Archive for October, 2018

Oct 24 2018

Quebec prepares for major immigration reform

QUEBEC – Quebec is preparing for a major reform of its immigration policy, with proposed changes partly inspired by Ottawa, says the province’s immigration minister.

The time has come for Quebec to re-examine its immigration model, and the way the province chooses, welcomes and integrates foreigners into the job market, said Immigration Minister Kathleen Weil ahead of year-long public consultations on the issue set to begin Wednesday at the Quebec legislature.

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Weil told she was ready to launch a “big reform” of relations between new immigrants and Quebec society at-large by the end of the year, a process that will include the revision of Quebec’s immigration law.

Everything will be on the table: the number of immigrants welcomed annually, the selection process and favoured countries of origin, the importance of knowing French before arriving, French language courses, the recognition of training undertaken abroad, regionalization, and the sharing of common values.

The minister said she wanted a wide-reaching debate on the issues, and was “very open to everything that will be proposed.”

READ MORE: Federal languages commissioner wants Quebec to help Anglos

Fifty stakeholders are expected to participate in public consultation hearings over the next few weeks on the future of immigration to Quebec.

The province’s current policy has been in place for 25 years.

A later consultation will also be held on two specific aspects of immigration: the number of immigrants Quebec wants to welcome every year and their countries of origin.

The emphasis, however, will be placed on the economy and balancing between the recruitment of new immigrants and workforce needs. Finding candidates that can fill empty jobs will be key, and on that point, Quebec is being inspired by Ottawa.

Last year, the federal government reformed its selection process for new immigrants. With the focus now primarily on filling jobs, every candidate for immigration to Canada must produce a “declaration of interest” showcasing his or her ability to meet employers’ needs.

Weil said she wanted to appropriate that model. “[What] I want to arrive at, is an immigration system based on the Canadian model,” she said.

In 2013, unemployment among new immigrants to Quebec sat at 11.6 per cent, four percentage points higher than the general population. This was despite the fact that the majority of new immigrants were well educated: 57 per cent completed at least 14 years of schooling.

READ MORE: Number of Quebecers moving out-of-province at 15-year high

Employers in each sector across the province will be invited to better define their workforce needs and provide a profile of the ideal worker to bring to Quebec. Professional associations, meanwhile, will be asked to better consider candidates holding diplomas earned abroad.

This is even more important at a time when the search for qualified immigrants is “much more competitive” than in the past, Weil said.

Every year, between 50,000 and 55,000 foreigners move to Quebec, the majority of whom are from Africa. From 2009-2013, one immigrant in five came from Algeria or Morocco.

After the public consultations, Weil will produce a new immigration policy and an action plan. She said she would present a bill in the fall to “modernize” the current law, which she described as “really outdated.”

The new bill will be “the last piece of this large reform,” and an “absolutely fundamental” piece of the puzzle, she added.

Among the provincial government’s challenges will be to specify the importance of immigrants’ knowledge of French prior to their arrival in Quebec and French-language courses.

Upon their arrival, nearly half of all immigrants (43 per cent) do not speak a word of French.

“What can we do to go even further?,” Weil asked, to make French “the cement” and Quebec’s common language. She added that new immigrants must have an “adequate level of French” to find jobs and successfully integrate.

Drawing new immigrants to towns across the province will also be a priority, as three out of four currently settle in the greater Montreal area. Local mayors must play “an increased role” to address this issue, Weil said.

Ultimately, immigration reform needs “the full participation of each and every member of Quebec society,” the minister said.

©2015

Oct 24 2018

‘Death-qualified’ juror search slows marathon, theatre cases

BOSTON — One prospective juror was brutally frank when asked whether he could consider a sentence of life in prison for the man accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.

“I would sentence him to death,” he said, then added: “I can’t imagine any evidence that would change how I feel about what happened.”

Another prospective juror said he couldn’t even consider the death penalty, telling the court, “I just can’t kill another person.”

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The two men are on opposite sides of the capital punishment debate, but both unlikely to make it on the jury for the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: to be seated for a death penalty case a juror must be willing — but not eager — to hand down a sentence of either life or death.

READ MORE: James Holmes trial: Jury selection starts in Colorado theatre shooting trial

The process of finding “death qualified” jurors has slowed down jury selection in federal case against Tsarnaev, who is charged with setting off two bombs that killed three people and injured more than 260 during the 2013 marathon. It is expected to do the same in the state trial of James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people and injuring 70 others in a suburban Denver movie theatre in 2012.

The process is designed to weed out jurors who have strong feelings for or against the death penalty. A 1985 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court said a juror can lawfully be excused if his views on the death penalty are so strong that they would prevent or substantially impair his ability to follow the law.

But death penalty opponents have long said the process is fundamentally unfair. They argue that death-qualified juries do not represent a true cross-section of the community and are less likely to be sympathetic to the defense.

