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Parks Canada flags over 200 plaques at historic sites to be rewritten

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They’re affixed to old buildings where someone important used to live. Or they’re mounted on a rock overlooking somewhere where something once happened.

Cast in bronze or lettered on a sign, they’re sometimes the only history lesson many of us ever get. And now Parks Canada wants hundreds of them changed.

“The way that many of the national historic designations are framed and positioned does not do justice to the breadth of impacts that they had on Canadian society,” said Pat Kell, the agency’s director of heritage.


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Canada’s new passport: Conservative MP asks why Liberal government is ‘intent on erasing Canadian history’

 


Parks is in the middle of a three-year program to re-examine and rewrite the plaques that the Historic Sites and Monuments Board use to point out places deemed important to understanding Canada’s past.

Sites slated for rewrite include fur trade forts such as Fort Langley in British Columbia and Manitoba’s York Factory. Others relate to the War of 1812, like Queenston Heights in Ontario.

Some involve historic figures who held beliefs at odds with current standards. They include one of the Fathers of Confederation, John A. Macdonald; Archibald Belaney, otherwise known as Grey Owl; and Nicholas Flood Davin, founder of one of the West’s first newspapers.

The rationale for the changes, as well as a list of priority sites, is outlined in a document obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.

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The document says that out of 2,192 historic sites, about two-thirds of plaque texts are fine. Of the remainder, more than 200 are considered high priorities for change.

Reasons include ignoring Indigenous contributions or using antiquated language, such as “Indian” or “Eskimo.” Another issue is controversial beliefs held by historical figures.

The most common reason for rewriting — covering plaques for French explorer Jacques Cartier, Alberta’s Bar U Ranch and Nunavut’s Kekerten Island Whaling Station — are “colonial assumptions,” the document says.

“Plaque texts can be described as ‘Whiggish’ in character,” it says. “This refers to a form of history where the progress of western civilization is understood as inevitable.

“Earlier assumptions about Canadian history that have excluded Indigenous people, among others, can no longer be accepted.”

Those plans have drawn accusations of presentism — the mistake of judging the past by standards of the present. Such charges have been levelled by Larry Ostola, former vice-president of heritage conservation at Parks Canada.

“A new woke perspective is being imposed on what was formerly an apolitical, fact-driven historical designation process,” he wrote in the National Post.

But Kell said the changes are being partly driven by the 2015 report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One of the calls to action recommended Canada “develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration.”

She said it’s an attempt to use the latest scholarship to broaden the stories told, not erase familiar ones.

“They build on what was there before. They take that as a starting point and add additional layers and voices.

“It’s important to continue to reflect on these events. There are additional layers of understanding about them and some of those understandings are not celebratory.”

Many of the high-priority sites are old fur trade forts.

“Many designations associated with the fur trade have excluded the essential role of Indigenous people,” the document says. “By providing recognition of the necessary partnership that existed between the two cultures, this gap in historical significance will begin to be rectified.”

Concerns over how Indigenous perspectives are included also affects sites associated with the War of 1812, in which many First Nations warriors fought alongside British troops and Canadian militias.

Other plaques are trying to come to grips with ideas many famous and accomplished Canadians publicized that are today considered abhorrent.

William Osler, sometimes called the father of modern medicine, mocked Indigenous people and wrote Canada “should be a white man’s country.”

But Bob Coutts, for many years the chief historian of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board, said it’s a mug’s game trying to decolonize sites that are historic, largely because of their role in colonization.

“The story still focuses on a colonialist story,” he said. “You could pad it a little bit, but it’s still going to be a plaque about the building of a fur trade fort.”

As well, the whole idea of plaques depends on written history. That works against Indigenous history, Coutts said.

“Those rules lend themselves to white, colonialist history. Someone wrote it down.”

What gets commemorated is changing, said Kell.

“We are actively working with members of a variety of communities who have not been well served in order to ensure there are subjects of importance to them that are becoming part of our national program of commemoration.”

Priority areas for that effort include the history of diversity, Indigenous history and environmental history.

Still, messing with history is always going to be complicated, said Coutts.

“I love stories that are complex. That’s what history is. There isn’t a narrative that goes from A to B.

“On the other hand, there’s still a story in there somewhere that needs to be told.”

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Bank of Canada expected to deliver second consecutive rate cut today

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OTTAWA – The Bank of Canada is set to announce its interest rate decision this morning as economists widely expect a rate cut.

Forecasters say slowing inflation and a weak economy justify a second consecutive cut by the central bank.

After a historic run-up, the central bank lowered its policy rate for the first time in June, bringing it down from five per cent to 4.75 per cent.

Governor Tiff Macklem signalled at the time that if inflation continues to ease, it would be reasonable to expect more rate cuts.

Last week, Statistics Canada reported the annual inflation rate ticked back down to 2.7 per cent in June after flaring up again in May.

Weak economic conditions have also slowed activity in the job market, bringing the unemployment rate up to 6.4 per cent last month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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As N.S. jail death toll mounts, father grieves son and calls for corrections reform

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HALIFAX – A memorial plaque with a laser-etched image of Christopher Young wearing a Santa hat sits on a shelf at his father’s Halifax home.

“That’s how I’ll always remember my son, as a happy guy,” said Gerry Young, 61.

However, the grieving parent said his 33-year-old son’s suicide on April 26 — the fifth of six deaths in Nova Scotia jails in the past 18 months — should be remembered as an example of how the provincial corrections system is failing to protect inmates’ lives.

