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web posted April 2, 2001

British Columbia government wants abortion violence considered hate crime

Violence against doctors who provide abortions should be considered a hate crime and should result in longer jail sentences, says British Columbia's New Democrat government. Urging the federal government to make such a change in the Criminal Code is among several recommendations to be brought to the legislature last week by deputy premier Joy MacPhail.

The NDP also supports increased fees for abortion services, additional funding for security at the homes and offices of abortion providers and more money for training doctors and nurses to provide abortions.

The order calls for enhanced access to emergency contraceptives, improving access to safer, less invasive abortions and research dollars to investigate the controversial abortion pill RU486.

MacPhail said the government is committed to tabling the legislation this session if the proposals are passed in the legislature.

The NDP, trailing badly in polls, is expected to lose an election that must be called by June. Speculation puts the election call within the next week or two.

The governing party has shown a renewed commitment to social issues, including abortion rights, and critics have suggested the NDP are using the hot-button abortion issue in an effort to divide the Opposition.

But MacPhail disputed that.

"This is an increase in commitment to an issue that we've be solidly providing for for years," MacPhail said Monday.

There has been a 23 per cent decline in the number of doctors performing abortions in British Columbia in the past couple of decades, the deputy premier said, despite the fact the province has taken so many actions to protect abortion rights.

British Columbia is the only province that has provincial legislation preventing anti-abortion protests in a "bubble-zone" around clinics.

Premier Ujjal Dosanjh has accused the Liberals of harbouring anti-abortionists and warned abortion services would be scaled back under a Liberal government.

The controversy failed to ignite in the legislature. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell has said his MLA's will support continued access to abortion.

Mary Ellen Douglas, a national organizer for the Campaign Life Coalition, called the proposals "extremely radical."

The province's premier is using his office to promote a pro-abortion agenda, she said.

"This is certainly the act of a very desperate man but I think he's backing the wrong horse," Douglas said from her home in Kingston, Ont.

Pro-choice supporters are supportive, if a little sceptical, of British Columbia's proposals.

"We have to wait for an election or we have to wait for some tragedy to happen before Canadians are sort of whipped out of their complacency," said Marilyn Wilson of the Canadian Abortion Rights Action League.

Abortion also became an issue in the November federal election.

"People look on it as a political issue. It shouldn't be that way, it should be considered a health issue, but unfortunately it's been fought through the courts and the political arenas."

The Canadian Abortion Rights Action League has been calling for abortion providers to be included in hate crime legislation since Dr. Garson Romalis was shot through his kitchen window in Vancouver in 1994.

Last July Romalis was stabbed in the medical building where his office is located.

In 1995, Dr. Hugh Short was shot at his Ancaster, Ont., home.

Dr. Jack Fainman, of Winnipeg, was shot in 1997 and an unnamed doctor near Rochester N.Y., was targeted the same year.

Dr. Barnett Slepian was killed by a sniper's bullet in Buffalo, N.Y., in October 1998.

Police are searching for James Kopp, an American man charged with Slepian's murder and the attempted murder or Short.

The federal NDP has also supported harsher penalties for crimes against doctors that perform abortions.

Canadian Medicare's founders planned user fees

Canada's health care system was never intended to be free to all users, according to a Senate study released last week.

Patient payments were part of the original Liberal design, said Michael Kirby, Liberal Senator and chairman of a Senate committee that has been holding hearings into the state of health care and options for reform.

"There are a lot of myths about the system out there that have grown up over the years. One of the sections of this report attempts to lay out those sorts of issues," Kirby said in an interview. He said the "single most startling" testimony to emerge from the hearings was that the founders of medicare originally expected patients to bear a portion of their costs.

"It is certainly a misconception to say that from the very beginning the whole intention of people who were developing the system was that nobody would pay anything for any service," he said.

"My biggest surprise was that discovery. Because I'd always assumed that the original program that the Liberal party had put forward back in the 1960s had been free to everybody, only to discover that was not the case," he said.

Over the past year, the committee heard testimony from numerous health care experts, historians and policy-makers.

Kirby said he was most struck by evidence given by former public servant Tom Kent, whom he calls "one of the fathers of medicare." Kent was the principal policy advisor to Lester Pearson when he introduced the national medicare system in 1966.

Kent testified that under the original plan endorsed by the Liberal party in 1961, the cost of medical treatment would be included in a patient's taxable income -- so that patients would return to the government a portion of their health care costs depending on their tax bracket.

"When the Liberal rally, in 1961, so firmly committed the Liberal party to health care, it was with a provision," Kent told the committee according to transcripts.

"The value of the services that you obtained from public health insurance would become a part of your statement for income tax purposes, within limits and so on, so that it would never be overwhelming in any one year for an individual or a family, and it would mean that people who paid little or no tax would pay nothing for their health care, but people who had relatively large incomes, had a significant tax, would pay something," he testified.

