Critics call for ‘robust’ oversight of CBSA following CBC reports on staff misconduct

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Advocacy groups are again calling for « robust, independent and external oversight » of the country’s border service following reporting by CBC News on misconduct at the Canada Border Services Agency.

CBC News recently reported that the agency investigated around 1,200 allegations of staff misconduct between January 2016 and the middle of 2018. Alleged offences recorded in the records released to CBC News include sexual assault, criminal association and harassment.

« We were not surprised, » said Josh Paterson, executive director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. « My main reaction was, this just makes [it] even clearer why there needs to be independent oversight for this agency. »

The BCCLA is one of three groups behind a letter to Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale asking when the government will introduce CBSA oversight legislation. The presidents of the Canadian Council for Refugees and the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers also signed the letter.

The CBSA’s sweeping powers include the right to search travellers, use firearms and conduct deportations. It’s the only major federal law enforcement agency without external oversight of employee conduct.

The groups’ letter also cited a recent CBC News report that said the agency had lost a USB key containing a refugee claimant’s personal information.

« We have had our own experiences of bringing very serious complaints to the CBSA, and they go nowhere, because there is no independent accountability measure, » said Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council for Refugees.

The groups call in the letter for an oversight body that can « investigate complaints » and « conduct proactive assessments of CBSA policies and practices. »

Dench said the oversight agency also should be able to hear complaints from third parties, such as non-government organizations.

« Often, we are in a position to say, ‘Look, we’ve seen a pattern of disturbing behaviour, or we have heard from somebody who’s not in a position to complain themselves,' » she said.

Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Goodale, sent CBC News a statement Thursday that was identical in some respects to a statement the department issued last month.

« CBSA officers processed 95 million travellers in 2017, and only a very small number of these interactions led to a formal complaint, » Bardsley said in an email.

Bardsley said in a statement last month that the government was « working on separate legislation to create an appropriate mechanism to review CBSA officer conduct and conditions, and handle specific complaints. »

But the government’s window to introduce legislation is closing, with a general election due this fall.

« The CBSA … does not have independent review of officer conduct, and that is a gap that definitely needs to be addressed, » Goodale told a Senate committee in 2016.

Following the recent CBC News story, Goodale said the government is preparing legislation that would create « another unit … that looks specifically at the issues of officer conduct or incident investigation.

« We continue to work at it as rapidly as we can. »

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Paul Dewar says goodbye | CBC News

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Paul Dewar, the former Ottawa Centre MP who spent his last days working to empower young people to change their communities for the better, has died at the age of 56.

A letter from Dewar was posted on his Facebook page after his death on Wednesday.

Here is his letter.


Dear Friends,

The time has come for me to say goodbye. While I have left this place physically, I have some final words I’d like to share.

I want to say thank you. My whole life was filled with the kindness of the people of Ottawa, but never did I feel the true depth and generosity of your love more than this past year. You were a constant source of comfort and solidarity for me and my family. I am so grateful for all that you have done.

I told you that I thought my illness was a gift and I genuinely meant that. In this time in between, I got to see the wonder of the world around us. This reinforced my belief that inherent in our community is a desire to embrace each other with kindness and compassion.

In my time on this earth, I was passionate about the power of citizens working together and making a difference.

I wanted a Canada where we treat our fellow citizens with the dignity, love and respect that every one of us deserves.

I wanted a world where we reduced suffering and increased happiness. A world where we took better care of each other.

I had the privilege to travel and see that despite our many unique differences, we are all ultimately driven by the same desires for community, belonging and fairness.

It is easy sometimes to feel overwhelmed by the gravity of the challenges we face. Issues like climate change, forced migration and the threat posed by nuclear weapons. It’s hard to know how to make a difference.

The secret is not to focus on how to solve the problem, but concentrate on what you can contribute – to your country, your community and neighbours.

Start from a place of compassion and be grateful for all that Canada has to offer – especially the natural beauty that surrounds us, and the music that brings us so much joy.

True change can only come when power is transferred to young people unburdened by cynicism. That’s why I used what energy I had left this year to create Youth Action Now. Hopefully, it will help unleash the power of the young people in our community to make a real difference. I hope you will be inspired to be a part of that project and continue my work.

Ottawa, don’t stop now. Let’s show our strength together. Let’s embrace the vision of Algonquin elder William Commanda for an authentic and organic future, rooted in the wisdom of the Indigenous people upon whose land we reside.

