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Ottawa to launch new effort to counter Russian disinformation: Trudeau

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled plans to create a special team focused on countering Russian disinformation and propaganda on Tuesday, as Ukrainians prepared to mark the six-month anniversary of Moscow’s invasion of their country.

The prime minister announced the new initiative as part of a package of new Canadian measures designed to support Ukraine and punish Russia for launching a war that has killed tens of thousands and whose impacts are being felt around the world.

Canada is also imposing sanctions against 62 more people, including those the government described as several Russian regional governors and their families, as well as a Russian company whose products include anti-drone equipment.

Ottawa is also planning to spend nearly $4 million on two projects to bolster Ukraine’s military and police services, including training to help Ukrainian police officers better handle cases involving sexual trauma as well as mental-health programs.

Trudeau revealed the package during a special meeting of leaders from countries that have been supporting Ukraine since Russian forces first crossed into the country on Feb. 24, launching Europe’s largest conflict since the Second World War.

Notionally intended to discuss Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014, the meeting also came as Ukrainians prepared to mark on Wednesday the anniversary of their country’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Appearing via videolink from Toronto alongside German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is in the midst of a three-day visit to Canada, Trudeau accused Russia of falsely blaming western sanctions for escalating food prices and shortages around the world.

While Russian officials have blamed the sanctions imposed in response to its invasion of Ukraine for the food crisis, Canada and its allies say Moscow is responsible for having disrupted critical Ukrainian food production and exports.

“I want to repeat yet again, that there are no sanctions on food. When the Russian regime blames sanctions for the food crisis around the world, they’re engaging in disinformation,” Trudeau said.

“We need to continue fighting Russian disinformation. That’s why Canada will create a dedicated team to help increase our capacity to monitor and detect Russian and other state-sponsored disinformation.”

The prime minister did not provide further details in his short address to the meeting, whose attendees included Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and his office referred questions to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly’s office.

Joly’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The government has previously enlisted different federal departments and agencies, including the Defence Department and Communications Security Establishment, to publicly call out what it considers Russian disinformation and propaganda.

Scholz echoed Trudeau’s assertion that Russia’s invasion “was responsible for worsening food security, with grave implications for people worldwide,” even as the German leader reiterated his country’s continued support to Ukraine.

Meanwhile, a sense of dread deepened Tuesday in Ukraine because of warnings that Russia may try to spoil the country’s Independence Day holiday and mark the war’s six-month point with intensified attacks.

The U.S. reinforced the worry with a security alert citing “information that Russia is stepping up efforts to launch strikes against Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure and government facilities in the coming days.”

Kyiv authorities have banned mass gatherings in the capital through Thursday for fear of missile attacks around Independence Day, and Zelenskyy over the weekend warned Russia “may try to do something particularly nasty, something particularly cruel.”

On Tuesday, however, Zelenskyy stressed defiance rather than worry when he raised the national flag at a memorial one day ahead of Independence Day.

“The blue and yellow flag of Ukraine will again fly where it rightfully should be — in all temporarily occupied cities and villages of Ukraine,” he said, including the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014.

He added: “It is necessary to liberate Crimea from occupation. It will end where it had started.”

At a separate event, Zelenskyy appeared to downplay the threats, indicating that at most, he expected increased intensity rather than new targets, and he added, “No one wants to die, but no one is afraid of Russia, and this is the most important signal.”

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

— with files from The Associated Press.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Promises, Promises!

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“I support,” is an honest statement.

“I will” is not always an honest statement, but it gets votes.

A few days back, mayoral candidate Gil Penalosa (@Penalosa_G) tweeted, “Stop Tory/Ford from giving away PUBLIC Ontario Place to spa/waterpark tall building. Since 2018 Ford/Tory announced ‘amusement destination’ & he has supported it! The way to keep it as a magnificent PUBLIC park is to #VoteGil4Mayor. Together we’ll stop it in a #Toronto4Everyone.”

Gil’s tweet rubbed me the wrong way. The Ontario provincial government owns Ontario Place; therefore, Gil’s claim, “The way to keep it as a magnificent PUBLIC park is to #VoteGil4Mayor.” is, to be kind, an exaggeration. Toronto’s mayor does not have absolute control over Ontario Place.

Another recent tweet that rubbed me the wrong way was by Arber Pucci, who is running for Ward 10 (Spadina-Fort York) Toronto city council: ANNOUNCEMENT: I am promising to the residents of King West that as my first action as councillor, I will shut down Hyde Social so you can finally get a good night’s sleep.

In Toronto, a councillor does not have the authority to shut down businesses.

All elections have one thing in common: Promises.

As I watch those campaigning in Toronto for the upcoming election, I question whether many of the promises they are making are realistic. Are their promises outright lies or said out of “not knowing”? In the heat of campaigning, candidates will say anything to win votes.

