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Gov. Gen. Mary Simon says media’s portrayal of trip expenses was ‘unfair’ but changes could be in the works



Governor General Mary Simon says that while she thinks the way catering expenses for her trip to the Middle East in March were portrayed in the media was “unfair,” a review is underway to minimize the cost of future voyages.

“I don’t even know what the orders are for meals. But I do know one thing — our meals are not very extravagant on these trips. They’re pretty much like airline meals and the way they were portrayed in the media was pretty unfair, I thought,” Simon said in an interview on CBC’s The House airing Saturday.

The National Post first reported on the cost of the Governor General’s trip, during which she spent time in London, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait. The Department of National Defence (DND), which is responsible for organizing catering on official diplomatic flights, said the total catering cost for the eight-day trip was around $80,000.

Simon told host Catherine Cullen her office shares the concerns of Canadians regarding the trip cost and is working with Global Affairs Canada and DND to reduce expenses in the future.

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CBC News: The House15:10Governor General weighs in on Russian aggression and criticisms of her travel spending

Governor General Mary Simon sits down with host Catherine Cullen to discuss challenges facing the Arctic and explains why travel to international gatherings is essential to her job.

Last month, Stewart Wheeler, who serves as chief of protocol for Canada at Global Affairs Canada, said some elements of the flights were “problematic.” MPs expressed confusion about the cost and Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus said he wanted to know if there were “excesses.”

Christine MacIntyre, deputy secretary to the Governor General, told MPs Rideau Hall was also surprised and concerned by the costs.

“The costs were really shocking to all of us,” she said. “We had eggs. We had omelettes.”

In a statement to CBC News, DND said an interdepartmental working group was being created to draft measures “in pursuit of the best possible value going forward.” The department said catering costs are affected by everything from exchange rates and the location of stops, to the number and type of catering companies available.

Simon told The House that her international travel was at the direction of the prime minister.

“I don’t just pick up my suitcase and travel wherever I want,” she said. “Every travel has to be very carefully planned. The objectives of the trip have to be very clearly defined.”

Travel a necessary part of the job: Simon

Simon said she expects another parliamentary committee meeting on the matter and she hopes MPs can “continue to clear up what the misunderstanding is.”

“I think there is a need for people to understand that, first of all, I don’t take my job lightly, and secondly, I’d like to do it in the most conservative way that I can. But the amount of travel that we do is tremendous and it’s a necessary part of the job,” she said.

Simon said she had no role in the logistics of trip planning but was focused on the purpose of her trip.

Governor General Mary Simon responds to controversy over the price tag of her trip to the Middle East earlier this year.

“I’m involved in discussions about world peace and Canada’s role in world peace. And going into different countries to talk with our partners on how we can work together to further our position on world peace is very important for Canada, as well as the world,” she said. “So I take that responsibility very seriously.”

The Governor General spoke to The House from Reykjavík, Iceland, where she took part in the Arctic Circle Assembly, a gathering to discuss issues and challenges in the Arctic.

GG embraces multifaceted role

Simon said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine posed a significant risk to co-operation and progress in the Arctic. The Arctic Council, the leading intergovernmental forum on the region, is largely on pause because Russia holds its chairmanship.

Russia’s invasion poses “a risk to the world,” Simon said.

Simon is Canada’s first Indigenous Governor General. She was born in Kangiqsualujjuaq in northern Quebec.

Governor General Mary Simon makes her way into the Qarmaapik Family House on Tuesday, May 10, 2022 in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Que. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“We’ve always understood amongst ourselves in the Arctic region that this is our homeland, and it should stay our homeland,” she said. Simon also noted that while the Arctic is certainly seen as a strategic area, it’s also important to recognize that for those who live there, peaceful collaboration and development is important.

Simon, who has long worked on Arctic issues, said collaboration in the region has progressed greatly over the past several decades and has embraced a greater acceptance of the role played by Indigenous people.

“You know you can see that that change, but the change has to be embraced in a way where we’re not just talking about the role of people, but actually involving them in the discussions and in the decision-making process of how the Arctic is being affected by different issues,” she said.

While she said she stays apolitical, Simon added she is able to using her “convening power” to spur conversations with the prime minister and others to share her advice.

Simon said that she’s guided by her background as a northerner, her role as Governor General and her commitment to addressing reconciliation, describing her role as “multi-level.”

“I’m very involved in that work and I stay very focused on my mandate, but my past is always guiding me.”

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Emergencies Act: Social media was key to protests, expert says





Social media acted as the “central nervous system” of the “Freedom Convoy” protest in Ottawa last winter, the Public Order Emergency Commission heard Tuesday as it considered the role of misinformation in the lead up to the invocation of the Emergencies Act.

The policy phase this week follows six weeks of fact-finding hearings into the events that led to that decision, which included testimony about online threats and the role social media played in organizing the protest against COVID-19 public health measures.

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Before thousands of trucks started rolling toward Ottawa last January, a loose group of protest organizers communicated mainly over TikTok and Facebook, the commission heard over those weeks of testimony. Many of them had never met in person until the protest began.

“Social media was the central nervous system of the convoy, and exploration of its role crosses numerous domains, such as law, psychology, history, sociology and public policy, to name a few,” Emily Laidlaw, the Canada Research Chair in Cybersecurity Law at the University of Calgary, wrote in a report for the commission.

Social media was used to fundraise, connect organizers and spread their message. It was also used to contrast the accounts of traditional media outlets and provide a different view of what was happening on the ground, Dax D’Orazio, a political scientist and post-doctoral fellow with Queen’s University, testified during an expert panel discussion before the commission Tuesday.

“It was a way of creating meaning, finding community and building, eventually, momentum for social and a political movement,” he said.

