Senior public servants feel ill-equipped and fearful to provide fearless advice

More of a recap of the Top of Mind report than concrete suggestions on how to address the apparent decline in “fearless advice” beyond reexamining the Accountability Act of the Harper government:

Canada’s public servants have a noble and proud heritage of “answering the call” to serve their country and communities. Professional, non-partisan, and highly trained, they work within our public institutions to help elected leaders make our communities safer, cleaner, healthier, and more prosperous both today and for the future.

However, according to a recent report, Top of Mind, senior executive leaders today feel ill-equipped to provide “fearless advice” in a climate of divisive politics, polarization, and misinformation. “Fearless advice and loyal implementation” are the bedrock bonds between those elected and those who serve in the public service.

This foundation supports our democracy and how public services rise to meet the challenges of the day. At its core, “fearless advice” is about elected decision-makers knowing they have been given the best information and the broadest options available to address the issue of the day. Those elected to represent their communities get to decide what to do. Once the decision is taken, public servants move on to “loyally implement.”

In Top of Mind: Answering the Call, Adapting to Change Summary Report, recently released by the Institute on Governance and the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University, senior public service leaders at the local, provincial, territorial, and federal levels of government were unanimous in their concern that fearless advice was more challenging to deliver than ever before.

One participant said, “I think there is a[n] [em]broiling of political perspective about the role of the bureaucracy and the work that it does and is challenged to do, and the independence of that in my view is no longer understood or seen by a lot of political bodies, parties, and individuals for what it is truly supposed to be.” Other participants remarked about the lack of “a safe space” to give alternative perspectives or views on a given issue. It’s a situation that, if left unattended, could be contributing to the erosion of trust in our public institutions.

The role of the senior public servant is unfamiliar to many Canadians. Often unseen, this cadre of professionals support decision-making and program delivery underpin the very quality of life that Canadians take pride in. Many successful partnerships between prime ministers and the heads of the public service have resulted in significant Canadian accomplishments.

Lester Pearson and Gordon Robertson teamed up to bring about our national safety net, our anthem, and our flag. Pierre Trudeau, Gordon Osbaldeston, and Michael Pitfield respectively delivered official bilingualism, international peace measures and the repatriation of the Constitution along with the establishment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Brian Mulroney, Paul Tellier, and Glen Shortliffe helped to end apartheid in South Africa, brought in free trade and eliminated the manufacturing sales tax. Jean Chrétien, Jocelyne Bourgon, and Mel Cappe returned Canada to economic surplus, helped the country overcome the aftermath of 9/11 and said no to the war in Iraq. These teams understood the principle or ‘secret sauce’ of fearless advice and loyal implementation.

Michael Wernick, former clerk to the Privy Council, wrote that, “Open, honest, and two-way communication is key” between the minister and their deputy minister in his book, Governing Canada A Guide to the Tradecraft of Politics. Wernick’s advice to deputy ministers: “Your most important task is to secure and maintain the trust and confidence of the minister. That doesn’t mean telling ministers what they want to hear. On the contrary, you will want ministers to be confident that you will warn them of upcoming trouble and to trust you to give them the frank advice and full information.”

So, if fearless advice is on the decline, the question is why? Top of Mind does not explore the root causes. However, a brief examination of how the role of the deputy minister has changed over the years may be a good place to start. In 2006, the role of the deputy minister at the federal level was fundamentally changed along with changes to the Public Service Commission, the public service oath, and the executive leadership competencies for choosing those in charge of people; money and physical assets.

Sixteen years later, it is time to examine whether the changes introduced in 2006 have contributed to the erosion of the bedrock principle of “fearless advice and loyal implementation.” It may be proven that the reforms undertaken then have little to do with the situation today. However, in the absence of a thorough assessment or review, we will never know.

Clearly something is amiss within the public services of our country. Having an open discussion on the barriers to fearless advice is both urgently required and essential if Canada to restore trust in its public institutions and to serve Canadians effectively to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Stephen Van Dine is senior vice-president of the Institute on Governance. Don Abelson is director of the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University.

Source: Senior public servants feel ill-equipped and fearful to provide fearless advice

Glavin: Good news! Canada is not being overrun by racist zombie hordes

A bit overly dismissive of the Abacus poll IMO:

There are cranks among us. There are racists, loons, nutters, dingbats and weirdos among us and there are millions of them, according to a recent Abacus Data poll. I know this to be true because I read it in all the newspapers.

Here’s a National Post headline from last week: “Millions of Canadians believe in white replacement theory: poll.” Here’s the Toronto Star: “’Kind of terrifying’: Numbers show racist Great Replacement conspiracy theory has found audience in Canada.” Here’s Abacus Data’s own headline: “Millions believe in conspiracy theories in Canada.”

And then the story just seemed to disappear. If the story were true, why did it vanish after a couple of news cycles? Shouldn’t we all be taking this a lot more seriously?

If the story is true, millions of Canadians are afflicted with exactly the same fascist derangement that drove white supremacist Brenton Tarrant to massacre 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand three years ago. In a similarly live-streamed replication of the Christchurch atrocity only last month, the lunatic Payton Gendron slaughtered ten people in a Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y. with a weapon with the words “White replacement theory” written on it.

