Tag Archives: leaders

7 Hong Kong democracy leaders convicted over 2019 protests

Seven Hong Kong pro-democracy advocates were convicted Thursday on charges of organizing and participating in an unlawful assembly during massive anti-government protests in 2019 that triggered a crackdown on dissent.

The seven include media tycoon and founder of the Apple Daily tabloid Jimmy Lai, as well as 82-year-old Martin Lee, a veteran of the city’s democracy movement. Lai had already been held without bail on other charges related to his pro-democracy activities.

They were convicted for their involvement in a protest held on Aug. 18, 2019. Organizers said that 1.7 million people marched that day in opposition to a proposed bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial.

The activists, apart from those who have been remanded in custody on other charges, were granted bail on condition they do not leave Hong Kong and must hand in all their travel documents.

They will next appear in court on April 16, where mitigation pleas will be heard before sentences are handed down. Taking part in an unlawful assembly or a riot in Hong Kong can result in a maximum sentence of up to 10 years imprisonment for serious offences.

Pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan waves to supporters as he arriving at the West Kowloon Courts for verdicts in landmark unlawful assembly case, in Hong Kong on Thursday. (Tyrone Siu/Reuters)

Ahead of the trial, supporters and some of the defendants gathered outside the court, shouting “Oppose political persecution” and “Five demands, not one less,” in reference to demands by democracy supporters that include amnesty for those arrested in the protests as well as universal suffrage in the semi-autonomous territory.

‘We believe in the people of Hong Kong’

“So on this day, in a very difficult situation in Hong Kong, political retaliation is on us,” Lee Cheuk-yan, one of the defendants, said ahead of the court session.

“We will still march on no matter what lies in the future. We believe in the people of Hong Kong, in our brothers and sisters in our struggle, and the victory is ours if the people of Hong Kong are persistent,” he said.

Previously, two other defendants — former pro-democracy lawmakers Au Nok-hin and Leung Yiu-chung — had pleaded guilty to organizing and taking part in an unauthorized assembly.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests in the second half of 2019, sparked by the extradition bill. The bill was eventually withdrawn, but the protests expanded to include full democracy and other demands and at times descended into violence between demonstrators and police.

In the aftermath of the protests, Beijing took a tough stance on dissent, imposing a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong and approving electoral reforms that would reduce public participation in elections and exclude critics from running for the city’s legislature.

China had pledged to allow the city to retain freedoms not permitted elsewhere in the country for 50 years when it took Hong Kong back from Britain in 1997, but its recent steps are seen as a betrayal.

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CBC | World News

‘Boycotts don’t work’: Canada’s Olympic, Paralympic leaders dismiss idea of skipping Beijing 2022

With the next Winter Games in Beijing a year away, Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic leaders are dismissing the idea of a Canadian boycott even though human rights issues continue to plague China.

In an editorial published in the Globe and Mail and La Presse on Thursday, both David Shoemaker, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, and Karen O’Neill, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee, left no room for doubt — Canadian athletes intend to compete in Beijing. The pair reiterated those thoughts in an interview with CBC Sports.

“We believe strongly in the power of sport,” Shoemaker said via Zoom. “We thought it was important to put a stake in the ground and to say we think these Games are meaningful. 

“We have very serious concerns and share the concerns of others about what’s going on in the host country, but we think our role here is to bring Team Canada to these Games, to be on full display, and be part of a conversation.”

There have been mounting calls for a sweeping boycott of the Beijing Games in light of the persecution of ethnic minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region as well as China’s crackdown on pro-democracy sentiment in Hong Kong.

WATCH | David Shoemaker on why Canada won’t boycott Beijing Olympics:

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer and secretary general of the Canadian Olympic Committee tells CBC News’ Heather Hiscox that boycotts “do not work” and “it’s important for us to be part of the conversation and be there” in China. 11:39

The international organization Human Rights Watch declared in its annual report that China is “in the midst of its darkest period for human rights since the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.”

On Wednesday, a year out from the Beijing Olympics’ opening ceremony, a coalition of 180 groups, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs, Inner Mongolians and residents of Hong Kong opposed to the deterioration of human rights and increasing repression by the Xi Jinping-led Communist party, issued an open letter to governments around the world calling for a boycott.

From a Canadian perspective, former diplomat Michael Kovrig and businessman Michael Spavor have been detained in China on suspicion of espionage since 2018. This has substantially strained relations between the two countries.

Despite all this, the final declaration of the G20 summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in November, which was signed by the Canadian government, made no mention of support for an Olympic boycott as a means of redressing these issues.

“We look forward to the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022,” it said.

And while the COC and CPC’s declaration of intent to participate is meaningful, it is the federal government that can ultimately decide whether the nation’s athletes will take part in an Olympics.

People hold signs calling for China to release Canadian detainees Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig during an extradition hearing for Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou in 2019. (Lindsey Wasson/Reuters)

In Thursday’s joint publication, both the COC and CPC point to the power of the Games to bring the world together and to advance the interests of the global community by celebrating Canadian performances and values on the international field of play. They conclude a boycott is not the answer to the problems China faces.

