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Albertans to elect three new Senators this fall – Nominations are open


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Giving Albertans their say with Senate nominee elections

Alberta continues to lead the way in the democratization of the Canadian Senate by holding Senate nominee elections with the next municipal elections.

Albertans will elect three Senate nominees – one for each of the two vacancies and one in case of early retirement.

“We are keeping our platform commitment to renew Alberta’s 30-year-old tradition of electing nominees to the Senate of Canada. Albertans have every right to choose who should represent them in the national Parliament. It’s about democracy, plain and simple.”

Jason Kenney, Premier

While the previous government let Senate nominee elections expire, the current government brought back the Alberta Senate Election Act to allow for Senate nominee elections in the province. We are proud to give Albertans the chance to have their say for the good of the province we all call home.

“The Senate nominee election is a chance for Albertans to choose the individuals who will stand up for them in their federal Parliament. Elected senators would give Albertans a real way to make their voices heard in the Senate.”

Kaycee Madu, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General

In order to be included on the ballot, Senate nominee candidates are required to collect 500 signatures for their nomination papers and provide a $4,000 deposit to Elections Alberta by Sept. 20. Additionally, candidates must be Canadian citizens, at least 30 years old, own $4,000 in real property in Alberta and be a resident of the province.

Quick facts

  • The nominees’ terms begin when the person is elected and end when the writ for the next Senate nominee election is issued.
  • To date, five of Alberta’s elected Senate nominees have been appointed to the Senate: Stan Waters (1990), Bert Brown (2007), Betty Unger (2012), Doug Black and Scott Tannas (2013).
  • Municipal elections across Alberta will take place on Oct. 18.

This is a news release from the Government of Alberta.

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Barriers to care persist but access to MAiD keeps expanding

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From the Macdonald Laurier Institute

By Ramona Coelho

Our government has allowed the incredible power of certain lobby groups to control the public discourse and policies around MAiD and its expansion, prioritizing access to MAiD over the safety of Canadians.

My family medicine practice serves predominantly low-income and marginalized patients, including refugees, those who have been in our prison system or are facing charges, and many with disabilities and mental health issues. My patients experience high barriers to care and support and face social isolation and all kinds of discrimination. Observing the impacts of this has left me deeply concerned about our government’s priorities.

When the federal government introduced MAiD (a medical procedure that causes death) to those not at imminent risk of dying, I was appalled to learn that my patients, who are frequently blocked from care as a result of hurdles created by our government and systems, could potentially be offered an expedient death provided by the government.

In 2016, assisted suicide and euthanasia were first legalized in Canada and the term medical assistance in dying (MAiD) was created. Originally MAiD was presented as an exceptional lethal procedure for ending the lives of consenting adults who were experiencing intolerable suffering and were near death. The legislation required that patients meet certain criteria, including having a “grievous and irremediable” medical condition, such as organ failure or cancer, and a “reasonably foreseeable natural death.”

But the Canadian discourse around MAiD rapidly shifted to facilitating access and there has been a broadening of the number and criteria of those who qualify for MAiD. In 2021, Bill C-7 came into effect and removed some of the safeguards within the original pathway, now called Track 1, and created a new, second track, Track 2, for adults with physical disabilities[1] who are not  dying. Furthermore, there is a planned expansion, though the timing is currently being debated in Parliament, for patients whose only medical condition is mental illness. Parliamentary recommendations in 2023 included future expansion to children and to incapable adults who signed advance directives for euthanasia.

Currently, those in Track 1 with a “reasonably foreseeable natural death” can potentially have their life ended the same day as the initial request if all the criteria are met and practitioners are available.

For those in Track 2, those not dying, death by lethal injection is set at a minimum of 90 days after the completion of the first MAiD assessment. To qualify for this track, a patient must also have a “grievous and irremediable” condition and experience intolerable psychological or physical suffering. Suffering is treated as purely subjective with no requirement for further validation. There is also no legal requirement for standard treatment options to be accessible or tried, only that a patient be informed that they exist. This means that a patient who says they are suffering intolerably could access MAiD having declined treatments that would remediate their condition. This could be because the treatment is inaccessible, or unaffordable, or if the patient declines therapy.

