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Canadian Judicial Council recommends Quebec judge’s removal from bench

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The Canadian Judicial Council recommended Monday that a Quebec Superior Court judge be removed from the bench for what it called serious misconduct.

The council concluded that the conduct of Justice Gérard Dugré undermined the public’s confidence in the judiciary and that he cannot continue in his role.

In July, an inquiry committee recommended Dugré be removed from office due to “aggressive and disagreeable” attitudes toward lawyers and parties and to chronic delays in rendering decisions. Following that report, the council also considered submissions from Dugré’s lawyer before it released its ultimate recommendation.

A judicial council quorum of 25 members confirmed the committee’s finding and recommended to federal Justice Minister David Lametti that the judge be removed for conduct that was “manifestly and profoundly destructive of the concept of impartiality, integrity and independence.”

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Under Canada’s Constitution, the justice minister must seek the approval of both the House of Commons and the Senate before removing a federally appointed judge.

Dugré, appointed to the bench in 2009, did not testify during 38 days of hearings in 2021 but presented evidence that he had a unique style on the bench. More than 60 witnesses appeared at the inquiry. Dugré’s clerk, who testified on his behalf, told the committee that the judge used humour and anecdotes to put people at ease. Other witnesses said he was compassionate, courteous and a great conciliator.

The council noted that Dugré had made positive contributions to the administration of justice and resolved a number of cases through judicial conciliation. But it also said his in-court behaviour was “unacceptable.”

In a custody case, Dugré threatened to have a father sent to a cell for failing to disclose documents, telling him the court had cells for women with hungry mice in them, and separate cells filled with starving rats for men.

In a conciliation case, Dugré suggested that former spouses get back together and give their child up for adoption or place him with a foster family. The couple was trying to settle whether their son should switch schools. The council agreed with the committee that while those remarks were not to be taken at face value, someone could reasonably conclude they reflected a type of bullying.

Other complaints included allegations Dugré made inappropriate and demeaning comments in court, repeatedly interrupted lawyers and created a chaotic atmosphere by opining during proceedings about issues such as transgender persons, the Montreal Canadiens and a lawsuit against Montreal comedy festival Just for Laughs.

“Justice Dugré’s in-court behaviour was unacceptable,” the council said, repeating the inquiry committee’s terms such as “shocking,” “bullying” and “unpleasant and often aggressive.”

“It demonstrates a significant lack of respect for parties and counsel and, in some cases, demonstrated a lack of objectivity,” the council said.

The council said a pattern of unreasonable delays in rendering judgments — with a significant number taking more than six months and some more than a year — was another reason that made him unfit for the post. It said unreasonable delays in issuing decision negatively impacts the public’s confidence in the judiciary, adding that parties are entitled to timely rulings.

“The evidence establishes a consistent pattern, for almost the entirety of his judicial career, which was unresolved despite the involvement of two chief justices, an associate chief justice and a mentor,” the council wrote. “This demonstrates either an unwillingness or inability to address a chronic problem.”

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

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

The Northwest Territories government released its new budget Wednesday, the last before the territorial election set for the fall.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the plan aims to maintain the stability of the territory’s economy during times of “volatility and uncertainty” without reducing services and programs.

“I am confident that we are leaving the next assembly with a fiscally sustainable foundation on which to build,” she said.

The proposed $2.2-billion budget forecasts the territory will have an operating surplus of nearly $178 million. It projects revenue to increase by 2.9 per cent, largely due to an increase in federal transfers, while spending will increase by $187 million or 7.3 per cent compared to the previous budget.

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Wawzonek said initiatives to address the rising cost of living in the North include increasing student financial assistance, improved income assistance for seniors and people with disabilities, and support for non-government organizations.

“Students, seniors, the non-profit sector, these are areas where we can have a real impact and hopefully help mitigate the impacts of inflation,” she said.

Increased spending in the budget is to include $82 million for mandate priorities and enhancements to existing programs, as well as $62 million to cover the costs of flooding in 2022. Thousands of residents in Hay River and the nearby K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve were ordered to evacuate their homes due to the worst flooding on record in May.

