Liberals to block opposition attempt to probe SNC-Lavalin affair

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OTTAWA—The Liberal government appears likely to block opposition efforts to probe allegations of political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, while insisting that discussions on the matter with former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were above board.

Justin Trudeau’s government will not yet waive solicitor-client privilege, which would give Wilson-Raybould latitude to speak about the allegation, nor will it permit a parliamentary committee to proceed with its own investigation, the Star has learned.

Wilson-Raybould has remained silent since the Globe and Mail reported Thursday that senior officials in the Prime Minister’s Office pressed her to seek mediation instead of pursuing criminal charges against SNC-Lavalin.

The former justice minister — who was moved from her post in January — has refused to confirm or deny the allegations, saying she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

A senior government official, speaking to the Star on the condition they not be named, said Saturday that the government will not waive the privilege — as demanded by opposition MPs — because SNC-Lavalin’s potential criminal trial remains before the courts. A second government source confirmed that the potential criminal trial, as well as SNC-Lavalin’s appeal of prosecutors’ denial of a mediation deal, makes waiving privilege unlikely.

Justice Minister David Lametti told CTV’s Question Period that he believes nothing about the affair so far merits an investigation.

“The prime minister has said that these allegations are false. We haven’t had any corroborating evidence there. There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation,” said Lametti, who is also on the listed of proposed witnesses.

Lisa Raitt, deputy Conservative leader, said she was “horrified” by Lametti’s claim that he had satisfied himself there was no improper influence based solely on the prime minister’s public statements.

“That’s insane … that’s not upholding the independence of the attorney general’s office,” Raitt said in an interview.

Any hint that of political interference in criminal prosecutions should spark an investigation into “what the hell happened,” she said.

“It’s a serious enough issue that this needs to have clear light on it and we need to understand exactly what happened,” said Raitt, MP for Milton and a lawyer.

She said the Conservatives will seek to pressure the Liberals to agree to the committee hearings, though she conceded the effort will likely be voted down.

Lametti was not available to speak Saturday. His spokesperson, David Taylor, said the minister will appear before the committee if called to testify. Wilson-Raybould, through a spokesperson, said she was unavailable for an interview.

From the initial hours after the allegations broke, Lametti has echoed the prime minister’s denial that no direction was given to Wilson-Raybould on the issue.

“We don’t know what evidence or facts he has. Maybe he has spoken to the people in the PMO. Maybe he has facts such that he is very confident in what he is saying,” said former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant.

“Or he sees this as part of his political role and he doesn’t need to be quasi-judicial and independent,” Bryant said.

The justice minister also serves as Canada’s attorney general. The ministerial guide sets out the two roles for the cabinet post: The justice minister is responsible for federal laws and development of new policies and programs. The attorney general is chief law officer for the federal government and has responsibility to uphold the “Constitution, the rule of law, and respect for the independence of the courts.”

Trudeau has denied “allegations” that PMO officials put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to abandon criminal charges against SNC in favour of what’s called a “deferred prosecution agreement” — a new tool introduced by the Liberals last year that allows corporate wrongdoers to avoid a criminal trial in favour of fines and corporate governance reforms.

Montreal-based engineering company SNC-Lavalin has been facing criminal fraud and corruption charges based on allegations it paid millions in bribes to win government business in Libya between 2001 and 2011. It has argued that the individuals behind the charges have left the company and that punishment to the firm, resulting in a ban on government infrastructure contracts, would result in major job losses in Canada — and Quebec in particular.

Wilson-Raybould was involved in the internal debates about how to deal with the SNC situation last fall, the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed Saturday. A government source would not say at what level those discussions were held — whether with Trudeau’s entire cabinet, with a subcommittee, or informally between ministers. It’s not clear who initiated the discussions.

The PMO also confirmed that Gerald Butts, Trudeau’s principal secretary and close friend, discussed the matter with Wilson-Raybould in December 2018, but said Butts suggested Wilson-Raybould bring it up with Michael Wernick, the clerk of the Privy Council and Canada’s top bureaucrat.

