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What is the legal status of abortion in Canada and do we need a law? Experts weigh in

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OTTAWA — After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision Friday — the ruling that had, for decades, guaranteed a woman’s right to get an abortion across the United States — Liberal politicians north of the border were were quick to suggest that Canadians shouldn’t take their freedoms for granted.

“No country in the world, including Canada, is immune to what’s going on in the United States,” said Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, as other ministers and MPs chimed in with similar warnings.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeated time and again that every woman has the right to an abortion in Canada, promising Friday to defend those rights.

But in a country that has no legal framework governing abortion, what does that actually mean — and why are abortion-rights advocates urging Trudeau to avoid enshrining that right into law, once and for all?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the legal status of abortion in Canada?

Abortion has been legal in Canada since 1988, when the Supreme Court decided in R. v. Morgentaler that a law that criminalized abortion was unconstitutional.

Since a 1969 reform under Pierre Trudeau’s Liberal government, Section 251 of the Criminal Code had narrowly allowed for abortions in cases where a committee decided a woman’s health or life was in danger, but it still penalized health service providers and women themselves for participating in other abortions.

In a 5-2 decision, the court upheld an acquittal of abortion advocate Henry Morgentaler and struck down the existing law.

“Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of security of the person,” read the majority opinion by chief justice Brian Dickson.

Today, abortion falls under provincial health-care systems as a medical procedure, meaning that access to the procedure varies considerably from place to place.

Why didn’t Parliament pass legislation?

The Supreme Court’s decision left a legal vacuum, so it threw the ball back in Parliament’s court to figure out whether any “reasonable limits” should be applied.

Under the majority Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney, the House of Commons passed a law in 1990 that would have made it a criminal offence to induce an abortion unless a physician deemed that the woman’s life or health was likely to be threatened otherwise.

But the bill died in the Senate, where the vote came to a rare tie.

No government has since attempted to legislate on the issue.

Is anybody talking about introducing an abortion bill today?

In the Morgentaler decision, the Supreme Court did not explicitly state that access to abortion is a fundamental right — and no other Canadian court has said so since.

When a leaked copy of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade was released in May, reporters asked Trudeau whether he would consider putting legislation on the table to enshrine such a right.

He left open the possibility, but said his government wants to prevent a situation where rights are rolled back by future governments or court decisions.

“Maybe it’s legislation, maybe it’s not legislation, maybe it’s leaving it in the hands of the Canadian Medical Association that has ensured governance over these procedures for a long time,” Trudeau said at the time.

The only federal abortion-related legislation introduced in recent years have been private member’s bills by Conservatives that would outlaw certain types of abortions or criminalize the killing of a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman.

Such bills have not passed.

What’s the case against formally enshrining a right to abortion?

Experts and advocacy groups have roundly criticized the idea of creating any sort of stand-alone law on abortion, saying that this could lead to a plethora of unintended consequences.

“We have no specific legislation for a hip replacement or other medical procedures, so why would we need one for abortion?” said Julia Tétrault-Provencher, chair of the national steering committee of the reproductive rights working group of the National Association of Women and the Law.

Even if the law simply enshrined abortion as a right, putting it on the books could open the door to subsequent governments’ more-restrictive amendments, advocates fear.

“We’ve seen that the power of very small but vocal anti-choice and conservative groups can make a huge impact, and we just don’t know what the country’s going to look like in the future,” said Jill Doctoroff, executive director of National Abortion Federation Canada.

As soon as a new law passed, court cases would be brought to test its constitutionality, said University of Ottawa law professor Daphne Gilbert — creating “legitimacy and a platform” for anti-abortion activists to bring their cases to the courtroom.

Federal legislation could also raise a division of powers debate and give provinces the bandwidth to talk about regulating or restricting abortion in a bigger way, Gilbert said, which could jeopardize advocates’ hard-fought gains.

“There’s absolutely no upside and a whole bunch of downside.”

Are there alternatives to legislation?

While advocates are pleading for Trudeau to keep his powder dry on the legislative front, they still want his government to be active in improving access to abortion in Canada.

In 2021, the Liberals promised $45 million over three years to improve sexual and reproductive health support, information and services, which Tétrault-Provencher said should be made a permanent fund.

Under the Canada Health Act, Ottawa has the authority to claw back provincial health transfers when provinces provide inadequate access to services.

Trudeau’s government has already done that on a minor scale, withholding $140,000 from New Brunswick for failing to provide funding for abortions at a Fredericton clinic — but Gilbert said that’s not enough.

