Taxing foreign home buyers

Foreign nationals who buy real estate in Metro Vancouver would pay an additional property transfer tax of 15 per cent under legislation introduced Monday by the British Columbia government.

Finance Minister Mike de Jong unveiled the tax as part of legislation aimed at addressing low vacancy rates and high real estate prices in southern B.C.

"For example, the additional tax on the purchase of a home selling for $2 million to a foreign national will amount to an additional $300,000," de Jong told members of the legislature.

The additional tax will take effect Aug. 2 and apply to foreign buyers registering the purchase of residential homes in Metro Vancouver, excluding treaty lands in the Tsawwassen First Nation.

All purchasers in the province currently pay a one per cent tax on the first $200,000 of their purchase, two per cent on the remaining value up to $2 million and three per cent on the portion above that.

"The amendments include anti-avoidance rules designed to capture transactions that are structured specifically to avoid the additional tax," de Jong said.

The money from the additional tax would be used to fund housing, rental and support programs, the minister said.

De Jong said recent government housing data indicate foreign nationals spent more than $1 billion on B.C. property between June 10 and July 14, with 86 per cent on purchases in the Lower Mainland area.

After the bill was introduced, Premier Christy Clark said her government is focused on increasing the housing supply, protecting buyers and sellers and boosting the rental market.

"Today we are taking measures to ensure home ownership remains within reach of the middle class," she said.

The legislation would also enable the City of Vancouver to amend its community charter in order to levy a vacancy tax.

In May, de Jong said he wasn't in favour of a tax on foreign investment, saying he worried it would send the wrong message to Asia-Pacific investors.

Cabbie sex assaults probed

Halifax police have released new details about their investigation into a string of alleged sexual assaults by cab drivers, confirming there have been a dozen similar cases in the past five years.

Of the 12 cases, five were reported to police in the past three months alone, prompting a heated debate over taxi safety.

Charges have been laid in five cases, but three cases have been closed due to lack of what police call "solvability." Of the remaining four cases, three are still under investigation and one was closed at the request of the victim.

In each case, police say the suspects were described as men, in most cases with dark hair and between the ages 30 and 50, and they commonly spoke with an accent.

Police confirmed that in every case except one, the women involved were between the ages of 19 and 25, most were travelling in the front seat and the alleged attacks happened when there was only one passenger in the car.

"In many of the incidents, the (accused) insisted on no payment for the drive," police said in a statement, adding that the women were typically picked up at night in the downtown core during the spring and summer months.

"The offenders often asked personal questions and attempted to flatter the victim."

In a majority of the cases, the alleged sexual assaults involved touching in sexual manner and forcible kissing, police said.

Police also issued a series of safety tips:

— Call a taxi instead of hailing one to ensure there is a record of your request.

— Make a note or take a photo of the taxi company name and roof light number.

— Make sure the cab has a prominently displayed licence, driver photo and meter.

— Sit in the back seat on the passenger side of the taxi, the farthest position from the driver and curb-side in the event you need to exit quickly.

— Have your cellphone handy.

"If you ever feel uncomfortable while in a taxi, get out and call 9-1-1 immediately," the statement said.

There were two cases involving alleged sexual assaults in taxis in 2012, one in 2013, one in 2014, three in 2015 and five to date in 2016, police said.

From Russia, with Libs

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion sat down Monday with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov — the first meeting of its kind in years.

The 30-minute discussion took place in the tiny country of Laos on the margins of an annual meeting of Southeast Asian nations. It represented the most tangible move yet by the Liberal government to thaw relations with Moscow.

Contacts between the two countries had been largely limited to discussions between bureaucrats since Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014. The previous Conservative government took a harder line than even the U.S., steadfastly refusing to meet with anyone from the Kremlin until Russia left Crimea.

Dion spokesman Joseph Pickerill said the Dion raised "frank" concerns about Russia's involvement in Ukraine and Syria, as well as its current standoff with NATO in eastern Europe.