“The evidence is overwhelming that boycotts, especially through the singular lens of sport, do not work,” O’Neill said. “It’s important for our whole community, our athletes, coaches and support people who have been through so much lately to put this on the table. This is where we’re at, here’s what we’re thinking, and here’s where we stand in terms of how we’re going to move forward.”

‘Boycotts don’t work’

Canada joined the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics in opposition of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Four years later, the Soviets led an Eastern-bloc boycott of the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“This is not theoretical or academic, we have a history of knowing that boycotts don’t work,” Shoemaker said. “We are assured that our government is addressing this on a government-to-government basis as a high priority. There are myriad tools available to the government to deal with this diplomatically.

“We do not see the logic that as a first order of business to re-set the relationship with China, and to send a message, that we should in effect punish 300 athletes and boycott the Beijing Games.”

Visitors to Chongli, one of the venues for the 2022 Beijing Games, pass by the Olympics logo. A coalition of 180 rights group on Wednesday called for a boycott of those Games tied to reported human rights abuses against ethnic minorities in China. (Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press)

When contacted, the athlete leaders of both the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic teams for Beijing 2022 applauded the pro-active approach taken by the COC and CPC regarding the question of a potential boycott.

“A boycott means turning our back on the situation. Let’s instead have conversations and work towards solutions,” said Catriona Le May Doan, the chef de mission for Team Canada in Beijing and a two-time Olympic speed skating champion. “The athlete’s role will be to showcase Canadian values and help build bridges as they have always done.”

Gold medal champion skier Josh Dueck will be Canada’s chef de mission at the Paralympics in China.

“Now more than ever we need to engage athletes to empower people,” Dueck said from his home in Vernon, B.C. “By asking athletes to withdraw from the Games we would take away their ability to compete but also to bring these difficult issues to light. That is unfair on both a personal and conversational level to the athletes.”

The message is clear. The people who run international sport in this country believe it’s far more prudent and responsible to attend the Games in Beijing than to stay home in protest.

“It’s difficult, it’s complex. In saying we think the right answer is that we go and compete in China, we’re not saying that we minimize the significance of the issues that are coming to the fore,” Shoemaker said.

“We think when faced with the choice between engaging and being part of a conversation, amplifying voices, and participating in these Games versus detaching, pulling back, distressing people and further polarizing around viewpoints, the choice becomes abundantly clear.”

O’Neill agreed.

“Showing up, being part of the conversation, and some of the solutions that build bridges is the way forward in terms of sport thriving,” she said. “Leading with a boycott of sport is just not the thing to do and historically has shown us that it will not move us to where we want to go.”

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CBC | Sports News

Alexei Navalny’s return to Russia solidifies opposition leader’s role as ‘anti-Putin’

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny returned home from Germany to challenge President Vladimir Putin and now faces the possibility of years of hard labour because of it.

His supporters are also confronting the existential question of how his political movement will survive with him sidelined, in all likelihood for a very long time after he was detained in Moscow on Sunday.

“Russia will continue with our struggle for freedom, becoming the Russia we are all dreaming of,” said a 33-year-old woman who called herself by the nickname Hotaru.   

She went to meet Navalny at the airport where he was originally scheduled to land dressed in a traditional red and blue Russian folk dress. 

She said using her last name would make her a target as Russian police are using any excuse to arrest Navalny’s supporters and smother his political influence. Indeed, at the airport that day, more than 70 people were taken into custody.

In St. Petersburg on Tuesday, one supporter claimed he was arrested for the simple act of clapping his hands in support of Navalny.

WATCH | Navalny is arrested after he returns to Moscow:

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow from Germany, where he had been recovering from an apparent assassination attempt. Navalny maintains he did nothing wrong and several countries are demanding he be released. 1:57

Russian media reports also say flight attendants who posed for selfies with Navalny on his flight back to Moscow are being investigated by police.

The young woman in the colourful dress also shared a basket filled with Russian blini, or pancakes.

“Pancakes for our president,” she said, insisting that the vision of a “new life for Russia” with Navalny in charge will continue to energize his supporters whether he’s in jail or not. 

Navalny, 44, is a lawyer who has built up a countrywide political organization fighting corruption in Russia’s government.  

Banned from running for office

His videos focusing on the extravagant spending and lifestyles of Russia’s most prominent figures, including former president Dmitry Medvedev, have been viewed by tens of millions of people.   

Even today, with Navlany behind bars, his anti-corruption foundation released a nearly two-hour video billed as an investigation into Putin, which focused on what it claims is the president’s $ 1.35-billion US mansion on the Black Sea.

The Kremlin has repeatedly banned Navalny and his candidates from running for elected office.  

Still, opinion polls suggest he has only single-digit support and the notion of Navalny replacing Putin has rarely seemed more fanciful than it does now, with the Kremlin pulling out vast resources to try to mute his influence.

A still image taken from video footage shows law enforcement officers speaking with Russian opposition leader Navalny before leading him away at Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow on Sunday. (Reuters)

Navalny had been recuperating in Germany after an assassination attempt while he was campaigning in Siberia last August.

