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Aline Chrétien, wife of former PM Jean Chrétien, has died at age 84

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By all accounts, Aline Chrétien was the quiet strength behind her husband, Jean.

An astute political partner — the former prime minister called her his most trusted adviser and his “rock of Gibraltar”— Aline Chrétien died peacefully Saturday morning at the age of 84.

“She was surrounded by family as the sun rose at her Lac des Piles residence, near Shawinigan,” said Bruce Hartley, a former executive assistant and long-time adviser to Jean Chrétien.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that Canadians “owe a great debt” to Aline Chrétien for her honesty, perseverance and work championing multiculturalism and bilingualism.

“As one of Mr. Chrétien’s most influential advisers, Aline was known for her tenacity, sharp intellect and acute sense of observation,” his statement read. “The life that she and Jean shared together, including their service to Canadians, was built on a foundation of trust, hard work and equal partnership.”

The couple met on a bus in the summer of 1951, when Jean Chrétien was 17 and Aline was 15.  The two married in 1957 in a ceremony that was squeezed in between Jean’s shifts working at the local mill and his university classes.

From the very beginning, Aline Chrétien said she knew the man who would go on to serve as prime minister for a decade was the one for her. The couple had three children together.

 

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien described his wife, Aline, as his “rock of Gibraltar” and his most trusted adviser. Aline Chrétien has died at age 84. 3:33

Shied away from the spotlight

Aline dropped out of school at 16 to help support her family through secretarial work, but her dreams were much grander. She longed to travel overseas and learn multiple languages.

Those aspirations became possible in part because of her husband’s political success — but Aline never felt entirely comfortable in the spotlight.

“If I hadn’t married Jean, no one would have seen me, ever,” she told Maclean’s magazine in 1994. “I like people, but I don’t like to be out in front.”

Aline wanted to keep her family life private and out of the public eye, especially when her children were young.

In Jean Chrétien’s best-selling 1985 memoir, Straight from the Heart, their daughter France was mentioned only briefly and their son Hubert and adopted son Michel were not mentioned at all.

 

The Chrétiens await the start of an Order of Canada ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa in 2011. Their daughter, France Chrétien Desmarais, was among the 44 Canadians to receive the honour. (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press)

 

Frequent adviser to former PM

Throughout his time in office, Aline remained close to her husband’s work and frequently offered him advice.

“We are always talking, when I have lunch, breakfast, at night, sometimes I sit in his office and he says, ‘You know what, today I have a cabinet meeting to do,'” she said. “It’s like I’m a part of the team too and sometimes the team is there and I’m there so he will say, ‘Well what do you think about that?’ And I give him my advice. But since a long time it’s always been like that.”

In 1995, André Dallaire — who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and was upset over the result of the 1992 referendum on the Charlottetown constitutional accord — broke into the prime minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa and came face to face with Aline just outside her bedroom.

Aline went back into the bedroom, locked the door and woke her husband, who grabbed an Inuit carving of a loon to defend the couple as they waited behind the locked door for the RCMP to respond.

Dallaire was arrested by the RCMP — he never entered the Chrétiens’ bedroom. He was later convicted of attempted murder but found not to be criminally responsible due to diminished mental capacity.

“He had a jackknife, open, right at the door of our room. And I would like to say that my wife did not panic. She just locked the door and rushed to lock the other door and called the police and I think that I’m lucky that she was there and I’m grateful,” Chrétien told reporters afterward.

 

 

Known for treating staffers and volunteers like family

Aline dedicated herself to a number of causes, especially music. A pianist, Aline enjoyed playing for herself as much as she did for family and friends.

“She was an incredible person, not just as a political ally to the prime minister, but also as a friend of women,” recalled former deputy prime minister Sheila Copps.

“Mr. Chrétien was the first prime minister to name a woman to the head of the Supreme Court, to name a woman deputy prime minister,” Copps told CBC News. “The influence behind that was actually Aline Chrétien.”

