Doug Downey MPP Barrie Springwater Oro-Medonte
Ontario has a proud history of involvement in the agricultural industry. Our farming families work incredibly hard, and have spent generations honing their craft and building their businesses.
This is especially true in rural regions like ours where local farms are important contributors to the community. These businesses supply fresh local food and goods to our families, and bring us closer together through community meals and events.
In recent years, these family businesses have seen an increase in trespassing and tampering on their properties. This can cause distress, be disruptive to the family business, and potentially dangerous to livestock.
For many farmers, home and work is the same place, and all Ontarians deserve to feel safe in both locations. Which is why our government introduced the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act on December 2nd, 2019.
If passed, this legislation will go a long way to protect farmers and their families, deter trespassers, and better protect the farm animal transportation sector from unlawful interference. Some focuses of the proposed legislation are:
- Escalating trespassing fines up to $15,000 for a first offense, and $25,000 for subsequent offences (compared to the current maximum of $10,000.)
- Prescribing aggravating factors that would allow the court to impose a greater fine
- Making consent invalid if obtained under duress or false pretenses.
- Prohibiting unauthorized obstructing or interfering with motor vehicles transporting farm animals as well as prohibiting interference and interactions with farm animals being transported without prior explicit consent.
There is no place for animal abuse in Ontario. While our government recognizes the right of people to participate in legal protests, this does not include the right to trespass on private property, make families feel unsafe in their homes, and potentially harm livestock inadvertently.
We have put forward strong animal welfare legislation, the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act, to protect animals in our province. If passed, this legislation would apply everywhere, even on farms, and would specifically state that people appointed to enforce provincial animal health and welfare legislation would have access to farms and food processing facilities.
These complimentary pieces of legislation will ensure the protection of animals in our province, and provide farming families the safety and security they deserve. For more information on these proposed changes, please visit Ontario.ca. Doug Downey MPP
2019 WARD FIVE COUNCILLOR REPORT
Happy New Year. The following is my brief update of what has transpired in 2019.
As usual I will be sharing information that may not have already been communicated. Given the extensive code of conduct adopted by this Council and to avoid personal attacks, I have refrained from submitting any updates in 2019. The following are the more important issues that have transpired and that I have questioned on.
CRIMINAL CHARGES: News articles have reported the criminal charges against the Township of Springwater Mayor. Except for the Nov 6th agenda item from Principals of Integrity, the matter has not been discussed at any meetings of Council. This does not mean that we condone the alleged conduct. I share the concerns that our conduct has on public trust and take the matter seriously. I did receive a public complaint describing the alleged incident that resulted in the criminal charges. I and two other councillors were obligated to forward the complaint to the Integrating Commissioner. I submitted the complaint on July 5th as serious issues need to transcend politics and relationships. Council’s authority is limited and we need to avoid assertions of interference in matters that are before the court. The procedures in dealing with this purported issue are twofold. The court process and any code of conduct violations. The next court date is not until September 17, 2020. An investigate report by Principals of Integrity is also being delayed. Council has refrained from addressing the issue until that report is received.
PERSONAL ATTACKS: On July 12th, I was advised that a complaint had now been submitted claiming I had made disparaging comments about Township staff. Principals of Integrity provided a document that stated to the effect that their findings were based on assumptions, not facts. Councillors Moore and Cabral were included in the allegations. They are both respected and trusted members of council and were seated beside me during the alleged comment(s). They both gave statements confirming I never made any negative comments about staff. The complaint was submitted by the retiring Township CAO. Thus far, it has not been established if the CAO did this without consultation and/or direction from others? After the public council meeting, where it was proven I did not make any negative comments about staff, Mayor Allen and Deputy Mayor Coughlin voted to accept the report and the recommendation that I be reprimanded. For what? You be the judge? Thank you to all the residents for their support and those who provided expert legal advice. The following link contains more of the details. http://awaresimcoe.ca/2019/11/barbecuegate-springwater-councillors-reject-principlesintegrity-report/
Jack Hanna Councillor Springwater Township
Government of Ontario to Expand Use of Off-Road Vehicles
Making it easier for riders to connect to trails in their communities
BRADFORD - The Ontario government is putting people first by reducing regulatory burdens and removing barriers that will make life easier for off-road vehicle riders.
Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, was at Edge Performance in Bradford to announce plans to allow off-road vehicle riders easier access to roadways, connecting them to more trail networks in more communities across the province.
"We know that municipalities are in the best position to decide how these types of off-road vehicles can be safely integrated into their communities," said Mulroney. "This is another example of how our government wants to get out of the way and support local decision making to further encourage tourism and economic prosperity."
These proposed measures are part of the government's plan to reduce red tape and support Ontario businesses, as announced on October 28, when the Ontario government introduced the Better for People, Smarter for Business Act.
"Tourism and local businesses in many municipalities - especially rural and northern - are anticipated to benefit when more off-road enthusiasts are able to connect to more trail networks and surrounding community attractions," said Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction. "This change is one of over 80 proposed actions to streamline regulations and make life easier for people and businesses."
"The Ontario Federation of Trail Riders is pleased with the Ford Government's decision to classify off-road motorcycles as an Off Highway Vehicle within regulation 316/03. This will allow for great strides in tourism, economic development and recreational trail use in Ontario," said Arthur Ash, President of the Ontario Federation of Trail Riders. "The OFTR believes that safe responsible use of the roads in Ontario will make the trail networks in Ontario an incredible experience for all riders."
The proposed measure harmonizes Ontario's approach with other provinces including Manitoba and Alberta.
The Better for People, Smarter for Business Act passed second reading on November 7, 2019 and has been referred to Standing Committee on General Government.
Off-road motorcycling (dirt biking) is a popular recreational activity that supports tourism and contributes to local economies.
MPP Coteau pledges new Great Lakes protection plan
NORTH YORK—Ontario Liberal leadership candidate Michael Coteau highlighted an environmental plan (https://www.anewfocuson.com/a_green_ontario) that focuses on protecting Ontario’s natural beauty, including a new Great Lakes protection plan, thoughtfully expanding the Greenbelt and seizing opportunities to help people affordably transition to a low-carbon lifestyle, including Right to Repair consumer protections.
“A green Ontario is not only an environmental imperative, it is a massive building block for constructing our future prosperity,” said the third-term MPP. “We need to make sure our all our communities prosper from our plan to fight climate change."
Coteau’s policy paper, A New Focus on the Environment, pledges to:
- Preserve and expand the Greenbelt through collaboration with municipalities;
- End commercial exploitation of water and implement new protections for the Great Lakes, Lake Simcoe and other major lakes;
- Protect prime agricultural land and defend it against flooding and drought to ensure farming remains a sustainable core component of our economic success and food security;
- Incentivize carbon capture and sequestration through agriculture and other areas of the economy
- Bring forward Right-to-Repair legislation to help consumers against planned obsolescence, saving them money on electronic devices and reducing waste;
- Build regionally integrated transit with expanded support inter-municipal bus services that are fare-free for users; and
- Phase in fare-free transit over a decade
“I see opportunity in every region of our province. Unfortunately, that opportunity is too often wasted because government isn’t investing in the right things,” said Coteau. “If a farmer is willing to make the investments to in new technology to help our environment, we need to be there to support them.
“It’s all connected. We need to dispel the archaic notions of left and right, and seize the opportunities that are going to make us all better off,” he said.
Michael Coteau immigrated to Canada as a child and grew up in Flemingdon Park, a working-class neighbourhood in North York. The first member of his family to graduate high school and university, he started his own small business, worked as a community organizer and head of a national nonprofit. He was elected to the Toronto District School Board three times and served as vice-chair of the board, championing digital tools in the classroom, equity strategies and community use of schools. Coteau was elected three times as Member of Provincial Parliament for Don Valley East, and served in multiple ministries where he was tasked with bringing people together to fix tough files, including supports for children with autism, reforming services for children in care, delivering a successful Pan-Am Games, supporting film and cultural economic development, and implementing an anti-racism strategy. He and his wife, Lori, are raising two young daughters.