"That is probably the single most startling thing," Kirby said of Kent's testimony.

"If that idea was put forward today, one would say my goodness, you'd assume that came from somewhere out in the right wing.

"The reality is ... that was apparently the program that was proposed originally and passed by the Liberal party convention."

The revelation should swing open the debate over health care reform, Kirby said, even though the cost-sharing plan was later abandoned by Pearson's Cabinet.

"It certainly affects the range of options," Kirby said.

"It means that's an option that one ought to put on the table and that option can't be described as a radical right-wing option," he said.

"Over time, a number of options have been ruled out because people believe they were [not] there from the very beginning. And I point out to you that the original situation was quite a bit different."

It is the first of four planned reports of the Senate's standing committee on social affairs, science and technology. It will describe the origins and evolution of the health care system.

A second report due in coming months will examine mounting cost pressures on the system.

A third report will compare Canadian health care with similar systems in other countries. In the autumn, the committee will lay out options for reform.

Kirby said the committee has not ruled out proposing patient payment for services.

"Certainly the issue of whether people should pay for anything and if so, what, will be an issue that we will raise along with some options that we will raise in the fall.

"We are not taking a position on that now," he said.

EPA chief Whitman: Kyoto treaty is dead

The Bush administration has no plans to implement the climate treaty negotiated in Kyoto, Japan, because it's clear Congress won't ratify it anyway, the chief of the Environmental Protection Agency said March 27.

"We have no interest in implementing that treaty," EPA Administrator Christie Whitman told reporters, although she said the president continues to believe that global warming is an issue of concern.

She said the administration will remain "engaged" in international negotiations on ways to address climate change. But it was unclear what position the administration intends to take to the next United Nations meeting on the Kyoto accords, scheduled for this summer.

Whitman repeatedly noted that the Senate voted 95-0 against the United States taking any action on climate change unless developing countries also take some measures to reduce heat-trapping "greehouse" gases, which are mainly carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.

The Kyoto agreement calls for industrial nations to reduce emissions -- at least for the time being. The United States would be required to cut emissions about a third by 2012.

Bush on a number of occasions has expressed his opposition to the Kyoto accord, which the Clinton administration had viewed as essential to dealing with the risks of climate change.

Whitman noted that no other industrial country has ratified the agreement. "We are not the only ones who have problems with it," Whitman said.

Four weeks ago, Whitman in a memo urged Bush to continue to recognize global warming as a serious concern, arguing that to back away from the issue would be damaging both domestically and internationally.

"Mr. President, this is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community. It is also an issue that is resonating here at home," she wrote in the March 6 memo. "We need to appear engaged."

The memo came a week before Bush announced he would not endorse legislation regulating carbon dioxide, reversing a position he had taken during his presidential campaign.

No penalty for keeping girl out of school

A Cambridge, Ontario couple who have been home-schooling their 15-year-old daughter for over a year were convicted March 27 of failing to send her to school.

Justice of the peace Walter Rojek suspended sentence, saying no penalty was necessary. Rojek acknowledged the right of Karl and Janice Kavanagh to educate their daughter at home. He agreed the Education Act excuses a child from school if he or she is receiving "satisfactory instruction" at home.

But, in this case, the parents couldn't prove the education they were providing was satisfactory, Rojek said.

He acquitted their daughter, Heather Kavanagh, of truancy, however, saying she was led by her parents to believe what she did was legal.

Saying he was unqualified to assess them himself, Rojek arranged for Karl Kavanagh to let Gary Leduc, superintendant at the school board, review the home-schooling materials.

If the materials prove satisfactory, the Kavanaghs can continue their home-schooling.

The Waterloo Catholic District School Board charged the Kavanaghs after they pulled their daughter from St. Benedict's High School in Cambridge in November, 1999, while she was in Grade 9.

She'd been having constant stomach aches and vomiting from stress.

"I was getting suspended all the time," Heather Kavanagh testified. "I was always sick. Every day I went to school, I puked."

Court heard of a history of problems she had with teachers, beginning in elementary school where she felt a teacher called her anorexic and pale-looking.

The teacher, Lori Johnson, said she would never have used such a word, and that she was just concerned about the teen's health.

"Heather had an apathetic, negative attitude at school," she said. "She'd turn her back to me. She took great offence to correction."

The teen agreed she sometimes swore at teachers. She switched to an alternative program called Bridges, for children with behavioural and emotional problems, or those at risk of not graduating for other reasons.

But she felt she didn't belong there, and found some of the other children were rough, had criminal backgrounds and were taking drugs, she said. Trouble continued at the next elementary school and into high school where she felt she'd been labelled as a "Bridges kid," and was treated unfairly by teachers.

Her father, after doing over a month of research on home-schooling, finally decided to pull her out, and teach her himself.

