Czech Republic wants answers for new Visa requirements from Canada

Immigration Canada announced yesterday that ever since Canada lifted Visa requirements for Mexicans and Czech Republic’s citizens in 2007, thousands have arrived at airports and are claiming refugee status in Canada, and now there is a huge uproar and anger at the Canadian government because everything is about to change. Now, citizens from the two counties will need visa’s to visit Canada.

There was a blowback from the Czech Republic.

Too bad soo sad.

Newsflash!!! Visiting a country is not a right, it’s a privilege. Just like driving car among other things.

Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA – The Czech Republic’s ambassador to Canada planned to leave the country today, partly in protest and partly to plot his country’s reaction to new visa restrictions on Czech visitors to Canada, the embassy in Ottawa said.

Ambassador Karel Zebrakovsky planned to leave less than 24 hours after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced the federal government will attempt to stop what it sees as an unacceptable number of refugee claimants from both the Czech Republic and Mexico with new visa requirements that go into effect at midnight tomorrow.

In Prague, where Canadian officials think thousands of the Roma minority have been launching fraudulent refugee claims, the reaction was fierce.

Czech Prime Minister Jan Fischer branded the restrictions a “unilateral and unfriendly step.” He was speaking after an emergency government meeting to discuss the new visa requirements, Reuters reported.

“Obviously this is a concern for the Czech Republic,” said an embassy spokesperson in Ottawa.

There have been nearly 3,000 Czech asylum bids since visa requirements were dropped in 2007. In 2006 there were less than five such applications, the immigration department said in a release announcing the decision.

Prime Minister Fischer said the Czech ambassador in Ottawa would be returning to Prague for consultations.

In retaliation, the Czech government will require Canadian diplomats and civil servants to obtain visas before entering the country on official business, he said. But Prague is powerless to place visa requirements on all Canadian visitors to the country because it is a member of the European Union and must harmonize immigration policies with all of the 27 member countries.

Czech diplomats will also begin raising the Canadian visa problems with the European Commission in a bid to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.

The country’s consul general in Toronto, Richard Krpac, said Canada’s decision may force tourists to look elsewhere when planning their vacations, such as the United States where there are no visa hassles.

Refugee advocates slammed the decision, saying it would block people who are fleeing life-threatening situations in both Mexico and the Czech Republic. Human rights organizations continue to document persecution and systemic discrimination of the Roma minority in the Czech Republic.

Geraldine MacDonald, president of the Refugee Lawyers Association, said the government has been slow to fill vacancies on the Immigration and Refugee Board, making it the real architect of an application backlog.

“To take this action against these two countries specifically on the grounds that there is a high volume of refugee claims from these countries is contrary to the human rights principles and sense of justice that Canada stands for,” MacDonald said in a statement.

The restrictions on Mexican visitors to Canada could have even greater economic ramifications.

Mexico was the sixth largest source of tourists to Canada last year, and the numbers had been steadily increasing. However, Mexican asylum claims make up one quarter of all applications that Canada receives, the government says.

A Canadian Tourism Commission website geared toward Mexicans, called “Escape from the Routine,” was still boasting that a “valid passport and return plane ticket is all you need” to visit Canada.

The tourism industry is urging the federal government to delay the visa requirement for Mexican visitors until Nov. 15.

“What really hurts about this is that there’s was no warning at all … and all of a sudden, basically the day the doors were supposed to open on the beginning of the peak season, they’re being shut in our face a little bit,” said Hume Rogers, of Ottawa’s Capital Hotel and Suites.

A group of hotels, restaurants and tour operators from Ontario and Quebec that rely on business with Mexico said the government’s move came without advance warning and in the middle of a recession.

“This has blindsided our industry,” Rogers said.

Rogers had 25 rooms booked for 10 days this month with a Mexican tour group.

Carlo Dade, executive director of the Canadian Foundation for the Americas, said the government’s decision didn’t offer any exceptions for the growing number of Mexican business travellers, or the possibility of a program to pre-clear frequent visitors such as that which Canada has with the U.S.

In Mexico City, people with plans to visit Canadian cities this summer flooded the Canadian embassy and their travel agent with calls, trying to figure out what they needed to do to get their documents on time. A 48-hour grace period for Mexicans with imminent travel was to expire at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday.

A source with the Mexican government said the embassy had given little information or guidance to people on what steps were required or how long the process would take. A notice on the embassy’s website directs travellers to send their documents by courier to the embassy.

Carla Rosa, director of GrupoTravel’s head office in Mexico City, said people are reluctant to give their documents to a third party for transport, and are showing up at the embassy anyway.

“It’s a mess,” said Rosa, who said many people will lose their money.

A government spokesperson said things are actually running smoothly at the embassy in Mexico, with line-ups in “the low hundreds.”

One line at the embassy has been arranged to hand out information kits and applications, and the other for those with completed applications and the new $85 fee. People in emergency situations are being given priority.

