors' Show return after a three-year hiatus. Sydney Morton stopped in on the one-day music sale to see what is on shoppers' lists.

The Kelowna Music Collectors’ Show is a music lovers’ paradise.

Thousands of vinyl records, CDs, tapes, stereo equipment and music memorabilia were up for grabs at the first Kelowna Music Collectors’ Show in three years.

“It’s been a long wait. As you can tell everybody is pretty happy to be here,” said Doogie Irvine, Kelowna Music Collectors’ Show organizer.

Twenty-two vendors from across B.C. and Alberta came to the Ukrainian Catholic Church Hall in Kelowna to sell their wares from the 1950s to the present day.

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A pandemic bright spot: Sales of vinyl records have exploded in Canada

John Gowland of That Old Black Magic Record and Stereo Sales is an independent vendor that sells from his personal collection, including signed vinyl records.

“We have a pretty wide variety,” said Gowland. “Everything from jazz, rock, blues, you name it, contemporary, folk, we have it.”

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Hundreds of audiophiles poured through the hall’s doors to see what they could add to their collections.

“Today I am mainly looking for country, that’s my main interest, I am a bit of a historian on it too. So far we just found a Gram Parsons,” said Ty Nishihara.

The one day music sale will return next spring and be sure to mark your calendar for the Okanagan Vinyl Fest in Penticton on September 25 at the Penticton Seniors’ Centre.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Soaring gas prices stalling summer road trips for Canadians: survey

According to a recent survey conducted for the Tire and Rubber Association of Canada (TRAC), two-thirds of Canadian drivers will be staying closer to home this summer.

The survey found 66 per cent of drivers say fuel prices will force them to cancel or limit road trips this summer. Among young drivers aged 18 to 24, that number climbs to 75 per cent.

The study also indicates that eight-in-ten Canadian drivers believe high gas fuel prices are here to stay.

A majority of Saskatchewan drivers agree with that thought, with 78 per cent saying they believe today’s gas prices are the “new normal” and will be with us for a long time to come.

Recently, gas has been selling for close to $1.90 a litre at some gas stations in Saskatchewan,over $2.00 at some gas stations in Ontario, and some provinces saw prices as high as $2.15 – $2.34.

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The survey was completed with the help of 1,538 Canadian drivers that were polled between April 8-10 of this year, through an online panel. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

When it comes to managing proper vehicle maintenance, which experts say can help drivers get more bang for their buck and save fuel, some key findings show that:

  • Nearly all (97 per cent) understand proper tire inflation is essential to vehicle safety
  • 93 per cent agree that correct tire pressure saves fuel
  • 72 per cent recognize correctly inflated tires lessen vehicle emissions and protect the environment

The TRAC said the survey findings also revealed a significant disconnect between drivers’ understanding that proper tire inflation improves fuel economy and their knowledge about when and how to measure and set correct tire pressure.

Only 27 per cent of drivers check tire inflation pressure monthly, which is the number recommended by tire makers.

The study also found 59 per cent are unaware inflation pressure should only be measured when tires are not heated from use. According to TRAC, a vehicle should be stationary for at least three hours or not have been driven more than two kilometres prior to checking tire inflation.

“With these substantial knowledge gaps about tire maintenance, it’s apparent that drivers need more education to improve their fuel economy effectively,” said Carol Hochu, president of TRAC.

“With gas prices at all-time highs and no relief in sight thus far, the time has come for all drivers to arm themselves with the knowledge needed to lower fuel costs,” Hochu explained.

“Monthly checks to ensure your tires are correctly inflated are the most effective way to achieve the best fuel economy and extract the most value from your tires. Combined with the right driving habits such as reducing idling, maintaining a steady speed, accelerating gently and coasting to decelerate, these small, simple practices can add up to big improvements in fuel economy,” she added.

Read more:

Gas prices up in Saskatchewan with more increases expected in coming weeks

Hochu went on to say drivers can save on high gas prices by learning a few techniques to ensure they are always riding on properly inflated tires.

According to TRAC, industry studies show motorists can improve their gas mileage by 0.6 per cent on average – up to 3 per cent in some cases – by keeping their tires inflated to the vehicle manufacturer’s recommended pressure.

Additionally, TRAC said less inflated tires can lower gas mileage by about 0.2 per cent for each one PSI drop in the average pressure of all tires. Driving a vehicle with just one tire less inflated by 56 kPa (8 psi) can increase vehicle fuel consumption by four per cent.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2019 Canadians purchased 43 billion litres of gasoline.

TRAC said with a 0.6 per cent gas mileage improvement resulting from proper tire inflation, drivers could have avoided buying 258 million litres of gasoline and saved about $490 million.

TRAC also notes that saving this much gasoline would also avoid the release of 593,000 metric tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, which equals the emissions of 125,000 vehicles in a year.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Biden urges unity following Buffalo shooting to stem racial hate

U.S. President Joe Biden commented Sunday on the Buffalo supermarket shooting, which police said left 10 dead and three injured, saying he was receiving regular updates on the investigation. He also added that the Justice Department was investigating it as a hate crime, after police said of the victims 11 were Black and two white, and called on Americans to "address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America."

