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Right-to-die debate

A chronology of the major events in the right-to-die debate:

January 1992 - Quebec Superior Court rules in case of Nancy B. that turning off her respirator at her request would not be a criminal offence.

August 1992 - Toronto nurse Scott Mataya, charged with first-degree murder is death of a terminally ill patient, entered guilty plea to a lesser charge of administering a noxious substance. He receives a suspended sentence and must surrender his nursing licence.

1992 - Sue Rodriguez, a Victoria woman with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), files a lawsuit in BC Supreme Court challenging the laws against assisted suicide. The BC court upholds the law.

Sept. 30, 1993 - In a 5-4 decision, Supreme Court of Canada dismisses Rodriguez's appeal, upholding the blanket ban on assisted death.

Feb. 12, 1994 - Sue Rodriguez dies in her Victoria home with the help of an anonymous doctor.

May 6, 1997 - Halifax's Dr. Nancy Morrison charged with first-degree murder in the death of a terminally ill cancer patient. In February 1998, a judge declined to commit Morrison to stand trial.

1997 - Oregon passes a bill allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending doses of medication to terminally ill patients.

May 1998 - Dr. Maurice Généreux sentenced to two years less a day and three years’ probation for providing drugs to two non-terminal patients so they might commit suicide. The next year, that sentence was confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

April 2002 - Netherlands becomes the first country to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

September 2002 - Belgium allows euthanasia.

Sept. 28, 2004 - Marielle Houle charged in Montreal with aiding and abetting the suicide of her 36-year-old son. On Jan. 23, 2006, she pled guilty and was sentenced to three years’ probation with conditions.

Nov 5, 2004 - A BC court acquitted Evelyn Martens, 73 and a member of the Right to Die Society of Canada, of aiding and abetting the suicide of two women in 2002.

June 2007 - A B.C. court sentenced Dr. Ramesh Kumar Sharma for aiding the suicide of Ruth Wolfe, a 93-year-old woman suffering from heart problems, by prescribing her a deadly dose of drugs. He received a conditional sentence of two years less a day and his licence was revoked.

Feb. 19, 2008 - Luxembourg legalizes euthanasia.

June 15, 2012 - B.C. Supreme Court finds that Criminal Code provisions preventing physician-assisted death contravene charter equality rights in case brought by Gloria Taylor.

Oct. 10, 2013 - Appeal Court overturns decision.

Oct. 25, 2013 - B.C. Civil Liberties files leave to appeal to Supreme Court of Canada.

February 2014 - Belgium becomes first country to legalize euthanasia for terminally ill children, with the consent of their parents.

June 5, 2014 - Quebec becomes first province to legalize doctor-assisted death.

Oct. 15, 2014 - SCOC hearings to begin.

The Canadian Press




Teen completes Erie swim

Sixteen-year-old Annaleise Carr completed her marathon swim across Lake Erie on Monday after returning to the water overnight to finish the exhausting final leg of her journey.

In the first leg of the 75-kilometre crossing in late July, the teen swam from Erie, Pa., to Long Point Ont., a distance approximately the length of 1,500 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Stormy weather and rough conditions eventually forced the Walsh, Ont. native to end the swim 33-kilometres short of her goal, but she pushed through the second leg early on Labour Day, finishing in just over 12 hours around 11:45 a.m. in Port Dover, Ont.

Some 2,000 cheering supporters welcomed her ashore, a spokesman said.

"She's actually feeling fantastic, surprisingly, after swimming more than 30 kilometres," at an average speed of just under three kilometres per hour, Aaron Gautreau said.

"When she got out of the water I don't think I've ever seen a bigger smile on her face. The whole point of the swim is to send a message to people with cancer to never give up and that's exactly what she did today and she feels so great about that," Gautreau said.

"Finish what you started, don't give up on your dreams because of a complication or a road block, you just keep going and that's what this whole swim was about."

Carr is swimming to raise money for Camp Trillium, a camp for children with cancer, and has raised more than $193,000 at the time of her completion of the swim.

