OTTAWA — “Freedom Convoy” organizer Tamara Lich insists she was never directly told to leave Ottawa last winter when protesters in hundreds of vehicles blocked streets around Parliament Hill as they called for an end to COVID-19 mandates, even after the Emergencies Act was invoked.
During cross-examination Friday, Lich told the Public Order Emergency Commission that when police told protesters in a mid-February meeting to depart, she took it as a suggestion.
She and other organizers had testified on Thursday that police did not tell them to leave the city.
Ottawa police lawyer David Migicovsky showed Lich a police log entry from that Feb. 16 meeting on Friday when officers wrote that they told her to “depart, and message this out to others.” They later noted that “All parties were upset and Lich was crying.”
Lich said she remembers becoming emotional. “I think I said something to the effect of ‘I can’t believe that you’re about to do this to your own people.’”
She told the commission she still felt those instructions were merely a suggestion to leave.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act for the first time in Canadian history on Feb. 14, arguing its temporary and extraordinary powers were needed to end blockades in Ottawa and at border crossings.
That decision came after weeks of what Trudeau called an “illegal occupation” of downtown Ottawa.
Paul Champ, a lawyer representing Ottawa residents and businesses, reminded the commission that the protest was deemed an unlawful occupation, that the city and the province declared states of emergency, that local residents launched a lawsuit against the organizers, and the court granted an injunction to stop protesters from honking truck horns at night.
“That wasn’t a message that maybe it was time to leave?” Champ asked.
“We had a message, too,” Lich replied, adding that after hearing “heartbreaking” stories during the pandemic, she felt the protesters’ message was more important.
She said that she would have left if the court had ordered her to.
“My understanding was that as long as we were peaceful and complied with the order we were permitted to stay,” she said.
The commission also heard from a protester Friday who made a point of joining the protest after the Emergencies Act was invoked.
Chris Deering, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran, testified he believed he was still entitled to be in downtown Ottawa even though he knew police were warning people to leave.
“I’m a free citizen of this country. I’m a taxpayer. I’m a veteran. I’m a good person. And I felt I had the right to be there with my Canadian citizens to try to protect them,” he said.
Deering was arrested using force near the National War Memorial during a massive police operation on Feb. 18. He was later released without charges.
Emilie Taman, a lawyer representing Ottawa residents and businesses, played a 10-minute compilation of videos of loud horn honking, blocked streets, open fires, large collections of fuel jerry cans and other scenes from the convoy protest.
Supporters in the hearing room gallery were heard softly laughing during the video, and one man made a honking gesture with his arm.
Friday’s hearings also included “Diagolon” founder Jeremy MacKenzie, who took part in the “Freedom Convoy” and testified from a correctional facility in Saskatchewan, where he is being held on charges unrelated to the protests.
Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino flagged MacKenzie as a national security risk in February, saying people at the Coutts, Alta., border crossing blockade had “strong ties” to Diagolon, which he referred to as “a far-right extreme organization.”
In intelligence reports released at the public inquiry, the RCMP described Diagolon as a “militia-like network with members who are armed and preparing for violence” and having supporters “akin to accelerationism” who wanted to overthrow the government.
MacKenzie said many of his supporters are firearms enthusiasts, but argued police were citing unreliable information provided by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
“There is certainly not anything resembling a militia or anything to this extent,” he said.
He said he knew one of the people who was charged in the protests in Coutts but otherwise had no connection to the Alberta blockades and had little interaction with convoy organizers in Ottawa.
MacKenzie is facing assault and weapons charges in Saskatchewan and was charged with firearms offences in Nova Scotia in January. He’s also been charged with harassment and intimidation in March after an anti-mask protest outside the home of Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
One of the people tasked with running security for the protesters testified early Friday evening.
Daniel Bulford is a former RCMP sniper and intelligence officer who quit his job over COVID-19 vaccine mandates. An Ontario Provincial Police intelligence report tabled with the commission highlighted a “person of interest” in the convoy that matches Bulford’s description.
The report identified the person as a former member of the prime minister’s security team who had, at one point, leaked the prime minister’s schedule.
Bulford said he never had active duty officers leaking him information during the convoy, but he did have former police and military helping him do security, including some who were suspended from work for not being vaccinated.
Trudeau said Friday he’s looking forward to sharing his perspective at the inquiry.
“I think an awful lot of Canadians have been really made concerned by what testimony they’re hearing this week at the emergencies act inquiry,” Trudeau said.
“It’s really important for Canadians to understand what was going on in that moment and why it was the right thing to do to invoke the Emergencies Act in a responsible,time-limited, targeted way.”
The public inquiry, which is required under the Emergencies Act, will hold hearings in Ottawa through to Nov. 25.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.
