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AFN chief urges leaders to ensure passage of key bills for Indigenous Peoples


OTTAWA — Federal party leaders must ensure three pieces of legislation of “fundamental importance” to Indigenous Peoples and the country pass before the election, says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde.

In a letter, Bellegarde called on the leaders to help, adding it is “absolutely critical” to ensure the passage of the bills, each awaiting its third reading in the Senate. If they aren’t passed before the fall election, they die, and Parliament is nearly out of legislating time before it breaks for the summer.

The list includes Bill C-262, a plan to ensure Canadian laws are in harmony with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and bills on Indigenous languages and child welfare.

Their passage will help create stronger First Nations and a healthier Canada, Bellegarde added.

“First Nations and Canadians are watching closely and we look forward to your commitment and leadership to get this important work completed,” he wrote.

Bellegarde’s letter says the bills are tied closely to calls to action issued four years ago by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after it probed the long-standing impacts of Canada’s residential schools.

Reconciliation between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people is a non-partisan responsibility, Bellegarde said, adding he believes “troubling partisan dynamics” are on display in the Senate.

Former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose used Twitter earlier this week to say she’s been told her own party will block legislation, including her own private member’s bill on mandatory education on sexual-assault for judges, to make sure Bill C-262 never passes, calling it a “sad day.”

Ambrose has quit politics but her bill, which passed the House of Commons unanimously before she did, is still alive and waiting for the Senate’s approval.

On Friday, Ambrose posted a video asking Canadians to call Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to get them to urge senators to come together and pass her bill to “put people above politics.”

The idea of blocking a bill requiring sexual-assault education for judges as a tactic is not a manoeuvre any politician should endorse, Bellegarde wrote.

“This would be an appalling development and an indelible stain on the reputation of any party or party member,” he said.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press


School board defends book pictured on principal’s desk after online uproar



A Toronto-area Catholic school board says an online firestorm that erupted after a book on how to teach black students was photographed on a principal’s desk stems from a misunderstanding over the book’s contents.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board says the book, titled “The Guide for White Women Who Teach Black Boys,” has a provocative title but is actually a helpful resource on tackling racial and cultural oppression in education.

Michelle Coutinho, the board’s principal of equity and inclusive education, says such materials are a particularly useful reference given how diverse the student population is in the district and at that specific school.

The controversy emerged this week after a Brampton, Ont., high school, Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School, posted a photo of its new principal on Twitter.

The photo, which shows the book on her desk, set off heated debate, with some suggesting it was a sign of racism or incompetence, or a prop meant to bolster the school’s image.

The image was also shared on instagram by 6ixBuzzTV, a popular account with roughly 1.2 million followers.

“LOOOOL. No principal should make it this far while subsequently needing a book like this,” one person wrote on Twitter. “She a bad principal,” wrote another.

Some defended the book, however, and the principal’s efforts to educate herself. “She’s making an effort to connect with her students, it’s more than most principals do,” another tweet read.

The board said it was surprised by the uproar and hoped people would look up the book before jumping to conclusions based on its title.

The principal intends to address the photo in a public announcement and invite any students with lingering questions to see her, said Bruce Campbell, the board’s spokesman.

The book, written by three researchers and published in 2017, aims to improve outcomes for black students by helping teachers create learning environments in which they feel nurtured and engaged. The title references the fact that white women make up the bulk of the teaching force in the U.S.

Coutinho said the book asks educators to challenge the biases they may bring into the classroom.

“We know that we’re steeped in a colonized kind of world view and how do we break out of that in our everyday practices?” she said, noting it has been used in the board’s anti-oppression training in the past.

Cardinal Ambrozic’s new principal was involved in a book study at several schools that delved deeply into the text last year, Coutinho said.

“If we’re going to make any changes to the education system, we have to start talking about these things and talking about them openly and honestly without shame or blame.”






Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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Ottawa paid $75M for veterans’ cannabis last year, could pay $100M this year



OTTAWA — The federal government shelled out a record $75 million to cover the cost of medical marijuana for veterans in the last fiscal year — and it is on track to spend nearly $100 million this year.

The figures from Veterans Affairs Canada come despite the government having cited rising costs and a lack of scientific evidence about the drug’s medical benefits for cutting how much cannabis it would cover for veterans.

Unless a veteran gets a special medical exemption, the government will reimburse veterans for a maximum three grams of medical marijuana per day, which is down from a previous maximum of 10 grams.

While the change in November 2016 reduced the government’s costs the following year, those savings were shortlived as more and more veterans turned to the government to pay for their medical marijuana.

Yet even as more veterans are using medical marijuana, Jason Busse of the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Medical Cannabis Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., says its medical benefits remain unclear.

The federal government is putting money into more research, but Busse says it is concerning that more and more veterans and non-veterans are turning to the drug when there are so many unanswered questions about it.

The Canadian Press

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