Guilty in cruise ship coke

One of three Quebecers charged with importing a large amount of cocaine into Australia in 2016 has pleaded guilty.

New South Wales District Court spokeswoman Felicia Benedikovics says Andre Tamine pleaded guilty last Friday to importing cocaine in commercial quantities and will be sentenced on Oct. 26.

Tamine, 64, was arrested along with Isabelle Lagace and Melina Roberge on Aug. 29, 2016 after the cruise ship MS Sea Princess arrived in Sydney.

Australian authorities using sniffer dogs discovered 95 kilograms of cocaine worth about $30.5 million that was allegedly packed in their suitcases.

Lagace, 30, was sentenced last November to seven and a half years in prison.

The trial for Roberge, 24, is expected to start next Monday.


No war zones for navy ship

While the Royal Canadian Navy is chomping at the bit to start using the newest addition to its fleet, a senior officer says the MV Asterix has some limitations — notably that it can't sail into harm's way.

The Asterix's conversion from a civilian container ship to an interim naval resupply vessel is almost finished as weapons and other sensitive equipment are now being installed, said Commodore Craig Skjerpen, commander of Canada's Atlantic Fleet.

That work is expected to be finished in Halifax in March, at which point the vessel will undergo some final tests before heading to the Pacific to participate in a major, U.S.-led training exercise and then onward to the Asia-Pacific region.

The Asterix addresses a critical gap that emerged after the navy lost its previous resupply vessels in 2014, Skjerpen told The Canadian Press, and navy commanders plan to make heavy use of new ship in the coming years.

"If I wanted to draw an analogy of driving a car, we were always worried about where the next gas station was," he said of the impact of losing HMCS Protecteur and Preserver.

"So what this does is that where we're able to program Asterix, we can be less concerned about that. So we can go where we need to go."

But the Asterix isn't a true military vessel, Skjerpen said, which is why it won't be allowed to operate in dangerous environments.

That may not be an issue now, as the navy is not operating in any areas that be classified as overtly dangerous, but Skjerpen said: "All of our capabilities and everything we design and everything we need is about operating in that threat environment."

Two true military resupply vessels are scheduled to be built in Vancouver and will include more powerful self-defence systems than the Asterix as well as better communications equipment and overall survivability against attack.

"That's a pretty important part when you start talking about a military vessel and something you're going to operate in a threat environment," Skjerpen said in explaining why those Vancouver-built vessels, known as the Protecteur class, are still needed.

"We want to provide the best capability possible to protect our people throughout. And that's some of the bigger things that we're going to get with the Protecteur class that you're not going to get out of Asterix or vessels like that."

The two new Protecteur-class vessels will also be crewed entirely by navy personnel, unlike the Asterix. It will have about 45 navy sailors responsible for resupply operations, while the captain and 30 crew members charged with actually sailing the vessel are all civilians.

Canada 150 record tourism

Statistics Canada says international tourism set an annual record during Canada 150 last year, with 20.8 million trips of one or more nights.

The overall figure surpasses the previous record of 20.1 million set in 2002.

The statistics agency says the number of U.S. tourists rose 3.1 per cent in 2017 to reach 14.3 million, the highest figure since 2005, and there were also a record 6.5 million visitors from overseas countries, up 7.2 per cent from 2016.

The report says there were year-over-year increases in travel from all continents in 2017, most notably a 26.1 per cent increase from the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean and a 19.0 per cent increase from South America.

These increases follow the lifting of visa requirements for travellers from Mexico in December 2016 and modifications to visa requirements for citizens of Brazil which took effect in May 2017.

Excluding the United States, Mexico and Brazil are the two largest sources of travellers from the Americas.

Following three years of decline, the number of same-day and overnight trips to the United States by Canadian residents rose 2.7 per cent in 2017 to 42.1 million, 25.1 per cent fewer than in 2013 when the Canadian dollar was last on par with the U.S. dollar.

Statistics Canada said in 2017 the average value of the Canadian dollar was US$0.77, up slightly from an average of US$0.76 in 2016.


BC wine war - so what?

Alberta's economic development minister is shrugging off a legal challenge filed by British Columbia over Alberta's ban on wine from that province.

On Monday, B.C. announced it is invoking dispute settlement of the wine ban under Canada's free-trade agreement. The mechanism calls for four months of consultation and, if that doesn't work, an arbitration panel takes over.

Deron Bilous says Alberta won't participate in consultations unless B.C. reverses its decision to refuse additional oil from Alberta while it studies spill safety.

It's a move Alberta says could effectively kill expansion of Kinder Morgan Canada's Trans Mountain pipeline.

Alberta faces a maximum fine of $5 million if it is found to have violated Canadian trade rules.

Bilous says that's a pittance compared with the billions of dollars and thousands of jobs Canada is losing because of the lack of pipeline access.

Alberta's crude oil sells at a sharp discount on the North American market due to pipeline bottlenecks and to a lack of access to a better price on overseas markets.

