Alberta yellow vest protests lack violence seen in Paris, but anti-immigration anger simmers

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Four people were killed, hundreds injured and streets were littered with flaming cars and broken glass as thousands clad in yellow vests partook in violent protests in France in recent weeks against a planned increase to the fuel tax.

The protest movement has now spread across the globe, but in Alberta, which may be Canada’s centre of anti-carbon-tax discontent, the yellow vest protests Saturday were free from physical violence.

« We are Canadian, we’re not anywhere close to that kind of radical, » said Allison Prentice, who was clad in a yellow vest at the Calgary protest. « I’m proud to be here and represent people who care about Canadians first. »

The burning anger, which seemed to be lit by multiple fuses, still meant threats of violence were on the lips of some attendees who linked frustration over economic woes caused by low oil prices to the country’s immigration policies.

In Calgary, more than 100 protesters, some accompanied by dogs also decked out in yellow vests, chanted « No Trudeau. No Trudeau » outside of city hall. Some yelled « String him up, » others yelled « traitor. »

« They hate our country and they hate our way of life, » yelled one speaker through a megaphone, to cheers and whistles, not specifying who « they » are.

Calgary police said the rally was peaceful and no protesters were arrested.

Yellow vest protesters, including Rudy the corgi, waved signs and chanted ‘No Trudeau’ outside Calgary’s city hall Saturday. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Edmonton also saw a large protest, with about 150 people marching from the Legislature to Churchill Square, carrying signs, some reading « No Global Climate Pact. Suicide. »

Multiple posts on Canada’s yellow jackets Facebook page called for more drastic action.

« Look at France today. After four weeks of burning the cities, the French government cut the carbon tax. So what do we want? 90 years or four weeks until something changes? » wrote Robb Kerr on the group’s page. « If you want to crush a government, you have to play their game … You want to see them jump? Then burn down City Hall. »

The protests were jointly against the provincial and federal carbon taxes, and Canada’s plan to endorse the United Nations’ migration pact, which outlines objectives for treating global migrants humanely and efficiently.

Yellow-vest-clad protesters hold signs outside Calgary’s city hall on Saturday. (Helen Pike/CBC)

« I’m here for primarily the fact that I know many people who barely get by month to month, so until we can take care of our own, I’m concerned that the money we don’t have are going to people that don’t have the right to have it, before our own, » said Prentice.

Attendee Peter Lebrun said he feared the non-legally-binding UN Global Compact on Migration would harm the country.

« I think that opens up a lot of possibilities that would prove to be negative to Canada as a whole, » said Lebrun, another attendee at the Calgary rally.

Members of Soldiers of Odin were also in attendance in Edmonton and Calgary. The anti-immigration group was founded in 2015 in Finland by a white supremacist.

Members of anti-immigration group Soldiers of Odin, which was founded in Finland by a white supremacist, attended Saturday’s yellow vests rally in Edmonton. (Scott Neufeld/CBC)

Stephen Garvey, the founder of National Citizens Alliance, a Calgary-based anti-immigration political party, and one of the organizers of the Edmonton rally, said the sentiments expressed at the events have been building over some time.

« There’s massive censorship of media, » said Garvey. « This is un-Canadian … Canada has to be about the Canadian people. It can’t be about people sold out to some globalist agenda to the U.S., in Ottawa. »

Speakers at both rallies decried the media, saying there hasn’t been enough attention paid to their cause.

« There’s no media outlet here today. The Liberals bought CBC. They’re not coming, » said one protester in a Facebook live video of the Calgary event. 

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Toronto has ‘alarming’ lack of transit funding compared to other cities, report finds

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Toronto’s transit system is precariously funded, inefficiently governed and expensive to ride, but still attracts more passengers than comparable networks in other major North American cities, according to a new report.

The report, called Mixed Signals, was authored by non-profit transit advocacy group CodeRedTO and will be released at city hall Tuesday.

To compile the document the organization compared the fares, network design, budgets and governance structures of transit systems in Toronto and seven other metropolitan areas: Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Washington, D.C., Vancouver, and Montreal.

It concluded that Toronto is “lagging behind other comparator cities in key ways,” particularly when it comes to funding, but still outperforms its rivals in some important areas.

CodeRedTO executive director Cameron MacLeod said he hoped the report would shine a light on the hard choices facing the provincial and municipal governments as they move to expand transit in the GTA after what he described as “30 years of underfunding and under-expansion.”

“We know that other cities approach having modern, effective transit in a very different way. And most cities have come to the conclusion that they have to have hard conversations and they have to figure out how to pay for it,” he said.

CodeRedTO decided to omit New York City from the study because its population is three times that of Toronto, and its subway network predates Toronto’s by decades.