For more information:
NVCA Board Meeting Highlights December 13, 2019
Next Meeting: January 24, 2020, Tiffin Centre for Conservation, Utopia
For the full meeting agenda including documents and reports, visit nvca.on.ca/about/boardofdirectors
NVCA 2020 Budget Approved The Board of Directors overwhelmingly voted to approve NVCA’s 2020 budget at $5,004,264 million in revenue as compared to the 2019 approved budget of $4,924,948. Of this increase, $66,027.73 is coming from an increase to the municipal levy (shared among all 18 member municipalities), with the remainder coming from grants, fees for services, and other sources. Funds from municipal levy represent 50% of NVCA’s revenues.
Employee Handbook Update
NVCA’s employee handbook was updated and approved by the Board of Directors. Significant updates include:
NVCA is in compliance with Ontario’s Pay Equity Act and has adopted this policy to ensure that all compensation for permanent full-time staff is equitable and that equal pay is provided for equal work. The value of positions will be assessed under the four factors used by the Pay Equity Commission: skills, effort, responsibility, and working conditions.
Each position within the NVCA will be evaluated regularly or when significant changes occur or a new job is introduced. The jobs will be evaluated using a gender-neutral factor comparison system that uses the four factors identified by the Pay Equity Commission.
Prescription Medications including Medical Marijuana
Employees who are required to use medical marijuana are no longer required to provide a copy of the possession license.
NVCA asks that, where possible, employees who require medical marijuana use a method other than smoking.
Employees who choose to smoke medical marijuana are not permitted to smoke in the presence of other NVCA employees or on NVCA property, except for an identified location provided to the employee by the NVCA. Senior Management Team is currently looking at suitable areas.
For a copy of the updated Employee handbook, please contact Sheryl Flannagan, Director of Corporate Services.
NVCA Conservation Area Road Side Signage
In the past, through support of the Board of Directors, NVCA has erected signs on the sides of provincial, county and municipal roads. These signs gave directional and distance information to conservation areas such as Tiffin, Minesing Wetlands and Nottawasaga Bluffs.
Recently, the Tourism Ontario Directional Signage has decided to double their annual rates (from $4000/year to $8000/year) for NVCA to advertise on Ontario’s highways, prompting staff to review signage needs as well as alternative opportunities.
As GPS technology is much more advanced as it once was, road signage has become less significant. As well, social media now drives traffic to our conservation areas in a way that road signs never could.
Strategic Plan and Business Plan
In 2019, NVCA’s management team has started the process of developing the 2020 – 2025 strategic plan, which builds on the integrated watershed management approach and is complimented through the NVCA vision, mission, and value statements.
NVCA Staff will work with the NVCA Board of Directors to finalize the strategic plan and business plan in 2020.
Staff will give updates to Board of Directors at each monthly meeting beginning in February until the two documents are complete.
December 9 Meeting at Conservation Ontario
On December 9, 2019, NVCA Chair Watson and CAO Doug Hevenor attended a meeting at Conservation Ontario, along with representatives from all 36 conservation authorities.
MNRF Staff provided a presentation about Ontario’s flood management approach as reviewed by Doug McNeil, Ontario’s Special Advisor on flooding.
His report mentioned conservation authorities 82 times and commended them on Ontario’s current flood prevention network. Click here for the full report.
At the meeting the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Environment Conservation and Parks reiterated that conservation authorities can continue to provide non-core mandated undertake activities with self-generated funds. However, if conservation authorities want to use municipal levy for non-core mandate activities, an MOU agreement must be established with impacted municipalities.
County of Simcoe recognizes age-friendly businesses and organizations
Midhurst/December 13, 2019 – The County of Simcoe is congratulating 17 local businesses and organizations for taking action to become more age-friendly. In honour of their dedicated and committed efforts, the County is awarding partners with certificates that recognize their leadership in creating welcoming environments for older adults.
The Age-Friendly Business Guide and Award program increases awareness of the County’s aging population and helps businesses or organizations evaluate their business environment and service delivery. Over the past year, the County has provided resources and assessment tools to help them implement age-friendly goals and strategies and adapt to our aging population.
