Thursday, December 18th-0.1°C

Eaton Centre shooter guilty

A man accused in a shooting at Toronto's Eaton Centre was found guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder in the deaths of two men who were killed at the popular downtown mall two years ago.

Christopher Husbands was also found guilty of five counts of aggravated assault and one count of criminal negligence causing bodily harm. The second-degree murder convictions carry a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole for 10 to 25 years.

His lawyer Dirk Derstine said his client is disappointed with the verdict but took solace the jury didn't convict him on the original charges of first-degree murder.

"He was sad. He was hoping for better but certainly the jury at least found that he was not guilty of a planned and deliberate murder."

Derstine said Husbands will appeal.

Husbands had admitted to fatally shooting Nixon Nirmalendran and Ahmed Hassan and wounding five others in June 2012, but had pleaded not guilty to all charges against him.

His defence lawyers had argued that the 25-year-old should be found not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder.

They had said the post-traumatic stress disorder Husbands developed after a vicious beating and stabbing months before the mall shooting triggered an intense emotional reaction when he saw two of his assailants in the Eaton Centre food court.

Husbands went into a "robotic" state as he fired off 14 shots, they argued, and saw only dark shadows and heard only "pins dropping" as pandemonium erupted around him.

The Crown, meanwhile, had argued that Husbands opened fire at the mall because he was determined to get revenge on the men who had attacked him months earlier.

Husbands's PTSD was "far from disabling," they had countered, and he was in full control of his mental faculties during the shooting, as was demonstrated by video surveillance footage played at the trial.

The judge presiding over the case had instructed jurors to weigh all the evidence before them, including Husbands's testimony, the opinions of psychiatrists called by the defence and the Crown, and the video footage from the mall, which he called "the best witness" in the case.

Husbands — who was also found guilty of discharge of firearm — stood in the prisoner's box with his hands clasped and was seen shaking his head after the 12-member jury delivered their unanimous verdict.

A critical issue at the trial was Husbands's state of mind at the time of the mall shooting, but his defence lawyers' argument that Husbands was not criminally responsible for the incident was one which caught the Crown off-guard mid-trial.

When it became clear that Husbands's lawyers were going down that route following a psychiatrist's evaluation of Husbands, Crown prosecutors had to rush to find their own psychiatrist to assess Husbands in a very short period of time — a scramble that took place unbeknownst to the jurors.

Mental health experts on both the defence and Crown sides testified that Husbands had PTSD, but the extent to which it rendered him incapable of appreciating his actions at the mall was in dispute.

The trial head that Husbands, who immigrated to Canada at age 11 after being born in Guyana, fell into drug dealing in a rough Toronto neighbourhood and was in and out of school.

Jurors heard that a turning point in his life was the February 2012 attack on him, in which Nirmalendran, a childhood friend, was one of the assailants.

Husbands told his trial he was going to deliver some drugs to Nirmalendran but was set upon as soon as he entered an apartment. He testified he was punched, his legs were taped, a gun was held to his head and he was severely beaten and stabbed.

The trial heard that Husbands managed to eventually make it out of that apartment and collapsed in a pool of blood on a street, where he was found by a passerby.

That attack left him paranoid and fearful, led to flashbacks and a fear of crowds, Husbands testified, and he believed his assailants were out to kill him.

On the day he went to the Eaton Centre in June 2012, the trial heard that Husbands was walking around with a fully loaded gun — given to him by a friend a day earlier to look after, he said. He testified the firearm made him feel safer because he knew the men who had attacked him carried guns.

Central to the trial was what happened in the minutes before the shooting at the mall.

Husbands testified that as he was standing in the mall's food court when he heard Nirmalendran say "shoot him" and saw another man reach for his pocket.

He said he did not remember exactly what happened next as he panicked at the sight of his assailants.

Jurors were cautioned by the judge that they had to determine whether Husbands's statements about what he heard and saw at the food court were true, and if his testimony wasn't believed, there was "no evidential basis to find that he experienced a disassociative state."

Video surveillance footage shows Husbands opening fire, holding a gun with both hands, and pumping several shots into a man lying on the ground.

The Canadian Press


Wildrose politicians leave party

Alberta's Opposition leader says she and eight of her Wildrose caucus colleagues joined the province's Progressive Conservative government on Wednesday because they needed to be "at the table, not outside the door."

Danielle Smith and Premier Jim Prentice took turns praising each other at a joint late-day news conference that confirmed speculation that had been swirling for two days.