“You end up with a jury with less women, less blacks, less Democrats … you end up with a jury that is skewed in ways that make it probably more conservative, more accepting of prosecution arguments, of state authority,” said Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization that opposes executions.

READ MORE: Boston bombing: What you need to know about the Tsarnaev trial

The Capital Jury Project, a consortium of university researchers, interviewed about 1,200 jurors in 353 capital trials in 14 states beginning in the early 1990s. The group’s research has shown that death penalty juries are more likely to convict and that jurors often make up their minds about what punishment to hand down long before they’re supposed to, said William Bowers, director of the project.

After reaching a verdict, a trial enters the penalty phase, when prosecutors present evidence of aggravating factors, such as the brutality of the crime, to argue in favor of the death penalty while defense attorneys present mitigating factors, such as abuse as a child, to argue against it. Juries are then supposed to weigh those factors when deciding whether a defendant should get life or death.

“The principal finding is that half of the jurors said they knew what the punishment should be before the penalty stage of the trial and another one-quarter of them said they were pretty sure,” Bowers said. “The thing they don’t recognize or seem to have overlooked is that they are not supposed to decide what the punishment is until they hear the evidence in the second phase.”

Death penalty opponents have argued that to get around this kind of pre-judgment, separate juries should be chosen to hear evidence in the guilt phase and the punishment phase. But that idea has not gained traction.

Another finding of the research was that death penalty opponents are also more willing to consider an insanity defense, something that will come into play in the case of Holmes, whose attorneys don’t dispute opened fire during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” but argue he was in the grips of a psychotic episode. He has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

READ MORE: Jury selection starting in Boston Marathon trial

Holmes’ lawyers, citing data from the Capital Jury Project, argued that his jury should not be death-qualified, but Judge Carlos A. Samour Jr. rejected their challenge, saying he is bound by rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Colorado Supreme Court holding that death-qualification is constitutional.

In the Holmes case, an unprecedented 9,000 jury summonses were mailed. As of Friday, 210 prospective jurors had been excused over four days. Individual questioning is set to begin next month.

In the marathon bombing case, 1,373 people filled out juror questionnaires. Individual questioning of prospective jurors has been slowed as the judge has probed people at length about their feelings on the death penalty. The judge had originally said he hoped to question 40 jurors each day, but during the first five days only averaged about 15.

Capital punishment supporters say the current system of screening out strong pro- and anti-death penalty jurors is the only fair way to choose juries in death penalty cases.

“The process simply says that jurors must be willing to abide by the law,” said John McAdams, a Marquette University professor who supports the death penalty.

“The law says that certain kinds of aggravated murders should get the death penalty,” he said. “Jurors have to be willing to listen to the evidence and have to be willing to impose the death penalty if, in their judgment, the crime was sufficiently heinous to call for the death penalty.”

©2015

Oct 24 2018

Harper government braces for grilling on oil price plunge, sputtering economy

WATCH ABOVE: Harper announces new policies, balance budget in new parliament session. Jacques Bourbeau reports.

OTTAWA – Move over Mike Duffy and Julian Fantino.

The stars of past parliamentary theatre will be supporting players on Monday as MPs return to the House of Commons and the economy takes centre stage.

The Senate expenses scandal and the government’s treatment of armed forces veterans will continue to be fodder for opposition outrage and government discomfort. But with an election on the horizon within nine months, expect MPs to train their sites primarily on the uncertain economy – the one issue most likely to move votes.

WATCH: Prime Minister Harper said that despite low oil prices the Conservative government plans to balance the budget this year

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READ MORE: Federal budget might come down later than April, Joe Oliver says

The Conservatives have made sound fiscal management the cornerstone of their re-election bid. Indeed, they’ve chided opposition MPs for ignoring economic issues in their pursuit of scandals.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who looked to be in campaign-mode on Sunday, cast aside doubts and made it clear he still intends to present a balanced budget and deliver on last fall’s promise of income-splitting for families with young children, even though the collapse in oil prices has sucked billions out of the federal treasury and delayed the budget.

“The government’s fiscal flexibility has been reduced, at least for the short term,” Harper told a high school gym packed with Conservatives in Orleans, Ont., a suburb of Ottawa.

“To some, it’s a reason not to balance the budget. But to them, there is always a reason not to balance the budget. That’s how the small Trudeau deficits of the early 1970s became big deficits that went on for a quarter of a century, and ended up with the Liberals dramatically hiking taxes on everybody and massively cutting even the most essential of programs, our health care and education.”

READ MORE: Reduce income gap through guaranteed annual income, former Tory senator says

For the government to focus on its economic record, it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for,” says NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen

“The economy will certainly dominate, partly because the issues have grown even more serious over the Christmas break and the problems confronting the country are more significant,” says deputy Liberal leader Ralph Goodale.

