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The pews at St. Mary's Parish Catholic church are empty shortly before the Easter Vigil mass, which will be broadcast live over Youtube as houses of worship remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on April 11, 2020.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

Canada’s political leaders joined Christians from across the country in marking Easter Sunday by issuing messages of hope and calls for strength even as COVID-19 continued to cause pain and suffering for millions of Canadians – with no obvious end in sight.

On the same day provincial officials were reporting more confirmed cases and deaths from the nefarious respiratory illness, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a video statement encouraging Canadians to stay strong and keep the faith.

“This is the challenge of our generation, and each and every one of us has a role to play,” Trudeau said. “When we come out of this – and we will come out of this – we will all take pride in the sacrifices we’ve made to protect each other and to protect the country we love.”

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Similar statements were issued by Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer and other federal and provincial leaders as Canadians gathered with their families – both physically and virtually – to commemorate the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

“So as you gather as families and as faith communities virtually during the period of pandemic, I hope that your faith will be renewed and I hope that all people who celebrate this as time of new beginnings will feel refreshed and a new sense of hope,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in his own video statement.

“Goodness knows we need one now in the challenging days of this pandemic.”

While Sunday marked the first time in nearly a month that the majority of Canada’s political leaders and chief medical officers did not appear live to update Canadians on their respective efforts to fight COVID-19, the pandemic continued to take a toll.

Officials in Atlantic Canada, Ontario and Quebec reported 975 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday and 60 more deaths, bringing the national total to 24,292 confirmed and presumptive cases and 713 deaths.

The Quebec coroner’s office also announced Sunday that it would investigate the deaths of dozens of seniors at a private long-term care facility west of Montreal linked to what Premier Francois Legault has described as a possible case of “gross negligence.”

A police investigation was launched over the weekend after regional health authorities were able to access patient files at the Residence Herron and found that 31 of the residence’s 150 or so seniors had died since March 13. Quebec’s health department is also investigating.

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Yet even as some families grieved and others struggled with the new reality that the pandemic had thrust on them in terms of self-isolating and financial hardship, Trudeau noted this wasn’t the first Easter weekend in which Canadians had been called upon to make sacrifices.

Recalling Vimy Ridge on Easter Monday in 1917, Trudeau said the “bravery and courage” of Canadian soldiers then “live(s) on in our nurses, doctors, paramedics and custodial workers. In our truckers, cashiers and all front line workers. They are our heroes now.

“And today, we’re all being called upon to join them and to serve.”

Aside from chocolate eggs, Easter Sunday also arrived with desperately needed aid for businesses and workers after Parliament approved a massive $73-billion wage subsidy program aimed at helping them survive the economic ravages of the pandemic.

The legislation received royal assent on Saturday night, paving the way for Ottawa to start paying companies 75 per cent of the first $58,700 earned by each employee – up to $847 per week for up to 12 weeks.

The economic program, which Trudeau has described as the most significant since the Second World War, is retroactive to March 15 and available to companies that lost 15 per cent of their revenue in March or lose 30 per cent in April or May.

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With files from Morgan Lawrie in Montreal and Salmaan Farooqui in Toronto.

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