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Canada less than halfway to Afghan resettlement goal one year after Taliban takeover



OTTAWA — A year after the Taliban seized control of Kabul, Canada’s resettlement efforts have lagged behind official targets and the efforts to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

More than 17,300 Afghans have arrived in Canada since last August compared to 71,800 Ukrainians who have come to Canada in 2022 alone, according to government statistics. The federal government has promised to resettle 40,000 Afghans.

Canadian activists and MPs accuse the Liberals of not doing enough to help people who worked with the Canadian Forces in the country, including as interpreters.

They say some families are in hiding from the Taliban as they await approval of their immigration applications, while others have been split up, with children and spouses of applicants left behind.

New Democrat MP Jenny Kwan, who has been in contact with many Afghan refugees who worked with Canadian Forces, said there is a “stark difference” between the government’s treatment of those fleeing the Taliban and those fleeing the Russian invasion.

She said the situation for Afghans who helped Canada is “grave,” with many unable to escape the country and facing persecution by the Taliban.

She said some received no reply to their applications from the immigration department other than an automated response. Others seeking visas from the Taliban authorities to escape their regime were put in peril if they identified themselves.

“Their lives are in danger. They told me what the Taliban are calling them: they are called ‘the Western dogs,’” Kwan said.

“We owe them a debt of gratitude. We cannot abandon them.”

Amanda Moddejonge, a military veteran and activist, said she has witnessed families being split up, with only some making it to Canada. She also warned that Afghans who worked for Canadian Forces “are being hunted” by the Taliban.

“Nobody should face death for working for the Government of Canada, especially when this government can identify those who worked for them and is able to provide them life-saving assistance,” she said.

The warnings come as aid agencies working in Afghanistan raise alarms that the country is in a dire humanitarian crisis, with 18.9 million people facing acute hunger.

Asuntha Charles, national director of World Vision Afghanistan, said aid workers have encountered acute poverty and malnutrition, including among children.

“At least one million children are on the brink of starvation, and at least 36 per cent of Afghan children suffer from stunting — being small for their age — a common and largely irreversible effect of malnutrition,” she said.

“In the four areas we work, we’ve found that families live on less than a dollar day. This has forced seven out of 10 boys and half of all girls to work to help their families instead of going to school.”

Vincent Hughes, a spokesman for immigration minister Sean Fraser, said the Afghan and Ukrainian immigration programs are very different.

He said refugees who arrived through programs set up to bring them to Canada have a right to stay permanently, whereas it’s believed many Ukrainians who have fled to Canada intend eventually to return to Ukraine.

Helping get people out of Afghanistan and to Canada was very challenging, he added, as Canada has no diplomatic presence there and does not recognize the Taliban government.

“Our commitment of bringing at least 40,000 vulnerable Afghans to Canada has not wavered, and it remains one of the largest programs around the world,” he said.

“The situation in Afghanistan is unique as we are facing challenges that have not been present in other large-scale resettlement initiatives.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2022.


Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press


BC Wildfire Service warns season not yet over amid drought



VANCOUVER — Seemingly endless summer conditions in British Columbia have prompted a warning that this year’s “very unique fire season” in the province is not yet over.

Hot and dry conditions persist, something the superintendent of the BC Wildfire Service’s predictive services said is “quite problematic,” and creates conditions for potential ignitions across B.C.

Neal McLoughlin said the season was unusual because it started slowly and was damp, with a delayed snowmelt, then it transitioned into hot, dry conditions by July that continue to persist into October.

Temperatures are about five to eight degrees above normal for this time of year, and there’s been little to no rain in several parts of B.C. in weeks.

“We are starting to switch the status of a lot of our fires to ‘being held’ or ‘under control,’ but there still is fire activity on the landscape,” McLoughlin said in an interview. “I would suggest, while we are maintaining this hot, dry, precipitation-free period, fire season is by no means over yet.”

The service is citing a below-average season for area burned, and while lightning-caused fires reached about twice the average in August, low winds help crews to fight the fires, McLoughlin said.

“Strong winds are basically the accelerator on a fire in terms of its rate of spread and how far it can grow,” he explained.

He said between 10 and 20 millimetres of rain across B.C. over a one- or two-day period would likely be needed for the service to consider fire season over.

“Although we’re not seeing as many human-caused fire starts and lightnings are tapering off, it only takes one ignition under the right conditions, and we could see a large fire or an aggressive day in terms of fire behaviour.”

While the wildfire service downgraded the last so-called “wildfire of note” on Sept. 24, more than160 wildfirescontinued to burn across the province on Friday, two dozen of them had been sparked in the last week.

This comes as the Forests Ministry warns about drought conditions in parts of the province. Vancouver Island, the inner south coast and the northeast corner of the province reached the second-most severe level of drought on the five-point rating scale.

