Children’s minister Lisa MacLeod urged to resign over accusation she bullied autism group

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Ontario’s largest public sector union and the NDP education critic are calling on Lisa MacLeod to resign, saying her behaviour toward an autism group was akin to bullying and inappropriate for a cabinet minister.

The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysts said MacLeod — who is minister of children, community and social services — pressured them to provide a quote in support of changes to the province’s autism program, but without details they refused.

A spokesperson for Lisa MacLeod said the group levelling accusations against her was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.
A spokesperson for Lisa MacLeod said the group levelling accusations against her was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.  (Chris Young / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO)

They say MacLeod then told the group it would be a “long four years” if they didn’t.

A senior source in MacLeod’s ministry who is familiar with all meetings with ONTABA said different representatives attended the fourth and final meeting, and the tone had changed. The source said the ministry had been led to expect public support from the group.

The source said he “did not recall” MacLeod making such a statement.

A spokesperson for MacLeod said ONTABA was unwilling to work with the government on changes to the system.

On Thursday, Warren (Smokey) Thomas, head of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union and New Democrat Marit Stiles said MacLeod should step down.

In a statement, Thomas said “I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in Lisa MacLeod … It’s unbelievable she would bully others to pay lip service to (Premier) Doug Ford’s attack on autistic children.”

On Twitter, Stiles said: “From our most vulnerable children& youth, to women & families fleeing violence, Minister Lisa MacLeod has consistently made decisions that cause them harm. As we head back to Queen’s Park next week, I’m hoping she does the right thing: #ResignLisaMacLeod.”

At a news conference in Woodbridge on Thursday morning, Ford said he had yet to speak to MacLeod about the controversy, but would — in part to ensure reports on the issue are “factual.”

Ford, however, also said he would “never” ask MacLeod to resign. “She’s an absolute all-star … she’s done an incredible job” on a difficult file, he told reporters.

A memo Wednesday to ONTABA members said of the Jan. 29 meeting: “The minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in ‘four long years’ for the organization.

“The minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”

One analyst who attended said it was “more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official.”

The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of the Progressive Conservatives’ system overhaul, which MacLeod has pledged will make funding more equitable and clear the massive wait list for services within 18 months.

While several service providers and hospitals issued public endorsements of the plan after it was announced, parent support group Autism Ontario — which was praised for supporting the changes by MacLeod — released a statement Tuesday saying the organization “neither proposed nor endorsed” the revamp.

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

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Autism group says Ontario minister warned of 4 ‘long’ years if they didn’t publicly back changes

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An association of behaviour analysts says Ontario’s minister in charge of the autism program told them it would be a long four years for them if they did not publicly support recent changes.

The Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis says in a note to members today that Children, Community and Social Services Minister Lisa MacLeod and her staff requested a quote of support a few days before the new program was announced.

They say the request came without providing full details of the new program — which they say will leave many children without the level of therapy they need.

The association says MacLeod and her staff indicated that failure to provide a supportive quote would result in « four long years » for the organization.

MacLeod’s office did not immediately provide a response. MacLeod announced last week that in order to clear a backlog of 23,000 children waiting for publicly funded autism therapy, families will get up to $140,000 to pay for treatment, though funding will be subject to annual caps that families and advocates say will fall far short of what’s needed for intensive therapy.

The funding is dependent on age, rather than individual needs for varying levels of intensity. Families will receive a maximum of $140,000 for a child in treatment from the ages of two to 18, also dependent on family income, but advocates say intensive therapy can cost up to $80,000 per year.

Families will receive up to $20,000 a year until their child turns six. From that time until they are 18 it would be up to $5,000 a year.

 ‘We were expecting more’ 

MacLeod also reportedly told the Waterloo Region Record that Autism Ontario was among the organizations that support her plan, but the group released a statement saying that isn’t true.

« Autism Ontario neither proposed nor endorsed the announced changes to the (Ontario Autism Program) and is concerned about the impact these changes will have on children and families accessing the program, » it said in a statement.

The president-elect of the Ontario Association for Behaviour Analysis said when her group met with government officials ahead of the policy announcement, they were disappointed in the tone.

 « Our meeting with the minister’s staff and the minister was prescriptive in nature, basically letting us know the direction of the changes, » said Kendra Thomson. « We were expecting more of a collaborative consultation process, given the gravity of the file. »

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Autism group says minister warned of ‘long, hard four years’ if they didn’t support changes

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Behaviour analysts say children’s minister Lisa MacLeod and her staff threatened to make their lives miserable for the next four years if they didn’t endorse the government’s changes to autism services.

