-as staff warned to ensure smooth running of polling stations Training of Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) instructors got underway on Saturday with Chairman James Patterson stressing the importance of instructors maintaining their professionalism and ensuring that their wards understand the importance of “free and fair” elections.GECOM has been entwined in Elections Day controversies before, and on Saturday, at the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), Patterson was firm in his instructions to the instructors. He made it clear that the elections would count for nought if they are not declared free and fair.“I have discovered, since they declared me to be chairman of the outfit, what an important part GECOM plays in the public forum of this country,” Patterson informed the gathering. “I think the Commission anywhere takes the part even of the politicians, because we endure not only to see elections go smoothly, but we are here all the time. Politicians go and come at the beck and call of the electorate. One of the qualities that should permeate GECOM and those who function in it is that you have to see that elections are run free and fair. My template for that is India. Don’t have time to go through all of it, but they have thousands of polling places. They have gone through metamorphosis of change, and India has been declared to be the largest democracy in the world. I hope GECOM will put an end to that (being seen as crooked), in terms of position.”Chairman Patterson reminded the gathered staff that they are essentially running the elections. He urged the workers to put all their effort into learning the election procedures being taught.“Do you realise that elections are of no avail if they are not declared to be free and fair?” Patterson questioned. “Although we are in our infancy as an independent country, we aren’t doing too (badly). I mean to say that democracy and free and fair elections are like conjoined twins; you cannot have one without the other.”The training is expected to last for two days, during which trainers will endeavour to cover polling day protocol, among other things. GECOM has been allocated over $2 billion in order to hold Local Government Elections (LGE), which are due in a matter of months.GECOM’s handling of previous elections has been criticised by the now Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In fact, because of concerns over electoral irregularities, that party filed an elections petition in June of 2015, little over a month after General and Regional Elections had been held.The petition challenges the validity of the outcome of the 2015 General and Regional Elections. Following the outcome of the May 2015 elections, the PPP underscored that the elections were not held in conformity with the Constitution of Guyana.The matter, filed in the name of PPP/C Parliamentarian Ganga Persaud, essentially requests a recount of all ballots cast for the last elections, and calls for fresh elections to be held. Persaud has claimed that the elections were “unlawfully conducted”, and that the results of the elections were affected.Persaud has cited procedural errors and instances of fraudulent and/or suspicious actions during the elections. Unrest, fake statements of poll (SOPs) and multiple voting were among the reasons behind the petition. Further, the presence of “huge mobs” at several polling stations and other strategic places, particularly in Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica), were also cited by Persaud as other causes for intimidation and fear.The PPP had exceptionally good results from the last LGE in 2016, winning the popular vote and dominating the vote count in rural areas. But this time around, the party has been crying foul over the one-sided manner in which appointments within GECOM are being made in the run up to the elections.While Patterson and the Government commissioners have denied contentions that they skewed hiring practices in favour of one ethnic group, concerns over the ethnic balance within GECOM headquarters have seen the party make complaints to the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC).
Highlights from the news file for Tuesday, Jan. 16———NORTH KOREA TOLD TO GIVE UP NUCLEAR ARMS: If North Korea wants freedom from sanctions and acceptance from the international community, it must end its nuclear weapons program, Canada and some of its closest partners insisted Tuesday as they kicked off a major international meeting aimed at ending Pyongyang’s ongoing “nuclearization.” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and her counterparts from 20 countries — including the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Britain — began the meeting in Vancouver with a unanimous missive to the North Korean government: give up your nuclear weapons. “Our message is clear,” Freeland said. “The pursuit of nuclearization will bring you neither security nor prosperity. Investing in nuclear weapons will lead only to more sanctions and to perpetual instability on the peninsula.” Canada and the U.S. are co-hosting the one-day meeting, which was called in response to concerns about North Korea’s growing nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities. The purpose, said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, was to increase the “maximum-pressure campaign” on North Korea by clamping down on its efforts to evade sanctions through smuggling and other illicit activity.———LAC-MEGANTIC JURORS SAY THEY ARE AT AN IMPASSE: The jurors at the Lac-Megantic trial told the judge Tuesday they are at an impasse in their deliberations. Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaetan Dumas read a letter in which the jurors asked him what would happen if they couldn’t reach unanimity. The jurors are deliberating the fate of Tom Harding, Richard Labrie and Jean Demaitre. The three were charged with criminal negligence causing the 2013 tragedy that killed 47 people when a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded. After receiving the letter, Dumas told the lawyers in the case he could “exhort” the jurors to resume their deliberations and to consider the possibility of delivering verdicts on one, two or all three accused. All three men can be found guilty of criminal negligence causing the death, while jurors have the option of convicting Harding on one of two other charges: dangerous operation of railway equipment or dangerous operation of railway equipment causing death. Harding was the train’s engineer, Labrie the traffic controller and Demaitre the manager of train operations. The three men each pleaded not guilty.———TRUDEAU SAYS HE’S OPTIMISTIC ABOUT NAFTA DEAL: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau remains optimistic that Canada, the United States and Mexico can strike a deal to modernize NAFTA that benefits all three countries. In an interview with The Canadian Press, Trudeau says he believes there’s a good chance negotiations will result in what he calls a “win-win-win.” Trudeau says his government isn’t worrying about contradictory signals from the U.S., which have periodically left the impression that the North American Free Trade Agreement is doomed. U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened repeatedly to pull out of the continental trade pact. However, Trump last week calmed markets jittery about the potential demise of NAFTA, telling the Wall Street Journal that he’d “rather keep it” and telling farmers, who are overwhelmingly supportive of the pact, that he’s working hard to improve it. Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said Canada will bring some “creative” new proposals to the bargaining table later this month; Trudeau says his government will stand firm in defending Canadian interests and won’t sign on to “any old deal.”———YOUTH PROGRAM WON’T FUND ANTI-ABORTION PROJECTS: Activities and projects that are considered to be anti-abortion will be ineligible for funding as part of Canada’s revamped national youth volunteer program. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau launched the first phase of the new Canada Service Corps program during a live Instagram video Tuesday, calling it an exciting opportunity to get young Canadians engaged in their country and community. The government is investing $105 million into the program over the next three years, and while it won’t be fully rolled out until 2019, there are already funding applications being accepted for the initial phase. And much like the Canada Summer Jobs program, the Canada Service Corps will not approve funding for any projects deemed not to “respect existing individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” including reproductive rights. Other values listed include the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.———LIBERALS TO ANNOUNCE FOREIGN BUSINESS OMBUDSMAN: The Liberal government is planning to make good on a campaign promise to create an ombudsman with teeth to oversee the conduct of Canadian companies operating abroad. International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champange is to announce the creation of a new position on Wednesday. Government sources say the new position will be a substantive upgrade to the “corporate responsibility counsellor,” which has been widely criticized as a toothless entity for dealing with misconduct complaints against Canadian companies, mainly in the mining industry. One source, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to discuss a matter not yet made public, says the new ombudsman will have jurisdiction over more than just the mining sector, but provided no further details. It is not clear how much power the newly created position will be given, such as whether it will be able to compel specific behaviour from companies.———BORDER-CROSSER HOPES TO KEEP FINGERS AFTER FROSTBITE: A 36-year-old man from the small African nation of Togo is waiting to find out whether he will be allowed to stay in Canada, and whether severe frostbite might cost him his fingers. Kangni Fiowole-Kouevi walked across the border near Emerson, Man., the night of Jan. 5, as temperatures dipped below -20 C. He says he paid $700 for a ride from Minneapolis to an area near the border, then walked for about four hours. He had winter clothing, but his gloves were not enough and he suffered severe frostbite before he called 911 and was picked up by police. Fiowole-Kouevi says he hopes his fingers will recover, even though he has bandages on his hands and doctors are still treating him. He says he left Togo to flee religious persecution as a Christian and had his refugee claim denied in the United States. His journey comes a year after two men from Ghana made a similar crossing over the Emerson border and lost their fingers to severe frostbite.