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Head of anti-graft body offers to resign amid Guatemalan crisis | News





Guatemala City – The head of an international anti-corruption body has offered to step down if the Guatemalan government keeps in place the beleaguered commission it shut down last week.

The fate of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) has been at the heart of a months-long constitutional crisis pitting Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, much of the private sector, and government-allied members of Congress against CICIG, head commissioner Ivan Velasquez, the Constitutional Court, social movements and opposition politicians.

“If the government of Guatemala guarantees that CICIG can continue until the end of its mandate, I have no issue resigning,” Velasquez told Colombian newspaper El Pais in an interview published late on Monday.

Under the leadership of Velasquez, a Colombian former prosecutor and judge, CICIG investigations have led to the prosecution of many government officials, including former President Otto Perez Molina, who resigned and was arrested in 2015.

Elected that same year, Morales’s initial support for CICIG evaporated after his son and brother were arrested and the president and his party were investigated for illegal campaign financing. Morales has denied all allegations of corruption.

The Morales administration’s campaign against CICIG has largely focused on Velasquez, under whose leadership CICIG began to prosecute high-level government officials. Morales claims Velasquez is biased and that the commission with him at the helm has been manipulated. 

Morales attempted to bar Velasquez from the country in 2017 and 2018. The Constitutional Court reversed the measures, but Morales and his government have begun openly defying rulings from the country’s highest court.

On January 7, Morales announced his government’s immediate unilateral withdrawal from the CICIG agreement with the UN and gave the commission’s international staff 24 hours to leave the country, instead of working until the commission’s current mandate ends in September. The Constitutional Court ruled against the move, to little avail.

The government’s actions represent a serious threat to judicial independence, according to opposition politician Sandra Moran, a longtime activist and the first openly gay member of Congress.

“The president’s actions and behaviour have been creating an atmosphere of great tension,” Moran told Al Jazeera.

‘We’re governed by the corrupt’

The government’s latest attacks on CICIG and parallel attempts to remove Constitutional Court judges have sparked renewed protests. Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets around the country this week. Tuesday’s national day of action, the second consecutive nationwide day of protests, was organised by CODECA, a campesino movement group. 

“We’re being governed by the corrupt,” Thelma Cabrera, a national CODECA leader, told Al Jazeera Tuesday in the Guatemala City central plaza as the day’s protest march came to an end.

“It’s important that as the people we go out and demonstrate our support for CICIG,” she said.

Thousand of Guatemalans have rallied in support of CICIG over the last few days [Sandra Cuffe/Al Jazeera] 

The crisis continues to unfold just as the first wave of a new caravan of Honduran migrants and refugees began crossing Tuesday into Guatemala.

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned the new caravan and the Central American exodus in general, but maintains good relations with the governments of both Honduras and Guatemala, despite political crises in both countries. After nearly a decade of strong support for CICIG, the US has been taking a more ambiguous position, citing support for anti-corruption efforts generally but not explicitly for CICIG.

“The Trump Administration is trying to block migrants fleeing Guatemala from entering the .. while at the same time cozying up to the corrupt regime that’s fueling the country’s crisis. Why? The government has spent over $2 million on D.C. lobbyists,” US Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar said in a tweet on Tuesday. 

CICIG commissioner Velasquez also pointed to Guatemalan lobbying efforts in the US as a factor in the anti-CICIG campaign that picked up steam in 2016, after Morales took office.

“A very aggressive smear and misinformation campaign began on social media and through lobbying in the United States by business people,” Velasquez told El Pais.

The Guatemalan government has not yet publicly responded to Velasquez’s offer to resign.


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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic





TORONTO — Restaurants’ inability to offer their usual dine-in service during much of 2020 may explain why an unusually high amount of food-related litter was found across the country, a new report says.

The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup (GCSC) is an annual program in which volunteers are encouraged to clean up green spaces and other natural areas.

Last year, single-use food and beverage containers made up 26.6 per cent of waste collected through the program – nearly twice as high a percentage as in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We suspect the change may be one of the many implications of COVID-19, including more people ordering restaurant takeaway and consuming more individually packaged foods,” GCSC spokesperson Julia Wakeling said in a press release.

While food- and beverage-related litter accounted for a greater percentage of waste uncovered by GCSC than in the past, it wasn’t the single largest category of items picked up through the program last year.

That dubious honour goes to cigarette butts and other smoking-related paraphernalia, which comprised nearly 29 per cent of all items collected. There were more than 83,000 cigarette butts among the 42,000 kilograms of waste found and clean up last year.

So-called “tiny trash” – little pieces of plastic and foam – also accounted for a sizeable share of the waste, making up 26.8 per cent of the total haul.

In addition to smoking-related items and tiny trash, the main pieces of litter removed by GCSC volunteers last year included nearly 22,000 food wrappers, more than 17,500 pieces of paper, more than 13,000 bottle caps and more than 10,000 beverage cans.

Discarded face masks and other forms of personal protective equipment were also detected and cleaned up, although not tallied in their own category.  PPE waste has been repeatedly cited as a concern by environmental advocates during the pandemic; a robin in Chilliwack, B.C. is the earliest known example of an animal that died due to coronavirus-related litter.

The GCSC is an annual program organized by Ocean Wise and the World Wildlife Fund Canada. Its operations were disrupted by the pandemic as well; only 15,000 volunteers took part in the program last year, versus 85,000 in 2019, due to delays and public health restrictions making large group clean-ups impossible.