Other budget highlights include $10.9 million for the transition from the pandemic to endemic stage of COVID-19, $10.1 million to help recruit and retain front-line health-care workers, $10.3 million for the territory’s $10-a-day child-care agreement with the federal government, $8.3 million to help offset the effects of the increased carbon tax, and $4 million for core Northwest Territories Housing Corporation programs.

The budget also proposes $833,000 for community governments and $89,000 for the Deline Goti’ne Government to reach the territory’s goal of reducing its municipal funding gap by $5 million between 2019 and 2023.

The N.W.T. government is not proposing any new taxes, but property taxes are expected to increase due to inflation. The territory also plans to change its carbon tax system to align with new federal requirements.

The federal government announced in August 2021 it would increase the carbon price by $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, starting at $65 a tonne beginning in April and rising to $170 a tonne by 2030. It is also prohibiting rebates that directly offset the carbon tax. In response, the N.W.T. plans to adjust its carbon tax rates, replace its heating fuel rebate by increasing its cost of living offset, and replace a carbon tax rebate for large emitters with a rebate tied to a facility-specific baseline.

Some legislature members have expressed concern with the plan as heating costs are high in the North, especially in the Arctic, and many communities are reliant on diesel.

Wawzonek said if the proposed changes aren’t passed by the legislature, the federal government will determine how to return revenue to the N.W.T.

The territory projects borrowing will increase by 4.5 per cent, bringing its total debt to about $1.5 billion, which it said is well below the federally imposed limit of $1.8 billion.

When the previous budget was tabled a year ago, the territory expected its total debt to increase to more than $1.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year. In October, however, the territory revised its capital estimates or the amount of money it expected to spend on infrastructure, to better reflect the territory’s capacity to complete projects, reducing spending from more than $500 million to a cap of $260 million.

The territory’s 2022-2023 $2.1-billion budget saw a 2.3 per cent increase in spending compared to 2021-2022.

Wawzonek touted that budget as a sustainable plan, promising to not cut programming or add new taxes while limiting new spending.

While the budget was passed in April 2022, several legislature members opposed the plan, criticizing limited spending on communities outside of Yellowknife.

Wawzonek said at a news conference Wednesday that she suspects there may be similar criticisms of the new budget.

She said, however, that she believes the budget can respond to those concerns, adding she has had discussions with legislature members about what they wanted to see in it.

“I think we as a collective 19 are getting a little better at doing that,” she said.

“I actually think this is maybe going to be the best year for the consensus-style approach to passing a budget.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Driver charged with first-degree murder in Quebec daycare bus attack that killed two

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Quebec daycare bus attack

The driver of a bus that crashed into a suburban Montreal daycare this morning, killing two children, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, appeared by video late this afternoon from a hospital room and will remain detained

Court documents show he faces a total of nine charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Six other children were injured and transported to hospitals in Laval and Montreal, but doctors said their lives were not in danger.

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At around 8:30 a.m., a Société de transport de Laval bus crashed into the daycare building, which sits at the end of a driveway a significant distance from the nearest bus route.

Witnesses who rushed to the scene said they had to subdue the driver, who seemed to be delirious and removed his clothing after getting off the bus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey after earthquake

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey

A senior government official says a Canadian assessment team is on its way to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was expected to formally announce the deployment of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team this evening.

The senior official, who spoke on background pending Sajjan’s official confirmation, said the team consists of a handful of military and Global Affairs officials.

The official underscored that the deployment of the team does not automatically guarantee a further deployment of Canadian resources to the country.

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The earthquake, which razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria on Monday, is one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the federal government is facing criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts is closing.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel and Canadian humanitarian aid workers with charitable organizations were arriving Wednesday

Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government had not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the recovery effort, but that it was working to figure out what would be most useful.

The assessment team would recommend whether to send additional support, such as a DART.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million on top of an initial aid package of $10 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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