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web posted January 3, 1999

Spanish protest fails to spark outrage for Innu

The Canadian embassy was closed for the holidays, passing shoppers did not notice them, and bored policemen wished they had chosen a warmer day to make their point, but a stout-hearted band of 10 --count them, 10 -- protesters from a pressure group spent three hours on the street in Madrid on December 27 complaining about Canada's totalitarian "abuse" of the Innu.

The activists, adopting a view touted recently by Survival, the British group organizing this protest, likened Canada's treatment of the Innu to China's brutal repression of Tibetans.

However, their message fell on deaf ears.

"I haven't seen a diplomat from the Canadian embassy all day," said the building's insouciant doorman, "but I will tell them all about it when they come in later this week."

The police were similarly phlegmatic. "Good luck to them," said one. "My only wish is that they had not made the demo last for three hours on such a chilly evening. A group of officers has to be on duty at any demonstration."

Two demonstrators, Alicia Escrina, 27, who works in advertising, and Munci Garcia, 31, a schoolteacher, admitted they don't know where the Innu live in Canada. But they are certain they've been wronged.

"They are the natives of Canada and their rights have been massively abused," said Ms. Garcia. "I have read the reports."

The report in question was released in November by Survival in conjunction with a fundraising drive. The protest was staged by the Madrid chapter of the group.

The report claimed that the suicide rate among Innu was the highest in the world -- 178 per 100,000. But they based this statistic on only eight self-inflicted deaths since 1990 in the community of Davis Inlet, a town of 500 souls.

The report blamed the Innu suicides on the Canadian government's "racist policies," comparing them to China's intervention in Tibet.

China annexed Tibet in 1950. Tibet's government-in-exile estimates that one million Tibetans have since been killed in crackdowns by Chinese governments.

The protesters tied black balloons to the doors of the seven-storey building in the heart of the Spanish capital that houses the Canadian diplomatic mission on the third floor.

A few puzzled holiday shoppers stopped to look at posters, which included pictures of a crying boy, and a banner featuring the imprint of bloodied hands. "Survival for indigenous people," it read.

Pepe del Campo, 34, an engineer with Spain's state-run railways, said the report drawn up by Survival was completed by experts.

"It is not exaggerated. The plight of the Innu is of major concern to the Spanish members of Survival.

"It doesn't matter to us that the Canadian embassy is closed. Their diplomats will know we have been here. You don't need a chanting mob to make a point."

On Christmas Eve, a diplomat at the Canadian embassy said that staff had been advised by Madrid authorities about the demonstration. "But I'm sorry we won't be here. We will all be on Christmas leave. It is not a snub.

"I know little or nothing about this group of people, but I'm sure if they write to the embassy, we shall reply."

He added he was sure the demonstration would be nothing like the one that erupted a few years ago when Spanish-Canadian tempers were frayed after Canada detained a Spanish fishing trawler.

"Then we had all sorts of fish thrown at the front door."

Quebec judge rules widow should have been given back-taxes warning in English

A Quebec judge has ruled the 1997 sale of Sheila Svendsen's house for unpaid back taxes was illegal because a warning notice sent to her was in French only.

Justice Jean-Guy Dubois of Quebec Superior Court held that the city of Chambly must have known Svendsen didn't understand French when it wrote to her in French in 1997. He noted that a clerk had written her in 1993 in English to warn her of the risk she was running by failing to pay her overdue taxes.

Under Quebec's French Language Charter, municipal authorities aren't required to write in English to people who address them "in a language other than French."

In his written judgment, Dubois said, "A letter about a sale for overdue taxes isn't an ordinary notice, like the circulars that the administration sends out about municipal services."

Svendsen ignored the September 1997 warning and her property, valued at $80,700, was sold the next month for $5,500. The city, located just east of Montreal, sent her a French-language notice a few days later.

Svendsen, a widow, learned only last February through a city councillor that her home had been sold to three numbered companies.

In his December 9 ruling, Dubois upheld Svendsen's lawsuit and cancelled the sale of her home which she has continued to occupy.

