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Corruption Scandal Shakes Canadian Prime Minister

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  • Candian PM Justin Trudeau has been accused of pressuring his justi minister to settle a corruption scandal involving the large Canadian corporation SNC-Lavalin.
  • SNC has been accused of paying millions of dollars in bribes to the Lybian government, including to the regime of dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
  • Two ministers and one of Trudeau’s top political advisors have resigned amid the allegations, which Trudeau has denied.

SNC-Lavalin

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has become entangled in a corruption scandal that alleges his office attempted to settle a criminal case against SNC-Lavalin, a multinational engineering and construction firm based in Canada.

The criminal case against SNC claims the company paid millions of dollars in bribes to officials in Lybia in order to secure lucrative contracts, including millions in bribes paid to the regime of Lybian dictator, Muammar Gaddafi.

SNC is a large company. While it is based in Quebec, it boasts more than 50,000 employees worldwide and $10.1 billion in revenue in 2018.

Source: SNC-Lavalin

However, SNC is not new to corruption allegations. The company has been accused of corrupt practices for years in multiple countries, including in Bangladesh, India, Mexico, and it’s home country of Canada.

Just last month, a former SNC CEO Pierre Duhaime pleaded guilty to 15 charges including fraud, conspiracy, and forgery in a Montreal court. The charges against Duhaime came only six years after he was first arrested and accused of bribing public officials.

Nine people were charged in the case involving Duhaime, and one Quebec police investigator called it “The biggest case of corruption fraud in Canadian history.”

Then, in Feb. 2015, Canadian authorities charged SNC with paying 47.7 million Canadian dollars in bribes to officials in Libya, as well as defrauding the Libyan government of 129.8 million Canadian dollars.

If SNC is convicted, it could be banned from federal government contracts for a decade. A move that could seriously hurt its business and eliminate numerous Canadian jobs.

Trudeau’s Involvement

Trudeau’s involvement in the SNC Lybia case started when he took office 2015. Following his inauguration, his justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, was given oversight of the case regarding Lybia.

Wilson-Raybould identifies as Indigenous, and her appointment was applauded by many in Canada, who took it as a sign of Trudeau’s commitment to Indigenous people and women.

Then, in Jan. 2019, Trudeau reassigned Wilson-Raybould from to the Veterans Affairs Department– a major demotion.

On Feb. 7, The Globe and Mail published an investigative report that claimed Trudeau and his aides had attempted to direct Wilson-Raybould’s handling of the SNC-Lavalin case.

Wilson-Raybould resigned from her post on Feb. 12, less than a week after the Globe and Mail story was published.

Then, last month, she gave testimony to a parliamentary committee. In that testimony, she claimed that Trudeau and his aides had pressured her to settle the case against SNC by using “political interference” and “veiled threats.”

Wilson-Raybould said that she had 10 meetings, 10 phone calls, and a series of emails regarding the case with 11 government officials.

She also specified that the conversations were “inappropriate” but not illegal. Stating that despite the pressure, no one ever directly told her to order prosecutors to reach a settlement with SNC.

Wilson-Raybould did say she felt that Trudeau and his aides had crossed informal lines that are supposed to keep politics and prosecutions separate, claiming that they did this by repeatedly raising concerns about the possibility of job losses and potential political ramifications of a trial.

She asserted Trudeau specifically said, “There would be many jobs lost and that SNC will move from Montreal,” and asked her to “find a solution here for SNC.”

Wilson-Raybould alleges she resisted that pressure and believes she was removed from the position as a consequence.

Trudeau, for his part, has denied putting pressure on her. In a press conference after her testimony, he stated: “I and my staff always acted appropriately and professionally, therefore I completely disagree with the characterization of the former attorney general of these events.”

Sources: Global News

Resignations

Trudeau’s problems do not just stop with Wilson-Raybould.

On Monday, Treasury Board president Jane Philpott resigned from her post, writing in her resignation letter: “I have been considering the events that have shaken the government in recent weeks and after serious reflection, I have concluded that I must resign as a member of cabinet.”

