Deadline day for inquiry's final report on eco groups and Alberta energy industry

Energy inquiry at deadline

Friday was the deadline for a public inquiry into what the Alberta government says is foreign funding of environmental groups who want to curtail energy development — an investigation lauded by Premier Jason Kenney as principled but derided by critics as a buffoonishly sinister political witch hunt.

“We have not yet received the (final) report but expect to have it delivered to the minister’s office sometime today,” Jerry Bellikka, chief of staff to Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said in an email.

The inquiry was given five deadline extension stretching back a year to July 30, 2020. Its budget was set at $2.5 million, but later increased to $3.5 million.

Savage has up to three months to release the report once she receives it from forensic accountant Steve Allan.

Kenney launched the inquiry in 2019, fulfilling a United Conservative election campaign promise. He accused Canadian environmental charities of accepting foreign funding in a co-ordinated attempt to hinder energy infrastructure and landlock Alberta's oil to benefit U.S. competitors.

Kenney recently said he was not surprised eco-groups are criticizing the inquiry as unfair and tilted toward a prejudged outcome

“They don’t want the public to realize they have been receiving massive amounts of money from foreign sources to shut down the largest job-creating industry in Canada,” Kenney said on July 22.

“They don’t want the disinfectant of transparency to come down on them. That’s why they went to court … Thankfully, the Court of Queen’s Bench threw their case out.”

In May, a judge dismissed a challenge by the environmental law firm Ecojustice to quash the inquiry. The judge ruled Ecojustice failed to prove the inquiry was called to intimidate charities concerned about the environmental impact of the energy industry.

In recent days, leaked sections of Allan’s draft report show he has concluded that eco-groups have not in any way broken the law. But critics say Allan exceeded his mandate by linking any opposition to resource development as being “anti-Albertan.”

Allan, in a letter this week to Greenpeace Canada, made it clear that “anti-Alberta” is meant simply as a “a non-pejorative geographic modifier.”

University of Calgary law professor Martin Olszynski said “anti-Alberta” is not an innocent term but a broad-based slur, easily weaponized by political opponents. He said it turns those concerned with the pace of resource development and its effect on the environment into scapegoats and depicts them as traitors to the community.

“The precedent (is) anything can become anti-Alberta, essentially anything that the premier disagrees with,” said Olszynski.

“To some extent a government has a democratic mandate, but it only goes so far. It can’t go to the point where opposition to that mandate --dissent — is branded as treason and sedition.

“That’s very authoritarian.”

The inquiry has been criticized for operating in secret: no witnesses called publicly, little to no evidence on its website and those investigated being given little time late in the game to respond. Its terms of reference have also been altered twice.

“This has been something out of 'Alice in Wonderland,'” said Keith Stewart, a senior energy strategist with Greenpeace Canada. “We got funding from international foundations. It was about two per cent of our revenue over a decade.

“We got a lot more money from Albertans.”

He said Greenpeace Canada has been one of the inquiry's targets and that letters to Allan asking for information and details have been ignored.

“We don’t even get to publicly defend ourselves or even see the evidence against us. (Allan) says, ‘I interviewed 100 people.’ He won’t tell us who they were. How are we supposed to respond to evidence that we’re not allowed to see?”

Allan, on his website, noted that his inquiry sent out 40 invitations in mid-June for participants to respond by mid-July.

“Some participants did not accept the commissioner’s invitation until some weeks after June 18, and they were then granted access to the (inquiry) dataroom to review content,” Allan said in a statement July 21.

“The material provided to each party for review included material necessary to understand the context surrounding potential findings and contained potential findings related to them.”

Olszynski said there’s a “good chance” Allan’s final report will be challenged in court on the grounds it was procedurally flawed and reached unqualified conclusions.

“Inquiries are not courts of law … but it’s not the Wild West,” he said.

Kathleen Ganley, energy critic for the Opposition NDP, said Savage should release the report immediately upon receiving it.

“Leaked drafts of the report show the inquiry relied on misinformation found in Google searches and ‘research’ conducted by the UCP’s own ridiculous war room,” said Ganley.