———GIRL DIES AFTER BEING PINNED BETWEEN TWO VEHICLES: Grief counsellors were at a north Toronto school Tuesday to help students and staff cope with the news that a five-year-old girl had died after being pinned between two SUVs. The Toronto Catholic District School Board said the girl was walking with her father to their car after school on Monday when the incident took place just before 3:30 p.m. Const. Clint Stibbe said Tuesday that an SUV with no one inside rolled forward and pinned the girl against her father’s Mercedes-Benz SUV. The child was taken to a hospital where she died of her injuries. The girl’s 42-year-old father was also struck by the rolling vehicle and was taken to hospital with non-life threatening injuries, police said. The police traffic services division said the investigation was ongoing, and charges, if any, have not yet been determined. Toys and flowers were left in a snowbank near St. Raphael Catholic School on Monday morning.———FEDS TO GET BOOST FROM ECONOMY, TAX CHANGES: After months of battling controversies, Bill Morneau’s spring budget has the potential to blunt some criticism by showing that a return to balanced books could be within striking distance in just a few years. However, it will likely be up to the finance minister himself whether his next spending blueprint includes a long-awaited federal timeline to eliminate the deficit. Despite Canada’s more robust economy of late, the governing Liberals have long said they prefer to remain focused on lifting Canada’s long-term growth rather than rushing to balance the budget — even though they shattered their campaign promise to keep annual shortfalls below $10 billion. The government’s latest forecast projected a $14.3-billion deficit for 2019-20. But experts say a lot has changed since that October prediction, which was based on private-sector projections taken in September. Thanks in large part to the stronger-than-expected economy, forecasters are expecting Morneau’s budget — typically tabled in February or March — to show smaller deficits across the outlook than Ottawa had forecasted just a few months ago.———ICE DANCERS VIRTUE AND MOIR TO CARRY FLAG AT WINTER OLYMPICS: Ice dance darlings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will carry Canada’s flag into the opening ceremony at next month’s Winter Games in South Korea. The Olympic gold medallists were introduced Tuesday at a news conference in Ottawa. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was there to mark the occasion. Virtue, 28, and Moir, 30, made their Olympic debut eight years ago on home ice in Vancouver, where they captured a gold medal and became household names. They skated to a silver medal four years ago in Sochi. The duo then took two years off before deciding to make a run for one more Olympic title. They say they will retire after the Games in Pyeongchang. The Pyeongchang Olympics open Feb. 9.———AXE INCREASING BEER TAX, TRADE ASSOCIATION SAYS: A trade association for Canada’s beer industry wants the federal government to stop its plan to annually increase a tax on the alcoholic drink. Beer Canada has launched a new campaign calling on Canadians to sign a petition asking Finance Minister Bill Morneau to axe the escalating beer tax. In last year’s federal budget, the Liberal government announced it wanted to annually adjust the beer excise tax by indexing it to the consumer price index with the first inflationary adjustment coming this April. Beer Canada, which represents 50 brewers who make more than 90 per cent of domestic beer consumed in the country, says 47 per cent of the price of beer in Canada is already tax. The association says future tax increases would further hurt an industry facing challenging times as beer consumption is declining in Canada.———
WINNIPEG – A move to ban discrimination based on weight and size under Manitoba’s human rights code has moved a step closer to becoming law, although the Progressive Conservative government has not yet committed to passing it.Liberal legislature member Jon Gerrard has tried three times to get support for a private member’s bill that would add weight and size as grounds for human rights protection. He didn’t get any support for his previous two attempts, but the Tories have now voted in favour of sending Gerrard’s bill to a legislature committee for public hearings Wednesday night.“There’s no guarantee it will pass all the way, but we believe we’ve got some really good presenters at committee stage and we’re hopeful,” Gerrard said Tuesday.Justice Minister Cliff Cullen would not make any promises beyond listening to what people have to say.“We will reserve comment until we’ve had the opportunity to listen to Manitobans at committee,” Cullen said in a brief written statement.“We look forward to discussing ways to better ensure that all Manitobans are treated fairly and equitably.”Gerrard has long said overweight people need protection because many have been bullied, shamed, passed over for promotions or denied health-care services.The bill also proposes protection for people with dwarfism.Lindsey Mazur, a dietician and spokesperson for Manitobans Against Weight Stigma, said the proposed law is needed.“Certainly I have heard about promotions and jobs being denied based on size,” Mazur said. “This affects so many areas of society, all the way to our children and bullying.”Some people have been told they will not receive medical services unless they first lose weight, she added.Manitoba’s human rights code bans discrimination on several grounds including age, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability.Across Canada, there have been human rights commission rulings in favour of obese persons, but they have been limited to people considered disabled because of their obesity.In 2010, the Quebec Human Rights Commission ruled a morbidly obese woman was discriminated against by her condominium association when she was denied a handicapped parking spot.Gerrard said people should not have to be obese to the point of being disabled before they can be protected from discrimination.