Category: Canada

Coronavirus patient showed mild symptoms on flight

OTTAWA – The first Canadian patient diagnosed with a novel form of coronavirus began showing signs of illness on the plane that brought him back from the disease’s epicentre., Canada’s Chief Public Health officer said Sunday as she stressed the risk of future infection is low.

Dr. Theresa Tam said the man in his 50’s, currently in stable condition in a Toronto hospital, showed mild symptoms on the flight that brought him back to the country from China earlier this week.

Tam said authorities are now working to help track some of his fellow passengers, but said the case demonstrates that the country’s public health protocols are working.

“The patient has been managed with all appropriate infection and prevention control protocols, so the risk of onward spread in Canada is low,” Tam said at a morning news conference. “Nevertheless it would not be unexpected that there will be more cases imported into Canada in the near-term given global travel patterns.”

Tam said the Ontario patient did not report his flu-like symptoms upon first landing in Toronto, but did share his recent stay in Wuhan with first responders when he sought medical help the next day. The man remains in hospital, where Ontario health authorities said he’s being held in a negative-pressure room used to contain airborne illnesses.

Despite her concession that future Canadian cases are expected, Tam said close, prolonged human-to-human contact is usually necessary for the disease to spread.

The news of Canada’s first coronavirus patient comes as authorities around the world grapple with the new type of virus, which originated in China but has since spread to Europe and North America.

There are more than 1,975 cases so far, including three in France and two in the United States.

While 56 people have died of the virus in China – most of the deaths have been older patients – the World Health Organization has not declared the outbreak an international public health emergency.

This report by the Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020.



Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

One body found as police search for missing French snowmobilers for third day

ST-HENRI-DE-TAILLON, Que. – Rescue divers with Quebec’s provincial police have pulled the body of one of the five missing French snowmobilers out of the waters of a river in the province’s Lac-Saint-Jean region.

Four other tourists from eastern France remain unaccounted for Friday as authorities continued to search on land, on the water and from the air.

Police say the body was located about two kilometres from where police found submerged snowmobiles and other personal items on Thursday.

They did not identify which of the five missing tourists was found.

For reasons that remain unclear, the group of nine snowmobilers, including their Quebec guide, left the safety of the marked trail through the woods and ventured towards the icy expanse of Lac-Saint-Jean, where the ice gave way somewhere between St-Henri-de-Taillon and Alma.

Two of them managed to get a third person out of the water and alerted authorities. Their guide, 42-year-old Benoit L’Esperance of Montreal, was recovered from the freezing waters and died later in hospital.

The five missing French snowmobilers were identified by police as Gilles Claude, 58, Yan Thierry and Jean-Rene Dumoulin, both 24, Julien Benoit, 34, and Arnaud Antoine, 25.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

The Canadian Press

How letters to his daughter helped Poilievre back out of Tory leadership race

OTTAWA – Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre had spent weeks pushing past a fear about what a run for the Conservative leadership would mean for his family.

He’d promised his wife and 18-month-old daughter, and himself, that after the October election they’d have a more “normal” life, but things had changed. He’d been swept up in the excitement of the party’s leadership race and decided he’d run.

He spent weeks crossing the country to put together a team, brought on prominent strategists, began nailing down companies to provide the back-end support he’d need, and started giving media interviews laying out some ideas. But over the past three weeks, his doubts had grown.

On Thursday, he dropped out, throwing a bombshell into the ongoing leadership campaign.

Many had considered him a front-runner, and his departure has raised questions about who will fill the space in the race he’d held: deep roots in the party, a passion for fiscal policy and a rough edge already known to get under the Liberals’ skin.

They’d gunned hard for his Ottawa-area riding during the October vote, even sending Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the area several times in a bid to get more exposure for his rival.

Poilievre, 40, became an MP in 2004, and has been in public life ever since. But he said Friday that running for leadership was unlike any other experience in his political career. He knew the campaign for the job, and what could come after it, could potentially take up the next decade of his life or more. 

