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Ban on whale, dolphin captivity poised to become law in Canada

Ban on whale, dolphin captivity poised to become law in Canada

Nearly four years after the legislation was first introduced in Parliament, the Commons fisheries committee has passed a bill banning whale and dolphin captivity in Canada.

S-203, first sponsored by now-retired Liberal senator Wilfred Moore in 2015, bans keeping and breeding cetaceans in captivity through amendments to the Criminal Code — all but ending a practice that was once a staple of the theme park experience in this country.

The bill passed the committee, unamended, on Tuesday with the support of Liberal and NDP MPs.

An amendment to the legislation, however minor, effectively would have torpedoed the bill in the dying days of this Parliament, as a changed bill would have to be sent back to the Senate for another final vote. The bill has faced unprecedented resistance from some Conservative senators in the Red Chamber and there are only eight sitting weeks left in this session.

The committee’s vote — and continuing support for the bill from the Liberal government — amount to a victory for animal rights activists who maintain that holding these highly intelligent creatures in concrete tanks is a cruel and perverse form of entertainment.

“The bill is a simple and straightforward one. It works from the presumption that placing these beautiful creatures into the kinds of pens that they have been kept in is inherently cruel,” Independent Sen. Murray Sinclair, the former judge who helped usher the bill through Parliament after Moore’s retirement, told the Commons fisheries committee.

If it’s passed by Parliament before it rises for summer prior to an expected fall election, the bill will levy fines of up to $200,000 on parks and aquariums that are found to have violated proposed animal cruelty provisions in the Criminal Code.

Camille Labchuk is the executive director of Animal Justice, an advocacy group that has long backed the bill. She said that while the legislation is still facing a parliamentary time crunch, she’s confident it has enough votes to clear the Commons when it comes up for a final vote.

“I am delighted that the Liberals resisted pressure to kill the bill. I think the reason they were convinced to save this legislation is because … of the power of Canadians who contacted these politicians in droves,” she said in an interview with CBC News. (Liberal New Brunswick MP Pat Finnigan withdrew three such amendments Tuesday night.)

“Probably over 20,000 e-mails and phone calls were made in the days proceeding this vote. This [captivity ban] is something Canadians across the country are really ready for. They’ve seen Blackfish and The Cove, they understand that whales and dolphins shouldn’t be kept in tanks anymore — those in the wild travel vast distances, dive deeply, live in complex family structures and enjoy a quality of life that is much better than the abject misery and barrenness of living in a tank.”

Sea World trainer Michelle Shoemaker, seen here in 2014, hugs killer whale Kayla as she works on a routine before a show, in Orlando, Fla. Sea World Entertainment, Inc. has faced intense criticism over its treatment of its captive killer whales. (John Raoux/Associated Press)

Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ont. — the only remaining facility in this country that is committed to holding these mammals over the long term — has been a vocal opponent of the bill, saying it would devastate attendance and threaten conservation efforts at theme parks where these animals are on display. It also has said the bill threatens the seasonal employment of hundreds of local residents during the summer months.

However, existing cetacean stocks will be grandfathered by the bill, meaning the park can keep all the animals it currently owns.

According to data supplied by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Marineland owns about 61 cetaceans: 55 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins and one orca, or “killer whale.” The Vancouver Aquarium has just one such mammal left.

“Marineland has enough beluga whales in existence to probably continue for another 30 years, so no jobs are going to be lost as a result of this in the immediate future,” Sinclair said.

“This [bill] is necessary because, in the long run, our society will be much better off if we start to treat other creatures … in the same way that we ourselves feel that we should be treated.”

The hope of many activists is that some or all of the mammals currently in captivity will be “retired” eventually and moved to an open water seaside sanctuary in Nova Scotia.

Andrew Burns, the lawyer for Marineland, has argued the bill is unconstitutional and has flagged potential legal problems the park might face when a currently pregnant cetacean gives birth after the bill — which bans birthing — is passed into law.

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CMHC looks to raise extra money for housing outside of billions from government

CMHC looks to raise extra money for housing outside of billions from government

The president of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says his agency wants to raise millions more dollars to help Canadians afford places to live, despite the billions already available in government funding.

Evan Siddall says the aim is to raise $100 million more for housing — quickly and likely from private sources — because the tens of billions pledged by federal and provincial governments over the next decade or so isn’t enough to make housing affordable for everyone in the country.

CMHC’s corporate plan released last month set the ambitious goal of providing Canadians with homes they can afford and that meet their needs by 2030.

