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Canadian truckers protesting in Ottawa appear set to stay – Al Jazeera English

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Ottawa, Canada – The sound of blaring truck horns has been replaced by revving engines in the Canadian capital, still blockaded by truckers who appear to be settling in for the long haul.

Between and around the trucks that have halted city traffic, protesters have erected tents, barbecues, bales of hay for warmth and comfort. Children in snowsuits played with large plastic blocks in what looked like a makeshift outdoor kindergarten.

The demonstration launched in January and billed as a “Freedom Convoy” began in western Canada and descended on Ottawa, arriving on the 28th, paralysing the city centre.

On January 29, thousands of demonstrators and supporters flooded the streets and the open space in front of the Canadian Parliament Buildings.

What started as a protest against mandatory vaccinations for truckers in order to cross the border into the United States, has grown into broader dissent against the Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and what is perceived as a tightening of individual rights and freedoms, highlighting the anti-vaccination movement.

Ottawa Canada, Trucker ProtestTwo trucks block the entrance to Rideau street, one of the main commercial streets of downtown Ottawa [Roger Lemoyne/Al Jazeera]

The truckers have effectively shut down a swathe of Ottawa’s city centre, some 1.5km (0.93 miles) long, dubbed the Red Zone by Ottawa Police, where most businesses and office buildings remain closed. This section of the city is home to the seat of government, museums, office buildings and prime business real estate.

The number of protesters has dwindled to a few thousand in the Canadian capital, but police estimate more than four hundred trucks and other vehicles remained parked in the middle of roads, crisscrossing intersections, or within inches of police cruisers that delineate the Red Zone.

The hundreds of police officers deployed around the city, criticised at first for inaction, had issued more than 1,300 tickets and arrested 23 by Wednesday, according to part of the Ottawa police website dedicated to the demonstration. A Monday court injunction had already halted excruciatingly loud truck horn blasts, replaced by the regular revving of truck engines.

“We can stay here for months if we want,” said Harold Jonker, a 49-year-old trucker from the Niagara region, a five-hour drive from Ottawa.

“Our goal is pretty simple: remove all lockdowns and mandatory vaccination and bring the freedoms to this country. What we didn’t realise was how huge the support would be” said Jonker.

Trucker Leo Schmidt told Al Jazeera he was not sure what to expect when he drove with the convoy from Steinbach, Alberta to Ottawa, more than 3,000 kilometres (1,864 miles).

Ottawa Canada, Trucker ProtestChildren of protesters play in a makeshift outdoor kindergarten as Canadian truckers block the streets of Ottawa [Roger LeMoyne/Al Jazeera]

He had regularly crossed the US border as a long haul-trucker for 41 years but said the new regulations halted that, costing him thousands of dollars and he wanted his voice heard.

The convoy was organised by known far-right figures, the Canadian Anti-Hate Network has reported in detail. Confederate flags and at least one swastika were spotted during the first weekend of protests, drawing widespread condemnation from politicians and other observers.

“The swastika, that’s a problem. We think that was a set-up,” Schmidt said, without offering any evidence to back up the claim, adding organisers made sure it was removed. “There are people with a lot of agendas here, other political movers, I’m just a peon.”

On Wednesday morning, demonstrator Roze Ravensbergen fried eggs, bacon and toast on a hotplate on a folding picnic table. She handed out food to anyone who asked for it, creating a community vibe, while standing beside stacks of supplies of water, food and clothes. She said she planned to stay “as long as it takes” for the truckers’ demands to be met.

Ottawa Canada, Trucker ProtestRoze Ravensbergen serves breakfast to anyone who wants it on the street outside the Canadian parliament [Roger Lemoyne/Al Jazeera]

Ravensbergen, travelled with her husband and their three children from the Niagara Peninsula 500km (310 miles) away to support her brother-in-law whose truck has been parked on Wellington Street since January 28. Some family members sleep in the truck, she said, while she and the three children spend nights at a motel.

Among the protesters, there is a convivial party atmosphere, but for many Ottawa residents, resentment has been mounting.

Vehicles have occupied a main shopping thoroughfare, Rideau Street, a five-minute walk from Wellington Street and the Parliament of Canada. The Rideau Centre, a city centre shopping mall closed its doors on January 29 after maskless protesters flooded the building on the first day of the protest. It has not reopened and most of the businesses along the street are now closed as well.

