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Key ‘Freedom Convoy’ figure pleads guilty to counselling mischief, released from jail

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OTTAWA — Tyson “Freedom George” Billingscharged out of theOttawa courthouse on Wednesday, brandishing a Canada flag to a cacophony of cheers and air horns after pleading guilty to a charge related to the convoy protest that seized the city earlier this year.

Billings spent 116 days in jail before pleading guilty to counselling to commit mischief. The Crown withdrew other charges, including intimidation, obstructing police, mischief and disobeying a court order.

“I don’t regret it. I’m a freedom fighter,” Billings said outside the courthouse, minutes after his release, to the jubilation of about 50 supporters, including some who took part in the February protests.

Nicknamed “Freedom George” by his fellow protesters, Billings was a key figure in the three-week demonstration against COVID-19 restrictions and the Liberal government, though Crown counsel Moiz Karimjee was careful to point out that he was not one of the leaders.

Protesters in big-rigs and other trucks blocked downtown streets for weeks and formed encampments, which forced businesses to close and sparked a sense of what police and politicians described as “lawlessness” in downtown Ottawa.

According to the agreed statement of facts read aloud in court, Billings was captured in social media videos disobeying police checkpoints designed to keep people out of downtown Ottawa during the protest and encouraging others to thwart the checkpoints too.

Billings also recorded himself being belligerent toward police and encouraging other protesters to “hold the line.”

“I got caught up in the moment, sure, who wouldn’t,” Billings said after leaving court. “I don’t regret anything.”

Billings said he “went to jail for the kids,” to have mask mandates repealed in schools.

Karimjee said in court he could have sought to prove the other allegations made against Billings and seek a lengthier jail sentence but opted not to in light of the fact that Billings is the first figure in the convoy to accept responsibility for his actions.

Billings was sentenced to time served and a six-month probation under the condition that he keeps the peace.

“You must not make the law, regardless of what your views are on various issues,” Karimjee said.

Before his release, Billings listened to the court proceedings from the prisoner’s box with his arms folded over his black T-shirt that read “Fear God, not COVID.”

Jake Chadi, the defence lawyer for Billings, told the court that his client believed he was “morally justified” to do what he did during the Ottawa protest.

“He has every opportunity, every right to do what he did. But he can’t break the law” and Billings understands that, Chadi said.

Superior Court Justice Robert Maranger said he agreed to release Billings at the joint request of the Crown and defence because Billings accepted responsibility.

He said sentencing is not about retribution. He also said that it was OK to believe in a cause but that it can “get out of hand.”

Billings was originally co-accused with prominent protest organizer Pat King and was described in the agreed statement of facts as have a “close association” with King.

Now that the balance of Billings’ charges have been withdrawn, King will face those charges alone and his trial is expected to go ahead as planned.

Billings said he would return to Alberta to “heal up.” His lawyer said in court that Billings plans to work on his family’s farm in High Prairie, Alta. and take up a job in logging.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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Russia is 'weaponizing' food, Joly tells Commonwealth partners – CBC News

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Commonwealth leaders, meeting for the first time in four years, discussed food security and the risk of starvation as Canada’s foreign affairs minister sought to lay the blame for the impending crisis at the feet of Russia.

“What is clear to us is that Russia is weaponizing food, and putting a toll on many countries around the world, and putting 50 million lives at risk,” Mélanie Joly told reporters late Friday, while giving a recap of the first day of the Commonwealth meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.

Ukraine is the world’s fourth-largest grain exporter and reportedly has more 30 million tonnes of grain in storage, waiting for export. Farmers are said to be building temporary silos and are worried because the summer harvest is only weeks away.

The country’s Black Sea ports of Odesa, Pivdennyi, and Mykolaiv and Chornomorsk serve as major terminals — shipping about 4.5 million tonnes of grain per month, but a Russian naval blockade is preventing movement.

A recent report from the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) concluded that Russia is taking advantage of transportation bottlenecks to attack Ukraine’s food storage facilities.

