The federal public safety minister said he wants people to celebrate Canada Day, but with protests planned for the upcoming holiday weekend in Ottawa, Marco Mendicino says he’s hoping the mistakes of last winter won’t be repeated.
“I think Canadians should celebrate Canada Day. We’ve been through a marathon of the pandemic and there’s reason for hope and optimism,” he said in an interview last week.
“I do think it is troubling that some are fanning flames … we don’t want a replay of last winter and we don’t want people engaging in illegal behaviour or violence that is disruptive to the community here in Ottawa or anywhere else.”
Protest groups have said they plan to hold ongoing demonstrations throughout the summer, starting on June 30 and building toward Labour Day.
The Ottawa Police Service said they’re aware of upcoming protests and are “planning accordingly.”
The capital city’s police force continues to face criticism about how it handled the anti-COVID-19 restriction protests last winter that gridlocked Ottawa for three weeks after protesters — some calling for the overthrow of the federal government — were able to park trucks and other vehicles on main arteries around Parliament Hill.
This week the sergeant-at-arms for the House of Commons said he was “flabbergasted” by police inaction at the time.
Protesters were eventually pushed out of the downtown core after the federal government took the never-before-used step of invoking the Emergencies Act. In the end more than 100 people were arrested, leaving a multi-million dollar policing bill.
“I think it’s important that we take some lessons from last winter,” said Mendicino.
“We’ll continue to give [police] the tools and the support that is necessary to ensure that there’s public safety as we celebrate Canada Day.”
‘We did what a responsible government would do:’ Mendicino
Mendicino ended the spring sitting of Parliament, now on a summer hiatus, under intense questioning about how the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act was made.
The legislation authorized a ban on travel to protest zones, allowed banks to freeze the accounts of some of those involved in the protests and allowed officials to commandeer tow trucks. It also enabled the RCMP to enforce municipal bylaws and provincial offences as required.
The minister told a parliamentary committee investigating the issue that the government acted on “the advice of non-partisan professional law enforcement.”
Under questioning, RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and interim Ottawa Police Chief Steve Bell testified that they did not ask the government to invoke the act, although they have said the new powers served as a deterrent.
Interim Conservative Leader Candice Bergen has called for Mendicino to resign, accusing him of “lying to and misleading Canadians about the Emergencies Act.”
Mendicino said his government was talking to law enforcement daily, sometimes hourly.
“We did what a responsible government would do, which is remain in contact with law enforcement for the purposes of making the decisions that were necessary to restore public safety,” he said.
At the time of invocation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau argued its use was necessary to address “serious challenges to law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce the law.”
But that reasoning has been questioned by the opposition and other critics who have asked whether other measures, including policing tactics, could have been used.
Mendicino pointed to testimony Lucki gave where she spoke about the ability to direct tow trucks to help move vehicles clogging Ottawa’s streets.
“Other powers that were granted under the Emergencies Act were done with the benefit of the advice which we proactively sought from law enforcement prior to invoking the Emergencies Act. That’s the way the system is supposed to work,” he said.
“It made enormous sense for the government to be in conversation with police, identifying where gaps in existing authorities lay, and then filling those gaps with unique, exceptional time-limited and targeted powers.”
Mendocino added that Lucki has “corroborated that” in her testimony.
‘I’ll never apologize for doing what is necessary:’ Mendicino
Outside of the parliamentary committee, an independent inquiry will also soon begin digging into the reasons behind the decision to invoke the Emergencies Act for the first time.
“We hope we don’t ever have to use those rare powers again,” said Mendicino.
“But I’ll never apologize for doing what is necessary to protect Canadians and invoking the Emergencies Act was the right thing to do.”
The upcoming protests are scheduled to kick off when James Topp, a veteran marching across Canada against vaccine mandates, plans to end his cross-country journey at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa.
Last week the federal government lifted the vaccine mandate requirement for federal employees and for passengers wishing to board a plane or train in Canada.
Earlier this week Topp and other organizers met with Conservative MPs near Parliament Hill where he said the protest has become something bigger
“Their issue is not so much with mandates anymore, it’s their satisfaction with the federal government,” Topp said.
“There is a divide in this country I have never seen or experienced before — I’ve only ever seen it in a war zone.”
Cypress Hills-Grasslands MP Jeremy Patzer said politicians of all stripes should listen to what the group has to say.
“I’m not willing to demonize or accept this narrative that people that have views that other people don’t agree with, that they should be demonized for holding those views,” he told CBC.
