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Trump tweets Paris Accord decision to come Thursday afternoon

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Thursday, Jun 1st, 2017

President Donald Trump says he will announce his decision on whether to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord during a Rose Garden event Thursday afternoon.

Trump promoted his announcement Wednesday night on Twitter, after a day in which U.S. allies around the world sounded alarms about the likely consequences of a U.S. withdrawal. Trump himself kept everyone in suspense, saying he was still listening to “a lot of people both ways.”

The White House signalled that Trump was likely to decide on exiting the global pact – fulfilling one of his principal campaign pledges – though top aides were divided. And the final decision may not be entirely clear-cut: Aides were still deliberating on “caveats in the language,” one official said.

Everyone cautioned that no decision was final until Trump announced it. The president has been known to change his thinking on major decisions and tends to seek counsel from both inside and outside advisers, many with differing agendas, until the last minute.

Abandoning the pact would isolate the U.S. from a raft of international allies who spent years negotiating the 2015 agreement to fight global warming and pollution by reducing carbon emissions in nearly 200 nations. While travelling abroad last week, Trump was repeatedly pressed to stay in the deal by European leaders and the Vatican. Withdrawing would leave the United States aligned only with Russia among the world’s industrialized economies.

American corporate leaders have also appealed to the businessman-turned-president to stay. They include Apple, Google and Walmart. Even fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell say the United States should abide by the deal.

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama enacted the deal without U.S. Senate ratification. A formal withdrawal would take years, experts say, a situation that led the president of the European Commission to speak dismissively of Trump on Wednesday.

Trump doesn’t “comprehensively understand” the terms of the accord, though European leaders tried to explain the process for withdrawing to him “in clear, simple sentences” during summit meetings last week, Jean-Claude Juncker said in Berlin. “It looks like that attempt failed,” Juncker said. “This notion, ‘I am Trump, I am American, America first and I am getting out,’ that is not going to happen.”

Some of Trump’s aides have been searching for a middle ground – perhaps by renegotiating the terms of the agreement – in an effort to thread the needle between his base of supporters who oppose the deal and those warning that a U.S. exit would deal a blow to the fight against global warming as well as to worldwide U.S. leadership.

That fight has played out within Trump’s administration.

Trump met Wednesday with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has favoured remaining in the agreement. Chief strategist Steve Bannon supports an exit, as does Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Trump’s chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has discussed the possibility of changing the U.S. carbon reduction targets instead of pulling out of the deal completely. Senior adviser Jared Kushner generally thinks the deal is bad but still would like to see if emissions targets can be changed.

Trump’s influential daughter Ivanka Trump’s preference is to stay, but she has made it a priority to establish a review process so her father would hear from all sides, said a senior administration official. Like the other officials, that person was not authorized to describe the private discussions by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Wednesday in Alaska that he had “yet to read what the actual Paris Agreement is,” and would have to read it before weighing in.

Trump has several options, climate experts said.

The emissions goals are voluntary with no real consequences for countries that fail to meet them. That means the U.S. could stay in the accord and choose not to hit its goals or stay in the pact but adjust its targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. has agreed to reduce its emissions by 2025 to 26 per cent to 28 per cent of 2005 levels – about 1.6 billion tons.

“Paris more than anything is a symbol,” said Nigel Purvis, who directed U.S. climate diplomacy during the Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations

Another option, said University of California, Berkeley climate scientist Zeke Hausfather, would be for Trump to withdraw from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the treaty on which the Paris accord was based, which would take only a year.

News of Trump’s expected decision drew swift reaction from the United Nations. The organization’s main Twitter page quoted Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as saying, “Climate change is undeniable. Climate change is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable.”

Scientists say that Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming sooner if the U.S. retreats from its pledge because America contributes so much to rising temperatures. Calculations suggest withdrawal could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year – enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher and trigger more extreme weather.

The Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, called the expected move a “historic mistake which our grandchildren will look back on with stunned dismay at how a world leader could be so divorced from reality and morality.”

Trump claimed before taking office that climate change was a “hoax” created by the Chinese to hurt the U.S. economy, an assertion that stands in defiance of broad scientific consensus. He has spent his first months in office working to delay and roll back federal regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions while pledging to revive long-struggling U.S. coal mines.

But Cohn, Trump’s chief White House economic adviser, told reporters during the trip abroad that the president’s views on climate change were “evolving” following the discussions with European leaders.