“As someone who has put my life on hold, my personal life on hold, for Parliament and for public service for over a decade and a half, I really got to a culmination point where I had to make a decision to have more normality in my life, or sacrifice that entirely for a campaign that was going to be all consuming,” he said.

Still, he kept on building his team, because being decisive is what leaders do, he said.

Then, it all got very real. A hall was booked to formally launch on Sunday. His campaign manager was about to quit his day job. Contracts were ready to be signed and $25,000 was set to be given to the party.

“This week was fish or cut bait,” he said.

He went to bed Wednesday night with a pledge: if he woke up in the morning and wasn’t fully convinced that it was the right thing to do, he’d drop out. Otherwise, he’d be wasting a lot of people’s time and money.

“I woke up yesterday morning and I wasn’t 100 per cent in,” he said.

Though he’d canvassed many people to make his decision to run – including former prime minister Stephen Harper –  it was advice from one of his friends that underpinned his choice to back out.

The suggestion was this: write two letters to your daughter. In one, explain to her why you ran. In the other, explain why you didn’t.

“The letter that I wrote for her that indicated my decision not to run is the better one,” he said Friday.

“And I hope one day she reads it.”

Poilievre, known as a hard-edged scrappy fighter on the floor of the House of Commons, grew emotional as he described what went into his decision. Still, he says he is very much at peace with it now.

On Thursday, after the news was out, he picked his daughter up at daycare. He hadn’t done that in a while. They went out for a cheeseburger.

“It was more tranquil and relaxed than I have been in a very long time.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Scope of right-wing extremism vexed security officials, documents show

OTTAWA – Canadian security officials have been grappling not only with how to address the growing threat of right-wing extremism, but also the best means of defining the phenomenon and explaining it to the public, newly released documents show.

In a briefing for deputy ministers responsible for national security, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP openly asked whether, given the nature of the threat, the government of Canada was “able to effectively respond?”

The secret briefing was aimed at providing the senior officials with an overview of right-wing extremism in Canada and fostering discussion of “broader considerations” on dealing with the issue, says a heavily censored version of the April 2019 document, released through the Access to Information Act.

Ralph Goodale, public safety minister at the time, also received a briefing on the issue, an accompanying memo indicates.

CSIS, which has spent much of the last two decades investigating jihadi-inspired terrorism, said last year it was increasingly preoccupied by those looking to support or engage in violence that is racially motivated, ethno-nationalist, anti-government or misogynist in nature.

After the devastating New Zealand mosque shooting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last March that Canada had taken important steps to combat discrimination and hate.

“We have stepped up investigations into groups that spread hate propaganda, including white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. We have implemented significant gun-control reforms. We have increased funding to protect places of worship. We have also invested in programs that promote inclusion, build bridges between people and celebrate our diversity,” Trudeau told the House of Commons.

“Nevertheless, we know there is still a lot of work to do, but I want everyone to hear me when I say that we are going to do what needs to be done.”

Less than a month later, the briefing from security agencies asked:

– Are terms like “right-wing extremism” or “far right” accurate? “Do we need a broader conversation on how we understand and describe all types of ideologically motivated violence?”

– How should agencies articulate the threat to government officials and the Canadian public?

– At what point are these activities considered terrorism?

– How do federal officials help Canadians report violent extremist behaviour?

The internal briefing document notes that the investigation of hate crimes – offences involving elements such as propaganda, promotion of genocide and targeted vandalism – falls largely to local police forces, which in some communities is the RCMP.

National-security criminal investigations can be triggered when there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear ideological basis and motivation for the act, the briefing added. But it cautioned: “Obtaining sufficient evidence to warrant a terrorism charge can be challenging.”

Authorities might be concerned the same problems that occasionally emerge in terrorism cases around being able to prosecute on the basis of a demonstrated “political religious or ideological motivation” may also occur with right-wing extremism cases, said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa security and intelligence expert.

That concern is likely to fade should right-wing extremism in Canada begin to reveal genuine connections with overseas movements and doctrines, he said.

