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Abortion rights motion fails as Tories told to stay silent on U.S. draft decision

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OTTAWA — A push from the Bloc Québécois for the House of Commons to confirm the right to an abortion failed Tuesday, as Conservative MPs were warned against commenting on the U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion that has thrown the issue back into the domestic spotlight.

Canadian leaders are among the millions reacting to the news first reported Monday by Politico of a leaked draft opinion by the U.S. top court, suggesting it could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion countrywide.

“The right to choose is a woman’s right and a woman’s right alone. Every woman in Canada has a right to a safe and legal abortion,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Tuesday.

“We’ll never back down from protecting and promoting women’s rights in Canada and around the world.”

The draft decision south of the border also prompted Bloc Québécois deputy House leader Christine Normandin to present a unanimous consent motion after question period confirming that a woman’s body is hers alone, as is her decision to have an abortion for whatever reason.

When she did, some shouts of “no” echoed from the chamber, meaning the motion wasn’t adopted. Normandin said afterwards she believed opposition came from the Conservative benches, as did the Liberals.

Earlier that day, Conservative MPs and senators were warned by the office of interim leader Candice Bergen to avoid making any comments on the draft opinion. The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the one-sentence memo.

It is not uncommon for the leader’s office to ask MPs to refrain from commenting on certain issues. In this case, Bergen said in a statement, MPs were told to stay silent because it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter for the U.S. courts.

Abortion nonetheless remains a thorny political issue for the Conservatives. The party is in the middle of a leadership race in which anti-abortion groups are mobilizing to back candidates who oppose the procedure, including Campaign Life Coalition, which welcomed the draft U.S. ruling.

Many Tory MPs also oppose abortion and have brought forward different private member’s bills over the years to try to tighten access.

The last time that happened was June 2021, when 81 out of the party’s 119 MPs voted in favour of a proposed bill from Conservative Saskatchewan MP Cathay Wagantall to ban so-called sex-selective abortions that she said targeted girls.

That bill was defeated by the Liberals, NDP and Bloc, but among its supporters was Bergen, who was deputy leader at the time.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said Tuesday that Tory leadership hopefuls were courting the “anti-choice” vote at a time when Canada needs to guard against any “backsliding” of abortion rights.

Ontario MP Leslyn Lewis, who is anti-abortion, is among those heavily favoured by social conservatives in the leadership contest. She is running a campaign that includes what she calls a “No Hidden Agenda” plank in her platform, which includes promises to ban sex-selective abortion and stop funding abortion services overseas.

A campaign spokesman on Tuesday said she wouldn’t comment on the draft decision because it isn’t final.

At least three Conservative leadership hopefuls did wade into the debate, with one warning against Tories once again finding themselves on the receiving end of attacks from the Liberals on the abortion issue.

“While this is a U.S. decision, in its wake it’s important for leaders to commit to protecting women’s rights,” Patrick Brown, mayor of Brampton, Ont., said in a statement.

He went on to say the draft decision gives Trudeau’s Liberal government — which brokered a deal with the federal NDP to stay in power until 2025 — “a lifeline to extend their power far beyond 2025, by making Canadians afraid of Conservatives.”

“Abortion in Canada should be safe, legal and, in my personal opinion, rare,” Brown said, adding he would usher in policies that encourage adoption and support parental rights.

Rural Ontario MP Scott Aitchison released a video voicing his support for a woman’s right to choose, saying any efforts to prohibit abortion access would hurt them and families as a whole.

“The vast majority of Canadians do not want this issue reopened.”

Michelle Coates Mather, a spokeswoman for Jean Charest’s campaign, said the former Quebec premier supports abortion rights and would never vote for a private member’s bill promising to restrict access.

Roman Baber, the independent MPP from Ontario also in the running, said he supports “diversity of opinion” within the party, including on matters of conscience.

Pierre Poilievre said late Tuesday that “a Poilievre government will not introduce or pass any laws restricting abortion.”

Bergen pushed back Tuesday against criticisms about her party’s stance on abortion. She said access to the procedure was not restricted when Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper was in power, and accused Trudeau of using the issue to divide Canadians.

In spite of her own support for the past sex-selective abortion bill, Bergen said “the Conservative party will not introduce legislation or reopen the abortion debate.”

Abortion also became an issue for former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole during last year’s election campaign. His platform included a pledge to protect the conscience rights of health-care workers from having to perform procedures they find objectionable.

During the election, the Liberals made a series of promises to improve abortion access in Canada, including regulating access under the Canada Health Act.

The mandate letter for Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos calls on him to reinforce compliance under the act, develop a sexual and reproductive health rights information portal and support youth-led grassroots organizations that respond to the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people.

