MPs have begun to grapple with an issue that's sure to become a hallmark of the next Parliament: what does one do if a piece of legislation flies in the face of their fundamental beliefs?
One Conservative MP proposed an answer in the form of a motion debated in the Commons Thursday: their parties should allow them to vote freely on matters of conscience.
Motions aren't binding on government, however the debate underscores that MPs are already seeking to shape how the Commons deals with the landmark Supreme Court decision earlier this year on physician-assisted suicide.
The legislation that will flow from that decision is a matter of conscience because it deals with the termination of life, and freely being able to debate that, without fear of party discipline or political repercussion is essential, said Ed Komarnicki, the Conservative MP who brought forward the motion.
"We should have legislation go forward, agreeing that this is precisely the place where hard and difficult decisions must be made, accepting the fact that members may have to struggle with their conscience to support a particular position," he said during Thursday evening's debate.
"In the interest of democracy, justice and good government, we want all members to vote on these issues freely and without impediment."
In its February decision, the top court struck down the ban on physician-assisted suicide as unconstitutional, giving the government a year to draft new laws.
The bill isn't expected until after the fall election.
While private member's bills and motions are often free votes, government legislation is most often not, with MPs expected to vote on party lines. If they don't, there can be consequences: New Democrat MPs who sided with the Conservatives and against their party on the end of the gun registry ended up benched, with one eventually quitting caucus over the issue.
But that doesn't mean MPs can't vote their conscience, said NDP MP Alexandrine Latendresse, who said she found it disturbing that Conservative MPs felt otherwise.
"We are all free men and women, with a free will," she said. The NDP has said it will support Komarnicki's motion.
For the Liberals, each vote is a matter of conscience, said MP Ted Hsu during the debate.
"We have to figure out what we promised to our constituents. What did my party promise? What do scientists say? What is the best evidence? What are the consequences of the vote? What did we say in debate in the House? We have to juggle a lot of things, and all these votes are matters of conscience," he said.
It is not clear whether the Liberals will support the motion; party leader Justin Trudeau has previously told his caucus he expected all of them to vote in favour of upholding abortion rights, even if it went against their personal beliefs.
While Parliament awaits the government's formal answer to the Supreme Court ruling on assisted suicide, there are actually pieces of legislation allowing for it already before the Senate, introduced there by backbench Conservative MP Stephen Fletcher after the ruling in the hopes they would make it to the Commons before the summer break.
That's unlikely to happen as Parliament rises in three weeks and is not expected to return prior to the election call,
It's equally possible that MPs will never get to vote on Komarnicki's motion.
MPs only debated Komarnicki's motion for an hour Thursday night. No date has been set for the second hour of debate or subsequent vote.
Komarnicki, who represents a Saskatchewan riding, is not seeking re-election.
Canada's Disaster Assistance Response Team is leaving Nepal after a month of work in the earthquake-shattered country.
The military team will turn over its base camp to non-governmental organizations.
The departure comes after the Canadian government, the United Nations and Nepal concluded there is no longer a critical need for foreign military assets on the ground.
The day after the devastating April 25 temblor, Canada sent a reconnaissance team and members of the DART to assess conditions.
Within days, military C-17 transports flew in personnel and equipment to aid in the recovery efforts.
The DART focuses on water purification, initial, primary medical care and engineering support.
In Nepal, the Canadian team treated more than 700 patients, distributed 75 water filtration units and provided access to clean, safe drinking water for approximately 3,400 people.
It also provided 750 maps and visuals to the Nepalese and foreign militaries and to non-governmental and UN agencies. Its engineers removed about 720 dump-truck loads of rubble and also cleared roads.
Canada has also contributed $10 million to relief efforts; the government matched donations made to Canadian charities for Nepal between April 25 and May 25.
"The Canadian Armed Forces have done us proud in their humanitarian work to help the people of Nepal recover from last month's terrible earthquake," Defence Minister Jason Kenney said in a statement.
Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson also praised the military effort.
"While humanitarian needs still persist, the progress made by the DART, working closely with the government of Nepal and our international partners, has made a significant impact on the lives of the Nepalese people."
An Alberta creationist who believes the Earth is 6,000 years old has discovered fish fossils that scientists estimate lived 60 million years ago.
