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In The News for April 17 : Will federal public service workers go on strike?

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of April 17 ... What we are watching in Canada ...
Members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) demonstrate outside the Treasury Board building in Ottawa on Friday, March 31, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle

In The News is a roundup of stories from The Canadian Press designed to kickstart your day. Here is what's on the radar of our editors for the morning of April 17 ...

What we are watching in Canada ...

Canada's largest federal public service union is expected to reveal what came of last-ditch talks over the weekend after threatening the largest strike against a single employer in Canada's history.

Mediated contract negotiations between the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Treasury Board continued over the weekend in what the union described as the government's final chance to reach a deal.

"This is the government’s last opportunity to show workers the respect they deserve. Workers can’t wait, and we’re ready to take strike action," the union said in a Friday statement in which it announced a news conference in Ottawa for Monday morning.

Some 155,000 employees are prepared to walk off the job, including 35,000 workers from the Canada Revenue Agency.

The biggest sticking point in the negotiations appears to be pay increases, as the union is calling for raises to keep up with the rising cost of living and historic inflation.

The government offered a roughly 2 per cent average wage increase each year over a five-year period, while the union has pushed for annual raises of 4.5 per cent.

The union also wants to put greater limits on contract work, more anti-racism training and provisions for remote work on the table.

Though some 35,000 federal public servants in the union are deemed essential workers, the strike mandate has raised concerns about how important government services that are already backlogged, like the processing of immigration and employment insurance applications, will function.

A strike would likely delay income tax and benefits returns, and the delivery of passports would be limited to Canadians in emergency or humanitarian situations. Other government departments would also be affected.


Also this ...

An internal report by Veterans Affairs Canada is raising red flags over the country's military graves and cemeteries, warning that more permanent funding is needed to keep them from falling into disrepair.

The report is the result of an internal audit following up on a similar review six years ago. At that time, nearly 45,000 out of the estimated 207,000 graves of Canada's veterans were in a state of disrepair because of a lack of resources.

The Trudeau government subsequently committed nearly $25 million over five years in temporary funding starting in 2018, which the new report says has largely addressed the problem by facilitating thousands of repairs.

Yet auditors found that without a permanent increase to the department's funding, that success will be short-lived.

"While five-year funding for the backlog project has allowed the grave marker maintenance team to reduce the backlog of repairs significantly, maintaining an adequate inspection cycle post-project will be challenging," the audit report reads.

"The evaluation finds that the current $1.25 million allocated to the cemetery and grave marker maintenance program is insufficient to prevent a future maintenance backlog."

The audit report goes on to note that the annual $1.25 million budget has remained largely unchanged since 2009, even though the number of graves tracked and maintained by the department has increased by more than 40 per cent over the past decade.

Veterans Affairs spokesman Marc Lescoutre confirmed in an email to The Canadian Press that the department has not increased baseline funding for the maintenance program, though he said it has taken $900,000 from other areas to ensure sufficient funds.

The Liberals have been repeatedly criticized for refusing to make permanent investments in Veterans Affairs operations over the past few years, as it has relied instead on temporary funds and staff to address long-standing problems.

That included hiring of hundreds of temporary staff to process a backlog of disability claims from ill and injured veterans, and dozens of temporary case managers to help permanent staff with their overwhelming workloads.

The temporary measures have been criticized by veterans, service providers and others such as auditor general Karen Hogan, who has blasted the continued use of what she calls ad hoc funding.


What we are watching in the U.S. ...

Kansas City, Mo. _ Kansas City police are working to quickly prepare evidence for the Clay County prosecutor in the shooting of a Black teenager while trying to pick up his younger brothers from a friend's house Thursday.

"I want everyone to know that I am listening,'' Police Chief Stacey Graves said Sunday at a news conference at Kansas City police headquarters downtown, "and I understand the concern we are receiving from the community.''

The Kansas City Star reported the 16-year-old boy, who family members have identified online as Ralph Yarl, was hospitalized Thursday night after he was shot while trying to pick up his younger twin brothers. Police said he went to the wrong house and was shot there.

Officials would not confirm the number of times the homeowner shot the victim or where his injuries were.

Police have not identified the shooter or his race. Information that officials have now does not point to the crime being racially motivated, but Graves said that aspect also remains under investigation. Investigators also will consider whether or not the suspect was protected within the Stand Your Ground laws, Graves said.