Health Canada said Tuesday that nearly $65,000 was deducted from federal health transfer money sent to New Brunswick in March because that province refuses to fund surgical abortions outside of hospitals. That month, spokesman Mark Johnson said around $6,500 was withheld from Ontario over patient charges for abortions at independent health facilities.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s office has been tasked with changing the country’s Income Tax Act to revoke charitable status from anti-abortion groups, like crisis pregnancy centres.

Freeland’s office has not yet responded to requests for comment.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday the Liberal government could take two major steps to protect abortion rights: increase federal health transfers to make sure the overall system is properly funded, and enforce the rules under the Canada Health Act.

The Liberals’ most recent federal budget did not earmark any specific funding for abortion rights.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 3, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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A report on wildfire in Lytton, B.C., says more community fireproofing needed

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VANCOUVER — A wildfire that destroyed the British Columbia village of Lytton couldn’t have been stopped, even with an area-wide emergency response, says a new report.

Published this month by the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, the report says scientists found the root cause was “easily ignitable structures and homes, and not just a wildfire problem.”

Even the best possible fire response would have been “overwhelmed” because at least 20 buildings were fully engulfed within 80 minutes and would have required at least 60 fire trucks to contain, it says.

Alan Westhaver, a wildland urban fire consultant and co-author of the report, said there was nothing the firefighters could have done to prevent the spread once it had started.

“It’s an overwhelming amount of fire in a very short span of time,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

“Firefighting is important. It’s going to be critical, but we have to change the conditions around our homes so that fewer homes ignite.”

Westhaver said there needs to be more co-ordination between governments, agencies, homeowners, corporate landowners and private businesses to help prevent future disasters.

“Everyone in the community needs to work together and do their share and deal with issues on their property because fire does not stop at property lines.”

The report includes 33 specific recommendations for ways to mitigate wildfire risk, while reducing exposure and vulnerabilities within so-called home ignition zones.

They include mandatory mowing of tall grass and weeds around residential areas and evacuation routes, and development changes like minimum distances between buildings. Itwould mean at least an eight-metre distance between one-storey structures and 13 metres for two-storey buildings.

The report also says flammable objects such as firewood should be separated from main buildings.

Wildfire embers are often responsible for starting small spot fires within communities, so making homes more resistant to fires should be a priority, Westhaver added.

Two people were killed in the Lytton fire and most of the village burned to the ground on June 30 last year in the middle of a heat wave that marked the hottest day ever recorded in Canada at 49.6 C in Lytton.

Westhaver said the report findings should also be used to help other communities prepare for wildfires.

“Lytton was an extreme event, but it wasn’t exceptional. The disaster followed a very familiar pattern that we see at virtually all other major wildland urban fire disasters,” he said.

“Wildland fires are inevitable, but wildland urban fire disasters are not.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

———

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Regular travel and public health measures can’t coexist: Canadian Airport Council

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OTTAWA — International arrivals at Canadian airports are so backed up that people are being kept on planes for over an hour after they land because there isn’t physically enough space to hold the lineups of travellers, says the Canadian Airports Council.

The council blames COVID-19 protocols and has called on the federal government to do away with random tests and public health questions at customs to ease the serious delays passengers face when they arrive in Canada.

The extra steps mean it takes four times longer to process people as they arrive than it did before the pandemic, said the council’s interim president Monette Pasher. That was fine when people weren’t travelling, but now it’s become a serious problem.

“We’re seeing that we clearly cannot have these public health requirements and testing at our borders as we get back to regular travel,” she said.

The situation is particularly bad at Canada’s largest airport, Toronto Pearson International, where passengers on 120 flights were held in their planes Sunday waiting for their turn to get in line for customs.

Sometimes the wait is 20 minutes, other times it’s over an hour, Pasher said.

Airports are simply not designed for customs to be such a lengthy process, she said, and the space is not available to accommodate people. The airport is also not the right place for COVID-19 tests, she said, especially since tests are rarely required in the community.

“Getting back to regular travel with these health protocols and testing in place, the two can’t coexist without a significant pressure and strain on our system,” Pasher said.

The government is aware of the frustrating lineups at airports, a statement from the transport minister’s office said.

“Current health measures in place are based on the advice of public health experts to protect Canadians. We will continue to base our measures and adjustments on their expert advice,” the statement read.

The ministry is working with the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority to post more screening officers at checkpoints, the minister’s office said, and the agency is working on hiring even more.

The government will not ask airlines to cut back their flight schedules, the statement noted.

Between May 1 and May 7, about 1.3 per cent of 1,920 travellers tested at airports were COVID-19 positive.

For comparison, 3.46 per cent were positive between April 1 and April 9, though significantly more tests were performed during that time.

Public health measures have scaled up and down over the course of the pandemic as waves of the virus have come and gone. Right now, they are the least restrictive they have been in months, with vaccinated travellers tested only on a random basis.

The requirements are out of step with peer countries, said Conservative transport critic Melissa Lantsman. She said she wants to know why the Canadian government is acting on advice that is different to that of other countries.

