Thursday, March 8, 2012

RCI Cyberjournal

Edition 7 March 2012
Canadian International Financial
Canadian

Canada accuses people smuggler
RCMP has launched an international manhunt for the first person charged in connection with a ship that brought hundreds of Tamil migrants to Canada's West Coast a year and a half ago. Thayakaran Markandu has been charged with organizing illegal entry into Canada. The charge relates to the MV Sun Sea, which arrived in August 2010 carrying 492 ethnic Tamil migrants. Mr. Markandu, who court records indicate was born in 1972, is currently believed to be living abroad.
An indictment filed in B.C. provincial court accuses him of crimes in the Juan de Fuca Strait off the B.C. coast, as well as in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Thailand. The Sun Sea arrived with 492 Tamils on board, including men, women and children. All made refugee claims, pointing to decades of violence wrought by a 26-year civil war in their home country of Sri Lanka. The ship arrived a year after another vessel, the MV Ocean Lady, brought 76 Tamil migrants to B.C.'s shores. The two ships amplified the debate about what to do when migrants arrive in large numbers after paying human smugglers, with the federal Conservative government using the two cases to argue for tougher human smuggling and refugee laws.



Conservatives yield on Elections Canada power
The Conservative government has reversed course and now says it will support an NDP motion to give Elections Canada increased audit powers. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who has battled the federal elections watchdog for much of his political career, told the House of Commons on Wednesday his government will support new legislation within six months, as proposed by the official Opposition.
New Democrats and Liberals have been trying to exploit the refusal of a Conservative-dominated House committee last month to reject arecommendation by the chief electoral officer for new investigative powers. Marc Mayrand wants to be able to compel political parties to back up their financial statements with receipts and details. That's a power currently held by all his provincial counterparts. The Conservative committee rejection was used by the opposition parties as damning evidence against the government in the context of Elections Canada's growing investigation into fraudulent election phone calls.



Ottawa still grappling with immigration backlog
The government of Canada is looking at ways to streamline its immigration system to eliminate a backlog of more than a million applicants. Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said on Wednesday the government was considering a wide range of options to create a more nimble immigration system better able to meet employers' needs for skilled labor.
One idea is to have provinces go through the backlog of applicants and pick out people with the qualifications companies need, such as engineers in the oil business. Canada remains relatively open to immigrants, but many newcomers complain it is difficult to get their education and professional qualifications recognized, forcing them to retrain or find work in a different, often unskilled, field.




B.C. minister willing to see teachers after strike
B.C. Education Minister George Abbott says his door is open to meet with B.C. Teachers' Federation president Susan Lambert to discuss a three-day walkout that is drawing to an end, but it appears he's waiting for her to call. Mr. Abbott says he's prepared to meet over the weekend with Mrs. Lambert to outline the government's position on contract issues, but he says she hasn't accepted his offer to meet. The education minister stresses the government will not move on its so-called net-zero mandate when it comes to wage increases, which means there will be no pay raises unless savings are found within existing contract benefits. Mr. Abbott says about 130 B.C. union contracts have been or are
negotiating within the government's net-zero approach and it wouldn't be fair to allow the teachers to break that pattern.


Ontario premier tells teachers no
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty is rejecting a request from Ontario teachers for a meeting to talk about his demand for a two-year wage freeze. Mr. McGuinty has written Ontario's four largest teachers' unions and the Canadian Union of Public Employees acknowledging that he's asking "a lot" of their members. In declining the meeting, he writes the government must make choices to eliminate the $16-billion deficit if it wants to fund public schools properly in the future.
Mr. McGuinty says the wage freeze would allow the government to keep its cap on class sizes and finish introducing full-day kindergarten, both of which require extra teachers. The government also wants to eliminate the teachers ability to bank up to 200 sick days and then be paid out for them when they retire.



Mexican police investigate Canadian diver's death
Mexican police are investigating the death of an experienced Canadian scuba diver. Forty-one-year-old Ronda Cross of Calgary, AB, was diving with her cousin over the weekend in Cabo San Lucas when she ran into difficulty. There was apparently a problem with her tanks and she suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. Investigators have shut down the scuba company and seized the tanks.


Federal tobacco farm earns rasberry
A federal program that spent millions paying farmers to get out of the tobacco business only to see their numbers rise is this year's winner of a government waste award. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation gave its annual worst of government waste award to Agriculture Canada for its 2008-2009 $284 million tobacco transition program. The federal auditor general found it increased the number of tobacco farmers, rather than reduce them. Federation's Director Gregory Thomas called the department the grand patron of tobacco. Some farmers ended up taking money to get out of the business, then shifted their land and equipment to relatives who kept on growing tobacco. The auditor general found in a report last year that tobacco production doubled the next year, A spokeswoman for the minister of agriculture said the program is under review.



Children's hospital gets huge donation
The founder of a company that has built thousands of homes in Canada and the United States has donated $40 million to the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. The donation by philanthropist Peter Gilgan, the CEO of Mattamy Homes, is believed to be the largest single private gift to a children's hospital in Canada. The hospital announced the donation Wednesday, and says it will go toward the construction and operating costs of the SickKids Centre for Research and Learning.
The $400-million facility is currently under construction in downtown Toronto, and is scheduled to open in August 2013. The hospital says the laboratory and learning facility will bring together 2,000 scientists, trainees and research staff under one roof. Mr. Gilgan's company built its first home in 1978, and he and his employees have been involved previously in raising money for the hospital.