But the ministers also talked about the potential for co-operation in the Arctic, space and counter-terrorism — issues on which the Russians have been keen to focus as they have attempted to change the channel away from Ukraine.

The Liberals promised during last year's election campaign to re-engage with Russia after the previous Conservative government had cut nearly all ties. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been facing calls to keep up the pressure.

The Liberal government agreed earlier this month to organize a 1,000-strong NATO battle group in Latvia whose mission is to dissuade neighbouring Russia from flexing its muscles in the Baltic state. The U.S., United Kingdom and Germany are organizing similar forces in Poland, Estonia and Lithuania.

Earlier this month, Dion called it "terribly unfortunate" that Canada had to send military forces to Latvia. But he also said it was only a matter of time before he sat down at the table with Lavrov.

Sources say a meeting between Dion and Lavrov had been in the works for some time, and that this week's Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Laos was chosen because it represented a neutral site for both parties.


Duffy pay to be clawed back

Sen. Mike Duffy is going to find his Senate paycheque will soon be a little lighter.

The Senate is going to start clawing back Duffy's salary after the Prince Edward Island senator refused to repay almost $17,000 in disputed expense claims before Saturday's deadline.

Duffy also opted against having an outside arbitrator hear arguments in the case.

A spokeswoman for Sen. Leo Housakos, chairman of the upper chamber's internal economy committee, says the Senate must now garnishee Duffy's salary under the dispute resolution policy set up in response to the auditor general's audit.

Jacqui Delaney says the details of how much will be clawed back, and for how long, are still being worked out.

The Senate previously withheld a percentage of Sen. Patrick Brazeau's salary until the upper chamber recouped about $49,000 in disputed housing expenses.

Duffy was not immediately available for comment Monday.

The Senate decided last month that it wanted the money back after taking a second look at seven claims totalling $16,995. Senate officials said the action came about because of new information that "had surfaced in the public domain" during Duffy's criminal trial.

The claims range from $10,000 for a personal trainer to $8 for personal photos.

Duffy's lawyer told the Senate that the one-time Conservative senator's spending was given the all-clear by an Ontario Court judge earlier this year when Duffy was acquitted of 31 criminal charges.

Lawyer Donald Bayne also said Duffy didn't want to take part in the arbitration process because he does not want to "legitimize" a process that is "an improper collateral attack" on the judge's verdict.

Now easier to give blood

Thousands more people may now be eligible to donate blood, thanks to recent changes to a number of Canadian Blood Services policies.

Each year, about 100,000 new blood donors are needed to support the national blood supply.

The following notable changes are now in effect across the country:

  • The upper age limit for donating has been eliminated. Further, donors over the age of 71 no longer need to have their physician fill out an assessment form before donating blood.
  • Donors who have a history of most cancers (such as breast cancer, thyroid cancer, and prostate cancer) will now be eligible to donate if they have been cancer free for five years. This change does not apply to those with a history of hematological cancers (such as lymphomas, leukemia or melanoma).
  • Donors who have recently received most vaccines, such as a flu shot, will no longer need to wait two days before donating blood.
  • Donors who were born in or lived in some African countries (Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, and Nigeria) are now eligible to donate blood. HIV testing performed on blood donors can now detect HIV strains found in these countries. 
  • Geographic deferrals affecting Western Europe have been revised based on scientific evidence that indicates the risk of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), or mad cow disease, has decreased since January 2008. Donors who spent five years or more in Western Europe since 1980 are deferred from donating blood, but we are now including an end date of 2007. Donors who reached the five year limit in Western Europe after 2007 will now be eligible to donate blood.

“We estimate that about 3,000 people who try to donate each year but cannot will now be eligible to donate due to these changes," said Dr. Mindy Goldman, medical director of donor and clinical services with CBS.

The complete policy changes are available here.

Donors who were turned away in the past due to the former restrictions but would like to return are invited to visit a clinic or call 1-888-2DONATE to book an appointment. Canadian Blood Services is currently updating its digital systems and online bookings are temporarily unavailable for some of these donors.

