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Fiona fallout: Nova Scotia premier blasts cellphone companies’ lack of co-operation

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HALIFAX — The premier of Nova Scotia has issued a stinging rebuke to the telecommunications companies that serve the province, saying too many residents were still without cellphone service four days after post-tropical storm Fiona roared across the East Coast.

“Nova Scotians have questions about when their service will be restored, how widespread the outages are and what the companies plan to do to ensure this never happens again,” Houston said Wednesday in a statement. “There is no question we need our telecommunications companies to step up and be more transparent.”

All four companies responded with statements highlighting their co-operation with the province and their efforts to restore service.

The premier said the government had asked Bell Aliant, Eastlink, Rogers and Telus to send representatives to the province’s emergency co-ordination centre before Fiona’s arrival, but he said none of them was initially willing to co-operate.

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“Eastlink, Rogers and Telus declined to attend … in person during the initial response,” the premier said.

Bell Aliant, however, eventually sent someone after the province complained to senior management, but the premier said the representative left after two days to work virtually.

The company issued a statement saying its representative had to move off site Sunday because they had to make their own property safe, but Bell Aliant said they remained connected to the centre. “Both 911 and our emergency responder network also remained fully functional throughout the storm and aftermath,” spokeswoman Katie Hatfield said.

“We have also had a representative take part in every (Emergency Management Office) media availability … and are committed to keeping customers updated through the media, our social media channels, websites, call centres and stores.”

At the height of the storm, the majority of Bell Aliant’s wireless and wireline networks were operational and “at this point are close to being back to 100 per cent,” Hatfield said.

Eastlink CEO Lee Bragg said he believes the premier’s comments about the outages are unfair, given the magnitude of the storm, which generated hurricane-force winds and record-breaking storm surges.

As for co-operation, Bragg said it didn’t make sense to send an employee to the co-ordination centre until they were briefed about the level of damage.

“It made more sense to have somebody in our network operations centre who had real-time access to the information,” he said. “I think that’s maybe (Houston’s) lack of understanding of how the networks are managed …. This was the most co-ordinated effort I’d seen, so I think it’s a little unfair to be critical.”

As for Telus, the company argued it has been “a fully engaged participant,” actively collaborating with provincial authorities by providing timely updates about repairs.

Telus said it started working with the Emergency Management Office on Sept. 21, two days before the storm arrived, and it has taken part in 15 consecutive calls with the co-ordination centre.

Meanwhile, Houston said he has asked federal Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne to hold the telecommunications companies accountable for providing information about service outages.

“Other service providers have come together in an effort to make sure Nova Scotians have the information they need, yet the telecommunications companies are consistently missing from the table,” Houston said.

Later in the day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Champagne had called a meeting Wednesday night to bring together the major telecom companies.

The prime minister, who was in southwestern Newfoundland to inspect the damage caused by Fiona, said Ottawa wants to make sure people have the service they need and that there is transparency and accountability within the industry

“People rely on telecommunications, particularly in moments of disasters and rebuilding,” he said. “And we expect those telecom companies to step up.”

A spokesperson for Rogers said the company worked closely with the provincial and federal governments before and after the storm hit.

“As impacted areas were cleared from downed lines or trees, our local teams were able to restore services as quickly as possible,” the statement said. “We now have 99 per cent of services restored across the region.”

On Wednesday morning, when the premier issued his statement, more than 104,000 homes and businesses in Nova Scotia were still without electricity, which represents 20 per cent of Nova Scotia Power’s customers. The outages, which started early Saturday, have had an impact on cellphone service because the backup batteries in blacked-out cellphone towers will die unless a generator is brought in.

Poor cellphone service has also been reported in P.E.I. and southwestern Newfoundland, areas also thrashed by Fiona.

In Ottawa, Infrastructure Minister Dominic LeBlanc said the federal government has been working with industry to build redundancy into Canada’s telecommunications services.

“The more backup generators … the better we’re all going to be,” LeBlanc told a ministers briefing. “So the government accepts that we have a responsibility … to ensure that we’re doing more, and we’re doing it quickly.”

LeBlanc said the government won’t hesitate to consider regulatory measures if it concludes that industry isn’t doing its part.

On Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told the House of Commons that cell service across Atlantic Canada had been disrupted because the telecom companies had failed to build infrastructure capable of coping with extreme weather. During question period, he asked the Liberal government to force the companies to improve their infrastructure.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said the government was “working hard with cellphone companies to ensure they give Canadians the service they need.”

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

— With files from Holly McKenzie-Sutter in Port aux Basques, N.L., Keith Doucette in Halifax and Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa.

 

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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Conservatives are ‘fearmongering’ over assault-style gun ban: public safety minister

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OTTAWA — Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino accuses the Conservatives of “whipping up fear” that the Liberal government is outlawing ordinary long guns and hunting rifles.

In an interview, Mendicino says the government only wants to reinforce a regulatory ban on assault-style firearms like the AR-15 by enshrining a definition in legislation, and it is prepared to work with MPs to get it right.

He insists the government has no intention whatsoever of going after everyday long guns and hunting rifles, calling the notion “Conservative fearmongering.”

In May 2020, the Liberal government announced a ban through order-in-council on over 1,500 models and variants of what it considers assault-style firearms, such as the AR-15 and the Ruger Mini-14.

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The Liberals recently proposed including an evergreen definition of a prohibited assault-style firearm in gun-control legislation being studied by a House of Commons committee.

The Conservatives claim the government’s amendment amounts to the most significant hunting rifle ban in the history of Canada.

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

 

The Canadian Press

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Joly seeks reprimand of Russian ambassador as embassy tweets against LGBTQ community

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OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly has asked her department to summon Russia’s ambassador over social media postings against LGBTQ people.

In recent days, Russia’s embassy in Ottawa has posted on Twitter and Telegram that the West is imposing on Russia’s family values, and arguing that families can only involve a man, a woman and children.

The embassy has posted images of a crossed-out rainbow flag and Orthodox icons of Adam and Eve.

The tweets came as Russia expanded a ban on exposing children to so-called homosexual propaganda, meaning authorities can now prosecute Russians for doing things they argue might entice adults to be gay or transgender.

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Joly’s office says the posts amount to “hateful propaganda” that must be called out and “an attack on the Canadian values of acceptance and tolerance.”

If Global Affairs Canada follows Joly’s request, it will be the third time the department has summoned ambassador Oleg Stepanov this year.

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

 

The Canadian Press

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Work hard and never give up, Michelle O’Bonsawin says during Supreme Court welcome

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OTTAWA — The newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada says her journey has not been an easy one, but it has been meaningful and rewarding.

Members of the legal community and Michelle O’Bonsawin’s fellow judges welcomed her to the bench in a ceremony today.

O’Bonsawin, who replaced the retiring Michael Moldaver on Sept. 1, is a bilingual Franco-Ontarian and an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation.

O’Bonsawin says she is a big believer that if a person has a goal, works hard and never gives up, they can achieve their dreams.

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She adds that while she has made mistakes and fallen down, those missteps have been her teacher.

Richard Wagner, the chief justice of Canada, praises O’Bonsawin’s generosity and volunteer activities, noting she shares his passion for open courts, access to justice and education.

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

 

The Canadian Press

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