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Quebec begins subsidizing in-province flights on Wednesday to boost regional tourism

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QUEBEC — It will be cheaper to fly from Montreal to some of Quebec’s northern regions than to Europe starting June 1.

That’s when the Quebec government will start subsidizing the cost of in-province flights, Transport Minister François Bonnardel said as he announced the details of the plan Tuesday.

The program, which is expected to cost $86 million over two years, will allow people to return to regions they’ve previously visited or discover new parts of the province for a “reasonable price,” Bonnardel told reporters in Quebec City.

“It’s a significant step for the tourism industry; it’s a significant step for the regional aviation industry, and it’s also a significant step for all of Quebec,” he said.

The program has two components.

First, residents of remote regions, such as Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Côte-Nord, the Gaspé peninsula, Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean and the James Bay Cree Territories, will be eligible for a rebate of between 30 per cent and 60 per cent after they buy tickets for in-province flights.

Second, those living elsewhere, including visitors from outside Quebec, will be able to buy round-trip tickets directly from airlines to remote regions for $500 and one-way tickets for $250.

The general public will be limited to a maximum of three round trips, or six one-way tickets, per year, and travellers must start or end their flights at airports in Quebec City or the Montreal region. Only flights for personal purposes will be eligible for the discounted fares.

Julian Roberts, president of Pascan, a regional airline participating in the program, told reporters that the rebates will permit people to more frequently visit relatives in remote regions and make it cheaper for parents who live in small towns to visit their children studying in Montreal and Quebec City.

Almost 100,000 tickets will be available to roughly 20 destinations during the program’s first year.

“Honestly, it will be a real success if we manage, and I hope we will, to sell these 98,000 tickets in a full year,” Bonnardel said, adding that if all the tickets are sold, more could be made available.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2022.

 

Pierre Saint-Arnaud, The Canadian Press

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Trudeau calls overturning of Roe v. Wade 'horrific' – CTV News

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the news out of the United States that the country’s Supreme Court has voted to end constitutional protections for abortion is “horrific.”

In a series of comments posted to Twitter on Friday, Trudeau said he “can’t imagine the fear and anger” Americans are experiencing right now.

“My heart goes out to the millions of American women who are now set to lose their legal right to an abortion,” Trudeau tweeted.

“No government, politician, or man should tell a woman what she can and cannot do with her body. I want women in Canada to know that we will always stand up for your right to choose,” he continued in a second tweet.

The U.S. Supreme Court ended constitutional protections for abortion after nearly 50 years on Friday, overturning the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. The decision is expected to lead to abortion bans in multiple states.

The ruling comes more than a month after the leak of a draft opinion that indicated the court was prepared to do so, bringing renewed attention to abortion rights on both sides of the border.

Speaking at a press briefing in Rwanda with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly, Trudeau said Canada will continue to fight to protect the rights of everyone after the “devastating setback” in the United States.

Joly said the move to overturn Roe v. Wade is a “reversal of hard-fought gains” for women. She called it “a dark day” and noted that “no country in the world, including Canada, is immune” to the effects of what happens in the United States.

Following the U.S. Supreme Court leak, the Liberal government announced in early May it plans to spend $3.5 million to improve abortion access in Canada.

The Liberals also promised last fall to bring in new regulations solidifying abortion access as a requirement for federal funding under the Canada Health Act.

However, Trudeau previously raised the spectre of enshrining abortion rights in legislation instead, making it more challenging for future governments to change such rights.

As it stands, there are currently no Canadian laws that explicitly guarantee access to abortion as a right.

While abortion was decriminalized in Canada in 1988 as a result of the landmark R. v. Morgentaler case in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a federal law, no legislation was ever passed to replace it, and the issue remains an ongoing topic of political conversation in this country.

Reacting to the news on Friday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively “walked back women’s rights” in that country, and implored the Liberal government further improve abortion access for Canadian women living on rural communities.

“These dangerous policies that threaten women’s health and women’s lives must not be allowed to take root in Canada,” Singh said in a statement.

In a statement issued Friday, Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen accused the Liberals of politicizing American abortion rights to divide Canadians, saying her party’s position on abortion has not changed.

“Access to abortion was not restricted under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Conservative party will not introduce legislation or reopen the abortion debate,” read the statement in part.

Speaking during a press briefing from the White House, U.S. President Joe Biden expressed dismay and vowed to fight to restore abortion rights in that country, including defending a woman’s right to cross state lines to seek an abortion.

“Now with Roe gone, let’s be very clear, the health and life of women across this nation are now at risk,” Biden said.

He added the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade may threaten other high court decisions moving forward, including contraception and gay marriage rights.