"The reception in the community was lots of tears, people are really touched by what this girl has done not only in her hometown ... but for the entire nation," Gautreau said.

After completing the swim, Carr was presented with a commemorative scroll with a message from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and was also given a Canadian flag from Parliament Hill, he said.

Gautreau said the teen was "completely blown away" by the two gifts.

In August 2012, Carr — who was then 14 — became the youngest person at the time to swim across Lake Ontario, enduring a 27-hour swim from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto.

That record has since been beaten, but Carr has raised more than $430,000 for the camp from the two swims, Gautreau said.

The Canadian Press


Bar owner, students make up

A Quebec student association which had accused a popular Montreal bar of homophobia says it's satisfied with the response from the owner.

Vincent Fournier Gosselin, an executive with the group and student at Universite de Montreal, had asked Bar Le Saint-Sulpice for an apology after a bouncer allegedly kicked out two male students for kissing.

Gosselin said the incident happened during a medical school orientation event last Friday night.

But the owner, Maurice Bourassa, told Radio-Canada the pair were acting inappropriately — regardless of their sexual orientation — and were on a fire escape, in violation of the safety code.

Bourassa says his bar, a popular spot in the city's Latin Quarter, is open to everyone.

News of the incident spread quickly on social media and an advocacy group organized a "kiss-in" in front of the bar later this week.

In a statement Monday evening, Gosselin said he's happy a dialogue was opened between the two sides in an attempt to clear up the situation.

The Canadian Press




Mulcair harsh on Harper, Trudeau

Thousands of people marched Monday in Toronto's annual Labour Day Parade to show their support for local unions, with more than 30 labour organizations taking part in the festivities.

Joining them was federal Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair, who took shots at Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for what he called their shortfalls on the labour file.

He said many of the gains brought in by the labour movement — such as workplace health and safety measures and wage equality — are currently "under attack" in Canada.

Both Harper and Trudeau voted against anti-scab legislation brought forward by New Democrats, he said.

"In Toronto now, more than one half of families do not have a single, full-time steady job that they can rely on," Mulcair said.

"Under the Conservatives and the Liberals we've lost a whole generation of well-paid manufacturing jobs. We've got to get back to a situation where people can have a full-time job with a pension, enough for their family to live on."

Paul Lefebvre, former president IAMAW Local 2323, which represents 4,000 aviation workers in Ontario, said the union came out to send Ottawa a message.

"We think our country needs to have a correction in the direction its going politically and I think a lot of people feel that way and the march is getting bigger for that reason," he said.

Other labour groups at the parade, including the United Steel Workers, echoed that sentiment.

"Today is an opportunity for us to get together with all types of labour folks to look back on our strong, rich history and celebrate that — but also to re-energize for the struggles ahead," said Marty Warren of United Steel Workers District 6.

The Canadian Press


Think-tank targeted for tax audit

A left-leaning think-tank was targeted by the Canada Revenue Agency for a political-activities audit last fall partly because the research and education material on its website appears to be "biased" and "one-sided."

That partial rationale for launching the controversial audit appears on a newly released document that the think-tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, obtained under the Access to Information Act.

The one-page summary sheet, which has some material deleted to protect law enforcement, includes a section entitled "Screeners' comments" that outlines why the Ottawa-based group was selected to undergo an audit of its political activities.

The section refers to two previous audits, in 1989-1990 and 2002, where the tax agency says it first raised questions about the group's political activities, among other non-compliance issues.

"A review of the Organization's website, as well as the previous audit findings, suggests that the Organization may be carrying out prohibited partisan political activities, and that much of its research/educational materials may be biased/one-sided," says the document, a copy of which was provided to The Canadian Press.

The internal summary provides an unusual glimpse into the Canada Revenue Agency's audit-selection process, which the agency is normally bound to keep secret.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is an avowedly left-leaning think-tank that first won charitable status in 1987, and has become a fixture on the federal scene, known in particular for its so-called Alternative Federal Budget each year. Its positions on social programs, taxes and the economy often conflict with Harper government policies.