Still, Cohn said that the carbon levels agreed to by the prior administration “would be highly crippling to the U.S. economic growth,” and if the president had to choose between limiting carbon and economic growth, “growing our economy is going to win.” Supporters of the deal say it’s not an either-or choice.

Hamilton’s Burlington Street named worst road in Ontario

NEWS STAFF | posted Thursday, Jun 1st, 2017

A massive pothole on Baldwin Street on Aug. 12, 2014. Photo via CityNews viewer/Tyyra Alleyne.

Burlington Street in Hamilton is the worst road in Ontario, according to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).

Toronto’s Dufferin Street is No. 2, the CAA said Thursday, and is one of only two Toronto streets in the Top 10. The other is Yonge Street, which tied with Algonquin Boulevard East in Timmins.

“I would say Yonge Street is real surprise. Yonge Street was nominated mainly for congestion-related issues,” Raymond Chan, government relations specialist at CAA, told CityNews.

Chan said putting out the lists encourages municipalities to tackle road issues.

“It’s really an opportunity for them to see what their residents are saying about their daily commute … the ‘ask’ of this campaign is to ensure that all levels of government are working together and communicating.”

The worst roads in Toronto are Dufferin, Yonge, Bathurst Street, Eglinton Avenue West, and Finch Avenue West.

Roads in Subury, St. Catharines, Ottawa, Barrie, and Prince Edward County all made it onto the province’s worst roads list.

Last year’s “winner” was County Road 49 in Prince Edward County – the first time the road appeared on the provincial Top 10 list. It was No. 10 this year.

One month ago, the CAA put out its annual poll, asking for drivers across the province to nominate and then vote for the worst roads.

Click here for the full results.

EXCLUSIVE: Karla Homolka occasionally volunteers at Montreal elementary school

DOMENIC FAZIOLI AND NEWS STAFF | posted Wednesday, May 31st, 2017


Canadian serial killer Karla Homolka occasionally volunteers at an elementary school in Montreal, school officials have confirmed with CityNews.

Homolka, who was convicted in 1993 to 12 years in prison in the deaths of schoolgirls Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy, and also played a role in the death of her 15-year-old sister Tammy, has been regularly seen at a private Christian school in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, a residential neighbourhood in Montreal.

Breakfast Television Montreal has learned Homolka has regularly been seen at Greaves Adventist Academy, where her children attend classes, and her appearance has some parents concerned.

Lily, who didn’t want her real identity revealed, said Homolka not only drops off and picks up her children but occasionally volunteers at the school.

“We don’t want her here,” Lily said.

Karla Homolka refuses to speak with media outside the Greaves Adventist Academy in a Montreal suburb, May 26, 2017. BT MONTREAL/Domenic Fazioli

“How would you feel knowing that your child is interacting with a person who is a serial killer? It’s not right.”

Lily said many parents have spoken to the school principal but nothing has changed.

In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, the Seventh-day Adventist Church addressed parents’ concerns.

“The Quebec Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the administration of Greaves Adventist Academy are committed to providing quality education and enriching learning experiences to its students,” the statement read. “While we work through the concerns stated by parents and other stakeholders, we welcome those associated with the school to contact the Quebec Conference office of Education.”

By law, before anyone can have regular contact with children in Quebec schools, they are required to undergo a criminal background check.

“The school board was fully aware of who she is. She is not a regular volunteer, and can never be alone with any children, either in school or churches,” Seventh-day Adventist Church spokesman Stan Jensen told CityNews.

“It is protocol for all of our schools across Canada, and most of the world, to do background checks, not only on teachers, but [also] volunteers as well as clergy. As I said, she is not a regular volunteer. Rarely would she have cause to go into the school, and when she is, she is never alone.”

Homolka lived in Quebec following her 2005 release from prison, where she married Thierry Bordelais and gave birth to a boy. Bordelais is the brother of Homolka’s lawyer for her high-profile murder trial. The pair had two more children together.

According to the Canadian Press, she moved to the Antilles to escape media scrutiny in 2007. In 2012, journalist Paula Todd found Homolka living in Guadeloupe.

Last year, Breakfast Television Montreal reporter Domenic Fazioli found her living in Chateauguay, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal.

click here to view it on mobile.


