City of Calgary to invest $2.5M for upgrades to new home for National accessArts Centre – Calgary


Much-needed funding has been secured to help The National accessArts Centre, formerly known as Indefinite Arts Centre, move into its new home after a roof collapse at the Fairview Arena in 2018.

The arts organization, which provides artistic training for people with developmental, physical and acquired disabilities, is expected to set up shop in the Scouts Canada building along Memorial Drive.

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Indefinite Arts Centre finds new name and potential new home

According to a letter addressed to the organization from the City of Calgary, the City has secured $2.5 million for accessibility upgrades and repairs to the building, which is also a City of Calgary Historic Resource.

“These improvements are being done with the intention of offering the National accessArts Centre the space as their future new home,” City of Calgary building infrastructure manager Susan Specht wrote in the letter.

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Specht said the City is in the process of looking for a consultant, and engagement with the National accessArts Centre on interior renovation requirements in early-April.

The location was identified as a potential location for the centre to move into in November, but money was needed for upgrades on the city-owned facility to make it accessible for artists with disabilities.

“This is an exciting step forward for our organization,” National accessArts Centre CEO Jung-Suk Ryu said. “For three years, we’ve faced tremendous challenges and uncertainty following the collapse of the adjoining arena, and this has had an impact on our community of more than 300 artists living with disabilities.”

“Now, we are moving towards having a safe, fully accessible home for our organization.”

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Officials to begin demolition at Fairview Arena, inspections at other arenas underway

The Centre’s current location is in an adjoining facility to the Fairview Arena, which had its roof collapse in 2018.

The collapse prompted the arts organization to evacuate its adjoining space for six months while the City of Calgary completed an assessment of the building.  In November it was decided the building the arts organization occupied would also be demolished.

The arena, built in 1972, was demolished in March.

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According to the City, the process to designate the Scouts Canada building as a municipal heritage resource is underway, and may come with requirements that affect project timelines.

Ryu said the group is expected to take occupancy of the building in late 2021 or early 2022.




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Canadian senators to vote on assisted dying bill Feb. 17 as deadline looms – National


Senators have agreed to put a bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying to a final vote by Feb. 17, but they’ve signalled their intention to propose substantial amendments.

The agreed date for the vote will leave just over a week for the House of Commons to deal with any amendments approved by the Senate before a thrice-extended, court-imposed deadline of Feb. 26.

It’s a tight timetable that could yet make it impossible to meet the court deadline.

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Canadian Senate committee accepts assisted dying bill but amendments still to come

Senators, who began final debate Monday, will begin dealing with the amendments to Bill C-7 on Tuesday.

An amended version of the bill would have to go back to the House of Commons for MPs to decide whether to accept or reject the amendments before shipping it back to the Senate, where senators would have to decide whether to approve the bill even if some or all of their amendments were rejected.

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In theory, the bill could bounce repeatedly back and forth between chambers.

The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling that struck down a provision allowing assisted dying only for those whose natural death is “reasonably foreseeable.”

It scraps that provision but retains the foreseeable death concept to set up two sets of rules for eligibility: more relaxed rules for those who are near death and more stringent rules for those who are not.

It would also expressly prohibit assisted dying for individuals who are suffering solely from mental illnesses.

Sen. Marc Gold, the government’s representative in the Senate, acknowledged that some senators think the bill goes too far, while others think it doesn’t go far enough. But he said, to his mind, that divergence of opinion demonstrates that the bill has struck the right balance.


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Health Matters: end-of-life planning in light of COVID-19


Health Matters: end-of-life planning in light of COVID-19 – Jun 18, 2020

“The bottom line is that it is a reasonable, prudent proposal that achieves a complex balancing of rights … Bill C-7 is neither too hot, nor too cold, but just the right temperature,” Gold said during Monday’s debate.

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Gold further suggested that unelected senators should be cautious about tinkering with the bill, noting it was supported by two-thirds of elected MPs from all parties in the House of Commons, giving it “a strong democratic stamp of approval.”

But Sen. Pierre Dalphond, a former judge who sits in the Progressive Senate Group, argued that the exclusion of those suffering solely from mental illnesses is unconstitutional, violating their right to equal treatment under the law regardless of physical or mental disability.

Dalphond said he believes it’s reasonable to propose a sunset clause to put a time limit on that exclusion, giving the government time to come up with guidelines for providing assisted dying to people with mental illnesses.