The centre has become one of 52 charities to undergo audits of their political activities, in a new $13.4-million program launched in the 2012 federal budget.

Auditors are looking for any evidence of partisan activity, such as endorsements of political candidates, which is forbidden, as well as any violation of a rule that limits political activity to no more than 10 per cent of a charity's resources.

Initial targets were environmental groups, many of whom oppose the government's energy and pipeline policies. But the net was later widened to include international aid and social-justice groups, among others, many of whom have been vocal opponents of the Conservative government.

Some observers have said the new audit program has led to "advocacy chill," as charities fear speaking out lest they provoke auditors into de-registering them, potentially drying up donations. The time-consuming audits can also be costly, including legal expenses.

The Canada Revenue Agency, however, says it operates at arm's length from government and is simply holding charities accountable, ensuring they follow established rules.

A spokesman for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said the finding of bias is "absurd," since all think-tanks — whether on the left or right — work from a specific set of values.

"Under this definition, all think-tanks are biased or one-sided, and would not qualify for charitable status," said Bruce Campbell, executive director since 1994.

"The work of all think-tanks emanates from a set of values, progressive or conservative, that guide our research and policy analysis, and as such is biased."

Campbell added that CRA officials never raised concerns about partisanship or political activities after the 2002 audit.

"And we have not changed our practices since then," he said. "This creates the impression that CRA is redefining 'political activity'."

Campbell added that the CRA has not communicated any compliance issues in the current audit, which got underway last fall and continues.

The internal summary says the current audit is not only examining the CCPA's political activities but will "determine whether or not it continues to qualify as a charitable organization under the Advancement of Education," a specific charity type designated in the regulations.

A spokesman for the Canada Revenue Agency declined to comment on the audit, citing confidentiality provisions of the Income Tax Act.

But Noel Carisse said a Supreme Court of Canada case in 1999 laid down guidelines for determining when a charity is properly carrying out the advancement of education.

The high court "ruled that so long as useful information or training was provided in a structured manner and for a genuine educational purpose — that is to advance the knowledge or abilities of the recipients — and not solely to promote a particular point of view or political orientation it might properly be regarded as for the advancement of education," he said.

"It is for this reason that the CRA is required to assess whether purportedly educational material is reasonably unbiased and based on a well-reasoned position."

The Canada Revenue Agency does not release the identities of charities currently undergoing political-activity audits, including think-tanks, most of which are registered as charities in Canada.

Among right-leaning or pro-business think-tanks in Canada, two — the C.D. Howe Institute in Toronto and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute in Ottawa — have confirmed to The Canadian Press they are not currently under audit for political activities. Two others — the Fraser Institute in Vancouver and the Montreal Economic Institute — have declined to comment on the matter.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives reported $5.6 million in revenues in 2013, with about $40,000 spent on political activities, or less than one per cent of expenses.

Follow @DeanBeeby on Twitter

The Canadian Press


Quebec school bans homework

Students at one Quebec school can expect to have a little more free time on their hands this year.

An elementary school in the province's Saguenay region has decided to ban homework in all classes from Grade 1 to Grade 6.

Some 339 students at College de Saint-Ambroise will take part in the one-year pilot project.

Spokeswoman Marie-Eve Desrosiers says the Jonquiere School Board wants to see whether the ban will help improve scholastic outcomes.

She says teachers will still be allowed to assign studying and reading work.

The school won't be the first to try such an experiment — a school in Barrie, Ont. introduced a similar ban in 2008.

The Canadian Press


Canada to cut defence by $2.7B

Stephen Harper has been one of the toughest-talking leaders throughout the Ukraine crisis, yet newly released figures show National Defence is expected to face an even deeper budget hole in the coming year than previously anticipated.

The ongoing reductions come as the prime minister is expected to resist pressure from allies at this week's NATO summit to spend substantially more on the military.

Annual spending on the military, when compared with 2011, is slated to shrink by a total of $2.7-billion in 2015, according to a briefing note prepared for the deputy defence minister.