An estimated 1.6 million Canadian households are considered to be in “core housing need,” meaning they live in places that are too expensive or aren’t really suitable for them.

Siddall admits the goal is a moon-shot, but it’s meant to force his agency and others to achieve more than is already available in a long-term national housing strategy with a price tag of over $40 billion.

The Liberals’ latest budget included extra housing spending the government hopes will help some first-time buyers enter the housing market and expand the stock of rental units.

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Wilson-Raybould set multiple conditions for ending the rift with Trudeau, say sources

Wilson-Raybould set multiple conditions for ending the rift with Trudeau, say sources

Liberal MPs — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — tried for weeks to broker a compromise with Jody Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavalin controversy, but the talks ultimately failed when it became clear they could not reach an agreement with the former attorney general, sources tell CBC News.

Over the course of the secret discussions, it emerged that Wilson-Raybould had a list of at least five conditions that could help end the civil war that has been tearing the government apart, multiple Liberal sources say.

The first three conditions involved staff changes at the very summit of the government. The sources said Wilson-Raybould wanted Trudeau to fire his principal secretary, Gerald Butts, along with Clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick and PMO senior adviser Mathieu Bouchard.

(The Toronto Star first reported some of these conditions, or similar ones, earlier Wednesday.)

Change at the top

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

The sources who spoke to CBC News — on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the conversations — said Wilson-Raybould made clear her desire for staff changes to the prime minister and his staff in a series of conversations in Vancouver in the days before her resignation from cabinet on Feb. 12.

Butts was never fired, but he did resign on Feb. 18. He later testified that he never pressured Wilson-Raybould on the SNC-Lavalin file.

Wernick announced his retirement last month after intense public criticism of his testimony before the justice committee on Feb. 21 and March 6. Bouchard remains in the PMO.

An apology from Trudeau?

But Wilson-Raybould’s wishes went beyond a limited housecleaning in the PMO. Sources said she also sought assurances that her replacement as attorney general, David Lametti, would not overrule Director of Public Prosecutions Kathleen Roussell and direct her to give SNC-Lavalin a deferred prosecution agreement.

Wilson-Raybould also wanted Justin Trudeau to admit — publicly, or to caucus alone — that his office acted inappropriately in its attempts to convince her to consider granting SNC-Lavalin a DPA.

The intense back-and-forth search for a compromise might help explain why the caucus drama took 54 days — from the first report in the Globe and Mail on Feb. 7 to the prime minister’s announcement Tuesday that Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott were being ejected from caucus.

CBC News reached out to Wilson-Raybould Tuesday night. She said she would not comment on the report.

In a statement released shortly after she was pushed out of caucus, Philpott pointed to the lack of an apology from Trudeau.

“Rather than acknowledge the obvious — that a range of individuals had inappropriately attempted to pressure the former attorney general in relation to a prosecutorial decision — and apologize for what occurred, a decision was made to attempt to deny the obvious — to attack Jody Wilson-Raybould’s credibility and attempt to blame her,” Philpott wrote in the statement posted to Facebook.

“This isn’t about a lack of loyalty. On the contrary, I recommended that the government acknowledge what happened in order to move forward.”

A growing list of conditions

Kate Purchase, executive director of communications and planning in the PMO, said in a statement to CBC News that Wilson-Raybould never issued a formal ultimatum to the prime minister, adding she would not comment on the details of Trudeau’s private conversations.

However, the sources said Wilson-Raybould made it clear over the course of many conversations that these were things she wanted done. The list also expanded and evolved over time, with Wilson-Raybould adding new conditions as the talks went on, said the sources.

Trudeau and his officials ultimately came to believe that the efforts to end the rift with Wilson-Raybould were futile, the sources said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tells an evening caucus meeting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 that he has kicked both former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould and fellow ex-cabinet minister Jane Philpott out of the Liberal caucus. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“We’ve taken every effort to address their concerns. but ultimately, if they can’t honestly say that they have confidence in this team, despite weeks of testimony, face-to-face conversations and phone calls with myself and other members of caucus, then they cannot be part of this team,” Trudeau said in front of his MPs Tuesday night.

Trudeau and his chief of staff, Katie Telford, were the point people on the weeks of fairly intense engagement with Wilson-Raybould. They scrambled people they believed to be close to Wilson-Raybould and Philpott to negotiate with them.

The Liberal B.C. caucus — including cabinet ministers Carla Qualtrough and Jonathan Wilkinson — was heavily involved in reaching out to Wilson-Raybould.