And he said he’ll introduce another amendment to specify that the ill-defined concept of mental illness does not include neuro-congnitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease.

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Senator questions assisted dying sedative linked to botched U.S. executions

There is support among senators for referring the bill to the Supreme Court for advice on its constitutionality, both from those who think it’s too restrictive and those who think it’s too permissive.

Sen. Don Plett, leader of the Conservatives in the Senate, questioned why senators are rushing to expand access to what he termed “physician-induced death,” based on “a lower court decision made by one judge in one province” that the government chose not to appeal.

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He implored his colleagues to listen to disability rights advocates who have denounced the bill for sending the “harmful and tragic message” that the lives of people with disabilities are not worth living.

Plett argued that extending access before improving palliative care and support services for people with disabilities will make it “easier to die than to live” and doesn’t give vulnerable people a real choice.


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Bill aims to ease rules in Canada’s medically-assisted dying laws


Bill aims to ease rules in Canada’s medically-assisted dying laws – Feb 25, 2020

Conservative Sen. Denise Batters said it’s “disgraceful” that the government is pushing a bill to expand access to assisted dying in the midst of a pandemic, when vulnerable people are even more “alone, isolated and economically disadvantaged” and with even less access to support services.

She argued that Black, racialized, Indigenous and poor Canadians with disabilities, “people who have been routinely pushed to the margins of our society,” are “crying out to us for help but they don’t want help to die, they want help to live.”

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However, Sen. Chantal Petitclerc, a former Paralympian who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate, noted that the court ruling to which the bill is responding was triggered by Nicole Gladu and Jean Truchon, two Quebecers with severe disabilities.

Read more:
Senate vote on assisted dying bill delayed to February due to Quebec ruling

Petitclerc, a member of the Independent Senators Group, said senators can’t ignore the inequalities that exist in society or the lack of support services that can exacerbate suffering.

But she said she believes the government has correctly chosen to permit assisted dying “in order to respect the autonomy of those who choose it freely as a release from intolerable suffering,” rather than prohibit it for all people with disabilities “until all support and all resources are available.”




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Constitutional challenges to assisted dying bill inevitable: Government Senate rep – National


The government’s representative in the Senate concedes it’s possible that a bill to expand access to medically assisted dying may be struck down as unconstitutional by the courts.

But while parliamentarians must be guided by court rulings, Sen. Marc Gold argued Tuesday they also have a duty to try to balance competing rights and interests.

In Bill C-7, he contended, the government has struck a “reasonable and responsible balance” between the autonomy of intolerably suffering Canadians who are not near death and the need to protect the most vulnerable individuals.

Read more:
Assisted dying bill likely to face flurry of amendments from both sides in Senate

Gold, a former constitutional law professor, gave a lengthy speech in the Senate devoted almost entirely to the constitutionality of the bill. He noted that some senators believe the bill is unconstitutional because it is too permissive, others because it’s too restrictive.

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“I understand very well that there are very good arguments on both sides of many of these issues,” he told the Senate.

Gold said court challenges to the constitutional validity of Bill C-7 are “inescapable” but it’s impossible to predict how the courts might rule on it.

“For better and for worse, the courts will continue to be seized with this issue as individuals and groups seek to vindicate their constitutional rights, however they conceive them,” he said.

“But this cannot be a reason for government and for Parliament to abdicate their responsibilities to legislate in good faith and in the best interests of Canadians.”

Bill C-7 is intended to bring the law into compliance with a September 2019 Quebec Superior Court ruling, which struck down the provision that allows MAID only for those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable.


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Health Matters: end-of-life planning in light of COVID-19


Health Matters: end-of-life planning in light of COVID-19 – Jun 18, 2020

The bill would scrap the near-death requirement but would retain the concept to create two eligibility tracks for MAID: somewhat relaxed rules for people who are close to death and more stringent rules for those who aren’t.

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The bill specifically prohibits MAID for people suffering solely from mental illnesses, an exclusion some senators believe is a violation of equality rights. Some also believe the more stringent eligibility rules for people not near the end of life are also unconstitutional.

On the other side of the equation, some senators echo the concerns of disability rights groups in contending that the bill is unconstitutional because it singles out people with disabilities as the only ones eligible for MAID when they are not approaching the end of life.

“As any student of the charter (of rights and freedoms) will know, arguments about rights _ and especially equality rights _ are inherently controversial and predicting how a court might rule is a very risky business,” Gold said.