That would be almost $300-million more than earlier internal estimates, and roughly $600-million higher than the figure defence official acknowledged last fall when they rolled out the department's renewal plan.

In addition to planned cuts under the government's strategic review, deficit reduction action plan, and wage restraint measures, defence is expected to face "other planning pressures," according to a Sept. 16, 2013 memo.

Those pressures include, among other things, severance for laid off civilians at defence; the bill for the Harper government's pledge to sustain newly trained Afghan forces; and the cost of operating the Public Works secretariat that is picking a replacement for the CF-18s.

National Defence has repeatedly said that it — like other government departments — is expected to contribute towards the government's drive towards a balanced budget next year.

The issue of how much allies fork out for their militaries will be among the major closed-door topics when NATO leaders meet this week in Wales.

Canada is under pressure — mostly from the United States and Britain — to dramatically increase its defence budget over the next 10 years to meet the NATO benchmark of two per cent of gross domestic product.

According to the latest NATO figures, the Harper government spends one per cent of GDP on defence, just slightly ahead of financially-troubled Spain, the Slovak Republic, Hungary, Luxembourg, Lithuania, and Latvia.

Only two nations surpass the benchmark — the U.S. and Britain. Others, such as France, Germany, Norway and Italy, come close.

Some allies, such as the Dutch, have begun to rethink planned defence cuts, especially in light of last week's military action by Russian troops in eastern Ukraine, which Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird described as an "invasion."

Harper himself has left little doubt on where he believes events of the last eight months in eastern Europe belong in the grand sweep of history.

"When a major power acts in a way that is so clearly aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic, this represents a significant threat to the peace and stability of the world and it's time we all recognized the depth and the seriousness of that threat," the prime minister said at a hastily arranged photo-op with the ambassadors of Ukraine, Estonia, Poland and Latvia on April 14.

“But as I say, the most important thing we need to do is to rally all of our allies throughout the western world and throughout the greater global community to understand that peace and stability is being threatened here in a way that has not been threatened since the end of the Cold War.”

Canada's response, thus far, has been to commit CF-18s to patrolling the skies over the Baltic states; a frigate to sail with NATO's standing task force; a boost in NATO headquarters staff; and ground troops to train alongside allies. It has also sent non-lethal military equipment and aid to Ukraine.

A senior government official, speaking on background, said Canada is prepared to increase the defence budget, but described the NATO benchmark as an abstract figure and expressed concern about committing billions of extra dollars per year without a clear plan by the alliance on how it will deal with the long-term.

Dave Perry, an analyst with the Conference of Defence Associations, said, in order to meet the NATO goal, Ottawa would have to double the military's budget to about $38-billion per year.

Spending more doesn't necessarily mean a more effective military and Canada has demonstrated it gets a lot of efficiency out of the dollars it does commit, he said.

Financial estimates, that were part of the briefing package given to Rob Nicholson when he was sworn-in as defence minister in July 2013, show the Conservatives, despite past promises and rhetoric, weren't planning to spend much more than the roughly $18.9-billion already set aside.

In a rare display of conflicting messages, Nicholson's parliamentary secretary, James Bezan, publicly suggested last spring that the country should be spending 1.7 per cent of GDP on its military.

When the Conservatives introduced their defence strategy in 2008, they underlined how the 20-year plan would provide "stable and predictable" funding to the military by delivering a guaranteed two per cent annual increase.

But Perry said it hasn't worked out that way and, while the escalator is still there, it's been more than offset by cuts elsewhere.

"It's a bizarre situation where you've got $2.7 billion in cuts, taking away with the left hand; but with right hand your getting this escalation amount," Perry said.

The Canada First Defence Strategy also promised that overseas missions would be paid for — as other nations do — through a special budgetary appropriation and not taken out of the departmental budget.

The war in Afghanistan was largely funded that way, but Nicholson's briefing papers show other deployments, notably the 2011 bombing campaign in Libya and the Afghan training mission, were not.

