CALGARY — Amnesty International has warned Alberta Premier Jason Kenney that his government’s fight against oil and gas industry foes puts human rights at risk.
The head of the group’s Canadian branch outlined his concerns in an open letter Tuesday that highlighted Alberta’s public inquiry into foreign funding of environmental groups and its $30-million war room to combat critics through social media, advertising and the press.
“Amnesty International is deeply concerned that these initiatives undermine and violate a range of Alberta’s human rights obligations, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and international law, including freedom of expression, freedom of association, the rights of Indigenous peoples and gender equality,” wrote secretary general Alex Neve.
The United Conservative government has launched a multi-pronged attack on groups Kenney has accused of mounting a “campaign of lies and defamation.” He has blamed Canada’s inability to build new market-opening pipelines — and the associated economic woes in Alberta — on deep-pocketed U.S. charities that have unfairly maligned Canadian energy.
Although Alberta has enacted no laws stopping environmentalists from expressing their views, the government has created a toxic environment by labelling them liars and enemies, Neve said.
“That really stands to cast an incredible chill amongst environmental groups and others in the province, some of whom will nonetheless push through,” he said. “Others will become cautious and fearful, will feel that it’s not worth speaking out, that there may be repercussions, that they don’t want to expose themselves to danger.”
Neve said threats — many of a sexually violent nature — tend to be aimed at women and Indigenous people who speak out.
The government’s promise to crack down on foreign funding of environmental organizations runs afoul of the right to free association, he added.
Under international law, groups have the right to work together on important social and environmental issues such as climate change — and that includes seeking and receiving funding to do so, Neve said.
In a speech to an oilsands conference in Fort McMurray, Alta., Kenney ridiculed Amnesty’s letter.
The premier said he set up an Amnesty International club in high school because of its work on behalf of prisoners in authoritarian dictatorships.
“The world must be in a pretty good place now with respect to human rights if they’re now focusing their attention on efforts by the government of Alberta to advocate for the environmentally responsible development of resources,” said Kenney, who added he intends to write back to Neve.
Kenney said Canada has a moral obligation to provide its energy to the world.
“Is it really the view of Amnesty International that the world would be better if this country — this great champion of human dignity, of equality, of opportunity, of environmental protection — were to abandon global energy markets to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Russia and Venezuela?”
Neve said it’s Alberta’s prerogative to defend its industry vigorously.
“The measures the government chooses to defend the industry … absolutely (need) to be entirely compliant with our human rights obligations and needs to go far in ensuring that words are chosen, tone is chosen in a way that is not going to add to the toxicity of the debate.”
Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press
‘The pain didn’t stop:’ Study looking into slow concussion recovery in youth
CALGARY — Kailey Lang mostly remembers the blinding headaches after a carefree trip down a waterslide at West Edmonton Mall in March left her with a concussion.
The 14-year-old from Calgary was making her second trip down the giant slide when something happened.
“It kind of went around in a loop and shot you out of the bottom. When I came out, I had this throbbing, kind of pounding pain in my head and I felt a little dizzy at first. And then the pain didn’t stop for a while,” Kailey says.
“I don’t really remember hitting my head at all.”
There was no quick recovery for Kailey, who was plagued with symptoms after she got home.
“I started to get the headaches almost daily for a few weeks. And then I started taking this medication for seizures and then the really, really extreme headaches went away.”
Kailey missed a full three weeks of school and gradually returned to class. Even then, she wasn’t allowed to participate in physical activity, says her mother, Jill Beaton.
“When she talks about her pain, it was excruciating — it was 8 or 9 out of 10. We had multiple hospital visits.
“It wasn’t until we actually went to the children’s hospital that, instead of just being sent home with regular concussion protocol, they started saying, ‘OK, there’s something going on.'”
Kailey is part of a clinical trial by Dr. Michael Esser, a pediatric neurologist who has seen plenty of concussions at the intensive care unit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.
He’s trying to determine why some patients who get hurt while playing sports or falling off their bikes get better right away, while others have symptoms that hang on beyond the normal recovery period.
“Kids will come in with almost exactly the same stories,” Esser says.
“One will not get better or suffer longer. And the others basically come in because they were told to, but they have no symptoms.”
Esser hopes the study’s results will lead to better treatment.
Part of the study relies on a technology that uses brain waves to study brain function changes after children are injured.
“It’s pretty sensitive in picking up when kids’ brains don’t appear to be working or they’re complaining of feeling foggy-headed or have difficulty focusing and they may have a headache,” Esser explains.
The 100 participants wear a device that looks like a swimming cap on their heads and listen to tones and words.