In a memo to members Wednesday, the board of the Ontario Association for Behavioural Analysts said “the minister and her staff requested that ONTABA provide a quote of support, without providing full details on the program, and indicated that failure to do so would result in “four long years’ for the organization.”

It went on to say that “the minister also indicated that if a quote of support was not forthcoming, a communication that behaviour analysts are ‘self-interested’ would be released from her office … In spite of the implied risk, the organization refused.”

One analyst who attended the meeting said it was more “akin to dealing with a mob boss than an elected official.”

The rift with ONTABA is part of an escalating division between the Ford government and some in the autism community in the wake of its overhaul to the system, which MacLeod has pledged will clear the massive wait list for services in two years.

Parents of children with autism are also feeling bruised by the government’s dismissal of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a grassroots Facebook group of parent advocates, as “professional protesters.”

A senior source in the community and social services ministry said staff had met with ONTABA four times — and had provided details of the coming changes, and was under the understanding a supportive quote was planned. However, the source said, different representatives attended the final meeting and the tone changed.

The government “had a number of productive and cordial meetings” with the therapists as well as others in the autism community, from parents to service providers, said the source.

The source did not recall MacLeod saying that should the group not provide public support, rocky relations would ensue.

“She certainly said that we are committed to this plan,” said the source.

Several service providers and hospitals provided endorsements of the plan.

Meanwhile, the government faced more opposition from Autism Ontario, which said despite ministry claims, the organization will not be managing intake or dispersing money to families over the next year while the province overhauls autism funding.

Autism Ontario said its statement is aimed at correcting a “number of misunderstandings or assumptions,” since the government announced age-based funding caps to clear a therapy wait list of 23,000 kids, the organization said.

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The organization came under fire from angry parents last week when MacLeod suggested Autism Ontario was playing an integral part in her government’s plan to shift control of provincial funding for autism services from regional agencies to parents.

In at least one media interview, MacLeod said Autism Ontario will be directly involved with the new funding regime.

Under the changes announced by MacLeod Feb. 6, children with autism up to age 6 will receive lifetime caps of up to $140,000 until age 18, while those over age 6 will get $55,000. Funding will be aimed at low- to moderate-income families with those earning more than $250,000 no longer eligible, she said.

But parents, whose noisy protests in 2016 convinced the previous Liberal government to reverse a similar age-based funding scheme, say the Progressive Conservative plan makes the same mistake. They say the new funding falls woefully short of meeting the needs of children with complex needs whose therapy may cost as much as $80,000 a year. And it may be too much for others. It will likely mean cuts to 8,400 children currently receiving help with no funding cap, they add.

In a statement, ministry officials confirmed Autism Ontario will not be directly involved with the wait list or the funding.

Autism Ontario has been supporting families and people with autism in Ontario for the past 46 years and has parent representatives across the province through 25 local chapters, said spokesperson Katharine Buchan. It supports and advocates on behalf of both children and adults with autism through workshops, training and individual support, she added.

Social media attacks against the organization’s staff and volunteers, many of whom are also parents with autistic children, have been difficult, she said.

One part-time Autism Ontario staffer in a local chapter, who is a mother of an autistic child, called police over what she felt were threatening Facebook posts from another mother, Buchan confirmed.

“The anger is justified, but I’m not sure it makes sense to be directing it at one another when we need to be working together ensure that all children’s needs are met,” she said.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the government should not be “labelling groups of parents who are doing their best for their children as professional protesters.

“It’s despicable. Shameful.” she added.

“They are using these tactics to try to besmirch these parents, parents who are very worried about their children,” she said in an interview

She called analysts’ claim they were pressured to endorse the autism overhaul “strong arming professionals in the autism field, trying to knuckle them down and prevent them from providing their professional opinion on the government’s changes.”

Kendra Thomson, the incoming president of ONTABA, said her organization was not provided with any details about how their profession would be regulated, and because they weren’t told what the government’s planned registry would look like, they could not publicly support it.

As for allegations ONTABA is a lobby group, she said it is a non-profit that represents a number of professionals and promotes evidence-based services.

She also said the group was not “meaningfully consulted” on the autism changes, and despite the discord, “if we were given the opportunity to provide meaningful conversation, that would surpass the tone and anything (communicated) to date.”

She said ONTABA’s representatives left that final meeting feeling very disappointed, though “the tone was consistent with previous meetings with myself and others.”