Down to the wire

Sources say the efforts continued until Monday, the day before the caucus expulsion. But by that point, Wilson-Raybould’s release of her secret recording of her Dec. 19 conversation with Wernick obliterated her already fractured relationship with much of the Liberal caucus and made a truce nearly impossible to broker.

Caucus was already growing restive and the controversy continued to dominate the public debate and overshadow the Liberal’s pre-election budget.

Philpott was confronted by anxious MPs at the Ontario caucus meeting two weeks ago. More and more Liberals MPs were going public with their concerns about a lack of trust in caucus, although some also expressed support for one or both of the former ministers.

On Tuesday, after consulting regional caucus chairs, Trudeau and senior government members met with Philpott and Wilson-Raybould to tell them they were no longer welcome in caucus. Moments later, Trudeau made his announcement to the national caucus and then to the country.

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Bill Blair coy about handgun ban as time for legislative action runs down

Bill Blair coy about handgun ban as time for legislative action runs down

Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Minister Bill Blair was non-committal Wednesday about delivering a government-commissioned report on a handgun ban during this parliamentary session.

Blair also suggested the Liberals could revisit this issue if the government is re-elected in the fall.

“Canadians expect us to take the time to do it right and I’ve been doing my very best to take that time,” the former top Toronto cop told a Senate committee studying Bill C-71 Wednesday.

“As everyone can appreciate, this is a very complex discussion. We’ve looked at a number of ways we can maintain public safety but my job was also … and it’s an important caveat that the prime minister put on my mandate … to conduct that examination in a way that was also respectful of those Canadians who do responsibly own those firearms.”

Blair said he and his department are still engaged in an “exhaustive examination” of handguns in Canada. Blair initially said he would finish his consultations on the subject by the end of 2018.

When asked by Independent Sen. Marilou McPhedran if the government’s promised report would be made public by the time Parliament rises at the end of June, Blair hedged.

“As quick as I’m able, ma’am, but I can’t give you a time,” he said.

Bill C-71 is considered by many gun control advocates to be a relatively modest set of reforms to firearms law. Blair suggested Wednesday that if the Liberal government can’t do more on the firearms file this year, he’ll try again later. McPhedran said that suggestion was based on an “interesting assumption” — that the Liberals will win the fall federal election.

“It’s not an assumption, it’s an intent,” Blair said to McPhedran.

“If I can’t get it done now, I’ll come back and do it later. I know there are people who are saying, ‘Just do it quickly,’ but frankly I think we should do it right.”

When asked about the minister’s comments, a spokesperson for Blair said: “The government is still planning on releasing the report early 2019.”

The chances of the government introducing and passing new gun legislation at this late stage of the parliamentary process — with only eight weeks left on the calendar before Parliament rises for its summer break — is next to non-existent.

Legislation typically takes months to move through the House of Commons and Senate. Bill C-71, for example, was introduced more than a year ago and is still being studied by the upper house.

Heidi Rathjen, a gun control activist and survivor of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre, said anything less than a law introducing a handgun ban in the government’s current mandate would amount to a broken promise.

It would be a betrayal for them to simply kick this can down the road and promise something else, again, in the next election campaign.– Heidi Rathjen

The 2015 Liberal election platform included a commitment “to take action to get handguns and assault weapons off our streets.”

“They are breaking their word to Canadians. It would be a betrayal for them to simply kick this can down the road and promise something else, again, in the next election campaign,” Rathjen said.

“The Liberals, historically, have been in favour of gun control and now they’re just living in fear of the gun lobby and a small but very well-organized, very aggressive group of voters who speak of gun ‘rights.’ There is no right to own a gun in this country.

“It’s extremely discouraging. This government has been dragging its feet. Bill C-71 was only tabled last March and even that’s weak and the bare minimum of what the Liberals should do.”

To that end, McPhedran has suggested Bill C-71 should be amended to classify all handguns as “prohibited” firearms — the most restrictive classification for a firearm in Canada’s three-tier system, a move that would make tens of thousands of licensed owners ineligible and all but dismantle the existing legal supply chain.

“A bird in the hand, minister,” she said.

C-71 includes enhanced background checks for anyone applying for a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) or a restricted PAL, mandatory record-keeping for firearms retailers, changes to the authorization to transport (ATT) rules, and the reclassification of two types of firearms.

Any would-be gun owner in Canada already has to submit to an extensive background check and complete a training course.

The Liberal government has faced mounting pressure from gun control groups to take action on the firearms file after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern implemented a sweeping ban on so-called “military-style” semiautomatic firearms only days after a deadly mosque shooting in Christchurch.

