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Bid to get D-Day beaches added to list of UN World Heritage Sites in limbo

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OTTAWA — The beaches of Normandy, where the Allies stormed ashore to begin the eventual liberation of Europe from Nazi rule, are widely regarded by veterans and historians alike as venerated, sacred ground.

And yet those beaches — including the one code-named Juno, where thousands of Canadians landed under a fearsome tirade of German fire on June 6, 1944 — have not been designated as culturally or historically significant by the United Nations.

It’s not for a lack of trying: France applied to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 2014 to have the beaches designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, much like several other locations linked to the Second World War.

But that bid remains in limbo, dashing hopes the application might have been heard in time to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Juno landings, in which 359 Canadians were killed and 574 were wounded.

Serge Durflinger is one of those who firmly believes the D-Day invasion beaches are “incontestably important” to the world and meet the very high standards for the UN designation.

The University of Ottawa history professor was part of a team of international experts that included archeologists, geologists and all manner of other specialists who were brought together by the French government to help with the D-Day application.

“The Normandy campaign and the D-Day invasion involved people from dozens of countries, all engaged in a united purpose, all brought to this small coastal region in France for the beginning of what would become the end of Nazi Germany,” Durflinger said.

“And they’re all combining efforts on a global scale in this titanic effort, which was also one of the single greatest, momentous military operations ever mounted that we know about. And that it has scientific achievement, and its remnants are very real.”

Getting the beaches added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites conveys a number of benefits, including honouring those who fought and died there and giving D-Day what Durflinger describes as “an international seal of approval.”

“The notion of what happened here would not be limited to the Anglo-Saxon countries of Britain and the United States and Canada, basically,” he said, arguing the event was a pinnacle moment in the history of Europe and the world.

“Something very, very important happened there, and not just for the countries that landed, but for the greater good of the world, with the beginning of the creation of an international system that lasted half a century.”

The designation would also solidify what are already strong protections against development, as well as bring in more tourists, said Mike Bechthold, executive director of the Juno Beach Centre, which commemorates Canada’s role in the Second World War.

“It would be huge to designate the landing beaches as a UNESCO World Heritage site,” Bechthold said. “Estimates are anywhere from a 10- to 25-per-cent bump in visitor attendance because of the designation. So it’s not inconsiderable.”

However, it remains unclear just when the French application — which proposes including artificial harbours built by the allies to facilitate supplies from England, as well as shipwrecks off the coast and German bunkers — will be reviewed.

Instead, the UNESCO committee responsible for reviewing such applications decided last year to take a step back and figure out how to deal with what it calls “sites associated with memories of recent conflicts.” A meeting on the matter is scheduled for next year.

Durflinger said the decision follows a rash of applications from different countries in commemorating battlefields and other hallowed military ground, which typically faces an uphill battle in becoming a World Heritage site.

Several sites linked to the Second World War have already been granted the status, notably the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, Japan, where the first atomic bomb exploded, and the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

“There were precedents,” Durflinger said. “If you look at the many, many, many designated sites, there’s quite a lot of grey area and there’s precedents for all sorts of things.”

The French government did not respond to requests for comment, while a UNESCO official referred questions to the committee’s decision last year. The Canadian government did not respond to questions about whether it supported the bid.

For now, the only certainty is that the designation will not come in time for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, which many Canadians — including some of those who landed at Juno — will mark next month.

“It would have been terrific if that could have happened for the 75th,” Durflinger said. “It’s a pity.”

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Ethics commissioner ready to testify to committee today: NDP critic

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Mario Dion

OTTAWA — Ethics commissioner Mario Dion could testify to a parliamentary committee as early as Wednesday afternoon about his findings on the prime minister’s breach of the Conflict of Interest Act, the NDP’s Charlie Angus says.

But whether the House of Commons ethics committee moves ahead with the study of Dion’s report rests in the hands of the Liberal MPs who hold the majority of seats.

Dion had said he would make himself available to testify when MPs meet, but Angus said he spoke to the chair of the committee to ensure that would be an option.

Angus said Dion would likely appear by video conference.

“I am hoping, and I expect that, Mr. Dion will be able to provide testimony … and then we can finally get some clear answers,” Angus said.

Dion released a scathing report last week that concluded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau breached a section of the ethics code by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to end criminal proceedings on corruption charges against the Montreal engineering giant.

For his part, Trudeau has said he disagrees with, but accepts, Dion’s findings and was acting to protect Canadian jobs.

In his report, Dion also disclosed that he couldn’t get all the information he required, as potential witnesses and Trudeau’s office claimed cabinet confidence stopped from them from sharing everything they knew.

“This is a very important report, it is a very damning report and it also raises questions about the fundamental powers of the ethics commissioner in terms of the interference and obstruction that was laid in his path by the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council,” Angus said.

Trudeau has shown a complete disregard for the rule of law, Angus added, noting that’s what got him into trouble: “He needs to really grow up and assume the role of prime minister here and not just a public figure who thinks he’s impervious to accountability.”

Conservatives and New Democrats pushed for the emergency committee meeting to be held early Wednesday afternoon. Agreeing to invite Dion to appear would mean keeping the SNC-Lavalin controversy in the headlines as MPs gear up for the Oct. 21 election.

On Wednesday morning, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer reiterated his call for the Liberals to put partisan interests ahead of their own and let the study proceed.  

“We will learn today whether or not scandal and corruption is limited to just the Liberal party’s leader in the form of Justin Trudeau, or whether or not this rot has infected the entire Liberal caucus and the entire Liberal party,” Scheer said at an event in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Scheer said that if the study fails to go ahead, he hopes to be able to convince voters to hold Trudeau accountable on voting day this October.

“We cannot have a lawmaker who is a lawbreaker.”

Trudeau has suggested voters want to move on.

A new poll suggests Dion’s report hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall, nor has it helped the Conservatives.

The Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite Dion’s report, and Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the affair.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population; it cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

It is unhelpful to apply the frame of a political horse race to a question of the rule of law, Angus said.

“I’m less concerned about whether Mr. Trudeau is up one point or down one point,” he said. “My concern is if he interfered with a prosecution and we have to have some manner of accountability, whether it is him or for future prime ministers. Otherwise, we don’t have the rule of law in this country.”

The Canadian Press

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Country music star George Canyon to run for Tories in Nova Scotia

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George Canyon

OTTAWA — One of Nova Scotia’s best-known country music stars is walking on to the political stage.

George Canyon has announced he’s running as a Conservative candidate in the riding of Central Nova in the upcoming federal election.

His name was added to the Tory roster after existing candidate Roger MacKay dropped out this week, for what he said were “personal reasons.”

Canyon has won several Juno and Canadian Country Music Association awards for his work, and currently sings the national anthem at Calgary Flames games.

While his star is sure to add to the Conservative shine for this election, the riding is well acquainted with being a home for political stars.

Brian Mulroney ran from there to get a seat in the House of Commons after becoming leader of the Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s, and for over a decade it was home to Peter MacKay, who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

Green party Leader Elizabeth May also attempted a run for the seat in 2008, but lost to MacKay.

He held the riding until stepping down ahead of the 2015 election, and the seat fell into the hands of Liberals as part of a red sweep of the Atlantic provinces.

But the Tories count Central Nova among the seats they intend to recapture this fall, thanks in part to what they say are candidates with strong ties to the area, including three local members of the Nova Scotia legislature.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has made multiple stops in the Atlantic provinces already this summer, and for his part, Canyon said he’s eager to get going.

“Over the next nine weeks, I’m going to wear the soles out of my boots as I work hard to show people here the type of representative and advocate I will be for them.”

The federal election takes place on Oct. 21.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

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