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Defence chief calls for more disaster response as military faces growing demands

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces is too often the first choice when it comes to responding to natural disasters like hurricanes, Canada’s top military commander said Thursday.

Chief of the defence staff Gen. Wayne Eyre told a parliamentary committee that governments at all levels need to build additional capacity at the provincial or municipal level to respond.

“With the increasing frequency and intensity of these natural disasters, we’re being called upon more and more to respond not necessarily as a force of last resort, but in some cases the force of first choice,” he said.

Eyre was speaking as hundreds of Canadian troops are on the ground in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador helping communities recover from Hurricane Fiona.

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Fiona battered Atlantic Canada in late September and has sparked fresh calls for the federal, provincial and municipal governments to better plan and prepare for natural disasters as they become larger and more numerous.

The head of the Canadian Red Cross this week called for less reliance on the military and more investments for what some are calling a national “humanitarian workforce” of civilians that is ready to respond to disasters and other emergencies.

Eyre has previously expressed concern that the country’s reliance on the military for domestic situations is negatively affecting its ability to train and prepare for other missions, which include defending Canada from a potential attack.

The growing demands also coincide with a severe shortage of military personnel, which prompted Eyre to issue a sweeping order to senior commanders on Thursday to end all non-essential activities in favour of boosting recruitment and retention.

Eyre said a civilian disaster response organization would need many of the same capabilities as the military, including an organized labour pool and the ability to deploy and support itself.

“That’s the real value of what we provide,” he told the committee. “And any similar organization, any supplementary organization should provide the same capacity or the same type of attributes.”

He also acknowledged that the Armed Forces will always need to be ready to respond to requests for assistance at home as its primary job is to protect Canadians.

“Given the extents of the disasters that we’re facing, we still have to be that force of last resort,” he said. “The Canadian Armed Forces still has to has to be there as the ultimate insurance policy for this country if there is not sufficient capacity.”

The defence chief was at the committee to discuss the threat posed by Russia, during which he painted a bleak picture about the security situation around the world thanks to both Moscow and China.

“Russia and China are not just looking at regime survival, but regime expansion,” he said. “They consider themselves to be at war with the West.”

He added that the greatest threat to both governments is from their own populations, and that they are trying to undermine liberal democracies and the credibility of western institutions “to ensure our model of government is seen as a failure.”

Eyre later said that the rules-based international order that has sustained relative peace and security since the end of the Second World War is “faltering. It needs to be defended. The gravity of these times should be apparent for all.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 benefits helped economy rebound, but post-payment verification lacking: AG

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Canada’s auditor general says COVID-19 benefits were delivered quickly and helped mitigate economic suffering, however, the federal government hasn’t done enough to recover overpayments.

In a new report looking into the federal government’s delivery of pandemic benefits, Karen Hogan said the programs provided relief to workers and employers affected by the pandemic and helped the economy rebound.

At the same time, the auditor general says the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada have not followed up by verifying payments.

Hogan estimates $4.6 billion was paid to people who were not eligible, while another $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and businesses should be further investigated.

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“I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” Hogan said in a news release.

The audit found that efforts to recover overpayments have been limited, with the Canada Revenue Agency collecting $2.3 billion through voluntary repayments.

Pre-payment controls were also lacking, though the report said the federal government made some changes to those controls for individual benefits.

However, the CRA made few changes to improve prepayment controls for businesses to mitigate risks of overpayment.

Hogan also flagged that there was a lack of sufficient data to assess the effectiveness of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Although the subsidy did go to businesses in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, the report said the effect of the subsidy on business resilience is unclear because the agency collected limited data from businesses.

The auditor general has made a set of recommendations to the government to improve the collection of overpayments and to fix data gaps relating to businesses.

Government organizations reviewed in the audit say they have accepted the recommendations, though only partially accepted a recommendation related to recuperating overpayments.

The federal government said it would prioritize which to pursue by weighing the resources necessary with the amount owed.

“It would not be cost effective nor in keeping with international and industry best practices to pursue 100 per cent of all potentially ineligible claims,” the response said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

The Trudeau government is pledging to spend $15 million to remove mines in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the funding is meant to make the country safer after Russia has laid hundreds of the indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch says Ukrainian forces have also been laying anti-tank mines across the country.

Joly made the announcement on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines in most countries.

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Ottawa has so far provided Canadian-made bomb suits to help protect Ukrainian deminers and has plans to help fund remote-control systems to clear large areas such as farmlands.

Last month, Canada unveiled funding to remove both landmines and cluster bombs from parts of Southeast Asia that remain inaccessible decades after conflicts like the Vietnam War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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B.C.’s Julia Levy is Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar

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British Columbia’s newest Rhodes Scholar will pursue a master’s degree in computational chemistry, but she says it’s also an “incredible opportunity” as a trans woman to give back to her community.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy said she was “blown away” when she learned she was among 11 Canadians selected for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious such awards.

Levy, 24, will head to Oxford University in England next October for the fully funded scholarship, a prize she said carries a special meaning because she is the country’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar.

“I feel I am very, very proud being the first trans woman in Canada (to become a Rhodes Scholar),” said Levy, who made the transition from he to she three years ago.

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While the transition was a tough journey, Levy said she is aware of the many advantages she’s had.

“I think it’s really interesting to note that I am privileged in literally every other way, like my parents being supportive of my transition. I have always had financial stability and I grew up in a good part of Vancouver … maybe that’s the advantages that you need to equal out the trans part of it,” said Levy.

Levy, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a chemistry major and a minor in visual arts, described the scholarship as an “incredible opportunity and a gift,” equipping her with more knowledge and power to give back to the trans community.

“I feel my experiences of being trans and the ways that I have had to navigate the world being trans … has given me a lot of empathy for people in crisis and people who have difficulties in their lives,” said Levy.

“I know what it is to be at the bottom in some ways and my interest in harm reduction and trans care really all comes from that place of knowing what it’s like and wanting to reach out and help out where that’s possible.”

Levy is also a scientist, artist, activist, programmer, friend and daughter, she said.

“There are many parts of me that are equally important to who I am.”

University of Victoria chemistry professor Jeremy Wulff supervised Levy and said she was “destined for greatness,” bringing insights to projects that led to their success.

“I’m always excited when my students are recognized with awards and fellowships, but the Rhodes award is at a whole other level,” he said. “Julia is in excellent company amongst this group, and it’s absolutely where she belongs.”

Levy said magic can happen when you mix computation with chemistry.

In her second year at the University of Victoria, she found some classmates were struggling to picture molecules in their heads while doing peer teaching.

To help them visualize complex molecules, Levy created an augmented-reality app.

The app is a QR code in the workbook and allows the learner to see the molecule on their phone in three dimensions.

“You can work it with your phone and spin it around and zoom in and out,” said Levy.

She also worked as a technician with the university’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, a drop-in service where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis.

Levy said the experience used her chemistry skills in a “practical and socially active way” to help more people.

“It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” said Levy.

Levy, who was travelling in Germany during the interview, said she looks forward to being surrounded by the Rhodes community and “being challenged and pushed to new heights.”

“I hope I bring what makes me unique to Oxford, and that I am able to find a group of people, both personally and professionally, that celebrate that uniqueness,” said Levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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

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