With files from Richard Brennan and The Canadian Press

90 Percent says Canada top country; poll

Whatever happened to the humble Canadian? A new poll says the vast majority of us think Canada is the greatest country in the world, but that — paradoxically — we aren’t patriotic enough.

The Strategic Counsel survey, conducted for CTV and the Globe and Mail, shows that Canadians, either praised or mocked for their reluctance to wave the Maple Leaf, have enormous national pride.

Ninety per cent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Canada is the best country in the world.” Fifty-four per cent strongly agreed, and 36 per cent somewhat agreed.

At the same time, 64 per cent felt that “Canadians are not patriotic enough.”

“Canadians don’t feel particularly vulnerable, they don’t feel insecure, and they’re giving themselves a big fat pat on the back here — which is at odds with their self-perception that they’re not patriotic enough,” pollster Peter Donolo told CTV.ca. “That’s the way it goes.”

The survey also found that 85 per cent of respondents agreed “Canadians are fundamentally different from Americans.” That number was more or less representative of every region polled.

“There’s no sense of insecurity among Canadians,” said Donolo. “The cliché is that Canadians have been insecure culturally, or unsure about their identity. But that’s certainly not representative of these numbers.”

As for any fears that Canada will eventually unite with the U.S., that seems to be a myth, too. Only 13 per cent agreed with the statement: “Canada will eventually join the U.S.” Sixty-four per cent strongly disagreed, and 22 per cent somewhat disagreed.

Diversity — but with a catch

When asked which were the two most representative symbols of Canada, respondents focused on the usual answers: hockey, Medicare, and multiculturalism.

Here are the full national results:

  • Hockey: 48 per cent
  • Multiculturalism: 36 per cent
  • Medicare: 33 per cent
  • Our tradition of peacekeeping: 27 per cent
  • Charter of Rights and Freedoms: 21 per cent
  • Bilingualism: 18 per cent
  • We’re not Americans: 14 per cent
  • None of the above: 2 per cent

No only does multiculturalism rank at number two, but the survey also found that 81 per cent believe “Canada’s diversity is an important strength of our country.”

However, the survey seemed to reveal a disconnect: Canadians take pride in their diversity, but they also want immigrants to adopt Canadian values. Ninety-one per cent agreed with the statement: “When immigrants come to Canada they should adapt to Canadian customs and values.”

Perhaps even more contradictory, 52 per cent thought “Canada has too many immigrants and we should limit the number who come to Canada.” But Donolo noted that only 20 per cent strongly agree with that statement, as opposed to somewhat agree.

“In a sense, people are saying notionally that we’re taking in too many immigrants, but it’s not what I would call a hot-button issue,” said Donolo.

God save the Queen?

The survey also found that most Canadians do not feel strongly about either our Queen or the Governor General.

When asked who Canadians felt a stronger connections to, Queen Elizabeth or Gov. Gen. Michaella Jean, 70 per cent said neither.

Even among those over the age of 50, who are traditionally more in favour of the monarchy, only 26 per cent said they felt a stronger connection to the Queen, and 13 per cent said favoured her representative.

“What’s interesting is that the desire to end the connection with the Monarchy after Queen Elizabeth is even across all age groups,” said Donolo. “And it’s really nearing the area of consensus, when you’ve got 60 per cent nationally.”

Nationwide, 65 per cent thought Canada should cut its ties to the Monarchy when the next Royal is crowned. In Ontario, the province most favourable to the Queen, the number was 58 per cent; in Quebec, it was 86 per cent.

Technical notes

  • The nationwide telephone survey was conducted between May 6 and May 10, 2009.
  • Results are based on a national sample size of 1,000 voting-age Canadians: 500 men and 500 women.
  • Advanced probability sampling techniques were employed in the selection of households for telephone interviewing.

Canada’s prison system near breakdown

I’ve commented on this a few times. Our current corrupt Canadian government, the Conservatives has got to be the worst government we had in decades, one of many things and as they bring in new laws to lock up criminals with min sentences for violent crimes and abolishing the two for one credit.. it’s a recipe for diaster in many forms.

I am not saying criminals shouldn’t be punished, but it’s called Correctional Services for a reason.

If you read the Canadian news, you have already noticed that inmates get out of prison shortly after they’re sentenced,  they’re not locked them up forever unlike the USA and other countries, and the prison system will be as corrupt as the present government, I bet your bottom dollar that our crime rates will skyrocket, criminals will eventually get out and reoffend because of non existant rehabilition programs. Most of society prefers the ‘reactive’ approach, it’s the most unaffective corrective measure. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that.

You want to solve a problem? DO IT RIGHT DUMBTWATS! and do it logically, you’re the fregin government!!! But of course the government doesn’t act that way.They like to waste billions of tax payers dollars on HORSESHIT.

Among other things this government does including the EI (Employment Insurane) program, why should they fix it? The Conservatives are for the wealthy, there’s a 54 BILLION  EI Surplus and the hardworking who put toward that surplus and who need it especially in times like these, aren’t getting it.

People voted them in too bad so sad.

VOTE JOEY FOR OUR NEW PRIME MINISTER!!

