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First Nations leaders reject Trudeau’s proposed gun law, citing risk to treaty rights

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Chiefs at the Assembly of First Nations voted Thursday to publicly oppose the Liberal government‘s proposed gun-control legislation and stand against sovereignty bills in Alberta and Saskatchewan’s legislatures.

All three bills would infringe on treaty rights, the First Nations leaders said.

An amendment to Bill C-21, which is currently being debated by members of Parliament, aims to create an evergreen definition for “assault-style” weapons and enshrine it in law, allowing the government to ban hundreds of models of firearms.

Some First Nations leaders say they’re concerned to see rifles used for hunting on the list and voted to take a stand against the bill, which they say infringes on their treaty rights.

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“We totally oppose this bill,” Chief Dylan Whiteduck of Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg told the gathering.

He says these guns are a “tool,” not a weapon.

The AFN, a national advocacy organization representing more than 600 First Nations across the country, had previously raised concerns about the legislation’s potential effects on hunting rights at a meeting of the House of Commons committee that is studying the bill.

On Thursday, chiefs carried an emergency resolution that was brought to the floor with unanimous support at their special assembly. It called on the AFN to push the government to make changes to the bill, including ensuring that long guns used by First Nations hunters do not fall under the ban, and improve its consultations with affected groups.

Chiefs also voted in favour of supporting First Nations in Saskatchewan in their opposition to the Saskatchewan First Act tabled by Saskatchewan Party Premier Scott Moe.

And the assembly affirmed that Indigenous leaders in Alberta could count on its support in their fight against the province’s own Sovereignty Act, introduced last week by United Conservative Party Premier Danielle Smith.

After delivering a speech to the assembly on his government’s commitments to reconciliation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was pressed on the issue. A representative from Onion Lake Cree Nation, located near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border, asked why the federal government, as a signatory to treaties, wasn’t doing more to oppose such legislation.

“We are extremely concerned about what the Sovereignty Act in Alberta and Bill 88 in Saskatchewan represent in terms of challenges to treaty rights that are fundamental in Canada and need to be respected,” Trudeau told the chiefs.

He added that provincial governments can pass laws that his government disagrees with, but the way to challenge them is through the courts, not in the political ring.

On the topic of guns, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino, who also spoke at the event on Thursday, told reporters that he respects the AFN’s right to voice concerns with legislation.

“This is not an easy debate, no matter what your perspective or your background,” he said. “This is an emotional debate.”

Mendicino repeated that the law is designed to keep weapons such as the AR-15 out of people’s hands —  not to target rifles used by Indigenous hunters.

Asked about the possibility that hunters’ guns could be removed from the government’s proposed definition of banned firearms, the minister deferred to the MPs who are still studying the bill.

He said he’s open to more debate on the matter and respects the parliamentary process. “I think we can move forward and I think that the AFN, I hope, contemplates that.”

Earlier, in his address to the crowd, Mendicino noted that Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by gun violence.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who also addressed chiefs earlier in the day, told them he shares their concerns about the gun legislation’s effect on treaty rights.

“Any amendment that in any way contravenes your treaty rights is an amendment that we will not support,” Singh said.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who is one of the most vocal critics of the bill and the amendment, didn’t appear in person to deliver his first message to the chiefs as party leader. His office said he was out of town.

Instead, Poilievre provided a short video, in which he spoke about his support for helping nations achieve economic reconciliation. It was played before chiefs were set to debate a set of resolutions regarding residential school survivors.

After the video ended, a few boos could be heard from the audience. Nipissing First Nation Chief Scott McLeod walked to a microphone in the room and pleaded with organizers to “not ever again put a video like that ahead of our residential school survivors,” which earned applause from the crowd.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2022.

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

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Northwest Territories releases fiscal year 2023-2024 budget

The Northwest Territories government released its new budget Wednesday, the last before the territorial election set for the fall.

Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the plan aims to maintain the stability of the territory’s economy during times of “volatility and uncertainty” without reducing services and programs.

“I am confident that we are leaving the next assembly with a fiscally sustainable foundation on which to build,” she said.

The proposed $2.2-billion budget forecasts the territory will have an operating surplus of nearly $178 million. It projects revenue to increase by 2.9 per cent, largely due to an increase in federal transfers, while spending will increase by $187 million or 7.3 per cent compared to the previous budget.

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Wawzonek said initiatives to address the rising cost of living in the North include increasing student financial assistance, improved income assistance for seniors and people with disabilities, and support for non-government organizations.

“Students, seniors, the non-profit sector, these are areas where we can have a real impact and hopefully help mitigate the impacts of inflation,” she said.