“New Zealand shows us that if there’s political will, political courage, political leadership, a government can move extremely quickly to take action when its comes to protecting public safety,” Rathjen said.

But Blair said the Liberal government is not interested in implementing a handgun ban in such a short span of time.

“I think it’s important, before we make a decision on such an important issue of public policy and public safety, we make ourselves as well-informed as possible.”

Gun rights advocates maintain targeting legal firearms owners, through either C-71 or a potential ban, is the wrong approach given that much of the gun-related crime in this country is perpetrated by criminals using handguns smuggled from the U.S.

“The lion’s share of firearms homicide is committed by illegal gun owners. No methodologically valid study has been able to find evidence that stricter gun laws, or even gun bans, have reduced general homicide rates or spousal homicide rates,” said Gary Mauser, a professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University and a noted gun rights advocate.

Out of all the violent gun crimes in 2017 in Canada, 59 per cent involved a handgun, 18 per cent involved a rifle or a shotgun, 6 per cent involved a fully automatic firearm, sawed-off rifle or shotgun and 17 per cent involved a firearm-like weapon or an unknown type of firearm, according to data from StatsCan.

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How the SNC-Lavalin affair tested Trudeau's ideals

How the SNC-Lavalin affair tested Trudeau’s ideals

The thing about standing for an ideal is that people expect you to live up to it — or at least to their idea of it.

Justin Trudeau built his leadership upon a set of ideals: “sunny ways,” cabinet government, transparency, openness, inclusion, reconciliation, gender equality and doing things “differently.” Trudeau’s commitment to nearly every one of those principles has been challenged by critics and rivals over the last two months — his commitment to feminism in particular, now that Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott have been expelled from the Liberal parliamentary caucus.

Outside the House of Commons on Tuesday, reporters pressed Trudeau and his ministers to comment on the government’s feminist credentials and the message sent to young women by the expulsions of two women who had become the prime minister’s prominent critics.

“We have a strong prime minister that is a feminist. We have a feminist agenda. Our record speaks for itself,” said Mélanie Joly, the tourism minister. “As to my two colleagues, I would argue that loyalty and feminism are two different things. And actually, there is no female or male definition of loyalty. It’s either you have team spirit, you want to work in a team, or you don’t.”

So perhaps two male ministers, behaving exactly the same way, would have met the same fate.

At the Daughters of the Vote event in the House on Tuesday — a biannual gathering that puts young women in the seats of MPs for a morning of speeches and discussion — some 50 delegates stood and silently turned their backs as the prime minister delivered his remarks.

An awkward diversion

Trudeau acknowledged the obvious tension of the day, but then awkwardly tried to contrast the departure of two strong women with … the continued presence of two strong women.

“I know nobody in here wants to have to pick who to believe between Jody Wilson Raybould and Chrystia Freeland,” he said. “Nobody wants to know that one person has to be right and another person has to be wrong between Jane Philpott or Maryam Monsef.”

That women stood behind Trudeau’s decision to expel Wilson-Raybould and Philpott likely is not irrelevant. But maybe it’s not the prime minister’s task to pit them against each other.

It’s likely not up to any one person (certainly not me) to say whether Trudeau is a good feminist. But if there was any solace for Trudeau in the Commons yesterday, it was in the fact that all 338 of those young women — even the ones unhappy with him — stayed in the chamber as he spoke. Moments prior, several dozen delegates simply walked out on Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s speech.

(On the other hand, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s speech was received enthusiastically by the group — which might make Trudeau anxious.)

“By kicking the first Indigenous former attorney general of Canada out of caucus for upholding the law, the prime minister has made it clear that principled women who dare to stand up to him are not welcome in the Liberal Party,” the NDP’s Jenny Kwan charged in question period. “Is this what a self-proclaimed feminist looks like in 2019?”

Trudeau tried to make the case for his own feminism, or at least for his government’s commitment to the ideal: a development assistance policy aimed at women and girls, gender-based analysis of budgets, legislated pay equity, funding for women’s organizations and a gender-balanced cabinet.

Then the prime minister offered a bit of meta commentary.

“I recognize there is much more to do and I am proud that there is now a contest among party leaders to see who can be the better feminist. I think that is a great thing for this country. I think that is a great thing for Parliament.”

Perhaps there’s some solace there too.

Thus far, but not far enough

The struggle between Trudeau and his ideals has been real. He waived solicitor-client privilege and cabinet confidentiality to allow Wilson-Raybould to speak about her time as attorney general, but she objected that the waiver did not go far enough. Liberal members of the justice committee were apparently free to look into the SNC affair, but then the hearings were abandoned.