President Joe Biden urged unity Sunday to address the “hate that remains a stain on the soul of America” after a deadly mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, while state officials pleaded for federal action to end the ”uniquely American phenomenon” of mass shootings.

Addressing an annual law enforcement ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, Biden said he and his wife, Jill, pray for those who were shot “by a lone gunman, armed with weapons of war and hate-filled soul,” and their families.

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, May 15, 2022, honoring the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the Capitol in Washington, Sunday, May 15, 2022, honoring the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in the line of duty in 2021. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Authorities say a white 18-year-old male in military gear opened fire on shoppers and workers at the supermarket on Saturday, killing 10 people, including a retired Buffalo police officer, and wounding three others. Most of the victims were Black.

Law enforcement officials said Sunday that the gunman had researched the local demographics while looking for places with a high concentration of Black people.

Read more:

Anger and grief after 10 killed in ‘racially motivated’ shooting at Buffalo supermarket

“We must all work together to address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America,” Biden said at the 41st annual National Peace Officers’ Memorial Service honoring fallen law enforcement officers. “Our hearts are heavy once again, but the resolve must never, ever waver.”

“No one understands this more than the people sitting in front of me,” he added. The White House said the Bidens would travel to Buffalo on Tuesday to grieve with the community.

Biden, speaking at the ceremony for the second time as president, did not address the calls by New York officials – Gov. Kathy Hochul and Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown – for strong federal action to end what Brown said is the ”uniquely American phenomenon“ of mass shootings.

The president also did not mention gun control efforts that have stalled in Washington.

Brown expressed frustration that “thoughts and prayers” and pledges to act are offered after every mass shooting, only to be be blocked by “some on one side of the aisle.”

“It seems like there are those that believe owning a gun is more precious than the sanctity of human life,” the mayor told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So I think people all across this country have to rise up. They have to speak more loudly and more clearly that there must be gun control in this country. This is a uniquely American phenomenon. These mass shootings don’t happen in other countries across the world.”

Brown said he would like to see “sensible gun control.”

Read more:

Buffalo supermarket mass shooting: Here’s what we know so far

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said tighter gun measures are “a huge priority” for Democrats and the White House. She bemoaned the 60-vote threshold needed in the 50-50 Senate that has made it difficult to advance such legislation, but she pledged on CNN’s “State of the Union” that “we are not going away until the job is done.”

Hochul said most of the illegal guns being used on the streets of her cities come from other states. “We need a national response,” she told NBC.

“We need other states to step up. We need the federal government on our side,” said Hochul, a Buffalo native.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Edmonton's Royal Canadian Legion Norwood Branch 178 raises money with hopes of avoiding permanent closure

Low membership, an aging facility and a mountain of debt has an Edmonton legion branch on the brink of shutting its doors for good. But as Chris Chacon reports, it's fighting to stay open to support veterans and keep them involved in the community.

It’s a place where veterans in Edmonton unite, play games and socialize. The Royal Canadian Legion Norwood Branch 178 has been around since the 1940s.

But as of late, the legion has fallen on tough times.

“We are at risk for closing, we are probably no more than 14 days away from closing,” Royal Canadian Legion Norwood Branch 178 business manager Bill Huziek said.

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Huziek added that a rough few years, plus the pandemic, has the legion facing more than $200,000 in debt, and that’s not all.

“We’re in desperate need of updating our infrastructure on the inside, our kitchen facility massively needs to be redone, our bar facility needs to be upgraded and our POS systems need to be redone,” he said.

Huziek noted these upgrades are essential to help generate revenue.

However, it isn’t just the Norwood legion that’s struggling to keep up. Huziek said many others are dealing with similar difficulties.

“Every legion across Canada is struggling with membership issues and volunteers,” Huziek said

Just a few months ago, the Kingsway Legion was also at risk of closing its doors.

Read more:

Edmonton’s Kingsway Legion at risk of closing: ‘We don’t want to lose this’

 

Legion president Mike Sirman said he wants people to know the legion is now “not only” for veterans, but for everyone. He hopes to attract a younger demographic through some of the changes that have been made, including a pivot from traditional events to things such as wrestling matches and dances.

Sirman said the legion has also started a GoFundMe page in hopes that Edmontonians will donate to help keep the legion alive.

“I think it would be a major loss to the community and city because this has been sort of an icon for a long time in the city,” Sirman said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

Teens arrested for allegedly bear-spraying father and son in East Vancouver

Vancouver police say they arrested two teens Saturday night after they allegedly bear-sprayed a father and son and made racist remarks near the Nanaimo SkyTrain station.

Police say the father and son were walking home from the Vancouver Whitecaps game around 9 p.m., when they were confronted by a group of teens.

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“There was verbal exchange and one of the teens allegedly deployed bear spray,” VPD Sgt. Steve Addison said.

“VPD officers located the teens nearby and arrested two of them. Both are well known to police.”

Addison said police believe the suspects and the victims knew one another.

Police said a 13-year-old was arrested for assault with a weapon, possession of a weapon and breach of court conditions, and a 17-year-old was also arrested.

Read more:

Vancouver police raise alarm on ‘troubling and violent’ swarmings, robberies, attacks on teens

Police alleged the teens were also in possession of crack cocaine.

They have been released pending the completion of the investigation, police said.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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