Edgar Nernberg, who sits on the board of the Big Valley Creationist Museum, also works as a backhoe operator in Calgary.
He was excavating a basement in the city in March when he uncovered five rare, complete fish fossils in a block of sandstone.
The find has been announced by the University of Calgary, where a paleontologist has calculated the fish lived shortly after an asteroid killed off the dinosaurs.
Nernberg says he and the expert have agreed to disagree.
He believes the fish were alive about 4,000 years ago, which would be shortly before the Great Flood in the Bible.
Walk Off the Earth singer Sarah Blackwood says she wants compensation and an apology after being kicked off a United Airlines flight because her young child was being fussy.
The Burlington, Ont., musician, who is seven months pregnant, said it happened while she and her nearly two-year-old son were on a United plane operated by regional carrier SkyWest Airlines on Wednesday.
They were on the tarmac to fly from San Francisco to Vancouver. Her son is still considered an infant by the airline's standards and therefore was able to sit in her lap free of charge.
Before leaving the gate, her son was tired and was "crying really loud and squirming," said Blackwood.
That's when a flight attendant told her: "You have to control your child."
"The only thing I can do to stop him from moving around is hold him with my arms, which was what I was doing," Blackwood said in a telephone interview on Thursday.
"I said, 'OK, yeah, absolutely.' ... I would never refuse to do anything on an airplane," she added, noting she's on tour with the band and frequently flies to perform.
"I don't want to cause a scene, ever, it just makes my life harder."
Blackwood said she was in a window seat and apologized to the man sitting beside her.
"The flight attendant came back up to me again and told me that if I couldn't control my child, they would ask me to leave the plane," she said.
"I didn't really know what she meant by 'control my child.' I mean, he's not an animal, you can't sedate children.
"I had him in my lap and he was screaming, he was loud, but I had him in my lap and I was holding on to him."
Blackwood said her son cried for about seven minutes and fell asleep as they were taxiing on the runway. But before takeoff, the plane returned to the gate.
Blackwood said the pilot claimed they needed to get more fuel but when they got to the gate, an airline representative asked her to leave the flight.
"At this point I was in tears but I just said, 'OK,'" she said.
"I woke up my son up and as I was leaving there were a few passengers that stood up and said, 'This is ridiculous, I can't believe you're doing this to her.'
"I actually had one lady on the flight gather some emails for me of the other passengers, and while she was doing that they also threatened to kick her off the plane."
SkyWest said the airline made the decision to remove Blackwood and her child from the flight "based solely on safety concerns."
"Despite numerous requests, the child was not seated, as required by federal regulation to ensure passenger safety, and was repeatedly in the aisle of the aircraft before departure and during taxi," SkyWest said in a statement.
"While our crews work to make travelling safe and comfortable for all travellers, particularly families, the crew made the appropriate decision to return to the gate in the interest of safety."
But Blackwood said her son was not in the aisles and was "fully asleep" by the time they had returned to the gate.
"I had a window seat, there was a gentleman beside me, there's no way he could've been running around in an aisle, because it was impossible," she said.
Blackwood said a United representative arranged for her and her son to get on a later flight, but she would "love compensation of some kind."
"It turned out to be a 12-and-a-half, 13-hour travel day that should've been a five-hour travel day and it was totally unnecessary and ridiculous."
U.S. and Canadian jets are to practise intercepting foreign aircraft high in the Arctic this week as Russian flights bordering on North American air space increase.
American Admiral William Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defence Command, says the number of Russian flights up to the edge of Canadian and U-S airspace is higher than any time since the Cold War.
Canadian Maj.-Gen. David Wheeler says intercepting those flights is the only way the two countries can maintain air sovereignty over their northern regions.
The exercise is to include 15 planes from both countries, including F-15 Eagles and CF-18 Hornets, air tankers and surveillance aircraft.
The planes are to cover a wide swath of the Arctic, and fly out of bases from Alaska to Resolute.
They will also make use of Canada's electronic surveillance capabilities.
"For the first time in Canadian political history, the NDP is in first place in a national public opinion poll."
For newshounds watching the CBC's national newscast on May 13, 1987, anchor Knowlton Nash's declaration raised the prospect of a seismic shift in federal politics.