The Canadian Press


Grain cars derail

Investigators are trying to figure out the cause of a CN freight train derailment in northern Alberta.

CN spokeswoman Lindsay Fedchyshyn says 15 grain cars went off the track near Hondo, approximately 180 kilometres northwest of Edmonton, early Sunday.

Fedchyshyn says no hazardous goods were involved and there were no injuries.

She says the train was heading south towards Edmonton.

Crews are working to repair the damage but there's no word on when the line will be running again.

The Transportation Safety Board says it has deployed a team of investigators to the site.

The Canadian Press


Coffee and kittens in Montreal

Would you like a cat with your coffee?

A new Montreal cafe is hoping plenty of people do. The Cafe des Chats, which opened its doors on Saturday, is a lot like a regular coffee house — except it's home to eight cats.

Along with the usual tables and chairs designed for human clientele, the space is filled with scratching posts, plush toys, and a special multi-level window perch for the felines-in-residence.

Nadine Spencer, who helped set up the business along with her partner, said the concept is a big hit in Asia and, more recently, has gained popularity in Europe.

"We thought, 'why not bring this to Montreal?' I think it's a city that could definitely use it," she said Sunday.

"There's a lot of places that don't accept cats these days and there are a lot of students here for a short time. And it's also great therapy."

According to Spencer, the cafe is the first of its kind in North America.

But not for long. There are plans to open cat cafes in several cities, including Vancouver and Toronto. There's even another one set to open a few blocks away in Montreal.

The crowd of people packed into Spencer's cafe on Sunday suggests there's plenty of demand.

Michelle Lau made the trip from Toronto for the opening weekend.

"We're big cat lovers and I can't wait until one opens in our city," said Lau, 24, explaining that she has a dog at home and is reluctant to bring a kitty into the mix.

"I think it's just a nice environment. You sit down, you have a coffee, and you play with the cats."

Part of the goal was to give a few cats a second chance.

They were all adopted from the SPCA and quickly made themselves comfortable in their new home, Spencer said. The cats have their own private quarters at the back of the shop, for when they want some quiet time or need to use the kitty litter.

"Personalities are already coming out," she said.

"There's definitely The Godfather, who kind of oversees everything. There's the big boss, Big Foot, and the Three Little Rascals, as I like to call them. I think they're going to be the ones to be in charge eventually."

The Canadian Press


WWI Blue Puttees still revered

Diana Snow's grandfather was among hundreds of Newfoundlanders who lined up a century ago to fight in the First World War as part of a fervent bid to help Britain.

The former British colony and dominion raised the volunteer Newfoundland Regiment or First 500 without official government involvement, such was the zeal to enlist.

Those first soldiers heading to what most believed would be a months-long adventure in Europe left with their ankles wrapped in thin blue wool — not the traditional British khaki. It was a distinctive bit of kit for which they were known, and are still revered today, as the Blue Puttees.

"He had a tremendous pride in his country," Snow recalled of her grandfather, William Newell. "And his country at the time, of course, was Britain."

Newell was a single, 28-year-old stevedore with a good job working the docks in St. John's. But he didn't hesitate to sign up.

"When the call came looking for volunteers I can actually see him saying: 'I don't have to second-think that,'" Snow said. "He wanted to go serve his country and that's what he did."

Newell was not alone.

Kerri Button, curator of history for the First World War project at The Rooms museum and archives, said the response to a mid-August enlistment proclamation was "overwhelming."

It started when the Newfoundland Patriotic Association was formed at a community meeting in St. John's soon after war was declared.

"They were looking for 500 men and I think in the end, the number had reached 743 who tried to enlist by Sept. 2," Button said in an interview.

As in other parts of the British empire, there was a rush to be part of the war effort before it was all over. Few expected the war would drag on for years.

The enthusiasm would wane as casualties mounted and the horrors of trench combat hit home.

But in late summer of 1914 it was all about the desire to honour "King and country" along with collective outrage aimed at Britain's foes, Button said.