Woman dies of possible hypothermia while heading to cross border into Canada

THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

People seeking asylum cross the border into Canada and are met by RCMP officers near Hemmingford, Quebec, on March 28, 2017. CITYNEWS/Avery Haines
It was just a matter of time until an asylum seeker died trying to illegally cross the border into Canada, the reeve of Emerson, Man., said Tuesday.

Greg Janzen was reacting to the death of Mavis Otuteye, a 57-year-old woman believed to be from the African country of Ghana, whose body was found late last week near Noyes, Minn.

“We were always expecting to find someone in the ditch when the snow melted, which we never did,” he said. “(Then) the Red River didn’t flood nearly as much as we expected so we thought it would be clear sailing, but now we have this.”

The Kittson County sheriff’s department said an initial autopsy concluded the cause of death was possible hypothermia, though a final autopsy is still pending.

The police said they believe Otuteye had been heading to Emerson, which is just across the border from Noyes.

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Though the two communities are very close together, Janzen said it had been cold and rainy that night, and there were two other weather-related medical calls involving border crossings on the weekend. He said those who travel in the middle of the night can also become disoriented, and the area is sparsely populated.

There has been a spike in asylum seekers since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, with the most recent RCMP figures showing 859 people were stopped between official border points in April.

For the year so far, there have been 1,993 interceptions in Quebec, 477 in Manitoba and 233 in British Columbia.

Janzen has long been a critic of the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement, under which people who have made refugee claims first in the U.S. are turned back at official Canadian entry points.

However, it does not apply to people who get onto Canadian soil first, resulting in many crossing fields and ditches and avoiding the official border posts.

Those asylum seekers are allowed to follow normal refugee-claim procedures and are usually released and cared for by a non-profit agency until their case is heard.

“Until they close this loophole, this is going to keep happening,” Janzen said of the agreement. “What scares me is next winter again.

“We’re still getting women and children. What’s going to happen to the children? One of these times the kids aren’t going to make it.”

He said he also fears for the safety of his community.

“So far our residents haven’t been assaulted, but that’s going to happen yet, too.”

Otuteye’s case is currently under investigation by the Kittson County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Kathy Griffin apologizes for Trump photo: ‘I went too far’

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Suzanne Cordeiro/REX/Shutterstock (8283064l) Kathy Griffin Kathy Griffin performing at the Long Center for the Performing Arts, Austin, Texas – 04 Feb 2017
Kathy Griffin says she went way too far when she appeared in a brief video Tuesday holding what looked like President Donald Trump’s bloody, severed head.

The comic apologized later for the video image, saying it was “too disturbing” and wasn’t funny.

“I sincerely apologize,” she said in a second video. “I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people.”

The first video showed a straight-faced Griffin slowly lifting the bloody head. She originally described the project with photographer Tyler Shields as an “artsy fartsy statement” mocking the commander in chief.

Many online called for Griffin to be jailed.

In her apology video, Griffin begs her fans for forgiveness and says she has asked the photographer to remove the images.

“I made a mistake, and I was wrong,” she says.

The video had apparently been removed from Shields’ blog by late Tuesday.
CNN, whose New Year’s Eve coverage Griffin has co-hosted, called the images “disgusting and offensive.”

“We are pleased to see she has apologized,” CNN said in a statement. “We are evaluating New Year’s Eve and have made no decisions at this point.”

Squatty Potty, a Utah-based bathroom products company, said in a statement Tuesday that it has suspended an ad campaign featuring Griffin.

A publicist for Shields did not respond to a request for comment.

Trump’s cellphone diplomacy raises security concern

VIVIAN SALAMA, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS | posted Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 29:  President Donald Trump is seen through a window speaking on the phone with King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, in the Oval Office of the White House, January 29, 2017 in Washington, DC. On Sunday, President Trump is making several phone calls with world leaders from the Oval Office.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
President Donald Trump is seen through a window speaking on the phone with King of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abd al-Aziz Al Saud, in the Oval Office of the White House, on Jan. 29, 2017. GETTY IMAGES/Mark Wilson
President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications.

Trump has urged leaders of Canada and Mexico to reach him on his cellphone, according to former and current U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the practice. Of the two, only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken advantage of the offer so far, the officials said.

Trump also exchanged numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron when the two spoke immediately following Macron’s victory earlier this month, according to a French official, who would not comment on whether Macron intended to use the line.

All the officials demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the conversations. Neither the White House nor Trudeau’s office responded to requests for comment.

