Charter freight flights from South America help get stranded Australians home during coronavirus pandemic

Victoria Keating has barely slept in days and her small team of Queenstown travel agents is in desperate need of a break.

For weeks, they have been working from across the Tasman to help Australians stuck in various parts of South America.

Today, they are eagerly awaiting the arrival of a charter flight from Chile’s capital, Santiago, to Sydney.

“It’s been quite the rollercoaster,” Ms Keating said.

“Getting the plane was difficult, getting the seats into Australia was difficult.

“We just really wanted to try and get as many people home as possible.”

More than 120 Australians are expected to arrive on the charter flight, which cost passengers just under $4,000 a ticket.

After they disembark in Sydney, the plane is scheduled to fly to Auckland where it will pick up South Americans wanting to return home from New Zealand.

“Which was particularly scary … it’s a big risk to take but we knew that the demand was there.”

Limited options for Australians in South America

Samuel McDowell and his family made it home to Sydney from Paraguay.(Supplied)

Ms Keating moved to New Zealand from Australia nearly 17 years ago.

As COVID-19 shut the international travel industry down last year, she noticed a large number of South Americans living in Queenstown with no way of getting home.

Her agency, X Travel, started trying to find people seats on cargo flights but were soon inundated with requests from Aussies and Kiwis in South America wanting to travel in the other direction.

“For many countries, including the likes of Peru and Colombia, the borders actually didn’t open until October,” Ms Keating said.

Samuel McDowell and his family got seats on another one of X Travel’s flights earlier this year after struggling to find a way home from Paraguay, where he and his wife were working as doctors for a rural health clinic.

“They were just brilliant, they made it all happen,” he said.

Three smiling women facing the camera
Fanny Lindblad-Hillary, Niki Davies and Victoria Keating from X Travel(Supplied)

“The [other] options were very convoluted, you had to go up through America or even worse through Europe and the risks of getting stranded were very high.

“And then of course there’s the cost. And for a family of five like ours, $50,000 was not reasonable or attainable for us at that time.”

Race against time for pregnant Australian

Another Australian with personal experience of the challenges many are facing is Annalisa Powell, who recently made it home from Brazil.

She first wanted to return after she and her Brazilian partner lost their work as musicians due to COVID-19.

However, the situation became more urgent when they realised she was pregnant.

“[Our] flights got repeatedly cancelled and then bumped and then cancelled … and it was getting later and later in the pregnancy,” she said.

Ms Powell completed her two weeks’ quarantine in New South Wales before arriving in her home state of Western Australia.

“When we touched down on Perth soil, I was just exhausted I guess from the whole experience,” she said.

“We were sitting in the airport waiting for my parents to come and when I saw them I just broke down, it was crazy.

“I think at this point in my life I need some family support and I just didn’t have anything in Brazil.”

Australian Government defends support

Hundreds of people packed together at an airport in Peru.
Peru is one of the South American nations where more than 1,000 Australians remain stranded.(Supplied: Merinda Kyle)

Ms Powell speaks highly of the support she received from the embassy in Brazil but other Australians in South America have told the ABC they feel let down by the federal government.

In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said the government had provided support for the charter flight landing in Sydney today.

It also said its highest priority was helping vulnerable Australians overseas.

“Since March, DFAT has helped over 40,700 Australians return on over 500 flights including over 15,000 people on 108 government facilitated flights,” it said.

“Twenty of these facilitated flights assisted Australians to return from South America.”

Of the 40,000 Australians around the world still registered with DFAT as wanting to return, around 1,000 are believed to be in South America.

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WA Charter of Rights would protect the freedoms we hold dear

The Greens have come to this election with a clear and unequivocal commitment to work towards establishing a Charter of Rights here in Western Australia.


Having our own Charter of Rights is neither a radical nor a new proposal. In 2007, Attorney General Jim McGinty proposed that WA introduce human rights protections. A Consultation Committee chaired by Fred Chaney found clear majority support.

But the process stalled and consideration moved to providing these protections at federal level.

Federal laws would be great. Ideally, all Australians would be covered under a national Charter of Rights.

But although there is an ongoing discussion, championed unsurprisingly by the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is unlikely this will happen anytime soon.

