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MPs rush over 150 amendments to streaming bill; Senate says it won’t be pressured

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OTTAWA — MPs have been forced to rush through over 150 amendments to the online streaming bill to meet a deadline imposed by the government, prompting accusations of secrecy and legislative bungling.

But senators have signalled they will not be pressured to speed up consideration of the bill, claiming they have thwarted government ploys to push it through the upper house.

The online streaming bill, which the government rushed through the Commons heritage committee on Tuesday, is now subject to a pre-study by the Senate committee on transport and communications.

The Senate committee’s chair, Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, accused the government of planning to “ram this legislation through without proper parliamentary scrutiny.”

He said the government had tried to force the Senate to “undertake an unnecessary pre-study hoping to then claim that further study wouldn’t be necessary.”

“Thanks to the Official Opposition in the Senate and a few other Senators from other groups and caucuses, those plans have been stymied,” Housakos said. “It’s been made quite clear to the Trudeau government that there will be a diligent and thorough study of this flawed legislation; one that will be done transparently and will include witnesses whose voices and concerns were silenced in the other place.”

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said he had been “meeting with and listening to senators for months, and they want a full study of the bill.”

“I totally respect their role to do this important work with the time they need to get it done,” Rodriguez said.

There were heated exchanges Tuesday between Conservative and Liberal MPs at the heritage committee, which sat until midnight as they voted on over 150 amendments to the bill.

The bill, known as C-11 in Parliament, updates the Broadcasting Act to include streaming platforms such as Netflix and require them to follow Canadian content rules. The bill’s scope has been hotly debated, with platforms including YouTube, TikTok and Spotify raising concerns about how the law will impact them and their users.

After 9 p.m. — the deadline imposed by the government to stop debating line by line changes to the bill — dozens of amendments, including those proposed by the government, were voted on without debate by MPs on the committee.

This meant that their contents were not explained to members of the public watching the committee.

Experts watching the proceedings accused the government not only of forcing legislation through Parliament but of a lack of transparency.

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, claimed the government had “badly bungled the entire process.”

“Canadians watching the hearing would be rightly appalled, wondering how a democratic country that sees itself as a model for the world would descend to the level of racing through over a hundred amendments without discussions, debate or even public disclosure of the content of the amendments,” Geist said.

MPs on the committee, who sat until midnight voting on amendments, say they were only made aware of the text of all of them on Tuesday morning.

Green MP Mike Morrice, who tabled an amendment to clarify that user-generated content, such as amateur videos posted on YouTube, would not be affected by the bill, said he was disappointed that the committee ran out of time to properly discuss it and other clauses. His amendment did not get government support.

“I’m disappointed there wasn’t more time to debate clause by clause on a really important bill,” he said.

Liberal MPs said the government’s decision to table a motion to cut short debate of amendments followed repeated attempts by Tories on the committee to wreck the bill by filibustering in the committee, in an attempt to talk it out.

NDP MP Peter Julian, who sits on the committee, also expressed frustration at Tory tactics.

The marathon committee hearing on Tuesday became fraught and tense by the evening, with Tory MP Rachael Thomas claiming she was the victim of personal attacks.

John Nater, Conservative heritage critic and committee member, said “there is absolutely no justification for a bill of this magnitude to be rammed through so hastily and with such little study.”

“As a direct result of the closure motion from the Liberal government, at 9 p.m. on Tuesday evening members of the Heritage Committee were compelled to instantly vote on over 100 amendments and dozens of clauses to Bill C-11,” he said. “For over three hours these votes were held without debate or explanation.”

But Laura Scaffidi, spokeswoman for Rodriguez, said there has been “a lot of study on the bill.”

“The committee heard from more than 70 witnesses over more than 21 hours of study at committee,” she said. “All parties, including the Greens, were successful in amending the bill. The government voted for at least one amendment from each opposition party, including the Conservatives. That’s a multi-partisan collaborative effort in spite of the Conservatives’ filibustering.”