Former interim Liberal Party leader Bob Rae — now Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations — called Aline a “very important anchor” in Jean Chrétien’s life.

“I don’t think he would have become prime minister without her by his side,” said Rae, who has known the pair since 1966.

 

Aline, centre, is congratulated by Haiti’s First Lady Geri Benoit-Preval, left, and Chile’s Marta Larracechea de Frei, right, after the signing of the Ottawa declaration at the closing of the Ninth Conference of Spouses of Heads of State and Government of the Americas at the National Art Gallery in Ottawa in 1999. (Reuters)

 

Known for her kind and welcoming nature, she treated Liberal staffers and volunteers as members of her own family and supported her husband through difficult times.

After internecine squabbling in the Liberal Party between supporters of Chrétien and his finance minister, Paul Martin, culminated in Chrétien stepping down sooner than he had planned, Aline told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge in 2003 how she approaches conflict.

“If somebody has a chip on their shoulder, who has something against somebody, it shows,” she told Mansbridge. “Life is too short and I forgive, and in politics there’s a lot to forgive so I would be very miserable. I see people who don’t forgive and it’s not nice.

“Jean is the guy [who] forgives easily and I like him for that, too, because in life, if you are just a thing about the past, it’s no good. You just go forward and you’re happy.”

 

 

As much as Jean Chrétien was gregarious and hot-tempered, Aline was the calm and collected political partner who was happy to stick to the sidelines. But she took great pride in what they accomplished together in public life and believed Canadians would come to miss her husband and value his legacy when he left office.

“I would be just happy if they say he was working hard for his people and he was a good prime minister,” she told Mansbridge in 2003.

The success of their political partnership was surpassed only by their personal one. Aline and Jean Chrétien celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on Sept. 10.

Source: – CBC.ca

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U.S., UK, Germany clash with China at U.N. over Xinjiang

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The United States, Germany and Britain clashed with China at the United Nations on Wednesday over the treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, angering Beijing by hosting a virtual event that China had lobbied U.N. member states to stay away from.

“We will keep standing up and speaking out until China’s government stops its crimes against humanity and the genocide of Uyghurs and other minorities in Xinjiang,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield told the event, which organizers said was attended by about 50 countries.

Western states and rights groups accuse Xinjiang authorities of detaining and torturing Uyghurs and other minorities in camps. Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training facilities to combat religious extremism.

“In Xinjiang, people are being tortured. Women are being forcibly sterilized,” Thomas-Greenfield said.

Amnesty International secretary general Agnes Callamard told the event there were an estimated 1 million Uyghurs and predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities arbitrarily detained.

In a note to U.N. member states last week, China’s U.N. mission rejected the accusations as “lies and false allegations” and accused the organizers of being “obsessed with provoking confrontation with China.”

While China urged countries “NOT to participate in this anti-China event,” a Chinese diplomat addressed the event.

“China has nothing to hide on Xinjiang. Xinjiang is always open,” said Chinese diplomat Guo Jiakun. “We welcome everyone to visit Xinjiang, but we oppose any kind of investigation based on lies and with the presumption of guilt.”

The event was organized by Germany, the United States and Britain and co-sponsored by Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other European nations. Germany’s U.N. Ambassador Christoph Heusgen said countries who sponsored the event faced “massive Chinese threats,” but did not elaborate.

British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward described the situation in Xinjiang as “one of the worst human rights crises of our time,” adding: “The evidence … points to a program of repression of specific ethnic groups.”

She called for China to allow “immediate, meaningful and unfettered access” to U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth called out Bachelet for not joining the event.

“I’m sure she’s busy. You know we all are. But I have a similar global mandate to defend human rights and I couldn’t think of anything more important to do than to join you here today,” Roth told the event.

Ravina Shamdasani, deputy spokesperson for the U.N. Human Rights office, said Bachelet – who has expressed serious concerns about the human rights situation in Xinjiang and is seeking access – was unable to participate.

