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Month: April 2019 Page 5 of 12

Saudi retaliation against Canada during feud detailed in government memo

Saudi retaliation against Canada during feud detailed in government memo

The fallout from Saudi Arabia’s move to punish Canadian companies was felt within a month of the countries’ sudden diplomatic feud last summer, leading to visa rejections, a government ban on food from Canada and a blockage of shipments at the kingdom’s ports.

A newly released federal document provides a close look at Saudi Arabia’s retaliation against Canada, following criticism by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland on Twitter of the regime’s arrest of women’s rights activists.

Angered by the public condemnation, Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties with Canada last August, expelled the Canadian ambassador and recalled its own envoy from Ottawa.

The kingdom also stopped future trade and investment deals, cancelled grain imports and said it would shut down lucrative scholarships for its citizens to study in Canada. The Saudi central bank and state pension funds started selling their Canadian holdings.

A briefing note to International Trade Minister Jim Carr offers more detail on how events were unfolding on the ground about a month after the start of the dispute.

“It is important to note that over the last few days Global Affairs Canada has been learning of concrete actions taken by Saudi Arabia against Canadian companies across various sectors,” reads the memo, released this week to The Canadian Press under access-to-information law.

The document went on to list numerous measures, including:

  • Requests for existing contracts to be replaced by new contracts with non-Canadian suppliers.
  • Denial of access to military bases.Payment delays.
  • Re-routing of flights for product supplies.
  • Prevention of a Canadian company from importing and selling medication.
  • Government ministries issuing orders to ban food and medication from Canada.
  • Various shipments from Canada being completely stopped at Saudi ports.

The note was created last September for Carr in preparation for his meeting with members of the Canada Arab Business Council, who have interests in the kingdom.

The additional details of the dispute with Saudi Arabia emerge as Canada tries to manage other, bigger trade-related challenges with its two largest partners, the United States and China.

No rapprochement yet for former key partners

Saudi Arabia has previously been a key partner for Canada in the Middle East and, according to a separate internal briefing note, the countries had more than $4 billion worth of trade in 2017. That year, Saudi Arabia had $1.28 billion worth of direct investment in Canada, said the memo prepared for Finance Minister Bill Morneau after the crisis broke out.

Scott Jolliffe, the president of the Canada Arab Business Council, said in an interview that Saudi investment in Canada ground to a halt last August. He also said Canadian firms have been restricted from bidding on new projects in the kingdom.

On the other hand, he said things have mostly carried on as usual for those of his members who already had business in the country. Jolliffe also said he hadn’t heard of any visa refusals.

He said he would like to see the impasse resolved because Saudi Arabia and the region offer billions of dollars’ worth of potential business for Canadian companies — and possible alternatives to the U.S. There’s a deep need there, he added, for the expertise Canada offers in areas like infrastructure, telecommunications and engineering.

“At the moment, it doesn’t appear as if there is much going on to strengthen and rebuild the relationship,” said Jolliffe, who’s had meetings with Carr about the issue.

The feud has had an impact on agriculture. Feed-barley producers, for instance, have been shut out of the Saudi market.

“Any country we lose, even if it’s temporary, hurts us,” said Dave Bishop, a farmer and chair of Alberta Barley.

He said Canada had been shipping about 122,000 tonnes of feed barley to Saudi Arabia every year — amounts that can sometimes reach 10 per cent of all Canadian exports of the product.

This year, the industry has been lucky that feed barley is in short supply worldwide and extra demand from markets like China has helped make up for being shut out of Saudi Arabia, Bishop added.

Human rights, Khashoggi still a concern

The memo to Carr last September said Freeland and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, in an effort to resolve the conflict, “have been discussing ideas to de-escalate … including an incremental approach which could include a series of steps.”

Asked about the status of Saudi-Canadian relations now, Carr’s office provided a statement that said he’s still disappointed with the kingdom’s response to Canada’s human-rights concerns.

A few weeks after Carr received the memo, the kingdom’s relationship with Canada came under further strain — as did its relations with many countries — as details emerged about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Adam Austen, a spokesman for Freeland, said Thursday that Saudi Arabia’s explanations for the killing have been inadequate and that Canada has called for a thorough, credible and independent international investigation.

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Election fact-checker: Leaders debate edition

Election fact-checker: Leaders debate edition

Albertans tuned in to watch Rachel Notley, Jason Kenney, David Khan and Stephen Mandel debate the issues Thursday evening. 

CBC News examined claims made by the party leaders during the debate and all four had misleading claims. 

Comments made by politicians and the parties online are ranked as true, false or muddy in CBC News fact-checker articles.

  • Find out how Alberta’s political parties are faring in our Poll Tracker
  • VOTE COMPASS | Find out how your views on campaign issues line up with the platforms of Alberta’s major parties

The muddy moments

David Khan, Liberal Party

“The UCP and the Alberta Party have talked about privatizing health care.”

Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel: “No, we haven’t!”

Khan: “Yes, Mr. Clark was on QR 77 last week suggesting that your party would look at privatizing some parts of the health care system.”

Mandel: “No, we didn’t. I don’t know where you heard that from?!”


Here’s why: The health-care portion of the Alberta Party platformdoesn’t mention privatization, or private delivery of services. In fact, the party wants to increase health benefits by adding an annual dental care check up for children ages 12 and under.