"Today we stand together ready to move on from past partisan rivalries and lead Alberta with renewed focus and a strong sense of purpose," said Smith.

She said her party had worked hard to push for balanced budgets, elimination of wasteful spending, a respect for property rights and ethics in government.

"Over the course of the last several months, I've become more and more convinced that these are values I share with Premier Prentice," Smith said.

"Past premiers have merely paid lip service to these issues, saying the right things, and then doing the opposite, but Premier Prentice has shown me and my caucus that he is different."

Smith's resignation letter, released just before the news conference at Government House, said Prentice has indicated that any elected Wildrose members choosing to join his PCs will play "key roles in a united government."

Prentice thanked Smith and said she showed great "personal courage" in her decision.

He suggested that the current global economic uncertainty makes it important for conservatives to work together and suggested he would welcome any other Wildrose members who want to join him.

"We need all conservatives pulling in the same direction," he said.

"These (members of the legislature) are both wanted and needed in our government caucus as part of our team. Alberta is stronger today with these committed Albertans working together."

Prentice said his government once again represents "the full diversity of voices and regions from across Alberta – north, south, urban and rural.”

Smith was asked what she would tell the 400,000 supporters who voted for the party, helped her campaign and donated money.

"I'm asking Wildrose members to come with us," she replied.

She said she didn't feel she could remain leader of the Opposition.

"If you're going to be the official Opposition leader, you have to really want to take down the government and really take down the premier," she said. "I don't want to take down this premier.

"I want this premier to succeed and I want to be part and parcel of helping him succeed."

Prentice and Smith are calling the move the "unification of Alberta’s conservatives

The defections leave the Wildrose with five sitting members in the 87-seat legislature. The Liberals also have five members and the NDP have four. Former Wildrose member Joe Anglin sits as an Independent.

It was not immediately clear Wednesday what party will form the official Opposition, given that the Liberals and Wildrose now have the same number of seats.

The Canadian Press

White House thanks Canada

The White House is extending its thanks to Canada for hosting the meetings that led to the United States and Cuba agreeing to re-establish diplomatic relations and open economic and travel ties.

Senior Obama administration officials say Canada was "indispensable" in hosting the majority of the secret talks, which took place for more than a year.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to play down Canada's contribution, telling the CBC in an interview that Canada did not mediate or direct the talks. But he called Wednesday's announcement an "overdue development."

"We facilitated places where the two countries could have a dialogue and explore ways of normalizing the relationship," Harper said. "I personally believe changes are coming in Cuba, and this will facilitate those."

Nonetheless, the prime minister said, those changes will come slowly to an economy and a society he called "overdue for entry" into the 21st century.

"Probably when the current generation passes, you'll see some changes," he said. "Although we have some tainted democracies in the hemisphere, this is really the only place where there are elections that completely non-competitive."

Harper told another interviewer in 2009 that the American strategy towards Cuba — its half century-old embargo — had simply "not worked."

U.S. officials say the first face-to-face talks with the Cubans took place in Canada in June of last year, with several other discussions taking place since then.

Harper also issued a statement congratulating the two countries on reaching their agreement, which marks a historic shift in U.S. policy after a half-century of enmity towards Cuba dating back to the Cold War.

The announcement coincided with the release of American prisoner Alan Gross, as well as a swap for a U.S. intelligence asset held in Cuba and the freeing of three Cubans jailed in the U.S.

Pope Francis was also personally engaged in the process and sent separate letters to Obama and Castro this summer urging them to restart relations.

"Canada supports a future for Cuba that fully embraces the fundamental values of freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law," Harper said in his statement.

"Canada was pleased to host the senior officials from the United States and Cuba, which permitted them the discretion required to carry out these important talks."

NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said Canadian diplomats deserve thanks for their hard work on the file.

"This is an example of constructive diplomacy, something that Canada is very good at," Dewar said in a statement.

"Today is a great day for those who believe in engagement as the most effective tool of diplomacy. We should see more of this constructive approach in Canadian foreign policy."

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau tweeted his own congratulations, calling his party a "friend to both nations."

The iconic former Cuban president Fidel Castro attended the funeral of Pierre Trudeau in 2000, eschewing his traditional military fatigues for a dress suit. In the 1970s, the two leaders struck up a friendship after the elder Trudeau visited Havana.