He laid out the government’s justification for excluding people suffering solely from mental illness, arguing that the trajectory of their conditions is uncertain and that a desire to die can be a symptom of the illness.

He argued that the exclusion can be justified as a reasonable limit on rights, as allowed under the charter, because it is “neither arbitrary, over-broad or grossly disproportionate.”

Still, he acknowledged the possibility that it could be struck down as a violation of equality rights or the right to life, liberty and security of the person, notwithstanding the government’s view.

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“The government is aware that there are strong constitutional opinions to the contrary and that the arguments against this aspect of C-7 are worthy of serious consideration and debate,” Gold said.

“I certainly have wrestled with them, as should we all.”

He promised that amendments to improve the bill would be seriously considered by the government.

Sen. Stan Kutcher, a psychiatrist who is a member of the Independent Senators Group, told the Senate that the exclusion of people suffering solely from mental illness is unacceptable and “dehumanizing.”

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Assisted dying bill passes House of Commons after filibuster delay

“It perpetuates centuries-long stigmatization of those living with mental disorders as incompetent and incapable beings,” he said.

The reasons the government gives for the exclusion apply to people with physical illnesses as well, Kutcher argued, noting that “the presence of a severe and chronic illness is, by itself, an elevated risk factor for suicide.”

He promoted the idea of adding a sunset clause, giving time for adequate guidelines to be developed for allowing MAID to people suffering solely from mental illness.

But that was “vehemently opposed” by Conservative Sen. Denise Batters, whose husband, former MP Dave Batters, took his own life after battling depression and anxiety.

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“I have seen up close the failures of our mental health system,” she said, citing costs, stigma and a lack of resources.

“The answer those barriers is to fix that system, not to confirm a mentally ill patient’s feelings of hopelessness and offer them the lethal means to suicide.”

Batters also argued that the bill makes people with disabilities “second-class citizens.”

Gold acknowledged the concerns of some senators that people with disabilities can’t make a real choice about ending their lives because they’re not given adequate access to palliative care or support services.

But while it’s important to improve such services, he said that issue falls under provincial jurisdiction and can’t be addressed through the Criminal Code.




© 2020 The Canadian Press





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For poorer countries, road to coronavirus vaccines far longer than the West – National


With Americans, Britons and Canadians rolling up their sleeves to receive coronavirus vaccines, the route out of the pandemic now seems clear to many in the West, even if the rollout will take many months. But for poorer countries, the road will be far longer and rougher.

The ambitious initiative known as COVAX created to ensure the entire world has access to COVID-19 vaccines has secured only a fraction of the 2 billion doses it hopes to buy over the next year, has yet to confirm any actual deals to ship out vaccines and is short on cash.

The virus that has killed more than 1.6 million people has exposed vast inequities between countries, as fragile health systems and smaller economies were often hit harder. COVAX was set up by the World Health Organization, vaccines alliance GAVI and CEPI, a global coalition to fight epidemics, to avoid the international stampede for vaccines that has accompanied past outbreaks and would reinforce those imbalances.

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Oxfam: 9/10 people living in the developing world will miss out on the COVID-19 vaccine


Oxfam: 9/10 people living in the developing world will miss out on the COVID-19 vaccine – Dec 12, 2020

But now some experts say the chances that coronavirus shots will be shared fairly between rich nations and the rest are fading fast. With vaccine supplies currently limited, developed countries, some of which helped fund the research with taxpayer money, are under tremendous pressure to protect their own populations and are buying up shots. Meanwhile, some poorer countries that signed up to the initiative are looking for alternatives because of fears it won’t deliver.

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Coronavirus vaccine storage issues could leave 3 billion without access

“It’s simple math,” said Arnaud Bernaert, head of global health at the World Economic Forum. Of the approximately 12 billion doses the pharmaceutical industry is expected to produce next year, about 9 billion shots have already been reserved by rich countries. “COVAX has not secured enough doses, and the way the situation may unfold is they will probably only get these doses fairly late.”

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To date, COVAX’s only confirmed, legally binding agreement is for up to 200 million doses, though that includes an option to order several times that number of additional doses, GAVI spokesman James Fulker said. It has agreements for another 500 million vaccines, but those are not legally binding.

The 200 million doses will come from the Serum Institute of India, the company that will likely make a large portion of the coronavirus shots destined for the developing world. CEO Adar Poonawalla says it has a confirmed order for 100 million doses each of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca and one from Novovax.

“We don’t have anything beyond that in writing,” he told The Associated Press. “If they want more, they’ll have to place more orders.”


