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Ottawa city council gives controversial Chateau Laurier addition go-ahead

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OTTAWA — A controversial addition to the historic Chateau Laurier was approved Wednesday, but Ottawa’s city council will meet again Thursday to vote on it one more time.

In a 14-9 split, councillors voted down a motion that would have voided a permit to build the addition to the century-old heritage building.

The years-long debate concerns a seven-storey, 147-room addition that would be built on the north side of the castle-like hotel next to Parliament Hill. The proposal quickly became a major point of contention in the capital, as critics said it would be an eyesore and clash with the style of the existing hotel.

Mathieu Fleury, the councillor sponsoring the motion to oppose the development, noted during Wednesday’s meeting that even many of the councillors who were voting in favour of the project had said they personally dislike it. And the response from citizens, he said, is obvious.

“We have a responsibility to the public, and the public has been very clear,” Fleury said.

The addition is designed by Toronto-based architectsAlliance, known for condominiums that have included towers in Toronto’s Distillery District. Heritage architecture principles say that a new addition to an old structure shouldn’t try to copy the existing building; the multiple designs the Chateau Laurier’s owners have submitted have all been distinctly modern, as a choice to live up to that with an addition that’s clearly of its own time.

The Chateau Laurier itself was a throwback to a much earlier French style when it was built. It’s different from the Gothic Parliament Buildings and the Beaux-Arts former train station across the street, which temporarily holds the Senate.

Critics have compared the design of the Chateau’s addition to a radiator and a shipping container.

Council previously voted in June 2018 that the development could proceed as long as certain changes were made to the design — and left the determination of whether the revisions were good enough to city planners and heritage experts. The opponents of the development argued the design did not meet the requirements set last year, though city staff say it has.

Watson also recently spoke to Amin Lalji, the head of the company that owns the Chateau Laurier, to see if they could meet to discuss a design that would be more acceptable to Ottawa residents, but the owner would not budge on further changes.

“We both agreed it would be a waste of time to sit down when he wasn’t going to move,” Watson told reporters Wednesday.

Watson said he understood the public outcry on the issue — and he was not fond of the design himself — but that there are rules to follow. One, he said, was that a city council can’t dictate esthetics to a private company.

“While the popular thing for me to do would be to play to the crowd and say whatever the loudest person shouts at me, that’s not leadership,” Watson said.

Immediately after the vote, an opposing city councillor requested the it be reconsidered, and Watson scheduled a new vote for Thursday afternoon.

Antagonists of the development had hoped to buy time to convince their colleagues to change their minds, according to Diane Deans, the councillor who requested reconsideration.

But Watson’s motion means the vote will be held right away, rather than the next regular meeting in late August.

As it stands, both Deans and the mayor believe council is likely to vote the same way tomorrow, and the project will get a green light to go forward.

The likely decision Thursday will hold off legal action from Larco Investments, the company that owns Chateau Laurier. Larco had threatened to take the city to court if councillors reversed their decision from 2018.

But it may spark legal action from those who oppose the renovation. Friends of the Chateau Laurier, a community advocacy group, retained a lawyer ahead of council’s vote, though it has not said it will go to court to stop the project from going ahead.

The Friends group includes several architecture professors, former federal Liberal minister David Collenette and retired business advocate Thomas d’Aquino. It’s backed by the city’s main heritage group.

“We all know that this will end up in court, there’s no question,” said Watson.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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Crime up, homicide down: Five things to know about the 2018 crime statistics

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OTTAWA — New national crime data for 2018 was released Monday, courtesy of Statistics Canada, with big changes to some key indicators. Here are five things that stood out:

Crime up, but still near decades-long low

The national statistics agency says both the crime rate and its measurement of the severity of crime were up two per cent this year, the fourth straight year of increases since 2014.

StatCan cautioned the prevalence of crime and its severity remain 17 per cent lower than in 2008, reflecting a long decline in crime rates nationally. From its peak in 1991, the national crime rate declined more than 50 per cent until 2014.

The agency says the increase in the severity of crimes in 2018 was attributable to marked increases in fraud (up 13 per cent), one particular class of sexual assault (15 per cent), shoplifting (14 per cent) and theft of items worth over $5,000 (15 per cent).

Less homicide, but provinces may vary

The rate of homicides in Canada ticked down nationally by four per cent, with 15 fewer homicides in 2018 than in 2017.

But the statistics tell a different story when broken down by province. Much of the decrease in came from declines in Alberta (38 fewer) and British Columbia (30 fewer), but Ontario experienced an enormous increase in homicides — 69 more than last year.

Statistics Canada analyst Greg Moreau notes that several incidents in Toronto, including the Danforth shooting one year ago (in which two people were killed), the discovery of eight victims of serial murders, and the North York van attack (in which 10 people died) all elevated the number of homicides recorded in 2018.

The data also shows decreases in firearm-related (by eight per cent) and gang-related (by five per cent) homicides across the country, the first time they have decreased since 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Statistics Canada further notes Indigenous people continue to disproportionately be the victims of homicide. Though they make up five per cent of Canada’s population, Indigenous people were 22 per cent of homicide victims.

