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UN praises Syria response

Canada's response to the Syrian refugee crisis is an example of compassionate leadership, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday as he praised the country's "huge solidarity" with the international community.

Ban, who on a visit to Ottawa on Thursday applauded the country's decision to re-engage with the United Nations, told reporters in Montreal, "I'm back (on Canadian soil) because Canada's back."

He said the 25,000 Syrian refugees who are coming to Canada may represent a small number, "but it's a huge (international) solidarity."

"I deeply appreciate and highly commend such a compassionate leadership and generosity as shown by the Canadian government in accommodating 25,000 refugees."

Ban called on other developed countries to alleviate some of the burden on poorer nations by doing more to help the millions of Syrians who have either fled the country or been internally displaced by civil war.

He added he met about 40 Syrian refugees during his state visit to meet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Ottawa.

"They were very relieved knowing that their lives have been assured and protected and promoted," he said while on a visit to Montreal's city hall. "Their human dignity has been supported and I think this is what the international community should show."

When asked if Ban's comments about "Canada is back" were an insult to former prime minister Stephen Harper, whose government had been cooler to participating at the UN, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said he is more interested in what lies ahead.

"I'm not looking at the past," Coderre said. "But the future is promising. Because we have a government (now) that believes in a multilateral approach. We had lost that reputation for a certain time."

The Conservative government had been criticized internationally for what was perceived as its refusal to take climate change seriously or to fully participate at United Nations-sponsored conferences.

After his meeting with Coderre, Ban addressed students at McGill University and was then to visit the headquarters of the International Civil Aviation Organization before meeting with Premier Philippe Couillard.

On Saturday, he is scheduled to visit an anti-radicalization centre with Coderre.





Museum owes millions

The City of Winnipeg says the federal government owes $6.7 million in unpaid property taxes for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

City finance chairman Marty Morantz says the dispute is over the assessed value of the building.

The city believes the value is around $100 million, while Ottawa's estimate is $30 million.

The project cost about $350 million to complete.

Morantz says the city has filed an appeal with a federal organization that deals with tax assessments. 



Back to class in La Loche

Teachers are to return to a school in northern Saskatchewan one month after a shooting that killed four people.

The Northern Lights School Division says in a release that teachers are to be back at the La Loche Community School on Feb. 22.

It says classes will resume shortly after that for elementary students.

No date has been set for the return of high school students, but the division says staff are looking at options for how to make up lost class time.

The school has been closed since the Jan. 22 shooting.

Two teenage brothers were shot dead in a home and a teacher and an aide were killed at the high school in the Dene community.

Seven people in the school were wounded and three of them remain in hospital.

A 17-year-old boy, who can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has been charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder. Friends have said he was an outcast at home and a victim of bullying at school.

His next court appearance in Meadow Lake, Sask., is also set for Feb. 22.

The town's mayor, Kevin Janvier, had suggested the school needed to be torn down so people could heal. He has since changed his mind, saying education needs to be a priority.



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One victim out of hospital

One of the people who was wounded last month in the mass shooting in a northern Saskatchewan community has been released from hospital.

Four people were killed in La Loche on Jan. 22, including two in a high school, and seven people were injured.

Four of the injured were flown to a Saskatoon hospital for treatment.

The Saskatchewan government now says three of those four victims are still receiving care from the Saskatoon Health Region.

The government says no other details can be released because of privacy rules.

A 17-year-old boy faces four counts of first-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder.



A boost for summer jobs

Justin Trudeau will mark his 100th day as prime minister today with a "massive" boost to a program that helps students get summer jobs.

The Canadian Press has learned that Trudeau is to announce a doubling of the Canada Summer Jobs program during a visit to the Dovercourt Boys and Girls Club in Toronto.

The federal government spent $106 million on the program last year to help create more than 34,000 summer jobs.

A senior government official indicated Trudeau will announce a "massive" boost to the program, aimed at creating an additional 35,000 jobs.

Under the program, the government subsidizes summer wages paid to young people between the ages of 15 and 30, who were full-time students during the past academic year and intend to return to school full-time in the coming academic year.

The subsidy, based on minimum provincial wage rates, ranges from 100 per cent for not-for-profit sector employers to 50 per cent for public sector employers and for private sector employers who employ no more than 50 employees.

The program is aimed at providing much-needed work experience for students while supporting small businesses and organizations that provide important community services.

