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Plan to use crossbows to kill nuisance deer in Nova Scotia town challenged by critics

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HALIFAX — Fed up with nuisance deer raiding gardens and colliding with vehicles, a town in central Nova Scotia has hired four crossbow hunters to kill up to 20 of the animals inside town limits.

“There been a lot of property damage, and it’s not just gardens,” said Mike Dolter, Truro’s chief administrative officer. “Trees are getting eaten, and they’re adapting to plants thought to be deer-resistant …. We’ve had aggressive deer, particularly in rutting season with bucks in yards, and people have been afraid to go outside.”

But a British Columbia-based group dealing with the same problem and a prominent Nova Scotia biologist both say the upcoming municipal hunt, believed to be the first of its kind in Canada, won’t solve anything.

Bob Bancroft, president of Nature Nova Scotia, says Truro’s white-tailed deer will continue to be a bother as long as local residents keep feeding them.

“When you end up with 30 animals in one backyard and people are throwing carrots out the window, it’s ridiculous,” said Bancroft, who worked for 15 years as a wildlife biologist with the provincial government.

Bancroft said the looming cull — the town prefers to call it a hunt — will be only a temporary solution, because the surviving deer will soon be joined by others that will move into town to take advantage of the easy meals provided by residents.

“It’s happening all over North America,” Bancroft said in a recent interview, referring to the fact that 300 years of industrial forestry has displaced large populations of deer from their natural habitat. “When you degrade the forest and the soils, you wind up with regeneration that is very poor in nutrition for the deer. They end up moving into private lands that are ecologically more healthy.”

Bancroft said the community of 12,000 would be better off trying to adapt to the deer, rather than killing them.

Dolter, Truro’s chief administrative officer since 2017, said municipal officials have studied the problem for years, and they’ve mounted public education campaigns to stop residents from handing out backyard goodies. But the campaigns haven’t worked, and the deer keep coming.

The decision to employ crossbow hunters was based partly on the fact that long guns can’t be used inside the town’s boundaries. Dolter says the designated hunting locations — each baited with apples — are at least 800 metres from any schools or built-up areas and have been set up so crossbow projectiles, known as bolts, will end up in the ground or nearby hay bales if they miss their target.

“We have no illusions that we’re going to take 20 deer and suddenly see a big drop in the population,” he said. “This will take a number of years to achieve.”

Dolter said the crossbow plan has angered some local residents. “Some people are not in favour of this and think it’s cruel,” he said. “But the evidence we have is that it is not.” He added that the town dismissed the idea of trapping and relocating the animals because they often suffer and go into shock.

In Longueuil, Que., a plan to capture and kill most of the deer living in a local park was initially shelved after a strong public backlash that included a petition, a protest and threats against the former mayor. Michel-Chartrand Park is home to about 70 deer — more than five times the number of animals it can comfortably support.

The suburb south of Montreal considered other options, including relocating the deer or reducing their numbers with birth control, but it concluded the only viable option was to capture and euthanize all but 10 to 15 animals, and it has said it will proceed with the cull this year.

In recent years, the town of St. Andrews in southwestern New Brunswick — at one point home to 13 deer per square kilometre — has approved an annual nuisance deer hunt, but it takes place on private land during the regular hunting season.

In Oak Bay, B.C., a community of 18,000 east of Victoria, an innovative birth control program is showing promising results.

The project, led by the Urban Wildlife Stewardship Society, followed public outage sparked by a cull in 2015 that saw 11 black-tailed deer trapped in a net-like device and killed with a bolt gun — the same device used to slaughter cattle.

“It was pretty brutal,” said Kristy Kilpatrick, president of the three-year-old volunteer organization that includes community members, scientists and wildlife experts. “They came together, determined there had to be a better way and it needed to be rooted in science.”

Using an array of about three dozen motion-activated cameras, the group determined the area was home to about 100 deer or more. In 2019 and 2020, 120 does were tranquilized with a dart gun and injected with an immunocontraceptive.

“At this point in our research, it’s looking incredibly positive,” Kilpatrick said in a recent interview. “The data so far tell us that the birthrate has been reduced by 60 per cent.” She said there have been few complaints from residents, other than a few comments about the lack of fawns in the area.

Like Bancroft, Kilpatrick said culls don’t work.

“When you remove a large number of deer from any given area, what happens in a fairly short period of time is that more deer move in and the birthrate goes up,” she said. “You’re actually exacerbating the problem unless you do it year after year.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 16, 2022.

