OTTAWA — Crown attorneys are lining up a wide range of senators – including some who have not previously been named in RCMP court documents – to be witnesses at the fraud trial of suspended Senator Mike Duffy.
The law clerk for the upper chamber warned several senators over the winter break that subpoenas would soon be delivered calling on them to appear at the trial. As well, the outgoing clerk of the Senate, Gary O’Brien, is also to be subpoenaed, along with members of the Senate administration.
The subpoenaed senators will then have to decide whether to invoke their rights as parliamentarians not to testify at trial.
Mr. Duffy faces 31 criminal charges, stemming from his Senate expenses claims and a $90,000 payment from the prime minister’s former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, that is the source of two bribery charges.
The suspended senator has long maintained his innocence in the face of allegations from the RCMP that he filed inappropriate housing claims, gave $65,000 in contracts to a former colleague for little in return and redirected some of the money to paying a makeup artist for a photo shoot and a personal trainer.
It is also alleged that Mr. Duffy improperly expensed the Senate for personal travel to funerals and for days when he was campaigning for the Conservatives.
Some of the key senators in the Duffy expense drama have either been warned, or expect to be called by the Crown as witnesses in the case, including former government Senate leader Marjory LeBreton; Sen. David Tkachuk, former chairman of the internal economy committee; and Sen. George Furey, the committee’s deputy chairman.
Postmedia News has also learned that a small number of senators not named in the RCMP court documents – which outlines the case police were building against Mr. Duffy – are to be subpoenaed because they were with Mr. Duffy at a public or private event that is the subject of one of the allegedly fraudulent expense claims.
Those senators were also interviewed by the RCMP as part of its investigation, but did not have their names used in court documents filed by investigators.
Once the subpoenas are delivered, senators will have to decide whether to invoke parliamentary privilege as a reason for not testifying at the trial. That privilege means sitting MPs and senators do not have to unwillingly testify at a trial if it would interfere with their role as parliamentarians. (It doesn’t prevent them from testifying at trial if they are personally subject to criminal charges, however.)
- Published in National Post
This second of a three-part series examines living while dying: How to improve the quality of life until the last breath.
Gerald “Jerry” Dill lay face down and semi-conscious on the operating table as the doctors drilled into his spine.
When cancer spreads to the vertebra, the bones become fragile and can collapse. Nerve roots coming out of the spine get pinched, causing serious pain. For Mr. Dill, the pain came in sudden and furious bursts. Pain that would hit “like a linebacker,” the 67-year-old says. Pain that shouted, “Here I am!”
In December, surgeons drilled into his crumbling vertebrae. Next they inserted a small balloon, re-expanded it and then injected bone cement into the bone, to keep it from collapsing again.
The relief, he says, was almost instantaneous. “I literally got up from the table and walked.”
In 2012, Mr. Dill began experiencing tightness in his chest. He thought he was having a heart attack. The diagnosis was terrifying and grim: stage four prostate cancer that had already spread to the bones.
Mr. Dill started a new round of chemotherapy Monday. He is also receiving palliative care, including pain control and psychosocial and spiritual support to deal with “my psychological and mental attitude towards things.”
“I’m dealing with it well, I’m a fighter,” he says. “But I’m learning not to get too far ahead of myself.” He worries about his teenage daughters, “my joy.”
“My kids are very well aware that this is a life-threatening disease and they spend time with me, they talk with me,” he says.
“They know that I can be out of here at any time,” says Mr. Dill, a man of strong faith. “I’m at God’s calling right now.”
For years, the philosophy was that patients with terminal illnesses received “active” treatment up until the very end, and only then were they offered palliation, or “comfort” care, in the final hours or days of life.
The push now is to provide palliative care sooner and include it with usual medical care.
The goal is to live well until dying, not hasten or postpone death.
More than 250,000 Canadians will die this year. The vast majority will not receive access to high-quality palliative care in their home, hospital, or long-term care facility, because end-of-life care is being virtually ignored in discussions around health reform, even with a rapidly growing aging population.
Watching a loved one die a bad death “turns the promise of a peaceful exit from this life into a lie,” Harvey Max Chochinov, director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit at CancerCare Manitoba, wrote in a recent commentary in HealthCarePapers.
“For all too many Canadians, that is the lingering memory they carry of their loved one’s death.”
Groups such as the College of Family Physicians Canada say that, as a matter of social justice, all Canadians should have access to quality, end-of-life care.
Demand for residential hospices, most of which rely heavily on charitable donations, is so great people are dying on gurneys in emergency rooms.
Exhausted and emotionally drained caregivers often struggle to get the support they need to care for loved ones at home. Dying patients are languishing on hospital wards, simply because there is nowhere else to send them.