Laura Osman and David Fraser, The Canadian Press
Quebec Press Council upholds complaint over question to Blanchet at leaders debate
MONTREAL — The Quebec Press Council has upheld a complaint regarding a question the moderator asked Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet during the English-language federal leaders debate last year.
The complaint was lodged against moderator Shachi Kurl and the CBC, one of the networks that broadcast the debate, by Julie Lapierre the day after the Sept. 9, 2021, debate.
In her first question to Blanchet, Kurl described two Quebec laws — one restricting the wearing of religious symbols by certain government employees, the other a language law reform — as “discriminatory” and noted Blanchet had denied “Quebec has problems with racism.”
The moderator was referring to Quebec’s secularism law, Bill 21, and to language legislation that was still before the legislature at the time of the debate and became law in June 2022.
The council, which hears complaints about Quebec media coverage but has no coercive powers, determined that the term “racism” used in this context was an opinion and not a fact.
In her complaint, Lapierre alleged bias, discrimination and lack of respect for privacy and dignity.
The council decision states that it considers debate moderators to be practising fact-based journalism and noted the news media that broadcast the debate said they had approved the moderator’s questions.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
The Canadian Press
Immigrating to Canada from Turkey
Deciding to leave your home country and immigrate to another is a life-altering decision. If you chose Canada as your new home, there are several immigration pathways to choose from.
Canada is always seeking the best and brightest talent from around the globe, with a particular emphasis on skilled workers. It follows that Express Entry programs, such as the Federal Skilled Workers Program (FSWP), the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP) and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) are among the most prominent options for immigration to Canada.
Express Entry candidates are ranked using the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS). Once an Express Entry candidate self-evaluates if they are eligible for one of the programs and uploads their profile on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website, they will be given a number score known as a CRS score. The higher the CRS score, the more likely a candidate is to receive an invitation to apply (ITA) for permanent residency.
Another factor that can maximize your CRS score is having a sibling already living in Canada. A sibling over the age of 18 who lives in Canada as a citizen or permanent resident can add 15 points to your CRS score.
Federal Skilled Worker Program
Under FSWP you must meet a baseline of eligibility criteria related to your work experience, education, language abilities and human capital factors such as your age.
As with all Express Entry programs, the first step to becoming a FSWP candidate is to self-evaluate if you meet the minimum eligibility requirements.
- At least one year of skilled work experience
- A minimum Canadian Language Benchmark of 7 on their English or French language test
- At least one educational credential
- Demonstrate proof of funds (if applicable)
- Get at least 67 out of 100 points on the FSWP scoring grid
How to apply for Express Entry
If you meet the eligibility requirements, you can begin your application by creating and uploading your profile on the IRCC website. Once your profile has been uploaded, you will get your CRS score and be entered into the pool.
Once you are in the pool and have your CRS score, you will be ranked against other candidates and the highest scores will receive ITAs through regular rounds of invitations
IRCC has resumed Express Entry draws as of July 6 this year. Typically, there are draws every two weeks. The CRS score changes with every draw so even if you are not invited in one draw, you may still be invited in the next. IRCC has a processing standard of six months for all applications.
If you receive an ITA, you will have 60 days to submit your application for permanent residence to IRCC.
You can also increase your CRS score by getting nominated by a province. This will add 600 points to your overall CRS score and make it very likely you will receive an ITA from IRCC.
All provinces and territories, except for Quebec and Nunavut, have Provincial Nominee Programs (PNPs). These programs allow provincial governments to select the candidates they feel are the best fit for the province.
Provinces can invite candidates from the Express Entry pool whom they feel best suits the province to apply directly to the provincial government for nomination, a process known as enhanced nomination. Candidates who may not be in the Express Entry pool can submit an application to directly to the province to be considered.
If you do not have a high enough CRS score to be considered for Express Entry, depending on your situation, coming to Canada as an international student can help you gain valuable experience that you can use towards your application for permanent residency.
While you are in Canada as a student, you may work up to 20 hours a week during the academic year and fulltime during any study breaks, provided you are still enrolled in your program at a designated learning institution.
Once your program is complete, you may apply for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), which will allow you to live in Canada and work for any employer for a period of up to three years. The length of your visa will depend on the length of your program and work experience you gain on a PGWP counts towards your CRS score in Express Entry. If your program is two years or longer, you can work for the full three years. Programs less than eight months are not eligible for the PGWP.
Visa issues at COP15 biodiversity summit in Montreal could stem from UN delays
OTTAWA — The COP15 conference on biodiversity loss is underway in Montreal, but hundreds of delegates from developing countries are missing out due to visa issues that could stem from the United Nations issuing late accreditations.
“It was pretty disappointing to get rejected,” Pervez Aly, a prominent youth activist, said in an interview Wednesday from Pakistan.
“That was a sort of discouragement, and excruciating for us, I should say, because the voices of the Indigenous communities should be heard everywhere.”