“The High Commissioner continues to engage with the Chinese authorities on the modalities for such a visit,” she said, adding that Bachelet’s office “continues to gather and analyze relevant information and follow the situation closely.”

(Reporting by Michelle NicholsEditing by Chizu Nomiyama, Alison Williams and Elaine Hardcastle)

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Ex-finance minister breached ethics rules in charity dealings

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Former Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau breached conflict-of-interest rules by not recusing himself when the government awarded a contract to a charity he had close ties to, independent ethics commissioner Mario Dion said on Thursday.

In a parallel probe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was cleared of having broken any ethics rules when WE Charity was tapped to run a C$900 million ($740.9 million) program to help students find work during the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The charity later walked away from the contract.

Trudeau and Morneau both apologized last year for not recusing themselves during Cabinet discussions involving WE.

Trudeau’s wife, brother and mother had been paid to speak at WE Charity events in previous years, but Dion said this appearance of a conflict of interest was not “real”.

Morneau, on the other hand, was a friend of Craig Kielburger, one of the charity’s founders, Dion said. The charity had “unfettered access” to the minister’s office that “amounted to preferential treatment”, a statement said.

No fines or penalties were levied.

Morneau said on Twitter he should have recused himself. Trudeau said in a statement issued by his office that the decision “confirms what I have been saying from the beginning” that there was no conflict of interest.

Ahead of a possible federal election later this year, the opposition could use the ruling to underscore the government’s uneven track record on ethics. Trudeau has been twice been found in breach of ethics rules in the past.

In August 2019, he was found to have broken rules by trying to influence a corporate legal case, and in December 2017, the previous ethics commissioner said Trudeau had acted wrongly by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island.

In a statement, opposition Conservative Party leader Erin O’Toole said: “To clean up Ottawa, Conservatives will impose higher penalties for individuals who break the Conflict of Interest Act and shine a light on Liberal cover-ups and scandals, ending them once and for all.”

The controversy over Morneau’s ties to the charity was a factor in his resignation in August last year, when he also left his parliamentary seat, saying he would not run again. Chrystia Freeland was named to take over for him a day later.

($1 = 1.2147 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jan Harvey)

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EU prepares new round of Belarus sanctions from June

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The European Union is readying a fourth round of sanctions against senior Belarus officials in response to last year’s contested presidential election and could target as many as 50 people from June, four diplomats said.

Along with the United States, Britain and Canada, the EU has already imposed asset freezes and travel bans on almost 90 officials, including President Alexander Lukashenko, following an August election which opponents and the West say was rigged.

Despite a months-long crackdown on pro-democracy protesters by Lukashenko, the EU’s response has been narrower than during a previous period of sanctions between 2004 and 2015, when more than 200 people were blacklisted.

The crisis has pushed 66-year-old Lukashenko back towards traditional ally Russia, which along with Ukraine and NATO member states Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, borders Belarus.

Some Western diplomats say Moscow regards Belarus as a buffer zone against NATO and has propped up Lukashenko with loans and an offer of military support.

Poland and Lithuania, where opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya fled to after the election she says she won, have led the push for more sanctions amid frustration that the measures imposed so far have had little effect.

EU foreign ministers discussed Belarus on Monday and diplomats said many more of the bloc’s 27 members now supported further sanctions, but that Brussels needed to gather sufficient evidence to provide legally solid listings.

“We are working on the next sanctions package, which I hope will be adopted in the coming weeks,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting.

The EU has sought to promote democracy and develop a market economy in Belarus, but, along with the United States, alleges that Lukashenko has remained in power by holding fraudulent elections, jailing opponents and muzzling the media.

Lukashenko, who along with Russia says the West is meddling in Belarus’ internal affairs, has sought to deflect the condemnation by imposing countersanctions on the EU and banning some EU officials from entering the country.

“The fourth package (of sanctions) is likely to come in groups (of individuals), but it will be a sizeable package,” one EU diplomat told Reuters.

More details were not immediately available.

 

(Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels, additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, editing by Alexander Smith)

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