Canada to apologise for ‘LGBT purge’ in government

During the Cold War, hundreds of gay men and lesbians in Canada lost government and military jobs because of their sexual orientation after being harassed and interrogated under a national security campaign now dubbed the “LGBT purge”.

In 1986, Simon Thwaites was ordered into a meeting with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) special investigative unit. Investigators questioned the then-naval officer about his HIV status – positive, but asymptomatic.

Then they asked him to identify friends and other military members who were gay.

After the meeting, Thwaites’ security clearance was downgraded and he was re-assigned to menial tasks. His commanding officer recommended he be let go from the military because of his sexual orientation. In 1989, he was released for medical reasons.

Thwaites is one of hundreds of Canadian military and government employees who were drummed out of careers because of their sexual orientation, but the now 55-year-old’s case is one of the most well-documented.

That’s in part because he challenged his dismissal, and in 1994 a Canadian human rights tribunal found the military should have accommodated him, regardless of his HIV status.

He received compensation, but no pension or medical coverage. He had lost his job, his home, his car.

Decades later, he says it still makes him angry.

Later this year, the Canadian government is expected to apologise to Thwaites and all those in the federal civil service, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and the CAF who were subjected to a campaign of interrogation and harassment from the 1950s to the 1990s because of their sexuality.

In doing so, Canada will join countries like the UK, Australia and Germany in issuing official mea culpas for past injustices to their LGBT citizens.

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If the apology does come, says Thwaites, it will be significant.

It “reaffirms the fact that we’re not broken, there’s not something horribly wrong with us”, he says from his home in Halifax. “We didn’t do anything wrong by just being ourselves.”

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In the heat of the Cold War, gay men and lesbians in the civil service and the military were believed to pose a security risk, vulnerable to blackmail by Soviet agents.

Official figures are hard to come by, but hundreds of people are believed to have lost their jobs over the course of some four decades. Others were demoted, transferred or denied promotions.

Some were given the choice between being dismissed or undergoing psychiatric treatment.

In one bizarre effort in the 1960s, the government tried to develop an instrument dubbed the “fruit machine” by the RCMP.

The brainchild of researcher Frank Robert Wake, it was a crude detector built to identify homosexuals by monitoring pupil dilation when a person was exposed to pornography. Plagued with problems, the project was eventually mothballed.

In 1992, former army officer Michelle Douglas helped bring an end to discriminatory policies towards gays and lesbians.

After being discharged from the army because she was a lesbian, Ms Douglas launched a legal challenge and on the eve of the trial the military settled the case and changed its practices.

Four years later, the Canadian Human Rights Act was amended to include sexual orientation. This month, Canada added gender identity and gender orientation to the Act.

Thwaites is part of a class action lawsuit against the federal government for discrimination.

Lawyers representing those suing say an apology and redress are long overdue.

One of those lawyers, Douglas Elliott, estimates up to 10,000 people across the country could eventually be part of the class action, which combines three related cases.

Given the compensation requested in those previous lawsuits, “a fair figure would be C$1bn” ($757m; £594m), Elliot says. He hopes to settle with the Liberal government within the next two years.

Activists and others who have lobbied the government for years on this issue say the shame of being forced out of careers has left many with emotional scars.

Like Thwaites, “Bernie” is part of the class action lawsuit. He asked his real name not be used to protect his family’s privacy.

In 1984, the ex-sailor had just celebrated his 23rd birthday when military police asked if they could search his apartment. At first, he thought they were looking for drugs.

What they found were birthday cards sitting on his dining room table, many “gay oriented”, he said.

He was repeatedly interrogated by military police, asked detailed questions about his sexual activity. He was told to give up the names of other gay people in the military he knew.

He refused. Within months he was discharged.

“They considered me a security risk. They called me a sexual deviant. They offered me rehabilitation. I said: ‘I’m not sick.'”

He says his unit – all straight men – took him out to a gay bar on his last day.

“The ones who actually had an issue with gay people were outnumbered, they really were,” he says.

“But since it was such a powerful charge, such a powerful thing, it didn’t matter. All you needed was an accusation.”