He accuses Putin of ordering the hit using the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent and having it carried out by members of Russia’s secret police. 

An extensive investigation by journalists with the collective Bellingcat uncovered flight manifests, addresses and phone logs that all pointed to the existence of a secret nerve agent program run by the FSB (Russian Federal Security Service) designed to eliminate the Kremlin’s enemies.

People, including supporters of Navalny, gather outside a police station where the Russian opposition leader is being held following his detention in Khimki, outside Moscow, on Monday. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

Russian authorities have repeatedly denied any such program exists and warned Navalny that he could be arrested for treason just for accusing Putin of the crime.

Navalny chose to board the plane Sunday in Berlin and return to Moscow anyway.

A few moments after stepping off the plane, he stopped and explained to the media that he never considered living the life of a political exile outside Russia.

“It was never a question, not for a single second. It shows that we need to fight here because, my God … some ugly thieves are in power.”

No intention of giving up his fight

In an earlier Instagram post, he said he only ended up in Germany because he arrived there in intensive care after “they tried to kill me.” He said he never had any intention of giving up his fight against Putin.

Russia’s prison service, however, clearly indicated that if he returned, Navalny should not expect to be a free man for long. 

It published an order for his detention, claiming he violated parole terms from a suspended sentence on a 2014 embezzlement conviction — a case that the European Court of Human Rights said was politically motivated. 

Riot police try to keep supporters of Navalny away from Vnukovo airport in Moscow on Sunday. (Chris Brown/CBC)

In anticipation of his arrival, police told his supporters not to come out to greet him and if they did, there would be mass arrests.  

Throngs of riot squad police were deployed at Vnukovo airport, where he was supposed to land, to drive home the point.

Nonetheless, hundreds if not thousands of people braved the –20 C temperatures and transportation officials finally diverted his aircraft north to Moscow’s main airport, Sheremetyevo.

As Navalny waited at passport control, police made their move, putting him under arrest. 

He kissed his wife, Yulia, goodbye, and was taken into custody, becoming what human rights group Amnesty International called a “prisoner of conscience.” 

Makeshift court

Less than 18 hours later, as he waited in a cell, Navalny was told he was going to meet with his lawyer, but instead was taken into a room in the police station that had been turned into a makeshift court.

With only invited Kremlin-friendly media present, he was ordered held for 30 days in jail for violating the terms of the probation, even as he reprimanded the judge for taking part in a sham proceeding.   

He will appear in court again Jan. 29 to deal with the alleged parole violation but his legal team has said they expect more charges will follow. Last month, Russian investigators opened a “fraud” investigation, claiming he misused money from his foundation.

‘No immediate threat of a mass revolt’

Political observers say there’s nothing to prevent Putin from treating his nemesis as harshly as he wants.

“There is no immediate threat of a mass revolt,” said Moscow-based political scientist Ekaterina Schulmann, noting that aside from Navalny’s followers, Russians en masse are unlikely to take to the streets in his cause.  

She said most people are indifferent or do not want to get involved.

“At the moment, Putin can get away with almost anything.”

Navalny and his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, are seen on board a plane during a flight from Berlin to Moscow on Sunday. (Maria Vasilyeva/Reuters)

Putin and senior Russian officials contort their language to avoid uttering Navalny’s name, using terms such as “the Berlin patient” instead. State TV rarely makes mention of him.   

As Navany’s plane was landing, more than five million people were watching Russian-language live feeds of the event on the internet, whereas Kremlin-controlled television news ignored his arrival completely.

Nonetheless, Schulmann said the Kremlin has been only partially successful at marginalizing Navalny and his decision to return to Russia has cemented his status as the second-most important political figure in the country.

“There is Putin, and there is the anti-Putin, which is him,” said Schulmann.  

“He has voluntarily returned to the country that will imprison him.

“This is a very brave action. He is acquiring a certain type of moral authority as a person who has demonstrated that he is a person who is ready to suffer for his convictions.” 

Law enforcement officers detain a participant of a rally Monday in St. Petersburg to protest Navalny’s detention. (Anton Vaganov/Reuters)

Navalny’s fate has been compared to that of former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Once one of Russia’s richest men, Khodorkovsky oversaw a vast oil empire but ran afoul of Putin in the early 2000s, lost his businesses and was sentenced to a hard labour camp before being pardoned.

Unlike Khodorkovsky, however, who now lives in the United Kingdom and wages his ongoing fight against Putin from London, Navalny left a safe life in the West to return to Moscow.

Moscow-based lawyer Vadim Klyuvgant was the lead counsel for Khodorkovsky during his trial almost two decades ago.

“It’s absolutely unfair,” he told CBC News of Navalny’s treatment by Russia’s judicial system, noting that his first “court” appearance at the converted police station broke every rule of jurisprudence.

“There is no rule of law — it’s just repression to delete the main opposition guy from public life.”

Klyuvgant said Navalny’s legal situation is worse than what he faced, but he said the only option for his lawyers is to build a case for his release that is grounded in law, even if the scales of justice are tilted against him.

“Don’t expect innocence — maybe parole or a pardon or a decrease in prison terms,” he said.

