Libs shrugging off concerns

A Liberal-dominated parliamentary committee's report on rural crime is "an insult to all Canadians," Conservative MPs say in a dissenting statement that decries waits of hours or even days for police to respond to calls in remote areas.

New Democrat MPs on the House of Commons public-safety committee also want stronger federal action on crime in Canada's hinterlands, saying the "incomplete" report fails to take into account the difficulties witnesses described in the committee's hearings.

The committee undertook the study following adoption of a motion put forward in the House by Conservative MP Shannon Stubbs. The resulting majority report, which landed last week in the Commons, acknowledges that crime in rural areas is a growing concern to people who live outside Canada's cities.

During hearings last year, witnesses told the MPs of break-ins, thefts and assaults, including violence towards women, as well as dishearteningly long waits for police to turn up.

The resulting report, which is three pages long, encourages provinces to spend more on emergency-response services and dispatch centres, and says the RCMP should look for ways to partner with other police agencies.

Effective crime-fighting requires adequate police resources, partnerships with the community, robust victim support and a justice system that inspires public confidence, the report concludes.

That falls far short for Conservative members of the committee, who filed their own report calling for tougher steps against repeat offenders, greater use of electronic monitoring of people on release and clearer self-defence laws.

Evidence pointed to "critical gaps" including insufficient resources at RCMP detachments, an absence of emergency dispatch services in rural and remote areas, and a lack of help for victims of physical and sexual violence, the Conservative report says.

"Criminals understand that police response times in rural areas can be slow, neighbours can be miles away and rural regions are easy prey."

The New Democrats make their own suggestions, including better training of young Mounties assigned to rural communities and universal access to 911 emergency service everywhere in Canada in both official languages.

"We think that the federal government should play an active role and help the provinces and territories to ensure security in rural areas," the NDP says.

Communities have started to form their own rural crime watches and conduct volunteer patrols in the absence of a police presence, the Conservatives note. "Some rural victims, who took steps to defend themselves and their property, faced more serious police response and prosecutions than the criminals who attacked them."


Pres. more like Rick Mercer

Veteran Ukraine lawmaker Mustafa Jemilev was as worried and surprised as anyone when a comedian who played Ukraine's president on television was actually elected the country's president last month.

Jemilev, 75, is a staunch supporter of former president Petro Poroshenko. Jemilev and many others — including Canada's leaders — credit Poroshenko with saving his country from ruin in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea and fomented a pro-Kremlin insurgency in the country's east that has killed 13,000 people.

Jemilev, also the political leader of Crimea's persecuted Tatars, says he was initially worried that the actor-turned-politician Volodymyr Zelenskiy was too soft on Russia. But with Russia's continuing threat and Ukraine now facing political upheaval — Zelenskiy was sworn in on Monday and abruptly dissolved parliament on Tuesday — Jemilev says the time has come to rally around the new president.

"Our position will be constructive," Zelenskiy told The Canadian Press on a visit to Ottawa this past week.

"We will try to help him as much as possible because the stability of the country is the most important for us," he said through an interpreter. "We will definitely not play against him when he fails in something because that situation could be used by Russia."

Ukraine's uncertain political future has implications for Canada's domestic politics as the federal election approaches: the 1.3 million Canadians of Ukrainian descent comprise one of the country's most influential diaspora communities.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives courted Ukrainian support with frequent visits to Kyiv and the dispatching of special teams of Canadian election monitors, as have Justin Trudeau's Liberals. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland's own Ukrainian heritage has helped keep Ukraine near the top of Canada's foreign-policy agenda.

Freeland was one of the first foreign politicians to visit Zelenskiy in Kyiv earlier this month and came away reassured, according to a senior Canadian official who was in the room but was not authorized to speak about the meeting for attribution. The person said that while the new president and his entourage have little political experience, Canada isn't worried he will shift Ukraine away from Canada and its western allies, back towards the Kremlin.

Then, there's that other top-of-mind head scratcher: just how worried should the rest of the world be that an actor-comedian won the presidency of the east European country that is on the front line of Russian aggression towards the continent? With 73-per-cent support, no less?

Zelenskiy was frequently compared with former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. But as Jemilev noted, Reagan served as governor of California between his Hollywood career and arrival in the Oval Office.