The bill, now being considered in a Senate committee, will be studied in greater detail in the fall by senators.

Platforms that will be regulated under broadcasting laws said they wanted closer consideration in the Senate, as they were still unclear how precisely the bill will affect them.

Jeanette Patell, head of government affairs and public policy at YouTube Canada, said the platform hopes to work closely with the Senate on the bill.

She said the company is “disappointed” that in the Commons committee the “concerns of thousands of Canadian creators were not recognized through amendments that would have reflected the minister’s intention for Bill C-11’s scope.”

Regan Smith, head of public policy and government affairs at Spotify, said the platform wants “the bill to be looked at carefully with our concerns in mind” in the Senate.

“There’s some language in the bill that we’d like clarity on, in particular on how Canadian content should be identified and recommended,” she said. “We want to ensure that songs by artists we recognize as Canadian can be classified as Canadian.”

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

 

Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press

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Hillier calls on Ottawa to provide aid to Ukraine, laments waning interest in war

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OTTAWA — Retired general Rick Hillier is lamenting what he sees as waning Canadian interest in the war in Ukraine as public and political attention turns increasingly toward the rising rate of inflation and other issues closer to home.

But the former Canadian defence chief who served as the face of this country’s military mission in Afghanistan for years warns that even more economic hardship is in store if Canada and its allies don’t step up their support for Ukraine and stop Russia.

That includes the rapid provision of hundreds of millions of dollars in Canadian military aid that the federal Liberal government promised in April, only a fraction of which has been delivered.

“Just imagine what would occur if Russia breaks through and takes Ukraine, changes the oil and gas flow dramatically, changes the flow of wheat into Africa, to the Black Sea ports,” he said in an interview.

“The implication will be double, triple or quadruple what we see right now. … It’s right to do more as a nation and we can afford to do more. But secondly, do it because the economic implications down the road of not doing it are brutal for us also.”

Hillier was speaking in his role as the new head of an advisory council comprised of retired military commanders organized by the Ukrainian World Congress, an advocacy group for the Ukrainian diaspora.

The UWC has been running a campaign called Unite With Ukraine that seeks to raise funds to buy non-lethal military equipment for the country’s Territorial Defence Force, which is comprised of volunteers — including foreigners — fighting Russia’s invasion.

Canada has been a staunch supporter of the Ukrainian military since Russian forces first attacked in late February, with the Liberal government promising $500 million in military aid in April’s federal budget.

The government says it has since provided more than $150 million worth of assistance, including millions in artillery shells, drones and satellite imagery. Those are in addition to the provision of four artillery guns and several armoured vehicles.

Defence Minister Anita Anand earlier this week held up the purchase of drone cameras for the Ukrainian military as one of several recent successes when it comes to military procurement, saying the government “turned around a contract within days.”

But Hillier says there needs to be a greater sense of urgency as Russia, after its early battlefield blunders, has started to deploy more of its military capabilities in ways that the Ukrainians are finding difficult to counter.

“They’ve committed half-a-billion dollars and I’d like to see that money spent in very effective ways, with things delivered to the Ukrainian defence forces literally right now, and not go through a procurement process,” he said.

“Let’s get them what they need right now.”

Hillier repeated some of his past calls for Canada to send some of the hundreds of light-armoured vehicles that form the backbone of the Canadian Army’s mechanized power, as well as dozens of tanks.

At the same time, he worried that the war in Ukraine is falling down the priority list for Canadians as they face more pressure on their pocketbooks due to rising fuel and food costs as well as mortgage rates.

“I watched a variety of national news shows over the last days and several weeks and Ukraine is barely mentioned, let alone what’s occurring there,” he said. “And people are worried about their ability to put food on their table, and their jobs and house.”

Hillier’s comments came as the Russian military extended its grip on territory in eastern Ukraine on Thursday, and the Ukrainian military announced the arrival of powerful U.S. multiple-launch rocket systems it hopes will offer a battlefield advantage.