There are varying accounts of why those first Newfoundland soldiers wore blue puttees. One popular version is that the local Church Lads' Brigade offered the blue wraps because of a shortage of the standard olive fabric.

But Anne Chafe, director of the provincial museum division at The Rooms in St. John's, said its researchers have settled on a different story.

She said the colour was deliberately chosen and inspired by an elite brigade that fought in the Boer War more than a decade earlier.

"This was a conscious decision for the regiment to go with blue to distinguish them from others."

It wasn't long before the fighting Newfoundlanders made a name for themselves in battle. They were the only unit from North America to fight at Gallipoli starting in 1915.

King George V added the prefix Royal to the regiment's title in 1917, in part for its valour in battle at Ypres and Cambrai.

But it is most renowned for the slaughter at Beaumont Hamel on July 1, 1916, when most of the regiment was killed or wounded as the Battle of the Somme opened disastrously.

"They went over the top knowing that the Germans were down below in a ravine and they were basically easy targets," Chafe said. "There were 801 men who went over the top, and 68 answered the roll call the next day."

That catastrophe is still marked each year in Newfoundland and Labrador. Every July 1 starts with memorial tributes before Canada Day celebrations begin in the afternoon.

The Rooms is honouring those sacrifices with a new exhibit of remembrance showcasing First World War artifacts and stories collected from descendants of the soldiers who fought. A unique practice gas mask, medals, notebooks, uniforms, boots, even a prosthetic leg have been donated, each with a tale passed on by the families who kept them.

Diana Snow has her own collection of military kit from the grandfather she adored.

For her, remembering is what's most important. She treasures a small New Testament that her grandfather carried with him overseas. It's inscribed from his sister, Lizzie, and dated Oct. 1, 1914, three days before the Blue Puttees sailed out of St. John's for England.

Snow often thinks of what those young soldiers went through.

"The conditions that they had to live under, the fighting that they did and the friends that they lost, the brothers they lost. We can't even imagine it," she said. "We're just living in peace, here in Newfoundland. And we're so very lucky."

 

The Canadian Press


Aussie drug trade lucrative

There is an increasing Canadian presence in the Australian drug scene, where traffickers brave harsh enforcement for large profits in a "high-risk, high-reward" market, authorities say.

The Australian Crime Commission reports that most of the cocaine brought into the country comes from Chile, with Canada second, climbing three spots since 2010.

The numbers accompany a spate of Canadian-linked drug incidents during the past year, including the conviction in June of a Canadian man who tricked an elderly Australian couple into becoming drug mules.

"Even though it may be logistically complex to get illicit drugs to Australia, (traffickers) feel the expense is worth it because of the high prices they can obtain if successful," Australian Federal Police said in a statement.

Estimates of the street value of the drug vary between police jurisdictions within Canada, but Australian authorities say a kilogram of cocaine there can fetch up to $250,000, which could be up to five times higher than the price in Canada.

A spokesman for a British Columbia multi-agency initiative said Canadian criminals do not produce cocaine, much of which comes from South America.

"They'll try to buy or barter for a kilo or however many kilos of cocaine, and then, because it's all about making money, they look to see where they can make the most," said Sgt. Lindsey Houghton of the Combined Special Forces Enforcement Unit.

"Smuggle it into Australia... they can get three, four, five times the price."

He said drug supply is short in Australia because of strong enforcement and the country's location — it is far from where cocaine is predominantly produced.

"The Australian police have been really successful in disrupting, suppressing criminal groups," Houghton said.

Canadian traffickers affiliate themselves with local gangs, but sometimes rope in Canadian expatriates, Houghton said. Canadian drug runners have "significant connections" with Australian outlaw biker gangs and other criminal organizations, the Australian Crime Commission said.

To combat their operations, the RCMP said it holds joint investigations with Asian and Australian police. The Mounties also have a liaison based in Australia's capital of Canberra and an intelligence analyst "out-posted" to Australian Federal Police, the Australian agency said.

