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Canada, UN still hammering out details for peacekeeping mission as summit looms

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Canadian officials are gearing up to host a major peacekeeping summit in Vancouver this week, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scheduled to drop in on Wednesday.

OTTAWA—A senior United Nations official says UN staff are in talks with Canadian counterparts about when, where and how Canadian military personnel and equipment will be employed on peacekeeping missions.

But Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the undersecretary general of UN peacekeeping operations, tells The Canadian Press that no final decisions have been made.

The comments come as the government is gearing up to host a major peacekeeping summit in Vancouver this week, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau scheduled to drop in on Wednesday.

It was widely expected that the Liberals would announce their plans to deploy peacekeepers either before or at the summit, with options including sending helicopters to Mali and a transport plane to Uganda.

But Lacroix’s comments indicate that more than a year after the government promised up to 600 troops and 150 police officers for peacekeeping, Canada’s contribution appears to be very much a work in progress.

That is sure to disappoint many foreign dignitaries who are scheduled to attend the conference starting Tuesday, though Lacroix says he is encouraged that Canada is preparing to help the UN.

 

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Liberals haven’t rebounded from summer dip in the polls: Forum research

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

A new public opinion poll by Forum Research shows a dip in popularity that began for the federal Liberals this summer is still there.

The popularity of the federal Liberals hasn’t rebounded since their dip this summer, while support for the Conservatives has improved, according to a public opinion poll from Forum Research.

The poll, conducted Nov. 4-6, found 38 per cent of Canadians surveyed supported the Conservatives, while 36 per cent said they would vote Liberal. For the front-runners that’s virtually unchanged from Forum’s results in mid-September when the Liberals were at 35 per cent and the Conservatives were at 39 per cent.

But those September numbers reflected a dip in popularity for the Liberal government, which was at 42 per cent in the polls in mid-August. The Conservatives have improved from 34 per cent support at that time.

Support for the NDP has remained steady, despite the fact the party elected Jagmeet Singh as its new leader on Oct. 1. The NDP was at 14 per cent in mid-August, 15 per cent in September, and 14 per cent in the latest poll last week.

The Green party, which had 4 per cent support in August and September, increased to 6 per cent in November.

Similarly, the Bloc Québécois was steady at 4 per cent, 5 per cent and 6 per cent respectively in those three months beginning in August.

 “The Liberals’ dip in popularity, first identified by Forum in September, has steadied in November, but (the fact) that it hasn’t rebounded suggests their down numbers might be more than just a blip,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research.

“There are still two years before the next election, which is an eternity in politics, but clearly some of the negatively received policies introduced by the Liberals of late have begun to hinder their overall support.”

Bozinoff attributed the Liberals’ decline since August to the government’s handling of the small business tax file, as well as controversies over Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s perceived conflict of interest and how he has managed his personal finances while in his post.

Morneau faced a torrent of criticism from farmers, doctors, small business people and opposition critics in the House over tax reforms he unveiled in July aimed at closing loopholes in the tax system that benefit small business owners.

In the fall he faced personal attacks over the way he has managed his finances. Among the developments was the discovery he hadn’t placed in a blind trust a large number of shares from a family business he used to run. He had promised to do so when he was first elected in 2015.

“It’s all been badly received, Morneau’s handling of everything and his own perceived conflict of interest,” Bozinoff added.

Despite their dip in support, the latest poll numbers would give the Liberals a minority government, due to vote distribution. The Liberals would secure 164 of 338 seats, the Conservatives 148, the NDP 15, the Bloc 11 and the Greens two seats, Forum says.

The results, collected from 1,281 randomly selected voters, are considered accurate, plus or minus 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Federal government delays $2.14 billion in infrastructure spending

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

The figures show that the Liberals are having difficulty moving cash out of the federal treasury fast enough to fund projects around the country.

OTTAWA — The federal government failed to spend $2.14 billion that was earmarked last year to rebuild roads, bridges and other large-scale projects aimed at helping people in their day-to-day lives, newly released documents show.

The recent department report shows spending from Infrastructure Canada was about 40 per cent lower than the $5.3 billion that had been planned for the last fiscal year, which ended March 31, 2017.

The largest chunk of the spending shortfall was $1.48 billion that didn’t get spent on various large-scale projects, representing about 90 per cent of what the government expected to spend on things like new transit and water systems, two key areas of focus on the Liberal agenda.