The inquiry is seeking the expert input to bolster its analysis of whether the government was right to use the Emergencies Act in response to protests that took over downtown Ottawa and halted trade at several border crossings.

The expert testimony will inform Commissioner Paul Rouleau’s recommendations about how to modernize the Emergencies Act and identify other areas for further study. It will also help him and his team study the impact of the purposeful or inadvertent spread of false information during the protest, which was explicitly written into the commission’s mandate.

Experts testified that regulating disinformation is a difficult prospect, especially since it’s not illegal to spread falsehoods.

“It’s lawful but awful,” said Laidlaw during the panel discussion. “For the government to create legislation that targets lawful expression, it likely won’t survive constitutional scrutiny.”

The experts defined disinformation as the intentional spread of false information, while misinformation was described as people spreading false information that they themselves believe to be true.

It would be difficult to draft laws that distinguish between the two, said Jonathon Penney, a legal scholar at York University. “It’s a question of intent,” he said.

The panellists also explored the relationship between extremist views and social media, which can provide an echo chamber that serves to confirm people’s existing biases.

Studies have shown the internet can help entrench extremist values, said Vivek Venkatesh, an education professor at Concordia University.

People who subscribe to extremist views increasingly turn to “fringe media” instead of taking in news from traditional sources, said David Morin, a national security expert with Sherbrook University, who spoke at the panel in French.

He said “self-made journalists” associated with those fringe outlets were present in Ottawa during the convoy protest, and produced “alternative information” for viewers.

For example, Morin said some alternative media sources reported that hundreds of thousands of protesters attended the Ottawa demonstration, when police reports show the true number was far lower.

The inquiry is on a tight timeline to complete its work, with Rouleau expected to submit final recommendations to Parliament at the beginning of February.

Another panel on the flow of essential goods and services, critical infrastructure and trade corridors was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2022.

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U.S., European media outlets urge end to prosecution of Julian Assange




The United States should end its prosecution of Julian Assange, leading media outlets from the United States and Europe that had collaborated with the WikiLeaks founder said on Monday, citing press freedom concerns.

“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” editors and publishers of the Guardian, the New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel, and El País said in an open letter.

Assange is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, related to WikiLeaks’ release of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables. His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing, including in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Monday marked twelve years since those media outlets collaborated to release excerpts from over 250,000 documents obtained by Assange in the so-called “Cablegate” leak.

The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by the then American soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of U.S. diplomacy around the globe. The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale,” the letter said.

In August, a group of journalists and lawyers sued the CIA and its former director Mike Pompeo over allegations the intelligence agency spied on them when they visited Assange during his stay in Ecuador’s embassy in London.

Assange spent seven years in the embassy before being dragged out and jailed in 2019 for breaching bail conditions. He has remained in prison in London while his extradition case is decided. If extradited to the United States, he faces a sentence of up to 175 years in an American maximum security prison.

His legal team has appealed to the High Court in London to block his extradition in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than a decade.

“Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said in their letter on Monday.

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien

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Top media outlets demand US end prosecution of Julian Assange



US charges against WikiLeaks founder threaten press freedom and set ‘dangerous precedent’, US and European media say.

The United States must end its prosecution of Julian Assange, top global media organizations have urged, saying the US indictment against the WikiLeaks founder threatens free expression and freedom of the press.

In an open letter on Monday, five leading media outlets denounced the US’s prosecution against Assange, who is wanted on 18 counts, including a spying charge.

“This indictment sets a dangerous precedent and threatens to undermine America’s First Amendment and the freedom of the press,” wrote the editors and publishers of The New York Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and El Pais.

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“Holding governments accountable is part of the core mission of a free press in a democracy.”

The letter comes exactly 12 years after the media outlets published revelations gleaned from WikiLeaks’s release of more than 250,000 confidential US military records and diplomatic cables, known as “Cablegate”.

The material was leaked to WikiLeaks by then-US soldier Chelsea Manning and revealed the inner workings of Washington’s diplomacy around the world.

The documents exposed “corruption, diplomatic scandals and spy affairs on an international scale”, Monday’s letter said.

“Twelve years after the publication of ‘Cablegate’, it is time for the US government to end its prosecution of Julian Assange for publishing secrets. Publishing is not a crime,” the media outlets said.

The 2019 US justice department indictment accused Assange of causing “serious damage” to US national security with the leak, as well as putting US government sources in danger of physical harm or detention.

But Assange’s supporters say he is being prosecuted for exposing US wrongdoing, including those committed during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He remains in custody in Britain pending a US extradition request to face trial and could face up to 175 years in prison in the US if found guilty. Assange is appealing against the British government’s approval of his extradition.

Monday’s letter noted that, when Barack Obama was president and Joe Biden his vice president, the US administration held off on indicting Assange, as journalists involved could have also had to face prosecution.

That changed under President Donald Trump, when the US justice department charged Assange under the 1917 Espionage Act, which the media outlets said “has never been used to prosecute a publisher or broadcaster”.

The letter is the latest example of pressure on President Biden’s administration to end Assange’s prosecution.

Last year, leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and the American Civil Liberties Union, called on Washington to drop the charges.

“The indictment of Mr Assange threatens press freedom because much of the conduct described in the indictment is conduct that journalists engage in routinely – and that they must engage in in order to do the work the public needs them to do,” they wrote.

In July, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador also said he gave a letter to Biden in defence of Assange, while also renewing a previous offer of asylum to the WikiLeaks founder.

“I left a letter to the president about Assange, explaining that he did not commit any serious crime, did not cause anyone’s death, did not violate any human rights, and that he exercised his freedom, and that arresting him would mean a permanent affront to freedom of expression,” Lopez Obrador said.

Colombia’s left-wing President Gustavo Petro said last week that he met with WikiLeaks spokespeople and planned to ask Biden not to charge a journalist “just for telling the truth”.

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