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Response to mass shootings should be ‘political and immediate,’ survivor says

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OTTAWA — Former public safety minister Bill Blair was asked yet again Wednesday about whether his government interfered in the investigation into the April 2020 shooting spree in Nova Scotia — a question that has grabbed political attention in Ottawa for over a week.

Blair and the Prime Minister’s Office are accused of pressuring RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki to release details about the type of weapons used by the gunman, with two RCMP officials alleging Lucki told them that information was connected to upcoming gun legislation.

The government announced a ban on assault-style weapons on May 1, 2020, after cabinet approved an order-in-council enacting the changes.

The Conservatives have accused the Liberals of using a tragedy to further their agenda. NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said in a statement last week that it’s completely unacceptable for a government to “use this horrific act of mass murder to gain support for their gun policy.”

But that’s not how a survivor of another mass shooting sees it.

Heidi Rathjen was a student at Montreal’s École Polytechnique in December 1989 when a gunman murdered 14 women and injured 14 others at the school.

She said the response to mass shootings should be “political and immediate.”

“The Conservatives and the gun lobby have been falling over themselves claiming that the (orders-in-council) were some kind of devious self-serving political move that exploited a tragedy, while for the majority of Canadians banning assault weapons is the right thing to do to prevent mass shootings,” she said in an email to The Canadian Press.

“If it took a tragedy to prompt the government into long-awaited action on gun control, that may be a sad commentary on politics, but it is surely beneficial for public safety.”

Rathjen, who leads an advocacy group called PolySeSouvient, said it “would have loved” for the government to respond immediately to what happened at Polytechnique.

“Unfortunately, it took six years of advocacy before a reasonable gun control law was passed, and victims’ families are still fighting for a complete ban on assault weapons — three decades later.”

Blair said his office worked with the RCMP on the list of banned weapons for months before the announcement, but those conversations had “no nexus” with discussions about the shooting spree.

“The RCMP of course were involved in those discussions from the outset because they are responsible for administering the Canadian Firearms Program,” he said.

Allegations of government interference came to light through evidence released by the public inquiry into the shootings, in written notes from Supt. Darren Campbell and a letter to Lucki written by RCMP strategic communications director Lia Scanlan about a meeting held 10 days after the shootings.

Scanlan’s letter, which was written nearly a year later, said Lucki mentioned “pressures and conversations with Minister Blair, which we clearly understood was related to the upcoming passing of gun legislation.” Scanlan’s perception that the commissioner was under political pressure left her feeling disgusted.

“It was appalling, inappropriate, unprofessional and extremely belittling,” Scanlan wrote.

Lucki has acknowledged she did “express frustration with the flow of information” in the meeting.

Blair and Lucki have denied there was any pressure to release a list of the weapons used in the shooting, and neither they nor the Nova Scotia RCMP revealed that information to the public before it was reported by the media in November 2020.

Former police officer Michael Arntfield says if the alleged interference happened, it’s unclear how it would have impacted operations or the investigation.

But more importantly, he says, the “juicy political scandal” is distracting from what is supposed to be an inquiry into why and how a man disguised as a police officer and armed with illegal weapons was able to evade police and continue killing for more than 13 hours.

“The larger conversation about systemic problems in the RCMP operationally, administratively, has been paved over,” he said.

Blair said he did have questions for Lucki when they spoke, and made a point to note that the government “did hear very clearly concerns from the people of Nova Scotia” about the RCMP’s actions.

He said that’s why the public inquiry — which he initially opposed calling — has been tasked with exploring the RCMP’s communication.

The force released limited information to the public on Twitter during the shootings.

It sent a single tweet on April 18 warning of a “firearms complaint” in Portapique, even though the communications officer on call that night was aware there were multiple people dead and that the gunman’s whereabouts were unknown.

Thirteen people were killed that night and several buildings burned to the ground. The next morning, the gunman took another nine lives as he drove through rural parts of the province, evading police until just before noon.

The inquiry has heard it took 27 minutes to get Scanlan’s approval that morning for a tweet warning the public that the gunman was driving a mock RCMP cruiser and wearing a police uniform.

During that time, Kristen Beaton and Heather O’Brien were murdered on the side of the highway in Debert, N.S. Beaton was pregnant when she was killed. Her husband, Nick Beaton, and O’Brien’s daughter, Darcy Dobson, led the calls for a public inquiry into what went wrong in July 2020.

“When you pulled the oxygen out of (an inquiry) that was assembled at the behest of bereaved families to get answers about what’s wrong with the RCMP, it distracts from the original motivation of the inquiry,” Arntfield said, adding the questions about what went wrong are of “life and death interest to Canadians.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

 

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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Poll suggests most Canadians view Pope’s apology as step toward reconciliation

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Pope Francis on a six-day penitential pilgrimage to Canada

A poll suggests more than half of Canadians viewed the recent visit by Pope Francis and his apology for abuses at residential schools as a step toward reconciliation.