New donors who have never been screened before are invited to book an appointment online, call 1-888-2DONATE, or visit a clinic.

Toddler on street reunited

A toddler who walked out of her family's Toronto home in the middle of the night has been reunited with her parents.

Police say a three-year-old girl got dressed, put on her rain boots, unlocked the door and walked to a nearby grocery store while her parents slept.

They say they received a call from staff at a Sobey's store in downtown Toronto around 2:30 a.m. Monday and spotted the child wandering in the parking lot.

Const. Craig Brister says officers took the girl to the nearby division, where she watched cartoons and ate a snack.

He says her parents called police when they woke up a few hours later after realizing she was missing.

Brister says charges won't be laid, but reminds parents to child-proof their doors.

Water pipe to skirt oil spill

Provincial officials in Saskatchewan say a riverside city whose water supply is threatened by an oil pipeline spill is building a hose, dozens of kilometres long, to draw water from another river.

Sam Ferris with Saskatchewan's water security agency said Prince Albert is constructing a line with irrigation pipe along the ground to a spot on the South Saskatchewan River near the Muskoday First Nation, between 20 and 30 kilometres away.

The city of more than 35,000 people has been preparing to shut its regular water intakes on the North Saskatchewan River following a spill upstream of between 200,000 and 250,000 litres of crude oil and other material at a Husky Energy Pipeline near Maidstone, Sask.

Prince Albert has a few days worth of water stored in reservoirs and has also been preparing to treat water from its stormwater retention ponds while oil from Thursday's spill flows past.

Wes Kotyk with Saskatchewan's environmental protection branch said officials don't know how long that could take, since the plume of the spill has broken up and slicks can get hung up on bends and take time to move along the river.

North Battleford, which is further upstream on the river, shut off its water supply intakes on Friday and is now relying on a limited supply from wells.

"It might have to serve for some time. We don't know how long the event will endure," Ferris said during a media conference Sunday about the water pipeline Prince Albert is building.

"It won't work in Saskatchewan in the winter time, I can guarantee you that."

"I hope this is over well before then."

Prince Albert's city manager, Jim Toye, said the water line will be functioning later this week and will utilize 30 pumps, each with 400 horsepower.

"We understand the water situation could be as long as two months," Toye said Sunday.

North Battleford has imposed strict water-use restrictions and Toye said Prince Albert's council will pass its own restrictions on Monday.

The oil pipeline that leaked runs from Husky's heavy oil operations to its facilities in Lloydminster and carries oil mixed with a lighter hydrocarbon, called a diluent, that's added to ease the flow.

Kotyk said Sunday that three birds are confirmed to have been affected by the spill. He said Husky has established a program for recovery with the Wildlife Rehabilitation Society of Saskatchewan.

Jan Shadick of Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation said three birds were brought to them on Saturday coated in oil. She said one died and the other two are recovering.

"For me, part of the concern, is that as the oil moves, we're going to end up finding more oiled wildlife downstream. So the potential for this to continue is certainly present," Shadick told CJWW radio.

Bert West with the petroleum and natural gas branch of the province's economy ministry said Saturday there's no word yet on what caused the leak or the size of the breach.

Containment booms to capture the oil were set at five locations downstream from the spill, Kotyk said.

Kotyk said hospitals in North Battleford and Prince Albert are preparing to truck in water to replenish their own reservoirs which are typically only for emergency use.

The province also advises people to avoid recreational contact with the water where the oil plume has passed, and Kotyk said fishing in the affected parts of the river is not advisable.

Paralympian's bike stolen

A paralympic cyclist whose two racing bicycles were stolen in Quebec City just weeks before the Rio Olympics said on Sunday she's overwhelmed by the support she's received.

Marie-Eve Croteau added that police believe they may have found one of the two bicycles, but she won't be able to confirm it's hers until Monday.

