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$900M misconduct deal

The federal government promised $900 million in compensation Thursday to settle multiple class-action lawsuits lodged on behalf of survivors of sexual harassment, gender discrimination and sexual assault in the military.

The settlement provides $800 million for members of the Canadian Armed Forces and $100 million in compensation for another class of employees of the Department of National Defence.

Over the past few years, participants in several lawsuits alleging similar misconduct and systemic problems in the military agreed to co-operate in their legal actions against the government.

One claim, filed by three former members of the military, said the Armed Forces was "poisoned by a discriminatory and sexualized culture" that encouraged sexual misconduct and was caused by a failure in leadership.

Amy Graham, a primary plaintiff in that case, said the settlement was not just about monetary compensation, and she was most excited for policy changes included in the agreement. Graham was assaulted by a superior while returning from a deployment in Afghanistan.

One of the most exciting things, she said, is a "restorative engagement" program where victims could share their experiences with military leadership.

From there, Graham said, "we can go about getting some real change to decrease the amount of victims."

Reducing the number of victims was the main motivation behind the suit in the first place, Graham said. The problem continues, she noted, citing a recent survey from Statistics Canada that showed little improvement in the rates of sexual misconduct in the military.

Another positive aspect of the settlement was that it could help provide closure for people who were never able to come forward or have their cases investigated, Graham said.

"I'm hoping they can move forward and start the healing process."

In a statement Thursday, deputy defence minister Jody Thomas and the military's top general Jonathan Vance said they acknowledged the "obligation to ensure a safe work environment for all women and men" in the military.

"We hope that the settlement will help bring closure, healing, and acknowledgment to the victims and survivors of sexual assault, harassment, and discrimination," the statement said.

The settlement notes that the government is not admitting liability.

The specifics of the payout will depend on the size of the class in the case — the number of people who come forward saying they were the subject of sexual harassment, gender discrimination or sexual assault.



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Lyme ticks all too common

Lyme disease has settled so deeply into parts of Canada many public health units now just assume if you get bitten by a tick, you should be treated for Lyme disease.

In Ottawa, where more than two-thirds of the ticks tested in some neighbourhoods carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the public-health unit no longer bothers to test ticks at all.

Dr. Vera Etches, the unit's top doctor, said that in 2016 and 2017 more than one-fifth of black-legged ticks tested in Ottawa came back positive for Lyme.

"That's a threshold," she said. "Once you know that more than 20 per cent of the ticks in your area carry Lyme disease bacteria then we don't need to check in on that. That is what we now call an 'at-risk area.' "

That means if a tick is found on a person, and is believed to have been there for more than 24 hours, then the patient should get antibiotics to prevent Lyme infection, even without any testing of the tick. It takes 24 hours before bacteria in the tick's gut move to its salivary glands and are transferred to a person.

After three days, the preventive treatment won't work so patients then wait for symptoms or enough time for antibodies to evolve to show up on a test. It can take more than a month before symptoms appear. They're mostly similar to the effects of influenza, including fever and aches, as well as — usually but not always — a rash. It typically takes just about as long for the immune system's antibodies to show up on a lab test.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause serious illnesses such as meningitis, but Etches is quick to point out that because it is caused by a bacteria, it's treatable with drugs.

"It's a good-news story, actually, that there is antibiotics that work to treat Lyme disease," she said.

Most public-health offices in Canada used to test ticks submitted by the public, as well as conducting their own surveillance by actively seeking out tick populations and testing them. Some, including Ottawa's, have decided now that Lyme is endemic, they should shift to public education and prevention as well as treatment.

Lyme disease was named after the town of Lyme, Conn., where the first case was diagnosed in 1975. It is caused by bacteria that are traded back and forth among black-legged ticks and migratory birds and small mammals like mice and chipmunks. Ticks bite birds and small mammals infected with the bacteria and get infected and then spread the disease when they bite their next victims.

Before 10 years ago, most of the cases diagnosed in Canada were in people bitten by ticks while travelling in the United States. But climate change has led to southern Canada seeing milder winters, which means the ticks that migrate to Canada on the backs of migratory birds are now surviving the winter in larger numbers, spreading the Lyme-causing bacteria more rapidly.

Canada started keeping track of Lyme disease cases in 2009, when 144 cases were confirmed or considered probable. Only 79 of those cases were believed to have been contracted in Canada.

In 2017, more than 1,400 cases were confirmed or probable across the country, more than two-thirds of them in Ontario and most of them believed to have been contracted locally.