Here’s the actual exchange between a radio talk-show host and former Alberta Party MLA Greg Clark, during a March 21 interview:

Host: “We already have lots of private care, ways to pay privately to get services done in the health world. Your view on, can we go a little farther that way? Do we have to pull back? How do we use the private health care to help the public system?”

Clark: “You know, I do think we need to start thinking about some of that. I won’t say a definitive no. I will say the Alberta Party is totally committed to a public health-care system. We need to make sure we maintain equal access and have a focus on quality and access, but we also need to start looking at creative ways of reducing costs.”

Stephen Mandel, Alberta Party 

“The reality is we don’t have enough pipelines to send our oil south. We don’t have any pipelines to send it west or east. Part of that [was the] responsibility of Mr. Kenney and his government. When he was there, they could have pushed Northern Gateway through, but he didn’t do that.”

Ranking: Muddy

Here’s why: Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative government, which included Kenney, signed off on the Northern Gateway pipeline. But Ottawa’s approval was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2016, and the Liberal government did not appeal the court decision.

Jason Kenney, UCP

On wait times and Alberta’s healthcare: “And that’s with a government that is spending more, with the most expensive system in Canada.”

Ranking: Muddy

Here’s why: Statistics from 2018 show that Alberta does spend more per person than any other province. However, the territories certainly have the most expensive health-care systems in Canada. For example, health-care costs per person in the Northwest Territories were more than double that of per-person costs in Alberta in 2018, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Rachel Notley, NDP 

“Here’s the thing: pipelines, pipelines, pipelines. I’ve just now said the word two more times than Mr. Kenney did when he was a cabinet minister.”

Ranking: Muddy

Here’s why: It is impossible to check every speaking engagement and media scrum over Kenney’s nearly 20-year federal career. Technically, Kenney said the word “pipeline” three times in the House of Commons, although he was an opposition MP and not a cabinet minister at the time. Kenney also mentioned the Northern Gateway pipeline by name in the House of Commons. While he was federal employment minister in 2014, he said “pipeline” several times when speaking to CBC about the impact of falling oil prices.

Here are the two Hansard records of when he mentioned the word “pipeline” for a total of three times in Ottawa (with transcripts):

UCP Leader Jason Kenney, NDP Leader Rachel Notley, Liberal Leader David Khan and Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel participated in the Alberta Leaders Debate in Edmonton Thursday. (CBC)

The facts

Jason Kenney, UCP

“We need to focus on things like the huge decline in math scores for Alberta students.”

Ranking: True

Here’s why: In 2018, one-third of Alberta Grade 9 students failed the provincial exams for math. An international test taken by Alberta Grade 4 students in 2015 showed math scores had been slipping over 10 years.

Rachel Notley, NDP

“Mr. Kenney’s caucus voted against Bill 24 [An Act to Support Gay-Straight Alliances] when we brought it in.”

Ranking: True

Here’s why: The NDP’s Bill 24 prevented teachers from outing students who join a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at school. When the bill passed in November 2017, the 23 MLAs who voted against it were from the UCP caucus. One UCP MLA, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, was absent from the vote. Another, Leela Aheer, abstained.

David Khan, Liberal Party

“There has been money for class-size reductions for years, and we do not know where it has gone.”

Ranking: True

Here’s why: An auditor general’s report, delivered in 2018, showed that Alberta Education has spent billions of dollars over 13 years to try and reduce class sizes, without actually reducing class sizes. The auditor general also found that the government wasn’t tracking how that money was spent within school districts.  

Stephen Mandel, Alberta Party

“We have to be concerned about bigotry and intolerance. That’s something nobody can tolerate anywhere. And that seems to be something that is following Mr. Kenney’s party on an ongoing basis.”

Ranking: True

Here’s why: Over the past several weeks, there have been high-profile controversies involving UCP candidates making sexist, homophobic, or racist remarks. Two of those candidates, Caylan Ford and Eva Kiryakos, have since resigned. Mark Smith, the candidate for Drayton Valley-Devon, has apologized for remarks he made about homosexual relationships.

As part of an ongoing effort to hold Alberta’s political leaders and political parties accountable, CBC News will fact-check comments made by politicians and photos posted online at various times along the campaign trail.  

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Veterans Affairs sent condolences to 'widow' of still-living veteran

Veterans Affairs sent condolences to ‘widow’ of still-living veteran

It was a surreal moment for Truman Tremblay.

On March 23, the former RCMP officer and military reservist — who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder — had just arrived home in Kamloops, B.C. from a spring break vacation. In his mailbox he found an official-looking letter addressed to his wife.

Moments later, his speechless wife Allison showed him the letter — expressing Veterans Affairs Canada’s sympathies regarding the death of her husband and offering to help out the newly-bereaved widow.

“My initial thought was, ‘Wow! My God, how in the hell did such an error happened?'” Tremblay, 48, told CBC News.

“The letter didn’t specify when or how I died. It just said that they wanted to send their condolences and that if she needed any assistance to contact them, and also to contact the Last Post Fund for burial benefits and things of that nature, and it was signed by a veteran’s service agent.”

That jaw-dropping gaffe happened just a few weeks after Tremblay transitioned from Veterans Affairs’ more personalized case management system to the less direct, more generic service agent system.

Now a federal parole officer, he served in the RCMP for four years in B.C. in the late 1990s and developed PTSD after witnessing gruesome accident scenes. He was formally diagnosed in 2012 and is still receiving treatment.