“In Canada right now if you’re at the end of your life and you haven’t been referred to a hospital-based palliative care program or a residential hospice, you are going to end up in hospital. It’s inevitable,” says Sharon Baxter, executive director of the Ottawa-based Canadian Hospice Palliative Care Association.
‘[My children] know that I can be out of here at any time. I’m at God’s calling right now’
Before any change in law regarding euthanasia, the organization says every jurisdiction in the country should move swiftly to improve access to end-of-life care, including hospice care.
The goal of hospice care is to determine what’s important, and what is meaningful, when patients know that no heroic intervention is going to take away their disease.
They are places that celebrate life through death, says Debbie Emmerson, director of Toronto’s 10-bed Kensington Hospice.
“We’ve had football parties here, we’ve had baby showers.” Some patients arrive at the hospice, the former chapel of St. John the Divine, in their finest outfits — full makeup and wig, or their hair done up. “They’re just trying their very best to be as dignified and normal as possible,” Ms. Emmerson says. The hospice has cared for prominent doctors and the homeless, for patients in their 20s to centenarians.
“There are a lot of questions about, what’s going to happen next? Where am I going next? Is there a God? Is there reincarnation?’” Ms. Emmerson says. “We don’t have those answers, but we can certainly sit and listen.”
They call it sitting with suffering — “creating this presence so that you know that you’re not totally alone in this journey that you are having.”
Elizabeth (Lynn) Douglas was moved to Kensington in March 2013. She was a vice-president at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, a role she took on after a long and successful private-sector career. The day after she was admitted, the resident doctor went to her room and introduced himself. “We chit-chatted for a minute, and then Lynn turned to him and said, “So, how is this going to go?” her husband, Cameron, remembers. She applied the same attitude towards her diagnosis as she did to her career and life. “She was incredibly pragmatic about things.”
Ms. Douglas was first diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2010. She had chemotherapy and radiation but then the odds gradually started to build against her, and when it was gently suggested she and Cameron visit Kensington, they did so, “never imaging it would come to that,” he says.
They decorated her room with family photos, of Ms. Douglas with her wonderful boys, Scott and Todd. She had her favourite crossword puzzle pajamas and the stuffed animals friends gave her while she was in hospital. They brought in a music therapist who played A Million Stars on her violin.
Ms. Douglas spent five weeks at Kensington. In the last week, he and his sons took shifts, sleeping in her room overnight. “We needed to be there, we needed to ride it out with her.”
‘There are a lot of questions about, what’s going to happen next? Where am I going next? … We don’t have those answers, but we can certainly sit and listen’
Ms. Douglas passed away on April 23, 2013, one day shy of her 64th birthday.
Early in her diagnosis, she told her husband that, “when life has meaning, all is worthwhile.” It helped her accept palliative care as the next, and final, step in her life, he said.
Yet research from B.C. suggests three-quarters of those who die are never identified as people who could benefit from end-of-life care.
Generally, patients require a life expectancy of three months or less to get referred. But for non-cancer diseases, such as advanced heart failure, dementia or chronic kidney disease, it’s difficult to predict when patients will actually die.
“So people with end-stage dementia or the very frail — they need bed lifts. They want to die at home. But there’s nothing out there [for them] if I can’t say with any certainty they’re going to die in three months,” says Dr. Ross Upshur, Canada Research Chair in primary care research.
“What happens is they get the runaround through the system and brutally treated. They get bounced through services, they get bounced in and out of hospitals and anybody who has an older parent that they’ve tried to get appropriate care for knows it,” Dr. Upshur says.
The Temmy Latner Centre for Palliative Care at Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital provides round-the-clock, in-home care by doctors based not on life expectancy, but on need. Their palliative home care patients are less likely to be admitted to emergency in the last weeks of life, and less likely to die in hospital.
“We can do a lot for people at home, but they have to buy into a certain approach that they are opting not to have the high degree of intervention that can happen in a hospital,” says director Dr. Russell Goldman.
Dr. Chochinov believes good palliative care can address the fears driving support for euthanasia.
But others say there is some suffering even the best care cannot touch.
In a study published in September, researchers examined the frequency and intensity of symptoms in the last seven days of life among cancer patients who were able to communicate and who died in an acute palliative care unit. On a scale of “none” to the “worst possible,” patients scored symptoms such as pain, fatigue, nausea, depression and anxiety.
Despite intense care, some patients still suffered as they approached death.
For a small number of people, Dr. Upshur and others say, a better death will mean a doctor-assisted one.
Some say it is already happening in Canada.
Tomorrow: Final exit — How Quebec patients and doctors are preparing for legalized “medical aid in dying.”
