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86-year-old crowned ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’ in Israeli pageant

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An 86-year-old great-grandmother was crowned “Miss Holocaust Survivor” on Tuesday in an annual Israeli beauty pageant designed to honour women who endured the horrors of the Nazi genocide.

Ten contestants – ranging in age from 79 to 90 – trod the catwalk at a museum in Jerusalem, their hair styled and make-up applied and dressed to the nines with sashes adorning their gowns.

Organisers of the contest, which was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, say it bestows glamour and respect on a dwindling number of Jewish women whose youth was stolen during World War Two but who went on to build new lives in Israel.

“After what I went through in the Holocaust, I never dreamed that I could get to where I am, with a big family: two kids, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren,” said contestant Kuka Palmon, who survived a pogrom in her native Romania.

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“And yet here I am, at this great age, 87. It’s a godly thing, it is indescribable.”

Tuesday’s winner, Salina Steinfeld, was also born in Romania, where she survived Nazi attacks before moving to Israel in 1948, organisers said. Other contestants included a woman born in Yugoslavia who survived the Rab concentration camp in modern-day Croatia.

Some commentators and survivors worry the event cheapens the memory of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.

Dana Papo, whose grandmother Rivka competed on Tuesday, disputed that point of view, arguing that the contestants “deserve that everyone see how much beauty there is in these women who went through such horror.

“We will show them how much we love and appreciate them. Thanks to them, we have a future and we have a country.”

(Reporting by Dedi Hayun; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Howard Goller)

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House committee says victims should be able to opt out of publication bans

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The federal justice minister says he is open to updating the Victims Bill of Rights after a parliamentary report called on the federal government to make changes, including allowing victims of sexual offences to opt out of publication bans.

Witnesses at the House of Commons justice committee said that publication bans are essential and should be available to victims who want them in place — so long as they are consulted first.

But judges often impose publication bans to protect the identity of complainants in sexual offences at the request of the Crown. Some victims of sexual assault say they have had to fight to control the use of their own names.

A victim-centred approach would give people a choice, the committee heard.

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“The most important thing for moving forward is for survivors to be able to have meaningful choices in terms of whether a publication ban is implemented and when one is removed,” Kat Owens, a project director at the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund, told the committee.

“The complicated process of removing one’s own publication ban puts up hurdles for victims who wish, for example, to be free to speak,” the report says.

The committee is recommending changes to the Criminal Code so that victims must be informed before a publication ban is imposed, and so they have the ability to opt out.

Justice Minister David Lametti said he has not yet read the committee’s report, which was released Wednesday.

“Hopefully what the committee will do is give us further suggestions on ways to move forward, and I look forward to working with their recommendations,” he said on Thursday.

Lametti said he is open to thinking about changes to the law and is “never closed to a good suggestion.”

The report adds to an existing pile of negative reviews about the way Canada treats victims of crime.

It says the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights, passed by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government in early 2015, has been poorly implemented and doesn’t properly support victims.

Several witnesses told the parliamentary committee that services for victims are not accessible for all across Canada, and people are not aware of their rights under the law.

Heidi Illingworth, executive director of Ottawa Victim Services and the former federal ombudsperson for victims of crime, told the committee that victims should be guaranteed access to medical, psychological, legal and safety support services.

“We need to increase the capacity of victim-serving organizations and community-based restorative justice programs through sustainable core funding to ensure that victims can access services in every part of this country,” she told the committee last June.

The 78-page report makes 13 recommendations, including establishing minimum standards of support for victims across all provinces and territories and increasing funding for services.

It also calls for a national public education campaign to inform Canadians about their rights as victims of crime and for more victims’ rights training for people who work in criminal justice.

It says the federal government needs to work with provinces and territories to develop best practices.

Benjamin Roebuck, the current ombudsperson for victims of crime, told MPs on the committee that better data collection is also needed, particularly for minority and racialized populations.

“There are people who are working so hard who need support,” he said. “We need to validate our data to be able to identify these gaps and say that there’s work to be done. We need to shift resources into outreach and into connecting with these groups.”

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

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Canada to stop directly financing fossil fuel projects abroad, with narrow exceptions

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Canada to stop directly financing fossil fuel projects abroad, with narrow exceptions

With weeks until an end-of-year deadline it agreed to last year, Canada has announced that it will end new direct subsidies for fossil fuel investments and projects abroad — including those owned by Canadian companies.

The policy released Thursday afternoon applies to the extraction, production, transportation, refining and marketing of crude oil, natural gas or thermal coal, as well as power generation projects that do not use technologies such as carbon capture to significantly reduce emissions.

The rules, which take effect Jan. 1, will apply to direct funding from federal departments, agencies and Crown corporations.

Advocates had feared that Canada would opt for a narrower definition of “international” that would nonetheless allow support for Canadian companies abroad, which climate-change organization Environmental Defence estimates makes up about 78 per cent of Canada’s international support for such projects.

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But the policy defines “international” as “operations outside of Canada’s jurisdiction in the fossil fuel energy sector regardless of owner domicile.” This means that the federal government is barring itself from funding even fossil fuel projects wholly owned by Canadian companies.