Nearby, the 143-year-old Ottawa School of Art’s campus looks onto Byward Market, a tourist-friendly farmer’s market and home to art galleries, pubs and shops.

“This has definitely hurt us,” director Jeff Stellnick told Al Jazeera.

Unable to open in late January, and already struggling because of COVID-19 closures, the non-profit school is scrambling to move classes to another campus away from the protests and may hire security guards, he said.

“This isn’t really a demonstration about COVID, they want to overthrow the government. It’s like ‘welcome to the French Revolution,’” Stellnick said.

He said Ottawa hosts many regular demonstrations, often with more participants.

“When they’re done they go home. These guys think they have a lot of support, but the vast majority think they’re barking up the wrong tree”.

Ottawa Canada, Trucker ProtestHarold Jonker sits in the cab of his truck parked in front of the Parliament of Canada [Roger LeMoyne/Al Jazeera]

Beyond the centre of town, there is more evidence the truckers do not intend to leave soon.

One group had set up camp in the parking lot of the baseball stadium offered by the city as a vehicle overflow option. It has turned into a self-styled command post running supplies to those on Parliament Hill some six kilometres (3.7 miles) away. More than seventy vehicles of all types are parked in the lot where a tent, a wooden shack and several saunas have been installed.

Fuel is one of the truckers’ key necessities, and protesters have been playing cat-and-mouse with police who have arrested people for transporting it. To confound the authorities, protesters and their supporters have been wandering in and out of the Red Zone with empty fuel canisters, making it harder to spot the real transporters.

An Ottawa police officer told Al Jazeera: “We are just trying to keep a line open with the protesters. We want this to end peacefully.” He declined to identify himself, but his uniform read M Bickford.

Moving the protesters without their consent would not be easy, most are large rig heavy trucks that would be no match for towing vehicles authorities have at their disposal.

Jonker said any towing company with the capacity to move them, would not, “because we’re their customers. They’ll never touch us.”

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Returning to the Office

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Unfortunately, the world’s economies are moving into or are in a Recession. A horrid word I know, but every decade or so it appears like an unwanted house guest.
Will a recession bring people back into the office? After 2 years of working from home, if you had that safety privilege-opportunity, many of us will be invited or perhaps forced to return to the office.

A Pew Research Center survey(2020) found that 64% of respondents polled had been working from home due to office closures due to the pandemic. By January 2022 61% were doing it because they wanted to. Employers allowed and even encouraged working from home while studying their employee’s progress and output.

Now we have found that we live in a job seekers marketplace, with companies offering higher wages and better perks to attract and keep potential employees. The “great resignation” of 2020-2021 has become the “great labour slackening” where employers feel emboldened-half of these employers believe in-office workers are more productive.

Many in the market believe employees will return to the office space, fearing the possibility of being laid off by employers requiring a sense of control and management. The same survey found that 14% of those who have returned to the office feared losing work opportunities while at home.

The Canadian National Society of High School Scholars found that 63% of their members wanted to go back to the office, while 23% considered working from home.

A recession places most businesses in a particularly difficult situation, that would not go well for their employees. Recessions traditionally bring with them cost-cutting avenues, repealing benefit packages, various benefits to the employee and staff, layoffs and terminations. Working from home also grants employers added benefits. Employee’s that work half-time at the office and their home office can save an employer $11,000 annually, while a full-time employee working from home would save them more. Negotiations between employers and employees working from home have and will carry on, where a person’s annual wage/salary will decline. The privilege of working at home has a cost, that of lower wages. Working from home can save an individual as much as $4-5,000 annually.

Businesses and employees have to consider what is best for themselves. The cost of hiring and retraining employees is very high, especially in this labour void we work in today.

A possible work-from-home strategy may be on its way, encouraged by governments, environmentalists and Sociologists. The Possible benefits such as less stress, driving to work, health and safety issues, and improved communication systems will certainly increase the likelihood that home-based work is a future trend.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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UN: Multiple famines might be declared in 2022

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Berlin, Germany- Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) has warned of a looming severe global famine if drastic measures are not taken.

Guterres warned that farmers in Asia, Africa and the Americas would be the hardest hit by the rising costs of fertilizer and fuel.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022, 2023 could be even worse. This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage. No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe,” said Guterres.

In addition, the UN Secretary-General said the Russian attack on Ukraine exacerbated pre-existing problems and called for the release of Ukrainian agricultural products onto the world market to ease shortages as well as debt relief for indigent countries.

