Friday, February 27th1.2°C

Plan urged on missing women

Pressure is mounting on the federal government to take action on missing and murdered aboriginal women, with several premiers and aboriginal leaders meeting in Ottawa today to try to determine what can be done.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rejected calls for a national inquiry into the nearly 1,200 aboriginal women who have been murdered or gone missing in the last 30 years.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne wishes Harper would attend today's meeting, but is pleased he's sending two representatives: Aboriginal Affairs Minister Bernard Valcourt and Status of Women Minister Kellie Leitch.

Wynne hopes the federal government will at least provide funding if the provinces, territories and aboriginal leaders agree to take steps such as finding ways for police to better share information and creating a public relations campaign.

Assembly of First Nations national chief Perry Bellegarde says one of the big issues for the provinces and federal government to decide is who will pay for any action they decide to take.

Northwest Territories Premier Bob McLeod, Greg Selinger of Manitoba and Yukon's Darrell Pasloski are also expected at the meeting, which will focus on prevention and awareness, community safety, policing and justice responses.

A coalition that includes Amnesty International released a study Thursday saying the federal government ignored 700 recommendations from many studies on how to reduce the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

Indigenous women make up 4.3 per cent of Canada's population, but account for 16 per cent of female homicides and 11.3 per cent of missing women.

Christa Big Canoe, with Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto, says Ottawa's failure to take the issue seriously is extremely painful for those families that have lost loved ones and are still looking for answers.

"We have to start by setting terms of reference that have meaning, that are going to actually result in change, that are actually going to result in improvements and progress," said Big Canoe. "Otherwise, we're just sitting around a table, talking."

The Canadian Press

Funeral set for D-Day vet

A funeral will be held in Ottawa next week for a celebrated D-Day veteran who is being remembered for a life full of adventure and accomplishment.

Ernest Cote died of natural causes Wednesday at age 101.

He is being called "a true Canadian hero" by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and has been lauded by several senior cabinet members and historians.

As a lieutenant-colonel, Cote was a senior planner for the invasion of Normandy and the logistics officer with the 3rd Canadian Division, which landed on Juno Beach on June 6, 1944.

Following the war, he had a distinguished career in the federal government as a diplomat and senior official.

He was most recently in the spotlight when he became the victim of a violent home invasion in Ottawa late last year, where he was tied up by a suspect who was later linked to a trio of unsolved murders.

Cote's funeral will be held at the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Ottawa on March 7. His family is asking donations to be sent to the Montford Hospital in Ottawa, where Cote died.

The Canadian Press

Pesticide claims 2nd child

Another child has died after being exposed to an insecticide his parents were using to kill bedbugs in their northern Alberta apartment.

The two-year-old boy died Thursday while being treated at Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton.

Imam Sherif El Sayid of the Al Rashid mosque told mourners about the boy's death during the funeral for his eight-month-old sister, who died Sunday.

"He said today we are burying her and tomorrow is the funeral of her brother," an official from the mosque said.

Allan Vinni, who is the lawyer for the Fort McMurray family, identified the boy as Zia-Ul Hasan Syed. His father is Syed Habib and the mother is Nida Habib.

RCMP have said the mother took her five children to the hospital in Fort McMurray on Sunday after they started vomiting. The baby girl died and two of the children were transferred to Edmonton for treatment.

Taj Mohammed, principal of the Fort McMurray Islamic School, said one child, believed to be about five years old, remained in hospital.

"All we know is that the second child has passed away," he said. "The other one is still critical. The two who are with the parents are doing well."

Mohammed said the parents are struggling to come to terms with what has happened to their children.

He said people are doing what they can to help the family, which moved to Alberta from Ontario a few years ago.

"This family needs support. They need all the prayers that all the people can give."

The family had recently brought a type of aluminum phosphide back from a trip to Pakistan. The green tablets were placed around the apartment, particularly in one bedroom, to try to kill bedbugs.

Aluminum phosphide can cause long-term damage to a body's liver, heart and kidneys.

