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Investments in Inuit housing inadequate to address human rights violations: watchdog

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From a family living for seven years in a condemned home that was meant to be temporary to people with disabilities having to be carried in and out of their bathrooms, Canada’s housing advocate says during a tour this fall of several Inuit communities she got a glimpse into the dire living conditions many have faced for years.

“The current levels of federal investments are not adequate to remedy the human rights violations caused by the housing shortage,” said Marie-Josee Houle.

The independent, non-partisan watchdog helps promote and protect the right to housing. Houle, who was appointed to the role earlier this year, travelled in October to Nunavut and Nunatsiavut, an Inuit region in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“The purpose is to really learn more about systemic issues in the North that need really serious attention and to listen to people with lived experience of their housing precarity and homelessness,” she said of her trip.

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“That focus on the North is also because people don’t go there or they don’t have the opportunity to go there.”

Among the biggest takeaways, Houle said, was that housing is in short supply. Housing that is available is not in a good state, with issues like mould, or is otherwise unsuitable for elders or people with disabilities or children.

“The government neglect and underfunding for Inuit housing has absolutely taken its toll over the years,” she said.

“Residents report a lack of trust in public institutions responsible for housing because the wait-lists are decades long and they’ve given up even applying for the housing programs.”

Houle said inadequate housing in the North has led to overcrowding, increased contact with the justice system, exacerbated mental health issues and tension among families. It also means many people are forced to leave their communities, which can result in isolation, racism and violence.

“If it’s not by choice, it can be a traumatizing experience for people,” she said. “There’s a lot of harrowing stories.”

The 2021 census found almost a third of the nearly 49,000 Inuit who live in Inuit Nunangat — or Inuit homeland in Canada comprising communities in Nunavut, Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador and northern Quebec — were living in dwellings in major need of repairs. More than half were living in crowded homes.

This is not the first time abysmal housing conditions have been documented in the North.

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples released a report in 2017 detailing the severity of the housing crisis in Inuit Nunangat. Former Nunavut NDP member of Parliament Mumilaaq Qaqqaq documented “inhumane” housing conditions in several communities in March 2021.

The federal government said it has made several investments in housing across Inuit Nunangat over the years. That includes $256.7 million over two years in the 2016 budget, $400 million over 10 years in the 2018 budget and $845 million over seven years in the 2022 budget.

But Houle said there’s a need for more federal, provincial and territorial support, such as long-term funding and maintenance. She said it should respect Inuit self-determination and address unique northern challenges, such as the climate, short construction season, lack of transportation infrastructure and high costs.

In its 2022 pre-budget submission, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami said it would take more than $3 billion over the next decade to construct new housing, as well as maintain and repair existing homes in Inuit Nunangat.

Nunavut Premier P.J. Akeeagok and representatives from Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in October to request $500 million in the upcoming budget to address the territory’s housing gap.

The Nunavut government recently announced a new plan to build 3,000 more homes by 2030, tripling the annual rate of new public housing units currently being constructed. Of those, 300 will be transitional housing units, 1,400 public housing units, 900 affordable housing units and 400 market housing units.

“It is ambitious, but I think if we stick close to the plan and things work out, it’s very achievable,” said Lorne Kusugak, the minister responsible for the Nunavut Housing Corporation.

Kusugak said the territory can’t continue to build homes the way it has in the past, where bids have come in at about $1,000 a square foot. He said instead of issuing annual requests for housing, the territory is partnering with the private sector to build homes over a longer period of time at a lower cost.

“We know this isn’t going to be easy and there will be a lot of criticism throughout the process, but we have to do something,” he said. “If we accomplish a few more houses each year by doing this … then we’re headed in the right direction.

“It’s going to be a struggle, it’s going to be a fight. We’re ready for that fight.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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

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Canadian team discovers power-draining flaw in most laptop and phone batteries – CBC.ca

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The phone, tablet or laptop you’re reading this on is likely having its battery slowly drained because of a surprising and widespread manufacturing flaw, according to researchers in Halifax.

“This is something that is totally unexpected and something that probably no one thought of,” said Michael Metzger, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. 

The problem? Tiny pieces of tape that hold the battery components together are made from the wrong type of plastic.

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Batteries release power because of a chemical reaction. Inside each battery cell, there are two types of metal. One acts as a positive electrode and one as a negative electrode. 

These electrodes are held in an electrolyte fluid or paste that is often a form of lithium. 

When you connect cables to each end of the battery, electrons flow through the cables — providing power to light bulbs, laptops, or whatever else is on the circuit — and return to the battery. 

Trouble starts if those electrons don’t follow the cables.

When electrons move from one charged side of the battery to the other through the electrolyte fluid, it’s called self-discharge. The battery is being depleted internally without sending out electrical current.

This is the reason why devices that are fully charged can slowly lose their charge while they’re turned off.

