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Members of Parliament unanimously back bill to outlaw modern slavery

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OTTAWA — Members of Parliament unanimously voted Wednesday to clamp down on modern slavery by backing a bill requiring Canadian companies to ensure they are not using forced labour or exploiting child workers overseas.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan ensured government backing for the private member’s bill that would make Canadian firms and government departments scrutinize supply chains with the aim of protecting workers.

O’Regan said the Liberals want the bill, introduced by a senator, to go to committee where it may be strengthened further with government amendments.

In a vote in the House of Commons at the bill’s second reading, it was backed unanimously by MPs, including the Conservatives, Bloc Québécois, NDP and Greens.

Most private member’s bills — introduced by individuals rather than the government — do not receive ministerial backing, parliamentary time or proceed through all the parliamentary stages needed to become law.

O’Regan said the vote was an “important first step” in tackling “forced labour in our supply chains.”

“We voted to send this bill to committee. There we’ll look at amendments to strengthen it,” he said.

The bill, tabled in the Senate by Sen. Julie Miville-Dechene, would make Canadian firms check that none of their products or components are made in sweatshops employing children or adults forced to work excessive hours for free or for paltry pay.

The senator has warned that a number of products sold in Canada, including coffee, cocoa and sugarcane, may be linked to child or forced labour. She has also warned about imports of products made in factories in the Xinjiang region of China where members of the Uyghur community have been forced to work.

The senator’s bill is one of a number of private bills cracking down on forced labour in supply chains that politicians have attempted to get backing for in the past four years.

They include a bill tabled by Liberal MP John McKay, who has long argued for action to make companies ensure their products are not produced overseas by forced labour or children.

Liberal MP Marcus Powlowski recently tabled the same bill as McKay’s and the NDP have tabled two similar bills.

The senator’s bill, known as Bill S-211 in Parliament, will now move to the foreign affairs committee for scrutiny, a further parliamentary stage before becoming law.

A report by the House of Commons international human rights subcommittee said that in 2016 some 4.3 million children were involved in forced labour, a figure the International Labour Organization warned was an underestimate.

The report warned that child labour most often occurs at the lowest tiers of the supply chain out of the sight of buyers, inspectors and consumers. In South and Southeast Asia, children have been found making clothes, fishing and processing seafood.

The report found child labour interferes with young people’s educations and can involve work in hazardous conditions, including with toxic substances or at extreme temperatures.

It can also include confinement at work sites and indentured labour, where whole families are forced to work to repay debts.

Rocio Domingo Ramos, business and human rights policy and research officer at Anti-Slavery International, has warned that Canada is lagging behind countries such as France, Germany and Norway which have already introduced laws requiring firms to check their supply chains to make sure their products are not made using forced labour.

In 2020, the Canadian government prohibited importation of goods produced by forced labour under the customs tariff.

Miville-Dechene has warned that at least 90 million children and adults around the world could be involved in forced labour, including to produce cheap products for wealthy countries such as Canada.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 1, 2022.

 

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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Missing 13-year-old Edmonton girl found alive in Oregon, 41-year-old man arrested

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EDMONTON — Police say a 13-year-old Edmonton girl missing for more than a week has been found alive in the United States.

She was located following a week-long search that began when she was seen arriving at her junior high school but didn’t show up for class.

Edmonton Police Insp. Brent Dahlseide says the girl, who was reported missing June 24, is currently in an Oregon hospital for a precautionary examination after being found safe in the state early Saturday morning.

Dahlseide says a 41-year-old Oregon man will be charged with child luring and is expected to face additional charges in Canada and the U.S.

He says Edmonton police received assistance from other agencies in Canada, as well as from the FBI and other police services in the U.S.

Dahlseide says it’s believed the suspect came to Edmonton, but it’s not yet clear how he initially made contact with the girl or how she crossed the U.S. border.

“We would be speculating to say they crossed the border together, but I do know that they were located together, again, in the U.S. once they gained entry,” Dahlseide told reporters during an online news conference Saturday, noting he believed the two had been communicating online.

“I don’t know how long they may have been in contact with one another. I do know that the reason we’re going with a child-luring charge at this point is that it’s one we can support because of some of the online history.”

Photos of the girl have appeared on billboards and posters across Alberta this past week asking people to be on the lookout for her and contact police with tips.

Dahlseide said an Amber Alert was not issued because investigators lacked a description of a suspect or a suspect vehicle. He said police got that information on Friday and were drafting the alert that afternoon when they learned from Canada Border Services the suspect had crossed into the U.S.

At that point the suspect was no longer in Canadian jurisdiction, Dahlseide explained, which is another criteria for an Amber Alert. He said they made a deduction about where the suspect was going and alerted authorities on the U.S. side.

Dahlseide said he believed the arrest was made outside Gladstone, Oregon, just south of Portland, away from the suspect’s residence. He said the suspect’s name would not be released until charges are formally laid.

