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Canada’s ties to Venezuela hanging by a thread as clash escalates

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Relations between Canada and Venezuela took a sudden plunge today as Ottawa appeared to reject an ultimatum issued by President Nicolas Maduro on the eve of his second inauguration.

The dispute began with a letter sent by the Lima Group of 13 nations (12 in Latin America and the Caribbean, plus Canada) declaring Maduro’s election undemocratic and illegitimate, and appealing to him not to take office today.

Maduro rejected that appeal and went on television to issue an ultimatum to what he called “the Lima Cartel”: retract that letter within 48 hours or his government will take “crude, urgent and energetic measures.” He also claimed that Venezuela was experiencing a coup attempt backed by its foreign enemies.

He made it clear that the measures he was considering were diplomatic, leading some observers to wonder if he intends to finally break relations and expel diplomats.

And a senior official at Global Affairs Canada told CBC News the department is bracing for the possible expulsion of diplomats and breaking of ties on Friday. “We are very well prepared for any and all eventualities tomorrow,” the official said, when asked about the logistics of getting Canadian staff out of Venezuela in the event of a break.

Just under 24 hours later, Canada’s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland shot back with some of the harshest language her government has ever used against another nation:

“Today, Nicolás Maduro’s regime loses any remaining appearance of legitimacy,” she said in a written statement. “Having seized power through fraudulent and anti-democratic elections held on May 20, 2018, the Maduro regime is now fully entrenched as a dictatorship. The suffering of Venezuelans will only worsen should he continue to illegitimately cling to power.

“Together with other like-minded countries in the Lima Group, Canada rejects the legitimacy of the new presidential term of Nicolás Maduro. We call on him to immediately cede power to the democratically-elected National Assembly until new elections are held, which must include the participation of all political actors and follow the release of all political prisoners in Venezuela.”

Canada recognizes young opposition leader

Freeland went on to say that Canada now considers the only legitimate authority in Venezuela to be the National Assembly that was elected in 2015. That assembly currently operates without any real authority after Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice — packed with supporters of Maduro’s United Venezuelan Socialist Party — stripped it of its powers.

Those powers have been transferred to a new “constituent assembly” that is appointed, rather than elected.

“Canada congratulates Juan Guaidó, who on January 5, 2019, assumed the Presidency of the National Assembly,” wrote Freeland. “As the only remaining democratically-elected institution in the country, the National Assembly must continue to play a crucial role in keeping Venezuela’s democracy alive. Canadians stand with the people of Venezuela and their desire to restore democracy and human rights in Venezuela.”

Guaidó is a 35-year-old engineer who serves as a congressman for the opposition Popular Will Party. He was elected to head the National Assembly by the often-fractious group of opposition parties that have dominated it since 2015. 

Foreign Minister Freeland spoke with Guaidó by telephone Wednesday to communicate Canada’s support for him.

As head of the assembly, he is now considered Venezuela’s most senior legitimate official by most countries of the hemisphere. Bolivia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua and Uruguay are recognizing Maduro’s second term, though their expressions of support range from enthusiastic (Cuba and El Salvador) to hesitant and muted (Ecuador, Mexico and Uruguay).

In remarks made in the capital Caracas, Guaidó said that Maduro had “stolen the symbols of power and given himself a paper crown.” Flanked by other deputies, Guiadó said Maduro’s inauguration showed he was backed by “only four or five countries. The whole world has come together to reject him…

“Today, Venezuela has no legitimate leader. Today, Venezuela’s armed forces have no commander-in-chief.”

The congressional leader also called on the country’s armed forces, “those who wear the uniform with pride and haven’t allowed themselves to be corrupted,” to stand by their oath to defend constitutional order in Venezuela.

“The chain of command is broken,” he said. “How is Maduro going to be able to appoint ambassadors, and have their credentials recognized, when other governments don’t even recognize him?”

“Unanimity” against Maduro

The senior official with Global Affairs Canada said that Maduro was issuing threats from a position of weakness rather than strength. “There’s unanimity in the hemisphere and elsewhere. The European Union has also spoken out very strongly.

“Maduro wouldn’t be speaking publicly this way if he wasn’t feeling the pressure.”

The official also praised the government of Jamaica for its decision this week to nationalize the 49 per cent stake that Venezuela’s state oil company holds in the island’s Petrojam. The government of Jamaica, which is not part of the Lima Group, accused the Maduro government of not living up to its commitments to help modernize Jamaica’s oil industry.

The Canadian official praised the boldness of the move. “There are real financial risks for them” in the hostile takeover, he said, adding it was another sign of the growing isolation of the Maduro regime.

New sanctions

The Lima Group statement that infuriated Maduro also announced a number of new measures against his regime.

Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia all agreed to declare senior Maduro regime officials persona non grata in their national territories, bar all arms transfers to Venezuela, forbid overflights by Venezuelan military aircraft and use their influence at international institutions — such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank — to prevent Venezuela from getting loans.

Paraguay followed up on the statement by breaking diplomatic relations with Venezuela completely.

The 13 nations also warned Venezuela about an incident just before Christmas in which Venezuelan Navy patrol vessels approached and chased away a Norwegian oil-exploration vessel conducting a seismic survey in what Guyana says are its territorial waters.

A dispute over the marine boundary between Guyana and Venezuela has heated up recently following indications of major undersea oil deposits. Venezuela’s own oil-dependent economy is in free-fall due to a combination of low prices, under-investment, corruption and government incompetence that has led to a steep drop in production.

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Students call on University of Ottawa to implement pass/fail grading amid pandemic

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OTTAWA — The University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) is calling on the university to introduce optional, one-course-only pass/fail grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 semesters amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The students’ union said nearly 5,000 uOttawa students have signed its petition supporting the grading system.

In a letter to the university, the UOSU said it is asking the school to make changes to the grading structure, including allowing one course per semester to be converted to the “pass” or “satisfactory” designation.

The UOSU also made recommendations regarding a reduction of workload and course delivery.

“The adaptation to online learning during the pandemic for students has created unique challenges and disruptions that could not have been anticipated,” wrote Tim Gulliver, the UOSU’s Advocacy Commissioner. 

“The use of flexible compassionate grading options has been introduced in other universities, such as Carleton University which includes a use of Pass/Fail which we feel could be implemented at the University of Ottawa.”

Carleton University approved the use of flexible and compassionate grading for the Fall 2020 and Winter 2021 terms in early November.

The UOSU also called for all grades that constitute a fail to appear as “Not Satisfactory” on their transcript, which would not be included in grade point average calculations. 

The union represents more than 38,000 undergraduate students at the University of Ottawa.

In a response to CTV News, the University of Ottawa said it is aware of the petition.

“Last spring a decision was made by the (University) Senate to allow the Satisfactory/Non Satisfactory mark to be used, given the unique circumstances of the pandemic, which hit us close to the end of the Winter 2020 semester. The University is aware of the petition and is looking into the matter.”

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OPP warn of phone scams in Ottawa Valley

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Upper Ottawa Valley OPP warn residents of a phone scam that’s been making its way through the region recently. 

Police say a scammer pretends to be from a local business and tells the person their credit card didn’t work on a recent purchase before asking the person on the phone to confirm their credit card number. 

The victim may not have even used the card at the store, but police said the scammer creates a sense of urgency. 

Police remind residents to verify the legitimacy of any caller before providing any personal information over the phone. 

Similar scams have been reported recently in the region, according to police, with scammers posing as police officers, Revenue Canada or other government agencies demanding payment for a variety of reasons. A Social Insurance Number scam has also been reported recently, where a victim is asked for their SIN number under threat of being arrested. 
 
If a scam artist contacts you or if you have been defrauded, you’re asked to contact police or the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501 or visit their website at www.antifraudcentre.ca.

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The human history of Ottawa Valley is thousands of years old. Archeologists may have found a piece of it on Parliament Hill

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OTTAWA—Archeologists working on Parliament Hill have discovered a relic of Indigenous life that one Algonquin leader sees as a symbol of his people’s long history in what is now the heart of Canadian political power.

The jagged stone point was unearthed last year on the east side of Centre Block, but its discovery was not publicized as officials worked with Algonquin communities to authenticate the object, the Star has learned.

Stephen Jarrett, the lead archeologist for the ongoing renovation of Parliament’s Centre Block, said this week that while such an object is “not an uncommon find,” the stone point joins just a small handful of Indigenous artifacts ever discovered on Parliament Hill.

“It’s about the size of my palm, and it could be used as a knife or a projectile,” Jarrett said this week in response to inquiries from the Star.

He said the point is made of chert, a type of sedimentary stone most often used for implements of this type. And while the point was unearthed in what Jarrett calls “disturbed soil” — earth that has been dug up and moved, most likely during construction of Parliament — the soil it was in “is natural to the site.”

That means “it came from a source nearby, but finding exactly where it came from is impossible,” Jarrett said.

For Douglas Odjick, a band council member responsible for education and culture with the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, this artifact of “an original world” is a testament to the longevity of his Algonquin nation in an area they still claim as unceded and unsurrendered territory. Based on the assessment of Ian Badgley, the top archeologist with the National Capital Commission, Odjick said the stone point is likely 4,000 years old and dates to a time when the confluence of the Ottawa, Gatineau and Rideau Rivers — along with all their tributaries that stretch out into the surrounding area — served as a great hub of regional trade activity.

“It symbolizes who we are and how long we’ve been here,” Odjick said, comparing the area to an ancient version of a busy hub like New York’s busy Grand Central Station.

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