He moved back to his home province and went back into the closet soon after, including a brief, failed marriage.

At 56, he is still struggling to come to terms with his sexuality.

“Life was good until they found out I was gay,” he says.

He plans to be in Ottawa for the apology because he wants it publicly recognised what happened to him was wrong.

“I want them to know what they did to us,” he says. “Even though it happened 33 years ago, it’s like it happened yesterday. The pain is still there. And I don’t think they appreciate it. This is a lifelong punishment.”

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the government will not only issue the formal apology but will expunge the records of people criminalised for their sexuality.

Liberal MP Randy Boissonnault, Trudeau’s special advisor on LGBTQ2 issues, says he has heard many “heartbreaking” stories like Thwaites and Bernie’s and says it is “critical” for the government to acknowledge past wrongs.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Boissonnault says. “People’s lives and careers were turned upside down.”

The apology is planned for this year, as many civil servants and former military personnel who were targeted are advancing in age.

Boissonnault says the government wanted to take time to consult broadly to ensure it is done right.

“We can’t move forward as a country, we can’t move forward as a community, until this is done,” he says.

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Buffett Bullish on Canada But Not as Much on Its Housing: Globe

(Bloomberg) — Warren Buffett may have thrown a lifeline to embattled Canadian alternative lender Home Capital Group Inc., but that doesn’t mean he’s as enthused about the nation’s soaring housing markets.

“I’m bullish on Canada,” Buffett said, according to a transcript Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper published Saturday of a June 22 interview with the legendary investor. “Being bullish on a country doesn’t automatically make you bullish on the housing market.”

On June 21, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. agreed to take a 38 percent stake in Home Capital for about C$400 million ($302 million) and provide a line of credit. The Canadian company’s stock has risen more than 24 percent since then.

“Prices have gone up a lot, and if you’re lending money on housing, you’d rather not have it having gone up that much,” Buffett told the Globe. “You’ve got to be more careful, obviously, the higher prices get.”

Canada’s home-price escalation has been driven primarily by two cities. In Toronto, average home prices have soared 130 percent in the past decade, reaching C$863,910 in May. In Vancouver, prices have risen 115 percent to C$1.1 million in the same period. Buffett said the investment doesn’t reflect an assessment of whether those will go up or down. “I do not know that,” he said.

Buffett said Berkshire Hathaway has confidence in Home Capital’s board and doesn’t plan to exit its investment quickly. “We’re not buying it to resell in four months or next year or anything of the sort,” he said.

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.

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Police watching Quebec highways over St-Jean and Canada Day holidays

An SQ helicopter (Phil Carpenter/ THE GAZETTE)
Phil Carpenter / Montreal Gazette

Quebec provincial police will step up aerial surveillance of provincial highways over the next 10 days.

Sûreté du Québec helicopters will be on the lookout for speeding and other risky practices until July 3. The increased surveillance is because of the St-Jean and Canada Day long weekends and the beginning of summer holidays.

Last year, 14 Quebecers were killed and more than 620 were injured in road accidents between June 23 and July 3.

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Son Of Russian Spies Regains Canadian Citizenship After Long Struggle

The son of Russian spies has regained his Canadian citizenship after a lengthy struggle under a Canadian court decision released on June 23.

It is the latest twist in a spy saga that has spanned continents. Alexander Vavilov, 23, was born as Alexander Foley to Donald Heathfield and Tracey Ann Foley, who were among 10 Russian spies expelled from the United States in 2011.

The couple had been living in Toronto when Vavilov was born in 1994 but left for France the following year, before eventually landing in the United States.

Vavilov’s life unravelled in 2010 when, as a teenager, he saw armed FBI agents arrest his parents at their Boston area home.

Heathfield and Foley would admit to being Andrei Bezrukov and Elena Vavilova, working for Russia’s spy agency. According to an affidavit, the young Vavilov did not know his parents were Russian agents.

Nonetheless, he would be forced to finish high school in Russia.

In 2014, the Canadian government stripped Vavilov of his citizenship, arguing that he was ineligible for citizenship because his parents worked for a foreign government.

