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Federal watchdog says 4-year-old victims rights regime falling short

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The new federal watchdog for victims of crime says rules meant to give victims and their families louder voices in the justice system have fallen short.

The previous Conservative government introduced what it called a victims’ bill of rights almost four years ago that allowed victims of crime to get information about offenders in the corrections system and have their views taken into account when decisions are made about them.

The regime to enforce those rights doesn’t go far enough, says Heidi Illingworth, who late last year became federal ombudsman for victims of crime.

In an interview, Illingworth says she wants to see the regime strengthened to give victims “legally enforceable” rights because “we still are not there yet.”

“To me, it doesn’t go quite far enough,” Illingworth said. “If we’ve given rights in legislation, there has to be a remedy to that right otherwise it’s not an actual right. That’s what the problem is right now, is that there is no way to enforce the rights that have been given to victims.”

She used the example of how relatives of Tori Stafford weren’t able to provide their thoughts on transfer decisions for the two people convicted in the eight-year-old’s 2009 murder, finding out only after the killers had been moved.

Terri-Lynne McClintic had been moved to an Indigenous healing lodge, which corrections officials later reversed, and Michael Rafferty from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility.

“It’s a second victimization to many folks when they’re dealing with these big systems,” Illingworth said this week. “They’re not able to give input. A decision is made and then they’re informed after the fact.”

Giving judges discretion

Illingworth plans to launch a special review of the victims’-rights framework to highlight the issue and provide recommendations for the government to consider.

In late September, Illingworth became the third person to hold the post of victims watchdog, after the Liberals took months to fill the position vacated by Sue O’Sullivan, who had held the post for seven years.

Prior to her appointment, Illingworth spent two decades at the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, having become interested in victim services during her post-secondary studies when she did a placement with a victims agency.

Her corner office has the usual pictures of friends and family, but there is also Indigenous art Illingworth brought home after a victims conference nine years ago in the Northwest Territories.

Indigenous people are over-represented in the justice system as both victims and offenders. Illingworth said the artwork reminds her of the need for more holistic services for Aboriginal victims, such as access to elders for traditional treatments, and provide better supports on- and off-reserve.

Those and other victims’ services need more money, she said.

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law requiring people convicted of crimes to pay fees for victims services. The surcharges have existed since 1988, but the previous Conservative government removed judges’ authority to waive or lower the fees when they deemed them inappropriate in particular cases.

The Liberals introduced legislation in 2016 to return discretion to judges, but later folded the measure into an omnibus justice bill now before the Senate.

Illingworth is hopeful the bill, C-75, will soon become law, restoring most of the money stream but allowing judges to make exceptions.

“The judge needs to have some discretion, but it’s really, really critical that victims’ services get funded properly and not just after-thought funding. We have groups and communities who don’t have enough,” she said.

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Starbucks permanently closing Byward market location on Jan. 31

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The Byward Market Starbucks is closing permanently at the end of January.

“It is with heavy hearts that we must announce the permanent closure of our store on January 31,” the coffee shop said in an Instagram post.

“Due to the changes in the economic climate since the start of the pandemic, Starbucks Canada has made some difficult decisions to close certain stores across the country whose business have been most effected by COVID-19. Unfortunately, our store fell into that category.”

Starbucks is to close up to 300 locations by the end of March, the chain announced earlier this month, accelerating its “transformation strategy” in response to changing consumer habits during the pandemic.

The chain expects to complete theplanned store closures by the end of its second quarter. The restructuring includes adding new drive-thru locations, expanding delivery and a pilot of curbside pick up-only locations.

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Statistics Canada says wholesale sales rose in November, manufacturing sales down

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OTTAWA — Canadian wholesale sales grew for the seventh consecutive month in November to hit a record high, while manufacturing sales fell for the month.

Manufacturing sales dropped 0.6 per cent to $53.7 billion in November, Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said factory sales took a breather in November, but he added that the decline seemed to have been narrowly driven by a few categories, noting that only five of 21 industries saw lower sales for the month.