The Canadian Association of MAiD Assessors and Providers (CAMAP) has received 3.3 million dollars in funding from Health Canada to educate clinicians assessing and providing for those who have requested the service. So although the existing Track 1 and Track 2 pathways have different safeguards, in aiming to allow those near death to have access to MAiD quickly and with no barriers, CAMAP has created a guidance document that suggests clinicians can be flexible as to whether someone fits Track 1’s reasonably foreseeable natural death, since the law does not require that the person be terminally ill or likely to die within 6 or 12 months. It also states that a person may meet the reasonably foreseeable criterion if they’ve demonstrated a clear and serious intent to take steps to “make their natural death happen soon, or to cause their death to be predictable.” This could come about from a refusal to take antibiotics for an infection, stopping oxygen therapy, or refusing to eat and drink.

This means that people with disabilities can state their intention to or make themselves sick enough to qualify as having a reasonably foreseeable natural death, as is currently happening with adults who are not dying and yet are having their lives ended within days of their first MAiD assessment. In one case, a man had a mild stroke and received MAiD shortly after, even though he wasn’t terminally ill. The reason? He was approved for track 1 as he was temporarily eating less. This was due to following a cautious meal plan ordered by the treating team which was intended to prevent choking and aspiration risks.

Currently, some places in Canada have MAiD rates that are the highest in the world. By the end of 2022, there had been almost 45,000 MAiD deaths across Canada since legalization—more than 13,000 of which took place in 2022 with 463 of those individuals accessing MAiD through Track 2. Estimates based on provincial reporting approximate 16,000 deaths in 2023. Health Canada and MAiD expansionists have tried to reassure the public that the overwhelming number of MAiD deaths have been mostly Track 1 deaths (implying they were dying anyway) but we do not know how many of those persons were “fast-tracked” and may have had many decades of life left to live and the potential to recover with time and care.

The CAMAP guidance document that seems to circumvent Track 2 safeguards is just the beginning of many serious problems with MAiD legislation and practice in Canada.

Patient safeguards for MAiD are lacking

Other jurisdictions in the world where MAiD practices are legalized, such as New Zealand and Victoria, Australia, frown on or prohibit raising death as a treatment option. This is due to the power imbalance that exists between physician and patient, coupled with the patients’ assumption that the provider will only suggest the best options for their health. Raising  MAiD unsolicited could cause undue pressure to choose death.  Yet Health Canada’s 2023 Model Practice Standard for Medical Assistance in Dying recommends that MAiD should be raised to all who might qualify if the practitioner suspects it aligns with a patient’s values and preferences.

The model practice standard’s approach to “conscientious objection” is equally troubling. Health care providers who object to providing MAiD, even in specific cases, are considered conscientious objectors. A physician who is concerned that MAiD is not a patient’s best option is supposed to ignore their conscience or professional opinion and simply refer the patient on so they can seek access to a MAiD death.

This is further echoed in a CAMAP video training session where experts explain that patients might be driven to MAiD by unmet psycho-social needs. The expert leading the session responds to a trainee’s concerns: “If withdrawing is about protecting your conscience, you have [an] absolute right to do so.” But he adds: “You’ll then have to refer the person on to somebody else, who may hopefully fulfill the request in the end.” This demonstrates precisely how effective referrals can funnel patients toward death despite legitimate professional concerns and obligations that should have instead led to the process being stopped or paused.

In response to this legislation, many from the disability community have advocated for safe spaces where MAiD can’t pose a risk to their lives. The Disability Filibuster, a national grassroots disability community, stated in an open letter that its members have raised fears about seeking health care where death could be offered to them and if at their lowest, they might agree.

The disability community is not being alarmist in this concern. Health care providers often rate the quality of life of those with disabilities as poor despite those patients rating their own quality of life as the same as aged-matched healthy individuals. Put differently, many physicians might consider that patients with disabilities are better off dead, consciously or unconsciously, which might lead them to suggest MAiD.

