Day: July 8, 2020

Vindman retiring from army, lawyer blames Trump

WASHINGTON — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the national security aide who played a central role in President Donald Trump’s impeachment case, announced his retirement from the Army Wednesday in a scathing statement that accused the president of running a “campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation.”

The statement from attorney David Pressman said Vindman was leaving the Army after more than 21 years after it had been made clear “that his future within the institution he has dutifully served will forever be limited.”

“Through a campaign of bullying, intimidation, and retaliation, the President of the United States attempted to force LTC Vindman to choose: Between adhering to the law or pleasing a President. Between honouring his oath or protecting his career. Between protecting his promotion or the promotion of his fellow soldiers,” read the statement, first obtained by CNN.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Trump in February ousted Vindman from his White House job just two days after his acquittal by the Senate. Vindman’s lawyer said his client had been told to leave in retaliation for “telling the truth.”

Vindman had testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice-President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings with the energy company Burisma in Ukraine.

In gripping testimony, Vindman also spoke of his family’s story and his father bringing them to the U.S. when he was a young child.

“Dad, my sitting here today in the U.S. Capitol, talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to United States of America in search of a better life for our family,” he testified. “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.”

Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

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Depp cross-examined in libel case over Heard ‘abuser’ label

LONDON — Johnny Depp faced a second day of cross-examination Wednesday by lawyers for British tabloid The Sun, which is defending a libel claim after calling the Hollywood star a “wife beater.”

Depp is suing The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers, and its executive editor, Dan Wootton, over an April 2018 article that said he had physically abused ex-wife Amber Heard.

The case opened Tuesday at the High Court in London, with Depp sitting in the witness box and denying Heard’s allegations that he assaulted her on multiple occasions.

The “Pirates of the Caribbean” star said Heard’s “sick” claims were “totally untrue.” He called his ex-wife sociopathic, narcissistic and emotionally dishonest.

The Sun’s lawyer, Sasha Wass, has tried to paint Depp as a volatile personality with a longstanding drug habit and an anger-management problem.

Depp acknowledged taking both prescription and illegal substances since childhood, but denied Heard’s clam he became a “monster” when he drank and took drugs.

“I was angry, but that doesn’t mean I have an anger problem,” Depp said Tuesday. “I also express myself by laughing. I don’t have a humour problem.”

Depp, 57, and Heard, 34, met on the set of the 2011 comedy “The Rum Diary” and married in Los Angeles in February 2015. They divorced in 2017, and now bitterly accuse one another of abuse.

The Sun’s defence relies on Heard’s allegations of 14 incidents of violence by Depp between 2013 and 2016, in locations including Los Angeles, Australia, Japan, the Bahamas and a chartered jet. He denies them all and says Heard, an actress and model, attacked him with items including a drink can and a cigarette, and severed his finger by throwing a vodka bottle at him.

Heard is attending court and is expected to give evidence later in the trial, which is scheduled to last three weeks.

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press

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Sons of ex-Panama president held in Guatemala on US charges

GUATEMALA CITY — Two sons of former Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli will be held in jail in Guatemala pending hearings Friday, officials said Tuesday as the U.S. government seeks their extradition for their alleged role in a bribery and money laundering scheme.

Luis Enrique, 38, and Ricardo Alberto Martinelli, 40, were arrested Monday in Guatemala as they tried to board a private plane out of the country. The brothers were supposedly headed to Panama with stops scheduled in El Salvador and Nicaragua.

A criminal complaint was unsealed Monday in New York alleging the brothers facilitated $28 million in bribes from Brazilian construction company Odebrecht to a close relative who was then a “high-ranking government official in Panama,” according to a statement from the U.S. Justice Department.

Each brother faces a charge of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Both are also sought by the Panamanian government for allegedly receiving more than $20 million in bribes from Odebrecht. Panama originally sought their arrest in 2017.

The brothers have denied all the allegations. Their family said in a statement Monday that they hoped the situation would be quickly resolved.

The U.S. complaint alleges that between 2009 and 2014 the brothers opened and managed secret bank accounts to move bribe payments. They were also signatories on shell company bank accounts and made wire transfers though shell company accounts “to conceal and spend bribery proceeds,” the complaint says.

On Tuesday, the brothers were sent to a VIP prison in Guatemala that has housed former government officials, businessmen and drug traffickers. The Martinellis entered Guatemala by land from El Salvador on June 30, according to the Guatemalan Immigration Institute.

The brothers had been detained in Florida in 2018 for immigration reasons, but were released on $1 million bond for each.

Ricardo Martinelli, who governed from 2009 to 2014, was detained in the U.S. and Panama for more than two years on allegations of political espionage and misuse of public funds. A court found him not guilty in 2019 and he was released.

In Panama, the Martinelli brothers’ lawyer, Luis Eduardo Camacho, said the Guatemalan government had not respected their diplomatic status as substitute Central American deputies. He said the U.S. arrest order also raised questions.