Even though he’s behind bars, Navalny has so far managed to stay connected with his supporters by recording short video blogs during breaks in the court proceedings.

He has called for mass protests in cities across the country on Saturday.

“There’s nothing these thieves in their bunkers fear more than people on the streets,” Navalny said in a video posted by his press secretary.

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CBC | World News

COVID-19 vaccines arrive in remote First Nations as leaders work to combat hesitancy

First Nations have begun to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccines as provincial immunization programs get underway, with Indigenous leaders encouraging people to roll up their sleeves.

Six of 14 Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island were priority recipients of doses of Moderna’s vaccine last week, said Mariah Charleson, vice-president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council that serves about 10,000 members.

The council employs nurses who are among those administering vaccinations so people see a familiar face they know and trust, she said.

Health officials need to work with communities to ensure the COVID-19 vaccination program is culturally appropriate, Charleson said, given the impacts of the residential school system and discrimination in health care as outlined in a recent report by former judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond.

“There are many people in our communities who our nurses may not have ever seen, because [they] will just never go for help,” Charleson said.

Released in November, Turpel-Lafond’s report sheds light on widespread racial profiling based on harmful stereotypes that affect the care Indigenous patients receive in British Columbia. Of more than 2,700 Indigenous people surveyed as part of the investigation, 84 per cent reported experiencing some form of health-care discrimination.

Leaders confronting vaccine reluctance in communities

It’s understandable that many are reluctant to trust Canadian health officials, said Charleson, who’s encouraging people to get vaccinated.

“If you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for the elders in the community and the vulnerable,” she said in an interview.

Chief Simon John of Ehattesaht First Nation said he noticed some hesitancy about COVID-19 vaccines among residents of the Ehatis reserve on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island.

The community of about 100 members was hit with an outbreak of COVID-19 that spread to 28 people last month, so when John learned they would soon receive Moderna’s vaccine, he decided to lead by example.

“For us, as council, to take it first was our priority,” he said.

John said he received his first dose last Monday, along with about 30 other Ehatis residents and 40 people in the nearby village of Zeballos, including some elders and band members living off-reserve.

British Columbia has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to at-risk members of remote First Nations for distribution by the end of February. As of last Monday, 10,700 doses of Moderna’s vaccine were available to First Nations, and 5,300 had been distributed to 18 communities.

Indigenous communities among priority groups

Indigenous Services Canada had confirmed nearly 10,000 cases of COVID-19 in First Nations communities across the country as of Friday, including 3,288 active infections, 452 hospitalizations and 95 deaths.

Canada’s advisory committee on immunization has identified Indigenous communities among priority groups for a vaccine that’s in limited supply.

In Alberta, residents of remote First Nations and people age 65 or older living in any First Nation or Métis community are among those the province is prioritizing in its third phase of immunization starting in February.

In Saskatchewan, 4,900 doses of Moderna’s vaccine have so far been sent to northern regions, where health-care workers, staff and residents of long-term care homes, along with people age 80 or older, are first in line to be immunized, including those living in First Nation communities.

Initially, “First Nations were not really engaged in terms of where this vaccine should be allocated,” said Dr. Nnamdi Ndubuka, medical health officer for the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority.

More recently, communication about vaccine distribution has improved between communities and the Saskatchewan Health Authority, he said.

The province said it’s expecting to receive 5,300 more doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, with smaller cities serving as regional distribution hubs.

Manitoba, meanwhile, began shipping 5,300 doses of Moderna’s vaccine last week in order to reach people in all 63 First Nations in the province.

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CBC | Health News

Lawmakers, world leaders condemn chaos at the U.S. Capitol while some call for Trump’s removal

The chaotic breach of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump on Wednesday was met with swift condemnation by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, with some observers blaming the president for inciting the riot, and others suggesting he be impeached.

Long after rioters had overwhelmed Capitol Police and stormed the building where lawmakers were to vote to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, Trump tweeted a video message in which he repeated the same falsehoods about the election being stolen from him that he’s been feeding his supporters for more than two months.

“I know your pain. I know your hurt. We had an election that was stolen from us. It was a landslide election and everyone knows it, especially the other side. But you have to go home now. We have to have peace,” he told his supporters.

“This was a fraudulent election but we can’t play into the hands of these people. We have to have peace, so go home. We love you. You’re very special.”

Trump is seen making remarks on a television monitor in the White House briefing room after his supporters interrupted the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election results. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

President-elect Joe Biden took a different tone, tweeting: “What we are seeing is a small number of extremists dedicated to lawlessness. This is not dissent, it’s disorder. It borders on sedition, and it must end. Now.”

U.S. president-elect Joe Biden addresses the protests taking place in and around the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump had urged his supporters to come to Washington to protest Congress’s formal approval of Biden’s win in the general election. Several Republican lawmakers have backed his calls and said they plan to object to the certification of the electoral college vote despite there being no evidence of widespread fraud or wrongdoing in the election.

Following a rally Trump hosted before the joint session of Congress, his supporters marched to the Capitol and eventually forced their way into the building, sending the lawmakers and their staff into hiding and the building into lockdown. 