The “most alarming finding,” according to the report, was the extent to which Toronto relies on fare revenue to pay for service.

In 2017, more than two-thirds of the TTC’s $1.8-billion operating budget came from fare revenue, “a level not seen in any other city in North America,” according to the report.

Most of the comparator cities rely on fare revenue for less than half their operating costs, with a government subsidy making up the majority of spending. The subsidy the TTC receives is notoriously low — in 2017 it was just 90 cents per rider, according to the report, compared to $4.75 US ($6.26) in Houston, $1.86 in Vancouver, and $4.56 in York Region.

MacLeod argued the TTC’s reliance on fare revenue instead of steady government subsidies can create a downward spiral that drives down the quality of service, and could be contributing to the trend of declining ridership on the network.

“Fewer riders on a route means that the buses are more empty, which means there’s less revenue to run those buses, so fewer buses run,” he said. “As that happens, people make the decision more and more to avoid transit.”

The report also found Toronto was an outlier in that most other cities have a dedicated revenue source to pay for transit.

Boston, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles all use proceeds of a sales tax to pay for transit, while Vancouver has instituted a parking tax and tolls.

Toronto city council voted last December to examine tolling municipal highways to fund transit projects, only to have the Ontario Liberal government of the day quash the move.

MacLeod said the lack of a steady source of funding makes it difficult to follow through on long-term transit plans. The report calls for Toronto to institute “new, predictable, sustainable revenue” to fund transit.

The report also raised concerns about the governance of Toronto’s transit network, which is split between the TTC, a city agency, and Metrolinx, a provincial Crown corporation.

While Metrolinx operates GO Transit service in Toronto and the surrounding area, and also owns the Presto fare card system being deployed on the TTC, neither the City of Toronto nor the TTC has representation on Metrolinx’s board. Instead, its unelected members are appointed on the recommendation of Ontario’s transportation minister.

MacLeod said the governance model effectively means there is a “locked door” between Metrolinx and the TTC that hampers efforts to co-ordinate transit in the region.

The report concluded “no other comparator city has a fare card fully controlled by another level of government with no local oversight.”

The report also flagged the high cost of transit passes in Toronto. At $146.25, the price of a monthly TTC pass is the equivalent of 45 cash fares. A monthly pass on Montreal’s STM is the equivalent of just 26.2 cash fares, and the cost of a pass for Vancouver’s TransLink is equal to 32.2 cash fares.

“We have this really big barrier to entry where somebody has to decide at the beginning of the month if they will need the TTC often enough, and they have to have $146 saved up and available,” MacLeod said.

He argued the TTC should institute a pay-as-you go system that would put a cap on the number of rides customers pay for each month — after a certain number of paid rides, trips for the rest of the month would be free. Presto already operates on a monthly cap system on GO Transit, but the TTC says it has no plans to implement such a policy for monthly passes.

Despite lagging behind other cities in important ways, the report concluded there are some things Toronto is doing well.

With about 535 million riders last year, the TTC has the highest ridership of all agencies CodeRedTO studied. Just under one quarter of commuters in the GTA take public transit to work, compared to 20.4 per cent in the Vancouver area, and just 5 per cent in Los Angeles.

“The whole point of this is that we need to keep going to ensure that our system stays strong,” MacLeod said.

“We’ve rested on our laurels a bit too much.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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Trying to bridge the ‘genomic divide’: Lack of Indigenous data a challenge for researchers

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A prominent U.S. senator turned to genetic testing last month to try to prove her claim that she had Indigenous ancestry.

But in assessing Elizabeth Warren’s DNA, the geneticists were forced to use samples from Mexico, Peru and Colombia because there were no samples from American Indigenous peoples in the reference databases. 

Because the data is missing, Indigenous geneticists Krystal Tsosie of Vanderbilt University and Matthew Anderson of Ohio State University argue that Warren’s test results, which showed Native American ancestry six to 10 generations ago, are a reach.

Many more researchers have joined the discussion regarding Warren’s DNA test results, weighing in on the problems inherent in using genetic databases to unearth Indigenous ancestry.

Indigenous data is missing because « Native American groups within the U.S. have not chosen to participate in recent population genetic studies, » wrote Carlos Bustamante, the geneticist studying Warren’s DNA. That information gap for Indigenous groups exists around the world, including Canada. 

« The Warren news was a distraction from the real work, » said Laura Arbour, one of the lead scientists for the Silent Genome project recently funded by Genome Canada and Genome British Columbia. 

Arbour and her colleagues are trying to develop strategies to better engage Indigenous communities in genomic research.

She describes a growing « genomic divide » that reflects the apparently insatiable appetite among people with a European background to give their DNA to large databases in return for predictions regarding future health and well-being.