In both cases, Trudeau probably went further than Stephen Harper would have gone. But in neither case did he go as far as he could have.

In vowing to do things differently, he raised the expectation that — when confronted with a profound challenge — he would be perfectly forthcoming, without regard for the normal political impulse to control the narrative and limit the damage.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould leaves West Block on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, April 2, 2019. (Chris Wattie/Reuters)

In appointing the first Indigenous minister of justice and attorney general, he put an incredible burden on himself and his office to ensure both her success and a good working relationship between them. That made the possibility of moving her, or demoting her, a daunting prospect.

For all that, Trudeau might now fall back on what he’s been insisting all along — that neither he nor his office did anything wrong (the claim that they did is at least in dispute) and that their cause (saving jobs) was just.

Wilson-Raybould says she told Gerry Butts, Trudeau’s former adviser, that the Prime Minister’s Office was inappropriately pressuring her. Butts disputes that claim. Wilson-Raybould did raise a concern in a phone call with the clerk of the Privy Council, Michael Wernick. But Wernick seems not to have told Trudeau about what she said.

The power of symbolism

Liberals will also argue that they had perfectly valid reasons for wanting Wilson-Raybould and Philpott gone from caucus — starting with the fact that, at the very least, they had reasons to believe they no longer all shared the same goal.

But Trudeau and his fellow Liberals must understand the symbolic value of everything that’s happened with the SNC-Lavalin file. Two impressive women now sit outside the Liberal caucus. We’re still waiting on an ethics commissioner probe; the facts have not been fully and completely aired.

Maybe his political opponents weren’t complaining in good faith. Maybe nothing would have satisfied them.

But the last two months will still weigh down any attempt by Trudeau to lay claim to those ideals. Trudeau must hope that giving voice to those ideals, and his pursuit of them, still count for something, even if he has not always fully embodied the ideal.

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Whistleblower Edward Snowden calls on Canada to help the refugee families who helped him

Whistleblower Edward Snowden calls on Canada to help the refugee families who helped him

U.S. whistleblower Edward Snowden is urging the Canadian government to accept all seven of the people who sheltered him in Hong Kong while he was fleeing prosecution as refugees.

In a rare interview, he tells The National’s Adrienne Arsenault that every day the individuals remain in Hong Kong, “they are in immediate danger.” 

Two members of the group, Vanessa Rodel and her daughter seven-year-old Keana, arrived in Canada last week. The whole story reads a bit like a movie script. And why not? 

The reason Canadians know their story at all is because filmmaker Oliver Stone made a movie about Snowden, and along the way — at some point during the scripting process it’s believed — information got out  that revealed how Rodel and Keana’s lives — along with the rest of the group’s — were intertwined with Snowden’s.

Edward Snowden leaked classified NSA documents in 2013. The United States declared him a traitor and Snowden fled prosecution. (The Guardian/Associated Press)

Back in 2013, Snowden leaked classified documents from the U.S. National Security Agency, where he had been working as a contractor. The documents revealed a massive government surveillance operation, and the United States declared him a traitor. Snowden fled to avoid prosecution, at one point winding up in Hong Kong. 

That’s where he met Rodel. 

She and two other families — refugees themselves having fled the Philippines and Sri Lanka — sheltered Snowden in their tiny homes in Hong Kong while he was on the run.

The seven people who sheltered Snowden in Hong Kong. Sri Lankan refugee Supun Thilina Kellapatha, 3rd from the left, his partner Nadeeka, left, with their baby boy Dinath and daughter Sethumdi, Sri Lankan refugee Ajith Puspa, 3rd from the right, Rodel, right, and her daughter Keana. (Isaac Lawrence/AFP/Getty Images)

Now, from his apartment in Russia, where Edward Snowden lives in exile, he is pleading with Canada to let in the other families — the three adults and two children who were left behind.  

“These people helped me in 2013,” Snowden told Arsenault by video chat. “And yet here we are 2019.”

Snowden says Canada is best positioned to welcome all seven refugees. (Jean-François Bisson/CBC News)

Snowden found himself living with the families in Hong Kong six years ago because of a Canadian lawyer, Robert Tibbo. He was Snowden’s lawyer and he was also working for the families, trying to keep them from being deported and trying to get them safely out of Hong Kong.

“I would say this one guy… is perhaps the reason [the families] haven’t been sent back yet,” Snowden said.

He believes it took the leak during the moviemaking to get the world to pay attention to the families’ plight. He says Rodel and her daughter would not be in Canada were it not “for the profile they got from this film” and “the insanity of the response of the Hong Kong government to having their mistreatment of these refugee families … suddenly thrust into the global spotlight.”

