Saskatchewan First Act will help in future court fights with Ottawa: justice minister
Regina – Saskatchewan’s justice minister, while promoting a bill she touts as giving the province more autonomy, says Ottawa’s actions have a larger effect on investor confidence than pushback on the legislation from Indigenous and environmental groups.
Bronwyn Eyre says the proposed Saskatchewan First Act isn’t about carving new powers for the province.
“This is about protecting the people of the province and the economy of the province from policy (that causes harm),” Eyre said Wednesday following a talk organized by the Saskatchewan and Regina Chambers of Commerce.
The legislation, which passed a second reading in November, would assert that Saskatchewan has exclusive jurisdiction over its resources and set up a tribunal to be used in future court cases.
The bill has faced significant pushback, including from the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, a group that represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan. More than 35 chiefs called for the government to scrap the bill in December, saying they were looking at legal action or blockades if the legislation was not repealed.
Eyre said she recently had a “cordial discussion” with some chiefs, including Chief Bobby Cameron with the federation, on how the bill would not affect Indigenous rights. She has previously said Indigenous stakeholders were not consulted during preparation of the act.
The minister was also asked whether the bill is necessary, considering it doesn’t change or expand the province’s current jurisdictional powers, and whether investors will be dissuaded due to a lack of support for the bill from Indigenous groups and threats of protests.
Eyre responded that investors have told her Ottawa is sending mixed messages with its policies. However, Eyre added that the legislation is “not about fed-bashing for fun.”
“It’s about drawing the line,” she said.
The governing Saskatchewan Party has kept the federal Liberal government in its targets over resources and environmental policies. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pressed the province on its record for clean energy last month after Premier Scott Moe said he was not made aware of Trudeau’s visit to a rare earth elements processing plant in Saskatoon.
“The federal government is very hard on the West,” Eyre said.
She criticized Ottawa for not acting as an honourable partners in the federation.
The federal government continues to “infringe” on provincial jurisdiction, Eyre said, pointing to the federal carbon tax, environmental impact legislation and the expected “Just Transition” legislation — a plan to help workers and communities thrive in a net-zero carbon economy.
The purpose of the act’s tribunal would be to determine economic harm of such policies, she said, and it would have helped in scenarios such as Saskatchewan’s challenge to the carbon tax. In 2021, Supreme Court of Canada ruled against Saskatchewan saying Ottawa was within its constitutional authority.
The tribunal would be independent, but the government would refer policy for a cost analysis, Eyre said. That information could be used in future cases where the province takes the federal government to court.
She said investors around the world and the United States see the importance of Saskatchewan and its resources.
“But not our own federal government.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 1, 2023.
— By Kelly Geraldine Malone in Saskatoon
Canada argues court misconstrued Charter in directing feds to bring men in Syria home
A general view of Karama camp for internally displaced Syrians, is shown Monday, Feb. 14, 2022, by the village of Atma, Idlib province, Syria. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Omar Albam
By Jim Bronskill in Ottawa
The Canadian government says a federal judge misinterpreted the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in directing officials to secure the release of four men from detention in northeastern Syria.
Government lawyers are set to stress that point in the Federal Court of Appeal today as they seek to overturn a January ruling by Federal Court Justice Henry Brown.
In his decision, Brown said Ottawa should request repatriation of the men in Syrian prisons run by Kurdish forces as soon as reasonably possible and provide them with passports or emergency travel documents.
Brown ruled the men are also entitled to have a representative of the federal government travel to Syria to help facilitate their release once their captors agree to hand them over.
The government says in written arguments filed in the Court of Appeal that Brown mistakenly conflated the recognized Charter right of citizens to enter Canada with a right to return — effectively creating a new right for citizens to be brought home by the Canadian government.
Federal lawyers argue Brown’s “novel and expansive” approach overshoots the text, purpose and protected interests of the Charter right to enter, and is inconsistent with established domestic and international law.
The government also contends the court usurped the role of the executive over matters of foreign policy and passports. “The mandatory actions fail to respect the proper role of the executive and prevent it from making necessary, timely and individualized assessments within its expertise about a range of complex considerations.”
The judge’s ruling has largely been put on hold while the appeal plays out. However, Ottawa must still get the process started by initiating contact with the Kurdish forces who are detaining the men in a region reclaimed from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
The four men include Jack Letts, whose parents John Letts and Sally Lane have waged a vigorous campaign to pressure Ottawa to come to his aid.
Lawyer Barbara Jackman, who represents Letts, points out in a submission to the Court of Appeal that the four Canadian men have not been charged with any crime.
“They have not had access to the necessities of life and have been subjected to degrading, cruel and unusual treatment during their nightmarish tenure in Syrian prisons,” the filing says. “Jack Letts told his family and the Canadian government that he was subjected to torture and contemplated ending his own life.”
The identities of the three other Canadian men are not publicly known.
Their lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, says Brown’s ruling that Canada should take steps to facilitate repatriation of the men is a practical solution that recognizes the Charter-entrenched right of entry.
“Justice Brown’s decision is comprehensive and correct in law,” Greenspon’s written submission to the Court of Appeal says.
