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PM accused of ‘callousness’ for heading to Tofino instead of reconciliation events

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced backlash Friday over his decision to fly to British Columbia to spend time with his family on the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) said it is shocked that Trudeau “ducked out entirely” from a national day set aside to reflect on the legacy of residential schools.

Lynne Groulx, the head of the political advocacy organization for Indigenous women, said in a statement that she is astounded by the “sheer level of callousness” of Trudeau’s decision to take a trip to B.C. rather than attending events marking the historic day.

She added it showed “disregard for what the First Nations, Métis and Inuit people have endured as a result of colonization.”

The prime minister flew to Tofino, B.C., on Thursday, where Global News filmed him walking along the beach at one point, refusing to comment.

Later Thursday, Trudeau tweeted that he had spent some time that day having telephone conversations with residential school survivors from across Canada, “hearing their stories and getting their advice on the path forward.”

Alex Wellstead, a spokesman for the prime minister, said Friday that Trudeau “spoke with eight residential school survivors from across the country over several hours yesterday. It was an important opportunity to hear their stories of trauma and healing, and to hear their advice on the path forward.”

Thursday marked the inaugural National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, which was created this spring in response to one of the 94 calls to action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that documented atrocities committed against First Nations, Métis and Inuit children in government-funded, church-run residential schools over more than a century.

The day was already known as Orange Shirt Day, in honour of the experience of Phyllis Webstad, from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation in B.C., whose gift of clothing from her grandmother was taken away on her first day at a residential school.

Groulx said in the statement that while Trudeau was not in the public eye, millions of other people across the country wore orange shirts, spoke out on social media and took part in ceremonies, reflecting on “the dark history of Canada’s treatment of Indigenous people and what needs to be improved.”

Trudeau had participated in a ceremony on Parliament Hill on Wednesday night near the Centennial Flame, where mounds of stuffed toys and pairs of children’s shoes have been left in honour of the children who never returned from residential schools.

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council on Vancouver Island, which includes the Tofino area, said Friday the organization had not heard from Trudeau and had no idea he was going to be in the territory on Thursday. She said he could have joined the Nuu-chah-nulth in Tofino for some brief remarks and left.

“I understand he’s on vacation and wants some time off, but he should’ve prioritized the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is big for us and for us here. It was a really important day,” Sayers said.

“I always reflect back to how Trudeau says Indigenous Peoples are the most important relationship but he doesn’t show it. He always says good things but doesn’t follow it up with actions.”

Health Minister Patty Hajdu, who said she took part in a ceremony commemorating the day in her Thunder Bay, Ont., constituency, declined to answer questions Friday about Trudeau’s trip.

“I can’t speak to other people’s scheduling,” Hajdu said. “What I saw in my community was a commitment to reconciliation.”

“For me, it is hard to put into words how moving that day was,” she said at a press conference in Ottawa on Friday, “and how moving it was to see so many citizens out meeting with Indigenous people and hearing stories that I know for sure some have never heard before.”

Blake Desjarlais, a Métis leader and newly elected NDP MP for Edmonton Griesbach, said Trudeau’s actions increased the public perception that Thursday was “a family day” rather than a day for serious reflection about the treatment of Indigenous Peoples.

“The first day requires a precedent,” Desjarlais said. “It’s hard to imagine the future of Sept. 30 without the prime minister’s condolences, presence and messages.”

Trudeau’s daily public itinerary said at first that he was in “private meetings” in Ottawa on Thursday, though this was later changed to reflect his actual location.

One 75-year-old survivor who spoke Thursday to Trudeau “never thought in his lifetime that the would have the ear of the PM to talk about what he went through as a child,”  according to his counsellor, Sharna Sugarman.

Sugarman said the man told her he was upset about media coverage focusing on the prime minister’s family trip to Tofino, rather than Truth and Reconciliation issues.

Sugarman, a Blackfoot survivor of the Sixties Scoop whose parents and grandparents went to residential schools, defended Trudeau’s decision to spend time with his children. She said he has a track record fighting for Indigenous people.

“The PM, in my opinion, has done his job, and if it weren’t for his government, (Sept. 30) wouldn’t have been marked as a day of mourning and reflection. It’s not a holiday,” she said.

“He has kept a lot of promises to my people. Is he perfect? No. No one’s perfect except a new-born baby.”

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson, who was in Italy for global environment talks Thursday, said the prime minister has been clear there is no more important relationship for the government than its relationship with Indigenous Peoples.

“He has spoken with survivors across the country,” he said. “I know how much this means to him.”

Groulx said Trudeau’s decision to “flit off to Tofino for a holiday” rather than “taking the time his government set aside to reflect upon the tragedy of the Indian residential schools” gave the impression he did not take the issue seriously.

“It is almost as if he checked off one of the calls to action of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Commission) by declaring the statutory holiday, and then wiped his hands and said ‘job done, let’s move on,’” she added.

Frank Caputo, Conservative MP for Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, wrote to Trudeau on Friday to ask why he had not visited the site of the former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., where earlier this year Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said ground-penetrating radar located what are believed to be the remains of 215 Indigenous children in unmarked graves.

“Despite being in the province and only a short distance away from the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, you chose this important day to vacation,” he wrote.

On Thursday, Chief Rosanne Casimir of Tk’emlups te Secwepemc First Nation said the community had twice invited Trudeau to join residential school survivors and their families.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2021.