Closing any gaps between local police, the RCMP and CSIS could be achieved by ensuring that existing Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, which include players from various agencies, are “fully seized” with the far-right threat, Wark added. 

The briefing mentions a proposal to include, for the first time, right-wing extremist groups on the national list of terrorist organizations.

Blood & Honour, an international neo-Nazi network, and its armed branch, Combat 18, were indeed added to the roster last June, opening the door to stiff criminal sanctions. A group on Canada’s terrorist list may have their assets seized, and there are serious criminal penalties for helping listed organizations carry out extremist activities.

In the briefing, the RCMP also flagged efforts to create awareness of right-wing extremism through community outreach activities and developing partnerships.

The force noted its program on terrorism awareness for emergency personnel – often the first ones at a crime scene – now includes a segment on the far right.

Wark said this would be “a recent development and is a good sign.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Quebec police divers find final sunk snowmobile amid search for missing tourists

ST-HENRI-DE-TAILLON, Que. – Divers with Quebec’s provincial police say they have located the seventh and final submerged snowmobile involved in a tragic accident last Tuesday in the province’s Lac-Saint-Jean region.

The search for four missing tourists from eastern France resumed this morning, five days after a group and their guide disappeared into the icy waters while snowmobiling off-trail.

While five men were orginally reported missing, divers found the body of 58-year-old Gilles Claude on Friday, about two kilometres from where the first snowmobiles were located.

The guide, Benoit L’Esperance of Montreal, was pulled from the water by rescuers on Tuesday night and died in hospital early Wednesday.

A total of eight tourists and their guide were travelling near Lac-Saint-Jean on Tuesday evening when the ice gave way somewhere between St-Henri-de-Taillon and Alma.

Two of the travelling party managed to save a third tourist who’d fallen into the water and they made it to shore and alerted authorities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 26, 2020

The Canadian Press

N.L. seeking financial help as municipalities recover from major storm

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. – One week after a record-breaking blizzard battered eastern Newfoundland, businesses in St. John’s were permitted to call in staff Friday to prepare for the lifting of a state of emergency the next morning.

The provincial capital has been under the emergency declaration for eight days since last week’s fierce storm that dumped more than 76 centimetres of snow in a single day.

The city has kept emergency measures in place while staff worked to clear the streets, as have several neighbouring towns including Mount Pearl, which lifted its own state of emergency on Friday.

As communities in the region gradually work their way back to normal operations, many municipal politicians say they are seeking financial assistance for million of dollars from storm-related costs, including damages, worker overtime and extra fuel for snow-clearing equipment.

St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen said this week he would be seeking assistance from the federal government to help cover the cost of the cleanup and to support workers who lost pay during the shutdown, though the city has not yet put a price tag on the operation.

In a news conference Friday, Breen said: “I’m not focused on the cost of this operation, I’m focused on of getting it done.”

He said the city has been challenged by back-to-back heavy snowfalls this winter, even before the most recent blizzard. He warned that conditions would remain tricky and said the city still has work to do, advising drivers to remain cautious when hitting the roads on Saturday.

In an effort to reduce traffic while cleanup work continues, the city is offering free public transit until Feb. 7.

North of St. John’s in the historic community of Bonavista, Mayor John Norman said the storm surge and waves – some of them up to nine metres high – had knocked down already deteriorating sea walls that protect aging homes along the coast.

The town is still working on cost estimates, but Norman said he’s “quite certain” Bonavista has taken on at least $1 million in damage.

A week after the storm, Norman said the need for funding has become urgent. He expects the infrastructure will not withstand another major storm without far more severe and costly damages to homes, roads and water and sewer lines underneath.

“We’re now in an emergency situation,” Norman said by phone Friday.

After witnessing increasingly severe storms over the last few years, Norman said he has “no doubt” his community is being affected by climate change, and infrastructure needs to be adapted accordingly.

“There’s no possible way anyone that anyone in Newfoundland these days can deny that the climate is more volatile. Winter storms, summer storms, fall hurricanes, everything is stronger in the last 15 or 20 years,” he said.