Camacho said the brothers were on their way back to Panama to face the allegations there when they were stopped in Guatemala. Why would the U.S. order their arrest now if they lived in the United States for four years and “how can they investigate the brothers for the same thing they’re being investigated in Panama for?” he said.

Neither Panamanian justice officials handling the Odebrecht investigation nor the country’s foreign ministry have commented on their arrests. The arrests come as their father is facing a new corruption case for which he was ordered not to leave the country last week.

Sonia PéRez D., The Associated Press

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Pick our fruit, get COVID-19

In June, after a third migrant worker died from COVID-19, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that asymptomatic farm workers with the virus could continue to work. Over 600 migrant workers across Canada tested positive for coronavirus by the end of June.

During a global pandemic, when every government is focused on halting the spread of a virus that can kill, how can Canadian workers be treated with such disregard? Well, that’s the crux of the problem—they’re not Canadian. Nearly 60,000 farm workers in this country are largely from Mexico and the Caribbean, here to do a job Canadians no longer want to do—grow the food that sustains us.

The coronavirus has further exposed Canada’s exploitative immigration practices—an immigration system that doesn’t provide citizenship paths to so-called “unskilled” labour, fails to recognize their worth and, as a result, fails to protect them. These workers are essential enough to cross the border into Canada during a pandemic, but their poor living conditions exacerbate their vulnerability to the virus.

Farm workers have been coming to Canada for over 50 years through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, first launched in partnership with Jamaica, which now includes 11 other countries such as Mexico, Barbados and Grenada. Canada has a permanent labour force shortage in the sector, projecting a lack of 123,000 workers by 2029. To fill this gap, the government thinks it’s appropriate for people—mostly Black and brown people from much poorer countries—to spend up to eight months of the year working away from their spouses and children without a social safety net, rather than inviting them here as permanent residents. Some workers have returned every year for over 20 years.

Most work permits for these workers are tied to employers, creating conditions for abuse including overcrowded housing, wage theft and surveillance. A 2019 Toronto Star investigation detailed 3,100 complaints made to Mexico’s ministry of labour about the program since 2009. About 40 per cent of those complaints were regarding living conditions, including a rat infestation, no running water, open latrines, and sleeping on tables and chairs.

Recently established federal regulations stipulate that workers must be quarantined for 14 days after arriving in Canada, and paid the equivalent of 30 hours a week during this time. If a worker gets sick after their quarantine, they may be eligible for CERB under the same restrictions as other Canadians—having worked 5,000 hours in Canada in the last year. But paid sick leave isn’t guaranteed, as it depends on provincial regulations. Like most provinces, there is no requirement for employers to pay sick leave in Ontario, where most migrant workers are located. In Quebec, which brings in the second-highest number of farm workers (over 14,000 in 2018), two days of sick leave are legally mandated but access isn’t guaranteed—lack of access to information, language barriers and fear of employer reprisal are real barriers.

A report published in June from the national advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, which compiled complaints from more than 1,100 workers, showed that 316 workers weren’t paid in part or in full for their quarantine period, and 539 reported they didn’t have enough food to eat.

READ: Canada’s uncomfortable reliance on migrant workers

Once on the job, 128 workers said they had to work intense hours, sometimes weeks without a day off. “We’re treated like machines,” said Raymond, a worker from Jamaica who was quoted in the report and who has been coming to Canada for 11 years. “We just want them to recognize that we’re still human.”

The federal government has committed to step up inspection efforts. But that won’t take much. Its inspections of housing conditions on farms in Ontario from March to June were done remotely, without travelling to the actual sites. It’s not surprising no violations were found.

While there are reports stating that some workers only have the personal protective equipment (PPE) provided to them by their own governments before arrival, Health Minister Patty Hajdu acknowledged that PPE was likely the least of their worries.

“All the PPE in the world will not protect you if you are sleeping in a bunkhouse that is housing 12 to 15 people that may not have any ability for distancing, certainly no private washrooms or kitchen,” she told senators on the social affairs committee in late June.

When Sen. Ratna Omidvar asked if that meant the government was going to implement housing standards for migrant workers, Hajdu didn’t answer the question: “Minister [Carla] Qualtrough and I are working right now on her ideas on how to reform the temporary foreign worker program.”

It’s downright disingenuous for the government to act like the deplorable living and working conditions these workers face is new information that requires new ideas for reform. This follows the government’s penchant for taking up social justice causes with empty words and gestures—take Justin Trudeau kneeling in front of protesters at an anti-racism rally—as if they are advocates themselves. They most certainly are not. They have had all the power to change these well-documented problems.

While being paid for quarantine time and access to paid leave are small steps toward the safety net migrant workers need, these are band-aid solutions to a much larger problem. The solution to a labour shortage that stretches back over 50 years is clear: give these essential workers a path to Canadian citizenship.

This article appears in print in the August 2020 issue of Maclean’s magazine with the headline, “Pick our fruit, get COVID-19.” Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.

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