Meanwhile, Queensland, the ACT and Victoria have acted at state level, adopting their own state-based charters.

West Australians must be afforded similar protections.

A charter would not guarantee rights, but it would provide an important check. It would also ensure human rights are taken into account by Parliament when new laws are made.

A Charter of Rights would serve as an important tool in having essential needs met, as is currently the case in jurisdictions like Victoria, the ACT and the UK.

It could help ensure all West Australian children have access to a quality education, no matter where they live. And that all people have access to healthcare, no matter their income. It would ensure that our personal privacies are protected from infringement by governments, individuals or corporations.

The charter could be used specifically to address rights-based issues like the mistreatment of children and young people in our prison system; elder abuse; modern slavery; access to education for children with disability, or that vexed issue of people with intellectual disability facing indefinite imprisonment.

The last few days I have again witnessed the horrific failings of our mental health system.

Another First Nations child, just 14 years old, is far from home in Banksia Hill Detention Centre. His family have been fighting for years to have his mental health needs met.

While not a panacea, a charter recognising the right to essential services like mental healthcare could have served as a powerful tool in their fight.

In developing a charter, West Australians should be given the opportunity to list the basic rights we all believe are important enough to deserve legal protection.


Our charter, as is the case for Queensland’s Human Rights Act, would likely acknowledge that human rights are not absolute, sometimes they conflict with each other, and they may be subject to reasonable limits that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

With the myriad of challenges we are currently facing – COVID-19, climate change, homelessness, Aboriginal deaths in custody, infringements on press freedoms – it is more important than ever that power is transferred back to the people; that we have a mechanism to hold Government to account and which sets clear obligations as to how we expect the state, organisations and individuals to treat people.

Elections are only one part of a free and democratic society.

Democracy’s success rests on a foundation of shared values, rights and freedoms.

As West Australians, we share values like fairness, respect and compassion. By codifying and legislating these we strengthen our democracy. Given the challenges our society is currently facing, surely this can only be a good thing.

Alison Xamon is the leader of the WA Greens.

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Australian Open, Andy Murray, COVID-19, charter flights, Tennys Sandgren

Andy Murray’s hopes of returning to the Australian Open is in the balance after the Scottish star tested positive for COVID-19.

Murray was expected to travel to Australia on a series of charter flights that tournament organisers were going to use to ensure the safety of players.

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But the 33-year-old will instead isolate at home in London with hopes of arriving in Australia at a later date to compete in the tournament.

Britain’s Press Association news agency said Murray is in good health.

More than 1,200 players and support staff are arriving in Australia from Thursday for 14 days’ quarantine ahead of the delayed tournament, which is due to start on February 8.

Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, has spent months trying to deal with the logistical nightmares of hosting the Grand Slam during a pandemic.

Tennis Australia said players were only allowed into Australia with proof of a negative COVID-19 test prior to departure, or with approval as a recovered case at the discretion of the Australian government.

Murray received a wild card to the main draw in December with Tilley saying the tournament would welcome him back “with open arms”.

“As a five-time finalist he has been an integral part of so many amazing matches and storylines in the recent history of the Australian Open,” he said at the time.

“His retirement was an emotional moment and seeing him come back, having undergone major surgery and built himself back up to get onto the tour again, will be a highlight of AO 2021.

“We wish him all the best and look forward to seeing him in 2021.”

But the news will throw a spanner into the works as Murray tries to return to his best after needing hip resurfacing surgery in 2019.

It came after an emotional press conference where Murray said the 2019 tournament could have been his last.

“Not great,” he said before excusing himself and leaving the interview room.

When he returned, the dual Wimbledon champion and US Open winner said: “So I’m not feeling great.

“Been struggling for a long time, I’ve been in a lot of pain for probably about 20 months.

“I’ve pretty much done everything I could get my hip feeling better.”

He appeared to say he would retire after Wimbledon that season but after his surgery was successful, Murray was on the comeback trail, even winning the European Open crown late in 2019.

A pelvic injury forced him out of the 2020 Australian Open however with Murray taking until June to return after the COVID ravaged season took its toll.