Canada Summer Jobs is one of three programs that falls under the umbrella of the federal Youth Employment Strategy.

During last year's election campaign, Trudeau promised to pump an additional $300 million into the strategy over three years, creating 40,000 youth jobs. After that initial boost, he vowed to boost the youth employment strategy's budget to $385 million annually, a $50 million hike over the current outlay.

The Liberal platform opined that young Canadians were finding it harder to find good-quality job opportunities after 10 years of Conservative rule, leaving young people discouraged and their parents often struggling to support their grown children.

"It is time to invest in young Canadians," the platform asserted. "To help them get the work experience they will need to start their careers and contribute fully to our economy."

Trudeau underscored the importance he places on job creation for young Canadians when he crafted his first cabinet in November, reserving the youth portfolio for himself.

The Liberals' come-from-behind victory in the Oct. 19 election has been attributed in large part to Trudeau's ability to engage Canadians who don't traditionally vote, including youth and indigenous people. Some 3 million new voters cast ballots, propelling voter turnout to 68 per cent, its highest level in more than 20 years.



UN chief praises Canada

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon praised Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for last year's climate-change charm offensive in Paris, but urged him to spend more of Canada's wealth on the world's poorest people.

The usually staid Ban appeared almost gleeful at times Thursday as he took Trudeau up on his offer to re-engage with the UN during a packed, day-long visit to Ottawa, including high-level meetings on Parliament Hill, a feel-good assembly at a boisterous local high school auditorium, and a gala dinner at the Canadian Museum of History.

"I am here to declare that the United Nations enthusiastically welcomes this commitment," Ban declared. He praised not only Trudeau's climate-change advocacy, but his desire to return Canada to its peacekeeping roots — which, he said, Canada helped create under external affairs minister Lester Pearson in the 1950s.

Trudeau has stressed reorienting Canada towards world organizations — the UN in particular — as part of a new multilateral foreign policy that often tries to invoke the so-called Pearson-era golden age of diplomacy.

Neither he nor Ban mentioned that Pearson had another influence on the world: chairing an international commission in the late 1960s that eventually led to the establishment of today's UN target for aid spending by rich countries: 0.7 per cent of gross national income.

"I know that the prime minister may have all different priorities but I'm sure that Prime Minister Trudeau and his government will pay more focus on this matter. I count on your leadership," Ban said, noting that only five countries had reached the target.

Canada never has, despite Pearson's role in creating it.

But Ban also made it very clear he was extremely happy with what Trudeau has managed to accomplish on the world stage in what the prime minister referred to as the end of his first 100 days in office.

At a gala dinner, Ban praised Trudeau for his "dynamic leadership" and said he might already be more popular than his father, former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

"As United Nations Secretary General, I'm proud and privileged to work with you and the Canadian people," Ban said in his toast of the current prime minister as another former Liberal one, Jean Chretien, looked on.

Earlier, Ban said he had "respect" for the Liberal government's decision to withdraw its fighter jets from the coalition battling Islamic militants. He praised Canada repeatedly for deciding to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees, and for the more than $1 billion in development and humanitarian spending earmarked towards the battle against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Ban recalled how Trudeau used his "charm and popularity" during the November and December UN Paris climate-change talks, energetically moving from delegation to delegation. He said Trudeau's leadership helped secure the breakthrough agreement from the meeting.

"The United Nations owes a lot to his leadership. Canada has completely changed — completely changed and shown leadership," said Ban.

Trudeau has been critical of the former Conservative government of Stephen Harper, which often criticized the UN for being ineffective, especially in stopping the five-year-old civil war in Syria.

Ban himself noted the inability of the Security Council to take decisive action against Syria, saying its inaction — which stems from the veto wielded by Russia, a Syrian ally — was part of a "perfect storm" that has led to the rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East.



Neighbour stabber gets bail

A Calgary man who was found guilty of stabbing his neighbour 37 times has been granted bail while he appeals his manslaughter conviction and sentence.

Nicholas Rasberry, 32, was sentenced to seven years minus time served for the May 2013 death of school teacher Craig Kelloway.

Lawyers for Rasberry have cited eight grounds for appeal, including an unreasonable verdict and a harsh and excessive sentence.

The Crown had already filed an appeal seeking a conviction of second-degree murder or a new trial.

Rasberry had argued that he stabbed Kelloway, who was originally from Glace Bay, N.S., to fend off an attempted sexual assault of him and his wife.

