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Protests and marches sparked by RCMP arrest at B.C. pipeline protest camp

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The arrest of 14 people at an Indigenous blockade in a remote area of northern British Columbia became a flash point Tuesday that sparked protests across the country. 

Protesters delayed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s speech in Ottawa, stopped traffic in Vancouver and Victoria and prompted a counter protest in front of the headquarters of the company building the pipeline at the centre of the dispute.

RCMP made the arrests Monday at a blockade southwest of Houston, B.C., where some members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had set up a camp to control access to a pipeline project across their territory.

Police were enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granted to TransCanada Corp. subsidiary Coastal GasLink. It ordered the removal of obstructions in Wet’suwet’en territory as work gets underway on a $6.2-billion pipeline carrying natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to Kitimat. 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told a crowd at Victory Square in Vancouver that it would be a watershed year for Indigenous people in the fight against pipelines crossing their lands.

“We’re starting off 2019 with a bang,” he said to cheers and applause. “I want to say to Prime Minister Trudeau: Welcome to battle ground British Columbia.”

About 60 people attended the rally in support of the First Nation outside the headquarters of TransCanada Corp. in downtown Calgary. They were greeted by about the same number of pipeline supporters who were encouraged to come out by Canada Action, a Calgary-based lobby group.

Chants of “Build that Pipe” drowned out the blockade supporters initially but the anti-pipeline group found its voice and were soon matching the volume with their own chant of “Consent. Sovereignty!”

There were no physical confrontations but angry words and hand gestures flew back and forth as at least a dozen Calgary police officers used their bodies and bicycles to separate the groups.

Stephen Buffalo, CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada, which represents oil and gas producing First Nations, took part in the pro-pipeline part of the rally.

“The big thing is we’ve got to be able to support our communities that said yes to this (project) because it’s their community that needs that financial benefit,” he said.

“It’s about getting out of poverty and finding a way for our people.”

Police concerns about a protest in Ottawa forced Trudeau to move to another building close to Parliament Hill to give a speech at a forum.

The company has said it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the route for LNG Canada’s $40 billion liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat, but demonstrators argue Wet’suwet’en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given consent.

In an open letter issued Tuesday, Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman said the company took legal action as a last resort and while it respects the rights of people to peacefully express their points of view, safety is a key concern.

“It has been a long, and sometimes difficult, journey but we are proud of the relationships we’ve built, and the support of the communities and all 20 elected Indigenous bands along the route as well as the many hereditary chiefs who also support the project,” he wrote.

He said the pipeline will meet rigorous environment standards and bring significant benefits, including an estimated 2,500 jobs, many with First Nations contractors.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said the use of police force against people peacefully protesting the construction of the pipeline is a violation of their human and Aboriginal rights. 

“Building consensus under duress will make the resolution of the situation in northern British Columbia very difficult,” Perry Bellegarde said in a statement Tuesday. “Real consensus will be built when the parties, with very different views, come together in meaningful and productive dialogue. And I am confident that they can do this.”

Bellegarde said the Canadian and B.C. governments have promised to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but in northern B.C. they are imposing their laws over those of the Wet’suwet’en.

Gidimt’en member Jen Wickham said hereditary chiefs had gathered near the site of the B.C. camp Tuesday.

The Gidimt’en set up a gate in December in support of an anti-pipeline camp that members of the Unist’ot’en, another Wet’suwet’en clan, established years ago.

Wickham, who has fielded calls from India and the United Kingdom about the pipeline resistance, said it’s been “surreal” to see the international response.

She said she believes the issue is gaining attention now because the Gidimt’en have dispelled the myth that it’s only individuals from one clan opposing the project.

“I think now that the Gidimt’en have stepped up and said, ‘No, this is a nation-based issue, this is about sovereignty,’ it’s really sinking in,” she said.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who represents the area, said the protest he witnessed on Monday was “determined” but “peaceful. He estimated about 200 police officers were used to enforce the court injunction.

Cpl. Madonna Saunderson would not say how many RCMP officers were involved in the operation.

The Mounties placed exclusion areas and road closures near the Morice River Bridge where the blockade was located that prevented Coastal GasLink from getting access to its pipeline right of way.

LNG Canada announced in October that it was moving ahead with its plans for the Kitimat export facility. Construction on the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline is scheduled to begin this month.

In Halifax, about 150 protesters gathered on the steps of Halifax Regional Police headquarters, where the RCMP has a significant presence.

“I’m here to stand in solidarity with the folks on the front lines of Wet’suwet’en that are protecting their unceded territory and to express to the RCMP,” Halifax resident Sadie Beaton said before the protest started with a sweetgrass ceremony.

Protesters marched through downtown Toronto, chanting “TransCanada has got to go” and brought afternoon traffic to a halt.

About 500 people gathered at the B.C. legislature in Victoria chanting and carrying placards.

Shelagh Bell-Irving attended the protest in support of the First Nation blockade.

“This is wrong and we have to stop it. We need to shut down Canada now and let the government know we the people are running the show and not them.”

— With files from Dan Healing in Calgary, Dirk Meissner in Victoria, Mike MacDonald in Halifax, Kristy Kirkup in Ottawa, Hina Alam in Vancouver and Paola Loriggio in Toronto.

 

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Terri Theodore , The Canadian Press

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CRA says it has $1.4 billion in uncashed cheques sitting in its coffers

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Ottawa –  The Canada Revenue Agency says it will be sending e-notifications about uncashed cheques to 25,000 Canadians this month.

