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Ukraine says Russian forces kill seven civilians in evacuation convoy

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Ukraine accused Russian forces on Saturday of killing seven civilians in an attack on women and children trying to flee fighting near Kyiv, and France said Russian President Vladimir Putin had shown he was not ready to make peace.

With Russia’s invasion in its third week, the Ukrainian intelligence service said the seven, including one child, were killed as they fled the village of Peremoha and that “the occupiers forced the remnants of the column to turn back.”

Ukrainian officials later said the convoy was not traveling along a “green corridor” agreed with Russia when it was struck on Friday, correcting their earlier assertion that it was on such a designated route.

Reuters was unable immediately to verify the report and Russia offered no immediate comment.

Moscow denies targeting civilians since invading Ukraine on Feb. 24. It blames Ukraine for failed attempts to evacuate civilians from encircled cities, an accusation Ukraine and its Western allies strongly reject.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Moscow was sending in new troops after Ukrainian forces put 31 of Russia’s battalion tactical groups out of action in what he called Russia’s largest army losses in decades. It was not possible to verify his statements.

“We still need to hold on. We still have to fight,” Zelenskiy said in a video address late on Saturday, his second of the day.

He said earlier that about 1,300 Ukrainian troops had been killed so far and urged the West to get more involved in peace negotiations. The president suggested Russian forces would face a fight to the death if they sought to enter the capital.

“If they decide to carpet bomb (Kyiv), and simply erase the history of this region … and destroy all of us, then they will enter Kyiv. If that’s their goal, let them come in, but they will have to live on this land by themselves,” he said.

Zelenskiy discussed the war with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Emmanuel Macron, and the German and French leaders then spoke to Putin by phone and urged him to order an immediate ceasefire.

A Kremlin statement on the 75-minute call made no mention of a ceasefire and a French presidency official said: “We did not detect a willingness on Putin’s part to end the war”.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the United States of escalating tensions and said the situation had been complicated by convoys of Western arms shipments to Ukraine that Russian forces considered “legitimate targets”.

In comments reported by the Tass news agency, Ryabkov made no specific threat, but any attack on such convoys before they reached Ukraine would risk widening the war.

Crisis talks between Moscow and Kyiv have been continuing via a video link, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Russia’s RIA news agency. He gave no details but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said Kyiv would not surrender or accept any ultimatums.

Zelenskiy later on Saturday said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett about the prospects for peace talks. Bennett met with Putin and previously talked by phone to Zelenskiy, but the diplomatic efforts so far have appeared fruitless.

HUMANITARIAN CORRIDORS

Russian rocket attacks destroyed a Ukrainian airbase and hit an ammunition depot near the town of Vasylkiv in the Kyiv region, Interfax Ukraine quoted its mayor as saying.

The exhausted-looking governor of Chernihiv, around 150 km (100 miles) northeast of Kyiv, gave a video update in front of the ruins of the city’s Ukraine Hotel.

“There is no such hotel any more,” Viacheslav Chaus said, wiping tears from his eyes. “But Ukraine itself still exists, and it will prevail.”

Britain’s defence ministry said fighting northwest of the capital continued, with the bulk of Russian ground forces 25 km (16 miles) from the centre of Kyiv, which it has said Russia could attack within days.

Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Sumy and Mariupol remained encircled under heavy Russian shelling, it said.

But the general staff of the Ukraine armed forces said later on Saturday that Russia had slowed its offensive and in many places its forces had been stopped. The military’s Facebook post did not give details.

Russia’s invasion has been almost universally condemned around the world and Moscow has drawn tough Western sanctions.

The Russian bombardment has trapped thousands of people in besieged cities and sent 2.5 million Ukrainians fleeing to neighbouring countries. Zelenskiy said the conflict meant some small Ukrainian towns no longer existed.

The United States said it would rush up to $200 million in additional small arms, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons to Ukraine, where officials have pleaded for more military aid.

Russia calls its actions in Ukraine a “special operation” that it says is not designed to occupy territory but to destroy its neighbour’s military capabilities and “de-Nazify” the country.

Ukrainian officials had planned to use humanitarian corridors from Mariupol as well as towns and villages in the regions of Kyiv, Sumy and some other areas on Saturday.

But Russian shelling threatened attempts to evacuate trapped civilians, they said.

Still, around 13,000 people were evacuated from Ukrainian cities on Saturday, said Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk. It was almost twice the number who got out the previous day but far fewer than on the two days prior to that.

A senior Russian defence ministry official said the humanitarian situation in Ukraine continued to decline rapidly and blamed Ukrainian fighters, accusing them of mining neighbourhoods and destroying bridges and roads, the RIA news agency reported.

Russian officials have previously accused Ukrainian forces of shelling their own people and then seeking to blame Moscow, allegations that Kyiv and Western nations dismissed as lies.

The governor of the Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, said fighting and threats of Russian air attacks were continuing on Saturday morning though some evacuations were proceeding.

The Donetsk region’s governor said constant shelling was complicating bringing aid into the southern city of Mariupol.