She then goes on to cite a provision in Canada’s constitution that requires ministers to defend all of the cabinet’s decisions.

“Given this convention and the current circumstances, it is untenable for me to continue to serve as a Cabinet member,” she wrote.

Philpott added that she has, “ lost confidence in how the government has dealt with this matter and in how it has responded to the issues raised,”

There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them,” she continued.

Philpott now marks the second resignation of a minister, and it also comes just weeks after Trudeau’s top political advisor, Gerald Butts, quit in late February.

Although Butts denied the allegations which he has also been implicated in, he still cited them as a reason for his resignation.

What Now?

The unresolved nature of this case has left many wondering what will happen next.

The leader of Canada’s Conservative opposition, Andrew Scheer, called for Trudeau to resign, stating, “Justin Trudeau simply cannot continue to govern this country now that Canadians know what he has done.”

Sheer has also called for the police to launch a criminal probe of Trudeau’s actions. A request which has been joined both other members of opposition parties, some of whom have also called for an independent inquiry.

The ethics commissioner of Canada’s Parliament has started an investigation into the matter. However, by law, the commissioner can look only for conflicts of interest.

Meanwhile, there are still more hearings to come, including testimony from Gerald Butts, who is scheduled to testify about his role in the Lavalin matter before a parliament committee on Wednesday.

Trudeau for his part has continually denied the allegations. Following Philpotts resignation on Monday, Trudeau said he is taking the concerns seriously

Trudeau notably faces a federal election in October, which is just seven months away.

Even if nothing comes of the allegations against him, his opponents have already used this incident to portray him as a leader who directed aides to bully an Indigenous woman to protect a corporation from a criminal conviction in a corruption case.

A move that does not look good for someone who promised government transparency, and is a self-described feminist and supporter of Indigenous rights.

What happens next depends on if Trudeau can save his reputation, as well as what happens with the SNC case.

Many people believe that major job losses at the SNC headquarters in Quebec would hurt Trudeau in a province where votes will be crucial for him.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (CBC) (NPR)

International

2 Million Protest In Hong Kong After Lam Suspends Extradition Bill

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  • After last week’s protests in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition bill, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the bill would be suspended.
  • However, many citizens in Hong Kong want the bill fully withdrawn and are calling for Lam to step down from her position.
  • On Sunday, around two million people hit the streets for protests fighting for those conditions, as well as pushing for police to be investigated for using excessive force during the previous protests.

Protest After Bill’s Suspension

Organizers say that around 2 million people in Hong Kong turned out to protest a controversial extradition bill on Sunday after Cheif Executive Carrie Lam said she would suspend it.

Lam announced Saturday that she would suspend – not withdraw – an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong citizens to be extradited to China. This move followed a previous round of massive protests that gathered as many as one million Hong Kong residents.  

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind to heed comprehensively different views in society towards the bill,” Lam said in a press conference after announcing its suspension.

However, many thought her actions were not enough. On Sunday, a massive demonstration in Hong Kong saw citizens call for a full withdrawal, along with Lam’s resignation. While organizers claim 2 million people attended the protest, police officers say there were actually about 338,000.

Protesters also referenced last week’s demonstrations, where officers used pepper spray and other tactics to quell crowds. Officers later deemed the protest a riot, which is a crime in Hong Kong. Sunday’s protesters demanded an investigation into the use of police force and called for the “riot” labeling to be rescinded.

Many also honored a man who lost his life protesting on Saturday after he fell trying to hang a banner.

During these protests, police involvement was minimal. Reports say that officers sidelined themselves during the demonstrations and were able to clear the streets by Monday morning.

Lam also issued another statement later on Sunday apologizing for the controversies caused by the bill.

“The Chief Executive apologised to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledged to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” the statement read.

Responses After Protests

While the protests have lessened, many in Hong Kong still have the urge to keep fighting. Notably, Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy activist who was released from prison on Monday.