Surely it can’t be true that millions of Canadians are devoted to the same hideous “theory” that motivated Tarrant and Gendron, can it?

I’m happy to report that no, there’s no evidence to support the proposition, or contention, or if you like, this “theory” about millions of Canadians revealed by that Abacus poll, because the poll did not provide any evidence of the sort.

This is not to say that there weren’t some quite disturbing findings that the Abacus pollsters came up with. And the story didn’t quite vanish, either.

In an otherwise thoughtful contemplation of the degeneration of political discourse that appeared in Policy magazine last weekend, the outspoken New Democrat Charlie Angus contemplated the tendency to crazy thinking as a kind of orchard where Conservatives are happy to find low-hanging fruit, and perhaps it explains why “some Conservative leadership candidates have spent so much time promoting all manner of conspiracy claims.”

Angus wrote: “Maybe the Conservatives think they will be able to harness the tactical rage of this phenomenon to the faux outrage of political theatrics.”

And that may be so.

It’s certainly true that the populist Conservative leadership contender and bitcoin enthusiast Pierre Poilievre does sometimes give the impression of being an eccentric who wasted too much of his youth playing with Buzz Lightyear action figures in his room.

But it’s also true that among the poll respondents inclined to believe what is possibly the craziest proposition Abacus canvassed for — the notion that Microsoft uber-zillionaire Bill Gates has been using microchips to track people and their behaviour — New Democrats were only two percentage points behind Poilievre fanciers: 11 per cent as opposed to 13 per cent.

As for the white supremacist “Great Replacement” imbecility, the idea is that there’s a plot, often attributed to the Jews, to orchestrate immigration policies in such a way as to monkeywrench a country’s demographics in order to replace “white” people with Muslims, specifically, or with people of colour, generally.

The Abacus poll doesn’t provide all that much insight into how many poll respondents, let alone Canadians, actually believe this drivel. If you drill down below the way the poll findings have been reported and then dig below the way Abacus described its findings to the bedrock of the poll question itself, you might be relieved to discover that it isn’t quite time yet to head for the hills to build yourself a compound to defend yourself against millions of marauding racist zombies.

Abacus described its findings this way: Some 37 per cent of Canadians (11 million people) think “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Canadians with immigrants who agree with their political views. This is an articulation of what is commonly referred to as replacement theory.”

Set aside the fact that this isn’t so much an “articulation” of any theory, exactly, and the fact that the lunatic “replacement theory” doesn’t quite match the Abacus description of it. Last month, Statistic Canada reported this simple fact: “Canada is a low-fertility country, or below the no-migration population replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.” The Abacus poll didn’t ask about “white” people, but rather “native-born” Canadians. And native-born Canadians are retiring in huge numbers. Boomers are exiting the job market in droves.

It’s data of this kind that the Trudeau government has quite openly factored into its Immigration Levels Plan, which sets out the objective of drawing 430,000 newcomers to Canada each year. This is the highest level of immigration in Canadian history, and a higher immigration rate than any other G7 country. Only a small minority of those immigrants are coming from Europe, so they’re not, you know, “white” people. And anyone who hasn’t noticed that it has been a custom of the Liberal Party to jimmy with immigration so as to replenish its urban vote banks hasn’t been paying attention to the way things are done in Canada. The Conservatives do it too, but they’re just not very good at it.

The Abacus poll findings are perfectly consistent with a series of polls of its own and of other polling outfits that show Canadians are becoming deeply distrustful of politicians, government institutions and the news media. The world is in a state of upheaval to an extent unparalleled in decades. Overseas there’s war and looming famine in Central Asia and Africa, and here in Canada you have to be rich to be poor these days, especially when it comes to housing. Canada’s economy is a house of cards that’s increasingly dependent upon high immigration levels.

Canada’s “native-born” population can’t replace itself. Just one reason is that you have to be quite well-to-do to raise a family nowadays, and you can’t raise a family in a 600-square-foot, $600,000 condo. It’s no wonder that nostalgia is so commonplace. So is the sentiment that we’re all being dragged by forces we can’t control into a maelstrom of inhospitable, culturally fractured bedlam. People have every right to look at the rich and famous of the World Economic Forum, for instance — the object of quite a few silly conspiracy theories — with utter contempt.

But millions of Canadians are not setting out across the landscape in roaming hordes of racist zombies. That’s the good news.

These days, we should take the good news wherever we can find it.

Source: Glavin: Good news! Canada is not being overrun by racist zombie hordes

Federal government scrambles to address hordes of passport applicants at overwhelmed offices

Ongoing story. Short-term measures sensible but this was anticipated and should not have happened (quoted in article):

Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for passport services, said Thursday the government is adding more staff on the ground to help triage hours-long lineups at many passport offices as tens of thousands of people look to get their hands on travel documents.

The strategy shift comes as policy experts, and the government’s Conservative critics, say the situation should never have been allowed to get so dire when it was obvious to many that there’d be a strong interest in travel as the pandemic receded.