Kavanagh said in an interview that he has spent close to $7,000 on educational materials and legal fees on this case because he believes his daughter cannot learn properly in a school environment, and he wants to preserve her health.

The school board's lawyer, Merv Villemaire, said the case wouldn't have come to court at all if the Kavanaghs had simply let someone in to review their materials.

"We're not trying to persecute this kid," he said in an interview. "We want Heather to succeed in life. We want to be able to say, 'You've got the same chance as everyone else."'

Army says unit not prepared for battle

One of the Army's 10 active divisions has been downgraded to the second-lowest level of battle readiness due to a lack of training and personnel, The New York Times reported March 29.

Citing unidentified Pentagon officials, the newspaper said the 3rd Infantry Division, based out of Fort Stewart, Ga., was downgraded because thousands of its soldiers have missed battle-readiness training while stationed overseas. Nearly 4,000 troops from the division have been serving as peacekeepers in Bosnia since October.

Maj. Gen. Walter Sharp, who commanded the 3rd Infantry Division, downgraded the division's readiness rating to C-3. That means the division would need to prepare for weeks, if not months, if it was called up for wartime duty.

The Pentagon officials said the downgrading does not indicate the military is seriously impaired. But the move is likely to add to the debate in Congress over the deployment of military troops overseas.

Many members of Congress have called for less involvement of U.S. troops in peacekeeping missions. They say the missions are too costly and demoralizing for troops.

Congressional officials declined to comment to the Times on the downgrading of the 3rd Division.

Alberta may ignore restrictive gun laws

Albertans could vote this fall on ignoring the Canadian federal government's gun registry.

"It's a possibility and that's as far as I will go," said Premier Ralph Klein.

Delegates to a convention of rural politicians have voted to ask the province to stick the provocative proposal on a ballot this October, when all Albertans go to the polls to elect their municipal officials.

"Don't run it up like it's going to happen," said a cautious Klein, explaining a government committee would first weigh the request from the Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties.

"Is it a serious proposal? Yes. Our party has a very very strong rural base and many of our MLAs have some strong opinions on the registration legislation," he said.

Both Klein and Justice Minister David Hancock said there are limits to what even a majority vote could achieve

"Alberta's on record as opposing, generally, registration," said Klein. "Not gun control. We support gun control and keeping guns out of the hands of criminals."

Liberal senator blasts own party over racism

Liberal senator Anne Cools has joined the chorus criticizing Hedy Fry, saying the junior minister for multiculturalism has damaged the fight against intolerance and should fully explain her actions.

But Cools, the first black woman to sit in the Upper Chamber, also says her party has a "sanctimonious" attitude toward racism in Canada, and should look in its own ranks to see intolerance.

Fry has refused to explain how she mistakenly asserted two weeks ago in the House of Commons that crosses were being burned on lawns in Prince George, B.C.

"The problem with Dr. Fry's statements is that they (cause) a reflex action into a stereotype that all westerners are rednecks," Cools said in an interview on March 29.

"I think that stereotype causes a lot of westerners distress."

Cools made waves herself in early March when she told fellow senators she had faced racism from within her own ranks.

She said she suffered as a young woman in the 1970s, dealing with Liberals who didn't think she was fit for the job as she tried for the party's nomination in the wealthy Toronto riding of Rosedale.

Cools said Thursday that logically, there is the same proportion of racists within Liberal ranks as in Canadian society, and the same can be said for other parties.

"You have a lot of constant Liberal mutterings about how sanctimonious Liberals are and how pious Liberals are on these questions," she said, "and I've always adopted the view that Liberals should look in their own backyard as well."

Canadian Alliance members and others have bristled at suggestions from Liberal ranks that their party attracts racists, or that their policies are intolerant. They say they're fed up with the Liberals acting like they have cornered the market on tolerance.

The controversy surrounding Fry continued to smoulder the day of Cools' interview. Alliance MP Deborah Grey pointed to an incident in Montreal last year, when radical feminists allegedly desecrated a cathedral and burned crosses on its front steps.

She attacked Fry, secretary of state for multiculturalism and the status of women, for not denouncing the incident at the time.

"Why did not the junior minister speak up about that real hate crime, not the invented one that she has been doing recently?" said Grey.

Fry caused an uproar of laughter and shouting in the Commons when she responded: "I will not make a comment on something that I know nothing about."

Meantime, Fry apologized in writing for suggesting four years ago that there were cross-burnings in Kamloops, B.C.

"I am sorry that my remarks in a major daily newspaper in 1997 caused distress to you and the people of Kamloops," Fry said in the letter to Mayor Mel Rothenburger.

"It was certainly not my intent."

Rothenburger said he appreciates the apology.

"Obviously it was of considerable concern that Kamloops should be associated with cross-burning in any way and as everyone knows there was nothing to substantiate it," he said.

"I accept the minister's apology and, as far as I'm concerned, this puts an end to the issue."

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