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Coronavirus: WHO outlines top 3 priorities for COVID-19 vaccine rollout


Coronavirus: WHO outlines top 3 priorities for COVID-19 vaccine rollout – Dec 11, 2020

He said the lack of commitment from COVAX will mean a much longer wait for people in developing countries. Poonawalla also noted that his company’s first priority would be making shots for India, which has suggested it wants at least 300 million vaccines. It’s likely India would not be able to take all of those at once, but a big order could delay the distribution of vaccines for other parts of the developing world, Poonawalla said.

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Asked on Tuesday about why the Serum Institute was only contracted to produce 200 million vaccines for COVAX, WHO’s Dr. Bruce Aylward said they would go back to the company “to make sure they have the assurances they need.” He said the Serum Institute was “absolutely crucial to the supply of many vaccines.”

Potentially further slowing down the process is that neither the AstraZeneca vaccine nor the Novovax one has been licensed by any regulatory agency yet — and any injection distributed by COVAX will likely need WHO approval. COVAX does not have any supplies of the two vaccines that appear to be most effective so far — the Pfizer-BioNTech shot and the Moderna one. The United Kingdom has already begun giving the Pfizer vaccine, and the United States and Canada are rolling it out this week. Some Gulf countries have also authorized it.

Still, GAVI said they “aim to start rolling out safe and effective vaccines to COVAX (member countries) at scale within the first and second quarters of the New Year.”

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Even with vaccines in hand, the rollouts will take many months in rich countries, and many developing ones are facing serious logistical challenges that will add to delays, noted Dr. Gagandeep Kang, an infectious diseases expert at the Christian Medical College at Vellore in southern India.

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Senior officials at the WHO have acknowledged privately that attempts to fairly allocate vaccine through the initiative are flawed, despite publicly lauding its success.

“The whole call for global solidarity has mostly been lost,” said Dr. Katherine O’Brien, WHO’s vaccines chief, during a recent internal discussion, a recording of which was obtained by the AP.

Asked to clarify her remarks, O’Brien said in an email that “every country should have access to COVID-19 vaccines, as early as feasible.”


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Coronavirus: The challenges in distributing vaccines


Coronavirus: The challenges in distributing vaccines – Nov 26, 2020

Adding to COVAX’s difficulties, O’Brien noted at a news conference this month that it was still $5 billion short to buy the doses it’s planning to obtain next year.

According to a report GAVI issued ahead of a meeting this week, the alliance itself concluded that the risk COVAX will fail is “very high,” saying it was “established in record time and has to navigate unchartered territory.”

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John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, criticized Western countries for buying up the global vaccine supply “in excess of their needs while we in Africa are still struggling with the COVAX (effort).”

With no certainty about which shots would work, governments scrambled in recent months to sign multiple deals to ensure their citizens would have at least some COVID-19 injections. Canada, for example, bought nearly 200 million vaccines _ enough to cover its population of 38 million about five times over.

Nkengasong called the idea that people in rich countries would get immunized while Africans go without “a moral issue.”

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As rich nations prepare for coronavirus vaccine, others could be left behind: experts

Beyond the ethics, experts note that failing to protect people in the developing world will leave a reservoir of coronavirus that could spark new outbreaks at any time.

Amid fears COVAX can’t deliver, some developing countries are pulling out entirely or seeking their own private deals. Earlier this month, the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau announced it was abandoning the initiative and would get donated vaccines from the U.S. instead. Other low and middle-income countries, including Malaysia, Peru, and Bangladesh, have stayed in the initiative but also recently inked their own deals with drugmakers as a Plan B.

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Anban Pillay of the South African Ministry of Health said that joining COVAX was just a stop-gap measure before signing bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies.

Kate Elder, vaccines policy adviser at Doctors Without Borders, said “it’s increasingly looking like the ship has sailed on equitable vaccine distribution” _ and GAVI, WHO and others need to discuss how to increase vaccine manufacturing.

To that end, South Africa and India have asked the World Trade Organization to waive some provisions regulating intellectual property rights to make it easier for manufacturers in poor countries to make COVID-19 drugs and vaccines. But many rich countries are reluctant to do that.

As more countries in the West authorize the vaccine, “the difference between people in rich countries getting vaccinated and the lack of any vaccines for the developing world will become quite stark,” said Anna Marriott, health policy manager at Oxfam. “And it will only prolong the pandemic.”

