The Senate passed the Liberals’ childsupport legislation after the government agreed to amendments. Conservative senators had been holding up passage on the grounds that the controversial bill was too harsh. Among the measures is a provision allowing for the suspension of passports belonging to parents who renege on their child-support payments. The bill also lessens the courts’ discretion in determining child-support payments.
BLOOD ON THE ICE
A furor erupted over a gruesome video made by the International Fund for Animal Welfare. The tape shows East Coast sealers with hooks hauling live seals from the water and seals writhing on the ice after being shot. The IFAW claimed its tape depicts 144 violations of federal regulations. Federal Fisheries Minister Fred Mifflin said Ottawa will review the video, but added dismissively that it was part of the IFAW’s “annual crusade” to discredit the seal hunt.
A GUILTY VERDICT
Kumaravelu Vignarajah, alleged to be both a member of the terrorist Tamil Tigers and an agent of Sri Lankan military intelligence, was found guilty of breach of trust and theft. Vignarajah, who worked as a translator for the Mounties, was accused of stealing an RCMP tape recorder, wiretap tapes and transcripts. He was sentenced to nine months and four days—the time he has already spent in jail since his May, 1996, arrest—and released. The Vignarajah case and the issue of Tamil terrorists in Canada was the subject of a Maclean’s special report last summer.
Nova Scotia Premier John Savage came under fire after it was revealed that his government will allow mining exploration in a 4,200-hectare bog in Cape Breton. A year ago, Savage pledged to protect the site. Now, the wilderness area is at the centre of a $1.5-million deal involving companies in which former provincial Tory cabinet minister and Ottawa lobbyist Gerald Doucet and his brother Fred, who was an aide to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, have interests. Savage and the Doucet brothers said they never discussed the mining project.
Somalia boils over
Tempers flared as the uproar over Defence Minister Doug Young’s decision not to extend the March 31 deadline for the Somalia inquiry continued. In the House of Commons, after Reform MP Chuck Strahl accused the government of obstructing justice, Young lashed out. “I would like to see him come outside and accuse me of obstructing justice,” he declared. Another exchange took place in the Commons lobby between
Liberal caucus chairman Joe Fontana and Reformer Jim Gouk. The reason: a news conference held by the inquiry’s commissioners during which they accused the government of political interference. “I won’t be the instrument of a whitewash,” commission chairman Gilles Létourneau declared. “We were cut short as we were going up the ladder.” Létourneau also reiterated the commission’s stand that the inquiry will not be able to hear testimony from Defence officials about Ottawa’s immediate response to the March 16, 1993 beating and torture death of 16-year-old Shidane Arone. Former prime minister Kim Campbell, Tory defence minister at the time, has been vocal in her demands to testify, claiming senior officials tried to keep her from investigating the murder. According to published reports last week, the government is attempting to muzzle Campbell by threatening to fire her as Canadian consul-general in Los Angeles. And at week’s end, Young was forced to apologize for telling the Commons that the shooting of a second Somali civilian, Ahmed Heraho Aruush, was also a murder—a conclusion the Somali inquiry has not yet reached.
Truth and lies
The inquiry into Guy Paul Morin’s wrongful conviction for the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop began with the testimony of Robert Dean May, an ex-convict diagnosed as a pathological liar. May, who shared a cell with Morin in 1985, said he stands by his claim that he heard Morin confess to the 1984 sex slaying of Jessop. But he did back off slightly. “I can’t be sure what I heard any more,” he said. “But I believe it is what I heard.”
Morin, a neighbor of Jessop’s in QueensviIle, Ont., was arrested for her murder in April, 1985. He was acquitted in 1986 and later convicted after the Crown appealed. May and a man known only as Mr. X testified at both trials. Morin was exonerated by a DNA test in 1995. Last week, Mr. X, who has a history of pedophilia, also testified that he heard Morin confess. “I’m disappointed,” Morin said. “We haven’t heard the truth yet.”
Paying for the boomers
Blame it on the baby boomers. Last week, Finance Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada Pension Plan contributions will increase to 9.9 per cent of pensionable earnings. Beginning this year, the rate will rise gradually over the next six years, from the current level of 5.85 per cent. Employees paying the maximum now will see their total annual premiums increase to $1,635, from this year’s peak of $945. The government decided to overhaul the plan after an actuarial report found that current contributions are only adequate to fund the CPP for 20 more years. By acting now, the Liberals say, contributions can be capped at about 10 per cent. Martin said anyone over age 65 by Dec. 31, 1997, and those now receiving disability or survivors benefits, will not be affected. All benefits remain fully indexed to inflation. Ottawa and eight provinces agreed to the pension overhaul, but NDP governments in Saskatchewan and British Columbia withheld their endorsement, saying the changes are not fair to lower-income and disabled Canadians. “If you’re 65 and over, you’re protected,” said B.C. Premier Glen Clark. “But it means that in the future there’ll be a gradual reduction in benefits and an increase in costs.” The changes will have a major impact on millions of Canadians who pay into the CPP, which now has 3.5 million beneficiaries.
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