The question of undue influence and political interference hinges on the nature of the discussions Wilson-Raybould had on the options for the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.

Some discussions are permitted. The Privy Council’s rules for Open and accountable government state the attorney general may consult “cabinet colleagues … in order to fully assess the public policy considerations relevant to specific prosecutorial decisions.”

Craig Forcese, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says that clear political advice is “one thing.”

“But a political executive ‘direction’ to the (attorney general) in a criminal justice matter would exceed” judicial standards and dictate that the attorney general refuse and resign, Forcese said.

“The murk lies where discussions fall short of ‘direction,’” he wrote in a blog post.

Bryant said the involvement of the prime minister’s aides — the very people he said have power over a minister’s political future — in such discussions would not be appropriate.

“It creates the perception and the reality that if she doesn’t do what they tell her to do, then there will be political consequences for her, and that means that you are politicizing the prosecution,” Bryant said in an interview Saturday.

“These are the most political animals in the country, the PMO … They advise the prime minister, who controls the fate of a cabinet minister,” said Bryant, who is now the executive director and general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

With files from The Canadian Press

Bruce Campion-Smith is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @yowflier

Alex Boutilier is an Ottawa-based reporter covering national politics. Follow him on Twitter: @alexboutilier

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‘I couldn’t believe it’: University of Alberta evicted student after attempt to kill himself

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Hallways at the University of Alberta are decorated with posters with reassuring slogans such as « Love yourself » and « Take a break and find balance. »

One U of A student in Edmonton says that when he walks by the slogans, he feels as if it’s all for show.

In the fall of 2016, the 18-year-old tried for the second time to take his own life. After his second discharge from hospital in less than a month, a university administrator came to meet him.

But instead of offering help, the staff member handed him a notice of eviction from his residence.

« I couldn’t believe it, » said the student, who told his story to Radio-Canada. CBC News is calling him Eric to protect his identity.

« I was being evicted for trying to attempt suicide. I hadn’t put anyone else in danger. »

Eric was told he had to move out of his campus residence because he had violated his residency agreement. The agreement states that « the resident will not endanger persons or damage property in the premises and residence. »

The student was told he had to move out of his campus residence because he had violated his residency agreement. (Supplied/Name withheld by request)

The administrator handed the student a trespass notice and an eviction letter that said: « You admitted to attempting to commit self-harm within your residence and this was the second attempt. »

The letter also said: « The type of example your actions support have no place in an academic learning environment. »

Eric said he had experienced symptoms of depression since his early teen years, but at university his symptoms worsened. « Things suddenly felt meaningless, » he said.

He first attempted suicide in his second year of university. Police intervened and took him to hospital. After he was discharged, the U of A gave him a list of phone numbers to call if he needed help.

« I never gave it [another] thought to contact those people, » he said. He said the help he was offered was based on an assumption that his actions were a cry for help, not a serious suicide attempt.

One week later, he still had constant thoughts of dying, he said. He tried again to take his own life.

Again, police took him to hospital. When he returned to his dorm, staff had booked him a hotel room for the night and told him they would meet with him the next morning, he said. That’s when the university took action.

Decision without explanation

Officials at the U of A haven’t explained how the decision could have been approved.

In an interview this month, André Costopoulos, dean of students, said there is no policy that includes « considering self-harm or actively self-harming » as a reason to ban a student from a campus residence.

Costopoulos wouldn’t comment on the specifics of Eric’s case, but said it’s possible the decision was based on erroneous information.

Two weeks after Eric’s eviction, the same administrator who gave him the letter emailed him about reconsidering the previous decision.

But Eric said the damage was done.

« I just felt like I needed a safe place to stay where I could try to work this out in my head, where I can feel comfortable, » he said. « They took that away from me. »

‘Never justifiable, never acceptable’

The University of Alberta Students’ Union said the eviction is unacceptable.

