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Canada's new defence chief

A former combat commander who has led operations at home and overseas has been appointed to the country's top military job.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Defence Minister Jason Kenney say Lt.-Gen. Jonathan Vance will be the next chief of defence staff, replacing the soon-to-retire Gen. Tom Lawson.

Harper says Vance takes over at an important time, when the country is part of a coalition fighting extremists in Iraq and Syria and as measures are being taken to reassure eastern European allies in the face of Russian aggression.

"I'm sure Gen. Vance will do a tremendous job for this vital national institution," said the prime minister, who noted that the transition will not take place for a couple of months.

Vance twice led the army’s task force in Kandahar during the Afghan war.

Lawson, a former fighter pilot, announced earlier this year that he would step down after two-and-a-half years in the job.

Vance currently serves as the country’s joint operations commander and has been the face of high-profile public briefings on the combat mission against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

Aside from twice being task force commander in Kandahar – in 2009 and again in 2010 – Vance has also served in other key posts, including head of the strategic joint staff, the military’s nerve centre in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press




Everyone ordered out

Kashechewan First Nation Chief has now ordered the complete evacuation of his flood threatened town on the western shore of James Bay.

More than 1,400 residents had already been evacuated by Friday, and a statement issued by Kashechewan First Nation Communications says the remaining 400 or so will be moved out by tomorrow.

The initial evacuation plan had called for 15 to 20 residents to remain behind to keep an eye on the town's critical infrastructure.

But with the Albany River rising rapidly, and conditions becoming increasingly perilous, Chief Stephen has decided to move everyone out — even pets.

The evacuees are being relocated in a number of communities including Kapuskasing, Smooth Rock Falls, Wawa, Greenstone and Cornwall in eastern Ontario.

This is the fourth straight year the First Nation has had to evacuate, and Chief Stephen says the time has come to move the community to a new permanent location on higher ground.

The Canadian Press


Clock ticks on new law

Two months after Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to consult widely on doctor-assisted dying, the federal government has yet to reveal how it intends to canvass Canadians' views on the emotional issue — much less how it intends to legislate on the subject.

And time is running out.

When the Supreme Court struck down the prohibition on physician-assisted dying last February, it gave the federal government 12 months to craft a new law that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help to end their lives.

With Parliament scheduled to sit just six more weeks before an extended break for the summer and a fall election, the government has only three or four months in which to introduce, debate and pass a new law.

Time is so short that Conservative MP Steven Fletcher suspects the most likely upshot is there will be no new federal law, leaving provinces to fill the vacuum with a patchwork of laws, within the parameters of the top court's ruling.

"It's quite possible there will be no federal law," Fletcher said in an interview.

Indeed, Fletcher, who has championed legalization of medically assisted dying, believes it's already too late to meet the court-imposed deadline.

"I don't see where there's the time to pass legislation between now and Feb. 6 that would deal with this issue. I just don't see how it can be done."

The government has already ruled out asking the court for an extension.

Harper's Conservatives voted two months ago against a Liberal motion that called for creation of a special, multi-party committee that would consult and report back to Parliament by mid-summer with a proposed framework for a new law.

At the time, the government promised that it would launch its own consultation process.

Bob Dechert, parliamentary secretary to the health minister, argued that consultation by a committee wouldn't be broad enough to do justice to such a complex, explosive issue.

"In fact, we are suggesting tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of Canadians need to be heard on this issue," he said, promising that "meaningful consultations" via the Internet, public meetings and other means would be launched "very soon."

Not another word has been heard about the consultation since.

Asked last week about the deafening silence, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Peter MacKay said: "We recognize the tight timeline imposed on us by the Supreme Court and we should be in a position to announce the way forward on this file in due course."

Opposition MPs have speculated that the Conservatives are deliberately dragging their feet, reluctant to take action before the election on a issue that could alienate some of their supporters — including some incumbent Tory MPs who've called on the government to invoke the constitutional notwithstanding clause to override the court's ruling.

Fletcher acknowledged that most politicians "would rather have their eyes scratched out" than deal with the issue of doctor-assisted dying. That explains why, in his view, two private member's bills he introduced on the subject two years ago have gone nowhere fast.

His bills could be used as a starting point for crafting a new law. They'll die on the order paper once an election is called but, even so, Fletcher said he wouldn't want Parliament to rush to pass his legislation before then.

"I want the legislation to be scrutinized," he said, noting that he's "just one guy, a backbench guy," who drafted his bills with the help of the Library of Parliament.