Juror sues over trial PTSD

An advocate for the rights of jurors has filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the federal and Ontario governments for post-traumatic stress disorder he developed during a lengthy murder trial.

Mark Farrant spent five months as a juror at the 2014 trial in Toronto of Farshad Badakhshan, who was convicted of murdering his 23-year-old girlfriend, Carina Petrache.

Badakhshan’s trial heard that he stabbed the university student and then set fire to their place. Petrache fled the blaze but was badly burned and died on the way to hospital. Badakhshan was also severely burned.

After the trial, Farrant was diagnosed with PTSD, which spurred him to become an outspoken advocate for the need to provide counselling for jurors hearing horrific cases.

In a statement of claim filed in Toronto on Friday, Farrant seeks damages from the attorneys general of Ontario and Canada "as a result of being subjected to graphic and disturbing evidence during his time as a juror."

The claim, which has not been proven in court, says Farrant has suffered "ongoing mental health problems including but not limited to post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, nervous shock and other issues, as a direct result of being compelled to serve on the jury."

It alleges Farrant continues to suffer from stress, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, significant weight loss, loss of income and a diminished capacity to enjoy life.

"The psychological distress and injuries caused as a result of the plaintiff's experience as a juror have and will continue to have a significantly negative impact on his family relationships, including but not limited to those with his wife, and two young children," the claim reads.

Farrant successfully advocated for a new jury support program in Ontario and has been lobbying the federal government to develop a national standard to ensure every juror has access to the same level of support.

He said there is more awareness of the effects of trauma on first responders, but there needs to be recognition that jurors can suffer too.

"Thanks to Mr. Farrant's persistent efforts, we are seeing overdue action being taken to recognize the psychological harm that can be caused as a result of sitting as a juror and being exposed to graphic evidence," his lawyer, Todd McCarthy, said in a release.

"Unfortunately, this change is too late for Mr. Farrant who received no treatment or therapy during or after his time as a juror. It is within this context that he brings this action."

Paid leave for new dads?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is raising the idea of creating a use-it-or-lose-it, funded leave for new dads, doing so days before he unveils a spending blueprint that has been the focus of lobbying efforts for further changes to national parental leave policies.

The idea would be similar to the paternity leave policy in Quebec, which is the only province that provides funded leave for new fathers.

Quebec’s system provides up to five weeks of paid leave to new fathers that covers up to 70 per cent of their income.

The Liberals have heard from experts that the popular program in Quebec should be replicated at a federal level along with other changes to parental leave policies, including increasing the value of benefits paid out for parents who opt for an 18-month parental leave and creating a new, six-month leave option with a higher income replacement rate to help low-income families that can't afford a year at only half salary.

There have also been calls to make such a leave available to anyone who isn't considered a primary caregiver, such as a grandparent.

The Liberals will release their third budget next week.

Trudeau told a forum at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, India, that making it easier for non-birthing parents, like fathers, to take time off to care for a newborn would help remove barriers women face in the workforce related to expectations that they be primarily responsible for child-rearing.

There is anecdotal evidence that women who are of child-bearing age or are pregnant are passed over for jobs or promotions, even though such actions are prohibited under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Trudeau said his government will look at changes to parental leave, specifically "leave that can only be taken by the second parent, in most cases the father," making it "a use-it-or-lose-it" model. He also suggested the leave would be flexible beyond fathers to include, for instance, a partner in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender marriages.

Will he or won't he?

As the Ontario legislature resumes sitting today for the final session before a spring election, all eyes will be on Patrick Brown — if the former Progressive Conservative leader shows up to take his seat.

The 39-year-old politician from Barrie, Ont., will have to sit as an independent after being booted out of the Tory caucus last week — just hours before he declared his intention to run for his old job.

He stepped down from the leadership late last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct, but has since mounted a campaign to clear his name.

He has threatened to sue CTV News, which reported the allegations, but the network has said it stands by its reporting.

Brown's entry into the leadership race threatens to overshadow his opponents — Toronto lawyer Caroline Mulroney, former Toronto councillor Doug Ford, former Tory legislator Christine Elliott and social conservative activist Tanya Granic Allen.

Online voting takes place early next month, with the winner to be announced March 10.

The Tory turmoil comes as all three parties gear up for a general election set for June 7.

Molester's sentence slashed

An appeal court has dramatically reduced a five-year jail term given a 74-year-old man for molesting four young girls, calling the sentence "unduly long and harsh" and cutting it in half.

Reginald O’Keefe will now serve 30 months, less time served, for indecently assaulting the girls, who are all now women.

"There was no intercourse, but in some cases the girls were held captive and assaulted in circumstances which instilled great fear," Justice Lois Hoegg of the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador said in a ruling released Monday.

The women came forward separately in 2014 after hearing he had been convicted of molesting a three-year-old girl, and he has also separately been convicted of indecent and harassing phone calls.