It’s not clear from the documents how long it’s expected to take for the money to actually flow to projects.

The figures help to illustrate the magnitude of a problem that has plagued the Liberal government’s multibillion-dollar infrastructure program from the outset: they can’t seem to get the money out of the federal treasury fast enough.

The government — which typically does carry about 25 per cent of its infrastructure from one project to the next — says it’s simply managing the flow of cash to projects. Opposition critics, on the other hand, say the idle money is symptomatic of problems with the program.

Federal dollars flow only once cities and provinces submit receipts for reimbursement, often creating a delay between when work takes place and when the federal money is spent.

In some cases, the federal government won’t receive receipts until a project is completely done. In other cases, projects are delayed because of labour strife, bad weather or other factors beyond Ottawa’s control — a factor last week’s departmental report warns readers about.

The report also shows that the government moved $591.8 million into a fund for small communities, boosting its value to $1.5 billion.

It says the federal government has given provinces and territories an ultimatum: identify projects for all the money left in the program — created by the previous Conservative government — by March 31, 2018, or watch it go to municipalities through what’s known as the federal gas tax fund, established in 2005 to provide a stable, predictable source of annual federal infrastructure dollars.

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Sousa to unveil tax cuts for small businesses in budget update

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Ontario’s finance minister is set to deliver an election-ready fiscal update that will give businesses with fewer than 100 employees tax breaks to offset a higher minimum wage, the Star has learned.

Finance Minister Charles Sousa is set to deliver an election-ready fiscal update that will give small businesses significant tax breaks to offset paying employees a higher minimum wage, the Star has learned.

In Tuesday’s fall economic statement, Sousa will announce that corporate income tax rates for small business owners will drop to 3.5 per cent from 4.5 per cent on January 1.

That’s the same day the $11.60-an-hour minimum wage jumps to $14 before it rises to $15 in 2019.

Sources say Sousa will announce more than $500 million in new initiatives to help companies with fewer than 100 employees, including $124 million over three years to hire and retain workers between the ages of 15 and 29.

That could allay fears expressed by some business groups that raising the minimum wage could cost the province between 50,000 and 90,000 jobs.

The treasurer will also improve the existing apprentice training tax credit so that it encompasses more trades and increases the number of apprenticeships for minority groups, who are under-represented in many sectors.

Currently, about 120 of Ontario’s 150 skilled trades — in construction, manufacturing, mechanics, and industry — are eligible for the tax credits.

Those credits are available to businesses that have permanent establishments in Ontario, pay provincial income tax, and incur legitimate expenses in training apprentices in skilled trades.

In a major speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade luncheon last Tuesday, Sousa signalled he would have good news for Ontario business operators “to help them improve their bottom line.”

“I will be announcing a whole set of new comprehensive initiatives to help small businesses in Ontario reduce costs and become even more competitive,” the finance minister said.

“Ontario’s balanced plan is helping build a fairer, more inclusive province. But our work is not done,” he emphasized.

“Despite a strong economy, too many are still facing challenges. Behind the robust economic growth, we know that people are feeling uncertain about their economic future. The rising tide has not raised all boats.”

That’s why the Liberals are increasing the minimum wage to help the nearly 30 per cent of workers who make less than $15 an hour.

“Economists remind us that nearly every minimum wage dollar earned will be directly spent. A higher minimum wage will help people get ahead and fuel our economy,” he said last week.

The treasurer will also use the annual fall economic statement to tout the fact that Ontario’s books are still in the black heading into the June 7, 2018 election.

“I will confirm that we will balance the budget. In fact, last year we beat our targets by just over $3 billion. And I will confirm that we are on track to deliver balanced budgets for the next two years as well,” he said.

“The 2017 fall economic statement will further outline our plan to create fairness and opportunity during this period of economic change.”

With a surplus in the treasury, Sousa said last week that $155 million will be spent over three years on a “seniors’ strategy.”

That includes a new website for seniors to more easily access information on drug coverage benefits, recreation programs, volunteer opportunities, tax credits, and powers of attorney.

Starting next fall, there will be a free high-dose flu shot designed especially for the elderly.

As well, Queen’s Park will spend more than $15 million over the next two years to upgrade apartment buildings that have become “naturally occurring” retirement communities because so many seniors choose to live in them.

