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Constitutional challenge mounted for Innu charged with illegally hunting caribou

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88-year-old Innu elder Sebastian Penunsi testified about traditions connected to the caribou that he says stretch back generations. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Innu hunters who are in provincial court in Labrador this week are making a constitutional challenge against charges laid against them for an illegal hunt of caribou around Sheshatshiu in 2013. 

“The application order is to say that the big game caribou order that was in place at the time and continues to be in place is unconstitutional and violates their aboriginal right to hunt,” defence lawyer Maggie Wente said. 

The hunt in question occured shortly after the government of Newfoundland and Labrador instituted a five-year ban on George River caribou in an attempt to save the herd.

Prote Poker, who was the Innu Nation grand chief at the time, said the ban was an infringement on the Innu way of life and that the hunt would continue. 

Last fall, six of the 10 men who had been charged were acquitted on various charges, including unlawfully possessing big game, failure to comply with a big game licence requirement and obstructing or resisting a wildlife officer.  

Maggie Wente is one of the lawyer representing the hunters in this case. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Charges remain against four of the men. Pursuing the constitutional challenge means the onus is now on them to prove they have an aboriginal right to hunt.

“There is a legal test that’s set out about how you prove that right,” Wente said.

“The test is that [the hunt] was integral to their distinctive culture since the time of European contact.”

The proceeding at court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay is the first phase of the consitutional application. If the defence is successful in establishing that the men had an aboriginal right to hunt, it will move to what’s called a justification phase.

“That phase is whether or not the caribou ban is justified for conservation purposes,” Wente said. 

Elder testifies on importance of caribou hunt

Innu elder Sebastian Penunsi, 88, who grew up in the Sheshatshiu area, was the first witness called by the defence team.

Their questions related mostly around ceremonial uses of caribou in Innu culture, as well as the role and importance of caribou in his and his ancestors’ lives.

One of the photos shown earlier in the trial by wildlife officers investigating a tip about a kill in the protected George River herd in 2013. (Dept. of Justice/Fish and wildlife division)

“[In the] fall the first thing you do is go caribou hunting,” Penunsi told the court in Innu-aimun by way of an interpreter.

It’s important to both commuities because our inherent right is before the courts.– Innu Nation Grand Chief Greg Rich

“You need caribou to make snowshoes and moccasins and mittens and coat and cap.”

Penunsi also spent time describing an Innu celebration and feast called the mokashan, which honours the spirit of the caribou. Penunsi said only wild meat is allowed at the party and a soup is made out of caribou bones and marrow. 

Grand chief lays out support

“When we listened to Sebastian Penunsi testify this morning, he explained the importance about the mokashan. That’s a very sacred ceremony and we’re trying to keep that ceremony going,” Innu Grand Chief Greg Rich said.

The men charged have support from the chief and the Innu Nation, which hired the legal team. 

“It’s important to both commuities because our inherent right is before the courts,” Innu Grand Chief Greg Rich said.

Another photo from 2013 show caribou after a hunting expedition in Labrador. (Department of Justice/Fish and wildlife division)

Rich is on hand this week to witness the trial, an important process he said, to remind the courts of what caribou means to the Innu culture.

“[Penunsi] mentioned the importance of the caribou for the uses and our food supply for many many generations and we need to keep that right,” Rich said.

“Hopefully at the end of the day, we will keep it.”

Focus now is on ceremonial hunt

Rich also addressed the concerningly low numbers of caribou remaining in the George River herd which recent counts have shown has just 5,500 animals left. That’s down from an estimated 800,000 animals in the early 1990s.

The provincial courtroom’s gallery was packed with people from Innu communities to watch the hearings unfold. Innu Nation Grand Chief Greg Rich was sitting front and centre in support of the hunters. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

The Nunatsiavut government recently renewed its call for an outright ban on hunting caribou.

Rich said the Innu Nation’s focus is on a ceremonial hunt. 

“We are concerned with the numbers,” Rich said. 

On today’s podcast, the George River caribou herd has declined 99 per cent since 2001 and biologists say the herd is in a critical state. We re-air a documentary called Caribou Lands. And we speak with the director of Laval University’s Caribou Ungava research program to get his reaction to the latest caribou count. Lastly, we talk about the dangers of living alone when illness strikes, and tips on how to manage the risk. 35:06

“We have to be very careful on this ceremonial hunt and we have a plan as well that we will be sharing with both levels of government.”

Rich said that plan will include restrictions on the hunt.

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

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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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