Canada in Brief, Apr. 28 – May 4

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
May 4, 2016 Updated: May 5, 2016

Fort McMurray wildfire likely human-caused, says scientist

A forest fire researcher says weather conditions have helped intensify the wildfire that has ripped through parts of Fort McMurray in Alberta, but he believes the cause was likely human.

Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fires at the University of Alberta, says the warm, dry winter has led to an abundance of dead, dry leaves and wood across the province that is ready to light up.

Although officials haven’t discovered the cause of the fire, Flannigan believes it was likely human because of its proximity to the city and because the other major ignition factor, lightning, hasn’t been prevalent in the area so far this season.

Tim Lynham, a forest fire researcher with Natural Resources Canada, says humans are the cause of the majority of forest fires in Canada.

Army reserve lacking soldiers, equipment, training, audit finds

OTTAWA—Canada’s auditor general has released a scathing report that shows the country’s army reserve is in dire straits, with only a fraction of its troops properly trained, equipped, and fit for international operations and domestic emergencies.

Michael Ferguson’s latest audit includes a detailed examination of the problems faced by the military’s part-time branch, finding that even though there are 21,000 positions on the books, only 13,944 reservists are considered active and ready for service.

The sweeping review also looked at training and found that many reservists don’t receive certain basic weapons training, such as the use of a pistol or grenade launcher. It also found that reservists are quitting at a rate faster than they can be replaced.

Kelly Ellard denied parole, board says she’s too entitled

ABBOTSFORD, B.C.—Kelly Ellard has for the first time taken responsibility for the brutal killing of a 14-year-old girl in Victoria almost two decades ago, but her confession wasn’t enough to earn her day parole.

In a parole hearing April 3, Ellard, now 33, told the board she had omitted details about Reena Virk’s death from her testimony during trial. When asked who was responsible for Virk’s death, she said “I believe I am.”

However, although the board emphasized the progress Ellard had made in accepting responsibility for the murder, it also said she came across as entitled in expecting to be released.

Examine police behaviour in missing, murdered women inquiry: Advocates

OTTAWA—Advocates say aboriginal women tend to be underprotected and overpoliced, making it vital for police behaviour to be examined in the coming inquiry on missing and murdered indigenous women.

Dawn Lavell-Harvard, president of the Native Women’s Association of Canada, says that due to racism, “our women get less response [from police].”

“The racism is that double-edged sword where it prevents us from getting attention from police when we are the victims, but at the same time it brings down the long arm of the law when our women eventually stand up for themselves.”

Kim Pate, executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, says indigenous women are grossly overrepresented in the prison system.

Auditor urges Veterans Affairs to rein in medical pot use, cost

OTTAWA—Federal Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s latest report urges Veterans Affairs to get a grip on its medical marijuana program for injured ex-soldiers, which is expected to cost taxpayers $25 million this year.

Ferguson says the federal department has recognized the need to contain the program by imposing a limit on how much the government is willing to pay per gram. But his latest report shows officials have failed to do so.

Veterans Affairs has covered medical marijuana costs since 2008, but more vets have applied since the regulations were overhauled three years ago. Ferguson says the cost will soon account for almost one-third of all federal drug coverage for ex-soldiers.

Naval community marks Battle of the Atlantic anniversary

Members of Canada’s naval community gathered across the country May 1 to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the end of the Battle of the Atlantic.

It was the longest continuous battle in the Second World War, spanning from 1939 to 1945. About 2,210 Canadians died in the battle to keep the sea lanes to Great Britain open in the face of attacks on merchant vessels by German submarines.

There were ceremonies at naval divisions in all of the provinces, and a national ceremony on Parliament Hill. The Naval Association of Canada held a gala dinner at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa on April 28 to mark the occasion.

Senator says he never advised Duffy about housing expenses

OTTAWA—A senior Conservative senator who was labelled as the guru of Senate rules by Mike Duffy’s judge says the widely held view of his role in the whole affair is more fiction than fact.

Sen. David Tkachuk insists he never advised Duffy on questions about his housing and travel allowances, despite Duffy’s criminal trial having been told otherwise.

Tkachuk says the only advice he gave during a January 2009 meeting of new senators was about caucus responsibilities. He says the facts in the criminal trial skewed his role in the matter and is speaking out to give his side of the story.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 3, 2016. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on May 3, 2016. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)

Ambrose says she’ll vote against assisted dying bill unless amended

OTTAWA—Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose says unless there are amendments, she’ll be voting against federal legislation aimed at allowing people to seek medical help to end their lives.

Ambrose says she’s thought a lot about the bill and says she wants to see stronger safeguards for the disabled community.

She says issues like mental health aren’t addressed well enough and she’s waiting to see if those and other provisions are strengthened by the time the bill gets to the final stage.

However, she says the government appears open to amendments, which is why she’s not firmly closing the door on eventually voting in favour of the bill.

Australia’s indigenous ‘guardians program’ finding favour in Ottawa

OTTAWA—An Australian initiative is gathering steam in Ottawa as the federal government scrambles to live up to its promise to help Canada’s despairing Aboriginal peoples.

Members of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative say they have secured nearly two dozen meetings in Ottawa this week, including coveted face time with four cabinet ministers.

The group’s central pitch is for a national “guardians program” similar to that in Australia that would allow for people in indigenous communities to monitor the land, preserve wildlife, and maintain their culture.

Sen. Murray Sinclair, who met with the group May 4, says the project offers an intriguing way for indigenous youth to connect to the land, and could also serve as a tool for “personal reconciliation.”

Mountie says sexual harassment settlement still means RCMP need policies

VANCOUVER—A British Columbia Mountie whose sexual harassment lawsuit against the RCMP prompted similar cases across the country has reached an out-of court settlement with the force.

Cpl. Catherine Galliford says she was mentally prepared to face a court battle next year and was blindsided by the settlement, which she couldn’t discuss.

Galliford says going public about the abuse she suffered helped other female Mounties come forward and that they still “carry the torch” to continue with their cases.

She says she had nowhere to turn and that is still the case for officers who are dealing with an entrenched culture within the RCMP as it continues to police itself.

Citizenships being granted without all checks being carried out: Auditor

OTTAWA—The federal auditor general says people are being granted Canadian citizenship without all the necessary checks on their applications.

An audit of the process has found the Immigration Department failed to get the right information and conduct adequate analysis on applications between July 2014 and last fall.

For example, they didn’t routinely check a person’s travel documents against a database of known fake papers, nor did they always ask for more information when a person’s residency claims were suspect.

The issue isn’t the department’s alone—the audit found they weren’t getting enough information from border officials or the RCMP to help flag potentially suspect cases.

Long-form census forms return to mailboxes this week after absence

OTTAWA—April 1 marked the start of mailings from Statistics Canada of census surveys, including the return of the mandatory, long-form questionnaire that was replaced with a voluntary survey five years ago.

Statistics Canada says more than 15 million households will receive census letters over eight days, along with reminders to either fill the form out by hand or online.

Every home will receive a short-form questionnaire, and one in every four homes will receive the long-form census.

The census gives a statistical snapshot of the population once every five years, collecting demographic information on every man, woman, and child living in the country, as well as Canadians living abroad on a military base, or part of an embassy.

With files from The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press