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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Justice

Canada signs $20B compensation agreement on First Nations child welfare

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OTTAWA — The federal government says it has signed a $20-billion final settlement agreement to compensate First Nations children and families harmed by chronic underfunding of child welfare.

The Assembly of First Nations and plaintiffs in two class-action lawsuits agreed to the deal, which also accounts for the government’s narrow definition of Jordan’s Principle.

Indigenous Services Canada says the settlement is the largest in Canadian history.

The $20 billion accounts for half of an overall $40-billion deal that aims to reform the child-welfare system, including five-year funding for the First Nations Child and Family Services program.

The deal must still be approved by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and Federal Court.

The court had dismissed Canada’s application to review two human-rights tribunal orders around child welfare and Jordan’s Principle, which is meant to eliminate jurisdictional squabbles in paying for services for First Nations kids.

AFN Manitoba Regional Chief Cindy Woodhouse says in a statement she is proud of this “historic milestone” for First Nations children and their families.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 4, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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International

People planning to attend AIDS conference in Montreal still struggling to get visas

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MONTREAL — International AIDS organizations say people from Africa, South America and Asia who are planning to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal are still struggling to get visas from the Canadian government.

The groups say a growing number of activists — including some who were scheduled to speak at the conference which begins at the end of the month — are having their visa applications denied, often on the grounds that the Canadian government doesn’t believe they’ll return home after the event.

Tinashe Rufurwadzo, the director of programs, management and governance at Y+ Global, an international organization of HIV+ youth, said the chair of his organization’s board and another of its employees, who are based in Malawi and Kenya, are among the young activists who have been denied visas to attend the conference.

He said both have travelled extensively to speak at AIDS-related events.

“Personally, I’m sick and tired of seeing young people from Africa mostly portrayed on PowerPoint slides as pictures, as photos on banners, as footnotes on case studies. Why can we not have them at conferences to share their lived experiences of what exactly is happening?” he said in an interview Friday.

Rufurwadzo said representatives of populations most at risk of HIV — such as people who inject drugs, transgender women, sex workers and gay men — need to be able to participate, as do adolescent girls, who are increasingly affected by HIV.

If people from the most affected countries aren’t able to attend, he said he doesn’t know how realistic the learning at the conference will be.

While those whose applications are denied will be able to attend the conference virtually, Rufurwadzo said that won’t allow the same level of participation. He also said young people, especially those from rural areas, may not have consistent access to the internet.

Last week, almost 250 organizations from around the world sent a joint letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling on him to take action to ensure participants can attend the International AIDS conference.

Aidan Strickland, a spokesman for Fraser, said in response to earlier questions from The Canadian Press that the department has been working closely with event organizers and that applications “have been assessed in a timely manner.”

“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Strickland said in an email. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”

Javier Bellocq, an Argentine who runs a community journalism project called the Key Correspondent Team which focuses on people living with HIV and high-risk groups, said from the stories he’s heard, it seems like each Canadian consulate is applying different rules.

In some places, he said, applicants have been required to pay for medical examinations as part of the visa process.

“The conference, in theory, arranged with the Canadian government that there will not be medical examinations, but there are, there are many medical examinations.”

Of a group of 40 Argentines, including Bellocq, who are planning to participate in pre-conference activities, only two have received visas so far, he said.

Tumie Komanyane, who runs programs for international NGO Frontline AIDS in South Africa, said groups she works with were planning to help more than a dozen young people attend the conference, but decided not to even bother applying for 10 visas after the first four applications were rejected.

Komanyane said she’s aware of other young people from the region, including some who had scholarships to attend the conference funded by the Canadian government, who have had their visa applications denied.

“It’s incoherent,” she said in an interview Saturday. “With the strides that Africa is making in the HIV field, all the lessons and evidence that could be coming from the beneficiaries directly is going to be lost.”

While she works with young people, she said, she doesn’t want to speak for them.

“They have agency, they have voice, and they shouldn’t be represented by people like me. They should be able to go and share what this work means for them,” she said.

Bellocq said he’s not worried about himself, noting the Argentine passport is relatively powerful and he’s a professional who has been travelling internationally form more than 30 years. But he worries about people  from countries with less passport privilege and members of marginalized groups who are at high risk of HIV.

With pre-conference events starting in just over three weeks, he said, “time is not on our side.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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