Upon his release, he tweeted similar sentiments to the protesters.

Around the globe, others are also responding to what is happening in Hong Kong. After Lam announced the bill suspension, officials in China made a statement.

“We support, respect and understand this decision,” they said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told Fox News that the United States is monitoring the situation.

“We are watching the people of Hong Kong speak about the things they value,” he said.

Pompeo added that President Donald Trump would meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 Summit at the end of the month and said the two would discuss the protests then.

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NPR) (TIME)

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Iran Threatens to Violate Nuclear Deal’s Limits on Uranium

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  • Iran announced Monday that it will surpass the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days if European nations do not do more to help them mitigate U.S. sanctions.
  • The announcement comes after the U.S. blamed Iran for attacking two tankers in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday and provided what U.S. officials believed was video evidence of Iranian military officials removing a bomb.
  • Iran has denied the allegations and Germany, as well as the Japanese owner of one of the tankers, have said the video the U.S. claims proves Iran launched the attack does not provide enough evidence.

Announcement

Iran announced Monday that it has significantly ramped up its enrichment of uranium and said it will exceed the amount of uranium it has been allowed to stockpile under the 2015 nuclear deal in 10 days.

While certainly a big deal, Monday’s announcement does not necessarily come as a surprise. On May 8, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced that the country would stop complying with some of their commitments under the nuclear deal.

Rouhani said Iran would no longer respect certain restrictions under the deal, such as building stockpiles of enriched uranium and heavy water.

He also said Iran would give the other countries that signed the deal 60 days to help ease the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Irans oil and banking industries, or Iran would slowly stop their compliance with the deal piece by piece.

While that 60-day period technically does not end for a few more weeks, Iran has made it clear that they are not happy with the progress that has been made.

In a televised speech earlier today, Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization specifically targetted the European signatories of the nuclear deal for not doing enough, but said they still had time to save the agreement.

“If it is important for them to safeguard the accord, they should make their best efforts,” Kamalvandi said. “As soon as they carry out their commitments, things will naturally go back to their original state.”

“There is still time for European countries, but if they want more time it means that they either can’t or don’t want to honor their obligations,” he continued later. “They should not think that after 60 days they will have another 60-day opportunity.”

Tanker Attack

Monday’s announcement comes as tensions between Iran and the U.S. have increasingly escalated in recent weeks.

On Thursday, two tankers were attacked just off the coast of Iran in the Gulf of Oman. The attack caused one of the boats to be set on fire and caused both to be set adrift. A few hours later, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of attacking the tankers.

In a press conference, Pompeo said attacks were part of a “campaign” of “escalating tension” by Iran. “It is the assessment of the United States that the Islamic Republic of Iran is responsible for the attacks,” he said.

U.S. officials also later claimed that Iran had launched a missile at a U.S.-operated drone surveying the area after the attack.

Pompeo did not immediately provide any evidence for Iran launching the attack, but later on Thursday, U.S. Central Command released a video they claimed showed Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) removing an unexploded mine from one of the tankers hit by explosions.

While the administration of Donald Trump, backed by Saudi Arabia, believed that the video clearly proved the IRGC was guilty, others were not so sure.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, “The video is not enough. We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me.”

Additionally, the Japanese operator of one of the ships that was attacked also disputed the U.S government’s claim. In a statement, the president of the company that operates the ship, Yutaka Katada, said he did not believe there was a mine attached to the ship at all.

“I do not think there was a time bomb or an object attached to the side of the ship,” Katada said. “Our crew said that the ship was attacked by a flying object.”

Iran for its part has strongly denied the allegations. Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the accusations in a tweet, referring to the incident as “sabotage diplomacy.”

Escalating Tensions

The incident on Thursday and the U.S. response is only part of increased tensions between the U.S. and Iran.

It is not even the first tanker attack that the U.S. has blamed on Iran. Last month, four tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, which is close to the Gulf of Oman. Again, the U.S. was quick to blame Iran but did not provide any evidence, and again, Iran denied the accusation.

