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‘Opportunity to seek justice:’ says Inuit leader about meeting with Pope Francis

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The leader of the national organization representing Inuit people says it will not be a celebratory occasion when he meets with Pope Francis at the Vatican next week as part of an Indigenous delegation.

Natan Obed has a specific item on his agenda: justice for alleged victims of a Roman Catholic priest accused of crimes against children.

Obed, president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, wants the church to hold to account an Oblate priest, Johannes Rivoire, who continues to live free despite multiple allegations of sexual abuse linked to his time in Nunavut.

“He is still alive and has not faced legal prosecution,” Obed said in a recent interview.

Rivoire was in Canada from the early 1960s to 1993, when he returned to France.

A warrant was issued for his arrest in 1998. He faced at least three charges of sexual abuse in the Nunavut communities of Arviat, Rankin Inlet and Naujaat. More than two decades later, the charges were stayed.

The Public Prosecution Service of Canada said at the time it was partly due to France’s reluctance to extradite.

Inuit leaders and politicians have continued to urge that the priest, now in his 90s, face trial. Those calls have become even louder with the discovery of unmarked graves at the sites of former residential schools run by the Catholic Church, Obed said.

“We want to hear from the church and the Pope directly their commitment to holding to account anyone associated with the church that has committed crimes, especially against children,” he said.

Obed said he does not intend to tiptoe around difficult issues when he meets with the Pope.

“This is an opportunity to seek justice.”

Obed said the other Inuit delegates are community members and some are Catholic. They will share their stories and connections to the church.

An estimated 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis children were forced to attend residential schools. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Residential schools in the Far North were different than those in Southern Canada, but the institutions were the source of similar intergenerational trauma long after their closure.

Missionary schools, run by Catholic and other churches, were predominant until around 1950. Those schools were also known for abuse, sickness and even death. Federally run institutions were established as day schools and hostels rather than the more common residential schools in the South.

Children were often taken far from their communities, severing ties with family and traditional ways of life. Some kids wouldn’t see family for years.

“It might take a month or weeks to get from your school to your home,” Obed said.

Some children were sent to residential schools in Alberta or Manitoba, where no teachers or other Indigenous students spoke their language.

The northern schools were part of a larger plan to forcibly relocate Inuit people, Obed said. After the Second World War, the federal government began to move many Inuit families to inhospitable areas of the Arctic in an effort to assert sovereignty over the region.

Many people died during that period. Sled dogs were killed. The Inuit way of life was drastically changed at home and at schools.

By 1964, 75 per cent of Inuit children and youth between six and 15 were enrolled in the schools.

Reports found the emphasis in classrooms was on western culture, overzealous discipline and the Catholic faith.

“In a culture in which the role of family and connection with the land is so prominent, it is easy to see why these students experienced such a sense of detachment and loss,” northern lawyer Katherine Peterson wrote in a 1994 report on a Nunavut school and hostel.

There was also physical and sexual abuse.

The largest investigation ever undertaken by Mounties in the North was into the Grollier Hall hostel and schools in Inuvik, N.W.T. It led to more than 80 charges against numerous people, including some associated with the church.

Martin Houston, who was a supervisor at the hall, was later ordained as a priest despite his conviction for sexual crimes. He lived at a residence for Catholic priests in Manitoba until his death in 2010.

Obed said he will tell Pope Francis that Inuit expect any further investigations that find wrongdoing by church members will put justice for victims at the forefront.

“This is what is on the minds of many Inuit,” he said.

He also wants the Catholic Church to assist in identifying any children at unmarked graves and to uphold its moral responsibility for monetary restitution. Canadian bishops made a commitment last year to raise $30 million over five years for reconciliation efforts.

Obed said he will also share the expectation that the Pope apologize for the church’s role in residential schools in Canada.

“This is a session that is meant to facilitate action.”

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

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

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Why Can’t The Federal Government Eliminate Systemic Racism In The Canadian Military?