The tournament hasn’t been without it issues either with Roger Federer and American John Isner both pulled out of the tournament.

Early on Thursday Australian Open quarter-finalist Tennys Sandgren being given permission to travel to Australia despite testing positive for COVID but being deemed not contageous.

Sandgren had COVID in November but tested positive again this week.

On Thursday AEDT, the 29-year-old American suggested he had not been allowed to board the chartered flight to Australia from Los Angeles.

“At least I get to keep my points,” he posted to Twitter.

The reason he was allowed to board the plane was that a Tennis Australia spokesperson explained that a non-infectious person who has fully-recovered from COVID-19 could continue to shed the virus for several months.

“Vic government public health experts assess each case based on additional detailed medical records to ensure they are not infectious before checking in to the charter flights,” the spokesperson said.

— with AFP

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Prince Charles asks companies to join ‘Earth charter’

The Prince of Wales is urging firms to back a more sustainable future and do more to protect the planet, as he marks 50 years of environmental campaigning.

Prince Charles wants companies to join what he is calling “Terra Carta” – or Earth charter.

It aims to raise £7.3bn to invest in the natural world.

Terra Carta will harness the “irreplaceable power of nature”, the prince will say in his virtual address to the One Planet Summit on Monday.

He hopes the new charter will help “reunite people and planet”.

He is due to say: “I can only encourage, in particular, those in industry and finance to provide practical leadership to this common project, as only they are able to mobilise the innovation, scale and resources that are required to transform our global economy.”

In his foreword to Terra Carta, the prince writes: “If we consider the legacy of our generation, more than 800 years ago, Magna Carta inspired a belief in the fundamental rights and liberties of people.

“As we strive to imagine the next 800 years of human progress, the fundamental rights and value of nature must represent a step-change in our ‘future of industry’ and ‘future of economy’ approach.”

Charles has previously said that people thought he was “completely dotty” when he started talking about environmental issues in the 1970s.

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Charter Schools vs. Eco-Tours: It’s No Contest

Harlem Success Academy Charter School. in New York, July 9, 2018.


Richard B. Levine/Zuma Press

As a trustee of Tufts University, I saw my share of college essays. More recently, as board chairman of Success Academy, a network of 47 K-12 charter schools in New York that enrolls 20,000 students, I had a bit of an awakening.

I read 29 personal statements from Success Academy’s current senior class; 28 of the 29 are students of color; 25 of the 29 will be first-generation college graduates. Virtually all took and passed multiple Advanced Placement exams. The average SAT scores were 654 on math and 611 on verbal, compared with 475 and 485 for a similar national demographic. Depending on one’s view of Success Academy—and charter schools in general—these facts suggest either an aspirational view that ZIP Codes need not determine educational excellence or a cynical view that 2,500 teachers and 20,000 kids and their families have joined a cult obsessed with producing outsize test scores.

Beyond the numbers, my first reaction to these essays was that they were all well-written (I even learned a new word: heteroglossia). It is fair to point out that, as a sine laude high school graduate, I am neither Strunk nor White in authoritative assessment of writing skill. Still, I have read enough bad essays to recognize a good one. Uniformly, these essays were clear, concise, grammatically correct and properly punctuated.

I’ve spent plenty of time with college admissions directors. They are on the whole thoughtful and committed professionals. Many also have a sardonic sense of humor, which helps when reading and evaluating thousands of essays. One Ivy League admissions director describes how insiders distill recurrent themes to a word or two. “Costa Rica” refers to the propensity of well-to-do high school juniors to embark on eco-tours of Central American countries. “Grandma” points to the lionization of elders—a noble sentiment, but as my friend wryly noted, grandma isn’t applying to college, you are. “Soup kitchen” captures the idea that two weeks’ work at the shelter doesn’t make you Mother Teresa.

A Success Academy scholar is as likely to live in a homeless shelter as to work in one. Gap years would more likely be devoted to caring for an autistic sibling than tending Costa Rican flora and fauna. Simple heuristics wouldn’t prove helpful in vetting a Success Academy class for college admission.

