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Trudeau has no timeline for unblocking Afghan aid, as humanitarian crisis deepens



OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not specified a timeline for when Canadian aid groups will be able to respond to a humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, despite peer countries finding loopholes in their anti-terrorism laws months ago.

Aid groups told members of Parliament this spring that Canadian officials warned them that they could run afoul of terrorist financing rules by delivering support.

They told a parliamentary committee that officials said buying supplies or paying a driver to deliver food in Afghanistan would incur taxes for the Taliban, which took over the country in August 2021 and which Canada recognizes as a terrorist organization.

The Liberals say they want to find a workaround. But Trudeau offered no timeline Wednesday when asked when the federal government would fix the situation.

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“We know how important it is to support the people of Afghanistan,” Trudeau responded during a news conference in Pickering, Ont. “We will continue to look at how we can help.”

Afghanistan is facing a shortage of food and medical supplies, made worse by international sanctions, two large earthquakes and drought.

UNICEF has reported a rise in child labour, and has said that more families are offering young girls for marriage in exchange for a dowry so they can purchase basic necessities.

By the time the House of Commons special committee on Afghanistan reported on the aid issue in June, the U.S., Britain, Australia and the European Union had all found workarounds to their own laws, allowing aid groups to help Afghans without incurring penalties.

The government filed a response to the committee report last week, saying it “will consider measures, including legislative options,” but offering no timeline.

“Current counterterrorism measures and legislation have the unintended effect of impeding legitimate humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan,” the Oct. 6 response reads.

“Unlike laws in some other like-minded states, Canada does not have an exemption mechanism for this (terrorism financing) offence, including for the provision of life-saving humanitarian aid.”

Ottawa’s response also notes that “the government of Canada has no intention of recognizing the Taliban de facto authorities as the government of Afghanistan,” a point Trudeau reiterated on Wednesday.

Yet Trudeau has confirmed that Ottawa has been in regular talks with Taliban leaders since shortly after they took over Afghanistan, as reported by CBC News last week.

Constitutional lawyers have argued that Ottawa isn’t correctly interpreting its own laws, saying the Criminal Code provisions against financing terrorists cannot apply to paying local taxes.

Otherwise, they note, Afghan refugees would be barred from entering Canada, since they had likely paid taxes to the Taliban.

Conservative international development critic Garnett Genuis said Trudeau’s response rings hollow when millions are at risk of starvation.

“It’s a major crisis situation, from a humanitarian perspective, and Canadian organizations are obviously at a particular disadvantage,” said Genuis, who was part of the special parliamentary committee.

“Sadly, this is another one of those cases where the government claims to be on top of something but is, by all indication, doing nothing, offering no timelines and not recognizing the need and the urgency.”

The Liberal government has stressed that it is able to get aid to Afghanistan through the United Nations, even if Canadian organizations can’t do independent work on the ground.

“We are continuing to work with partners around the world, to help get needed humanitarian aid into Afghanistan despite the Taliban, and we will continue to do just that,” Trudeau said Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2022.

— With files from Liam Casey in Pickering, Ont.


Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press


COVID-19 benefits helped economy rebound, but post-payment verification lacking: AG



Canada’s auditor general says COVID-19 benefits were delivered quickly and helped mitigate economic suffering, however, the federal government hasn’t done enough to recover overpayments.

In a new report looking into the federal government’s delivery of pandemic benefits, Karen Hogan said the programs provided relief to workers and employers affected by the pandemic and helped the economy rebound.

At the same time, the auditor general says the Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada have not followed up by verifying payments.

Hogan estimates $4.6 billion was paid to people who were not eligible, while another $27.4 billion in payments to individuals and businesses should be further investigated.

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“I am concerned about the lack of rigour on post-payment verifications and collection activities,” Hogan said in a news release.

The audit found that efforts to recover overpayments have been limited, with the Canada Revenue Agency collecting $2.3 billion through voluntary repayments.

Pre-payment controls were also lacking, though the report said the federal government made some changes to those controls for individual benefits.

However, the CRA made few changes to improve prepayment controls for businesses to mitigate risks of overpayment.

Hogan also flagged that there was a lack of sufficient data to assess the effectiveness of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy program.

Although the subsidy did go to businesses in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, the report said the effect of the subsidy on business resilience is unclear because the agency collected limited data from businesses.