Gould said, after reports of chaos at some passport offices in the Montreal area this week, Service Canada is deploying managers to walk the lineups that have popped up at some offices.

These managers will speak to would-be travellers about their applications before they get to a customer service agent — a system that will help staff identify people who are most in need of a passport.

People who require a passport for travel in the next 12, 24 and 36 hours will get priority service while others will be told to come back at another time, Gould said.

The minister said, after the first day it was in place in Montreal, the process “didn’t go as smoothly, quite frankly, as we had hoped, but today we’re seeing much better progress.”

While Gould reported “progress,” the government website that tracks wait times was warning people to expect delays of at least six hours at busy sites like Montreal’s Guy-Favreau complex and Ottawa’s only passport office on Meadowlands Drive.

The minister said a similar process is being rolled out in Toronto Thursday and Vancouver-area offices will also have managers triaging passport applicants as of Monday.

Gould also said more passports will be printed in bulk at the Gatineau, Que. processing centre near Ottawa and ferried to other locations, which will take some of the stress off of smaller passport offices that don’t have large industrial printers to churn out hundreds of passports each day.

“We have received a large volume of passports. That doesn’t make the situation acceptable,” Gould said. “Canadians should never have to experience this.”

Bureaucrats warned government about passport onslaught

Andrew Griffith is a former director general with Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and a former top official at Service Canada and the Privy Council Office.

In an interview with CBC News, Griffith said the government should never have allowed the situation to get to this point.

In Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s 2022-23 department plan, bureaucrats told the government there would almost certainly be a surge in passport applications as COVID-related travel restrictions were relaxed, Griffith said, and yet not enough was done to prepare passport offices for the onslaught of applicants.

In that department plan, which Griffith shared with CBC News, internal experts advised the government that “forecasts predict that a recovery to pre-COVID-19 demand will begin in spring of 2022, and that demand for passports will continue to increase over the next three years.”

Griffith said the passport situation is a clear instance of the government “neglecting its core responsibilities and not planning or preparing properly.”

“It’s very clear that the policy folks were aware that there would be an increase but it wasn’t connected to the operations side to make sure they were putting adequate preparations in place. It’s one of those unfortunate examples of where the government sort of tends to over promise and under deliver,” he said.

Speaking to CBC Radio’s The House in an interview that will air Saturday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the government’s record on the passport issue but vowed to do more to address an “unacceptable” situation.

Trudeau said the government did hire 600 more passport workers in January to support the existing workforce and it’s looking to add more in the coming weeks to clear mounting backlogs.

Griffith said subjecting thousands of Canadians to hours-long lineups risks undermining faith in government institutions. Canadians expect a certain level of service from the federal government and, when it fails to deliver, there’s an erosion of trust, he said.

“If they can’t get service in a timely manner, people become disillusioned. People are understandably frustrated about these things. I think it’s a really serious issue,” Griffith said.

‘This is a waiting nation’

Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre said Thursday, in a video posted to his social media channels, that Canadians deserve better than what has transpired at passport offices in recent weeks.

Poilievre is seen walking the lines that have formed at Ottawa’s passport office in the video, speaking to applicants who have camped out since 3 a.m. to get to an agent.

“What’s the deal folks? Well, this is a waiting nation. We are asked to wait for everything as sleepy bureaucrats and government gatekeepers stand in the way of you getting the basic services to which you are entitled — one of them is a passport,” Poilievre said.

“You see what’s happening here? The government is doing a lot of things poorly rather than a few things well.”

Source: Federal government scrambles to address hordes of passport applicants at overwhelmed offices

Canada’s racist social norms — and how we can change them

Significant survey along with some suggestions, learning from previous shifts such as attitudes on smoking and LGBTQ2+:

In a Facebook group, a white woman responds to a post about new government funding for clean water at an Indigenous reserve, complaining that Indigenous people already get too much support and should do a better job of looking after themselves.

At a bar, a man of European descent joins a discussion about police treatment of Black people and insists that racism and racial profiling happens in other countries, but not in Canada.

Why is it that some people make these kinds of perceivably racist and offensive remarks publicly even as others who might share the views hold their tongue? Whether someone makes such comments out of ignorance, prejudice or insensitivity, people tend to conduct themselves in accordance with what’s socially acceptable.

“Thirty years ago, smoking in public was acceptable. It was cool. It was just part of the framework. And there was an actual long-term public health campaign, if you will, in essence, to de-normalize smoking in public. It’s a complex intervention that, over time, was quite successful,” says Keith Neuman of the Environics Institute, author of the Canadian Social Norms and Racism study.

“That’s where we’d like to go with racism. Anti-racism initiatives may benefit by focusing more on social norms, which are more easily changed than ingrained attitudes and prejudices.”

Researchers did a national online survey and asked 6,601 participants to respond to a range of vignettes of racist or anti-racist actions directed at Indigenous or Black people. The data was weighted to ensure national representation by province, gender, age and education.