Many of the essays I read did capture the ordinary and the sweet: befriending a bodega owner in Washington Heights by shoveling his sidewalk, marking rites of passage with Ghanaian waist beads, or ascending to Senegalese womanhood by perfectly preparing a traditional meal called thieboudienne. There were also inspirational tales: competing in a relay race while sweating through a hijab, nursing a father through Covid to keep his taxi hack afloat, speaking in front of City Hall to advocate for a middle school while Mayor

Bill de Blasio

walks by without a look.

Some essays were painful to read: early childhood memories of growing up in France as the only black Muslim at school, a rap dedicated to the brother who raised a scholar whose mother’s heart “stopped beating” long ago (“the only role model in my life was my brother, RIP to my mother, my dad left but we got each other”). Finally, one haunting essay began “BANG BANG” and proceeded to detail the blood-filled aftermath of gun violence. The author plans to study premed and wants to “help people breathe again.”

The education these kids have received is akin to a vaccine against hopelessness and the virulent effects of low expectations. It is impossible to be confident that it will prove 95% effective against poverty and social injustice. But the work Success Academy educators are doing isn’t a placebo.

The broad and robust education that Success Academy students and their parents have worked so hard to achieve over the past 13 years will propel them into exciting futures. The calculus, AP world history, biology, engineering and literature classes, the dance and theater performances, the track meets and debate tournaments—all that they have absorbed and embraced—have empowered them to make the most of their lives, despite the traumas they have experienced. I wish the next mayor of New York and the next education secretary could read their essays. Then they might realize what is possible in our public education system.

Mr. Galbraith is a managing member of Kindred Capital and chairman of the Success Academy’s network board.

Wonder Land: Voters can’t pretend a Biden presidency will help the black children trapped in failing inner-city schools. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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Restrictions to ease on charter boat numbers

More people will be allowed on tourism charter boats after the Chief Health Officer approved relaxations to COVIDSafe requirements.

Private point to point ferry services under three hours travel time can operate 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating.

Round trip day vessels can use up to 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating.

Tourism Minister Stirling Hinchliffe said the changes would mean more visitors could enjoy the Great Barrier Reef.

“Assistant Tourism Minister Michael Healy and I have been working closely with the Marine Tourism operators who wanted greater flexibility with COVID-19 requirements,” Mr Hinchliffe said.

“The updated COVID Safe plan approved by the Chief Health Officer means Marine Tourism operators will be able accommodate more passengers onboard to improve business viability while meeting health obligations.”

The move comes after weeks of pressure from the LNP, led by Whitsunday MP Amanda Camm, for the State Government to scrap the restrictions.

Capacity limits have been in place on charter boats for months in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Under a Queensland public health order, tourism dive tours, fishing charters and boat operators have been forced to limit their capacity.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said this rule did not apply to aeroplane travel because contact tracers know where each person was seated compared to free movement on boats.

Whitsunday Charter Boat Industry Association president Tony Brown said these restrictions, on top of the NSW border closure, were impacting the viability of businesses in the Whitsundays during peak tourism season.

“We’re getting slammed twice in that regard,” he said.

Mr Brown said Whitsunday tourism operators were losing as much as $1.3 million per week.

One tourism operator told him they had received 250 email cancellations this week alone.

“The higher carrying vessels are wanting changes to help them lift their capacity and set up tracing systems so they can keep the information,” he said.

Whitsunday MP Amanda Camm. Picture: News Corp/Attila Csaszar

More stories:

Airlie clubs hit out at Premier’s call to sit down

Hospitality industry’s future post-COVID-19

Haunt is back with Alota Ffagina and Kinky the Clow

COVID restrictions eased for marine tourism

Private point to point ferry services under three hours travel time –

· Can operate at 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating

· Passengers on day trips must return in their allocated seat

· Mask wearing encouraged

· Outside of household and social groups, one person per two seats

Round trip day vessels –

· Can operate with a capacity of one person per two square metres based on accessible indoor and protected outdoor spaces instead of previous one person per four metres, or;

· Can use up to 100 per cent of indoor seated capacity provided passengers are in ticketed and allocated seating

· Passengers must maintain 1.5 metres physical distancing in food and drink kiosk areas

· Operators must also manage the outdoor space to maintain one person per two square metres in these areas.

