The Charter’s challenges

Signing the Constitution in 1982: a national mission statement
Signing the Constitution in 1982: a national mission statement  (RON BULL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

But for the vast majority of Canadians, the Charter has become a symbol of national identity, taking its place alongside the Maple Leaf, hockey and snow. In poll after poll, most embrace the Charter as a kind of national mission statement, asserting the country’s commitment to tolerance, fairness and equality.

And since that drizzly ceremony on April 17, 1982, when the Charter was entrenched in Canada’s newly patriated Constitution, hundreds of cases have gone to the Supreme Court of Canada to determine how far the country will go on abortion, same-sex marriage, the death penalty, private health care, police powers, Sunday shopping and freedom of speech.

A quarter-century later, the Charter is at a crossroads. While there may be much to celebrate, the process of using it to establish rights is time-consuming and expensive, almost entirely dependent on government subsidies and the benevolence of lawyers to bankroll cases, sometimes costing millions of dollars.

Without some way of subsidizing the litigation, average Canadians stand no chance of bringing a Charter claim. These cases cost millions of dollars. Millions – because governments fight them tooth and nail. Forget about legal aid. In most cases, you’re not going to get it

Restrictions on legal aid and a decision last fall by the Conservative government to kill the Court Challenges Program, which helped fund individuals and citizen groups fighting for constitutional protections, have made the Charter more inaccessible than ever. MORE

What’s at stake for RCMP, prosecutors in the SNC-Lavalin case

Zero convictions despite 7 years and millions spent on SNC investigation, prosecution

Since 2012, the RCMP have charged eight people tied to allegations SNC-Lavalin engaged in bribery of foreign officials. Seven of those accused have had their cases tossed out of court due to delays or problems with evidence. (Christinne Muschi/Reuters)

The political storm over SNC-Lavalin has sparked important debate over alleged political interference in Canada’s justice system and what to do about a huge Canadian company that could fail if convicted of foreign bribery.

On Tuesday, Canadians will hear directly from Jody Wilson-Raybould on whether she was inappropriately pressured as attorney general to intervene in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

But beyond the political scandal, consider the failures of the RCMP and federal prosecutors in the case. Since 2012, the RCMP have charged eight people tied to allegations SNC engaged in bribery of foreign officials. Seven of those accused have had their cases tossed out of court due to delays or problems with evidence. RCMP and the Public Prosecution Service of Canada have yet to convict anyone from the company.

Many are asking whether they are really up to the job.

“Canada has a very poor record of enforcement,” says James Cohen, head of the watchdog group Transparency International Canada. “Canadian companies who engage in corruption have sadly been playing the odds that they will not get caught.” MORE

Unistoten updates from the frontlines


The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs speak for all their people in standing firm against the Coastal Gaslink fracking pipeline & for their land and water.

An amazing and powerful group of First Nations land defenders and allies continue to stand strong in defence of the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the Unist’ot’en Yintah. Many of them have been there at the Access Points for almost three months now.

Coastal GasLink, the RCMP and the provincial government are carrying out regular incursions in violation of the agreement with the Hereditary Chiefs. This compromise, reached after the vicious militarized attack on the Access Points by the heavily armed Tactical Unit, was only to allow CGL survey crews to carry out preliminary survey work.

Instead, with RCMP collusion the company has ravaged significant areas with heavy equipment; destroying trap-lines and important cultural sites. The Unist’ot’en are stepping up observation and interdiction to enforce their “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” protocol for entry into the territory. Their right under International Law.

People with carpentry and winter camping skills, as well as people comfortable talking with police while on bridge duty will be very welcome.MORE

Siemens to Supply Motors for Eviation’s All-Electric Airplanes

Startup Eviation Aircraft and Siemens will jointly develop propulsion systems for the Alice, a nine-passenger electric commuter plane.

Eviation plans to debut the Alice at the Paris Air Show in June of this year.

