Ottawa spending $2M on new unmarked graves report lacks ‘transparency’: official
Ottawa’s decision to contract work around the search for unmarked graves to a non-Indigenous organization based in the Netherlands risks causing harm and lacks transparency, says a government-appointed adviser dedicated to the issue.
Kimberly Murray, who was tapped last year to serve as an independent special interlocutor on the matter, says she raised concerns directly with Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller on his department’s decision to spend $2 million to hire the International Commission on Missing Persons.
Based in The Hague, the organization specializes in identifying the remains of those who have been killed or gone missing in major conflicts and disasters, including in Canada after the 2013 Lac-Megantic rail catastrophe.
“They have no competency with Indigenous people within Canada,” said Murray, a former executive director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and a member of the Kahnesatake Mohawk Nation in Quebec.
“They don’t understand the constitutional regime that we’re under. They don’t understand Section 35 constitutional protected rights. They don’t know anything about Indigenous laws and protocol.”
Murray said her concerns are based on having spoken to the international commission — which has yet to respond to a request for comment.
In its initial announcement of the contract earlier this week, Miller’s office said the organization will undertake a “cross-country outreach campaign” with Indigenous communities looking to hear options to help identify or repatriate the possible remains of children who were forced to attend residential schools.
Following that engagement, which the minister’s office says will be done through the help of “local Indigenous facilitators,” the commission must provide its advice to government in a report.
But Murray said she is concerned with the lack of consultation done with Indigenous leadership before Ottawa inked the contract, which she believes must be released publicly.
“There’s no transparency,” she said in a recent interview. “My concern is that it’s not Indigenous-led. This is Canada-led.”
Stephanie Scott, executive director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation, said in a statement Friday that the centre “was not consulted in any meaningful way.”
The centre requested that the international group meet with its staff or residential school survivors prior to signing the agreement, but that didn’t happen, Scott added.
She said the centre has been in touch with Miller’s office in hopes of addressing “concerns” about the scope and details of the agreement, “to ensure it does not re-traumatize survivors” or create any “false expectations” about what engaging the international group might accomplish.
“This is a highly sensitive matter,” Scott said.
“The technical agreement must not duplicate existing work currently underway that is led by Indigenous Peoples regarding missing children and unmarked burials but support their efforts to find all the children.”
Beyond the commission’s lack of experience working with residential school survivors, Murray said she is concerned about why the government is seeking another report on the matter when her office was already set up to provide it with advice.
“They’ve created Indigenous-led processes, but at the same time, it’s almost like they need a shadow report from a non-Indigenous entity for it to have any kind of credibility,” she said.
“And they’re doing it sort of behind closed doors.”
In response to the concerns Murray is raising, a spokeswoman for Miller’s office said late Thursday that “agreements and documents will be shared when (it is) appropriate to do so, with input from all parties.”
His office has explained that the decision to turn to the commission came after it received calls from some First Nations asking for additional tools to help in their searches.
A heavily redacted briefing note obtained by The Canadian Press last fall shows that federal officials considered the commission to be trusted independent agency.
And in the past, northern Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton has called on the government to bring in international experts such as the missing persons commission to assist communities.
Ottawa began taking a more proactive role in supporting the searches in spring 2021, following an announcement by the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Nation that it had detected 215 possible unmarked graves using ground-penetrating radar near a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.
That resulted in a widespread outpouring of grief and more concerted calls for justice.
Since then, First Nations across Western Canada and in parts of Ontario have announced what are believed to be hundreds more unmarked graves, leading to questions about how to preserve the sites and search for possible remains.
In light of the discoveries, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government created Murray’s post and announced the establishment of a national advisory committee on missing children and unmarked graves.
Forensic pathologist Kona Williams serves as a member of the committee, which recently released a guide for First Nations to use as they conduct their searches.
Williams has also expressed concern about the government’s hiring of the international commission.
“There needs to be transparency, communication and collaboration with Indigenous people before entering agreements that directly affect us,” she said in a tweet.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 10, 2023.
From groceries to booze, payday loans to plane tickets — here's what the budget means for your wallet – CBC News
With inflation still near its highest level in decades, the federal budget unveiled in Ottawa Tuesday offered a lot of talk about making life more affordable for Canadians — but few details about how it’s all going to work.
One of the biggest items leaked prior to the budget’s release is something the government is calling a “grocery rebate” meant to mitigate the cost of grocery prices that are still rising at an annual rate of more than 10 per cent.
It’s an extended version of the existing GST rebate cheque program, which gives cash payouts to refund GST payments incurred by low-income Canadians.