The Canada Border Services Agency and RCMP have said they are investigating the case.

According to Health Canada's website, imported pesticides must be regulated under the Pest Control Products Act and bear a Canadian label.

The poison is listed in Alberta as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning its availability and use is restricted to commercial applicators and trained farmers with licences. Each province has its own classification system.

The Canadian Press


Premier's life threatened

A newspaper in Prince Edward Island is reporting that a man is facing charges of threatening Premier Wade MacLauchlan.

The Charlottetown Guardian, quoting unnamed sources, says the RCMP arrested the man Thursday and he is due in court Friday to face charges of threatening the life of the premier, as well as possession of weapons and possession of drugs.

The paper reports that the RCMP confirmed there had been an arrest, but would not confirm the charges the individual is facing or the name of that individual.

RCMP Cpl. Martin Roy offered no details on the case when reached by The Canadian Press, saying only that someone was to be in provincial court Friday to address a matter that has developed over the last few days.

Mary Moszynski, a communications officer with the provincial government, told The Canadian Press the premier's office relies on the RCMP for matters of safety.

But she said that since the matter was to be before the courts, she would not be able to comment further.

MacLauchlan was sworn in as premier on Monday following the resignation of Robert Ghiz.

The Canadian Press

Scouts react to sex allegations

A spokesman for Scouts Canada says the organization will do everything it can to help a police investigation

into allegations involving a volunteer.

Executive director John Petitti says the situation is challenging and concerning.

RCMP say two parents came forward last July after finding inappropriate text messages from an adult man to their teenage son.

Earlier this week, Nathan Labatt, who is 24, was charged with sexual exploitation, invitation to sexual touching and possession of child pornography.

He is to make his first court appearance in Humboldt, Sask., on March 23.

Police say Labatt was an active volunteer with Scouts Canada and the Roman Catholic and Ukrainian Catholic churches.

Petitti said Scouts Canada performs background checks and puts youth volunteers through vigorous training and monitoring.

He said it's rare that people who want to harm youth get through.

"It's a thing that keeps us awake at night," he said. "It's something that every youth serving organization around the globe deals with."


The Canadian Press

Mr. Big case back in court

The Supreme Court of Canada is telling the British Columbia Court of Appeal to take another look at a murder case that involved a so-called Mr. Big sting by police.

The justices said the appeal court should reconsider the case of Gary Donald Johnston in light of a 2014 Supreme Court decision about stings in which undercover investigators involve suspects in phoney crimes.

Johnston was seeking leave to appeal his case to the Supreme Court, but the justices instead referred it back to the lower court.

Johnston was sentenced to life with no parole eligibility for 17 years after he was found guilty in 2011 of killing a man who surprised him during a 1998 break-in.

He was only charged years after the crime when undercover police pretending to be major criminals managed to elicit an admission to the killing.

The Supreme Court last year ruled that judges must be leery of Mr. Big operations, although it didn't bar them completely.

The Supreme Court gave no written reasons for its decision to send the Johnston case back to the court of appeal, except for citing its earlier Mr. Big ruling.

The Canadian Press

Mystery cash found in drapes

Halifax police have solved a mystery over a lucrative find at a local thrift store.

They say someone has come forward to claim several thousand dollars tucked inside a bundle of folded drapes and found by an employee at the store.

The money was sealed in several envelopes, which contained information showing the money was withdrawn in 2006 from a bank in Guysborough County.

Officers contacted the bank, but it couldn't help since so much time had passed.

After police appealed to the public earlier this month, a woman contacted them to say she had donated the personal belongings of a loved one who passed away in January.

Investigators say they verified her claim about the cash, which has been turned over to the next of kin.

The Canadian Press

Missing women ignored

A study says the federal government is ignoring dozens of recommendations on how to reduce the number of missing and murdered aboriginal women.

The study — which analyzed 58 previous studies on violence against aboriginal women — found Ottawa has largely ignored over 700 recommendations.