 

Prison system near breakdown, watchdog warns

 

Jun 02, 2009 08:40 PM

THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA–Canada’s prison system is stretched to the breaking point and any sudden influx of new inmates would be “dangerous,” says the federal correctional investigator.

Howard Sapers’ stark warning Tuesday comes amid concern that the Harper government’s tough-on-crime agenda could swamp already-strained prisons.

Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan agreed policy changes will drive “a need for additional capacity” in custody.

“It’s undoubtedly the case that we’re going to be building new prisons in the future,” he said in an interview.

But that need has more to do with crumbling buildings and overall population growth than Conservative plans to lock up more people, he said.

For now, Van Loan is confident that any increase will be gradual enough for the corrections service to handle.

Sapers said the country’s 58 institutions are barely managing about 13,500 inmates. Another 8,000 prisoners are under varying degrees of supervision on the outside.

The majority, including sex offenders, never fully complete rehabilitation programs because of long waiting lists and frequent transfers, he said.

Adding to the pressure is a spike in the number of mentally unstable offenders in the last 10 years following the closure of residential institutions without the creation of adequate community supports.

Adding more inmates could tip the scales toward disaster, Sapers said.

“It would be dangerous to further burden the corrections system federally without additional capacity – and dangerous in the sense of both institutional violence and the risk of reoffence upon release,” he said after appearing before the Commons public safety committee.

“We know historically that the more repressive conditions become inside institutions, the more dangerous conditions become. And that’s for inmates and staff.

“The system right now is working at its capacity. And if we find the Correctional Service of Canada faced with a rapid influx of inmates without additional capacity – program capacity, accommodation capacity, human resource capacity – then those are the dangers that I foresee.”

Conservative legislation to set mandatory minimum sentences for various drug crimes, along with plans to nix extra credit for time served in overcrowded remand centres prior to trial, could swell prison ranks, critics warn.

Criminologists point out that higher incarceration rates in the U.S. have cost billions of dollars with negligible impact on crime. They also note that crime rates in Canada have steadily fallen in recent years with some exceptions, such as gang-related violence.

Sapers was careful to distance his remarks from politics.

“I’m not linking my concerns to any particular initiative,” he said.

But he stressed that something fundamental has shifted over the last 10 years when it comes to how inmates are released.

“It used to be the majority got out conditionally with supervision. Now the majority are getting out statutorially with a very short period of supervision – if any.”

Wait-lists for rehabilitation programs are growing, he said, referring to 103 sex offenders waiting to enter assigned programs at Warkworth Institution near Kingston, Ont.

For those who do start education, anger management and various treatment programs, the average completion rate is 67 per cent, Sapers said.

About 20 per cent of inmates who didn’t finish were disrupted by “population management” reasons such as involuntary transfers between institutions, he said.

“More offenders failed to complete the program for administrative reasons than because they dropped out.”

The corrections service now spends $37 million on core programs, or just two per cent of a yearly budget of more than $2 billion. Inmates need more access to rehabilitation support, Sapers said.

“It gets rid of idleness. It gives people skills … and a pathway to supervised conditional release.”

Van Loan said he shares Sapers’ concern and that the government has committed more funding – especially for mentally ill inmates.

“It’s one thing to have the money available, as we have made it available. It’s another thing . . . to be able to recruit and retain enough psychologists to actually do the work dealing with offenders with psychiatric problems or sexual problems.”

A general shortage of such specialists has made it even tougher to attract and keep staff in the prison system.

“The good news is those are problems that nobody was doing anything about for a long time,” Van Loan said. “We have begun to take steps to address some of them.”

Canada releases terrorist from jail

Sometimes I am just ashamed to be Canadian. It’s when terrorists who plot to bomb certain interests in Canada and receive a sentence of 2.5 years in jail. It’s only when a huge tragedy involving many innocent lives will be a huge wake-up call, and even that, nothing will change. Sept 11 should of been a wake-up call. Apparently, not in Canada.

What’s even more disturbing is that this guy got bail but was re-arrested again because he disobeyed is bail conditions, he said it didn’t conform to Islam law. But isn’t that a sign that they guy shouldn’t be in this country?? YES IT IS!

Are you kidding me? ISLAM LAW!!! You want to conform to legal ISLAM LAW go to ISLAM!!! And don’t plot terrorist attacks you TERRORIST!

It’s no wonder the USA keep blaming us, our justice system was written by a bunch of clowns, it’s all clear now. Our freedom in this country will end very soon, because there is no law to keep terrorists locked up.

Let’s compare this case to the recent one NYC recently where a few were arrested for doing something similar, I’ll bet they won’t be sentenced to just 2.5 years. More like LIFE!!

But I’m sure he will plan big and unpredictable things.

Canada is a safe haven for terrorists!

It wouldn’t surprise me if Osama Bin Laden is camping in the NorthWest Terror tories.

 

Staff Reporter

A man sentenced to 2-1/2 years in a homegrown terror trial, will be released from custody today.

