Saskatchewan to allow people to remove gender designation from birth certificate

A Saskatchewan mother hopes a court decision ordering the province to allow gender markers to be removed from birth certificates when requested _ even for children _ will help to further change people’s attitudes.

Fran Forsberg of Saskatoon filed a human rights complaint four years ago on behalf of her now 10-year-old daughter Renn to have the gender box on her birth certificate that was marked with an ‘M’ changed to an ‘F.’

She further asked that the box be removed all together.

Earlier this week, the provincial government agreed to the change and a judge in Regina ordered the move, opening the door for changes to all government identification in Saskatchewan and setting a legal precedent in Canada.

“I’m just so glad it’s over and I am so happy for other children, as well as other non-binary people,” Forsberg said Friday, May 25, 2018.

“Hopefully this will start the ball rolling for people educating and opening their minds and hearts for the rest of the world.

“There’s no reason to have gender on government ID or birth certificates. No reason at all.”

A second youth, 17-year-old Jordyn Dyck of Regina, joined the complaint last year. Jordyn’s father, Dustin Dyck, said they were overjoyed by the decision.

He said Jordyn has been bullied for being non-binary and hopes being able to show proof with new ID will stop most of it.

Saskatchewan is not the first to make the change. Earlier this month, Ontario started allowing residents to opt out of displaying a gender designation on their birth certificates.

But the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission says Saskatchewan is the first to be ordered by a court to allow the removal of gender boxes on the documents. The commission took the two complaints to court and, although there was supposed to be a hearing, the government agreed beforehand that its Vital Statistics Act violates its Human Rights Code.

Justice Lana Krogan then ordered that Renn and Jordyn receive new birth certificates in the coming days and that the province amend its legislation within 45 days.

Lawyer Larry Kowalchuk, who represented the two youths, said the decision forces the government to fix the problem for others.

“It will allow everyone in Saskatchewan who has a case or who is about to have a case to have their marker changed, regardless of age, from ‘F’ to ‘M’ or ‘M’ to ‘F’ or to have no marker at all,” he said.

He added that the judge’s ruling will likely apply to other forms of identification in Saskatchewan _ driver’s licences and health cards _ and can act as precedent in other provinces.

The Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice did not respond for a request to comment on the decision.

But David Arnot, chief commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, said the province has indicated it will comply.

He said the ruling will take care of eight other complaints currently before the commission.

Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Newfoundland allow for non-binary markers, such as an ‘X’, on their birth certificates.

But Arnot said an ‘X’ can still mark some people for discrimination.

“Certainly we know that trans and fluid people face discrimination with housing and employment and in some cases travel. So this is seen as an important step forward.”

The federal government introduced gender-neutral passports last August, allowing people to mark gender boxes with an ‘X.’ Ottawa also now offers a gender-neutral option on applications for social insurance numbers.

BMO and CIBC’s Simplii warn fraudsters may have accessed clients’ data

Two of Canada’s biggest banks warned Monday that “fraudsters” may have accessed certain personal and financial information of up to 90,000 customers.

The Bank of Montreal said hackers contacted the bank on Sunday claiming to be in possession of the personal information of fewer than 50,000 customers and threatened to make it public.

“We became aware of unverified claims that customer personal and financial data may have been accessed by a fraudster,” said spokesman Paul Gammal in an emailed statement Monday, May 28, 2018.

“A threat was made. Our practice is not to make payments to fraudsters. We are focused on protecting and helping our customers,” he said.

The bank said it believes the attack originated outside Canada, but did not elaborate on the type of data they accessed.

Gammal said the bank is conducting a thorough investigation and is working with the relevant authorities.

The disclosure followed a warning from CIBC’s direct banking brand Simplii Financial that also said “fraudsters” may have electronically accessed certain personal and account information for approximately 40,000 Simplii Financial clients.

Simplii said Monday it learned of the potential issue on Sunday and has implemented additional online security measures such as enhanced online fraud monitoring, adding it is working with the relevant authorities.