Louis Busch, a past-president of ONTABA who attended the final meeting with the minister and her staff, said he went as a “private citizen” and that it was a tense meeting from the outset, unlike any he has attended with the past five ministers to hold this portfolio.

Busch, a board-certified behaviour analyst who works with adults, said after pressing for details, they were told a regulatory college would not be announced, but a website would provide a list “which is not regulation.”

Busch noted that MacLeod said without public support from ONTABA, “it’s going to be a long, hard four years for you.”

“This was more akin to meeting with a mob boss than an elected official,” Busch said.

Meanwhile, at a Wednesday announcement on Ontario’s fiscal situation, Finance Minister Vic Fedeli said there will no additional funding for autism services beyond the $321 million announced last week.

“There were 23,000 families with children with autism who received no help whatsoever, so this plan is a fair, sustainable, and equitable plan,” said Fedeli, noting it has been well-received in his hometown of North Bay.

“We all don’t have the same services that are readily available in the south, so we’ve delivered on that. That’s why at home they’re very happy with this plan,” the treasurer said.

With files from Robert Benzie

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

Kristin Rushowy is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow her on Twitter: @krushowy

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Quebec education minister acts on promise to give children more recess – Montreal

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The Coalition Avenir Québec government is following through on an election promise guaranteed to win the hearts of the province’s schoolchildren: more recess.

Education Minister Jean-François Roberge announced today that starting next fall, schools will have to offer recess periods of at least 20 minutes each in the morning and afternoon.

READ MORE: Should Canadian schools have more recess breaks?

Roberge extolled the benefits of recess on children’s health, noting that there are currently no rules establishing how much play time students should receive.

A 2017 poll by a Quebec health coalition found that almost 40 per cent of Quebec schools offered less than 30 minutes of recess a day. One school out of five did not provide afternoon recess.

WATCH: Most Canadian teachers would welcome a way to get students to focus more in the classroom 






Roberge said schools will be permitted to extend recess beyond 20 minutes, even if it cuts into classroom time.

He said the policy will not result in additional costs, but he added that the government will soon approve spending to spruce up schoolyards.

READ MORE: Quebec’s Education Ministry says school surveys on religious symbols began months ago

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Former Canadian finance minister Michael Wilson dies at 81

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Former federal finance minister Michael Wilson died Sunday at the age of 81.

His death was confirmed by a statement from the University of Toronto, where Wilson served as Chancellor from 2012 to 2018.

Wilson served multiple cabinet positions under Prime Ministers Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark, which included Minister of International Trade, Minister of Industry, Science and Technology and Minister of Finance.

Under Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Wilson helped negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and introduced the federal goods and services tax (GST).


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He first entered politics in 1979 when he was elected MP for the newly created Etobicoke Centre riding.

Finance Minister Michael Wilson is pictured showing off his new shoes prior to the upcoming federal budget on Feb. 20, 1986 in Ottawa.

The Canadian Press

His life in politics first ended in 1993, but he was later appointed Canadian ambassador to the United States by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006, which he served until 2009.

Wilson had senior roles at UBS Canada, Royal Bank of Canada and most recently was the chairman of Barclays Capital Canada.

After his son Cameron died by suicide in 1995 at the age of 29, Wilson became an advocate for mental health issues — which included serving as the chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada for the past four years.

WATCH: Suicide rates in Nova Scotia continuing to rise: statistics show






Tributes to Wilson poured in after his death.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wilson’s work “will leave a lasting impact on our country” and “we’ve lost a truly great Canadian,” while former Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wilson “served Canada with exceptional skill and dedication” and “embodied the best of public service.”

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer said he is thankful for Wilsons’ “dedication to mental health advocacy.”

Toronto Mayor John Tory said he was “one of the most intelligent, decent people” he has ever met.

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Former finance minister Michael Wilson dead at 81

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Michael Wilson, a highly respected former politician, Canadian businessman and passionate mental health advocate, has died at the age of 81, according to several media reports.

In an emailed statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory said the former federal finance minister — who helped negotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement and ushered in the federal goods and services tax — was “one of the most intelligent, decent people I have ever met, inside or outside of politics and public life.”

At the time of his death, Michael Wilson was serving as chairman at Barclays Capital Canada. CEO Bruce Rothney confirmed Wilson’s death Sunday.
At the time of his death, Michael Wilson was serving as chairman at Barclays Capital Canada. CEO Bruce Rothney confirmed Wilson’s death Sunday.  (Richard Lautens / Toronto Star)

“He was a steady, capable MP, minister and ambassador and led in historic changes such as free trade and the GST which transformed Canada for the good,” Tory said. “But if it’s possible, he may have contributed even more in his life after politics when he became a pioneer in raising awareness of mental illness and for his incredible contributions to post-secondary education through the University of Toronto.