The U.S. plans to send another US$450 million in military aid to Ukraine, including some additional medium-range rocket systems, ammunition and other supplies, U.S. officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to provide details ahead of an announcement.

Analysts said the advanced systems, which Canada does not operate, would give Ukrainian forces greater precision in hitting Russian targets.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

⁠ — With files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Trudeau pledges to defend abortion rights around the world amid ‘devastating setback’

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to defend abortion rights in Canada and around the world on Friday after what he called a “devastating setback” in the United States.

“Quite frankly, it’s an attack on everyone’s freedoms and rights,” Trudeau said of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that guaranteed the right to abortion.

“It shows how much standing up and fighting for rights matters every day, that we can’t take anything for granted,” Trudeau said from the Commonwealth summit in Kigali, Rwanda.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, who joined Trudeau in Kigali, called it a “dark day” and warned the decision will have “a domino effect on other rights,” adding that no country is immune and accusing Conservatives of “shopping for anti-abortion votes.”

Trudeau did not take questions from reporters after making his statement.

Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen accused the Liberals of politicizing the abortion issue to create division.

She said in a written statement that her party’s position on abortion has not changed and the Conservatives “will not introduce legislation or reopen the abortion debate.”

Jean Charest, a candidate in the Tory leadership race, tweeted on Friday he was “disturbed” by the news. He said while he recognizes there are strongly held beliefs on the issue, “reproductive rights in Canada are non-negotiable.”

Leslyn Lewis, another candidate who describes herself as “pro-life,” tweeted on Friday that “Canada is not the U.S.” She said she expects Canadians to be able to have adult conversations about the topic.

She said her position is that coercive and sex-selective abortions are wrong, and a Conservative party under her leadership would allow free votes for issues of conscience in the House of Commons.

A majority of Conservatives voted in favour of a private member’s bill last year to outlaw sex-selective abortions, but the bill was defeated.

The party’s other leadership candidates have either said that they support the right to choose an abortion or that they would not introduce legislation restricting it.

The Campaign Life Coalition, which holds an annual anti-abortion rally on Parliament Hill that attracts thousands and has supported Lewis’s candidacy, put out a statement praising the court: “We thank God and heartily applaud this decision.”

Reacting to the news on Friday morning, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement that “dangerous policies that threaten women’s health and women’s lives must not be allowed to take root in Canada.”

He said the government needs to work harder to improve abortion access for women, especially in rural communities. “The Liberals say the right things about being pro-choice but that isn’t enough,” he added.

The right to an abortion doesn’t exist in Canada in the same way it was enshrined in Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that served as a rock-ribbed legal scaffold for reproductive rights champions around the world.

Abortion is decriminalized in Canada because of a 1988 Supreme Court decision, but no bill has ever been passed to enshrine access into law.

Though the decision is sending “shock waves” everywhere, the legal ability to have an abortion in Canada is not under threat, said Joyce Arthur, executive director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada.

But her organization is concerned about Americans coming north for abortion care and is advocating for federal and provincial governments to help clinics with more funding because, as Arthur puts it, “even a small number of Americans can overwhelm our system.”

Later on Friday, Joly was asked whether the government would require provinces to provide access to late-term abortions, and if American women could have their abortions funded by Canada. She said they want to take “strong measures” towards better access.

“We will work with women’s organizations across the country to listen to their needs and also work with provinces and territories,” she said in Kigali.

Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association noted that while most Canadians have access to abortion services through provincial health care, that is not true in New Brunswick. Publicly funded abortion services in that province have been restricted to three hospitals in two cities. The CCLA filed a case against the N.B. government that is making its way through courts.

Oxfam Canada executive director Lauren Ravon likewise reacted to the decision with concerns about the “enormous challenges” in abortion access for Canadian women who live in rural and remote areas, are in precarious housing situations or face intimate partner violence.

Social media was replete Friday with criticisms of the court’s decision from Liberal and like-minded politicians, including a tweeted statement from Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland that said she was “shocked and horrified” and “abortion is a fundamental right.”

