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Lewis to fight Liberal plan to axe charity status for anti-abortion pregnancy centres

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OTTAWA — Leslyn Lewis, in one of her first acts as an MP on Parliament Hill, says she plans on inviting Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to a pregnancy centre that risks losing its charity status over opposing abortion.

The newly elected Ontario representative revealed her plans to a recent crowd of demonstrators who gathered in Ottawa to rally against the Liberal government’s promise to remove charity status for anti-abortion organizations.

During the election campaign, Trudeau ran on a platform pledge to no longer provide this status for organizations that provide “dishonest counselling to women about their rights and about the options available to them at all stages of the pregnancy.”

It listed crisis pregnancy centres as an example, which proponents of access to abortion services say offer incorrect information about the procedure.

“We know that regardless of the fact that they may distribute some diapers, they have impacts on people’s access to health care, and they have public health impacts in terms of delayed access to care,” said Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights, said of crisis pregnancy centres.

In a statement, Lewis, a former Conservative leadership contender who was heavily backed by the party’s social conservative members, said Trudeau ran on a plan that required “adherence (to) the Liberal Party of Canada’s illiberal values test,” as she touted pregnancy centres for offering supports to women.

“Too often, women find themselves in a position where they feel that the circumstances of life are pushing them to make a decision they don’t want to make,” she said.

“As a member of Parliament, I will be opposing the proposed illiberal, anti-women policy that would seek to strip charitable status from organizations … that don’t pass Justin Trudeau’s values test,” Lewis said her statement.

In a statement, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary for Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, repeated the wording of the Liberals’ platform pledge, adding only that “more information will be available in due course.”

In an interview, charity tax lawyer Adam Aptowitzer warned moving on the promise would be a politically loaded process that could open the country up to a debate about what counts as “charitable” in Canada.

“They surely do not want to get into that discussion because that is really fraught with difficulty,” he said.

Campaign Life Coalition, a national organization opposed to abortion, has nonetheless been mobilizing against the promise. On Wednesday, it presented petitions to Lewis, as well as other MPs that hail from the federal Tories’ social conservative ranks.

One of those was Alberta MP Arnold Viersen, who appeared alongside Lewis at that day’s Parliament Hill demonstration. He told the crowd they would fight the move “tooth and nail in the House of Commons.”

How much Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole plans to back that battle, however, remains unclear.

Asked about the Liberal pledge on Thursday, O’Toole repeated he supports reproductive rights, and that he doesn’t believe in politicizing health issues.

“If anyone is at crisis, for any reason, whether it’s addiction, homelessness, an issue related to choice for a woman, we need to bring people together, not divide them. And that’s what Conservatives will try and do.”

Several years ago, the Conservatives mounted a vocal opposition to the Liberal government’s requirement that applicants to its summer-jobs program needed to pledge support for abortion access to qualify for funding.

Last month, a Federal Court judge dismissed a legal challenge against that rule, which came from Toronto Right to Life.

The social conservative grassroots of the Conservative party have been some of the fiercest critics of O’Toole because they say he backed down from promises he made to them when he was running for the leadership last year, where he directly appealed to supporters of Lewis.

Despite what was viewed as an impressive showing during the race, Lewis was left on the backbenches when O’Toole named his picks for critics earlier in the month.

O’Toole says as Conservative leader, he’s a supporter of reproductive rights.

Most of his caucus voted in favour of a private member’s bill from Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall in June that proposed to ban physicians from performing what is known as sex-selective abortion.

The bill was defeated easily after Liberal, NDP and Bloc Québécois MPs characterized it as a Trojan horse to erode reproductive rights.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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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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