Once the election is out of the way, Fletcher speculated that the government might change its mind about asking the top court for an extension. But it's debatable whether the court would agree to the kind of lengthy extension Fletcher believes is required — he notes that Quebec spent four years crafting its law on doctor-assisted dying.

Should the country wind up with no federal law, Fletcher stressed that wouldn't mean some sort of Wild West "free-for-all" would ensue. The court, he noted, has laid down a host of strict conditions that must be met to legally end one's life with the help of a doctor.

"I would want to be very clear that if that (federal legal void) were to happen and if someone took it upon themselves to end someone's life, not a physician, without consent ... that would be murder."

The Canadian Press


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Highrise fall kills 3 year old

Toronto Police say a three-year-old boy has died from injuries he suffered after falling from a 17th-floor apartment in the city's west-end.

Paramedics responded to a call Sunday afternoon.

Emergency crews took the boy to a local hospital with critical injuries.

Paramedics say the preschooler was in "grave condition" upon being transported from the scene.

Police say the boy died of his injuries upon arrival at the hospital.

They say an investigation into the boy's death is underway.

The Canadian Press


"Prudent" Wi-Fi defeated

A motion calling on Alberta's education ministry to advise school boards to take a "prudent approach" on the use of wireless technology in schools has been soundly defeated.

The motion, which was presented at the annual general meeting of the Alberta School Councils Association on Sunday, also called for an examination of protocols to ensure that students are safe when exposed to Wi-Fi at school.

Association president Brad Vonkeman estimates about 75 per cent of delegates voted against the motion, with many feeling it wasn't important enough for the association to deal with right now.

A report by the Royal Society of Canada last year concluded that Health Canada's guidelines for radiofrequency waves were adequate but could benefit from more research.

Vonkeman says opponents of the motion were concerned there's not enough up-to-date information about the heath effects of wireless technology to support limits on their use.

He says there were also fears that a motion for caution might discourage some Alberta schools that don't have Wi-Fi yet from getting it.

"I think part of the concern is that some of the information is just not there enough yet," Vonkeman said on Sunday after the meeting was over.

"We're just getting Wi-Fi in some of these schools and we don't want our kids not to have access to some of that technology, because it's just starting to help some of the more outlying areas."

Some scientists publicly challenged the Royal Society's report, claiming it failed to give enough weight to research suggesting a link between wireless devices and cancer.

Dr. Anthony Miller, Professor Emeritus at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said the Royal Society panel didn't have the proper time or resources to devote to a thorough review of scientific data.

The motion presented at the Alberta School Councils Association meeting called for the province to distribute copies of a brief produced by the Canadian Teachers' Federation.

That document suggests steps to limit wireless exposure, such as using a wireless access point that is powered on when necessary and turned off at other times. It also calls for an education program regarding the relative safety of Wi-Fi exposure be implemented, and that resources go toward educating the public on ways to avoid potential exposure risks of Wi-Fi access points and devices.

Vonkeman said there was passionate support for the resolution from some delegates but the debate remained civil.

"To be fair, they were not saying, 'We're not saying don't have Wi-Fi.' That was not being said by the people who brought forward the motion. They wanted more responsible use and some research on how damaging it possibly could be," Vonkeman said.

Vonkeman said rather than making it a provincial issue, he expects parents in the province who may look at the Wi-Fi debate and raise it at their local school councils, advisory bodies largely made up of parents.

The Canadian Press


Disaster teams deploy

The Harper government stepped up its response to earthquake-ravaged Nepal on Sunday by dispatching advance elements of its highly specialized disaster assistance response team.

Troops who conduct urban search and rescue and medical personnel are being sent on a transport, which is also carrying humanitarian relief supplies.

They're headed to an undisclosed forward location, likely one in the world-wide network of the Canadian military's supply hubs.

A small team of soldiers who will evaluate how Canada can best assist amid the devastation also departed for the region as the death toll in that country mounted.

Lauren Armstrong, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Jason Kenney, says the initial response team is being sent abroad even before the evaluation is conducted because there are some aspects that are already clear.

She says the decision is "based on what we know is needed right now."

Separately, Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson says the evaluation team will take in the scale of the devastation following magnitude 7.8 earthquake, which has flattened many buildings and left as many as 2,500 people dead.

The Canadian Press


2 homeless men killed

Police in Winnipeg are advising the homeless to use caution in the wake of two homicides.

Police say the bodies of two homeless men were found on Saturday behind buildings in the downtown area.