“But despite putting their thumb on the scale with this shoddy research, the inquiry was still forced to conclude there was no wrongdoing or illegal activity.”


Federal government reaches nearly $8B deal with First Nations on drinking water suit

$8B drinking water deal

The federal government has reached a nearly $8-billion settlement with multiple First Nations who launched class-action lawsuits over the lack of clean, safe drinking water in their communities.

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, alongside the Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation, announced today that they have reached an "historic" agreement in principle.

Miller says the agreement includes $1.5 billion in compensation for people who were deprived of clean drinking water, the creation of a $400 million First Nation economic and cultural restoration fund and at least $6 billion to support reliable access to safe drinking water on reserve.

The agreement also includes a renewed commitment to Canada's action plan for the lifting of all long-term drinking water advisories, support for First Nations to develop their own safe drinking water bylaws and initiatives, and planned modernization of First Nations drinking water legislation.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised in 2015 to lift all drinking water advisories by this March, but Miller acknowledged last December that the government would not meet that goal.

Miller says as of today, First Nations with support of Indigenous Services Canada have lifted 108 long-term drinking water advisories since November 2015.

Meng Wanzhou extradition hearings enter final phase next week

Meng hearings near end

The extradition hearings of Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou – a case that has captured global attention with the backdrop of the growing rift between Washington and Beijing – will hit its final stretch starting next week.

The arguments between Meng’s defence and Crown attorneys representing the U.S. Department of Justice will start Wednesday, Aug. 4 in front of B.C. Supreme Court associate chief justice Heather Holmes – a process that’s expected to last more than two weeks and ending on Aug. 20.

The process was delayed for three months from the original scheduled final committal date of May, when Meng asked the court to introduce new evidence from HSBC – secured from Hong Kong courts – that purportedly showed that the bank knew of the true relations between Huawei and Skycom, a subsidiary selling telecom products in Iran.

The United States said the actions of Skycom and Huawei violated U.S. sanctions against Iran, and Meng misled HSBC officials in a 2013 meeting in Hong Kong about the risk the bank would incur (in terms of U.S. penalties) if it continued to provide services to Huawei.

Meng’s bid to introduce new evidence was ultimately rejected by Holmes earlier this month. Holmes cited that the new HSBC documents were not strong enough to prove outright that the U.S. Record of the Case (ROC, or what prosecutors’ version of what Meng did to warrant arrest/extradition) was “manifestly false.” Rather, the documents introduced alternate narratives that require a proper trial to determine their merits – a process that is outside the purview of extradition hearings.

Up to this point, Meng has suffered a series of losses in court in her fight since being arrested in Vancouver in December 2018. Last year, the Huawei executive’s argument against double criminality – the extradition requirement that the alleged crime must be an arrestable offence in Canada as well as the United States – was rejected by Holmes.

Meng has also failed to get a number of documents admitted as evidence in the case, while another bid to have the courts pull back security detail surrounding the Huawei executive during her stay in Vancouver also failed.

However, Meng’s defence was able to deliver witness testimony (through cross-examination) late last year from several Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP officers, revealing a senior CBSA manager was told not to take notes during the border check/arrest process – as is required in similar cases – because those notes may be requested by Meng in court.

Meng was also questioned by the CBSA for close to three hours upon her arrival in Vancouver from a flight from Hong Kong, during which her electronic devices (and passwords) were seized and turned over to the RCMP before Meng was formally arrested. Meng’s defence has accused the CBSA and the RCMP for using such tactics to obtain evidence in violation of Meng’s charter rights, while the Crown has argued that it is routine for the CBSA to conduct border entry checks prior to RCMP arrests – and the passcodes were handed over to the RCMP in error.

The hearings resuming Aug. 4 will begin with Meng’s argument of a third branch of an alleged “abuse of process” by Canadian and U.S. authorities in using extradition to unjustly target the Huawei exec in what the defence calls a politically motivated arrest instigated by the United States.

The third branch involves Meng’s allegations that the U.S. ROC contained a large amount of false or misleading information in painting Meng’s actions as fraud, while Crown attorneys continue to maintain the ROC has not proven to be manifestly unreliable – and any details of the case should be argued at trial in the United States after extradition.

