OTTAWA – The Trudeau government plans to cap the spring sitting of Parliament with long-awaited legislation on Access to Information and national security — bills unlikely to be debated by MPs in a serious way until the fall.With just days left before MPs are slated to retreat to their ridings for the summer, the bills will — at the very least — signal the government’s intention to fulfil key promises.The government had promised an initial wave of changes to the Access to Information Act by the end of winter — what Treasury Board President Scott Brison called “early wins” on overhauling the antiquated law intended to give Canadians access to federal files.The planned amendments included giving the information commissioner the power to order release of government records and ensuring the access law applies to the offices of the prime minister, cabinet members and administrative institutions that support Parliament and the courts.The pledge was considered an essential plank of the government platform on transparency designed to differentiate the Trudeau Liberals from Stephen Harper’s Conservatives, who broke 2006 campaign promises to modernize the access law.In March, Brison’s office cited the complex nature of the task in delaying the Liberal plans.The bill to be introduced Monday by Brison, Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould could be the first substantial set of amendments to the access law in 34 years. The government has also promised a full review of the law by 2018, and mandatory reviews every five years thereafter.The Access to Information Act allows people who pay $5 to ask for everything from internal federal audits and meeting minutes to correspondence and studies. Departments are supposed to answer within 30 days or provide valid reasons why they need more time.However, the system has been almost universally criticized as slow, out of date and beset by loopholes that allow agencies to cling to information, including files more than half-a-century old.In her recent annual report, information commissioner Suzanne Legault said the law was being used as a shield against transparency.On Tuesday, the government plans to remodel several Conservative anti-terrorism measures and introduce new provisions with a bill from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale plainly titled “An Act respecting national security measures.”The extensive package of legislation will include more robust oversight of Canada’s border agency, which has faced some pointed questions over issues including in-custody deaths.In addition to new scrutiny for the Canada Border Services Agency, the bill will propose changes to ensure existing security watchdogs can exchange information and collaborate more easily on reviews.The legislation will also follow through on Liberal promises during the last election to repeal “problematic elements” of omnibus security legislation ushered in by the Conservatives after a gunman stormed Parliament Hill.The Trudeau government has committed to ensuring all CSIS warrants respect the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to preserving legitimate protest and advocacy, and to defining terrorist propaganda more clearly.It has also pledged that appeals by Canadians on the no-fly list will be subject to mandatory review.The Liberals say the overall idea is to strike a balance that ensures security agencies have the tools they need to keep Canadians safe, while respecting the rights and freedoms of a democratic society.— Follow @JimBronskill on Twitter
Highlights from the news file for Thursday, July 6———TRUDEAU TO APPEAL TO PROTESTERS ON EVE OF G20: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s sunny ways will be tested over the next few days amid tensions both inside and outside the gates of the G20 summit in Germany. Trudeau arrived in the northern port city of Hamburg just hours before U.S. President Donald Trump, whose protectionist rhetoric and stance against climate change action pose a threat to much of the G20’s recent progress. Tens of thousands of anti-globalization protesters have descended on the city to disrupt the meetings, and have already set fire to a Porsche dealership. Trudeau has been called on to appeal to the protesters at Thursday night’s rock concert in Hamburg, where he will give a short speech promoting the benefits of global co-operation beyond corporations and the world’s richest citizens. Inside the meetings, tensions will flare around everything from climate change to free trade deals, but much of the action is expected in one-on-one meetings between various leaders — to say nothing of the much-anticipated Friday head-to-head between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.———LAC-MEGANTIC MARKS FOURTH ANNIVERSARY OF RAIL TRAGEDY: Four years after the rail disaster that killed 47 people in their town, a group of Lac-Megantic citizens renewed the call for the construction of a bypass that would steer trains away from the core of the community. Robert Bellefleur, spokesman for a rail-safety group in the town, said Thursday his group is outraged that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other politicians seem to accept that a bypass might not be ready for years. The Quebec and federal governments have financed a feasibility study on the matter, and the province’s environmental review agency began public hearings on the issue in May. But Bellefleur said dangerous goods continue to be transported through the town on a section of rail track that has been rebuilt with an even steeper curve than before. On July 6, 2013, a runaway train carrying crude oil from the United States derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic and exploded, killing 47 people and destroying much of the city’s core. To mark the anniversary, the town planned a series of low-key activities including a church service, an outdoor vigil and an activity at the town’s train station.———TORONTO AREA HOME SALES PLUNGE 37 PER CENT LAST MONTH: Home sales in the Greater Toronto Area plunged 37.3 per cent last month compared with a year ago, the city’s real estate board said Thursday as buyers moved to the sidelines following the introduction of rules aimed at cooling one of the hottest housing markets in North America. The Toronto Real Estate Board said 7,974 homes changed hands in June while the number of new properties on the market climbed 15.9 per cent year-over-year to 19,614. The average price for all properties was $793,915, up 6.3 per cent from the same month last year, but down 8.1 per cent from May. The data comes after the Ontario government implemented rules intended to dampen Toronto’s real estate market, where escalating prices have concerned policy-makers at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. Ontario’s measures, which were retroactive to April 21, include a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers in the Greater Golden Horseshoe region, expanded rent controls and legislation allowing Toronto and other cities to tax vacant homes.