Washington police said at least one woman was shot inside the Capitol and died later at an area hospital. It was not immediately clear how she was shot.

Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a joint statement that called on Trump “to demand that all protesters leave the U.S. Capitol and Capitol Grounds immediately.”

Vice-President Mike Pence also condemned the actions of the rioters in the building.

“The violence and destruction taking place at the U.S. Capitol Must Stop and it Must Stop Now. Anyone involved must respect Law Enforcement officers and immediately leave the building,” he tweeted.

Law enforcement officers scuffle with Trump supporters attempting to enter the U.S. Capitol. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

Other lawmakers, strategists and commentators directed some of their outrage at the president.

Scott Jennings, a Republican strategist and former adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said Trump’s video statement was “an absolute failure in leadership.”

Republican Rep. Mike Gallagher, a Trump supporter from Wisconsin, implored the president during an interview on CNN to “Call it off! Call it off!” He also posted a video in which he said, “This is banana republic crap that we’re watching right now.”

Sen. Ben Sasse, a Republican senator from Nebraska and a vocal critic of Trump, said in a statement that the U.S. Capitol was “ransacked” while “the leader of the free world cowered behind his keyboard.”

“Lies have consequences. This violence was the inevitable and ugly outcome of the president’s addiction to constantly stoking division,” he said.

Trump supporters set off a fire extinguisher after breaching security defences at the Capitol. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat from Virginia, said the president had been encouraging these “domestic terrorists” since before the election.

“He could have stopped them at any moment, but instead he whipped them into a frenzy and sicced them on the Capitol,” she tweeted. “The cabinet must remove him today or the House must impeach.”

WATCH | A look at how the day’s events unfolded:

CBC News’ David Common breaks down what happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and how U.S. President Donald Trump stoked discontent among his supporters before he lost the election. 3:44

Conservative commentator David Frum, a critic of the president, said action to impeach the president should be taken tonight.

“Remove this treasonous president. Invite his own party to join the effort to remove him now, or to share now and forever Trump’s guilt,” Frum wrote in the Atlantic.

In a statement, Jay Timmons, the CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, which represents 14,000 companies in the U.S., blamed Trump for inciting the violence and said Pence should “seriously consider” invoking the constitution’s 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office.

‘Disgraceful scenes’

World leaders also offered their reactions to the chaos.

“Obviously, we’re concerned and we’re following the situation minute by minute as it unfolds,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a radio interview with News 1130 in Vancouver.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson referred to the “disgraceful scenes” at Capitol Hill, and said it’s “vital that there should be a peaceful and orderly transfer of power.”

European Parliament President David Sassoli called the rioting “deeply concerning,” but said he’s “certain the U.S. will ensure that the rules of democracy are protected.”

WATCH | When Trump goes, what happens to Trumpism?

U.S. President Donald Trump’s term is almost over, but many expect his brash style of politics, which has come to be known as Trumpism, to be present in the Republican party long after he’s gone. 7:25

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CBC | World News

U.S. congressional leaders reach deal on COVID-19 relief package

Top Capitol Hill negotiators sealed a deal Sunday on an almost $ 1 trillion US COVID-19 economic relief package, finally delivering long-overdue help to businesses and individuals and providing money to deliver vaccines to a nation eager for them.

The agreement, announced by Senate leaders, would establish a temporary $ 300 US per week supplemental jobless benefits and $ 600 US direct stimulus payments to most people in the U.S., along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

The Senate voted Sunday evening to extend federal funding through Dec. 21 to avoid a government shutdown and give lawmakers more time to pass the new bill. The extension measure already passed the House of Representatives and now heads to U.S. President Donald Trump to sign into law. Current funding is due to expire at midnight Sunday

The House was expected to vote on the legislation on Monday, said a spokesperson for House majority leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat. The Senate was likely to vote on Monday, too. Lawmakers were eager to leave Washington and close out a tumultuous year.

“There will be another major rescue package for the American people,” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, said in announcing the agreement for a relief bill that would total almost $ 900 billion US. “It is packed with targeted policies to help struggling Americans who have already waited too long.”

The final agreement is the largest spending measure yet. It combines the COVID-19 relief with a $ 1.4 trillion US government-wide funding plan and lots of other unrelated measures on taxes, health, infrastructure and education.

Passage is nearing as coronavirus cases and deaths spike and evidence piles up that the economy is struggling.

Late-breaking decisions would limit the $ 300 US per week bonus jobless benefits — one half the supplemental federal unemployment benefit provided under the CARES Act in March — to 10 weeks instead of 16 weeks as before. The direct $ 600 US stimulus payment to most people is also half the March payment, subject to the same income limits in which an individual’s payment begins to phase out after $ 75,000 US.

Trump is supportive, particularly of the push for providing more direct payments. “GET IT DONE,” he said in a tweet late Saturday.

The U.S. Capitol building is seen in Washington on Sunday. Lawmakers had hoped to pass the bill this weekend and avoid the need for a stopgap spending bill. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

It would be the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the $ 1.8 trillion US CARES Act passed virtually unanimously in March.