What frustrates Tremblay about the letter, he said, is the seeming indifference he’s faced while trying to find out how and why it happened, and what Veterans Affairs is doing to make sure similar mistakes don’t happen to veterans who may be in more fragile psychological conditions.

Veterans Affairs apologizes

He said he’s spoken with three different people at Veterans Affairs, including a staffer in the deputy minister’s office.

The department has launched an investigation but Tremblay said the only thing he’s been told so far is the obvious — that the letter was sent in error and the department is sorry. He’s also been told that the mistake happened when a case manager transferred his file.

The department did write a letter of apology and posted it to Tremblay’s online Veterans Affairs account.

Tremblay said that what bothers him most is the fact that no one at the department tried to confirm that he was actually dead. He said he wonders whether the error represents a systemic problem.

He also wants to see someone held accountable for the emotional upset — which is what would happen, he said, if someone in his parole office made a similar mistake.

“I know that if someone was to make an error and change an offender status from living to deceased, they would likely have their employment terminated,” said Tremblay.

“So I could just not imagine how someone made such an error. It just arrived and there were no phone calls. No one calls to check on me and see if such a thing even occurred in the first place.”

‘Immediate action’

A spokesperson for Veterans Affairs said the department is still investigating and has tried to make amends.

“Veterans Affairs Canada is deeply sorry for this mistake,” said France Bureau, the department’s director of public affairs. “As soon as we became aware of the mistake, we reached out and a letter of apology has been sent. As in all circumstances when errors happen, immediate action has been taken to review the issue and avoid future mistakes.”

She said there is protocol in place to verify reports that a veteran has passed away, but in this circumstance there was “human error.”

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82% of Canadians urging government action to tackle plastic pollution: CBC poll

82% of Canadians urging government action to tackle plastic pollution: CBC poll

Nine out of 10 respondents to a survey about the impact of plastic waste on the environment say they are concerned or very concerned about the problem, and 82 per cent say they believe that government should be doing more to tackle it.

The Angus Reid Forum conducted a representative online survey of 1,500 Canadians from March 14 to 17 for CBC’s Marketplace about what they thought about plastic pollution, over-packaged products, and the government’s strategy on the issue. (A randomized sample of this size would yield a margin of error of +/- 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.) 

The results suggest the majority of Canadians are concerned about plastic, believe that individuals and businesses have a responsibility to reduce it, but also feel strongly that not enough is being done by government to address the issue.

Federal strategy promised

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said plastic packaging is on the federal government’s radar.

“Wait till June, that’s when we’re coming out with our strategy with the provinces and territories,” she said in an interview with Marketplace.

“We’ve got to go through a proper process with this, working with industry, working with cities, everyone needs to be part of it.”

A Marketplace poll suggests that more than eight in 10 Canadians believe that government should be doing more to tackle the problem of plastic waste. (David MacIntosh/ CBC News)

While McKenna said that “there’s a role for bans” on certain types of plastics, she stopped short of committing to the types of bans other jurisdictions have introduced. Just last month, the European Union approved a ban on 10 types of single-use plastics, including straws, cutlery and styrofoam cups to come into effect in 2021.

“It’s not just about banning, because I think there’s a lot of focus on banning,” McKenna said.

“I think we need to focus more on the circular economy.”

In a circular economy, the thinking goes, packaging would be reused or repurposed.

A Marketplace viewer sent in an image of plastic wrapped disposable forks and straws from a Subway restaurant. The chain says it’s transitioning to paper straws. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

Marketplace commissioned the poll after hearing from viewers who sent in pictures of plastic packaging that they found to be excessive, including packaging on fresh fruit and vegetables, hardware items, toys and clothing.

Some other examples included plastic-wrapped disposable straws and forks given out at Subway restaurants.

When Marketplace reached out to some of the companies that created or sold the packaged goods, only Subway shared plans to change the packaging, saying that the sandwich chain is in the process of switching to paper straws this year. It did not outline any plans to move away from the plastic-wrapped disposable cutlery.

Cannabis packaging under scrutiny

Some viewers pointed to the large amount of plastic used to distribute small amounts of legal cannabis, just the latest product to come under scrutiny.

Marketplace viewers contacted the show to express their concern about the amount of plastic used to package legal cannabis. (David MacIntosh/CBC News)

Marketplace showed some examples of cannabis packaging to Adria Vasil, who wrote the Ecoholic series of books and writes a regular column on green living. The way cannabis is packaged — in non-recyclable plastic plastic bags, clam-shell packages or in plastic bags inside sealed jars or boxes — represents a missed opportunity by the manufacturers and the province of Ontario, she said. 

“They could have designed this from the ground up to be green, to be compatible with the province’s recycling system, and instead, they just completely fell asleep at the switch.” 

The Ontario Cannabis Store pointed out that all cannabis packaging has to be tamper-proof and child-resistant. Even so, Vasil says she’s disappointed more thought wasn’t given to environmentally friendly packaging.

Watch: Marketplace showed some of the examples of cannabis packaging to environmental commentator Adria Vasil.

Author Adria Vasil demonstrates some of the excess and non-recyclable plastic packaging that can be found on products sold online at the Ontario Cannabis Store. 0:59

The results of the survey indicate companies may need to think twice about how much plastic packaging they use in the future or run the risk of losing sales.

More than half of the 1,500 respondents said they would not buy certain products if they felt the packaging was excessive.

