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Time for military to scrap harmful traditions: retired Supreme Court justice

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OTTAWA — The Canadian Armed Forces found itself at a crossroads on Monday as the military faced calls to finally end some of its closest-held traditions to end decades of broken promises — including by permanently leaving the prosecution of sexual offences by its members to civilian authorities.

Even as the federal Liberal government, through Defence Minister Anita Anand, promised to provide the political oversight needed to bring about such change, there remained deep skepticism over whether a well-established pattern will repeat itself.

The latest calls for change came Monday in a highly anticipated report by retired Supreme Court justice Louise Arbour, who was tasked last year with charting a way forward after a series of scandals involving allegations of sexual misconduct by some in the upper ranks of the Forces.

The result was a scathing indictment of the Armed Forces’ resistance to change, with the respected jurist who previously served as the United Nations’ top human rights official taking dead aim at many of the military’s most important structures and institutions.

Arbour questioned not only the military’s insistence on investigating and prosecuting incidents of sexual assault, which she said should be permanently transferred to the civilian authorities, but also the way it recruits, trains and promotes service members.

She also questioned the justification for having dedicated military colleges in Kingston, Ont., and St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., which are responsible for grooming future officers but carry a reputation for perpetuating the military’s sexualized culture.

“The continued prevalence of sexual misconduct at the military colleges is well documented, and I think it’s harder to address these issues there than in a civilian environment,” Arbour said during a news conference in Ottawa on Monday.

“I was not in a position to examine in detail the quality of the academic stream, (but) the military leadership and physical training at these colleges is problematic and does not, in my view, justify the continuation of this model as an undergraduate university environment.”

One of the main themes of Arbour’s report was the military’s resistance to past recommendations that had also stemmed from detailed reviews sparked by scandals.

The retired judge painted a picture of foot-dragging and half-hearted action.

The former UN human rights czar nonetheless did not specifically recommend the creation of an independent oversight body, as many experts and observers had requested, but instead called for more involvement and oversight by existing civilian authorities.

“I don’t see the need for an inspector general, if everything else in this report is implemented,” Arbour said of the 48 recommendations contained in her report.

“If you create too many of these so-called oversight bodies, you dilute the political responsibility.”

Still, Arbour revealed that she had repeatedly followed up on her interim recommendation made in October to temporarily transfer the criminal sexual offences to civilian courts.

“Had I not had monthly contact with the prosecuting authorities and the investigating authorities … on a monthly basis, and with the minister, they’d still be drafting the letter to the provincial authorities about how to move forward,” she said.

Anand, who was at the news conference alongside Arbour as well as defence chief Gen. Wayne Eyre and Defence Department deputy minister Bill Matthews, announced that 17 recommendations were being immediately accepted.

Others will need “further analysis, planning and consultation,” Anand added, promising to come report to Parliament on the progress.

One recommendation being reviewed is whether to permanently transfer the investigation and prosecution of cases involving criminal sexual misconduct to civilian authorities.

“This is a system-changing recommendation and we will examine it in earnest,” Anand said.

A recommendation to study the pros and cons of military colleges will also get further review.

One of the accepted recommendations was the appointment of an external monitor who will oversee the implementation of Arbour’s recommendations, with regular reports to the minister and public. Another is for Anand to report to Parliament on those that will not be implemented.

The military has in recent years agreed “in principle” with all recommendations from external sources, before then implementing them half-heartedly or letting them collect dust.

Asked whether she or Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was not present for Monday’s news conference, would take responsibility if Arbour’s recommendations fall by the wayside and another scandal occurs, Anand said: “This report will not fall by the wayside.”

“If we do not take this moment for what it is and implement the recommendations that identify deep areas of need for change in the Canadian Armed Forces and the defence team broadly, we run the risk of not being a fully effective military,” she added.

“We must grab the bull by the horns and make the changes now.”

Later Monday, Trudeau said the Liberal government would work “closely and rapidly” with survivor groups and others “to make sure that we’re moving forward in the right way” on the remaining recommendations in the Arbour report.

Federal opposition parties and organizations such as the Royal Canadian Legion wasted no time on Monday calling for the Liberal government to quickly act on Arbour’s recommendations, as well as independent oversight of their implementation.

“We know that one report will not ‘fix’ systemic violence and harassment,” said June Winger, national president of the Union of National Defence Employees. “But this report is a tool that we will use to push the government towards meaningful and concrete actions.”

While experts on military sexual misconduct were largely supportive of Arbour’s report and recommendations, which they described as extremely comprehensive, there was also a fair amount of skepticism about whether it would finally result in real change.

Megan MacKenzie, who studies military sexual misconduct at Simon Fraser University in B.C., said she would have liked to have seen Anand voice stronger support for all the recommendations. She also questioned the appointment of an external monitor.

“Who’s going to be on this external review?” MacKenzie said. “I’m not sure how you can have someone holding the minister accountable who’s an appointee of the minister.”

Charlotte Duval-Lantoine of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute was also concerned about the external monitor’s independence, adding it is now up to the government to ensure Arbour’s recommendations are acted upon — a situation that has previously resulted in failure.