With polls showing Premier Kathleen Wynne is in a tight contest against the front-running Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown, Sousa is eager to showcase that Ontario’s economy is performing well with unemployment at 5.9 per cent.

“Our government’s efforts have helped, but it is mostly due to the hard work of the people of Ontario. Make no mistake: businesses created 800,000 net new jobs since the recession,” he said.

“For the past three years, we’ve outperformed all G7 nations, including the United States, Germany and Japan. And independent, private sector economists are projecting that Ontario’s steady growth will continue.”

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Blue-chip law firm Appleby explored connecting tax haven to Halifax, leaked documents show

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

New leak reveals 3,000-plus Canadians, including three former prime ministers, had links to offshore business.

It was to be a little tax haven in Nova Scotia.

The idea was simple: the companies would be registered in Bermuda but the people processing the paperwork would be in Halifax.

Appleby, the leading offshore law firm in the Paradise Papers leak, explored this vision for outsourcing its back office administrative functions in 2007.

With direct Bermuda-to-Halifax flights, “very reasonable operating costs” and “very significant payroll tax rebates,” the case for Halifax was strong.

But Appleby needed assurances that its clients, who had incorporated in a zero-tax jurisdiction, wouldn’t have to pay tax to Canada.

No problem, wrote Halifax lawyer Jim Cruickshank, who was hired to analyze the legal issues.

“We do not believe the activities of (Appleby) could in any way constitute your clients ‘carrying on business in Nova Scotia,’ ” Cruickshank wrote in a memo to Appleby.

What about extending offshore financial secrecy to the new office in Canada? For this, Cruickshank, had a creative solution.

 “We believe a ‘paperless office’ and ‘dummy terminals’ for (Appleby) would provide significant but not complete practical immunity from search and seizure by Canadian authorities.”

While the Halifax outsourcing project would never come to fruition, Appleby’s internal records reveal a preoccupation with secrecy that pervades tax havens. For this reason, governments around the world are targeting the law firms that operate in tax havens, to force them to reveal the hidden transactions that deprive public coffers of trillions of dollars each year.

Estimates put Canada’s own losses to offshore activity at $6 billion to $7.8 billion each year.

But tax haven secrecy has, once again, been pierced by a massive leak.

Unlike last year’s Panama Papers leak, which exposed Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, a firm that has been criticized as a bad apple in the offshore world, the Paradise Papers leak reveals the business of one of the world’s most prestigious blue-chip law firms, Appleby, which caters to the world’s biggest multinational corporations and the wealthiest families on the planet.

Appearing in Appleby’s files are:

•          Two generations of Liberal party chief fundraisers, Leo Kolber and Stephen Bronfman, who are linked through a Cayman Islands trust fund. Through a lawyer, Kolber and Bronfman said they always acted “properly and ethically, including fully complying with all applicable laws.”

•          Former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who sat on the board of Said Holdings, a Bermuda company controlled by Syrian-Saudi businessman Wafic Said. Said was a key intermediary in a British-Saudi oil-for-arms deal that led to a $400-million (U.S.) criminal fine for bribery in 2010 against British airplane manufacturer BAE. Mulroney’s lawyer said he is “proud” to have served on the board, and considers Said “a good friend.” Said said he is “proud of the role I played” in the arms deal.

•          Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien, who is listed as having received options in a Madagascar oil venture registered in Bermuda. He confirmed he consulted for the company in 2007 but says he never received any options.

•          Paul Martin’s former company, Canada Steamship Lines (CSL), which was one of Appleby’s “biggest clients.” CSL said it “uphold(s) the highest ethical and business standards,” while a spokesperson for Martin said he “has not been involved in CSL in over a quarter century.”

Much of the activity in tax havens is legal, and Appleby considers itself an ethical leader in the offshore industry. Documents found in the 6.8 million internal Appleby files in the leak show the firm was aware of multiple cases where it accepted dirty money.

The emails, client records, bank applications, court papers and other files were obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), the Star and CBC/Radio-Canada. They represent the inner workings of Appleby from the 1950s until 2016.

Canada is a big part of Appleby’s business. With more than 2,700 Canadians and 560 Canadian businesses named in the Appleby database — five times more Canadians than were in the Panama Papers — Canada is the firm’s fourth-biggest market behind the U.S., the U.K. and China.

