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MPs question month-long delay in ending CMAC funding after ‘vile’ tweets flagged

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OTTAWA — Diversity and Inclusion Minister Ahmed Hussen says he wishes he had been able to move more quickly to end the federal government’s ties to the Community Media Advocacy Centre after a Liberal caucus colleague first raised concerns about the group this summer.

The House of Commons heritage committee is studying the organization’s funding agreement with the Heritage Department after it was revealed that its senior consultant posted a series of tweets about “Jewish white supremacists.”

The federal government cut off funding to the group, which was overseeing an anti-racism project, after the tweets from Laith Marouf came to light in August.

Hussen told the committee Friday that Liberal MP Anthony Housefather first shared his concerns about the organization with him on July 19 or 20 and that his office immediately asked the Heritage Department to review the project funding details and keep it in the loop on next steps.

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Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman noted to the committee that the decision to end the funding was more than a month after Housefather informed Hussen’s office about “Mr. Marouf’s vile antisemitism.”

Hussen insisted he did act immediately, but the process took time.

Hussen says the funding was approved before he became minister and he trusted that proper vetting was done, but now he’s promising to strengthen the process for funding projects.

Marouf’s Twitter account is private, but a screenshot posted online showed a number of tweets with his photo and name.

One tweet said: “You know all those loud mouthed bags of human feces, a.k.a. the Jewish White Supremacists; when we liberate Palestine and they have to go back to where they come from, they will return to being low voiced bitches of thier (sic) Christian/Secular White Supremacist Masters.”

This summer, a lawyer acting for Marouf asked for his client’s tweets to be quoted “verbatim” and distinguished between Marouf’s “clear reference to ‘Jewish white supremacists”’ and Jews or Jewish people in general.

Marouf does not harbour “any animus toward the Jewish faith as a collective group,” lawyer Stephen Ellis said in an August email to The Canadian Press.

“While not the most artfully expressed, the tweets reflect a frustration with the reality of Israeli apartheid and a Canadian government which collaborates with it,” Ellis added.

In August, Hussen cut $133,000 in Heritage Department funding to CMAC after a public statement about what he called the “reprehensible and vile” tweets. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was launching a complete government review of funding to CMAC.

But asked why his office did not act sooner, Hussen said Friday he wanted to consult the legal department and follow the proper process to cut off funding and end the anti-racism project.

“We had obviously much less information (in July) than we do today,” he added, but he did not respond when pressed to explain what he did not know at the time of Housefather’s complaint.

Hussen told the committee that new conditions will be added to all federal funding agreements that allow the government to take action if an organization or person is found to have “promoted or shared hate, racism, antisemitism, or discrimination in any form.”

Any organization that has its funding cut off will never be eligible for future funding agreements.

Hussen told the committee there will be a renewed and reformed anti-racism strategy, informed by communities including those “that have been attacked by Mr. Marouf directly.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2022.

 

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Heads up, Canada: Colorado wants your drugs

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This item is part of Watching Washington, a regular dispatch from CBC News correspondents reporting on U.S. politics and developments that affect Canadians.

What’s new?

Colorado is the latest state to apply for a licence to import medicines from Canada, the most recent development in a politically sensitive cross-border issue.

This week the state announced that it asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for permission to import 112 medicines from Canada including EpiPens and drugs for cancer, asthma, multiple sclerosis, diabetes and other ailments.

Because those drugs are cheaper in Canada, the state projects that importing them would save Coloradans an average of 65 per cent per drug.

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“This exciting step means we are closer to savings for Coloradans,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.

What’s the context?

The context is sky-high drug prices. Americans pay more than residents of other countries for medicine, in some cases multiple times more.

That’s in part due to national regulations: Other countries have stricter rules for setting maximum prices and negotiating those with drug companies.

The U.S. has taken limited steps to address this; Years ago it introduced an optional coverage plan for seniors that allowed price negotiations, and the just-passed Inflation Reduction Act includes several cost-saving measures.

The pharmaceutical sector lobbied hard against price controls. The health sector outspent every other U.S. industry in lobbying last year, with drug companies especially funding lawmakers who voted against such reforms.

Americans pay more for medicine, in some cases many times more, due in part to looser national regulations on maximum prices and negotiations those with drug companies. (iStock)

Some U.S. states have taken up another idea: free trade in medicine. Why not just import drugs from abroad?

Six U.S. states have passed laws allowing imports of medicine from abroad, particularly from Canada, and now Colorado is the second of those, after Florida, to have formally requested authorization from the FDA.