Let’s exemplify how to save our biosphere, right here, with the protection of our beloved Ottawa River and Gatineau Park.

Let’s make more art. Let’s play more. Let’s embrace each other in these days of cynicism and doubt.

Let’s welcome those who need a safe home. Let’s empower those who have been left behind.

Let’s nurture and grow with peace, love and unity. Let’s join hands and hearts to see the beauty in ourselves through the soul of our city.

In the stoic stillness of my journey,
I have found my way to peace.
May you keep building a more peaceful and better world for all.
Let this sacred ground be a place for all.
Let the building of a better world begin with our neighbours.
May we dream together.
May we gather our courage and stand together in moments of despair,
and may we be bound together by joyous celebration of life.
We are best when we love and when we are loved.
Shine on like diamonds in the magic of this place.

SMILE AND PLAY…
LAUGH AND DANCE…
GIVE AND SHARE…

My love to you always,
Paul

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CBC appoints Barbara Williams executive vice-president of English services

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Barbara Williams has been appointed CBC’s new vice-president of English services in charge of English-language TV, radio and digital services.

Williams was most recently the chief operating officer and executive vice-president of Corus Entertainment. She also previously served as president of Shaw Media and executive vice-president of content at Canwest Broadcasting.

Williams replaces Heather Conway, who announced her departure last November after serving five years in the role.

Michel Bissonnette, vice-president of the public broadcaster’s French service Radio-Canada, took over English language duties on an interim basis on Dec. 8, 2018.

Williams will report to Catherine Tait, who was named CBC/Radio-Canada’s first female president and CEO last April.

« I have asked Barbara to take on this role because of her vast experience as a network executive and her keen understanding of Canada’s ever-changing media landscape, » Tait said, in a statement released Wednesday.

In the statement, Williams said she is « very excited » to join CBC.

I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of strong, dynamic Canadian content, and in the critical role the public broadcaster plays in providing timely and trustworthy news.– Barbara Williams, in a statement

« I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of strong, dynamic Canadian content, and in the critical role the public broadcaster plays in providing timely and trustworthy news, » she said.

« I’m looking forward to working with the team at CBC to bring even more compelling Canadian stories to our audiences. »

A graduate of the University of Toronto and Syracuse University, Williams has been ranked as one of Canada’s 100 most powerful women by Women’s Executive Network and has received the outstanding achievement award from Women in Film & Television for her work in the industry.

Williams will start her new role on May 1.

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Is Netflix really a foreign colonizer? CBC president Catherine Tait might not be wrong

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Catherine Tait, the uber-boss of the CBC, has compared Netflix’s television domination to the kind of colonialism exhibited by the British and French empires.

So far, no correlation has been made to Amazon Prime Video being headed by Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan running programming at Hulu, although I imagine those shops would be heavy on drama, light on comedy.

Next, we’ll hear that Tait wants to build the Great Cultural Wall of Canada barring the Americans from flooding the market with their cheap reruns of Three’s Company.

Donald Trump, still trying to build his wall or fence, or semi-permeable Styrofoam barrier, would be impressed.

The reality for Canada, though, is that the barbarians are already at the gate.

You don’t need to be an anthropologist to see what the most recent numbers reveal every week: American culture dominates our viewing habits.

The No. 1 show for several years running in Canada has the CBS nerd sitcom The Big Bang Theory. ABC’s The Good Doctor and CBS’s Young Sheldon were in second and third place. No Canadian show made the top 10 except for Lisa LaFlamme holding the fort by gamely talking about Trans Mountain pipelines on the CTV National News.

But bully for Tait for not showing the white flag.

“I was thinking about the British Empire and how, if you were there and you were the viceroy of India you would feel that you were doing only good for the people of India,” Tait said on a media panel in Ottawa Friday. “If you were in French Africa, you would think ‘I’m educating them. I’m bringing their resources to the world and I am helping them.’”

Tait made her comments while Netflix director of public affairs Stéphane Cardin reportedly shook his head in disbelief — although he might have just been trying to figure out his most recent bonus cheque since the company’s revenues grew by 35 per cent in 2018 to $16 billion (U.S.).

Not bad for a shop that started out sending you DVDs in the mail. Remember DVDs?