The federal agency says it has approximately $1.4 billion worth of uncashed cheques in its coffers that have accumulated over the years, with some dating back to 1998.

Each year, the CRA issues millions of payments in the form of benefits and refunds, but some cheques remain uncashed for various reasons, including misplacing a cheque or changing addresses.

Another 25,000 Canadians will receive e-notifications in November, followed by 25,000 more in May 2023.

The CRA launched a campaign in February 2020 to get Canadians to cash their cheques and says it has so far returned more than $800 million back to taxpayers.

The CRA says Canadians can check if they have uncashed payments by logging in to or signing up for an online CRA account.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 8, 2022.

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Air Canada denying passenger compensation claims for staff shortages, citing safety

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MONTREAL — Less than four hours before departure, Ryan Farrell was surprised to learn his flight from Yellowknife to Calgary had been cancelled.

Air Canada cited “crew constraints” and rebooked him on a plane leaving 48 hours after the June 17 flight’s original takeoff time.

Farrell was even more surprised six weeks later, when he learned his request for compensation had been denied on the basis of the staff shortage.

“Since your Air Canada flight was delayed/cancelled due to crew constraints resulting from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our operations, the compensation you are requesting does not apply because the delay/cancellation was caused by a safety-related issue,” reads the email from customer relations dated July 29.

The rejection “feels like a slap in the face,” Farrell said.

“If they don’t have replacement crew to substitute in, then the flight (was) cancelled because they failed to assemble a crew, not because any other factor would have made it inherently unsafe to run the flight,” he said in an email.

“I think the airlines are trying to exploit a general emotional connection that people make between ‘COVID-19’ and ‘safety,’ when in reality if you put their logic to the test it doesn’t stand up.”

Air Canada’s response to Farrell’s complaint was no outlier. In a Dec. 29 memo, the company instructed employees to classify flight cancellations caused by staff shortages as a “safety” problem, which would exclude travellers from compensation under federal regulations. That policy remains in place.

Canada’s passenger rights charter, the Air Passenger Protection Regulations (APPR), mandates airlines to pay up to $1,000 in compensation for cancellations or significant delays that stem from reasons within the carrier’s control when the notification comes 14 days or less before departure. However, airlines do not have to pay if the change was required for safety purposes.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), a quasi-judicial federal body, says treating staff shortages as a safety matter violates federal rules.

“If a crew shortage is due to the actions or inactions of the carrier, the disruption will be considered within the carrier’s control for the purposes of the APPR. Therefore, a disruption caused by a crew shortage should not be considered ‘required for safety purposes’ when it is the carrier who caused the safety issue as a result of its own actions,” the agency said in an email.

That stance reinforces a decision made July 8 — three weeks before Farrell learned he’d been denied compensation — when the CTA used nearly identical language in a dispute over a flight at a different air carrier. The regulatory panel’s ruling in that case emphasized airlines’ obligations around advance planning “to ensure that the carrier has enough staff available to operate the services it offers for sale.”

In the December memo, which was issued at the height of the Omicron wave of COVID-19, Air Canada said: “Effective immediately, flight cancellations due to crew are considered as Within Carrier Control — For Safety.”

“Customers impacted by these flight cancellations will still be eligible for the standard of treatments such as hotel accommodations, meals etc. but will no longer be eligible for APPR claims/monetary compensation.”

The staff directive said the stance would be “temporary.” But Air Canada acknowledged in an email on July 25 that the policy “remains in place given the continued exceptional circumstances brought on by COVID variants.”

Gabor Lukacs, president of the Air Passenger Rights advocacy group, said Air Canada is exploiting a loophole in the passenger rights charter to avoid paying compensation, and called on the transport regulator for stronger enforcement.

“They are misclassifying things that are clearly not a safety issue,” he said of Canada’s largest airline, calling the policy “egregious.”

Consumers can dispute an airline’s denial of a claim via a compliant to the CTA. However, the agency’s backlog topped 15,300 air travel complaints as of May.

Lukacs also noted that European Union regulations do not exclude safety reasons from situations requiring compensation in the event of cancellations or delays. Payouts are precluded only as a result of “extraordinary circumstances,” such as weather or political instability.

“This document, along with the previous declarations and behaviour since the beginning of the pandemic, shows that Air Canada’s priority is clearly to try to limit the costs of the flight cancellations instead of providing good service to its clients,” Sylvie De Bellefeuille, a lawyer with Quebec-based advocacy group Option consommateurs, said after reviewing a copy of the directive.

She said Air Canada aims to deter passengers from requesting compensation in the first place. “This tactic does not, in our opinion, demonstrate that the company cares about its customers.”

Air Canada disagrees with that characterization.

“Air Canada had and continues to have more employees proportionate to its flying schedule when compared prior to the pandemic,” the company said in an emailed statement, indicating it had done everything it could to prepare for operational hiccups.

“Air Canada follows all public health directives as part of its safety culture, and during the Omicron wave last winter that affected some crew availability, we revised our policy to better assist customers in their travels with enhanced levels of customer care for flight cancellations related to crew contending with COVID.”

John Gradek, head of McGill University’s aviation management program, said the transportation agency is partly responsible for the “debacle” because it established looser rules than those in Europe and the United States.

“Carriers have been making strong efforts to point fingers and claim delays are outside of their control to reduce liability,” he said in an email.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 7, 2022.

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Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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