The legislation was held up by months of dysfunction, posturing and bad faith. But talks turned serious last week as lawmakers on both sides finally faced the deadline of acting before leaving Washington for Christmas.

A breakthrough came late Saturday in a fight over Federal Reserve emergency powers that was resolved by the Senate’s top Democrat, Chuck Schumer of New York, and conservative Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. That led to a final round of negotiations.

Lawmakers had hoped to pass the bill this weekend and avoid the need for a stopgap spending bill, but progress slowed Saturday as Toomey pressed for the inclusion of a provision to close down the Fed’s lending facilities. Democrats and the White House said it was too broadly worded and would have tied the hands of the incoming Biden administration, but Republicans rallied to Toomey’s position.

After the announcement, Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, announced additional details, including $ 25 billion US in rental assistance; $ 15 billion US for theatres and other live venues; $ 82 billion US for local schools, colleges and universities; and $ 10 billion US for child care.

The government-wide appropriations bill would fund agencies through next September. That measure was likely to provide a last $ 1.4 billion US instalment for Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall as a condition of winning his signature.

The bill was an engine to carry much of Capitol Hill’s unfinished business, including an almost 400-page water resources bill that targets $ 10 billion US for 46 Army Corps of Engineers flood control, environmental and coastal protection projects. Another addition would extend a batch of soon-to-expire tax breaks, including one for craft brewers, wineries and distillers.

The end-of-session rush also promised relief for victims of shockingly steep surprise medical bills, a phenomenon that often occurs when providers drop out of insurance company networks. 

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Vancouver Mayor wants Indigenous leaders to head possible 2030 Olympic bid

It was during one of the early planning sessions for the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics that Chief Gibby Jacob heard a provincial government official talking about the Callahan Valley, which would eventually host cross-country skiing and ski jumping during the Games.

Jacob, who participated in the bidding process for the Olympics and was a member of the Games organizing committee board, finally put up his hand.

“I asked who the hell is this Callahan and how the hell did he get his name on our lands,” the Squamish Nation hereditary chief said with a chuckle. “They all looked at each other. I said find out and let us know.”

It turns out the Callahan Valley, located near Whistler, B.C., was named after one of the early surveyors in the region.

“That was the start of our big push to get our names back on places,” said Jacob.

Indigenous groups had a voice in organizing and hosting the 2010 Games. But Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has suggested any movement to bring another Games to the city should be headed by Indigenous leaders.

In early November, Vancouver city council voted to postpone a decision on whether it wants to explore making a bid. City staff are expected to present a report to council in early 2021.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is seen above speaking during a press conference on July 4, 2019. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

Stewart has said one of his conditions for supporting a bid is that the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh — the three Indigenous First Nations whose traditional territory includes Vancouver — head the Olympic bid committee.

“I have talked to the Nations about this and there’s interest there,” the Vancouver Sun reported Stewart saying in a state-of-the-city address to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

Emails to Stewart’s office asking to explain the mayor’s proposal were not immediately answered.

Khelsilem, a councillor with the Squamish Nation Council, isn’t aware of any formal talks about leading a bid.

“We haven’t had any formal discussion about it,” he said. “We haven’t made any formal decision about whether we want or don’t want. And we haven’t had any formal discussions with our neighbouring nations.”

Representatives of the Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh did not respond to interview requests.

Khelsilem said before any decision is made, the pros and cons of hosting an Olympics must be weighed.

“The reality is that something like hosting an Olympics requires a significant amount of investment and support from both the federal and provincial governments,” he said. “While there are a number of reported advantages, there’s also a number of drawbacks.

“I think a lot of that workflow needs to be figured out, especially in the context of the challenges that we’re going to face over the next decade and the challenges that we’re facing on a number of fronts.”

Furthermore, Jacob said: “there’s a lot to be gained by being involved [in a bid] for our people.”

“I don’t think that our nations, given what we have as far as leadership resources and how fast they seem to change, would be able to take things right from scratch to completion,” he said.

Creating a common agenda

With 15 of the venues used for the 2010 Olympics built on First Nation traditional territories, Indigenous support was crucial for the Games success. The Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Musqueam and Lil’Wat nations formed The Four Host First Nations, a non-profit organization with the goals of uniting Canada’s Indigenous people and encouraging inclusion across the country.

“I think it created a common agenda,” said Jacob. “By doing that and achieving what we set out, it was totally outstanding.

“I think it showed leadership that the four separate First nations could work together for a common purpose and get benefits from it.”

WATCH | President of 2010 Games says Vancouver should bid for 2030:

John Furlong claims that Vancouver has a solid head start on a potential bid for the 2030 Winter Olympic Games. 0:40

Involvement in the Games raised awareness of Indigenous issues across Canada, he said.

“When we first started out, we were pretty invisible in our own territories,” said Jacob.

Indigenous groups did “fairly well in compensation for the use of our lands,” he said. The Olympics also led to traditional Indigenous names being returned to locations and landmarks plus recognition of First Nation arts and culture.

John Furlong, who was head of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games (VANOC), is part of the group looking at the 2030 Games. He said any bid would be impossible without Indigenous participation.