Snowden describes what the refugee families face daily living in Hong Kong.

Edward Snowden tells Adrienne Arsenault about the danger the people who helped hide him in Hong Kong face now that what they did is public. 1:29

Rodel and Keana, another refugee couple and their two children, and a third man were all living as refugees in Hong Kong in 2013. They were poor, prohibited from working by the Hong Kong government, living in cramped spaces.

“The bathroom sink was the kitchen sink,” said Snowden. Over a period of about three weeks, he crowded into each of the families’ three homes with them. It wasn’t long before he moved on to Russia  —  but it was long enough to have a negative impact on Rodel and the others. 

Their lives were already difficult, Snowden said. And once the Hong Kong government got wind through the movie leak that the families had sheltered Snowden, their situation got worse. Snowden says the government basically retaliated, removing their refugee stipends and access to food and housing.

Arsenault asks Snowden what it was like to realize that the very people who had helped him were being made to pay for it.

Edward Snowden tells Adrienne Arsenault that the people who helped him are being made to suffer again and again. 1:41

That’s when Snowden says the effort to get the families refugee status in another country began. He believes Canada is best positioned to help them.

“These children are stateless and they will never live a free life unless they are welcomed into and protected by a state. And the only one who is in a position to do so right now, who has the legal framework to do so right now is Canada.”

The only thing they did is they helped someone who was facing retaliation for telling the truth.– Edward Snowden

The paperwork requesting asylum from Canada was filed in early 2017 and Snowden says their situation is dire. He says the families will be deported to Sri Lanka where they where they claim to face torture and death threats. He is enormously grateful that Rodel and Keana are here, but says there is clearly something preventing the other five from being immediately brought to Canada, too.

“If this process is independent, If it’s truly independent, they already would have been admitted. I believe and everyone else believes the only reason this process for admission has taken so long is simply because the Canadian government is bending over backwards not to create an appearance that might irritate the United States government.”

That’s because the United States still considers Snowden a traitor and he still faces charges in the U.S. related to his exposure of what was considered state secrets.

Snowden says that shouldn’t matter.

“The only thing they did is they helped someone who was facing retaliation for telling the truth. And if that’s something that Canada can’t stand behind, that’s something we need to know publicly rather than them sort of doing it privately.”

He added, “Admitting these families is something Canada can be proud of. And seeing these families have a happy ending, I think in the fullness of history is something that the United States will be very much glad happened.”

Watch Adrienne’s full interview from The National: 

Former CIA employee and NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden has a message for Canada. He sat down for an exclusive interview with The National’s Adrienne Arsenault. 7:45

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Navy deep-sixed Conservative plan to name naval vessels after War of 1812 battles

Navy deep-sixed Conservative plan to name naval vessels after War of 1812 battles

What’s in a name? When Shakespeare asked, he was talking about romance and roses. Apparently, the question applies to naval ships as well.

A series of internal briefing notes show the Canadian navy pushed back hard against the former Conservative government’s plan to name the long-delayed, yet-to-be-delivered supply ships after War of 1812 battles.

In the fall of 2017, the Liberal government quietly announced that the new joint support ships would be named HMCS Protecteur and HMCS Preserver — a nod, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said at the time, to the recently-retired naval replenishment vessels that had refuelled and resupplied Canadian warships at sea for four decades.

Back in 2013, the government of then-prime minister Stephen Harper announced that the new ships would be named after key battles of the 1812 to 1814 conflict between the United States and Great Britain — specifically, the Battle of Queenston Heights and the Battle of the Chateauguay, both British victories.

Internal documents show those names were dropped not because of political pressure, but due to objections from naval brass.

The navy was very upset that they would start naming warships after army victories– Naval historian Marc Milner

“Although themes drawn from the War of 1812 were deemed viable, the naming of warships after historically significant land battles has not proven to resonate well with Canadians and is not consistent with Royal Canadian Navy practice,” the country’s top military commander, Gen. Jonathan Vance, told Sajjan on Aug. 26, 2016.

Vance may have been putting it diplomatically. Naval historian Marc Milner said he heard the criticism from within the military almost immediately after the new ship names were announced.

“The navy was very upset that they would start naming warships after army victories,” said the University of New Brunswick academic, wondering aloud whether the army would start naming its bases after famous admirals.

The problem was simple. The Conservatives wanted to honour the legacy of the War of 1812, a key moment in Canada’s evolution from a collection of colonies to a modern nation. But very few of the naval battles between 1812 and 1814 directly involved combatants from the colonies that would someday become Canada.