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Charter Hall CEO’s eye for deals propels property giant to $45b value

And by November, shares in the group had soared above their February pre-pandemic heights.

For the well-respected Harrison – who has helped build the funds management giant from a nine-person operation to the largest commercial real estate owner in the country with 600 staff and $45 billion funds under management – standing still is not an option.

“We are one of the few companies that are in a better shape than pre-COVID and the reason is because we have focused geographically on Australia, but at the same time diversified across multiple sectors,” he says.

“I’m just a great believer that you need to be an expert in what you do.”

Even as the year comes to a close, the pace isn’t letting up. In the dying days of 2020, Charter Hall and its management have completed a whirlwind of deals including buying a Telstra building in Pitt Street, Sydney and a 100 per cent interest in a new Bunnings at Caboolture, Queensland for $28.1 million.


Harrison says the $6.8 billion ASX-listed company’s focus on properties with long leases to good tenants in a range of industries is proving bullet-proof in the face any COVID-19 recession.

“The 2020 financial year is Charter Hall’s 15th year as a listed company and while we have not been immune to the effects of COVID-19, the impacts have been limited through this focus on assets with long leases to high-quality tenants in predominantly defensive industries,” he says.

“More broadly, COVID-19 has seen accelerating demand for access to industrial and logistics assets, something we have actively pivoted towards.”

Identifying assets and managing them to add value has been one of the group’s key to success. “In the last five years, the dispersion between the top-performing REITs and the race to the bottom is wider than it’s ever been in my history,” he says.

And he’s not shy at pointing the finger at poor-performing peers. “You’ve got shockers like shopping centre giant Scentre and Vicinity because they own regional shopping malls. Even diversified entities, like GPT, particularly, has performed very poorly and the REIT index itself has not performed well,” Harrison says.

By contrast, Charter Hall’s returns have averaged 20 per cent per annum over the last 15 years versus the A-REIT index’s 3.7 per cent per annum.

With 30-plus years in real estate and 15 years at the helm of the property fund manager, Harrison has steered Charter Hall through some choppy real estate waters, identifying growth opportunities and deals.

We are one of the few companies that are in a better shape than pre-COVID and the reason is because we have focused geographically on Australia, but at the same time diversified across multiple sectors.

David Harrison, Charter Hall chief executive

That insight has led the group to play in the traditional office, retail and industrial sectors, but also to aggressively branch out into alternative property assets such as service stations, data centres, pubs, healthcare, childcare and education.

Following his real estate agent parents’ lead, Harrison studied Land Economics at the former Hawkesbury University, now part of University of Western Sydney, before winning a scholarship at Raine and Horne Commercial. It was here that he started his career as a commercial real estate valuer. Before joining Charter Hall, Harrison honed his skills at the small estate agency First Pacific Davies, which has since morphed into global player Savills.


While COVID1-19 has been tough, Harrison maintains it is not a patch on the 1991 recession. “The toughest period I’ve seen in my career is the 1991 recession,” he says. “And in property, it was really the last time we had a dramatic reduction in values because there was oversupply, there was way too much speculative office and industrial development that occurred prior to that recession. And a lot of that was driven by the stock market correction in 1987.”

Once Australia gets a COVID vaccine, the world will return to normal, he says. “I think the quicker we can get a vaccine and all the health issues, social distancing, public transport, all those concerns of the coronavirus will dissipate and we will get back to a world where we will have a more permanent arrangement of working back in the office.”

That will be a welcome boost for Charter Hall and other office tower landlords who, for months now, have been urging a return of city-based workers.

Harrison himself spent the months of enforced lockdown at his Palm Beach house in Sydney’s northern beaches with his wife, three boys and daughter. They were all there “until my wife and daughter got fed up with us boys and came back to Sydney,” he says. Nevertheless, he still worked 13-hour days.

Another initiative Harrison is willing to push is the property sector’s gender imbalance. He is a supporter of the Male Champions of Change movement’s drive to increase equality.

To that end, he is adamant he will not go on all-men panels for property conferences, pushing organisers to increase female representation, saying otherwise he will be a “no-show.”

“I think the industry is done a bloody good job with a whole range of issues. But even in the last four or five weeks, I’ve had to decline invitations to go on panels where they don’t have a female.”