It’s applying under a process established by the FDA in 2020. But no state has received an approval yet, as the process is complicated. To help explain the rules, the FDA issued a compliance guide this year.

The reason this matters to Canadians can be summed up in nine letters: shortages.

It’s already a problem: shortages occur constantly and, particularly, at present, scores of drugs are in short supply in both Canada and the U.S.

Ottawa has intermittently voiced fears for years about the potential for the gargantuan U.S. market gobbling up Canadian supplies and clearing out pharmacy shelves.

The Paul Martin government introduced a bill in Parliament in 2005 to bolster the health minister’s ability to freeze exports in the case of a shortage. That government fell soon thereafter, the bill never passed, and the issue remained mostly dormant for years.

But talk of importation has resurfaced in U.S. states lately. And Ottawa resumed its talk of export bans: the Trudeau government, in 2020, drafted regulations to better monitor potential shortages and restrict foreign sales of affected products.

Patty Hajdu, seen here in 2020, was the federal health minister when her department wrote stricter rules for exporting medicine that year. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

What’s next?

The issue now rests with the FDA. It must approve import requests. That’s in addition to complicated requirements that would have to be fulfilled by the businesses importing and exporting.

There are complex rules for industry in both countries.

On the export side — the Canadian government says Canada’s laws require companies to retain records proving that cross-border drug sales won’t cause shortages.

Federal regulations, as well as Canadian food and drug law, allow the government to then intervene to prevent shortages.

On the import side: the current U.S. import process, introduced in 2020, contains numerous hoops American buyers must jump through.

To be eligible for import, a product requires the necessary Canadian labelling; the seller must be licensed to sell drugs wholesale by Health Canada; the seller must also be registered with the FDA as a foreign seller; and the U.S. importer must be a wholesale distributor or pharmacist licensed in the U.S.

Then there are various testing and security requirements for shipments.

The Canadian government says it’s still working with the U.S. to understand the FDA’s plans for implement drug importation.

To date, says the Canadian Embassy in Washington, no state plans have been approved by the FDA.

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Canada’s ‘most beloved’ restaurants: OpenTable

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A new list by OpenTable shows the 100 “most beloved” Canadian restaurants in 2022, based on more than one million reviews.

The restaurant reservation company says it analyzed reviews and ratings by diners who used its service from Oct.1, 2021, to Sept. 30, 2022. The list was determined by overall rating, user-based “klout,” total number of reviews and regional overall rating.

“We’re seeing a strong interest in a variety of dining establishments and experiences this year, and strong representation from traditional continental to diverse international cuisines,” said Matt Davis, Country Director at OpenTable, in a news release.

Ontario dominates the list with 49 restaurants, followed by Alberta with 23, British Columbia with 18, Quebec with nine and New Brunswick with one.

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These are top 100 restaurants featured by OpenTable, listed in alphabetical order:

  1. 1 Kitchen – Toronto, Ont.
  2. Akira Back – Toronto, Ont.
  3. Alloy – Calgary, Alta.
  4. Amal Restaurant – Toronto, Ont.
  5. Anejo Restaurant – Toronto (King St) – Toronto, Ont.
  6. Auberge du Pommier – Toronto, Ont.
  7. Bar George – Montreal, Que.
  8. Bar Isabel – Toronto, Ont.
  9. Baro – Toronto, Ont.
  10. BLOCK ONE Restaurant at 50th Parallel Winery – Lake Country, B.C.
  11. Blu Ristorante – Toronto, Ont.
  12. Bocado Restaurant – Prince Edward County, Ont.
  13. Bonaparte – Montreal, Que.
  14. Botanist – Vancouver, B.C.
  15. Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar – Vancouver, B.C.
  16. Bridgette Bar – Calgary, Alta.
  17. Byblos – Downtown – Toronto, Ont.
  18. Bymark – Toronto, Ont.
  19. Café Boulud – Toronto, Ont.
  20. Cano Restaurant – Toronto, Ont.
  21. Canoe Restaurant and Bar – Toronto, Ont.
  22. Capocaccia Trattoria – Toronto, Ont.
  23. Cardinale – Calgary, Alta.
  24. Carisma – Toronto, Ont.
  25. Chairman’s Steakhouse – Calgary, Alta.
  26. Charcoal Steak House – Kitchener, Ont.
  27. Chuck’s Steakhouse – Banff, Alta.
  28. Crossroads Restaurant – Rousseau, Ont.
  29. Cucci Ristorante – Oakville, Ont.
  30. D.O.P. – Calgary, Alta.
  31. Damas – Montreal, Que.
  32. Dolcetto – London, Ont.
  33. Don Alfonso 1890 – Toronto, Ont.
  34. Earth to Table: Bread Bar – Guelph – Guelph, Ont.
  35. Elora Mill Restaurant – Guelph, Ont.
  36. Estiatorio Milos – Montreal – Montreal, Que.
  37. Gibbys – Old Montreal – Montreal, Que.
  38. Giulietta – Toronto, Ont.
  39. Grey Gardens – Toronto, Ont.
  40. Haven Kitchen + Bar – Langley, B.C.
  41. Hello Sunshine Japanese Restaurant + Private Karaoke Rooms – Banff, Alta.
  42. Home Block at CedarCreek Estate Winery – Kelowna, B.C.
  43. Homer Street Cafe & Bar – Vancouver, B.C.
  44. Hoogan & Beaufort – Montreal, Que.
  45. Hy’s Steakhouse – Toronto – Toronto, Ont.
  46. Ibérica – Montreal, Que.
  47. Italian by Night – Saint John, N.B.
  48. Joe Fortes Vancouver – Vancouver, B.C.
  49. Ki Modern Japanese + Bar – Toronto – Toronto, Ont.
  50. Kitchen76 at Two Sisters Vineyards – Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
  51. La Vecchia – Marine Parade – Etobicoke, Ont.
  52. Lee – Toronto, Ont.
  53. Locale King City – King City, Ont.
  54. Lonely Mouth Bar – Calgary, Alta.
  55. Lulu Bar – Calgary, Alta.
  56. Lupo Restaurant & Vinoteca – Vancouver, B.C.
  57. Maison Boulud – Montreal, Que.
  58. Maison Selby – Toronto, Ont.
  59. MAJOR TOM – Calgary, Alta.
  60. Marked – Toronto, Ont.
  61. Mercato – Mission – Calgary, Alta.
  62. Miku Restaurant – Vancouver – Vancouver, B.C.
  63. Minami Restaurant – Vancouver, B.C.
  64. Modavie – Montreal, Que.
  65. Model Milk – Calgary, Alta.
  66. MODERN STEAK – Southport Rd – Calgary, Alta.
  67. Morton’s The Steakhouse – Toronto – Toronto, Ont.
  68. Osteria Giulia – Toronto, Ont.
  69. Osteria Savio Volpe – Vancouver, B.C.
  70. Pepino’s Spaghetti House & La Tana – Vancouver, B.C.
  71. Raven Bistro – Jasper, Alta.
  72. REIGN – Toronto, Ont.
  73. Riviera – Ottawa, Ont.
  74. Sabor Restaurant – Edmonton, Alta.
  75. Sassafraz – Toronto, Ont.
  76. Scaramouche Restaurant – Toronto, Ont.
  77. Shook Kitchen – Toronto, Ont.
  78. Sofia – Toronto, Ont.
  79. Sorrel Rosedale – Toronto, Ont.
  80. St. Germain’s – Casino Rama Resort – Orillia, Ont.
  81. Sukiyaki House – Calgary, Alta.
  82. Tableau Bar Bistro – Vancouver, B.C.
  83. Tea at The Empress – Victoria, B.C.
  84. Teatro Restaurant – Calgary, Alta.
  85. Ten Foot Henry – Calgary, Alta.
  86. The Bauer Kitchen – Waterloo, Ont.
  87. The Bison Restaurant – Banff, Alta.
  88. The Butchart Gardens – The Dining Room – Brentwood Bay, B.C.
  89. The Good Earth Vineyard And Winery – Beamsville, Ont.
  90. The Keg Steakhouse + Bar – Oshawa – Oshawa, Ont.
  91. The Lake House – Calgary, Alta.
  92. The Nash – Calgary, Alta.
  93. The Story Cafe – Eatery & Bar – Richmond, B.C.
  94. Three Bears Brewery – Banff, Alta.
  95. Trattoria Timone – Oakville, Ont.
  96. Treadwell Farm-to-Table Cuisine- Niagara on the Lake – Niagara-on-the-lake, Ont.
  97. Tutto Restaurant & Bar – Vancouver, B.C.
  98. Vineland Estates Winery Restaurant – Vineland, Ont.
  99. Vintage Chophouse & Tavern – Calgary, Alta.
  100. Zarak by Afghan Kitchen – Vancouver, B.C.

Reporting for this story was paid for through The Afghan Journalists in Residence Project funded by Meta. 