In these rare circumstances, where Canadians are being arbitrarily detained in a foreign country and the federal government has been invited to take steps to facilitate their entry into Canada, the court correctly declared that Ottawa should take those steps, the filing adds.
Family members of the men, as well as several women and children, argued in the Federal Court proceedings that Global Affairs Canada must arrange for their return, saying that refusing to do so violates the Charter.
The government insisted that the Charter does not obligate Ottawa to repatriate the Canadians held in Syria.
However, Greenspon reached an agreement with the federal government in January to bring home six Canadian women and 13 children who had been part of the court action.
In his ruling, Brown said the Canadian men are not able to return home “in part because their government seems never to have formally requested their repatriation.”
They are not able to enjoy “a truly meaningful exercise” of their Charter right to enter Canada unless and until the federal government makes a formal request to the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria on their behalf, he wrote.
“Canada must make a formal request for their repatriation because otherwise the Court is asked to construe the Charter in an ‘unreal world.”’
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 27, 2023.
Military under fire as thousands of troops face lost cost-of-living allowance
Members of the 5e Regiment d’artillerie legere du Canada board an aircraft heading for Latvia, in Quebec City, Wednesday, March 23, 2022. The Canadian Armed Forces is under fire for its plan to cut thousands of troops off a cost-of-living allowance without much notice. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot
By Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa
The Canadian Armed Forces is under fire for its plan to cut thousands of troops off a cost-of-living allowance without much notice.
The military announced last week that about 7,700 Armed Forces members will no longer receive the top-up starting in July, when it will be replaced by a new housing benefit that commanders say will better assist those who need the most help.
Social media and online forums dedicated to military personnel have been crackling with dissatisfaction over the plan, including the abbreviated timeline. Some are also unhappy with a new 10 per cent pay increase over four years, retroactive to 2021.
Experts say the lack of notice speaks to larger problems around how the military treats its people, which they worry is sparking anger and frustration at a time when the Canadian Armed Forces is struggling with a recruitment and retention crisis.
“We’re pissing people off,” said retired lieutenant-general Guy Thibault, who previously served as vice-chief of the defence staff. “And this may be the final straw that pisses them off. It’s not really about compensation. It’s just that they’re not feeling valued.”
The decision to replace the military’s existing cost-of-living allowance with a new housing benefit follows a 14-year battle between the Department of National Defence and Treasury Board, the central department that controls federal spending.
Established in 2000 as a way to compensate members for the added costs of having to live and work in certain communities, the allowance rates were frozen in 2009 as defence and treasury officials fought over the program’s cost and parameters.
Canadian Forces College professor Alan Okros said members were led to believe that that when a deal was finally struck, it would finally raise rates and expand eligibility as troops living in some parts of the country did not qualify.
“There was a generalized tone and expectation of, ‘Look, we’re working on it. … We’re going to sort it all out,'” said Okros, who specializes in military personnel and culture. “There was this generalized expectation of, ‘It’s going to be much better.'”
Such expectations were predicated on the belief that the government would put more money into the pot to compensate troops for their service, particularly given that the Armed Forces is currently dealing with a recruitment and retention crisis.
That didn’t happen. Instead, the military says the new housing benefit is both more equitable and more efficient than the previous allowance as it is tied to salary, includes more geographic locations, and will cost about $30 million less per year.
Charlotte Duval-Lantoine, an expert on military culture at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute think tank, said some members who were receiving the cost-of-living allowance would have accounted for that money in their budgetary planning.
“This is the distinction that frustrates people the most, because some of them will not be eligible in this (new benefit) even though they’re struggling in terms of their cost of living,” she said. “There’s going to be a readjustment for people.”
The fact it is being taken away in a matter of months without any previous consultation or warning speaks to problems with how the chain of command treats and communicates with its troops, she added.
“It’s kind of emblematic of the way that we talk about personnel policy and how the military communicates (with) its personnel,” she said. “It’s always big announcements. And then we don’t hear about it for years on end. Then there’s a new announcement.”
The housing benefit has also come under scrutiny, with concerns about the actual rates being based on the cost of renting a two-bedroom apartment without consideration for family size. There’s also a seven-year cap on receiving the benefit in one location.
Members are also complaining that the new pay increase does not keep up with inflation.
The new benefit and pay increase have nonetheless sparked a bit of a debate over compensation for military personnel, with some arguing troops are relatively well paid and most Canadians are facing some sort of economic pressure.
“We’ve got a pretty well-paid force, not only against other allied forces or volunteer forces, but against the general population,” said Thibault, who is now chair of the Conference of Defence Associations Institute think tank.
“In terms of where we’re going with the economy, it’s not unique to the Canadian Forces. It’s a societal problem right now with interest rates, with inflation, with the economy, with housing.”
Rather, experts feel the reaction is more symptomatic of bigger problems as the Armed Forces faces growing demands while struggling with a shortage of personnel, old equipment, and efforts to radically overhaul its culture.
“Our government and Canadians, they seem to care for the Canadian Forces,” Thibault said. “But not care enough about them to make it a priority, or to address some of these longstanding problems.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2023.
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