Appleby has administered 1,450 offshore corporations and trusts with Canadian owners, officers or addresses, mostly in Bermuda. Its lawyers made regular trips to Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver to drum up business, meeting with accountants and lawyers.

Appleby billed Canadian clients and law firms at least $12 million between 2009 and 2013, the documents show.

Canada has a long history of working closely with Caribbean tax havens, said Université de Quebec à Montreal professor Alain Deneault, who has written extensively on the subject.

“We’re so connected to tax havens, they’ve become an integral part of our economy,” he said. “In the end, all the large Canadian companies and family fortunes are structured to circumvent Canadian laws in such a way to allow the owners to avoid taxes.”

Among the Canadian companies who hired Appleby to set up offshore businesses are:

•          The Montreal Canadiens set up two trusts in Bermuda, including an employee benefit fund that was shut down in 2010. The organization says its offshore business was “in full compliance with the existing Canadian tax legislation.”

•          Food giant Loblaw says it paid all appropriate taxes on the two subsidiaries it set up with Appleby’s help in Barbados and Bermuda in 2005. They were used to insure cardholder balances from its President’s Choice Financial MasterCard, according to leaked documents.

•          Hydro-Québec incorporated an offshore company in Bermuda to invest in power-generation projects in China, even though the company is exempt from income tax in Canada. A representative for the public utility said the company was dissolved in 2007 and capital gains taxes were paid.

•          Brookfield, a Canadian investment giant, set up Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (BIP) in Bermuda to hold international investments. Documents show how the company set up 29 corporations and limited partnerships in nine jurisdictions in a 48-step “specific sequencing” to “ensure” that units of BIP “are not taxable Canadian property.” A company spokesperson said “the tax treatment of partnerships like BIP . . . is the same whether they are domiciled in Bermuda, Canada or the U.S.”

Appleby also performed offshore services for many seemingly regular Canadians, including doctors, engineers, geologists, housewives, a police officer, a speech pathologist and a retired admiral in the Canadian navy.

The database also contains a Bermudian company incorporated by Gerald Bull, the late Quebec engineer who attempted to develop a supergun to shoot satellites into space but ended up working on a massive cannon for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Also in Appleby’s files is online gambling baron Isai Scheinberg, who started the online gambling site PokerStars, but ran afoul of U.S. authorities and is now actively wanted by the FBI.

While Appleby prides itself on its high ethical standards and has been named “offshore law firm of the year,” internal documents reveal that it hasn’t always succeeded in keeping out questionable clients.

“Some of the crap we accept is amazing totally amazing,” state presentation notes prepared by Appleby’s director of compliance in 2011. “We have a current case where we are sitting on about 400K that is definitely tainted and it is not easy to deal with.”

“MONEY LAUNDERING IS A DIRTY CRIME,” screamed notes accompanying the PowerPoint presentation. “THERE IS USUALLY ALWAYS A VICTIM AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PILE AND A RICH PERSON AT THE TOP.”

The firm did not answer detailed questions sent by the ICIJ and the Star.

“We are an offshore law firm who advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business. We do not tolerate illegal behaviour. It is true that we are not infallible. Where we find that mistakes have happened we act quickly to put things right and we make the necessary notifications to the relevant authorities,” reads a statement put out by Appleby after it was contacted about the leak.

Appleby is already publicly associated with the Bermuda Longtail Trust, one of the biggest tax scams in recent Canadian history.

The scam, originally revealed by a Star investigation in 2007, duped almost 10,000 people, including nurses, teachers and at least one police officer, into making donations to bogus charities in order to receive a tax receipt worth four times more. Appleby administered the trust for Canadian businessman Edward Furtak. The trust had collected more than $100 million by the time the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) got wise to the scheme, and a group of clients sued. Appleby settled the class action for $17.5 million last summer. The firm admitted no wrongdoing.

As governments around the world have turned their attention to cracking down on offshore tax evasion — including almost $1 billion pledged to the CRA in the last two years — Appleby has publicly defended the use of tax havens (also known as “offshore financial centres” or OFCs).

“The myth perpetuated by the OECD and G-20 nations is that OFCs encourage tax evasion,” two Appleby lawyers wrote in the Cayman Islands Journal. “In reality, excessive tax burdens in welfare states encourage tax evasion, leading to capital flight to OFCs. Logic dictates that if politicians wish to eliminate capital flight, they should lower their country’s oppressive taxes.”

Appleby’s Canadian lawyers practiced what they preached.