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“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system.

By Harinder Mahil

A recently released report indicates that systemic racism is rampant throughout the Canadian Armed Forces which is putting the country’s national security at risk. 
 
The report released by Defence Minister Anita Anand says that the military has not acted on dozens of previous studies and reviews on racism in the ranks over the past two decades. The report says the military is not doing enough to detect and prevent white supremacists and other extremists from infiltrating its ranks.
 
I have read numerous stories about the racism in the military over the years but never thought it was such a big problem. I am shocked at the extent of the problem as identified in the report.
 
The report concludes that more and more Canadians will have no interest in joining the military until it fixes its long-standing issues of racism, abuse of power, gender discrimination and sexual misconduct.
 
“Unless it is rapidly reined in and addressed, the impact of this toxicity will linger for years, affecting the reputation of the Defence Team to the point of repulsing Canadians from joining its workforce”
 
The report says military leadership must accept that some members will either leave or need to be removed.
 
The report comes after a yearlong review by a panel of retired Armed Forces membersand follows numerous incidents linking some military personnel with violent extremism and hate groups, including white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
 
“Racism in Canada is not a glitch in the system; it is the system,” reads the report by the Minister of National Defence’s Advisory Panel on Systemic Racism and Discrimination.
 
There has been increasing pressure on the military to do more to crack down on hateful ideologies within its ranks.
 
“A common thread was evident throughout these consultations: membership in extremist groups is growing, it is becoming increasingly covert, and technological advances such as Darknet and encryption methods pose significant challenges in detecting these members,” the report said.
 
White men account for 71 per cent of Canadian military members but only 39 per cent of the country’s civilian workforce. The report notes Indigenous Peoples, visible minorities and women are significantly under-represented in Canada’s armed forces.
 

Over the last two decades the military has been seeking recruits from the Indigenous and visible minority communities. Why would Indigenous and visible minority communities’ members join the military if they are discriminated against by others especially those who have links with neo-Nazis?

 
I am of the opinion that the report only scratches the surface of the problem. It talks about consultations but who is consulted. 
 
If the military is serious about dealing with the problem it should monitor the social media posts of its members and weed out those who harbour white supremacist views and recognize those who are likely to be drawn towards extremist groups.
 

Harinder Mahil is a community activist and President of the West Coast Coalition Against Racism (WCCAR).

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Government’s changing vape strategy shifts focus away from cigarettes, advocates fear

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OTTAWA — In the eight years or so since he opened his first vape shop in Ottawa, Ron Couchman said a great sense of community has been lost.

A former cigarette smoker himself, Couchman said he remembers when his store operated almost as a support group for people trying to find a healthier alternative to cigarette addiction.

“We could teach other people how to vape when people were struggling to get off cigarettes, we’d play board games and have movie nights,” Couchman said.

As provincial and federal legislation started to clamp down on those activities, he said the camaraderie has faded.

Couchman is a passionate advocate for the potential of vaping to help people leave more harmful tobacco habits behind. At one point the federal government appeared to be onside with that, he said, but that seems to be changing.

“The last few bouts of legislation (have) really swung the other way to the point that it’s serving as a disincentive to quit smoking,” he said.

The government is in the midst of its first review of the 2018 legislation that legalized vaping, and appears to be veering away from the narrow path between treating vapes as a harm reduction tool, or a danger in and of themselves.

The harms of vaping relative to smoking tobacco cigarettes are still something of a mystery, but the government’s website suggests it’s safer than inhaling cigarette smoke.

Advocates on both sides of the issue say regulations have become tougher on vapes and have more or less abandoned the product as an alternative to cigarettes, leaving them to wonder how the government plans to deal with cigarette smoking in Canada.

“They bet heavily on harm reduction as a way to address tobacco. It hasn’t worked for them, and they didn’t have a more comprehensive plan,” said Cynthia Callard, executive director of Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada.