The 21-year-old Scarborough man will walk out of court later today a free man because of credit given for time served in pre-trial custody.

Superior Court Justice John Sproat said that in making his decision, he considered “the genuine remorse expressed by (the accused) and his stated commitment to leading a peaceful life.”

As part of his sentence the accused must submit a DNA sample and will be on probation for three years. He is also prohibited from handling firearms for 10 years.

In a letter to the court, the accused indicated his intention to finish high school, and positively contribute to society.

“If I’m given a chance, I promise to work hard,” wrote the accused in the letter, part of which was read aloud in court.

“I want to get married, have a family, have a good job like an engineer… I’m not a violent person and I do not believe in participating in acts of violence against anyone.”

The young man, who was not a key member of the so-called Toronto 18, said he would like to counsel young people to stay away from bad influences.

Prosecutors had been seeking a three-year sentence, but Sproat noted there were “extenuating circumstances” with regard to the accused.

The judge referenced evidence by the Crown’s star witness Mubin Shaikh, who described the accused as a naïve and impressionable convert to Islam who was estranged from his Hindu family. Shaikh, a police agent who infiltrated the group, pointed out that the accused was eager to fit in with some of the group’s members, whom he turned to for religious guidance.

In his ruling, Sproat also referred to a pre-sentence report by a psychologist, who described the accused as someone who feels the need to conform in order to gain approval and acceptance, which can result in “problematic behaviour.” The doctor characterized him as an “immature individual” with “feelings of inadequacy and a tendency to look to others for approval.”

Court heard that the accused, who was born in Sri Lanka and came to Canada at age 7, faced difficulties adjusting and learning English. Around the age of 10 he suffered from and was treated for cancer.

The judge also noted that the accused was very supportive of his mother when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and referred to difficulties he had with his parents during his religious conversion.

Reacting to the sentence, University of British Columbia professor Michael Byers said “the fact that the Crown only sought three years speaks volumes.”

“Terrorism is a serious problem, but a sense of perspective is always necessary,” said Byers, who holds a Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law.

“The judge struck an appropriate balance in this case. This young man was guilty of running with the wrong crowd, but nothing more.”

The young man, whose offences occurred when he was 18, was tried as a youth, but sentenced as an adult.

Typically, when an adult sentence is imposed, the identity of the accused is revealed. But defence counsel, who plan to appeal the conviction, sought a month-long extension on the publication ban of their client’s name so that the matter can be heard in an Ontario Court of Appeal.

In an unusual ruling, Sproat agreed to extend the publication ban until June 23.

Lawyer Brian Greenspan is expected to represent the accused in the appeal process.

The accused has already spent two years behind bars and will be given a 1.25 to 1 ratio for time served.

After being arrested, he spent a year in a youth facility before being released on bail. He returned to jail in May 2008 after telling the judge he renounced the Canadian legal system in favour of Sharia law.

Since then, he has been at Maplehurst Detention Centre, with some of his co-accused adults, in what is dubbed the “terrorist wing.”

In a landmark decision last September, Sproat ruled there was overwhelming evidence that the accused belonged to a homegrown terrorist group, attended two terrorist training camps and stole items to enhance training.

He was the first person to be found guilty under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Act, which was passed in Parliament following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

He was among 14 adults and four youths arrested in the summer of 2006 after ringleaders of the Al Qaeda inspired group are alleged to have devised a plot to storm Parliament Hill and blow up downtown sites such as the CN Tower, the Toronto Stock Exchange and offices of Canada’s spy agency.

Members of the group are accused of ordering fertilizer to build truck bombs, constructing a remote-control detonator and scouting a safe house to store weapons and harbour terrorists. The young man was not a key member of the group and did not play a role in the bomb conspiracy.

While delivering his verdict, the judge noted that the accused lacked street smarts, which made him easy to deceive, and had only a rudimentary understanding of world politics and international conflicts. But, he said it was “inconceivable” for him not to have known the true nature of the camp by the end.

During the trial, two different portraits emerged of the young man, who displayed little emotion today.

Prosecutors John Neander and Marco Mendicino portrayed him as a teenaged jihadi who attended two training camps: one in December 2005, complete with military-style exercises, firearms training and speeches exhorting followers to wage war on “Rome” and another in May 2006, where attendees made a mock jihadi video. Prosecutors also said he stole items for the camps, including outdoor gear and walkie-talkies.

The other image was of a troubled youngster, who was alienated from his family because of his conversion and went “winter camping” because he yearned for religious guidance and was told it was a religious retreat.

Defence lawyers Mitchell Chernovsky and Faisal Mirza said their client had been led astray by an alleged ringleader who was a deluded megalomaniac with a fanciful plot to attack Canadians.

Since the massive police raids that garnered international headlines nearly three years ago, the number of accused has whittled down.

Three youths and four adults had their charges stayed. Earlier this month, Saad Khalid of Mississauga pleaded guilty to intending to cause an explosion. A sentencing hearing for Khalid is scheduled for June 22.