A letter like the one Eric received is « never justifiable, never acceptable, » Andre Bourgeois, vice-president of student life, said in an interview this month.

Bourgeois said the students’ union is aware of more than one case when a student was evicted under similar circumstances.

He said that he’s concerned that a recent directive from Alberta Advanced Education to have the province provide clinical care services for students will make it harder for school staff to make decisions in the best interests of students with mental health issues.

« I wouldn’t say that I’m confident that the university will never make another mistake when it comes to suicide or mental health, » Bourgeois said.

Students vulnerable

Mara Grunau, executive director of the Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention, said suicidal thoughts are almost always the result of multiple factors, but students can be particularly vulnerable to certain stresses.

« What we typically see with students is the pressure they feel to achieve, » Grunau said.

« It can also be pressure from living away from home for the first time. »

Symptoms of mental illness also often reveal themselves in late adolescence, she said.

Since 2017, five University of Alberta students have died from suicide, according to Costopoulos.

Still a student, Eric has sought psychiatric help and continues to fight his depression.

If you are dealing with thoughts of suicide you can call the 24-hour Canada-wide crisis service hotline: 1-833-456-4566.

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Attempt to engage Manitoba’s civil service with garden gnome mascot insulting, tone-deaf: union

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An attempt by the Manitoba government to better engage with its employees — using a ceramic garden gnome — has come up short, says the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Just before the holiday break, government employees were sent an email from the head of the province’s civil service, introducing them to Gerome G. Gnome — a garden gnome billed as the government’s « engagement champion. »

« The purpose of Gerome is to facilitate engagement, through sharing stories and highlighting the inspiring work of our public servants in a fun and light-hearted way, » reads the Dec. 21 email to government employees from Fred Meier, clerk of the executive council.

The email also included an introduction from « Gerome » — written in the first person.

« I come from a long line of gnomes who have been featured in European myths and legends, » the introduction reads.

The email included photos of the garden gnome at various locations across Manitoba.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union says the government’s use of a ceramic garden gnome as a way to engage with the civil service is poorly timed. (Government of Manitoba illustration)

« Now that social media is a ‘thing,’ families are taking their gnomes on vacations and taking photos of them in unique and memorable locations, » Gerome’s introduction reads.

« This is a great way to appreciate gnomes, as we do love seeing the world. »

The email also promises that Gerome will be visiting government workplaces.

« I can’t wait to meet you and help you share your stories about what you do, how you do it, and why it’s so cool and important, » the email says.

‘Insensitive’ in light of cuts: MGEU

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, calls the move « insensitive » in light of the Progressive Conservative government’s pledge to cut 1,200 civil service jobs and the coming expiration of a no-layoff clause that has protected government jobs.

The clause expires March 29, when the government’s agreement with the public sector lapses.

« Timing is everything, » said Gawronsky of the gnome’s appearance.

« We are all for meaningful engagement and strong communication … but right now, when the people who deliver our public services are facing so much uncertainty … sending a ceramic statue around to government offices feels a little tone-deaf, » she said.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, calls Gerome G. Gnome a ‘tone-deaf’ engagement tactic. (Travis Golby/CBC)

« The vast majority of our members are looking for something a bit more meaningful — stability in their jobs, ensuring that they have the ability to make their mortgage payments and feed their children, » said Gawronsky.

« These are adults that are providing needed services to Manitoba.… It just feels so, so wrong in my book. It just feels so insulting. »

MGEU officials have said they know of around 150 government jobs that will be cut through privatization and contracting out, including about 50 each in special operations and Manitoba Government Air Services, 30 positions at the provincially run tree nursery, eight jobs in French translation services and up to 11 jobs in the government’s real estate services division.

‘We are trying to increase dialogue’

In the email sent to employees, Meier said the idea for Gerome came from a group of public servants, and the campaign was launched after an employee engagement survey was conducted.

The survey saw response from over 7,000 employees — a participation rate of just slightly better than 50 per cent.