All of them left the country to avoid paying Canadian taxes, according to an email sent by the firm’s managing partner in the BVI, Michael Burns.

There were a lot of them — 21 of Appleby’s 182 lawyers spread out around the globe were educated in Canada, one indication of the surprisingly strong Canadian presence in Caribbean tax havens.

Burns, who declined to comment for this article, worried that a Halifax branch would draw these Canadian tax expats back into the reach of the CRA.

“Are you able to provide us with any general guidance as to any possible concerns that might arise, such as a liability to Canadian tax?” Burns inquired of his contacts in Halifax.

The CRA returned to Appleby with warm reassurances that no taxes in Canada would be owing if the firm decided to come. An advanced tax ruling in 2008 guaranteed Appleby that any future business in Halifax would not require staff — or its clients — to pay Canadian taxes.

Despite that green light, the firm ultimately bailed on the plan to bring a little piece of Bermudan tax haven to Halifax.

“With regret, we are not now likely to take up the opportunity at this time of proceeding with the Halifax Outsourcing Platform,” Burns wrote in 2009. “Isle of Man was already our top choice for outsourcing, for many reasons, although Halifax was a very close second.”

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Jagmeet Singh says drug addiction is a social, not criminal justice, issue

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

At the B.C. NDP convention this weekend, the federal leader says he has witnessed the devastation of opioid addictions, and called on the federal government to declare a national crisis.

VICTORIA—Jagmeet Singh says he’s witnessed the devastation of British Columbia’s opioid overdose epidemic and it breaks his heart.

The federal New Democrat Party leader said he visited an overdose prevention site in Vancouver this week where he saw people struggling with addiction and learned how to administer the overdose-busting medication Naloxone.

Singh told about 2,000 delegates attending the B.C. NDP convention on Saturday that Canada’s drug laws should reflect that drug addiction is a social justice issue and not a criminal justice matter. He called on the federal government to declare opioid addiction a national crisis.

Singh drew a standing ovation when he said the New Democrats would decriminalize personal possession of all drugs, not just marijuana.

“I saw that people’s lives are being destroyed while the federal government does little or nothing and it breaks my heart,” he said. “I saw with my own eyes the devastation of the opioid crisis.”

Singh said addiction is rooted in issues of poverty and mental health.

  “To me poverty, mental health and addictions don’t sound like criminal justice problems,” he said. “They sound to me like a social justice problem. That’s why I’m calling for the decriminalization of all personal possession offences when it comes to drugs to make a difference in the lives of people and actually bring real change.”

Singh, elected NDP leader last month, said the federal New Democrats must become the party that represents the lives and hopes of Canadians.

“We get it,” he said. “We are the party that hears the stories of people, the struggles. We must again be the party that inspires Canadians. That makes their hearts beat faster.”

Earlier, B.C. Premier John Horgan told delegates the provincial party is celebrating forming government after 16 years of Liberal administrations, but serious decisions about the Site C dam and Kinder Morgan pipeline are ahead.

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Sexual harassment scandal hits hot spot frequented by Ottawa’s political elite

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

The chef at a favoured Parliament Hill restaurant recently apologized over a series of sexual harassment complaints, prompting people to ask how far the expectation of condemnation should extend.

OTTAWA—It’s lunchtime on a Thursday and Riviera is packed. Beneath the din of many voices and a brass-blasting Sinatra song, there doesn’t appear to be a free table in the joint. Patrons are stacked elbow-to-elbow all down the gleaming, steel-top bar that curls near the front door and stretches to the back of the restaurant, where busy cooks lean into plumes of steam that sprout from stovetops in the corner.

Business as usual, in other words, for the fancy cocktail bar and eatery that’s become one of the trendiest hangouts near the Hill.

It would be totally unremarkable if it weren’t for the whiff of scandal.

Riviera’s co-owner, Matt Carmichael, a prominent figure in the capital’s restaurant scene who has been described as a celebrity chef, admitted last week to having “sexually harassed women with inappropriate comments.” Carmichael put out a statement that said he went to rehab this summer for addiction to drugs and alcohol and, in his new-found “clear state of sobriety,” apologized to the women he harassed.

The Ottawa Citizen reported allegations from Riviera staffers, one of whom told the paper Carmichael sent her an inappropriate message on Facebook.

