Canada briefs – September 5

The man hired by Stephen Harper to investigate federal spending in the 1990s now plans to run for the Bloc Quebecois.

Harper hire wants to be Bloc MP

MONTREAL — The man hired by Stephen Harper to investigate federal spending in the 1990s now plans to run for the Bloc Quebecois.

The sovereigntist party announced its star recruit Daniel Paille at a news conference Friday.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said Paille would become an economic advisor in his office, while also seeking the nomination to run for the party in the next election. Paille hopes to become the MP for Montreal’s Hochelaga riding.

When he was appointed in 2007 and given a $1 million budget to examine the polling practices of the former Liberal government, Harper’s opponents screamed conflict of interest.

They complained he had granted Paille — a former Parti Quebecois provincial minister who worked on the Yes side in the 1995 Quebec referendum — unfettered access to the books of his federal opponents.

In the end, though, Paille’s report was mild on the ex-Liberal government and actually slammed the Conservatives for getting carried away with public-opinion polling. He called the Tories’ spending on polling “quite astounding.”

Duceppe pointed to that final report Friday as proof there was no conflict between Paille’s work for the federal governnent and his party allegiance.

“There was no conflict of interest at all. In fact, (Paille) made a very good report and the Tories were not that happy when they looked at that report,” Duceppe said.

“This is not Daniel Paille’s problem, this is Stephen Harper’s problem.”

Paille has worked as an auditor, economist, and tax expert. He said his work for the federal government was apolitical.

“It was part of my professional life and that’s it,” Paille said.

“They never asked me about any political opinion. They hired me to do a job. I did it. That’s it, that’s all.”


Transit authority apologizes to autistic boy for bus incident

HALIFAX — The public transit authority in Halifax will issue a formal apology to an autistic boy after his family complained about a city bus driver who refused to continue driving unless the eight-year-old stopped screaming, his mother says.

Charlene Croft said Metro Transit agreed to draft a written apology for her son, Izaak, after she and her husband, David, met with transit officials.

“All parties agreed that the situation was handled poorly,” Charlene Croft said in a blog entry posted Thursday. “It will be an apology for the mere fact that this happened in the first place and that it spiralled out of control in the way that it did.”

The blog says Metro Transit has also agreed to apologize to Izaak’s day camp director and to produce tip sheets for bus drivers and passengers on how to deal with autistic behaviour.

Officials at Metro Transit couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

David Croft has said his son, who he described as classically autistic with no ability to speak, was on a field trip with about two dozen autistic children and their counsellors last week when the group boarded a bus.

He said Izaak is sometimes over-stimulated by loud noises, certain smells and large groups of people.

“He doesn’t have language, so when he’s expressing frustration, it tends to come out as screams,” he said.

During the first five minutes of the bus ride, counsellors did their best to calm Izaak as he screamed, but David Croft said the driver complained that the piercing noise was making it difficult for him to drive.

Izaak left the bus with his counsellor and the camp’s director. The other children and counsellors stepped off a few stops later.

Metro Transit has said images and audio recorded by a surveillance camera show the driver did not ask the boy to leave the bus. Transit service officials have insisted the driver was simply doing his best to ensure passenger safety.

Charlene Croft said Metro Transit has declined to show the couple the surveillance tape.

She said the meeting Thursday was “productive and positive,” but there was disagreement over Metro Transit’s claim that passenger safety was compromised by Izaak’s disruptive behaviour.

“Developmentally, Izaak’s behaviour, social cognition and impulse control is closer to that of a toddler, rather than an almost nine-year-old child,” she said.

“Therefore … it was like asking someone with an inconsolable baby/toddler to leave the bus.”

In his own blog, David Croft challenged Metro Transit’s assertion that its driver did not specifically ask Izaak to leave the bus.

“Personally … I thought this was a semantic point because the driver had created a situation where there was little choice — due to authoritative and social pressure — but to remove Izaak from the bus,” he wrote.

“So the driver hadn’t explicitly used the words, ’off the bus.’ (But) there are a thousand and one ways to say a thing without actually having to say it.”

Still, David Croft said the meeting left him convinced the transit authority was willing to make constructive changes to better serve those with neurological disorders.

“Although it was a sometimes emotional meeting — Charlene cried once or twice and my voice raised as I had a renewed, but brief, fury at the notion that Izaak had been on the bus for just 3.5-5 minutes total before the driver could take no more — it was also a highly productive meeting,” he wrote.


Top court to hear feds appeal of Khadr order

OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the federal government’s appeal of a ruling which ordered it to seek the return of Omar Khadr from Guantanamo, Cuba.

The court which, as usual, gave no reasons for its Friday decision, also formally stayed the lower-court order.

The justices will hear the appeal Nov. 13, possibly in the midst of a federal election campaign.

The Liberals have said the Khadr case, and others in which Canadians have run into trouble abroad, are examples of how the Conservative government has failed in its duty to citizens.

Nathan Whitling, an Edmonton lawyer representing Khadr, said the ruling wasn’t a surprise.

“This was not an unexpected decision,” he said. “The case obviously raises issues of importance and we remain quite confident in our position.”

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson refused to comment on the appeal because the case is still before the courts.

The Foreign Affairs Department issued a statement repeating the government’s position — that Khadr faces serious charges and the American process should be allowed to play out before Ottawa steps in.

The statement noted President Barack Obama has said he will close the prison at Guantanamo and re-evaluate the status of the prisoners.

“It is in our interest to wait for the outcome of these decisions just put forward by President Obama. The Government of Canada has taken its responsibilities with regards to Mr. Khadr, and we will also take our responsibilities when the U.S. Government shares its decision on this case.”

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said the government should not be appealing the case.

“We find it extraordinary that the Conservative government would take this right up to the Supreme Court when we’re talking about a Canadian citizen,” he told reporters in Vancouver.

The Federal Court originally told the government to bring Khadr home. The Federal Court of Appeal reinforced that with a 2-1 ruling that dismissed a government challenge of the first order.

Successive Conservative and Liberal governments have refused to ask the United States to return the Toronto-born Khadr from Guantanamo Bay where he has been held for seven years.

Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan during a skirmish when he was 15. He’s now 22.

The Harper government has rejected a chorus of demands from the opposition and others to deal with Khadr’s case at home in Canada.

The government line is that he faces charges of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy, material support for terrorism and spying and the legal process must be followed.

The U.S. opened military court proceedings against Khadr four years ago, but they remain up in the air.

Ignatieff said Khadr’s rights as a citizen should be the main concern.Opposition politicians argue that Khadr was a child at the time of his capture in Afghanistan and is himself a victim. They want him brought home to face justice here.

The Federal Court ruled in April that the Conservative government must ask the United States to return Khadr “as soon as practicable.”

It said Canada’s refusal to request his repatriation offends fundamental justice and violates Khadr’s constitutional rights to life, liberty and security of the person.

The appeal court last month rejected the government’s bid to overturn the decision, saying the conduct of Canadian officials who interviewed Khadr at Guantanamo amounted to “knowing participation” in his mistreatment.

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