At an event in British Columbia, Trudeau recalled watching Castro and then U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaking at Montreal's Notre Dame Basilica. Carter later became the first U.S. president — in or out of office — to visit Cuba since its 1959 communist revolution.

"I think Canada has played, historically, an important role as being a buffer, a go-between," Trudeau said.

The Canadian Press


Free trip around the world

A Toronto man who made headlines last month by offering a free round-the-world air ticket to a woman with the same name as his ex-girlfriend has found Ms. Right.

Jordan Axani, 28, and his then girlfriend, named Elizabeth Gallagher, booked heavily discounted round-the-world air tickets in May, but their relationship ended and he didn't want her ticket to go to waste. The ticket had a strict no-transfer policy, but since passport information was not required when booking, it can be used by any Canadian named Elizabeth Gallagher.

Axani posted his offer last month on the popular Reddit social media website, and received thousands of emails, including 18 from actual Elizabeth Gallaghers with Canadian passports.

He's now chosen his travel mate, Elizabeth Quinn Gallagher, a 23-year-old student and part-time office administrator from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia.

"It's strictly a platonic trip. It's going to be great," Axani said.

At first the new Elizabeth Gallagher thought a trip with a stranger whose ex-girlfriend's name is the same as hers was "crazy" but she hit it off with Axani after talking on the phone with him for hours.

"It definitely did seem a little bit creepy at the beginning but now that I talked to him it's less creepy and more awesome," she said.

She already has a boyfriend though.

"This is totally sort of like as friends," she said. "I have a pretty serious boyfriend. We've been together for a while. We're planning on buying a house and we have a puppy, so yeah I'm not really looking for anything at all."

She acknowledged her boyfriend isn't thrilled.

"He understands that I've always wanted to travel so while he's not happy I'm taking off for nearly a month at Christmas with a random guy he's smiling through it," she said.

Axani, who works for an international real estate development and advisory firm, said the tickets were purchased for a couple of thousand dollars, but their cash value today is around Canadian $5,000-$7,000.

The trip is scheduled to start Dec. 21 in New York City and continue on to Milan, Prague, Paris, Bangkok and New Delhi before ending in Toronto on Jan. 12. Axani said that after the breakup he deferred all other planning for the trip, such as making hotel reservations.

But since the story became public, Marriott International offered to put him and the new Elizabeth Gallagher up, in separate rooms, during their trip.

Axani said the trip will be documented and shared online. He said that he was so moved by some of the emails — including one from an 8-year-old boy who said he was going blind and wanted to see the world before that happens — that he and his brother created an organization called A Ticket Forward to help people who desire to see the world but lack the finances to do so.

The Canadian Press

A man without a country

Donovan McGlaughlin admits his story is hard to believe, but he wants Canadians to keep an open mind as he explains why he may have to apply as a political refugee in the country he's called home for his 60 years.

His father was First Nation, his mother Caucasian, and both were anarchists who didn't want to register his birth because they feared he'd be taken away from them and end up in a residential school, said McGlaughlin.

The ramifications of their decision have been far reaching for the Dawson City, Yukon, resident who said he's been caught up in a life-long bureaucratic nightmare that has prevented him from obtaining any form of identification, including a health-care card.

He said his problem came to a head even before he was hit by a series of heart attacks that have resulted in up to $130,000 in medical and air-ambulance bills.

Nobody in government, it seems, has yet been able to help him, said McGlaughlin, who said applying as a political refugee may be his last option.

"I don't know how much harder my situation has to be without applying for political-refugee status," said McGlaughlin. "What else is there? I mean I'm stateless. I have no rights within my own country."

His lack of status and medical troubles also have territorial and federal government bill collectors knocking on his door, looking for money from the man who has never had held full-time job.

Jan. 19, 1954 is the day McGlaughlin celebrates as his birthday, although he doesn't know the exact date. He only knows he was born somewhere between Rosebud, S.D., and Guelph, Ont., where his maternal grandparents lived.

Home schooled as a child, McGlaughlin said his parents moved around Canada frequently because they were afraid of the government, and at the age of 15 he left them, surviving off farm work and "migrant jobs" like picking fruit.

About 30 years ago, he hitchhiked to and fell in love with the Yukon, where he has survived ever since by hunting and fishing on First Nations' land.

Yet, because he has no birth certificate, McGlaughlin said he hasn't been able to get a citizenship card, a Social Insurance Number or a passport, and that means he can't get a driver's license or even a Yukon Health Care Card.