The situation appears to be another example of a powerful man falling from grace at a moment when the cultural domain roils with allegations of sexual harassment and assault, as well the denunciations that attend them. It’s happening in Hollywood with Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein. We’ve seen in it in Montreal with the creator of the city’s Just for Laughs festival. And just Wednesday, the U.K.’s defence minister resigned and apologized for gripping a radio host’s knee in 2002.

Carmichael’s case has an added dimension. Riviera is known around town as a favoured haunt for the politically connected. The restaurant with the ’80s-style neon pink sign is situated in an old, art deco bank just steps from the Prime Minister’s Office, and hosted a government soiree when the 2017 budget came out last March.

This brings up an interesting thought: when something like this happens in proximity to those with public duties, how far does the requirement to condemn it extend? Can Liberal insiders still drink their “Femme Fatale” cocktails and nosh “Le Big Matt” burgers (“think like a Big Mac, but better,” a reporter was told) without fear of troublesome optics?

Those questions may ring louder for a government that has made gender equality an unprecedented priority in the echelons of power, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stating that he has a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual harassment in his own Liberal ranks.

Speaking in Brampton on Thursday, when the government released a report on workplace harassment, Trudeau said “far too many Canadian women” have such experiences.

“One of the things we are seeing now is, there is an awakening,” he continued.

“It’s never all right, and regardless of the power or influence or money or fame of the person doing the harassment, it’s never excusable and it should never be kept hidden.”

Charlotte Triggs, senior editor for People Magazine, discusses the sexual harassment, abuse and assault allegations leveled against some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. (The Associated Press)

Erin Gee co-hosts a feminist pop culture and politics podcast in Ottawa called “Bad and Bitchy.” She points out that Veterans Affairs Minister Seamus O’Regan’s husband, Steve Doussis, was Riviera’s general manager until news of the scandal broke. He resigned Oct. 25, the same day Carmichael apologized publicly, saying in a statement that he “could not in good conscience continue in this workplace environment.”

So far, however, Gee says she hasn’t seen any condemnations from inside the political bubble. “If people think that was awful then they should stand up for what they believe in and their morals, and boycott his establishment for a certain period of time,” she says, while acknowledging that to avoid the restaurant is “tricky,” given that innocent people who work there could suffer.

It’s also unclear when such a stand could be deemed sufficient, she says, and people could return to enjoy their venison tartare (with sour cherry and toasted pepitas) without shame. All the same, she said she won’t be returning anytime soon to Riviera or to the other two restaurants in town that Carmichael co-owns.

Tim Powers, vice-chair of Summa Strategies, says the situation at Riviera is certainly a “topic of debate” in political circles, especially for a Liberal party he said is undoubtedly preoccupied with its own brand and image.

But he hastens to add that there should be no expectation that people from Parliament Hill avoid the restaurant — especially if the people mistreated by Carmichael still work there.

“Who are you penalizing? In the end you’re probably penalizing the people you don’t want to penalize, the people who’ve been speaking up,” he says.

“Does it impact the Liberal brand because Liberal staffers go there? No, that’s a friggin’ stretch.”

Outside the restaurant, it’s raining on Sparks St. Sarah Hurman passes by under her umbrella. She says she loves Riviera, and would go back despite the scandal, especially now that Carmichael has apologized and stepped away from the business.

The fact that we’re having this conversation at all is a sign of progress, she says. “Younger people expect a fairer workplace, and they have a much better idea of that than their counterparts 20 to 30 years ago,” says the 58-year-old consultant. “It’s just a slow process of levelling the playing field.”

Moments later, a woman who is texting as she walks glances up at Riviera’s façade. She shrugs. “I heard it’s great, and I want to try it soon.”

 

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Ex-Guantanamo detainee to sue Canada for $50M for alleged complicity in torture

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Djamel Ameziane, who was held at Guantanamo for 11 years after living in Canada, alleges extensive torture by U.S. officials, and says Canada was complicit in the abuse.

An Algerian man is set to sue the federal government for the abuses he says he suffered at the hands of American security forces after he left Canada 15 years ago.

The unproven allegations by Djamel Ameziane, who was never charged or prosecuted, raise further questions about Canada’s complicity in the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay — a topic his lawyer said demands a full-scale public inquiry.