The report, commissioned by a coalition of organizations including Amnesty International, says most studies spanning two decades agreed on the root causes of violence against native women.

The federal government has said a national inquiry is not needed because the issue has been studied enough.

Coola Louis with the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs says this report shows Ottawa is not taking violence against aboriginal women seriously.

Kim Stanton with the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund says a national inquiry is needed to find out why governments are ignoring the issue.

The Canadian Press

Ghomeshi sex case delayed

The Jian Ghomeshi sexual assault case has been put over until next month.

In a 40-second appearance Thursday, the former CBC Radio host's lawyer said she was still awaiting disclosure.

Ghomeshi was not present.

He is scheduled to appear again March 27 for a judicial pretrial — a conference between defence and prosecution under the eye of a judge.

The disgraced former host faces seven counts of sexual assault and one of overcoming resistance by choking.

Ghomeshi has admitted engaging in rough sex but said it was consensual.

"There is some outstanding material we're waiting for but we all want to move this along," defence lawyer Marie Henein told court.

Henein did not talk to the crush of reporters who followed her out the courthouse, but she has previously said her client will plead not guilty to all charges.

CBC fired Ghomeshi, 47, in October after executives saw what they described as graphic evidence that he had physically injured a woman.

The alleged assaults for which he is charged occurred between 2002 and 2008.

The Canadian Press

Oath of allegiance to stay

A decision by the Supreme Court of Canada not to hear an appeal in a case means the oath of allegiance to the Queen will stay as a requirement in order to obtain Canadian citizenship.

The court refused today to hear the appeal of three permanent residents who had mounted a charter challenge to the oath requirement.

Michael McAteer, Simone Topey and Dror Bar-Natan are all permanent residents of Canada who wanted to obtain citizenship, but for different reasons, did not want to pledge allegiance to the monarchy.

Topey, a Jamaican, is a Rastafarian and maintains her religion forbids taking an oath to the Queen.

Bar-Natan, an Israeli, argued that the oath represents entrenched privilege he opposes.

McAteer, from Ireland, argued the oath is unnecessary and would violate his conscience.

In September 2013, a lower court judge ruled that any charter violation the oath requirement causes can be justified in a democratic society.

The Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that decision last year, prompting the trio to seek leave to appeal before the Supreme Court.

As is customary with the Supreme Court, it gave no reasons for refusing to hear the appeal.

The Canadian Press

Drone vs drone in drug war

One of Canada's newest jails is researching the use of detectors to prevent the invasion of drug-bearing drones that have plagued some North American prisons.

Tim Carroll, superintendent of the Northeast Nova Scotia Correctional Facility, said staff are examining ways to prevent unmanned aerial vehicles from lowering contraband into the jail's airing yards in a rural area north of Truro.

"We're looking at both obtaining our own drones for ... perimeter checks and verifying surveillance in and around our correctional facility and, in addition to that, detecting drones which are not government operated and that may pose a threat to the facility," he said in an interview.

Incidents recorded in South Carolina and Quebec in the past two years prompted Carroll's interest as he worked on plans for the 100-cell jail, which opened Feb. 8.

"We want to take advantage of the modern technology out there. Drones are part of everyday life now. ... they're going to be impacting security," he said.

He added that readily available, higher-end drones are capable of video reconnaissance — another threat that has to be considered.

A drone detection company says it has received inquiries from provincial governments as incidents involving drones over jails become more prevalent.

Boris Defreville, chief of operations for French-based Orelia Inc., said his firm is one of a few competing in the new drone detection market.

Sensors made by the company, which cost about $3,000 each, lock onto the sound of whirring drone blades, while competitors' devices lock in on Wi-Fi frequencies, use radar or employ infrared cameras, he said.

Defreville said jails are taking a cautious approach to actually buying products.

"Right now everybody is trying to understand what is the best solution to detect drones," he said.

Andrew Preeper of Nova Scotia's Justice Department said there hasn't been a recorded incident of a drone entering prison airspace in the province.