The Angus Reid Institute released the findings from its latest online poll in which nearly 60 percent of participants said they saw the Pope’s apology as a meaningful step toward reconciliation, while 32 percent said it did nothing to move reconciliation forward.

Respondents who self-identified as Indigenous were less likely to say the apology contributed to reconciliation, at 54 percent, and 36 percent said the gesture made no difference.

Francis spent six days last month visiting Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut for what he called a “penitential pilgrimage” and he apologized for the evils some members of the Roman Catholic Church inflicted on Indigenous Peoples during the residential school era.

The research institute said two-thirds of respondents whofollowed the Pope’s trip and his speeches viewed his apology as sincere.

Half the participants said the federal government, Christian churches and society hold equal responsibility for creating the residential school system and allowing it to persist.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Francis met with Indigenous groups and residential school survivors during his stops in Canada, where he repeated his apology. Following his visit, he called what happened in residential schools a form of genocide.

The poll suggests respondents’ prior views on the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples was a significant driver of whether they viewed the Pope’s trip and apology as something that represented a step toward reconciliation.

“If you’re of the view that it’s worsening, then you’re also more likely to think that the papal visit made no difference towards reconciliation,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the institute.

“If you’re somebody who thinks that that is a relationship that is improving, people express more optimism or a sense that yes, the trip did represent a meaningful step toward reconciliation.”

More than half of respondents said there needs to be more investigations into residential schools before the country can move forward. There was a generational and gender divide on the issue, as younger respondents and women said more work is needed.

The institute polled 2,279 Canadians, with 117 of those self-identifying as Indigenous from Aug. 8-10. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

 

Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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Alberta government members should resign over prize for sexist, racist essay: NDP

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EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition is calling for the two top legislature leaders on women’s issues to quit for giving a prize for an essay that urges women to forgo careers and focus on baby-making so the province doesn’t have to bring in more foreigners.

NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi said Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, the United Conservative Party government’s associate minister for the Status of Women, and Jackie Lovely, the department’s parliamentary secretary, have lost all credibility to advance the cause of women and must resign.

“I don’t know how (they) can continue in these roles,” Pancholi said at a news conference in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., on Thursday.

“I don’t know what work they were doing. They won’t even stand up before cameras and take questions.

“They have no credibility … they are undermining — actively undermining — women’s interests in this province.”

Armstrong-Homeniuk is the member of the legislature for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.

Public pressure had been growing on Armstrong-Homeniuk’s office to divulge the names of the judges. Some United Conservative female legislature members had begun issuing statements stating they were not on the panel.

Late Wednesday night, Lovely, the member for Camrose, issued a statement saying, “I can confirm that I was the only other MLA on the essay judging panel.”

“I regret that this essay was chosen, and I apologize for my role in that,” her statement said. “As a single mother who has pursued a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated careers, I deeply understand the strength and ability of women.

“Also, as a former ESL (English as a second language) teacher who has hosted 56 international students, I value and appreciate the role of newcomers in our province and will continue working to remove barriers to equity and prosperity for all.”

The essays were pulled from the legislative assembly website shortly after criticism of the contest emerged on social media Monday night.

Armstrong-Homeniuk has since declined interviews, but instead issued two statements saying she doesn’t support the sentiments in the essay.

“It’s clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that,” Armstrong-Homeniuk wrote Tuesday. “The selection of this particular essay and awarding it with third prize was a failure on my part as the head of the judging panel.”

Pancholi said that prompts the question — if the two judges say the essay should not have won, why did they pick it?

“We still do not have a clear explanation as to what and why this happened,” Pancholi said.

The essay was part of the legislative contest, titled “Her Vision Inspires,” which asked young women to explore ways to make Alberta a better place.

The top two essays suggest ways to get more women, and the public in general, involved in public life.

The third-place winner – identified only as S. Silver — won a $200 prize to be spent at the legislature gift shop.

Silver’s essay posits that the governing mission of humanity is to reproduce itself, but that Alberta has lost its way to instead pursue “selfish and hedonistic goals.”

The solution, she argues, is to acknowledge that “women are not exactly equal to men.”

Society, she writes, should celebrate and embrace the birthing role of women and stop pushing them to put off prime procreation years while they “break into careers that men traditionally dominate.”

She says the idea that Alberta can put off procreation and instead “import foreigners to replace ourselves … is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”

Pancholi and other critics have likened that reference to 1930s Nazi Germany, when women were urged to be baby vessels to propagate the Aryan race.

Three female candidates in the United Conservative race to replace Premier Jason Kenney as party leader and premier have also taken to Twitter to criticize the award.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.

 

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Customers cry foul as Air Canada, WestJet continue to deny certain compensation claims despite new directive – CBC News

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A recent Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) decision was supposed to help clear the air on flight compensation. 