Precision medicine

Bridging this « genomic divide » will allow Indigenous people to benefit from a future with precision medicine, says Arbour.

The term precision medicine refers to the use of genomic data to predict which drug will work best for each person.

But precision medicine cannot serve Indigenous people if their reference data is missing.

The lack of representation of Indigenous genomes in large databases reflects a general wariness in that group caused in part by historical cases of genetic research gone wrong. 

One study considered by leading geneticists including Roderick McInnes, former institute director in the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as a game changer involved the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations on Vancouver Island.

The Nuu-chah-nulth have a high frequency of rheumatoid arthritis. The research team collected DNA samples from approximately half of the First Nations members to study the genetic basis for the disorder.

The genetic determinants of rheumatoid arthritis weren’t found, but that wasn’t the big problem. Researchers sent the DNA samples to external facilities for genetic ancestry studies without the knowledge or consent of the participants.

That action created concern around privacy and possible exploitation through the use of the genetic data for commercial gain, Tsosie and Anderson wrote in a piece posted on The Conversation.

Positive relationships

On the other hand, there are examples of positive relationships between Indigenous groups and non-Indigenous genetic researchers. 

Members of the Gitxsan nation in British Columbia, for instance, told Arbour and her colleagues about the high prevalence of sudden cardiac death in their community.

The Gitxsan not only initiated the research into the genetic cause for this disease but also helped supervise the work through advisory and governance committees.

When geneticists were assessing U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s DNA, they had to use samples from Mexico, Peru and Colombia because there were no samples from American Indigenous peoples in the reference databases. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

With that co-operative relationship, the research team found the genetic basis for the prevalence of Long QT syndrome, which can cause sudden cardiac death, in the Gitxsan. A gene mutation was found to be responsible for disrupting normal cardiac rhythm. The Gitxsan could then be effectively treated for Long QT syndrome after that discovery.  

Arbour also sees a need to customize the practices for DNA collection in Indigenous communities so that they maintain control.

One little-known aspect about most genetic testing projects, such as the 1000 Genomes Project or 23andMe, is that they, not the donor, retain ownership of the sample.

Indigenous leaders don’t want this to happen in studies of their people.

DNA obtained from an Indigenous individual should be considered « on loan » to the researcher just for the purpose of the specific research project, says Arbour. Ownership of the sample should be retained by the individual with the future potential to be stored in a « tribal-controlled DNA bank, » she says.

Calls for Indigenous leadership

Indigenous leaders have long recognized the need for Indigenous scientists to take ownership of the research conducted with their DNA.

Writing in the Hill Times last month, Natan Obed, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, a national, non-profiit organization representing 60,000 Inuit, said that « Inuit are the most researched people in the world — yet with colonial approaches to research … our role is imagined as marginal and of little value. »

He also recently renewed his call for Inuit leadership in the three major Canadian research agencies: the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.  

Laura Arbour, one of the lead scientists for the Silent Genome project recently funded by Genome Canada and Genome British Columbia, and her colleagues are trying to develop strategies to better engage Indigenous communities in genomic research. (Brad Lyle, Genome BC)    

Building capacity for Indigenous leadership in genomic research takes time. 

But real change could come through the work of programs like SING, which stands for the Summer Internship for Indigenous Peoples in Genomics.

This educational program initiated at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2011 and sponsored by multiple agencies including the National Institutes of Health was geared primarily for Indigenous students in a university undergraduate or graduate degree program in the U.S. but has since spread to Canada and New Zealand. 

The SING workshops aim to give Indigenous students interested in genetic science additional skills and knowledge that would help them move into advisory and leadership roles within genetic research. The workshops of approximately 20 participants have been held annually at multiple U.S. university venues, most recently in Seattle earlier this year.

Katrina Claw, a former SING participant and now a leader of the program in the U.S., says there have been participants from 44 First Nations, including mostly students who are interested in genomic, social and political sciences. 

The SING training workshops include basic scientific methods in DNA sequencing and analysis along with tutorials on the principles of informed consent and ethics relating to DNA data sharing. 

Faculty positions

The Indigenous leader of SING Canada, Kim TallBear, an associate professor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta, says that genomics research must also be taught with the view of correcting the history of disciplinary mistakes made by scientists.

A significant proportion of SING participants enter the program with a background in genomic science or the social and political sciences and with the intention of learning about Indigenous genomics from a « bioethical and decolonizational perspective, » said TallBear.

The goal of the SING workshops is starting to be realized. According to TallBear, Anderson is another great example of someone of Indigenous descent who started with SING as a graduate student, came up through the ranks to become an assistant professor and is already leading discussions around genomic research in Indigenous communities.

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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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