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Federal suspension lifted, but Muslim charity presses ahead with case in top court

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OTTAWA — A Muslim international relief charity is telling the Supreme Court of Canada the federal government should not be allowed to “shoot first and hold a hearing later” when it comes to levying administrative penalties.

Ottawa-based Human Concern International can resume issuing tax receipts to donors now that a government-imposed suspension has expired.

But HCI is asking the top court to review the Federal Court of Appeal’s March dismissal of its request for a freeze of the suspension while a challenge of the penalty played out.

The Canada Revenue Agency levied the one-year suspension in July 2021 following an audit by the revenue agency’s charities directorate that flagged concerns about six initiatives.

Although the suspension has now ended, HCI is still pursuing the legal matter of a right to a freeze on the basis it has significant repercussions for the charitable sector as a whole.

In its application seeking a hearing in the Supreme Court, HCI says the rule of law in Canada will be “significantly diminished” if the court does not step in.

The charity argues federal agencies will be empowered to impose penalties before an airing of the issues — and prior to a determination of guilt.

“Justice will be denied to innocent parties, as government agencies will be free to extract punishments from citizens, even where the punishment cannot be reversed in the event bureaucratic error is identified at trial.”

Any other charities going through a revenue agency audit “will live in this fear of suspension,” HCI executive director Mahmuda Khan said in an interview. “And they’ll also feel like, OK, we have nowhere to go, or there’s no way to hold CRA accountable. And that’s not the position we want to have for charities in Canada.”

The revenue agency accused HCI of improperly issuing donation receipts totalling more than US$307,000 on behalf of organizations administering the six projects in question — a practice known as third-party receipting.

The initiatives included three education and health projects in India, education and skills development of orphans in Bangladesh, orphan support in Somalia and an education project in Kenya.

HCI, the oldest Muslim global relief charity in Canada, says charities often work with individuals and groups connected to the communities where the projects are taking place.

The charity insists it has always been committed to maintaining direction and control of its overseas projects and to ensuring that all such projects conducted through third-party intermediaries constitute HCI’s own charitable activities.

HCI objected to the suspension through the revenue agency’s internal administrative appeal process. That appeal is ongoing, Khan said.

At the same time, it applied to the federal Tax Court to delay application of the suspension until the revenue agency had considered the objection.

In August 2021, a Tax Court judge declined to grant a stay of the suspension.

In its March decision, a three-member panel of the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the judge’s ruling, saying HCI had not raised any error warranting intervention.

The Court of Appeal also said there was no merit to HCI’s argument that the Tax Court should have applied principles of natural justice to ensure the charity was not deprived of its right to a hearing on the merits of the matter before the suspension was imposed.

In its application to the Supreme Court, HCI says it lost an estimated $4 million in donations as a result of the suspension.

The charity has also incurred “significant legal fees,” Khan said.

HCI says while the revenue agency plays an important public function in regulating the special status of charities, that public interest can still be served by imposition of a suspension once internal appeals at the agency have been exhausted.

Federal lawyers have yet to file arguments in response. The Supreme Court is expected to decide in coming weeks whether to hear the case.

The federal revenue agency confirmed to The Canadian Press that HCI’s receipting privileges are now restored.

In a statement Thursday marking the end of the one-year suspension, HCI said tax receipts will be issued for all eligible donations going forward.

“HCI is grateful that many of our donors stood by us during these challenging times while the CRA one-year suspension was in effect. The support for our humanitarian programs despite our inability to issue tax receipts is evidence of HCI’s 40-year achievement in continuing our bond with our donors and beneficiaries,” the statement said.

HCI worked tirelessly to minimize the impact of the suspension on our beneficiaries, including supporting tens of thousands of orphans, empowering vulnerable women, providing water aid, rebuilding Gaza, or responding to emergencies in Afghanistan and Yemen.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 14, 2022.

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Wolf found dead by roadside, another still missing after ‘suspicious’ B.C. zoo escape

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ALDERGROVE — One of the wolves that escaped its enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo this week has been found dead on a roadside, and a second wolf is still missing, the zoo’s deputy general manager said Thursday.

Menita Prasad said both the zoo’s perimeter fence and the grey wolf enclosure were deliberately “compromised” early Tuesday, allowing the zoo’s nine adult wolves to escape while five cubs stayed inside the enclosure.

All but two of the adults were contained within the zoo’s property, she said.

The zoo in Aldergrove, B.C., has been shut for three days as workers and conservation officers searched for the wolves, while Langley RCMP investigate the incident as a suspected case of unlawful entry and vandalism.

The fences had been cut, Prasad said. An earlier statement from the zoo said the escape was “suspicious, and believed to be due to malicious intent.”

Searchers were “heartbroken” to find a three-year-old female wolf, Chia, dead by the side of 264 Street in Aldergrove on Thursday morning, Prasad told a press conference through tears.

It’s presumed Chia was hit by a car, she said.

A one-year-old female wolf named Tempest is still missing and believed to be in the vicinity of the zoo, Prasad said, adding that the animal, which was born at the facility, has a slim chance of surviving in the wild.

Prasad described Tempest as a “shy wolf” who poses no threat to public safety, though she said she could not say what the wolf might do if a person approached her. She urged anyone who sees the animal not to approach her and instead call authorities to report the location.