"He's more like Rick Mercer getting elected prime minister," said the Canadian official. Like Mercer's frequent political rants, Zelenskiy's long-running political satire was well-researched and demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of politics and corruption.

Zelenskiy was "not a clueless person in talking to us," the official said. He grappled with issues and showed himself to be a "quick learner."

But he will require help running a government because Ukraine's institutions are not as strong as the West's, so Canada is standing by with offers of training on the machinery of government, said the source.

Freeland also connected with Zelenskiy's team by sharing insights from her transition from journalism to politics. She was a reporter in Ukraine during the Soviet Union's dissolution and became journalistic comrades with one of Zelenskiy's top advisers, who also reported on the 1990s upheaval.

"She was able to share her journey from outsider/journalist to somebody who's in government, and point out some of the challenges that are involved," said the source.

"(There was) no indication from Zelenskiy and his team that there's going to be some radical shift away from the overall Euro-Atlantic direction of Ukraine. Their concept is 'we want to update things, we're all a generation younger so we want to see a more digital Ukraine.' "

The change that Zelenskiy initially campaigned on was difficult to swallow for the pro-Poroshenko establishment, especially the Tatars whom Jemilev represents. Divisions showed again this week after he was sworn in, with disputes over the propriety of his order dissolving parliament early and moves to overhaul the leadership of Ukraine's security services.

"We were very anxious that during the presidential campaign, (with) Mr. Zelenskiy asserting he would like to have peace with Russia under any condition — that we would do anything," said Jemilev.

"That sounded to us a little bit unfair because it was not us who started the war, it was no us who annexed someone's territory."

Between the two rounds of presidential balloting, Jemilev was able to ask Zelenskiy some important questions about his Russia stance and was reassured that Zelenskiy wouldn't bend towards Russia at the expense of Ukraine.

RCMP: body recovered

Mounties say a body that was spotted in Great Slave Lake in the Northwest Territories last week has been recovered, and has been confirmed to be one of three missing snowmobilers.

Police had already suspended the search for the trio over the weekend after the body was sighted from a helicopter in an area of open water, along with debris, on Friday.

They say in a news release that RCMP dispatched a crew on board a helicopter Monday morning and were able to land and retrieve the body, along with some of the debris.

The NWT Coroner Service has confirmed the identity of the deceased as Samuel Boucher, 65, of Lutsel'ke.

Boucher, along with 23-year-old Cammy Boucher and another man, left the Yellowknife area on a snowmobile Monday bound for Lutsel'ke on the eastern edge of the lake, but were reported overdue on Tuesday.

Police had previously not known the identity of the other man, but now say they believe it was Jake Gully, 28, of Fort Good Hope.

"The helicopter performed a surveillance patrol, for possible sighting of the remaining missing two persons. There were no sightings of the two persons, and no further debris noted," the police news release on Tuesday stated.

RCMP had explained that the helicopter crew that spotted the body Friday wasn't able to land on the ice at the time, so photos that were taken from the air were used to determine that it was in fact a deceased person.

The three travellers were believed to have departed Dettah at approximately 10:30 p.m. on May 13. They were aboard a 1990s era Black Bombardier Scandic two seater, towing two toboggans.

Police say they will continue to survey the area around Ethen Island for any sign of the remaining two missing persons, but that evidence leads them to believe they may have suffered the same fate as Samuel Boucher.


Feds buy more Arctic ships

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce Wednesday that the federal government is buying two more Arctic patrol ships on top of the six it has already ordered from Halifax-based Irving Shipbuilding.

However, unlike the first six, which are being built for the navy at a total cost of $3.5 billion, a government source tells The Canadian Press that the seventh and eighth will be built for the Canadian Coast Guard.

According to the source, who was not authorized to comment publicly, the move is intended to address the Canadian Coast Guard's desperate need for new ships as its current fleet is extremely old, which has affected its ability to do its job.

That includes everything from search-and-rescue operations and resupplying Arctic communities, to clearing ice for ferries in the St. Lawrence River and Atlantic region.

The source says it's also to address the threat of layoffs, which Irving has long warned will happen unless the government fills a gap between when the last Arctic patrol ship is finished and construction on the navy's new $60-billion warship fleet.