McKenna said businesses have a big role to play in tackling plastic pollution.

“We need companies to be more responsible,” she said.

“We have got a huge problem, and we all have to be acting together, right now.”  

Shoppers say few neighbourhood options

Despite widespread use of municipal blue bin programs, just 11 per cent of the plastic used in Canada is actually recycled. The rest is either sent to landfill, incinerated — resulting in harmful emissions — or discarded in the environment.

And although the polling suggests that three-quarters of Canadians accept that it’s their responsibility, too, to reduce plastic, a majority say they find it difficult to do so.

“Zero-waste” or “low-waste” grocery stores have opened in cities such as Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, but just 39 per cent of Canadians polled said they knew of places they could shop for products without much plastic packaging in their neighbourhood.

“It’s a really big concern,” said Michelle Genttner, co-owner of Unboxed Market, a zero-waste grocery store in Toronto that sells produce, meat, bulk groceries, household goods and even has a hot table with ready-to-eat food free from plastic packaging. Consumers bring their own containers. 

“For those people, I would say look to your farmers markets, go to your stores, ask the questions.”

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SNC-Lavalin fallout has some Indigenous Canadians questioning Trudeau's commitment to reconciliation

SNC-Lavalin fallout has some Indigenous Canadians questioning Trudeau’s commitment to reconciliation

The Trudeau government is defending its commitment to reconciliation as a growing number of Indigenous leaders and youth say they’re discouraged by his decision to eject two key figures on the file from the Liberal caucus.

“I’m very disappointed that it had to come to this,” said Linden Waboose, a 22-year-old from from Eabametoong First Nation who sits on the Nishnawbe Aski Nation Oshkaatisak Council, an advisory network of ten youths aged 18-29 from Northern Ontario.

“I feel like [Trudeau] doesn’t value that relationship he committed to in 2015.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said no relationship is more important to him and to Canada than the one with First Nations, the Metis Nation and Inuit Peoples.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at an evening caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday after kicking both former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and fellow ex-cabinet minister Jane Philpott out of the Liberal caucus. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The day after he chose to oust Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus, Trudeau faced some hard questions about that promise from young women who gathered on Wednesday for the Daughters of the Vote event in the House of Commons. In response, Trudeau said again that reconciliation is “probably one of the most important” issues for his government.

Reconciliation ‘way more than one person’

Many in Indigenous communities saw Wilson-Raybould and Philpott as champions of their causes.

Philpott won respect for her efforts as Indigenous Services minister to end drinking water advisories and reform Indigenous child welfare. Wilson-Raybould was, of course, the first Indigenous person to hold the position of justice minister and attorney general.

Crown–Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett says the government’s work on reconciliation goes beyond the work of one person. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennett calls Wilson-Raybould a trailblazer, but said the work on reconciliation continues.

“This is way more than one person,” Bennett said.

“This is our Indigenous caucus. This is all the partnerships we made. We want to keep going on reconciliation. Equality means that if you cross the line, there are consequences.”

Investments in reconciliation are significant part of the Liberal government’s election year budget; $4.5 billion has been added over the next five years to try to narrow the socio-economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.

‘Irreparable harm and damage’

The SNC-Lavalin scandal has been eating into Liberal support since Feb. 7, when the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould had faced inappropriate political pressure over the decision to pursue criminal prosecution of the company on bribery charges. Wilson-Raybould and Philpott both later resigned from cabinet to protest the government’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin file.

In her testimony before the Commons Justice Committee during its investigation of the SNC-Lavalin affair, Wilson-Raybould said she would not apologize for being a strong advocate of transformative change for Indigenous peoples.

As she was being shuffled from her justice post, she warned senior people in the government that it would not look good for the government.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, wants the prime minister to apologize to Jody-Wilson Raybould and Jane Philpott. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In text messages to Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s then-principal secretary, she wrote that the “timing of pushing me out (which will be the perception, whether true or not) is terrible. It will be confounding and perplexing to people.”

That perception is already being echoed by some.

“I think there is irreparable harm and damage done to Prime Minister Trudeau’s vision and stated intent to carry forward the reconciliation agenda,” said Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip.

“The trust has been broken.”

Russ Diabo, a First Nations policy analyst, believes reconciliation is tied to the SNC-Lavalin affair.

Stewart warned that the Trudeau government will be a “one-time wonder” and said the only way it can repair its relationship with those hurt over the prime minister’s decision to oust Wilson-Raybould and Philpott from caucus is for Trudeau to apologize and then step down.

The outrage could have consequences in this fall’s federal election. Some pollsters suggest Indigenous voters could swing the outcome in as many as 11 ridings.

A ‘double standard’

First Nations policy analyst Russ Diabo said he also believes the way Wilson-Raybould and Philpott were dropped from caucus will cast a shadow over the government’s reconciliation agenda. He pointed out that Wilson-Raybould was offered the Indigenous Services portfolio after being shuffled out of justice, but turned it down because of her opposition to the Indian Act she would have had to administer in that job.

“In the context of this reconciliation agenda, she is a symbol of, I think, the Trudeau government’s commitment to fulfilling that,” Diabo said.

“The intent of the government is in question.”

Diabo said the criticism of Wilson-Raybould over her decision to secretly record a phone call with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick amounts to a “double standard,” because Wernick was deputy minister in the former Indian Affairs department when it was monitoring the social media posts of First Nations activist Cindy Blackstock.