Conception Bay South, another coastal community on the Avalon Peninsula, also saw major damage to infrastructure from the storm surge.

Mayor Terry French said the surging ocean damaged roads across his community, ripped storm sewers out of the ground and destroyed parts of a central walking trail.

“We’re looking at millions of dollars, if not tens of millions of dollars, to replace some of this – and some of it we’ve got to do right away,” he said. “Obviously, living in Newfoundland and Labrador, we know the wind will blow again.”

For the City of Mount Pearl. which borders St. John’s, mayor Dave Aker said the biggest costs will come from the extra snow-clearing efforts, including worker overtime, road salt, equipment maintenance and fuel.

“There’s no doubt, it’s going to be a lot of money,” he said, adding it’s too early to know the total cost.

In Bay Roberts, about 90 kilometres west of St. John’s, Mayor Philip Wood said he’s heard of some operators working 75 hours this week – essentially double their usual weekly hours.

He said the town is hoping to receive some funding if federal assistance is made available to cover costs.

“It’s gonna be costly, but it’s not gonna break us,” Wood said.

Premier Dwight Ball said Thursday the province would request financial assistance from Ottawa to help recover costs to communities and infrastructure.

About 400 Armed Forces personnel have been in the province this week, responding to hundreds of requests from people unable to dig themselves out of their homes.

Federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair told reporters in Ottawa on Friday morning that the Liberal government would do all it could to help people in the region recover from the storm.

“Newfoundlanders can count on our support,” said Blair.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press

Trump, seeking support, headlines anti-abortion rally in Washington

WASHINGTON – Donald Trump threw his arms around America’s formidable anti-abortion movement Friday, making history as the first sitting president to ever address the annual March for Life rally in person and starkly illustrating a fundamental political distinction between Canada and the United States.

Trump, anxious to buttress his bona fides with the evangelical Christian voters so pivotal to his 2016 election win, ascended a stage in the shadow of the Washington Monument and within sight of Capitol Hill, where lawmakers were taking part in the president’s ongoing impeachment trial.

“They are coming after me because I am fighting for you, and we are fighting for those who have no voice,” Trump said to lusty, sustained cheers, giving the gathering the flavour of one of his famous “Make America Great Again” rallies.

“We will win, because – we all know how to win, we all know how to win. We’ve been winning for a long time.”

The notion of a leader using abortion of all things for cover from the tumult of a partisan firestorm would surely make Canadian heads spin – particularly just three months removed from a federal election where the mere whiff of the issue cost Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer a shot at forming government, and ultimately his job.

“That is a question we ask ourselves all the time – why is it almost like a right to be able to speak about abortion (in the United States)?” said Jeff Gunnarson, the national president of the Toronto-based anti-abortion Campaign Life Coalition.

 “It’s expected to be a part of any election platform down here, and in Canada it’s far from that.”

That’s not to say that public attitudes towards abortion are all that different north of the border, said Gunnarson, who led a contingent of about 40 Canadian activists down from Toronto to attend Friday’s rally, many of them wearing red ball caps emblazoned with the slogan, “Make Canada Pro-Life Again.”

The fact that it makes some in Canada – and, by association, many members of Parliament – politically queasy does not necessarily reflect the way Canadians feel about it, he added.

“So it’s never going to go away – the fact is that there’s no peace on this issue. It’s certainly not settled in Canada, and in the States for that matter.”

Like so many things with Trump, the president’s own position on abortion has been a moving target since he got into politics. Despite having described himself as “pro-choice in every respect” in a 1999 interview, he won the support of social conservatives in 2016 by declaring he now opposed abortion except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life was in danger.

There were signs of a break in that alliance late last year, when the newly impeached president lost the support of the influential evangelical magazine Christianity Today, which published an explosive editorial accusing Trump of “profoundly immoral” conduct and called for his ouster.

But there was little outward evidence on the National Mall of any shaken faith Friday. Pro-Trump flags, placards reading “Most Pro-Life President Ever” and those familiar red hats were out in force, rivalled only by anti-abortion sentiments and Bible passages. Trump campaign operatives could be seen gathering signatures and handing out signs that urged others to join mailing lists.  

