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Former Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell tabbed to help settle several ‘Havana Syndrome’ claims

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OTTAWA — Former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell will mediate claims against the federal government from nine family members of Canadian diplomats who suffered unexplained ailments in Cuba.

The development is a step toward resolving some elements of a Federal Court action filed in 2019 by diplomats and dependants — now numbering 18 plaintiffs — who seek millions of dollars in damages from the Canadian government after becoming mysteriously ill while posted to Havana.

They have reported difficulties since 2017, including headaches, loss of memory, inability to concentrate, cognitive and vision problems, noise sensitivity, dizziness, nausea, sleep disturbances, mood changes and nosebleeds.

As of July last year, Global Affairs Canada said 15 Canadians had received a confirmed working diagnosis of ”acquired brain injury.”

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The parties have agreed to the appointment of Cromwell, who served eight years on the top court, as mediator at a session slated to take place in late February or early March next year.

The move follows direction from the Federal Court in early October on next steps in the case.

Paul Miller and John Phillips, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, said in a statement to The Canadian Press that they appreciate the government agreeing to proceed with mediation for the claims of seven children and two spouses who suffered traumatic brain injuries while in Cuba.

“Our families have been waiting a long time to have this matter dealt with. They continue to suffer from the injuries they received during their time in Cuba, which have had a direct and significant impact on their lives, the children, their childhoods and education,” Miller and Phillips said.

“We expect the government to come to the table with meaningful proposals, and implore the government to expand the mediation to include the full complement of government staff that also suffered severe injuries in Havana.”

The diplomats say the Canadian government failed to protect them, hid crucial information and downplayed the seriousness of the risks. The government has denied wrongdoing and negligence.

Canadian and U.S. investigations have not pinpointed a cause of many of the ailments, with theories ranging from targeted sonic attacks by an adversary to pesticide spraying.

Global Affairs Canada declined to answer specific questions about the planned mediation.

The department said in an emailed response that it maintains a strict security protocol to respond immediately to any unusual events or health symptoms affecting Canadian diplomats.

“Global Affairs Canada continues to monitor the health and safety of its diplomatic staff posted in Havana. We also continue to investigate all potential causes of the unknown health symptoms. For privacy and security reasons, we cannot comment on the specifics of the ongoing investigations, individual cases, nor on specific security measures.”

The department said it would not comment further given that the matter is before the courts.

Several U.S. personnel who worked in Cuba have reported similar health issues, commonly known as Havana Syndrome. More recently, there have been reports of symptoms among U.S. personnel in locales including Washington, Austria and China.

In October last year, Global Affairs issued a message to all staff around the world, outlining the symptoms and how to report concerns.

The RCMP and Canadian Security Intelligence Service have sent similar messages to their staff, the department says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 11, 2022.

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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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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