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Corruption Scandal Shakes Canadian Prime Minister

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 […]

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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

New Zealand Considers Banning Cigarettes For People Born After 2004

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  • New Zealand announced a series of proposals that aim to outlaw smoking for the next generation with the hopes of being smoke-free by 2025.
  • Among the proposed provisions are plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and possibly prohibit the sale of cigarettes and tobacco products to anyone born after 2004; effectively banning smoking for that generation.
  • Beyond that, the level of nicotine in products will likely be significantly reduced, setting a minimum price for tobacco and heavily restricting where it can be sold.
  • The proposals have proven to be popular as one in four New Zealand cancer deaths are tobacco-related, but some have criticized them as government overreach and worry a ban could lead to a bigger and more robust black market.

Smoke Free 2025

New Zealand announced sweeping new proposals on Thursday that would effectively phase out the use of tobacco products, a move that is in line with its hopes to become a smoke-free country by 2025.

Among a number of provisions, the proposals include plans to gradually increase the legal smoking age and bar anyone born after 2004 from buying tobacco products. Such a ban would effectively end tobacco sales after a few decades. The government is also considering significantly reducing the level of nicotine allowed in tobacco products, prohibiting filters, restricting locations where tobacco products can be purchased, and setting a steep minimum price for tobacco.

“We need a new approach.” Associate Health Minister Dr. Ayesha Verral said when announcing the changes on Thursday. 

“About 4,500 New Zealanders die every year from tobacco, and we need to make accelerated progress to be able to reach [a Smoke Free 2025]. Business-as-usual without a tobacco control program won’t get us there.”

The proposals received a large welcome from public health organizations and local groups. Shane Kawenata Bradbrook, an advocate for smoke-free Maori communities, told The Guardian that the plan “will begin the final demise of tobacco products in this country.” 

The Cancer Society pointed out that these proposals would help combat health inequities in the nation, as tobacco stores were four times more likely to be in low-income neighborhoods, where smoking rates are highest.

Not Without Flaws

The proposals weren’t completely without controversy. There are concerns that a complete ban could bankrupt “dairy” store owners (the equivalent to a U.S. convenience store) who rely on tobacco sales to stay afloat. 

There are also concerns that prohibition largely doesn’t work, as has been seen in other nations with goods such as alcohol or marijuana. Many believe a  blanket ban on tobacco will increase the incentive to smuggle and sell the products on the black market. The government even acknowledged the issue in a document outlining Thursday’s proposals. 

“Evidence indicates that the amount of tobacco products being smuggled into New Zealand has increased substantially in recent years and organised criminal groups are involved in large-scale smuggling,” the document said.

Some are also concerned about how much the government is intervening in people’s lives.

“There’s a philosophical principle about adults being able to make decisions for themselves, within reason,” journalist Alex Braae wrote. 

The opposition ACT party also added that lowering nicotine content in tobacco products could lead to smokers smoking more, a particular concern as one-in-four cancer cases in New Zealand are tobacco-related.

See what others are saying: (Stuff) (Independent) (The Guardian)

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International

Egypt Seizes Ship That Blocked Suez Canal Until Owners Pay Nearly $1 Billion

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  • Egyptian authorities seized the Ever Given, a mega-ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month, after a judge ruled Wednesday that the owners must pay $900 million in damages.
  • The ship was seized just as it was deemed fit to return to sea after undergoing repairs in the Great Bitter Lake, which sits in the middle of the Suez Canal.
  • The vessel’s owners said little about the verdict, but insurance companies covering the ship pushed back against the $900 million price tag, saying it’s far too much for any damage the ship actually caused.

Ever Given Still in Egypt

An Egyptian court blocked the mega-ship known as the Ever Given from leaving the country Wednesday morning unless its owner pays nearly $1 billion in compensation for damages it caused after blocking the Suez Canal for nearly a week last month.

The Ever Given’s ordeal started when it slammed into the side of the canal and became lodged, which caused billions of dollars worth of goods to be held up on both sides of the canal while crews worked round the clock to free the vessel. An Egyptian judge found that the Ever Given becoming stuck caused not only physical damage to the canal that needed to be paid for but also “reputational” damage to Egypt and the Suez Canal Authority.