Each respondent was presented with a randomized selection of six of the 12 scenarios — three involving each community — that include responding to a white person who was: 

  • Speaking up when someone tells an insensitive joke;
  • Appropriating Indigenous or Black attire; 
  • Asking where an Indigenous or Black person came from;
  • Claiming racism doesn’t exist in Canada;
  • Intervening when an Indigenous or Black person is hassled in public;
  • Making a derogatory comment on Facebook; or
  • Making a racial gesture at a hockey game.

The respondents were then asked if they had witnessed such events or knew someone else who had; if they believed what the person did was right or wrong; how many people in their social circle would say what that person did was right or wrong; and how likely they thought it that others would intervene.

Many of the respondents said they have either personally seen or know someone who has seen the racist actions directed at Indigenous Peoples, with the most common witnessing someone claiming racism doesn’t exist against Indigenous Peoples (49 per cent); followed by derogatory comments on Facebook (38 per cent); telling insensitive jokes (35 per cent); others hassling an Indigenous person (22 per cent); and making a racial gesture like “a vigorous tomahawk gesture with a loud whooping cry” at a sports event (21 per cent).

In their response to the vignettes directed at Black racism, 79 per cent of participants have witnessed or know someone who has seen a Black person being asked where they came from; claiming racism doesn’t exist against Blacks (45 per cent); telling an insensitive joke (38 per cent); hassling a Black person (31 per cent); appropriating Black attire (30 per cent); and making derogatory comments on Facebook (21 per cent).

Based on participants’ responses, researchers came up with an index that represents how acceptable the specific demeanour or behaviour was in the general population.

The indexes range on a scale from zero to 100 — from the most to least socially acceptable. That means the behaviour with the low score has the greater consensus of social approval or disapproval.

The study found that social norms are somewhat stronger in situations where people witness someone stepping up and intervening when a person acts in a racist manner toward an Indigenous or Black person, such as telling an insensitive joke or harassing someone in public. 

Expressing racism through social media posts and claiming racism doesn’t exist in Canada were both deemed socially unacceptable, under the index, while appropriating Indigenous or Black attire was believed to be uncommon and not a big social transgression.

Neuman, director of the research project, said the study showed most respondents were aware that the conduct in these vignettes were wrong but uncertain what others would think or respond to the situation.

“There are unspoken rules how people behave with others. People know whether certain things are OK or not OK to do. When people choose to say a racist thing, it matters whether they think it’s OK or not OK with the people they are with,” Neuman explained.

“This is an important part of racism in society. This is the first time we look racism in Canada from the perspective of what is acceptable or not acceptable in your social circles. So lots of people think these racist actions are wrong, but they’re really not certain what the people around them think. So these norms are not very strong and that helps explain why this kind of behaviour is still so prevalent.”

Neuman hopes the findings of the study will serve as the benchmark to measure how the social norms of racism evolve as what’s tolerated and accepted in society does change with time, as in the cases of antismoking and the recognition of the LGBTQ2+ community after the Supreme Court 2004 ruling over gay marriage.

Government policies and social norms should go hand in hand in encouraging or hindering the manifestation of unacceptable behaviour, he added.

“The likelihood of encountering people who are smoking in public spaces is very low today. It’s not because there are laws and enforcement, but it’s because people who smoke picked up on the fact that it’s not OK to do that. It’s the way social norms work and there’s very strong norms against something like smoking,” he said.

“If you go back 20 years, the attitudes, treatments and norms around LGBTQ people have changed tremendously. Canadian opinions about gay marriage and LGBTQ people changed because there’s something legitimate about it by the state. It caused people to subsume their personal prejudice and discomfort.”

Neuman said similar successes could be found in developing social norms about what’s acceptable and what’s not with racism through modelling and trendsetting.

Advertising and educational campaigns that reinforce positive norms and denounce negative norms could help develop a collective sense of what’s acceptable, he added.

“What you’re trying to do is to communicate that some kinds of behaviours are OK and others aren’t. But you need to understand what the norms are to begin with, You have to do diagnosis to figure out what they are and how strong they are,” he said.

“It may be a situation where everybody has the same personal belief that something is wrong. By making everybody aware of how everybody thinks, it strengthens that norm.”

Source: Canada’s racist social norms — and how we can change them

MPI: Rise in Remote Work, Including by Digital Nomads, Requires Adjustments to Immigration Systems

Canadian examples include not requiring a work visa when working remotely in another country and stopping the clock on residency tests:

The COVID-19 pandemic has vastly accelerated a shift toward remote work that has been ongoing for decades. As countless workers worldwide stopped coming into the office, many began working from home, with some “digital nomads” moving to work remotely in another country. But most immigration systems are poorly equipped to deal with remote work arrangements, whether admitting foreign workers who may end up working partly or fully remotely for a local employer or permitting digital nomads to visit and work remotely for an employer in another country. Similarly, unclear rules around taxation, benefits and employment law pose hurdles for digital nomads and employers alike.

Failing to address remote work in immigration policies is a missed opportunity, a new Migration Policy Institute report finds. Repositioning immigration systems to introduce greater flexibility for non-traditional working arrangements could bring sizable benefits, including economic development, permitting employers to tap new pools of talent and even allowing people displaced by conflict or environmental disaster to earn incomes.