Sheelah McLean, one of the co-founders of the Idle No More movement, said Philpott is also a symbol — of how non-Indigenous Canadians can stand in solidarity with Indigenous people.

“The fact that they left together, I think, is a much larger narrative that really challenges what’s been happening in Canada over the last 150 years,” McLean said.

“This is about Indigenous peoples standing up against government and corporations, and then about what are Canadians, what are non-Indigenous people going to do to support Indigenous people as they continue this fight against colonialism.”

AFN questions government’s ‘motivations and actions’

In a written statement, the Assembly of First Nations also expresses its disappointment with Philpott and Wilson-Raybould’s punishment.

“The events of the past few weeks raise serious concerns about the motivations and actions of this government,” wrote National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

“In order to regain First Nations’ trust, we must all recommit ourselves to reconciliation and I urge both the Government of Canada and all parliamentarians to focus on passing key First Nation legislative priorities in this session of Parliament. This includes supporting a better future for First Nations children and families based on respect for our rights, languages, and cultures.”

Supporters of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott like B.C. Regional Chief Terry Teegee are using the hashtags #istandwithJody and #istandwithjane online.

“She [Wilson-Raybould] was doing her job, upholding the law and the integrity of the attorney general’s office, and as soon as she did that and held to her principles, as an Indigenous woman, as a government official, she’s being punished for it by the powers at be,” Teegee said.

“I think it could’ve been handled a lot better.”

But not every organization feels that way.

Metis Nation defends Trudeau

Clément Chartier, the president of the Métis Nation, questions why the two MPs weren’t expelled from the Liberal caucus sooner.

“For the Métis Nation, we believe that this prime minister and this government have done more than any other government, or more than any other prime minister, in dealing with us on a nation-to-nation, government-to-government basis,” Chartier said.

“This whole thing with the former attorney general, we saw as a major distraction getting away from what the prime minister should be concentrating on in terms of reconciliation, and in particular with the major nation.”

Waboose said the examples of Wilson-Raybould and Philpott have convinced him to pursue a career in politics.

National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Perry Bellegarde and then-Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott listen to a delegate’s question at the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa in December 2017. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

“It’s inspired me to be a politician one day,” said Waboose, who wants to be an MP.

“I hope one day that I can become the first prime minister, the first Indigenous prime minister of Canada.”

Ashley Wesley, 24, from Mishkeegogamang First Nation, sees this as a moment for the government to act.

“Some youth are really disappointed and discouraged by what’s happened. Other youth have expressed they’re upset, but they’re also motivated to try to push for changes in the government,” Wesley said.

“This is an opportunity for the government to show they are really serious.”

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Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Japan space probe drops explosive on asteroid to make crater

Japan’s space agency said its Hayabusa2 spacecraft successfully dropped an explosive designed to make a crater on an asteroid and collect its underground samples to find possible clues to the origin of the solar system.

Friday’s crater mission is the riskiest for Hayabusa2, as it had to immediately get away so it won’t get hit by flying shards from the blast.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, said that Hayabusa2 dropped a “small carry-on impactor” made of copper onto the asteroid Friday morning, and that data confirmed the spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact. JAXA is analyzing data to examine if or how the impactor made a crater.

The copper explosive is the size of a baseball weighing two kilograms. It was designed to come out of a cone-shaped piece of equipment. A copper plate on its bottom was to turn into a ball during its descent and slam into the asteroid at two kilometres per second.

JAXA plans to send Hayabusa2 back to the site later, when the dust and debris settle, for observations from above and to collect samples from underground that have not been exposed to the sun or space rays. Scientists hope the samples will be crucial to determine the history of the asteroid and our planet.

If successful, it would be the first time for a spacecraft to take such materials. In a 2005 “deep impact” mission to a comet, NASA observed fragments after blasting the surface but did not collect them.

After dropping the impactor, the spacecraft was to move quickly to the other side of the asteroid to avoid flying shards from the blast. While moving away, Hayabusa2 also left a camera to capture the outcome. One of its first photos showed the impactor being successfully released and headed to the asteroid.

Members of The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, seen on screen, celebrate, as Hayabusa2 spacecraft safely evacuated and remained intact after the blast. (Daisuke Suzuki/Kyodo News/Associated Press)

“So far, Hayabusa2 has done everything as planned, and we are delighted,” said mission leader Makoto Yoshikawa. “But we still have more missions to achieve and it’s too early for us to celebrate with ‘banzai.”‘

Hayabusa2 successfully touched down on a tiny flat surface on the boulder-rich asteroid in February, when the spacecraft also collected some surface dust and small debris. The craft is scheduled to leave the asteroid at the end of 2019 and bring surface fragments and underground samples back to Earth in late 2020.

The asteroid, named Ryugu after an undersea palace in a Japanese folktale, is about 300 million kilometres from Earth.

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Focus groups pan CRA's gentle written tax reminders as too 'promotional'

Focus groups pan CRA’s gentle written tax reminders as too ‘promotional’

Canadians who were surveyed about two Canada Revenue Agency letters aimed at encouraging the tardy to file their taxes questioned their credibility, saying the messages were too “promotional” in tone.

Earnscliffe Strategy Group conducted several focus groups across Canada for CRA in September, 2018 to both find out why some people don’t file their federal taxes and to evaluate two different letters being sent to non-filers.