The government sought to address that gap in November when it ordered the sixth Arctic vessel for the navy and agreed to slow production on the fleet, at a total cost of $800 million.

Half of that cost was for the ship and the other half was to stretch out the work at Irving.

But federal bureaucrats and Irving both warned at that time more would need to be done as even with those measures, Irving was facing an 18-to-24-month gap — during which time it said it would need to lay off workers.

50 years for brutal murders

A man convicted of killing a Calgary mother and her young daughter will have to wait 50 years before he has a chance at parole.

A jury found Edward Downey guilty last year of first-degree murder in the 2016 deaths of Sara Baillie, who was 34, and five-year-old Taliyah Marsman.

The convictions carry an automatic life sentence, and Justice Beth Hughes has decided Downey must wait 50 years before he can ask the parole board for release.

The Crown had sought 50 years before parole ineligibility, arguing the brutal and deliberate nature of the murders were aggravating factors.

But Downey's lawyer called that a death sentence, since his 49-year-old client would be in his mid-90s before having a chance at freedom.

Downey has never admitted killing the mother and daughter, but at his sentencing hearing, he apologized to their family and friends.

The trial heard Downey believed Baillie had influenced her best friend to break up with him and he blamed her for the friend refusing to work for him as an escort.

The Crown argued Baillie's daughter was a witness who needed silencing.

The trial heard Baillie was found dead in a laundry hamper in her daughter's closet with duct tape wrapped around her face, neck and wrists.

Taliyah was missing. The girl's remains were found in some bushes east of the city three days later.

Both died by asphyxiation.

'Digital charter' planned

Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains says the federal government will look to update the Privacy Act as part of an effort to build greater trust in the digital world.

Bains made the commitment at Toronto's Empire Club of Canada as part of a rollout of a ten-point digital charter aimed at protecting privacy and personal control of data.

He says that only through a foundation of trust will society be able to reach its full innovative potential.

To reach that aim, Bains says the government will review private sector privacy laws and look to ensure the Competition Bureau has proper enforcement tools.

He says the government will also review the Statistics Act and launch a new Data Governance Standardization Collaborative to better manage data governance standards in the country.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau first announced the digital charter last week, emphasizing the need to combat hate speech, misinformation and online electoral interference.

Tourism strategy rolled out

A new Canadian tourism strategy is meant to help boost international visits to Canada during non-peak seasons by more than a million people and get visitors to see the country beyond Canada's biggest cities.

The plan, unveiled in Montreal, includes $58.5 million over two years to help communities create or improve tourism facilities and experiences.

The funding is supposed to back experiences that show off Canada's strengths — and break visitors' fixation on just a few destinations in the nicest weather.

"Just over three out of four international visitors travel only to Canada's largest provinces, Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec, and most go to their biggest cities: Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal," the new strategy states.

"Drawing tourists to venture beyond the big cities remains a challenge for regions that want to expand their visitor economies."

Tourism Minister Melanie Joly said Tuesday that the tourism measures are tooled to help tourism revenues grow by 25 per cent — to $128 billion —by 2025 and the government also hopes to create 54,000 new jobs directly related to tourism.

In 2018, the federal government says, Canada welcomed 21.1 million international tourists, surpassing the previous year's record of 20.9 million.

The federal government knows that tourism helps every part of the country, Joly said, adding it has seen many examples of communities transforming and diversifying their economies by attracting visitors.

Tourism is a pillar of the Canadian economy, generating $102 billion in annual economic activity, supporting 1.8 million jobs and accounting for over two per cent of gross domestic product, the federal government said.

After the Montreal announcement, Joly headed into Ontario for stops at a brewery and a winery in the eastern part of the province, where culinary tourism is a fledgling industry.

Winds in firefighters' favour

UPDATE: 8:30 a.m.

Fire officials say the winds continue to be favourable as crews battle a large wildfire burning a few kilometres from a northern Alberta town.

Nearly 5,000 people have cleared out of High Level and nearby reserves with flames licking at the southern edge of the community.

Winds are forecast to be out of the southeast for the next several days, pushing the fire away from homes and other building.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the fire is about five kilometres from the town.

Earlier estimates said flames were within three kilometres.