“Michael Wilson was a gentle, considerate giant in business, in public life, as a diplomat in Washington, and in our community,” he continued. “He will be sadly missed and on behalf of all of the people of the city of Toronto, I express sincere condolences to his wife, Margie, and the entire Wilson family.”

Michael Holcombe Wilson was born on Nov. 4, 1937, and raised in Toronto, where he attended Upper Canada College and the University of Toronto. He worked on Bay Street for two decades before diving into politics and being elected as Conservative MP for Etobicoke Centre in 1979.

At the time of his death, Wilson was serving as chairman at Barclays Capital Canada, a position he assumed in 2010. His death was confirmed to the Globe and Mail on Sunday by Bruce Rothney, chief executive officer of Barclays Capital Canada, who said that Wilson died after a battle with cancer.

Michael Wilson served as finance minister under prime minister Brian Mulroney, helping to bring in North American free trade and the goods and services tax.
Michael Wilson served as finance minister under prime minister Brian Mulroney, helping to bring in North American free trade and the goods and services tax.  (Boris Spremo / Toronto Star file photo)

Wilson previously served as Canada’s ambassador to the United States from 2006 to 2009 and as finance minister and industry minister under former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. He was also appointed chancellor of the University of Toronto in 2012 and served two terms before he was succeeded by Rose Patten.

Wilson was more recently recognized for his passionate advocacy for mental health, becoming chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2015. His son, Cameron, died by suicide in 1995 at the age of 29, a personal tragedy that Wilson touched upon in a recent Toronto Star opinion piece.

“Mental health has always been an area where I advocated, even before Cameron became ill,” he wrote in the November 2018 op-ed. “I used whatever influence I had to spark quiet conversations in the halls of Parliament and in my constituency office.

“For every life that ends in suicide, at least 25 people are forever changed,” he continued. “My life is one of them — and it has taken a winding path.”

Jennifer Yang is a Toronto-based reporter covering identity and inequality. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar

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Trudeau denies news report that his office pressed former justice minister to drop SNC-Lavalin charges

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OTTAWA— Prime Minister Justin Trudeau adamantly denied an explosive story Thursday that senior PMO officials pressed the former justice minister to seek mediation instead of pressing criminal charges against a high-profile Quebec engineering company, SNC-Lavalin.

“The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday. “Neither the current nor the previous attorney-general was directed by me or anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter.”

But the statements are unlikely to quell the uproar that broke after the Globe and Mail reported Thursday that Jody Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the job after she refused requests to direct the independent public prosecution office to negotiate a remediation agreement which would have resulted in the firm avoiding criminal liability for actions it said were taken by individual employees.

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Speaking outside the House of Commons, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer rejected Trudeau’s denial as “words written by a lawyer.” He said the report brings up questions about whether officials in Trudeau’s office, and even potentially the prime minister himself, tried to influence Wilson-Raybould over the SNC-Lavelin prosecution.

“The allegations that are in the media today raise the idea that Jody Wilson-Raybould lost her job for refusing to bow to pressure from the prime minister’s office,” Scheer said, accusing the prime minister in French of “hiding something.”

“It’s up to the prime minister to come clean on this,” he said.

During his press conference earlier Thursday, Trudeau said three times in English and twice in French that no one in his PMO directed Wilson-Raybould, or her replacement David Lametti, a Quebec MP, to take “any decision whatsoever” in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution.

Asked what efforts were made to influence her decision, Trudeau said: “At no time did I or my office direct the current or previous attorney general to make any particular decision in this matter.”

Trudeau side-stepped a direct answer to another question about the the nature of discussions between his office and Wilson-Raybold, saying, “We have a tremendous positive working relationship with all members of our cabinet.”

Asked how Canadians can believe the Liberal government’s claims of never politicizing the judicial system — which it has repeated in the Meng Wanzhou extradition case and to questions about the trial of vice-admiral Mark Norman who is charged with leaking cabinet secrets — Trudeau insisted that “we have been consistent that Canada is a country of rule of law that respects the independent judiciary and always will.”

“It’s something we have stood up for on the international stage, it’s also something we ensure on the domestic stage.”

According to the report, SNC-Lavalin sought to avoid criminal fraud and corruption charges based on allegations it paid millions in bribes to win government business in Libya between 2001 and 2011.

Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould declined comment through a spokesman after the story broke Thursday.

The engineering company claims the executives responsible have left the company and it has since overhauled its ethics and compliance rules. This past week, the company’s former CEO Pierre Duhaime was sentenced to house arrest over a separate bribery scandal tied to the construction of a Montreal hospital. Former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime pleaded guilty and will serve 20 months of house arrest.

The Liberal government changed the law last year to what allow “deferred prosecution agreements” and allow remediation agreements to be reached.

In June, Conservative MP Dan Albas slammed it saying the change “gives, effectively, large corporations a ‘get out of jail’card” for offences such as money-laundering.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau defended the move as a way to protect jobs and the economy, and noted that it is similar to the approach taken by the United States and the United Kingdom.

“We recognize that when organizations are found to be offside with the laws, they should be held to account, and they should be held to account for their actions in a way that ensures we protect Canadians,” Morneau said.

He said the revised approach was a “prudent way to ensure that we have companies pay the price for any wrongdoing in a way that allows us to ensure that our economy continues to be successful and that the people who are legitimately responsible for the bad behaviour pay a price, as opposed to people who aren’t, such as people who are unwittingly employed by firms that have had that bad behaviour.”

Liberal MP Mark Miller, whose riding encompasses the Quebec engineering and construction giant’s headquarters, defended the PMO officials as well as the former justice minister on Thursday after the story broke. “I’m confident that the Prime Minister’s office at all times acted legally and ethically,” he said, adding it was never discussed in Quebec caucus.

Miller also called Wilson-Raybould “one of the most principled and ethical people I’ve met in the last three years.”

When Trudeau gathered with his cabinet ministers for a retreat in Sherbrooke, Que., last month, he sidestepped questions about why Wilson-Raybould was removed as justice minister.

“Jody Wilson-Raybould has been a hard-working minister and has been a great person. We have given her a very important job that I know she is going to do well,” Trudeau said.

Asked specifically whether she was moved for “speaking truth to power” too often, Trudeau would only say, “we have a great team of very strong ministers who have stepped up time and time again to serve this country.”

That’s the very language Wilson-Raybould used in a lengthy letter penned after the shuffle that laid out her achievements as justice minister.

In that letter, she said the role of attorney general “demands a measure of principled independence.

“It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence,” she wrote.

“As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role,” she said.

Tonda MacCharles is an Ottawa-based reporter covering federal politics. Follow her on Twitter: @tondamacc

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

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

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Trudeau denies pressuring justice minister to intervene on SNC-Lavalin

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he and members of his staff never pressured former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of construction giant SNC-Lavalin on charges of fraud and corruption.

« The allegations in the Globe story this morning are false, » Trudeau told reporters during a news conference Thursday morning.

« Neither the current nor the previous attorney general was ever directed by me or by anyone in my office to take a decision in this matter. »

The comments come after the Globe and Mail reported Thursday that Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of her portfolio after she refused to ask federal prosecutors to make a plea bargain deal with Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin. The newspaper, citing anonymous sources, said Trudeau’s office tried to press Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC Lavalin.

CBC News has not independently verified the allegations.

Wilson-Raybould refused Thursday to comment on the Globe’s story — to either confirm or deny it.

Wilson-Raybould is refusing to comment on reports that the Prime Minister’s Office pressed her to intervene in the case against SNC-Lavalin. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

SNC-Lavalin is before a court in Montreal, charged with fraud and corruption in connection with payments of nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi’s government and allegations it defrauded Libyan organizations of an estimated $130 million.

Company spokesperson Nicolas Ryan said the company is contesting the case and has pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, the company could be blocked from competing for federal government contracts for a decade.

In 2013, SNC-Lavalin was debarred from competing on any project financed by the World Bank for 10 years following an investigation into allegations of bribery schemes involving the company and officials in Bangladesh.

On Friday, former SNC-Lavalin CEO Pierre Duhaime pleaded guilty to helping a public servant commit breach of trust in a deal that resulted in 20 months of house arrest, 240 hours of community service and a $200,000 donation to a fund for victims of crime.

In late November, the company’s former vice-president Normand Morin pleaded guilty to charges of violating Canada’s election financing rules through an elaborate scheme that sent more than $117,000 to the federal Liberal and Conservative parties and to individual candidates.

The company has maintained that the charges resulted from the actions of former executives, and it is under new management. It says it has cleaned up its act.