There have been some policy innovations already. More than 25 countries and territories have launched digital nomad visas that admit foreign nationals who work for an employer outside the country, or in some cases are self-employed. These digital nomad visas differ from most work visas, which assume a person will be working in-person, full-time for an employer in the same country. Digital nomad visas have seen considerable appeal among countries whose economies are heavily reliant on tourism and that are looking to make up for the pandemic-induced loss of tourism revenue, with some encouraging international remote workers to stay in smaller towns and rural communities to contribute to their economic development.

The creation of a new standalone visa is not the only way countries are adapting their immigration systems to remote work trends. Some have adjusted existing employer-sponsored visa pathways, including by expanding flexibility on residency tests. Others allow a degree of remote work while holding a visitor visa, which can benefit business travelers and tourists alike.

The report examines the implications of remote work for immigration systems, workers and employers alike, and explores how governments can develop robust remote work strategies. The analysis benefitted from information on digital nomad visas and remote work trends shared by Fragomen, a firm that provides immigration services worldwide.

“Remote work, at scale, could change the terms of the global race for talent, which would require governments to develop a more expansive understanding of labor migration policy—one that looks beyond addressing domestic skills and labor shortages to think about how best to capture the benefits of cross-border movement,” write MPI analysts Kate Hooper and Meghan Benton. “To truly reap the benefits of remote work, governments need to understand that this is about more than generating revenue from digital nomad visa programs, but also making a country an attractive environment for temporary visitors, business activity and job creation (even for jobs overseas).”

As workplaces reopen, with many retaining more flexible remote work policies, the question of how to adapt is one with which countries must reckon. As policymakers rethink immigration systems for this new era of work, the analysis suggests they should consider:

• Creating flexible immigration policies that can allow a greater degree of remote work and/or attract digital nomads, in line with national economic priorities.
• Coordinating across portfolios to develop a remote work strategy that integrates immigration priorities with economic development and inclusive growth objectives.
• Working with other countries to streamline immigration, employment, social security and tax requirements so that it is easier for workers and employers to understand the rules and their obligations.
• Exploring how regions outside of major metro areas can capture the benefits of remote work.
• Creating temporary-to-permanent pathways so that some remote workers on visitor and nomad visas can transition to permanent residence.

You can read the report, The Future of Remote Work: Digital Nomads and the Implications for Immigration Systems, here:

Khan: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

Like you, there have been many times I have felt proud to be Canadian. For example, our government’s principled refusal to join the immoral invasion of Iraq. Attending citizenship ceremonies, where new Canadians remind us of the deeper meaning of citizenship. Being told by one of my Harvard professors that Canadian students were the best prepared – a testament to our excellent public education system. And of course, the 1995 Unity Rally in Montreal, on the eve of the Quebec referendum, where Canadians joined hands peacefully to express our heartfelt love for Canada and Quebec.

The contentment has been punctuated by instances of profound doubt, when I wonder what we really stand for. For example, the longstanding Canadian project to inflict cultural genocide on Indigenous communities. Just read the summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report to get a shocking glimpse into the depravity of our country’s official policy: Last year’s gut-wrenching announcements about the unmarked graves of Indigenous children on the grounds of former residential schools. And let’s not forget the complicity on the part of government agencies in the rendition of Maher Arar to torture in Syria.

Post 9/11, our courts served as a check on government overreach on basic civil liberties. I grew to love our Constitution, which replaced hockey as a central feature of my Canadian identity.

I am not a historian. Nor am I a lawyer. I am, simply, a Canadian citizen who cherishes our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a safeguard for fundamental rights and freedoms.

Imagine, then, the gut-punch upon discovering that the highest law of the land – to which new citizens pledge allegiance – makes no such guarantees of fundamental rights and freedoms whatsoever. All owing to the notwithstanding clause, which is enshrined in the Charter.

For years, I saw the “notwithstanding clause” as a polysyllabic legal term, bandied about by constitutional experts. I didn’t know what it meant. Mainstream media clarified it as a right, given to provincial and federal governments, to suspend Sections 2 and 7 to 15 of the Charter. All of this still seemed abstract. Until it wasn’t, after reading those sections.

In a nutshell, the Charter grants governments the right to suspend basic individual freedoms that we all take for granted. Namely, freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion and expression, as well as freedom of the press, peaceful assembly and freedom of association. We aren’t talking about emergency measures, nor reasonable limits that are justified in a democracy. No, we are talking about a constitution that makes it perfectly legal to suspend basic human rights, as a matter of governance.

It does not stop there.

A number of basic legal rights can be suspended. These include the right to life, liberty and security (barring some exceptions, such as the prison system); requirement of warrants for search and seizure; the right to be informed why one is being detained; the right to a lawyer upon arrest; the right against unlawful imprisonment; presumption of innocence until proven guilty; and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. The clause allows suspension of the right of every individual to be equal before, and under the law; and suspends the right to equal protection of the law without discrimination based on race, ethnicity, colour, religion, sex, age or disability.

This needs to be spelled out: our Charter makes it perfectly legal to gut basic rights. There is no need for a coup, no need to politicize selection of judges, no need to gerrymander, no need to use a loophole. The potential for abuse is encoded into law. There is no other constitutional democracy that allows for the gutting of basic rights as a matter of governance.