Since he has no identification, he also can't apply for a job, vote, marry his partner who is the mother of his three children, or volunteer at their school because a background check is required. He can't even get on a long-haul bus, because that now requires ID, too, he said.

McGlaughlin said he had an interview scheduled with a Citizenship and Immigration Canada official in October 2010, but he suffered a near-fatal heart attack and was flown to a hospital in Victoria, so he missed the meeting.

The interview was rescheduled and took place in early 2011, and the official decided against issuing an order for his removal from Canada, he added.

He has had three more heart attacks since that interview, one of which required his admission to a Vancouver hospital and another expensive air-ambulance flight, said McGlaughlin.

Lacking a medical card means McGlaughlin is on the hook for his health-care and transportation costs and can't book any followup treatments, he said.

Taxation problems are now his family's latest worry.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press show the Canada Revenue Agency and Yukon government wrote his partner, Julie Dugrenier, asking her for McGlaughlin's Social Insurance Number and 2012 tax return to determine whether she was entitled to tax benefits for their three children.

In an Oct. 21 letter, the revenue agency followed up, demanding Dugrenier repay $2,249.50.

McGlaughlin said he has applied under Section 5.4 of the Citizenship Act for the minister to grant him citizenship because of a "special and unusual hardship."

Nancy Caron, a spokeswoman for the federal agency, said in an email that McGlaughlin filed an application in late September, but it contained "insufficient documentation to demonstrate how long he has been living in Canada," and the agency asked for more information in a November correspondence.

"We recognize Mr. McGlaughlin lacks most forms of ID and documents that citizens would use as proof of residency," said Caron. "CIC will consider any evidence he can provide to support his claim that he has resided in Canada for the majority of his life."

The department, she said, has yet to make a final decision on his application.

Ryan Leef, the Yukon's member of Parliament, was unavailable for an interview, but in an email, his executive assistant Kay Richter said staff have communicated with McGlaughlin.

"Mr. Leef, as a general rule, opens his office to assist with all matters of federal jurisdiction," said Richter. "We deal with many immigration related cases, and have a high resolution rate."

Don Chapman, the founder of Lost Canadians, a group that has spent years identifying gaps in citizenship laws, said he has tried to intervene on McGlaughlin's behalf and estimates there could be as many as 50 or 60 people across the country in a similar situation.

"Quite seriously, denying Donovan citizenship amounts to a death sentence," said Chapman in a recent email. "With no medical insurance and being a victim of a major heart attack, Donovan is doomed."

As for his refugee application, McGlaughlin was told that all applications must be delivered in person to a Citizenship and Immigration office, an ordeal for somebody who lives in the North, doesn't have a driver's licence, can't book a bus ticket and has heart problems.

McGlaughlin said he may have to make that trip by foot.

"I have battled this far and will continue to as long as I can," he said in a followup email. "Perhaps after the holiday, I may just go ahead and start walking. Until then I will be enjoying what could be my last Christmas with my children and wife."

The Canadian Press

No charges in publication ban

Nova Scotia's attorney general says no one will be prosecuted for identifying Rehtaeh Parsons as the victim in a recent high-profile child pornography case unless her name is used in a derogatory manner.

A judge placed the mandatory ban on Parsons' identity in May in the case of two young men who were charged with child pornography offences.

Last month, the Halifax Chronicle-Herald identified Parsons as the victim in the case when one of the young men pleaded guilty in youth court.

He will be sentenced in January for distributing a sexually graphic image of the 15-year-old girl, who died last year following a suicide attempt.

The other young man was given a conditional discharge for making child pornography.

Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab says the directive to Nova Scotia's Public Prosecution Service says no breach of the ban identifying Parsons as the victim in the case by the media or in any forum will be prosecuted, unless her name is used in a derogatory way.

The judge in the case had noted in May after he brought in the ban that the Criminal Code required him to implement it but he also said the Crown prosecution service could decide not to prosecute if it was broken. That route wasn't taken until Diab's directive was issued Wednesday.

Both of Parsons' parents opposed the ban. Her father, Glen Canning, often wore T-shirts bearing her name in court.

Canning said he believes the decision by the Chronicle-Herald to publish his daughter's name tipped the balance.

"I guess in the end, it (the newspaper's decision to publish the name) made the ban look a little bit ridiculous," he added.