Fake NHL autographs

Police have laid charges against a man accused of forging the signature of Edmonton Oilers star Connor McDavid on what are believed to be authentic team jerseys, then selling them to score big profits.

They say a 23-year-old man contacted several people through Facebook in April 2018 and claimed he was employed by either the Oilers Entertainment Group or Edmonton sports memorabilia retailer Pro Am Sports, and was selling autographed McDavid jerseys.

Investigators believe he sold two sweaters bearing phoney signatures to someone for $1,400.

"Connor McDavid himself did confirm through the Oilers organization that (the signature) is not his," Const. Derek Burns, one of the investigators on the case, said Thursday.

It's also alleged that the accused proposed a scheme in which a significant return could be had for investing in the superstar-signed jerseys, which buyers were supposedly lined up to purchase. Police say one person was defrauded of $23,000 earlier this year.

Burns said five people have laid complaints so far about losing money, but added there could be others. Police are asking anyone who has contacted the accused and bought a jersey to come forward.

"Out of the complainants that I've dealt with, it's around $32,000, total," Burns said while holding a jersey with a forged signature that sold for $350 but carried a price sticker of $249.95.

Police have charged Chandra Vinesh Singh — also known as Vinesh Singh or Vinny — with two counts of fraud, another two of forging documents and one of false pretence. He is to appear in court Sept. 23.

They are also reminding people to be cautious when buying merchandise from non-licensed vendors and individuals online, a sentiment echoed by Jack Cookson, president of Pro Am Sports.



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Search flights at crash site

RCMP search teams began flying today to the remote Labrador lake where a float plane carrying seven people crashed on Monday.

Three bodies have been found and four men are still missing, though authorities have suggested there is little hope of finding survivors so many days after the crash, the cause of which is still unknown.

RCMP spokeswoman Cpl. Jolene Garland says multiple air trips carrying personnel and equipment have begun to Mistastin Lake, about 100 kilometres southwest of Nain, where debris from the plane was spotted on Tuesday.

Garland says the plan is to have everyone on site today, but she says divers may not be in the water until Friday.

Pilot Gilles Morin, 61, of Quebec has been identified by his employer as one of the seven men on board.

The RCMP said the two fishing guides on board were from Newfoundland and Labrador and the four fishermen, travelling from Three Rivers Lodge in Labrador to a remote fishing site, were from the United States.



Helping seniors or not?

Internal government documents say that many of the 57,000 seniors the Liberals say they have helped lift out of poverty only moved above the poverty line when the government changed the measure.

The documents shed light on the number of seniors lifted out of poverty by federal boosts to seniors benefits.

A briefing note for the seniors minister, a copy of which was obtained by The Canadian Press, also outlined how life was unaffordable for low-income seniors in most of the country, even with a boost in benefits.

Seniors Minister Filomena Tassi says the additional money in guaranteed income supplement payments has made a material difference in the lives of 900,000 low-income seniors.

Tassi made the comments at a press conference this morning where she touted the Liberals' efforts and took aim at the Conservatives.

The most recent poverty figures from Statistics Canada show that 3.9 per cent of seniors lived in poverty in 2017, a decline from 4.9 per cent in 2016.



Rents unaffordable all over

A minimum-wage worker could afford to rent in only a few neighbourhoods in Canada, suggests a new analysis of the country's rental market that raises questions about a promised federal rent-supplement program.

The report being released Thursday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says someone earning minimum wage would only be able to afford a one-bedroom rental in nine per cent of 795 neighbourhoods in Canadian cities in the study.

The figure drops to three per cent of neighbourhoods when looking at the affordability of two-bedroom units.

The federal Liberals' decade-long national housing strategy includes programs to build more rental housing, hoping a boost in supply will drive down costs.

At the same time, negotiations with provinces are winding along on the design of a new rent supplement for low-income tenants that will average about $2,500 a year.

Study author David Macdonald said the benefit could provide some short-term help while the country awaits new rental units. But he said the benefit may not be enough for low-income renters to close the affordability gap.

The report defines "affordable" rent as 30 per cent or less of a renter's pre-tax income, the same cut-off used by federal officials.

The new portable housing benefit is to roll out next year, which will be tied to a person rather than a unit — meaning the person can carry it with them through the housing market rather than losing the financial help when they move out of a government-supported dwelling. Its design will be tailored to each province.

Spending is set at $4 billion — split among federal and provincial governments — which will require tough decisions about who gets it, how much they can receive, and when it gets taken away.

"You really have to ration it based on some simple criteria, otherwise you blow through your (spending) cap," said Macdonald, a senior economist at the centre.