Vancouver tops list of North America’s Best City to Live

 

Vancouver is the 4th Best place to live in the world. Toronto is up there (14th place) on the list for North America as well, but slipped a few notches since last year.

  • European cities dominate the top of the ranking
  • Vienna scores highest for overall quality of living, Baghdad the lowest
  • Singapore ranks top for city infrastructure; London ranks eighth

 

The quality of living rankings are based on a point-scoring index, which sees Vienna score 108.6, and Baghdad 14.4. Cities are ranked against New York as the base city with an index score of 100.

Mercer’s Quality of Living ranking covers 215 cities and is conducted to help governments and major companies place employees on international assignments. In 2008, the quality of living in many regions has been affected. This is demonstrated by serious political turmoil, increasing unrest and instability, health and climatic concerns. The global financial crisis has intensified in 2008, becoming an area of increasing international concern. The effects of various rescue plans being implemented are yet to be known.

In this site you will find a global overview of the survey and a summary of results, includingkey changes, within each region.

This year’s ranking also identifies the cities with the best infrastructure based on electricity supply, water availability, telephone and mail services, public transport provision, traffic congestion and the range of international flights from local airports.

Mr Parakatil commented: “Infrastructure has a significant effect on the quality of living experienced by expatriates. Whilst often taken for granted when functioning to a high standard, a city’s infrastructure can generate severe hardship when it is lacking. Companies need to provide adequate allowances to compensate their international workers for these and other hardships.”

Top 5 quality of living ranking for cities worldwide

Top 5 cities – Overall

Top 5 cities – Infrastructure

  • Vienna,Austria (1st)
  • Zurich, Switzerland (2nd)
  • Geneva, Switzerland (3rd )
  • Vancouver, Canada (tied 4th)
  • Auckland, New Zealand (tied 4th)
  • Singapore, Singapore (1st)
  • Munich, Germany (2nd)
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (3rd)
  • Tsukuba, Japan (4th)
  • Yokohama, Japan (5th)

Top 5 ranking cities by region

Quality of living

Top 5 cities – Americas

Top 5 cities – Asia Pacific

Top 5 cities – Europe

Top 5 cities -Middle East & Africa

  • Vancouver, Canada (tied 4th)
  • Toronto, Canada (15th)
  • Ottawa, Canada (16th)
  • Montreal, Canada (22nd)
  • Calgary, Canada (26th)

 

The lowest ranking Americas city in the top 50 was Seattle (50th).

  • Auckland, New Zealand(tied 4th)
  • Sydney, Australia (10th)
  • Wellington, New Zealand(12th)
  • Melbourne, Australia(18th)
  • Perth, Australia (21st)

 

The lowest ranking Asian city in the top 50 was Osaka (tied for 44th).

  • Vienna,Austria ( 1st)
  • Zurich, Switzerland (2nd)
  • Geneva, Switzerland (3rd)
  • Dusseldorf, Germany (6th)
  • Munich, Germany (7th)

 

The lowest ranking European city in the top 50 wasMadrid (48th).

  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates (77th)
  • Port Louis, Mauritius (82nd)
  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (84th)
  • Cape Town, South Africa (87th)
  • Port Elizabeth, South Africa (93rd)

 

NB: There are no Middle Eastern or African cities in the top 50

Infrastructure

Top 5 cities – Americas

Top 5 cities – Asia Pacific

Top 5 cities – Europe

Top 5 cities -Middle East & Africa

  • Vancouver, Canada(6th)
  • Atlanta, USA(15th)
  • Montreal, Canada (tied 15th)
  • Toronto, Canada (18th)
  • Washington D.C, USA (24th)
  • Singapore, Singapore (1st)
  • Tsukuba, Japan (4th)
  • Yokohama, Japan (5th)
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong (tied 8th)
  • Tokyo, Japan (12th)
  • Munich, Germany (2nd)
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (3rd)
  • Dusseldorf, Germany(6th)
  • Frankfurt, Germany (tied 8th)
  • London, UK(tied 8th)
  • Dubai, United Arab Emirates(35th)
  • Tel Aviv, Israel (55th)
  • Jerusalem, Israel (70th)
  • Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates(72nd)
  • Port Louis, Mauritius (92nd)

 

Learn more and purchase reports

Key features and benefits

To encourage employment mobility and keep abreast of the competition, you need reliable information to help you calculate fair, consistent expatriate allowances. Based on 39 factors within ten categories, Mercer’s Quality of Living Reports contain all the key elements you need to calculate hardship allowances for transfers tomore than420 cities worldwide.

“Hardship allowance” refers to premium compensation paid to expatriates who experience – or should expect to experience – a significant deterioration in living conditions in their new host location.

Research for our reports is carried out by means of a detailed questionnaire with pre-defined criteria and a specific scoring system. Researchers and consultants in Mercer offices worldwide analyse the data which is then cross-checked against various sources by Mercer’s experts.