He said the girl’s family were informed early Saturday she’d been found safe and they are making arrangements to bring her home.

“I’m sure we likely woke them up, showing up at their door so early,” Dahlseide said.

Canadian investigators have not had a chance to speak with the girl or the suspect yet, Dahlseide said, and other questions remain.

He said investigators believe the suspect was in Mission, B.C. for three to four days, so they’ll be asking RCMP there to speak to people who may have seen him or the girl during that time. The FBI will also be able to help supply bank or credit card information to piece together the suspect’s movements, he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022

 

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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People planning to attend AIDS conference in Montreal still struggling to get visas

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MONTREAL — International AIDS organizations say people from Africa, South America and Asia who are planning to attend a major AIDS conference in Montreal are still struggling to get visas from the Canadian government.

The groups say a growing number of activists — including some who were scheduled to speak at the conference which begins at the end of the month — are having their visa applications denied, often on the grounds that the Canadian government doesn’t believe they’ll return home after the event.

Tinashe Rufurwadzo, the director of programs, management and governance at Y+ Global, an international organization of HIV+ youth, said the chair of his organization’s board and another of its employees, who are based in Malawi and Kenya, are among the young activists who have been denied visas to attend the conference.

He said both have travelled extensively to speak at AIDS-related events.

“Personally, I’m sick and tired of seeing young people from Africa mostly portrayed on PowerPoint slides as pictures, as photos on banners, as footnotes on case studies. Why can we not have them at conferences to share their lived experiences of what exactly is happening?” he said in an interview Friday.

Rufurwadzo said representatives of populations most at risk of HIV — such as people who inject drugs, transgender women, sex workers and gay men — need to be able to participate, as do adolescent girls, who are increasingly affected by HIV.

If people from the most affected countries aren’t able to attend, he said he doesn’t know how realistic the learning at the conference will be.

While those whose applications are denied will be able to attend the conference virtually, Rufurwadzo said that won’t allow the same level of participation. He also said young people, especially those from rural areas, may not have consistent access to the internet.

Last week, almost 250 organizations from around the world sent a joint letter to Immigration Minister Sean Fraser calling on him to take action to ensure participants can attend the International AIDS conference.

Aidan Strickland, a spokesman for Fraser, said in response to earlier questions from The Canadian Press that the department has been working closely with event organizers and that applications “have been assessed in a timely manner.”

“While we cannot comment on the admissibility of any particular individual, we can say that, in general, all visitors to Canada must meet the requirements for temporary residence in Canada, as set out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act,” Strickland said in an email. “All applications from around the world are assessed equally against the same criteria.”

Javier Bellocq, an Argentine who runs a community journalism project called the Key Correspondent Team which focuses on people living with HIV and high-risk groups, said from the stories he’s heard, it seems like each Canadian consulate is applying different rules.

In some places, he said, applicants have been required to pay for medical examinations as part of the visa process.

“The conference, in theory, arranged with the Canadian government that there will not be medical examinations, but there are, there are many medical examinations.”

Of a group of 40 Argentines, including Bellocq, who are planning to participate in pre-conference activities, only two have received visas so far, he said.

Tumie Komanyane, who runs programs for international NGO Frontline AIDS in South Africa, said groups she works with were planning to help more than a dozen young people attend the conference, but decided not to even bother applying for 10 visas after the first four applications were rejected.

Komanyane said she’s aware of other young people from the region, including some who had scholarships to attend the conference funded by the Canadian government, who have had their visa applications denied.

“It’s incoherent,” she said in an interview Saturday. “With the strides that Africa is making in the HIV field, all the lessons and evidence that could be coming from the beneficiaries directly is going to be lost.”

While she works with young people, she said, she doesn’t want to speak for them.

“They have agency, they have voice, and they shouldn’t be represented by people like me. They should be able to go and share what this work means for them,” she said.

Bellocq said he’s not worried about himself, noting the Argentine passport is relatively powerful and he’s a professional who has been travelling internationally form more than 30 years. But he worries about people  from countries with less passport privilege and members of marginalized groups who are at high risk of HIV.

With pre-conference events starting in just over three weeks, he said, “time is not on our side.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Woman held hostage during B.C. bank shooting experiencing roller-coaster of emotions

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Shelli Fryer was wide awake at 2:54 on Canada Day and hoped the stack of messages piling up in recent days could help her close her eyes.

The 59-year-old Langford, B.C., woman said she’s been having trouble sleeping since Tuesday when she was among those held hostage during a violent bank shooting in Saanich.

The messages pouring in since then, she said, have offered some of the comfort she’s sought and commended her bravery during the ordeal.

“There is just so much love I’m getting from all these strangers,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s overwhelming.”