———HEAD OF INQUIRY SAYS PROCESS MOVING QUICKLY: The head of an inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women denies the process is drifting, saying in Vancouver that she believes it’s moving at “lightning speed.” Marion Buller says that in the first eight months, staff have been hired, offices have opened and a first hearing has been held. The inquiry has faced controversy over the resignation of its executive director and complaints from families that the process is not moving fast enough. Buller says community hearings will be held beginning Sept. 10 in Thunder Bay, Ont., before moving on to Smithers, B.C., Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Halifax, Edmonton, Yellowknife and closing in mid-December in Maliotenam, Que. She also says two expert panels will speak to the inquiry this year on the topics of Indigenous laws and decolonization and human rights. Executive director Michele Moreau resigned last week, citing personal reasons, prompting the Native Women’s Association of Canada to urge the inquiry to be more transparent and reassuring to families.———COURT UPHOLDS BREATHALYZER EVIDENCE RULES: The Supreme Court of Canada is upholding procedures that permit shortcuts in allowing a motorist’s breathalyzer sample into evidence — even in cases where taking the sample may have been unlawful. In a decision Thursday, the court is affirming the existing charter process for challenging police actions in obtaining a sample. The high court’s 5-4 ruling comes in the case of Dion Henry Alex, who was stopped by police in Penticton, B.C., in April 2012. Alex failed a roadside test and was taken to the police detachment, where he blew above the legal blood alcohol limit in two subsequent tests. At issue was the continuing relevance of a 1976 Supreme Court decision that said the Crown did not need to prove the demand for a breath test was lawful in order to rely on evidentiary shortcuts about the accuracy of test readings. Following introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the 1980s, the courts said that an argument a breath sample was obtained unlawfully must come in the form of a charter challenge against unreasonable search and seizure.———ISOLATION HEARING TO GO AHEAD, JUDGE RULES: A constitutional challenge to Canada’s segregation laws should go ahead in September as scheduled despite objections from the federal government, an Ontario court ruled Thursday. In rejecting Ottawa’s adjournment request, Superior Court Justice Frank Marrocco said the hearing would not get in the way of Parliament, which is dealing with pending legislation that aims to put limits on solitary confinement. Even if the relevant bill were enacted, Marrocco said, the constitutional challenge would proceed anyway, so there would be no advantage to delaying a hearing. At issue is the practice known as administrative segregation that civil liberties groups argue can amount to indefinite solitary confinement. Such isolation is frequently used to manage difficult inmates, especially those whose safety may be at risk in the general population. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies maintain the current system subjects affected inmates to cruel and unusual punishment and violates their rights in several ways.———PETER JULIAN DROPS OUT OF NDP LEADERSHIP RACE: B.C. NDP MP Peter Julian is dropping out of the race to lead the federal New Democrats. Julian — the first contender to enter the race — made the announcement at a news conference today in Ottawa. The veteran MP was one of five candidates so far to join the race to replace Tom Mulcair at the helm of the party. Other current contenders include MPs Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Ontario legislator Jagmeet Singh. The next leadership debate is scheduled to take place in Saskatoon on July 11, followed by events in Victoria and Montreal in August and one in Vancouver in September. Online voting in the leadership race will begin Sept. 18 and results will be announced in October after each round of balloting.———NEW DEMOCRATS TAKE POWER IN BRITISH COLUMBIA ON JULY 18: British Columbia premier-designate John Horgan and his cabinet will be officially sworn in on July 18. The ceremony in Victoria will come almost three weeks after Horgan’s New Democrats and three members of the Green party ousted Christy Clark’s Liberals following 16 years in office. The NDP and Greens defeated the Liberals in a confidence vote in the legislature. May’s election saw the Liberals win 43 seats in the 87-seat legislature, but the NDP with 41 seats and the Greens with three seats reached an agreement to push the Liberals from office and form a minority NDP government. Earlier this week, Horgan appointed three political veterans to head his inner circle of advisers, including well-known bureaucrat Don Wright and former Vancouver councillor Geoff Meggs.———QUEBEC HOPING TO OFFER FREE ABORTION PILL: The Quebec government is hoping to offer free abortion pills later this year. Mifegymiso, a two-drug combination also known as RU-486, was authorized by Health Canada in July 2015 and entered the market in January. It costs about $300. The drug isn’t currently available in Quebec, but Barrette says he’s hopeful advanced discussions with groups representing the province’s doctors and pharmacists will make access a reality by this fall. Barrette said the abortion pill shouldn’t be confused with the morning-after pill. Alongside the surgical option, the abortion pill gives women another option, albeit under very strict guidelines. It will be accessible for those with a doctor’s prescription, while women taking it will need to have a medical follow-up. In April, New Brunswick was the first province to announce it would make the abortion pill available free of charge. Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta have also said they intend to offer the pill free of charge.———ANOTHER RIGHT WHALE ENTAGLES IN FISHING GEAR: An endangered North Atlantic right whale has been freed after getting entangled in fishing gear near the area where six other whales were found dead. Tonya Wimmer of the Marine Animal Response Society said the large whale was cut free of the fishing line in its mouth after it was spotted by an aerial surveillance plane in the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Wednesday afternoon. The whale didn’t appear to have been snarled in the mess of gear for very long, and appeared to not have suffered serious injuries, said Kim Davies of Dalhousie University’s Department of Oceanography. A research ship was nearby and marine mammal experts were able to free the whale within six hours of it being spotted. The discovery comes after six of the massive animals were found floating in the gulf, with two suffering injuries consistent with ship strikes and a third dying from an entanglement in fishing gear. One of the six dead whales has now drifted close to shore on the Magdalen Islands. Wimmer said they are discussing sending a team to do an animal autopsy to determine its cause of death, as had been done in three others.
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