Meng’s defence team has indicated it will request remedy on the alleged abuse-of-process by Canada and the United States after the third-branch arguments, meaning lawyers will argue that all of the alleged misconducts of RCMP, CBSA and U.S. justice officials could only be resolved if Holmes decide to stay Meng’s extradition and set her free.

The Crown has argued that there is no evidence of a conspiracy by Canadian and U.S. officials to use the extradition process improperly, as is Meng’s accusation.

Finally, after the remedy portion of the hearings, the bulk of the two-plus weeks in court will be spent on final committal – where the Crown makes its case for extradition based on all the evidence presented.

A decision on the fate of Meng will come after Aug. 20, although Holmes has not announced a date for releasing her final decision.

Two travellers from U.S. fined $20,000 each for fake vaccination documents

Fined for fake vaccine papers

Two travellers who arrived in Toronto from the United States have been fined for providing fake COVID-19 proof of vaccination documents and lying about pre-departure tests.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says the travellers also didn't comply with requirements to stay at a government-authorized hotel or to get tested upon arrival.

The agency says in a news release Friday that the travellers arrived last week and have been handed four fines totalling $19,720 each.

Canada eased quarantine requirements on July 5 for fully vaccinated Canadians and foreign nationals with an exemption to enter the country, but they must upload their proof of vaccination documents to the ArriveCAN app before entry.

Those who are not fully vaccinated are still required to stay for three days at a government-approved hotel, quarantine for 14 days and undergo tests pre-departure, post-arrival and eight days later.

The public health agency is warning that all travellers are obligated to answer questions truthfully and that providing false information or documents to government officials upon entry to Canada is a serious offence.

The agency says violating quarantine or isolation instructions when entering Canada could lead to a $5,000 fine for each day of non-compliance or each offence, or more serious penalties including six months in prison or $750,000 in fines.

An ocean menace: study finds ghost gear capturing species at risk and lobster

Ghost gear ocean menace

A new study says lost and discarded fishing gear dumped off the southwestern coast of Nova Scotia — site of Canada's most lucrative lobster fishery — is trapping species at risk.

Researchers at Dalhousie University in Halifax also determined that the abandoned collection of traps, ropes, hooks and other equipment is costing the lobster industry plenty in lost catches.

While the scourge of so-called ghost gear is a global problem, the study is described as the first of its kind to provide a preliminary assessment of its environmental and economic impacts.

The findings are based on what researchers found when fishing boats were used to haul up more than seven tonnes of lost, discarded and abandoned gear from the ocean floor.

Lobster traps made up the majority of the gear pulled to the surface, and the researchers calculated lost traps could be responsible for more than $175,000 in annual commercial losses.

As well, those untended traps are continuing to capture other bottom-dwelling creatures, including groundfish that are considered species at risk.

Federal modelling warns of fourth COVID wave driven by Delta if reopening is too fast

Warning of another wave

Federal officials are warning that Canada could be on the brink of a fourth wave of COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious Delta variant if the country opens too fast before enough people have been vaccinated.

Canada's chief public health officer says long-term forecasts indicate that a hasty approach to reopening could portend a sharp resurgence of the virus by the end of the summer.

Dr. Theresa Tam says the new modelling underscores the need for caution in lifting public health measures as early signs of epidemic growth emerge in some areas.

Tam says officials expect that the Delta variant could fuel the spread of the virus among younger unvaccinated people, leading to a serious rise of case counts and hospitalization rates this fall and winter.

Tam says increasing vaccine acceptance among young adults aged 18 to 39 to 80 per cent from 72 per cent could cushion the fallout of a potential fourth wave.

She says current COVID-19 case counts have plummeted by 93 per cent since the peak of the third wave, for an average of 640 new infections being reported daily over the past seven days.

Freeland says Liberals will extend aid programs to October because of uneven rebound

Pandemic aid extended

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland says the government is extending pandemic aid programs by an extra month beyond the previously planned end date.

The decision means that wage and rent subsidies for businesses, and income support for workers out of a job or who need to take time off to care for family or stay home sick, will last until Oct. 23.

