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Feds look to international missing persons commission for help on unmarked graves

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OTTAWA — The Canadian government approached an international commission that helped identify the remains of those killed during 9/11 and the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster to potentially aid its response to the discovery of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

A spokesperson for the International Commission on Missing Persons confirmed Monday that the federal government had approached it for support,but said it had no further information to provide and didn’t specify when the outreach happened.

Headquartered in The Hague, the organization works in different countries to help identify people who have gone missing or been killed in major conflicts and disasters using DNA testing. It also helps governments and institutions shape policies related to such issues.

Andreas Kleiser, the policy director for the International Commission on Missing Persons, confirmed the organization has been speaking with officials from the Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations, including recently. organization, confirmed

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“We checked in on developments,” Kleiser said in an interview Tuesday.

He said going ahead would depend on factors such as funding and “buy in” from Indigenous communities.

Over the past year, First Nations across Western Canada have announced the presence of what are believed to be the unmarked graves of Indigenous children who died while forced to attend residential schools.

At least nine communities have reported discovering 1,685 such graves, according to government statistics provided in May.

Ottawa has committed to providing money and resources to the First Nations to investigate the discoveries.

The federal government also appointed Kimberly Murray, a member of the Kahnesatake Mohawk Nation in Quebec and a former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to serve as an independent special interlocutor.

Murray was tasked with recommending policy changes and identifying options to protect and preserve the sites.

She said that while the commission does valuable work, the fact the federal government had been inpreliminary discussions with it raised some concerns because it’s unclear if the request for their involvement came from Indigenous communities themselves, which she says must lead the process.

“We’re speaking about Indigenous children in these graves,” she said in an interview Monday.

“We’re talking about Indigenous communities. We have Section 5 constitutional sovereignty rights. It’s a little bit of a different approach that needs to happen with these investigations.”

Murray added that while planning for a recent conference in Edmonton, the federal government asked if her office was interested in hearing from the commission.

In a statement late Monday, the office of Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller said “there is currently no contract in place” between the department and the missing persons commission, but did not address discussions between the two.

“I would hope that if Canada is engaging in any kind of contract with the commission to do any kind of work that they would have discussed it with Indigenous leadership and survivors,” Murray said.

“How does their work incorporate Indigenous law?”

Some details on Ottawa’s thinking around possibly turning tothe commission are contained in an undated briefing note prepared for the deputy minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, which was released to The Canadian Press under federal access-to-information legislation.

Titled, “Contracting the ICMP (International Commission on Missing Persons) for Engagement Services,)” the heavily-redacted document says the government has heard “repeated calls by Indigenous leadership to develop a national strategy to address the identification of unmarked graves and repatriation of human remains.”

It says communities have made it clear that Ottawa can’t be involved. Successive Canadian governments funded and oversaw the residential school system, though churches operated the institutions.

“The first step in developing this strategy is engagement,” the briefing note reads, saying the commission has “expertise exclusively focused on addressing the complex issue of the identification and repatriation of human remains.”

“As an arm’s length international organization, the ICMP has a reputation as a trusted interlocular with a strong reputation for independence and impartiality.”

It goes on to list how the organization worked with Quebec authorities to help identify some of those killed in the 2013 Lac-Mégantic disaster, when nearly 50 were killed after the downtown derailment of train cars carrying crude oil.

More recently, the organization says on its website that it has been tapped to help in Ukraine, where thousands of civilians have been killed or gone missing since Russia launched its invasion in February, and where recent mass gravesites have already been found.

Murray said it is critically important that investigations into unmarked graves remain independent of the Canadian government.

“It’s the state police, the state government, that caused the problem that we’re currently trying to investigate our way out of,” she said.

Murray has independently pursued outside expertise, including during the recent conference in Edmonton.

Her office invited the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala, which has helped communities set up labs to investigate and try to identify the remains of those killed in its civil war.

The organization has specific experience working with Indigenous communities, Murray said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 1, 2022.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Canadian military would be ‘challenged’ to launch a large scale operation: chief of the defence staff

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OTTAWA –

Canada’s military forces are “ready” to meet their commitments should Russia’s war in Ukraine spread to NATO countries, but it would be a “challenge” to launch a larger scale operation in the long term, with ongoing personnel and equipment shortages, according to Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Wayne Eyre.

Eyre told Joyce Napier on CTV’s Question Period in an interview airing Sunday that while the forces in Europe are “ready for the tactical mission they’ve been assigned,” he has larger concerns about strategic readiness. He said there’s a lack of people and equipment, and further concern around the ability to sustain a larger scale mission in the longer term.

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The Canadian Armed Forces are still struggling to retain staff, with nearly 10,000 fewer trained personnel than they’d need to be at full force, and equipment stocks below what they require.

“We’ve got challenges in all of those,” Eyre said, adding the numbers reflect what’s been “let slip over decades, as we’ve focused on the more immediate (needs).”

Eyre said Canada’s military would be “hard pressed” to launch another large-scale operation like it had in Afghanistan, as an example, without having to redistribute its resources around the globe, as threats evolve.