 

  • Tangible values for qualitative perceptions to establish an objective assessment of the quality of living for transfers to more than 420 cities worldwide.
  • Carefully selected factors representing the criteria considered most relevant to international executives.
  • A detailed outline of how we establish quality of living differentials between cities.
  • A City-to-City Index Comparison that summarises the difference in the quality-of-living between any two cities.
  • The final quality of living index and access to the detailed breakdown of the categories that form the resulting index.
  • An online quality of living calculator allowing you to customise the QOL index to your specific needs.
  • A score report summarising the quality of living differences for each of the 39 factors.
  • Mercer’s recommended Quality of Living Allowance Grid that allows you to translate the quality of living index into percentage benefits and define competitive hardship allowances where applicable.

 

US lifts Cuba Restrictions

 

 

ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama directed his administration today to allow unlimited travel and money transfers by Cuban Americans to family in Cuba, and to take other steps to ease U.S. restrictions on the island, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The formal announcement was being made at the White House this afternoon, during presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs’ daily briefing with reporters. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the announcement had not yet been made.

With the changes, Obama aims to lessen Cubans’ dependence on the Castro regime, hoping that will lead them to demand progress on political freedoms, the official said. About 1.5 million Americans have relatives on the island nation that turned to communist rule in 1959 when Fidel Castro seized control.

Obama had promised to take these steps as a presidential candidate. It has been known for over a week that he would announce them ahead of his attendance this weekend at a Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago.

“There are no better ambassadors for freedom than Cuban Americans,” Obama said in a campaign speech last May in Miami, the heart of the U.S. Cuban-American community. “It’s time to let Cuban Americans see their mothers and fathers, their sisters and brothers. It’s time to let Cuban American money make their families less dependent upon the Castro regime.”

Other steps taken today include expanding the things allowed in gift parcels being sent to Cuba, such as clothes, personal hygiene items, seeds, fishing gear and other personal necessities.

The administration also will begin issuing licenses to allow telecommunications and other companies to provide cell and television services to people on the island, and to allow family members to pay for relatives on Cuba to get those services, the official said.

Last May, former President George W. Bush announced a new policy that people living in the United States could include cell phones in gift parcels sent to Cubans. At the time, Bush aides said that U.S. residents could pay for the cell service attached to phones they send.

However, though American cell phones with service contracts from the U.S. work on some parts of the island, service is not always reliable and depends on the phones’ specifications.

Sending money to senior government officials and Communist Party members remains prohibited under Obama’s new policy. Restrictions imposed by the Bush administration had limited Cuban travel by Americans to just two weeks every three years. Visits also were confined to immediate family members.

Francisco Hernandez, head of the exile group the Cuban American National Foundation, was once a staunch supporter of travel restrictions but supported Obama’s announcement, saying he hopes it will inspire both sides to reconsider long-held positions.

It will help Cubans become more independent of the state “not only in economic terms but in terms of information, and contacts with the outside world,” said Hernandez, who was imprisoned by the Cuban government for nearly two years after participating in the 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion.

Miami travel agent Tesie Aral said her phone has been ringing nonstop in anticipation of the announcement, with a tenfold increase last Friday alone.

“People were already planning to travel more based on their ability to go every 12 months,” said Aral, owner of ABC Charters. “Whether they can travel more frequently than that depends on the economy.”

Also in that Miami speech nearly a year ago, Obama promised to depart from what he said had been the path of previous politicians on Cuba policy – “they come down to Miami, they talk tough, they go back to Washington, and nothing changes in Cuba.”

“Never, in my lifetime, have the people of Cuba known freedom. Never, in the lives of two generations of Cubans, have the people of Cuba known democracy,” he said then. “This is the terrible and tragic status quo that we have known for half a century – of elections that are anything but free or fair; of dissidents locked away in dark prison cells for the crime of speaking the truth. I won’t stand for this injustice, you won’t stand for this injustice, and together we will stand up for freedom in Cuba.”

He also promised to engage in direct diplomacy with Cuba, “without preconditions” but with “careful preparation” and “a clear agenda.”

Some lawmakers, backed by business and farm groups seeing new opportunities in Cuba, are advocating wider revisions in the trade and travel bans imposed after Castro came to power in Havana.

But the official said that Obama is keeping the decades-old U.S. trade embargo, arguing that that policy provides leverage to pressure the regime to free all political prisoners as one step toward normalized relations with the U.S.

Elderly Gay couple in love for 58 years, regret doing one thing

This happens one in a million perhaps, but this gay couple should be inspiring to all gays who think there is no such thing as a long lasting loving relationship. Unfortunately, I’m one of them.

 

March 6) – It was 1951 when they fell in love. They’ve been together every since. And now, Bob Claunch and Jack Reavley are wondering whether they made a mistake by not getting married when they had the chance.

The two met in the Army, where Reavley was Claunch’s commanding officer, the Los Angeles Times reported. For years, they had to conceal their relationship for fear of being court-martialed. Eventually, both men received honorable discharges. Today, Claunch, 83, and Reavley, 85, live together in Los Angeles. They are registered domestic partners in California. When same-sex marriage was legalized in California, they decided not to go for it. “I know that we’ve been together a long time,” Claunch told the Times, “but the idea of cementing this relationship seems unnecessary.” But now, they are starting to wonder: What happens to the survivor if one of them dies? Without a marriage license, they lack some fundamental rights. But in November, California voters approved Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage. The state Supreme Court is considering the constitutionality of the measure.