Kenney says no buildings have been damaged and the evacuation was orderly and without incident.

ORIGINAL: 6 a.m.

A northern Alberta town and a nearby First Nation are being evacuated due to the threat of an encroaching wildfire.

Thousands of people are being told to leave High Level, as well as the Bushe River Reserve, via Highway 58 east of the communities since highways south and west have already been closed due to the blaze.

The Chuckegg Creek fire has been burning for several days, but grew substantially from Sunday, when it covered about 25,000 hectares, to an estimated 69,000 hectares on Monday.

At the time the evacuations were ordered, the flames were only about three kilometres from High Level.

"The winds are pushing the smoke away from the Town of High Level. It looks very scary on the horizon, but in the Town of High Level the skies are blue and sunny and windy," Mayor Crystal McAteer told a telephone news conference on Monday afternoon.

Reception centres for evacuees have been set up in High Prairie and Slave Lake, and officials are arranging transportation for residents who can't get out on their own.

McAteer said the evacuation is being co-ordinated in zones. People should expect to be away for 72 hours.

She said about 4,000 people from High Level were affected by the order, and another 750 from Bushe River.

Earlier in the day, the town warned on its website that people should fill up their vehicles and collect important documents in case they were ordered to leave at short notice. Power has also been knocked out because of the fire, but was expected to be restored Monday evening.

Mandatory evacuation orders for residents south and southeast of the town, and south of Bushe River, were issued early Monday.

Provincial officials said the evacuation of High Level would take a maximum of eight hours, but since some people had already left, they said it could be completed sooner.

Alberta Health Services said it had evacuated 20 patients from the Northwest Health Centre in High Level and relocated them to other communities.

Scott Elliot, an incident commander with Alberta Wildfire, told the news conference that the wildfire was mostly headed away from High Level, but that city officials decided it was best for everyone to leave since the flames were so close.

"If there was a subtle shift in the wind direction, that would increase the likelihood of rapid fire spread towards the community," Elliot said.

Crews are using sprinklers on structures on the edge of the town closest to the fire.

McAteer said people were complying with the evacuation order.

"People are of course afraid because they remember the wildfires of Fort McMurray, but we talked to a lot of the residents and reaffirmed that we were being proactive," she said.

Arrest, seizures at zoo

Animal welfare officials say they have arrested the owner of a Quebec zoo and are in the process of seizing its animals.

The Montreal chapter of the Society for Protection of Cruelty to Animals and Humane Society International are on site at the St-Edouard Zoo, about 120 kilometres east of Montreal.

The SPCA says the owner of the zoo was arrested today on two counts under the Criminal Code — one count each of criminal animal neglect and criminal animal cruelty alleged to have taken place between May 2016 and October 2018.

They say it's the first time that animal cruelty charges have been laid by way of indictment in the province.

A spokesman for the operation said the SPCA visited the zoo in August 2018 and noted several alleged violations. They seized two alpacas that were in bad shape and found four deceased animals, including two tigers.

About 100 other animals are in the process of being seized by the SPCA, in conjunction with Humane Society International.

Humane Society International says lions, tigers, zebras, camels, kangaroos and bears are among the animals listed in the seizure warrant.

They say that given the complexity of the job, it will take place over several weeks.

Kenney takes the helm

The Alberta legislature is to start a new session today with a lot of new faces and a new government in charge.

Premier Jason Kenney and the 63 members of his United Conservative caucus are to be sworn in as legislature members and a Speaker is to be chosen.

Former premier Rachel Notley heads up the 24-member NDP official Opposition.

A throne speech is planned for Wednesday and a bill to repeal the provincial carbon tax is to be introduced.

The UCP says there will be about a dozen bills tabled during the sitting, including ones proposing to change the minimum wage for young workers and to cut the corporate tax.

A full budget isn't expected until the fall.

Kenney's government has also promised to try to change the nature of debate.

He has said he would like to ban the tradition of legislature members banging on their desks to show their approval in the house.

Kenney says desk-thumping, cross-aisle heckling and shouting are unseemly and undignified.

Food insecurity grows

Newly published research has concluded that food insecurity in Nunavut grew after a federal program was brought in to fight hunger in the North.