Graves said Sunday that the homeowner who allegedly shot the teen was taken into custody Thursday and placed on a 24-hour hold. While searching the scene for evidence, detectives found the firearm allegedly used. Law enforcement released the suspect pending further investigation after consulting with the Clay County Prosecutor's Office.

Mayor Quinton Lucas, who attended the news conference, said the police department understands the community's concern that the shooting could be racially motivated. He said some members of the police department attended Sunday's protest in the neighbourhood where the shooting took place to listen to community members' concerns.

Yarl was meant to pick up his brothers from a friend's house on 115th Terrace. He ended up ringing the doorbell at a home on 115th Street, Faith Spoonmore, the teen's aunt, wrote online.

A man opened the door, saw Yarl and shot him in the head. When Yarl fell to the ground, the man shot him again. Yarl got up and ran from the property, but he had to ask at three different homes before someone helped him, Spoonmore said.


What we are watching in the rest of the world ...

BANGKOK _ Myanmar's military government on Monday granted amnesty to more than 3,000 prisoners to mark the traditional lunar New Year holiday, but it wasn't immediately clear if those released included the thousands of political detainees locked up for opposing army rule.

State-run MRTV television reported that the State Administration Council, the ruling body created by the military after it seized power in 2021, had pardoned 3,113 prisoners, including 98 foreigners who will be deported. Mass prisoner releases are common on major holidays.

An official from Yangon's Insein Prison, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to release information, said the number and names of people to be freed from the country's largest penitentiary was not yet known. The releases began Monday, but sometimes can take a few days to be completed.

Some 17,460 political detainees, including Myanmar's former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were in detention as of last Wednesday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent organization that keeps detailed tallies of arrests and casualties linked to the nation's political conflicts.

Myanmar has been under military rule since Feb. 1, 2021, when its army ousted Suu Kyi's elected government. The takeover was met with massive nonviolent resistance, which has since become a widespread armed struggle.

Urban guerrillas are active in major cities, and the loosely organized People's Defense Forces, along with their allies in ethnic minority guerrilla groups, regularly strike military columns and outposts.

Civilians have borne the brunt of brutal military offensives in the countryside, including the use of artillery and airstrikes, which have displaced more than a million people, causing a humanitarian crisis.

At least 3,240 civilians have been killed by the security forces since the military takeover, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Its tally does not include all casualties from combat.


On this day in 2002 ...

Four Canadian soldiers were killed when a U.S. fighter jet mistakenly bombed them during a live-fire training exercise near Kandahar, Afghanistan.


In entertainment ...

TORONTO _ A Canadian Screen Awards special that replaced a live show took on a patriotic tone Sunday night, promoting the work of this country's film and TV creatives and celebrities.

The pre-taped hour-long special hosted by comedian Samantha Bee featured speeches from top award winners crowned over the past week, and interviews with special honourees including actors Ryan Reynolds, Catherine O'Hara and Simu Liu.

The only award revealed during the special that wasn't previously announced was the Cogeco Fund audience choice prize, which went to Citytv's "Hudson and Rex.''

The broadcast replaced the pre-pandemic tradition of a live two-hour variety show that handed out hardware to marquee film and television winners in a single night.

Organizers have said they hope the new format will appeal to more viewers.

Top winners over the past Canadian Screen Week include Clement Virgo's drama "Brother'' with a record 12 film awards including best picture, best director and best adapted screenplay.

A gala on Friday named CBC's "The Porter'' best drama with 12 prizes overall and CBC's "Sort Of'' best comedy, with seven awards.


Did you see this?

One of CBC's Twitter accounts now has a label which describes the broadcaster as "Government-funded Media."

News of the addition to @CBC was shared late Sunday on Twitter by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who had asked the social media company to add the label to accounts that promote "news-related" content from CBC English but did not ask the same for its French counterpart.

CBC media relations director Leon Mar says Twitter's decision defies its own policy, which says government-funded media "may have varying degrees of government involvement over editorial content."

Mar says that is "clearly not the case with CBC/Radio-Canada."

He says CBC/Radio-Canada is publicly funded through a parliamentary appropriation that is voted upon by all MPs, and that its editorial independence is protected in law in the Broadcasting Act.

Poilievre, in his tweet, also posted a link to a petition on the Conservative's website that calls for the CBC to be defunded.

"Now people know that it is Trudeau propaganda, not news," the tweet on the Conservative leader's post said.

The Canadian Press emailed Twitter asking for an explanation of the added tag, and the company responded with a poop emoji.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 17, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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