“This is an extreme and dangerous path,” he warned.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press

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Passport seekers face heartbreak, hop provinces as government promises help is on the way – CBC.ca

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Aly Michalsky was supposed to be on a plane Thursday en route to her dream vacation, a two-and-a-half week tour of Thailand with a friend.

Instead, the teen was sitting at home in Montreal after she couldn’t get her passport in time, despite applying for it 12 weeks ago. She’s one of many Canadians who’ve had to postpone or cancel travel plans in recent months amid massive backlogs at passport offices across the country.

“It was something that I saved up for, for over two years,” Michalsky, 19, told CBC News Network about the non-refundable tour she booked with a friend.

Christine Paliotti, Michalsky’s mother, said she started the process of applying for her daughter’s passport on March 17 and it was supposed to be mailed by May 3. When it didn’t arrive, that was the beginning of a slog of phone calls — where there could be 200 to 300 people already in the queue, Paliotti said — waiting, being told they needed a transfer, and more waiting.

They even got their local MP involved, who Paliotti said put in calls “almost every day” for them.

Aly Michalsky, right, and her mother, Christine Paliotti, tried everything they could to get Michalsky a passport before her dream vacation Thursday. She was forced to cancel her non-refundable trip to Thailand when she couldn’t get the travel document on time. (CBC News)

Their efforts were in vain. On Wednesday, they headed to the Laval passport office in a last-ditch effort, but Michalsky said that after four or five hours, they were told there would be no appointments. That was when she realized she wouldn’t be able to go. 

Paliotti said the trip itself cost over $4,000, but she estimated that total costs, including pre-travel vaccinations and shopping, were at least $5,000.

“I worked very hard for my money and I took the first opportunity I had to do something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Michalsky. “It’s just devastating to have to tell my friend that I couldn’t go with her.”

Triage system

The federal government has attributed the lines snaking around passport offices across the country, including in Vancouver and London, Ont., to an “unprecedented surge” in applications as travel opens up again after two years of pandemic restrictions.

People camp overnight in line outside a Service Canada passport office in Vancouver on Wednesday. Long lines and wait times are the result of a massive backlog of applications at passport offices across the country. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The sheer level of demand isn’t the only issue. Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, told reporters in Ottawa on Thursday that 85 per cent of requests are for new passports, and of those, 43 per cent are for children, both of which entail a more complex application process.

Gould said the government is adding more staff on the ground to help curb the chaos, with Service Canada deploying managers to walk the lines and speak with passport seekers before they reach a customer service agent.

This triage system will help ensure people who are in most urgent need of a passport based on flight time — those flying in the next 12, 24, 36 and 48 hours — get priority service, she said.

Gould also said more passports will be printed in bulk at the Gatineau, Que., processing centre and sent to other locations to take some of the stress off smaller passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers.

WATCH | Government’s latest efforts to address the backlog: 

Government adding more staff to address passport delays

1 day ago

Duration 1:12

Karina Gould, minister of families, children and social development, told reporters on Thursday the government is increasing the number of workers and has made the printing of passports more efficient to address backlog issues that have frustrated travellers for months. Still, she says there is ‘no easy solution.’

Waiting for days in the rain

The government’s new triage strategy was met with some frustration on Thursday at Montreal’s Guy-Favreau complex, which Gould has said is experiencing the worst delays in the country.

Hundreds of would-be travellers have lined up for days in the rain, and police have been called in to help with crowd control.

Antoinette Corbeil, who had been waiting in line for 36 hours, was unhappy with the shift from a first-come-first-serve system to one based on flight times.

“We organized ourselves last night in line with our numbers … and they’re letting other people in in front of us,” she said. “That’s not fair.” 

IN PHOTOS | Long waits in the rain at Montreal passport office: 

After the triage system began in Montreal, it was extended to Toronto on Thursday and will be rolled out in Vancouver on June 27.

While Gould said Montreal was seeing “much better progress” on Thursday, the government website that tracks wait times at the 35 specialized passport offices nationwide was still warning people to expect delays of at least six hours at the Guy-Favreau complex.

Other busy sites like Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive showed similar wait times.

Going the distance

Some passport seekers are literally going the extra mile to get their travel documents in time.

In Montreal, François Gamache had to leave Thursday for a three-week trip to France to bury his father-in-law. After being told by a Transport Canada agent on Saturday it would be “almost impossible” for his file to be processed in a week, he went to Chicoutimi, 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.

François Gamache of Montreal holds the passport he managed to get after driving to Fredericton. The government says the ‘unprecedented surge’ in applications for travel documents came after two years of pandemic restrictions. (François Gamache/ Submitted)

There, he waited 30 hours over two days, with no success.

On the advice of a client, he drove to Fredericton, almost 800 kilometres away, to try his luck at the passport office there. He finally got his passport on Wednesday after a three-hour wait.

Gamache estimated he spent nearly $1,000 on food, hotels and gasoline during the saga.

