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How to apply for Canada’s new rental and dental benefits

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As of Dec. 1, eligible Canadians can apply through the Canada Revenue Agency to receive funding as part of the first ever federal dental-care program, and as of Dec. 12 applications will open for low-income renters looking to access the one-time top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit.

On Nov. 17 the NDP-backed Liberal affordability bill bringing in both the dental-care benefit and rental boost for lower-income Canadians—known as Bill C-31—became law. At the time, the government committed to having the application process launched before the end of the year.

On Wednesday, the federal financial agency briefed reporters on how the system will work for Canadians looking to apply for these benefits, billing the system as “streamlined and user-friendly.”

The CRA says it will only take a couple of minutes to apply, because there are some upfront verification built into the system, including checking if your 2021 tax return has been filed.

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Here’s what you need to know.

WHAT IS THE “CANADA DENTAL BENEFIT”?

For now, the “Canada Dental Benefit” will be offered to children under the age of 12, with an annual family income of less than $90,000, with the amount provided per child per year dependant on family income.

For example:

  • $650 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is under $70,000;
  • $390 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $70,000 and $79,999; and
  • $260 would be provided per child if the family’s adjusted net income is between $80,000 and $89,999.

The amount offered is the government’s “best calibration” of how much funding is needed to cover basic dental care—exams, cleanings, X-rays, and fillings— without much left over, according to government officials who briefed reporters on the program in September.

The first phase of dental care will provide eligible parents or guardians with “direct, up-front tax-free payments to cover dental expenses.”

This interim dental benefit is only available for two periods, and parents or caregivers can receive a maximum of two payments for each eligible child.

The first period covers expenses retroactive to Oct. 1, 2022, through to June 30, 2023. The second period will cover dental services the child received between July 1, 2023, and June 30, 2024.

If a child’s dental care costs more than $650 and the parent or guardian has only applied for one benefit period, they may meet the criteria for an additional payment.

HOW TO APPLY FOR DENTAL COVERAGE

Applicants will have two options to access the online portal: either through their CRA “My Account” or through their Service Canada account. For those without access to the online systems, the CRA is setting up a dedicated dental benefit phone line to receive applications.

Either way, those applying will have to make a series of attestations in order to determine eligibility, as well as answer security questions to verify their identity.

For example, parents or guardians making the application will have to confirm:

  • Their child was born on or after Dec. 2, 2010, making them 12 years old as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • They are currently receiving the Canada Child Benefit as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • Their child does not have access to private dental care coverage nor are their costs fully covered by another dental program provided by any other level of government;
  • They will have out-of-pocket dental care expenses for which they will use the benefit; and
  • They have filed their 2021 income tax and benefit return.

Applicants can submit to receive this financial support ahead of appointments, but will have to provide proof of eligibility such as contact information for the dental service provider, date of the appointment, and information related to their employer and spouse or partner related to their benefit coverage.

The CRA is highly recommending signing up for direct deposit as the fastest and easiest way to receive this funding, noting that the estimated wait time for payments is five business days if signed up for direct deposit, whereas it could take 10 business days to receive a cheque by mail.

The law has also set up a process for bureaucrats to check eligibility information—including contacting employers—and there could be penalties for those who submit fraudulent claims. The CRA is encouraging those who apply to print and save a copy of their applications as well as any relevant documentation such as receipts, in case verification is needed down the line.

For example, if for some reason a parent or guardian applies for funding in the first period but does not end up having dental care expenses during that timeframe, they will be required to repay that amount and reapply for the second eligibility period.

While only those under 12 years old will get access for now, the government says it remains committed to following through on seeing this stop-gap measure become a fully-fledged national dental care plan by 2025.

WHAT ABOUT THE “CANADA HOUSING BENEFIT” TOP-UP?

A for sale sign outside a home indicates that it has been rented, in Ottawa, on Monday, March 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

The other form of federal funding that eligible Canadians can soon access is the one-time $500 top-up to the Canada Housing Benefit. The application process for this funding will launch on Monday, Dec. 12, according to the CRA.

This is a program for low-income renters with adjusted net incomes below $35,000 for families, or $20,000 for individuals who pay at least 30 per cent of their adjusted net income on rent and are paying rent for their own primary residence in Canada.

In order to receive this $500 payment to help cover rent, applicants need to confirm they:

  • Have filed their 2021 income tax and benefit return;
  • Are at least 15 years of age as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • Are a resident in Canada for tax purposes in 2022;
  • Have their principal residence in Canada as of Dec. 1, 2022;
  • Have paid rent for their own shelter in 2022; and
  • Have paid at least 30 per cent of their 2021 adjusted net family income on rent in the 2022 calendar year.

Applicants need to be ready to provide some basic information such as their address, who they paid rent to and how to contact that person, as well as how many months spent at certain residences if they’ve moved throughout the year.

