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US Ambassador to Canada on cross-border issues – CTV News

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David Cohen has been the United States’ Ambassador to Canada since November 2021, and in the time since, both Canada and the United States have experienced a series of shared challenges.

Cohen, in an interview at his official residence in Ottawa, opens up about the state of the relationship.

He touches on how inflation, central banks, potential gas tax breaks and the “Freedom Convoy” protests have affected cross-border relations. He also delves into what impact U.S. abortion rights rulings and gun control crackdowns may have, and when cross-border travel rules could further ease.

This transcript of Cohen’s interview with Evan Solomon for Sunday’s episode of CTV’s Question Period has been edited for length and clarity.

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Evan Solomon: We are in a time, both in the U.S. and in Canada, with inflation at 40 year highs, 7.7 per cent here. It’s affecting Americans at the pump, and the grocery store… Everyone says it’s about supply chains. What is the U.S. and Canada doing together explicitly to help people fight inflation?

Ambassador Cohen: “So, you know, inflation is clearly the dominant economic issue of the day in both the United States and in Canada. It is scary because remember, inflation is a product of macroeconomic forces… The economy, the macro economy is larger than any government any official, and it’s just not something that you can wave a magic wand and make inflation go away. It’s a huge macroeconomic force.

“That said there are a bundle of tactics and strategies that government writ large can and should execute in inflationary times. And the first of all of those is a central banking function. I’m not an elected official, so I’m allowed to say this: It is true that the major responsibility for managing macroeconomic forces in the economy like inflation, is a central bank function. It’s not a presidential or prime minister function.”

Solomon: A lot of people say the central banks both in your country and in Canada blew it, because they didn’t ease back quick enough.

Ambassador Cohen: “I agree with you that it’s become politicized. But I don’t think some of that criticism is political. I think the criticism is by other serious economists who look at this issue and say, the central bank should have done something differently. Then you’ve got elected officials taking that comment and politicizing it. So those are, I think those are two different stages of the same of the same particular issue…

“We’re a victim of something that’s awfully good, which is as the pandemic eases, people are returning to their leisure and their vacation plans with a vengeance, and it’s the summer season. It’s the season where that happens. And so demand for gasoline is spiking to all time highs at a time when supplies are are not as robust as they have been at some times in history. And that is causing an increase in gas prices, which is a significant contributor to the overall increase in cost of living and to overall inflationary trends.”

Solomon: Was it a mistake for Joe Biden to cancel Keystone given where the world is now, which would have helped in this situation?

Ambassador Cohen: “I hope this isn’t headline news. After all, I’m Joe Biden’s friend and his representative in Canada. But Joe Biden absolutely did not make a mistake in canceling the Keystone pipeline. We don’t have enough time to run through every argument there. But we’re talking about inflation, which is fair, as Joe Biden has said it is the number one issue the United States faces. But it’s not the only issue. And energy is not the only issue that Canada or the United States faces. You could argue that climate change is the existential issue of our generation. And then unless we get a hold of climate change and get a hold of the impacts of climate change quickly, we’re going to cause irreversible damage to our environment.

“And by the way, that is something that has a tremendous Canadian implication, because of the adverse impact on the Arctic, from runaway climate change. And if you are Joe Biden and you’re the president of the United States, and frankly, if you’re the prime minister of Canada, you have to juggle not just inflation—no matter how important the issue is— not just prices of gasoline at the gas pump. But, you have to focus on the whole range of issues that confront your country.”

Solomon: Canada has just announced it’s going to invest in the next six years $4.9 billion to upgrade the NORAD system, the radar defense system that is out of date… Has your country asked Canada when that system will be updated? And what is your view about how vulnerable we are now?