Elizabeth Thompson can be reached at elizabeth.thompson@cbc.ca

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Ontario education minister warned of ‘impacts’ of sex-ed rollback, human rights tribunal told

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Senior ministry staff warned the education minister that rolling back the sex-ed curriculum could be perceived as “outdated” and “not serving the needs of today’s students,” an Ontario human rights tribunal heard Thursday.

That’s according to a document introduced as part of a human rights challenge launched by an 11-year-old transgender child who contends the province’s repeal of the 2015 Health and Physical Education (HPE) curriculum discriminates against LGBTQ students.

A memo from senior ministry staff to Education Minister Lisa Thompson flagged concerns about rolling back the sex-ed curriculum because it would mean the exclusion of such topics as consent and sexting, among other things, a human rights tribunal was told Thursday.
A memo from senior ministry staff to Education Minister Lisa Thompson flagged concerns about rolling back the sex-ed curriculum because it would mean the exclusion of such topics as consent and sexting, among other things, a human rights tribunal was told Thursday.  (Andrew Francis Wallace / Toronto Star File Photo)

In a memo to Education Minister Lisa Thompson, dated July 25, 2018, assistant deputy ministers Martyn Beckett and Denys Giguère wrote about the “impacts” of quashing the 2015 HPE curriculum for elementary students, and replacing it with an interim one that included sex-ed material from 1998.

“There would be no mandatory learning of the following topics: consent, sexting, homophobia, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression,” wrote Beckett and Giguère.

They also pointed out that such a move “could be perceived by the public as outdated and not serving the needs of today’s students.” And, they noted, “some school boards have voiced their concern with utilizing sexual-health expectations from 1998.”

Nonetheless, in late August, Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government moved ahead with an election promise and repealed the modernized HPE curriculum, which some social conservatives felt was not age appropriate. It was replaced with an interim document from 2010, which includes sex-ed material from 1998.

Read more:

Consent big concern during sex-ed consultations, Minister Lisa Thompson says

Sex-ed curriculum ‘doesn’t talk about consent enough,’ Education Minister Lisa Thompson says

Transgender girl says sex-ed repeal made her nervous about returning to school

The government also launched an extensive public consultation process on a range of education issues and received about 72,000 submissions between September and December.

Beckett, who testified Thursday, said he and Giguère “wanted to be clear and transparent” with the minister about how the curriculum change would impact mandatory teaching expectations.

But, he added that just because topics are no longer deemed mandatory doesn’t mean teachers can’t teach them. He said “teachers have the ability to use their professional judgment … in how they wish to develop their lesson” and are free to teach about issues, such as gender identity, stereotypes and LGBTQ issues.

Teachers have a responsibility to ensure that all students feel “welcomed, included and celebrated,” he told the tribunal.

When asked why the province did not keep the 2015 curriculum in place while undertaking its consultation process, Beckett said the government was committed to giving Ontarians a voice.

The applicant in this human rights case is an 11-year-old identified only as AB. Last week, AB testified that the government’s rollback of the curriculum puts trans youth in the shadows.

Students at Western Technical Commercial School joined a province-wide protest against the Ford government's rollback of the sex-ed curriculum in September.
Students at Western Technical Commercial School joined a province-wide protest against the Ford government’s rollback of the sex-ed curriculum in September.  (Steve Russell / Toronto Star File Photo)

AB’s lawyers Mika Imai and Marcus McCann argue that revoking an LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum and replacing it with a noninclusive one violates the human rights of LGBTQ students.

“We think this puts trans and queer youth at risk of being bullied and being harassed,” Imai told the Star, during a break in proceedings.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission has intervened seeking to protect the rights of girls and LGBTQ+ students, which it says are among the province’s most vulnerable and at-risk people. It also believes the interim curriculum does not properly address consent, putting students at greater risk of sexual violence.

The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and Justice for Children and Youth are intervenors in this case.

Lawyers for the government argue teachers have substantial discretion when it comes to delivering the interim curriculum and are allowed to use any resource they choose to help them design their lesson plans. Beckett said teachers can still use the 2015 curriculum as a resource — that document, however, is no longer available on the ministry website.

“Teachers are required to teach in an inclusive way,” said Beckett. “Teachers are to be mindful and inclusive of children in the community and in the province of Ontario.”

Although curriculum development typically takes about two years, Beckett said the province is committed to delivering a new HPE curriculum by September.

The matter is being adjudicated by Jennifer Scott and Brenda Bowlby.

Proceedings will resume Friday and closing arguments are scheduled for next week

The province is also facing a separate human rights challenge launched by two transgender teens, and legal challenges by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.

Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74

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