___

Cheng reported from Toronto. Associated Press writers Cara Anna in Nairobi; Lori Hinnant in Paris; Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Julhas Alham in Dhaka, Bangladesh; Victoria Milko in Jakarta, Indonesia; Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.





© 2020 The Canadian Press





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Lametti questions Conservatives’ motives as debate over assisted dying bill drags on – National


Justice Minister David Lametti is questioning the sincerity of Conservatives who contend they’re holding up a bill on assisted dying because it doesn’t do enough to protect vulnerable people with disabilities.

Despite a looming, court-imposed deadline of Dec. 18, the Conservatives have been talking out the clock on Bill C-7, which would expand access to medically assisted death to people who are suffering intolerably but not near death.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has argued that protecting people with disabilities from being coerced or pressured by a lack of supports into an assisted death is more important than meeting the deadline.

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O’Toole says Tories are prepared to debate assisted dying bill around the clock

But if they prevent the bill from being passed in time, Lametti argued Wednesday it will create a legal void in Quebec, where people who are not near death will be able to receive medical help to end their lives without any safeguards at all.

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“I want to say that given their expressed concerns around safeguards, I do not understand the frankly irresponsible actions the Conservatives are taking in delaying this legislation, knowing full well the risks that could result in Quebec from a legal void,” Lametti told the House of Commons.

“If we reach the court deadline and nothing has changed, there will be no adequate safeguards in Quebec for those whose death is not reasonably foreseeable … I am unsure how the Conservatives can accept that as a possible outcome if their main concern is safeguards.”


Click to play video 'Bill aims to ease rules in Canada’s medically-assisted dying laws'







Bill aims to ease rules in Canada’s medically-assisted dying laws


Bill aims to ease rules in Canada’s medically-assisted dying laws – Feb 25, 2020

Lametti disputed O’Toole’s claim that Conservatives simply want to improve the bill.

“Unfortunately, the Conservatives have made it clear that they are not interested in improving the bill. They want to stop it from moving forward, all this while people continue to suffer across the country,” he said.

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The bill is intended to bring the law into compliance with a Quebec Superior Court ruling last fall which struck down a provision allowing medical assistance in dying (MAID) only for those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable.

It would drop the foreseeable death requirement but would set out more stringent conditions for those who are not near death, while relaxing the rules somewhat for those who are.

At the current pace, it is unlikely that the bill will be adopted by both houses of Parliament by Dec. 18.

Read more:
Tory MPs still debating Canada’s assisted dying bill as deadline looms

The Commons is to take an extended break for the holidays, starting Friday. If the government should manage to get it to a vote in the Commons before then, it would still need to be dealt with by the Senate, which could yet amend the bill and send it back to the Commons.

The minority Liberal government could try to cut off debate on the bill in the Commons but would need the support of one of the major opposition parties to do so. While both the Bloc Quebecois and NDP support the bill, their respective leaders said Wednesday that they would not support imposing closure on the debate.

That leaves Lametti with only one option: to request another extension of the deadline from the court, which has extended it twice already.

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However, he stressed Wednesday: “There is absolutely no assurance that a Quebec court will further grant extensions to the current suspension of invalidity.”


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Changes coming to medical assistance in dying legislation


Changes coming to medical assistance in dying legislation – Jan 19, 2020

Conservatives have pointed out that every national disability rights organization in the country is vehemently opposed to the bill, believing that it sends a message that life is not worth living with a disability.

Lametti said he listened to those groups before the bill was drafted. But he said he also listened to individuals with disabilities “who believe that limiting medical access in dying to those who are dying is a violation of their rights and self-determination.”

That includes people like Jean Truchon and Nicole Gladu, the two Quebecers who successfully challenged the foreseeable death restriction. And, he said, it includes Julia Lamb, the British Columbian who initiated her own challenge to the law and made it clear that “she spoke for herself and that the leadership of the disability community did not speak for her.”

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Lametti called the bill an “important and prudent step forward in ensuring greater respect for autonomy of a broader category of Canadians who are suffering intolerably” and maintained it “carefully balances competing interests and values.”

Read more:
Canadian Senators mull how far to go to protect charter rights in assisted dying bill

He contends that the Conservatives’ “obstructionism” will mean people who are near death and approved for MAID but fear losing the mental capacity to consent a second time immediately before receiving the procedure — as currently required in the law — will continue having to make the “awful choice” to end their lives prematurely.