"It's like a dark cloud was just lifted and here it is in black and white. It's kind of what we wanted, the way the minister released this and worded it was perfect."

Canning said the ban shut down debate on the issues surrounding the case.

"It was such a grey area that Rehtaeh's friends were afraid to say her name on Facebook," he said in an interview.

"It almost feels like I got her name back. We can attach her name again to this conversation and that's just fantastic."

Police have investigated a number of complaints since the ban was imposed and have not laid any charges.

The Canadian Press

Opposition to join government

At least half of Alberta's official Opposition is expected to seek to cross the floor to the governing Progressive Conservatives on Wednesday, sources have told The Canadian Press.

The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said seven members of Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith's party — including Smith herself — want to join the government of Premier Jim Prentice.

Prentice has said any decision must still be ratified by his caucus when it meets Wednesday morning.

If carried out, the move would gut the Wildrose party, created mainly by disaffected ex-Tories and viewed as the only serious electoral threat to the government in 2016.

It would give the PCs an overwhelming 70 seats in the 87-seat legislature.

Joining Smith would be house leader Rob Anderson, who quit the Tories in 2010 to join the Wildrose.

That would leave seven leaderless Wildrose members. The party would still be the official Opposition as the Liberals have five members and the NDP four alongside Independent Joe Anglin, a former Wildroser.

The defections would bring to nine the number of Wildrose members in the Tory fold.

Last month, Wildrosers Kerry Towle and Ian Donovan bolted to the PCs, saying they were disillusioned with the Wildrose and galvanized by Prentice's leadership. Smith at the time said Towle and Donovan showed little integrity.

Earlier Tuesday, Wildrose executive member Jeff Callaway said party brass were angry after being blindsided by the anticipated floor-crossings.

"It's profoundly disappointing for MLAs to undertake floor-crossing initiatives for the sake of their own political self-preservation," said Callaway.

"But the fact is the party remains. We will have a caucus after this. Our fundraising is strong. We have a good constituency association roster. We will be in the next election and we will have a slate of candidates contesting it."

Callaway said the party still has more than 21,000 members.

Sources said the floor-crossing would be underpinned by a written agreement that promises the Wildrose defectors will be able to run as PCs in their ridings in the next election, slated for the spring of 2016.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said that suggests the Wildrosers are less concerned with ideology and more concerned with keeping their seats.

"On both sides, it is primarily about a bunch of folks that want to keep their jobs, whether you're talking about Tories or Wildrosers," said Notley.

"That document does not read like a guide to grassroots democracy. That reads like a guide to clinging to power."

The loss of Smith could be crippling to the party. The erudite business leader and former journalist was the catalyst who, over the last five years, delivered energy and mainstream credibility to an upstart right-centre party that gained followers when the Tories fumbled on issues such as land rights and fiscal conservatism.

As official Opposition since the 2012 election, Smith and her caucus mates used dogged research and Rottweiler-intense attacks in question period to expose weaknesses and scandals that helped topple two Tory premiers.

Polls, in fact, had the Wildrose leading the 2012 campaign up to the final week when anti-gay and racist remarks attributed to two candidates, along with Smith's hedging on whether climate change existed, raised doubts on whether the party had the maturity to lead.

The party's highwater mark came this past spring as the Tories dropped in the polls following the spending scandals that forced then-premier Alison Redford to resign.

The Canadian Press

No verdict yet for Magnotta

The jury at Luka Rocco Magnotta's murder trial has completed its first day of deliberations without reaching a verdict.

Magnotta is charged with first-degree murder and four other charges in the slaying and dismemberment of Chinese engineering student Jun Lin in May 2012.

The eight women and four men officially began their work Tuesday to return five unanimous verdicts in the case. In theory, they will be deliberating between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

There was no word from them other than when they took breaks and they will return on Wednesday morning.

Magnotta has pleaded not guilty by way of mental disorder and is seeking to be found not criminally responsible.

On the murder charge, the jury has four options: find Magnotta guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree murder or manslaughter, or find him not criminally responsible by way of mental disorder.

The judge told the jurors Monday that if they find the accused not criminally responsible, that verdict must carry through to all five charges.

On the other charges, they must decide simply whether Magnotta is guilty or not guilty.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer suggested they start their work by focusing on the mental disorder defence.

The jurors heard some 66 witnesses over 40 days the trial sat.

They will have to consider hundreds of pages of medical files, expert reports and the physical evidence gathered in Montreal as well as Europe.