In a statement to CBC News, Meier said the gnome was introduced as a way to spur communication while changes are implemented to the public service through the government’s civil service transformation strategy, launched last February.

« The public service is in the midst of significant change. In past surveys, we have heard from employees that they want more communication from leadership, » reads the statement.

« The gnome is one of several ways that we are trying to increase dialogue within the public service regarding engagement, allowing department leadership and employees to use it as a way to encourage dialogue and share achievements within their departments and beyond. »

While she appreciates the effort to open lines of communication between employees and the government, Gawronsky said Gerome G. Gnome isn’t the way to go about it.

« We don’t need a ceramic statue to sit in between us while we communicate. » 


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Keystone pipeline is Trump’s latest failed attempt to roll back environmental regulations

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Climate activists did cartwheels. Alberta’s landlocked, lacklustre oil patch wailed. U.S. President Donald Trump spat contempt, calling a U.S. court-ordered halt to TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline “a disgrace” — and then proceeded to do what he does pretty much every day, igniting a new volley of news-grenades, drawing attention elsewhere.

The bombardment of daily distraction may be this president’s best friend, sucking up oxygen that might otherwise help drive a deeper understanding of what happens — and what doesn’t — after the sound byte explodes.

In this photo taken on May 08, 2017, Indigenous leaders and climate activists disrupt business at a Chase Bank branch in Seattle. A Montana judge has stopped the White House’s approval of the project.
In this photo taken on May 08, 2017, Indigenous leaders and climate activists disrupt business at a Chase Bank branch in Seattle. A Montana judge has stopped the White House’s approval of the project.  (JASON REDMOND / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

But it’s worth a look at the 54-page ruling that dropped late Thursday at a U.S. court in Montana, putting the brakes yet again on the meandering, decade-long saga of KXL. All told, Judge Brian Morris’s ruling amounts to a scathing indictment of a dog-ate-my-homework administration that still appears incapable, even two years in, of crossing its Ts or dotting its Is.

In rejecting Trump’s green light for a pipeline that already enjoys the uneasy backing of the Trudeau Liberals, the Notley NDP and an Alberta industry screaming for greater export capacity, Judge Morris essentially assigned blame to an incompetent White House.

It’s not the end for Keystone XL, of course. As TransCanada regrouped Friday, saying it would review the ruling before looking to next steps, Alberta Energy Minister Marg McCuaig-Boyd acknowledged the “frustrating setback” but vowed, “We still believe we will get through.”

The TSX and the Canadian dollar reeled on the news and left Alberta’s leaders pleading anew for help from Ottawa to increase crude-by-rail to help address a widening differential that has the province’s heavy oil massively discounted against U.S. light-crude prices. McCuaig-Boyd called the price differential “horrible right now.”

But at its essence, the court injunction halting the $10-billion project is a U.S. decision against another U.S. decision, leaving Canada as a spectator to what happens next.

It remains unclear whether the Trump administration will go back to the drawing board and actually do its homework and re-submit or simply appeal its way up the judiciary in search of a friendlier ruling, if not at the 9thCircuit then perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Morris nailed Trump’s state department for a series of shortcomings that violated several laws, saying it “fell short of a ‘hard look’” at the pipeline’s evolving viability and the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. It also questioned the absence of any updated modeling of environmental cleanup in light of major oil spills in 2014 and 2017 that “qualify as significant.”

On paper, some of that blame might seem to belong to former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, on whose watch much of department’s submission was prepared. But Tillerson, to his credit, recused himself of any involvement in the Keystone XL pipeline file shortly after taking office in 2017 to avoid any perceived conflict of interest relating to his former role as chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp.

Some U.S. observers noted a pattern in the admonitions that, coupled with other rulings against Trump efforts at energy deregulation, called into question the administration’s ability to actually deliver.

“One of the biggest political myths in America is that, say what you will about Trump, but he’s managed to cut environmental regulations to the bone,” tweeted Jerry Taylor, founder of the DC-based think-tank, Niskanen Center.