Freeland says the government is also freezing rates for the wage and rent subsidies at current levels, holding off on the previously planned decline.

She adds that benefits will also be frozen at $300 per week for the three "recovery" benefits, and four more weeks of eligibility will be added to a maximum of 54 weeks.

Freeland says extending the aid is necessary because many small businesses and workers are not yet fully back on their feet.

Alberta's COVID-19 plan could have ripple effects across Canada: top doctors

COVID-19 ripple effects

Canada’s top doctors say Alberta’s decision to end isolation requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19, or who have been in close contact with someone who has, could have ripple effects across the country.

Chief public health officer Theresa Tam is urging people to continue isolating, get tested for COVID-19 and inform their close contacts even if it is no longer mandated.

Alberta's case levels have been rising and the Delta variant is now dominant.

Vaccination rates have also begun to lag with around 75 per cent of eligible Albertans getting at least one dose of vaccine and 64 per cent fully immunized.

Tam says Alberta still has a long way to go to get enough people vaccinated to keep everyone safe.

Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, adds that if Alberta sees more infections among its unvaccinated populations that could spread throughout Canada as people travel.

The Canadian Paediatric Society has also written an open letter to Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, urging her to reconsider lifting isolation and testing requirements

The society says the plan could jeopardize the province's recovery and enhance viral spread.

Federal deficit was $23.8 billion deficit over April and May

$23.8 billion deficit

The federal government ran a deficit of nearly $24 billion over the first two months of its fiscal year, a sharp drop from the unprecedented spending one year earlier at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Finance Department's regular fiscal monitor says the budgetary deficit over April and May was $23.8 billion, down from the $86.8 billion recorded over the same months in 2020.

The department's report says the drop in spending was expected given the improved conditions from last spring when the economy had a historic slide, prompting the federal treasury to pump out an unprecedented amount of emergency aid.

The fiscal monitor says the deficit now reflects ongoing economic challenges, including the effect of third-wave lockdowns and ongoing spending on emergency aid that is scheduled to wrap up this fall.

Program spending, excluding net actuarial losses, was almost $76.9 billion over April and May, a decline of about $37 billion, or a 32.5 per cent drop, from the $113.8 billion in the same period one year earlier.

Revenues reached over $59.5 billion over April and May, which was a $27.1-billion, or 83.6 per cent, year-over-year increase from the $32.4 billion in the previous fiscal year.

The fiscal monitor says the result is largely due to the steep drop in tax revenues at the onset of the pandemic as large parts of the economy were shuttered.

Public debt charges increased by $300 million, or 9.1 per cent, to $3.9 billion from the almost $3.6 billion in the previous fiscal year.

The Finance Department says the change is due to higher inflation adjustments on real return bonds, offset partially by lower interest on treasury bills and the government's pension and benefit obligations.

Ottawa drummer squirrelled away 1968 Joni Mitchell tape recorded by Jimi Hendrix

Rare Hendrix tape of Joni

An Ottawa drummer with a passion for collecting reel-to-reel tapes deserves applause for the coming release of a Joni Mitchell performance recorded over half a century ago by none other than virtuoso guitarist Jimi Hendrix.

The impromptu 1968 recording session of blossoming singer-songwriter Mitchell at the national capital's Le Hibou Coffee House has long been the stuff of pop music lore, documented in Hendrix's diary.

But the tape's fate was a mystery for decades.

Mitchell announced this week that selections from the Ottawa gig would be included on a volume of archival recordings from 1968-71 to be released in October.

A 24-year-old Mitchell was in the middle of a two-week stint at Le Hibou on March 19, 1968, when Hendrix, playing the nearby Capitol Theatre, phoned the Alberta-born songstress, whom he would soon dub "fantastic girl with heaven words" in his diary.

"I think I'll record her tonight with my excellent tape recorder (knock on wood) ... hmmm ... can't find any wood ... everything's plastic," he wrote.

In liner notes from Mitchell's forthcoming release, posted on her website, she recalls the evening vividly.

