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Federal officials expected nationwide protest from RCMP action at Wet’suwet’en camp

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Federal officials have long expected a nationwide fallout of protests from an eventual RCMP action against the Wet’suwet’en nation over the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, internal documents show.

Public Safety Canada’s Government Operations Centre (GOC) prepared a risk assessment in 2015 for an expected RCMP action on a camp set up by the Unist’ot’en, a Wet’suwet’en house group, to block TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline.  

The GOC is the 24-7 federal information nerve centre for national-scale emergency response.

The risk assessment was obtained by Shiri Pasternak, research director for the Yellowhead Institute at Ryerson University, through the Access to Information Act.

The risk assessment said a raid on the Unist’ot’en camp would likely trigger “a broader series of protests or blockades nationwide.”

The assessment said the “severity” of these events were “assessed as low” noting that they “are not highly functional due to a lack of the organization’s ability to garner the support of large groups.”

Hundreds of people took part in the march and rally in Vancouver on Tuesday. At one point, the crowd stretched out over at least three city blocks. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

The document concluded that the “risk to the national interest” of an RCMP action on the Unist’ot’en camp was “medium-low” and it was unlikely federal resources would be needed to help British Columbia deal with the situation — the RCMP is contracted by the province to provide law enforcement.

Nationwide demonstrations

RCMP entered a camp set up by the Wet’suwet’en Gidimt’en clan Monday to enforce an interim injunction ordering people to stop preventing Coastal GasLink workers from accessing the area for pre-construction activities, resulting in 14 arrests.

That triggered nationwide demonstrations, including the delay in Ottawa of a planned meeting between Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and First Nations with self-government agreements.

Demonstrations flared from coast-to-coast, from Halifax to Vancouver to Yellowknife.

Two rolling blockades on Ontario’s Hwy 401 and 402 were launched on Friday and social media continued to buzz about other potential actions into the weekend.

The Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership struck a deal Thursday with the RCMP to allow Coastal GasLink employees onto their territory to conduct surveying and pre-construction work. The leadership said they still oppose the project.

Document describes camp as ‘focal point of Aboriginal resistance’

The risk assessment was drafted in anticipation of TransCanada, now known as TC Energy, seeking an injunction at the time against the Unist’ot’en camp.  

TransCanada obtained an interim injunction against the camp this past December.

The assessment also notes that the 2014 Supreme Court decision affirming the Tsilhqot’in nation’s Aboriginal title over their territory had helped to bolster the resolve of the Unist’ot’en and other First Nations to assert control over their claimed territories.

An RCMP officer cuts wire at a Wet’suwet’en camp while enforcing the injunction on Monday. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

“[The court decision] has strengthened the perceived First Nations control over resource development within their traditional territories,” said the risk assessment.

“The Unist’ot’en blockade camp is the ideological and physical focal point of Aboriginal resistance to resources extraction projects.”

Pasternak, who is also a criminology professor and author, said the document reveals that Canadian law enforcement authorities believe Indigenous rights pose a risk to resource extraction.

“Containing those rights has become a major imperative of the Canadian state and of the provinces,” said Pasternak.

“In order to do so, they need to de-legitimize the claims of Indigenous people.”

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office said the document predated the current Liberal government.

The document recommended the federal government “continue to monitor and revised the risk assessment, as required.”

Injunctions ‘blunt instrument’

The document said the Unist’ot’en camp was led by an “Aboriginal extremist who rejects the authority of the Crown over his perception of what constitutes traditional territories.”

It’s unclear to whom the document is referring. The opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline has been led by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership.

Aboriginal Peoples Television Network first reported on the existence of the document.

Some 30 demonstrators gathered in Yellowknife on Tuesday. (Michael Hugall/CBC)

The assessment also notes that First Nations band council leadership was supportive of the natural gas pipeline project.

TransCanada has obtained the support of 20 First Nations in the area for the Coastal GasLink project.

The Wet’suwet’en were involved in the landmark 1997 Supreme Court Delgamuukw decision that outlined a test for proving Aboriginal title.  

Pasternak said the use of injunctions in this situation allows for enforcement on specific grounds without needing to deal with broader title claims which are clearly in play with the Wet’suwet’en nation.

