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Canadian senator hears desperate plea from Afghan woman MP fearing Taliban reprisals

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A senator who chairs a committee set up to forge ties between the Canadian and Afghan parliaments has been receiving desperate pleas for help from Afghan politicians.

Sen. Salma Ataullahjan says she has received daily appeals for help to escape the Taliban from Afghans she met on official parliamentary business.

One Afghan woman MP told the senator that her car has been confiscated and that she is in hiding while trying to find a way to leave the country.

Ataullahjan, who was brought up in Pakistan and is Pashtun — the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan — said she has been inundated with calls from Afghans, including journalists, fearing for their safety.

They include Afghan politicians she met as co-chair of the Canada-Afghanistan Parliamentary Friendship Group and as vice-president of Canada’s Inter-Parliamentary Union, which fosters ties between parliaments.

The senator said she receives pleas each day from Afghans, including those who helped Canadian NGOs and are unable to get out.

She said one such woman was beaten up at the airport trying to flee with her children and is now “in hiding.”

“On a daily basis I am getting cries for help,” she said. “This woman MP I met said ‘I fear for my safety. We have nothing, even our cars, everything has been taken away.’”

Ataullahjan sits in the Conservative caucus and is the first person of Pakistani origin to be appointed to the Senate. She speaks Pashto, which is widely spoken in Afghanistan, and is the daughter of a Pakistani senator and granddaughter of Bacha Khan, who led an independence movement from British rule. As a child, she used to holiday in Kabul and lived near the Afghan border.

She held the last official meeting of the Canada-Afghanistan Parliamentary Friendship Group via Zoom on July 29. The meeting heard reports of targeted killings of religious scholars, women, members of the LGBTQ community, artists and journalists.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, the senator said she fears for Afghan women, including those who were in positions of power.

“If you are a female you are in jeopardy. They (The Taliban) hate outspoken women,” she said.

She said she is contacted every day by desperate Afghans via WhatsApp, phone, email and Zoom. But she said wifi is “sporadic” and it is becoming harder for them to stay in touch.

The senator expressed frustration with the lack of response from Canadian authorities when she has requested help for Afghans in peril to leave the country.

“When we have applied for people under threat, we haven’t heard anything,” she said.

The Liberal government has been repeatedly criticized for not acting quickly enough to save Afghans with ties to Canada. A special immigration program for those who helped Canada with its military mission in Afghanistan has been plagued by bureaucratic and technical problems.

Ataullahjan instigated a Parliamentary report in 2010 which recommended that plans be set out to support women in Afghanistan after Canada’s combat mission ended.

The report by the Senate Committee on Human Rights did not anticipate the country being retaken by the Taliban.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 3, 2021.

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Economy

Luxury goods tax on super-rich could hit electric vehicles: expert

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By Marie Woolf in Ottawa

A new tax on yachts, luxury cars and private aircraft designed to hit the super-rich could also cover vehicles meant to help the environment, a tax expert warns.

The luxury goods tax, which will come into force on Sept. 1, will cover cars and SUVs, as well as private planes and helicopters, worth more than $100,000.

The federal tax will also cover yachts and boats — including motorboats — worth more than $250,000.

But senior tax lawyer Héléna Gagné says the new tax could also hit some electric and hybrid vehicles, including Tesla and BMW models, which cost more than $100,000.

The federal government has been encouraging Canadians to invest in clean technology and zero-emission vehicles, which can carry a higher price tag than cars that run on fossil fuels.

Gagné said the thresholds for the tax could also affect people who would not be regarded as wealthy, but have saved up to buy a private plane for a hobby.

“It seems to be assumed that it is only the wealthiest who will be impacted by the luxury tax but it is not necessarily the case,” said Gagné, a partner at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. “It can also impact indirectly taxpayers who may not consider themselves as being among the wealthiest but who may decide to purchase an electric vehicle with a retail sales price that happens to be over the $100,000 threshold.”

Adrienne Vaupshas, a spokeswoman for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, said the measures, originally proposed in the 2021 budget, are not designed to hit the middle class.

She said the threshold for the tax for boats was deliberately set at $250,000 so it would cover superyachts and not middle-class families buying boats.

Vaupshas said it was “only right and fair that the very wealthiest are asked to pay their fair share.”

“The government was re-elected on a platform that included a commitment to bring forward a luxury tax on yachts, private jets, and luxury cars and implementing this measure is a priority,” she said.

The tax was originally proposed in the 2021 budget. It will cover luxury cars, planes, and boats bought for personal use and leisure. Commercial vehicles, including small planes selling seats, and emergency vehicles are among the classes of vehicle exempt from the new tax.

The tax amounts to either 10 per cent of the taxable amount of the item or 20 per cent of the amount over the price threshold — whichever is less.

The NDP has been putting pressure on the federal government to do more to tax the super-rich. Measures to increase taxes on the wealthiest people in Canada, however, were not included in the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply pact.

NDP critic for tax fairness and inequality, Niki Ashton, said at a news conference last month that she wants the federal government to close loopholes she says are being used by the super-rich and corporations to avoid paying billions in taxes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

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International

Ex-police officer gets 7-plus years in prison in Jan. 6 case

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By Michael Kunzelman in Washington

WASHINGTON (AP) — An off-duty Virginia police officer who stormed the U.S. Capitol with a fellow officer was sentenced Thursday to more than seven years in prison, matching the longest prison sentence so far among hundreds of Capitol riot cases.

Former Rocky Mount Police Sgt. Thomas Robertson didn’t speak in court before U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper sentenced him to seven years and three months in prison. Cooper also sentenced Robertson to three years of supervised release after his prison term.

Federal prosecutors had recommended an eight-year prison sentence for Robertson. The sentence he got equals that of Guy Reffitt, a Texas man who attacked the Capitol while armed with a holstered handgun.

Robertson gets credit for the 13 months he has already been jailed.

In April, a jury convicted Robertson of attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to obstruct Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 electoral victory. Jurors found him guilty of all six counts in his indictment, including charges that he interfered with police officers at the Capitol and that he entered a restricted area with a dangerous weapon, a large wooden stick.

Robertson traveled to Washington on the morning of Jan. 6 with another off-duty Rocky Mount police officer, Jacob Fracker, and a third man, a neighbor who wasn’t charged in the case.

Fracker was scheduled to be tried alongside Robertson before he pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge in March and agreed to cooperate with federal authorities. Cooper is scheduled to sentence Fracker next Tuesday.

Prosecutors have asked Cooper to spare Fracker from a prison term and sentence him to six months of probation along with a period of home detention or “community confinement.” They said Fracker’s “fulsome” cooperation and trial testimony was crucial in securing convictions against Robertson.

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