“It’s a very strong policy,” said Julia Levin, Environmental Defence’s national climate program manager. “It’s very encouraging that the government has obviously listened to the experts and come up with a broad definition.”

Ottawa is making the move weeks shy of a deadline it committed to, along with 38 other countries, in November 2021 at an international climate summit in Glasgow.

Out of high-income signatories, the United Kingdom, France, Finland, Sweden and European Investment Bank have already delivered policies hailed by international advocacy groups as meeting the high bar of the Glasgow statement. While the United States government has introduced policies to address the statement, it has released few details about how those policies are being implemented.

Levin said that Canada is showing leadership. “We’re joining the group of first movers who are aligning international public spending with the climate commitments,” she said.

Advocacy groups praised the policy, with organizations including the International Institute for Sustainable Development, the Center for International Environmental Law, Climate Action Network, Amnesty International Canada and others calling it an important step forward.

“Oil and gas is usually the elephant in the room in Canadian climate policy,” Claire O’Manique, a public finance analyst at Oil Change International, said in a statement. “Today’s guidance is a notable break from this norm.”

The policy is not without loopholes. An international project could be supported for reasons of national security or humanitarian and emergency response, and a government could decide to take a broad definition of either.

But even under such circumstances, the project would need to abide by criteria including compliance with the goals of the Paris Agreement and proof that it will not “delay or diminish the transition to renewables.” It would also have to be coherent with the goal to keep global temperature levels no higher than 1.5 C above pre-industrial levels.

A narrow carveout for natural gas power generation includes the additional criteria that there be no viable renewable alternative to the project and that it is replacing a higher-emitting fuel source.

The government defines the criteria around these exceptions as “strict,” and Levin agreed that they are robust. “If these conditions are implemented with rigour and integrity, it really rules out any future fossil financing for natural gas,” she said.

Thursday’s announcement does not cover domestic projects and, Natural Resources Canada said in a statement, does not “pre-determine the government of Canada’s future domestic framework on fossil-fuel subsidies.”

The department says Ottawa intends to eliminate “inefficient” domestic fossil fuel subsidies and additional “significant” subsidies domestically by next year, but details are few and far between.

“I was hoping with the release of this policy, they would outline the next steps. I was disappointed that that wasn’t there,” Levin said. “Projects in Canada are just as destructive as projects abroad. But this policy sets us up well for a strong domestic financing policy and I look forward to seeing the next steps in the immediate future.”

Reacting to the policy Thursday evening, the federal NDP noted that the elimination of international public financing for fossil fuel projects was part of its confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, in which the party agreed to support the minority government in key votes until 2025.

“This wouldn’t have happened if the NDP weren’t at the table pushing for a better climate plan for Canadians. But the Liberals are still giving Canadians’ money to the ultra-rich CEOs who run massive, profitable oil and gas companies in Canada,” environment critic Laurel Collins said in a statement.

Collins said the policy is “too little, too late” and is calling on Ottawa to end all fossil fuel subsidies, period, including at home.

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

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MPs want to hear from witnesses on the government’s assault-style gun definition

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Seven members of a parliamentary committee studying the Liberal gun bill have requested two special meetings to hear from witnesses on the government’s proposed definition of an assault-style firearm.

The definition, put forward by the government as an amendment, has prompted confusion and controversy as MPs go over Bill C-21 clause by clause.

The seven Liberal, Bloc Québécois and New Democrat MPs want clarity on the amendment amid concerns that the measure would outlaw many firearms commonly used by hunters.

In a letter to the committee chairman, the members say they were not able to question witnesses about the amendment because groups and experts had already completed their testimony.

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“We believe it is in the public interest to untangle and clarify the impacts of this amendment on Bill C-21 and the future of firearms in this country,”  the letter says.

Among other technical specifications concerning bore diameter and muzzle energy, the proposed definition includes a centrefire semi-automatic rifle or shotgun designed to accept a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.

MPs are poring over the latest list of firearms that would fall under the definition, which runs into the hundreds of pages.

Although Conservative MPs on the committee were not involved in the request for more witnesses, they have spoken out against the proposed amendment, characterizing it as an attack on law-abiding gun owners.

It was unclear on Thursday when — or even if — any additional meetings to hear witnesses would take place.

“I want to make sure we do whatever we can, and we are all committed to taking down the temperature wherever we can, to listen to whatever perspectives are out there and to have a healthy discussion based on facts,” Liberal MP Taleeb Noormohamed said during a committee meeting Thursday.

“This will hopefully allow us to hear from witnesses to address any of the outstanding issues that exist to improve the proposed law were appropriate, and to give Canadians the confidence that their government is listening.”

Noormohamed thanked committee member and Bloc MP Kristina Michaud for coming up with the idea of hearing additional testimony.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that through some “fine-tuning” of the wording, the government wants to enshrine a ban on assault-style firearms in the bill while ensuring it does not go after shotguns and rifles that are primarily used for hunting.

“The definition is something that we are very much committed to, but the actual list that goes with it, that’s something that we’re consulting on right now.”

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

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