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MPs summon RCMP, Blair to probe interference allegations in NS investigation

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OTTAWA — The RCMP superintendent and a former communications director who said there was political interference in the investigation of the 2020 Nova Scotia mass shooting will be summoned to testify next month at a parliamentary committee digging into the allegations.

Supt. Darren Campbell and Lia Scanlan are on the witness list for the House of Commons public safety committee, which is also requesting RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki, Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair and their deputies appear at a meeting no later than July 25.

Blair was the minister of public safety at the time of the shooting.

Conservative MP Raquel Dancho requested the meeting to probe what she called “shocking revelations” coming out of the public inquiry investigating the tragedy.

She said the political interference allegations are separate from what the Mass Casualty Commission underway in Nova Scotia is looking at, and should be investigated by Parliament.

All parties at the committee supported calling the witnesses but disagreed for nearly two hours about when to hold the meeting.

Blair, Lucki and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have all said there was no interference in the investigation.

A report published Tuesday by the public inquiry into the massacre included handwritten notes from Campbell alleging that 10 days after the tragedy Lucki met with Nova Scotia RCMP and expressed disappointment that the types of weapons used had not yet been made public.

The notes say Lucki told those present she had promised the federal Public Safety Department and the Prime Minister’s Office that information on the guns used by the shooter would be released because it was “tied to pending gun control legislation.”

Blair said Wednesday Lucki had made no such promise to him.

During question period both Wednesday and Thursday, he repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, noting the Liberal promise to enact stiffer laws on guns long predated the tragedy.

“The vicious murder of 22 Canadians using firearms deepened our resolve to make Canadians safe and to keep our promise,” he said.

A separate entry in the report says Scanlan, a former RCMP communications director, told inquiry investigators in an interview that Blair and Trudeau were “weighing in on what we could and couldn’t say” during media briefings.

Speaking to reporters Thursday in Kigali, Rwanda, Trudeau said the government did not “put any undue influence or pressure” on the RCMP in Nova Scotia. He also said he has faith in Lucki, but when asked if her comments at the April 28, 2020 meeting were appropriate, he pointed to Lucki’s own written statement.

In that statement, issued Tuesday night, Lucki said she did not interfere with the investigation but could have better handled the meeting on the flow of information coming out of the probe.

“It was a tense discussion, and I regret the way I approached the meeting and the impact it had on those in attendance,” she said. “My need for information should have been better weighed against the seriousness of the circumstances they were experiencing.”

Lucki will be asked to expand on her statements at the public safety committee. Also on the witness list is Chief Supt. Chris Leather, who was the critical incident commander the weekend of the shooting, assistant commissioner Lee Bergman, who was the commanding officer in Nova Scotia, and Sharon Tessier, a senior communications manager at RCMP headquarters in Ottawa.

Nova Scotia RCMP have been heavily criticized for their handling of the shooting, and a public inquiry is underway seeking answers about the RCMP’s actions during and after the 13-hour rampage.

The report that included the notes about Lucki’s comments at the April 28 meeting also asserted that key information about the case, including the names of victims and the types of weapons used by the killer, were withheld from the public longer than necessary.

The report noted that while the RCMP’s national headquarters was prepared to release a list of the victims’ names in the days after the shootings, Nova Scotia RCMP didn’t release that information and it only became public through media reports.

The types of weapons used only became public after media received information in a briefing note from the Prime Minister’s Office more than seven months after the shooting.

Trudeau said Thursday that “when the worst mass shooting in Canada’s history happened we had a lot of questions.”

“Canadians had a lot of questions, and I got regular briefings on what we knew, what we didn’t know. And those answers continue to come out even as the public inquiry is ongoing so families can actually learn what happened and we will continue to take responsible action.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 23, 2022.

 

Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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UN: Multiple famines might be declared in 2022

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Berlin, Germany- Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) has warned of a looming severe global famine if drastic measures are not taken.