“My current situation is really bad, I am struggling to survive,” Ameziane, 50, said from near Algiers. “I was repatriated from Guantanamo and left like almost homeless. I couldn’t find a job because of the Guantanamo stigma and my age, so a settlement would be very helpful to me to get my life back together.”

In a draft statement of claim obtained by The Canadian Press, Ameziane seeks damages of $50 million on the grounds that Canada’s security services co-operated with their U.S. counterparts even though they knew the Americans were abusing him.

“The Crown’s conduct constituted acquiescence and tacit consent to the torture inflicted upon the plaintiff,” the lawsuit alleges.

Canadian intelligence, the suit alleges, began sharing information with the Americans after failing to pick up on the 1999 “Millennium plot” in which Ahmed Ressam, another Algerian who had been living in Montreal, aimed to blow up the Los Angeles airport. After 9/11, Canadian agents interrogated Ameziane at the infamous American prison in Cuba, as they did Canada’s Omar Khadr, according to the claim.

Ameziane’s Edmonton-based lawyer, Nate Whitling, said the government’s recent out-of-court settlement — worth a reported $10.5 million — with Khadr over violation of his rights has prevented scrutiny of Canada’s alleged complicity in abuses at Guantanamo Bay. A judicial inquiry is needed, Whitling said.

“Only then can the Canadian public come to understand the extent to which Canada is responsible for the torture of innocent detainees in the aftermath of 9/11,” Whitling said.

The lawyer, who said he planned to file the lawsuit in Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton on Monday, said Ameziane would be prepared to put the claim on hold in exchange for an inquiry. Whitling also said two other people planned similar suits that name the federal government, RCMP and Canadian Security and Intelligence Service.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale had no comment given the pending legal proceedings.

The U.S. detained Ameziane at Guantanamo Bay for more than 11 years until his release in December 2013.

“For many years, I had the idea of suing the Canadian government but didn’t know how and honestly didn’t know it was possible until I read the news about the settlement of Omar Khadr, who was my fellow inmate in Guantanamo Bay,” Ameziane said. “The action I am taking may also make (Canadian officials) think twice before acting against the interests of Canada and Canada’s human values.”

According to his claim, Ameziane left Algeria in the 1990s to escape rising violence there. After working as a chef in Austria, he came to Canada in December 1995 and asked for refugee status. He lived in Montreal for five years, attending mosques where the Americans said members of al-Qaida prayed.

When Canada rejected his request for asylum, Ameziane opted to go to Afghanistan rather than Algeria, where he feared abuse. He left Afghanistan for Pakistan in October 2001 when fighting erupted, but was captured and turned over to American forces in exchange for a bounty, his claim states.

The Americans first took him to a detention facility in Kandahar, where he alleges guards brutalized him, then sent him to Guantanamo Bay based partly on information provided by Canadian intelligence, according to his claim.

Ameziane, who denies any terrorism links, says Canadian agents interviewed him in Guantanamo in February and May 2003 and turned over recordings of the interrogations to the Americans. They did so, he claims, despite widespread allegations that U.S. forces were abusing detainees and even though they knew he faced no charges and had no access to a lawyer or the courts.

Ameziane alleged American officials interrogated him hundreds of times and abused him when they decided he wasn’t co-operating. The abuse, he alleges, included sleep-deprivation, intrusive genital searches, pepper-spraying, waterboarding, being left in freezing conditions, and having his head slammed against walls and the floor, dislocating his jaw.

“Canadian officials came to interview me on two occasions (and) they not only shared information about me with my American torturers but even tried to get information out of me that had nothing to do with Canada in order to help my American torturers,” Ameziane said. “I refused to answer questions, after that I was subjected to a worse treatment by the Americans.”

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Young Muslims rethink plans to study in Quebec as Bill 62 comes into effect

Posted on 03 November 2017 by admin

The new regulation, prohibiting anyone with a face covering from receiving public services, has some young people saying their perception of the province has changed.

A new law in Quebec banning face coverings for anyone who receives or provides public services has some Muslim students reconsidering the idea of pursuing their education in that province.

The passing of Bill 62, which would prohibit anyone wearing a face covering from receiving a provincial or municipal service such as public transit, has sparked a strong public backlash.

Amid criticisms that the controversial bill uniquely targets Muslim women, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has even opened the door to federal intervention.

Regardless of any future legal challenges, some students say the passing of the bill has already changed their perception of a province they’d once considered moving to in pursuit of post-secondary education.