The 37-year-old athlete said she thought her trip to Rio was in doubt after she discovered the theft on Friday.

"The breath just went out of me," she said. "Everything was going through my head: the games, my bike, financially how will I do it, how will I replace them?" she told the Canadian Press.

One of the bikes is a red, white and blue model used for time trials and the other is a red, black and white road racing bike.

Both have modified frames with two back wheels and are specially made for Croteau, who says she has a handicap that affects mostly her left side.

Surveillance footage Croteau posted online showed two men entering the underground garage of her condo building Monday night.

They could be seen leaving with the bicycles moments later.

Croteau took to social media on Friday to ask for help retrieving her property, and the response was dramatic.

She said she was overwhelmed by the flood of "unimaginable" messages of solidarity and offers of financial help she received from both businesses and the public.

"I just want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart. I lack the words to describe it," she said.

The owner of the company that built her bicycles, Louis Garneau, has offered to replace them in time for the games, meaning she can make her paralympic debut in September as planned.

The veteran national para-cycling team member said the news was "like a weight lifting off my shoulder."

"(Competing in the Olympics) has been my dream from childhood, and in the blink of an eye it just went 'poof, your dream is finished,'" she said. "And 24 hours later, it came back."

Croteau was named to the Canadian team for the 2012 games in London but was unable to compete due to a concussion.

Now she says she'll be able to concentrate on her training until she leaves for Rio on Sept. 5.

Safe after chopper crash

A search for a helicopter that began when an emergency beacon began transmitting has ended well with all three people on board being found safe on an Alberta mountain.

RCMP Sgt. Jack Poitras says the helicopter made a hard landing in a remote area above the tree line near Ice Lake west of Sundre on Sunday afternoon.

Poitras says a plane flying over the area after the beacon was activated spotted the helicopter and saw three people waving.

He says the helicopter was privately owned.

Efforts were underway to bring them down, but Poitras didn't have details.

Bring back the nuts

A Canadian Transportation Agency study says air travellers with severe allergies to peanuts, nuts or sesame seeds face little risk from other people on a plane who may be eating snacks containing those products.

The probe, which was launched following a directive by former transport minister Lisa Raitt, consulted experts on the risk of allergic reactions due to inhalation or skin contact on aircraft with 30 or more seats on domestic and international flights.

Its findings, recently posted to the agency's website, concluded there was "little to no evidence of a risk of allergic reactions" from touching or breathing in nut particles.

"Only accidental ingestion posed a risk of a serious allergic reaction," a summary of the findings states.

The report recommends airlines continue following mitigation measures, such as buffer zones for allergic passengers and announcements to nearby seatmates, similar to ones that were part of a directive the agency issued to Air Canada in 2011 following complaints from two customers.

But the study's recommendations would actually shrink the buffer zone in economy class from a row on either side of the passenger to just the row where the allergic passenger is seated.

Rhonda Nugent, whose daughter has a severe peanut allergy and was one of the original complainants, wants airlines to make a general announcement to the whole plane that an allergic passenger is on board. She also wants passengers to refrain from eating foods containing nuts during the flight.

Nugent says her now 16-year-old daughter always avoided the bathroom when they flew because they didn't want to risk skin contact with nuts.

"If somebody eats peanuts, and we all know how unclean people are, and they go to the bathroom and they touch every seat on the way down, and then she goes behind them and then she comes back and puts her hand in her mouth, she could easily have an anaphylactic shock," said Nugent, speaking from Conception Bay South, N.L.

The report only recommends seatmates within a buffer zone should be asked to refrain from eating peanuts, nuts or sesame seeds.

Other recommendations suggest passengers with concerns about allergic reactions be allowed to wipe down their seats themselves, and that flight crews be trained to recognize an allergic reaction.

Air Canada says on its website that it will not make a general announcement to all passengers about buffer zones for allergic travellers. Only passengers within the zone will be informed, the airline's policy states.

