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Canada struggling to process Afghan refugees, Taliban ‘not exactly being helpful’: PM

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the circumstances in Afghanistan are “heartbreaking” but Canada is facing challenges in processing refugees trying to flee the war-torn country.

Trudeau, whose Liberal government promised to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees in Canada, said Wednesday the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban is making the situation “unbelievably difficult.”

“As might be imagined, the Taliban are not exactly being helpful in terms of bringing people out of Afghanistan to Canada,” he said at a media availability in Kitchener, Ont.

“We continue to work with partners in the region and with allies around the world.”

Afghans who risked their lives to support Canada’s military mission, along with Canadian veterans who worked closely with them, have criticized the government’s refugee program for being slow and mired in red tape.

The Veterans Transition Network, a group working to help Afghans who assisted the Canadian Armed Forces, announced earlier this week it was winding down evacuation operations.

Executive director Oliver Thorne said “bureaucratic hoops” to getting the proper paperwork are causing a bottleneck, and he called on the Canadian government to resume consular services in Afghanistan.

Retired major-general Denis Thompson, who sits on the network’s board, said about 700 Afghans eligible to come to Canada are stuck in Pakistan because they don’t have an exit visa from that country.

He urged Canada to negotiate with Pakistan to change the exit visa requirements. Those talks should have begun much earlier, he said, before Pakistan began going through recent political upheaval.

Trudeau said his government remains committed to welcoming 40,000 Afghans, including interpreters and others who worked with the Canadian military, as well as providing humanitarian support to Afghanistan.

So far, more than 10,600 Afghan refugees have arrived in Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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US Senate approves US$40 billion military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine

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Washington D.C, United States of America (USA)- The US Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved a $40 billion emergency military and humanitarian aid package for Ukraine bringing the total aid to US$54 billion in just over two months.

Transfers thus far, have included relatively expensive weapons like the 5 500 Javelin anti-tank guided missiles and 1 400 Stinger antiaircraft missiles given to Kiev, as well as less-costly munitions like the 184 000 155-millimetre shells provided to Ukraine for a protracted artillery battle in Donbass.

“Aid for Ukraine goes far beyond charity, the future of America’s security and core strategic interests will be shaped by the outcome of this fight. Anyone concerned about the cost of supporting a Ukrainian victory should consider the much larger costs should Ukraine lose,” said Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader.

The package includes an increase in Presidential drawdown authority funding from the US$5 billion the Biden administration originally requested to $11 billion. Presidential drawdown authority funding allows the administration to send military equipment and weapons from US stocks. The package also provides US$6 billion in Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative funding, another way the Biden administration has been providing Ukraine with military assistance. The funding allows the administration to buy weapons from contractors and then provide those weapons to Ukraine, and as a result, does not draw directly from US stocks.

There will also be roughly US$9 billion to help restock US equipment that has been sent to Ukraine, which comes as many lawmakers have raised concerns about replacing US stocks of weapons the US is giving to Ukraine, especially stingers and javelin missiles. The package also provides US$3.9 billion for European Command operations, which includes mission support, intelligence support, hardship pay for troops deployed to the region and equipment, including a Patriot battery.

To address humanitarian needs, the package will include US$900 million to bolster refugee assistance, including housing, trauma support and English language instruction for Ukrainians fleeing the country.

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Elon Musk denies sexually assaulting a flight attendant

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Austin, United States of America (USA)- Billionaire entrepreneur, Elon Musk, has denied claims that he sexually assaulted a flight attendant back in 2016.

According to an article published by Business Insider, the flight attendant worked in the cabin crew for SpaceX‘s corporate jet fleet. During a flight in 2016, Musk allegedly asked her for a full body massage and then exposed himself to her, touched her leg and offered to buy her a horse in exchange for an erotic massage.

The Insider states that the story is based on a signed declaration by a friend of the attendant who spoke to the outlet on condition of anonymity, citing fears for her safety, and on documents, emails and other records pertaining to the incident.

According to the declaration, in the wake of the incident, the attendant felt she was being marginalized in her job. She felt she was being pushed out and punished for refusing to prostitute herself.

As a result the attendant then hired a lawyer in 2018 and sent the allegations to SpaceX’s Human Resources department. The complaint was resolved following a session with a mediator attended by Musk. In November of that year, Musk, SpaceX and the attendant entered into a severance agreement that involved a US$250 O00 payment in exchange for a pledge not to sue over the claims.