“On behalf of County Council, I would like to congratulate and thank all our businesses and organizations that have supported this County initiative and taken action to adapt to the needs of our aging population,” said Warden George Cornell. “Our region is home to a growing number of seniors and it’s important that our communities, services and businesses offer accessible opportunities for all our residents.”
The businesses and organizations receiving recognition for their participation in the 2019 Age-Friendly Businesses and Organization Guide and Award Program are:
- Advanced Foot & Orthotic Clinic – Midland
- Bradford Wellness Centre – Bradford
- Coordinated Senior Services – Barrie
- Discount Luxury – Barrie
- Elder Mediation & Advocacy – Alliston
- Georgian Bay Integrative Medicine – Collingwood
- Georgian Family Chiropractic – Wasaga Beach
- Hearing Life – Bradford
- Holland Gardens Retirement Residence – Bradford
- Hunt Family Movers – Innisfil
- Javelin Cooperative Homes Inc – Midland
- J. Scott Thomson, Barrister & Solicitor – Collingwood
- Orillia Museum of Art and History – Orillia
- Right at Home Canada, Georgian Triangle – Collingwood
- RBA Financial Group – Wasaga Beach
- The Elden of Bradford Retirement Residence – Bradford
- The Yoga House – Penetanguishene
The Canadian population aged 65 and over is predicted to double to 10.4 million during the next 20 years. In Simcoe County, the proportion of adults aged 65 plus is 18 per cent of the population compared to 16.7 per cent in Ontario As our population ages, it makes viable business sense to adapt to meet changing needs.
About the Age-Friendly Community Initiative
The County of Simcoe received funding from the Government of Ontario of as part of its Age-Friendly Community Planning Grant Program. The funding served to establish a baseline assessment of Simcoe County’s age-friendliness and to determine the recommendations for action according to scope of community responsibility. A variety of community engagement processes were used to collect feedback from residents 60 years of age and older, caregivers, and service providers of older adults to produce the “Building an Age-Friendly Simcoe County - 2016 Community Needs Assessment” and the County’s “Positive Aging Strategy”. Both documents can be found at http://www.simcoe.ca/age-friendly. The Age-Friendly Business/Organization and Recognition program is one of the recommendations included in the aging strategy.
County of Simcoe is composed of sixteen member municipalities and provides crucial public services to County residents in addition to providing paramedic and social services to the separated cities of Barrie and Orillia. Visit our website at simcoe.ca.
Ontario Expanding Health Care Services in Georgian Bay
PENETANGUISHENE — As part of its comprehensive plan to end hallway health care, Ontario is investing $27 billion over 10 years to build new and expanded hospital infrastructure while also supporting new community-based programs and services.
Robin Martin, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Health, was at the Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care to announce that Ontario is investing up to $9.8 million to support the construction of the new Community Health Hub in Midland.
"Our government will end hallway health care by investing in innovative projects like the new Community Health Hub that will help more patients and families access coordinated care, in a single location," said Martin. "Integrated models of care that are supported by its infrastructure, is a key part of our broader plan to build a connected and sustainable public health care system centred around the needs of patients."
The project includes relocating the Centre de santé communautaire CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care's Outpatient Mental Health program and the HERO Centre (Housing, Employment, Rehabilitation and Our Place Social Club programs) to one site. The internal construction of the Community Health Hub building began in July 2019 and is anticipated to be completed in spring 2020.
"We are very excited to see our history of collaboration expand by coming together in our new physical space," said Carol Lambie, President and CEO of Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care. "Waypoint and CHIGAMIK were visionary in planning for this co-location of services to improve access for our clients and their families which is now very aligned to the government's commitment to integrated care delivery systems."
"Communities that invest and partner together, deliver care that is connected to their community and where everyone feels like they are valued and belong," said David Jeffery, Executive Director of Centre de santé communautaire CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre. "Over the past decade, CHIGAMIK has been collaborating with community partners to improve the health and well-being of our tri-cultural community by working together, sharing knowledge and providing integrated care to our residents. The new Community Health Hub is the result of these deep partnerships that have been fostered, and we're excited to provide even more people with access to quality, client-centered care."
- Other partners relocating to the hub include the Patient, Client and Family Council and North Simcoe Youth Wellness Hub.