But after a lengthy court battle, a Canadian appeals court rejected this position and restored his citizenship.

Based on reporting by AFP and Canadian Press

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Opioid crisis worst in western Canada: data

Opioid crisis worst in western Canada: data

OTTAWA — New data suggests almost 2,500 Canadians died from opioid-related overdoses in 2016 — deaths that federal Health Minister Jane Philpott says were preventable.

The data released Tuesday by the Public Health Agency of Canada found an estimated 2,458 people died of opioid overdoses, a national death rate of 8.8 per 100,000 people.

And the agency found western Canada is feeling the brunt of the impact, with opioid-related death rates of over 10.0 per 100,000 population in Yukon, Northwest Territories, British Columbia and Alberta.

“The data gives us confirmation of the severity of the problem,” Philpott said in an interview.

“These are preventable deaths.”

Information from Quebec was not available but Philpott said discussions with provincial officials are ongoing.

“We hope to eventually be able to fill out all of the details of the data but the systems for data collection are different,” she said. We will hopefully work toward that in the months to come.”

The figures remain the best possible estimate right now, Philpott added.

“This remains a very serious public health threat,” she said.

“We need all players to participate in the response … We are very, very active on this file but we would certainly be encouraging provincial and territorial governments to be diligent, to be very active in providing a comprehensive response.”

The numbers were released by the agency on behalf of a federal, provincial and territorial advisory committee on the opioid overdose epidemic.

The committee, created in December 2016, is chaired by Canada’s interim chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief public health officer.

Health Canada says opioids affect the part of the brain that controls breathing and taking too many pills can cause breathing to slow, contributing to unconsciousness and death.

Elaine Hyshka, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta School of Public Health, said it’s positive to see Canada moving closer to compiling a national picture of the crisis.

“It is encouraging that we are seeing some progress but ultimately this is a national epidemic,” she said.

At some point, Canada must do better, Hyshka added, noting that this country falls far short of the U.S. when it comes to overdose death reporting.

“Our surveillance systems are a decade behind where they should be but if we are going to take this seriously as a public health crisis … then we need the numbers and we need the counts to show this,” she said.

“If that requires an injection of resources, if that requires compelling the provinces and territories to report data more quickly and figuring out different strategies to do that, that should all be on the table because we can’t respond to this effectively without understanding it.”

The process of compiling the new figures revealed challenges in public health infrastructure and the national agency’s authority to gather provincial and territorial data, Philpott said.

“We are working to remedy the challenges that have been identified.”

Any loss of life as result of an opioid overdose is a needless, preventable tragedy, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said in a statement.

“Through increased partnership, enhanced surveillance and data collection, modernizing prescribing and dispensing practices, and connecting patients with high quality, holistic care we will continue to take co-ordinated action to combat the opioid crisis in Ontario and across the country,” he said.

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

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Trudeau government proposes opening St. Lawrence marine protected area to oil exploration

The Liberal government is proposing to allow oil and gas exploration in a new marine protected area that it plans to establish where the Gulf of St. Lawrence meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Ottawa released an impact statement Friday on its Laurentian Channel protected area, a 11,619-square-kilometre stretch of ocean in which commercial activity would be limited in order to protect vulnerable marine life. The establishment of the marine protected area (MPA) is part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise to set aside 10 per cent of Canada’s coastal waters by 2020.

But some environmental groups and ocean scientists argue Ottawa is undermining the effort by allowing future oil and gas exploration in the zone. A study in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, released last week, concluded that intense acoustic signals used in oil and gas exploration cause significant damage to zooplankton populations that are critical elements of the marine food chain.

“Protected area should mean exactly that – protected,” Sabine Jessen, oceans director for the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, said in an interview. “These are the places [where] we’re trying to protect intact ecosystems for the long term. It’s ridiculous to continue to allow oil and gas activity in this area.”

In an impact statement published Friday, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans said the draft regulations “would prohibit any activity that disturbs, damages, destroys or removes from the Laurentian Channel MPA a living marine organism or any part of its habitat.” A government spokeswoman suggested the plan is not finalized.