“I see no scenario at all in which First Nations are not involved,” he said. “They were a difference maker in 2010.

“First Nations are in multiple new business since 2010. My instincts tell me they will be keenly interested in being involved again.”

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Explosions reported in Eritrea’s capital during push to find rebel leaders

The U.S. Embassy in Eritrea said six explosions were heard Saturday night in the capital, Asmara, as the government in neighbouring Ethiopia launched a search for leaders of a rebel group in the northern region of Tigray.

The explosions came just hours after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory in his government’s fighting against forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which runs the northern Tigray region bordering Eritrea. The army said it was in “full control” of the regional capital, Mekele, but the government said TPLF leaders remain on the run.

The TPLF leader earlier this month asserted that Eritrean forces were involved in the fighting in Tigray at the invitation of Ethiopia’s government, something Addis Ababa has repeatedly denied. Fears have grown that 96,000 Eritrean refugees in camps just over the border in Ethiopia are at risk.

WATCH | Thousands of refugees trapped by Tigray conflict:

Tens of thousands of refugees are trapped in the midst of a standoff between the Ethiopian government and a militant group in the Tigray region as a surrender deadline passes. 1:46

The U.S. has accused the TPLF of seeking to “internationalize” the deadly conflict in which humanitarians say several hundred people have been killed, including civilians.

The U.S. Embassy statement overnight advises American citizens to exercise caution and be aware “of the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region.” It also advises citizens to “monitor local news” in a country regarded by watchdogs as being highly repressive and having no independent media.The fighting has threatened to destabilize Ethiopia, which has been described as the linchpin of the strategic Horn of Africa, and its neighbours.

Food, fuel, cash and medical supplies have run desperately low. Nearly 1 million people have been displaced, including more than 40,000 who fled into Sudan. Camps home to 96,000 Eritrean refugees in northern Tigray have been in the line of fire.

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G20 leaders pledge to fund fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

Leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies on Sunday will pledge to pay for a fair distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, drugs and tests around the world so that poorer countries are not left out and to extend debt relief to them, a draft G20 communique showed.

“We will spare no effort to ensure their affordable and equitable access for all people, consistent with members’ commitments to incentivize innovation,” the leaders said in the draft G20 statement, seen by Reuters. “We recognize the role of extensive immunization as a global public good.”

The leaders attending the virtual summit, hosted by Saudi Arabia, said the global economy was starting to pick up, but the recovery remained “uneven, highly uncertain and subject to elevated downside risks.”

The leaders pledged to continue to use all available policy tools as long as needed to safeguard lives, jobs and incomes, and they encouraged the multilateral development banks to strengthen their efforts to help countries deal with the crisis.

The European Union has called for $ 4.5 billion US by the end of the year from the G20 to pay for COVID-19 fighting tools for poorer countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, second from right, and other officials in Berlin take part in Saturday’s G20 meeting. (Guido Bergmann/BPA handout via Reuters)

The draft also calls on private creditors to join the debt-servicing moratorium, which the G20 wants to extend until the middle of 2021 and possibly longer, and endorses a common framework for dealing with debt issues beyond that.

“There is a lack of participation from private creditors, and we strongly encourage them to participate on comparable terms when requested by eligible countries,” it said.

The leaders also recognized the specific challenges faced by countries in Africa and small island developing states, reflecting growing recognition that even some middle-income countries may need debt relief as a result of the pandemic.

Keen to be better prepared for any potential pandemic that might come, G20 leaders also said they would commit “to advancing global pandemic preparedness, prevention, detection and response” and “to the continued sharing of timely, transparent and standardized data and information.”

Bolder on trade, climate

As Democrat Joe Biden — an avowed multilateralist — prepares to replace Donald Trump as U.S. president in two months, the G20 statement struck a bolder tone on international trade, climate change and the role of the World Health Organization.

Trump, who favoured bilateral deals, has reduced support for multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization and this year threatened to quit the World Health Organization unless it was reformed. His administration had also previously blocked mentions of climate change in G20 communiques.

“Supporting the multilateral trading system is now as important as ever. We strive to realize the goal of a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment, and to keep our markets open,” the G20 statement said.

The G20 also said members would pursue a way to tax international tech giants, such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft, so that they pay their fair share of taxes.

The internet giants have benefited greatly from the shift to tele-working forced upon the world economy by the pandemic, and European countries have long been pushing to tax them where they make their profits, rather than where they establish their subsidiaries for tax optimization purposes. But the initiative has so far been stalled by the Trump administration.

The imminent changing of the guard in the White House also seemed to unblock bolder G20 language on climate change.

“Preventing environmental degradation, conserving, sustainably using and restoring biodiversity, preserving our oceans, promoting clean air and clean water, responding to natural disasters and extreme weather events, and tackling climate change are among the most pressing challenges of our time,” the G20 draft statement said.

“As we recover from the pandemic, we are committed to safeguarding our planet and building a more environmentally sustainable and inclusive future for all people.”

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Republican leaders in 4 key U.S. states quash Trump bid on switching electors

Republican leaders in four critical states won by U.S. president-elect Joe Biden say they won’t participate in a legally dubious scheme to flip their state’s electors to vote for President Donald Trump. Their comments effectively shut down a half-baked plot some Republicans floated as a last chance to keep Trump in the White House.

State Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have all said they would not intervene in the selection of electors, who ultimately cast the votes that secure a candidate’s victory. Such a move would violate state law and a vote of the people, several noted.

“I do not see, short of finding some type of fraud — which I haven’t heard of anything — I don’t see us in any serious way addressing a change in electors,” said Rusty Bowers, Arizona’s Republican House speaker, who said he’s been inundated with emails pleading for the legislature to intervene.

“They are mandated by statute to choose according to the vote of the people.”

The idea loosely involves Republican-controlled legislatures dismissing Biden’s popular vote wins in their states and opting to select Trump electors. While the end game was unclear, it appeared to hinge on the expectation that a conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court would settle any dispute over the move.

Republican Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers, right, is pictured in May during a vote in the Arizona House of Representatives. Bowers said there there is no ‘serious way’ state Republicans could change electors who pick the U.S. president following the general election in order to secure the White House for Donald Trump. (Ross D. Franklin/The Associated Press)

Still, it has been promoted by Trump allies, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and is an example of misleading information and false claims fuelling skepticism among Trump supporters about the integrity of the vote.

The theory is rooted in the fact that the U.S. Constitution grants state legislatures the power to decide how electors are chosen. Each state already has passed laws that delegate this power to voters and appoint electors for whichever candidate wins the state on Election Day. The only opportunity for a state legislature to then get involved with electors is a provision in federal law allowing it if the actual election “fails.”

If the result of the election was unclear in mid-December, at the deadline for naming electors, Republican-controlled legislatures in those states could declare that Trump won and appoint electors supporting him. Or so the theory goes.

Election result is perfectly clear

The problem, legal experts note, is that the result of the election is not in any way unclear. Biden won all the states at issue. It’s hard to argue the election “failed” when Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security reported it was not tampered with and was “the most secure in American history.” There has been no finding of widespread fraud or problems in the vote count, which shows Biden leading Trump by more than five million votes nationally.

WATCH | Thousands of Trump supporters march to U.S. Supreme Court:

Trump supporters rallied in Washington D.C., backing the president’s unsubstantiated claims of wide spread voter fraud in the U.S. election. 3:57

Trump’s campaign and its allies have filed lawsuits that aim to delay the certification and potentially provide evidence for a failed election. But so far, Trump and Republicans have had meagre success — at least 10 of the lawsuits have been rejected by the courts in the 10 days since the election. The most significant that remain ask courts to prevent Michigan and Pennsylvania from certifying Biden as the winner of their elections.

But legal experts say it’s impossible for courts to ultimately stop those states from appointing electors by the December deadline.

“It would take the most unjustified and bizarre intervention by courts that this country has ever seen,” said Danielle Lang of the Campaign Legal Center. “I haven’t seen anything in any of those lawsuits that has any kind of merit — let alone enough to delay appointing electors.”

Electoral Count Act

Even if Trump won a single court fight, there’s another potential roadblock: Congress could be the final arbiter of whether to accept disputed slates of electors, according to the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the law outlining the process. In the end, if the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate could not agree on which electors to accept, and there is no vote and no winner, the presidency would pass to the next person in the line of succession at the end of Trump and U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence’s term on Jan. 20. That would be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat.

“If this is a strategy, I don’t think it will be successful,” said Edward Foley, a constitutional law professor at Ohio State University. “I think we’re in the realm of fantasy here.”

WATCH | Impact of Trump’s refusal to concede on security and public health:

CBC’s John Northcott speaks to author and documentarian Chris Whipple about the possible security and public health effects that Trump’s refusal to concede could have on the incoming Biden administration. 7:33

But unfounded claims about fraud and corruption have been circulating widely in conservative circles since Biden won the election. Asked this week if state lawmakers should invalidate the official results, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “Everything should be on the table.”

DeSantis urged Pennsylvania and Michigan residents to call state lawmakers and urge them to intervene. “Under Article 2 of the Constitution, presidential electors are done by the legislatures and the schemes they create and the framework. And if there’s departure from that, if they’re not following the law, if they’re ignoring law, then they can provide remedies as well,” he said.

Republican lawmakers, however, appear to be holding steady.

“The Pennsylvania General Assembly does not have and will not have a hand in choosing the state’s presidential electors or in deciding the outcome of the presidential election,” top Republican legislative leaders, state Sen. Jake Corman and Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, wrote in an October op-ed. Their offices said Friday they stand by the statement.

WATCH | Stalled presidential transition disrupts U.S. COVID-19 response:

For the first time since Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump acknowledges the possibility that it might not be his administration dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic going forward. 1:56

The Republican leader of Wisconsin’s Assembly, Robin Vos, has long dismissed the idea, and his spokesperson, Kit Beyer, said he stood by that position on Thursday.

In Michigan, legislative leaders say any intervention would be against state law. Even though the Republican-controlled legislature is investigating the election, state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey told radio station WJR on Friday, “It is not the expectation that our analysis will result in any change in the outcome.”

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