Investigators say the body of an older man was found early Saturday, while the second body was found on Saturday evening,

Police say they believe the two incidents are related and that one suspect is responsible for both.

They are asking homeless people and those who frequent the streets to avoid secluded areas and, if possible, walk with others.

Police say autopsies and family notifications are pending.

The Canadian Press


Timmies sex assault suit

The billionaire co-founder of Tim Hortons is on the receiving end of a civil suit alleging he sexually assaulted his sometime lover four years ago, The Canadian Press has learned.

The action against Ron Joyce, who claims he's the victim of a "blatant" extortion attempt, predates an unrelated but similar lawsuit filed earlier this year by another woman, who alleges his son, Steven Joyce, assaulted her aboard his megayacht in Florida in an incident he says was consensual.

In mid-2011, according to previously unreported court documents, the woman, now 34, spent the night at Joyce's home in Burlington, Ont., so she could drive him to a doctor's appointment in Barrie, Ont., the following day — apparently because his helicopter had been grounded.

They went to bed separately and she slept alone in the guestroom, they say.

"At 6 a.m., she awoke to find (Joyce) in her bed naked with his hands down her pyjama bottoms with his fingers inserted into her vagina," her unproven claim states. "(She) screamed repeatedly for the defendant to get off of her."

The Toronto woman says she has audio recordings of conversations with him in which he admits to assaulting her, according to her statement of claim.

The claim filed in May 2013, which seeks $7.5 million in damages, alleges the incident left her suffering anxiety attacks and with severe emotional loss.

The Canadian Press does not name alleged victims of sexual assault without their consent.

While both sides agree they continued a relationship afterward, she says in her suit that he subsequently denied the attack and bad-mouthed her to mutual acquaintances.

Joyce, 84, an Order of Canada honouree and one of the country's richest people, admits going into her room that morning but says it was only to awaken her for his doctor's appointment.

"(She) arose from a deep sleep and immediately started screaming and accusing (Joyce) of improper advances," according to his unproven statement of defence from October 2013.

"He did not touch her inappropriately and did not attempt to penetrate her."

Documents say Joyce, a twice married father of seven who has been divorced for decades, met the woman in 2005 when he was 74 and she 24. They developed a relationship.

"The plaintiff and him engaged in consensual sexual activities but on an 'on-call' type of basis," according to his defence statement.

In any event, he maintains that in May 2013, she tried to blackmail him by threatening a lawsuit if he didn't help her financially.

According to his defence statement, she threatened to damage his reputation and report the alleged attack to the police — who declined to lay criminal charges.

"Details of the alleged attack have been fabricated by the plaintiff in an attempt to extort money from the defendant."

While she says they were a committed couple and even talked marriage, he argues she was "almost delusional" about their relationship and "emotionally troubled."

She was younger than his children and some of his grandchildren but referred to him as her boyfriend or fiance even though he made it clear the relationship was casual, he says. She also asked him for money and he extended her a $150,000 loan at one point, he says in his defence.

Two months after the incident, according to Joyce, her lawyer sent him a draft statement of claim related to the alleged attack. To make the matter disappear, he says, she wanted him to forgive the $150,000 loan and pay off another $50,000 to defray her legal expenses.

He agreed, with no admission of liability, as a way to "assist a troubled friend" and considered the matter settled. For that reason alone, Joyce argues, the courts should throw out the suit.

Neither statement of claim nor defence has been tested in court and any trial is likely months if not years away.

The Canadian Press


Campaign turns to fear

With just days to go in the Alberta election campaign, the battle is on for undecided voters between, depending on whom you talk to, the corporate muppets and the union puppets.

And everyone has set their phasers to fear.

As NDP Leader Rachel Notley enjoys a popularity bump coming off Thursday's debate, Premier Jim Prentice and his Progressive Conservatives have switched from attacking the Opposition Wildrose to painting the New Democrats as the party that will turn Alberta into a socialist dystopia.

During the debate, Prentice warned viewers Notley takes direction from "union bosses."

The weekend saw conservatives try to paint Notley as anti-pipeline for suggesting the controversial Northern Gateway project through B.C. isn't likely to succeed in the face of stiff opposition along the route.

It's a reversal of the 2012 Alberta election that saw the Tories under Alison Redford woo progressive fence-sitters by stoking fears that the Wildrose was intolerant towards minorities and didn't believe in climate change.

"This is to appeal to conservatives to keep away the red scare," says Duane Bratt, a political scientist with Mount Royal University in Calgary. "(The Tories) had been dealing with Notley with gloved hands. They have switched strategies mid-campaign. Now it is an NDP-PC battle."