"They came and told me, 'Jimi Hendrix is here, and he's at the front door.' I went to meet him. He had a large box. He said to me, 'My name is Jimi Hendrix. I'm on the same label as you. Reprise Records.'

"He said, 'I'd like to record your show. Do you mind?' I said, 'No, not at all.' There was a large reel-to-reel tape recorder in the box.

"The stage was only about a foot off the ground. He knelt at the edge of the stage, with a microphone, at my feet. All during the show, he kept twisting knobs."

The resulting tape was stolen from a vehicle a short time later. Hendrix died in 1970. And it seemed Mitchell's show would linger only in the memory of those who came out to Le Hibou.

More than 30 years later, drummer Richard Patterson, who had played in Ottawa band The Esquires, asked fellow musician Ian McLeish to digitize more than 300 tapes he had amassed over the years.

"Some were tapes sent to him by artists trying to get on the air, some were tapes of the groups and the artists he'd been involved with. And some were just tapes that he found hanging around in the studios," McLeish said in an interview.

After Patterson's death in 2011, his estate asked McLeish to go through the old recordings again.

"And I found a bunch of tapes Richard hadn't given me the first time. And one of them was Joni Mitchell at Le Hibou, March 1968, taped by Jimi."

McLeish digitized the tape, and the original, along with all the others from Patterson, were given to Library and Archives Canada.

"But I kept the digitized versions of everything," said McLeish, who releases vintage Canadian recordings through Mousehole Music.

"And I was hoping that this Joni thing might be of interest to somebody someday. But I didn't really think, being an old tape, that it was that important."

McLeish heard last year that Mitchell had begun issuing some early performances. "And I said, well, this would be right up her alley."

He got in touch with the performer's management and sent along the digital file.

"They passed it on to Joni and, from what I understand, she freaked out. She had thought this stuff was lost forever, and so was really, really pleased to hear this set."

McLeish said he looked into retrieving the tape from Library and Archives because Mitchell expressed interest in having the original, but COVID-19 restrictions complicated matters.

Richard Green, now retired from the archives, was manager of the music section when Patterson's tapes were offered to the institution. He recalls accepting them even though there was a freeze on such acquisitions at the time.

"I essentially took it upon myself to bring the material in when I wasn't supposed to, and to hide it away in the backlog."

A full inventory was not done at the time, so Green didn't know the Mitchell tape was among the recordings.

The mystery is how it got into Patterson's collection in the first place, McLeish said.

"I don't really know, because Richard's gone now, how he got a hold of it. But I assume because he was always picking up tapes and adding them to the collection, either somebody gave it to him because they knew he was archiving stuff. Or he saw it somewhere and said, 'Hey, can I take this?'"

Telltale transactions help financial intelligence centre combat sex trafficking

Tracking sex traffickers

Transactional clues — from hotel bills paid in cash to purchases of escort-service ads — are helping Canada's financial intelligence agency detect human trafficking in the sex trade.

The Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada is now learning from its sleuthing efforts in recent years to make pinpointing traffickers a little easier.

Fintrac identifies cash linked to money laundering by sifting through millions of pieces of information each year from banks, insurance companies, securities dealers, money service businesses, real estate brokers, casinos and others.

It says data received from these organizations has enabled it to disclose 979 packets of intelligence to police and other law-enforcement agencies about suspected cases of sex trafficking, almost all involving exploitation of young women, in the last five years.

The disclosures, flowing from an initiative dubbed Project Protect, are helping Fintrac zero in even more closely on signs of money dealings linked to the crime.

The project, a public-private partnership initiative launched in 2016, is led by the Bank of Montreal and supported by Fintrac and Canadian law enforcement.

Fintrac is issuing a new operational alert to banks and other reporting organizations, advising them to be on the lookout for certain kinds of transactions now known to be associated with trafficking women and girls.

"The goal is to save lives, and every single one matters," said Fintrac director Sarah Paquet. "So we really want this to succeed and continue to improve on strengthening the regime."

The federal centre analyzed about 100,000 individual transactions contained in the intelligence disclosures to police from 2018 to 2020 to glean trends.