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Charter vs. Roku Is the Latest Streaming Standoff

Roku is still fighting with Warner over HBO Max, while DirecTV’s disagreement with Tegna and Dish Network’s with Nextstar have each continued into their third week.

Now, the latest corporate disagreement that’s keeping customers from seamless streaming is between Roku and Charter Communications, the nation’s second-largest cable company, which offers cable service under the Spectrum name.

According to a report by Light Reading, Roku has blocked access for new downloads of Charter’s Roku channel, Spectrum TV, although those who have the channel downloaded may still use it.

“Despite our best efforts to reach an agreement, Roku has not accepted Spectrum’s offer to continue our contract, which allowed customers to access the Spectrum TV app from Roku devices,” Charter wrote in a blog post. “If you already use the Spectrum TV app on Roku, your service shouldn’t be affected.”

The company went on to state that users can use the app other places, such as their smartphone, tablet, Apple TV, Samsung Smart TV or Xbox.

Roku issued a statement to Light Reading about the dispute.

“As America’s #1 streaming platform we are committed to providing access to amazing streaming content at an exceptional value for our users,” a spokesperson for Roku said in a statement. “Our contract with Charter for the distribution of the SpectrumTV (v)MVPD channel on the Roku platform expired and we are working together to reach a positive and mutually beneficial distribution agreement. All existing customers can continue to use the Charter app while we work together on a renewal.”

Light Reading added that the two companies have been “squabbling at the FCC” of late, over what the site described as “Charter’s request to sunset the Commission’s ban on Charter’s use of data caps and usage-based broadband data policies” next May, as a result of the company’s merger with Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks. Roku had left a public comment disagreeing with Charter’s position on the matter.

Roku remains without an agreement with AT&T and Warner Media to carry HBO Max, an omission that is becoming conspicuous with the news that the company is putting its entire 2021 theatrical movie slate on HBO Max in addition to movie theaters, along with this month’s blockbuster “Wonder Woman 1984.”

There had been some rumblings earlier this month that the sides were getting close to a deal, but none has been announced so far. However, WarnerMedia did announce Tuesday that the HBO Max is now available on Comcast’s Xfinity X1 and Flex platforms, which will give another workaround to Roku device users unable to get HBO Max on their devices.

Charter’s CFO indicated at a conference earlier this fall that it’s working on an “IP video aggregation platform complete with new hardware.” In the second quarter, Charter was the only major cable company to add video subscribers, a feat it repeated in the third quarter.

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters.

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Senators ponder how far to go to protect charter rights in assisted-dying bill

There was a strong message conveyed to cabinet ministers last week as senators grilled them on the Trudeau government’s bill to expand access to medical assistance in dying.

We told you so.

Ministers were repeatedly reminded that when the federal government introduced its first bill in 2016 to legalize doctor-assisted death in Canada, senators warned it was unconstitutional and predicted it would be struck down by the courts. A majority of senators voted at that time to drop the central pillar of the bill: that only those whose natural death is reasonably foreseeable should be eligible for an assisted death.

The government rejected the amendment and senators ultimately backed down. But, as they’d predicted, the near-death provision was subsequently struck down in a Quebec Superior Court ruling in September 2019.

Now, some senators are convinced the bill introduced to bring the law into compliance with that ruling is also unconstitutional. And they’re pondering how far they should go to protect the rights of Canadians seeking access to medically assisted death.

Mental health exclusion unconstitutional, senator says

All legislation must be approved by both houses of Parliament. The Senate can defeat a bill outright, although that has rarely happened.

If the Senate amends a bill, it is sent back to the House of Commons to decide whether to accept or reject the changes. The Senate can dig in its heels and insist on an amendment rejected by the Commons, potentially leading to legislation Ping-Ponging back and forth between chambers without resolution.

In practice, however, because senators are not elected, they generally acquiesce to the will of the Commons, as they did on the 2016 assisted-dying bill.

But some senators argue that a different standard applies when fundamental constitutional rights are at stake.