The ministry ranked those areas at Drought Level 4, meaning conditions are extremely dry and will likely have unfavourable effects on everything from jobs to ecosystems.

“While most forests can withstand occasional water shortages, repeated droughts cause stress to forests and trees. When trees are stressed, they are at higher risk of pests and disease,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.

It said forest health is a “key priority” for the province.

“Strategies are being developed to ensure future forests are healthy and resilient in the face of climate change and changing weather conditions. These include using adaptive management to mitigate risks through planting a wider diversity of native species that can better tolerate drought,” it said.

Robert Guy, a professor of forestry and tree physiology at the University of British Columbia, said he’s “not terribly concerned” about the dry start to fall. He said droughts are more problematic to forest health during the spring, when growth occurs.

“Overall, I don’t think having a drought at this time of year is going to be terribly consequential and in terms of forest growth,” Guy said. “Fires are, of course, a concern at any time of year when it’s this dry though.”

However, he said recurrent droughts do make trees more vulnerable to fires and insect attacks.

“One summer is not so bad, but two or three in a row, then you start to see problems, particularly with young trees. Trees where the root systems don’t go particularly deep are the most vulnerable to drought,” he said.

McLoughlin agreed.

“If this were to extend into next fire season, and then maybe another season where we have two to three back-to-back years where we have very dry conditions, that typically will then be a lead into a very catastrophic fire year,” he said.

It is too early to predict whether the drought will affect next season, McLoughlin said.

“We do have higher drought conditions leading into the end of our fire season, which could carry over into next year if we don’t see good overwinter precipitation and recovery from a precipitation and moisture perspective,” he said. “So, there’s the possibility, but it’s not to say that there’s certainty that will play out.”

The BC Wildfire Service plans to release a comprehensive wildfire summary later this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.


Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Canada ‘behind the ball’ with weak merger laws, says author of biting report



OTTAWA — Lax merger laws in Canada underestimate the harm to competition caused by mergers and overestimate their benefits, a new report says.

Gaps in Canada’s merger laws have failed to prevent the kind of acquisitions that allow big firms to “extinguish competitive threats and entrench their dominance,” according to the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

Canada has fallen “way behind” other jurisdictions such as the United States, said Keldon Bester, a fellow with the centre and the author of the report.

He compared Canada’s existing regime to a set of faulty brakes. “Our laws today are like brakes on a car going downhill. We know we’re going downhill, but we’d like to go there a little bit slower,” he said in an interview.

The “permissiveness” of merger laws is especially concerning in the context of a growing digital economy, which is fraught with unique challenges, his report adds.

Mergers, which are transactions that see two companies combined into one, can be subject to review by Canada’s competition watchdog to determine whether they would be harmful to competition.

However, since the introduction of the Competition Act in 1986, the Competition Bureau has only ever challenged 18 mergers. And what’s especially alarming, the report says, is that the bureau has never won a challenge on final judgement.

A recent poll suggests Canadians are concerned about the state of affairs.

According to an Ipsos survey conducted in January, 88 per cent of respondents agreed that more business  competition is needed “because it’s too easy for big businesses to take advantage of Canadians.”

The same proportion agreed that more competition between businesses could lead to more choice and lower prices for consumers.

The survey of 1,001 Canadians aged 18 and older was conducted between Jan. 14 and 17. Ipsos says its online results are weighted and are comparable to a traditional poll with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

One of the issues with the Competition Bureau is the threshold at which it must be notified of a transaction, the CIGI report says.

Under the Competition Act, parties to a proposed merger must notify the Competition Bureau if a transaction meets certain financial thresholds. But those thresholds do not include the value of the transaction itself, the report says.

That’s in contrast to the U.S., where the Federal Trade Commission is already notified of mergers that exceed a certain transaction value.

Early this year, the commission and the U.S. Justice Department announced a joint public inquiry to modernize merger guidelines so as to “better detect and prevent anti-competitive deals.”

By comparison, Canada is “way behind,” Bester said.

Another problem with the Competition Bureau is that “the bar to intervene in a merger is quite high,” added Bester, a researcher who studies competition and monopoly powers in Canada.

That’s because current laws take into consideration the increased efficiency that may come from a merger, he said. Harms from reduced competition are permitted if the proposed merger will lead to cost savings that are deemed to be greater.

There’s also a bias against blocking mergers outright, he said.

Instead, the laws favour negotiated agreements that include concessions or remedies that would address some of the competition concerns. These remedies don’t have to fully address the reduction in competition that would be caused by the merger, the report says.

The report suggests several changes to Canada’s merger laws.

The recommendations include expanding the range of transactions the Competition Bureau is notified of, extending the time window it has to block a harmful merger and changing the criteria used for assessing whether a transaction should be blocked.

The most high-profile proposed merger in Canada right now is arguably Rogers’s proposed takeover of Shaw, a prospective transaction valued at $26 billion.