“Still others who are experiencing intolerable suffering and who have received all the necessary medical diagnoses will remain ineligible as a direct result of the Conservatives’ delay tactics,” he said.

At one point, Lametti suggested the delaying tactics are a result of O’Toole being unable to control the “religious right” in his caucus.

That prompted Conservative MP Garnett Genuis to accuse him of “bigotry” towards people of faith. Lametti countered that he is himself a person of faith.




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Information commissioner slams RCMP for access-to-information failures, calls for ‘urgent’ action – National


Parliament’s information commissioner said Canada’s federal police force needs an “urgent … change of course” when it comes to handling requests made to it under the federal Access to Information Act.

In response, the minister in charge of the RCMP, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, issued a “ministerial directive” that the RCMP must respond to the information commissioner’s scathing indictment “in full” within three months.

Information Commissioner Caroline Maynard had launched a special investigation of the RCMP for repeated and systemic violations of the Access to Information Act.

Maynard tabled her report “Access at Issue: The Need for Leadership” in the House of Commons Tuesday. MPs on the House access to information and ethics standing committee will now consider her recommendations.

“The key findings in my special report lead me to conclude the obvious: a change of course in the area of access at the RCMP is urgently needed,” Maynard said in a statement. “If the Minister and senior RCMP leaders fail to act on my findings, the organization will continue to fail at upholding the right of access.”

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Trudeau responds to commissioner’s report on RCMP handling of information requests


Trudeau responds to commissioner’s report on RCMP handling of information requests – Nov 17, 2020

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Maynard’s office found that when it tried to investigate individual complaints made by requesters about the RCMP’s failure to provide information, the RCMP failed to respond to her investigators’ queries.

“I want to stress that the situation in the RCMP is critical and may soon cross the point of no return, unless the organization’s senior leadership takes immediate action,” Maynard said in the report. “It is critically important that the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (Bill Blair), to whom the RCMP reports, ensure that the necessary resources, processes and tools are available so that the RCMP can begin to meet its obligations under the Act.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would consider Maynard’s recommendations though he did not commit his government to any particular course of action.

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“Canadians need to have confidence in their institutions. We need particularly to have confidence in institutions like police forces like the RCMP. One of the best ways to do that is to demonstrate transparency and accountability. We have seen in the past there have been challenges on that,” Trudeau said Tuesday. “We will certainly be looking at how we can ensure that Canadians have full confidence in their national police force.”

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In her report, though, Maynard stressed over and over that previous commitments to do better have not been followed up with appropriate action.

“There is clear evidence that the RCMP’s inability to meet statutory timeframes under the Act is the norm, not the exception,” Maynard wrote. “The RCMP Commissioner [Brenda Lucki] and the Minister both appear to accept the status quo and are only prepared to commit to minimal improvements without a clear plan of action or timelines. In the current context, this is simply insufficient.”

For the fiscal year that ended on March 31, 2020, the RCMP received 4,436 requests for information, the third highest number of any government department, and, according to Treasury Board data, had carried over 3,428 requests from 2018-2019.

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But by year’s end, the RCMP had only closed 53 per cent of those requests requests, easily the lowest closure rate of any major federal department dealing with more than 1,000 requests in the year. The goverment-wide closure rate by comparison was 83 per cent.

Moreover, another department within Blair’s portfolio, the Canada Border Services Agency, which also handles sensitive files often pertaining to national security, handled more requests — 9,399 — and closed 86 per cent during the year.

Maynard made several recommendations to improve the RCMP’s access-to-information performance and, before publishing her report, she submitted those recommendations to Blair’s office for comment.

But, time and again in her report, Maynard said Blair appeared not to be taking her six recommendations seriously, to wit:

  • “The Minister’s response is disappointing … “
  • “The Minister of Public Safety has not committed the RCMP to implementing or adopting more innovative digital approaches or investing in digital skills development for staff.”
  • “It appears that there is still no targeted plan to channel some of those new resources to its ATIP program.”
  • “The RCMP still lacks a comprehensive strategy to address the persistent problems identified by the [information commissioner].””
  • “The Minister’s response on tasking is not satisfactory,…”
  • “The Minister did not commit the RCMP to implementing an audit capacity to ensure that [standard operating procedures] are implemented consistently across the organization and over time.”

Challenged on those comments, Blair said he was only advised on Sunday of the recommendations that Maynard would make.

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“I take our transparency very seriously,” Blair told reporters. “I did not ignore her recommendations.”

