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Indigenous languages, consultation among issues raised before Pope Francis’s visit


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By Stephanie Taylor and Kelly Geraldine Malone

Before Pope Francis’s arrival in Canada last July, federal officials flagged concerns about the level of consultation done with a First Nations community that was set to host him.

Briefing notes prepared for the deputy minister of the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations a month before the Pope arrived also show officials were concerned about how much help Catholic bishops would be in translating his Spanish into Indigenous languages.

The briefing notes were obtained by The Canadian Press through an access-to-information request.

Pope Francis, 85, journeyed to Canada in July to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools.

Survivors had asked for such an apology for years leading up to the visit, including during trips to the Vatican by Indigenous leaders in 2009 and last April.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also listed an apology from the pope as one of its calls to action in its report that investigated the harm and legacy of residential schools. Indigenous children in Canada were forced to attend the government-funded, church-run institutions, where thousands suffered abuse, neglect and even died.

When the apology finally came in July, it garnered a mix of reactions. Some survivors and elders said they felt it was significant step toward reconciliation, while others felt the Pope’s words fell short.

But the planning leading up to the visit raised some concerns.

A briefing document prepared ahead of an anticipated meeting in mid-June with the papal visit co-ordinator, Archbishop Richard Smith, shows federal officials expressed the need for improved communication after a recent planning visit to Alberta.

The province is home to Maskwacis, a group of four First Nations south of Edmonton, which was to be the site of the Pontiff’s apology.

“In terms of the most recent advance visit to Edmonton, it became apparent that there is a disconnect between the national, regional and local organizing committees,” according to the document.

“It was further emphasized that the communities of Maskwacis and Lac Ste. Anne needed to be more engaged when visits to their communities happen.

“In this regard, it was recommended that there will be further outreach to Maskwacis given the importance of this event in the overall papal visit.”

In a statement to The Canadian Press, a spokesman for the papal visit said the archbishop and others involved in the planning worked with community leadership and were aware they were doing so under tight circumstances.

“The extremely short window of just a few months to plan the papal visit meant that things were moving very quickly, decisions had to be confirmed and the benefit of a traditional 18-month planning timeline was just not possible,” wrote Neil MacCarthy.

“The restrictions on the Holy Father’s health meant that events were limited in time and scope.”

Besides Indigenous leaders, local church and federal officials also had to work with directions from the Vatican, who decided that Francis’s visits to communities would last for just an hour or so, despite initial hopes they would be longer.

Following his apology, Pope Francis travelled northwest of Edmonton to Lac Ste. Anne, an important pilgrimage site to Indigenous Peoples and Catholics, and earned cheers when he greeted the crowd in Nakota, Cree and Blackfoot.

One consequence of residential schools was the destruction of Indigenous languages, because children were forbidden from speaking their mother tongue.

Before his visit, officials in Ottawa viewed translating Pope Francis’s words from Spanish into Indigenous languages as a must, and a task that required a lot of planning.

“A risk of not interpreting some of the Pope’s speeches into Indigenous languages is that a papal address translated into only English and French but for an audience of residential school survivors or Indigenous peoples could be seen as another act of colonization,” reads an internal document dated early June.

“Interpreting speeches into Indigenous languages could be seen as a meaningful act of decolonization.”

It added that in doing so, Ottawa “would be able to follow through with its various commitments to promote Indigenous languages in particular the Indigenous Languages Act,” referring to legislation it passed in 2019.

The federal government ultimately spent $2 million to hire Indigenous language speakers to translate the Pope’s for broadcasts. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops footed the bill for on-site services.

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, which organized the papal visit, says the trip cost it around $18.6 million.

While the federal government has yet to release the final cost of the visit, including for security, some departments have published details on the price of some components.

In addition to the translation services, Crown-Indigenous Relations said it spent around $32 million on transportation costs for survivors who wanted to attend papal events in-person, or host related activities in their own communities.

Another $3.6 million, plus taxes, was paid to a production company to broadcast the five-day trip, the department said.

Global Affairs Canada, the government wing responsible for co-ordinating visits of world leaders, was preparing to spend around $2 million, according to a separate document released through federal access law, also obtained by The Canadian Press.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 8, 2022.

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‘A crisis’: Calgary charity seeks one-month homes for Ukrainian refugees after influx

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Ukrainian evacuees Dmytro Syrman, left, his wife, Anastasiia, centre, and their four-year-old daughter Varvara attend a news conference highlighting the need for temporary housing in Calgary on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

By Bill Graveland in Calgary

After six months under Russian occupation, Dmytro Syrman and his family decided to flee Ukraine for a safer life abroad and are now in Calgary.

The family lived in Dniprorudne, a mining city of 17,000 in southern Ukraine. Syrman worked as a human resources manager at an iron factory.

In August, Syrman, his wife, Anastasiia, and four-year-old daughter Varvara embarked on a six-day, 3,000-kilometre drive to Poland.

“On the 24 of February, when the Russian army attacked Ukraine and occupied our city in March 2022, we lost everything,” Syrman said Wednesday.

He said they began planning their escape when they realized Russian soldiers weren’t leaving their city.

“We started all of this because we were scared for Varvara,” he said. “When Russian bombs were falling near our city it was really scary.”

Their home is still under Russian occupation.

For the past year the family stayed in Poland, sent in their paperwork to come to Canada, and two weeks ago arrived in Calgary.