Bester said that if Canada had stronger merger laws, the Rogers-Shaw deal would have automatically been “dead in the water” given the lack of competition in the telecommunications industry.

“If we had stronger merger laws, this merger wouldn’t be proposed in the first place.”

Nonetheless, Canada’s competition watchdog has been trying to block the deal, arguing that it will substantially lessen competition and lead to higher phone bills.

Rogers and Shaw are expected to appear before the Competition Tribunal in November, where they will argue in favour of the transaction.

Although the federal Liberals have made recent amendments to other parts of the Competition Act, Canada hasn’t touched merger laws — a problem that Bester blames on a “legal and financial apparatus” that benefits from their permissiveness.

Banks, law firms and private equity groups “are interested in very loose merger laws because that increases their bottom line,” said Bester.

“We really haven’t done anything today on the merger side, so Canada really is behind the ball.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.


Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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Canada terror rules unchanged as Afghans face humanitarian crisis and winter looms – CTV News




Opposition parties and aid groups say the Trudeau government is dragging its feet in carving out exemptions to anti-terrorism laws to allow humanitarian groups to reach desperate people in Afghanistan.

“There is nothing but political will interfering with us solving this problem,” said NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson.

In June, a multi-party committee called on the government to modify the Criminal Code so that major humanitarian groups can help Afghans without being charged with assisting the Taliban.

Representatives from 10 humanitarian groups told MPs in March that Global Affairs Canada informed them they would not be able to pay a driver to deliver food or buy supplies within Afghanistan because that would incur taxes sent to the Taliban.

That would mean supporting the terrorist group, which has been listed as such under Canadian law since 2013.

Liberal MP Salma Zahid, who sat on the special parliamentary committee, said Canada must find a workaround like its allies did to ensure much-needed aid is delivered.

“I think the minister of Public Safety and as well as the minister of Justice are looking into it,” she said in an interview Thursday.

“They have to find some solutions.”

The issue was well-known last December when the UN Security Council issued an exemption to anti-terrorism sanctions on the Taliban that allowed humanitarian aid to reach Afghanistan.

By June, Australia invoked that resolution to get help to Afghanistan, while the U.S. and European Union modified their rules to ensure humanitarian groups could respond.

That same month, public servants warned Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly of challenges Canadian organizations were facing in Afghanistan before she met with former female Afghan parliamentarians.

“There is no ability to provide exemptions under current Canadian law,” reads a briefing note obtained through an access-to-information request.

“The need for mitigation measures imposes serious constraints on humanitarian and development activities that the government is able to support and the organizations with which Canada is able to partner.”

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan said the Liberals plan to modify the law, but couldn’t explain why departments that handle the Criminal Code haven’t moved.

“They’re working on options right now with the ministers of Public Safety and Justice,” Sajjan said in a Thursday interview.

The office of Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino had no explanation for the holdup nor a timeline, and did not confirm that Ottawa actually intends to amend the current laws.

“We continue to explore new ways to support Afghans, while following Canada’s Criminal Code,” wrote spokeswoman Audrey Champoux.

The Department of Justice did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

“I, as minister of International Development, have to work within the current laws that we have,” Sajjan said.

He stressed that the government has found ways to deliver $144 million in aid to Afghans through organizations that can comply with Canada’s rules. Much of that is going to Afghans who have fled their country; the rest is largely procured by the UN thanks to the Security Council exemption.

“I just want to stress, it’s not preventing us from actually providing the funding to the Afghan people themselves,” Sajjan said.

Humanitarian groups say otherwise, arguing their hands are tied as desperation mounts.

This month a coalition of 18 groups, including as the Canadian Red Cross and Islamic Relief, decried the Liberals’ “disheartening lack of urgency in acting to remove the barriers.”

In late August, UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths said more than half the Afghan population — some 24 million people — need assistance, and close to 19 million are facing acute levels of food insecurity.

On Tuesday, the UN warned that drought, economic tumult and high oil prices will only make this worse as winter sets in.

Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan said the government must implement a solution this fall to help the millions of people who are struggling.

“Especially, I think of the women, I know how hard it is in that society to function if you don’t have a man,” she said.

The party’s foreign affairs critic noted that aid groups were raising the Criminal Code issue months before their testimony this spring.

“They’ve had a lot of time to fix the problem,” said Michael Chong, who argued the Liberals should have had legislation ready to table when the House resumed sitting this month.

“This inability to execute on something that everyone agrees upon is part of a broader pattern in this government of being unable to implement policy,” he said.

“This government struggles to put words into action.”

Instead of incompetence, McPherson chalked it up to indifference.

“There is no way that it should be taking this long for them to sort this out,” she said.

“I’ve spoken to Liberal members of Parliament who are appalled at their own government for not doing anything on this.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2022.

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