The ship’s Japanese owner, Shoei Kisen Kaisha, will need to pay $900 million to free the ship and the cargo it held, both of which were seized by authorities after the ship was transported to the Great Bitter Lake in the middle of the canal to undergo now-finished repairs. Shoei Kisen Kaisha doesn’t seem to want to fight the judgment in court just yet. It released a short statement after the ruling, saying that lawyers and insurance companies were working on the claims but refused to comment further.

Pushing Back Against The Claim

While Shoei Kisen Kaisha put in a claim with insurers, those insurance companies aren’t keen on just paying the bill. One of the ship’s insurers, UKP&I, challenged the basis of the $900 million claim, writing in a press release, “The [Suez Canal Authority] has not provided a detailed justification for this extraordinarily large claim, which includes a $300 million claim for a ‘salvage bonus’ and a $300 million claim for ‘loss of reputation.’”

“The grounding resulted in no pollution and no reported injuries. The vessel was re-floated after six days and the Suez Canal promptly resumed their commercial operations.”

It went on to add that the $900 million verdict doesn’t even include payments to the crews that worked to free the ship, meaning that the total price tag of the event could likely be far more for Shoei Kisen Kaisha and the multiple insurance companies it works with.

See what others are saying: (Financial Times) (CNN) (The Telegraph)

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Treated Radioactive Water From Japanese Nuclear Power Plant Will Be Released Into Ocean

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  • The Japanese government confirmed Tuesday that it will officially move forward with plans to dump millions of gallons of radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.
  • The government spent a decade decontaminating the water, only leaving a naturally occurring isotope in it that scientists recognize as safe for people and the environment.
  • Despite the safety claims, protesters took to the streets in Tokyo to show disapproval of the decision. Local business owners, in particular, have expressed fears that more municipalities worldwide could ban Fukushima products, including fish, because of distrust in the water.
  • Meanwhile, officials have insisted that the dump is necessary as the water takes up a massive amount of space, which is needed to store highly radioactive fuel rods from the remaining cores at the now-defunct nuclear facility.

Editor’s Note: The Japanese government has asked Western outlets to adhere to Japanese naming conventions. To that end, Japanese names will be written as Family Name followed by Given Name.

Radioactive or Bad Publicity?

After years of discussions and debate, the Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will dump radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear power plant into the ocean.

Government officials consider the move necessary, but it’s facing backlash from local businesses, particularly fisheries, over potential consequences it could have. Many are especially concerned that the decision will create bad press for the region as headlines about it emerge. For instance, a headline from the Guardian on the issue reads, “Japan announces it will dump contaminated water into sea.”

While the water is contaminated and radioactive, it’s not nearly what the headlines make it out to be. The government has spent the last decade decontaminating it, and now it only contains a trace amount of the isotope tritium. That isotope is common in nature and is already found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Its radiation is so weak that it can’t pierce human skin, meaning one could only possibly get sick by ingesting more than that has ever been recorded.

According to the government, the decontaminated water at Fukushima will be diluted to 1/7 of the WHO’s acceptable radiation levels for drinking water before being released into the ocean over two years.

Something Had To Eventually Be Done

Over the last decade, Japan has proposed this plan and other similar ones, such as evaporating the water, which the International Atomic Energy Agency said last year met global standards.

The water has been sitting in containers for years, so why is there a push to remove it now? Space and leakage seem to be the primary reasons.

The water containers are slowly being filled by groundwater, and the government expects to run out of space relatively soon. Space is sorely needed, as Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide has pointed out in the past that the government wants to use the space to store damaged radioactive fuel rods that still need to be extracted from the plant. Unlike the water, those rods are dangerously radioactive and need proper storage.

Regardless, Suga reportedly recognizes that removing the water is going to end up as a lose-lose situation.

“It is inevitable that there would be reputational damage regardless of how the water will be disposed of, whether into the sea or into the air,” he said at a press conference last week. As expected, the government’s decision did trigger backlash, prompting many demonstrators to take to the streets of Tokyo Tuesday in protest.

To this day, eleven countries and regions still ban many products from the Fukushima prefecture despite massive clean-up efforts that have seen people returning to the area to live.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (KBS World) (NBC News)

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