The election was supposed to be a coronation for Prentice and his Tories, who have been running Alberta for more than four decades. But polls have put his party, the NDP and the Wildrose together in a three-way fight with about one in five voters still undecided.

Political observers say with the Tories strong in Calgary and the NDP showing well in Edmonton, Prentice will focus on winning over soft-core Wildrose supporters in Calgary and rural areas to gain the 44 seats needed for a majority on May 5.

Notley has already said she will spend much of the rest of the campaign in Calgary given that she needs a large breakthrough there to win government.

Notley has sought to portray Prentice, a former bank executive, as a boardroom mouthpiece for refusing to hike corporate taxes or oil royalties in his budget, while boosting taxes for virtually everyone else.

Political analyst Bob Murray says Prentice's campaign has been plagued by gaffes, particularly his rollback on the reductions to the charitable tax credit — a plank in his supposedly ironclad budget that was brought down just days before the vote was called.

"Jim Prentice's flip flop ... on the charitable tax credit showed that Jim Prentice is or could be willing to negotiate away principles that he was trying to stand for in order to win government," says Murray, the vice president of research for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

The Tories have tried to portray Prentice on the campaign trail as an Everyman, in a suit jacket but no tie, having a coffee and flipping pancakes.

Murray thinks it's time to get back to the buttoned-down Prentice.

"It's not about holding kittens. It's about who do you actually want managing the economy and running the government," says Murray.

But Chaldeans Mensah, a political scientist with MacEwan University in Edmonton, disagrees.

"He needs to establish himself not as elitist, out-of-touch guy but somebody that can connect to the ordinary concerns of your typical Albertan," says Mensah.

Bratt, Murray, and Mensah agree Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, with his one-track debate message that his party won't raise taxes, has failed to establish himself as a leader with a broad outlook and widespread appeal.

But by Jean making clear he won't join any coalition that raises taxes, Murray says he has sent a broader message on his character.

"It reassured people that he is not willing to negotiate principles away for power."

The Canadian Press


Danger never far away

Tyler Dunlop says his moment of terror came after he passed out in the back parking lot of a bakery in Edson, Alta.

The 30-year-old homeless man says he awoke to the sound of taunts as he was being punched and kicked by four intoxicated youths.

"They ganged up on me and beat me within an inch of my life," he said of the beating in 2011, which he didn't report to police.

Dunlop's brush with violence offers a glimpse of the dangers faced by people living on the streets.

On Tuesday, two men in Nova Scotia will be sentenced after they pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the slaying of Harley Lawrence, a 62-year-old homeless man set on fire as he slept in a bus shelter in Berwick northwest of Halifax.

Daniel Wayne Surette, 27, and Kyle David James Fredericks, 26, admitted in an agreed statement of facts that they doused Lawrence in $10 worth of gas before setting him on fire in October 2013.

Ian Burton says he almost experienced something similar when he was living on the streets in Halifax in the fall of that same year.

Burton, 30, says a youth came at him one night with a bottle of hair spray, flicking a lighter in an attempt to set him alight as he stood on a wharf downtown. He managed to flee but he says the episode served as a reminder of how dangerous it can be to live on the streets.

"The streets have a territory-like feel to it," Burton says.

Statistics Canada does not track murders, assaults and sexual assaults committed against homeless people. But people who live on the street and their advocates say they happen frequently.

"We have a lot of work to do in protecting vulnerable Canadians," says Tim Richter, the president of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, which estimates about 235,000 people lived without shelter last year.

In downtown Toronto, Joe Sallai says he's lived on the streets since he was 16 and has been kicked, hit and spat on. He has seen people hurl bricks at other panhandlers.

"I've seen them get pulled by their hair and stuff just because they were panning," he says. "Somebody wanted to be ignorant and walk by and do it. I've seen it happen quite a few times."

Life descends into a constant state of wariness, Sallai says.

"If not, they'll just catch you off guard and that'd be it."

Stephen Gaetz, director of the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness at York University in Toronto, says alarm bells should be going off for policy-makers and police after a municipal study in Waterloo, Ont., last fall.

Of 281 people surveyed, 41 per cent of them said they were a victim of a violent attack since becoming homeless. Some of the violence involved homeless people beating each other up, he said.

"If that was my neighbourhood or your neighbourhood I kind of feel like there would be troops on the streets," Gaetz said. "We would see that as a crisis."

Christina Murray, who was homeless but now has housing in Halifax, says violence can break out among people who are competing for privacy in shelters and space on sidewalks.