"Second of all, it's likely not generous enough to substantially reduce the rent for renters, particularly at the lower end of the income spectrum and particularly in big cities like Vancouver, Toronto, Victoria, Calgary, Ottawa."

Roughly one-third of households, or 4.7 million, are renters.



Gas exec denies price fixing

One of the largest fuel companies in British Columbia says there's no retail market more competitive than gasoline in Canada and an executive denies any price setting between competitors.

Ian White, senior vice-president of marketing and innovation for Parkland Fuel Corp., told a three-member panel leading a public inquiry into the province's gas prices on Wednesday that a price difference of one-tenth of a cent per litre can be enough to lose customers.

Parkland Fuel operates gas stations under Chevron and other banners, supplies fuel to airlines and BC Ferries, and owns and operates a refinery in Burnaby.

White said while factors like clean washrooms and convenience stores can influence consumers, they simply won't visit your gas station if you don't have a competitive price for fuel.

Economist Henry Kahwaty, who was hired by Parkland, told the panel that the competitive environment leads retailers into a race to the bottom until they reach unprofitable prices, at which point there is typically a price jump and the process repeats itself.

But he said controlling that process would require a significant level of co-ordination considering almost half of the gas stations in B.C. are run by independent dealers rather than companies.

"This is not evidence of collusion," Kahwaty said.

Representatives from Shell also told the panel the market is competitive, adding the company sets wholesale prices independently from other firms.

Premier John Horgan called the public inquiry in May as prices at the pump reached a record-breaking $1.70 per litre.

At the time, the B.C. Liberals and Alberta government bought advertising blaming Horgan and linking his government's resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and taxes to the surging costs.

Jean-Denis Charlebois, chief economist for the National Energy Board, told the inquiry panel he can't account for an independent report that contradicts the board's claim that the Trans Mountain pipeline is operating at capacity.

Charlebois told the three-member panel that in the first quarter of 2019, the Trans Mountain pipeline was operating at 98 per cent capacity.

The panel asked if he could shed light on a report by economists Robyn Allan and Marc Eliesen, the former president of the Insurance Corporation of B.C. and chief executive of BC Hydro, respectively.

Allan and Eliesen's analysis found the Trans Mountain capacity is 400,000 barrels a day, falling to 300,000 barrels a day only if 20 per cent of the capacity is taken up by heavy oil. But it rarely reaches that threshold of heavy oil and Allan and Eliesen claim there were 97,000 barrels a day of capacity in the first quarter of 2019 that were not used.

Allan and Eliesen are scheduled to appear before the panel on Thursday.

The inquiry is tasked with exploring factors that may be influencing gas and diesel prices in B.C. since 2015 and the mechanisms the province could use to moderate price fluctuations.



More garbage coming home

The Canadian government has asked officials in Cambodia for more information about 11 containers of Canadian garbage the southeast Asian country's environment ministry says ended up there illegally.

Cambodia does not allow imports of any kind of waste, including plastics for recycling.

Yet 83 shipping containers of plastic garbage were discovered in the main Cambodian port of Sihanoukville, with what Cambodian media reports say were fake import documents labelling the containers as recyclables.

The discovery comes less than two weeks after 69 containers of Canadian plastic garbage was returned to Vancouver after having been illegally shipped to the Philippines almost six years ago.

The Cambodia containers arrived in a number of different shipments starting last October and were uncovered during a Cambodian campaign to crackdown on illegal imports.

The country says 11 of the containers originated in Canada and the rest came from the United States.

Bronwen Jervis, a spokeswoman for Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, said the Canadian Embassy in Phnom Penh has asked the Cambodian government for further details.

"We are following this matter closely," she said.

Jervis said the matter underscores why Canada is trying to reduce plastic waste. Last month the federal Liberals began the formal process to ban certain single-use plastics such as straws, takeout containers and cutlery. Canada and the provinces have agreed to work towards eliminating plastic from landfills as soon as 2040.

Unscrupulous garbage dealers popped up around Southeast Asia after China slammed its doors to most foreign plastic recyclables in January 2018, eliminating what had been the world's largest market. Europe and North America were left struggling to find places to send their plastic recyclables and scam artists started offering to take the material for a fee, promising to recycle it but instead just illegally dumping it once it arrived.

Canada's domestic recycling abilities are limited, with only about a dozen companies doing such work.

The garbage that languished in the Philippines for so long led to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between Canada and the Philippines that only ended after Canada finally agreed to pay to ship what was left of the garbage back to Vancouver. It arrived there June 30 and was burned at a waste-to-energy facility in Burnaby.