Court heard three knives were used and a medical examiner testified that the attack was so violent that knife fragments were left in Kelloway's body.

The killing happened the same night the two men and their wives met for the first time as new neighbours at a barbecue.



Trudeau's first 100 days

Promises, promises.

Justin Trudeau made 214 of them during last fall's marathon election campaign, according to TrudeauMetre.ca, a non-partisan, citizen-driven website that tracks if and when the prime minister delivers on his commitments.

As his Liberal government prepares to mark its 100th day in power Friday, the website reckons Trudeau has so far delivered on 13 promises, started 29 more and broken at least two.

While some of the website's conclusions are debatable, they underscore that despite a running start, the government has made barely a dent in a sweeping platform that promised transformative change on multiple fronts: stimulating the stagnant economy, transforming government and even overhauling how governments are chosen.

A number of big promises, such as a new child care benefit and massive infrastructure investments, are expected in the Trudeau government's maiden budget late next month.

Here's a look at what's been accomplished — or not — so far:

PROMISES KEPT

— A more open, accessible style of governance, working with provincial and municipal leaders and striking a less adversarial tone.

— A cabinet with as many women as men.

— A 20.5 per cent income tax rate for Canadians earning between $45,282 and $90,563, down from 22 per cent.

— A new 33 per cent tax bracket on income of more than $200,000.

— Restore the mandatory long-form census.

— Unmuzzle scientists.

— An arm's-length advisory body to recommend merit-based nominees for the Senate.

— Withdraw Canadian fighter jets from Syria and Iraq. This week, Trudeau said the jets will be coming home by Feb. 22 while the government beefs up humanitarian aid and military support to train Iraqi ground forces.

— Improve access to and reduce the cost of prescription drugs. The federal government has joined the provinces in a cheaper bulk-buying scheme.

PROMISES IN PROGRESS

— Launch a national inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women. The government has so far set up a consultation process to determine how best to conduct the inquiry.

— Establish a pan-Canadian framework for combating climate change. Trudeau has met with the premiers and led a delegation to the UN climate summit in Paris to signal Canada would no longer be a "laggard" on global warming. But the government has not yet committed to a more ambitious target for cutting GHG emissions — or a plan for achieving it.

— Re-establish public trust in environmental assessments of resource-based projects. While it develops new rules, the government has introduced an interim process — including new environmental hurdles and consultations with Aboriginal Peoples — for projects that are already under regulatory review, such as the proposed Energy East pipeline.

— Reform the operation of Parliament, including empowering backbenchers with more free votes, a weekly prime minister's question period, more open board of internal economy meetings and an end to omnibus bills.

— Repeal anti-union legislation passed by the Conservative government. Bill introduced in Parliament.

— Scrap legislation unilaterally changing the sick leave program for public servants, while contract negotiations were ongoing. Bill introduced.

— Create a parliamentary oversight committee on national security operations. A chairman has been appointed — Liberal MP David McGuinty — but no committee as yet.

— Reopen nine Veterans Affairs offices closed by the previous Conservative government.

— Clarify rules governing political activities by charitable groups to end alleged harassment by the Canada Revenue Agency. The government is winding down the political-activity audits of charities that were launched in 2012.

EXPECTED IN THE FEDERAL BUDGET

— A new, tax-free monthly child care benefit that Liberals say will be more generous for most parents but reduced or phased out entirely for high income earners.

— The first phase of an additional $60 billion over 10 years in infrastructure spending. The platform promised an extra $5 billion this year.

— A number of first instalments of promised multi-year funding: $750 million for post-secondary student grants; $300 million for jobs and skills training; $300 million for business innovation; $250 million for First Nations education; $325 million for pensions for injured veterans and other programs and services for vets.

— Scrap income splitting for couples with children.

— Roll back to $5,500 the $10,000 annual limit on tax-free savings account contributions.

PROMISES BROKEN (or likely to be)

— Bring in 25,000 government-assisted Syrian refugees by the end of last year, at a cost of $250 million. Logistical hurdles and security concerns forced the government to extend the schedule and inflate the price tag. It is now aiming to bring in 25,000 by the end of February, only about 15,000 of them government-assisted refugees, the rest privately sponsored. It intends to bring in another 10,000 government-assisted refugees by the end of the year. Estimated cost: $678 million over six years.