The newly issued alert says the majority of the disclosures involved victims providing sexual services from temporary locations such as hotels. However, sexual exploitation also took place at businesses, such as spas, massage parlours and private clubs, that offered illicit services, as well as at private residences such as apartments.

"All used advertisements of escort services to obtain clients and some traffickers operated their own escort agencies," the alert says.

Victims were nearly all females, 60 per cent were under 25 and some were minors, the analysis found. Traffickers were generally men, 24 to 36 years old. Female traffickers were between 27 and 32 years old, although most were also victims connected to male traffickers.

Traffickers who exploited their victims out of private residences or in illicit storefront businesses offering sexual services, however, were mostly females over 40 years old, and many operated with their spouses, the alert says.

Email money transfers and cash deposits were the primary types of transactions. But Fintrac also saw money laundering methods including use of casinos, virtual currencies, prepaid credit cards, gift cards, front companies owned by traffickers or their associates, funds layered between related accounts, and investment accounts.

Analyzing transactions over time has allowed Fintrac to identify particular financial dealings often associated with trafficking tied to the sex trade, said Barry MacKillop, the agency's deputy director.

"We'll see things like pre-approved credit card charges, which are then not actually followed through because they'll end up paying cash at the end. But they use their cards to reserve the rooms, for example. So it's getting that specific."

Many sex traffickers were believed to be involved in other illegal activities, such as drug trafficking or fraud and were members or associates of criminal groups, the alert says. "Many traffickers used their victims to conduct other crimes."

The centre said indicators of suspicious transactions outlined in 2016 remain relevant, but it has added several others based on the latest research.

It cautioned that on their own, these indicators may not be indicative of money laundering or other suspicious activity, and should be assessed in combination with what organizations know about their client and other factors.

"It is a constellation of factors that strengthen the determination of suspicion."

Conservatives push feds to ensure Canadians who got mixed vaccines can travel abroad

Mixed vaccines and travel?

The federal Conservatives are urging the Liberal government to do more to ensure that Canadians who received two different doses of COVID-19 vaccines are able to travel internationally.

Tory health critic Michelle Rempel Garner sent a letter Thursday to Health Minister Patty Hajdu highlighting multiple reports of Canadians being barred entry to countries due to their mixed vaccinations.

The Calgary Nose Hill MP saidin the absence of federal direction, provincial health authorities have begun to offer third doses to Canadians who need to travel where their vaccination status is not recognized abroad.

She saidthe Quebec Health Department is telling potential recipients the safety of this practice is unclear and that they should seek advice to weigh the risks of a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.

The department said in a news release on Monday that a third dose was an "exceptional measure" for people who have essential travel plans in the short-term and need to meet vaccination requirements.

Rempel Garner is calling on the Liberal government to release federal guidelines on the issue of third doses so that Canadians can make safe, informed choices.

In the absence of data to support third doses, she saidthe government must release a plan to have a mixed vaccination status recognized internationally.

"Canadians listened to your advice and got vaccinated. Telling them what your government is doing to ensure that their vaccination status is recognized abroad is the very least you can do," she saidin the letter.

Rempel Garner's letter follows a similar plea from Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott earlier this week for Ottawa to work with the World Health Organization to ensure that mixing vaccines is internationally accepted as a complete vaccine regimen.

Hajdu's office said in a statement Thursday that it continues to work with provinces and territories on a proof of vaccination for international travel that may be required by other countries.

The U.S. has been reluctant to sanction the practice of following a Moderna shot with a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, or vice versa, while many European countries don't recognize the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot made at the Serum Institute of India, which may impact Canadians who received it.

Several cruise lines have also said they won't accept customers who have received different types or brands of vaccines.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland are among the many Canadians who received a mixture of COVID-19 vaccine doses. Trudeau and Freeland received Oxford-AstraZeneca as a first dose and Moderna as a second.

Freeland said last week that the advice allowing Canadians to get mixed doses was science-based, noting there is research that shows getting two different doses offers superior protection.

"As finance minister, I attended the G20 meeting in Italy earlier this month and there was certainly recognition of my double vaccination status there with the mixed doses," she told reporters while speaking virtually in Whitehorse.

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