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Ontario attorney general invokes PM in spat over refugee legal aid

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OTTAWA — Ontario’s attorney general is taking his fight for more federal money for refugee legal aid to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Doug Downey, who took over as Ontario’s attorney general in June, said he has received no response to his requests to federal Justice Minister David Lametti and Finance Minister Bill Morneau, calling on Ottawa to “properly fund” immigration and refugee legal-aid services in his province.

Downey has now written to Trudeau, asking him to instruct his ministers to reply to Ontario’s requests to fill what he says is a funding gap of $25 million.

The number of refugee claims in Ontario has soared by nearly 160 per cent since 2013, he says — a phenomenon he blames on the Trudeau’s government’s immigration policies.

“Because of their decision to increase the service need, we think they need to increase the service resources,” Downey said in an interview this week.

In the spring, the provincial Progressive Conservative government announced it was cutting funding for refugee- and immigration-law services provided by Legal Aid Ontario — a move that refugee lawyers and advocates have said will hurt vulnerable migrants and that the Immigration and Refugee Board has said will slow down its cases.

Downey argues immigration is a federal responsibility, so Ottawa should shoulder these costs. He says Ontario has not been receiving the same level of funding as other provinces for legal-aid services provided to immigrants — other provinces get upwards of 90 per cent of these costs covered while Ontario only gets 35 per cent, Downey says.

But the federal justice department says provincial allocations for immigration and refugee legal aid are calculated annually based on a formula that was agreed upon by all provinces and territories.

“The formula used produces a fair distribution of the available federal funds and reflects case volumes across the country. Over the past five years, Ontario received 62 to 74 per cent of the total annual federal funding available,” said David Taylor, a spokesperson for Lametti, the justice minister. 

Taylor also takes issue with the notion that Lametti’s staff have not communicated with Ontario on its concerns over legal-aid funding.

Justice officials have been in regular contact with their provincial counterparts and Lametti discussed legal aid with Premier Doug Ford’s former attorney general, Caroline Mulroney, earlier this year, Taylor said.

“The Ford government is well aware that provinces and territories are responsible for the management of their individual legal-aid programs,” he said, adding that the provincial cuts to legal aid have had a “damaging impact.”

“With that knowledge, Minister Lametti will be responding to the Ontario attorney general.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press


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Military faces calls to train soldiers to identify neo-Nazis, hate-group members

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is facing calls to train its recruiters and other service members to identify and screen out members of hate groups.

The military is also being accused of failing to take the issue seriously by adopting what several experts say is a wait-and-see approach rather than actively weeding out such individuals.

The criticism follows an internal military report and several high-profile incidents linking some service members to right-wing extremists and hate groups.

That includes an investigation this week into a reservist in Manitoba who is suspected of being a recruiter for a neo-Nazi group.

The Defence Department says the military already uses interviews and background checks to screen recruits for hateful beliefs and behaviour and takes very seriously any reported incidents by current personnel.

But several experts tell The Canadian Press that is not good enough, and that the military must launch a campaign similar to efforts to stamp out sexual misconduct to truly root out extremist beliefs and behaviour.

The Canadian Press

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Liberals unhurt, Tories not helped by scathing SNC-Lavalin report: Poll

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Justin Trudeau

OTTAWA — A new poll suggests a scathing ethics report on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair hasn’t so far hurt the Liberals’ chances of re-election this fall — and it hasn’t helped the Conservatives.

Indeed, the Leger poll suggests the two parties were locked in a dead heat, with the support of 33 per cent of voters, as they jockey for position at the starting gate for the Oct. 21 vote.

Liberal support was unchanged from last month, despite last week’s damning report from federal ethics commissioner Mario Dion, who concluded that Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by pressuring his former attorney general to halt a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Conservative support was down three percentage points from last month, despite the party’s best efforts to re-ignite public outrage over the SNC affair, which propelled the Tories into a commanding 13-point lead over the Grits at the height of the controversy last April.

The poll put support for the Green party at 13 per cent, up one point and ahead of the NDP at 11 per cent. Maxime Bernier’s fledgling People’s Party of Canada stood at four per cent.

The online survey of 1,535 eligible voters was conducted Aug. 16-19 for The Canadian Press and weighted to reflect the makeup of Canada’s population. It cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.

Leger executive vice-president Christian Bourque said the latest results suggest voters have largely put the SNC-Lavalin affair behind them and moved on to issues that affect them more directly — at least for now.

The two main parties are back in a “neck-and-neck race,” which is where things stood in February before the SNC controversy rocked the Liberal government, costing Trudeau two cabinet ministers, his most trusted aide and the country’s top public servant.

“I think that those who changed their mind on the PM and turned their backs on him did that in the spring already,” Bourque said in an interview.

But he said other Canadians appear to be fatigued with the issue and may be thinking “regardless of what I think of the behaviour of the PM, at the end of the day how does this change my life and that of my children, which is nil.”

Still, Bourque warned that “doesn’t mean that it won’t come back to haunt the prime minister” during the campaign, particularly should the RCMP decide to investigate, as Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly pressed the Mounties to do.

The Conservatives and New Democrats tried to revive the controversy at a meeting Wednesday of the House of Commons ethics committee, where they moved to invite Dion, Trudeau and others to testify about the ethics report.

However, the Liberals used their majority on the committee to block the bid to magnify the report just a couple of weeks before Trudeau officially fires the starting gun for the election.

The poll put the Liberals back into a solid lead in the Atlantic provinces, Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. The Conservatives enjoyed a commanding lead in Alberta and Manitoba/Saskatchewan, with 55 per cent support in both regions.

The Liberals had the advantage in the two most populous provinces, where more than half of the country’s 338 seats will be up for grabs.

In Ontario, home to more than one-third of the seats, the Conservatives appear to be suffering a “spillover effect” from the unpopularity of Doug Ford’s provincial Progressive Conservative government, Bourque said. The Liberals enjoyed the support of 38 per cent of Ontarians, compared to the Conservatives’ 30 per cent, the Green’s 14 per cent, the NDP’s 13 per cent and the People’s party’s three per cent.

In Quebec, home to SNC-Lavalin, the Liberals stood at 34 per cent, compared to the Tories’ 27, the Bloc Quebecois’ 18, the Greens’ nine, the NDP’s eight and the People’s party’s four per cent.

Dion concluded that Trudeau broke ethics law by improperly pressuring former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene to stop the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin on corruption charges related to contracts in Libya.

Trudeau has acknowledged that he wanted Wilson-Raybould to reconsider her refusal to overturn a decision by the director of public prosecutions, who decided last fall not to invite the Montreal-based engineering and construction giant to negotiate a remediation agreement. Such an agreement would have allowed the company to avoid the risk of a criminal conviction, which would result in it being barred from federal contracts for 10 years.

While he has taken full responsibility for the mistakes that were made, Trudeau has refused to apologize. He has insisted that he was only standing up for the interests of SNC-Lavalin’s 9,000 employees, pensioners and suppliers, who stood to be negatively affected by the potentially crippling cost of a conviction.

Scheer maintains Dion’s report suggests the prime minister’s conduct went beyond a violation of ethics law and warrants a criminal investigation into possible obstruction of justice.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from cabinet over the affair in late February, followed shortly by cabinet ally Jane Philpott. Both women were subsequently booted out of the Liberal caucus and are running for re-election as Independent candidates.

Joan Bryden , The Canadian Press



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