“These days, batteries are very good,” Metzger said. “But, like with any product, you want it perfected. And you want to eliminate even small rates of self-discharge.”

Stress-testing batteries

In the search for the perfect battery, researchers have to watch how each one performs over its full lifespan.

“We do a lot of our tests at elevated temperatures these days. We want to be able to do testing in reasonable time frames,” Metzger said. Heat makes a battery degrade more quickly, he explained.

Different number readings are seen on a battery testing device that's a black box with six dials.
Some of the testing equipment used to regulate the temperature of each experiment. The coloured numbers indicate the temperature of each heated compartment in which battery cells are being tested. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

At Dalhousie University’s battery lab, dozens of experimental battery cells are being charged and discharged again and again, in environments as hot as 85 C. 

For comparison, eggs fry at around 70 C. 

If researchers can learn why a battery eventually fails, they can tweak the positive electrode, negative electrode, or electrolyte fluid.

Seeing red

During one of these tests, the clear electrolyte fluid turned bright red. The team was puzzled.

It isn’t supposed to do that, according to Metzger. “A battery’s a closed system,” he said.

Something new had been created inside the battery.

They did a chemical analysis of the red substance and found it was dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). It’s a substance that shuttles electrons within the battery, rather than having them flow outside through cables and generate electricity. 

Shuttling electrons internally depletes the battery’s charge, even if it isn’t connected to a circuit or electrical device.

But if a battery is sealed by the manufacturer, where did the DMT come from?

Through the chemical analysis, the team realized that DMT has a similar structure to another molecule: polyethylene terephthalate (PET). 

PET is a type of plastic used in household items like water bottles, food containers and synthetic carpets. But what was plastic doing inside the battery? 

Tale of the tape 

Piece by piece, the team analyzed the battery components. They realized that the thin strips of metal and insulation coiled tightly inside the casing were held together with tape.

Those small segments of tape were made of PET — the type of plastic that had been causing the electrolyte fluid to turn red, and self-discharge the battery. 

A piece of metallic tape sits on a wooden table.
One of the metallic sheets removed from a coil inside a cylindrical battery. Each layer of the coil is held in place by plastic tape, shown here as the greenish strips. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“A lot of companies use PET tape,” said Metzger. “That’s why it was a quite important discovery, this realization that this tape is actually not inert.”

Tech industry takes notice

Metzger and the team began sharing their discovery publicly in November 2022, in publications and at seminars.

Some of the world’s largest computer-hardware companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers were very interested.

“A lot of the companies made clear that this is very relevant to them,” Metzger said. “They want to make changes to these components in their battery cells because, of course, they want to avoid self-discharge.”

The team even proposed a solution to the problem: use a slightly more expensive, but also more stable, plastic compound.

A man in a plaid shirt walks through a room full of battery technology.
Metzger walks through one of the battery-testing laboratories at Dalhousie University. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

One option is polypropylene, which is typically used to make more durable plastic items like outdoor furniture or reusable water bottles. 

“We realized that it [polypropylene] doesn’t easily decompose like PET, and doesn’t form these unwanted molecules,” Metzger said. “So currently, we have very encouraging results that the self-discharges are truly eliminated by moving away from this PET tape.”

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U.S. escalates trade concerns over Canada's online news and streaming bills – The Globe and Mail

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive for a joint news conference at the conclusion of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, Mexico on Jan. 10.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

Washington has escalated its concerns about the trade implications of Ottawa’s online streaming and online news bills, prompting a legal expert to predict the issue will be raised during President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Canada in March.

Deputy United States trade representative Jayme White stressed “ongoing concerns” about the two Canadian bills at a meeting last week with Rob Stewart, Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.

Senior Democrat and Republican senators on the influential U.S. Senate finance committee also weighed in last week, writing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about Canada’s “troubling policies,” which they said target U.S technology companies.

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Both bills are making their way through Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-11 reached a third-reading debate in the Senate on Tuesday.

The U.S. is concerned that the two bills unfairly single out American firms, including Google, Facebook and Netflix.

Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws, giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to regulate streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

The streaming platforms would have to promote Canadian content – including films, TV shows, music and music videos – and fund its creation.

Bill C-18 would force Google and Facebook to strike deals with news organizations, including broadcasters, to compensate them for using their work. The CRTC would have a role in overseeing the process.

Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the CRTC’s lack of experience regulating print media and digital platforms was raised by Ms. Tai and her team in previous talks with Canada’s Trade Minister, Mary Ng. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A U.S. readout of Mr. White’s meeting with Mr. Stewart said the American official had “expressed the United States’ ongoing concerns with … pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Shanti Cosentino, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ng, said the Minister “has reiterated to Ambassador Tai that both Bill C-11 and C-18 are in line with our trade obligations and do not discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Last week, Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on finance, and Republican Michael Crapo, a senior member of the committee, raised concerns in a letter to Ms. Tai that the bills could breach the terms of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the intervention from both parties means it is now likely the issue will be on the agenda when Mr. Biden visits Canada.