“If it’s a very clear violation of a constitutional right, I think we have the right, the moral obligation even, to stick to our position and to insist [on amendment],” said Sen. Pierre Dalphond, a former Quebec Appeal Court judge who sits with the Progressive Senate Group.

Justice Minister David Lametti introduced the government’s new medical assistance in dying bill in October. Lametti was grilled by senators last week at a Senate committee studying the bill. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Dalphond is highly skeptical that the government’s latest assisted-dying bill, C-7, is constitutional. He’s awaiting further explanations from the government before making a final decision.

Appointed in 2019, Dalphond was not in the Senate when the chamber last debated medical assistance in dying legislation. But some senators who did live through the 2016 debate seem particularly determined not to let history repeat itself.

Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan believes Bill C-7 violates the guarantee of equality rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by specifying that people suffering solely from mental illnesses will not be allowed access to an assisted death.

He thinks the proposed two-track approach to eligibility — one set of rules for people who are near death and more restrictive rules for those who aren’t — is similarly problematic.

“I think the government has created another bill that will have to come back in two or three years after a court challenge,” Carignan said.

He believes the government is determined to proceed cautiously on assisted dying and is quite content to have the courts force its hand every step of the way. The trouble with that approach, in his view, is that it forces vulnerable people who are suffering unbearably from serious illnesses to spend time, money and energy fighting for their rights in court.

“That’s really tough. So I think if we want to protect those people we have to insist and say, ‘Look, don’t go there another time,”‘ Carignan said.

‘A good compromise’

Fellow Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu is hopeful the Senate will propose, and the government will agree, to a compromise this time: amend the bill to remove the mental illness exclusion but give the government one or two years to come up with guidelines and safeguards before that part of the law goes into force.

He said that could “be a good compromise” that would avoid a potential standoff between the Senate and the government over the issue.

Dalphond is inclined to support such a compromise because it would force the government to act on the issue, rather than leave it to be discussed, possibly without resolution, during a promised parliamentary review. That review must grapple with other thorny matters, such as whether to allow advance consent for assisted death, as well as access to the procedure for mature minors.

“We have an opportunity maybe to straighten things up now. Why wait another one, two, three years? People will be suffering during that period,” he said.

The composition of the Senate has changed considerably over the past four years so it’s not yet possible to gauge whether the current crop of senators will go as far as — or further than — senators did in 2016 to protect charter rights. There are certainly many senators who are passionately opposed on moral grounds to any expanded access to assisted death, and especially opposed to extending it to people suffering solely from mental illnesses.

But senators with extensive legal backgrounds — both veterans like Carignan and more recent appointees like Dalphond — who grilled ministers last week during committee hearings on the bill all questioned its constitutionality.

The most recently appointed senator, Brent Cotter, a prominent legal ethicist and former senior public servant in Saskatchewan, pointedly asked Justice Minister David Lametti whether he believes senators have a duty to ensure legislation is constitutionally valid.

Lametti did not answer and Cotter concedes it’s a question he’s wrestling with himself.

“The nice thing about the Senate is, on the one hand, I do think we have to advance our viewpoint on the basis of principle and we have much more luxury to do that in a less partisan Senate,” said Cotter, a member of the Independent Senators Group.

“And on constitutionality, it’s quite possible that senators need to be firm. But at the same time I don’t think we have the right to overreach because we are involved in a role where we are appointed, we are not elected by constituents and we need to be respectful of the electoral process that leads to government according to law.”

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OSC unveils charter for office to promote innovation and reduce regulatory burden

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A charter unveiled Thursday by a newly created branch of the Ontario Securities Commission lays the groundwork for new forms of capital raising, more avenues for innovators and a reduced regulatory burden.

The document guiding the OSC’s new Office of Economic Growth and Innovation branch is in keeping with a broader push by the Ontario government to ensure the province is “open for business” and to lower business costs.

“The OSC has a role to play in creating conditions that attract capital, talent and new ideas to Ontario’s capital markets,” said Grant Vingoe, acting chair and chief executive of the OSC.

“This role takes on added importance in Ontario’s pandemic recovery, and with the support of our government, we have moved quickly to establish a dedicated Innovation Office, announce its leadership and publish our plans to build a stronger innovation ecosystem and fuel Ontario’s long-term economic growth.”

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