They say the new law makes them feel as though Muslims are no longer welcome in the province.

They also fear the legislation would make it difficult to access basic services that are key to student life.

Batool Suleman, 17, said Montreal’s McGill University was high on her list of school options as she prepared to pursue a degree in chemical engineering.

Since the advent of Bill 62 on “religious neutrality,” however, she said her enthusiasm has cooled considerably.

“That’s scary,” she said of the law. “How can I, a citizen of Canada, not be allowed to go somewhere just because of a piece of cloth?”

Suleman, who wears a hijab, said she’s already felt some anti-Islamic sentiment on past visits to the province, in sharp contrast to the welcoming atmosphere she enjoys in her hometown of Toronto.

She said she fears the bill, which the Quebec government said has broad popular support within the province, will only compound that feeling.

Suleman also foresees practical barriers to studying in Montreal if the bill is allowed to stand. She fears both transit and library services would be off limits to Muslim women who cover their face, adding both services are vital for students living on a tight budget.

The Canadian Federation of Students agreed, issuing a statement condemning the bill and its impact on those who are already studying in Quebec.

“Islamophobia cannot be tolerated in Canada,” the statement reads. “ … The Canadian Federation of Students remains steadfast in this position and will continue to support those who organize against xenophobia and bigotry across this country.”

Bill 62, which the provincial government has said is aimed at enhancing public security, requires anyone providing or receiving provincial and municipal public services in Quebec to uncover their faces.

Justice Minister Stephanie Vallee originally said the law would oblige people riding a bus or the subway to do so with their faces uncovered for the entire journey. She later backtracked, however, saying only those whose fare requires a card with photo ID will need to uncover their faces upon boarding public transit and that they can put the veil back on once they’ve been identified.

Members of the provincial legislature voted 66-51 in favour of the legislation, with both major opposition parties opposing it on grounds that it did not go far enough.

Opponents are pushing for rules prohibiting officials such as teachers and police officers from wearing religious symbols on the job, as well as an explicit ban on “accessories of submission” including the Islamic chador, burka or niqab.

Suleman does not wear any of those garments, but fears for friends and relatives that do if Quebec continues down the same path.

Those fears are also prominent for Farah Mikati, 15, who said her longtime ambition was to attend McGill’s prestigious law school after completing undergraduate work in Toronto.

Bill 62, however, has changed her plans.

While she wears no religious garments of any kind, Mikati said she can’t support a province that would deny members of her community the same rights she enjoys.

“Just as every woman has the right to reveal herself, the woman next to her has the right to conceal herself,” Mikati said. “ … If the government is going to impact our basic rights, I don’t want to be a part of it.” “

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A billion dollar budget approved for police services in Toronto

Posted on 03 November 2017 by admin

Toronto police board keeps a lid on spending for the second year in a row. For years, the budget grew at a rate double that of inflation, passing the billion-dollar mark in 2016.

Toronto’s police board has approved an operating budget request of $1.005 billion for 2018, keeping a lid on its growth for the second year in a row.

For years, the police budget grew at a rate double that of inflation, passing the billion-dollar mark in 2016, up 28 per cent from a decade earlier. That helped drive up city spending, and in recent years triggered fights with council as it tried to contain the ballooning cost of emergency services.

Council has set a 0 per cent budget increase target in 2018 for city departments and agencies.

The Toronto Police Service initially forecast it would need an additional $37.6 million, or a 3.7 per cent increase over the 2017 budget to cover the 2018 salary and benefit settlement.

However, the service was able to offset the salary impact with the savings achieved by a hiring moratorium, which shaved $24.5 million from the 2018 budget, and other reductions and bridging strategies, “that may pose a pressure on the 2019 budget,” a police service budget document warned.

In 2016, a task force formed to modernize the police service recommended a three-year hiring moratorium to decrease the number of officers over time, so that by 2020 there will be 4,750 uniform officers compared to 5,615 in 2010.

In addition, the service has not been filling vacant civilian positions.

While the service will achieve the city’s 0 per cent target this year, it will be difficult to achieve a flat line budget in future years, police service CAO Tony Veneziano said Thursday.

For example, at some point, the civilian moratorium has to be lifted, as investments will need to be made to implement the task force’s recommendations, “to decrease the risk of failure,” Veneziano said.

The budget dedicates 88 cents of every dollar to a salary and benefits package.

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