— With files from Nick Wells in Vancouver and Mia Rabson in Ottawa.

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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International

Climate to conflict, Davos’ post-COVID return has full plate

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By Jamey Keaten And Masha Macpherson in Davos

DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — Davos — the hub of an elite annual gathering in the Swiss Alps — is back, more than two years after the coronavirus pandemic kept its business gurus, political leaders and high-minded activists away. There’s no shortage of urgent issues for the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting to tackle.

With their lofty ambition to help improve the state of the world, forum organizers have their work cut out for them: there are soaring food and fuel prices, Russia’s war in Ukraine, climate change, drought and food shortages in Africa, yawning inequality between rich and poor, and autocratic regimes gaining ground in some places — on top of signs that the pandemic is far from over.

It’s hard to predict if the high-minded discussions will yield substantial announcements that make headway on the world’s most pressing challenges.

The war in Ukraine will be a key theme. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will speak on opening day Monday by video from Kyiv, while the country’s foreign minister and a sizable delegation of other top Ukrainian officials will be on hand. They’ll be joined this week by leaders like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

“There’s no business as usual,” forum President Borge Brende told The Associated Press, saying Ukraine is not the only worry. “It is also climate change. It is also that the global growth is slowing, and we have to avoid that this very weak recovery ends with a new recession because we have very limited ammunition to fight a new recession.”

“A new recession will lead to increased unemployment, increased poverty,” he added. “So much is at stake.”

President Vladimir Putin’s war means Russian business and political leaders haven’t been invited to Davos this year. There will be no traditional “Russia House” social festivities with caviar and vodka spreads for the elite attendees of its evening fun.

Instead, critics — notably including Ukrainian tycoon Victor Pinchuk and the country’s Foreign Ministry — have seized on some symbolism and vowed to voice their disgust, which is shared by many around the world.

“This year, Russia is not present at Davos, but its crimes will not go unnoticed. The ‘Russia War Crimes House’ takes place inside the former Russia House,” organizers of the rechristened venue said in a press release.

Opening Monday, the venue will feature photos of crimes and cruelties that Russian forces are accused of perpetuating. Some victims will speak out — including Anatoliy Fedoruk, the mayor of Bucha, a town near Kyiv where images of killings of civilians drew outrage worldwide.

“It’s important to understand what is really happening in Ukraine,” said Bjorn Geldhof, artistic director of PinchukArtCentre, which is helping organize the exhibit. “Part of this exhibition is also to bring back a human face to those people who have become victim of these Russian war crimes.”

Brende, the forum president, says scores of CEOs and other business leaders will be looking into ways the private sector can support Ukraine, “in the situation where Russia is breaking international law, international humanitarian law, and not sticking to the U.N. Charter.”

Not everyone believe Davos is the place where solutions can be found.

A few dozen anti-capitalist demonstrators marching behind a “Smash WEF” banner clashed Friday with police in Zurich, Switzerland’s largest city, a sign of simmering antagonism against economic elites whom they accuse of putting profits over people. Police used rubber bullets and pepper spray to disperse the crowd in what was deemed an unauthorized gathering.

While Ukraine will capture attention on the meeting’s first day, climate and environmental issues will be a recurring, constant theme as the forum looks to future challenges as much as the current ones.

One-third of the roughly 270 panel discussions through Thursday’s finale will focus on climate change or its effects, with extreme weather, efforts to reach “net zero” emissions and finding new, cleaner sources of energy on the agenda.

Forum managers — who have faced criticism about hosting wealthy executives who sometimes fly in on emissions-spewing corporate jets — have increasingly tried to play their part and inoculate themselves against accusations of hypocrisy: Over the last five years, they say they have offset 100% of the carbon emissions from the organization’s activities by supporting environmental projects.

Experts say offsets can be problematic because there’s no guarantee they’ll deliver on reducing emissions.

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National

At least five dead, thousands without power after storm

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TORONTO — As many as five people are dead and tens of thousands remain without power following a fierce storm that swept across Ontario and Quebec.

Gatineau police said a 51-year-old woman died when the boat she was in capsized in the Ottawa River near Masson-Angers, Que. during Saturday’s storm.

Ontario Provincial Police said a 44-year-old man was killed in Greater Madawaska, west of Ottawa, after reportedly being struck by a falling tree, while police in Ottawa said one person died in the city’s west end, but didn’t release any further details.

Peel Regional Police said a woman in her 70s was killed by a falling tree while she was walking in Brampton, west of Toronto.

OPP reported one person was killed and two others were injured when a tree fell on a camping trailer near Pinehurst Lake in Waterloo Region.

The Township of Uxbridge, Ont. declared a local state of emergency after the storm caused significant damage in the community. A statement posted on the township’s website says there are widespread power outages and many closed roads due to downed trees and power lines. Residents are being asked to stay home to allow municipal workers to focus on removing road hazards rather than manage traffic congestion.

As of early Sunday morning, about 269-thousand Hydro One customers were without power, while Hydro Ottawa reported more than 550 outages affecting over 170-thousand customers.

Trees and power lines were knocked down across a swath of the province stretching from Sarnia to Ottawa by ferocious winds, which at one point reached 132 km/h at the Kitchener airport.

The Canadian Press was first published May 22, 2022.

The Canadian Press

 

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