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Feds enshrining right to healthy environment but no clarity on what that means

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OTTAWA — More than five years after being told it should enshrine the right to a healthy environment in its environmental protection act, the federal government is moving to do it.

But it wants another two years to figure out exactly what that will mean in practice.

The amendment to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act is one of 87 recommendations to the government made in 2017 when the House of Commons environment committee completed a mandatory review of the act.

In 2018, then-environment minister Catherine McKenna said the government was going to wait until after the 2019 election to bring forward the legislation and would spend the intervening months consulting on the best way to proceed.

It took the government until April 2021 to introduce the change, but that bill died without debate when the 2021 election was called in August. An almost identical bill was reintroduced in the Senate in February.

The Canadian Environmental Protection Act is known colloquially as CEPA (pronounced SEEPA). It’s the legislation that spells out what chemicals can and can’t be used in Canada, and how those that can be toxic must be used and disposed of.

It’s the act that is supposed to protect people from things like asbestos, mercury and lead. It’s what allowed Canada to ban bisphenol A in baby bottles in 2010, and helped reduce mercury emissions in the air and water by more than 60 per cent since 2007.

Most recently, the government added plastic garbage to the list of toxic substances, arguing it poses a risk to human and animal health, which is allowing Ottawa to ban certain kinds of single-use plastics like straws, cutlery and takeout containers.

It is also supposed to give guidance to companies making various chemicals to know how they will be assessed and approved for use.

The new bill updates how those toxic substances are assessed, including a requirement to look for safer alternatives, data on cumulative effects if combined with other substances, and whether they can cause cancer over the long term.

The new bill also adds a sentence guaranteeing that every Canadian has the “right” to a healthy environment and makes it a duty of the government to protect that right.

“This is the first time that this right has been included in a federal statute in Canada,” Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said at the Senate environment committee Thursday.

But the legislation says the government will have up to two years after the bill takes effect to define how that right will be implemented when it comes to enforcing the act.

Guilbeault said that will guide how the right to a healthy environment will be considered when enforcing CEPA, including the principle of environmental justice, which addresses unfair exposure to harmful substances, often by marginalized communities.

But Nunavut Sen. Dennis Patterson says it is bizarre to be passing a law if the government doesn’t itself know what the law will actually do.

“Should we not understand what this right would confer to Canadians and how to operationalize it?” he asked. “Otherwise, I believe we’re needlessly injecting uncertainty into every process that relies on CEPA for clarity and certainty.”

Guilbeault said any lawmaker knows you can’t define a legal element in regulation until that element exists.

Canadian environmental lawyer David Boyd, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said more than 100 countries already have a legal right to a healthy environment and it’s not complicated to define.

“It means people have a right to breathe clean air, they have a right to a safe and sufficient supply of water, to healthy and sustainably produced food, to healthy ecosystems and biodiversity, and non-toxic environments where people can live, work, study and play, and a safe climate.”

He said it also should mean people can get access to information on their environment, participate in the process to make decisions about their environment, and have legal recourse if they feel that right is threatened or violated.

Boyd said the law would be much stronger if it spelled out what recourse they have if they feel the government isn’t upholding its duty to protect their right to a healthy environment.

And he wishes Canada would do what most other countries have done and make it a constitutional right, though he acknowledges that is itself a toxic can of worms.

Guilbeault said the government has no intention of opening up that can for this.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

 

 

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Why Can’t The Federal Government Eliminate Systemic Racism In The Canadian Military?

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“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system.

By Harinder Mahil

A recently released report indicates that systemic racism is rampant throughout the Canadian Armed Forces which is putting the country’s national security at risk. 
 
The report released by Defence Minister Anita Anand says that the military has not acted on dozens of previous studies and reviews on racism in the ranks over the past two decades. The report says the military is not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other extremists from infiltrating its ranks.
 
I have read numerous stories about the racism in the military over the years but never thought it was such a big problem. I am shocked at the extent of the problem as identified in the report.
 
The report concludes that more and more Canadians will have no interest in joining the military until it fixes its long-standing issues of racism, abuse of power, gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.
 
“Unless it is rapidly reined in and addressed, the impact of this toxicity will linger for years, affecting the reputation of the Defence Team to the point of repulsing Canadians from joining its workforce”
 
The report says military leadership must accept that some members will either leave or need to be removed.
 
The report comes after a yearlong review by a panel of retired Armed Forces membersand follows numerous incidents linking some military personnel with violent extremism and hate groups, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
 
“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system,” reads the report by the Minister of National Defence’s Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination.
 
There has been increasing pressure on the military to do more to crack down on hateful ideologies within its ranks.
 
“A common thread was evident throughout these consultations: membership in extremist groups is growing, it is becoming increasingly covert, and technological advances such as Darknet and encryption methods pose significant challenges in detecting these members,” the report said.
 
White men account for 71 per cent of Canadian military members but only 39 per cent of the country’s civilian workforce. The report notes Indigenous Peoples, visible minorities and women are significantly under-represented in Canada’s armed forces.
 

Over the last two decades the military has been seeking recruits from the Indigenous and visible minority communities. Why would Indigenous and visible minority communities’ members join the military if they are discriminated against by others especially those who have links with neo-Nazis?

 
I am of the opinion that the report only scratches the surface of the problem. It talks about consultations but who is consulted. 
 