Guterres warned that farmers in Asia, Africa and the Americas would be the hardest hit by the rising costs of fertilizer and fuel.

“There is a real risk that multiple famines will be declared in 2022, 2023 could be even worse. This year’s food access issues could become next year’s global food shortage. No country will be immune to the social and economic repercussions of such a catastrophe,” said Guterres.

In addition, the UN Secretary-General said the Russian attack on Ukraine exacerbated pre-existing problems and called for the release of Ukrainian agricultural products onto the world market to ease shortages as well as debt relief for indigent countries.

“The war in Ukraine has compounded problems that have been brewing for years, climate disruption, the COVID-19 pandemic and the deeply unequal recovery,” added Guterres.

However, Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said Western nations are deliberately stirring up tensions regarding Ukrainian grain exports.

Putin said Russia is not impeding exports, and criticized the West for its “cynical attitude” towards the food supply of the developing nations, which have been worst affected by soaring prices. He said rising inflation in the West was “a result of their own irresponsible macroeconomic policies.”

Furthermore, Putin said Russia is ready to provide free passage to international waters for ships carrying grain, adding that Russia had reached an “understanding” on that issue with the UN Secretariat.

Moreso, the Russian President suggested that the Ukrainian military should demine the country’s ports to further facilitate exports, and said “a constructive approach on Kiev’s part” is the only thing that is lacking and cited that Russia itself may be able to export between 37 and 50 tons of grain this year.

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Canada can now seize, sell off Russian assets. What's next? – CBC News

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Selling Russian-owned assets to pay for Ukraine’s reconstruction may sound like a logical approach to restitution, but as the Canadian government gains new powers to begin this process, questions remain about how it will work, and whether some issues are headed to court.

C-19, the budget implementation bill, received Royal Assent last Thursday. Among its many measures are new powers to seize and sell off assets owned by individuals and entities on Canada’s sanctions list. While the new powers could be used in any international conflict, the Liberal government’s current priority is helping victims of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Canada’s stepped-up sanctions powers were discussed with U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during her visit to Toronto last week.

“We think it’s really important to extend our legal authorities because it’s going to be really, really important to find the money to rebuild Ukraine,” Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland told Canadian and American reporters. “I can think of no more appropriate source of that funding than confiscated Russian assets.”

That sentiment was shared by Ontario Sen. Ratna Omidvar who proposed her own Senate legislation to enable similar asset seizures two years ago. At the time she was motivated to help the displaced Rohingya population by sanctioning corrupt generals in Myanmar.

“Kleptocrats must pay for their crimes, not through simply being sanctioned and their assets being frozen, but by their assets being repurposed and confiscated,” said Omidvar.

Although C-19 will work a bit differently than her bill, Omidvar still calls it a “good start” and supports the government’s move. 

“The question no longer is ‘if we should confiscate,'” the senator said. “The question is: ‘How should we repurpose? … Who’s involved? How do we provide accountability? How do we protect ourselves?'”

Test cases expected

Although some jurisdictions, notably Switzerland, already confiscate and return certain illicit assets, this move by Canada — and potentially other G7 countries meeting in Germany this week — is unprecedented.

Allies agree on the imperative of cranking up more economic pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it’s still a risky play. Other hostile governments could seize Canadian-owned assets abroad in retaliation. It also may violate customary international law, such as the UN Articles on states responsibility.

The new powers target assets in Canada owned by an individual or entity on the federal government’s sanctions list. Previously, authorities could seize the proceeds of crime. With C-19, they can confiscate the assets of sanctioned individuals whether they’re acquired legally or illegally.

Is that fair? Omidvar anticipates the new powers being challenged in Canadian court. “I keep thinking we need a couple of test cases,” she said.

The senator’s original bill proposed seizing and redistributing assets by court order, with a judge adjudicating concerns.

C-19 puts more power in ministerial hands, something that is “faster and nimbler,” Omidvar acknowledges, but also less transparent.