Word that New Democrats were leading with 37 per cent of popular support had created a "holiday atmosphere" at the NDP national caucus meeting in Ottawa that morning, Nash told his viewers.
Yet the footage from the day appears sedate compared with the carnival chaos inside the NDP's federal caucus room earlier this month following Rachel Notley's stunning provincial win in Alberta.
Notley's unlikely NDP majority in Canada's conservative heartland is credited with again boosting the Tom Mulcair-led federal NDP to the top of the leaderboard in national public opinion surveys.
No fewer than five surveys from three different pollsters now suggest a tight, three-way race has developed. A sixth suggests unrivalled NDP dominance in Quebec.
"For those in denial about the rise of the NDP, we would suggest that they consider abandoning that skepticism," pollster Frank Graves of Ekos Research trumpeted in a recent release.
"It is real — get over it."
The proportion of Canadians who would consider voting NDP is at a 12-month high and currently in a statistical tie with the Liberals, Nik Nanos of Nanos Research said in an interview.
"The key takeaway from the Alberta election is that it's created goodwill for the party."
Almost 30 years have passed since that last big public opinion surge by the federal New Democrats, making comparisons problematic.
The Ed Broadbent-led party of 1987 was at 37 per cent among decided voters, marginally ahead of the Liberals at 36 and Progressive Conservatives at 25 — a lead that was to rise to 41 per cent by July that year.
Yet in the subsequent election of November 1988, Brian Mulroney's Conservatives claimed a second straight majority, winning 43 per cent of the popular vote. The NDP finished third with 20 per cent of all votes cast, still enough to elect 43 MPs for the party's best showing to date — one not eclipsed until 2011, when Jack Layton's NDP won 103 seats with 30.6 per cent of the popular vote.
Of course, surveys in May can't predict an election outcome in October, pollsters warn.
"This is the one risk for the New Democrats," said Nanos. "It's a bit early to do a victory lap.
"If this polling situation had occurred on Labour Day weekend before the (Oct. 19) election, it would be a game-changer."
Momentum is one thing but profile is another, said Jamey Heath, a former NDP research director who is no longer employed by the party. Getting a share of the polling lead will make people take a second look at New Democrats.
If shibboleths about it being too radical, anti-business and bad for economic growth were overcome, it was still viewed as a protest party that couldn't win, said Heath.
"What we're seeing now in public opinion polls is that they really undermine the latter part of that argument — that the NDP can't win — and, in the course of that, cause people to look at what the NDP really stands for."
Be it francophone voters in Quebec or dyed-in-the-wool Alberta Tories, he added, "the more instances there are of sort of 'unusual suspects' seeing themselves as comfortable with the NDP, then that has a ripple effect."
It is uncommon for provincial political events to have much impact on federal party fortunes, said former Liberal party pollster Michael Marzolini of Pollara Strategic Insights, and when they do it is more often a negative in his experience.
Mulcair, like Notley in Alberta, must still win the contest as the preferred agent of change for those wishing to oust an entrenched incumbent.
"Why would he be seen to be more likely to do that because Rachel Notley won a government in Alberta?" asked Marzolini.
Life expectancy for people who have multiple sclerosis is lengthening but is still about 7.5 years shorter than that of people who do not have the disease, a new study suggests.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Ruth Ann Marrie of the University of Manitoba looked at health system billing data and death records in that province over a 27-year period covering the fiscal years 1984 to 2011.
They identified nearly 5,800 people with multiple sclerosis and compared them to roughly 29,000 other people who were similar in age, gender, and region of residence. But the people in the larger group did not have MS.
For the people with the neurological disease, the median length of life was 75.9 years. For those without MS, the median was 83.4 years.
Life expectancy for both groups lengthened over the period of the study, Marrie said in an interview.
"There actually was in both groups — MS and the general population — an improvement in life expectancy in people born in more recent years, which is what we've all recognized," she said.
"So we did see an improvement over time. It's just there's still a gap."
Why the difference? The way this study was structured doesn't provide that answer, Marrie said.
She and her co-authors did look at a bunch of other conditions — called comorbidities in medical parlance — to see if they influenced how long people lived; things like heart disease, chronic lung disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety.