If the military is serious about dealing with the problem it should monitor the social media posts of its members and weed out those who harbour white supremacist views and recognize those who are likely to be drawn towards extremist groups.
 

Harinder Mahil is a community activist and President of the West Coast Coalition Against Racism (WCCAR).

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Government’s changing vape strategy shifts focus away from cigarettes, advocates fear

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OTTAWA — In the eight years or so since he opened his first vape shop in Ottawa, Ron Couchman said a great sense of community has been lost.

A former cigarette smoker himself, Couchman said he remembers when his store operated almost as a support group for people trying to find a healthier alternative to cigarette addiction.

“We could teach other people how to vape when people were struggling to get off cigarettes, we’d play board games and have movie nights,” Couchman said.

As provincial and federal legislation started to clamp down on those activities, he said the camaraderie has faded.

Couchman is a passionate advocate for the potential of vaping to help people leave more harmful tobacco habits behind. At one point the federal government appeared to be onside with that, he said, but that seems to be changing.

“The last few bouts of legislation (have) really swung the other way to the point that it’s serving as a disincentive to quit smoking,” he said.

The government is in the midst of its first review of the 2018 legislation that legalized vaping, and appears to be veering away from the narrow path between treating vapes as a harm reduction tool, or a danger in and of themselves.

The harms of vaping relative to smoking tobacco cigarettes are still something of a mystery, but the government’s website suggests it’s safer than inhaling cigarette smoke.

Advocates on both sides of the issue say regulations have become tougher on vapes and have more or less abandoned the product as an alternative to cigarettes, leaving them to wonder how the government plans to deal with cigarette smoking in Canada.

“They bet heavily on harm reduction as a way to address tobacco. It hasn’t worked for them, and they didn’t have a more comprehensive plan,” said Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Health Canada’s goal is to reduce the number of people who smoke tobacco to just five per cent by 2035, from about 14.8 per cent in 2019.

An audit of the department shows tobacco smoke is declining in popularity, but mainly because young people aren’t picking up the habit and existing smokers are dying.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Canada, with approximately 48,000 people dying from smoking-related illnesses every year, the government says.

Vaping remains relatively unpopular for adults over the age of 25, with just three per cent reporting that they vaped within the last month in 2020, according to the results of the Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey. That’s about the same it was in the 2017 Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey.

But vaping has spiked among youth between 15 and 19 years old, to 14 per cent in 2020 up from six per cent in 2017.

In response, the government clamped down on vaping with a range of regulations, banning promotion and advertising of the products in certain spaces and putting limits on the amount of nicotine that can be in them. It’s also expected to restrict which flavours can be sold.

In their most recent budget, the Liberals proposed an excise tax on vape products as of Oct. 1.

Now, it’s as if Health Canada is fighting the war on two fronts, Callard said.

The department has been focusing resources on youth vaping, leaving anti-smoking groups like Callard’s concerned that a tobacco strategy may be falling by the wayside.

The recent audit shows the department has been taking on projects to reduce tobacco use, but it won’t be enough to meet their own targets.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Rights4Vapers say smokers are being punished for making a healthier choice.

“It is probably the only addiction currently where we continue to use fear and shame to get individuals to quit,” said Maria Papaioannoy, the group’s spokesperson and a vape store owner.

The strategy does appear to be at odds with the harm-reduction approach the government has embraced when it comes to to drug use, said David Sweanor, chair of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.

“We’ve seen the success replicated numerous times simply by giving people alternatives, which is consistent with what we’ve done with things like clean needles, safe injection sites,” said Sweanor, who contributed to the 1988 Tobacco Products Control Act.

The government must table its legislative review this year. The discussion paper the department released touches almost exclusively on how to toughen vaping regulations, Sweanor said, though that’s not what the legislation was primarily set out to do.

“Is it accomplishing what it’s supposed to be accomplishing? Are there ways that you can improve it?” he said.

“Instead, what we got is a document that takes very few aspects of, primarily, their anti-vaping strategy.”

In the paper the government says the review will focus on vaping regulations because the vaping products market in Canada has changed so much in the years since the law was passed.

The review gives the opportunity to examine whether the act offers the government enough authority to address the rise in youth vaping, the paper said.

“A full assessment of whether the measures taken since the legislation was introduced in 2018 have been effective in responding to the rise in youth vaping will benefit from more time and data. Subsequent reviews will continue to monitor youth use along with other dimensions of the Act,” the document reads.

Advocates for and against using vaping as a way to transition people away from harmful cigarette smoke agree, tobacco is being left out of the conversation.

“Tobacco remains the fundamental problem,” said Callard. “It’s tobacco that continues to kill.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

 

 

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Multiple reports say Marner’s SUV was stolen in an armed carjacking in west Toronto

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There are multiple reports that an SUV belonging to Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner has been stolen in a carjacking in the city’s west end.

The Toronto Sun, Global News and City TV all quoted unnamed police sources as saying Marner’s black Range Rover was taken outside a movie theatre in Etobicoke.

Police confirmed there was a carjacking without any injuries, but would not give any information out on the victims or witnesses.

The Sun says Marner was shaken but not hurt.

Police tweeted they were called to The Queensway and Islington Avenue area around 7:46 p.m. for reports of a man robbed of his car.

Authorities are looking for three suspects armed with two handguns and a knife, who took off in the stolen vehicle.

Marner and the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday in a seventh and deciding game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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