“Nonsense on stilts. He’s been screamingly incompetent at that job as well. Not for lack of trying.”

A case in point: last month Slate put the Trump deregulation mantra to the test, concluding that the administration had “largely failed” after multiple attempts to put Obama-era regulatory efforts on ice.

Instead, the Slate analysis argued, Team Trump now was abandoning its attempts to short-circuit the process and was instead shifting to the more cumbersome task of crafting new regulatory policy.

“But having squandered half of its four-year term, the White House faces an uphill climb in developing its major environmental rollback initiatives, and getting them past now-skeptical courts, before the clock runs out.”

For a project whose saga now has spanned three presidencies, the fate of Keystone XL remains baffling — and, likely, overblown. Barack Obama himself — in pursuit of an all-of-the-above energy policy not unlike that of Justin Trudeau’s government — split the difference on the Canadian pipeline in 2015, approving the southern leg but blocking the northern extension from Alberta.

In so doing, Obama lamented how this one Canadian pipeline somehow had become a convenient political football for everyone.

“For years, the Keystone pipeline has occupied what I, frankly, consider an overinflated role in our political discourse,” he said.

“It became a symbol too often used as a campaign cudgel by both parties rather than a serious policy matter. And all of this obscured the fact that this pipeline would neither be a silver bullet for the economy, as was promised by some, nor the express lane to climate disaster proclaimed by others.”

That symbolism seemed to have faded into the history books — as a done deal, under Trump — as the debate over carbon taxes and the absence of American climate leadership amid worsening scientific climate data filtered forward.

But no longer. Like it or not, Keystone XL — the controversy, if not an actual pipeline — is back on centre stage.

Mitch Potter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @MPwrites

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Attempt to appeal ’60s Scoop settlement tossed for ‘extreme’ lack of evidence

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A last-ditch effort to challenge the court-approved settlement of the ’60s Scoop class action failed Friday when a judge tossed the novel attempt as lacking any substance.

In his decision, Judge John Laskin of the Federal Court of Appeal said the applicants had provided no support for their highly unusual motion seeking leave to appeal the settlement.

« The evidence filed by the applicants is inadequate in the extreme, » Laskin wrote.

The ruling, barring any further court machinations, paves the way for implementation of the $750-million class-action settlement. The federal government had said it could not proceed with payouts to victims pending finality in the court proceedings.

The request to appeal the agreement finalized over the summer rather than opt out — fewer than a dozen class members did so — came from a group of 11 claimants who said they were Scoop victims, although two of the plaintiffs subsequently dropped out of the proceeding.

They filed their application through a law firm that had been shut out of the $75 million in legal fees agreed to as part of the class-action settlement.

Among other things, they alleged they were excluded from the process that led to court approval of the agreement that would pay survivors as much as $50,000 a piece for the harms done when they, as children, were taken from their Indigenous families and placed with non-Indigenous ones. They also expressed unhappiness over the fees awarded to the lawyers who negotiated the deal.

Laskin noted the applicants had failed to show they were survivors of the ’60s Scoop and therefore members of the class. Nor did they provide evidence that an appeal of the settlement would be in the best interests of survivors, he said.

Seeking legal costs

One of the applicants, Joan Frame, of Hamilton, had alleged to The Canadian Press that the lawyers who negotiated the settlement — some of whom worked on the case for free for the better part of a decade — « resorted to trickery » to get the agreement.

« To allow people to win illegally and make money off our backs and suffering again should not be allowed to happen, » Frame had said.

Laskin also took issue with such assertions, saying the applicants had offered no evidence in support.

While it is normal in litigation for the losing party to be on the hook for the legal costs incurred by the winners, the winning lawyers are seeking costs personally from the lawyer who filed the appeal motion given the serious misconduct allegations he made against them.

Laskin declined to award costs until Jai Singh Sheikhupura with Vancouver-based Watson Goepel has had an opportunity to make submissions. He has until Nov. 19 to do so.