Much has been written about the history of how the notwithstanding clause came to be: a compromise between federal and provincial powers; a balance between elected representatives and unelected judges. Yet, this does not explain how basic human rights were used as a bargaining chip, rendering our Charter of Rights and Freedoms hollow.

When it was introduced, the thought was that it would be rarely used. Some termed it the “nuclear button.” For decades, that was the case. However, within the past three years, it has been used twice by Quebec and once by Ontario. Quebec Bills 21 and 96 unequivocally suspend individual and legal rights of minorities. Conservative Party leadership candidates Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre and Patrick Brown have promised to strike down the recent Supreme Court decision on sentencing, using the clause.

It’s time for each Canadian to engage in a conversation about who we are as a country, given that our Charter allows for cancellation of basic civil liberties.

Source: I thought the Charter protected Canadians’ fundamental rights, but I was wrong

Trudeau says passport delays are ‘unacceptable,’ promises the government will ‘step up’

Unacceptable that government did not act in advance on its knowledge that demand would surge post-pandemic. Undermines overall government credibility when it cannot deliver on its core responsibilities (passport, alas, not the only example):

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is promising to do more to fix what he calls an “unacceptable” state of affairs at the country’s passport offices that have been overwhelmed in recent days as thousands of Canadians scramble to get their hands on the necessary documents before travelling abroad.

Speaking to CBC Radio’s The House in an interview that will air Saturday, Trudeau said he understands there’s a lot of anxiety among would-be travellers right now.

“This situation is unacceptable,” he said. “There’s a real concern among families facing these things and we have to step up.”

Source: Trudeau says passport delays are ‘unacceptable,’ promises the government will ‘step up’

Unions urged Ottawa to boost staffing before passport backlog

More on the passport mess. As noted earlier, surge was anticipated by IRCC and ESDC/Service Canada:

Unions that represent workers at Passport Canada and Service Canada centres across the country say they asked the federal government to beef up staffing in anticipation of a summer surge in passport applications and renewals that has now materialized, causing passport offices to become overwhelmed.

“It is a disaster. Our workers are getting verbally harassed and psychologically abused by angry crowds. I believe this surge was totally predictable,” said Kevin King, national president of the Union of National Employees, which represents about 800 passport officers and is part of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

“We knew that there would be significant pressure on resources that we did not have. So even over a year ago, we started demanding that the employer hire more passport officers.”

Canadians are now finding that the rush of applications has greatly extended wait times for passport service at the precise moment when many of them are preparing to embark on travel they had postponed earlier in the pandemic. Across the country, frustration is reaching a boiling point as would-be travellers camp out at passport offices overnight, hoping to be first in line to check on their applications. In Montreal this week, police were called in as tempers flared over lengthy waits and queue-cutters at one passport location.

The passport fiasco is a result of systemic and behavioural factors.

In the first year of the pandemic, between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, there were just 363,000 passport applications, according to data provided by Employment and Social Development Canada. The following year, the number climbed to 1,273,000.

But, in April, 2022, with pandemic restrictions on the wane, the number of passport applications started surging. In the weeks since April 1 of this year, the government has already received a little under half the past year’s total: 542,000 applications, according to the EDSC data.

“Only 20 per cent of normal passport volume was received in the first two years of the pandemic,” according to a briefing note provided by ESDC.

The number of Canadians travelling abroad has increased significantly since last spring. The most recent data from Statistics Canada show that the number of return air trips by Canadians rose to 549,300 in March. 2022, from just 18,900 in the same month last year, when most of the country was still under stringent pandemic restrictions.

And that March, 2022, number doesn’t even reflect the latest easing of travel restrictions. The United States only dropped testing requirements for international visitors two weeks ago, while Canada eased testing requirements for inbound and returning travellers in late April.

“It appears that people let their passports expire during the pandemic, and then you had the southern border suddenly reopening, testing requirements lifted, and all these people wanting to travel,” Mr. King said.

Compounding the backlog is the fact that many Canadians who applied for 10-year passports when the documents were first introduced in 2013 are facing impending expiry dates. (Before then, the passport validity period was five years.) Most countries require at least six months validity on a passport for international travel.

“We were having meetings with the employer last year asking them what the plan would be with the 10-year passport renewal surge. We asked them if they were going to increase the number of sites, or extend hours. And there really wasn’t a plan presented to us,” said Crystal Warner, national executive vice-president at the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, which represents Service Canada workers.

The process of renewing passports or applying for new passports involves two departments: Service Canada and Passport Canada. Workers at both departments are employees of ESDC Canada, a federal ministry. There are only 36 Passport Canada offices across the country, but Service Canada has passport service counters at more than 300 centres.

Service Canada officers, according to Ms. Warner, can handle passport application intake, but the actual vetting, production and printing of passports is done by designated passport officers at Passport Canada. Part of the issue right now, according to both union leaders, is that there are not enough passport officers. Mr. King said his union is asking for 400 of them to be hired.