“That’s peanuts in an overall health budget. I think they could strengthen the carrot and stick of the regulatory power.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 27, 2022.

— With files from Adina Bresge in Toronto

 

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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International support for miners rescue was ‘heartwarming,’ says company president

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OTTAWA — The recent successful rescue of two miners trapped in a mine in the Dominican Republic for more than a week was made possible thanks to support from the international community including direct assistance from the Royal Canadian Air Force, according to the president of the company at the centre of the incident.

Paul Marinko, head of the Dominican Mining Corporation known as Cormidom, said Canada played a critical role in transporting equipment that was ultimately used to help liberate the men from the Cerro de Maimón operation.

The miners’ ordeal saw Gregores Mendez and Carlos Yepez spend 10 days trapped 31 metres under the surface from July 31 to Aug. 9.

Marinko said domestic support for the rescue effort was strong, with Dominican President Luis Abinader calling every day to check in on the status of the rescue and various government departments providing direct support on the ground.

But he said experts from the U.S., Canada and the U.K. were also involved, and the Canadian government played a key role in obtaining and providing equipment for the rescue operation.

“It was heartwarming to actually see that response,” Marinko said in a Zoom interview.

Marinko said the company swung into action immediately after the “fall of ground” that left the miners confined in a 400-square-meter space. Within 15 hours of the incident, he said crews involved in the rescue had established a hole through which they delivered water, food, walkie-talkies, entertainment and a light source.

Nonetheless, Marinko said the experience would have been terrifying for the two men.

The miners eventually reported rising water levels that eventually reached waist level, but Marinko says they were able to pump the water out at a speed six times the rate of the inflow.

“You could imagine being trapped, seeing rising water and knowing that rescue is not going to be quick. So they went through some terrifying moments,” he said.

After assessing what equipment would be needed to safely rescue the miners, Marinko said the company began trying to track it down abroad.

Machines Rogers International, a mining company based in Val D’Or, Que. agreed to lend the necessary machinery to Cormidom and the Dominican government got in touch with Ottawa for assistance in transporting the gear.

“The problem for us was to transport … was just beyond our resources, we didn’t have the capacity to do that,” Marinko said.

The Royal Canadian Air Force transported the mining excavation system to the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo on Aug. 7. Two days later, the miners were rescued with assistance from a team sent over by Machines Rogers International.

Defence Minister Anita Anand issued a tweet on Tuesday thanking the Royal Canadian Air Force personnel involved in the mission.

“To our aviators – you make Canadians proud, and we are grateful for your service,” Anand wrote.

Marinko said the two miners were released from hospital on Thursday and are now with their families.

The rescue comes after the collapse of a coal mine in Mexico that left 15 miners trapped, with five escaping with injuries. Rescue divers’ first attempts to reach the remaining 10 miners failed, Mexican authorities said on Thursday.

“I think of those poor men trapped in Mexico,” Marinko said. “We were lucky.”

The cause of the incident at Cerro de Maimón is currently under investigation and the underground mine is temporarily closed.

“When the authorities and more importantly, when I’m satisfied it’s safe, we’ll go back in,” Marinko said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.

 

Nojoud Al Mallees, The Canadian Press

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One dead & 40 injured at Medusa Festival in Spain

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Cullera, Spain- One person has been confirmed dead, a 22-year-old male, and 40 injured after the main entrance and the main stage of the Medusa Festival collapsed in the wee hours of Saturday.

According to Spain‘s paramilitary police unit, the stage collapsed due to a strong gust of wind which had reached more than 51mph (82kmh).

In addition, the Valencia section of Spain’s national weather service (AEMET) said that warm breezes were producing very strong gusts of wind and abrupt increases in temperature. At one point the temperature was a blistering 40.5 Celsius (104.9 degrees Fahrenheit) at the Alicante-Elche airport, just south of the concert site.

Videos posted on social media early Saturday showed strong winds and structures falling from the stage as large crowds of festival attendees were evacuated. The videos also showed the moment when the venue’s structures, including the main stage, fell on people in the front rows.

“A terrible accident that shocks all of us. I want to extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of the young man who died early this morning at the Medusa Festival in Cullera,” said Ximo Puig, president of the Valencia regional government.

Meanwhile, organizers of the festival, which was supposed to see a total of 320 000 attendees over three days from Friday through Sunday, said they are completely devastated and dismayed at what happened this morning and said they had suspended the festival.