Besides the problems of mandatory referral and raising MAiD unsolicited, there is another important factor to consider. Persons with physical disabilities systemically lack much of the essential care they need to live and consequently suffer higher rates of isolation, poverty, and marginalization, all of which can make death their most accessible option. The Canadian government commissioned a University of Guelph study, published in 2021, in which the researchers noted that some persons with disabilities were encouraged to explore the MAiD option—even though they had not been contemplating doing so—because of a lack of resources that would enable them to live. Those with disabilities can be approved for MAiD based on their disability, but it is their psycho-social suffering that can drive their requests.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons, and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights have all warned the Canadian government that the current MAiD framework could lead to human rights violations. Their concerns are validated by the numerous fact-checked stories about MAiD abuses that are emerging in Canada. These should give us pause. For example, Sathya Dhara Kovac, 44, ended her life through the MAiD program. She lived with a degenerative disease and her condition was worsening, but she wanted to live but lacked the home care resources to do so. “Ultimately it was not a genetic disease that took me out, it was a system,” Kovac wrote in an obituary to loved ones. All Canadians have a right to humane living conditions, to be treated with respect and dignity, and to receive appropriate timely medical care. Considering the living conditions and lack of care that as a society we allow persons with disabilities to have, choices to die might be understandable for those like Sathya. But we should ask ourselves if choices, made under inhumane conditions, are made freely if driven by structural coercion.

Disturbingly, there are MAiD assessors and providers who seem to be ok with proving MAiD under such inhumane conditions. One such provider testified at a parliamentary committee on MAiD that if someone had to wait a long time for a service that would remediate their suffering, she would still consider that waiting to be irremediable suffering and grant them MAiD in the interim. Therefore, it is not surprising that patients with unaddressed psycho-social suffering are being given MAiD by assessors like her.

When it was considering Bill C-7, the federal government asked the Parliamentary Budget Officer to estimate cost savings to our health care system of the legalization of MAiD. The office did this by looking at the comparative cost savings of MAiD versus palliative care at the end of life. Through this impoverished lens of valuation, it is clear that the cost savings will be even greater when, by many years, we prematurely end the lives of people who have higher care needs, especially when we factor in social services, disability benefits, equipment, and other costs on top of the direct savings to health care budgets. But this is not how we should create budgets or measure outcomes. Our socialized health care system is meant to serve those with disabilities, not consider them a cost to the system.

The Canadian government is currently deciding on the timing for its further roll-out of MAiD, this time for mental illness and with no legislative changes to the current safeguards. This expansion is alarming given what we know is happening already to disabled Canadians under the existing MAiD regime. The Canadian Association of Chairs of Psychiatry wrote a letter in 2022—and some testified more recently in Parliament—that we are not ready for this development. They have warned that there is no evidence to guide decisions about who with mental illness would not get better. The evidence suggests that for every 5 people whose lives would be ended based on the sole medical condition of mental illness, 2 or 3 would have recovered. We expect to have much higher numbers qualifying for MAiD on the grounds of mental illness in Canada than in other jurisdictions that allow assisted death for this reason, since barriers to care and unmitigated psycho-social suffering do not have to be rectified in this country (as they do elsewhere) before being granted MAiD.

Our government has allowed the incredible power and influence of certain lobby groups and their members to control the public discourse and policies around MAiD and its expansion, prioritizing access to MAiD over the safety of Canadians. Besides the current discussion about when to legalize MAiD for mental illness, the parliamentary committee has also recommended expansion to children and MAiD by advance directives. With eligibility for MAiD continuing to broaden, we are not giving priority to serving those most in need, but instead seem intent on rapidly expanding a path to end their lives.

[1] Disabilities is an umbrella term that includes impairment, chronic illness and/or other conditions.

Dr. Ramona Coelho is a family physician in London, Ontario. Her practice largely serves marginalized patients.

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Save Taylor Swift. Stop deep-fake porn: Peter Menzies

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Photo by Michael Hicks, via Flickr

From the MacDonald Laurier Institute

By Peter Menzies

Tweak an existing law to ensure AI-generated porn that uses the images of real people is made illegal.

Hey there, Swifties.

Stop worrying about whether your girl can make it back from a tour performance in Tokyo in time to cheer on her boyfriend in Super Bowl LVIII.

Please shift your infatuation away from  your treasured superstar’s romantic attachment to Kansas City Chiefs’ dreamy Travis Kelce and his pending battle with the San Francisco 49ers. We all know Taylor Swift’ll be in Vegas for kickoff on Feb. 11. She’ll get there. Billionaires always find a way. And, hey, what modern woman wouldn’t take a 27-hour round trip flight to hang out with a guy ranked #1 on People’s sexiest men in sports list?

