Advocates come together to help sailors stuck for months on tugboats in Quebec port
TROIS-RIVIÈRES, Que. — Groups that advocate for seafarers are expressing concern for 11 sailors who are spending a harsh Quebec winter aboard three tugboats that have been detained for months in the port of Trois-Rivières.
Paul Racette, who operates the Foyer des Marins seafarers’ club in the port, said the workers, who hail from Mexico, Cuba and Guyana, aren’t used to winter.
“For them, 17 degrees is cold, so imagine them having to work outdoors at the temperatures we’re having now,” he said in an interview.
Furthermore, they’re weathering the winter on the moored tugboats, which he says aren’t designed for long-term living.
“It’s very small, it’s narrow, there are no conveniences inside, so it’s problematic,” he said.
The boats, which are in the 30 to 40 metre range, were sold last year to a company that wants to bring them to the South American nation of Guyana. But they’ve been detained in the port, halfway between Quebec City and Montreal, since October due to what Transport Canada describes as “non-compliance with various international maritime conventions,” including labour regulations that ensure the crew’s well-being.
“Before lifting the detention and authorizing the vessels to depart, Transport Canada will verify that the outstanding items have been rectified,” wrote spokeswoman Sau Sau Liu.
Racette said that while there were about 25 crew members originally, their numbers have dwindled to 11 as some have left and fewer have come to replace them.
On a recent visit, two of the three tugboats could be seen moored along the river’s edge, dwarfed in size by the much larger ship behind them. Canadian and Guyanese flags whipped in the wind as heavy snow fell.
None of the sailors stepped out when a reporter stopped by, and Racette said none of the current crew wanted to speak with media out of concern they could face reprisals.
The vice president for the St. Lawrence and East Coast for the Seafarers International Union of Canada, who has been working with the crew, said he’s concerned about the sailors’ working and living conditions.
Vince Giannopoulos said some of these are matters of “base level legality,” including contracts. He said some of the seafarers were sent to the ships with only verbal agreements regarding pay, only to find upon arrival that the compensation in the written contract was far less than promised.
His visits to the ship, the most recent of which was in December, revealed “all sorts of problems,” ranging from a lack of safety and cold-weather equipment to inadequate food, he said.
“During a couple of my visits the crew was having Mr. Noodles three times a day,” he said. “That was their breakfast, lunch and supper.
“It’s hard to even find out where to begin with this story because there are just so many issues.”
Mark Wong, a seafarer from Guyana, spent six months aboard the vessels working as an engineer before flying home in late December.
While he found the living conditions aboard the tugboats to be generally good, the 59-year-old said it’s the first time he’s been stuck on a detained vessel for so long.
He said the situation began to drag on as crew members had to be switched out and inspections kept revealing more issues to be fixed.
He said the arrival of winter was “terrible,” and his strongest memory is the ice on the deck.
“I’m not accustomed to it,” he said.
Wong said he was one of those who arrived without a contract, and, while he’s received his wages, he says the company still owes him leave pay. Despite the issues, he said he would be willing to go back.
“Not in the winter though,” he added.
Racette said the seafarer’s club, which has a small budget and is mostly volunteer-run, has been doing what it can to support the crew. Members visit the vessels to bring treats, chat, and encourage the seafarers to visit their clubhouse, which has a pool table, snacks, comfortable chairs and Internet access.
Volunteers have come forward to help drive some of the crew to shopping centres or to attend a Spanish-language religious service, while community members have donated warm clothing, he said.
More recently, he’s been making an appeal for donations to take the crew on outings such as restaurant visits or bowling trips.
While it’s not clear how long it will take for the tugboats to get authorization to leave, Racette’s opinion is that they’ll remain in the port until at least April when the ice clears.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
Risk of a hard landing for Canadian economy is up, former Bank of Canada governor says – CTV News
Former Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz says Canada’s economy is at a greater risk of a “hard landing” — a rapid economic slowdown following a period of growth and approaching a recession.
Amid the central bank’s interest rate hikes intended to tame inflation, inflation cooled to 5.2 per cent in February. That’s down from 5.9 per cent in January, after 40-year record highs over the summer, reaching as high as 8.1 per cent in June.
Poloz told CTV’s Question Period host Vassy Kapelos — in a joint interview with former Liberal finance minister John Manley airing Sunday — the Bank of Canada and federal government’s efforts to rein in inflation are working, but the chances of a hard landing remain.
“The risk of a hard landing has definitely gone up, given that so much has already happened, and we’re still waiting for the rest of the effects of interest rate rises to work their way through,” he said, adding he is “heartened by the response of the supply side of the economy.”
“That’s really where a soft landing comes from,” he said. “It’s not fancy engineering on the part of the central bank. But as the supply side continues to grow — such as new entrants into the workforce, from immigration and from parents who are taking advantage of the new childcare policy — those kinds of things are giving us, coming up from below, strengthening the economy.“
While Poloz said the supply growth is a good sign, at this point it would require “some luck” to achieve a soft landing and avoid a recession.
Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland meanwhile is set to table the budget on Tuesday.
She’s long been signalling Canadians can expect fiscal restraint to avoid stoking inflation, but also some significant investments. Namely, the government has been teasing targeted measures to help relieve the impacts of inflation, plus the already-announced $196 billion in health care funding for the provinces and territories over the next 10 years, and clean economy spending to help compete with the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, which offers billions of dollars in energy incentives south of the border.
Poloz however called last year’s federal budget a “missed opportunity” to “have a different mix” of spending, and in doing so “lower the trajectory of the Bank of Canada’s interest rates.”
He said there’s now less risk government spending will counteract the impacts of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate hikes.
“I think we’re mostly beyond that point as an issue,” he said, adding last year would have been a more opportune time to stimulate the economy.