Same as with the dental benefit, the CRA is suggesting direct deposit as the fastest and easiest way to receive this funding. The estimated wait time for payments is five business days if signed up for direct deposit, whereas it could take 10 business days to receive a cheque by mail.

Here too, applicants will have to keep any relevant documentation to back up their application in case the CRA comes calling in the next six years to validate their eligibility. This includes tax slips, rental property receipts, and landlord contact information.

Applicants found to be ineligible will be required to repay the benefit.

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Federal government asking RCMP to ban use of sponge rounds, CS gas for crowd control

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OTTAWA — The federal government says it wants the RCMP to ban the use of two crowd-control tools that forces across the country say they have in their arsenals: sponge rounds and CS gas.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office confirmed that it wants the measures outlawed, even as the RCMP declines to say whether or not it will comply with that instruction.

The decision to restrict even the use of “less lethal” alternatives to crowd-control tools such as rubber bullets and stronger forms of tear gas has some critics questioning whether the federal Liberals are playing politics with policing.

“Removing less lethal options from our members’ available options raises real concerns for public and police officer safety,” National Police Union president Brian Sauvé said in a statement.

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The confirmation that the federal Liberals want the tools banned comes after The Canadian Press raised questions about a mandate letter Mendicino gave to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last year.

The letter directed the force to stop using three use-of-force methods: the “carotid control” neck hold, rubber bullets and tear gas.

The RCMP made headlines recently when it confirmed that it still allows officers to use the controversial neck hold despite those instructions and the fact that other police forces have stopped using it.

The force does not use rubber bullets or the more-dangerous chemical compounds referred to as tear gas, which cause irritation to a person’s eyes and mucous membranes.

But the minister’s office is now clarifying that it wants similar tools banned, too.

Mendicino’s office said in a statement that it used the terms “rubber bullets” and “tear gas” in the mandate letter “as they are general language understood by most Canadians.”

It confirmed that it considers the milder CS gas and extended-range impact weapons, which fire foam rounds, to be the operational terms for such tools — meaning that it does want the RCMP to stop using them.

That came as news to Sauvé and other experts, who say that the decision is a departure from existing policy, since police forces across the country and around the world have such crowd-control methods in their arsenals.

The RCMP said in a statement that it is “working with partners, stakeholders and bargaining agents” to review the mandate letter — and gave no indication that it intends to follow Mendicino’s orders.

“The RCMP continues to report publicly on our use of police intervention options, including the carotid control technique and the 40 millimetre extended range impact weapon that fires sponge-tipped rounds, not rubber bullets, as well as the use of specialty munitions,” it said.

It added that its extended range weapons, in use since 2017, “provide an officer with more time and distance from an individual being responded to in order to better enable de-escalation and communication, when tactically feasible.”

Public disclosures show that the RCMP used CS gas 102 times in 2021, and it used extended-range impact weapons 86 times.

The public order units of major municipal police forces, including in Vancouver and Toronto, confirmed to The Canadian Press that they also have access to the tools.

In an interview, Western University criminologist Michael Arntfield argued that CS gas is “entirely different” than the compounds typically referred to as tear gas, and sponge rounds are different than rubber bullets.

He said tear and rubber bullets are “very inflammatory terms,” bringing up images of coups d’état, or of police attacking people who had been marching for Black civil rights outside Selma, Ala., in 1965.

“I’m not sure why those terms would be used if the government was serious about looking at less lethal alternatives.”

Arntfield said he is “genuinely confounded” about why Mendicino would “tack on” a request for the RCMP to stop using police tools that are commonplace across Canada in asking them to stop using the neck hold.

“It looks like political theatre and has absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement operations.”

On Parliament Hill this week, Mendicino said broadly that there is a need to reform law enforcement institutions.

“We are closely consulting and collaborating with law enforcement and experts in the area to take an evidence-based approach so that we can keep our community safe, while at the same time making sure that police have the tools they need when it comes to de-escalating,” Mendicino said.

But he would not answer questions about why the RCMP seems to be defying his instructions, walking away from reporters when the question was posed.

El Jones, an activist who helped lead a study on defunding police forces, says police are “an unaccountable force in Canada.”

The fact that the RCMP is not following political direction shows that impunity, she argued. “I think the police are very much signalling to us, no one can tell us what to do.”

The issue of which tools are and aren’t available to police is receiving heightened attention following the killing of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police in Memphis, Tenn., in early January.

The “carotid control” neck hold, which the RCMP reported it used 14 times in 2021, had been widely condemned after George Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Jones said police are not transparent enough about their policies or how much training they provide for officers when it comes to the use of force.

“We don’t have good use-of-force study in Canada,” she said. “The picture of use of force in Canada, period, by the police, is just not very clear.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

 

David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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Inuit, environmental groups call for stronger measures to reduce underwater noise

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Hunters from Pond Inlet, Nvt. — known as Mittimatalik in Inuktitut — have said they’re seeing fewer narwhal in areas where they were once abundant, making it harder to feed their families, and that the whales’ behaviour is changing.