Harper’s government poured a lot of time and money into celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, spending roughly $28 million on public celebrations, statues and commemorations.

“At the time, it was felt that a ‘battles’ theme would facilitate this broader linkage” to the country’s military history, said one internal memo.

‘An affront’

But the names chosen for the ships — HMCS Queenston and HMCS Chateauguay — were not popular with the navy, according to multiple defence insiders who noted few combat sailors wanted replenishment ships with names that sound like “wineries.”

“There’s all kinds of good reasons for naming them after naval battles that we were involved in,” said Milner. “But to name them after early 19th century land victories in Upper and Lower Canada was just, I think, an affront to the Navy’s sense of who they were and who they wanted to be.”

Capt. James Salt, the director of major naval Crown projects at the Department of National Defence, said a lot of lessons were learned during the naming exercise — something that doesn’t happen all that often.

In the past, Canada has named warships — such as the new Halifax-class frigates — after rivers and major cities.

It rarely names ships after battles or individuals. The exceptions, Salt said, are the upcoming Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, which will be known collectively as the Harry DeWolf-class after a famous Second World War commander, who was later promoted to admiral.

The navy has been very careful to choose names that resonate with the public, he added.

In the 1990s, as the frigates were launched out of the country’s shipyard, the idea of naming them after major cities was seen as a way to connect ordinary Canadians with the work of the navy.

And in case anyone thinks this is a debate solely for sailors, academic and history geeks, Salt said Sajjan’s office is already being hit with notes from the general public suggesting names for replacement frigates — which have yet to be designed and are not due to hit the water until the mid-2020s at the earliest.

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Pot pardon legislation coming soon: Goodale

Pot pardon legislation coming soon: Goodale

Canadians will soon have a better sense of how the Liberals’ plan to speed up and lower the cost of certain marijuana-related pardons will work.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tweeted Wednesday that he intends to give notice to introduce “a bill to provide no-cost, expedited pardons for simple possession of cannabis,” following up on promise made in October.

According to parliamentary procedure, a member must give 48 hours written notice before introducing legislation in the House of Commons.

A spokesperson for the minister said that means that bill could be tabled as early as Friday. 

The Liberal government first signalled its plans to waive the fee and waiting period for Canadians seeking a pardon for a past conviction for simple pot possession the day recreational marijuana was legalized last year.

As it stands, the fee for normal record suspensions is $631. The waiting period to apply is usually five years for a summary offence and 10 years for an indictable offence.

According to a 2014 study, more than 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record for having pot on their person.

Goodale has previously said the bill would “shed the burden and stigma” and break down barriers to jobs, education, housing or volunteer work.

However, the bill has already received criticism from the NDP.

A record suspension does not erase the fact that a person was convicted of a crime, but keeps the record separate from other criminal records.

The NDP has been calling for the expungement of criminal records, which would erase the criminal conviction entirely.

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Pence, Freeland to address Venezuela crisis as Lima Group meets in Colombia

Pence, Freeland to address Venezuela crisis as Lima Group meets in Colombia

U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence is set to announce “concrete steps” and “clear actions” to address the Venezuela crisis when he meets on Monday with regional leaders in Bogota, Colombia, a senior U.S. administration official said.

The official declined to comment on what the new measures would entail ahead of Pence’s speech, to be delivered to a summit of the Lima Group around 10:30 a.m. ET after he meets with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who has been instrumental in the formation and progress of the Lima Group, which includes 13 Latin American countries, will attend in Bogota.

“For the past two years, the world has watched with great concern as Venezuela, under Nicolas Maduro’s rule, has descended into chaos,” Freeland said in a statement late ast week. “Throughout all of this, the international community has been vocal in standing up for the rights of Venezuelans.

“Monday’s meeting of the Lima Group will build on the important work that Canada is doing with its partners in the Lima Group to support the people of Venezuela in their fight for freedom and democracy.”

As the group met in Ottawa earlier this month, Canada pledged $53 million in humanitarian aid and development support, focused on the needs of Venezuelans who have fled the country.

Over 3 million have fled country

On Friday, UN refugee and migration agencies said some 3.4 million people have now fled Venezuela, up from a November estimate of three million.

The UNCHR and the International Organization for Migration said Colombia hosts the highest number of Venezuela emigrants — more than 1.1 million — followed by Peru with 506,000 and Chile with 288,000. Brazil has taken in 96,000 Venezuelans.