In a statement, ESDC said there were 1,500 staff members across Service Canada and Passport Canada locations before the pandemic, and that the government hired 600 additional workers in the beginning of 2022 specifically for passport processing. The ministry said it plans to begin hiring an additional 600 staff in the coming weeks, also for passport processing. The statement did not specify whether “passport processing” means intake, or whether it refers to vetting and production.

Both union leaders said they do not know where the 600 new staff members ESDC said it hired in early 2022 are now working. “Are they just additional front-line staff to assist with intake? If so, which specific offices?” Mr. King asked. “We need national passport officers with at least 12 weeks of training to deal with these very secure travel documents.”

The government has implemented an estimated-wait-time system on ESDC’s website. Now, before arriving at a passport office, an applicant can see how long they will have to wait to speak with a passport officer. As of Wednesday morning, at a number of passport locations in Toronto and Ottawa, wait times were roughly six to seven hours.

The fact that many Canadians opted to mail in their passport renewal documents during the pandemic has also contributed to long wait times, according to Ms. Warner. “Because people have not gotten a response, they’ve opted to go to locations in-person,” she said.

As to whether remote work and vaccine mandates have contributed to inefficiency in the system, both the unions and the government say those factors have been negligible. According to ESDC, just 299 employees – or about 1 per cent of the ministry’s workforce – were put on unpaid leave because they were unvaccinated.

The Union of National Employees estimates that these backlogs will continue over the next six months, as new staff begin training and the volume of passport renewals continues to pile up ahead of the first 10-year passport renewal period.

“This is not just the story of the week. It’s going to continue getting worse,” Mr. King said.

Source: Unions urged Ottawa to boost staffing before passport backlog

Boulet promet de la francisation pour les Ukrainiens dès cet été

Catching up:

Les Ukrainiens et autres immigrants en attente pourront commencer la francisation à temps complet dès cet été, moins d’un mois après en avoir fait la demande. Le ministre de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration, Jean Boulet, s’y est personnellement engagé lors d’une entrevue accordée au Devoir mercredi.

« Il y aura peut-être des cas qui vont [nous] échapper, mais notre objectif, c’est de faire le plus rapidement possible. Cet été, oui, il y a des possibilités de commencer des sessions [de francisation] à temps complet. » En date du 17 juin, 981 personnes, dont 137 nées en Ukraine, étaient sur une liste d’attente pour s’inscrire à des cours, et le délai moyen d’attente cumulé était de 22 jours, un délai dont Jean Boulet se dit « particulièrement fier ».

Vendredi dernier, Le Devoir avait révélé les difficultés de certains Ukrainiens à avoir accès cet été à la francisation à temps complet, et même à temps partiel, alors que dans certaines régions, plusieurs organismes mandataires du ministère de l’Immigration, de la Francisation et de l’Intégration (MIFI) n’ouvraient pas de cours, faute d’enseignants ou d’un nombre suffisant d’inscriptions. Certains organismes faisaient même relâche pendant l’été.

« Moi, je n’accepterais pas [ça]. Si je le sais, je vais m’assurer de remédier à la situation. S’ils sont quatre et qu’ils veulent débuter, je vais m’assurer qu’ils débutent, peu importe le moyen, que ce soit en ligne avec accompagnement, que ce soit avec des personnes d’autres régions », a insisté Jean Boulet. Les cours en ligne ne sont toutefois pas offerts pour les débutants, a-t-il convenu.

Commencer à temps partiel

Au calendrier du MIFI, une seule session à temps complet est prévue l’été, soit du 25 mai au 3 août. Si les groupes n’ont plus de place, les personnes immigrantes peuvent toutefois commencer la francisation à temps partiel — la prochaine session débute le 11 juillet — avant d’intégrer un cours à temps complet plus tard. « Les mandataires du MIFI doivent orienter la clientèle vers d’autres organismes et vers les centres de services scolaires si leurs groupes sont complets afin de ne pas créer de liste d’attente et des délais pour la clientèle », lit-on dans un document d’information transmis au Devoir.

Dans sa déclaration de services à la clientèle, le MIFI s’engage à offrir un cours à « temps complet » dans un délai de 50 jours pour plus de 80 % des personnes en faisant la demande. Cette cible est respectée, assure le ministre, puisque 83,2 % des élèves ayant commencé un cours entre le 1er avril et 13 juin l’ont fait dans un délai de 50 jours. Toutefois, cette information sur les listes d’attente et les délais n’est pas disponible pour les cours à temps partiel, les inscriptions étant gérées directement par les organismes communautaires.

Le ministre Boulet ne nie pas non plus « le défi » que représente le recrutement du personnel enseignant, notamment pour les cours à temps partiel, où une hausse de la clientèle a été remarquée. « Mais je me suis assuré qu’on fasse de la formation continue pour répondre à la demande, qui est croissante. C’est pour ça qu’on est capable de respecter le délai moyen de 22 jours. »

Un manque d’information

Plusieurs Ukrainiens et les Québécois qui les hébergent ou leur donnent un coup de main ont dit avoir du mal à obtenir de l’information sur l’offre de cours. Le ministre dit comprendre la situation. « C’est souvent un manque d’information. C’est sûr que c’est important pour nous de faire une nouvelle offensive publicitaire et de dire quels sont nos services en francisation », a reconnu M. Boulet.