Gammal said the potential breach at BMO appears to be related to the CIBC issue. Royal Bank, Scotiabank and Toronto-Dominion Bank said they have no indication they were affected.

Both BMO and CIBC said they will be contacting clients, and recommended that customers monitor their accounts and notify their financial institution about any suspicious activity.

“We are investigating to determine the validity of the claims and the type of the information that may have been accessed,” CIBC spokesman Tom Wallis said in an emailed statement.

Minister of Finance Bill Morneau has spoken to the chief executives of the affected institutions, ministry spokeswoman Jocelyn Sweet said.

“We are monitoring the situation closely with the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions,” she said in an emailed statement. “The situation is being investigated by the institutions in collaboration with law enforcement.”

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner said Monday that both financial institutions have notified it about the issue.

“We are working with the organizations to better understand what occurred and what they are doing to mitigate the situation,” said spokeswoman Valerie Lawton in an email.

“At this point in time, we are in contact with the companies; we have not opened a formal investigation.”

Simplii said Monday that clients who are victims of fraud because of the issue will receive 100 per cent of the money lost from the affected bank account. It added that there is no indication that clients who bank through CIBC have been affected.

CIBC launched Simplii in November and absorbed the accounts of some two million President’s Choice Financial account holders. CIBC had provided the back-end banking services for PC Financial for nearly 20 years, but last August the bank struck a deal with PC’s parent company Loblaw to go their separate ways.

The potential data breaches reported by Simplii and BMO on Monday are the latest cybersecurity incidents involving Canadians.

Last fall, credit reporting service Equifax notified the public that hackers accessed or stole the personal data of 145.5 million U.S. customers and 19,000 Canadians. In January, Bell Canada warned some of its customers that their information, such as names and email addresses, had been illegally accessed in a data breach.

In November, ride-sharing company Uber said hackers stole names, email addresses and cellphone numbers of millions of riders. Uber in December said that 815,000 Canadian riders and drivers may have been affected as part of the worldwide data breach.

New federal data breach regulations which would require mandatory reporting of security breaches are set to take effect on Nov. 1.

The regulations require organizations to determine if a data breach poses a risk to any individual whose information was involved and then to notify the federal privacy commissioner and affected individuals “as soon as feasible.” Previously, companies that had been hacked had been alerting the public on their own timeline.

Six Montrealers facing extradition to the U.S. for alleged fraud

A Pennsylvania woman who is among the alleged victims of a lottery scheme involving six Montreal-area men has testified she lost nearly US$300,000.

The six are facing extradition to the United States to face charges related to the alleged fraud of US$1.35 million.

Court documents provide similar testimony from two other alleged victims in Pennsylvania as well as two from California, and one each from Massachusetts and Oregon. They were all led to believe they had won a Canadian lottery.

The documents allege the Pennsylvania woman was first targeted in November 2011, when a man identifying himself as a Canadian-based attorney told her she had won $80,000 in a lottery in Canada.

But before she could receive the prize, she was allegedly told she had to pay taxes and customs fees totalling $8,000. The fees could be paid through Western Union and/or MoneyGram.

After she wired that amount, an individual who claimed to be a U.S. customs officer allegedly contacted her and said the prize was actually $800,000, meaning additional taxes of more than $88,000.

The court documents allege she was then contacted by another person claiming to be an agent with the Internal Revenue Service. She was told there was an additional $900,000 lottery prize but again had to pay taxes and fees before she could collect. The woman was also provided with lenders to help her pay for the additional fees.

In the end, the American lost about $295,000 _ her life savings _ because of the allegedly fraudulent sweepstakes.

The fraud artists allegedly used prepaid cellphones to call the Americans and then tell them to send money to cover taxes, transfer fees and insurance.

The phones were obtained and listed under fictitious names.

The six accused, who allegedly conspired with one another, range in age from 53 to 72 and were arrested at the request of prosecutors in Pennsylvania.

American authorities allege the group was part of a network that operated out of Montreal from May 2011 through at least October 2013.