The auditor general has made a set of recommendations to the government to improve the collection of overpayments and to fix data gaps relating to businesses.

Government organizations reviewed in the audit say they have accepted the recommendations, though only partially accepted a recommendation related to recuperating overpayments.

The federal government said it would prioritize which to pursue by weighing the resources necessary with the amount owed.

“It would not be cost effective nor in keeping with international and industry best practices to pursue 100 per cent of all potentially ineligible claims,” the response said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty



Liberals pledge $15 million to remove Ukraine mines on anniversary of Ottawa Treaty

The Trudeau government is pledging to spend $15 million to remove mines in Ukraine.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says the funding is meant to make the country safer after Russia has laid hundreds of the indiscriminate weapons.

Human Rights Watch says Ukrainian forces have also been laying anti-tank mines across the country.

Joly made the announcement on Monday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Ottawa Treaty, which bans landmines in most countries.

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Ottawa has so far provided Canadian-made bomb suits to help protect Ukrainian deminers and has plans to help fund remote-control systems to clear large areas such as farmlands.

Last month, Canada unveiled funding to remove both landmines and cluster bombs from parts of Southeast Asia that remain inaccessible decades after conflicts like the Vietnam War.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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B.C.’s Julia Levy is Canada’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar



British Columbia’s newest Rhodes Scholar will pursue a master’s degree in computational chemistry, but she says it’s also an “incredible opportunity” as a trans woman to give back to her community.

University of Victoria graduate Julia Levy said she was “blown away” when she learned she was among 11 Canadians selected for this year’s Rhodes Scholarship, one of the world’s oldest and most prestigious such awards.

Levy, 24, will head to Oxford University in England next October for the fully funded scholarship, a prize she said carries a special meaning because she is the country’s first trans woman Rhodes Scholar.

“I feel I am very, very proud being the first trans woman in Canada (to become a Rhodes Scholar),” said Levy, who made the transition from he to she three years ago.

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While the transition was a tough journey, Levy said she is aware of the many advantages she’s had.

“I think it’s really interesting to note that I am privileged in literally every other way, like my parents being supportive of my transition. I have always had financial stability and I grew up in a good part of Vancouver … maybe that’s the advantages that you need to equal out the trans part of it,” said Levy.

Levy, who graduated from the University of Victoria with a chemistry major and a minor in visual arts, described the scholarship as an “incredible opportunity and a gift,” equipping her with more knowledge and power to give back to the trans community.

“I feel my experiences of being trans and the ways that I have had to navigate the world being trans … has given me a lot of empathy for people in crisis and people who have difficulties in their lives,” said Levy.

“I know what it is to be at the bottom in some ways and my interest in harm reduction and trans care really all comes from that place of knowing what it’s like and wanting to reach out and help out where that’s possible.”

Levy is also a scientist, artist, activist, programmer, friend and daughter, she said.

“There are many parts of me that are equally important to who I am.”

University of Victoria chemistry professor Jeremy Wulff supervised Levy and said she was “destined for greatness,” bringing insights to projects that led to their success.

“I’m always excited when my students are recognized with awards and fellowships, but the Rhodes award is at a whole other level,” he said. “Julia is in excellent company amongst this group, and it’s absolutely where she belongs.”

Levy said magic can happen when you mix computation with chemistry.

In her second year at the University of Victoria, she found some classmates were struggling to picture molecules in their heads while doing peer teaching.

To help them visualize complex molecules, Levy created an augmented-reality app.

The app is a QR code in the workbook and allows the learner to see the molecule on their phone in three dimensions.

“You can work it with your phone and spin it around and zoom in and out,” said Levy.

She also worked as a technician with the university’s Vancouver Island Drug-Checking Project, a drop-in service where people can bring street drugs in for chemical analysis.

Levy said the experience used her chemistry skills in a “practical and socially active way” to help more people.

“It’s an excellent example of the social use of chemistry,” said Levy.

Levy, who was travelling in Germany during the interview, said she looks forward to being surrounded by the Rhodes community and “being challenged and pushed to new heights.”

“I hope I bring what makes me unique to Oxford, and that I am able to find a group of people, both personally and professionally, that celebrate that uniqueness,” said Levy.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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

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