Houghton's unit, which comprises RCMP and provincial and municipal police, was involved last year in dismantling what they called a major Canada-Australia drug network.

Dan Werb, director of the B.C.-based International Centre for Science in Drug Policy, said legalization of marijuana in some American states last year could have sparked an increase in Canadian drug activity elsewhere. Canadian-produced illegal marijuana is now facing intense competition from legal marijuana in those states, so dealers in Canada may be looking toward harsher drugs and other export markets, Werb said.

"What is happening to all those people who are involved in the illegal drug trade?" he said.

"People simply exiting the illegal drug trade? That's probably unlikely. Are they potentially moving to other trafficking routes? Australia may be an attractive place."

The Canadian Press


NATO calls for crisis brigade

Canada will send troops, jets and warships to participate in a massive NATO training exercise next year in a deployment that could be the first step towards deeper involvement in the alliance's long-term strategy to counter a resurgent Russia.

The units will participate in a test of the military alliance's crisis response brigade, The Canadian Press has learned.

The exercise, known as Trident Juncture 2015, will be held in Italy, Spain and Portugal over several months and built around a scenario where NATO responds to an attack against a member country.

"We are planning to commit tactical forces, maritime, air and land to the live (fire) exercise," Lt.-Gen. Stuart Beare, the country's joint operations commander, told The Canadian Press in a recent interview.

It is a significant decision because NATO is pushing behind the scenes to significantly expand the size of its rapid reaction force. The alliance already announced last week it plans to base soldiers in eastern Europe to reassure jittery allies.

The crisis response unit — currently compromised of 13,000 high-readiness troops, a headquarters and reserve formations — operates on a rotational basis with different nations committing forces for up to a year at a time.

Next year's participation in the exercise does not commit Canada to become part of that rotation, but it could set the stage.

"Those are strategic and political decisions," said Beare. "I can't answer the question specifically, but I can tell you we are acting in a way that, if we do, we'll be really, really good at it."

Taking part in the exercise would help the military reacquaint itself with how NATO does business on its home turf, a familiarity that has been lost since the last Canadian Cold War garrison was withdrawn from Europe in the 1990s.

What is unclear heading into this week's NATO summit in Wales is whether the Harper government is prepared to foot the bill to be a regular member of the quick reaction force, which U.S. officials have suggested could see its leading elements based in central Poland around a base that hosted NATO training this summer.

Two rotations of Canadian troops, roughly the size of a 150-man company, have taken part in those recent exercises.

Being part of the rapid reaction force carries with it a whole different set of expectations — most notably being prepared to start shooting if a NATO member is attacked.

The detachment is a relatively new construct within the alliance and something defence ministers only began to seriously wrap their heads around in February 2013 as plans were being drawn up for the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Steve Saideman, an expert on NATO, is skeptical about how the force would work given previous missions where countries have insisted on maintaining control over their own troops, and imposed restrictions on what they could do.

That was the experience both in Libya, where some countries refused to conduct risky air-to-ground attacks, and in Afghanistan, which saw a handful of countries like Canada, the U.S., Britain, France, the Netherlands and Denmark do most of the fighting.

"I have a hard time imaging a rapid reaction force being rapid," said Saideman, who is chair of the Paterson School of International Affairs at Ottawa's Carleton University.

"I don't feel confident they'll be able to overcome the problems that have existed and have been baked into NATO."

Article 5 of the NATO charter — the alliance's all-for-one and one-for-all provision — has a little recognized opt-out clause, Saideman noted.

He's also not convinced the Harper government is willing to commit the cash necessary for a long-term commitment now that it has extricated itself from Afghanistan. The Conservatives plan a balanced budget for next year's election, and surely hope to spend aggressively on voter-friendly measures, he added.

"It costs money to put troops out there for a period of time," Saideman said.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will press ahead with the force and it will be a major topic for leaders at this week's summit.

"We will adopt what we call a readiness action plan with the aim to be able to act swiftly in this completely new security environment in Europe," he said in Brussels.