Both letters emphasize the carrot over the stick, telling recipients they could be missing out on benefits and tax credits by not filing.

“There was definitely a sense, across all the groups, that the letters were a little promotional in their approach, which caused many participants to question the credibility,” the report says.

“When asked the main message of the letters, participants suggested that the letters were a reminder to file their taxes under the guise of an invitation to earn credit and benefit money.”

Trust issues

Experts say this points to an ongoing trust issue many Canadians have with the CRA.

“Certainly from a lot of peoples’ experiences, and from some of what I’ve seen here, that skepticism is warranted,” Ian Rothman, a chartered professional accountant based in Markham, Ontario, told CBC News.

The CRA says the letters are sincere, but concedes that taxpayers might not see them that way.

“In the case of this public opinion research, we heard from some taxpayers that our approach, even if well intended, can be perceived in manners which are unintended,”  the agency said in an email statement to CBC News.

Minister of National Revenue Diane Lebouthillier acknowledged in a written response emailed to the CBC that the CRA has long had a reputation for instilling fear in Canadians — but the government is trying to change that.

“This new approach requires a change in organizational culture. And culture change takes time. Over the last three and half years, the CRA has worked hard to embrace this new way of doing things,” Lebouthillier said.

The focus group research also showed that the letters were not effective in their purpose because, for the most part, very few people in the focus group remembered having received the letters in the first place. The report says that of the non-filers who subsequently went on to file their taxes, only one did so as a result of receiving the letter.

“Most would have preferred a simple reminder that their taxes had not yet been filed,” said the report.

The targets of the letters are low-income individuals and people with children who might benefit from the GST/HST credit or the Canada Child Benefit.

“Low income people should file, absolutely,” said Rothman. “There are benefits and they should file.”

Even people who owe money, Rothman said, should file to avoid financial penalties that can compound over time.

A recent example of the Canada Revenue Agency’s online outreach. (CBC News)

The report found that Canadians who don’t file have a wide variety of reasons for not filing — problems with a new accountant, other unresolved claims with the CRA, being unable to reach someone at the agency or past negative interactions with the CRA, to name a few.

Some felt that given their “personal economic situations, and the fact they were always owed some money, the time and effort required to file taxes did not outweigh the benefit they would receive from CRA,” said the report.

‘Highway robbery’

In fact, focus group participants used words such as “complicated,” “unfair,” “highway robbery” and “bullies” to describe the CRA and the act of filing taxes.

The CRA says that it commissions third party public opinion research to get honest and unbiased feedback directly from Canadian taxpayers.

“When an organization asks for honest feedback, it has to be prepared to hear some hard truths,” the agency said in its emailed statement.

The focus groups made a number of suggestions for improvements at CRA, such as creating YouTube video tutorials on tax filing, making available free online filing software, running income tax clinics across the country and offering the services of volunteers to help with filing.

The CRA says that some of the software products listed on its website are free of charge, based on an individual’s tax situation or income levels.

The CRA says that it is analyzing the results of the report to decide how the letters to non-filers might be improved. A new version of the letter is tentatively scheduled for release later this year.

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Is it possible to stop a hurricane?

Is it possible to stop a hurricane?

Hello, people! This is our weekly newsletter on all things environmental, where we highlight trends and solutions that are moving us to a more sustainable world. (Sign up here to get it in your inbox every Thursday.)

This week:

  • Can you stop a hurricane?
  • Why Canada is getting hotter more quickly than the rest of the world
  • Gasoline prices and the new carbon tax
  • And a much-needed bulletin of good news

Can you stop a hurricane?

(Alfredo Estrella/Getty Images)

It’s been almost three weeks since Cyclone Idai made landfall in Mozambique. Almost 500 people have died and 146,000 have been displaced. According to the World Health Organization, there are also more than 1,000 reported cases of cholera.

When you look at the damage caused by this one tropical storm — and the fact that scientists say storms in general are increasing in intensity — it’s no wonder some people are considering ways to prevent such devastation.

Grim Eidnes, a senior scientist at SINTEF, a renowned research and innovation facility in Trondheim, Norway, is trying to stop hurricanes from happening in the first place.

Hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons form when the surface water is 26.5 C or more, and warm air rises from the sea and mixes with the storm. Eidnes’s fix? A method called bubble curtains. The concept is quite simple. Put a perforated pipe 150 metres down into the ocean and push compressed air through the pipe to create bubbles. As the bubbles ascend, they change the temperature of the surface.

In Norway, bubble curtains push up warm water from the deep in order to prevent fjords from freezing in the winter, so ships can pass through. But in bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, the scenario is reversed, as the sea surface temperature is warmer than the water deep in the ocean.

Eidnes says putting a bubble curtain in the Gulf would bring up cold water from below — and if you can cool the surface of the sea, in theory, you’ll be taking the energy out of a hurricane.

Researchers have tried for decades to come up with ways to stop hurricanes — everything from dropping dry ice in the clouds to seeding the clouds with silver iodide. None of those ideas has been successful.

Frank Marks, director of hurricane research at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said he gets pitches on how to stop hurricanes about once a week. (The most unique one came during Hurricane Katrina in 2005: “A general in the air force called me and said, ‘I got the bombs. Tell me where to put ’em.”)

Marks insists stopping a hurricane is more complicated than simply cooling the water, as Eidnes suggests. Marks said in a Norwegian fjord, bubble curtains “make a lot of sense.” But it gets “pretty complicated” in a hurricane environment, “when you get the whole ocean moving.”