Or it could be because Cardin’s heard it all before. Despite the indignation from those in the industry who disagree with her, Tait’s comments aren’t new.

“They are the perfect representation of American cultural imperialism,” Christophe Tardieu, director of France’s National Cinema Centre, the organization that pays for most of the Cannes Film Festival, told the New York Times way back in 2017.

Netflix, of course, isn’t just disrupting legacy broadcasters; it is upending the movie industry as well, taking A list stars and plopping them on the same screen that you use to watch Jeopardy! Which, next to eating Cheez Whiz on Saltines, is as sacrilegious as it gets for the French.

Still, Tait has a point. Canadian broadcasters have a legitimate axe to grind with Netflix.

Netflix is not required to contribute to the Canadian Media Fund, through which cable companies and broadcasters help to finance original Canadian productions.

Secondly, streaming companies don’t have to collect GST or HST sales taxes if they don’t have brick and mortar operations in the country. Meanwhile, their competitors have to collect that tax as well as contribute 5 per cent of their gross revenue to the Canadian Media Fund.

Netflix has said it shouldn’t pay into the fund because that would force “foreign online services to subsidize Canadian broadcasters.”

Ottawa decided not to implement taxes after Netflix said it would spend at least $500 million over five years on programming, a number which the company says it will exceed.

But the reality is, the playing field is grossly distorted. Australia, the European Union and Japan have already moved to eliminate the competitive disadvantage. Quebec started requiring Netflix to collect taxes this year. So Tait isn’t far off the mark.

“So all I can say is, let us be mindful of how it is we, as Canadians, respond to global companies coming into our country,” she says.

Still, as a broadcaster and producer, Tait has to tread a fine line. She has to figure out how to work with the steaming giant while not being swallowed by them.

Partnering with Netflix has its advantages. Just ask the cast of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience, who are now global superstars, or the makers of Citytv’s newly popular Bad Blood, which the streamer recently acquired. Netflix has become the gateway to the world for quality Canadian television.

Yet success on Netflix is a double-edged sword. Tait said “it was very painful” for her to read a Vanity Fair article thanking Netflix for Schitt’s Creek, even though it was a show that originated on the CBC.

But nothing is more revealing than the whole Bird Box controversy. A unanimous motion in the House of Commons asked Netflix to remove all images of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy from its fiction catalogue. The streamer used stock footage of the 2013 derailment and explosion in the Sandra Bullock thriller Bird Box and the TV series Travelers.

Netflix apologized but has so far refused to pull the images from Bird Box. However, the producers of Travelers said they would yank the images from the show.

Perhaps the fact that Travelers is proudly co-produced by Canadians and originated on a Canadian channel made the difference. They had skin in the game. They were sensitive to the concerns in their own backyard.

That’s what Tait was trying, in a ham-fisted way, to say after all. That caravan of producers crawling north from Hollywood with a wad of cash? They don’t always have your best interests at heart, Canada.

Or put another way: “Looking at the ecosystem, everybody’s swimming in the same swimming pool,” she once said. “But some of the people aren’t cleaning it up.”

Tony Wong is the Star’s television critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong

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How to get CBC News on your smart speaker

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Want to get the latest local and national news on your smart speaker? Here’s a guide to getting newscasts from CBC newsrooms across the country at your command.

First, we’ll look at Google Home smart speakers. Scroll down for Amazon Alexa devices.

Google Home

To get the latest national news from CBC News, just say, « Hey, Google, play CBC News. »

If you want to hear CBC when you ask Google Home to play the news or catch you up, add CBC News to your list of news sources and customize the order in which they play.

Follow these steps in your Google Home app:

  • Open the app.
  • Choose « Settings. »
  • Choose « More settings. »
  • Select « News. »

From here, you can add news sources by checking the blue boxes. Can’t find CBC News? At the bottom of the menu, you can find more news sources. You can also choose to change the order of your news sources.

Amazon Alexa

CBC News is the default newscast for Amazon Alexa devices in Canada. Simply plug in and ask for news, and the CBC News newscast will play. If you have a device with a video screen, you’ll receive a video from CBC News Network. If you have an audio device, you’ll get the latest edition of our hourly radio update, The World This Hour.

You can also ask for us by name. To get the latest update from CBC News any time, just say, « Alexa, ask CBC to play the news, » and the latest newscast will play.

You can also get your local news from CBC by adding us to your flash briefings.