Russian forces have attacked grain silos across the country and stolen an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 tonnes of grain from occupied regions, according to Ukraine’s Defence Ministry.

The CSIS report, posted online on June 15, noted “Russia destroyed one of Europe’s largest food storage facilities in Brovary, roughly 19 kilometres northeast of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv.”

Journalists walk inside a destroyed warehouse for storing food, after an attack by Russia 12 days prior in Brovary, on the outskirts of Kyiv on March 29. (Rodrigo Abd/The Associated Press)

The subject of the Russian blockade of Ukraine grain exports will also be at the centre of the G7 leaders meeting, beginning Sunday in Germany.

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week delivered a scathing critique of the crisis, blaming the U.S. and not the Russian military actions in Ukraine for endangering food security, and rising inflation and fuel prices.

He reinforced the message in a phone call last week with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was one of the Commonwealth leaders to skip this week’s meeting.

Africa is heavily reliant on Ukrainian and — to a lesser extent — Russian grain.

For those leaders who did show up in Rwanda, Joly said Canada has been clear in assigning blame for the crisis. 

Sanctions not to blame, Joly says

“This is not the fault of the Western sanctions,” she said. “This is really Putin’s war of choice that is affecting food security around the world.”

Ten members of the Commonwealth abstained from condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in a United Nations resolution last spring.

Joly said she believes Canada made “headway” at the conference in convincing some of those nations to stand more firmly with Ukraine, but she wasn’t specific.

In a policy session held before the meeting of Commonwealth leaders, there was a call for African countries to be more self-sufficient in food supplies to offset imports.

Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), told the conference said that the agriculture sector in developing countries of the Commonwealth is “heavily underinvested.” She called for adequate funding to boost “the sector productivity, strengthen its resilience and deal with climate change, as well as create jobs, according to local media reports.

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Immigration Minister: Applicants can soon expect normal service standards – Canada Immigration News

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Published on June 25th, 2022 at 08:00am EDT
Updated on June 25th, 2022 at 08:29am EDT

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Canada’s Immigration Minister Sean Fraser believes meaningful steps are being taken to get the immigration system back on track.

Fraser acknowledged ongoing application processing and client experience challenges when he sat down with CIC News for an exclusive interview in Toronto earlier this week.

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Minister expects things to return to normal by the end of 2022

“The COVID-19 pandemic hampered our immigration system in two main ways. It shut down a lot of our offices around the world…we lost a lot of our horsepower as a department.”

The second way, he explained, was Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) needed to pivot to transitioning those in Canada to permanent residence since travel restrictions limited the ability of those abroad to enter the country. This was happening as new applications continued to flow in, leading to an accumulation of inventory. Then in August 2021, Canada made the commitment to resettle 40,000 Afghan refugees following the Taliban reclaiming power of Afghanistan and since February 2022, Canada has been looking to assist those impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The good news is I see light at the end of the tunnel…we’re on track right now to restore our pre-pandemic service standard by the end of this calendar year for virtually every line of business.”

Minister Fraser added the caveat that the service standard for Canadian citizenship applications may continue to lag a bit due to the inventory growing significantly at the start of the pandemic when in-person citizenship ceremonies were not an option.

Fraser: Three solutions to improve client experience and address backlogs

The minister believes the three solutions to improve the immigration system are “resources, policy, and tech.”

“On the resources side, we’ve added 500 more staff.” He also pointed out the additional $85 million and another $385 million allocated in recent federal budget announcements that will go towards improving application processing.

Meanwhile, Fraser believes Canada will need even higher levels of immigration to meet growing demand to gain Canadian permanent residence.

“The number one policy is our Immigration Levels Plan. We’re not going to chip away at the number of cases in the inventory if we don’t expand the numbers.”

In February, Fraser announced Canada would welcome over 430,000 immigrants annually beginning this year, by far the highest levels in Canadian history. He is set to announce the Immigration Levels Plan 2023-2025 by November 1st of this year, which may result in another increase in Canada’s targets.