- Published in National Post
Oh for the love of God, people, would you give it a rest? I have just ploughed through what I would conservatively estimate is the four hundredth column I have seen speculating on the date of the next election. The recipe is always the same. Here are the reasons many people think the election will be in the fall. However, here is why I, Pundit predict the prime minister will go in the spring. Or, in the alternative, the reverse. Season to taste.
Why this has become such an obsession with my fellow thumbsuckers is hard to fathom since, unless you are privy to the prime minister’s innermost thoughts, it is inherently unknowable. Mind, that’s true of the future generally, which is why such speculative pieces are usually pointless, not least since there are no consequences for being wrong — for by the time the future arrives to confound it the column will be, conveniently, in the past, never to be mentioned again. Or as Dan Gardner, author of Future Babble, puts it, “heads I win, tails you forget we made a bet.”
What’s interesting about all this election speculation, pointless as it is, is the underlying premise: that the date of the next election is in fact open to question. By law, that is not supposed to be the case. By law — An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act, S.C. 2007, c. 10 — the next election date is set in stone: October 19, 2015. So the real, unspoken premise is this: that the prime minister does not feel bound to follow the law — his own law, as it happens.
If the spirit and purpose of the law is utter meaninglessness — then what on earth was the point?
Not only does he not feel bound by it, but neither do the rest of us seem inclined to insist that he should. We have all somehow come to accept that it is perfectly normal, even acceptable, for the government — the government! — to disobey the law if it feels like it, as if the laws that are binding upon the rest of us were not binding upon the governments that pass them. This is surely an astonishing state of affairs, in a democracy, a measure not only of the corrupting effects of power but of how the rest of us have been corrupted along with it.
Experience, that is, has taught us to expect no better, and expecting no better, we can hardly be outraged to find our expectations are confirmed. Recall that this prime minister has once before defied his own legislation, in calling the election of October 14, 2008 — more than a year in advance of the date fixed in law. He paid no apparent price for it then. Why would he now? And if he expects to pay no price for it, why would he not consider it? Which being so, why would we not spend idle hours blithely speculating on whether the prime minister will or won’t obey the law, as if it were a game of chance?
Yes, yes, yes, I know: it’s not technically a breach of the law. It says right there in the Act: “Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General’s discretion.” And who advises the Governor General, which advice he is bound to accept? The prime minister, of course. So yes, in terms of the strict letter of the law, the prime minister is obliged to call an election on “the third Monday of October in the fourth calendar year following polling day for the last general election,” unless he isn’t.
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- John Ivison: Why current events are making it seem increasingly likely Harper will call an early election
But that wasn’t the way the law was sold. “Fixed election dates,” then Government House leader Rob Nicholson boasted at the time, “will improve the fairness of Canada’s electoral system by eliminating the ability of governing parties to manipulate the timing of elections for partisan advantage.” And it’s clearly not the spirit and purpose of the law. Or if it is — if the spirit and purpose of the law is utter meaninglessness — then what on earth was the point?
Critics of the law would no doubt agree. Constitutionally, they point out, the Governor General’s discretion cannot be constrained; that being true, the law cannot be binding on the government; and so long as the law cannot be enforced, it is an absurdity. But no law is perfectly binding. If a government no longer wishes to abide by it, it always has the power to repeal it, by act of Parliament.
Laws, then, are a kind of solemn undertaking. As an assurance of its good faith, the government puts its intentions in writing, in the knowledge that should it ever wish to be released from its pledge, it will have to ask Parliament to pass a new law, formally and publicly, and to accept whatever consequences follow. That is what we expect, or at any rate what we used to expect. And what is ultimately binding on the government is that expectation: the expectation of good faith. Or as it is sometimes put, “the honour of the Crown.”
We should not have to wonder whether the laws Parliament passes are of any worth or meaning, or whether the government we elect will seek refuge in fine print and Clintonian wordplay to wriggle out of them. We should not have to worry that our government is trying to con us. We are entitled to some expectation of good faith, and if we have lost even that then the implications are a lot worse than an untimely election call.
- Published in National Post
OTTAWA — One of the identical twins charged with terrorism-related offences who RCMP say was on their radar for more than a year “drifted in and out” of an Ottawa mosque in recent years.
Abdulhakim Moalimishak, the president of the east-end Assalaam mosque, recalled that Ashton Larmond, 24, attended the mosque during Ramadan in 2013 but was not a member of the congregation.
“I saw him in the crowds. He didn’t come regularly. He drifted in and out,” Mr. Moalimishak said. He said Larmond attended alone and wasn’t with his twin who is co-accused in what police say is a conspiracy to participate in the activities of a terrorist group.