Six officers were shot and 22-year-old twin brothers identified as Mathew and Isaac Auchterlonie from Duncan, B.C., were killed in the shootout with police on Tuesday outside the Bank of Montreal in Saanich.

Police have said multiple explosive devices were found in a vehicle linked to the two men, who have yet to be identified. Officers are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect.

Fryer has been mentally replaying Tuesday morning’s events ever since.

She pulled her blue Ford Bronco into the bank’s parking lot for an 11 a.m. appointment with the manager about a loan. Within a minute or two of sitting down in his glass-panelled office, Fryer said they heard a loud boom.

“The manager said ‘we’re being robbed’. He knew right away.”

The 17 women and five men in the branch that day all got on the grey floor immediately, Fryer said. She described the suspects as wearing all black including balaclavas, gloves, jackets, vests, body armour and pads covering the calves from the knee down.

One suspect came up to the bank manager and said “vault,” she recalled.

“He stared right at me twice. For 20 seconds,” she said. “But I couldn’t see his eyes. I couldn’t see his mouth. I couldn’t see any skin tone whatsoever.”

The manager tried to hand over the keys but the suspect pointed towards the vault and they walked off together, leaving Fryer in the room. She waited for the gunman to come back for her.

“I think he forgot about me,” she said.

Fryer got down on the floor and called the police. Her phone’s call log shows she dialed 911 at 11:04 a.m.

She whispered a description of the situation into the phone, fearing all the while she’d draw attention to herself by breaking the “eerie silence” that had descended on the branch, she said.

She left the phone on so the 911 operators could hear what was going on, turned down the volume so the suspects couldn’t hear if emergency personnel spoke and covered the phone with her long pink skirt so it wouldn’t be visible, she said.

For what “felt like an eternity,” she said there was “dead silence.”

Fryer said she felt little fear and experienced no dramatic moments as she hid behind a chair she doubted offered much protection.

“It was actually more like, ‘I think we’re gonna get out of this,’” she said. “I need to get the police though here. I’m just gonna let the police know. If the police get here, it will be OK.”

But then an “almighty hail of gunfire” rang out, she said, gasping at the remembered shock.

That’s when she ran and hid alone under a shelf in the manager’s office while others took shelter in a filing room.

Fryer said that while she felt the urge to panic with one half of her brain, the other half was reminding her to “just breathe.”

“‘The worst thing that’s going to  happen is, those shots will go right through the drywall and you’re going to be hit,’” she remembered thinking.

Fryer’s phone shows her call with 911, and the ordeal, lasted one hour, 26 minutes and five seconds.

While Fryer’s recollections of the attack are sharp, she said the rest of the day passed in a blur of police interviews, arrangements to retrieve her car and finally a meal of Asian food with her daughter.

The trauma of being held hostage comes in waves, she said. Fryer has spoken with police and victim services about how she feels, and she said she’s been told it will take time to process what she’s been through.

“It’s back and forth, you know? It’s like grief. You go through the whole stages, right? Sometimes you may never hit the last stage.”

But in the quiet moments, Fryer said she most often remembers seeing police walk through the bank door and hearing their concern for those trapped inside.

“The first words each and every officer said to us was, ‘I’m sorry this is happening to you.’ Even when they just came in from the gunfire,” she said. “… And much, much later we find out that six of their brothers-in-arms had been shot and injured.”

She feels “horrible” and “guilty” because she didn’t think about asking the officers whether any police had been injured, she said, though she and others inquired after the welfare of civilians.

“And each and every one of their energy and body language walking in and out of the crime scene did not give us any reason to even think to ask, ‘were any officers injured?’”

Saanich police Chief Const. Dean Duthie said three of the officers remain in hospital, including one in intensive care, while another will require more surgeries.

Fryer was born in Chicago and came to Canada when she was seven. Her experience with the police last week has made her feel “extra proud” to be Canadian, she said.

Since Tuesday when she started talking about her experience at the bank, Fryer said apart from strangers she’s also got messages from people whom she knew in another lifetime.

She got an email from her first roommate with whom she lived while working her first job after graduating high school when she was 18.

“We lived together for like eight years, and I was a bridesmaid at her wedding. I haven’t seen her since 1989. She reached out. Isn’t that funny?” she said.

“This is going to be life changing in many ways for me and I’m very grateful now because it could be very cool.”

Fryer has also been able to find levity — such as what to do with the outfit she was wearing on Tuesday at the bank – a long sleeve shirt, pink maxi skirt and pink high-heeled sandals.

“I’m going to throw it out,” she said. “I’ve had it for so long anyway. Or I should frame it. I really liked it too, though.”

She even plans to return to the bank, whose employees she said showed incredible professionalism under duress and whose manager she described as unflappable.

“I have to finish my appointment,” she said with a laugh. “I sat down for two minutes. We got interrupted.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 2, 2022.

 

Hina Alam, The Canadian Press

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