The wolf’s prime motivation would be to get back to her family, she said.

“As a result of this senseless act, our wolf pack has lost two family members,” Prasad said. “We watched these wolves grow up. We consider the animals at the zoo a part of our family.”

She said the “search and rescue operation” would continue and is asking for the public’s help “to reunite Tempest with her family.”

“She is a small wolf with grey brown puppy fur and white markings on her muzzle and her brow,” Prasad said.

Anyone who spots Tempest is asked contact the Greater Vancouver Zoo, Langley RCMP or the BC Conservation Officer Service by calling 1-877-952-7277.

The zoo, which is about 55 kilometres outside Vancouver, is set to reopen on Saturday, Prasad said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths in Canada stable, but higher than past summers – Global News

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COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and confirmed case counts across Canada are relatively stable after an early summer wave, but they remain far higher than past years, data shows.

As of Wednesday, Canada is seeing an average of 3,475 lab-confirmed cases and 44 deaths per day, according to provincial and territorial data compiled by Global News. Currently, 5,158 people are in hospital with COVID-19, including 305 patients who are in intensive care.

While those numbers are down slightly from the brief wave of infections in June and July, they remain far higher than the rates seen during the summers of 2020 and 2021.

In past years, there was an average of roughly 350 patients in hospital per day during the summer months. Even as hospitalizations climbed in August 2021 and into September of that year, they peaked at half the current rate.

The current death rate has also vastly eclipsed past summers, when the average number of deaths per day was in the single digits.

Previous evidence pointed to the summer months as predictable lulls in the pandemic, as people spend more time in outdoor spaces where there is less transmission of the virus.

But the more infectious Omicron variant upended that thinking, and further mutations — including the current BA.5 subvariant and its predecessor, BA.2 — have led to more waves of infections this year than in the past.

Read more:

‘We cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week’: WHO warns on rise in COVID fatalities

The World Health Organization warned on Wednesday that BA.5’s dominance has led to a 35 per cent increase in reported COVID-10-related deaths globally over the past four weeks.

In the last week alone, 15,000 people died from COVID-19 worldwide, according to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“There is a lot of talk about learning to live with this virus, but we cannot live with 15,000 deaths a week. We cannot live with mounting hospitalizations and deaths,” he said at a press conference.

“We cannot live with inequitable access to vaccines and other tools. Learning to live with COVID-19 does not mean we pretend it’s not there. It means we use the tools we have to protect ourselves and protect others.”


Click to play video: 'COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well'



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COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well


COVID guidelines for fall: Expert urges Canadians to look out for flu as well

Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam has said the country is in a period of pandemic transition that will likely lead to further waves this year, warning back in June that COVID-19 “has not left the stage.”

Public health officials have shifted their focus toward a potential serious wave in the fall and winter. Planning is underway to provide vaccine booster doses to all adults that request one, while ensuring vulnerable populations receive an extra dose.

Experts say the boosters are important, as current vaccines do not sufficiently protect against Omicron and its subvariants, allowing for “breakthrough cases” and even reinfections among vaccinated people.

“However, there is evidence that if you have the vaccine, more than likely you don’t end up in the hospital,” said Dr. Horacio Bach, an infectious disease researcher and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia.

“People (infected with COVID-19) will say, ‘It’s just kind of a flu, that’s okay, I’ll stay home.’ That is the result of the vaccines.”


Click to play video: 'Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter'



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Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter


Expert says Canada can expect a spike in COVID-19 variants cases during fall and winter

The Public Health Agency of Canada notes that between June 6 and July 3 of this year, unvaccinated cases were three times more likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die from COVID-19 compared to vaccinated cases.

Tedros urged everyone who has access to a booster dose to get one, and to continue to wear masks when it is impossible to keep distance from others.

As of Monday, 86.1 per cent of the Canadian population has received at least one dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine, while 82.4 per cent have received at least two doses. Yet just under half — 49.7 per cent — have gotten at least one more booster dose.

Despite hospitalizations nationally remaining relatively stable, signs are emerging that more patients are being admitted with symptoms.

Hospitalizations are on the rise in Alberta, Manitoba and Quebec, according to the most recent updates. Most provinces besides Quebec have shifted to reporting data weekly, while Saskatchewan is due to release its first monthly report on Thursday.

To date, provinces and territories have confirmed more than 4,125,000 cases of COVID-19 including 43,471 deaths.

— With files from Rachel Gilmore

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Commercial bankruptcies rising in Canada, says business lobby group – CBC News

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A small business lobby group says commercial bankruptcies are rising in Canada and even more small businesses are at risk of closure.

Statistics Canada data shows small business insolvencies have been on an upward trend since May 2021.

But the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says its own survey data indicates only 10 per cent of Canada’s small business owners would file for bankruptcy if their business was no longer solvent.

It says 46 per cent of business owners say they would simply stop operating rather than go through the bankruptcy process.

The CFIB also says more than one in six Canadian small business owners say they are currently considering going out of business.

The lobby group wants government support to help Canada’s small business sector get through the next few months and deal with challenges like pandemic-related debt and supply chain issues.

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