CBC News offers local news updates on Alexa from the following newsrooms:

  • Toronto
  • Halifax
  • Saskatchewan
  • Montreal
  • Calgary
  • Ottawa
  • Vancouver
  • Edmonton
  • Winnipeg
  • Sudbury
  • St. John’s
  • Windsor
  • Thunder Bay

It’s easy to add one of our local newscasts to your flash briefings. For example, if you wanted local news from Edmonton, say, « Alexa enable CBC News Edmonton. » The device will take care of the rest.

You can also find and add CBC newscasts to your Amazon Alexa app:

Search under « Skills & Games, » then type « CBC News » into the search bar. You can add any of our local newscasts by searching « CBC News » plus the city you’re looking for. Select the skill, and tap « Enable » to add the skill to your flash briefing.

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Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir named CBC Sports Canadian Athletes of the Year

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Everything that can be said about Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pretty much has already been said — and deservedly so.

The iconic ice dancers who enthralled Canadians for years concluded their illustrious careers with not one, but two gold medals at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

The subsequent celebrations and farewell tour gave their many admirers one last chance to see Tessa and Scott — their fans always call them by their first names — and to reflect on a partnership that has spanned two decades.

Now it’s our turn. Naming Tessa and Scott the CBC Sports Canadian Athletes of the Year gives us another opportunity to celebrate their accomplishments and to relive a moment that captivated an entire nation in 2018.

Take a look back at Tessa and Scott’s career together:

A look back at Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s figure skating legacy, set to Jim Cuddy’s « Pull Me Through ».​ 4:32

It could have all ended much differently at the Gangneung Ice Arena.

Tessa and Scott entered the free dance with an incredibly slim lead over France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, despite breaking their own record score in the short dance the night before.

That, plus two American pairs within striking distance, left every conceivable outcome in play — from gold to missing the podium outright. Things only became more tense when Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, skating before Virtue and Moir and seemingly unfazed by a costume malfunction that marred their short dance the day before, set a new world record in the free program.

The French team’s performance, set to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, mesmerized the judges, who gave them the highest overall score ever.

In that moment, the chance of a golden send-off for Tessa and Scott seemed to be slipping away. To eclipse their French training partners — how’s that for additional intrigue? — they would need to surpass their previous personal best in the free skate and shatter a freshly minted world record.

No matter what, it would still be a fine farewell for the venerated Canadians, who had won a team-event gold in Pyeongchang to go along with their ice dance title from Vancouver in 2010 and a pair of silvers from Sochi. Tessa and Scott took the ice as fans around the world watched in quiet anticipation. That silence would not last long.

Watch Tessa and Scott’s full free dance:

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s free program from the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. 9:07

The Moulin Rouge free routine was a perfect fit — a dance exuding the raw passion the duo became famous for.

As the spectacle unfolded on the ice, any feelings of doubt or uncertainty among their fans gave way, replaced with a sense of awe and an appreciation for what was happening.

The intimacy Tessa and Scott brought to that final routine made it seem as if everyone had a front-row seat to their performance — from those watching in their Ontario hometowns of London and Ilderton, respectively, to Canadians nationwide and fans glued to their screens at home or at viewing parties.

When the final note sounded, a roar erupted from the crowd in South Korea as the two embraced on the ice. The final scores came shortly after — Tessa and Scott would cap off their Olympic careers with gold around their necks and a new overall world record.

Watch highlights from Tessa and Scott’s farewell Olympics:

A look back on the final Olympic Games for Canadian figure skating legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. 5:46

The year 2018 was filled with remarkable performances by Canadians, and Tessa and Scott were far from the only ones considered for our Athletes of the Year.

Golfer Brooke Henderson, with her entire career still ahead of her, secured her place in the pantheon of great Canadian athletes by becoming the first woman in 45 years to capture the national title — against an immensely talented field of competitors, no less, at the CP Women’s Open.

Figure skater Kaetlyn Osmond, another member of the Canadian squad who won Olympic team gold, went toe to toe with a pair of Russian titans to capture women’s bronze in Pyeongchang and later followed it up with a world championship crown.

On the subject of royalty, 2018 Lou Marsh Trophy winner Mikael Kingsbury captured a long-coveted Olympic moguls gold to go along with a pair of Crystal Globes from the World Cup circuit and is showing no signs of slowing down. He recently surpassed 50 career World Cup wins and has kept adding to his haul since then.