Lisa Koperqualuk, vice chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, says that’s because of noise from ships.

“It impacts our culture when marine animals are disturbed and are not in their usual places,” she said, adding hunters have to travel further to find narwhal.

Research has found narwhal are sensitive to noise. Aerial surveys indicate their numbers are declining in Eclipse Sound on the northeastern end of Baffin Island during the summer.

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A 2020 report by the Fisheries Department suggests that could be due to increasing ship traffic from mining, cruises, ice breaking and development, as well as other factors such as the presence of killer whales or natural movement in the region.

Newly revised international guidelines on reducing underwater noise from ships recognize the unique effects on Inuit, but environmental and Inuit organizations say stronger measures are needed.

The International Maritime Organization’s subcommittee on ship design and construction met in London last week, where members agreed on revisions to the 2014 guidelines. They include updated technical knowledge and sample templates for underwater noise management plans.

The draft updated guidelines also reference Indigenous knowledge and Inuit Nunaat, or Inuit homeland in the United States, Canada, Greenland and Russia. There, it states effects from underwater noise on marine life could be greater due to ice breaking, the presence of noise-sensitive species and Indigenous hunting rights.

“That is something ICC is really encouraged about because really we are the first Indigenous organization to have a voice at the IMO,” Koperqualuk said.

The council, which represents about 180,000 Inuit worldwide, wanted a separate section included in the guidelines focusing on challenges particular to the Arctic and Inuit Nunaat. For instance, it said noise travels further in cold water and expressed concern about the consequences for marine species Inuit rely on for food, culture and livelihoods.

Koperqualuk said there was interest in specific recommendations for ships operating in these waters, such as using Indigenous knowledge in voyage planning, but the north-specific section was ultimately not included in the guidelines because it’s not universally applicable.

Koperqualuk also noted the guidelines are voluntary and there has been little uptake by ship owners.

Andrew Dumbrille with the Clean Arctic Alliance, made up of 20 non-profit organizations, agreed there is a need for mandatory measures.

He pointed to a 2019 study on implementation of the existing guidelines overseen by World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Chamber of Shipping America, World Maritime University and Transport Canada. Several organizations reported they were a low priority as they are not mandatory as well as barriers such as the lack of baseline measurements for underwater noise or reduction targets.

“These new guidelines are more detailed and they have the latest science and latest perspective on not only underwater noise impacts but technology fixes and management solutions,” Dumbrille said.

“Unfortunately these guidelines are still voluntary and so that’s problematic on a number of levels.”

The revised guidelines are to be submitted to the Marine Environmental Protection Commission in July for approval.

A working group tasked with reviewing the guidelines ran out of time last week to finalize a list of suggested next steps, areas needing further research and assessment, and suggestions to increase awareness and uptake of the guidelines. Dumbrille said a correspondence group will continue that work.

“The pathway to regulatory measures is slow,” he said. “Some people are saying it’s not fast enough to respond to the threat and the urgency and the need around addressing underwater noise because our oceans are getting louder and that’s especially true for the Arctic.”

The Arctic has some of the lowest underwater sound levels on Earth, but research suggests that could change as new shipping routes open due to sea ice loss.

A study published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution in October predicts underwater noise emissions from ships could double every 11 and a half years on average without incentives or regulatory steps. A 2021 report by the Arctic Council found noise pollution from ships had doubled in some areas of the Arctic between 2013 and 2019.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says underwater noise has been linked to a wide range of effects on marine species that rely on sound, including behavioural changes, habitat loss, increased stress levels and permanent injury or death.

Transport Canada saidit’s pleased with the revised international guidelines, but acknowledged more work is needed.

In June 2021, Transport Canada announced the Quiet Vessel Initiative with $26 million in funding over five years to test the most promising technologies, vessel designs, retrofits and operational practices to make ships quieter. Ottawa has also been developing an Ocean Noise Strategy which, it expects to launch later this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

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

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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Extreme cold temperatures across Quebec, East Coast expected to linger until Sunday

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MONTREAL — Residents from Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador are waking up this morning to more extreme cold weather.

Emergency officials warned people to seek shelter and monitor for frostbite if they had to be outside overnight, as the temperature across much of Eastern Canada was expected to feel like -40 C to -50 C with the wind chill.

Temperatures in Quebec City were forecast to fall to -30 C overnight — with a wind chill index of -45 — and the arctic weather was expected to last until Sunday.

Extreme cold warnings remain in effect across the East Coast, with temperatures in the Halifax area expected to feel like -39 C through the morning.

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Government and private agencies scrambled on Friday to provide shelter for vulnerable people in scores of cities and towns in Quebec and Atlantic Canada, as conditions risked giving exposed skin frostbite in minutes.

The City of Montreal opened two temporary emergency warming centres, each of which can accommodate up to 50 people between 8 p.m. and 9 a.m. The centres are to close on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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