Even so, Marks is not ready to shut the concept idea down completely. “Almost all of these ideas have some merit scientifically, and deserve to be looked at,” he said. That appears to be happening already: SINTEF hopes to have a bubble curtain pilot project going in the Gulf of Mexico next year.

— Madeline McNair

Back issues!

We’ve received a few emails from readers who want to see older issues of the newsletter. If you’re new to this joint, here’s a sampling of what we’ve been writing about:

How to track your carbon footprint, and the pros and cons of nuclear power

Making your home greener (and more efficient)

How Starbucks and A&W are tackling the plastic problem

Canada gets closer to a right to repair law

And, as always, if you’ve got any comments at all…

Canada is getting warmer faster than the rest of the world. Why is that?

(Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, the federal government released a report suggesting that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world — and that in Canada’s North, it might be three times the rate. Andre Mayer spoke to Dianne Saxe, the former environment commissioner for Ontario who now runs the green consultancy Saxe Facts, about how climate change is playing out in this country.

Why is Canada warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world?

Canada’s refrigerator, the Arctic, is warming fast. The Earth’s climate warms faster near the poles. Why is still being studied, but the reasons include feedback cycles that are internal to the climate system, such as the positive feedbacks that occur when snow and ice melt to reveal darker, warmer surfaces below, and when more energy in the air and water currents are transported to the high latitudes. Also, land warms faster than oceans, and Canada has a huge land area that is away from the oceans.

We often read that Canada has some of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world. Why is that?

Reasons include Canada produces very large emissions from its industries, especially oil, gas and petrochemicals. Canadians drive the least efficient vehicles in the world, use a lot of heat during cold winters, fly often and far, eat a lot of beef and use up and throw away immense amounts of stuff of all kinds. Some provinces still burn a lot of coal.

How effective have politicians been in recent decades in helping Canadians understand their carbon footprint?

Some have tried very hard, but the majority continue to ignore, underplay or misstate the issues. Worse, some politicians have made climate change a partisan, divisive issue, when it should be something we work on together.

Climate scientists have known about this warming trend, but the broader public most likely has not. Do you think this recent report could change the conversation in Canada?

All across Ontario, my experience has been that more and more people already see the impacts of extreme events, and are starting to understand how climate change multiplies risks. I hope that this most recent report will encourage more people to translate their justifiable fear and outrage into action. But, like smokers who won’t quit till they get cancer, some people seem unwilling to do anything until they personally experience a climate disaster.

Is Canada prepared to adapt to the effects of warmer temperatures?

Absolutely not. The costs of adaptation, and of response to extreme events, may quickly mount up far beyond the ability of governments, individuals and communities to pay for. Insured losses from extreme events are already rising sharply, and uninsured losses are probably growing even faster.

Canada doesn’t even have much sense of where we are most vulnerable. People still react with outrage and disbelief to climate-related disasters and extreme events, and expect government to look after them whatever the circumstances or the costs. Meanwhile, we continue to worsen our vulnerability, for example by destroying the wetlands and woodlands that help us moderate floods and droughts, and by building more homes in vulnerable areas.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

The Big Picture: Gasoline prices and the federal carbon tax

On April 1, the federal government introduced its carbon-pricing backstop for the provinces (Manitoba, New Brunswick, Ontario and Saskatchewan) that didn’t have an existing plan. Critics of the carbon tax made a great deal of the fact that it would add about four cents per litre to the price of gasoline. The graph below shows the average gas price in Canada over the past year. Prices are in a near-constant state of flux because of a number of factors, including oil prices and long weekend opportunism.


Hot and bothered: Provocative ideas from around the web

  • A group of climate activists, including essayist and long-time environmentalist George Monbiot, has issued a call to arms to commit to a “natural” solution to decarbonizing the world. In this Guardian column, Monbiot writes that “protecting and restoring natural forests and allowing native trees to repopulate deforested land” has more potential to clear the air, so to speak, than any high-tech carbon capture concept. (The group is called Natural Climate Solutions, and their website is here.)

  • Because of health concerns and the carbon footprint of raising cows, people are increasingly opting for alternative “milks” such as soy, almond and oat. According to the Dairy Farmers of America, U.S. milk sales fell by more than $1 billion in 2018.

And now for some good news

(Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

It’s been one of those weeks where the news and the tenor of the conversation around climate change seemed particularly dark. But one of the mandates of this newsletter is to provide hopeful news (alongside the more sobering stuff).

In that spirit, here are a handful of reasons to be optimistic:

One-third of the world’s power plant capacity is now renewable.

Carbon emissions in Germany dropped by four per cent in 2018.

A bill banning whale and dolphin captivity in Canada is on the cusp of becoming law.

The European Parliament approved a ban on single-use plastics by 2021.

Stay in touch!

Are there issues you’d like us to cover? Questions you want answered? Do you just want to share a kind word? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at

Sign up here to get What on Earth? in your inbox every Thursday.

Editor: Andre Mayer | Logo design: Sködt McNalty

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Panama Papers spur billion-dollar global tax windfall, with $15M found in Canada

Panama Papers spur billion-dollar global tax windfall, with $15M found in Canada

Countries around the world are going after more than a billion dollars in unpaid taxes brought to light as a result of the Panama Papers, the huge leak of tax-haven financial records that was made public three years ago Wednesday.