Related stories:

Trudeau and Trump talk trade, security at G7 summit
White House communications director resigns amid tensions
Kathy Griffin apologizes for Trump photo: ‘I went too far’

The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world. But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels. The formalities and discipline of diplomacy have been a rough fit for Trump – who, before taking office, was long easily accessible by cellphone and viewed himself as freewheeling, impulsive dealmaker.

Presidents generally place calls on one of several secure phone lines, including those in the White House Situation Room, the Oval Office or the presidential limousine. Even if Trump uses his government-issued cellphone, his calls are vulnerable to eavesdropping, particularly from foreign governments, national security experts say.

“If you are speaking on an open line, then it’s an open line, meaning those who have the ability to monitor those conversations are doing so,” said Derek Chollet, a former Pentagon adviser and National Security Council official now at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

A president “doesn’t carry with him a secure phone,” Chollet said. “If someone is trying to spy on you, then everything you’re saying, you have to presume that others are listening to it.”

The caution is warranted even when dealing with allies. As German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s learned in 2013, when a dump of American secrets leaked by Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. was monitoring her cellphone, good relations don’t prevent some spycraft between friends.

“If you are Macron or the leader of any country and you get the cellphone number of the president of the United States, it’s reasonable to assume that they’d hand it right over to their intel service,” said Ashley Deeks, a law professor at the University of Virginia who formerly served as the assistant legal adviser for political-military affairs in the U.S. State Department.

The practice opens Trump up to charges of hypocrisy. Throughout last year’s presidential campaign, he lambasted Democratic rival Hillary Clinton for using a private email server while she was secretary of state, insisting she should not be given access to classified information because she would leave it vulnerable to foreign foes.

Presidents’ phone calls with world leaders often involve considerable advance planning. State Department and National Security Council officials typically prepare scripted talking points and background on the leader on the other end of the line. Often an informal transcript of the call is made and circulated among a select group – sometimes a small clutch of aides, sometimes a broader group of foreign policy officials. Those records are preserved and archived.

The White House did not respond to questions on whether the president is keeping records of any less-formal calls with world leaders.

Trump’s White House is already facing scrutiny for apparent efforts to work outside usual diplomatic channels.

The administration has been fending off questions about a senior aide’s alleged attempt to set up a secret back channel of communication with Moscow in the weeks before Trump was took office. White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, met in December with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. and discussed whether a secret line of communication could be used to facilitate sensitive policy discussions about the conflict in Syria, according to a person familiar with the talks. The person demanded anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss the sensitive conversation by name.

The White House has said such back channel communications are useful and discreet.

Trump has struggled more than most recent presidents to keep his conversations with world leaders private. His remarks to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Russian diplomats have all leaked, presumably after notes of the conversations were circulated by national security officials.

It was unclear whether an impromptu, informal call with a foreign leader would be logged and archived. The Presidential Records Act of 1981, passed in response to the Watergate scandal, requires that the president and his staff to preserve all records related to the office. In 2014, the act was amended to include personal emails.

But the law contains “blind spots” – namely, record-keeping for direct cellphone communications, said Jonathan Turley, a professor at George Washington University Law School, who specializes in public interest and national security law.

Under Barack Obama, the first cellphone-toting president, worries about cyber intrusions – particularly by foreign governments – pulled the president’s devices deep into the security bubble. Many of the functions on Obama’s BlackBerry were blocked, and a very small handful of people had his phone number or email address, according to former aides.

“Government sometimes looks like a big bureaucracy that has stupid rules, but a lot of these things are in place for very good reasons and they’ve been around for a while and determine the most effective way to do business in the foreign policy sphere,” said Deeks. “Sometimes it takes presidents longer to figure that out.”

Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.

Ontario to increase minimum wage to $15 an hour in 2019



Ontario will increase minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next 18 months as part of sweeping changes to labour laws, the province’s Liberal government announced Tuesday, satisfying a long-standing demand of left-leaning voters one year away from an election.

The minimum wage increase was the centrepiece of a slew of reforms Premier Kathleen Wynne revealed in a campaign-style setting, including ensuring equal pay for part-time workers, increasing vacation entitlements and expanding personal emergency leave.

Wynne, whose party has been faring poorly in recent polls, said the changes, along with a number of her government’s recent announcements, are her plan for a fair society.