The Canadian Press

Medical marijuana injunction upheld

The Conservative government has lost its latest attempt to prevent medical marijuana users from growing pot at home, with the Federal Court of Appeal upholding an injunction that exempted patients from a massive overhaul of the system.

New rules were introduced earlier this year that prohibited home growing and instead shifted production to commercial operations, but a group of patients is challenging that regime in a case expected to be heard in the new year.

A Federal Court judge issued an injunction in the spring that allowed patients who were authorized to grow and possess marijuana under the old system to continue to do so until their case is resolved.

The government appealed, but the Appeal Court released a unanimous decision Monday upholding the injunction.

"It's very significant," Kirk Tousaw, a lawyer for the four plaintiffs in the case, said in an interview.

"The big fear was that if the government's appeal was successful, then all of these people who have been protected by the injunction could very well turn into criminals overnight."

The previous medical marijuana regime, which was introduced in 2001, allowed patients to either grow their own pot, designate someone to grow it for them, or purchase it directly from Health Canada.

New regulations took effect this last spring that no longer allowed personal production and instead established a system of federally licensed commercial producers. There are now 15 such operations selling medical cannabis.

The plaintiffs filed a constitutional challenge arguing the updated regulations violate their right to access important medicine, because commercial prices are considerably more expensive under the new system. They also complained the commercial market wouldn't give them as much control over which strains of the drug they use.

The Federal Court trial is set to begin in February. The injunction preserves patients' right to grow their own marijuana at least until a decision is issued.

Two of the plaintiffs also filed a cross appeal, arguing the Federal Court injunction was too narrow and left out some patients because of the dates outlined in the injunction.

The Appeal Court ordered the lower court to reconsider the terms of the injunction to clear things up.

As of last year, nearly 38,000 Canadians had received authorizations under the old system, the vast majority of whom chose to grow their own marijuana rather than buy it from the federal government.

Health Canada says it does not know how many patients continue to grow their own marijuana because of the injunction.

More than 13,000 patients have registered with the new licensed producers, which together sold 1,400 kilograms of dried marijuana between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31. Prices range from as low as $2.50 a gram to as high as $15, though most are between $8 and $10.

The Canadian Press

Google Canada's top searches

The death of a beloved actor, quadrennial sporting events, a new smartphone, and a deadly outbreak topped Google Canada's annual list of the most popular trending search queries.

After excluding routine searches that are entered by users every day of every year — most commonly for Facebook, Google itself, and YouTube — Robin Williams was found to be the top trending search term of 2014 in Canada.

Soccer's World Cup was second, followed by the iPhone 6, the Winter Olympics, Ebola, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, "Hunger Games" star Jennifer Lawrence, the late Joan Rivers, Jian Ghomeshi and the disease ALS, which went viral as the ice bucket challenge spread around the world.

After Ghomeshi, the top trending searches for Canadian people were former Toronto mayor Rob Ford, the late former finance minister Jim Flaherty, tennis star Eugenie Bouchard, and Olympic bronze medallist snowboarder Mark McMorris.

The shootings on Parliament Hill came in seventh on the list of top Canadian searches for events, behind the World Cup, the Olympics, the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane in March, the Ebola outbreak, the Ukraine-Russia conflict, and the Wimbledon tennis tournament. The Scottish referendum was eighth, the Justin Bourque manhunt in Moncton was ninth, and the Toronto municipal election was tenth.

Google users typically start queries with "how to" and the most common of those searches in Canada were vote, blog, puree, fundraise, Snapchat, kayak, tune, wean, moonwalk and henna.

For "What is" searches, Canadians most frequently typed in ALS, Ebola, ISIS, Bitcoin, Uber, Gamergate, Alibaba, Tinder, liposarcoma and skiathlon.

The Canadian Press

Magnotta's fate in jury's hands


The fate of Luka Rocco Magnotta is now in the hands of the jury after the judge spent Monday telling them what they need to consider in their deliberations.

Magnotta has pleaded not guilty to five charges, including first-degree murder, stemming from the May 2012 slaying and dismemberment of Jun Lin, 33.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer's detailed final charge also opened the door to a conviction on second-degree murder or manslaughter on the murder charge.

But if the jury finds Magnotta not criminally responsible, Cournoyer said the verdict must apply to all five charges. It's also the issue he suggested jurors tackle first when deliberations begin Tuesday.