During debate in the Senate, Omidvar called on the government to take “politics out of the equation” so Canada would not be accused of inappropriate distribution of funds, “or worse, appropriation of funds for its own use.”

When asked about the legality of these new powers earlier this month, Justice Minister David Lametti said “you don’t have an absolute right to own private property in Canada,” and compared it to other processes of government expropriation.

Adrien Blanchard, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, told CBC News that “necessary checks and balances” are provided in C-19, including a formal judicial process to forfeit any asset.

“Procedural fairness was a key consideration in the development of these measures, and forfeiture proceedings before a judge are not automatic,” Joly’s spokesperson said. 

Privacy rules limit disclosure

Omidvar’s bill would have created a registry with the name of any person or entity associated with a seized asset and its value. There’s no such disclosure requirement in C-19, so this could be a difficult process to track once it starts.

One or more court cases could trigger more public disclosure. 

When the RCMP reported earlier this month that Canadian authorities have frozen the equivalent of $124 million in assets so far, it was unable to reveal what these assets are — cash, bonds, cryptocurrency, corporate shares, real estate or other property — because of the Privacy Act.

The minister of foreign affairs may issue permits on a case-by-case basis to authorize activities or transactions that would otherwise be prohibited, but only to people in Canada or Canadians abroad. When asked if any such permits have been issued related to Canada’s sanctions against Russia, Global Affairs Canada would not comment, again citing privacy concerns.

One of the prominent Russian oligarchs on Canada’s sanctions list, Roman Abramovich, holds around 30 per cent of the shares of Evraz, a global steel manufacturer that employs over 1,800 people at its facilities in Western Canada. 

CBC News asked Evraz North America whether any of its shares or business properties were among assets frozen by Canada so far, but the company did not respond. 

Separate from its powers to seize assets, the budget implementation bill also implements a publicly accessible beneficial ownership registry to make it easier to trace the ownership of anonymous shell companies. That could reveal more about Russian assets in Canada.

However, a business that’s registered provincially instead of incorporated federally would only appear in the national registry if provinces and territories agree to participate — if they don’t agree, there is a potential loophole, Omidvar warned her Senate colleagues during debate.

Who gets the proceeds?

Omidvar’s original bill would have required the recipient of redistributed funds to report back to a court on its use.

C-19 puts the minister of foreign affairs in charge of who gets the money and what happens to it.

“Operationalizing this is going to be a little bit of a challenge,” said fellow senator and former G7 sherpa Peter Boehm. “This is all very, very new.”

The former senior Global Affairs official suggests the government needs to get safeguards in place.

“What is the mechanism? To whom should these assets go? Do they go to individuals? Do they go to state actors?” Boehm said, noting that Canada may want to coordinate with other like-minded countries and UN agencies, like the World Food Program. “There are a lot of questions there… we need to know and the Canadian people would want to know where this money is going and if it’s being properly spent.”

The yacht Amore Vero shown here docked in the Mediterranean resort of La Ciotat, in March, was seized by French authorities after being linked to Igor Sechin, a Putin ally who runs Russian oil giant Rosnef. (Bishr Eltoni/The Associated Press)

The G7 considered asset seizures previously, Boehm said. He expects they could feature in at least behind-the-scenes conversations this week, if not the final communiqué.

“The leaders meetings internationally are timed, I think, very well,” he said.

“Ukraine, historically… has struggled with corruption issues,” said Rachel Ziemba, an adjunct senior fellow with the Centre for a New American Security who advises companies and countries on sanctions policy.  “There have been a lot of strides made… but it’s still not at the level of a developed economy.”

Working through the International Monetary Fund, or setting up a trust fund that would vet recipients and add more reporting to the process could add more certainty, she suggested.

Russian central bank has reserves in Canada

Taxpayers in Canada, the U.S. or other countries don’t want to bear the full cost of this war, Ziemba said, but as governments embark on asset seizures they also have to be concerned about the message it sends on what jurisdictions are safe for foreign investment.

