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Who is William Barr? Trump’s attorney general pick on key issues | USA News

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As confirmation hearings for Donald Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, got under way earlier this week, the nominee promised political independence from the US president.

Trump announced he would nominate Barr last month, after Jeff Sessions resigned at Trump’s request in November.

Barr, 68, is likely to be confirmed. He previously held the position under George HW Bush between 1991 and 1993. 

Before that, he briefly served in the CIA in the early 1970s and served as domestic policy staff from 1982 to 1983, while Republican Ronald Reagan was president.

So, where does Barr stand on some of the most important issues in the United States?

Racism in criminal justice

During a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Democratic Senator Corey Booker questioned Barr about his past claims that there is “no statistical evidence” of racial disparity in the US criminal justice system.

Although Barr backtracked on those comments, Booker pointed out that Barr, as attorney general in 1992, signed off on a report titled The Case for More Incarceration.

During a 1992 interview, Barr also said he did not believe the US justice system treats “people differently” based on their race.

“That is, if a black and a white are charged with the same offence, generally they will get the same treatment in the system, and ultimately the same penalty,” Barr said at the time. 

Decades of studies, however, have generally agreed that African Americans are disproportionately imprisoned in the US.

At the end of Booker and Barr’s exchange this week, the nominee admitted that African Americans are jailed at inflated rates, but suggested that, “I think the reduction in crime has [benefit the black community] since 1992, but I think that the heavy drug penalties, especially on crack and other things, have harmed the black community, the incarceration rates.”

Freedom of the press

Since coming to office, Trump has launched repeated attacks on the press at large and many journalists, describing media as “the enemy of the people”.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared willing to put some of Trump’s views on the press into practice by suggesting that the Department of Justice would increase its efforts to track down leakers and whistleblowers.

Sessions had also talked of readjusting rules for issuing subpoenas to journalists.

While pressed on the issue of media freedom on Tuesday, Barr did not appear to present a radical break from Sessions or Trump.

“If you’re confirmed, will the Justice Department jail reporters for doing their jobs?” Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar asked.

Barr replied by saying jailing journalists would be a “last resort”.

“I know there are guidelines in place, and I can conceive of situations where, as a last resort,” Barr replied, “and where a news organisation has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they’re putting out stuff that will hurt the country, there could be a situation where someone would be held in contempt.”

Immigration

Barr’s hardline record on immigration differs little from the Trump administration’s anti-immigration agenda.

On Tuesday, Barr defended Trump’s call for a wall on the US-Mexico border, an issue that led to a partial government shutdown, now in its 26th day.

Barr also condemned sanctuary cities, baselessly claiming that they encouraged migrants to travel to the US.

Arguing that most asylum seekers fail to obtain that status, Barr said it would be better to block them from entering the country at all.

During his tenure as attorney general under George HW Bush, Barr oversaw an effort to strictly enforce immigration restrictions.

If confirmed, Barr could become an important ally for Trump at a time when he seeks to radically decrease immigration and erect a wall on the US-Mexico border.

Barr also expressed his support for Trump’s attempts to ban travellers for several Muslim-majority countries.

Mueller probe

If confirmed, Barr would be in charge of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and any possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.

Trump frequently criticises the Mueller probe as a “witch-hunt” and has denied any collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice. Russia has denied US intelligence agencies’ findings that it interfered in the 2016 election.

During his confirmation hearings, Barr said that on his watch, “Bob will be allowed to complete his work.” 

Democrats worry that Trump’s administration may try to undercut the investigation. 

Barr said he doesn’t believe Mueller “would be involved in a witch-hunt”, adding that it was “unimaginable” that the special counsel would do anything in the investigation that would justify reeling it in or shutting it down. 

Barr said he agreed with Mueller’s charge that Russian entities interfered in the election, or at least tried to do so. He said he described Mueller, a longtime friend, as a “straight shooter” when Trump asked about him.

Mueller is due to submit a final report to the attorney general, prompting concern from some Democrats that the Trump administration will try to quash his findings. Barr said he would not let Trump modify the report and would make public as many of Mueller’s findings as possible.





William Barr reacts while testifying before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Barr faced tough questions from Democrats about an unsolicited, 19-page memo he wrote last year that called Mueller’s probe “fatally misconceived” for examining whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey in 2017.

“It does raise questions about your willingness to reach conclusions before knowing the facts, and whether you prejudge the Mueller investigation,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Judiciary Committee’s top Democrat.

Barr said his memo did not question the legitimacy of the probe as a whole, but only expressed concerns that the special counsel might be improperly interpreting one aspect of the law.

“I think it was entirely proper,” he said of the memo, saying it was not unusual for former Justice Department officials to share their views of legal matters.

He said he had written a similar memo criticising the department’s corruption case against Democratic Senator Bob Menendez, which ended in a mistrial in 2017.

Presidential powers

Barr’s views of presidential power could be important as prosecutors and Democrats in the House of Representatives, where they hold the majority, intensify investigations of Trump’s personal business practices and his presidency.

The nominee said during his hearings that a president does have the power to pardon a family member, but that the power could not be abused. 

“Yes, he does have the power to pardon a family member, but he would then have to face the fact that he could be held accountable for abusing his power,” he said. “Or, if it was connected to some act that violates an obstruction statute, it could be an obstruction,” Barr added. 

According to Martha Kinsella, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center, Barr “has a history of involvement with controversial pardons”. 

“For example, Barr advised President George HW Bush to pardon six Reagan officials who were involved in the Iran-Contra affair, without consulting the pardon attorney. The pardons impacted Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh’s investigation of the Iran-Contra affair,” she wrote on her group’s website. 

During Barr’s confirmation hearings, Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, also asked Barr what conditions would justify indicting a sitting president.

“In my opinion, if a president attempts to intervene in a matter he has a stake in to protect himself, that should first be looked at as a breach of his constitutional duties,” Barr said.

“You know, for 40 years the position of the executive branch has been you can’t indict a sitting president,” Barr says. “I see no reason to change them.”

Barr also pledged to support and uphold the False Claims Act, a law that lets whistleblowers file lawsuits to help the federal government recover losses due to fraud.

“I will diligently enforce the False Claims Act,” Barr told Republican Senator Charles Grassley, marking a reversal from prior comments he made in which he declared the law was an abomination and unconstitutional.

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Canadian report reveals spike in food-related litter during pandemic

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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

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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

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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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