“Our plan takes dead aim at the challenges that confront us in this new, uncertain world,” she said, citing the Liberals’ pharmacare plan, a basic income pilot project, 100,000 new child-care spaces, and a plan to cool the housing market.

“It puts fairness at the heart of all we do.”

Ontario’s minimum wage increase will be phased-in gradually. It will rise, as scheduled, with inflation from $11.40 currently to $11.60 in October. Then, the government plans to bump it up to $14 an hour on Jan. 1, 2018 and $15 the following year.

Ten per cent of Ontario workers currently make the minimum wage, Wynne said, and 30 per cent make less than $15 an hour.

“That’s millions of people, many of them supporting a family on a wage that just doesn’t go far enough,” she said. “They’re raising children, saving up for their education, wondering if they’ll ever be able to get ahead on the monthly budget, let alone own a home.”

Before the minimum wage increase to $15, however, there will be an election in June 2018.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath, who has long pushed for a $15 minimum wage, suggested the Liberal government is only introducing the wage raise now to shore up votes for next year.

“I think it’s clear to the people of Ontario that for Liberals it’s always about them,” she said. “It’s always about them and their own political fortunes and what works for them politically, while for 14 years they’ve done nothing to address the erosion of people’s standard of living.”

Wynne also detailed plans to ensure part-time workers will get equal pay for doing work equal to full-time staff, and said that workers will be able to get three weeks of paid vacation a year after five years with a company, instead of two weeks.

The proposed changes are in response to a government-commissioned report released last week that included 173 recommendations addressing precarious work.

The Changing Workplaces review concluded that new technology, a shrinking manufacturing sector and fewer union jobs, among other factors, have left approximately one-third of Ontario’s 6.6 million workers vulnerable.

The province’s changes to workplace laws will also establish fairer rules for scheduling, including making employers pay three hours of wages if they cancel a shift with fewer than 48 hours notice, Wynne said.

Personal emergency leave would also be expanded. Currently it is only available to employees at companies with more than 50 people, but proposed legislation would ensure all employees in the province get 10 days per year, two of them paid.

The government has planned for the majority of the labour standards changes to come into effect in early 2018.

Labour Minister Kevin Flynn said the government will table legislation before the house rises for the summer this week, with plans to send it to committee for consultations around the province over the summer.

Flynn said that even though some of the changes — including the $15 minimum wage and rules concerning work scheduling — will come to into force after the next election, they’re not contingent on the Liberals being re-elected.

“Any political party wants voters to feel pretty good about you when you’re going into an election, that’s part of being in politics, but it’s more than that,” he said. “Today’s really a good day for the little guy.”

The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses and a coalition of employer groups including the Ontario Chamber of Commerce objected to the proposed changes.

“We are shocked and appalled that the government is broadsiding small business owners with a 32-per-cent increase in the minimum wage within only one-and-a-half years,” said CFIB director Julie Kwiecinski. “Small businesses, who don’t share the larger profit margins of big business, will be forced to make difficult choices.”

The Keep Ontario Working Coalition, formed in response to the proposed labour law changes, warned the changes will lead to “unintended consequences, including job losses, rising consumer costs, and economic hardship.”

Flynn said, however, that there’s a body of evidence that shows a higher minimum wage can benefit local economies and lead to job growth.

“This money that goes to bread, it goes to diapers, it goes to bus fares, it goes to rent,” he said. “This is money that gets spent and invested right back in the community.”

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown wouldn’t say if he would cancel the planned minimum wage increase to $15 if he wins the 2018 election, but echoed concerns of businesses groups who have called for an economic impact study on the proposed changes.

Here’s a look at what minimum-wage workers are paid across the country:

Alberta – $12.20 an hour, rising to $13.60 this year and reaching $15 an hour on Oct. 1, 2018.

British Columbia – $10.85. It’s expected to rise to at least $11.25 this year.

Manitoba – $11. The government plans to raise it every year along with the rate of inflation.

New Brunswick – $11. Adjusted annually relative to the consumer price index.

Newfoundland & Labrador – $10.75 rising to $11 on Oct. 1, 2017.

Northwest Territories – $12.50

Nova Scotia – $10.85. Adjusted annually April 1 based on the consumer price index.

Nunavut – $13. Adjusted annually April 1.

Ontario – $11.40.

Prince Edward Island – $11.25.

Quebec – $10.75, rising to $11.25 per hour May 1.