“That might have been better for everybody,” Poloz continued. “But that missed opportunity is behind us and now the economy is clearly slowing down. We got all that news in the fourth quarter, sooner than most people expected.”
“All the interest sensitive parts, such as housing and business investment, had been down three quarters in a row already, so in that sense, it feels recessionary already,” he added. “So in that sort of space, I think that business about causing inflation is off the table.”
With files from CTV’s Question Period Senior Producer Stephanie Ha
Questions raised about safety of Old Montreal building destroyed by fatal fire
MONTREAL — More than a week after a fatal fire tore through a building in Old Montreal, accounts from former tenants and victims of the blaze are raising questions about the safety of the heritage property.
Four bodies had been found as of Friday afternoon and three people were missing in the shell of the once-elegant greystone building.
Police and firefighters have said it’s too soon to say what caused the fire. But witnesses have raised questions about safety, including whether smoke detectors were working and whether there were proper emergency exits.
A rental tribunal decision shows that in 2012, the owner, Emile-Haim Benamor, blamed actions of a tenant for creating a risk of fire in the building. The comments are found in a Sept. 6, 2012, decision from Quebec’s Régie du logement, stemming from a dispute between Benamor and a tenant whose lease he was trying to end. According to the document, Benamor claimed the tenant was “manipulating electricity” and had “modified or added” electrical systems and overloaded the building’s circuits.
“The landlord insists that in the current state of things, the building is not profitable, he is unable to have access to the apartment … that there is a risk of fire and he says he is being monitored by insurance companies, especially since it’s a historic building,” the tribunal’s decision says.
The landlord also called a witness from the insurance company Lloyd’s, who testified that the unit presented safety concerns. In an affidavit included in the tribunal decision, Michel Frigon said the unit was not originally intended to be an apartment but rather a storage area. Frigon noted that access to the unit was required to perform maintenance of the building’s heating and electrical systems.
“The shower adjoining the electrical entrance to the dwelling presents a real danger of electrocution,” he added, saying a new insurer would likely have to be found if the problems weren’t fixed.
But in her written decision, administrative judge Jocelyne Gascon concluded there was little convincing evidence to suggest the tenant, Piotr Torbicki, was to blame for any electrical issues.
“The various electrical systems, although they appear to the court to be non-compliant, obsolete, the evidence offered did not establish that it was a recent addition,” Gascon wrote. She did not offer an opinion on Benamor’s comments about the risk of fire.
The building, known as the William-Watson-Ogilvie building, was built in 1890 and originally housed the offices of a flour company. It was gradually converted to residential use between the late 1960s and the 1980s, with the office of an architecture firm remaining on the ground floor. Municipal property records show Benamor, a lawyer, bought the building in 2009.
Since the fire, both the father of a missing woman and a former tenant have said at least one of the units had no windows or fire escape, while survivors of the fire have suggested the fire alarms never went off.
Louis-Philippe Lacroix said his 18-year-old daughter Charlie, who is presumed missing in the fire, called 911 twice within several minutes to say she was unable to get out of the unit she and a friend were staying in, which had no window and no fire escape.
A survivor of the fire, Alina Kuzmina, said that while the semi-basement unit she’d rented with her husband had fire alarms, she doesn’t remember hearing them go off. Kuzmina was able to escape the building by breaking a window and crawling out.
The owner this week responded to the claims through his lawyer, saying the alarm system was replaced in 2019 and regularly tested. Regarding the emergency exits, lawyer Alexandre Bergevin said the building’s layout is complex.
“It has always been deemed compliant in the past,” he said in a text message.
A former tenant spoke on condition that he not be identified, saying he fears reprisals from Benamor, who owns multiple buildings in the city. The former tenant said that in recent years long-term tenants have gradually left and been replaced by units rented on the short-term rental platform Airbnb. He also said some units had been subdivided, and at least one did not have windows.
Benamor’s lawyer, Alexandre Bergevin, said in an interview Friday that the short-term rentals in the building were the work of tenants and not his client. He said one person was renting seven units in the building and “illegally” listing them on Airbnb. He said that Benamor had told the person to stop the short-term rentals, and they had reached an agreement for him to leave the building by July 1.
“It’s a real scourge, it’s uncontrollable,” Bergevin said of the Airbnb rentals. “He had doubts on several tenants in several buildings, but it’s quite difficult to get the proof of all that.”
The lawyer acknowledged that one apartment in the building “didn’t have a window in the traditional sense of the term,” but it did have a skylight.
Asked whether the smoke detectors were working, he replied: “That’s an excellent question. We don’t know yet.” But he said there were detectors in all apartments, the central detector had been working the day before the fire and it would be surprising if all of them failed.
Bergevin said he was not aware of any specific electrical problems, including those raised in the 2012 rental tribunal decision, but noted that the building dates to the 19th century.
“It’s certain that it’s not the electricity we know today,” he said, adding that at certain points when issues arose, qualified electricians worked in the building.
Benamor, he said, has felt under attack since news broke that people had died in the fire.
“The public trial, while we have no idea of the causes of the fire, is causing him a lot of psychological distress,” he said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press
St. John’s, N.L., airport closed after late night fire on 2nd floor forces evacuation
ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — A fire on the second floor of the international airport in St. John’s, N.L., resulted in the facility being closed late Friday night.
The airport authority said today the main terminal building was evacuated due to a “significant event” on Friday at 11:30 p.m.
No other details were immediately available.
The authority said in a release today it is working with police and the fire department to ensure all protocols are being followed before reopening the building.
The news release says the terminal building was expected to remain closed to the public until 6 p.m. on Saturday.
Passengers are being advised not to visit the airport until there is a public advisory the terminal has reopened.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2023.
The Canadian Press
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