- The exterior building for the Community Health Hub was completed in October 2018. This funding will be used to complete the interior of the building.
- Waypoint’s Outpatient program provides community-based assessment, treatment and support for adults with mental illness.
- The HERO program provides housing, employment and education services, recreation and rehabilitation therapy, and social and community integration services.
Centre de santé communautaire CHIGAMIK Community Health Centre provides a combination of primary health care, health promotion programs and community development initiatives that are culturally-relevant, holistic, and available in English and French.
MPP Wilson dreams of groundbreaking hospital announcement in 2020
'I think it's time for an official government announcement,' said MPP Jim Wilson about Collingwood hospital's redevelopment application
Simcoe-Grey MPP Jim Wilson. Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday
MPP Jim Wilson has laser-sharp focus on one main goal in 2020.
“My resolution – or great wish for 2020 – is that the Ford government comes up and announces they’re putting stakes in the ground for our new hospital in Collingwood,” said Wilson. “I think it’s time for an official government announcement.”
The Collingwood and Alliston hospitals were two of 12 mentioned out of 146 in the province in the April budget, which Wilson said was a great stride in 2019.
“I have a one-topic agenda these days,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ll stay in public office, first of all, for as long as (my constituents) will have me, but more importantly, I want to get this hospital built.”
Wilson said after harping on the hospital topic for more than 10 years, he wants to see actual action.
“I’ve been talking about this for the past three elections, and maybe 15 years ago I think people thought I was crazy,” he said, with a laugh.
“2020 is the year I’m looking at to hopefully have the minister (Christine Elliott) come up and tour (the area),” said Wilson. “I know she’s mentioned it in the legislature and I’m hoping she’ll make an announcement about when she’s coming.”
2020 will also mark Wilson’s 30th year in elected office.
“I’m not going to be there forever, and I’d like to get these projects into construction before I leave office,” he said. “It’s rather pressing on my mind every day.”
When thinking about personal resolutions, Wilson said his are similar to everyone else's.
“To lose weight,” he said, with a laugh. “Who doesn’t have that one every year?”
Springwater Approves 2020 Budget
Springwater Council approved the 2020 Budget & Business Plan with a 0.25% net tax levy reduction over 2019.
When combined with the County of Simcoe approved tax increase of 2%, the education rate – which staff have assumed to remain neutral – and the policing charge, the blended tax increase is estimated at 0.57%.
For an average home in Springwater assessed at $478,826, the approved blended rate amounts to an annual increase of $22.57 over 2019 levels, or $1.88 per month.
For every tax dollar spent:
- $0.41 is retained by the Township of Springwater
- $0.34 goes to the County of Simcoe
- $0.19 goes towards Education
- $0.06 is allocated towards Policing
The budget includes expenditures of $43.9 million, which can be broken down into $20.9 million in operating expenses, $18.1 million in capital expenditures, $3.2 million for water operations and $1.6 million for wastewater operations.
“Due to increased assessment revenue in the municipality and a comprehensive review of expenditures by staff, the Township was able to slightly reduce the tax levy over 2019, while ensuring that service levels remain the same and capital projects continue to move forward,” says Mayor Don Allen. “Staff and Council spent time reviewing every aspect of the budget to ensure that the needs of the municipality are met, while taking into account the financial pressures many people are facing at home. We continue to plan for the future by including an additional 1% in the operating budget to support the rehabilitation of capital infrastructure.”
In 2020, residents will see road, traffic and infrastructure improvements throughout the Township and can expect to receive the same level of service with respect to fire and emergency services, winter road maintenance, libraries, recreation and by-law enforcement.
To learn more about Springwater’s budget, please visit springwater.ca/budget
Ontario Opening Cannabis Retail Market
Province helping build safe and convenient retail system to combat illegal market
TORONTO — The Government of Ontario is taking steps to move to an open market for retail cannabis stores beginning in January 2020. This will provide consumers with more choice and convenience and a safe, reliable supply of cannabis.
"In response to the federal government's decision to legalize cannabis, our government is determined to open the cannabis market as responsibly as possible," said Attorney General Doug Downey. "We have said all along that opening more legal stores is the most effective way to combat the illicit market, protect our kids and keep our communities safe. That is our number one priority."