“I guarantee you this could have been prevented,” he said during a recent interview in his home. Young said his son had tried and failed to kill himself years ago at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility — commonly known as Burnside jail, where five of the deaths have occurred. Staff at the facility should have been on alert for a repeat attempt to hang himself, Young said.

Christopher had been readmitted to the jail shortly before his suicide, after he violated parole conditions for theft and shoplifting convictions.

“Given he was just re-incarcerated I think they should have had him in one of those cells where they put people who are in danger of hurting themselves,” Young said.

After the deaths of Christopher and five other Nova Scotia inmates since January 2023, advocacy groups are calling for deep reforms to the provincial system.

In March, the East Coast Prison Justice Society held a series of panels calling for such things as open and mandatory inquiries into all jail deaths; supports for Indigenous and Black inmates; and improved mental-health and substance-abuse treatment both in jails and in the community.

Its annual report — dedicated to the six dead inmates — says the province must also end the use of prolonged isolation of inmates during staff shortages. Letters obtained by The Canadian Press written by Richard Murray, an inmate who took his own life on Jan. 17 at the Burnside jail, linked his growing distress to the confinements, which he called “the four walls of hell.”

The Progressive Conservative government says it’s committed to improving conditions in the corrections system, pointing to increased staffing at the jails, and a new review committee chaired by the medical examiner, who is charged with looking into deaths in custody. Barbara Adams, the minister of Justice, said after a recent cabinet meeting that the deaths are “tragic,” but that changes have been made to address the concerns over inmate health care.

“Nova Scotia Health is responsible for ensuring that those being admitted to facilities do get assessed by health-care professionals,” she said. She added that inmates “get the health care they need if they should exhibit any suicidal thoughts or behaviours.”

Adams said she’ll look to the recommendations from the review committee chaired by the province’s medical examiner to see if further measures are needed.

However, family members of deceased inmates and advocates say the inquiries into the deaths have been behind closed doors, and that the public is being given almost no details on the circumstances of what occurred in each case. For example, when the Justice Department announced Young’s death, it said only, “he succumbed to his injuries,” leaving out whether he died because of negligence, suicide, violence or untreated health issues.

By contrast, in Ontario a mandatory inquest is held when an inmate dies a non-natural death. In neighbouring New Brunswick, the chief coroner can order public inquests into prison deaths when they are deemed to be in the “public interest.”

Young said the public needs to know the circumstances of his son’s death in order to understand what reforms are needed in the corrections system. Christopher wasn’t dangerous, but rather had turned to petty thefts after becoming addicted to opioids following a workplace accident at the Irving shipyard when he was 19, he said.

He wishes his son had been given access to long-term addiction treatment, rather than warehoused in prisons. “If I’d been a rich man, he would have been … in a two- or three-year treatment program,” said the father.

“He could have made a comeback. He had a lot of support with me,” said Young, who had purchased equipment to open a pressure-washing business and was helping him look for other employment options.

Some relatives of other dead inmates have also gone public with their dissatisfaction, and are calling for improved care of inmates, quickly.

The mother of Sarah Denny, a 36-year-old Mi’kmaq woman from Eskasoni First Nation who died in hospital on March 26, 2023, has said her daughter died after being transferred from Burnside because of complications from pneumonia.

In a recent panel discussion held in Halifax by the East Coast Prison Justice Society, Kathy Denny said infection had compromised her daughter’s lungs, kidney and heart as she entered Burnside — but the seriousness of the risk wasn’t picked up quickly enough. The province has declined to comment on the case.

She is calling for the creation of “a Sarah Denny check,” for which health issues are canvassed upon admission. “A basic check for temperatures, weight, blood pressure, simple things … that could have saved Sarah,” she said.

The brother of 27-year-old Peter Paul said the Mi’kmaq man took his own life at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility in Sydney, N.S., in January 2023. Gilbert Paul said in an interview that his brother had cuts on his arms from previous self-harm attempts, but he says he has learned in followup meetings that he wasn’t evaluated by a doctor when he was admitted to the jail because it was late at night and no one was available.

“(The suicides) shouldn’t be happening,” he said. “In my view we should be able to prevent the deaths in jail.”

Dr. Matthew Bowes, the province’s chief medical examiner, said in a recent interview that a committee reviewing deaths in custody is looking into the Paul case and it will probably be “months” before a report is released. The committee also plans to probe the Sarah Denny case, he added. A committee hasn’t yet been struck for the other cases, including Young’s, he said.

“I want to deliver a really solid set of recommendations and hopefully the public will judge us on the basis of the product we put out there,” he said, noting that provincial regulations prohibit the release of summaries of the cases.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.



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Wildfire evacuees ordered to leave Jasper find relief after long journey to safety

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GRAND PRAIRIE, ALBERTA – Some wildfire evacuees who were trapped in traffic for hours while leaving Jasper National Park say they are feeling relieved to have found safety.

Addison McNeill, who is 24, says she felt stressed when she got an alert on Monday night to evacuate Jasper about two hours after she moved to the alpine town from Edmonton.

When she got on the road, she says she saw many of Jasper’s 4,700 residents exiting the town calmly along with visitors despite being trapped in gridlock and hot, smoky air for hours.

Evacuees were initially ordered to go to British Columbia but were directed on Tuesday to make a wide U-turn as that province was dealing with its own wildfires.

Since then, reception centres have been set up north of Jasper in Grande Prairie as well as in Calgary and Edmonton, where evacuees are being helped with accommodations.

Jasper resident Leanne Maeva Joyeuse says she feels relieved to have made it to Grande Prairie after having been on the road for nearly 20 hours but she is worried about how the wildfires will affect her town.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.



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