At first, attendance for Trump’s speech appeared relatively scant -maybe a few thousand. But on the other side of the security gauntlet of metal detectors and Secret Service agents, several thousand more were jammed together, cheek-by-jowl, in what by then was a futile attempt to see the president speak.  

“We must protect, cherish and defend the dignity and sanctity of every human life,” Trump declared from the stage, reading from his TelePrompTer. “Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House.”

Kyle Etzel, a 28-year-old seminary student from St. Paul, Minn., made the trip to attend Friday’s rally for the first time. Before Trump arrived, he acknowledged the controversies that seem to constantly surround the president as he suggested that for many American voters, the fight against abortion is the ultimate priority.

“An imperfect co-operation with God’s will is still some co-operation,” Etzel said. “I don’t think you have to buy into something whole-cloth to be able to be here and to support life. I’m glad we’re getting the extra press.”

Just last week, he noted, Pope Francis told a group of bishops at the Vatican that “the right to life is the pre-eminent issue of our time, especially here (in the U.S.),” Etzel said. 

As for what he was expecting Trump to say, Etzel smiled ruefully.

“You never know what you’re going to hear,” he said. “Hopefully it’s focused on the reason we’re here.”  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

-Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle

James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Senators may have to rein in activism in minority Parliament: new govt rep

OTTAWA – Independent senators may have to curb their enthusiasm for amending government legislation now that they’re operating in a minority Parliament, the government’s new representative in the Senate suggested Friday.

Sen. Marc Gold noted that never before has a minority government had to function alongside a more independent, less partisan Senate.

It’s not yet clear how that will play out.

“This is unprecedented in Canadian history,” Gold, a constitutional law expert and former chair of the Jewish Federations of Canada, said shortly after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced his appointment.

As government representative, Gold is now responsible for shepherding government legislation through the upper house, a tricky role in a place that has become increasingly more activist since Trudeau began transforming the so-called chamber of sober second thought.

Since taking office in 2015, Trudeau has dramatically changed the makeup and operation of the upper house, appointing only independents recommended by an arm’s-length advisory body. The Independent Senators Group now has 50 members, the Conservatives have 23 and the Canadian Senators Group 13. There are 12 non-affiliated senators and seven vacancies in the 105-seat chamber.

The Senate passed 88 government bills during Trudeau’s first mandate – 29 of them with amendments proposed by the Senate and accepted by the government.

Gold, who became a senator in 2016 and previously sat with the Independent Senators Group, said he’s proud of the work senators have done to improve legislation in the past. But he said they’ll now have to keep in mind that any bill that lands in the Senate will be the product of compromises worked out in the House of Commons, where the Trudeau government will need the support of at least one major opposition party to pass legislation and survive confidence votes. Any further tinkering by senators could upset that balance.

“I think senators will understand now that the legislation that’s coming to us is the product of compromise and I think that will be reflected in the way in which individual senators and the Senate as a whole responds,” he said.

During Trudeau’s first mandate, senators did not defeat any government legislation and ultimately deferred to the will of the elected House of Commons whenever the government rejected amendments proposed by the Senate.

Gold said that’s a sign of a “growing maturity” among senators, who recognize the constitutional role of the Senate as a “complementary chamber” in which “we’re not elected, we add value but we shouldn’t overreach.”

And as long as they stick to that, he said: “It’ll all work out fine. I’m confident that this Senate will make this Parliament work.”

The Quebec senator replaces Sen. Peter Harder, a former senior bureaucrat who had served as government representative in the Senate since 2016. He stepped down from the position in November, although he remains a senator.

“Senator Gold’s long record of personal and professional achievement, together with his commitment to promoting human rights and Canada’s regional diversity, will help us find common ground in the Senate as we invest in and protect our communities, create good middle-class jobs, and fight climate change,” Trudeau said in a statement.