Ambassador Cohen: “I’m not bashful about expressing opinions, but I hope I don’t get out of my lane and express opinions about things that I really don’t fully understand or know. So the question you ask, which is how vulnerable are we today, is a fundamental defense professional question… I just don’t know enough to answer that question intelligently. I do think and the line that I have used is that whether its post-February 24, when Russia invaded Ukraine, or even before that time… Those issues are particularly relevant and important in the Arctic, and we need a 21st century defense response with 21st century funding to be able to put us in a position to defend ourselves adequately…

“I have been asked a lot of times about Canada’s commitment to NORAD and what the United States was looking for. And my answer was, we’re, you know, Canada and the United States are partners in this binational command, the only binational defence command in the world, and our expectation our hope if you will, for NORAD and for Canada, is that they be a good partner.”

Solomon: On Friday… The [U.S.] Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. This is not a surprise… What is the significance for women and globally that that Roe v. Wade and access to abortion rights are no longer constitutionally protected in your country?

Ambassador Cohen: “So as you say, this is not a surprise, but that doesn’t mean that it is not a major disappointment. You know, the significance of Roe vs. Wade is that for 50 years, these rights were deemed to be constitutionally protected. I think it is a tremendous blow for what is a very important constitutional right for women in the United States. I think it is a tremendous blow for gender equity in the overall equality democratic sense. It is a major disappointment. President Biden has said that in the event this decision came down, it would be a real blow to women’s rights and to and to the treatment of women in the United States of America.

“This now becomes a matter of individual states to determine the rules that will apply to abortion. So in a sense, the battlefield has shifted to a different governmental level in the United States. The reason I want to be careful is because you’ve got such a large number of states under conservative— usually Republican—control where I think abortion rights will be will likely be restricted…

“So this is not a good day for women, for the treatment of women. It is not a good day for our respect for women, and for their right to choose what happens with their own bodies. And so I can’t sugar coat that except just to say that we do need to shift the battlefield now and we need to try and preserve as much of a women’s right to choose in as many states as possible.”

Solomon: We are in a debate here, intensely, about the necessity of the Emergencies Act. Was the U.S. government pressuring Canada to resolve this because of the economic consequences on cross-border trade?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t want to get into the internal Canadian debate on the propriety of the invocation of the Emergencies Act, but I have no problem saying that the threat to trade and commerce between the United States and Canada as a result of the blockades at points of entry—particularly in Windsor at the Ambassador Bridge, which is where the largest single implication was—we’re talking about a few hundred million dollars a day of blocked trade.

“And remember, this was having implications on real people. There were automobile plants in Canada and the United States where shifts were being cut back, people were losing income as a result of this, there was a real threat to the integrated automobile supply chain. There was a legitimate threat to the trade and commerce of both Canada and the United States.

“So the way you ask the question gives me a chance to make a very important point, because it’s not the United States’ place to pressure Canada into doing anything. Canada is its own sovereign country. We are friends, we are allies…That does not give us the right to tell Canada you need to do this. It does give us the right to have a serious discussion with our friend about the implications of this embargo on our mutual trade, on both sides of the border. And so there was a high level of concern. There were repetitive, high-level conversations with Chrystia Freeland, with multiple ministers in the Canadian government, with members of the cabinet. I was personally involved in many of those discussions, the White House got involved. So it was a matter of serious concern, but nobody in the United States to the best of my knowledge ever said to Canada, ‘you must resolve this problem,’ … It was very serious. It should have been taken seriously, and it was taken seriously.”

Solomon: I spoke with Congressman Higgins from New York, I’ve spoken to Canadian mayors, they want the ArriveCAN app dropped because it’s hurting trade. Should Canada drop the ArriveCAN app? Is it hurting trade now, and tourism?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t know enough about that. I say as a person now who has traveled multiple times between the United States and Canada, I have not experienced the problems with the ArriveCAN app that I read about in the newspapers. But, this is in the category of Canada being a sovereign nation. They need to make their own basic decisions about this. I do think when you look at a trend line of decisions that the U.S. and Canada have been making, we’re certainly moving toward fewer restrictions on border travel, and lowering barriers to the ability of people to move between our countries. And I think ArriveCAN will get caught up in that trend, and is a part of that ongoing conversation.”