The government says the rejigged program will put an extra $467 into the pockets of the average family with two kids, and $234 for a single person. Government estimates suggest they think roughly 11 million people will qualify for the program, which is to be doled out via a quarterly cheque or direct deposit.
Strictly speaking, the government isn’t requiring that the money be spent on groceries. But the program’s branding suggests Ottawa hopes it will deliver $2.5 billion in relief where many Canadians need it most — in the checkout aisle.
That’s good news for people like Krystle Kisman, a single mother from Burlington, Ont., for whom putting food on the table has been a major source of stress of late.
“I remember I used to spend $200 every two weeks and I would get double what I’m getting now,” she told CBC News this week. “It’s tough. A lot of times I use my child tax credit towards our food for the month.”
The grocery program is targeted at people like Kisman, who have had to face impossible choices between paying rent and paying for food.
There’s very little else in the budget in the way of direct payments to Canadians to blunt the impact of inflation. But the document is also sprinkled with programs and policy ideas aimed at helping consumers keep a little more of the money they already have.
In recent weeks, the beer and alcohol industry has been sounding the alarm about a looming hike to the federal tax on beer, wine and spirits. The so-called excise tax is pegged to inflation, which means it was on track to increase by more than six per cent this weekend — a jump that would have taken the toll to 73 cents on a litre of wine and more than 37 cents for a litre of beer.
Those excise fees are paid by brewers, wine and spirit makers, but the costs filter down for consumers as they add to the cost of doing business, and pushing up retail prices.
The government announced in the budget that it will slash that increase to two per cent for this year, well below the inflation rate.
The budget also aims to rein in some of the more exorbitant costs that some Canadians pay to borrow money. While rates on conventional personal and business loans from major lenders tend to hover between the low single digits for a mortgage to slightly over 10 per cent for other forms of unsecured debt, that’s not true for all types of loans.
That’s why the budget targets what the government calls “predatory lending” by changing loopholes that currently allow some lenders to charge rates as high as 47 per cent per year.
The government says it’s going to amend the Criminal Code to cap those rates at 35 per cent, in line with existing regulations already on the books in Quebec.
Payday loans are currently exempt from that legislation due to various loopholes. Those loans are typically for small amounts of up to $1,500 and only for terms of up to two months — but despite their short term, their costs are far higher than other loans, as annualized rates can sometimes approach 400 per cent.
The government says it plans to tighten and eliminate some of those loopholes by requiring payday lenders to charge no more than $14 for every $100 borrowed. And says it will consult with the provinces on additional revisions on how to further regulate the payday-lending industry.
Credit card fee reductions
The government also laid out new rules for another source of frustration for small businesses and consumers: credit card fees.
Every time a customer swipes a credit card to pay for a purchase, the vendor pays what’s known as an interchange fee to the credit card company processing the transaction.
In Canada, such fees on some cards can amount to up to three per cent of the purchase price — far higher than they are in jurisdictions where they are capped.
While the budget stops short of imposing such a cap, the government did say it has struck a deal with the major credit companies that will see interchange fees reduced by about 27 per cent for about 90 per cent of the businesses that accept credit cards.
Dan Kelly, president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the lowering of fees is a good start, but more is needed. “A 27 per cent reduction in small business merchant fees is significant, but more details are needed to determine how many small businesses will benefit from this plan,” he said.
Government estimates suggest the new fee structure will save small businesses $200 million a year, savings that should theoretically filter down to consumers since a court ruling last fall established that merchants are allowed to pass those fees on to consumers directly now.
Credit card fees aren’t the only hidden fee facing scrutiny. Although it offers few details, the government says it wants to crack down on what it calls “junk fees” that get tacked on to goods and services.
The government says it wants to work with the provinces and various regulators to examine things like cellphone roaming charges, ticket fees and excessive baggage fees — just a few examples of the sort of nickel-and-dime fees that annoy consumers.
Travel fees set to increase
But even as the government talks tough about getting rid of hidden fees, it’s actually increasing one that Canadians pay every time they get on a flight.
The Air Travel Security Charge is one of many fees that flyers pay when they buy a plane ticket. The money goes to funding and improving vital airport services like passenger screening and baggage handling.
First implemented in 2002 after the Sept. 11 attacks, the fees have not increased since 2010, when they jumped up by more than 52 per cent to their current level.
The budget has earmarked an extra $1.8 billion to help fix the travel chaos that Canadians have experienced at airports of late, but it will come at a hefty cost for consumers. The Air Travel Security Charge is set to increase by almost 33 per cent next year.