Claunch and Reavley say that if they get another chance, they will get married — although something in their background still makes them hesitate. “I suppose it’s because for so many, many, many years and centuries, men have not married men, and women have not married women,” Claunch said. “We’ve been brought up not having anything like that, not wanting anything like that … We’ve always been given the impression that it was a horrible kind of situation, and it is not easy to cross over that line.” Get the full story at the LATimes.com. And you can learn more about the couple’s long romance through filmmaker Stu Maddux’s 2006 documentary, ‘Bob and Jack’s 52-Year Adventure.’

Obama makes history in Canada, unscheduled stop to greet fans

President Barack Obama greets patrons during an unscheduled stop at in Ottawa’s Byward Market, Feb. 19, 2009.
THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA – U.S. President Barack Obama apparently couldn’t quell his curiosity – or his appetite.

At the end of a long day of meetings on his first foreign visit as president, the leader of the free world and his 50-car motorcade took an unscheduled detour into Ottawa’s Byward Market in quest of that most Canadian of delicacies – a Beavertail.

“It just kinda, sorta happened,” said Jessica Milien, a 17-year-old Ottawa high-school student and a big Obama fan. “I was just doing my job at the Beavertails and this agent came up asked me to bring (the president) a Beavertail.

“I asked him, `well, which one would he like?’ and he said, ‘whatever you want.’ I chose to give him the Obamatail, which is pretty much made because of him.”

The Secret Service waited at the Hooker’s Beavertails hut on George Street while she prepared one of the $3.75 hot pastries, a patty of wholewheat dough stretched into the shape of – you guessed it – a beaver tail. It’s then float-cooked in canola oil.

Native to Ottawa, Beavertails are served hot with a variety of delectable toppings, but at a Canadian Embassy “tailgate” party marking Obama’s inauguration last month in Washington, they served an Obama Beavertail, also known as an Obamatail.

Served with cinnamon and sugar, along with a whipped-cream “O” topped with chocolate sauce and a splash of maple, the Obamatail has been popular ever since.

Obama and Milien shook hands and posed for pictures together.

The U.S. president’s impromptu stopover caused something of a sensation in the market, Ottawa’s oldest sector with narrow streets and multiple vendors of all size and description.

While crowds lined the motorcade route and gathered on Parliament Hill throughout the day, the market was local residents’ only opportunity to catch the president up close and personal.

Obama drew Beatlemania-like screams and an enormous cheer from shoppers as he ambled among aisles of vendors selling crafts, Chinese noodles and Indian food at an indoor market.

He wandered into the Oxxo Silk Market, which sells aboriginal dolls and assorted tourist goods. He emerged with a keychain bought with $5 in Canadian currency – a dollar more than it was worth.

“I was looking for a key chain and a snow globe for my daughters.” he said, explaining he was continuing a tradition started during the campaign of picking up memorabilia at every stop.

He also bought a silk scarf for wife Michelle.

Shoppers crowded his every move, snapping pictures as he entered Le Moulin de Provence bakery and announced he wanted Canadian cookies. The baker, from the south of France, obliged with Maple Leaf-shaped sugar cookies with red-and-white icing.

“I figure I’d get some points from my daughters,” Obama declared.

The baker refused his Canadian cash: “It’s for your daughters,” he said. “It’s not for you.”

At one point, the president said he wanted a Beavertail. As he emerged from the indoor market, Milien was there waiting for him, Obamatail in hand.

The president – who’d earlier dined on Pacific Coast tuna with a chilli and citrus vinaigrette, maple and miso cured Nunavut Arctic char and Applewood smoked plains bison – told Milien he’d be eating the Obamatail once he got home to Washington.

“He was actually so down to earth,” said Milien. “He was like pretty much another person on the street. He was not what I expected at all. He was so nice.”

A half-hour later, he was at the airport meeting Opposition Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff before boarding Air Force One. Obama told Ignatieff that Ottawa reminds him of Chicago, with some differences.

“We don’t ice-skate on Lake Michigan,” Obama said. “There are no Beavertails. We have the equivalent. We do have some stuff that’ll thicken the arteries.”

Canada Welcomes Obama, President’s1st foreign visit

OTTAWA – U.S. President Barack Obama met privately with Governor General Michaëlle Jean in a welcoming centre at the Ottawa airport after Air Force One touched down under snowy skies at 10:25 this morning.

Obama, the first black American president, was met by Jean, Canada’s first black Governor General, and her husband Jean-Daniel Lafond.

Other members of the welcoming party included Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, Terry Breese, Chargé d-Affaires of the United States of America to Canada, Robert Peck, Chief of Protocol of Canada, and Michael Wilson, Canada’s ambassador to the U.S.