They’re now staying with a host family for a month while they look for long-term accommodation and to find jobs.

“We are here and starting a new life. We can’t believe about people who don’t know us and many helped us. We’re really shocked,” Syrman said.

The Syrmans were helped by Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, which started a campaign to find 100 hosts for Ukrainian families or individuals for a month while they find housing of their own.

Kelly Ernst, chief program officer with the centre, said there has been a flood of Ukrainians trying to take advantage of a federal program that allows them to temporarily resettle in Canada.

The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program has been extended until July and Ernst said he expects people will continue to flee the war-torn country.

“We’re in a desperate, dire need at the moment for host homes to try to accommodate the evacuees coming from Ukraine. It’s reaching the proportions of being a crisis moment,” said Ernst.

He said people arriving elsewhere in Canada are migrating to Calgary because the rents are lower than in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.

Ernst said approximately 450 people have been arriving in Calgary every week from Ukraine and his organization has helped people staying nights in the airport, off the street and at homeless shelters.

Natalia Shem, who is the manager of housing for the Ukrainian evacuees, said it’s difficult for the newcomers to find somewhere to live before arriving.

“It’s almost impossible to find long-term rent being outside of Canada and people who come here need one month of stay,” Shem said. “It’s an average time a family can find long-term rent, job and settle down here in Canada.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.

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Budget measures unlikely enough to spur major carbon capture investments: Experts

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Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Industry watchers say Tuesday’s federal budget likely won’t be enough to convince Canadian oil and gas companies to pull the trigger on expensive, emissions-reducing carbon capture and storage projects. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary

A question mark continues to hang over the future of carbon capture and storage projects in Canada, in spite of a pledge in Tuesday’s federal budget to deliver more investment certainty for major emissions-reducing projects.

“Look, we have set some very aggressive climate targets in Canada. You can’t kick the can down the road,” said carbon capture advocate James Millar, arguing that’s exactly what the federal government did Tuesday when it provided no additional details around its previously stated intention to reduce the risk of investing in pricey emissions-reduction projects by essentially guaranteeing the future price of carbon.

“The difference comes down to investment certainty in the U.S., versus the promise of investment certainty in Canada.”

As president and CEO of the International CCS (carbon capture and storage) Knowledge Centre, a non-profit organization based in Regina, Millar had been closely watching Tuesday’s budget in hopes of obtaining more federal support for the expensive technology that can be used to trap harmful greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes and store them safely underground.

Heavy emitters — in particular, the oil and gas sector — have identified carbon capture and storage technology as key to helping the sector meet its emissions reduction targets and have been looking for government incentives akin to what is being offered south of the border, where the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act promises to pay companies a guaranteed US$85 price for each tonne of injected carbon.

While Canada has already announced an investment tax credit that will help to offset some of the up-front capital costs of carbon capture projects, companies have so far been hesitant to pull the trigger and go ahead with proposed large-scale projects.

The Pathways Alliance, for example, a consortium of oilsands companies, has proposed building a $16.5-billion carbon capture and storage transportation line to combat emissions from existing oilsands infrastructure in northern Alberta.

But the group has not yet made a final investment decision, saying it needs to know its project will be competitive with those in the U.S. before proceeding.

One thing the oil and gas sector has said will help with that is some kind of mechanism that would reduce the risk to companies that the federal price on carbon could be lowered or eliminated. If a new government were to be elected and remove or change Canada’s carbon pricing system, investing in expensive carbon-reducing technology could suddenly become uneconomical.

On Tuesday, the federal government reiterated that it intends to create such a mechanism through a so-called carbon contracts for difference system — but disappointed many who were hoping for details. Instead, the government announced it plans to begin consultations around the development of such a program.

Millar said while he doesn’t doubt the government’s good intentions, companies that have proposed large-scale projects need to get moving now if they have any hope of meeting Canada’s goal to reduce this country’s overall emissions by 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 looms.

“We’re already in 2023, we’re seven years out. The consultations that were announced yesterday will take months,” he said. “I think it will take at least a year because it’s going to take time to set up the process.”

The Pathways Alliance itself took a diplomatic tone Tuesday, issuing a statement after the tabling of the budget saying it was “encouraged” by the signal that more policy certainty is coming, and adding it looks forward to a “better understanding” of the government’s intentions.

But Greg Pardy of RBC Capital said in a research note that in spite of some enhancements to the previously announced investment tax credit, budgetary support for carbon capture and storage was “somewhat limited  — perhaps even disappointing.”

“In our view, Canada’s federal government needs to shift into much higher gear when it comes to incentivizing decarbonization investment if it is to achieve its bold climate change ambitions,” Pardy said.

A report from BMO Capital Markets published just before the release of Tuesday’s budget said Canada’s policy framework for large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage disadvantages producers here compared to the U.S., “despite claims to the contrary from some proponents of the environmental lobby.”

Environmentalists have been critical of any additional federal support for carbon capture, calling it akin to a subsidy for oil and gas companies that enables them to increase production when the world should be scaling down fossil fuel usage.

But the BMO report said carbon capture is an essential part of the energy transition, and without offering improved incentives to keep up with the U.S., Canada risks not meeting its 2030 emissions reduction targets.

“Canada’s market-based carbon price systems are much too uncertain to act as ‘incentive’ for industry to invest in major decarbonization projects,” the BMO report stated.

“Emitters need financial supports that are tangible and recognized by financial institutions to underwrite bank financing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.

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