Blair has also instructed the RCMP that the plans to change the force’s access-to-information (ATI) performance will have to be validated by Treasury Board officials. The Treasury Board is the central government agency responsible for overall administration of the Access to Information Act government wide even though ministers, like Blair, are responsible to Parliament for their department’s performance under the Act. It is an unusual and rare act for any minister to ask an external agency such as Treasury Board to essentially approve plans to boost performance.

For its part, the RCMP said it is already proceeding to implement some of the information commissioner’s recommendations.

“The RCMP agrees with the recommendation … into how we process requests, and we acknowledge our challenges in fulfilling our obligations under the Access to Information Act,” RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Caroline Duval said an e-mailed statement. “We remain committed to providing Canadians with information in a timely manner.”

Duval said that, among other things, the RCMP has created a new unit to triage request responses and is in the process of buying new software for the ATI unit.

Maynard’s findings come after an internal RCMP audit published earlier this year that found the force’s access to information understaffed and poorly managed. Moreover, the audit team was unable to properly document the force’s failures to fulfill its responsibilities under the Access to Information Act because the force simply was not collecting enough or appropriate information about its own performance.

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“The audit team was unable to assess the effectiveness of the initiatives given the lack of evidence-based performance information,” the audit said.

The RCMP said it is working to address some of the audit’s recommendations but that it could take two years to do so.




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Amy Coney Barrett to hear first arguments in U.S. Supreme Court – National


Justice Amy Coney Barrett is expected to join her Supreme Court colleagues on Monday to hear arguments for the first time.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the high court began hearing cases by phone in May. That means the public won’t see the new justice, but they’ll be able to hear her if she asks questions, as all her colleagues have been doing. Also because of the pandemic, the court has been allowing the public to listen to arguments in real time, a change from the past.

Participating in oral arguments will be among the first things Barrett will do after being confirmed last week in a 52-48 virtual party-line vote, with Republicans overpowering Democrats to install President Donald Trump’s third Supreme Court nominee.

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How closely is the LGBTQ2 community watching the U.S. election? Very

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She did not participate in decisions the high court issued last week involving extended timelines for receiving and counting ballots in Pennsylvania and North Carolina because of the need for a quick resolution and “because she has not had time to fully review the parties’ filings,” the court’s spokeswoman said in a statement. But her vote also wouldn’t have changed the outcome in either case.

The two cases Barrett will hear Monday are relatively low-profile, a dispute involving the Freedom of Information Act and another involving disability benefits for railroad employees. On Tuesday, however, as the country finishes voting, the court’s cases include one about sentencing young people to life without parole. And on Wednesday, the day after Election Day, the court hears a case that involves a clash of LGBTQ rights and religious freedoms in a major swing state, Pennsylvania.


Click to play video 'SCOTUS nominee Barrett says she’s not ‘on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act’'







SCOTUS nominee Barrett says she’s not ‘on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act’


SCOTUS nominee Barrett says she’s not ‘on a mission to destroy the Affordable Care Act’ – Oct 13, 2020

Next week brings a case that could threaten the Affordable Care Act, one that was front and centre during Barrett’s confirmation hearings last month. Democrats claimed that the Obama-era health law, known as “Obamacare,” would be in jeopardy if Barrett joined the court. Trump has urged the court to overturn the law.

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The justices have said they will continue to hear cases by phone through at least December. So it’s unclear when Barrett will move in to her offices at the court, taking over the space of her predecessor, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

On Monday, Chief Justice John Roberts is expected to offer a traditional, short welcome, to Barrett before arguments begin, wishing her “a long and happy career in our common calling.” And the court will have a typical two hours of argument in two cases.


Click to play video 'SCOTUS nominee Barrett won’t ‘pre-commit’ when asked about landmark case Roe v. Wade on abortion'







SCOTUS nominee Barrett won’t ‘pre-commit’ when asked about landmark case Roe v. Wade on abortion


SCOTUS nominee Barrett won’t ‘pre-commit’ when asked about landmark case Roe v. Wade on abortion – Oct 13, 2020

The pandemic has upended other traditions. If the justices were in their courtroom, Barrett would join her colleagues in a round of handshakes before taking the bench, a tradition every time the justices meet for argument or their private conference that was suspended months ago because of the pandemic. Spectators would see her emerge from behind the court’s red curtains and take a seat on the far right hand side of the bench, the junior-most justice’s seat. She would be seated next to Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first nominee to the court.