The sum includes the equivalent of $180 million Cdn collected in France, $210 million in Spain, an estimated $34 million in Iceland and $459,000 in Lithuania, as of last month. Britain’s revenue agency says it expects to recover the equivalent of $332 million in back taxes and penalties.

The latest figures — including amounts either assessed or recouped by various national tax agencies — were compiled by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, the organization that co-ordinated reporting on the leak by global media outlets, including CBC News. 

The Canada Revenue Agency says it has now identified 894 Canadian taxpayers — individuals, corporations and trusts — in the Panama Papers and has finished reviewing 525 of those cases. So far, the CRA said Tuesday, it has completed 116 audits, resulting in $14.9 million in federal taxes and penalties assessed. Hundreds more audits are either underway or expected. 

The agency could not say how much of that money it has actually collected to date, and noted that some other countries’ totals are significantly higher because they are allowing taxpayers caught in the Panama Papers to make voluntary disclosures — basically, to fess up about hidden assets and quickly pay any tax owing, while avoiding penalties and criminal prosecution.

Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier says criminal investigations into offshore tax shenanigans are complex and thus take time. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

The CRA decided in 2016 to take a tougher approach and disqualify those in the Panama Papers from its voluntary disclosure program except under “exceptional circumstances.” That means auditors have to grind through potentially thousands of pages of paperwork, and spend countless hours obtaining financial records, to trace any hidden money, without the benefit of taxpayers volunteering the information. In a few cases, taxpayers have challenged auditors in court, dragging out the process by years. 

The government “tightened the rules relating to the voluntary disclosure program preventing individuals named in information leaks to make deals with the CRA instead of facing prosecution,” Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said in a statement Tuesday evening.

“I made this decision knowing that it could take years to bring tax evaders to justice.”

No criminal charges laid

The CRA also has five criminal investigations in the works into taxpayers named in the leak. One of those is the case of an Alberta oilpatch businessman whose homes were raided last year by investigators. The agency raided two more properties in Vancouver last week as part of another probe.

“These complex investigations can take months or years to complete,” Lebouthillier said Thursday. “The net is tightening.” 

But the fact that on the three-year anniversary of the Panama Papers, no criminal charges have yet been laid has a prominent CRA critic expressing concern.

“Why does the Canada Revenue Agency move so swiftly and diligently to punish domestic tax evaders, but take so long to pursue Canadians who hide their money overseas?” Liberal Senator Percy Downe said in a statement.

Senator Percy Downe has long denounced what he sees as a two-tiered tax enforcement system, where domestic evasion is firmly cracked down on while offshore schemes get ‘kid-glove treatment.’ (CBC)

Other countries have already laid charges and, in a number of cases, secured convictions from investigations related to the Panama Papers.

More than a dozen people are in prison or awaiting sentencing in Ecuador, the United States and Panama for their roles in a bribery scheme at the Ecuadorian state petroleum company that was exposed in the huge document leak.

In South Korea, the leak led to bribery indictments against a former army general and a former executive of a major defence company.

And in Pakistan, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has been serving a seven-year sentence after the Panama Papers revealed assets his family had hidden overseas. He is appealing his conviction, calling the charges against him politically motivated.

The Panama Papers were one of the biggest-ever leaks of financial records. The 11.5 million documents, from 200,000 accounts based in an array of offshore locales, came from Panama City-based global law firm Mossack Fonseca, which closed for good last March amid the scandal.

The leaked files exposed the assets and murky fiscal dealings of everyone from prime ministers and presidents to celebrities, athletes and notorious criminals.

Read more CBC coverage of offshore tax schemes:

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Insurer can challenge claim over stolen diamond-studded eagle, court rules

Insurer can challenge claim over stolen diamond-studded eagle, court rules

The legal battle between owner and insurer over a missing diamond-studded statue continues its long, protracted journey. 

In December, a B.C. Supreme Court registrar ordered Lloyd’s Underwriters to honour a claim from Ron Shore’s company — Forgotten Treasures International — for the golden eagle statue which was allegedly stolen along with a silver decoy in May 2016.

On Wednesday, a B.C. Supreme Court judgment overturned that decision, allowing the insurer to challenge Shore’s claim.

The golden eagle, which weighed eight kilograms and was encrusted with 763 diamonds, was supposed to be part of an international treasure hunt to raise money for cancer research.

Shore told reporters the bird was worth $5 million, but the initial notice of civil claim said the bird’s value was $930,450.

On May 29, 2016, after an event in Delta, B.C., the eagle and a smaller silver one were stolen from Shore as he was putting them back into his car. 

Ron Shore pauses while speaking about the theft of the golden eagle in 2016. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The eagles have never been found.

The insurer says one of the terms of its policy was that the eagles had to be accompanied by a designated employee or representative of Shore’s at all times other than when deposited in a bank safe or vault. It claims that at the time of the mugging, Shore was alone and therefore breached the policy.

Thus began a legal battle, with Shore’s company filing a notice of civil claim against the insurers. Eventually, after missed deadlines and procedural delays, Shore was granted a default judgment in December against the insurer.

Justice Robin Baird overturned that ruling on Wednesday.

Baird said the insurers hadn’t willfully and deliberately failed to respond to Shore’s civil claim. He said it appeared the correspondence between the two parties showed the insurers would be mounting a solid defence.

He has given the insurers 21 days to file a response to Shore’s civil claim.

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