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Nunavut priest sex abuse case stirs up criticism of ‘least fair law in Canada’

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Canada’s decision to quietly stay the sex charges against a French priest accused of abusing Inuit children shows extradition laws should be “thrown out,” according to an Ottawa academic who spent three years in a French prison.

This week, CBC News reported that the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC) stayed charges against Father Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest accused of sexually assaulting four children in Nunavut.

That 2017 decision was never publicized. While the department will not share its assessment of the Rivoire case, it said there was no “reasonable prospect of conviction.”

In a statement to CBC News after the story was published, the PPSC said the decision was made, in part, because France does not extradite its citizens. 

That explanation upsets Hassan Diab. 

The former Ottawa university professor says Canada extradited him to France to face decades-old terrorism charges based on questionable evidence.

“[Rivoire’s] country is behind him. In my case, my country and my Department of Justice was pushing hard to send me abroad.”

So Diab is left to wonder. Why was he — but not Rivoire — sent abroad?

CBC News discovered Canada stayed the charges against Father Johannes Rivoire, an Oblate priest who was accused of sexually abusing Inuit children. (Submitted by Lieve Halsberghe)

Canadian and French extradition rules

The extradition treaty between Canada and France is based on the legal principle of comity, a mutual respect and recognition of national laws. But experts in the area say that’s not practically true.

“France, like many civil jurisdictions — continental countries in Europe — will not extradite its citizens, does not trust a foreign country’s justice system to try its citizens,” said Don Bayne, the Ottawa lawyer who has represented Diab throughout his case.

“Canada does.”

Inuit leaders say the government failed them in this case, and Bayne doesn’t disagree. But he adds that Canada compromises the liberty of each Canadian it sends to a foreign country to stand trial. 

“What we’ve allowed to happen in Canada is the whittling down of constitutional liberty in the case of extradition. It’s not justified.”

Don Bayne, the lawyer for Diab, says, ‘What we’ve allowed to happen in Canada is the whittling down of constitutional liberty in the case of extradition. It’s not justified.’ (Jean Delisle/CBC)

The numbers show an imbalance

The imbalance between the two countries is borne out in the statistics.

According to the Department of Justice, Canada received 21 extradition requests from France between 2008 and 2018 and 12 people were sent out of the country.

During the same 10-year period, Canada made eight requests to France and two people were extradited to Canada.

Gary Botting, a criminal lawyer who’s written books on extradition law, says the disparity is a symptom of greater problems with the “least fair law in Canada.”

“The treaty with France states that Canada does not have to send its own nationals back to face trial in France. So why do we send them? It’s just a double standard right down the line.” 

It’s just a double standard right down the line.— Gary Botting

Citing France’s extradition laws as a reason to stay charges is “a cop out,” he says. 

“It seems that the public prosecutor has no faith in the prosecutors in France,” Botting said.

“Yet they send Mr. Diab back to face the music in France and there’s nobody there to carry the ball forward because there’s no evidence, really.”

Diab’s lost years

A CBC News investigation found Canada urged France to find stronger evidence before it extradited Diab and failed to present evidence supporting his innocence. Diab consequently spent three years behind bars in France.

In January 2018, Diab arrived home in Canada to see his wife Rania, daughter Jena and Jad, the son whose birth he was unable to witness. His father died while Diab was locked away.

Diab attends to his daughter Jena, who was turning two when her father was extradited to France to face terrorism charges on which he has always maintained he is not guilty. (Lisa Laventure/CBC)

When asked about time he lost, Diab responds calmly and evenly. 

His experience left him “bitter” and “powerless,” as if there was no one protecting him.

“That’s the job of your country, to help you, not to push to help the requesting state.”

In short, he feels as though his life was worth less than a Frenchman’s.

Decision process is ‘too opaque’

Bayne says the issue is complicated by a lack of transparency from the International Assistance Group, a department within Justice Canada that advises the government on extradition cases. 

It’s a joke that there’s only two questions in an extradition hearing: Window seat? Or aisle?– Don Bayne , lawyer for Hassan Diab

“They are too powerful. They are too insular. It’s too opaque,” said Bayne. “They need independent oversight.” 

In essence, Bayne says judges at an extradition hearing have nothing to do but rubber stamp a decision made in political backrooms.

“It’s a joke that there’s only two questions in an extradition hearing,” he said. “Window seat? Or aisle?” 

Botting also says there is a frustrating lack of transparency within the Department of Justice.

That’s why he’d advise people in Nunavut to redouble their efforts to put pressure on the minister of justice and demand their day in court. 

“The time is ripe. The time is now to push for reform in this whole area, so that the situation doesn’t happen over and over again.”

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Virtual farmer’s market comes to Ottawa

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Ottawa first-ever virtual farmer’s market has begun delivering food from local farms straight to people’s homes.

Farm to Hand is making it easier for people who cannot access their local farmer’s markets to find local, fresh organic food by bringing ordered food right to their doors. 

“The difference between us and the farmers market is really just the convenience and the on-demandness,” Sean Mallia, the co-founder of the business, told CBC Radio’s In Town and Out.

“[Often times a] person wants to make the purchase but they don’t have the time on Saturdays to go to the farmers market. Everyone wants to eat local … so when it’s easy for them to do it, it just happens.” In Town and Out No time to drive to the farmer’s market but really want to eat local?