“We’re effectively taking the government at their word that they are receiving advice and that they are acting on it, but they haven’t shared any of that with the Canadian public,” she said.

The lengthy delays at the airports send a negative message to travellers and she worries about the impact it will have on Canadian tourism as the industry struggles to get on its feet this season after the pandemic lull.

“It tells you to go elsewhere, that we’re not open for business,” she said.

On Monday, several industry groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, pleaded their case for fewer COVID-19 restrictions at the House of Commons transport committee.

“These are costing our economy deeply and are hurting our international reputation as a top destination for tourism, international conferences and sporting events,” Robin Guy, the chamber’s senior director for transportation policy, told the committee.

The witnesses urged the government to review their COVID-19 regulations at the border and do away with those that are no longer necessary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Prince Charles and Camilla kick off Canadian tour – CTV News

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St. JOHN’S –

Prince Charles and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, arrived Tuesday in St. John’s, N.L., to begin a three-day Canadian tour that will largely focus on reconciliation with Indigenous people.

Under partly cloudy skies, the couple landed at St. John’s International Airport aboard a Canadian government jet. They then headed by motorcade to a welcome ceremony at the provincial legislature with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Gov. Gen. Mary Simon.

The couple were met by an honour guard and various dignitaries before shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people in the crowd. On the steps leading to the legislature, about 100 schoolchildren waved small Canadian and provincial flags.

Grade 6 student Anna Jeans said she was thrilled at the possibility she might get a high-five from Charles or Camilla. “I’m very excited,” she said, bouncing on her toes. “It’s a big opportunity for me.”

Nearby, Tara Kelly — wearing a homemade fascinator with a tall plume of green feathers — said she’s long been a fan of the Royal Family. “It’s a fantasy,” she said.

Inside the Confederation Building’s purple-lit foyer, the prince and the duchess looked on as Innu elder Elizabeth Penashue offered a blessing and Inuk soprano Deantha Edmunds sang.

The event began with a land acknowledgment honouring the province’s five Indigenous groups as well as the Beothuk people, who were among the first inhabitants of Newfoundland, their history stretching back 9,000 years.

Simon welcomed Charles and Camilla to Canada in Inuktitut. She asked Charles and Camilla to listen to the Indigenous groups they will meet in Canada and to learn their stories.

“I encourage you to learn the truth of our history — the good and the bad,” she said. “In this way, we will promote healing, understanding and respect. And in this way, we will also promote reconciliation.”

The prince started his speech by noting that the land that became Canada has been cared for by Indigenous people — First Nations, Metis and Inuit — for thousands of years.

“We must find new ways to come to terms with the darker and more difficult aspects of the past, acknowledging, reconciling and striving to do better,” he said. “It is a process that starts with listening.”

The prince said he had spoken with the Governor General about the “vital process” of reconciliation.

“(It’s) not a one-off act, of course, but an ongoing commitment to healing, respect and understanding,” he said. “I know that our visit this week comes at an important moment with Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada, committing to reflect honestly and openly on the past.”

Charles and Camilla then moved on to Government House, the official residence of Lt.-Gov. Judy Foote, the Queen’s representative in the province.

Outside the residence, they will take part in a reconciliation prayer with Indigenous leaders at the Heart Garden, which was built to honour Indigenous children who attended the province’s residential schools.

Earlier in the day, Trudeau said reconciliation will form part of the discussions Charles and Camilla engage in during their visit. But the prime minister avoided answering when asked if he thinks the Queen should apologize for the legacy of residential schools.

“Reconciliation has been a fundamental priority for this government ever since we got elected, and there are many, many things that we all have to work on together,” he said. “But we know it’s not just about government and Indigenous people. It’s about everyone doing their part, and that’s certainly a reflection that everyone’s going to be having.”

Metis National Council President Cassidy Caron has said she intends to make a request for an apology to the prince and duchess during a reception Wednesday at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

Caron has said residential school survivors have told her an apology from the Queen is important as she is Canada’s head of state and the leader of the Anglican Church. “The Royals have a moral responsibility to participate and contribute and advance reconciliation,” Caron said in Ottawa on Monday.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis apologized for the Catholic Church’s role in residential schools when Indigenous leaders and residential school survivors visited the Vatican. He will travel to Canada to deliver the apology this summer.

Leaders from four of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Indigenous groups were expected to attend the prayer ceremony at the lieutenant-governor’s residence in St. John’s. Elders and residential school survivors were also invited to take part in a smudging ceremony, musical performances, a land acknowledgment and a moment of silence.

Charles and Camilla will then tour Quidi Vidi, a former fishing community in the east end of St. John’s.

The couple are expected to arrive in Ottawa tonight. Their tour will also take them to the Northwest Territories.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

— With files from Michael MacDonald in Halifax and Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

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