These impressive feats emphasize the elite company that Tessa and Scott found themselves in this year. Their final free skate will be remembered fondly as a moment that transcended sports and made Canadians feel united, however briefly, by the grace and power of two of their finest champions.

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What makes someone smart? The creator of the CBC show Canada’s Smartest Person explains to TV critic Tony Wong

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Rob Cohen was always intrigued by the theory of intelligence. What makes someone smart?

“I was watching all these game shows that tend to use trivia. But that kind of pure book smarts doesn’t necessarily represent the smartest person in the room,” says the Toronto television producer.

So he set out to write a documentary that ended up becoming a game show: CBC’s Canada’s Smartest Person.

The show is based on Harvard professor Howard Gardner’s concept of multiple intelligences: the idea that there are a range of abilities that make someone smart, such as having mathematical, visual and musical skills.

“We are all smart in different ways, so I thought it would be the coolest theory to apply to a competition,” says Cohen.

The first show aired as a special in 2012 and for three seasons from 2014 to 2016.

This year, Cohen has tweaked the formula with a much younger cast in Canada’s Smartest Person Junior, which debuts Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC. Apart from the fresh-faced contestants, there is a new elimination format where the contestants face off against each other over six episodes instead of different contestants every week. Twelve kids, aged 9 to 12 from across Canada, take part in the competition.

That energy, along with new host Paul Sun-Hyung Lee (Apa from Kim’s Convenience) seems to have given the show a new charge.

“He’s Canada’s dad, he’s Apa, and the kids react so well to him,” says Cohen. “The great thing is that not only are the kids genuinely knock-your-socks-off smart, but they are nice toward each other even though they all want to win. They have a lot to teach the adults.”

Adding children to the formula results in a more emotionally charged show; kids take it personally when they lose. They are also remarkably kind and encouraging to each other, even right down to the finals. They can also be kind of cocky.

“It’s OK, I’ve got bigger dreams, I want to be prime minister,” says the first contestant to be eliminated in the premiere.

The junior version of the show may well have an impact on the format of the original show as well, says Cohen.

“We always look at the end of every season how we can make the show better and we see how the elimination format is really clicking so it really opens up the possibilities moving forward. I think it really works.”

In a cultural market where Canadian series based on American franchises like The Amazing Race Canada and Big Brother Canada dominate airwaves, Cohen’s show is an anomaly: an original local content show being sold internationally.

This year the show debuted in Finland. Other countries have included Turkey and Argentina and there are 12 other territories with deals yet to be announced.

“We can and should be making Canadian formats,” says Cohen. “I think we are good at making some of the best TV in the world, but we’re not great about promoting it or talking about it.”

Risk-averse Canadian broadcasters in many cases would rather take a proven product — say The Bachelor or Real Housewives franchises — and place a Canadian spin on it. Developing a concept from the ground up is much harder work.

“It’s the same old cultural conundrum. Being beside the U.S. market you are inundated with their shows and the more conservative choice is to use the big network formats than risk something new,” says Cohen. “But we are losing out on a huge market where we can make some international noise.”

It’s crucial that Canadians develop an export market for intellectual property where we get to tell our own stories instead of importing others. It’s also important for the balance of trade. That’s why establishing any kind of beachhead is important.

Another Canadian reality show format that has had international success is Big Coat Media’s Love It or List It, which has been franchised in more than a dozen countries. But successes have been few and far between.

Translating a concept can have its own issues. When Cohen sold the rights to Canada’s Smartest Person to Turkey’s public broadcaster, certain themes and challenges didn’t fit with the culture.

One challenge, about social intelligence, included selling an idea or product like you would if you were a TV pitch person or on an infomercial.

“That completely didn’t make sense to them. They were telling us to go to the market in Istanbul to see how vendors pitch, it’s absolutely not like some slick, rehearsed person on TV.”

Other ideas have been adapted from licensees. One challenge, called Cross Walk, was adapted from a concept developed in the Turkish program about crossing the street in Turkish traffic while identifying visuals.

“When you’re in a studio in Istanbul and you’re seeing a carbon copy of what you’ve worked on from the designers and creative team it’s almost surreal,” says Cohen. “Here is something you developed in Canada that’s having an impact across the globe.”

Tony Wong is the Star’s television critic based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @tonydwong

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