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Manitobans to speak to euthanasia panel

A Manitoba-based advocacy group for the disabled will intervene today in a B.C. court case addressing the issue of assisted suicide.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities is joining the federal and B.C. governments in appealing a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that struck down parts of Canada's euthanasia laws.

In June 2012, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled because suicide itself is not illegal, aspects of the law preventing assisted suicide in all circumstances discriminated against people with disabilities who needed help to end their lives. Justice Lynn Smith said the laws, which bar anyone to counsel or assist anyone else to commit suicide, may even force someone with a debilitating disease to end their life earlier than they would want in order to be able to do it themselves.

The case was brought by five plaintiffs including a woman with Lou Gehrig's disease. Ottawa was ordered to rewrite the sections of the Criminal Code dealing with assisted suicide.

The federal government announced it would appeal the decision in June.

Jim Derksen, a member of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities' committee on end-of-life ethics, said Monday singling out people with disabilities as eligible for assisted suicide sets them apart from others. He said society has all sorts of programs and mechanisms to prevent able-bodied people from committing suicide, but those with disabilities are treated differently through this decision.

"If we legislate the machinery to usher people out of life we are formally articulating a bias against disability," he said.

B.C. lawyer heads human rights group

A British Columbia lawyer and consultant is the new executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.

Joan Braun has worked in the public-interest law sector for the last decade and oversaw the development of the first legal aid clinic in Western Canada to exclusively provide services to vulnerable and 'at-risk' older adults.

"Manitobans have a strong human rights commission with its staff doing the full scope of work from investigation to mediation to awareness," Braun said in a statement on Monday.

"I am looking forward to building on what is already here."

Braun is currently the vice-chairwoman of the Canadian Bar Association's alternate dispute resolution national section.

Braun replaces Dianna Scarth, who left last year after almost 16 years as the commission's executive director to begin teaching at the University of Winnipeg.

Boost housing allowance: Pallister

MANITOBA Conservative Leader Brian Pallister has provided a boost to anti-poverty advocates who have long lobbied for an increase in the social assistance housing allowance.

On Monday, he called a news conference to admonish the NDP for failing to boost the basic rental allowance for Employment and Income Assistance recipients during its time in office.

He vowed that, if elected, he would peg the rental allowance at 75 per cent of the median market rent in Winnipeg. It means a single person on welfare would receive an estimated $375 to $385 a month for rent instead of the current $285.

Pallister describes himself as an "unapologetic fiscal conservative," but he said there are plenty of other places the government could cut costs to be able to afford the $18 million it would take to meet the new target he's suggesting.

Pallister's proposal is identical to the one being proposed by the coalition Make Poverty History Manitoba. Some 150 groups, representing anti-poverty activists and business leaders alike, have supported the coalition's call to boost the welfare allowance.

"I think it's fantastic," Brendan Reimer, a spokesman for the coalition, said in reaction to Pallister's stance. He said he hoped Opposition support for the cause would help spur the government to act.

Government officials said Monday the NDP has made several targeted improvements to social assistance. "A family with two kids ages 4 and 6 receive $1,909 a month now. That's an increase of $621 per month, or 48 per cent, compared to the $1,288 they received in 1999," a government spokeswoman said in an email.

Fatally shot man's family sues RCMP

THE family of a man shot and killed by RCMP in God's

Lake First Nation two years ago is suing the national police service for the "reckless, careless and negligent" behaviour of two of its officers.

The statement of claim filed last week by Paul Leonard Duck's widow, Olive, asks for unspecified damages, including burial expenses and lost income, from RCMP.

Duck, 52, was fatally wounded March 15, 2011 when he approached two officers guarding the scene of a fatal house fire at God's Lake First Nation. Duck was armed with a shotgun.

One officer fired at Duck and hit him twice. Duck died at the local nursing station as a result of a gunshot wound to his left arm.

The RCMP officer who shot Duck was not charged. The shooting was investigated by the Saskatoon Police Service.

The claim says Duck had fired three shots into the air to scare away teenagers who were vandalizing a house near the fire scene.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 19, 2013 A7

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