“The military that we have now is going to be increasingly called upon to support Canada and to support Canadian interests, to support our allies overseas, but as well at home,” Eyre said, citing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, climate change impacting the landscape in the Arctic, and an increase in digital and cybersecurity threats.

“It’s always a case of prioritization and balancing our deployments around the globe, not just with what, but when, and with who … and getting that balance right is something that that we’re working on,” he said. “Could we use more? Yeah, absolutely. But we operate with what we have.”

“We prioritize and balance based on what our allies need, and what the demand signals, just to make sure that we achieve the strategic effect the government wants us to achieve,” he also said.

Meanwhile Defence Minister Anita Anand said on CTV’s Question Period last week that Canada should “be able to walk and chew gum at the same time,” and balance its NATO commitments with securing the Arctic and promoting peace in the Indo-Pacific.

Eyre said his number one priority is getting Canada’s armed forces up to full strength, with an attrition rate of 9.3 per cent between both regular and reserve forces, up from 6.9 per cent last year. The Canadian Armed Forces Retention Strategy was released just last month.

“We are facing the same challenge that every other industry out there is facing in terms of a really tight labor market,” Eyre said. “Every other military in the West is facing the same challenge.”

He explained the organization is working on streamlining its recruitment process, among other changes, to meet the increasing need, with the goal to get numbers up “as quickly as possible.”

“Ideally, would have been yesterday,” he said. “We’re looking at where we can accelerate the recruiting, the training, and optimizing our training pipeline.”

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How soccer is evolving in Canada

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Soccer wasn’t really a thing when I was a kid. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s. Sure, we all had soccer balls. And we played a lot of what should be more accurately called, Kick and Run. But I – and all my friends – did not really know the rules, the teams or the players. We might’ve heard of Pelé, but not more than that.

We followed hockey, baseball, football (CFL and NFL) and basketball, in that order. I did occasionally watch soccer on TV, but that was because we didn’t have a lot of channels and the soothing English accents often lulled me to sleep.

Things are much different now. My 13-year-old son is a massive soccer fan. He plays on a team three or four times a week. His schoolmates include a lot of second-generation Canadians, whose parents came from soccer-obsessed nations. He watches Premier League and Championship League matches. He’s watches La Liga and Bundesliga. He watches World Cup qualifiers and could tell me the backstory on most of the players. In fact, he watches classic games on YouTube and plays FIFA22 on his PS4 and as a result, knows more about Pelé than I ever did. But, because of him, I now watch enough football to know a game is a match, a goalie is a keeper and I know which plays end up in corner kicks or throw-ins.

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I once asked him, “How well do you know the Germany national team?” and he said, “Not very well.” He then proceeded to name seven of their 11 starters. It’s a different world.

I still know almost nothing compared to the other soccer dads, but like millions of Canadians, I watched Canada’s qualifying matches and I know we have a great team, with some stellar players who are worth watching. The qualifying matches regularly beat both hockey games and CFL football when it comes to viewership.

But we should care about more than just the matches themselves. The World Cup is one of the biggest and most lucrative sports spectacles on Earth. This will be the first one hosted in the Middle East. And although Qatar may look shiny and new on TV, it’s mired in what many Western nations believe to be medieval and backwards policies on working conditions, LGBTQ2S+ and women’s rights.

Finding people to talk about it in Qatar is NOT easy. One of W5’s goals this week was to talk to migrant workers to describe how they were treated, their living conditions and their labour rights. Most were too afraid to talk to us.

And to confound things, there have been many stories of journalists being detained or arrested for reporting on migrant workers. Last week, a Danish reporter was live on TV from Qatar and when asked what things were like there, he directed his camera operator to pan left – revealing security officials in golf carts, who immediately tried to stop the live hit. The next day Qatari officials apologized, but the message was clear: we can stop you from reporting when we want. It’s a fascinating video that’s been viewed millions of times around the globe.

The Qatari government denies they’ve put any restrictions on media. In a tweet, the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy says “several regional and international media outlets are based in Qatar, and thousands of journalists report from Qatar freely without interference each year.”

Not everyone is convinced. Qatar ranks 118 out of 180 countries in the 2022 Press Freedom index, published by Reporters Without Borders. Freedom House, which is a U.S.-based freedom watchdog, gives Qatar a 25 out of 100 score on Global Freedom, which includes freedom of expression. (Canada ranks 98 and the US ranks 83).

A Reuters Institute column from last week on press freedom in Qatar suggests authorities obscure press freedom laws, by hiding behind trespassing laws.

“One of the most common risks when doing journalistic work in Qatar is to be accused of trespassing. This is what Halvor Ekeland and Lokman Ghorbani of Norwegian state broadcaster NRK were accused of when they were arrested by officers of Qatar’s Criminal Investigations Department in November 2021, while covering World Cup preparations. The journalists were held for over 30 hours before being released without charge. They deny they were filming without permission,” says the article.

A little insider info: I have personally written, “we don’t want you to get arrested, but…” at least twice in correspondence with our team in Qatar. I’ve never encouraged anyone to break the law of course, but sometimes doing our jobs leads police or security into thinking they have a duty (or at least a right) to stop you.

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

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On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage.

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do.

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

 

 

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