But advocates such as Arthur have been hoping the government will start “putting their money where their mouth is.”

In May, after a leaked copy of the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft decision was obtained and published by Politico, the Liberal government announced it was spending $3.5 million on two projects to improve abortion access — part of a $45 million pot of money for sexual and reproductive health services they had announced in 2021.

At the time, Trudeau said his government was discussing how to make sure progress on reproductive rights is not reversed by future governments or court decisions, and that enshrining access to abortion with legislation could be one way to do that.

Liberals have made no major strides toward doing that, however, nor have they followed through on an election promise last fall to create Canada Health Act regulations that would penalize provinces for failing to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters in May such mechanisms already exist, but his officials were looking at reinforcing them in the coming months.

Last year, the Liberal government confirmed it had withheld about $140,000 of New Brunswick’s share of the federal health transfer because it does not fund abortions provided at a clinic in Fredericton.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

— With files from Laura Osman in Kigali, Rwanda.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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Quebec’s St-Jean Baptiste Day celebrations return after pandemic hiatus

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MONTREAL — Quebec residents streamed into local streets, packed outdoor concert venues and geared up for a weekend of in-person celebrations on Friday as they marked the provincial holiday of St-Jean Baptiste Day.

The return to public festivities came after two years worth of broad cancellations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and residents lost no time in getting back into the celebratory spirit.

Tanya Dupont turned up for Friday festivities in Montreal alongside her five-year-old daughter, with the pair sporting matching tank tops featuring Quebec’s floral emblem.

“We missed celebrating the St-Jean Baptiste Day,” Dupont said. “My daughter was so excited to take her outfit out again!”

Celebrations for the 188th edition of St-Jean Baptiste festivities kicked off with major concerts in Quebec City and Montreal on Thursday evening, where thousands of attendees donned the province’s official blue and white colours.

About 5,000 activities across 650 provincial locales have been planned for the long weekend, including several musical performances from prominent Quebec’s performers.

Simon Bissonnette, president of organizer Mouvement national des Québécoises et Québécois, said this year’s holiday feels like a family reunion due to the lifting of public health protocols meant to protect against COVID-19.

“It’s a liberation to see people at different sites, without any measures,” Bissonnette said.

But this year’s celebrations weren’t exact clones of past events.

In downtown Montreal, for instance, the traditional parade was replaced with an immersive exhibition of scenes from Quebec’s history and culture.

Rather than admiring passing parade floats, attendees were encouraged to circulate among a dozen settings. These included a replica of Quebec’s infamous winter complete with real bonfires and the opportunity to roast marshmallows, a traditional sugar shack, and a showcase of photos depicting aspects of the province’s history.

Montreal resident Mélanie Aubut was all smiles as she watched her seven-year-old daughter run across the street with half her face painted in blue and a “Quebec” tag on her forehead.

“We’re also celebrating diversity today,” Aubut said. “It’s beautiful that we have people with different backgrounds in our city, celebrating together.”

She said having the option to walk across the static scenes was perfect to reintroduce the festivities after the pandemic.

“It’s less overwhelming or suffocating because there’s more space for people,” she said. “You can go at your own rhythm, take the time to look.”

Simon Dor also took in the sights during an afternoon  stroll with family and friends.

“There are several definitions to what it means to be Quebecer,” he said. “But we can celebrate no matter what.”

Quebec Premier François Legault posted a video on Twitter early Friday showing himself humming “Gens du pays” by Quebec Nationalist songwriter Gilles Vigneault, which is frequently sung during birthday celebrations.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also issued a statement in which he celebrated his Quebec heritage and touted the province as a leader in equality, justice and democracy.

“As Quebecers, we can be proud of our history and our beautiful French language,” Trudeau said on Friday. “These are the roots of a unique culture that binds us together, from Rimouski to Val–d’Or, from Montreal to Sherbrooke.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

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

 

Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press

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