Gold said he believes strongly in the reforms Trudeau has instituted to transform the Senate into a independent chamber of sober second thought, rather than the partisan echo chamber many believed it to be during decades of purely partisan appointments.

While taking on the role of government representative means he’ll no longer be entirely independent, Gold said he sees the role as also representing the interests of the Senate back to the government.

“So, in that sense, my role as government representative falls into line with my role as an independent senator or the senator that I chose to be when I applied for this gig. So it’s coherent and I’m comfortable that it’s a step in my evolution as a senator and in the evolution of the Senate,” he said.

A briefing note provided to Trudeau shortly after his re-election noted that overall, 24 vacancies are expected to pop up by the end of 2023. That does not include other senators who may step down prior to reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

The memo also notes that the Liberal platform promised to amend the Parliament of Canada Act “to reflect the Senate’s new, non-partisan role.” However, the remainder of what officials wrote has been redacted from the document because it is deemed sensitive government advice.

The legislation, which governs the allocation of resources to partisan government and Opposition caucuses in the Senate, does not reflect the changes that have occurred over the past four years. Gold said there’s no question in his mind that the act and the rules and practices of the Senate “have to be brought into line to reflect the reality of an increasingly independent Senate.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2020.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version erroneously attributed a statement to Sen. Marc Gold.

‘There are many degrees of hate’: Quebec blogger takes on far right

MONTREAL – Far-right group La Meute was once seen as a growing threat in Quebec, with members marching by the hundreds through city streets against what they claimed was the creeping “Islamization” of society.

But La Meute – or The Pack – began to implode just a few years after it was created in 2015. By 2019, its signature wolf-paw symbol had practically disappeared from view as infighting reportedly tore the group apart.

The demise of La Meute wasn’t by chance, says Xavier Camus, who calls himself a “progressive” blogger with ties to the province’s anti-fascist movement. He claims he and a loose network of “moles” infiltrated the group and brought it down by stirring up internal dissent.

“We destroyed La Meute. We generated an internal collapse,” Camus said one recent afternoon in a downtown vegetarian cafe. The far-right group’s leader, he said, has been left “a king without a kingdom.”

Camus is attracting increasing attention in Quebec as he uses his blog and Facebook page to expose people he believes espouse hate speech, with striking results.

On Jan. 7, a 38-year-old man appeared in court in Granby, Que., on charges of inciting hatred and advocating genocide after Camus exposed homophobic and racist online posts he allegedly wrote.

An October 2018 article on Camus’ blog drew attention to comments advocating the murder of Jews beneath a story on the Journal de Montreal website, and shortly afterwards police arrested and charged a 55-year-old man.

Camus has sunk the political ambitions of provincial political candidates by publishing their online Islamophobic comments. And the blogger got a Montreal city councillor kicked out of her caucus in March 2019 after he exposed her Facebook posts, in which she raged about the “Islamization of our country” after she was treated by an ophthalmologist who wore a hijab.

If the 42-year-old father and junior college philosophy professor stopped at posting about clear cases of racism and neo-Nazism, then he would probably receive less heat. But his critics accuse him and his ilk of starting more fires than they put out.

Francois Charbonneau, a political science professor at University of Ottawa, says Camus’ approach fails to distinguish between reprehensible online chatter and mainstream conservative political opinion.

“He hurts the possibility of dialogue between the left and the right,” Charbonneau said in a recent interview. For Camus and the wider anti-fascist movement, he said, there are no grey zones: “There is one side of ‘racists,’ without nuance, and then there is the big camp of ‘virtuous anti-fascists,’ also without nuance.”

Camus doesn’t come from the hardcore punk subculture that has helped fuel the North American anti-fascist movement. Instead, his political awakening occurred during the Quebec student strikes of 2005 and 2012. Rather than street fighting with the far right, Camus wages his battle with his computer, research skills and writing talent.

But there is a difference between exposing an alleged neo-Nazi and targeting citizens who makes stupid comments online about women in hijabs, says Charbonneau. The former action is laudable, while the latter might push someone into actually becoming a fascist, he said.