Increased spending in the budget is to include $82 million for mandate priorities and enhancements to existing programs, as well as $62 million to cover the costs of flooding in 2022. Thousands of residents in Hay River and the nearby K’atl’odeeche First Nation reserve were ordered to evacuate their homes due to the worst flooding on record in May.

Other budget highlights include $10.9 million for the transition from the pandemic to endemic stage of COVID-19, $10.1 million to help recruit and retain front-line health-care workers, $10.3 million for the territory’s $10-a-day child-care agreement with the federal government, $8.3 million to help offset the effects of the increased carbon tax, and $4 million for core Northwest Territories Housing Corporation programs.

The budget also proposes $833,000 for community governments and $89,000 for the Deline Goti’ne Government to reach the territory’s goal of reducing its municipal funding gap by $5 million between 2019 and 2023.

The N.W.T. government is not proposing any new taxes, but property taxes are expected to increase due to inflation. The territory also plans to change its carbon tax system to align with new federal requirements.

The federal government announced in August 2021 it would increase the carbon price by $15 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, starting at $65 a tonne beginning in April and rising to $170 a tonne by 2030. It is also prohibiting rebates that directly offset the carbon tax. In response, the N.W.T. plans to adjust its carbon tax rates, replace its heating fuel rebate by increasing its cost of living offset, and replace a carbon tax rebate for large emitters with a rebate tied to a facility-specific baseline.

Some legislature members have expressed concern with the plan as heating costs are high in the North, especially in the Arctic, and many communities are reliant on diesel.

Wawzonek said if the proposed changes aren’t passed by the legislature, the federal government will determine how to return revenue to the N.W.T.

The territory projects borrowing will increase by 4.5 per cent, bringing its total debt to about $1.5 billion, which it said is well below the federally imposed limit of $1.8 billion.

When the previous budget was tabled a year ago, the territory expected its total debt to increase to more than $1.6 billion by the end of the fiscal year. In October, however, the territory revised its capital estimates or the amount of money it expected to spend on infrastructure, to better reflect the territory’s capacity to complete projects, reducing spending from more than $500 million to a cap of $260 million.

The territory’s 2022-2023 $2.1-billion budget saw a 2.3 per cent increase in spending compared to 2021-2022.

Wawzonek touted that budget as a sustainable plan, promising to not cut programming or add new taxes while limiting new spending.

While the budget was passed in April 2022, several legislature members opposed the plan, criticizing limited spending on communities outside of Yellowknife.

Wawzonek said at a news conference Wednesday that she suspects there may be similar criticisms of the new budget.

She said, however, that she believes the budget can respond to those concerns, adding she has had discussions with legislature members about what they wanted to see in it.

“I think we as a collective 19 are getting a little better at doing that,” she said.

“I actually think this is maybe going to be the best year for the consensus-style approach to passing a budget.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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

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Driver charged with first-degree murder in Quebec daycare bus attack that killed two

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Quebec daycare bus attack

The driver of a bus that crashed into a suburban Montreal daycare this morning, killing two children, has been charged with two counts of first-degree murder.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, 51, appeared by video late this afternoon from a hospital room and will remain detained

Court documents show he faces a total of nine charges, including attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault causing bodily harm.

Six other children were injured and transported to hospitals in Laval and Montreal, but doctors said their lives were not in danger.

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At around 8:30 a.m., a Société de transport de Laval bus crashed into the daycare building, which sits at the end of a driveway a significant distance from the nearest bus route.

Witnesses who rushed to the scene said they had to subdue the driver, who seemed to be delirious and removed his clothing after getting off the bus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey after earthquake

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Canadian assessment team deployed to Turkey

A senior government official says a Canadian assessment team is on its way to Turkey to determine how Canada can contribute to earthquake relief efforts.

International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan was expected to formally announce the deployment of the Canadian Disaster Assessment Team this evening.

The senior official, who spoke on background pending Sajjan’s official confirmation, said the team consists of a handful of military and Global Affairs officials.

The official underscored that the deployment of the team does not automatically guarantee a further deployment of Canadian resources to the country.

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The earthquake, which razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria on Monday, is one of the deadliest quakes worldwide in more than a decade and the federal government is facing criticism that the window to help with rescue efforts is closing.

Search teams from more than two dozen countries have joined tens of thousands of local emergency personnel and Canadian humanitarian aid workers with charitable organizations were arriving Wednesday

Defence Minister Anita Anand said late Tuesday that the federal government had not ruled out sending a Disaster Assistance Response Team, to help with the recovery effort, but that it was working to figure out what would be most useful.

The assessment team would recommend whether to send additional support, such as a DART.

Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the federal government would match funds donated to Canadian Red Cross relief efforts up to $10 million on top of an initial aid package of $10 million.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 8, 2023.

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