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Border agency watchdog will ‘fill gap’ for disgruntled travellers, Goodale says

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OTTAWA — Travellers, immigration detainees and others who feel mistreated by Canada’s border agency will be able to complain to an independent body under a new measure included in the federal budget.

Border officers can stop travellers for questioning, take blood and breath samples, and search, detain and arrest people without warrants. Some encounters at the border have left travellers frustrated and angry.

The border agency has also come under pressure to be more forthcoming about its role in immigration detentions following people’s deaths in its custody — 14 of them since 2000, according to a compilation of reports by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

The Liberal government is planning legislative changes to give the RCMP watchdog the additional responsibility of handling public complaints about the Canada Border Services Agency. The budget allocates $24 million over five years, starting in 2019-20, and $7 million a year after that, to expand the mandate of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Wednesday the government wants to move quickly on establishing the revamped agency to “fill a gap” in federal public-safety operations and bolster accountability.

“We’ll obviously provide it with a different name, there’ll be changes in structure, the new money is identified in the budget to move it forward,” Goodale said in an interview. “But the objective here is to have an appropriate review agency that can deal with complaints on one side dealing with the RCMP, and on the other side dealing with CBSA.”

The border agency’s thousands of employees manage the flow of about 100 million travellers — as well as many millions of commercial shipments — entering Canada annually. They collect, analyze and distribute information concerning people and goods at border points, air terminals and seaports.

The agency’s internal recourse directorate handles complaints from the public. Other bodies, including the courts, the federal privacy commissioner and the Canadian International Trade Tribunal, examine various concerns about the agency’s work.

The Liberals have taken steps to keep a closer eye on the border agency’s national-security activities by creating a special committee of parliamentarians to review federal security services and proposing a super-watchdog of civilian experts to complement that work.

But the border agency is not overseen by a dedicated, independent review or complaints body, prompting civil libertarians, refugee lawyers and parliamentary committees to call for stronger arm’s-length monitoring.

The model adopted by the government — rolling the duties of the RCMP watchdog into the new body — essentially mirrors a proposal by former Privy Council chief Mel Cappe in a June 2017 report commissioned by Public Safety.

Goodale suggested the new agency would not only process complaints but be able to initiate public-interest reviews on its own, and that complainants would have the same avenues of appeal now open to those who pursue grievances against the RCMP.

“We think by actually using an institution that already exists and building on that platform and expanding it, we’ll be able to move faster and it will actually be more cost-effective than if we started from the ground up with something completely new,” Goodale said.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale, said there will be more to say about legislation to create the new agency in “the near future,” adding the government is confident it can see the changes through in the limited time before a fall election.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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Health

NDP promise to expand universal health care, starting with national drug plan

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HAMILTON — The federal NDP says if it is elected this fall it will expand Canada’s health-care system, starting with fast-tracking a universal drug plan to ensure a late 2020 start date.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says if his party forms government after the October federal election, it will inject $10 billion annually into a national pharmacare program.

The NDP proposal would see the pharmacare program start sooner than an expert panel recently recommended.

The panel said a national list of prescription drugs for pharmacare should be established by Jan. 1, 2022, and be expanded no later than Jan. 1, 2027.

The NDP policy comes in a new “commitments document” — dubbed A New Deal for People — unveiled today at the Ontario NDP convention in Hamilton.

In remarks provided to the media in advance of his convention speech Sunday morning, Singh says the plan would save families who already have insurance coverage $550 a year.

“For the first time, every single Canadian can count on this,” he said. “If you need medication, if someone you love needs medication, you can get it — period. Paid for with your health card, not your credit card.”

Singh said the NDP plan would also eventually expand universal coverage to dental, vision and hearing care as well.

The 109-page document also contains promises to create 500,000 more affordable housing units, expand grant programs for post-secondary education and address the cost of cellphone service and high-speed broadband.

The party is pledging to spend a billion dollars in 2020 to enhance child care across the country.

The document also promises to restore door-to-door mail delivery to all communities that have lost it — which would cost $100 million — and to establish a gasoline-price watchdog to monitor fuel prices and prevent “gouging.”

The party says it would raise government revenues to pay for its policies through a number of measures including increasing corporate taxes and by creating a so-called “wealth tax.”