The alleged victims never received the winning lottery money they were promised.

The recent arrests came after a three-year inquiry that involved the RCMP and Quebec provincial police.

It was part of a U.S.-Canada initiative known as “Project COLT,” which targeted telemarketers.

RCMP investigators say the accused are to appear in Quebec Superior Court in early June.

Preliminary data shows Saskatchewan impaired driving deaths down in 2017: SGI

Saskatchewan’s Crown-owned insurance company is reporting a sharp drop in impaired driving deaths.

Saskatchewan Government Insurance says preliminary data shows 39 people died in crashes involving alcohol or drugs in 2017 compared to 57 the year before.

SGI credits three factors for the encouraging statistics; more police enforcement, tougher penalties, and increased awareness.

Joe Hargrave, minister responsible for SGI, says the numbers suggest attitudes and behaviours about impaired driving are changing in the province.

In 2015, a Statistics Canada report showed Saskatchewan had the highest rate of police-reported impaired driving in Canada.

SGI says despite the improvement impaired driving remains a serious concern, especially with the pending legalization of recreational marijuana this summer.

“The fact that we’re seeing fewer collisions, injuries and fatalities attributed to impaired driving has us cautiously optimistic,” Hargrave said in a release Thursday.

Hargrave says Saskatchewan has taken a zero tolerance approach to drug-impaired driving.

Legislation introduced last fall is expected to pass in the coming weeks.

The group Mothers Against Drunk Driving says the downward trend in impaired driving deaths in Saskatchewan shows how stronger laws and raising awareness can affect what people do behind the wheel.

Troubled Chinese insurer receives government bailout

The troubled Chinese insurer that owns New York City’s Waldorf Hotel said Wednesday, April 4, 2018 it is receiving a $9.6 billion bailout from a government-run fund.

Regulators seized control of Anbang Insurance Group in February after a global asset-buying spree raised questions about its stability. Its founder, Wu Xiaohui, went on trial last week on charges he defrauded investors and misused company money.

The case added to a string of scandals in China’s insurance industry. The industry’s former top regulator was charged in September with taking bribes and other insurers have been accused of reckless speculation in stocks and real estate.

The injection of money from the China Insurance Security Fund will help Anbang “maintain stable operations,” the privately owned insurer said on its website.

The injection of 60.8 billion yuan ($9.6 billion) will increase Anbang’s registered capital to 61.9 billion yuan ($9.8 billion), the company said. That would mean the government fund owns 98 per cent of the company, wiping out most of the equity stake of Wu and other shareholders.

Anbang said it would look for strategic investors. That suggested they might be expected to buy out the government’s funds ownership.

The Communist Party has made reducing financial risk a priority this year after a surge in debt prompted rating agencies last year to cut Beijing’s credit rating for government borrowing.

Anbang is being run by a committee of officials from China’s insurance regulator, central bank and other agencies. They have said its obligations to policyholders and creditors are unaffected.

Wu founded Anbang in 2004 and, while rarely appearing in public, gained a reputation for aggressive expansion in a stodgy industry dominated by state-owned insurers.

The company grew to more than 30,000 employees with 35 million clients. It diversified into life insurance, banking, asset management, leasing and brokerage services.

Wu is accused of fraudulently raising 65 billion yuan ($10 billion) from investors and abusing his post to benefit himself. State television showed him confessing in a Shanghai court last week but no verdict has been announced.

Anbang discussed possibly investing in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Those talks ended last year with no deal.

The negotiations with Kushner Cos. about 666 Fifth Ave. prompted members of the U.S. Congress to raise ethics concerns.

Chinese insurance tycoon on trial on financial charges

The founder of the Chinese insurer that owns New York City’s Waldorf Hotel went on trial Wednesday, March 28, 2018 on charges he fraudulently raised $10 billion from investors and misused his position to enrich himself.

Wu Xiaohui, chairman of Anbang Insurance Group, was detained last year. Regulators took control of privately owned Anbang in February following a multibillion-dollar global buying spree that prompted questions about its financial stability.