Eviation plans to debut the Alice at the Paris Air Show in June of this year. Photo Credit: Eviation

Electric aviation just received a big vote of confidence from one of the world’s largest engineering companies.

Israeli startup Eviation Aircraft and Siemens announced yesterday they will jointly develop propulsion systems for the Alice, Eviation’s nine-passenger all-electric regional commuter plane. Siemens will supply low-weight, high-power electric motors for the plane, which will conduct its first test flight later this year at Eviation’s U.S. headquarters in Prescott, Arizona.

Eviation plans to debut the Alice at the Paris Air Show in June of this year. MORE


B.C. budget delivers dollars for CleanBC

ICTORIA — Dan Woynillowicz, policy director at Clean Energy Canada, made the following statement in response to the B.C. government’s 2019 budget:

“The true test of any budget is whether a government puts its money where its mouth is. When the government’s CleanBC climate change plan was announced last December, the province said it would be fully funded. Working with the B.C. Greens, the government has delivered the resources required to fulfill that promise.

“British Columbians should be excited by this budget because it supports them upgrading their lives in ways that not only cut carbon pollution but also lower monthly energy bills—like more efficient homes and electric cars.

“Upgrading to new and better technologies and infrastructure creates significant economic and job opportunities for B.C. businesses. And the budget recognizes British Columbians will need training to step into new jobs and responsibilities—for example, maintaining electric vehicles.

“Industries will also need to evolve, and while resources are allocated to encourage changes in how they operate, the details still need to be sorted out. This will be critical for businesses that stand to benefit from marketing their products as “made clean” in B.C.

“Today’s announcement is an important milestone that should bolster the confidence of British Columbians in CleanBC—and in the opportunity to enhance affordability and cut pollution.” MORE


Emdx/wikipedia commons

Saskatchewan’s long-shot effort to defeat the federal government’s floor price on carbon has turned into a venue for one intervenor to argue for Canada’s obligation to protect future generations from the impacts of climate change.

In the course of the case, the Intergenerational Climate Coalition “argued that the Canadian government has a constitutional obligation to protect minorities, including future generations of children who stand to be negatively impacted by climate change,” The Narwhal reports.

Our kids ‘will judge us on one issue above all’

“No jurisdiction, federal or provincial, should be able to use the constitutional division of powers to defeat other constitutional commitments to younger Canadians and future generations,” said Paul Kershaw, an associate professor in the University of British Columbia’s School of Population and Public Health and founder of Generation Squeeze, the lead organization among the six in the coalition.

“Experts now identify climate change as the greatest risk to human health in the 21st century,” Kershaw added. “The health harms are disproportionately being borne by younger Canadians and future generations. Clearly, we should be thinking about pricing pollution as a health intervention,” and “every government should have the ability to use every tool in its legislative toolbox to fight off what climate change has in store.” MORE

Climate Change and Energy Subsidies: Is There a Role for the WTO?

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The present WTO framework thus imposes more constraints on renewable energy subsidies than on much larger and environmentally harmful subsidies to fossil fuels, which places it at odds with the key objectives of environmental policy.

Climate change is a major global challenge which, according to the UN (the UNFCCC), can best be addressed by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Since almost two-thirds of global greenhouse gases are generated by the energy sector, a key plank of climate change policy is to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy. This post considers the role of the WTO in achieving this transition.

Energy subsidies have a great impact on climate change. Subsidies for fossil fuels (such as oil, natural gas and coal) directly encourage environmentally damaging means of generating energy and reduce the relative attractiveness of clean energy investments. By contrast, subsidies for renewable energy (such as wind, solar and hydro) can be used as an instrument to reduce greenhouse gas emissions not only by directly increasing clean energy generation but also by supporting innovations that improve its viability. Nevertheless, despite the recent rise in renewable energy subsidies ($140 billion in 2016), they are still significantly lower than fossil fuel subsidies ($260 billion in 2016).