Marrie admitted she thought having one or several comorbidities would take a greater toll on people with MS. That wasn't the case.
"That's actually not what I expected to find, but it's a good thing," she said.
The research was done in Manitoba but likely has applicability to other parts of Canada, suggested an MS expert who was not involved in the work.
"MS doesn't shorten life expectancy by much," said Dr. Paul O'Connor, a neurologist and head of the MS clinic at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.
O'Connor said the increasing life expectancy for MS patients is at least in part due to the availability of better treatments.
Still, he said, the number of years people with MS might expect to live reveals nothing about the toll the disease takes on quality of life.
Multiple sclerosis can produce a wide and debilitating array of symptoms including balance and mobility problems, difficulty swallowing, cognitive issues, fatigue and more.
"Even if you're not in a wheelchair the fact that you can't see properly, the fact that you can't move properly, that you can't run and you can't go for a walk for several kilometres — these are all major, major negatives for quality of life."
Canada is estimated to have the highest rate of multiple sclerosis in the world. Marrie said the reason for that isn't fully known and is in fact likely a combination of factors.
The research was published in the journal Neurology.
A new report suggests that Canada's math teachers need to shift their focus away from discovery-based learning and move back towards traditional methods.
The report from the C.D. Howe Institute says that Canadian students' math performance in international exams has been declining between 2003 and 2012.
The report says that all but two provinces showed statistically significant declines on the exams administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
Report author Anna Stokke says teachers should base 80 per cent of their math classes on direct learning such as memorizing multiplication tables and practising long division.
She says only 20 per cent should come from discovery-based learning techniques, which see students rely more on independent problem-solving and hands-on materials and less on instructions from the teacher.
Stokke also says most provincial math curricula need to start teaching concepts such as fraction, addition and subtraction at earlier grade levels.
Stokke's report said the preference for direct learning is based on the way the human memory functions.
It said discovery-based learning puts too much burden on a person's working memory, which can only retain information for a few seconds at a time.
Asking students to master division through drawing pictures or other discovery-based techniques makes the learning process more complex than it needs to be, the report said, adding this approach is currently endorsed in six provincially approved math textbooks.
Stokke said tackling math instruction through direct learning may be more repetitive, but ultimately more successful.
When information in our working memory is sufficiently practised, it is then committed to long-term memory, after which it may be recalled later," the report said.
"An expert in mathematics stores a wealth of information in long-term memory, acquired through hours of experience and practice; when a new problem is encountered, knowledge and techniques are recalled from long-term memory to solve it."
The report cited Canada's performance on the OECD's Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) as evidence that a fundamental shift in math instruction may be necessary.
The report said that eight of 10 provinces recorded statistically significant decreases in PISA scores between 2003 and 2012, adding Quebec held steady while Saskatchewan logged a much smaller decline.
The scores dropped particularly sharply in Manitoba and Alberta. By 2012, Manitoba had joined Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island as provinces with total scores below the OECD average.
In addition to her other recommendations, Stokke also suggested that future instructors should be required to pass a math content licensure exam before being allowed to teach the subject.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement says concerns over a Conservative move to retroactively rewrite the law in order to stop an investigation of alleged RCMP wrongdoing are akin to angels dancing on the head of a pin.
The latest omnibus budget bill from the Harper government quietly inserted amendments, backdated to October 2011, that wipe clean any complaints about the handling of long-gun registry data before Parliament passed a bill to end the registry the following year.
Clement says that since Parliament did eventually pass a law to end the registry, complaints about when that law took effect are simply arcane legal nitpicking.
Federal information commissioner Suzanne Legault issued a special report last week calling the move a "perilous precedent" that could be used to retroactively clear government officials of wrongdoing on everything from election fraud to spending scandals.
She recommended to the attorney general of Canada in March that an investigation be launched into the RCMP's wilful destruction of registry data that was covered by the Access to Information Act — an investigation that has now been taken on by the Ontario Provincial Police.
The Harper government responded by retroactively rewriting the law, backdating the amendments to the day the bill to end the long-gun registry was first introduced in Parliament, and then burying the changes this month in a 167-page budget bill that will be rammed through Parliament before the summer recess.