Images taken on Saturday by private U.S. satellite firm Maxar showed fires burning in the western section of Mariupol and dozens of apartment buildings heavily damaged.

“There are reports of looting and violent confrontations among civilians over what little basic supplies remain in the city,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

MAKESHIFT BURIALS

People were boiling ground water for drinking, using wood to cook food and burying their dead near where they lay, a staff member for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) in Mariupol said.

At least 1,582 civilians in Mariupol have been killed as a result of Russian shelling and a 12-day blockade, the city council said on Friday. It was not possible to verify casualty figures.

Efforts to isolate Russia economically have stepped up, with the United States imposing new sanctions on senior Kremlin officials and Russian oligarchs on Friday.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU on Saturday would suspend Moscow’s privileged trade and economic treatment, crack down on its use of crypto-assets, and ban the import of iron and steel goods from Russia, as well as the export of luxury goods in the other direction.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Philippa Fletcher, Timothy Heritage, Matt Spetalnick; Editing by William Mallard, Frances Kerry, Daniel Wallis and Grant McCool)

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Five reasons Quebec’s language law reform is stirring controversy

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MONTREAL — A protest against Quebec’s proposed overhaul of its language law drew a large crowd in Montreal on Saturday. The government says Bill 96 is a moderate reform that will improve protection for French while preserving English services, but critics say the bill will limit access to health care and justice, cost college teachers their jobs and increase red tape for small businesses.

Here are five reasons the bill, expected to be passed before the summer, is under fire:

Health care

Marlene Jennings, president of the Quebec Community Groups Network, an anglophone advocacy group, says the law could prevent hundreds of thousands of English speakers from accessing health care in their language. The bill requires government agencies, including health services, to communicate with the public in French except “where health, public safety or the principles of natural justice so require.”

There are also exceptions for people who have the right to English education in Quebec, those who have previously communicated with the government in English and immigrants who have lived in the province for less than six months.

On Tuesday, Premier François Legault offered assurances that the law won’t affect access to health services in English, but Jennings is skeptical. “We already have problems, when language hasn’t been made an issue, to access quality health-care services in a timely fashion. Bill 96 is going to compound those problems,” she said in an interview.

Education

The bill would require all students at English junior colleges to take three additional courses in French. Students with English education rights — those who have a parent or sibling who was educated in English in Canada — will be allowed to take courses on the French language, but other students will have to take other subjects, such as history or biology, in French.

Adding French-language classes in English institutions will be a challenge, said Adam Bright, an English literature teacher at Dawson College in Montreal. Because the law would require students without English education rights to take a French exit exam, Bright predicts few of those students will choose English literature courses, making it more difficult for them to succeed in their other classes.

He said his union expects the changes would lead to staffing cuts in the English department. “My wife is also an English literature teacher at Dawson, so if this bill goes through, both of us are going to lose our jobs,” he said in an interview.

Red tape for businesses 

The bill would expand provisions of the province’s language laws, which previously only applied to businesses with 50 or more employees, to those with 25 or more.

François Vincent, Quebec vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, estimates that complying with the law after it comes into effect will involve 20 to 50 hours of paperwork for business owners. Some businesses may have to hire consultants to help. While Vincent said it’s important to help people learn French, he doesn’t think that additional red tape will do that.

“Asking a small garage or a small restaurant in Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean that’s working 100 per cent in French to fill out paperwork so that the Office québécois de la langue française will say ‘Congratulations, you work in French,’ will not change anything,” he said in an interview.

Access to justice

The bill would require all court filings by businesses to be in French or translated into French and empower the minister of justice and the minister responsible for the French language to decide which provincial court judges need to be bilingual.

It calls for amending pieces of legislation — including Quebec’s Charter of the French Language, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Consumer Protection Act and Montreal’s city charter.

Pearl Eliadis, a Montreal human rights lawyer, said that complexity can make it hard to see the extent of the changes being proposed. “Access to justice isn’t just going to court and being able to get there, it’s also being able to understand the law,” she said.

Warrantless search and seizure

The bill would proactively invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to protect it from charter challenges.

Among the elements of the bill that would be shielded is a provision granting language inspectors the power to engage in search and seizure operations without a warrant. Eliadis said inspectors are not required to show reasonable grounds or reasonable suspicion before conducting a search related to the law.

“It’s more than a group of administrative rules designed to bolster French, because they’ve deliberately gone into each part of the act where constitutional rights can be invoked and essentially, with one sweep of the brush … disappeared an entire swath of our constitutional protections, leaving us with no remedy,” she said. “I worry the rule of law is being diminished.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Residential school survivors didn’t want to ‘wear’ decision to raise flag: documents

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OTTAWA — Documents show some residential school survivors told Ottawa they didn’t want to “wear” a decision to raise the Canadian flag, as the government spent months mulling how to lift the Maple Leaf from half-mast.

Hoisting the flag became a source of debate last year after it was lowered for months following the discovery of what were believed to be the remains of 215 children at the former Kamloops residential school site in British Columbia last May.