Meanwhile, drone detectors are just part of an array of technology aimed at keeping drugs out of jails, said Carroll, who has asked for approval to buy a body scanner worth more than $200,000 to keep contraband out of the jail in Priestville.

Body scanners are widely used in U.S. jails to detect everything from knives to pill boxes hidden in body cavities or other body parts.

Carroll said smuggled drugs undermine rehabilitation programs, cause more violence and lead to prison searches that confine inmates to their cells.

"Most incidents in facilities across Canada can be linked back to the introduction ... of contraband," he said.

The Canadian Press

Anesthesia OK for kids?

Does anesthesia damage the developing brains of young children? Some experts, including from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, say this is a pressing question that needs to be answered.

A group from the FDA, Northwestern University, Washington State University and the University of Toronto wrote about their concerns Wednesday in an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most influential medical journals in the world.

They said studies in a number of animal species show that the drugs used to induce unconsciousness during surgery are toxic for some brain cells — particularly in developing brains — in those animals.

But it is not known if the drugs have the same impact on the brains of babies and toddlers.

Despite the high-profile placement of their article, at least one of the authors was nervous about how the airing of these concerns would play among parents of young children who need surgical care.

Dr. Beverley Orser, an anesthesiologist at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said if anesthesia damages the cells of developing brains, the effect is subtle. If it were profound, that would already be evident, she said.

And she noted that children who require surgery should undergo the procedures they need.

"It's important that parents don't panic," said Orser.

"Anesthetics have been used safely. Millions of children undergo anesthesia in the U.S. alone. And there are times when of course (the need for) anesthesia is life threatening or urgent. So that's an important message."

Studies in animals ranging from nematodes — a type of worm — to non-human primates suggest exposure to the chemicals used in anesthesia changes some types of cells in developing brains and that these changes seem to lead to impaired performance in behavioural tests.

Orser said the deficits appear to relate to memory and task performance.

It's not known if the drugs have the same impact on developing human brains. Some observational studies raise the possibility of an impact, but studies designed in this way can only point out correlations. They cannot prove that something causes something else.

"The data in animals is fairly concerning. Very concerning. I think the data in children are still inconclusive," said Dr. Shobha Malviya, president of the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia

Orser is on the board of an initiative called SmartTots, short for Strategies for Mitigating Anesthesia-Related Neurotoxicity in Tots. It is a public-private partnership set up in 2009 by the FDA and involves the International Anesthesia Research Society.

In 2012, the FDA, SmartTots and the American Academy of Pediatrics released a consensus statement outlining what is known about the issue and recommending, among other things, that non-essential surgeries should be avoided in children under the age of three. The group is working on an updated statement that it hopes to publish by the end of March, Orser said.

The article in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests there is enough evidence from animal studies now to warrant conducting well-designed randomized controlled trials in children.

Malviya said the need for more study has been apparent for a while, but funding commitments have been slow to materialize.

Dr. Jason Maynes, an anesthesiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, questioned the timing of the publication of this article, saying these concerns have been known for a number of years and there is no new evidence at present.

He also noted any decision around delaying surgeries in young children would have to weigh the potential risks from anesthesia against the problems that might arise from delaying care.

"Certainly some of the procedures we do could be delayed if there was enough evidence to do that," Maynes said.

"But we would also have to evaluate from the other end. From the other end, what would be the risks to the patient of delaying that surgery?"

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had a wrong name for the Society for Pediatric Anesthesia

The Canadian Press

US-Can relations cooling?

The elder statesman among all former Canadian ambassadors to the United States says he's never seen the relationship between the two governments quite this cool.

When it comes to Canada-U.S. relations, Allan Gotlieb has a unique vantage point.

It's not just that his tenure in Washington goes farther back than any other living U.S. ambassador. It's that his own time in D.C. straddled two distinct eras — the depth of the Trudeau-Reagan relationship to the height of the Mulroney-Reagan-Bush bond that culminated in a free-trade pact.

What he sees now is a relationship that's neither at its best, or worst, just most distant.