The meeting Monday comes after convoys of aid were blocked at the Venezuelan border by forces and gangs loyal to  Maduro. Separate clashes between protesters and Venezuelan troops took place near the country’s border with Colombia and Brazil, with dozens injured and at least four reported killed.

“Canada is deeply concerned by the acts of violence allegedly perpetrated by the Maduro regime, designed to block the entry of relief items from neighbouring countries,” Canada’s Foreign Ministry said Friday. “Canada calls for these unacceptable attacks to be investigated and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.”

Canada, the United States and most other Western nations no longer recognize Maduro as the country’s leader.

U.S. President Donald Trump and other Western leaders have recognized Guaido, the head of Venezuela’s national assembly, as interim president. The official said Washington wants to find ways to empower him. In recent weeks, Trump has said all options were on the table for supporting Guaido and has declined to rule out the use of military force.

Watch: Freeland speaks to CBC on Feb. 4 about Venezuela crisis

‘I think what history shows is once a leader of an authoritarian regime discovers there are no alternatives, that is when you see democracy restored,’ says Freeland. 14:13

Maduro retains the backing of both Russia and China. 

Beijing has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.

“We again call on the government and opposition in Venezuela to seek a political resolution under the framework of the constitution and law, and call on the international community to do more that really benefits Venezuela’s stability, economic development and improvement in livelihoods,” China’s Foreign Ministry said on Monday.

China “hopes the international community can provide constructive help to Venezuela under the precondition of respecting Venezuela’s sovereignty,” it added.

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Goodale says he won't put Canadians 'at risk' to bring ISIS fighters home for trial

Goodale says he won’t put Canadians ‘at risk’ to bring ISIS fighters home for trial

A day after the United States called on its allies fighting in Syria and Iraq to bring their foreign fighters home for prosecution, Canada is insisting it will not put its citizens at risk to answer the call.

“We have heard the request, or the suggestion, from the United States, but at this point, the fact of the matter remains that is a dangerous and dysfunctional part of the world in which we have no diplomatic presence and we are not going to put our diplomatic officers or consular officials at risk,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Tuesday.

Goodale said Tuesday that Canada is still working with its allies in the Five Eyes intelligence sharing network (Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the U.S.) to gather evidence that can be used to convict Canadians who went abroad to join ISIS — but he said he would not risk Canadian lives to do so.

“The issue is in part working with our allies to make sure that we are collecting the maximum amount of useable evidence that can be practically available and useable in the justice system to lay charges, to prosecute,” he added.

As the U.S. prepares to withdraw its remaining troops from the region, the U.S. Department of State issued a statement Monday that said the Syrian Defence Forces have taken custody of hundreds of foreign fighters from countries all around the world.

“The United States calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin,” the statement said.

According to Amarnath Amarasingam, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who has been to Syria to visit camps where foreign fighters are being held, there are currently four Canadian men, three women and seven children in custody in the country.

A spokesperson from Goodale’s office said the government would not confirm Amarasingam’s figures “due to the privacy act.”

All of the children born to Canadian women who left Canada to join ISIS are under the age of five, with several being under the age of one, Amarasingam told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics.

“The behaviour of the parents that have put those children in that situation is absolutely appalling and reprehensible,” Goodale said. “We will examine carefully what can reasonably be done to protect those who are innocent in these circumstances.

“But this is a situation that [ISIS] has created, and to which those who have gone to that part of the world to participate have also contributed, and they need to show to their responsibilities.”

The risk of ignoring America

Amarasingam said that the Syrian Defence Forces are not going to be able to hold foreign fighters in camps indefinitely and the U.S. may fear they’ll escape or be released before they can be returned to their countries of origin.

“Leaving hundreds of jihadist fighters — well-trained jihadist fighters — in a kind of weird limbo state, if the Americans do pull out, is not ideal from a national security point of view,” he told Power & Politics host Vassy Kapelos.

Amarasingam said the SDF could strike a deal with the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to turn the fighters and their children over for execution.

“There’s this assumption that bringing them back brings about a whole bunch of complexity, which is true, but I think leaving them leaving them there is just as chaotic as bringing them back,” he added.

Jessica Davis and Amarnath Amarasingam on the logistics of the U.S. call for countries to repatriate foreign fighters and prosecute them at home. 11:34

Jessica Davis, former senior strategic analyst with CSIS, told Power & Politics that Canada has been avoiding bringing home its foreign fighters — but continuing to turn a blind eye to the situation will be more difficult now.

“Despite all of the dynamics around the Trump administration, the Americans are still our number one ally, particularly in the security and intelligence space, so this is the kind of thing that has to be taken very seriously,” she told Kapelos.

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