That will bring the added fee on a one-way ticket within Canada to $9.94, on a flight to the U.S. to $16.89, and on a trip overseas to $34.42.
Economist Armine Yalnizyan said that, coming from a government claiming to be focused on helping Canadians deal with high inflation, the budget offered little of substance.
“Something is better than nothing,” she said of the grocery rebate program, “but affordability got the short shrift in this budget.”
She said tackling junk fees plays well among voters who can afford to do things like go on vacation and buy concert tickets, but they don’t help with the pain of necessities like food, shelter, and gas.
“They are catering to people who are inconvenienced by problems at the airport and the Taylor Swift crowd and saying ‘we are going to deal with Ticketmaster maybe’ but inconvenience is different than going hungry.”
“You don’t want to worry about inconvenience at a time of basic affordability.”
Here are 5 ways Budget 2023 will impact your wallet
Much of the federal Liberal government’s 2023 budget is geared towards helping Canadian households make ends meet — or at the very least, for example, shaving a few dollars off the cost of a concert ticket.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland teed up the 2023 spending plans as providing support for vulnerable Canadians who are feeling stressed about their own budgets after a year of high inflation and rapidly rising interest rates.
Some proposed measures will make a direct impact on households, while others will change the kinds of charges and interest rates businesses can levy at Canadians.
Here are five big takeaways from the federal budget you’ll want to know about.
Tax rebate aimed at grocery affordability
One highly touted measure in the 2023 budget is a one-time tax rebate aimed at helping Canadians cope with rampant food inflation.
The so-called “grocery rebate,” as reported by Global News and others ahead of the budget’s release on Tuesday, would be aimed at lower-income households. It would be delivered through the existing GST tax credit mechanism, with an estimated 11 million Canadians and families expected to qualify to receive the support.
The rebate is expected to deliver $467 directly to a family of four, $234 to a single Canadian without kids and $225 to the average senior.
Despite the name, the government won’t be checking that the rebate is spent directly on groceries.
But given that prices for food from the grocery store clocked in at 10.6 per cent annual inflation in February and has remained in double-digits since the summer, groceries continue to be major stressors on household budgets.
The timeline for the rollout of this rebate is uncertain and depends on when and if the 2023 budget is passed in Parliament.
Cracking down on ‘junk fees’
In the 2023 budget, the Liberal government is declaring war on “junk fees” — defined as “unexpected, hidden and additional fees” that crop up on everything from concert tickets to airfare, from telecom services to excessive shipping costs.
Details were sparse on how and when the government would tackle these fees, but the budget said Ottawa would work with regulatory agencies, provinces and territories to reduce unfair and excessive costs on some common expenses.
The United States government recently announced a similar crackdown on fees as consumers have swiftly complained online in the past few years about the exorbitant amounts charged for tickets to popular concerts, for example.
While some measures in the 2023 budget might reduce what you pay on airfare, others could see those costs rise.
The air travellers security charge (ATSC), which is typically paid by passengers on their tickets and helps to fund security screening and baggage protection services in Canada, is set to rise under the 2023 budget proposals.
The ATSC rate for a round-trip domestic flight would rise almost $5 to $19.87 under the new regime, while an international flight will see the charge hiked by nearly $9 to $34.42 on a flight out of Canada.
Help on loans
The federal government also announced its plans to help Canadians dealing with high interest rates on some loans.
Debt-servicing payments have grown rapidly over the past year as the Bank of Canada raised interest rates in an effort to cool spending and take some stream out of inflation. A rise in the central bank’s benchmark policy rate affects multiple kinds of debt, including mortgages, lines of credit and credit cards.
For Canadians struggling with mortgage payments after a year of rate hikes, Ottawa proposed a new mortgage code of conduct in the 2023 budget.
Through the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada, the document would direct financial institutions to provide Canadians struggling to make mortgage payments with “fair and equitable access to relief measures.”
This could include adjusting payment schedules, extending amortizations on the loan or authorizing lump-sum payments, strategies some lenders already offer to clients who are in danger of defaulting on their mortgage.
Beyond mortgages, Ottawa is also planning to crack down on payday loans and predatory lenders.
The budget notes that these loans often target low-income and other vulnerable Canadians with a promise of quick relief at the cost of “very high interest rate loans” that can end up trapping consumers in a cycle of debt.
The Liberals are proposing to amend the Criminal Code to lower the threshold at which a rate of interest would be considered criminal from today’s annual rate of 47 per cent federally to 35 per cent, in line with the current rate in Quebec.