Recently, I spoke with Glenn De Baeremaeker, a former councillor for Scarborough Center (Ward 38, before Doug Ford, reduced the number of Toronto council seats from 47 to 25) about some of the promises those running for council are making.

De Baeremaeker sees the role of a city councillor as one of serving the people rather than running on a political platform, which I am 100% in agreement with.

During our discussion of what Toronto councillors can and cannot do, Glenn and I touched on this election’s three hot-button issues: affordable housing, crime, especially gun violence, and public transportation.

 

Affordable Housing:

De Baeremaeker pointed out that housing has been a Toronto issue for more than 50 years; it is not a “new crisis.” Every major city with a growing population faces the challenge of housing affordability. In 2019 Toronto welcomed 117,720 immigrants, along with all those who moved to Toronto from across the country.

The factors contributing to the cost of housing, such as interest rates, and immigration (supply and demand), are well beyond the control of councillors, or even the mayor. Affordable housing would have been built years ago if it were as easy as those running for office claim. Mayors and council members want to be re-elected, why wouldn’t they build affordable housing? Any councillor, or mayoral candidate, who claims to be able to single-handedly address Toronto’s housing affordability is, to be polite, misinforming voters.

 

Crime/gun Violence:

Since the beginning of civilization, crime has existed in various forms. Glenn pointed out, “Less than 1% of the population resort to violent crime.” Most violent crimes are committed by angry young men. Therefore, the question becomes, what can be done to reach these young men before they begin committing violent crimes?

I do not see any councillor, current or running, having the education, experience, or ability to reach the disenfranchised youth in his/her ward.

There is also this fact: Toronto borders the world’s largest gun-toting population; thus, gun smuggling is inevitable. Border crossings are a federal responsibility, not a councillor’s. Glenn noted, “Toronto, like all of Canada, is the victim of the insanity in the U.S. today.” Toronto is part of the global village we all live in. Torontonians do not live in their own bubble.

 

Public Transportation:

Federal and provincial funding is required for Toronto to build any public transportation. De Baeremaeker noted that Toronto is currently building more public transit infrastructure than at any time in its history. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is governed by an 11-member Board consisting of city councillors and members of the public. Even if a wannabe councillor were to sit on the TTC board, their promise of a bus stop or increasing bus service being dangled to attract votes is unlikely to happen anytime soon.

With councillors pushing for more transit in their respective ward, public transit has become a highly sensitive issue. A councillor is only one vote out of 26, so ask yourself if a candidate has the political prowess to deliver on their transit promises.

Glenn and I then directed our conversation to what Toronto city councillors can and should do.

 

A councillor’s priority should be to assist their constituents. 

Like myself, De Baeremaeker believes councillors should practice servitude. Constituents should be able to easily contact their councillor and/or their staff for assistance. It is important for constituents to know they can reach their councillor to expeditiously resolve issues such as graffiti removal, fixing a pothole, emptying an overflowing garbage can, or repairing a knocked-down stop sign.

Additionally, councillors should be informing their constituents about the numerous programs the city of Toronto has, many of which are underutilized.

 

Dealing with Development:

All of Toronto is pre-zoned. Therefore, a councillor cannot control (READ: stop) development in their ward, whether residential or commercial. However, a councillor does have influence over facilitating studies, public consultation, approvals and working with developers to help shape how a development project will integrate into the community. (e.g., stop lights, parks, sidewalks) Councillors can and should work with developers to create a net benefit for the community. For example, incorporating retail spaces at the bottom of a condominium development like De Baeremaeker negotiated with the developers of the Me Living Condos at the corner of Markham Road and Ellesmere Road.

A councillor can also push for additional infrastructure for the betterment of their ward, such as a community center, libraries, and parks.

 

Keep Taxes Low:

“Taxes are the price we pay for civilized society.” – Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Councillors cannot freeze or cut taxes. “I’ll vote to keep tax increases as low as possible,” while not designed to attract votes, is an honest statement. Inevitably taxes will increase year-over-year, ideally rising in line with inflation.

Perhaps I am being romantically naive, but I hope those running for mayor or council feel obligated to tell voters what they can and cannot do instead of what they think voters want to hear. However, at the end of the day it is the voters’ responsibility to not vote for candidates who make unrealistic promises.

____________________________________________

 

Nick Kossovan, a self-described connoisseur of human psychology, writes about what’s on his mind from Toronto. You can follow Nick on Twitter and Instagram @NKossovan

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Former Conservative senator Don Meredith charged with three counts of sexual assault

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OTTAWA — A former senator who resigned from the upper chamber amid a sexual misconduct scandal is now facing criminal charges.

Don Meredith, 58, has been charged with three counts of sexual assault and one count of criminal harassment, Ottawa police said Saturday.

A source confirmed to The Canadian Press that the man in question was the former Conservative senator.

The charges relate to incidents that allegedly took place in 2013 and 2014 and were reported by an adult woman, police said, offering no other details.