Still, there was GCSC participation from every province and the Northwest Territories in 2020. Nearly half of the volunteers who took part were based in B.C., where the program began in 1994.

Data from past GCSC reports was used as part of the research backing Canada’s ban on certain single-use plastic items, which is scheduled to take effect by the end of 2021.

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Canada: Significant Changes To Canada’s Federal Environmental Protection Regime Proposed





On April 13, 2021, the government of Canada proposed significant changes to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (“CEPA”)1 through the introduction of Bill C-28, Strengthening Environmental Protection for a Healthier Canada Act (the “Amendments“).2

With these Amendments, the government hopes to modernize Canada’s environmental regime which has not undergone significant change in over 20 years. CEPA is the primary statute through which the federal government regulates and protects the environment. CEPA and its accompanying regulations regulate among other things the treatment and disposal of chemicals and hazardous waste, vehicle and engine emissions, equipment and other sources of pollution, and the prevention and impact of environmental emergencies such as oil and chemical spills.

This bulletin provides an overview of the major changes to CEPA that have been proposed.

The Right to a Healthy Environment and Certain Soft Rights

Significantly, the Preamble under the Amendments will officially recognize Canadians’ right to a healthy environment. Section 2 of CEPA will require the government to protect that right when making decisions relating to the environment.3

The Amendments set out specific obligations the government must undertake to safeguard this right, including developing an implementation framework to set out how this right will be considered in the administration of CEPA as well as conducting research, studies and monitoring activities to support this goal.

In addition, the Preamble will recognize some additional considerations, including confirming the government’s commitment to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as well as recognizing the importance of considering vulnerable persons, reducing or replacing the use of animal testing, and the right of Canadians to have access to information on product labels.

Project Impact Assessment

With respect to risk assessments under CEPA, under the new provisions the federal government must consider impacts on vulnerable populations and possible cumulative effects of the proposed conduct. Vulnerable populations will include groups of people with elevated biological susceptibility, such as children, and groups with elevated exposure risks, such an indigenous communities. Consideration of cumulative effects of proposed conduct takes a holistic approach to substance management by considering the compounding risks of exposure to various chemicals during daily life rather than looking at substances on their own.

Chemicals Management

The federal government has identified the management of chemicals as a key target area under the new CEPA.

The Amendments thus propose to overhaul this regime in order to better protect Canadians from the evolving risks of harmful chemicals and pollution. To accomplish this, the government has proposed wide ranging changes relating to risk assessment, public accountability, management of toxic substances and new substances, which are discussed in turn below.

Risk Assessment

The government must consult, develop and publish a Plan of Chemicals Management Priorities which will set out an integrated plan for the risk assessment of various chemical substances currently being used in Canada. The Plan will establish priorities for the management of substances, taking into account a number of factors including among others the views of stakeholders and partners, public comments, the effects on vulnerable populations, the toxicity of the substance, the ability to disrupt biological reproduction or endocrine systems, and whether there are safer and more sustainable alternatives.4 The government will also be empowered to make geographically targeted regulations to address pollution “hot spots”.

Additionally, the Amendments will establish a mechanism through which any person can submit a request to the Minister to assess a substance to determine its toxicity and risk to the environment. The Minister must provide a response within 90 days, indicating whether they intend to assess the substances and their reasons for their decision.

Public Accountability Framework

The Amendments intend to increase transparency and public participation in risk assessments by the government for the categorization and management of potentially toxic chemicals. Currently, CEPA contains a public accountability framework under section 77 and provides time limits for the government to assess substances under sections 91 and 92. However, these provisions only apply to certain risk assessments being conducted by the government such as substances placed on the Domestic Substances List that in the opinion of the Minister present the greatest potential for exposure to Canadians or are persistent or bio-accumulative. The proposed Amendments plan to amend section 77 to expand these transparency and accountability measures to all substance risk assessments for toxic or capable of being toxic substances, with the exception of assessments for new substances.5

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Scientists, Homalco First Nation team up to probe massive B.C. landslide — and its impact on salmon





When the side of a B.C. mountain gave way on Nov. 28, 2020, crashing into a glacier fed lake and creating a 100-metre high tsunami, no one was around to see the destruction or hear the sound of rocks and trees tearing through the valley below. 

But scientists say the force, which was picked up by seismographs across North America, was the equivalent of a 4.9-magnitude earthquake. 

Fortunately, no one was in the slide’s path, but experts believe that a melting glacier likely contributed by making the slope less stable — and climate change means it is a growing risk. 

As more of Canada’s glaciers recede, scientists say there is great interest in finding out what exactly triggered this slide, and how the rocks and sediment have impacted the salmon population of nearby Elliot Creek and Southgate River. 

The mountain, which is located about 220 km north west of Vancouver, is on the traditional territory of the Homalco First Nation. 

It’s an area of remote wilderness, only accessible by air or by boating 80 km up Bute Inlet.

When the slide hit last year, more than 18 million cubic meters of rock barrelled down the slope hitting the lake within 30 seconds. 

“That is the equivalent of all of the cars in Canada coming down the hill at once,” said Marten Geertsema, a geomorphologist who works with the B.C. government studying landslides. 

He is one of several scientists, along with members from the Homalco First Nation, who have been studying the landslide and its cascading environmental impact on the watershed and salmon habitat. 

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