The case added to an avalanche of scandals for Chinese insurers. The industry’s former chief regulator was charged in September with taking bribes. Executives of other insurers have been charged with corruption and mismanagement.

Beijing announced plans March 13 to merge the Chinese banking and insurance regulators in an effort to step up scrutiny of those fast-evolving industries. The ruling Communist Party has made reducing financial risk a priority after a run-up in debt owed by Chinese companies and local governments prompted rating agencies last year to cut Beijing’s credit rating for government borrowing.

Wu is accused of fraudulently raising 65 billion yuan ($10 billion) and abusing his post to divert money for his own use, according to a report by prosecutors on the social media account of the Shanghai No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court.

In court, Wu’s lawyer argued what he was accused of doing was a violation of regulations but not illegal, according to another post. A third post said Wu objected that he didn’t understand the law and didn’t know whether what he did was illegal.

Most trials in China last no more than a day, even for complex financial cases. There was no indication when a verdict in Wu’s case might be issued.

Anbang discussed possibly investing in a Manhattan skyscraper owned by the family of U.S. President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner. Those talks ended last year with no deal.

Regulators said they took control of Anbang on Feb. 23 to protect its solvency and consumer rights. The China Insurance Regulatory Commission said the takeover had no effect on Anbang’s financial obligations.

On Wednesday, Anbang issued a statement on its social media account saying its business is stable has “sufficient cash flow” to meet policy commitments.

Wu founded Anbang in 2004 and gained a reputation for aggressive expansion in a stodgy industry dominated by state-owned insurers.

The company grew to more than 30,000 employees with 35 million clients. It diversified into life insurance, banking, asset management, leasing and brokerage services.

Questions about Anbang’s future have swirled since it announced Wu handed his duties to deputies in June following news reports he was detained for questioning.

Anbang’s buying spree stumbled after Beijing tightened investment controls in late 2016. Regulators said they wanted to cool spending on foreign real estate and other assets they said did nothing to develop China’s economy.

Following that, Anbang failed to complete several deals, including the proposed purchase of U.S.-based Fidelity & Guaranty Life for $1.6 billion.

Wu also is accused of ignoring regulatory limits in selling high-interest investment products as short-term insurance contracts, according to Wednesday’s statement.

Such sales raised 724 billion yuan ($115 billion) from 10.6 million investors from 2011 to 2017, the statement said. It said some of that money was transferred to companies controlled by Wu for “reckless personal spending.”

Regulators warned Anbang and other insurers last year about use of such investment products.

Other insurers have been accused of endangering the financial safety of their industry through reckless speculation in stocks and real estate. The chairman of a life insurance company was barred from the industry last year in an unrelated case and a third company was prohibited from trading stocks.

Anbang’s early investors included a state-owned automaker, an oil company and a mix of rural villagers and small business owners. Its multibillion-dollar string of global acquisitions raised questions about how it paid for its buying spree, including the $2 billion purchase of the Waldorf.

The company’s negotiations with Kushner Cos. about a possible investment in its flagship property, 666 Fifth Avenue, prompted members of the U.S. Congress to raise ethics concerns.

Five lawmakers said in a letter to the White House the possible deal represented a “clear conflict of interest.” They asked the Trump administration to confirm Kushner, who transferred his ownership stake to other family members, played no role in the negotiations.

Anbang said it raised 50 billion yuan ($8 billion) in capital in 2014 by taking on dozens of new shareholders. That increased its registered capital fivefold to 62 billion yuan ($9.5 billion), the biggest among Chinese insurers.

A prominent business magazine, Caixin, said in May 2017 at least 30 billion yuan ($4.3 billion) of that money really came from premiums paid by policyholders _ a violation of insurance regulations.

Anbang denied that and accused Caixin of publishing negative information about the company and Wu after pressing it to buy advertising.

The CIRC sent investigators to Anbang in June. It said in a statement in February they ordered unspecified improvements in operations and management.

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