“The ball is in the government’s camp,” Duval-Lantoine said.

“It is up to it to make those recommendations happen, and to make them work for the CAF. This is where we have seen most gaps.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 30, 2022.

 

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly to take part in G20 despite Russia’s presence

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OTTAWA — Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly will take part in a G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, this week, even though Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is also expected to attend.

In March, Joly joined many others in walking out of a United Nations meeting in Geneva when Lavrov, whom Canada had brought sanctions against days earlier, began speaking.

In April, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland joined a walkout of a G20 meeting for finance ministers and central bank governors in Washington to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In May, International Trade Minister Mary Ng joined her counterparts from the United States, Australia, Japan and New Zealand in leaving an APEC meeting in Bangkok when the Russian representative began to speak.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Canada would take part in the G20 leaders’ meeting in November, even if President Vladimir Putin goes too, saying it is important to counteract the voice that Russia will have at that table.

Joly, who recently said it was unacceptable for a Canadian official to attend a reception hosted by the Russian Embassy in Ottawa, is expected to join other foreign ministers at the G20 meeting in opposing the ongoing war in Ukraine.

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

 

The Canadian Press

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From good job to no job, life in Canada taught me to go with the flow – CBC.ca

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This First Person article is the experience of Erlinda Tan, a Filipino immigrant who believes hard work is a prerequisite to a good, middle-class life in Canada. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

It was a memorable day in 2014 when I bought a vacation house in my hometown in the Philippines. I visit my family every other year and being able to gather everyone in that house is like a dream come true. 

I had no idea the property would become a souvenir from my Alberta days. Two years later, the oil and gas industry took a turn for the worse — and took my job with it.

But it’s all part of what I call a beautiful journey of ebb and flow in the 13 years since I arrived from the Philippines. Those ups and downs have made me a strong Canadian and solidified my love for this country.

Working hard to get a foot in the door 

I came to Edmonton in late 2009 as the Alberta economy was emerging from a severe financial crisis that had been felt globally. Timing is everything, they say. This was true for me.

My first job was as a clerical worker earning minimum wage. To get by, I took a second job as a supermarket cashier — three days a week, four hours a shift. 

A note of thanks written for a grocery store clerk.
Tan treasures this note which was submitted by a customer and posted for a time on the bulletin board of the grocery store where she worked. ‘It reminds me of that lovely chapter in my life,’ Tan says. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Doing two jobs was hard and some days were really long but I needed the extra income. Plus, working in the service industry taught me to blend into my new home and honed my confidence speaking with Canadians from all walks of life — a skill I would later need in my professional journey.     

After 20 months of working two jobs, I had the so-called “Canadian experience” that my resume so badly needed and I felt ready for the corporate world. With my background in engineering, I was hired in 2012 as a document controller in the oil and gas industry. 

In those days, the oil price was on its way to $100 per barrel and there was opportunity aplenty. I changed jobs three times in three years. I was a part of the rise of Alberta’s economy.

Becoming a Canadian

A group of Filipino women smile and pose for a photograph. One woman holds a bouquet of flowers.
Tan, fourth from the right, celebrates with friends from the Edmonton Filipino community after her citizenship ceremony at Canada Place in February 2015. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

I was excited about my promising career but was even more excited when I became a Canadian citizen in early 2015. 

At the swearing-in ceremony, I became emotional singing O Canada for the first time as a citizen. I felt like I belonged, that I was secure. My definition of home changed in that instant — the Philippines was “back home” but Canada is my current one. 

And all of a sudden, I felt a solemn duty to become a good Canadian. 

During the federal election in October, I followed the campaign on TV like a soap opera. If the citizenship ceremony was emotionally moving, then voting was empowering. That day, I realized how important I was in nation-building.

Blind faith

But as the saying goes, every flow must have its ebb. 

In 2015, an oil downturn rippled into a global crisis. Energy companies laid off employees by the thousands; I was one of them. 

Career websites in Alberta were empty.  I didn’t want to move but I needed to survive.

A Filipino woman poses with view of Edmonton river valley behind her.
Tan poses for a photograph at one of her favourite places to unwind: overlooking the Edmonton river valley. After being laid off in 2015, Tan was faced with the difficult decision of leaving the city she’d come to love. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Friends and relatives sent invitations to come work in the U.S., U.K., Singapore and Dubai.  It was very tempting. But I had just become a Canadian citizen. I had invested time and hard work: the long hours on my feet as a cashier, following the news on TV every night to understand the politics. Should I put all that in the past and leave? 

I’m a Filipino Canadian, I said. I have the genes of resilience. I’ll tough this out. 

In a move of blind faith, I decided to move to Vancouver in May 2016. I didn’t have any employment connections, I had no family in the city, and my church community became my support system.         

I was grateful for the employment insurance that I lived on for a few months and I received the insurance money with pride. I had contributed premiums and I knew I was entitled to it.       

Looking for a new job in Vancouver was not easy. British Columbia is rich in forestry and my job experience in the oil industry was not in demand. I decided to accept any job offer, even if I had to start at the bottom. 