Quebec students again take protest to the streets
Riot-equipped Montreal police have fired tear gas into mobs of protesting students outside Loto-Quebec's downtown headquarters. The students apparently tried to breach the government offices as part of a campaign of protests against higher tuition fees. Helmeted police lined up to control the demonstration, which took place in Montreal's main downtown shopping district not far from McGill University. Barriers and debris littered Sherbrooke Street, one of Montreal's main east-west arteries during the confrontation. The students are protesting increases in tuition fees the government plans to implement during the next five years. The increase of around $300 per year would still leave Quebec with some of the lowest tuition fees in the country.





International

UN finally enters wrecked Syrian city
The International Committee of the Red Cross says UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and a convoy from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent were allowed into the devastated Homs district of Baba Amr on Wednesday but found that the majority of civilians had fled. Mrs. Amos, who was denied entry to Syria last week, was beginning a three-day mission to try to persuade Syrian authorities to grant unhindered access for aid workers to deliver life-saving assistance to civilians. She was believed to have returned to the capital, Damascus, on Wednesday night, where she had held talks earlier in the day with Foreign Minister Walid Moualem. A Red Cross aid convoy has been unable to enter Baba Amr since
arriving in Homs last Friday, a day after rebel fighters fled following nearly a month of shelling by government forces. Activists had reported bloody reprisals by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Baba Amr after the rebels withdrew.



Libyan leader would defend unity with force
Libyan leader Mustapha Abdel Jalil on Wednesday said he would defend national unity "with force" if necessary, after tribal leaders and a political faction declared autonomy for an eastern region. A faction of tribal and political leaders in the oil-reach east of the country is trying to carve out a semi-autonomous territory and has called for a federal system of governance.



Confessed Norwegian mass murderer indicted
Norwegian prosecutors on Wednesday indicted Anders Behring Breivik on terror and murder charges for slaying 77 people in a bomb and shooting rampage but said the confessed mass killer likely won't go to prison for the country's worst peacetime massacre. Prosecutors said they consider the 33-year-old right-wing extremist psychotic and will seek a sentence of involuntary commitment to psychiatric care instead of imprisonment unless new information about his mental health emerges during the trial set to start in April. As expected, they charged him under a paragraph in Norway's anti-terror law that refers to violent acts intended to disrupt key government functions or spread fears in the population. Mr. Breivik has confessed to the July 22 attacks but denies criminal guilt, portraying the victims as "traitors" for embracing immigration policies he claims will result in an Islamic colonization of Norway.



Investors signing onto Greece financial rescue
Greece saw private investors' participation in a massive debt relief deal rise on Wednesday, bringing the country closer to avoiding a default that would plunge it into financial chaos and reignite the European debt crisis. With a little over 24 hours left before the deadline for acceptances, private investors owning about 46 per cent of Greece's privately-held debt have so far committed publicly to the bond swap. For the deal to work, Athens needs 90 per cent of investors to sign up. However, a voluntary participation rate of around 70 per cent could be enough to force most holdouts to go along.
The Institute of International Finance, which has been leading the debt talks for large private creditors, said firms holding $106 billion of Greek bonds have agreed to the deal. The 30 firms include 12 banks and investment funds that already declared their participation on Monday as well as all major Greek banks. On top of that, Greek Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos said some $14 billion in bonds owned by Greek investment funds but managed by the central bank would also be added to the debt relief.



South African workers stage strike
Tens of thousands of South Africans joined a one-day national strike on Wednesday, hitting mining production, as the biggest labour group in the continent's largest economy flexed its muscles to remind the ruling ANC of its political clout. Gold Fields, the world's No. 4 producer, said its operations had ground to a halt, with as many as 85 percent of workers downing tools in response to the call for a strike by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
The immediate targets of the strike are new road tolls around Johannesburg, and short-term contract labour agencies that COSATU says exploit workers and perpetuate the inequalities of apartheid white-minority rule that ended in 1994. Analysts said the strike was just as much about COSATU sending a reminder of its clout to the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which is due to elect a new leader to replace President Jacob Zuma at the end of the year.



Mexican remains world's richest
Mexican tycoon Carlos Slim retained his position atop Forbes magazine's annual list of the world's billionaires on Wednesday with an estimated worth of $69 billion, placing him ahead of Bill Gates at $61 billion and Warren Buffett at $44 billion. Mr. Slim, 72, has taken the top spot for three years in a row, largely based on assets from his telecommunications empire. The United States again led the list with 425 billionaires. Russia overtook mainland China for the No. 2 spot, with 96 billionaires compared with mainland China's 95. Moscow led all cities with 78 billionaires, followed by New York at 58 and London at 39.





Financial

Ottawa again poised to intervene at Air Canada
Canadian Labour Minister Lisa Raitt urged Air Canada and its mechanics' union on Wednesday to negotiate a deal to avoid a strike, but signaled she was prepared to stop or limit a strike if necessary as she has done in the past. Hours after the union gave notice that it intends to strike at Canada's biggest airline at one minute after midnight on Sunday night, Mrs. Raitt said that a work stoppage is "not in the best interests of the Canadian public or Canadian businesses".
A strike would come at an awkward time for Air Canada as next week is spring break for schools in many parts of Canada and March is generally a busy flying month. The Conservative federal government has not been shy to step
in quickly to block strikes or end them quickly at Air Canada as well as at Canada Post, either by legislation or other means.



Markets
Toronto Stock Exchange on Wednesday: 12,350 + 52. Canadian dollar: US$1.00. Euro: $1.31. Oil: $106.45 + $1.75.




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