RCMP allege that between the end of August 2013 and up until his arrest on Friday, Ashton Larmond participated in the activity of a terrorist group. Police, however, remain tight-lipped on what exactly they believe Ashton and twin Carlos Larmond participated in and on behalf of which specific terrorist group. The charges relating to their alleged conspiracy to participate in the activity only date back to August, 2014.
News of their arrests Friday night ricocheted through Ottawa’s Muslim community over the weekend, with several of its leaders saying they didn’t know the 24-year-old brothers.
Mr. Moalimishak condemned what he called a disturbing pattern of young Muslim men going overseas to wage a campaign of killing based on a “warped” version of Islam.
The president acknowledged that radicalized Muslims are a pressing concern and will sometimes try to find legitimacy by attending mainstream mosques, and when that happens, he said, RCMP are called.
Police were called in October after Luqman Abdunnur, 39, allegedly tried to assault the imam as the spiritual leader denounced terrorism in his sermon. He said Mr. Abdunnur had to be restrained by members of the congregation as he ranted that terrorist groups were his heroes.
Mr. Abdunnur was arrested days later in an unrelated traffic stop, during which a shot was fired by Ontario Provincial Police, and has been charged with assaulting a police officer. He was under police surveillance as part of a national security investigation.
Mr. Moalimishak said Mr. Abdunnur was not a member of his Sunni congregation, but like Ashton Larmond he had attended the mosque a few times.
Mr. Abdunnur’s mother, Michelle Walrond, believes moderate Muslim voices are being drowned out in Canada and what’s making the most noise is a brand of religion that is dangerous.
“Muslims whose Islam is based on intellect and scholarship, we have no voice; we’re not identified as Muslim,” Ms. Walrond told the Citizen the day after the Larmonds were arrested.
She believes Wahhabism, an ultraconservative brand of Islam, has taken over the dialogue in many mosques through extensive Saudi Arabian funding.
Muslim leaders on the weekend reacted in fear that young people in Ottawa had fallen prey to Islamic extremists.
Neighbours and friends say the Larmond brothers are both recent converts to Islam. The alleged acts of those who are young and new to the faith are troubling mainstream leaders.
“That is a problem and we have to figure out how to address this,” Mr. Moalimishak said. “There are thousands of people who convert to Islam every year and they are perfectly knowledgeable, but there is now a growing subgroup amongst the converts. Not only are they not coming to our mosques for help … but they seem to be under the control of these groups of extreme, radical, self-segregating, almost cult-like groups who are just basically grabbing them, stacking them up, and before you know it, they’re gone.”
He said mosques need to offer young new Muslims support.
“We have to give them guidance. We have to tell them there are groups out there who will prey upon them and they are not the people they want to associate with.”
Imtiaz Ahmed, a local Ahmadiyya imam who helped launch the anti-radicalization speaking series Stop the CrISIS, said leaders “need to act fast and act jointly to stop so many Canadians getting radicalized.”
- Published in National Post
OTTAWA — One in four Canadians can’t identify Sir John A. Macdonald as the first prime minister of Canada, according to a new poll commissioned by Historica Canada.
Sir John A. — whose 200th birthday is Sunday — isn’t the only gap in Canadians’ knowledge. The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid, found 28% of Canadians don’t know the year of Confederation and 44% don’t know Canada turns 150 in 2017.
But Historica president Anthony Wilson-Smith said the results aren’t as discouraging as they might seem.
“We’ve found that Canadians might not necessarily be aware of specific dates, but when asked if they’ll attend a 150 year anniversary event, they’re very into the idea,” he said. “The passion is there, and the appreciation is there, and though the focus on dates isn’t necessarily there, what counts is the spirit behind it.”
In an interesting tidbit of data, Albertans and Ontarians beat the national average for knowing the year of Confederation, with 90 and 75% respectively. Only four provinces in the country have mandatory Canadian history classes in their curriculum, meaning there are large swaths of the country with very different takes on the same history.
“For example, Quebec teaches a lot of Quebec history, which is very different in focus than in other parts of the country,” said Mr. Wilson-Smith. “There is quite a lot of study into what they still call the ‘conquest’, when Britain defeated France in what was then called British North America.
“We don’t learn about national figures nationally.”
However, that’s not to say Canadians are totally lost when it comes to their history. In 2008, 42% of Canadians couldn’t identify Macdonald as Canada’s first PM.
Mr. Wilson-Smith attributed the rise in recognition to two heritage minute videos released this year on the subject, and the government’s focus on promoting Canadian history. He also noted these kinds of numbers tend to rise around an anniversary like Macdonald’s 200th birthday, and they don’t fall back down.
“Once you’re aware, you don’t forget it too much,” he said. “We’re building from a stronger base now, and in that regard, the numbers are encouraging.”
- Published in National Post
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