At the end, “I was really exhausted and I was even very emotional. I fought so hard to get it,” he said.

Despite their efforts having been in vain, Paliotti said she doesn’t blame the passport agents “who have to deal with all the pressure of the people getting angry at them” and are putting in extra hours. 

Instead, she’s frustrated by what she described as a disorganized process and lack of communication by officials, as well as receiving conflicting information from passport agents.

“It’s citizens that are sharing [information]; there was a Facebook page for Montreal and surrounding area, and we got a lot of information helping each other out,” she said. “So I’m really angry at whoever’s organizing this and that they’re not doing more.”

LISTEN | Government’s preparations ‘were not sufficient,’ minister says: 

Metro Morning11:14Long wait times for passports ‘unacceptable’, says Minister Karina Gould

Thousands of people are waiting a long time for passports, threatening their travel plans. Minister Karina Gould says the government’s preparations “were not sufficient,” and says what they’re doing to speed things up.

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Public inquiry in Nova Scotia seeking explanation from Ottawa about withheld notes

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HALIFAX — The inquiry investigating the Nova Scotia mass shooting wants to know why the federal Justice Department withheld notes written by a senior Mountie for several months — and if there’s more revelations to come.

“The commission sought an explanation … about why four pages were missing from the original disclosure,” Barbara McLean, the inquiry’s director of investigations, said in an email Friday.

“The commission is also demanding an explanation for any further material that has been held back.”

On Tuesday, the inquiry released internal RCMP documents that include notes taken by Supt. Darren Campbell during a meeting with senior officers and staff on April 28, 2020 — nine days after a gunman killed 22 people in northern and central Nova Scotia.

At the meeting, the head of the RCMP, Commissioner Brenda Lucki, said she was disappointed that details about the firearms used by the killer had not been released at previous news conferences in Halifax, according to Campbell’s notes.

Campbell alleges that Lucki said she had promised the Prime Minister’s Office that the Mounties would release the descriptions, adding that the information would be “tied to pending gun control legislation that would make officers and public safer.”

The superintendent’s notes sparked controversy in Ottawa earlier this week, when the opposition Tories  and New Democrats accused the governing Liberals of interfering in a police investigation for political gain — assertions denied by the government and Lucki.

Meanwhile, the commission of inquiry confirmed Friday that the Justice Department sent 132 pages of Campbell’s notes in February 2022, but they did not include his entries about the April meeting.

The missing notes were submitted to commission on May 31.

McLean says the commission is seeking assurance that nothing else has been held back, and she complained about RCMP documents that had already been disclosed.

“These documents have often been provided in a disjointed manner that has required extensive commission team review,” McLean wrote in her email. “Our team continues to review all disclosure carefully for any gaps or additional information required to fulfil our mandate.”

Michael Scott, a lawyer whose firm represents 14 of the victims’ families, said he’s concerned about the document delay.

“Any time documents are either vetted, redacted or withheld in a way that’s not entirely appropriate, it entirely undermines the process as a whole,” he said in an interview Friday.

Scott said that on top of having to read thousands of pages of records, transcripts and notes submitted to the inquiry, “now we have to be concerned we’re not getting all the documents.”

The Conservatives released a statement Friday, alleging a federal coverup.

“Canadians will find it hard to believe that the (justice) minister’s department just happened to miss those four critical pages of evidence,” the statement said. “This is no coincidence. This was no accident.”

Kent Roach, a University of Toronto law professor, said delays in receiving information from the RCMP means the inquiry is left to grapple with important issues late in its mandate. The inquiry’s final report is due Nov. 1 and all submissions are expected by September.

“It’s unfortunate because public inquiries need the full documentary record as quickly as possible so they can make decisions on what to look at and what to not look at,” said Roach, author of “Canadian Policing: Why and How It Must Change.”

“If the mass casualty commission had known about this earlier, it might have decided to conduct its hearings and research in a different way,” he said Friday.

The professor said the comments from Campbell raise questions about the structure of the RCMP, and its competing mandates of being both a local and nation police force whose commissioner serves “at the pleasure” of the minister of public safety.

“My concern is that the citizens (of Nova Scotia) seem to be on the sidelines while there is tension and squabbling between RCMP Nova Scotia and RCMP Ottawa,” he said.

The Canadian Press requested comment from the RCMP, but a response was not immediately available.

Campbell said in an email that he would not comment. He said he is waiting to be interviewed by the commission.

“My interview has been scheduled and it will take place in the very near future,” he wrote.

“I also expect to be called to the Mass Casualty Commission as a witness sometime near the end of July and I look forward to both opportunities.  As such, it would be inappropriate for me to make any public comments prior to giving evidence under oath.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2022.

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

 

Lyndsay Armstrong and Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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