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Liberals push end of Mali peacekeeping mission to August


OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces’ peacekeeping mission in Mali is going to last a little longer than previously planned — but not as long as the United Nations hoped.

Canada’s operations in the African nation were supposed to cease at the end of July and the eight helicopters and 250 military personnel providing transportation and logistics help in a UN mission there were to come home.

The UN had asked Canada to stay until October, when Romanian troops take over, to minimize a gap in providing lifesaving medical evacuations for injured UN peacekeepers.

Global Affairs Canada said Friday that operations will wind down after July 31 and gradually be restricted to only medical evacuations until Aug. 31.

A small Canadian transition team will help Romania set up its operations, including the use of C-17 airplanes to help get troops and equipment into the country.

The department said in a statement that the decision reflects strategic advice from the Canadian Forces and should “minimize disruption” in medical evacuation services.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan insisted the announcement doesn’t mean the government is extending the mission.

“Up until the end of July, we will maintain all the missions that we’ve been conducting. However, to conduct a smooth transition we are going to be focusing strictly on medical evacuations so we can start doing that transition,” he told reporters outside the House of Commons. “And this will allow for that gradual handover.”

The six-year-old United Nations mission in Mali is trying to stabilize the country after a rebellion and a coup. It includes about 16,500 personnel, mostly from other African countries.

Since Canadian troops arrived last July, they have done 10 medical evacuations, Global Affairs said.

The government also said that Canadian helicopters have also spent more than 3,000 hours in the air, moving 6,400 passengers and almost 168,000 kilograms — or more than 370,000 pounds — of cargo. Hired civilian contractors can do some of the same work but in much more limited circumstances. They won’t rescue wounded peacekeepers under fire, for instance.

Sajjan told reporters “troops on the ground will always have that medical evacuation” through the transition, but not cargo transport.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland called the change in plans a “practical and pragmatic plan to ensure a smooth transition between the Canadian and Romanian rotations” in Mali. She said the Romanians would have access to “four C-17 aircraft flights” to help move personnel and equipment.

The UN formally asked Canada at the end of the February to stay in Mali until mid-October. Freeland rejected that request following a March peacekeeping summit in New York.

The United Nations had told MPs on the House of Commons defence committee that peacekeepers would be forced to scale down operations without the Canadians or Romanians available for emergency evacuations.

Sajjan said Canada doesn’t have an exact date when Romania’s contingent will arrive.

“But now, based on the information that we have, we’ve been able to come (to) the conclusion that having a thorough handover focusing strictly on medical-evacuation missions is going to allow for the same handover that we had received,” he said.

Why the government has refused to push the mission to October is unclear but the committee’s report on the mission suggested military officials were worried about the helicopters’ mechanical condition and want them ready for crises back home.

Others have linked the Liberals’ stance to an electoral calculation, with the fall federal campaign winding up with a vote in late October.

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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