Sexual assault is up, and more left unreported

The rate of “Level 1” sexual assault — defined statistically as sexual assault without a weapon and without other physical harm — was up 15 per cent in 2018 over 2017. And in his article, Moreau says that rate remains “likely an underestimation of the true extent of sexual assault in Canada.”

This is the fourth consecutive year this class of sexual assault increased, and it usually makes up around 98 per cent of all police-reported sexual-assault incidents. But since these types of crimes often go unreported, the actual incidence is likely not reflected in the statistics.

In 2014, another Statistics Canada survey estimated only five per cent of sexual assaults were reported to police.

Prince Edward Island reported an increase in sexual-assault reports by over half (55 per cent, though with the number of incidents provincewide in the dozens) while Nova Scotia (42 per cent), Yukon (20 per cent) and Ontario (18 per cent) all reported increases above the national average for 2018.

Hate crimes down from 2017 peak

After the rate of hate crimes spiked in 2017 by almost 50 per cent, there was a reduction of 13 per cent in 2018. Still, hate crimes occurred at a higher rate last year than in any other year since 2009, Statistics Canada says.

Statistics Canada notes the decline is almost completely attributable to reductions in Ontario, and the number of hate crimes against Muslims halved year-over-year.

Both violent and non-violent hate crimes decreased, and hate crimes that targeted black people and hate crimes targeting people over sexual orientation both fell by double digits. The share of hate crimes aimed at Jews also fell, by four per cent.

More fraud, more extortion

Statistics Canada notes the world of scams and extortion is increasingly moving online, with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre flagging schemes in which scammers pretend to be from the Canada Revenue Agency as well as gift-card scams.

Overall, the rate of fraud increased by 12 per cent, and sits almost 50 per cent higher than in 2008, after growing for seven years in a row. There were over 129,400 incidents of fraud reported to police in 2018, StatsCan says.

StatCan does say the increasing ease of reporting fraud online could have contributed to the higher numbers.

There was an even more dramatic increase in extortion from 2017 to 2018 — a 44-per-cent leap, Statistics Canada says. The dynamic is the same across the country, and the rate has been increasing since 2012.

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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Court dismisses challenge of deal that helps U.S. nab tax cheats in Canada

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OTTAWA — A Canada-U.S. deal allowing Canadian financial institutions to send customer information to U.S. authorities to help find tax cheats does not violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a judge has ruled.

Federal Court of Canada Justice Anne Mactavish dismissed an appeal from two American citizens, Gwendolyn Louise Deegan and Kazia Highton, who now live in Canada and have no real ongoing connection with the United States.

The U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, requires banks and other institutions in countries outside the United States to report information about accounts held by U.S. individuals, including Canadians with dual citizenship.

Deegan and Highton challenged the constitutionality of Canadian provisions implementing a 2014 agreement between the countries that makes the information-sharing possible.

They argued the provisions breach charter guarantees that prevent unreasonable seizure and ensure the equality of people under law.

Mactavish concluded in her decision released Monday that although the provisions do result in the seizure of the banking information of Americans in Canada, the affected people have only “a limited expectation of privacy” in their data.

She also ruled that the provisions do not violate the charter guarantee that every person is equal under the law without discrimination based on national origin.

Under the tax arrangements, Canadian financial institutions are legally required to provide the Canada Revenue Agency with data concerning accounts belonging to customers whose information suggests they might have American citizenship. The revenue agency then hands the information to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Nearly all countries levy income taxes based on residency, while the U.S. system is based on citizenship.

The U.S. considers all American citizens to be permanent tax residents in the United States for federal income-tax purposes, taxing the worldwide income of “specified U.S. persons” regardless of whether they live, work, or earn income in the United States.

“The result of this is that every Canadian resident who is an American citizen is subject to U.S. federal taxation on all of their income from all sources, wherever that income may be derived, even if he or she is also a Canadian citizen,” Mactavish says in her decision.

“Canada clearly found itself in an extremely difficult position as a result of the enactment of FATCA by the American government.”

U.S. law requires extensive financial and asset reporting, with the threat of significant penalties for failure to meet the obligations.

However, Mactavish notes, the U.S. government estimates that fewer than 10 per cent of all people who file American tax returns from outside the United States ultimately owe any taxes to Washington.

In addition, a tax treaty between Canada and the United States allows residents of Canada to receive credit for some taxes paid to the federal and provincial governments that would otherwise have been owed to the U.S. revenue service.

Deegan and Highton unsuccessfully argued the provisions require Canadian banks to transfer the information of potentially hundreds of thousands of people annually to the federal revenue agency in Ottawa without judicial authorization or any state oversight.

They said this amounts to “a massive fishing expedition and a seizure that offends every core precept of the citizenry’s … right to a reasonable expectation of privacy.”

Mactavish pointed out that the Supreme Court of Canada has found that taxpayers’ privacy interest in records that may be relevant to the filing of income-tax returns is “relatively low.”

The method used to collect this information is “minimally intrusive” and the data shared with the U.S. revenue service is afforded protection under the tax treaty between the two countries, she added.

— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

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