She says she knows firsthand what it's like to be assaulted in such a situation.

"I was at my friend's and she was letting me stay there and another girl came in and she wanted to stay there," says Murray, 57.

"This fight started and she got a hold of my hair and pulled out a garbage pail full of my hair."

Dunlop says each outburst of anger and violence leaves lasting trauma, adding that he feels nausea and fights off panic attacks when a "loud or vexatious" youth approaches him.

"It is a fear behaviour, with people trying to unconsciously eliminate the threat of homelessness in their own lives by harming those who remind them of it," he says.

The Canadian Press


Russia's oil embarrassment

When you live in the middle of the Russian oilpatch, even the fish smell, says an aboriginal leader from that country.

"The fish are smelling like oil and the water in the rivers, it's undrinkable," said Nikolay Rochev, the head of Izvatas, a group that represents the Izhma Komi people who herd reindeer in the forests, wetlands and tundra of a France-sized area in central Russia.

Rochev was in Canada for a meeting of the Arctic Council, the group of eight nations that ring the North Pole that offers the main international forum for regional cooperation. His group belongs to the federation of Russian aboriginals that is one of the council's permanent participants.

On Friday, Russian Environment Minister Sergei Donskoi told the council that his country is determined to develop its Arctic resources according to the highest international standards.

"We are certain that this should happen, but only happen with great care and stewardship for the environment and with the necessary respect for the people who live there."

Asked if he believed that, Rochev's response required no translation: "Nyet."

Russia has no public oil spill inventory. But Greenpeace — which brought Rochev to Canada — used satellite data to count up at least 1,000 spills over the last two years in the Komi region alone. Greenpeace estimates the volume of all Russian spills at six million tonnes per year — six times the volume of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hundreds of kilometres of seismic lines and uncounted wellsites and other infrastructure cut up the landscape. Drilling occurs as close as 100 metres from homes, said Rochev.

Toxic water from the wells is often simply pumped out on the ground. Last year, 150 reindeer died at a single site within minutes after drinking from one such pool.

Abandoned wells are left in muddy, tracked-up disarray for years. Pipelines block reindeer migration routes.

Meanwhile, promises of jobs, schools and other benefits from Russian companies such as Lukoil, Gazprom and Rosneft have failed to materialize. Companies make annual payments to communities that amount to a few dollars per capita.

Public hearings, oversight, transparency? Nyet.

"We are fed up with the situation when oil companies ignore us," Rochev said. "There is no legal leverage to change the system."

In a recent survey, Izvatas found that 70 per cent of the local people were somewhat or heavily dependent on the land for hunting and gathering. As well, the Komi still raise 80,000 reindeer.

But the increasingly tainted land doesn't just hurt the Komi in the pocketbook or larder, said Rochev. In his language, the word for "forest" and "home" are the same.

"It's for spiritual surviving," he said. "It's about keeping their traditional land use."

One municipality is so angry it passed a resolution banning Lukoil from its area even though it has no legal right to do so, said Rochev.

"Politically, it's a very strong signal in Russia, where such steps are impossible to imagine."

But Rochev knows his main weapon is public awareness and publicity.

He's also trying to bring Arctic aboriginals together to speak with one voice on energy development on their lands.

"We have to unite indigenous people from different Arctic states," he said. "The earth is quite small."

The Canadian Press


No winner in Lotto Max

No one has the winning ticket for the $50-million jackpot in Friday night's Lotto Max draw.

The two MaxMillions prizes that were up for grabs also went unclaimed.

The jackpot for next Friday's Lotto Max draw will remain at $50-million, but there will be seven MaxMillions prizes available.

Lotto Max's big prize was last won Mar. 20, when a ticket for the $50-million jackpot was sold in Hamilton, Ontario.

The Canadian Press


Meet the seal whisperer

Daryl Jones, also known as The Seal Guy, laughed when asked what surprises him most about working with harp seals at the only research site of its kind in the world.

"When the seals do what we want," he said before hand-feeding his charges a snack of herring at the Ocean Sciences Centre in Logy Bay, N.L., just north of St. John's.

"They're smart but they're very independent. They're similar to cats."

Jones is an aquarist who starts many days with a "whisker greeting" as the two females, Babette and Deane, bump his hand with their noses.

Tyler is the third seal living in two large outdoor seawater-fed pools with surrounding decks and a smaller tank that looks a bit like a seal bathtub.