"I think the relationship is as cool as I ever remember," said the 86-year-old ex-diplomat, who wrote a pair of books about his Washington posting between 1981-89.

"I can't speak for the Diefenbaker era, I wasn't at the foreign ministry then. But it's as cool as I remember."

He was speaking in an interview this week, a day after President Barack Obama vetoed legislation to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

In past disagreements, Gotlieb said there was hostility against the neighbour's policies. As an example, he said Trudeau's National Energy Program infuriated the U.S. administration. In his time there were also disputes about cross-border TV ads, softwood lumber and, until there was a deal, acid rain.

But in those days, he said, American presidents paid special attention to Canada-U.S. issues. Ronald Reagan even campaigned on the idea of a North American Accord in 1980.

Obama, meanwhile, hasn't made a bilateral visit to Canada since his first month in office. Gotlieb lays much of the blame on the president, not the prime minister.

"The Keystone project has been handled with considerable insensitivity. Our history has been characterized by ... a sensitivity to each other's interests," he said.

"And I think some of that is intrinsic in the style of Obama. He sees his legacy, maybe, as standing up to big oil and Canada's interests are secondary to the much bigger primary interest of Obama to go down in history as the man that stopped carbon from heating up our planet."

Don't get him wrong — he's not declaring doom and gloom.

Canada and the U.S. remain each other's top trading partner, with $2 billion in goods and services swapped each day; there's military co-operation in the Middle East; federal departments deal directly with one another on scores of different initiatives; the governments are working on harmonizing industrial regulations across a range of sectors; and the historic reopening of U.S. relations with Cuba began in Canada, a fact Obama acknowledged and expressed gratitude for.

He gives Canada's prime minister credit for keeping his cool throughout the Keystone affair.

"The relationship I'd say is correct," Gotlieb said. "In a context where strong language could well have been used, in Canada, because of White House insensitivity to our relationship and our joint interests, I think (Prime Minister Stephen) Harper has been restrained. I don't think there's anything he could have done differently."

He doesn't believe that more aggressive action on climate-change in Canada would have made a difference on the Keystone file, which he says has been dictated by political considerations in the U.S.: "I don't buy that for a minute."

As for what comes next, he says, who knows.

"I don't know. There could be another Ronald Reagan — and maybe even if there's not another Ronald Reagan we might look back on this period to say Obama was anomalous," he said.

"I don't think the way to see the Canada-U.S. relationship today is to say it's bad. It's just not the same. It may never be the same... It's different now."

The Canadian Press

Sex-ed 'homophobia'

Premier Kathleen Wynne says she has no doubt homophobia motivated some of the hundreds of people who protested Ontario's new sex education curriculum this week.

Wynne, who is gay, says she looked at the protest on the front lawn of Queen's Park and social media comments on the revised curriculum and concluded some of the opposition is homophobic.

Many of those at Tuesday's protest said the government was introducing ideas like same sex relationships and masturbation too early for some kids, but others brandished signs with more extreme messages.

Wynne told The Canadian Press that there's no doubt in her mind that homophobia "is part of the motivating drive behind some of the protests."

Wynne says people will have to draw their own conclusions about why Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Monte McNaughton says she is not qualified to propose a new sex-ed curriculum.

McNaughton was fuming after Wynne suggested his questions were homophobic, calling it "the lowest thing a premier could say about another legislator."

He says the only point he's raised is that the Liberals failed to consult enough parents before introducing the revised sex-ed curriculum, which the government says will be implemented this fall without any changes.

"It's not the premier of Ontario's job, especially Kathleen Wynne, to tell parents what's age-appropriate for their children," McNaughton had said after the changes were announced.

Wynne also admits she was surprised when Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls responded to a "joke" by Education Minister Liz Sandals by saying it wasn't a bad idea to stop teaching evolution in schools.

Nicholls admitted Wednesday that he doesn't believe in evolution, something Wynne said took her by surprise because she thought every member of the legislature believed in the science that was being taught in Ontario schools.

The Canadian Press

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