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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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    Environment

    Quebec officials maintain flood warnings for many areas as heavy rain expected

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  • MONTREAL — Environment Canada is maintaining its heavy rain warnings for many parts of Quebec today, keeping property owners near lakes and rivers on high alert for flooding.

    Water levels, already quite high, are expected to rise sharply with warm temperatures, snowmelt runoff and the heavy rainfall forecast through Saturday.

    Public safety officials say minor flooding has already occurred in the Montreal area, as well as the Outaouais, the Eastern Townships and central Quebec.

    Earlier this week, the Chaudiere River burst its banks, flooding a large part of Beauceville, south of Quebec City. Officials there called it the worst flooding since 1971.

    Thomas Blanchet, a spokesman for the province’s public safety department, says they want residents to be ready for flooding that could come quickly this weekend, and are imploring them to follow the instructions of local officials.

    Blanchet says while there are no official evacuation orders currently in the province, some municipalities have issued preventative orders.

    The Canadian Press


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    National

    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to visit Canada next weekend, April 27-28

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  • OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will meet with his Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, when the latter visits Canada next weekend.

    Abe and Trudeau’s two-day meeting on April 27 and 28 will centre on the upcoming G20 summit in Osaka in late June, as well strengthening ties between the two countries.

    Trudeau’s office says in a statement the two will also discuss the revamped Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which the PMO says has created opportunities in both countries.

    The Canadian and Japanese leaders are expected to address the media after holding their bilateral meeting.

    The pair most recently spoke at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting in Papua, New Guinea, last November.

    Abe’s upcoming visit to Canada is part of a week-long trip to Europe and North America that includes stops in the United States, France, Italy, Slovakia and Belgium, as Japan prepares to play host to the G20.

    The Canadian Press


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