Il invite d’ailleurs les immigrants à s’informer auprès d’Accompagnement Québec, un service d’orientation gratuit et personnalisé présent en région. La semaine dernière, le ministre Boulet a également annoncé le début des travaux menant à la création dans un an de Francisation Québec, un guichet unique dont les premières tentatives d’implantation remontent à 2005 et qu’aucun gouvernement n’a réussi à livrer jusqu’ici, faute d’entente entre les divers ministères offrant de la francisation.

Pour pouvoir s’inscrire à un cours, le MIFI exige, entre autres, une pièce qui prouve le statut d’immigration, comme le visa de séjour temporaire (AVUCU) ou le permis de travail. Seul ce dernier peut donner accès à l’allocation de participation de 200 $ et au remboursement des frais de transport et de garde des enfants. Le visa de visiteur, sans le permis de travail, ne le permet pas.

Le ministre dit cependant avoir agi en permettant, dans l’intervalle, l’accès à des cours gratuits à temps complet ou à temps partiel aux Ukrainiens qui n’auraient pas encore de permis de travail. « Dès que les Ukrainiens arrivent, ils bénéficient de l’ensemble des services, notamment de francisation », a-t-il assuré. Si un immigrant bénéficie d’une aide financière de dernier recours (aide sociale) comme c’est souvent le cas quand on est demandeur d’asile, il peut aussi avoir accès à la francisation et au remboursement des frais de garde et de transport.

« J’ai des directions régionales et près de 200 personnes réparties dans tout le territoire du Québec, et le message est le même. […] C’est sûr qu’il y [en] a qui ne sont peut-être pas totalement informés, mais les droits sont là, il faut qu’ils soient respectés, qu’il y ait une saine communication et qu’on ne soit pas éparpillés », a dit le ministre.

Jean Boulet a dit « vouloir tout faire » pour soutenir les nouveaux arrivants ukrainiens. « C’est sûr qu’il y aura peut-être un cas isolé où tu vas tomber sur des personnes dans une ville X, Y ou Z au Québec, qui n’auront pas eu totalement satisfaction à leur demande. Et si ce n’est pas du caprice, moi, je vais m’assurer qu’il y ait un retour d’ascenseur. »

Source: Boulet promet de la francisation pour les Ukrainiens dès cet été

Expats Frustrated With Taxes Consider Renouncing US Citizenship

Another survey by a tax company. Some interesting demographics (by and large, more “middle class” than very affluent):

Around 9 million U.S. citizens are currently living abroad, according to estimates by the U.S. State Department. Many of these “expats” have cultivated more permanent lives overseas, with established careers, relationships, and community ties. A new studyfrom Greenback Expat Tax Services sheds more light on some of the key aspects of life abroad and why many expats are now considering renouncing their U.S. citizenship.

Greenback, a tax services provider for Americans living abroad, releases a survey on expat life each year. For 2022, the company surveyed 3,200 U.S. citizens living in 121 different countries on various aspects of their professional, financial, and social lives. A majority of those surveyed were over the age of 65, and 34% had spent more than 20 years living outside of the U.S..

In addition to these demographic details, the survey also included questions on employment and income. 31% of surveyed respondents were employed by a large organization (of 250 or more people), and half reported an annual income below $100,000. When asked how the COVID-19 pandemic had impacted their careers, the majority expressed plans to work remotely at least part time moving forward.

Overall, the biggest point of contention for those surveyed was navigating U.S. taxes while living abroad. While most countries tax based on resident status, the U.S. government follows a citizenship-based taxation process. Under a citizenship-based system, all citizens are taxed under the same personal income tax system, regardless of where they live. American expats therefore must pay U.S. income taxes on any worldwide income, including salaries, investment earnings, and more. With this system in place, many U.S. citizens living abroad are required to pay U.S. taxes and taxes in their host country each year.

In addition to tax filings, some U.S. citizens may be required to report foreign accounts to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, depending on the total value of their accounts. Reporting foreign accounts is a lesser-known requirement often overlooked by expats as they navigate life abroad, and failure to do so can result in serious financial penalties.

Greenback’s survey reported that many expats find it difficult to navigate the U.S. government’s tax and financial requirements, and nearly 80% don’t believe they should have to pay U.S. taxes while living overseas. As a result of these frustrations, about one in four have “seriously considered” renouncing their U.S. citizenship. For those considering citizenship renunciation, the burden of U.S. taxes and a host of other political and personal motivations were cited.

Giving up one’s U.S. citizenship can be a complicated process and it does come with a price tag. Any individual officially renouncing their citizenship must pay a $2,350 fee to the State Department, and some with higher net worths may be required to pay an “exit fee” based on their worldwide assets. The State Department also warns against renouncing strictly for tax purposes, stating “persons who wish to renounce U.S. citizenship should be aware of the fact that renunciation of U.S. citizenship may have no effect on their U.S. tax or military service obligations.”

Source: Expats Frustrated With Taxes Consider Renouncing US Citizenship