The study, published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that the ability of northerners to dependably put food on the table declined significantly during the years Nutrition North was being rolled out and has remained down.

That's despite a budget that has increased 65 per cent to $99 million last year from $60 million in 2011.

"We can definitely observe that (food insecurity) has been increasing despite the presence of this big program that is supposed to make food more affordable and accessible," said Andree-Anne Fafard St-Germain, a researcher at the University of Toronto.

Inadequate access to nutritious food due to lack of money is a major problem in the North, where groceries often cost two or three times what they do elsewhere. Rates of food insecurity are about four times higher than in southern Canada.

The federal government has long chipped in for Arctic groceries. In 2011, Nutrition North was instituted by the Conservative government to replace a program that subsidized food shippers. That subsidy was transferred to retailers on the theory that market forces would make the program more efficient and just as effective.

Ottawa says that between 2011 and 2015, the cost of a food basket for a family of four dropped about five per cent and the weight of eligible items shipped north increased by about 25 per cent.

But in analyzing survey responses from 2007 to 2016 collected by Statistics Canada in 10 Nunavut communities, Fafard St-Germain found those numbers weren't showing up on the dinner table.

In 2010, food insecurity affected 33 per cent of families. That number grew in 2011 to 39 per cent. By 2014 — a year after full implementation of Nutrition North — nearly 47 per cent of northerners couldn't count on a square meal.

Those results weren't the result of economic changes in the territory, said Fafard St-Germain. Nor have things improved.

"Every period just seems to be getting worse and worse, generally.

"More food is being shipped. More food is being consumed. But at the same time more people are telling us they can't put food on the table."

Retaliatory tariffs lifted

Canada collected more than $1.27 billion from the retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products over the last year and all of it will go to the Canadian steel and aluminum industry even though the steel trade war with the United States is over.

Canada and the United States reached an agreement Friday to see the U.S. lift the nearly year-old import duties on steel and aluminum President Donald Trump imposed last June arguing the imports threatened national security. Canada had always called the tariffs illegal and absurd and demanded they be lifted immediately.

Canada's ratification of the new North American trade agreement also hinged on the tariffs coming off.

That officially happened Monday and as a result Finance Minister Bill Morneau said Canada had also lifted the retaliatory duties Canada imposed on U.S. steel and aluminum and more than 70 other U.S. products including licorice, coffee, sleeping bags and ketchup.

"The removal of tariffs and countermeasures is a true win-win for everyone involved, and great news for Canadian and American workers, for our communities, and our economies," Morneau said in a written statement.

Trump tweeted late Sunday that U.S. farmers "can begin doing business again with Mexico and Canada."

"They have both taken the tariff penalties off of your great agricultural product," Trump wrote. "Please be sure that you are treated fairly."

A Canadian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said Trump's tweet reinforces to Canada that "our retaliatory tariffs were key to resolving this."

The Canadian tariffs were carefully selected to both match the dollar value of the tariffs Canadian companies were paying to the U.S., as well as to target popular products in states of prominent Republican lawmakers or swing states where voters might voice their displeasure.

That included, for example, Kentucky bourbon from the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and pickles, gherkins, lawn mowers and yogurt, which are all big industries in Wisconsin, the state of former House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan. Chocolate and toilet paper, key exports from Pennsylvania which is home to Hershey and the Scott Paper Company, were among the swing-state products targeted, as was Florida orange juice.

Canada's tariffs imposed a 25 per cent surtax on U.S. steel imports, and 10 per cent on aluminum and the other 75 listed products. A Finance official said as of April 30, Canada had collected $1.27 billion from the retaliatory measures, but that figure is expected to climb as Canada Border Services Agency gets final reports from Canadian importers.

Canada announced a $2 billion aid package to the steel and aluminum industry to help them weather the impact of the U.S. trade war, including exempting Canadian companies from paying the import duties on steel and aluminum if they couldn't source the product within Canada or had contracts requiring them to import from the United States.

Funds were also there to help with work sharing agreements, training and diversifying export markets.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau indicated Friday that the funds to help the industry are not being erased even though the tariffs have been lifted.

"The financial assistance is still there," he said. "We made $2 billion worth of commitments last summer to support our industry. We're going to continue to look at how the industry can continue to grow and invest."

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