Saskatchewan – $10.72. Adjusted annually Oct. 1 relative to the consumer price index and average hourly wage.

Yukon – $11.32. Adjusted annually April 1 based on the consumer price index.

Source: The Canadian Press, Retail Council of Canada

New accessibility laws should include rules for employment, inclusive buildings, transport

MICHELLE MCQUIGGE THE CANADIAN PRESS | posted Tuesday, May 30th, 2017

File photo.
Public consultations on Canada’s first national law for disabled people have identified high unemployment rates, inaccessible buildings and barriers in transportation as some of the key issues that need to be addressed.

The priorities were laid out in a report, released by the federal government Monday, summarizing eight months of consultations held with Canadians from coast to coast.

It says participants wanted to see laws that would help lower stubbornly high unemployment rates for those with disabilities, reduce the number of buildings inaccessible to those with physical and intellectual disabilities, and remove accessibility barriers for the country’s air, rail, ferry and bus transportation systems.

Those consulted also named government program and service delivery, information and communications and procurement of goods and services as key areas of focus.

The report also says Canadians have voiced a strong preference for the government to set up an independent body to oversee compliance with the new laws, which are expected to come before the House of Commons in early 2018.

Minister for Sport and Persons with Disabilities Carla Qualtrough said the consultations have laid the groundwork for her to begin crafting the legislation.

“It’s definitely marching orders for me in terms of what Canadians want to see in accessibility legislation,” Qualtrough said in an interview. “My goal now is to figure out how we write into law these concepts and these principles and these specific ideas.”

The prospective act, which disability rights advocates have been seeking for years, would govern areas that fall under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, telecommunications, and interprovincial transportation.

The report currently estimates one in seven Canadians has some form of disability and projects that number will increase as the population ages.

Those are not confined to visible conditions such as blindness or paralysis, but include mental health disorders, learning disabilities, and episodic ailments such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.

The sweeping new legislation will attempt to eliminate barriers for this growing demographic, taking an equally broad view of what a barrier entails.

“My definition of ‘barrier’ is anything that impairs or prevents access, physically or mentally, to any physical movement, learning and/or acceptance by others,” the report quotes one contributor as saying.
“Ergo, ‘accessibility’ successfully counters or eliminates the barriers.”

The report said 6,000 Canadians participated in the consultations between June 2016 and February 2017. An additional 90 organizations also offered input.

Employment issues were the top priority identified by the report.

Data has long shown that Canadians with disabilities are greatly under-employed compared to their non-disabled counterparts. Two years ago, Statistics Canada released figures putting the employment rate for disabled Canadians at 49 per cent, compared to 79 per cent for the general population.

Qualtrough noted that many smaller issues are also contained within the broad categories highlighted by the report, citing immigration as an example.

Current legislation effectively bars many people with disabilities from securing long-term status in the country, and Qualtrough said the government is looking to make changes. Such efforts, she said, would fall under the umbrella of programs and services.

So could policies such as those in place at Passport Canada, which currently forbid staff from helping a person with a disability complete their forms.

Transportation regulations could help address situations such as one that arose at Via Rail and culminated in a federal agency ruling that the company had to allow more than one mobility device at a time to be tied down on its trains.

Advocates, however, are hoping the government’s plans become more concrete as the legislation takes shape.

James Hicks, National Co-ordinator of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, said the consultations were more an airing of grievances than a forum for tabling ideas on how to bring about change.

He said the process was important, but hoped the legislation will go beyond aspirational statements.

To that end, the council is joining other community-based groups that will continue soliciting feedback from Canadians. Hicks said the government is paying for the additional feedback and will hopefully put it to good use.

He said one suggestion the government will hear involves forcing provinces to consider disability issues when applying for federal funds.

He said all proposals submitted to cabinet today must include a gender analysis to account for the impact on women, adding he’d like to see the new law require something similar for the disabled.

“Why is there not a disability lens that has to be done on every single request for funding that goes to cabinet?” he said. “That way every department has to look at it and has to say ‘this is what we need to do to ensure equal access for people with disabilities.”

Qualtrough said the report was firm on one concrete measure — once the law is in place, an independent body must be set up to ensure people are complying with it.

Currently, discrimination complaints come before provincial or federal human rights commissions only after an offence has taken place.

“We shouldn’t have to wait until someone’s discriminated against to help them,” Qualtrough said. “It’s not enough. Loud and clear I heard that it’s not enough.”

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