— Immediately implement firearm-marking regulations to help police trace guns used in crime, postponed by the Conservatives last August. A briefing book prepared for Trudeau indicated the government had planned to meet the promise in its first 100 days.

— Run deficits of less than $10 billion in each of the first three years of its mandate, still reducing the debt-to-GDP ratio each year and balancing the books in the final year. Trudeau has acknowledged the deficit will exceed $10 billion this year and that it will be difficult to balance in the fourth year.

— The tax break for middle-income earners was to be revenue-neutral, paid for by hiking taxes for the wealthiest one per cent. In fact, it will cost the federal treasury $1.2 billion a year.

— Trudeau's verbal promise to "restore" door-to-door home mail delivery. The Liberals have reverted to the platform's more cautious wording: stop the Conservative plan to end door-to-door delivery and launch a review of Canada Post.

STILL TO COME

— Replace Canada's first-past-the-post electoral system by the next election. An all-party committee is to examine options and recommend a replacement by mid-2017.

— Reform election laws: repeal controversial elements of the Fair Elections Act, restore the independence of elections watchdogs, create an independent commission to organize leaders' debates during campaigns, limit party spending between elections.

— Ban partisan government advertising; appoint an advertising commissioner to help ensure government ads are non-partisan.

— Legalize marijuana. Little has happened beyond rookie Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair being tapped to lead the effort.

— Overhaul the Access to Information Act, to make government open "by default."

— Reduce the small business tax rate to nine per cent from 11 per cent.

— Employment insurance reforms, including halving the waiting period for collecting EI, reducing premiums, flexible and accessible compassionate care benefits, more flexible parental leave.

— Restore the age of eligibility for old age security and guaranteed income supplement to 65.

— Work with the provinces to enhance Canada Pension Plan benefits.

— Establish a new nation-to-nation relationship with First Nations, including implementing all 94 recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation commission.

— Negotiate with the provinces a new health accord, with a long-term agreement on funding that includes an extra $3 billion over four years for improved home care services.

— Amend controversial anti-terrorism legislation to, among other things, ensure legal protests or advocacy can't be construed as terrorist activities and institute a sunset clause requiring review of new measures after three years.

— Scrap the planned $44-billion purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighter jets, launch an open and competitive bidding process, reallocating the savings to the navy.

Join the discussion



'Jesus Loves Nerds'

A memorial table for twin brothers who died in an after-hours joyride down a bobsled track at Canada Olympic Park focuses on the boy's faith and their academic achievement.

"Jesus Loves Nerds" proudly proclaims one poster at the table at Calgary's Centre Street Church.

Medals, a ski helmet, flowers, notes from friends and T-shirts with the images of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Abraham Lincoln have been carefully laid out before the funeral for 17-year-old Jordan and Evan Caldwell.

"We are so grateful for the prayers and support that we have received," said Pastor Glenn Nudd, who read a statement on behalf of the Caldwell family. "Thank you for sharing this day with us as we celebrate the lives of our boys and as we say goodbye.

"We miss them so much already, but we know that we will be with them in heaven one day."

Nudd, who leads Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel, has known the boys since birth and said he has fond memories of them.

"They were full of passion, excellence. They loved God and they loved people."

He said the family's faith is getting them through the ordeal.

"It's everything. They're very sad, but their sadness is buoyed up by their faith in Jesus and knowing that they're going to be together again."

Nudd also remembers the fun side of the two young men, who took great delight when people couldn't tell them apart.

"In fact they had a lot of fun being twins that looked exactly the same," he said with a smile.

"How I got to finally figure out who was who is one of them had a mullet and that was Evan, and Evan decided to get rid of his mullet which was hard on me, because I was back trying to figure out who was who again."

An investigation into the accident last Saturday continues.

Evan and Jordan, along with six friends, snuck onto the bobsled run at WinSport's Canada Olympic Park early in the morning.

They went down the run on a toboggan and hit a gate separating the bobsled and luge tracks, which were used during the 1988 Winter Olympics.

There's been no explanation on what prompted the late night joyride. Many of the survivors remain in hospital.



Canada wants seat back

Canada is looking to win a seat on the UN Security Council as part of a move to renew its relationship with the world body, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today.

Trudeau shared a podium with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as he spoke of his plans to rebuild Canadian ties to the organization.

The two men held talks on a number of issues at the start of Ban's short visit to Ottawa and Montreal.