The insider also claims to know the identity of the flight attendant but will not disclose it because she claims to be the victim of sexual misconduct adding that she has personally declined to comment on the story.

However, Musk said the article in the Insider was a politically motivated hit piece, “If I were inclined to engage in sexual harassment, this is unlikely to be the first time in my entire 30-year career that it comes to light it’s a politically motivated hit piece.”

Musk also took to Twitter to respond to these allegations, citing that attacks against him should be viewed through a political lens.

“The attacks against me should be viewed through a political lens this is their standard (despicable) playbook, but nothing will deter me from fighting for a good future and your right to free speech,” tweeted Musk.

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Supreme Court to hear case about access to Premier Doug Ford’s mandate letters

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Canada’s top court will hear Ontario’s appeal to block the release of mandate letters sent by the premier to his cabinet ministers nearly four years ago, although Doug Ford insisted Thursday that the content of the notes was not a secret.

The CBC sought the 23 letters Ford wrote to his cabinet ministers shortly after his Progressive Conservatives won the 2018 election. A journalist filed a request that year for the documents under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

“It’s not secret,” Ford said Thursday at a campaign stop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., shortly after the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision and two weeks ahead of the provincial election.

“Everyone knows where we stand. I’m out here every single day moving forward. It’s going to be very, very clear what we’re doing. We’re going to continue to build roads, highways, bridges, and hospitals and schools.”

He said “it’s going to be as clear and transparent as you can get.”

Yet Ontario’s Attorney General sought to keep the letters private from the outset.

The four-year legal odyssey began with a freedom-of-information request for the letters by CBC’s Nicole Brockbank.

The cabinet office refused CBC’s request, arguing they should be excluded under the freedom of information act because releasing them would “reveal the substance of deliberations” of cabinet.

That prompted the broadcaster to appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Mediation did not solve the issue, court documents show.

Then-privacy commissioner, Brian Beamish, ordered the letters to be disclosed to CBC.

Ontario’s attorney general responded by seeking a judicial review in divisional court, which dismissed the application. The province then appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

In January, the province’s highest court dismissed Ontario’s appeal, which prompted the province to appeal again to the country’s highest court.

As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons Thursday for deciding to hear the appeal.

CBC said Thursday it has been successful at each stage of the court process and “remain convinced the mandate letters should be made public for the purposes of public transparency and accountability.”

“We see today’s decision as a positive step given Canada’s highest court is looking further into a matter CBC News believes is of strong public interest,” CBC spokesman Chuck Thompson said in an email.

Patricia Kosseim, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, who is part of the case against the province, said it’s an “important case about the public’s right to access government information.”

“A judgment by the Supreme Court could set a significant precedent for deciding future cases involving access to key records such as mandate letters that can help the public understand the plans and approaches of governments,” Kosseim said in a statement.

In July 2019, the former privacy commissioner concluded the letters did not fall within the parameters of exclusion.

“The mandate letters are directives from the Premier to each of his ministers,” Beamish wrote. “They contain general statements about the government’s overall priorities and provide guidance to each minister as to each ministry’s priorities and his or her own role.”

The privacy commissioner found no evidence the letters were ever tabled at a cabinet meeting or part of cabinet deliberations, and therefore could be made public.

The divisional court found the privacy commissioner’s conclusions to be reasonable, saying the burden of proof lay with the province to demonstrate the letters should be excluded under the exemption. The judge ruled the province didn’t meet the burden of proof.

The Court of Appeal upheld the lower court’s ruling in a 2-1 decision, saying it did not make an error in law.

“The letters do not threaten to divulge cabinet’s deliberative process or its formulation of policies,” Justice Lorne Sossin wrote.

Ontario’s New Democrats called for the immediate release of the letters on Thursday in a statement.

“Doug Ford’s Conservative mandate letters should have been released publicly four years ago,” said the party that held official Opposition status before the legislature dissolved for the current election campaign.

Ontario Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca said Ford and his Progressive Conservatives are scared to release the letters.

“It is unconscionable and appalling that they don’t have the confidence in their own plan to just level with the people of Ontario about their hidden agenda, the agenda that are trying desperately to keep hidden, to privatize to cut and to deliver more chaos,” he said at campaign stop in Mississauga, Ont, on Thursday.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also called on Ford to release the letters.

“Why is Doug Ford afraid of being transparent and straightforward with the people of Ontario?” Schreiner said in a statement. “What are they hiding?”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

–with files from Nicole Thompson in Mississauga, Ont., and Jessica Smith in Niagara-on-the-Lake

 

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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