“The speed or the size of the waves tells us if those are normal … or if they don’t seem to be what we would expect them to be, and if that could be related to your symptoms,” he says.
“The hope is that it will actually help to tailor therapies when we’re trying to get them to recover.”
Dr. Ryan D’Arcy in Surrey, B.C., who helped develop the technology, says the brain remains a medical mystery.
“My favourite question when I’m in front of audiences is: ‘Do you know how your brain is doing today?’
“Our mission has really been around the idea that for all brain conditions — for children, for adults, for seniors, for dementia, for concussions … you need a vital sign, so we got to work and invented one.”
The National Ambulatory Care Reporting System says that between 2016 and 2017 about 46,000 concussions were diagnosed in children five to 19 years old in hospital emergency departments across Canada.
Concerns about pediatric concussions recently prompted the Ontario Neurotrauma Foundation to issue a guideline for diagnosis and management.
“Prior recommendations used to demand that children simply rest, which was often misinterpreted as home jail,” Dr. Nick Reed with Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy at the University of Toronto said in a release.
“We now know that to improve recovery, it is important that children remain physically active and engaged in school as they recover from concussion, while ensuring their activities remain as safe as possible.”
The release said there are at least 35,000 pediatric hospital visits related to concussions each year in Ontario.
— Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press
Premier Doug Ford filmed Ontario News Now videos at least 100 times
TORONTO — Ontario Premier Doug Ford took time out of his work days to film taxpayer-funded videos that have been criticized as partisan propaganda on at least 100 occasions during his first year in power.
A Canadian Press analysis of a year’s worth of Ontario News Now videos found that Ford filmed with them on close to a third of the days in his first year as premier.
The premier’s office said he usually spends less than five minutes at a time on ONN filming and defended the use of time and did not dispute the estimate.
“Ontario News Now is a creative way to communicate the government’s message in the modern, digital world — no different than a video press release or a digital householder,” spokeswoman Ivana Yelich said in a statement.
One of the differences, said NDP critic Taras Natyshak, is that Ontario News Now styles itself as journalism. The spots are formatted like a TV news report, with a woman posing as a reporter interviewing the premier and cabinet ministers.
“Delivering your message on policy will always be an exercise that parliamentarians embark on and it’s an important way to communicate through all facets,” Natyshak said in an interview.
“However, trying to make it seem like this has the aspect of journalism and that he’s being questioned by a legitimate journalist, sort of, is disingenuous. He’s not receiving the hard questions that true media outlets would give him, given the opportunity.”
In Ford’s first year he held formal media availabilities, in which he takes a variety of questions from reporters, about two dozen times. He also did a handful of one-on-one interviews and called into talk radio on several occasions.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said it is a “shocking” amount of time for the premier to spend on his “personal propaganda network.”
“Rather than filming partisan videos disguised as independent media, the premier could have spent this time speaking with students, educators, and municipalities affected by his cuts,” Schreiner said in a statement. “I suggest the premier spend less time in the ONN echo chamber and more time listening to the people being hurt by his cuts.”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said Ford “should be spending his time answering the tough questions from the media rather than filming vanity spots on his own private news network.”
Ford has previously said that mainstream journalists have become irrelevant because he is “circumventing the media through our social media.”
Ontario News Now is produced and funded through PC caucus services. All recognized parties in the legislature — currently just the Tories and the NDP — get caucus service budgets for research, communications and associated staff. The total earmarked for the parties for 2018-19, the latest figures available, was $13.7 million.
“As leader of the PC caucus, the premier is responsible for helping to get our government’s message out through new and engaging content,” Yelich said.
Peter Graefe, an associate professor of political science at McMaster University, said the videos are probably not a good use of the premier’s time, but it also isn’t clear that they are helping the government — rather they may just be fostering cynicism.
It is important for all governments to communicate with citizens, he said, but there is a line between information and partisan self-promotion.
“Normally, you would expect communications to be not through the government caucuses,” he said.
The videos are not subject to government advertising rules that the auditor general oversees.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for the rules to be changed so that public money for caucus services cannot be spent on partisan advertising.
Interim Ontario director of the CTF, Jasmine Pickel, said Ford should also restore oversight powers of the auditor general.
The former Liberal government changed the criteria for what is deemed partisan advertising, and the auditor general has complained that doing so reduced her office to a rubber stamp and removed her discretion to veto ads as partisan.
The Progressive Conservatives frequently slammed the Liberals over government advertising that they said was partisan and promised during last year’s election to restore the auditor general’s powers.
But they now won’t commit to keeping that promise, only to review it.
Allison Jones, The Canadian Press
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