Canadian army veteran charged with murder after mass shooting in Belize nightclub – CTV News
A Canadian Armed Forces veteran has been charged with murder in connection to a mass shooting in Belize that left two people dead and eight others injured.
J.R. Smith, who served with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Afghanistan as part of Operation Medusa in 2006, is accused of driving the getaway vehicle following the July 31 shooting at a nightclub.
Police in Belize allege that three local men who were with Smith got into an argument over a woman in the club. They left, but allegedly returned later with guns and opened fire.
Smith and the three other men were arrested and paraded in handcuffs.
Smith’s partner, Denise Hepburn, told CTV News that he was not involved in the shooting, and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hepburn also alleged that Smith was repeatedly beaten by police after his arrest, which resulted in the black eye seen in his arrest photo.
“He defended this country. He is a decorated soldier,” she said. “He’s a good person … he would never do something like this.”
Smith, originally from Newfoundland, moved to Ontario after he left the CAF. He studied woodworking and later opened a cabinetry business. He was profiled by CTV News five years ago as part of a Remembrance Day feature on veteran entrepreneurship.
Global Affairs Canada says it’s “aware of a Canadian who has been detained in Belize” and stands ready to provide consular assistance. Smith remains in custody in a Belize prison and is due back in court in November.
With files from CTV Barrie’s Mike Arsalides
Little change to Vancouver downtown street encampment as residents wonder where to go
VANCOUVER — It was difficult to see any difference had been made to the tent encampment in Vancouver’s troubled Downtown Eastside on Wednesday, a day after city staff began what’s expected to be a weeks-long process to remove the structures.
That’s for good reason, said a resident who goes by the name Edith Elizabeth — the people who live in the tents have nowhere else to go.
She said previously, residents would relocate their structures nearby so city staff could clean the street.
“It’s just like, ‘Okay, cool, take down our structures and move down the block so they can wash it,’ and that’s it,” said Elizabeth. “But here, now, it’s just like we have to disappear or something.”
Vancouver fire Chief Karen Fry ordered tents along the stretch of Hastings Street dismantled last month, saying there was an extreme fire and safety risk.
The city has said staff would concentrate their efforts on the “highest risk” areas, but several structures in those areas remained in place on Wednesday.
The neighbourhood struggles with many complex challenges including drug use, crime, homelessness, housing issues, and unemployment.
It was tense on Tuesday, Elizabeth said, with a heavy police presence on the street.
The Vancouver Police Department released a statement Tuesday saying multiple people were arrested after officers were assaulted during a “melee.”
It said staff at a community centre had called police to report a man throwing computers and behaving erratically. The man resisted arrest, police said, as “a large crowd gathered, and became hostile and combative with the officers.”
Elizabeth said police used pepper spray and the incident left people feeling scared.
An update from the city on Wednesday said a big contingent of police at the Main and Hastings intersection in the afternoon “was not as a result of the City’s effort to remove structures”, and instead stemmed from the incident outside the community centre.
The city said staff aimed to approach encampment residents “with respect and sensitivity, encouraging and supporting voluntary removal of tents and belongings through conversation.”
“We recognize that some people believe the city should not do this work, but there are significant safety risks for everyone in the neighbourhood that the city cannot ignore,” it said.
Elizabeth stood near her belongings on the sidewalk where she said she’s been staying for about three weeks after moving from another spot nearby.
“It’s not like this is a forever, permanent place,” she said, although she’s not sure where she might go next.
“As far as options down here, generally there’s been Crab Park, which is like tent city,” she said, referring to tents set up around the park near Vancouver’s waterfront.
Elizabeth said she, like many others living in tents along the street, doesn’t feel comfortable or safe in single-room occupancy buildings with “awful” conditions.
The city said staff have been meeting each week with a community-based working group since May, and more frequently with members of the Overdose Prevention Society and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users over the past two weeks.
Staff spent Wednesday telling residents about storage options for their belongings, the city said.
These included up to two 360-litre storage totes, which staff would seal with tamper-proof labels before placing them in short-term storage. The city said the totes are on wheels, so owners can take them away if they did not want them stored.
A long-term storage container is also being provided nearby, the city said.
Community advocacy groups, including the drug-user network and Pivot Legal Society, have said clearing the encampment violates a memorandum of understanding between the city, the B.C. government and Vancouver’s park board, because people are being told to move without being offered suitable housing.