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And while arguments in the courtroom are a free-for-all, with justices constantly jumping in with questions, the court’s phone-arguments are more orderly. Each justice gets to ask each lawyer questions in order of seniority. As the junior justice, Barrett will ask her questions last.




© 2020 The Canadian Press





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Fewer veterans have applied for disability during COVID-19, sparking accessibility concerns – National


The federal government is being criticized for not doing enough to help disabled veterans as new figures appear to confirm fears COVID-19 is making it more difficult for them to apply for assistance.

The figures from Veterans Affairs Canada show about 8,000 veterans applied for disability benefits during the first three full months of the pandemic, which was about half the normal number.

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Career caravan offers Canadian military veterans opportunity to learn skills in software, cyber security

The sharp drop in the number of applications helped the department make a dent in the backlog of more than 40,000 requests for federal assistance waiting to be processed.

Yet the department also acknowledges at least part of the decline is likely because the pandemic made it harder for veterans to get the necessary information to apply, such as doctor’s assessments.

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That is exactly what Brian Forbes, chairman of the National Council of Veterans Associations, has been warning about since the spring.

Forbes, whose organization represents more than 60 veterans groups in Canada, says he is frustrated because the government has not moved to address the problem despite knowing about it for months, and that now is the time to act.


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Veterans will be granted free parking year round in Vancouver


Veterans will be granted free parking year round in Vancouver – Oct 22, 2020




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Canadians with disabilities struggling financially due to coronavirus pandemic: survey – National


More than half of Canadians with disabilities who participated in a crowdsourced survey are struggling to make ends meet because of the financial fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, a new report suggests.

Statistics Canada published findings on Thursday gathered from approximately 13,000 Canadians with long-term conditions or disabilities who voluntarily filled out an online questionnaire between June 3 and July 23.

Read more:
People with disabilities, autism carry a heavier pandemic burden, advocates say

 

Unlike most of the agency’s studies, the survey wasn’t randomly sampled and therefore isn’t statistically representative of the Canadian population.

The responses indicate the pandemic has affected the ability of 61 per cent of participants age 15 to 64 to fulfil at least one financial obligation or essential need, including housing payments, basic utilities and prescription medication.

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Forty-four per cent of respondents reported concerns about paying for groceries, while 40 per cent were worried about the costs of personal protective equipment.






COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate


COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate

Nearly one-third of participants said their overall household income has declined since lockdown began. More than half of this group reported losses greater than $1,000 a month.

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Of those who were employed prior to the pandemic, 36 per cent said they were laid off or saw their hours cut.

Almost half of participants said they’ve relied solely on non-employment income in the months since the outbreak hit. The most common sources were disability assistance and pandemic-related income supports such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

Michael Prince, a professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said the survey only begins to “scratch the surface” of the potential long-term financial repercussions of the pandemic for people with disabilities.

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He noted that the survey found young people were more likely to likely to have seen employment changes than other age groups, possibly permanently severing their ties to the workforce.

Read more:
Coronavirus: Payments for Canadians with disabilities still in limbo

“There’s some concern that people with disabilities may be some of the last rehired,” Prince said.

A 2017 study by Statistics Canada found that people with disabilities were more likely to live below the poverty line, and those who are employed tend to earn less than their counterparts without disabilities.

The authors of Thursday’s report raised concerns that financial losses linked to the pandemic could put many people with disabilities in an even more vulnerable position.

Earlier this week, the parliamentary budget office reported that Ottawa is spending $792 million on a one-time payment of up to $600 to help 1.67 million people with disabilities.






COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate


COVID-19 support for people with disabilities inadequate says advocate

Kyle Vose, agency co-chair of the ODSP Action Coalition, noted that many Canadians with disabilities don’t qualify for the payment, and for those that do, the sum is a pittance compared to the extra costs linked to COVID-19.

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“We’re people with disabilities, so we’re used to not getting anything,” Vose said. “We’re just hoping for something.”

Before the pandemic, Vose said, lots of people on the Ontario Disability Support Program were barely scraping by.

Now, Vose said, many are “falling through the cracks” as the prices of essentials such as food, medication and transportation have gone up, and services to support low-income people have been cut back.

Most Canadians are struggling during the pandemic, he said, but for people with disabilities, those burdens are often compounded by accessibility issues that can make meeting basic needs more difficult, and often, more expensive.

“There’s got to be some sort of understanding here, and there doesn’t seem to ever be that understanding.”



© 2020 The Canadian Press





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