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The new oversight committee would restore faith in NYPD, AG says

New York Attorney General Letitia James proposed sweeping changes Wednesday to boost oversight of the New York City Police Department, including forming an independent commission that would approve the department’s budget and have the final say on officer discipline.

“The police should not police themselves — period,” James, a Democrat, told reporters. “It’s really important that we think of major reforms and not tinkering around the edges.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked James to investigate whether NYPD officers used excessive force to quell unrest and enforce a citywide curfew in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Floyd’s death led to weeks of demonstrations in the city that became violent at times and prompted widespread allegations of police misconduct.

James did not rule out criminal charges as her investigation continues. In the meantime, she outlined several reforms intended to restore New Yorkers’ faith in law enforcement.

She made clear that none of her recommendations are binding upon city leaders but portrayed her report as a blueprint for transforming accountability in the nation’s largest police department.

In addition to a new oversight committee, James called for decriminalizing “quality of life” offences like jaywalking and a statewide certification process that would prevent “bad officers from simply being passed from one agency to another.”

“Everything should be on the table,” the attorney general said. “The ultimate goal must be democratizing policing to create trust and systems worthy of that trust.”

Messages were sent to the NYPD and its largest police union seeking comment.

James’ report followed harrowing testimony about New York City police officers slamming peaceful protesters to the ground, kicking a woman in the face and beating people with batons.

The attorney general said she had received more than 1,300 submissions over the past month, and that most of the complaints involved NYPD officers using excessive force, “indiscriminate use of pepper spray, brandishing firearms at protesters, and pushing vehicles or bikes into protesters.”

Other complaints concerned “troubling arrest-related practices,” including the use of “extremely tight zip ties” misgendering detainees and holding protesters in cramped cells.

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea told James last month that fewer than 10 officers were being disciplined for alleged misconduct toward protesters, including one suspended without pay and later charged with assault after he was caught on camera shoving a woman to the ground. Shea said he was “very disturbed” by the incident.

The police oversight commission James proposed would redirect power from the department’s commissioner to a new board with representatives appointed by the City Council, public advocate, comptroller and mayor.

“The commission should also hire and, if necessary, terminate the NYPD Commissioner as well as approve all promotions above the rank of captain,” the report says.

James also recommended NYPD officers be required to live within the five boroughs “so that they better reflect the communities they are required to serve and protect.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said the city complied with James’ investigation and pointed to recent steps to reform the police department, including disbanding the plainclothes anti-crime unit.

The city recently approved a budget that will shift $1 billion from policing to education and social services in the coming year following protesters’ demands to cut police spending.

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Feds earmark $3.3B for provinces, territories for COVID-19 infrastructure

OTTAWA — The federal government is moving ahead with plans to make it easier for provinces and territories to spend billions of dollars on infrastructure projects to address the challenges posed by COVID-19.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna says $3.3 billion out of the $33 billion that Ottawa has previously promised in matching funds for provincial and territorial projects will be available for projects related to the pandemic.

Those projects include retrofits to public buildings such as schools and long-term care facilities, measures related to physical distancing such as new bike and walking paths and those designed to protect against floods and wildfires.

McKenna says the federal government plans to introduce a faster application process for provinces and territories to apply for federal funds, with Ottawa footing up to 80 per cent of the bills for approved projects.

The new approach comes as most provinces are looking at re-opening schools in the next month and trying to guard against new outbreaks of COVID-19 at nursing homes.

While the measure is expected to be welcomed by provinces and territories, each must sign an agreement with the federal government before it can apply for funding.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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Calgary Zoo worried about giant pandas as bamboo supply running out

CALGARY — Time and food supplies are running out for two giant pandas at the Calgary Zoo.

Er Shun and Da Mao arrived in Calgary in 2018 after spending five years at the Toronto Zoo and were to remain in the Alberta city until 2023.

Calgary Zoo president Clement Lanthier says the facility spent months trying to overcome transportation barriers in acquiring fresh bamboo and decided in May that it was best for the animals to be in China, where their main food source is abundant.

But he says the Zoo hasn’t been able to approve international permits, as the COVID-19 pandemic created changes to import laws and animal quarantine facilities.

Lanthier says the continued travel delay is putting the health and welfare of the animals in jeopardy.

He says the zoo is only able to source fresh bamboo reliably from British Columbia, and that supply is expected to run out in September.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 5, 2020


The Canadian Press

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COVID-19 fallout: Ottawa announces details of support program for fishermen

HALIFAX — The federal government has announced details of a $469-million program aimed at helping Canada’s fish harvesters deal with the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fisheries and Oceans Minister Bernadette Jordan issued a statement today saying the Fish Harvester Benefit and Grant Program, which was first announced in May, will be open for applications from Aug. 24 to Sept. 21.

Jordan says the program represents the single largest investment in Canada’s fisheries in nearly two decades.

The minister says the program is designed to address unique challenges facing the seasonal industry.

Detailed information about the application process for financial support is now available online from the Fisheries and Oceans Canada website.

Meanwhile, the federal government says it is still working on a program — also announced in May — that will allow self-employed fishermen to access employment insurance benefits on the basis of insurable earnings from previous seasons.

Earlier this year, Ottawa announced a $62-million program to help stabilize  the fish and seafood processing sectors, and another $50 million was pledged to help farmers, fish harvesters and food-processing employers deal with the mandatory 14-day isolation period required of all workers arriving from abroad.

 “Our fisheries operate under a unique structure and have faced distinct challenges throughout this pandemic,” Jordan said in a statement. “We’ve been working around the clock to develop a simple, accessible system to deliver over $469 million to Canada’s fish harvesters as smoothly and quickly as possible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 5, 2020.

The Canadian Press

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