Removing the temporary cap on the number of private cannabis stores in the province and eliminating pre-qualification requirements for prospective retailers are some of the key changes the government has made to cannabis regulations. Other amendments include:
Increasing the ability of licensed producers to participate in the retail market and allowing them to open a store at one of their facilities. These changes enable more capital, experience and capacity to enter the market and will help more legal stores open faster.
Phasing in limits on the number of authorized stores a licence holder can have, to ensure fair access for retailers while creating medium and long-term market certainty.
Enabling retailers to sell additional cannabis-related items such as cannabis-related magazines and cookbooks.
The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) will begin accepting operator licence applications from prospective retailers on January 6, 2020, followed by store authorization applications on March 2, 2020. Store authorizations from this open application process are expected to be issued beginning in April, at an initial rate of approximately 20 per month.
The province continues to have strict rules for private cannabis stores to help keep kids safe and ensure retailers behave with integrity. These include regulations that deny licences to anyone with certain cannabis-related offences or any association with organized crime. Regulations also require licence holders, cannabis retail managers and employees to complete approved training.
- Some of the 42 proposed cannabis stores selected through the second lottery have been authorized to open their doors this month.
- Until August 31, 2020, retail operators may own a maximum of 10 cannabis stores, increasing to 30 in September 2020 and 75 in September 2021.
- Retailers are required to comply with the Cannabis Licence Act and regulations, as well as the AGCO’s Registrar’s Standards for Cannabis Retail Stores.
- Prospective retailers must post a public notice at their proposed retail location; the AGCO will accept comments from the local community for 15 days.
- Authorized cannabis stores can now offer click and collect services that allow customers to order and pay for products online for in-store pick-up.
- Proposed cannabis stores selected through the second lottery and the First Nations first come, first served allocation will continue the licensing and authorization process. More details are available on the AGCO website.
Minister of Education on Continued OSSTF Job Action
TORONTO — Today, Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, issued the following statement in response to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation (OSSTF) announcement of another one-day strike:
"Parents have been clear: strikes by unions hurt kids and investments should go to support student success, not towards enhanced compensation.
We agree with Ontario parents. This is why we will continue to vigorously champion the interests of students and seek stability for parents in 2020, who are frustrated and tired of the union-led escalation that began in 2019. This continued strike action is unfair to students and their families."
Honduras Update by Karen Spring • December Riots and Massacres in Honduran Prisons
Moving Forward in 2020
Looking Back One Year
This time last year, I was busy making a lot of food, packing it into styrofoam food containers, strategically placing them into clear large plastic bags, and nervously driving to La Tolva prison. On Christmas Day of 2018, I waited 4.5 hours in the hot sun to get into the jail to see Edwin and Raul. Edwin’s family and I stood in a long line with hundreds of other family members just to have a 2-hour visit. Once inside, we stood because there were no places to sit but were happy to spend the 24th with Edwin and Raul and try and lift their spirits. I had a similar experience when I visited La Tolva on New Year’s Day. This year, I am so relieved that Edwin and Raul are home with us to celebrate this holiday season. I am also glad that I, and others, are not having to spend countless hours at the prison and being constantly worried about their health and safety.
December 2019: Massacres and Riots in Honduran Prisons
This holiday season in Honduras was anything but festive and exciting for family members of the over 21,000 prisoners in Honduran jails. In fact, it’s a terrifying time for prisoners and their families as there have been at least 40 prisoners killed in 3 separate massacres inside the prisons in December 2019 alone. On December 14, 5 prisoners were killed inside La Tolva prison where Edwin and Raul were held for 1.5 years. On December 20, another riot broke out in a prison in the northern city of Tela where the only female political prisoner was held for 4 months in 2018. 19 people died and over a dozen people were injured. Some of the injured are still fighting for their lives in the poor public hospital conditions in Honduras. Less than 48 hours later, another riot broke out in a US-style prison located 1.5 hours north of the capital city of Tegucigalpa, killing 18 people and injuring over 16.