"We have something already called the NATO response force, whose purpose is to be able to be deployed rapidly if needed. Now it's our intention to develop what I would call a spearhead within that response force at very, very high readiness."

The Canadian Press


Canada, US closer to harmony

The Canadian and American governments have announced a new step toward constantly co-ordinating their regulatory environments across a broad range of industries.

Federal agencies will work with their cross-border counterparts to produce, within six months, public statements explaining how they'll work with industry, and each other, to simplify regulations for businesses operating in both countries.

The process will involve two-dozen areas including: meat inspection, animal health, toys, marine safety, aviation, energy efficiency, pharmaceuticals and pest control, according to a document released Friday.

The 44-page document released by the White House and Canada's Privy Council Office said the goal was to make co-operation a permanent and ongoing process, while future policies are being developed.

"The long-term goal is to have bilateral regulatory cooperation within the regular planning and operational activities of regulatory agencies," said the document.

But it insisted each nation would retain the sovereignty to make its own choices. The document said nothing under the initiative, called the Joint Forward Plan, would impose any obligations on either country under domestic or international law.

The process will be overseen, at least initially, by the Regulatory Cooperation Council, created in 2011 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President Barack Obama.

A major binational business group hailed the announcement as positive, but not forceful enough. While the process looks ahead at future rules, it said there are old ones that need to be looked at.

As one example, the Canadian American Business Council pointed to old rules for cereal that force companies into a more complicated, expensive production process.

"We appreciate the work that is planned to resolve future regulatory issues, but we would also like to urge the governments to consider tackling current entrenched challenges that the RCC efforts to date have not attempted to resolve," said CABC adviser Scotty Greenwood.

"For example, the issue of how breakfast cereals are fortified with vitamins has been a long-standing example of regulatory incoherence between Canada and the U.S., yet the RCC says it is not geared towards solving problems like the 'Cheerio' challenge. The business community would welcome an effort to resolve existing specific regulatory burdens, not just attempting to solve future problems that haven't occurred yet."

The Canadian Press


Mountie-killer arrested again

One of two men convicted in the shooting deaths of four Alberta Mounties in 2005 has been arrested and charged with a drug crime.

Dennis Cheeseman was released from prison last November after serving two-thirds of his sentence for manslaughter.

RCMP Staff-Sgt. Ron Campbell said Cheeseman was taken into custody Friday in a community only about 50 kilometres west of the Mayerthorpe-area farm where the four constables were ambushed.

"Cheeseman has been arrested by Whitecourt (RCMP) and charged with possession of a controlled substance and the parole board has been notified," Campbell said.

Cheeseman was being held in custody and is expected to appear in court early next month.

When he was released from prison, it was on conditions that he abstain from drugs and alcohol and not associate with criminals until his entire sentence expires on April 13, 2016.

He and his brother-in-law, Shawn Hennessey, pleaded guilty to manslaughter for giving James Roszko a rifle and a ride to a farm where the Mounties were gunned down.

Campbell said at this point Cheeseman only faces the drug charge. Whether he breached the terms of his release will be up to the Parole Board of Canada to decide, he added.

Constables Peter Schiemann, Anthony Gordon, Brock Myrol and Leo Johnston had been guarding a Quonset hut on Roszko's farm on March 3, 2005, as part of a marijuana grow-op and automobile chop-shop investigation.

Roszko ambushed the officers before he was shot and wounded, then killed himself.

Cheeseman was sentenced in 2009 to seven years and two months. Hennessey was sentenced in 2009 to 10 years and four months for his role in the crime.

They both lost court appeals asking for shorter sentences.

Earlier this week the parole board granted Hennessey more absences from prison, saying he was doing well behind bars. He is to apply for day parole next month. His statutory release date is Dec. 29, 2015.

A National Parole Board report last year said Cheeseman, who is from the Barrhead area northwest of Edmonton, was a model inmate, attending school and working as a cleaner.

It said he didn't have a job lined up but planned to live with a relative until he can get his own place.

 

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