“The government has a serious set of very troubling economic issues to deal with and they’re sending a message of confusion and incompetence in addressing those issues.”

The Bank of Canada contradicted the government’s rosy assessment of the situation, in Goodale’s view, with its surprise move last week to cut its trend-setting interest rate in a bid to goose the sputtering economy.

In hopes of underscoring that contradiction, the NDP is asking the chair of the Commons finance committee to invite Finance Minister Joe Oliver and Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz to update the committee on the state of the economy.

But the competing narratives about the government’s economic management will extend well beyond the halls of Parliament.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is scheduled to offer a tough critique of the government’s economic record at a partisan rally Monday evening. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair will offer his own assessment in a major speech on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Canada’s foreign aid, poverty spending shrinking: PBO

If it seems like non-stop campaigning between now and the election, that’s because it is.

“There will be an election overlay over almost everything,” acknowledges Goodale, adding that’s the inevitable consequence of having a fixed election date.

The election is scheduled by law for October but New Democrats and Liberals remain suspicious that Harper may try to pull the plug sooner. Goodale, for one, “wouldn’t put it past” Harper to call an election before tabling the budget, arguing that he needs a mandate to guide the country through choppy economic waters.

While there would doubtless be some blow-back, an early election call could get the vote out of the way before the start of disgraced Tory Sen. Duffy’s trial on charges of allegedly filing fraudulent expense claims. That trial is set to begin April 7.

Whether Duffy has any more bombshells to drop, after implicating Harper’s former chief of staff for paying back his dubious Senate expense claims, remains to be seen. But Goodale says any time the Duffy matter is in the spotlight, there’s a tremendous negative, public backlash against the government.

The Conservatives have other cards to play, however, to divert the spotlight from troublesome ethical or economic issues.

READ MORE: Conservatives pull ahead of Liberals, could be on cusp on majority: poll

The government is expected to introduce soon legislation to crack down on suspected terrorists and those who openly encourage them. Among other things, the legislation is expected to make it easier to stop suspected terrorists from boarding planes and give police greater ability to restrict their movements by lowering the threshold for obtaining a peace bond.

The legislation was promised in the aftermath of two deadly attacks on Canadians soldiers last October, one of which ended in a wild shoot-out in the halls of Parliament.

The attacks, combined with the Harper government’s decision to take part in a coalition air campaign against Islamic radicals in Iraq, helped boost the governing party’s popularity and narrow the gap with the front-running Liberals. The two parties are virtually tied, according to the most recent polls, with the NDP stalled in a distant third place.

Suspicious that Harper is playing politics with terrorism, the opposition parties intend to scrutinize the legislation closely to ensure it strikes a balance between protecting Canadians and preserving their civil liberties.

“You can’t protect freedoms while destroying those very same freedoms,” says Cullen.

Opposition parties also intend to grill the government over what they believe is “mission creep” in Iraq, where Canadian special forces have been involved in firefights with Islamic radicals. The government maintains that was strictly in self-defence but Liberals and New Democrats see it as proof that the mission, which they opposed, has expanded.

Nor have they given up on the government’s allegedly callous disregard for the plight of armed forces veterans. Harper started the new year by demoting the controversial Fantino from the veterans affairs post and replacing him with the more congenial Erin O’Toole, who has been conducting a charm offensive with veterans groups.

©2015

Oct 24 2018

‘The most awesome second in my life’: Dad of missing Whistler snowboarder grateful for daughter’s safe return

The family of a missing 20-year-old snowboarder is deeply grateful that she was found uninjured after a harrowing three-day ordeal near Whistler Blackcomb.

Julie Abrahamsen was rescued from an area near Wedge Mountain early Saturday afternoon after being lost in the Whistler backcountry for three days. She was soaking wet but did not suffer any serious injuries. She was sent to hospital and it is believed she was discharged Saturday night.

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On Saturday, a friend of Julie’s sent father Peder Knud Abrahamsen a text message saying his daughter was safe and sound.

READ MORE: Missing snowboarder Julie Abrahamsen found alive near Whistler Blackcomb

“That was most awesome second in my life,” he said from his home in Son, Norway. “We were in deep, deep, deep grief and panic about our little girl, knowing that she was out there in the mountains alone. We were praying and hoping she was alive, fearing that she was injured or even worse.”

Julie left for Whistler Blackcomb on Wednesday. Her father says he and his wife first became concerned the following day when he hadn’t heard from her, but figured she was out with friends. By Friday, they were worried sick as Whistler RCMP and Search and Rescue began their search.

On Saturday, a friend of Julie sent him a text message that read “Julie found alive. Call me.”

“In that split second it transformed my life from panic and grief to an awesome party,” he says.

He went on to thank RCMP and rescue crews in Whistler.

-with files from Justin McElroy