Meredith has been released on a promise to appear in court.

A lawyer who represented him in the past did not immediately respond to request for comment on the charges. Alison Korn, a spokeswoman for the Senate’s Standing Committee on Internal Economy, Budgets and Administration, declined to comment on the matter as it is now before the courts.

Meredith — an ordained minister — was appointed to the senate on the advice of former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2010, but resigned in 2017 after a scathing report from the Senate’s ethics officer.

The report from Lyse Ricard, who held the position at the time, concluded Meredith had violated the chamber’s code of ethics by engaging in a relationship with a girl when she was just 16 and recommended the upper house take the unprecedented step of expelling him.

Meredith resigned from the Senate weeks later just as the upper chamber was believed ready to expel him over the relationship. He also acknowledged the sexual relations outlined in the report but said nothing took place until she turned 18.

A second Senate investigation, released in 2019, found Meredith had repeatedly bullied, threatened and intimidated his staff, as well as touched, kissed and propositioned some of them.

Saturday’s announcement marks the first time Meredith has faced criminal charges related to sexual misconduct.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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Jaded, cynical, disillusioned: report says federal whistleblowers fear reprisal

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OTTAWA — Federal workers are increasingly cynical, skeptical and disillusioned about the idea of reporting wrongdoing in the public service, says a recent survey.

That pessimism is more “palpable and widespread” now than it was before the pandemic, and bureaucrats have become more likely to fear reprisals for whistleblowing.

Research firm Phoenix Strategic Perspectives Inc. delivered the report in March to the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, which investigates serious abuses within the federal government.

Commissioner Joe Friday says there is a maze of oversight mechanisms available to public servants and it can be discouraging or exhausting to figure out where to lodge a complaint.

He says he thinks public servants are feeling more isolated and disconnected during the pandemic, making it more difficult to feel confident in coming forward — let alone to gather the sort of documentation that whistleblowers require.

Chris Aylward, the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, says the protections in place for whistleblowers are inadequate and the regime must be strengthened.

“It’s discouraging to see that federal workers have grown more cynical about whistleblowing and reporting wrongdoing in the public service, but it is not surprising,” Aylward said in a statement.

“It can be intimidating to come forward as a whistleblower, and our members are right to fear retaliation. Strong measures are needed to protect workers that speak out. Instead, there are too many conditions on whistleblowers that unnecessarily restrict disclosure.”

The report, based on nine focus group sessions held in March, found that workers feared a wide variety of hypothetical repercussions, many of which are premised on the fear that confidentiality could be compromised.

These included a negative impact on the physical or psychological well-being of the whistleblower, a lack of support, the idea that they would acquire a reputation as a troublemaker, diminished trust and division among co-workers and “damage to the image or reputation of the public service.”

Some said they feared their careers would be derailed — that they’d be given poor evaluations, be taken off projects, be assigned less challenging work or have their workloads increased.

Compared to a similar report undertaken in 2015, public servants were more likely to say that their attitudes toward whistleblowing had changed over time. This time around, they described themselves as having become “less naive,” “more pessimistic,” “more cynical,” “more jaded,” “less bright-eyed” and “more disillusioned.”

Workers tended to see whistleblowing as a good thing and described whistleblowers as brave people who should be encouraged and supported. But they emphasized that prospective whistleblowers “need to understand what they are facing”: a process that is “long, arduous, stressful and uncertain as to the outcome.”

And while participants reported an increase in awareness and education about the process of reporting wrongdoing, they didn’t trust it.

“Many held the view that such changes amount to ‘virtue signalling’ or ‘window dressing’ as opposed to constituting real cultural change,” the report says.

A little over half of the focus group attendees were unaware of the existence of the office that commissioned the research in the first place.

That’s not necessarily such a bad thing, Friday says.

“I think if every public servant woke up every morning and first thing on their mind was, ‘How do I bring wrongdoing to light,’ that might suggest that there’s more wrongdoing than anybody thinks there is,” he says.

Still, it’s apparent that many don’t know how the whistleblowing process works, or don’t have trust in it if they do. “Clearly, there’s more to do,” he says.

It can be frustrating to push for cultural change on the margins of a 300,000-person organization, Friday says — and with no influence or authority over the internal, department-specific procedures that govern most of the whistleblowing system.

Still, his office of 35 people has reached thousands of public servants with events and presentations over the course of the pandemic, he says, in an attempt to demystify the process.

In the seven years he’s been commissioner — and during his time as deputy commissioner and legal counsel before that — Friday says he’s never given a presentation that didn’t result in a followup with someone in the audience who was considering reporting wrongdoing.

“We’re talking about something very personal, very often something that someone has not yet spoken to anybody about,” he says, lamenting that the pandemic has resulted in fewer opportunities to have face-to-face conversations.

“We’re trying our damnedest to continue with our outreach efforts.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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