Solomon: The tragedy in Uvalde, Texas was just one of the latest. Horrific… The debate in Canada is that the gun problem is coming from the United States. It’s illegal guns coming over the border from the U. S. What is the U.S. doing to help Canada stop the flow of illegal guns from your country into this country?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t want to be provocative, but I don’t know that there’s enough evidence that the gun violence problem that is experienced in Canada, is due either solely or maybe even primarily to illegal guns in the United States coming over to Canada. Because, the fact of the matter is that there’s not very good data on that question. It’s become sort of accepted conventional wisdom, but not based on data.

“But, the answer to the question is that the US and Canada have to cooperate on cutting down on illegal guns coming into Canada, if they are… We’ve had multiple collaborations and discussions about gun tracing, and how we trace and how we can help Canada do its gun tracing because Canada just doesn’t have the capacity… The United States has offered to help with that. And so it’s part of a high-level collaboration around gun violence, all designed to crack down on the importation of illegal handguns, whether it’s from the United States or elsewhere, coming into Canada.”

Solomon: The January 6 hearings. We’ve been watching those… Here in Canada, there’s more concerns of another convoy coming around Canada Day. Is there a threat to democracies from a rising populism? Or is this kind of an event that will pass, or is it a deeper concern?

Ambassador Cohen: “So I think that I think that question is an incredibly important question… I do think in the United States and Canada, in all of the world’s democracies, there is a disturbing growth of extremism, populist movements, usually coming from the hard right…

“It is a real threat and a real trend. I think a lot of it is based on misinformation, and is fueled by disinformation on social media. I think as a result, it is an extremely complicated question… I firmly believe that democracy will prevail, it will survive and that ultimately democracy will beat back autocracy. And one of the reasons I feel that way, is because one of the strengths of democracy is the discussion we’re having.”

Solomon: Last question. You’re a democracy optimist. Russia is attacking a democracy. There’s going be a NATO meeting, Canada has not hit its two per cent [of GDP spending on defence]. In the U.S.’ view, how long does this fight go on for? Just give me your sense, are we in a long-term potential war with Russia?

Ambassador Cohen: “I don’t think we’re in a war with Russia, now. Frankly, I don’t know that there’s going to be a quick resolution to the war in Ukraine. So we have to be in this for the long haul is the bottom line, and we have to recognize that autocracies like Russia, and like China by the way, are deserving of our attention. We have to be prepared to take those countries on and to continue to fight for our democratic ideals. And, and not to sound hokey, but to fight for liberty and justice for all.”

Solomon: Thanks, Ambassador.

Ambassador Cohen: Thank you again. Thanks for coming.

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Amanda Todd sextortion case sets precedent, but more needs to be done, experts say

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VANCOUVER — The conviction of Aydin Coban for the “sextortion” of British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd has prompted calls from lawyers and advocates for more regulation, resources and education in Canada to protect future victims.

Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said Todd’s case served as a warning, but Canada “failed to act.”

“Looking back, essentially nothing has been done to be proactive and actually address the issues that put kids at risk every day: platforms that allow anonymous adults to interact with our children in unsupervised digital spaces, any time or anywhere,” she said in a statement.

Coban, a Dutch national, was convicted on Saturday of extortion, harassment, communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence and possession and distribution of child pornography in relation to Todd.

She was 15 when she died by suicide in 2012, after years of harassment from 22 social media accounts that Crown attorneys said were controlled by Coban.

His sentencing hearing will be held in B.C. Supreme Court in September.

The jury’s decision came days after Statistics Canada released data showing that police-reported extortion cases rose by nearly 300 per cent in the last decade. Police across the country have also been issuing warnings to the public about a drastic increase in sextortion scams targeting youth.

Monique St. Germain, general counsel with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said the organization was “very pleased” with the Coban verdict.

But it is calling for more regulation of social media companies, like Snapchat and Instagram, where the organization has found most of the harm to children occurs.

“We need governments to step in, and to put some guardrails in place with the tech industry so that we have safer products in the marketplace,” she said in an interview.