“There are a lot of legal questions ahead,” she said.

According to recent reporting on Russian Central Bank reserves, about $20 billion might be held in Canada — a far more significant sum in the context of Ukrainian reconstruction than the $124 million in frozen assets disclosed so far.

“The Russian Central Bank and some of its investment funds over the last decade [were] really focused on trying to reduce its exposure to U.S. dollars,” Ziemba explains. Canadian reserve assets and government bonds were attractive because they were both stable and got more yield than comparable investments in Japan or the European Union.

In other words: a small slice of Canada’s debt is held by Russia. “The only saving grace is that the amount they have is not so much they can hold much leverage,” Ziemba said.

Russia’s central bank is on Canada’s sanctions list. Should these reserves be seized and handed over to Ukraine too?

Yellen’s argued against doing this in the U.S., even though it could provide more funds to rebuild Ukraine.

“That might send a message to other countries that are investing in [international currency and bond] markets,” Ziemba said — think of China’s buying power, for example. “That, I think, is why the [U.S.] treasury department and even the [U.S. federal reserve] are wary of these moves.”

Are asset sales imminent?

Earlier this month, CBC News asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau whether Canada intended to sell the full amount of assets frozen so far. He declined to answer, saying “there are lots of conversations going on” and Canada was “a long way” from deciding how proceeds would be spent.

But when the Senate foreign affairs committee pre-studied C-19 in May, officials said the government will move quickly.

“The intent is definitely to start identifying assets to pursue and to freeze and forfeit them shortly after Royal Assent is received for Bill C-19,” said Alexandre Lévêque, the assistant deputy minister for strategic policy at Global Affairs Canada.

In its report, that Senate committee said the government needs “to monitor on an ongoing basis the ways in which repurposed funds are used and to learn from the early examples of the new powers being implemented.”

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Rodeo group in Alberta sorry for float that critics say was racist

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SUNDRE, Alta. — Organizers of a rodeo in southern Alberta are apologizing for a parade float with a turban-wearing man in a fake beard seated on a manure spreader with the words “The Liberal” painted on the side.

Photos of the float from Saturday’s event in Sundre, Alta., about 80 kilometres northwest of Calgary, circulated on social media. It drew condemnation from a Sikh group in Calgary, which said the float was racist, as well as from some Alberta MPs.

Sundre Pro Rodeo posted a statement from its parade committee on Facebook saying the float had not been approved and had joined the parade without passing through any registration.

The rodeo further offered its deepest apologies, noting the float had been entered as a tractor.

Some people who commented on the apology questioned the accusation of racism, noting the man in the turban and beard, who was not in blackface, was meant to depict federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as a Liberal lapdog.

Sundre Pro Rodeo said in its posts that it “is committed to ensuring that entries will be reviewed in any future events” to prevent a similar incident from happening again.

“The Sundre Pro Rodeo does not approve the floats for the parade. That is entirely up to the parade committee! If we knew about that float, we would have NEVER approved it!” the organization’s Facebook post read.

“Nobody had a clue that it had such profanity. So we are sorry.”

George Chahal, a Liberal MP representing Calgary Skyview, condemned those responsible for what he called a “despicable display of racism.”

“The Sikh community in Canada, of which I am a proud member, has a wide diversity of political perspectives,” said a post on Chahal’s Twitter account.

“More importantly, Sikhs have been a steadfast force for good in Alberta and across the country.”

Jasraj Singh Hallan, a Conservative MP representing Calgary Forest Lawn, posted the float “should be condemned in strongest terms by all.”

“This is absolutely disgusting. These kinds of acts have no place in Canada,” he said in a Twitter post.

The Dashmesh Culture Centre, a Sikh community group in Calgary, said in a Twitter post that it welcomed representatives from the rodeo and parade committee to visit and learn about Sikhs.

“We need to have serious conversations and actions to stop these forms of racism,” the centre wrote in a social media post.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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