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International News

Typhoon Mangkhut Hits Philippines

Typhoon Mangkhut (Ompong), a category 5 hurricane, struck the Cordillera region of the Luzon province in Philippines on September 15. As of September 19, the death toll has risen to 81 with another 59 reported missing. Authorities predict that the number of fatalities could easily hit triple digits. According to Francis Tolentino, senior advisor to the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, 5.7 million people were effected nationwide. The typhoon has now crossed into the Yunnan Province, weakening in intensity due to the mountainous region. With regards to those missing, the mayor of Itogon, Victorio Palangdan, believes there is a “99 per cent [chance] that they really are all dead.” Itogon is the most severely affected area, suffering 66 casualties.

Many people killed in Itogon were independent miners that had been illegally mining on the site of Antamok. Mining company Benguet Corp abandoned Antamok in the 1990s over concerns of environmental degradation; however, thousands still mined illegally. The workers claimed to have obtained permission to mine from Benguet Corp, but the company has since denied this. As a result of poor mining practices, mountain slopes have become prone to destabilization, leaving the terrain more susceptible to landslides following heavy rain. On September 20, a village in the city of Naga experienced heavy rains which caused a landslide resulting in the deaths of 12 people. President Duterte and his government are considering enforcing stricter regulations on mining in the country in order to try and limit future damages associated with these risks.

Berta Cáceres Murder Trial Delayed

The first of the two trials investigating the death of Berta Cáceres has been postponed. The trial, originally scheduled for September, was delayed due to the chaos caused by a formal allegation of corruption and abuse of authority levelled against the three judges set to preside over the case. Cáceres, formally the coordinator of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras, (COPINH), was murdered in La Esperanza, West Honduras on March 2, 2016 at the age of 44. She protested against the installation of a dam in her home country of Honduras, an issue she had been publicly opposed to since the project was announced in 2011. As the coordinator and media figurehead for COPINH, Cáceres campaigned against the internationally funded dam on the Gualcarque River.

The trial will also hear the charge of attempted murder on Cáceres’ fellow environmental activist Gustavo Castro. In accordance with Honduras law, dismissals and replacements of the judiciary staff will be released within the 72 hours following the adjournment. Eight men were anticipated to stand trial in these particular proceedings, two of whom are in fact employees of Deserrollos Energeticos (DESA), the company responsible for the damn project. Another suspect is set to stand in a separate trial at an undetermined date. Despite these nine men facing charges, the family of Cáceres have expressed considerable doubt over whether all of the “intellectual authors” of her brutal killing have been caught.

Toronto City Council to Be Cut in Half

On September 19, Ontario’s top court ruled in favour of a stay allowing for the reduction of the City of Toronto’s Municipal Council, and the elimination of Regional Chair elections in several municipalities across the province. Bill 5, introduced by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative provincial government, would reduce the electoral map from the current 47 wards to just 25, effectively reducing seats on council by half. The ruling comes just a month ahead of the upcoming municipal elections to be held October 22.

The announcement was made in late July, on the last day to register as a candidate. Legislation was proposed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government in early September, inciting confusion as to potential implications for voters and candidates. With election campaigns already underway in 47 wards, Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba found the bill to be in violation of freedom of expression rights for both candidates and voters, and deemed Bill 5 unconstitutional. Subsequently, Ford took the decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause (Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms). The rarely-invoked clause allows portions of the Charter to be overridden and for judicial review to be nullified. The decision was largely met with negative backlash, and has been called both “unnecessary and unprecedented.” The current mayor of Toronto, John Tory, opposed the move taking place mid-election. The current stay issued by the provincial supreme court invalidates all concerns raised by the “lower court ruling.” According to the Toronto elections site, the new ward map will be available shortly.

In the final judges’ ruling, they stated that “while the change brought about by Bill 5 is undoubtedly frustrating for candidates who started campaigning in May 2018, we are not persuaded that their frustration amounts to a substantial interference with their freedom of expression.” Opponents to the council slashing have raised concerns over the representation of women and people of colour on the Council, two major Toronto demographics that are already disproportionately underrepresented in the current 47-ward council structure.