Clement, whose portfolio includes overseeing and enforcing Canada's access-to-information law, brushed off Legault's concerns about a future government using the same after-the-fact tactic to clear itself in the face of an active police investigation.
"I don't think it sets any precedent at all," Clement said Wednesday following a Conservative caucus meeting.
"Lookit, Parliament passed a law. The law that was passed by Parliament was no more long-gun registry."
Reporters then pointed out that the new amendments will rewrite history to put the gun registry data destruction law into effect long before it was voted on by Parliament.
"You know, now we're getting into angels dancing on the head of a pin, which lawyers are very good at and Ms. Legault is a lawyer," Clement responded.
"But the law of the land is that registry should not exist anymore."
Legal and parliamentary procedure experts say the Conservative move is unprecedented but that it cannot be stopped under a majority government. The Treasury Board president agreed.
"The sovereignty of Parliament I think trumps in this case," said Clement.
The Calgary Humane Society says it has seized more than 1,000 animals from a property.
It says staff, along with police and fire crews, took 1,123 animals from the property in northeast Calgary on Tuesday.
Most of the animals were domesticated mice, along with three dogs, three cats and 80 fish.
Many of the mice were in poor health and 275 animals had to be euthanized.
A health inspector deemed the property uninhabitable due to unsanitary conditions.
Charges are pending.
“By volume, this is the largest animal seizure in Calgary history," said Brad Nichols, senior manager of cruelty investigations for the humane society.
New Alberta Premier Rachel Notley is to hold her first cabinet meeting in Calgary today.
Notley and 11 other New Democrats who make up the 12-member cabinet were sworn in at the Alberta legislature on Sunday.
With the ministers picked, the hard work begins.
The legislature is to resume sitting June 11 to choose a Speaker and a throne speech is planned four days later.
That's to be followed by the introduction of several bills before the house rises for the summer.
The New Democrats aren't planning to table a full budget until the fall.
Political analysts are saying Notley and her cabinet have to manage big expectations and identify priorities.
The NDP promised during the campaign to increase the minimum wage, conduct an oil royalties review, fund education with thousands of new students coming in and still balance the budget by 2018-19.
The cabinet includes the four NDP incumbents from the last legislature session plus eight newcomers.
The annual number of new cancer diagnoses in Canada will increase by 40 per cent by 2030, the Canadian Cancer Society predicted in a report released Wednesday.
At first blush that projection seems alarming. But the cancer society was quick to point out that demographics will fuel the increase, not a heightened risk in developing the disease.
Most cancers are diagnosed in people who are between the ages of 50 and 79 and the massive baby boom generation is now squarely there. As well, the projected growth of Canada's population will contribute to the increase in numbers of cancer cases.
"This is about: Canadians are living longer," said Robert Nuttall, the cancer society's assistant director for cancer control policy.
"The population is aging and it's growing. And overall this is going to add to the sheer volume of cancer patients being diagnosed in Canada. But that overall risk, that proportion of Canadians who are diagnosed, isn't going to change over this period."
Neither will the risk of dying from cancer, according to the predictions. Improvements in treatments and screening programs that lead to early diagnosis of some forms of cancer have resulted in a steady decline in the percentage of cancer cases that are fatal.
Given that the projections don't anticipate a rise in individual risk, should Canadians be worried about the estimates? Dr. Eva Grunfeld, a physician scientist with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, said concern should focus on whether the country's health-care systems will be ready to cope with all the additional cases.
"You as an individual, your risk might not have changed. But you want to know that ... when and if you develop cancer, you're going to be able to have access to your family doctor in order to discuss the symptoms, start to have your diagnostic work-up as quickly as possible, get your treatment and move into the survivorship phase as quickly as possible," said Grunfeld, who was not involved in the preparation of the report.
"If we're not ready it will be a very, very problematic situation."
That is the message the cancer society is trying to get out through the release of this report, which was prepared in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Statistics Canada.
"We need to start investing now," said Nuttall.
"Our organization has been involved in cancer control for more than 75 years now and what we really want to be looking at is: How do we deliver the programs and services to these people?"
The projections were part of the cancer society's annual estimates of case numbers for the year.
It estimates there will be 196,900 new cases of cancer diagnosed in 2015, and about half will be for prostate, breast, lung and colorectal cancers.