“To see this raised in a bipartisan manner by two U.S. Senators from the powerful finance committee suggests that the issue is gaining traction in Congress,” he said.

The senators urged Ms. Tai to take enforcement action if Canada fails to meet its trade obligations.

Their letter said the online streaming bill would “mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive U.S. creatives of the North American market, access they were promised under USMCA.”

It added that Bill C-18 “targets U.S. companies for the benefit of Canadian news producers and raises national treatment concerns under USMCA.”

But Toronto-based trade lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman, founder of Herman and Associates, said the U.S. politicians’ intervention is “a reflection of a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by the major digital platforms.”

He said there is no evidence that either bill discriminates against American companies.

“Canada is well armed to defend any trade complaint,” he said.

On Thursday, as Canada’s Senate debated Bill C-11 at third reading, Senator Dennis Dawson, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the legislation has been thoroughly scrutinized and should now be passed.

The Senate was due to begin debating C-18 this week. But that could now be delayed because of an error in the printed text of the bill sent over from the Commons, the Speaker of the Senate said.

The incorrect text included a sub-amendment that had not actually passed in a Commons committee. It will now have to be pulped and reprinted.

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Racism: Examining Injustices of Canadian Society

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Racism Can be Prevented in Canada

As the Canadian government works to create a more inclusive and just society, racism remains an issue that needs to be addressed. Racial discrimination, both conscious and unconscious, continues to be a problem throughout the country, resulting in the exclusion and marginalization of certain groups. Let’s look at why racism is still prevalent in Canada and what can be done to combat it.

 

The Root Causes of Racism in Canada

Racism is a systemic and deeply rooted problem in Canada that has been perpetuated through laws, policies, and practices for centuries. Every day, Canadians are confronted with the effects of racism in their lives, whether it’s seen in the workplace, at school, or even within our own homes. In order to understand how racism has become so pervasive in our society and what we can do to combat it, we must first examine its root causes.

Racism is embedded into Canadian society largely due to the historical legacy of colonialism. Through colonization, Europeans sought power and control over other nations while systematically stripping them of their culture and identity.

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This resulted in a system of dominance and privilege that was heavily skewed toward white people while creating oppressive conditions for Indigenous peoples and people of colour.

As a result, many societal systems have been built on this foundation of inequality—from education to employment to housing—which has only served to further entrench racism into our society.

Discrimination is another major factor that contributes to racism in Canada. Systemic discrimination occurs when certain groups are disproportionately denied access to resources or opportunities because of their identity or perceived differences.

For example, people who are racialized often face systemic discrimination when it comes to employment; according to Statistics Canada, unemployment rates for racialized individuals were more than double those for non-racialized individuals as recently as 2018.

Similarly, Indigenous women experience higher levels of poverty than any other group in Canada due to systemic discrimination that prevents them from accessing education and employment opportunities.

Finally, institutional prejudice plays a significant role in perpetuating racism in Canada. Institutional prejudice refers to the biases that exist within institutions such as schools or workplaces which favour certain groups over others based on race or ethnicity.

These biases may be subtle or overt, but they have powerful consequences; research shows that students who identified as visible minorities are more likely to get suspended from their school than their white peers due to implicit biases held by teachers and administrators against these students’ racial backgrounds.

Similarly, workers who are racialized may be passed over for promotions despite being better qualified than their white counterparts due to underlying prejudices against them.

 

How Racism Impacts People

Racism can have significant impacts on individuals’ mental health, education outcomes, employment opportunities, access to resources such as healthcare services, and overall quality of life.

For example, studies have found that racial bias affects hiring decisions even when employers are unaware of their own biases. Additionally, people from minority backgrounds often experience discrimination when trying to access housing or healthcare services due to implicit biases held by service providers or institutions.

These experiences of exclusion can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness among those impacted by racism.

 

What Can Be Done?

In order for us as a society to address the impacts of racism on individuals and communities across Canada, there must be an acknowledgement that racism exists and an openness towards taking actionable steps towards addressing it.

To do so effectively requires collaboration between different levels of government as well as with organizations advocating for social justice initiatives such as anti-racism campaigns.

Efforts should also include educational initiatives aimed at increasing awareness about systemic forms of racism as well as providing tools for individuals looking to challenge discriminatory behaviour within their own circles or workplaces.

 

Summary

Racism is still pervasive in Canada despite the efforts taken by many individuals and organizations towards creating a more equitable society free from discrimination based on race or ethnicity.

In order to address this issue effectively, we need widespread collaboration between different levels of government along with education initiatives aimed at increasing awareness around systemic forms of racism while also providing individuals with tools necessary for challenging discrimination where they see it occurring.

With everyone working together, we can create a brighter future free from bigotry and prejudice for all Canadians, regardless of their background or identity.

 

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