“The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years, climate disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic and the deeply unequal recovery,” added Guterres.

However, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said Western nations are deliberately stirring up tensions regarding Ukrainian grain exports.

Putin said Russia is not impeding exports, and criticized the West for its “cynical attitude” towards the food supply of the developing nations, which have been worst affected by soaring prices. He said rising inflation in the West was “a result of their own irresponsible macroeconomic policies.”

Furthermore, Putin said Russia is ready to provide free passage to international waters for ships carrying grain, adding that Russia had reached an “understanding” on that issue with the UN Secretariat.

Moreso, the Russian President suggested that the Ukrainian military should demine the country’s ports to further facilitate exports, and said “a constructive approach on Kiev’s part” is the only thing that is lacking and cited that Russia itself may be able to export between 37 and 50 tons of grain this year.

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Canada can now seize, sell off Russian assets. What's next? – CBC News

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Selling Russian-owned assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction may sound like a logical approach to restitution, but as the Canadian government gains new powers to begin this process, questions remain about how it will work, and whether some issues are headed to court.

C-19, the budget implementation bill, received Royal Assent last Thursday. Among its many measures are new powers to seize and sell off assets owned by individuals and entities on Canada’s sanctions list. While the new powers could be used in any international conflict, the Liberal government’s current priority is helping victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Canada’s stepped-up sanctions powers were discussed with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during her visit to Toronto last week.

“We think it’s really important to extend our legal authorities because it’s going to be really, really important to find the money to rebuild Ukraine,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Canadian and American reporters. “I can think of no more appropriate source of that funding than confiscated Russian assets.”

That sentiment was shared by Ontario Sen. Ratna Omidvar who proposed her own Senate legislation to enable similar asset seizures two years ago. At the time she was motivated to help the displaced Rohingya population by sanctioning corrupt generals in Myanmar.

“Kleptocrats must pay for their crimes, not through simply being sanctioned and their assets being frozen, but by their assets being repurposed and confiscated,” said Omidvar.

Although C-19 will work a bit differently than her bill, Omidvar still calls it a “good start” and supports the government’s move. 

“The question no longer is ‘if we should confiscate,'” the senator said. “The question is: ‘How should we repurpose? … Who’s involved? How do we provide accountability? How do we protect ourselves?'”

Test cases expected

Although some jurisdictions, notably Switzerland, already confiscate and return certain illicit assets, this move by Canada — and potentially other G7 countries meeting in Germany this week — is unprecedented.

Allies agree on the imperative of cranking up more economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it’s still a risky play. Other hostile governments could seize Canadian-owned assets abroad in retaliation. It also may violate customary international law, such as the UN Articles on states responsibility.

The new powers target assets in Canada owned by an individual or entity on the federal government’s sanctions list. Previously, authorities could seize the proceeds of crime. With C-19, they can confiscate the assets of sanctioned individuals whether they’re acquired legally or illegally.

Is that fair? Omidvar anticipates the new powers being challenged in Canadian court. “I keep thinking we need a couple of test cases,” she said.

The senator’s original bill proposed seizing and redistributing assets by court order, with a judge adjudicating concerns.

C-19 puts more power in ministerial hands, something that is “faster and nimbler,” Omidvar acknowledges, but also less transparent.

During debate in the Senate, Omidvar called on the government to take “politics out of the equation” so Canada would not be accused of inappropriate distribution of funds, “or worse, appropriation of funds for its own use.”

When asked about the legality of these new powers earlier this month, Justice Minister David Lametti said “you don’t have an absolute right to own private property in Canada,” and compared it to other processes of government expropriation.

Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, told CBC News that “necessary checks and balances” are provided in C-19, including a formal judicial process to forfeit any asset.

“Procedural fairness was a key consideration in the development of these measures, and forfeiture proceedings before a judge are not automatic,” Joly’s spokesperson said. 

Privacy rules limit disclosure

Omidvar’s bill would have created a registry with the name of any person or entity associated with a seized asset and its value. There’s no such disclosure requirement in C-19, so this could be a difficult process to track once it starts.

One or more court cases could trigger more public disclosure. 

When the RCMP reported earlier this month that Canadian authorities have frozen the equivalent of $124 million in assets so far, it was unable to reveal what these assets are — cash, bonds, cryptocurrency, corporate shares, real estate or other property — because of the Privacy Act.