“We aren’t gods,” Charbonneau said. “We are all fallible. In your life, you can say something racist … but what should our reaction be?”

Camus’ blog and Facebook page also single out mainstream news columnists in Quebec who express nationalist, conservative opinions on such issues as immigration, secularism and Quebecois identity. His other targets include people who make off-colour and racist statements on social media or in the comment sections of news articles – whether or not they have clear links to far-right groups.

Camus dismisses the claim that his Facebook or blog equates conservative columnists in Quebec with neo-Nazis and fascists.

“There are many degrees of hate,” Camus said. “For example, neo-Nazism is an extreme ideology, and then there is ordinary Islamophobia, which is shared by a large number of people.”

It’s hard to prove Camus’ contention that there is a prominent anti-Islam strain in Quebec society. But it’s easy to find anecdotal examples of Quebecers’ discomfort with Muslim immigrants.

Last October, for example, the bishop of the diocese of Trois-Rivieres – located between Montreal and Quebec City – stopped the sale of an underused church to a Muslim group that wanted to transform it into a mosque. Local opposition to the sale was so strong the bishop nixed the deal out of fear for the safety of city’s Muslims.

Certain conservative columnists, Camus says, espouse nationalist rhetoric that helps to popularize a type of soft xenophobia, which becomes increasingly acceptable to the wider public. Far-right groups feed on that and take it a step further.

“More and more, in the collective memory, we have this common enemy – the Muslim,” he said. “And this figure of the common enemy was constructed. My bet is that it can also be deconstructed.”

It’s unclear whether Camus and a collection of anti-fascist moles actually “destroyed” La Meute. The group’s website and Facebook page are still active, and La Meute’s spokesman, Sylvain Brouillette, said Camus had as much influence on his group as have “pigeon droppings.”

Brouillette said in an interview through Facebook that La Meute continues to organize events at the “regional clan” level. The only reason his group hasn’t held any recent demonstrations, he said, is because its members have been satisfied with the current Quebec government of Premier Francois Legault.

Charbonneau questions whether far-right sentiment is truly increasing in the province and whether anti-hate vigilantism does anything to reduce intolerance in society.

But Camus says he is convinced that he and allies in the anti-fascist movement are doing the work that police, politicians, and journalists are failing to do to make the far-right as distasteful as possible to the wider public.

“The role of my blog will always be a sort of safeguard, to make different kinds of intolerance retreat,” he said. “My role is to show people: ‘Look, this is not normal what they are saying.’ These organizations are not normal.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Jan. 26, 2020.

Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Metis leaders raise concerns about national council, call for reform

OTTAWA – The regional Metis presidents of Ontario, Alberta and Saskatchewan are calling for reform of the Metis National Council, raising serious concerns about “dysfunction” and about a lack of transparency on the national body’s finances and administration.

Metis National Council vice-president David Chartrand rejects the allegations, saying the “real issue” involves concerns about the way the Ontario Metis government defines people as Metis, and the national body has told the Ontario body its membership in the governance institutions of the Metis Nation is suspended.

“This is about the very essence of protecting our nation,” Chartrand said.

Last week, the presidents of the Metis Nation of Ontario, the Metis Nation-Saskatchewan and the Metis Nation of Alberta – three of the national body’s five components, along with a similar group in British Columbia and one Manitoba, which Chartrand leads – met for two days to discuss ways to co-operate and to negotiate more directly with the federal government, circumventing the national council.

Last June, these same three regions each signed self-governing agreements with Ottawa. That’s the first time the federal government has signed such arrangements with Metis groups following recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions formally recognizing Metis rights and that they’re part of federal financial responsibilities.

The Metis Nation of Ontario’s president Margaret Froh said the meeting was positive, aimed at building on those agreements by working together and sharing ideas to help their communities.

“There was incredible goodwill, it was a respectful environment. We had an opportunity to talk about things like our registries, to talk about all the work that’s gone into our history, our governance, how it is that we manage our registry, the programs and services that we’re offering,” Froh said.

But the three leaders also discussed concerns they share about governance at the Metis National Council (MNC).