The stated aim of the agreement struck last March is to connect unsheltered people to housing and preserve their dignity when dismantling encampments.
The City of Vancouver may enforce bylaws that prohibit structures on sidewalks “when suitable spaces are available for people to move indoors,” it reads.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.
The Canadian Press
Draft speech on residential schools edited out blaming Ottawa for abuse: documents
Ottawa was careful to avoid admitting abuses Indigenous children suffered at residential schools happened “at the hands of the federal government” in remarks prepared for a Liberal cabinet minister after the discovery of unmarked graves last year, documents show.
The Canadian Press obtained documents through the Access to Information Act that show a draft version of a speech written for Carolyn Bennett, who was then minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, originally contained those words before they were edited out.
“It gets to me that they’re still in a place of defending themselves,” said Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada.
In May 2021, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nation announced ground-penetrating radar had found what are believed to be the unmarked graves of about 200 children on the site of a former residential school near Kamloops, B.C.
The revelation spurred a reckoning across the country about the legacy of residential schools, which were government-funded, church-operated institutions that about 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend in Canada over more than a century. Thousands of children experienced physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, or even died.
The discovery also prompted questions about what Ottawa was going to do about it.
Days later, the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations was drafting a speech for Bennett in anticipation of a possible emergency debate on the matter in the House of Commons.
That never happened. Another form of debate was held and it appears the draft speech, as written in the documents, was not the one that Bennett ended up delivering.
One section of the draft remarks addresses the suffering children endured in residential schools, originally saying “they experienced unthinkable trauma, including physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of the federal government by simply attending school.”
Speech writing can be a lengthy process. Text is often drafted by the department and then sent to staff in the minister’s office and to the minister, and then sometimes back and forth again.
Edits contained in the 17 pages of drafts show the words “at the hands of the federal government” were struck out. The reason for the revision was redacted before the documents were released to The Canadian Press.
“The government, they talk a great deal about reconciliation,” said Eleanore Sunchild, a Saskatchewan lawyer and advocate from Thunderchild First Nation, who has represented many residential school survivors in physical and sexual abuse cases.
“That, however, doesn’t speak of reconciliation at all, taking out those words.”
Saskatoon Tribal Council Chief Mark Arcand said he found it “disturbing … that Canada keeps trying to minimize its role in residential schools.”
The Crown-Indigenous Relations Department has not yet responded to a request to explain the change. But the office of the current minister, Marc Miller, said in a written statement that the federal government “takes full responsibility” for its role in the residential school system, “including the abuse that Indigenous children suffered at these institutions.”
Former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper apologized for Canada’s role in residential schools in 2008 as part of the historic Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement.
In his speech, Harper apologized for the government “failing to protect” children at the institutions, which he said “far too often … gave rise to abuse or neglect.”
He also apologized for the separation of children from families and acknowledged it carried consequences for future generations.
In the speech that Bennett ultimately gave on unmarked graves on June 1, 2021, she said she wanted to give her “profound apologies to the families and survivors,” but she did not mention abuse or assign blame.
Last month, Pope Francis came to Canada to apologize for residential schools on behalf of the Catholic Church, which operated more than 60 per cent of the institutions.
The pontiff asked forgiveness for the “evils” committed by “many Christians” against Indigenous children in residential schools. Many Indigenous leaders said they had hoped for an apology that specifically spoke about the role of the Catholic Church.
Bill Percy, a Winnipeg-based lawyer who has represented survivors seeking compensation for sexual and physical abuse, said it’s possible government took issue with the words “at the hands of” in the draft.
“That implies that they were the physical abusers,” he said.
“Most of the direct abusers would be church-related employees, not federal government employees.”
Regardless, he said Canada has paid out most of the billions of dollars distributed to abuse complainants under the settlement.
“When push comes to shove, in the court cases, the federal government always has taken responsibility.”
Blackstock said she sees where Ottawa has “wiggle room,” given that the federal government did not directly perpetuate abuse.
“What the federal government did is knowingly leave children in situations where this was happening, and were choosing not to intervene to save them from the deaths and save them from the abuse,” she said.
She said whether it’s the Vatican or Canada, institutions have demonstrated a reluctance to take full accountability for residential schools.
“What I’ve been concerned about writ large is the portrayal by the federal government as this is a ‘dark chapter in history,’ and not really owning the fact that they knew what they were doing was wrong. They knew it was leading to children’s deaths.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 10, 2022.
— with files from Jim Bronskill
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press
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