Reflecting their ability to distort markets, WTO law has a special set of general rules on subsidies – the Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Agreement (the “SCM Agreement”), alongside the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”). Subsidies can be counteracted by multilateral action through the WTO dispute settlement system or, where subsidized products affect the domestic market, by the adoption of domestic countervailing measures. At the multilateral level, six disputes have been brought so far to the WTO against renewable energy support programs. Yet environmentally harmful fossil fuel subsidies have never been challenged. Similarly, at the unilateral level, 41 trade remedy investigations in the renewable energy sector were initiated between 2008 and 2014. At the same time, unilateral trade remedies have not been used against fossil fuel production subsidies. Why is this happening? MORE

Exxon asks U.S. regulator to block climate-change resolution: investors

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FILE PHOTO: An airplane comes in for a landing above an Exxon sign at a gas station in the Chicago suburb of Norridge, Illinois, U.S., October 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young/File Photo/File Photo

Exxon in late January wrote to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that the proposal, which is set for a vote at its May annual meeting, is misleading and an attempt to “micro-manage the company,” spokespeople for investors supporting the proposal said.

The Financial Times reported on the letter earlier on Sunday.

The Church Commissioners for England (CCE), the endowment fund of the Church of England, an institutional investor that supports the proposal, as well as New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, who manages the state’s pension fund that is pushing the proposal, both saw the Exxon letter, officials for both groups told Reuters.

“Trying to strike out a shareholder proposal from institutional investors with a fiduciary responsibility to manage climate risk is an outdated reflex,” CCE head of responsible investment Edward Mason said in a statement. “Our proposal deserves more serious consideration.” MORE

The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn

Widespread and sometimes drastic marine oxygen declines are stressing sensitive species—a trend that will continue with climate change

The Ocean Is Running Out of Breath, Scientists Warn
Zooplankton. Credit: Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC Wikimedia

Escaping predators, digestion and other animal activities—including those of humans—require oxygen. But that essential ingredient is no longer so easy for marine life to obtain, several new studies reveal.

In the past decade ocean oxygen levels have taken a dive—an alarming trend that is linked to climate change, says Andreas Oschlies, an oceanographer at the Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research Kiel in Germany, whose team tracks ocean oxygen levels worldwide. “We were surprised by the intensity of the changes we saw, how rapidly oxygen is going down in the ocean and how large the effects on marine ecosystems are,” he says.

It is no surprise to scientists that warming oceans are losing oxygen, but the scale of the dip calls for urgent attention, Oschlies says. Oxygen levels in some tropical regions have dropped by a startling 40 percent in the last 50 years, some recent studies reveal. Levels have dropped more subtly elsewhere, with an average loss of 2 percent globally. MORE

HUNGER: The decline of salmon adds to the struggle of Puget Sound’s orcas

 Twin monarchs of the Pacific Northwest, chinook salmon and southern resident orcas, are struggling for survival after a century of habitat losses. From the Pacific to the inland waters of Puget Sound and its freshwater rivers, the changes have outpaced adaptation.

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Scientists are worried orca grandmother J17 won’t live through the year. Here, she has lost so much fat that the curve of her neck shows, a condition called “peanut head.” (Courtesy of The Center for Whale Research, under NMFS permit 21238 and DFO SARA permit 388)

What the scientists see each year on this survey underway since 1998 has taken on new importance as oceans warm in the era of climate change. Decadelong cycles of more and less productive ocean conditions for salmon and other sea life are breaking down. The cycles of change are quicker. Novel conditions in the Pacific are the new normal.

The search to understand why Puget Sound’s orcas are in decline continues, as scientists probe a range of threats, from inbreeding and disease, to pollution and vessel noise. But a key area of investigation is the primal necessity of regularly available, adequate, quality food.

Across the Pacific Northwest, 40 percent of chinook runs already are locally extinct, and a large proportion of the rest that remain are threatened or endangered. Meanwhile, most other marine mammals are surging in population, adding to the competition both southern residents and fishermen face. MORE