Once the news hits the media about the massacres or riots, families are given no special treatment in terms of access to information. I can remember the panic, fear, and anxiety associated with knowing people had died inside La Tolva prison due to a riot in September 2018 and not knowing for over 12 hours if Edwin and Raul were among the dead or the injured. After the news of the killing of 5 inside La Tolva hit the media in September 2018, I jumped into my car, drove to the public hospital where the media mentioned that the injured would be taken, and stayed outside the emergency room waiting for news. Since the morgue is close to the hospital in Tegucigalpa, I went between the morgue and the hospital for several hours waiting to see if someone could give me information: prison guards, forensic doctors ... anyone. There were several family members that did the same.
But this year for family members is different. Shortly after the massacre on December 14, President Juan Orlando Hernandez ordered the military to take over the prison system. A national emergency in the Honduran prison system was declared and a special decree was passed that handed over control to the military. The New York Times, the Associated Press and even Toronto’s CP24, reported the national emergency. It was one of the few times that Honduras was mentioned in the international or Canadian news.
Of course, the militarization did nothing to stop the two subsequent massacres that occurred after the intervention. To many people in Canada, sending the military in to control a difficult situation may sound like a reasonable response, but in Honduras, most people including human rights organizations, sound the alarm. For years, President JOH has used the military to intervene in various public institutions with little or even worse impact on the issue that the military control is allegedly intended to get a handle on.
Speculation on the Reasons Behind Prison Violence
Prominent Jesuit religious leader Father Ismael “Melo” Moreno told the Honduran press that the problem is the criminal structure of the government and President Juan Orlando Hernandez, the criminal leader leading the policies of terror and death. Many people have alleged that the gangs controlling the prisons simply take orders from their bosses, including individuals in the highest levels of the government. This sounds unbelievable to those reading about the situation from outside of Honduras but there have been several cases where young gang members that strictly abide by the hierarchical structure of the criminal organization they work for, carry out assassinations in exchange for payment or internal respect from gang leaders. In Honduras, organized criminal organizations are often more organized than the government itself and operate largely with total impunity.
This is also not the first time that President JOH has sent the military to control the prisons. In November 2018, a special military force took over all security check points including the advanced technology of body scanners to control what goes in and out of the prison. I was subjected to a body scanner every time I went into La Tolva then had to be physically patted down by a military soldier in a private room. Many ask, if the military was controlling all entrances and exits of the prisons, how were all the massacres and other deaths inside the prisons committed by guns? ... the answer is obvious. There is no security for anyone in any country if corruption reigns and goes unpunished.
Another theory as to why the massacres and riots are happening has to do with the ‘politics of distraction.’ Some in Honduras believe that President JOH is trying to distract the population and international community from two killings inside the maximum-security prisons on October 25 and 26, 2019. Two people with key information and physical evidence that implicated JOH in drug trafficking were violently killed by gang members. Both would have been important and potentially key witnesses for the case in the New York Southern District court where JOH and other Honduran politicians are named as co-conspirators. I posted the two videos of these murders and their context on my blog if people are interested in more information. They can be found at www.aquiabajo.com/blog.
As we begin a new decade in 2020, I will be busy working with the various legal teams getting everything ready for the trials of all political prisoners. We hope that all will be acquitted and all phony trumped up charges are dropped but we know that the fight won’t be easy.
The Simcoe County Honduras Rights Monitor Committee will be traveling to Ottawa to meet with new Members of Parliament when the House resumes in late January. We will be advocating for support for the Honduran people and urging the new government to take a stand on human rights. SCHRM is also planning a Canadian delegation to Honduras in May of 2020 at the time of Edwin and Raul’s trial.
In New York on January 17th, Tony Hernandez, the brother of President Hernandez will be sentenced after being found guilty on four charges of drug trafficking, also lying to federal prosecutors. He is facing the possibility of various life sentences. The Honduran people will be watching the outcome of sentencing and how this will further impact the Honduran president’s position as he was named CC4 – co-conspirator 4 in the trial.
Thank you so much for your support in 2019. We could not have done it without the community of Elmvale and the greater Simcoe County area and beyond. A very Happy New Year from Edwin and I!
Karen Spring Tegucigalpa, Honduras