But right now, Swifties, Canada needs you to concentrate on something more important than celebrity canoodling. Your attention needs to be on what the nation’s self-styled feminist government should be doing to protect Swift (and all women) from being “deep-faked” into online porn stars.

Because that’s exactly what happened to the multiple Grammy Award-winner last week when someone used artificial intelligence to post deep-fakes (manipulated images of bodies and faces) of her that spread like a coronavirus across the internet. Swift’s face was digitally grafted onto the body of someone engaged in sexual acts/poses in a way that was convincing enough to fool some into believing that it was Swift herself. Before they were contained, the deep-fakes were viewed by millions. The BBC reported that one single “photo” had accumulated 47 million views.

For context, a 2019 study by Deeptrace Labs identified almost 15,000 deep-fakes on streaming and porn sites — twice as many as the previous year — and concluded that 96 per cent were recreations of celebrity women. Fair to assume the fakes have continued to multiply like bunnies in spring time.

In response to the Swift images, the platform formerly known as Twitter — X — temporarily blocked searches for “Taylor Swift” as it battled to eliminate the offending depictions which still found ways to show up elsewhere.

X said it was “actively removing” the deep-fakes while taking “appropriate actions” against those spreading them.

Meta said it has “strict policies that prohibit this kind of behavior” adding that it also takes “several steps to combat the spread of AI deepfakes.”

Google Deepmind launched an initiative last summer to improve detection of AI-generated images but critics say it, too, struggles to keep up.

While the creation of images to humiliate women goes back to the puerile pre-internet writing of “for a good time call” phone numbers on the walls of men’s washrooms, the use of technology to abuse women shows how difficult it is for governments to keep pace with change. The Americans are now pondering bipartisan legislation to stop this, the Brits are boasting that such outrageousness is already covered by their Online Safety Act and Canada so far ….  appears to be doing nothing.

Maybe that’s because it thinks that Section 162 of the Criminal Code, which bans the distribution or transmission of intimate images without permission of the person or people involved, has it covered.

To wit, “Everyone who knowingly publishes, distributes, transmits, sells, makes available or advertises an intimate image of a person knowing that the person depicted in the image did not give their consent to that conduct, or being reckless as to whether or not that person gave their consent to that conduct, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term of not more than five years.”

Maybe Crown prosecutors are confident they can talk judges into interpreting that legislation in a fashion that brings deep-fakes into scope. It’s not like eminent justices haven’t previously pondered legislation — or the Charter for that matter— and then “read in” words that they think should be there.

Police in Winnipeg recently launched an investigation in December when AI-generated fake photos were spread. And a Quebec man was convicted recently when he used AI to create child porn — a first.

But anytime technology overrides the law, there’s a risk that the former turns the latter into an ass.

Which means there’s a real easy win here for the Justin Trudeau government which, when it comes to issues involving the internet, has so far behaved like a band of bumbling hillbillies.

The Online Streaming Act, in two versions, was far more contentious than necessary because those crafting it clearly had difficulty grasping the simple fact that the internet is neither broadcasting nor a cable network. And the Online News Act, which betrayed a complete misunderstanding of how the internet, global web giants and digital advertising work, remains in the running for Worst Legislation Ever, having cost the industry it was supposed to assist at least $100 million and helped it double down on its reputation for grubbiness.

Anticipated now in the spring after being first promised in 2019, the Online Harms Act has been rattling around the Department of Heritage consultations since 2019. Successive heritage ministers have failed to craft anything that’ll pass muster with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so the whole bundle is now with Justice Minister Arif Virani, who replaced David Lametti last summer.

The last thing Canada needs right now is for the PMO to jump on the rescue Taylor Swift bandwagon and use deep-fakes as one more excuse to create, as it originally envisioned, a Digital Safety czar with invasive ready, fire, aim powers to order take downs of anything they find harmful or hurtful. Given its recent legal defeats linked to what appears to be a chronic inability to understand the Constitution, that could only end in yet another humiliation.

So, here’s the easy win. Amend Section 162 of the Criminal Code so that the use of deep-fakes to turn women into online porn stars against their will is clearly in scope. It’ll take just a few words. It’ll involve updating existing legislation that isn’t the slightest bit contentious. Every party will support it. It’ll make you look good. Swifties will love you.

And, best of all, it’ll actually be the right thing to do.

Peter Menzies is a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, past vice-chair of the CRTC and a former newspaper publisher.

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