“Declines were most prevalent in the auto and aerospace sectors,” Mendes wrote in a brief report.

“Lower prices for lumber and wood products also pulled down sales of wood products, which have been benefiting recently from strong demand for building.”

The data provided a snapshot of the economy for November, however the increased restrictions to slow the spread of the pandemic in some provinces since then are expected to have taken a deeper toll on the economy.

“Since November, restrictions have increased in provinces with the largest manufacturing centers, pointing to further subdued performances going forward,” TD Bank economist Omar Abdelrahman wrote.

“Although manufacturing was deemed essential by all provinces, the sector will face headwinds from the drop in domestic demand seen elsewhere in the economy.”

The transportation equipment industry fell 9.1 per cent to $8.9 billion in November, while aerospace production fell 23.8 per cent to $1.2 billion and motor vehicle sales slipped 5.7 per cent to $4.3 billion.

Wood product manufacturing sales fell 4.1 per cent to $3.3 billion in November on lower sales in the sawmills and wood preservation industry.

Overall manufacturing sales in constant dollars fell 0.6 per cent.

Meanwhile, Statistics Canada said Tuesday wholesale sales rose 0.7 per cent to an all-time high of $67.4 billion as five of seven subsectors reported stronger sales.

The gains were led by the machinery, equipment and supplies subsector and the building material and supplies subsector. 

The machinery, equipment and supplies group rose 2.8 per cent to $14.3 billion, while building material and supplies rose 1.1 per cent to $10.2 billion.

Wholesale trade in volume terms rose 0.9 per cent in November.

The data for November came ahead of the Bank of Canada’s interest rate decision and monetary policy report on Wednesday. 

The central bank is widely expected to keep its key interest on hold at 0.25 per cent.

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Retail sales rise 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion in November as online shopping surges

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OTTAWA — Retail sales climbed for the seventh straight month in November as Black Friday deals and a rush to order online gifts early to avoid shipping delays pushed sales up 1.3 per cent to $55.2 billion, Statistics Canada said Friday. 

But the federal agency’s unofficial early estimate for December appeared to dampen the retail momentum.

It said sales for the last month of 2020 – typically the peak of the holiday shopping season – potentially fell by as much as 2.6 per cent. 

Retail expert Farla Efros said it’s not surprising the sales would taper off in December given the heavy discounting offered on Black Friday in November, as well as Amazon’s decision to move its Prime Day to mid-October. 

“Most people took the opportunity to do their shopping early and get those deals,” said Efros, president of HRC Retail Advisory.

In addition, Toronto and the Peel region went into lockdown in late November, followed by the entire province of Ontario on Boxing Day.

Efros said those restrictions likely negatively impacted retail sales throughout December. 

Meanwhile, the latest Statistics Canada figures show a strong growth in online shopping in November.

Retail e-commerce sales for November were up 75.9 per cent from the same month a year earlier, the agency said. 

“The rise in sales coincided with retailers urging online shoppers to buy early to avoid shipping delays, as well as promotional events such as Black Friday,” Statistics Canada said in its release. 

Royce Mendes, senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets, said in a client note that the growth in e-commerce sales was likely led by households staying at home more as COVID-19 cases were rising.

He said numbers don’t include “some of the largest online retailers, which the survey doesn’t capture.”

Food and beverage store sales were up 5.9 per cent in November, even as about three per cent of all retailers were closed at some point in the month as restrictions tightened amid a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

Efros pointed out that restaurants in some areas were forced to close in November, likely leading to the  increase in retail food sales at grocery stores. 

She said food price inflation may have also pushed the sales figures higher as well. 

Meanwhile, sales at auto parts dealers fell in November for the first time since April, as truck sales declined four per cent from November 2019, and passenger car sales tumbled 20.5 per cent compared with the same month last year.

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