Next weekmarks the one-year anniversary of that discovery using ground-penetrating radar by the Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nation.

It sent waves of grief, shock and anger through the country. As Indigenous communities reeled and more non-Indigenous Canadians joined them, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ordered the flags lowered at all federal buildings, including the one atop the Peace Tower.

By June, federal officials were trying to figure out the timing to raise the flag, reaching out to Indigenous leaders and drafting up options.

“This is the longest time in Canadian history that flags have been at half-mast,” Crown-Indigenous Relations officials wrote in a briefing note released to The Canadian Press under access-to-information legislation.

How long the flag remains lowered is typically dictated by a strict set of rules. But when the federal government lowered it to honour Indigenous children who died and disappeared from the 140-year-long residential school system, the timeline for lifting it was not clear.

Ottawa was working to return the flag to full-mast ahead of Remembrance Day, documents show, which is what ultimately happened. The documents say survivors and those in the country’s national Indigenous organizations saw the need to raise the flag in order for it to be lowered on Nov. 8, Indigenous Veteran’s Day, and Nov. 11.

Among those consulted was the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s survivors’ circle. The group met last fall with Carolyn Bennett, the former federal Crown-Indigenous Relations minister before she was named to a new portfolio.

“Several participants mentioned that they did not want Canada to use this engagement to justify the raising of the flag to full-mast,” officials said in a summary of the meeting.

“They did not want to ‘wear’ that decision,” the summary said, adding Bennett signalled she understood and saw how not everyone agreed.

“Some said that they were not ready to see the flag go up to full-mast, others indicated that Canadians still needed to better understand why the flag was lowered.”

Officials recorded differing opinions on the national symbol and how the country planned to mark the finding of more unmarked graves.

“Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami officials reinforced the critical need to honour all the lost children (more than 6,000) and to sustain public awareness of the tragedy of residential schools,” the documents say.

“Officials from the Métis National Council also offered the suggestion that the flag be lowered to half-mast for a week each time a new residential school burial discovery is made.”

In addition, officials said the organizations felt even though raising the flag was complicated, the issue was one that “the Canadian government will need to resolve.” They also believed in the need for another “symbolic recognition at the national level” as a replacement if the flag were hoisted.

The office of the current Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister, Marc Miller, said in a statement it is working with the House of Commons, Senate Speakers’ Offices and other MPs to hoist the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation’s survivors flag on Parliament Hill in June, which is Indigenous history month.

It also plans to lower the Canadian flag every Sept. 30, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.

The Cowessess First Nation near Regina discovered 751 unmarked graves last year. Officials noted that Chief Cadmus Delorme “identified that this is a historic time for Canada” and “that with the number of residential schools, this issue will be present for years to come.”

Indigenous groups also urged governments to take meaningful action on reconciliation, and not leave it at symbolic gestures, the documents show.

Chief Harvey McLeod of the Upper Nicola Indian Band in Merritt, B.C., said recently that more debate is needed about what the flag represents to Indigenous people and Canadians, as opposed to talking how long it should stay lowered or raised.

“I see being more important is us continuing to have the dialogue to correct what was implemented in that plan that was the way to implement the vision of Confederation,” he said. “It was the vision of the salvation of us savages, us Indians, to incorporate us into general society.”

“We really have to roll up our sleeves and find a way of how we can be inclusive of people like myself.”

Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Vice-Chief Kim Beaudin said he’s more concerned with justice for survivors than symbolic gestures from Ottawa.

“Quite honestly, we’re not really treated as Canadians either, right? Full-(fledged) Canadian citizens in our own country,” he said.

“A lot of times we’re treated like foreigners.”

One survivor of the Kamloops residential school said any gesture from the Canadian government on the flag is meaningful.

“Any recognition that Canada offers is good,” said Garry Gottfriedson, a 69-year-old poet who attended the institution from kindergarten to Grade 3.

“The smallest gestures are good. Any little gesture Canada can offer is a step towards healing.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

— With files from Dirk Meissner in Kamloops, B.C.

 

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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Top court won’t hear ex-OPP deputy commissioner’s appeal over lawsuit against Ford

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal from a former high-ranking Ontario Provincial Police officer over his bid to sue Premier Doug Ford for defamation.

Former OPP deputy commissioner Brad Blair launched a $5-million suit in 2019, alleging the premier smeared his reputation for political gain by suggesting the officer had violated the Police Services Act.

Blair had asked the courts to force the provincial ombudsman to investigate the appointment of Ron Taverner, a longtime friend of the premier, as OPP commissioner, raising concerns about political interference.

At the time, Blair served as interim commissioner and had been in the running for the permanent position.

Ford’s lawyers argued the premier’s statements on the matter were fair comment, and an Ontario Superior Court judge dismissed the claim — a decision upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Ultimately, Thomas Carrique, then the deputy chief for York Regional Police, was appointed OPP commissioner.

As usual, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for declining to hear Blair’s appeal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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