Health Canada’s goal is to reduce the number of people who smoke tobacco to just five per cent by 2035, from about 14.8 per cent in 2019.

An audit of the department shows tobacco smoke is declining in popularity, but mainly because young people aren’t picking up the habit and existing smokers are dying.

Tobacco use is still the leading cause of preventable death and disease in Canada, with approximately 48,000 people dying from smoking-related illnesses every year, the government says.

Vaping remains relatively unpopular for adults over the age of 25, with just three per cent reporting that they vaped within the last month in 2020, according to the results of the Canadian Tobacco and Nicotine Survey. That’s about the same it was in the 2017 Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey.

But vaping has spiked among youth between 15 and 19 years old, to 14 per cent in 2020 up from six per cent in 2017.

In response, the government clamped down on vaping with a range of regulations, banning promotion and advertising of the products in certain spaces and putting limits on the amount of nicotine that can be in them. It’s also expected to restrict which flavours can be sold.

In their most recent budget, the Liberals proposed an excise tax on vape products as of Oct. 1.

Now, it’s as if Health Canada is fighting the war on two fronts, Callard said.

The department has been focusing resources on youth vaping, leaving anti-smoking groups like Callard’s concerned that a tobacco strategy may be falling by the wayside.

The recent audit shows the department has been taking on projects to reduce tobacco use, but it won’t be enough to meet their own targets.

Meanwhile, advocacy groups like Rights4Vapers say smokers are being punished for making a healthier choice.

“It is probably the only addiction currently where we continue to use fear and shame to get individuals to quit,” said Maria Papaioannoy, the group’s spokesperson and a vape store owner.

The strategy does appear to be at odds with the harm-reduction approach the government has embraced when it comes to to drug use, said David Sweanor, chair of the University of Ottawa’s Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.

“We’ve seen the success replicated numerous times simply by giving people alternatives, which is consistent with what we’ve done with things like clean needles, safe injection sites,” said Sweanor, who contributed to the 1988 Tobacco Products Control Act.

The government must table its legislative review this year. The discussion paper the department released touches almost exclusively on how to toughen vaping regulations, Sweanor said, though that’s not what the legislation was primarily set out to do.

“Is it accomplishing what it’s supposed to be accomplishing? Are there ways that you can improve it?” he said.

“Instead, what we got is a document that takes very few aspects of, primarily, their anti-vaping strategy.”

In the paper the government says the review will focus on vaping regulations because the vaping products market in Canada has changed so much in the years since the law was passed.

The review gives the opportunity to examine whether the act offers the government enough authority to address the rise in youth vaping, the paper said.

“A full assessment of whether the measures taken since the legislation was introduced in 2018 have been effective in responding to the rise in youth vaping will benefit from more time and data. Subsequent reviews will continue to monitor youth use along with other dimensions of the Act,” the document reads.

Advocates for and against using vaping as a way to transition people away from harmful cigarette smoke agree, tobacco is being left out of the conversation.

“Tobacco remains the fundamental problem,” said Callard. “It’s tobacco that continues to kill.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

 

 

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Multiple reports say Marner’s SUV was stolen in an armed carjacking in west Toronto

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There are multiple reports that an SUV belonging to Toronto Maple Leafs star Mitch Marner has been stolen in a carjacking in the city’s west end.

The Toronto Sun, Global News and City TV all quoted unnamed police sources as saying Marner’s black Range Rover was taken outside a movie theatre in Etobicoke.

Police confirmed there was a carjacking without any injuries, but would not give any information out on the victims or witnesses.

The Sun says Marner was shaken but not hurt.

Police tweeted they were called to The Queensway and Islington Avenue area around 7:46 p.m. for reports of a man robbed of his car.

Authorities are looking for three suspects armed with two handguns and a knife, who took off in the stolen vehicle.

Marner and the Leafs were eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday in a seventh and deciding game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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