They issued a declaration that the MNC “has become increasingly dysfunctional and unaccountable to its governing members and the Metis citizens.”

They point to the fact the national council has not held a board of governors meeting in over 14 months, despite repeated requests for one.

Despite this, MNC president Clement Chartier sent a letter to Froh earlier this week advising her the Metis Nation of Ontario is suspended and no longer eligible to participate in the governance of the national council.

Alberta president Audrey Poitras said the MNC doesn’t have the authority to do this. A suspension can only be imposed by members at a general assembly meeting, she said, and she “absolutely” doesn’t accept that Ontario has been suspended.

The concerns about Ontario involve its citizenship registry. In August 2017, the provincial government and the Metis Nation of Ontario held a joint announcement outlining work by historians that had identified six new Metis communities in the province.

This sparked concerns in the national leadership that Ontario is allowing people who may not be Metis into its registry, and in doing so, is violating an agreement struck in 2002 among all the regional governments on an official citizenship definition.

The question of Metis identity is delicate, and fundamental. The Metis are descended from European fur traders and First Nations people, who intermingled beginning in the 18th century. But it’s only in the 1980s that the Canadian government recognized the Metis as an Indigenous People with rights under Canadian law. And only in 2003 did the Supreme Court of Canada rule that the Metis are a nation distinct from other Indigenous people with rights protected by the Constitution.

Chartrand does not believe the new communities are legitimate.

“They are not part of us, never were. There is no connection historically in any way or fashion that they can use as even an argument to say that they are part of our nation,” Chartrand said.

He believes allowing these new communities to become part of the Metis Nation could undermine its integrity by flooding the Metis nations with “hundreds of thousands, potentially millions, of people into our nation that aren’t us,” Chartrand said.

“It’s something we must clearly be fearful of as a people, because we cannot allow anybody to try to water down and create a special interest group of a nation, instead of a citizen of a nation.”

In November 2018 Chartrand brought these concerns to a general assembly and a resolution was passed that placed Ontario on probation. It called for an external committee to review Ontario’s membership registry.

But Ontario has refused to allow it. Froh said the registry belongs to her government and contains a large amount of sensitive, personal information.

The Ontario nation hired a historical expert to conduct its own review of the files, which Froh believes should help satisfy the concerns raised by Chartrand and others. She also called Chartrand’s concerns about thousands or millions of new citizens being added by Ontario “absurd,” noting her province’s registry has only about 20,000 members.

“What we have said is, we have and will complete this independent review … and we’ll be in a position to be able to talk about it, but we’re not prepared to simply open up our registry and all of that personal information to outsiders,” she said.

Poitras, the Albera leader, said she doesn’t have a problem with Ontario’s registry and doesn’t understand Chartrand’s concerns. She continues to call for a board meeting to discuss them.

“What we want is transparency and accountability, and if somebody is doing something wrong, let’s talk about what that wrong is and let’s fix it.”

The “tri-council” also raised questions about the finances and governance of the MNC in its resolution last week, including calls for more transparency about financial audits, and limits on amounts spent on consultants.

The three leaders called for a working group to discuss reforming the MNC “or the creation of a new national structure to better represent the interests of Metis governments.”

Their resolution also says they will continue to work through the MNC on funding negotiations until after the 2020 federal budget is released, as those talks are already underway. But they’re asking to negotiate directly with Ottawa in the future on program and service funding and to ensure money goes to Metis citizens and governments “without allocations to the MNC.”

Chartrand brushed aside the tri-council’s concerns, calling them “smoke and mirrors” designed to distract from a “backroom deal” brokered among the leaders. 

Froh said she hopes the politics involved in these issues doesn’t overshadow the progress that has been achieved when it comes to Metis governments finally getting recognition by the federal government.

“I don’t want people to lose track of the amazing thing that happened last week in that we, as Metis governments, came together, recognizing each other. That is what being self-determining is about, that’s what leadership is about: coming together to work together to move the yardstick forward to advance true reconciliation.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2020.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press