Payday lenders would also be able to charge Canadians no more than $14 per $100 borrowed under the new regime, bringing it down to the cap currently in place in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Standardizing chargers for devices
The federal government is also planning to cut down on the number of charging cables Canadians have lying around their kitchen drawers by standardizing the charging port for smartphones and other devices.
Following the lead of the European Union, which signalled it would mandate USB-C charging ports for small handheld devices and laptops by the end of 2024, Ottawa will also work with international partners to “explore implementing a standard charging port in Canada,” according to the budget.
The document said standardizing the charging port on phones and other devices could lower costs for Canadians and cut down on electronic waste.
Also in the vein of cutting down on waste, the Liberals are proposing a new “right to repair” framework for existing devices.
Currently, fixing broken appliances or devices can come with high fees or face delays when specific parts aren’t available.
The government is looking to roll out a framework in 2024 to make electronics easier to repair with spare parts expected to be readily accessible.
“By cutting down on the number of devices and appliances that are thrown out, we will be able to make life more affordable for Canadians and protect our environment,” the budget read.
Automatic tax filing to help low-income Canadians
Ottawa is also looking to help the estimated 12 per cent of Canadians who don’t currently file tax returns take advantage of benefits they might currently be missing out on.
Starting in 2023, the Canada Revenue Agency is expected to pilot a new “automatic filing system” to help vulnerable Canadians who don’t regularly file taxes receive the benefits they’re entitled to receive.
The government also intends to expand its existing auto-file program, File My Return, which sees low-income Canadians file returns by answering a few questions over the phone.
Ottawa plans to nearly triple the number of Canadians eligible for the auto-file program to two million by 2025.
PLAY to offer flights to Amsterdam from Hamilton airport
Amsterdam will be available to Canadian travellers on June 22
Hamilton, ON, March 28, 2023 – PLAY, a low-cost airline operating flights between Iceland and Europe, has added Amsterdam to its summer schedule. Tickets for the new route are now available for purchase, and the destination will be available for Canadian travellers when PLAY launches its inaugural flight out of Hamilton on June 22.
As a transatlantic carrier between Europe and North America, PLAY operates from its hub at Keflavik Airport in Iceland, perfectly positioned between the two continents.
From John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport, Canadian passengers can fly to Amsterdam for as low as $169. Travel for this new route will be facilitated through Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Since its first flight in June 2021, PLAY has expanded its fleet from three Airbus A320neo aircraft to six in 2022 and will operate 10 Airbus A320/321neo aircraft in 2023. The average age of PLAY’s aircraft is just 2.3 years, making the passengers’ journey comfortable, safe and reliable. With a network of nearly 40 destinations and over a million passengers flown since its launch, PLAY has a solid track record of an impressive 87 per cent on-time performance in 2023.
In Iceland, PLAY is a listed company in the Icelandic stock market with around 4.000 shareholders.
“We are thrilled to launch our services to Amsterdam and connect more customers to our affordable travel options,” said Birgir Jónsson, CEO, PLAY. “Amsterdam is one of Europe’s biggest hubs and a vital destination for our VIA operations between Canada and Europe. At PLAY, our mission is clear: to provide low-cost flights and offer our customers more value for their money. We aim to give the competition a run for their money with our low prices, providing people in Canada the opportunity to save money on their flights and enjoy more experiences in their destination. As we like to say at PLAY: Pay less, PLAY more.”
Learn more or book a flight at flyplay.com. See media assets here.
PLAY is a low-cost airline operating flights between Iceland and Europe, and North America as of 2022. Founded in Reykjavík in 2019 by a management team with significant experience in the aviation industry, the company operates flights on new Airbus A321NEO and A320NEO aircraft, offering streamlined, no-frills service that allows travelers to pay less and “play more.” Safety comes first for PLAY. On-time performance, simplicity, happiness and low prices are the airline’s core principles. The airline seeks to enable passengers to see the world, but not without considering its environmental impact. PLAY is being developed with sustainability initiatives and benchmarks in place to track and reduce fuel consumption, offset carbon emissions, and limit waste. Learn more or book a flight at flyplay.com or follow them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at @PLAYairlines. For media resources, visit PLAY’s online newsroom, flyplay.com/media.
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For more information:
Budget 2023 Includes Some Investment but Must Fully Address Urban Indigenous Realities in the Near Future – Financial Post
What Chrystia Freeland told CTV News about Canada's 2023 budget – CTV News
Politics Briefing: Political combat over the Liberal government's spending plan has already begun – The Globe and Mail
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