But he ordered her to repay the buyers for the money they spent and to pay the buyers' court costs and the 10 per cent penalty and interest set out in the law.

U.N. prosecutor investigating NATO's conduct in bombing campaign

The U.N. chief war crimes prosecutor is reviewing the conduct of NATO pilots and their commanders during last spring's 78-day bombing campaign against Yugoslavia, her spokesman said on December 28.

A report of the Yugoslav tribunal's investigation on the airstrikes carried out by the 19-nation military alliance landed on prosecutor Carla Del Ponte's desk recently, said the spokesman, Paul Risley.

It was compiled by her staff at the urging of several "interested parties," including a group of Russian parliamentarians and a renowned Canadian law professor, Risley said.

The war crimes tribunal, set up in 1993 by the U.N. Security Council, cannot indict governments or international organizations.

But if Del Ponte chooses to press charges against any individual as a result of the report, it would be a highly controversial landmark in global justice. Never has a Western leader or military figure been hauled before an international tribunal.

NATO launched the bombing campaign in March to force Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to halt his crackdown against ethnic Albanians in the rebellious southern province of Kosovo.

The contents of the tribunal's report are confidential. However, NATO has been criticized for civilian deaths in what it has described as mishaps, including the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade and a strike against a railroad bridge as a passenger train was crossing it.

NATO spokesman Jamie Shea refused to comment on the investigation, saying the organization hasn't been formally notified of it.

Pursuing the NATO file would go far in dispelling the preconception -- prevalent in the Balkans -- that the tribunal is a tool of Western leaders who want to escape culpability for their own actions.

But the former Swiss federal prosecutor cast doubt on that she would issue indictments if evidence of violations of international conventions on warfare were found.

"If I am not willing to do that, I am not in the right place: I must give up the mission," she said in an interview published in The Observer newspaper of London. She was also quick to stress that other investigations would take precedence over any NATO probe, saying: "It's not my priority, because I have inquiries about genocide, about bodies in mass graves."

The handling of the report is of utmost sensitivity for the tribunal, which depends on the military alliance to arrest and hand over suspects. NATO peacekeepers in the Balkans have detained around half of the 34 suspects currently in custody.

The Yugoslav tribunal was the first international war crimes court established since the post-World War II trials in Nuremberg and Tokyo. It was followed a year later by another U.N. judicial panel looking into the genocide in Rwanda.

All of the suspects in the tribunal's custody in The Hague are Serbs, Croats and Muslims.

Tax on jobs up 26 per cent since '93 in Canada, says study

The Liberal government has increased payroll taxes by $462 per worker since it came to power in 1993, a study revealed yesterday.

The federation, using government data, calculated that a worker earning $39,000 paid $1,804 in combined Employment Insurance and Canada Pension Plan contributions in 1992. On Jan. 1, 2000, that figure will reach $2,266, an increase of 26 per cent.

EI premiums went down on January 1, but the decrease is more than offset by an increase in required Canada Pension Plan contributions. Ontario Premier Mike Harris wants the EI premiums reduced further as the plan is running a surplus of at least $21-billion.

Even its own actuary, Michel Bedard, says that amount is not required.

"This is unfortunate for all Canadians, and I am writing today to express my deep disappointment at your government's failure to reduce EI premiums substantially," Harris wrote in a letter to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Despite the decrease in EI premiums, the Taxpayers Federation pointed out that the worker earning $39,000 per year will pay $85 more in combined EI and CPP premiums in 2000, and employers will pay $62 more in 2000 than in 1999. In total, employers will be paying $394 more next year than they did in 1992.

"Despite Paul Martin's welcome action on the EI front, the new century and the new millennium just mean more of the same when it comes to the total payroll tax burden confronting workers and employers," said Walter Robinson, national director of the federation. "This makes it all the more imperative that real tax relief is included in the budget this coming February."

Martin has argued that reducing EI contributions substantially is not the best way to provide tax relief to individual Canadians as 60 per cent of premiums are paid by employers. The government also says it has cut premiums by $4-billion over the past four years.

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