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Canada's government secretative, says report. Yes, we're shocked as well

The federal government is keeping more secrets than it did five years ago, a study financed by the Canadian Newspaper Association has found.

Federal departments and agencies are taking longer to process Access to Information requests, according to the Queen's University study released on April 21.

Bureaucrats are also using exemptions in the law more often to deny information and in some cases departments are completing fewer requests than they were in 1993-94.

The federal Information Commissioner is upholding complaints about the way bureaucrats are interpreting the legislation, said Alasdair Roberts, the Queen's professor who conducted the research.

"The government-wide trends are discouraging," Roberts told a news conference.

"Citizens should not have to depend on government goodwill to have their statutory right of access respected," he said in his paper.

The survey highlights worrisome trends in the Liberal government's commitment to openness, said Russell Mills, a director of the newspaper association and publisher of the Ottawa Citizen. The association is urging the government to review and amend the legislation.

"Canadians have a right to know how their tax dollars are being spent and to understand the rationale for decisions that affect their livelihood and their security," Mills said.

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien could send a message throughout government about the need for more disclosure by publicly affirming his commitment to the Access to Information law, Roberts said.

Among the departments with the most troubling track records on Access requests in 1997-98:

  • Indian and Northern Affairs is 44 per cent slower in completing access requests within the 60 days the law requires than it was in 1993-94. Revenue Canada, Canadian Heritage, Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Justice and Treasury Board have also declined in their performances.
  • The Privy Council office is granting the total amount of information asked for in a request 40 per cent less often than it was five years ago. Full disclosure has also declined in requests granted by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Fisheries and Oceans and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, as well as other departments.
  • The Information Commission has upheld 28 per cent of the complaints it received about National Defence's unwillingness to grant information. The Immigration and Refugee Board, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, Correctional Service Canada and the Privy Council Office also had significant rates of complaints against them upheld.
  • Revenue Canada completed 61 per cent fewer requests for information last year than it did four years ago. The Immigration and Refugee Board, Human Resources Development Canada, Public Works and Government Services and Canadian Heritage also completed fewer access requests.

Information Commissioner John Reid, a former Liberal cabinet minister, should also publish a list of the most grievous offenders and rate departments, Roberts recommended.

Canadian chiefs of police want simple possession of pot decriminalized

Chiefs of police want Ottawa to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana but they're maintaining their stand against legalization of the weed or any other narcotics.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has adopted a policy that supports decriminalizing simple possession of only marijuana and its derivatives and hopes to persuade the federal government to write that into the law.

The chiefs are motivated by statistics indicating year after year that about half of marijuana charges processed every year stem from simple possession, said Chief Barry King of Brockville, Ont.

"We're saying the vast majority of those could be expedited," said King, who heads the organization's drug abuse committee.

"Spend some of that time and redirect some of our resources where they should be: on the ones that are traffickers, on the ones that are enterprise criminals and organized crime."

Justice Minister Anne McLellan said she would review the policy and discuss it with the chiefs at their annual meeting scheduled for August.

Chiefs are "a very influential voice. . . . I take very seriously their resolutions, I will take this one very seriously. I will be reviewing it very carefully," she said on April 21.

Their policy emphasizes that chiefs still oppose "any type of legalization of any and all current illicit drugs in Canada, including the possession of small amounts of marijuana or other cannabis derivatives."

It also stresses the policy on decriminalization applies only to small amounts of marijuana and no other narcotics.

The chiefs would support decriminalization as they define it only if the government also introduced prevention and education programs, counselling and treatment for users and addicts, and diversion programs such as drug courts or community sentencing.

Currently, possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is a summary conviction offence which doesn't yield a criminal record.

Even the good can go bad. Ontario to sue U.S. tobacco industry

The Ontario government wants to take the United States tobacco industry to court in a bid to recover as much as $40 billion US, Health Minister Elizabeth Witmer announced April 23.

Ontario has obtained legal counsel in the U.S. as part of its plan to be the first Canadian jurisdiction to sue the industry for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act.

A claim under the act is based on the law's distinct definition of a criminal conspiracy, defined by the act as a pattern of wrongdoing which results in injury, the Health Ministry said.

