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Overhaul transparency law by adopting long-standing calls for change, group tells MPs

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OTTAWA — A pro-transparency group is telling MPs to retool the Access to Information Act by dropping the application fee, imposing tighter timelines to respond to requests for files, and narrowing exceptions to the law.

The changes are among 18 measures outlined by the group Democracy Watch in a submission to the House of Commons committee on information, privacy, and ethics.

The federal access law allows people who pay $5 to ask for documents — from internal emails and expense claims to brief memos and research reports — but it has long been criticized as outdated and poorly administered.

Federal agencies are supposed to respond within 30 days or provide valid reasons why more time is needed to process a request.

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The law has not been significantly updated since its introduction almost 40 years ago, and many users complain of lengthy delays, heavily blacked-out documents, or full denials in response to their applications.

Democracy Watch says legislative reforms should be introduced as soon as possible, noting citizen groups and experts have called for decades for key changes to close loopholes in the law and strengthen enforcement.

The group’s co-founder, Duff Conacher, said in a news release that the Trudeau Liberals, and all federal parties, must stop their “spin, lame excuses and unjustifiable delays” and make the revisions voters want to ensure federal institutions — and those that receive money from the government — are transparent and accountable.

Conacher told the Commons committee during a hearing Wednesday that the federal access law is so problematic it really is just a guide to keeping information secret that the public has a right to know.

Government secrecy is a recipe for corruption, waste, and decisions that protect private interests and violate the public interest, he added. “And sunshine is a good disinfectant, as a wise U.S. Supreme Court justice said about a century ago.”

Researcher Ken Rubin, a veteran user of the access law, reeled off a list of episodes in which the law resulted in information on everything from naval ships to residential schools being shielded from release.

Rubin noted there is general agreement that the access system is broken.

“Well, in whose interest is broken? It’s in the vested interests of the government officials who want that secrecy and who want to continue with that secrecy.”

Democracy Watch says the law should be changed to require public institutions to respond to access requests “as soon as possible.” An extension of the 30-day initial time limit for responding should require the permission of the information commissioner, an ombudsman for users, and be limited to a maximum of an additional 60 days.

The group also says exceptions to the right of access should be clearly and narrowly defined and limited to areas in which secrecy is required in the public interest.

All exceptions should be strictly limited by a “proof of harm test,” augmented by a public interest override to prevent undue secrecy, Democracy Watch adds.

Allan Cutler, former president of Canadians for Accountability, agreed there is a federal culture of secrecy, likening the system to a closed door to which government officials hold the key.

“You can change the law, but you also have to change the culture,” he told the MPs. “And you need the people at the top, which is the politicians of all parties, (to) say, ‘This is what it will be.’ And then the bureaucracy will conform.”

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

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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China slams U.S. Inflation Reduction Act for ‘disrupting international trade, investment’

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The Chinese Ministry of Commerce on Thursday criticized the U.S. for disrupting international trade and investment by adopting the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), urging the U.S. to fulfill its obligations under WTO rules.

The criticism came after the Chinese delegation attending a meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) Council for Trade in Goods expressed serious concern over the ‘discriminatory and distorted subsidy provisions’ of the U.S. IRA, as well as its series of policies that disrupt the global semiconductor industry chain and supply chain.

The meeting of the WTO Council for Trade in Goods was held in Geneva between November 24 and 25.

Speaking at a press conference in Beijing, Ministry of Commerce Spokeswoman Shu Jueting said that China’s response is an exercise of its rights as a WTO member to challenge the trade measures of another member and their impact on such an occasion.

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“In its speech, the Chinese side expounded on the suspected violations of WTO rules by the relevant provisions of the U.S. law from a professional perspective, noted that the U.S. approach has seriously disrupted international trade and investment while undermining the stability of the global industrial and supply chains, and expressed grave concern over the U.S. application of double standards and acts of bullying regarding international trade rules,” Shu said.

“China urges the U.S. to strictly fulfill its obligations under WTO rules and earnestly safeguard the authority and effectiveness of the multilateral trading system,” she said.

Stressing that the world today is facing multiple challenges including setbacks in economic globalization and a sluggish economic recovery, Shu reiterated China’s commitment to opposing unilateralism and stabilizing global industrial and supply chains.

“China is ready to work with other members to follow through on the outcomes of the WTO 12th Ministerial Conference (MC12), engage fully and deeply in the reform of the WTO, stand against unilateralism and protectionism, and support the WTO in better playing its role, so as to contribute to stability of the global industrial and supply chains and recovery of the global economy at an early date,” said the spokeswoman.

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Civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret Chinese police station

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A Spanish civil rights group says Vancouver has at least one secret police station operated by Chinese authorities.