"We believe this is the most effective way to provide a safe environment for our customers with allergies and still reasonably balance the diverse needs of our 41 million global customers we transport each year," Air Canada spokeswoman Angela Mah said in an email.

Westjet says on its website that it makes a cabin-wide announcement requesting passengers not open or consume any products containing nuts or nut products during the flight if they have an allergic passenger on board.

The transportation agency says the report will be used for advice on future cases and new policies. The agency will also review its previous directives on accommodating passengers with severe nut allergies.

Nugent says it's terrifying to know your child's life could be at risk in the air and she can't understand why the transportation agency won't require airlines to ask passengers to not eat nuts.

"I can assure you, if one of those people making that decision had a child with an allergy such as peanuts, which is deadly, they would not make that decision," she said.

Summer camp for refugees

It's a familiar chant belted out at summer camps across the continent, but the call-and-response uttered at one Toronto day camp on a sticky July day is hesitant, even shy.

"I don't know what you've been told!" an eager counsellor bellows in sing-song fashion at a group of young Syrian refugees.

"H.appi Campers cheers the most," her wary charges mumble back in broken English.

It takes a moment for the middle-schoolers to grasp this peculiar game, but three tries later, they gel into a more-or-less unified chorus.

"Five! Six! Seven! Eight! Weeeeeeee're great!" they holler, letting loose with exuberant cheers.

The fun and games at this day camp are more than just a rite of passage for these new Canadians, they're a key step in easing their transition into a strange country with unfamiliar customs.

H.appi Camper founder Mazen El-Baba says he tried to design a getaway that would offer the staples of any typical North American summer camp: drama, arts and crafts, and sports.

But it would also offer much-needed lessons tailored to the specific needs of young Syrian refugees: intensive literacy classes, a crash course in Canadian cultural norms, and self-esteem exercises.

That last goal is possibly the most challenging, given the fact that most of these war-weary children — 75 in all, ranging in age from five to 15 — have been through horrific traumas.

El-Baba says it's hard to know exactly how these kids are suffering because they have not been formally diagnosed with behavioural or mental-health issues. But they clearly bear the scars.

When confronted with something they've done wrong, it's not uncommon to hear a frustrated camper say, "I should go kill myself" or "I should go stab myself or shoot myself," says El-Baba.

"I'm not sure if they actually understand it because you're hearing that from an eight-year-old, you're hearing that from a nine-year-old," he adds.

"An eight-year-old and nine-year-old saying that, 'I want to stab myself,' it's really hard to hear that. It's like, 'Wow, OK, let's talk more about it.' That's some of the things we see."

Activities were designed with the help of mental-health professionals, family doctors, social workers and crisis-intervention professionals. Every week, each counsellor meets with three mental-health experts to discuss behavioural problems they've observed.

But this is not a counselling camp, stresses El-Baba. The biggest goal is to let these kids be kids, and have the opportunity to let loose and have fun.

Soft-spoken 11-year-old Hanin Jaamour says she's learning a lot, and that's easing some of her anxiety about attending school in the fall.

She and her family landed in Toronto in February, and she went to school for three months. But she didn't like it at all.

"Everything is different," she says in Arabic, with El-Baba translating.

She's excited about entering Grade 6, but she's also scared.

"This year it's going to be harder for English because we're going to be learning more things," she frets.

"Here it's a very diverse culture, you have many people coming from various different countries and backgrounds and religions. Back home we don't have the mixing of boys and girls and this is completely new, which is amazing."

Camp supervisor Windemere Jarvis, the only counsellor who doesn't speak Arabic, says she's impressed by how eager the kids are to learn new customs.

They've opened their hearts and bared their souls everyday, she says, pointing to painful anecdotes about bombings, destroyed homes, and grief that can send her home "crying all night."

"I was talking to a friend of mine and they said, 'You know what, I think the most important thing is when you hear these stories is not to cry because that is their reality. Just let them talk and let them know that what happened to them was OK and that they're here now and we want them to be super happy here and feel like this is safe,'" says Jarvis.