"Tyler just looks at you and says: 'You've got no fish for me?' "

Deane is the daughter of Babette — affectionately called Babs — and Tyler. She was named for Deane Renouf, the late marine mammal ecologist who helped found the research program in the 1980s.

Babs, believed to be about 32 years old, was captured in 1989 from the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. She is the globe's first harp seal to give birth in captivity, Jones said.

Tyler, 25, was captured from the same place a year later as a white coat pup. Deane is now 13.

Harp seals in the wild typically have a life span of about 35 years. Mature males and females both reach around 169 centimetres in length and weigh about 130 kilograms.

"Marine mammals in captivity live much longer than their wild counterparts," Jones said.

But it's not known why two other seals, Jamie and Lenny, died at the facility within months of each other in October 2013 and February 2014, he said. Jamie was 19 and Lenny was 13.

"We did a necropsy and could not find any obvious cause."

Jones clearly loves his work and the popular seals that over his 17-year career at the centre have become "like family."

"They are research animals, they're public education animals but you live with them and you care for them and they're part of your life."

It's the only place in the world where harp seals, named for the shapes of their black markings, live in what scientists call an "enrichment environment."

Researchers over the years have studied their behaviour, diet, physiology, even their ability to be shown one object, then find its match when shown multiple options — for a fish reward, of course.

The seals are also local celebrities. They draw about 20,000 visitors a year, especially during the public education program run each summer.

Jacky Peddle watched from the public observation deck on a recent morning as Jones worked with the seals. She has brought her two sons to see them for years.

"The staff really know their stuff and love to share their knowledge with the children."

People always ask Jones about the seals first, he said with a smile.

"Nobody says: 'How are you, Daryl?' They say: 'How are the seals, Daryl?' I used to have a life."

The Canadian Press


Comply or explain, biz told

The federal government is aiming to increase the number of women on corporate boards across Canada by requiring companies to either put a gender diversity policy in place — or explain publicly why they don't have one.

The Harper government's latest budget included proposed changes to the Canada Business Corporations Act requiring all companies listed on Canadian stock exchanges to abide by the "comply-or-explain" disclosure model.

Proposed changes are also in the works to get more women on the boards of other non publicly-traded companies, and to ensure corporate board elections and communications are also brought up to date.

In a global census of female board members released earlier this year, Catalyst, a non-profit research and advocacy organization for women in business, found some countries are doing better than others.

Of the 20 countries surveyed, Norway came in on top with 35.5 per cent of board seats occupied by women, while Japan registered dead last at 3.1 per cent. Canada's 20.8 per cent left it in ninth place, just behind the Netherlands at 21 per cent and ahead of the U.S. and Australia at 19.2 per cent.

Corporations and women's organizations across Canada have been clamouring for years for a framework to help establish more balance.

The Ontario Securities Commission proposed disclosure requirements in July 2013 after that year's federal budget promised to explore ways to encourage gender diversity on corporate boards.

Seven out of 10 provinces and two of three territories in Canada have adopted their own "comply or explain" policies for publicly-traded companies within their jurisdiction. Only British Columbia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Yukon have not.

In its submission to the OSC's public consultations, the Women's Executive Network — Canada's largest organization for women in leadership roles — made it clear that more female representation is good for the country's economic health.

"(This) is not a women's issue. It is an economic and business issue that affects Canada's competitiveness and prosperity," the group said in its submission two years ago.

"It is an issue that needs to be resolved for the sake of our children and our grandchildren so they will live in a country where there is greater equality and prosperity."

Pamela Jeffery, founder of the Women's Executive Network and the Canadian Board Diversity Council, called the 2015 budget measures "a good first step" but said she sees room for further changes down the road.

"I think there should be an annual, fulsome review once 'comply and explain' is in place," she said in an interview.

"If companies aren't complying and they're doing more explaining, then we'll need to push for something stronger but this gives companies a chance to recognize some great potential board candidates.

"We certainly will be watching."

Richard LeBlanc, a professor of corporate governance at Toronto's York University in Toronto and Harvard University in Boston, Mass., pulled no punches in his 2013 submission to the OSC.

"Unless women are biologically unqualified or unfit to be public company directors or senior managers, and do not possess the very minimal qualifications of being over 18, not bankrupt and not insane, the proposition is that woman do possess skill parity with men," LeBlanc wrote at the time.

"It would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise, absent any evidence."

In an interview, LeBlanc said he is happy to see "comply or explain" now make it to the federal level, calling it an "overdue and welcome development."

"It's flexible. It's not quotas and it's not doing nothing - it's the middle ground."

The Canadian Press




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