Connecting farmers with people 

The online platform allows farmers to list all their own products, and buyers can have the goods delivered. 

“What we really are trying to do is build that connection between farmer and consumer,” Mallia said. “When people fill up a cart … they’re not just filling a cart full of food, they’re filling a cart full of farmers and farms and their stories.”

Mallia said the aim is to connect people to the “vibrant food ecosystem” around them, and to local support farmers.

The virtual market is currently limited to the Ottawa area as a pilot project, but Mallia, 21, said the company is looking to expand.

“[We chose Ottawa because] Ottawa really cares. Ottawa really thinks about local [food] and thinks about sustainability,” he said. “It just made sense to come out of Ottawa.”

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Denley: Stonebridge and Mattamy show compromise is possible over development in Ottawa

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In Ottawa, development proposals too often end up in acrimony and trips to the provincial planning tribunal. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see Mattamy Homes and residents of the south Nepean suburb of Stonebridge work together to resolve a dispute in a way that’s likely to lead to a victory for both sides.

A little over a year ago, Mattamy created an uproar in the golf course community when it announced a plan to build 158 new homes on golf course lands and alter the Stonebridge course to make it shorter and less attractive to golfers. To residents, it looked like the first step in a plan to turn most, or all, of the course into housing.

It’s easy to see why residents were upset. When people pay a premium for a lot backing onto a golf course, there is certainly an implication that the lot will continue to back onto a golf course, but without a legally binding guarantee, it’s no sure thing.

Mattamy’s situation was understandable, too. This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive, doubly so when the golf course is owned by a development company.

This is a tough time to be in the golf course business in Ottawa. There are too many courses and not enough golfers so it’s no surprise that golf course owners would find the idea of turning a course into a housing development to be attractive.

In the face of the local opposition, Mattamy withdrew its development application. When things cooled down, the company, the neighbours and the city started to work together on finding a solution that would satisfy everyone.

With the city-sponsored help of veteran planning consultant Jack Stirling, they came up with an unusual idea that will still let Mattamy develop its desired number of homes, in exchange for a promise to operate the course for at least 10 years and redesign it so that it remains attractive to golfers.

At the end of the 10 years, Mattamy can sell the course to the community for $6 million. To raise the money, the community working group is proposing a special levy to be paid by Stonebridge homeowners starting in 2021. The amount will range from $175 a year to $475 a year, depending on property values.

If the deal is approved by a majority of homeowners, Mattamy gets its development and a way out of the money-losing golf business. Homeowners get certainty about no future development. They can choose to keep the course going or retain the 198 acres as green space. It’s not a cheap solution, but it keeps their community as it is and preserves property values.

If a majority of homeowners backs the deal, both the levy and redevelopment will still need to be approved by the city, something scheduled for late this fall.

Stonebridge Community Association president Jay McLean was part of the working group that prepared the proposal and he’s pleased with the outcome. The community’s number one goal was preserving green space, and the deal will accomplish that, he says. Mattamy division president Kevin O’Shea says the deal “gives the community the certainty they are looking for.”

As useful as this deal could be for Stonebridge residents, it doesn’t provide a template to resolve a somewhat similar dispute in Kanata North, where the owner of the Kanata Lakes golf course wants to work with a group of local developers to replace the course with housing. In Kanata, a longstanding legal agreement saying the community has to have 40 per cent open space strengthens residents’ situation. In Stonebridge, there was no legal impediment to developing the whole course.

Golf course communities have become an anachronism in a city intent on intensifying within the urban boundary. Redeveloping those lands for housing is in sync with the city’s planning goals, but it’s not politically saleable to homeowners who thought they had a deal. If it goes ahead, the Stonebridge plan shows there is a reasonable middle ground.

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City eyes five big themes for Ottawa’s new official plan

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As Ottawa maps out its future for the next 25-plus years, city staff propose focusing on five major areas, including the places we live and the ways we move around the capital.

A staff report to the city’s planning committee lays out five themes for future public consultations, before city council finalizes the plan.

1. Growth Management: City staff say Ottawa should focus on building up, rather than out. Staff also suggest the city provide direction on the type of new housing developments, rather than focusing on the number of units in a development, to encourage a wider variety of housing types.

2. Mobility: Staff say the city should encourage active transportation — like walking and cycling — and transit use by better co-ordinating land use and transportation planning. The report also encourages designing streets to better accomodate pedestrians and cyclists, as well as improving connections to the O-Train and Transitway.

3.  Urban and Community Design: Because Ottawa is a major city and the nation’s capital, staff say the design of our city’s buildings and skyline should be a higher calibre to reflect that status. Staff also suggest the city provide high-level direction for better designed parks and public spaces.

4. Climate, Energy and Public Health: Staff say residents’ health must be foundational to the city’s new official plan, with policies contributing to creating more inclusive, walkable, and sustainable communities.

5. Economic Development: Because much of Ottawa’s employment is knowledge-based, the city suggests those employment spaces could be better integrated into neighbourhoods and along main streets and transit nodes, instead of being isolated in business parks. City staff also suggest the city encourage more business incubation and identify opportunities to increase local food production.

The city’s new official plan will map out the city’s growth to 2046. The five themes and the plan’s high-level policy direction will go before the city’s planning committee, next week.

Public consultation and fine-tuning is expected to happen before city council approves the final version of the new official plan in 2021.

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