In addition to premeditated murder, Magnotta is charged with criminally harassing Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other members of Parliament; mailing obscene and indecent material; committing an indignity to a body; and publishing obscene materials.

Psychiatrists for the defence testified throughout the trial Magnotta is schizophrenic, was psychotic the night of the slaying and was unable to tell right from wrong.

Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier countered there was no mental illness at play and that the crime was planned and deliberate. He has said Magnotta should be found guilty of first-degree murder and the four other charges.

Cournoyer told the jurors they would need to answer two questions for the mental disorder defence to be accepted. Firstly, is it more likely than not Magnotta was suffering from a mental disorder at the time of the offence? And secondly, did the disorder make him incapable of knowing the acts were wrong?

He walked them through the various expert reports, medical documents and testimony they could consider. However, if the answer to either of those questions is no, then Magnotta is not exempt from criminal responsibility, Cournoyer said.

If the jury opts for a verdict of not criminally responsible, Cournoyer told them Magnotta would not be set free if he's considered a significant threat to public safety.

"Paranoid schizophrenia is a disease of the mind but it is for you to decide whether Mr. Magnotta was suffering form paranoid schizophrenia at the time of killing," he said.

"Under our law, the verdict of not criminally responsible by reasons of mental disorder is not a loose term, quite the contrary. There are specific criteria to determine whether the defence of mental disorder is applicable."

The jury will be required to render a unanimous verdict on each count.

Magnotta has already admitted to the physical acts of the case, meaning the jury will need to determine intent as well as the level of the planning in the slaying.

Cournoyer told them they must rely solely on the evidence they have heard over 40 days since the trial began in late September.

Magnotta did not testify and didn't meet with a Crown psychiatrist, but the judge said he was not obliged to do so as part of his mental disorder defence.

"You must not infer Mr. Magnotta's guilt from his failure to testify .... you cannot use his silence at trial as evidence of his guilt," the judge advised.

Among the evidence to consider, Cournoyer said the jury will have to keep in mind that Magnotta's statements given to defence psychiatrists about facts surrounding the events in May 2012 and his own state of mind have not been independently proven.

The Crown must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, but a mental disorder defence puts the onus on Magnotta and lawyer Luc Leclair to prove the accused has such a disorder and that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.

"Mr. Magnotta must prove that it is more likely than not that he suffered from a mental disorder to such an extent at the time the offences were committed that he is not criminally responsible," Cournoyer told the jury. "This is a lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

He said they must not be influenced by public opinion and must assess the evidence impartially and without "sympathy, prejudice or fear."

Fourteen jurors heard the evidence but two male jurors were sent home once the judge's instructions were complete. One of them had a trip and was excused while the other was chosen at random.

Eight women and four men will ultimately decide Magnotta's fate.

The Canadian Press

Final instructions in Magnotta trial

The judge at Luka Rocco Magnotta's murder trial is scheduled to give his final instructions to the jury today.

After Justice Guy Cournoyer's final charge, 12 jurors will be sequestered to decide on a verdict for the 32-year-old.

The Crown has argued Magnotta should be found guilty of first-degree murder and the four other charges he faces in the slaying and dismemberment of Jun Lin in May 2012.

Magnotta has pleaded not guilty to the five charges.

He has admitted to the killing but his lawyer has asked the jury to find him not criminally responsible by way of mental disorder.

Experts testified on Magnotta's behalf that he is schizophrenic and was psychotic the night of the slaying.

But Crown prosecutor Louis Bouthillier reiterated in his final statement the crime was planned and deliberate.

He says the killing fulfilled a promise Magnotta made several months earlier to take the life of a human being.

The Canadian Press

Access to palliative care needed

Dramatic improvements are needed to provide quality palliative care for all patients facing the end of their lives, including boosting the number of health providers trained in specialized care of the dying, says an Ontario health advisory agency.

In a report released Monday, Health Quality Ontario said that although Canada ranks relatively high on an international index measuring "quality of death," hundreds of thousands of Canadians have no access to co-ordinated end-of-life care.

Yet the issue is becoming more pressing due to the aging population: by 2026, the number of Canadians dying each year will increase by 40 per cent to 330,000 people, with each death affecting the well-being of five other people on average — families and loved ones — or more than 1.6 million people in all, the report says.

"There certainly are some real pockets of excellence," Dr. Irfan Dhalla, vice-president of Health Quality Ontario, said of the availability of comprehensive palliative care.