I took a contract job where the pay wasn’t much but it brought me to the door of a Crown corporation. Five months into the job — when my savings from Alberta were almost gone — I was hired by that corporation. Sometimes God’s perfect timing leaves you in awe.

I worked as a records administrator for a $1-billion project. Then I moved on to a $10-billion project. When I’m retired, I can look back with pride in my heart for being a part of two big infrastructure projects in British Columbia. 

Silver linings

A Filipino woman in winter clothing stands with two clocks behind her.
Tan smiles for a photograph on a typical morning in Edmonton. One of the clocks behind her shows Edmonton time, the other is set to the time in the Philippines. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

In hindsight, I see my job layoff in Alberta was an advantage. It forced me to leave my comfort zone. I saw more of Canada, I gained new friends and grew in my career. My horizon got bigger. Thank you, Edmonton, for preparing me. 

I joke to friends in the Philippines that I am the definition of a middle-class Canadian: poor in money but rich in benefits. I couldn’t be more appreciative.   

Sometimes I ask myself, do I regret staying in Canada when I hit rock bottom? Do I regret not working in other countries? The answer is no. I believe if God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window. But it’s up to me to find it. 

A Filipino family gathers for portrait at Christmas.
Tan, third from right, celebrates Christmas with family members at her house in the Philippines. It’s their family tradition to gather for dinner and photos every time she visits. (Submitted by Erlinda Tan)

Speaking of doors and windows, my house in the Philippines is now much more than just a vacation property. The concrete house, located in the heart of a commercial district and within walking distance to malls and supermarkets, has become a refuge for family members from the typhoons that regularly visit the Philippines. 

I’m even more proud that it has become the place that my mother can call home.


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Is Canada too 'smug' about abortion? These doulas say access is worse than you think – CBC.ca

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A pair of abortion doulas in southwestern Ontario say Canadians shouldn’t take access to safe, legal abortions for granted because there are still barriers to care that are difficult to overcome, including time off work, a lack of financial resources and the distance from urban-centred clinics. 

Christal Malone of London and Jennifer Surerus of St. Thomas help make access to safe abortions as seamless and easy as possible for people across the country.

Unlike doctors or nurses, their roles stop short of medical care. Instead, they provide physical and emotional support that runs the gamut from picking someone up from the airport to holding a thermometer in their mouth, even just giving someone a shoulder to cry on. 

“We are trying to support people to make the choices they need, and we are not trying to persuade people to do anything,” said Surerus. “Often people don’t have [support] from family and friends.” 

Abortion is legal, but access a problem 

Unlike the United States, where the legal landscape of abortion is undergoing a radical shift following the landmark Supreme Court ruling that struck down a constitutional right to abortion for the first time in 50 years, Canada has no laws restricting access to the procedure. 

Malone, left and Surerus attend an anti-abortion counter-demonstration outside the London Health Sciences Centre in southwestern Ontario. They’re shown with Surerus’s sister Tiffany, middle. (Supplied by Christal Malone)

In this country, abortion is legal, regardless of the reason. The procedure is also publicly paid for through a combination of the federal and provincial health systems, but just because it’s not illegal in Canada doesn’t mean Canadians should take it for granted, Surerus said. 

“I think we’re a little too smug here. Transportation, child care, being able to get time off work — that all plays into the access equation.”

It’s a problem all over the country, but perhaps the most acutely felt in Canada’s Atlantic region, where restrictions to abortions are the highest, and the federal government has withheld health-care funding to provinces that didn’t provide adequate access.

In Ontario, 21,428 abortions were performed in 2020, according to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada. More than 15,000 of them were done at private clinics, while just over 5,000 were at the province’s hospitals.

Urban and rural divide

Despite the number of procedures, disparities exist between urban and rural areas in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, where abortion services are only in urban settings, despite 35 to 40 per cent of the population living in rural or remote communities.

The charity says more than half of its callers need help with costs of flights, accommodations and other travel expenses, citing the place where they live as the biggest barrier to accessing safe care. 

“It’s pretty dire,” said Malone. “It is very hard to access an abortion if you live in a rural area, and it is very time-consuming and expensive to access certain types of abortions.”

Even in Malone’s hometown of London, a city of more than 400,000, there is only one clinic. It serves a huge catchment in southwestern Ontario as well as people as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick — provinces where access to abortion is the most restricted. 

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When a patient does get to the London clinic, the person must attend a minimum of three appointments before health-care workers will agree to perform the procedure. 

“It can be really challenging to get the time off work, or to get transportation, and a lot of them start early in the morning. So if the person is not local, they have to come the day before to access the service,” Malone said. 

Pro-choice charities such as Action Canada step in to help fill the financial gap and help connect people seeking an abortion with doulas like Surerus and Malone.

In Ontario, there are nearly double the number of crisis pregnancy centres. at 77, compared to 38 hospitals and clinics that provide abortion access, according to Action Canada. 

“The anti-choice is strong here, and there is a political component to it,” Surerus said.

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