« We are pleased that the Federal Court of Appeal has cleared away the last impediment to the settlement being implemented, » said Kirk Baert, one of the lawyers involved in the class action. « Now the settlement funds can flow to the survivors as intended. »

The $75 million in legal fees, which the federal government agreed to pay to four legal firms separately from the compensation to the Scoop survivors, became a flashpoint earlier this year when Ontario Superior Court of Justice Edward Belobaba said they were far too high.

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New vehicles coming to Ambulance NB fleet in attempt to cut rural wait times – New Brunswick

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Ambulance New Brunswick is launching a pilot project and adding more a handful of vehicles to its fleet, in an effort to reduce response times in rural communities.

Five rural communities — Minto/Chipman; Grand Bay-Westfield; Saint-Quentin/Kedgwick; the Acadian Peninsula and Blackville — will each have a new Rapid Response Unit (RRU).


READ MORE:
Rapid response, bilingual requirement to come to Ambulance New Brunswick fleet

“We’ll have two or three, multiple calls back-to-back in the areas,” says Crossman.

“Sometimes, the neighbouring ambulance is responding 40 or 50 minutes away.”

Though the pilot project was announced by government in July, the launch comes days after a 13-year-old died as the result of an ATV collision in Haut-Lamèque, which took an ambulance a reported 40 minutes to respond.

READ MORE: N.B. Acadian Society launches petition to cancel ambulance management contract

When the fleet is officially launched in November, the vehicles will look similar to this one

Callum Smith/Global News

The New Brunswick Acadian Society (SANB) launched a petition Tuesday, calling on the province to cancel Medavie’s contract with Ambulance New Brunswick.

“It’s a problem when people kind of ask themselves, in an emergency situation, ‘well, should I call an ambulance or should I drive myself to the hospital,’” asks Eric Dow of SANB.

Eric Dow of the New Brunswick Acadian Society (SANB) says the petition was launched as a result of overall performance over the years

Callum Smith/Global News

Ambulance New Brunswick says based on results in other jurisdictions, the RRUs have proven their success.

“They really have been able to demonstrate the benefit,” says Ambulance New Brunswick vice-president Matthew Crossman. “Specifically in rural communities, where there are long transport times and multiple calls.”


The RRUs differ from ambulances because they will have only one paramedic, rather than two. They also don’t have the ability to transport patients.

The new vehicles will respond, treat patients as needed until an ambulance arrives, and then be free to respond to another call as needed.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Pointe-Claire residents mount fiery last-ditch attempt to save the Pioneer pub – Montreal

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Cheers and boos marked a tense meeting in Pointe-Claire on Wednesday night over the future of the former Pioneer pub.

A special appeals hearing was held to decide the fate of the 117-year-old building at the heart of the Pointe-Claire village.

In August, the city’s demolition committee decided to reject Koebra Development Corporation’s plans to build condos, but OK’s the demolition of the rundown Pioneer.

For residents, any plan that includes destroying the former watering hole is unacceptable.


READ MORE:
How much do Quebecers really know about the upcoming election?

“Your vote should be to protect the character of our city and spend on projects that serve the whole community,” Pointe-Claire resident Lynda Swidzinski told city councillors.

Swidzinski’s words were met with a standing ovation. She was reading a statement from her son and vice-president of the Pointe-Claire Heritage Society, Andrew Swidzinski.

Swidzinski has been one of many residents who have been fighting for months to stop the demolition of the Pioneer but had to miss the meeting due to a serious illness.

“He is not doing well, but I tried to read his statement with the same strength that he would,” explained his mother.

Those opposed to the demolition say that the city should not have sold the nearby parking lot to the developers or given up on finding ways to rehabilitate the dilapidated building.

“What they want to do on the site is a monstrosity,” said resident Nicholas Budnik.

The appeals meeting lasted for hours with dozens of residents taking the time to speak their minds and stretch out the decision process.

The final decision is postponed until Tuesday, Oct. 2.


READ MORE:
Montreal suing for $14 million over infamous water-meter contract

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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