The minister of foreign affairs may issue permits on a case-by-case basis to authorize activities or transactions that would otherwise be prohibited, but only to people in Canada or Canadians abroad. When asked if any such permits have been issued related to Canada’s sanctions against Russia, Global Affairs Canada would not comment, again citing privacy concerns.

One of the prominent Russian oligarchs on Canada’s sanctions list, Roman Abramovich, holds around 30 per cent of the shares of Evraz, a global steel manufacturer that employs over 1,800 people at its facilities in Western Canada. 

CBC News asked Evraz North America whether any of its shares or business properties were among assets frozen by Canada so far, but the company did not respond. 

Separate from its powers to seize assets, the budget implementation bill also implements a publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry to make it easier to trace the ownership of anonymous shell companies. That could reveal more about Russian assets in Canada.

However, a business that’s registered provincially instead of incorporated federally would only appear in the national registry if provinces and territories agree to participate — if they don’t agree, there is a potential loophole, Omidvar warned her Senate colleagues during debate.

Who gets the proceeds?

Omidvar’s original bill would have required the recipient of redistributed funds to report back to a court on its use.

C-19 puts the minister of foreign affairs in charge of who gets the money and what happens to it.

“Operationalizing this is going to be a little bit of a challenge,” said fellow senator and former G7 sherpa Peter Boehm. “This is all very, very new.”

The former senior Global Affairs official suggests the government needs to get safeguards in place.

“What is the mechanism? To whom should these assets go? Do they go to individuals? Do they go to state actors?” Boehm said, noting that Canada may want to coordinate with other like-minded countries and UN agencies, like the World Food Program. “There are a lot of questions there… we need to know and the Canadian people would want to know where this money is going and if it’s being properly spent.”

The yacht Amore Vero shown here docked in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat, in March, was seized by French authorities after being linked to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosnef. (Bishr Eltoni/The Associated Press)

The G7 considered asset seizures previously, Boehm said. He expects they could feature in at least behind-the-scenes conversations this week, if not the final communiqué.

“The leaders meetings internationally are timed, I think, very well,” he said.

“Ukraine, historically… has struggled with corruption issues,” said Rachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow with the Centre for a New American Security who advises companies and countries on sanctions policy.  “There have been a lot of strides made… but it’s still not at the level of a developed economy.”

Working through the International Monetary Fund, or setting up a trust fund that would vet recipients and add more reporting to the process could add more certainty, she suggested.

Russian central bank has reserves in Canada

Taxpayers in Canada, the U.S. or other countries don’t want to bear the full cost of this war, Ziemba said, but as governments embark on asset seizures they also have to be concerned about the message it sends on what jurisdictions are safe for foreign investment.

“There are a lot of legal questions ahead,” she said.

According to recent reporting on Russian Central Bank reserves, about $20 billion might be held in Canada — a far more significant sum in the context of Ukrainian reconstruction than the $124 million in frozen assets disclosed so far.

“The Russian Central Bank and some of its investment funds over the last decade [were] really focused on trying to reduce its exposure to U.S. dollars,” Ziemba explains. Canadian reserve assets and government bonds were attractive because they were both stable and got more yield than comparable investments in Japan or the European Union.

In other words: a small slice of Canada’s debt is held by Russia. “The only saving grace is that the amount they have is not so much they can hold much leverage,” Ziemba said.

Russia’s central bank is on Canada’s sanctions list. Should these reserves be seized and handed over to Ukraine too?

Yellen’s argued against doing this in the U.S., even though it could provide more funds to rebuild Ukraine.

“That might send a message to other countries that are investing in [international currency and bond] markets,” Ziemba said — think of China’s buying power, for example. “That, I think, is why the [U.S.] treasury department and even the [U.S. federal reserve] are wary of these moves.”

Are asset sales imminent?

Earlier this month, CBC News asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether Canada intended to sell the full amount of assets frozen so far. He declined to answer, saying “there are lots of conversations going on” and Canada was “a long way” from deciding how proceeds would be spent.

But when the Senate foreign affairs committee pre-studied C-19 in May, officials said the government will move quickly.

“The intent is definitely to start identifying assets to pursue and to freeze and forfeit them shortly after Royal Assent is received for Bill C-19,” said Alexandre Lévêque, the assistant deputy minister for strategic policy at Global Affairs Canada.

In its report, that Senate committee said the government needs “to monitor on an ongoing basis the ways in which repurposed funds are used and to learn from the early examples of the new powers being implemented.”

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