"Ontario is taking a leadership role as the first Canadian jurisdiction to retain U.S. counsel with the intent to seek damages," Witmer told a news conference.

Revenues from a successful U.S. court action would be applied to the cost of health care to treat smoking-related illness, she added.

American state governments have already launched legal proceedings against the tobacco industry, with 46 states settling last year for $206 billion US payable over 25 years.

The remaining four states reached settlements ranging from $4 billion US to $15 billion US.

If successful, the province could recover as much as $40 billion US, the ministry says. Money would also be allocated for public awareness and education programs about the risks of tobacco use.

Ontario isn't the first province to sue big tobacco companies.

British Columbia -- the provincial leader in taking on the cigarette makers -- introducing legislation last year to make it easier for government to recover health care costs from tobacco companies.

The province has also filed a lawsuit in a bid to recover health-care costs.

Clinton promises bills in response to school attack

U.S. President Bill Clinton is asking Congress for money and gun-control legislation to help American communities deal with or prevent crises such as the Colorado high school attack that killed 14 students and a teacher.

Among requests Clinton outlined in his weekly radio address on April 24 was for $12 million for emergency teams "to help communities respond when tragedy strikes."

Gun-control legislation the president is requesting would focus on keeping guns out of the hands of juveniles and providing money to help schools hire counselors and mentors and buy metal detectors.

"The government must take responsibility," Clinton said in the address. "We must do more to prevent violence in our schools."

Clinton said his Safe Schools Bill would crack down on gun shows and illegal gun trafficking, prohibit "violent juveniles" from being able to buy guns and close "the loophole that lets juveniles own assault rifles."

"We must do more to keep guns out of the hands of violent juveniles," Clinton said. "We must do more to prevent violence in our schools."

The bill would provide money to school systems to help prevent a repeat of the violence in Littleton, Colorado, in addition to the $12 million to finance emergency teams.

Making hay out of tragedy. I'm shocked that Clinton would resort to that kind of low.

Forbes urges conservatives to turn public opinion against abortion

Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes, who was pro-choice until little birdies whispered in his ears to do otherwise, urged conservative activists on April 24 to lay the groundwork for banning abortions by turning public opinion against the procedure.

Forbes favors a constitutional "human life" amendment to outlaw abortions. But he acknowledged in a speech that "many people do not yet agree with our ultimate goal -- a life amendment."

"And while there will be times of disappointment, if you're not out there working on it, how do you make it happen? How do you turn people's minds?" he asked more than 250 members of the California Republican Assembly.

Forbes was the second of five GOP White House hopefuls to address the conservative CRA, which will endorse a candidate in November and by doing so mobilize thousands of its activists.

Like Pat Buchanan before him, Forbes delivered an address that struck one conservative chord after another.

He denounced the Internal Revenue Service, urged a return to the moral values of an earlier era, called for choice in schools and health care providers and promised to expand the military.

Also speaking to the group were anti-abortion activist Gary Bauer, while candidates Alan Keyes and Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire spoke to the group the next day.

While Forbes called for a "step-by-step" elimination of abortion, Bauer bemoaned such "incrementalism" and made clear that outlawing abortion would be his top priority.

"We've been sentenced to nothing but incrementalism," he said at a press conference.

"But I'm certainly going to remind all of my rivals for the nomination that the next president doesn't have to talk about incrementalism -- the next president is likely to be able to appoint at least two Supreme Court Justices," he said.

Conservative, overweight...mentally ill?

If any other group was attacked as often as conservatism is in popular culture, then there would be federal civil rights lawsuits clogging the legal system for the next century.

The latest comes from University of Michigan researchers Jennifer Crocket and Diane M.Quinn who uncovered a brand new health concern:

"We found that having a conservative ideology, or just being exposed to that viewpoint, has a negative effect on the self-esteem and mood of women who believe they're overweight."

It's scientific! Overweight and conservative and your self-esteem disappears!

Just because your in university doesn't mean your smart

In Ohio, racist and anti-homosexual flyers appeared at Miami University's Center for Black Culture and Learning, sparking two days of demonstrations protesting a lack of diversity on campus.