Taxes on the richest Canadians — those with net worth of $20 million or more — would jump by one per cent, generating several billion dollars annually in revenue.

“The Liberals and Conservatives have been working for the people at the very top instead of working for you,” Singh said. “We are going to change that.”

The party would roll back corporate tax cuts provided by previous governments to 2010 levels, an increase from the current 15 to 18 per cent, generating billions more for government coffers a year.

Singh said the party would also institute a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax on residential purchases to prevent housing markets from overheating.

The NDP does not make a specific promise to balance the federal budget.

“In all cases, we will manage debt and deficits responsibly, borrowing when required to defend the services that Canadians and their families rely on, and moving to balance when prudent,” the document says.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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Environment

Alberta energy war room must avoid online morass, preaching to choir: experts

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CALGARY — Tzeporah Berman only learned of her cameo appearance at an Alberta government news conference about its so-called energy war room after a flood of nasty messages.

Industry advocate Robbie Picard held a poster calling the prominent environmentalist an “enemy of the oilsands” as he introduced Premier Jason Kenney at the Calgary event.

Berman says dozens of violent, sexist social media messages and a few frightening voicemails followed.

“The idea of putting someone’s face on a poster and holding it up at a government press conference — I’ve never seen that before,” says the longtime opponent of oilsands expansion and international program director at Stand.Earth, a grassroots environmental group.

The Kenney government aims to get its $30-million Calgary-based war room running this summer. The goal, Kenney has said, is to fight against what he calls a foreign-funded “campaign of lies and defamation” that he says has caused economic hardship by landlocking Alberta crude.

Kenney has said one measure of the war room’s success would be improved public opinion about pipelines and resource development. Political observers say that requires crafting messages that resonate outside Alberta while avoiding social media mudslinging or preaching to the choir.

Kenney spokeswoman Christine Myatt says personal threats and abuse are never acceptable and urges those who disagree with Berman to do so respectfully.

Picard, who runs the Oilsands Strong Facebook page, says unleashing abuse was not the intention of singling out Berman, but he added “professional protesters” like her should be held to account at a time when Alberta is struggling.

“There’s people in Alberta who are losing everything.”

Aside from the potential for online vitriol, the war room is problematic because the focus should be on tackling climate change, Berman says. 

“He’s wasting precious time,” she says of Kenney.

Many details, including who will lead the war room, remain to be fleshed out. Kenney has said it’s to use a mixture of advertising, publicity and social media and that staff will be able to fire volleys without having to wait hours or days for approval.

The premier feels the soft-power approach of the past has not worked.

“There’s been this notion, amongst many in the Canadian energy industry, that if we just keep our heads down and try not to be noticed and be low-profile and defensive, that somehow those organizations will walk away and focus maybe on Saudi Arabia or Russia or Venezuela,” Kenney said at the news conference.

“The weakness has been an invitation for an increasingly aggressive and increasingly dishonest campaign.”

Mount Royal University political scientist David Taras says the war room, by its very nature, is set up for conflict and that creates pitfalls.

“Give someone a hammer and they’re going to find something to hammer. Sometimes the best policy is not to respond. Sometimes the best policy is to allow someone else to respond. Sometimes the best policy is just to listen to others and watch the debate unfold,” he says.

“You can’t be drawn into the morass of the internet. You have to be able to speak on behalf of Albertans in a way that Albertans can be proud of.”

Pollster Janet Brown says she hopes the war room will do some public opinion research early and tailor its message accordingly.

The focus should be on those not firmly entrenched in either the pro- or anti-oil camps, she says.

“If they take messages that make perfect sense to Albertans and just assume they’re going to make sense to other Canadians … that could be problematic.”

Brown says the war room would be wise to avoid Twitter, where few minds can be changed, and focus its social media resources elsewhere — such as paid YouTube ads.

“If the war room is just spending their time on Twitter being outrageous, it will probably work in the favour of Greenpeace,” Brown says.

Berman says her group has seen more people wanting to donate in recent days, and she and her colleagues are looking to incorporate more compassion into their climate change messaging.

“We have, to a certain extent, been too simplistic or careless about the changes that need to happen. They are going to be hard and it’s not easy,” she says. 

“I understand when Albertans don’t want outsiders telling them what to do.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press


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