“If we take our child to a playground and they play on a play structure, we have trust in the fact that the manufacturers of that play structure have had to abide by certain laws to make that structure safe for our children to play on. It shouldn’t be any different for the technology industry.”

Snapchat announced a new feature in Canada this week called Family Center that it says will “help parents get more insight into who their teens are friends with on Snapchat, and who they have been communicating with, without revealing any of the substance of those conversations.”

The Winnipeg-based Centre for Child Protection runs Cybertip, Canada’s tip line for reporting online child sexual abuse. It said it has received “an unprecedented volume of reports from youth and sometimes their concerned parents about falling prey to aggressive sextortion tactics,” amounting to about 300 online extortion cases a month.

“Parents cannot keep up. Police cannot keep up,” St. Germain said.

Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, has said the type of extortion her daughter suffered has become a global problem that needs to be better addressed by governments and law enforcement.

Her daughter’s suicide gained international attention in 2012. Amanda Todd had posted a video in which she used flash cards to describe being tormented by an anonymous harasser. It has been watched nearly 15 million times.

Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, was first introduced in 2013, following Todd’s death, and aimed to combat online harassment by making it illegal to distribute intimate images of a person without their consent. At the time, Carol Todd criticized the privacy-related provisions in the bill.

“It’s been 10 years since Bill C-13 was introduced. It needs to be revamped, and the word sextortion needs to be put in the Criminal Code somewhere,” Carol Todd said in an interview Friday, before Coban’s conviction. “That’s what we’ll learn from this.”

But David Fraser, an internet and privacy lawyer with the Canadian law firm McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said creating a new law specific to sextortion isn’t necessary, something made evident by Coban’s conviction.

He said generalized laws allow police to pursue charges more freely, because technological advancements far outpace law-making. He did, however, identify two benefits to proscribing sextortion explicitly: clarity for law enforcement and recognition for victims and the emotional harm they endured.

“Extortion that takes place online is still Criminal Code extortion,” he said. “It’s worth a conversation, but I did say shortly after the death of Amanda Todd that our laws were sufficient to take care of that. What failed her, it appears, was the legal system rather than the laws.”

Fraser said police have often failed to translate existing laws into an online context and he is calling for more resources and training for law enforcement.

“I believe that what was not in place at the time, unfortunately, when Amanda Todd was alive, was the will to investigate and prosecute the offence,” he said. “The fact that it worked here will hopefully foster and spur on perhaps a higher level of willingness to engage in and pursue investigations where the victim is in Canada, but the perpetrator is likely outside of the country.”

Coban was extradited to Canada in 2020 from the Netherlands, where he had been convicted of similar allegations to those in the Todd case. He was sentenced in Amsterdam in 2017 to almost 11 years in prison for cyberbullying dozens of young girls and gay men.

Darren Laur, chief training officer at White Hatter, an internet safety and digital literacy education company based in Victoria, said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict given the evidence, and is pleased that it has established precedent.

“It’s good to see that with this conviction, it does create case law specific to sextortion under existing extortion laws. The laws have been there. We’ve just been waiting for cases to go to court to create case law to support the Criminal Code,” Laur said.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is that the laws in the Criminal Code are drafted by government, but it’s up to the courts to interpret the law and that’s what case law is all about.”

Laur, who is a retired Victoria police sergeant, echoed Fraser’s calls for more police resources and for more public education and understanding of virtual crimes.

“Police in our country don’t have the time, resources or training to investigate these types of crimes,” he said. “We also need to continue to educate our age-appropriate kids in a scaffolded way about what this type of crime and other crimes are.”

The Department of Canadian Heritage said in a statement the federal government is working to create an approach to address harmful content online, including the possibility of a regulatory body.

“Canadians should be able to express themselves freely and openly without fear of harm online,” it said in the statement. “The Government of Canada is committed to taking the time to get this issue right and continuing to engage Canadians, stakeholders, and affected groups every step of the way on the road to tabling legislation as soon as possible.”

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

 

Brieanna Charlebois, 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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