This past summer, the federal Immigration Department caused an uproar when it denied visas for multiple African delegates for the International AIDS Conference, also held in Montreal.
The department said it changed procedures to make sure this month’s UN summit goes smoothly, such as issuing special codes for delegates to get fast-tracked visas.
“We’ve relaxed certain requirements because we wanted to make sure that kind of consequence didn’t happen again,” Immigration Minister Sean Fraser told reporters Wednesday.
He added that visa officers have been asked to waive normal criteria such as the likelihood of an applicant to return home, or requirements about being able to support oneself while in Canada, since many delegates are being hosted by groups.
“We’ve worked very closely with the organizers to make sure that regardless of where an applicant comes from, we have the opportunity to give them a fair consideration.”
But environmental organizations say people in developing countries are telling them they have been denied, or their applications are still being processed as the conference gets underway.
Rights and Resources Initiative, a coalition of groups focused on forestland and resource rights for Indigenous Peoples, has booked flights and hotels for roughly 15 delegates from the Global South, six of whom had visa issues.
“It’s a humongous gap,” said Graziela Tanaka, a strategist with the group.
All three Indonesian citizens associated with AMAN, a prominent alliance of Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia, had their visas denied. Delegates from India, Ecuador and the Democratic Republic of Congo had issues — one person got their visa Monday, at which point flights were prohibitively expensive, while the two others were still waiting for an answer as of Wednesday.
Tanaka said her group and partner organizations have had a range of responses from Canadian embassies and high commissions, with some responding promptly and others sitting on invitation letters for months.
Delegates from poorer, rural areas seemed to be most commonly denied, even when presenting letters that show their expenses had been covered.
“There’s an underlying discriminatory process within these embassies,” she said.
“The people that are getting denied the visas are people that live in territories that need to be protected. So for us it’s not a great sign that they won’t be represented in the negotiations.”
She fears an overrepresentation in Montreal of companies that have pushed Indigenous Peoples from their lands, as well of conservationists who advocate for Indigenous Peoples to vacate protected areas.
“They are up against the most powerful forces, and that includes governments.”
The Immigration Department says 95 per cent of those who applied by the Nov. 15 deadline got their visas. The department also said it has approved 3,162 of the 4,064 applications it had received as of Tuesday, including 674 that came after the deadline.
The department had expected roughly 6,000 applications by the deadline.
“Those who applied in a timely way have actually had an enormously successful experience,” Fraser said.
But that doesn’t wash with Aly, the Pakistani activist.
Aly received his invitation letter from conference organizers on Nov. 29, which asks on United Nations Environment Programme letterhead for the federal Immigration Department to help in “expediting and securing an entry visa to Canada, to allow participation in the meetings.”
It lists him as the deputy Pakistan director for Friday for Future, and a member of the group Students Organising for Sustainability.
A spokesman for the UN Environment Programme did not immediately respond when asked why the visa letter came so late.
The Immigration Department noted that it normally requires international events to be registered six months in advance, but the United Nations had only registered less than five months before the conference kickoff.
“We are committed to the fair and non-discriminatory application of immigration procedures,” wrote spokesman Stuart Isherwood.
“We take this responsibility seriously, and officers are trained to assess applications equally against the same criteria.”
The department said it lined up extra staff to process thousands of last-minute visa applications, flagged issues with specific visa applications to COP15 organizers, had the Canada Border Services Agency expedite security screening, and exempted delegates from the fees for thumbprint scans and processing.
It pointed to notices published online and sent to diplomatic missions, which urged people to apply for visas by Nov. 10.
Aly fears the bureaucracy will keep him from telling delegates that the catastrophic flooding in Pakistan this year is not just killing people, but also putting species at risk.
“It’s just eradicating our biodiversity,” he said.
In rural areas, people are cutting trees to burn for heating, which has exacerbated the endangerment of flora. Glaciers are melting, putting his country at further risk of floods.
Aly identifies as part of the Gilgiti minority, and was displaced from his northern region of Pakistan after flash floods in 2010 and again in 2015.
The 19-year-old was Pakistan’s youth delegate to the UN climate conference summit last month in Egypt, which granted him a visa three days after he applied.
He used that letter to apply for a visa online and tried phoning and emailing Canada’s high commission in Islamabad, which is in an enclave the public cannot visit without an appointment.
Aly says the online system showed that his visa will take three months to issue, and the high commission told him his application doesn’t meet the grounds for an urgent processing.
He’s holding out hope that the visa will be approved this week, which might allow him to reach Montreal for the second week of the conference.
“Even the UN is working for people, but nobody is working for the animals, or the species and the plants which are going to go extinct because of the climate crisis and the heavy rainfalls and the heat waves,” Aly said.
“I wanted to inform the global community, to take notice of this.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press
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