"But there are also areas in Ontario where patients don't have access to that kind of care, and the best estimates are that only about 30 per cent of people who are dying have access to specialized team-based palliative care," said Dhalla, who's also an internal medicine specialist at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Polls have shown that most Canadians want to die at home, surrounded by their loved ones. But most people end up dying in hospital, he said. "So there's a mismatch there that suggests that we're not providing everybody with the care that they would ideally like to have."

One major reason is that many patients don't have discussions with their primary-care doctors or specialists about where they want to die and what kind of medical interventions they want as their lives come to a close.

The report cites one study involving five Canadian hospitals, which reported that fewer than one in five people had these conversations with their health-care provider. Yet those who discussed care planning had higher overall satisfaction with communication and decision-making, compared to those that did not.

Dhalla said health-care providers should have such a conversation with patients with a terminal illness relatively early.

"That certainly happens some of the time, that patients who are nearing the end of their life will have that kind of discussion with their physicians," he said. "But many times, that does not happen and then a patient will show up in the emergency department very ill, clearly having been ill for some number of months or even years."

"The outcome is predictable, yet nobody will have had the discussion with the patient to establish what kind of care the patient would have wanted near the end of their life, and at that point it's often too late."

If the patient is unable by reason of their illness to express their wishes — and if those wishes haven't been relayed to family members — the person may end up with measures such as life-support that they might not have wanted, he said.

For instance, the report cites a survey which found that 70 per cent of hospitalized elderly patients wanted comfort measures instead of life-prolonging treatment. However, more than half were admitted to intensive care units.

The report also provides evidence to support the need for public discussion about the normalization and de-medicalization of death and dying.

It says a 2013 Harris/Decima poll found 55 per cent of Canadian adults had never had a discussion about end-of-life care preferences with either a family member, friend, doctor, lawyer, or financial adviser. Most respondents said they were reluctant to broach the topic for fear of upsetting family members and not knowing enough about their options.

But Dhalla said planning end-of-life care is important to optimize patients' quality of life, as many will need a range of services to manage pain and other symptoms and to provide emotional and spiritual support for both themselves and their families.

The Canadian Press

Pump prices could lead to gifts

Savings at the pump may allow many Canadians to shell out more for gifts this holiday season and boost sales for retailers, analysts say, particularly as a weaker loonie prompts fewer shoppers to venture south of the border.

Oil prices have fallen well over 40 per cent since the summer, leading to a major sell-off of energy stocks, but it has also translated into savings for motorists filling their tanks.

And that's likely to spur lower- to middle-income Canadians to splurge more on Christmas gifts said Mark Satov, president and founder of Satov Consulting.

Weakness in the loonie also means fewer Canadians will go across the border to do their holiday shopping, Satov added.

"When you do a price parity comparison and you go and see what that jacket is selling for in Buffalo, it's getting more and more expensive as the Canadian dollar drops," he said.

While all Canadian retailers are likely to benefit from Canadians having more disposable income in their pockets, RBC analyst Irene Nattel says convenience stores are "on the front lines of this new spending opportunity," especially those attached to gas stations.

"Savings at the pump are likely to drive the purchase of small indulgences in the short-term," Nattel said in a note to clients.

Steve Tennant, the vice-president and general manager of Hasty Market, said lower gasoline prices will motivate Canadians to do more driving.

"If there is an increase in people driving, that means more frequent stops at the gas station," Tennant said.

Some of the money saved at the pump will likely go to paying down debt, said Tennant, but not all of it.

"Hopefully we can sell a few more lottery tickets because there's more disposable income in everybody's pocket," he said.

Lower gasoline prices will also reduce the fuel surcharges that retailers pay to have goods shipped to their stores, said Tennant.

Alex Scholten, president of the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, said gas stations are also likely to see fewer incidents of customers driving off without paying.

"When the price of gasoline goes down, customers don't feel the pinch as much, and as a result our experience has always been that the incidence of those drive-offs goes down significantly."

But retailers could end up suffering if low oil prices persist for a long time and leave the economy battered, Satov noted.

"What you could see is further downward pressure on the stock market, and on the economy in general, because we're so resource based, which would lead to lower consumer confidence, which would lead to lower retail spending," Satov said.

"So short term, for Christmas, I think we're probably fine and maybe even positive. Longer term, depending on what happens, I think you could see an economic downturn to some degree, and retail never does well in economic downturns."

The Canadian Press

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