The society also estimates 78,000 Canadians will die from cancer this year.
The biggest portion of new cancer cases — 28 per cent — will be diagnosed in people aged 60 to 69, while the highest proportion of cancer deaths — a third — will be in people aged 80 and older.
The report predicts that by 2030, prostate cancer will be the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada and the volume of annual cases will have increased by 97 per cent.
The total number of female breast cancer cases is expected to rise by 55 per cent over that 25-year period and the number of colorectal cancer patients will increase by 79 per cent. The number of lung cancer cases in 2030 will be 46 per cent higher than the 2005 figure.
Many of the nearly 5,000 Albertans evacuated from their homes due to forest fires have started to be allowed to return home.
Late Tuesday night, the Municipal District of Opportunity announced an evacuation order had been lifted for residents of the hamlet of Wabasca.
The MD said RCMP would be on hand to supervise the return and warned that essential services in the hamlet might be limited or delayed for the time being.
Officials also said reception centres would remain open in nearby communities on Wednesday and meals would continue to be served for those who couldn't immediately get back home.
Cyndi Taron of the MD said most residents of the Bigstone reserve would also be allowed home, although she said about 200 in a specific part of the reserve would remain on evacuation order.
An evacuation order was also lifted Tuesday afternoon for the area of the Old Smith Highway, and about 300 residents were expected to begin returning over the next day.
However, those who returned were told to remain on a 30-minute evacuation notice, and Chief Jamie Coutts of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service advised they should not disable or remove any sprinklers on their property.
Taron said no similar order would apply to the thousands of people returning to Wabasca, saying that provincial officials felt confident the fire was being held and the danger was over.
"However, we are keeping the state of local emergency on for a while yet, as a precaution," she said.
Agriculture and Forestry Minister Oneil Carlier said he hopes people will abide by a provincewide fire ban.
"Most of the province is under a high to severe fire threat and it is incredibly important at this time that we all do everything we can to keep people safe."
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 70 fires burning in the province; 20 were considered to be out of control.
The fire about 20 kilometres east Slave Lake was estimated to be five square kilometres in size. The fire near Wabasca and Bigstone was about two square kilometres.
But Taron said lightning that was forecast for Tuesday night never materialized and the weather had cooled.
No one was relaxing, however, as the entire province has had a long stretch of hot, dry weather.
"We haven't seen very much significant rain since the snow left back in the spring and that's what's causing the high fire hazard in many of these areas," said wildfire officer Geoffrey Driscoll. "And that's also what's causing the fires to get big fast."
More than 600 firefighters were working directly on the wildfires and the government was considering putting a call out for reinforcements. About 100 firefighters from Ontario and water bombers from Quebec have already made the trip west to help.
The wildfires also forced more evacuations from oilsands sites in the Cold Lake area Tuesday.
One fire, about 100 square kilometres in size, was threatening the only access road into the facilities.
Statoil Canada said that it was voluntarily removing non-essential staff from its Leismer project south of Fort McMurray. Company spokesman Peter Symons said Leismer continues to produce oil, but only about 30 of the project's 185 workers remain at the site.
MEG Energy was also getting non-essential staff and contractors away from its Christina Lake facilities.
Cenovus Energy and Canadian Natural Resources earlier shut down projects as a safety precaution, sending about 2,000 workers home.
Meanwhile, officials in Edmonton issued a precautionary air quality advisory for the city due to smoke from the wildfires.
Alberta Health Services said the advisory could last for weeks.
Nine miners who were trapped underground in northwestern Quebec have been rescued and are not injured.
Mine manager Sylvain Lehoux said that after being trapped for nearly 18 hours, the evacuated miners were exhausted but were able to talk to family members.
They were rescued by a tunnelling machine at the Iamgold mine in Preissac in the Abitibi-Temiscamingue region. The miners were trapped after a wall moved because of seismic activity in the area.
Steelworkers representative Marc Thibodeau said the miners were in good spirits but added they were hungry.
One miner was freed earlier in the day and the other eight Tuesday night.
The company suspended operations for the day amid the rescue attempts.
Thibodeau expressed concern because it is the second such incident at the mine in four months.
In January, four men were trapped before being rescued.
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