“We look forward to listening to what Canadians have to say about the proposed Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area, which aims to protect and conserve important species and habitat so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come,” Laura Gareau, a spokeswoman for Fisheries and Oceans Minister Dominic LeBlanc, said in an e-mailed statement Friday.

“Only activities that are determined to be compatible with the conservation objectives of this MPA would be allowed,” she added.

The government plans to ban recreational and commercial fishing in the area, but the department said such a prohibition would have little economic impact because there is little commercial fishing currently being done within the borders of the proposed protected area.

The proposed regulations would prohibit oil and gas activities within smaller, particularly sensitive sectors but allow it with some restrictions in most of the protected area. Seismic activity, which uses acoustic waves to detect oil and gas formations, would be prohibited from Aug. 1 to Nov. 30 to protect certain species “during sensitive life-cycle periods.”

Halifax-based Corridor Resources Inc., has an exploration licence for the “Old Harry” site in the Gulf of Lawrence about 150 km northwest of the protected area. However, Natural Resources Canada says there is little prospect of oil and gas drilling in the protected area of Laurentian Channel due to low resource potential and high costs.

If that’s the case, the government should have no problem banning drilling in the area, said David Miller, president of World Wildlife Fund Canada.

“Our view is marine protected areas should not have extractive industries in them, particularly oil and gas because of the ecological impacts,” Mr. Miller said. “If you allow industry in, it’s not really protected; it’s just a line on a map.”

Along with environmental groups, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) was involved in consultations prior to the government’s decision on how much activity to allow in the channel.

CAPP vice-president Paul Barnes noted that the Oceans Act, which governs the creation of marine protected areas, allows for oil and gas activity within those zones as long as the impact can be mitigated so as not to harm threatened species. The restrictions on seismic activity will protect marine mammals and other migratory species during critical periods, he said.

However, the CAPP vice-president said there is industry interest in exploring in the region. Calgary-based Husky Oil Ltd. – a big producer in the offshore industry off Newfoundland’s southeast coast – had an exploration licence in the area that expired in 2014.

“We think that whole area still holds some promise,” Mr. Barnes said. “It’s a gas-prone area … but there are companies that think there’s the presence of oil there as well.’’



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Canada community hit by suicides crisis

A Canadian aboriginal community has declared a state of emergency following the suicide of three teenage girls.

Chief Brennan Sainnawap of the remote Wapekeka First Nation in northern Ontario made the declaration this week.

On 13 June, Jenera Roundsky, 12, became the latest child to die as part of a suicide pact.

In January, two other 12-year-old girls committed suicide. The community says almost 40 youths are considered to be at risk in a town of about 400 people.

It is the latest suicide crisis to hit a Canadian aboriginal community. Last year, Attawapiskat First Nation in Ontario declared a state of emergency after 11 people attempted to take their own lives in a single day.

Over the summer, Wapekeka notified Health Canada that they had become aware some girls had entered into a suicide pact and asked for about C$380,000 (£225,000; $286,000) to create a youth suicide prevention programme.

Leaders of the village also met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to talk about the community’s suicide crisis.

Health Canada said it would send the funds but Wakepeka says it has so far only received $95,000 – a quarter of what was promised.

  • Teen suicide on the rise among Canadian girls

In January, an anonymous donor pledged to send $380,000 to help prevent youth suicide in the community when the federal funds were slow in coming.

Wapekeka spokesman Joshua Frogg told the BBC on Friday that the donor only eventually sent $30,000, which went to hiring one mental health worker for a couple of months.

Mr Frogg’s niece, Chantell Fox, was one of the three girls who committed suicide. He spoke in January at a news conference in Ottawa, pleading for a national strategy on suicide.

The Toronto Star reported that Jenera Roundsky was found dead on 13 June at the local hockey rink. She had reportedly texted a friend to say goodbye.

Chantell and Jolynn Winter both died less than six months earlier.

On Friday, Health Canada said in a statement that it has been funding additional crisis supports since last winter. That includes four mental health counsellors whose positions are funded until March 2019.

The federal agency also says it has provided Wapekeka with close to $1m for the delivery of their community health programmes since last April.