About 150 protesters blocked traffic in London, Ont., Wednesday. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

“It’s a blunt instrument that gives the company the right to signal the RCMP to go in and break down these gates,” said Pasternak.

“It’s an instrument that enabled the courts to bracket this one issue … from the whole issue of Aboriginal title.”

The risk assessment noted at the time that up to 13 pipelines could potentially cut through Wet’suwet’en territory.

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Federal Budget 2021: Ottawa adds $1B to broadband fund for rural, remote communities

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The federal government will add $1 billion to a fund for improving high-speed communications in rural and remote areas of Canada, bringing the total to $2.75 billion by 2026, the Liberals said Monday in their first full budget since the pandemic began last year.

The money is going to the Universal Broadband Fund, which is designed to support the installation of “backbone” infrastructure that connects underserved communities to high-speed internet.

It’s one of many government and private-sector initiatives that have gained urgency since the pandemic began, as Canadians became more dependent on internet service for applications ranging from e-learning to daily business operations.

Ottawa says the additional money will keep it on track to have high-speed broadband in 98 per cent of the country by 2026, and 100 per cent by 2030.

Money spent on high-speed communications will be good for a recovering economy, said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, a non-partisan think-tank.

The latest data from Statistics Canada says there were about five million people working from home during the pandemic, up from about two million prior to that, Antunes said in an interview.

“That’s a quarter or so of the workforce,” he added. “And I think a fair number of those people are going to continue to work from home, at least in some part-time way.”

Improved connections to high-speed broadband and mobile communications will add to the productive capacity of the economy overall, especially as it reaches beyond Canada’s cities, Antunes said.

He said there’s been a “real issue” with economic growth outside major urban centres and the improved connectivity “is something that can help stimulate that.”

The Universal Broadband Fund was initially mentioned in the 2019 budget, though specifics were not available until last November’s fiscal update.

The $1-billion top-up to the broadband fund announced today is in addition to $1.75 billion promised to the fund by the federal government’s November fiscal update.

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COVID-19: What you need to know for April 19

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Provincewide

  • Per today’s government report, there are 4,447 new cases in Ontario, for a total of 421,442 since the pandemic began; 2,202 people are in hospital, 755 of them in intensive care, and 516 on ventilators. To date, 7,735 people have died.
  • According to data from the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, there are 40 outbreaks in long-term-care facilities, 36 confirmed active cases of positive residents, and 127 confirmed active cases of positive staff. To date, there have been 3,755 confirmed resident deaths and 11 confirmed staff deaths.
  • Per the government’s report on Ontario’s vaccination program, as of 7 p.m. yesterday, Ontario has administered 66,897 new doses of COVID-19 vaccines, for a total of 3,904,778 since December 2020. 3,212,768 people have received only one dose, and 346,005 people have received both doses.

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Federal budget 2021 highlights: Child care, recovery benefits, OAS increases – everything you need to know

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The federal government’s first budget in more than two years certainly looks the part: At 739 pages, it is a hefty document chock full of billions in new spending.

Those funds will be spread among a number of key groups – students, seniors, parents and small-business owners, to name a few – as Ottawa looks to bolster Canada’s recovery from COVID-19 but also plan for life beyond the pandemic.

To that end, the deficit is projected to hit $354.2-billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which just ended – better than expected about five months ago, given the economy’s resilience over the winter months. It is estimated to fall to $154.7-billion this fiscal year, before dropping further in the years to come as pandemic spending recedes from view.

Here are some of the highlights from Monday’s budget.

The budget outlines tens of billions of dollars in federal subsidies for a national child-care program, a promise the Liberal Party has made in some form since the early 1990s. Child-care supports became a point of national debate during pandemic lockdowns as parents with young children struggled to juggle work and family responsibilities.

In total, the government proposes spending as much as $30-billion over the next five years, and $8.3-billion each year after that, to bring child-care fees down to a $10-a-day average by 2026. The proposal, which requires negotiation with the provinces and territories, would split subsidies evenly with those governments and targets a 50-per-cent reduction in average child-care fees by the end of 2022.

The federal program is largely modelled on Quebec’s subsidized child-care system, implemented in the 1990s in an effort to increase women’s access to the labour market. Since then, labour participation rates for women aged 25 to 54 in the province have grown to exceed the national average by four percentage points.

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