The group Safeguard Defenders said in a report in September that there were Chinese police operations around the world, including three in Toronto, and the updated report names another 48 locations.

Safeguard Defenders, a not-for-profit human rights group, said two of the new locations are in Canada: one in Vancouver and the second unknown.

The group’s previous investigation looked into the expansion of “long-arm policing” and transnational repression imposed by the Chinese government.

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Its latest report, titled “Patrol and Persuade,” gathered more evidence on how these police station function and their “persuasions of return” strategies, the group said in its report.

“Patrol and Persuade also documents the silent complicity of a number of host countries, instilling a further sense of fear into targeted communities and severely undermining the international rules-based order,” Safeguard Defenders said in an online statement.

Its previous report alleged employees from the overseas police system use intimidation and threats to enforce the “involuntary” return of immigrants back to China for persecution.

The group claimed that between April 2021 and July 2022, Chinese police “persuaded” 230,000 claimed fugitives to return to China.

No one from the Chinese Embassy was immediately available for comment on the new information, but it has previously described the offices as volunteer-run service stations to process things like driver’s licences.

The report said the newly documented Vancouver-based police station is being operated by authorities from Wenzhou, a port and industrial city in China’s Zhejiang province.

It said most of the newly documented stations were set up starting in 2016, directly refuting the government of China’s previous statements that the operations were started in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“New information shows at least one illegal ‘persuasion to return’ operation run through the Wenzhou station in Paris, France; and at least 80 cases where the Nantong overseas police system assisted in the capture and/or persuasion to return operation,” the report said.

The group claimed their work prompted at least 12 countries, including Canada, to launch investigations into local police stations.

A series of recommendations have been listed by Safeguard Defenders for all governments to consider, such as educating local law enforcement on the methods used by the operators and imposing costs on entities and individuals involved in the repression efforts.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last month he raised the issue of interference directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Indonesia.

Xi later berated him for informing the media about their conversation.

The RCMP said in early November that it is investigating the issue, and officials told MPs in early October that they were aware of the claims by the group.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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

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Personal Loans with the Lowest Interest Rates

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Personal Loans with the Lowest Interest Rates

Need a loan quickly? With the loans that Canadian lenders provide you, starting your dream company or even paying your bills is made easy for you.

Only individuals are eligible for personal loans in Canada, and most banks and lending institutions impose restrictions on how and why you can use one. Personal loans can be of different types, such as secured, unsecured, and credit-building loans. Lenders may have different terms and interest rates for personal loans. Some lenders require you to provide your credit score, while others do not.

If you hope to find rates that won’t affect your credit, you have come to the right place. These lenders give quick loans with interest rates as low as 3%. Let’s discuss some of these lenders and how they stand out:

  • Loans Canada

Loans Canada is one of the best lenders for Canadians who need to borrow money for almost any cause. You can trust that the terms of any quotes you’re pre-approved for are the conditions you’ll receive, thanks to Loans Canada’s great reputation and broad network of financial institutions. With funding for some loans available in as little as 24 hours, lenders often offer interest rates as low as 1.99%, but the rates go as high as 46.96% on amounts ranging up to $50,000.

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There are lenders on the platform who cater especially to those with bad credit, and there are no credit or income requirements stated on the site. The loan term varies from 3 to 60+ months for borrowers to pay back.

 

  • LoanConnect

LoanConnect is an entry point to numerous lenders via a single application, not a direct lender. The lenders on LoanConnect offer short-term, unsecured loans, some of which are available to borrowers with bad credit or a history of bankruptcy.

A competitive 5.99% APR is the starting rate for LoanConnect lenders, but some can go as high as 46.96% APR, depending on the applicant’s credit history. To be eligible for this loan, you must be a citizen of Canada and meet certain age requirements.

Prospective borrowers can submit an online loan application in just a few minutes, receive loan approval in about 5 minutes, and typically receive their funds the same day. There are no additional fees for applying.

 

  • Borrowell

Borrowell offers a range of financial services and is one of Canada’s top providers of personal loans. With over 50 financial partners and seven years in operation, Borrowell has created a strong network to assist you in finding unsecured loans that meet your requirements.

You can borrow between $1,250 to $10,000, and you have 36 to 60 months to repay the loan with regular payments. The interest rate is 19.99%. The platform is free, but there’s a one-time origination fee of 1% to 5% that you must pay.

You must meet the following requirements to be considered: a credit score of at least 660; a minimum annual income of $20,000; solid credit history and credit utilization; and a manageable debt service ratio. Also, you should obtain a free Equifax credit score, review the offers that correspond to your credit profile, and select the best offer to accept.

 

 

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