When issuing a decision in a WestJet case on July 8, the transport regulator clarified that, in general, airlines can’t deny passengers compensation for flight disruptions caused by crew shortages. 

However, the clarification has only ignited fury for some passengers, including Frank Michel, who have since been denied compensation — due to crew shortages.

“It’s insulting,” said Michel, of Marquis, Sask.

He and his wife, Leigh, flew with Air Canada in June. The couple’s flight from Regina to Victoria was delayed by more than five hours. Then, the second leg of their return flight was cancelled, so the couple wound up spending the night at the Vancouver airport. 

“I’ve got arthritis, I’m aching and sore; I’m sleeping on a frigging concrete floor,” said Michel, who is 67.

After Air Canada cancelled his flight, Michel, 67, wound up spending the night on the floor of the Vancouver airport. (Frank Michel)

The couple applied for compensation, which would total $2,800 if they qualified. But in late July, Air Canada rejected the Michels’ claim. In two separate emails seen by CBC News, the airline said each flight disruption was “due to crew constraints” linked to COVID-19 and was “safety-related.” 

Under federal rules, airlines only have to pay compensation — up to $1,000 per passenger — if the flight disruption is within the airline’s control and not safety-related. 

Michel argues Air Canada isn’t playing by the rules.

“CTA has already made it clear that crew constraints is not an acceptable excuse,” he said. “It’s not a safety issue. It’s a management issue. You have to manage your resources.”

‘This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything’

The CTA issued its clarification last month based on a case where WestJet denied a customer compensation, claiming his flight had been cancelled for safety reasons due to a crew shortage. 

In its ruling, the CTA emphasized that staffing issues typically warrant compensation because, in general, they are an airline’s responsibility and can’t be categorized as a safety matter. Thus, the agency ordered WestJet to pay the passenger $1,000. 

“Training and staffing are within airline control and therefore crew shortages are within airline control, unless there’s compelling evidence” to the contrary, said CTA spokesperson Tom Oommen in an interview. “It’s a high threshold.”

WATCH | Air passengers say they’ve been unfairly denied compensation:

Travellers say they’re being unfairly denied compensation for Air Canada flight cancellations

3 days ago

Duration 2:01

Some travellers say they’re being denied compensation for cancelled Air Canada flights as the airline claims the flight disruptions were ‘due to crew constraints’ and beyond their control.

Oommen said the CTA’s decision will help ensure airlines follow the rules. But some passengers remain skeptical. 

“This decision doesn’t seem to mean anything,” said Jennifer Peach, of Langley, B.C., who, along with her husband, had booked a trip with WestJet to attend a wedding last month in St. John’s.

They almost didn’t make it. WestJet cancelled their connecting flight and Peach said the airline then offered to rebook them on a flight one day later — which would mean they’d miss the wedding. 

Fortunately, Peach found a Porter Airlines flight that would get the couple to St. John’s about five hours later than originally scheduled, but still in time for the wedding. WestJet told her to book the flight and file for compensation, she said.

Peach asked WestJet for the $773 total she paid for the Porter flight, plus compensation for the couple’s delayed trip. On Aug. 2, WestJet turned down both requests. 

In an email seen by CBC News, the airline stated that the flight cancellation “was due to crew member availability and was required for safety purposes.” 

That didn’t sit well with Peach, especially in light of the recent CTA decision.

“I don’t know what’s going on here,” she said. “I would assume that if there’s a decision like this made by the Canadian Transportation Agency that it would be the sort of the benchmark for all of these [claims].”

Enforcement options ‘could include fines’: CTA

WestJet and Air Canada each declined to comment on individual cases, but both said they abide by federal air passenger regulations. WestJet said that safety is its top priority. Air Canada said airlines shouldn’t be penalized for cancelling flights for safety reasons. 

Air passenger rights expert Ian Jack said the CTA needs to threaten airlines with harsh penalties, such as public shaming and stiff fines, if they fail to comply with compensation regulations. 

“The major concern is that the regulator is not exactly striking fear into the hearts of the carriers to make them follow the rules,” said Jack, a spokesperson with the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA), a non-profit travel agency. 

“They need to know that they might get caught, embarrassed and called to task by the regulator.” 

This graphic shows the compensation air travellers could be entitled to depending on the length of their flight delay. (CBC)

CTA’s Oommen suggested that tough penalties may be coming for non-compliant airlines. “We are indeed looking at all the enforcement options … which could include fines.”

Meanwhile, both Michel and Peach have filed complaints with the CTA. However, they may be in for a long wait. The agency is currently dealing with a backlog of more than 15,000 complaints, Oommen said.

He said the CTA recently made changes to streamline the complaints process and is trying to hire more staff.

But Jack said he’s concerned the backlog may encourage airlines to flout the rules, because any repercussions will be far down the road. 

“They don’t have to pay out today, and who knows, maybe in 2025, they might have to pay money.”

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