"On the issue of the UN Security Council, I highlighted to the secretary general that part of Canada wishing to re-engage robustly with the United Nations and in multilateral engagement around the world includes looking towards a bid for the UN Security Council," Trudeau said.

"We're looking at a number of windows in the coming years. We are going to evaluate the opportunities for Canada to mount a successful bid."

A return to the council would mark a major comeback for Canada, after the country finished an embarrassing third in 2010 during first-round voting in the General Assembly to fill council vacancies.

The Harper government was criticized at the time for failing to make a strong bid for the seat.

The 15-member council has five permanent members and 10 members elected by the assembly to two-year terms.

Ban says he welcomes Trudeau's plan to rebuild a robust relationship with the UN, saying Canada has a long and distinguished partnership with the organization.

The two men's talks covered issues ranging from climate change to the resettlement of Syrian refugees and Canada's return to major peacekeeping operations.

Trudeau said he told Ban that Canada wants to be involved as a peacemaker.

Canadian involvement to UN peacekeeping dwindled sharply in the Harper years as the military was enmeshed in Afghanistan.

That will change, Trudeau told Ban.

"I reiterated the commitment of our government to strengthen the UN's ability to maintain international peace and security, including by increasing support for peace operations and contributing more to mediation, conflict prevention and post-conflict reconstruction efforts."



Ghomeshi verdict March 24

The judge at Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault trial says he will deliver his verdict on March 24.

Justice William Horkins announced the date after the Crown and the defence wrapped up their closing arguments.

Ghomeshi's defence lawyer says the Crown has failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the former broadcaster committed the crimes of sexual assault and choking.

In their closing arguments, lawyers Marie Henein and Danielle Robitaille said that in the course of the trial, Ghomeshi's three accusers were proved to be unreliable witnesses who withheld information from police and even lied to the court.

The lawyers used especially tough language when summarizing the testimony of one of the complainants — "Trailer Park Boys" actress Lucy DeCoutere — who's accused Ghomeshi of choking and repeatedly slapping her while they were kissing in his bedroom.

Henein says DeCoutere's testimony related to one of the charges — overcome resistance by choking — doesn't meet the elements of the offence, since she testified that she was not resisting when Ghomeshi was allegedly choking her.

Crown prosecutor Michael Callaghan said earlier today that the credibility of Ghomeshi's three accusers has nothing to do with the way they behaved after the alleged incidents, since the law is clear that everyone responds differently to sexual assault.

Henein agreed that the women's behaviour and their continued involvement with Ghomeshi after the alleged sexual assaults were not relevant to the case. However, she said that the fact they lied to the court was.

"There is not an expert who will testify that perjury is indicative of trauma," Henein said.

"What a witness cannot do is lie about their conduct and then say "Oh geez, that's just how victims of trauma behave.'"

Callaghan said in his closing arguments that each of the complainants reacted to the alleged sexual assaults in their own unique ways based on their individual personalities and life experiences.

He said the first complainant didn't go to police immediately after the alleged assaults because she didn't think her allegations were serious enough.

Callaghan adds another complainant, "Trailer Park Boys" actress Lucy DeCoutere, didn't go to police immediately because she was unsure of the reporting process.

The third woman only came forward in 2014, Callaghan says, because media reports of other allegations against Ghomeshi caused her to see a pattern.

Callaghan asked the Justice William Horkins to consider all three women's allegations, their credibility and reliability separately.

The 48-year-old former CBC Radio host, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges, didn't testify during trial and has maintained his silence ever since being arrested in November 2014.

Ghomeshi acknowledged in October 2014 that he engaged in rough sex acts, but said it was consensual.



Funeral for bobsled twins

A public funeral is to be held today at Calgary's Centre Street Church for twin brothers who died in an after-hours joyride down a bobsled run at Canada Olympic Park.

Jordan and Evan Caldwell, both 17, were killed almost instantly in the crash on Feb. 6 that also injured six of their friends.

Police say the group sneaked onto the grounds of the WinSport facility, jumped onto their own toboggans and headed down the icy track where Olympic and World Cup events have taken place.

However, they hit a gate set up to divide the bobsled and luge runs.

Those who knew them say the teens were popular, with Jordan serving as student council president at his school.

Both brothers were straight-A students and both attended church at Rocky Mountain Calvary Chapel.



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