Cannon said after the arrival ceremony that he was very impressed with Obama’s “upbeat” confident manner. “We are looking forward to establishing a good relationship with the United States,” he told the Star.

Mounties in their dress red serge stood at attention as Obama left the plane. Police were everywhere, with snipers on the roof of the Canadian Welcome Centre at Ottawa International Airport.

It is the President’s first foreign visit since taking office, and the snowfall didn’t deter diehard fans of the popular U.S. leader as they lined up at a security fence in keen anticipation of his arrival at Parliament.

Several hundred onlookers were gathered there by mid-morning in hopes of catching a glimpse of Obama when he climbs out of his armoured limousine.

They began gathering in small groups in the pre-dawn gloom. However, they were outnumbered in the early hours by police officers who arrived by the busload as the security lockdown in the nation’s capital moved into high gear.

Security teams with bomb-sniffing dogs monitored Obama’s motorcade route from the airport to Parliament – part of a massive police operation that will cost an estimated $2 million.

After meeting with Jean, the President headed downtown to Parliament Hill. When he arrives at Centre Block, he’ll be welcomed by officials from both the Senate and the House of Commons, including Noël Kinsella, Speaker of the Senate and Commons Speaker Peter Milliken. He’ll sign the distinguished visitors books of the Senate and of the House of Commons.

After meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he’ll move to lunch where high-level Canadian and American officials will have a chance to talk issues in the distinguished setting of the dining room of the Senate speaker.

At lunch, Harper will lead a Canadian contingent that also includes Cannon, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Kevin Lynch, Clerk of the Privy Council, Claude Carrière, Harper’s foreign and defence policy advisor, Wilson, Guy Giorno, Harper’s chief of staff and Kory Teneycke, his director of communications.

Lunch will feature Pacific Coast Tuna, Nunavut Arctic char, smoked plains bison, Saugeen yogurt pot de crème and Acadian buckwheat honey and sumac cookies.

On the American side, the president will be joined by Gen. Jim Jones, the President’s National Security Advisor; Larry Summers, the Chairman of the National Economic Council; Carole Browner, the White House Energy and Climate Coordinator, John Brennan, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism matters; and Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg; as well as White House spokesperson, Robert Gibbs.

The economic calamity born out of the collapse of the U.S. financial system will be the overarching concern of today’s meeting. Both Obama and Harper have brought in hefty government spending and tax measures in an effort to jump-start their struggling economies and both are trying to bail out automakers. Also on the agenda are energy and global warming, trade and the threat of protectionism, the clogged up Canada-U.S. border and security issues, including Afghanistan.

Obama and his officials will meet briefly before leaving Ottawa with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the Liberal foreign affairs critic. The meeting, a traditional chance for a foreign leader to meet the leader of the official Opposition in Parliament, is scheduled for 15 minutes at the Ottawa airport before the president flies back to Washington, D.C.

The crowd gathered on Parliament Hill to welcome the president was in a boisterous, relaxed mood. They sported Obama T-shirts under winter coats and Obama headbands and waved small Canadian and U.S. flags. Small placards saying “Yes Oui CANada” – a Canadian take on Obama’s slogan – were popular.

One young woman held a poster saying “Obama 4 PM.”

“He’s an inspiring person and I just want to express this moment,” Hussien Wahab, an Ottawa student, said of the president. “It doesn’t matter whether I see him or not.”

At the gates leading into Parliament Hill, RCMP inspected onlookers’ handbags and asked them to open their coats to check for unwanted items. One young man was grabbed and arrested by police when he tried to jump a barricade.

At the airport, busloads of reporters, television crews and photographers were waiting at a special hangar for Obama’s plane to touch down. All had to go through metal detector before allowed into the former Hangar 11. One touchy RCMP officer threatened to strip a Chinese-speaking reporter of her credentials for smiling.

Tucked away in a hangar was the President’s helicopter, which is known as Marine One when he’s on board.

(With files from Bruce Campion-Smith)

Obama to visit Canada first

Ottawa bureau

Barack Obama will make Canada his first official foreign visit soon after he becomes U.S. President, Canadian officials say.

The high-profile visit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, confirmed today, sends an important signal about the state of Canada-U.S. relations.

“We have been in close contact with President-elect Obama’s transition team,” Harper spokesperson Dimitri Soudas said today.

“We can confirm that the President-elect has accepted the Prime Minister’s invitation to visit Canada soon after he is inaugurated,” he said in an email.

It will be Obama’s first foreign visit as president. Details such as dates or destinations were not announced.

“This is delightful. Canadians should be quite pleased because it reflects the true value of the relationship. And it is a feather in President-elect Obama’s cap for recognizing the strategic importance of Canada to the United States,” said Paul Frazer, a former Canadian diplomat who is now a Washington consultant.

A transition official with Obama says aides to the president-elect and Prime Minister Stephen Harper discussed the trip in recent days.

But the official says Obama and Harper themselves have not directly discussed the trip.

– With files from the Star’s Washington Bureau Chief Mitch Potter and the Associated Press