The athletic 21-year-old has taken a keen interest in boosting self-esteem among the girls, noting that a clear gender bias towards the boys "is very visible."

"The other day we lined them up and immediately all the boys went to the front of the line and the girls went behind them," she notes.

She worries about how the boys might be disciplined for such behaviour at a Toronto school unfamiliar with Syrian culture.

"It's not their fault," she says, envisioning repeated trips to the principal's office for something they don't understand.

Jarvis says she tries to introduce new ideas by showing them girls can do anything and by recognizing and praising female achievements.

"I think that's something they're a little hesitant toward but the're not resistant," she says.

"And I think that they definitely — the girls especially — want to be empowered and they want to change. Because (after) coming here (to Canada), that's what's going to happen to them."

It hasn't been easy. Teaching even basic classroom etiquette has been a challenge, admits El-Baba.

Kids at this camp will simply slip out of the room if they need to use the bathroom. Or they'll try to open the emergency exit while the school bus is moving.

"It's not like they don't want to obey the rules, it's because they just don't quite understand it," says El-Baba.

"They haven't had that same structure back home and now this is all new to them where they're organized into groups and they have to follow a certain schedule, they have to go to the washroom at a certain time."

At H.appi Camp, there are classes on leadership, and how to speak confidently in a group. There are discussions about diversity and human rights, the environment, and volunteerism.

Other courses focus on how to resolve conflict, how to work in a team, and how to build friendships and trust.

Admission is free but the waiting list is 200-kids long.

El-Baba says the month-long program is largely funded through a $36,000 federal grant. Private donations help pay for buses and transportation, a couple of food banks have supplied drinks and snacks, and Canadian Tire has donated sporting equipment.

But art supplies dwindled after just the first week, and El-Baba says they're running out of cash.

He hopes to generate more money to fund a followup program once school starts. That project would see counsellors visit each family weekly to check up on how the kids are faring academically, socially, and psychologically.

El-Baba is optimistic about their futures.

"I was shocked and amazed by how resilient they are," he says, rattling off the stories he's heard that end with death or violence.

"Hopefully by the end of this month they'll have an idea there's other things in the world that they still haven't learnt or experienced that are good."


Passengers left stranded

Air Canada confirmed Sunday that the passengers stranded in Manchester for two days are now en route to Toronto.

The airline said it will be in touch with the affected customers for a full refund.

The flight to Toronto was scheduled to leave Friday, but Air Canada had said as many as 197 passengers would have to wait until Sunday before taking off.

"We apologize for the extended delay: this does not meet our own standards and we are sorry we've let our customers down," spokeswoman Isabelle Arthur said in an email to The Canadian Press.

Canada's largest airline was taking heat from the stranded passengers over the weekend.

One person tweeted "horrendous experience. Stuck in Manchester for 2 days and no one has been in contact to tell us what's going on."

Another tweet to Air Canada said "A second night in Manchester ... due to more flight delays. AirCanada this is not how to treat your passengers."

Manchester residents Melanie Best and her husband had booked the flight with plans to attend a wedding celebration in Toronto.

In an email to The Canadian Press late Saturday night, a frustrated Best described their long and trying ordeal.

She said they boarded the plane Friday after a two-hour delay, then sat on the tarmac for the next five hours while mechanics tried unsuccessfully to fix a hydraulic pump. After the flight was finally cancelled the passengers were put up in a hotel and instructed to return to the airport the following day.

However, after checking in again Saturday morning, Best said repeated delays kept she and the other passengers stuck in the airport lounge until the early evening."

Come 6 p.m. passengers were getting really stressed and angry and all gathering by customer information demanding more information," she said.

According to Best, the passengers were told that the plane had finally been repaired and would be leaving at 8 p.m.

But after departure time came and went, the passengers were then informed the flight had once again — this time due to flight crew issues — been cancelled, and rescheduled for Sunday around noon.

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