Over the last few months, numerous world leaders have come forward and called for the U.S. and Iran to de-escalate the situation, with many fearing the situation would lead to an all-out war.

Multiple European governments and leaders have called on the Trump administration to exercise “maximum restraint.”

Response

Currently, it remains unclear what will happen next. In an interview with Fox & Friends on Sunday, Pompeo indicated that the U.S. had not ruled out military action.

“The United States is going to make sure that we take all actions necessary, diplomatic and otherwise, to achieve that outcome,” he said. In a separate interview with CBS, Pompeo also said the U.S. might tighten sanctions on Iran in response to the country ramping up its nuclear program.

According to reports, Pentagon officials are considering tactical responses to the attacks, including deploying as many as 6,000 Navy, Air Force, and Army personnel to the Persian Gulf.

Last month, National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the U.S. was deploying an aircraft carrier strike group and Air Force bombers to the Middle East in an effort to counter Iran.

At the same time, many are skeptical that Trump would send troops to directly engage Iran. Trump has repeatedly said he does not want a war in the Middle East.

During an interview with Fox & Friends on Friday, Trump said Iran did attack the tankers, but also said he was not looking for war. He even went as far as to say he wanted engagement with Iranian leadership.

“I’m ready when they are,” Trump said. “Whenever they’re ready, it’s O.K. In the meantime, I’m in no rush.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Al Jazeera) (CNN)

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Brazil’s Supreme Court Votes to Criminalize Homophobic Acts

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  • Brazil’s Supreme Court has ruled in favor of criminalizing homophobia under current legislation until Congress creates a law that specifically addresses the issue.
  • Eight of the 11 justices voted Thursday to treat violent acts and other crimes against gay and transgender people like racism, which was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years.
  • President Jair Bolsonaro criticized the justices last month when it became clear that they would likely vote in favor of the move, and he suggested that it was time to appoint an evangelical Christian.

The Vote

Brazil’s Federal Supreme Court voted Thursday to criminalize acts of hate and discrimination against the LGBT community.

Eight of the 11 justices voted in favor of the move arguing that Congress failed to fulfill its constitutional duty by passing similar legislation. According to the Wall Street Journal, the country’s constitution allows the high court to make these types of moves in the event that lawmakers fail to take action.

For now, any acts of violence or other crimes against gay or transgender people will be judged under current antiracism law until Congress passes a specific law that addressed the LGBT community. Racism was made a crime in Brazil in 1989 with prison sentences of up to five years.

“Sexual orientation and gender identity are essential to human beings, to the self-determination to decide their own life and seek happiness,” Justice Gilmar Mendes said, according to the court’s Twitter account.

It may take some time for Congress to act further. In 2011, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that every state should recognize civil unions between same-sex couples. However, Congress has yet to pass legislation for those unions.

Bolsonaro’s Position

President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office in January, criticized the court last month when it became clear that most justices would rule in favor of criminalizing homophobia. He argued that the court was overstepping and suggested it was time to appoint an evangelical Christian to the Supreme Court.

Bolsonaro himself has been criticized for what many consider a long history of homophobic, racist, and sexist comments.  The social conservative won the October election last year, promising to overturn years of liberal social policies. Many LGBT rights groups feared that he would try to roll back gay rights if elected.

The court’s decision “is a step forward, but it won’t make much of a difference unless we improve education and change attitudes,” Claudia Regina, president of the LGBT Pride Parade Association of São Paulo told the Journal.

“There’s been a subtle worsening of attitudes” since Bolsonaro was elected, she said, adding that he “is encouraging this, indirectly. He inspires his followers to behave this way.”

According to the rights group the Grupo Gay da Bahia, 420 LGBT people were killed across Brazil in 2018 and at least 141 others have been killed so far this year. On top of that, Brazil leads the world in transgender homicides with 171 in 2017, according to the organization Transgender Europe.

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (The Wall Street Journal) (The Independent)

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