Ontario Indigenous Relations Minister David Zimmer said in a statement on Friday that the province is working with regional and federal partners to help coordinate the response for additional support.

The province also committed $50,000 last week in response for sport and recreation activities for youth there.

“The conditions that lead to despair and hopelessness are complex and multi-layered. We all have a responsibility to address these conditions seriously,” Mr Zimmer said.

Last year, Ontario’s Attawapiskat community saw 28 suicide attempts in March and more than 100 since September 2015.

The regional Weeneebayko Health Authority flew in a crisis team, mental health nurses and social workers to help with the crisis.

Nishnawbe Aski Nation, which represents 49 First Nation communities within northern Ontario including Wapekeka and Attawapiskat, said earlier this year that 17 people died due to suicide across the region between January 2016 and January 2017.

It criticised the “current piecemeal approach to this perpetual crisis” by the federal government.

Where to get help

From Canada or US: If you’re in an emergency, please call 911. If you or someone you know is suffering with mental-health issues, call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868. If you’re in the US, you can text HOME to 741741

For Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Helpline, call 1-855-242-3310

From UK: Call Samaritans on 116123 or Childline on 0800 1111

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CANADA STOCKS-TSX buoyed as energy, miners shine but BlackBerry sinks on miss

* TSX up 99.66 points, or 0.65 percent, to 15,319.56

* Eight of the TSX’s 10 main groups rise

* Energy stocks up 1.4 percent; materials up 1.8 percent

* BlackBerry suffers biggest one-day fall since January 2015

By Solarina Ho

TORONTO, June 23 Canada’s main stock index
rallied on Friday as index heavyweights like energy and mining
shone, while BlackBerry Ltd shares suffered its biggest
one-day drop in 2-1/2 years after disappointing first quarter
sales.

BlackBerry reported an unexpected 4.7 percent drop in
revenue from its software and services business, whose success
is at the heart of Chief Executive John Chen’s turnaround plan
for the company.

Shares tumbled 12.3 percent to C$12.86, with the overall
technology group gave up 0.5 percent.

Enbridge Inc rose 1.2 percent to C$52.22, while
Suncor Energy advanced 1.1 percent to C$38.52 as oil
prices bounced from 10-month lows on the back of a softer U.S.
dollar.

The overall energy group saw a robust 1.4 percent gain. U.S.
crude prices were up 0.8 percent to $43.1 a barrel, while
Brent crude added 1.0 percent to $45.66.

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index
closed up 99.66 points, or 0.65 percent, to finish at
15,319.56. The index gained 0.83 percent on the week.

Eight of the index’s 10 main groups finished in positive
territory.

Paul Taylor, CIO of fundamental equities at BMO Asset
Management Inc, said there was widespread strength across the
board.

“It’s just a bit of a continued rally coming out of the
‘Oracle of Omaha’ betting with his dollars in favor of Canada
housing. It’s a pretty strong endorsement,” said Taylor,
referring to news on Thursday that billionaire investor Warren
Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc made a commitment to
provide financing for troubled alternative mortgage lender Home
Capital Group.

Home Capital jumped as much as 9.2 percent on Friday before
seeing some profit-taking. Shares ended down 2.1 percent at
C$18.61. The overall financials group, which accounts for about
a third of the index’s weight gained 0.2 percent.

The materials group, home to miners and fertilizer
companies, added 1.8 percent, with Barrick Gold Corp
climbing 2.7 percent to C$21.86. Teck Resources
climbing 4.6 percent to C$21.97.

Gold prices touched a one-week high as the weaker greenback
and global geopolitical uncertainties boosted the precious
metal. Gold futures rose 0.7 percent to $1,256.2 an
ounce. Copper prices advanced 1.0 percent to $5,800 a
tonne.

In economic data, Canada’s annual inflation rate cooled more
than expected last month, reducing the likelihood of an interest
rate hike by the Bank of Canada in July.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the TSX by
200 to 44, for a 4.55-to-1 ratio on the upside.
(Reporting by Solarina Ho; Editing by Sandra Maler)


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