With respect to the third solution, technology, the minister said that “digital platform modernization is going to greatly increase the reliability and pace of our system.”

“These measures are starting to have an impact…a couple of weeks ago we passed 200,000 permanent residents landed in Canada.” The minister noted this has broken the previous record by 1.5 months.

Work permits have almost 250% increased compared to last year.”

IRCC’s backlog has surged to 2.4 million persons during the pandemic and the department has struggled to achieve its own targets on the length of time it aims to process applications. Since the start of this year, it has made major announcements and changes as it seeks to reduce the backlog, processing times, and give its clients more certainty. In late January, minister Fraser held a press conference summarizing IRCC’s processing goals including the steps it was taking to increase staff capacity and modernize its processes and technology.

One of the benefits has been the reduction in the Express Entry backlog. The minister told CIC News that all-program Express Entry draws are tentatively set to resume on July 6. In addition, IRCC aims to get back to its pre-pandemic service standard of processing Express Entry applications within six months beginning in July.

Another benefit is that IRCC has introduced and is in the process of introducing more case trackers to allow applicants to review the status of their files. The minister says 17 lines of business will have case trackers by the end of this summer allowing applicants to digitally monitor their status.

While challenges remain, the minister expressed great optimism to CIC News.

“My sense is by the end of this calendar year, new applications coming in will have the kind of certainty that we’ll be able to meet our service standard and people will be dealing with 60 days or 6 months or 12 months, not an undetermined period of time.”

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Special interview series with Minister Fraser

CIC News sat down with the minister on June 21, 2022 to discuss the future of Canadian immigration.

Over the coming weeks, CIC News is releasing a special series of articles elaborating on the interview with Minister Fraser on topics including:

Minister Fraser was in Toronto to speak at Collision, one of the world’s largest technology conferences.

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© CIC News All Rights Reserved. Visit CanadaVisa.com to discover your Canadian immigration options.

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Rwanda to Germany: Canada to elevate small Commonwealth nations’ concerns at the G7

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KIGALI, Rwanda — Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada will be bringing the concerns of smaller Commonwealth nations to the G7 leaders in Germany Sunday, particularly the growing threat of famine.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Joly arrived in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, on Wednesday for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, which has been dominated by the concerns of nations that are suffering from food scarcity.

She said Canada is in “listening mode” at the Commonwealth, where leaders of smaller nations are able to speak without the dominating presence of the United States, Russia and China.

Canadian officials have been trying to reinforce that the cause of the shortage is Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

“What is clear to us is that Russia is weaponizing food and putting a toll on many countries around the world, and putting 50 million lives at risk,” Joly told reporters Friday evening in Rwanda.

She said Russia has been targeting Ukrainian ports and grain silos and systematically preventing grain from reaching countries that need it.

Trudeau had attempted to meet with the chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, for several days during the Commonwealth summit but the sit-down was repeatedly postponed and eventually cancelled.

Shortly after Trudeau arrived in Rwanda the government announced Canada would dedicate a new ambassador to the African Union, which has suffered from the food shortages inflicted on the continent as a result of the war between Russia and Ukraine.

Both Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met with representatives of the African Union, with Russia blaming Russian sanctions for stopping up the flow of grain.

Trudeau travels to the Bavarian Alps in Germany for the G7 Summit Saturday night, where the conflict with Ukraine will be top of mind.

Joly said she spoke to her G7 counterparts Friday, and expects famine and safe passage for Ukrainian refugees to be the top concern.

Some of the other voices the prime minister has promised to centre at his international meetings belong to youth leaders who spoke at a dialogue event Saturday, focused on issues facing young people around the world.

Some of the delegates spoke about the devastating effects of climate change, particularly around remote island nations where infrastructure cannot withstand natural disasters and rebuilding efforts take years. The onslaught takes a toll on education and health services, one delegate told the forum.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 25, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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