Violence at care home

Quebec's health minister is hailing the decision by a special needs care facility north of Montreal to fire nine employees accused of violence and harassment towards patients and colleagues.

Alexandre Lahaie, spokesman for Health Minister Danielle McCann, said Wednesday the administration of the care facility for disabled people sent a "clear message" by firing the employees.

Mistreatment and harassment are "extremely serious and unacceptable," Lahaie said in an email.

The facility offers services to people with mental disabilities and autism. A spokesman for the health authority confirmed Wednesday the nine employees were fired following allegations they abused patients and colleagues.

The majority of patients at the centre in the Montreal suburb of Laval are adults, but minors are also treated there.

The spokesman, who didn't want to be identified because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said police had begun investigating the allegations last January following a complaint.



Cops are frustrated, too

The chief of police in Winnipeg says he sent an internal memo to officers to share his frustration about a lack of addictions resources as the city deals with what he calls an epidemic of violence.

Danny Smyth sent the letter on Tuesday thanking officers for their hard work and sharing concerns about crime fuelled by the drug meth and the resulting excessive amount of service calls.

There have been 25 homicides in Winnipeg this year, three more than there were in all of 2018.

The chief says in a statement that he wanted to express his dissatisfaction about what the government is doing about the lack of addictions resources.

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen says police chiefs and RCMP from across the province are to meet this week to discuss solutions.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba has said meth use has increased by more than 100 per cent in adults and nearly 50 per cent in youth since 2014.



Grizzly trashes their canoe

Police say a pair of American travellers had to be rescued from the Northwest Territories wilderness after a grizzly bear destroyed their canoe.

RCMP say they got a report Sunday that two people were stranded near Hanbury Lake, which is about 500 kilometres east of Yellowknife.

The man and woman used a communication device to send their location to the International Emergency Response Coordination Center run by a Texas monitoring company.

The campers managed to stay clear of the bear until officers with the territory's Environment and Natural Resources Department rescued the pair by helicopter the next day.

The bear was still threatening the canoeists when help arrived.

The animal was killed and the campers were safely brought back to Yellowknife.

"The travellers were well prepared and had planned to bring a communication device with them on their trip, which definitely helped them with their misadventure," RCMP Staff Sgt. Yannick Hamel said in a statement

"We can't stress enough the importance to be prepared when venturing in the wilderness as anything can happen."



Lost his family in Max crash

A Toronto man who lost his family in the crash of a Boeing 737 Max jet in Ethiopia called Wednesday for a stronger aircraft approval process in the U.S. and said more people will die if the aircraft is allowed to fly again.

Paul Njoroge was testifying before a U.S. congressional panel examining aviation safety after two deadly crashes involving Boeing's bestselling plane. He said the Max — which is currently grounded — has a dangerous design flaw that Boeing tried to hide.

"If Boeing's wrongful conduct continues, another plane will dive to the ground," he told the panel.

The Nairobi-bound Ethiopian Airlines plane crashed just minutes after takeoff on March 10 near Addis Ababa, killing 157 people on board — eighteen of the victims were Canadian citizens and several others were foreign nationals living in Canada.

The crash came five months after a fatal crash off the coast of Indonesia involving another Boeing 737 Max.

Njoroge, who was born in Kenya and now lives in Toronto, was one of the first relatives of the 346 passengers in the two crashes to testify before Congress. He lost his wife, son, two young daughters and his mother-in-law in the Ethiopian crash.

"I think about their last six minutes a lot. My wife and mom-in-law knew they were going to die. They had to somehow comfort the children during the final moments, knowing they were already lost," Njoroge said. "I wish I was there with them."

Njoroge's family, including his six-year-old son Ryan, four-year-old daughter Kelli and nine-month-old daughter Rubi, had been on their way to visit relatives in Kenya.

"My family's flesh is there in Ethiopia, mixed with the soil ... and pieces of the aircraft," he said.

Njoroge and other family members of the passengers are calling for a new top-to-bottom review of the Max, for pilots to get new training and for the Federal Aviation Administration to be reformed. The U.S. regulator certified the Max and declined to ground it after the October crash.

It's not currently clear when the Max will be certified to fly again.

Boeing created a flight-control software to address the Max's risk of having an aerodynamic stall, but reports show that the software pushed the nose of the plane down in both crashes. Boeing did not tell pilots about the software until after the first crash in October.

Njoroge said he believes the company hid the existence of the software to cover up a design flaw. He said Boeing's top executives should resign and face criminal charges over the Ethiopian crash.

"Their leadership should change in favour of engineering safety focus," he said.

Earlier this month, Boeing said it would provide an initial investment of $100 million to the families.



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