“At around four in the morning, unexpected and violent strong winds destroyed certain areas of the festival, forcing management to make the immediate decision to vacate the concert area to guarantee the safety of attendees, workers and artists.

Unfortunately, the devastating meteorological phenomenon led some structures to cause unexpected consequences. All our support and affection for those affected in these difficult and sad times.

Due to inclement weather occurring in the early hours of Aug. 13, 2022, and with the aim of guaranteeing the security of the concert-goers, workers and artists gathered at the Medusa Festival, the festival organization suspends its activity for the time being.

The festival site is cleared as a preventative measure with the aim of facilitating the work of the emergency and security services at the Medusa Festival,” said the organizers in a statement.

There were about 50 000 people at the festival site when the incident happened, and it took 40 minutes to evacuate people from the site.

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Quebec towns protecting right to serve residents in English after new language law

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MONTREAL — Quebec’s new language law has dozens of municipalities in the province shoring up their bilingual status, with few considering giving up the right to serve their citizens in both English and French.

Almost 90 cities, towns or boroughs in Quebec are considered officially bilingual, a designation allowing them to offer services, post signage and mail communications in the country’s two official languages. Jurisdictions without this status must communicate only in French, with few exceptions.

Bill 96, the new language law that came into effect June 1, proposes that a municipality’s bilingual status be revoked in places where fewer than 50 per cent of citizens have English as a mother tongue. However, a bilingual town or city can avoid losing its status by passing a resolution within 120 days of receiving notice from the province.

Scott Pearce, the mayor of the township of Gore, north of Montreal, said choosing to remain bilingual was an easy decision for his town of just over 1,700 people.

“We were founded here by the Irish in the 1800s, so it’s part of our history — speaking English and English culture,” he said in a recent interview.

While the percentage of residents in Gore who speak English as a mother tongue has dropped from over 50 per cent to around 20 per cent, he said maintaining bilingualism is popular among French-speaking and English-speaking citizens alike.

Language, he said, “has never been an issue here.”

Pearce, who represents bilingual municipalities at the province’s federation of towns and cities — Fédération Québécoise des municipalités — said most of the mayors he’s spoken with plan on passing similar resolutions, or have already done so.

“I talked to mayors from all over the province, and they’re really proud of the bilingual status and how their communities — English and French — get along,” he said.

While Bill 96 has been criticized by groups representing English-speakers, Pearce, who is married to a sitting legislature member, says he believes that in this instance, the governing party has done the towns a favour by giving them an easy way to formalize their status.

The Canadian Press reached out to all the bilingual municipalities and boroughs to ask them whether they have passed, or plan to pass, a resolution to keep their status. Of more than two dozen that responded, all but three said they intended to remain bilingual. The others said they were still studying the law or declined to comment. None said they planned to give up being considered officially bilingual.

A spokesperson for the province’s language office, the Office québécois de la langue française, said in an email that notices would be sent “shortly” to towns that no longer meet the 50 per cent threshold.

While they can offer services in English, “a municipality recognized as bilingual must nevertheless ensure that its services to the public are available in the official language of Quebec, French,” Nicolas Trudel wrote in an email.

The official purpose of Bill 96 is to affirm that French is Quebec’s only official language and “the common language of the Québec nation.” But four mayors who spoke to The Canadian Press by phone, as well as many of those who responded by email, all said the decision to operate in two languages was unanimous among city council and raised little to no debate among citizens.

“I believe the French language is already protected, and well protected,” said Richard Burcombe, the mayor of Town of Brome Lake, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. “They don’t need to eliminate services to the English population to protect the French language.”

He said his town, which falls below the 50 per cent threshold, hasn’t yet passed a resolution but will do so once it receives a notice.

Kirkland, a city in the Montreal area, described bilingualism as a “core value in all aspects of municipal life,” while Ayer’s Cliff, Que., in the Eastern Townships, said it was “essential to the character of the municipality and as testimony to the historical presence of the two communities, anglophone and francophone.”

Otterburn Park, a town 40 kilometres east of Montreal, said it wanted to keep its bilingual status despite only 5.7 per cent of its population reporting English as a mother tongue in the last census.

“The English-speaking population is largely made up of seniors,” Mayor Mélanie Villeneuve wrote in an email.

“With a view to providing quality service, particularly to more vulnerable groups of people, we believe it is important to be able to communicate with English-speaking citizens in the language that works for them.”

Several of the mayors expressed hope that the choice to remain bilingual would be accepted as permanent and that they wouldn’t have to pass new resolutions every time there’s a census.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 14, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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