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Alberta NDP says premier’s rejection of federal authority lays separation groundwork

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Alberta’s NDP Opposition leader says Premier Danielle Smith‘s comments rejecting the legitimacy of the federal government betray her unspoken plan to lay the groundwork for eventual separation.

Rachel Notley cited Smith’s comments to the house just before members passed her sovereignty bill earlier Thursday, in which Smith rejected the federal government’s overarching authority.

“It’s not like Ottawa is a national government,” Smith told the house at 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

“The way our country works is that we are a federation of sovereign, independent jurisdictions. They are one of those signatories to the Constitution and the rest of us, as signatories to the Constitution, have a right to exercise our sovereign powers in our own areas of jurisdiction.”

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Notley, speaking to reporters, said, “At 12:30 last night when she thought nobody was listening, the veil was lifted and Danielle Smith’s interest in genuinely pursuing initial steps toward separation were revealed.

“(They) demonstrate that her view is actually that which is aligned with these fringe separatist wannabes like folks who drafted the Free Alberta Strategy.

“Those comments are utterly chaos-inducing.”

Free Alberta Strategy was a 2021 policy paper drafted in part by Smith’s current top adviser Rob Anderson.

The authors of the paper argue that federal laws, policies and overreach are mortally wounding Alberta’s development.

They urge a two-track strategy to assert greater autonomy for Alberta within Confederation, while simultaneously laying the policy and administrative groundwork to transition Alberta to separation and sovereignty should negotiations fail.

The strategy was the genesis for Smith’s controversial sovereignty bill that stipulates the Alberta legislature, rather than the courts, can pass judgment on what is constitutional when it comes to provincial jurisdiction.

The bill also grants cabinet the power to direct municipalities, city police forces, health regions and schools to resist implementing federal laws.

During question period, Smith rejected accusations the bill is a separatist Trojan Horse, noting its intent is contained in the title.

“The name of the bill is Alberta Sovereignty Within a United Canada Act,” said Smith.

“The (act) has nothing to do with leaving the country. It has everything to do with resetting the relationship (with the federal government).”

Political scientist Jared Wesley said it appears constitutional chaos and baiting the federal government are the actual aims.

“When you start to deny the legitimacy of the federal government, that is part of the worrying trend that ties all of this to the convoy movement and the separatists,” said Wesley, with the University of Alberta.

“Albertans need to know those comments are inappropriate and misleading at best and sparking a national unity crisis at worst. Sooner or later, someone’s going to believe her.”

Wesley added that there is a sentiment among a small group of people in Alberta, including the premier, who “are just tired of losing and don’t want to play the game anymore,” he said.

“The sad thing is that that game is democracy and the rule book is the Constitution, and they’re just ignoring all of it now.”

Political scientist Duane Bratt said Smith was not describing Canadian federalism.

“She is confusing the European Union with Canada,” said Bratt, with Mount Royal University in Calgary. “Canada is not made up of sovereign provinces. We share sovereignty between orders of government.”

Political scientist Lori William, also with Mount Royal University, said the comment “betrays a profound lack of understanding of Canada, of federalism, of what powers belong to the federal and provincial governments.”

During question period, Smith waved away Opposition demands that she refer the bill to Alberta’s Court of Appeal to determine if it is onside with the Constitution.

Smith told the house that Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, a lawyer, wrote the bill and that the government received independent advice from constitutional lawyers to ensure it was not offside.

“The constitutionality of this bill is not in question,” Smith said.

The bill was introduced by Smith a week ago as centrepiece legislation to pursue a more confrontational approach with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government on a range of issues deemed to be overreach in provincial areas of responsibility.

It was a short, brutish ride for the bill.

Smith’s government, due to a public outcry, had to bring in an amendment just days after introducing the bill to reverse a provision that gave it ongoing emergency-type powers to unilaterally rewrite laws while bypassing the legislature.

Alberta’s First Nations chiefs have condemned the bill as trampling their treaty rights and Smith’s Indigenous relations minister has said more consultation should have been done.

Smith told the house she met with Indigenous leaders just hours earlier to discuss concerns and shared goals. She rejected the assertion the bill doesn’t respect treaty rights.

“There is no impact on treaty and First Nations’ rights. That’s the truth,” she said.

Law professor Martin Olszynski said the bill remains problematic because it must be clear the courts have the final say on interpreting the Constitution in order to stabilize the checks and balances of a democratic system.

He said Smith’s bill threatens that, perhaps putting judges in the awkward position of having to decide whether they are the ones to make those decisions.

“Can that judge exercise their judicial function without being affected by that very politicized context?” said Olszynski, with the University of Calgary.

“It essentially politicizes the judicial process.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.

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