Seven students were arrested for disorderly conduct, leading to the sale of "Miami 7" T-shirts and a conciliatory meeting between university president James Garland and Nathaniel Snow, head of the Black Student Action Association.

Of course you know what's coming next. Police fingerprint tests concluded that the flyers had been posted by Snow and one of the arrested protesters.

Thank God Osama bin Laden didn't find it...

US President Bill Clinton left a NATO summit meeting in such haste on April 26 that he left behind perhaps the most important piece of luggage in the world - the "nuclear football".

Speeding off in his motorcade after a meeting at the NATO summit hall, the leader of the world's only superpower left behind the critical briefcase that contains America's nuclear bomb codes.

"Rather than wait for everyone to gather he just took off", said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.

The case contains the electronic launch codes needed for a US nuclear strike and provides a link with the Pentagon through a telephone.

It is carried by and chained to a military aide and supposed to be near the president whenever he is away from the White House.

When President Clinton's motorcade left without him the aide who carries the briefcase then had to walk the half-mile back to the White House from the Reagan building where the summit was being held.

"We're safe," remarked Mr Lockhart following the safe arrival of the aide, adding: "These things happen."

It has been called the most dangerous handbag in the world.

The black attache case which has become known as the "nuclear football" has been passed from president to president since the days of Dwight Eisenhower.

English Animal rights activist charged with animal cruelty

A woman who ran an animal sanctuary faces a possible jail sentence after admitting 24 counts of unnecessary suffering to cats and dogs.

Anne Stott ran Crewe Animal sanctuary until the RSPCA was called in last May. Officials found 168 animals - 140 of them were dead.

The RSPCA said it was its biggest investigation into domestic animal cruelty.

The case at Crewe Magistrates Court in Cheshire was adjourned for reports before sentencing next month. Stipendiary magistrate Philip Dodd told her: "Because of the gravity of this case there is strong probability of a prison sentence."

RSPCA inspectors went to the Edleston Road centre after a caller said a dog was trapped inside a shed in temperatures of 99F on 19 May, 1998, the court heard.

Outside court, animal lovers said they had donated thousands of pounds to Stott for the upkeep of her rescue centre over the last 15 years.

Fund raiser Andrea Beech, 36, from Crewe said: "We raised thousands of pounds with coffee mornings and Tombola."

Another campaigner, Karen German, 44, from Crewe said: "We had no idea what was happening. We were never allowed in the flat.

"It's a travesty. I am now petitioning for a change in the law because even if you are banned from keeping animals you are still able to if you live with somebody who is not."

Neil Mitchell, the first RSPCA inspector on the scene, said the charity was now appealing for new laws to oversee animal rescue centres.

"We should have some form of checks on establishments - breeding and boarding centres have checks but there are none for animal rescue centres which are in every town," he said.

Ontarians for Responsible Government campaign condemns "Forced Dues Blues"

Ontarians for Responsible Government is launching a pre-election multi-media ad campaign that's sure to hit a sour note with the province's big union bosses.

"We will run radio commercials, newspaper ads and billboards to denounce labour laws which give big union bosses the power to finance their partisan political campaigns with forced dues," says O.R.G. executive director Gerry Nicholls, "And our radio spots feature ear-catching blues music to reflect our campaign theme: It's time to end `The Forced Dues Blues'."

Nicholls says his group decided to launch the media blitz after certain big union bosses announced they were spending millions of dollars as part of a campaign to defeat the Mike Harris government.

"Union bosses have every right to express a political opinion," says Nicholls, "But they should not have the right to use money squeezed from forced dues to push their own political agenda. That's wrong."

Nicholls says when forced dues are used to finance partisan political activity it means unionized workers are being compelled to support a cause they might not agree with.

"In a free society no one should be forced to subsidize a political agenda against their will," says Nicholls. "And the goal of our ad campaign is to get the province's labour laws changed so that freedom of political choice is restored to all workers."

Nicholls says his group will keep his campaign going into the next provincial election.

"We want to make this an election issue," says Nicholls, "And we will make it an issue."

O.R.G. is the provincial affiliate of the National Citizens' Coalition.

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