For his most recent case, O'Keefe appeared in court hunched over a walker. He was convicted in September 2016 of six counts of indecent assault – including three counts involving the same girl.

The trial judge sentenced O'Keefe to 10 months for each charge, with the terms to be served consecutively. But the appeal court said that ignored "the totality principle" in sentencing.

Hoegg's ruling explained that principle, saying it requires "a sentence to be 'proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender and 'where consecutive offences are imposed, the combined sentence should not be unduly long or harsh.'"

Hoegg noted a previous case that said judges are required to "take one last look at the total sentence to determine whether it is unduly long or harsh, in the sense of it being disproportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender."

She added: "I am of the view that his sentence of 60 months is unduly long and harsh in the circumstances."

She ordered that three of the 10-month sentences be made concurrent to the others.

On behalf of the three-judge panel, Hoegg also noted old age can be a consideration in sentencing, but it would only be "of minimal consideration" in this case because of O'Keefe's recent conviction for abusing a very young child while in his mid-60s.

Treatment 'disturbing'

An independent report that warned people with disabilities were being unjustly confined in a Nova Scotia psychiatric hospital is being described as "startling and disturbing" by a law professor at Dalhousie University.

Archie Kaiser, who teaches at the Schulich School of Law, said the province should have found housing in the community with supports for the residents, after the review was delivered to senior health officials almost 13 years ago.

"Nova Scotia should apologize for its failure," Kaiser wrote in an email.

"Responsible ministers should take responsibility for the inaction of successive governments following the review. This has been a shameful and deplorable situation for citizens who deserve our support to live with us in the community."

The April 2006 review by Dorothy Griffiths and Dr. Chrissoula Stavrakaki emerged last week at a human rights inquiry.

The inquiry is looking at whether 45-year-old Joseph Delaney and 46-year-old Beth MacLean should be permitted to move from the hospital-like settings into small homes where assistance is provided for meals, mental health and other care.

Delaney is still at the Nova Scotia Hospital's Emerald Hall, while MacLean, who spent almost 15 years in the locked psychiatric ward, was moved to a transition unit two years ago, after she launched the complaint.

A third complainant, Sheila Livingstone, died as the case wound its way through various delays, but her story will be told by family members and the complainants' lawyer.

The report by Griffiths and Stavrakaki said at least half of the 19 patients were staying in the locked-door facility — and "some were being held against their wishes" — because the province wasn't providing a community home with support.

"The situation is clearly confinement without justification ... A non-disabled person in the province of Nova Scotia who experienced an acute mental illness and recovered would not likely be held in a locked psychiatric ward for up to 10 or more years post recovery," the consultants wrote at the time, just months after former Tory premier Rodney MacDonald came into power.

The authors said there was "a feeling of hopelessness for the individuals who live in the unit" and added that dedicated and committed staff were "feeling demoralized regarding the rules and outcomes."

"This failure to return these individuals to a less restrictive environment is inhumane and a class action lawsuit waiting to happen."

Porch lights on for Rebecca

Porch lights have been turning on across North America in honour of a New Brunswick teenager who turned a terminal prognosis into an online movement that inspired acts of kindness around the globe.

Rebecca Schofield died of brain cancer in Moncton on Saturday evening at the age of 18.

Hundreds of members of a Facebook group dedicated to her #BeccaToldMeTo movement said they were turning on their porch lights Sunday evening in her honour, in places like California, Texas, Florida and across Canada.

"Porch light on in Arizona in memory of Becca," commented Facebook user Cynthia Howard on a post that had been shared more than 2,200 times by Monday morning.

Her supporters were also commenting that they would continue to carry out her final request and perform random acts of kindness — with one home daycare owner posting that she was offering her clients a week of free child care.

"Becca your beautiful kind spirit will surely be missed on this earth but your legacy will live on. Thank you for giving hope back to humanity," commented Facebook user Katelynn Draper of Campbellton, N.B.

The Riverview, N.B., teenager penned a bucket list in December 2016 after learning her years-long battle with brain cancer had taken a turn for the worse, with doctors giving her only months to live.

The list included some of life's simple pleasures — playing with puppies, eating her dad's macaroni and cheese — and one more altruistic request. She asked her thousands of Facebook followers to help her cross an item off the list by performing random acts of kindness and posting them online under the hashtag #BeccaToldMeTo.

"I want to create a mass of acts of kindness," Schofield told her thousands of Facebook followers.

Her request soon went viral, with people as far away as Australia posting their good deeds to social media with the hashtag "#BeccaToldMeTo."

The campaign even attracted the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recognized Schofield's "bravery, volunteerism and inspiring commitment to community" in a February 2017 tweet.

Politicians including New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant and Federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc have offered their condolences, and the New Brunswick RCMP tweeted that its flag was flying at half mast Monday.

Former Ontario MP Eve Adams tweeted that she received two free coffees on Sunday in Hamilton and Ajax, Ont.

"Both times the cashier told me the customer ahead bought my coffee because #BeccaToldMeTo. Of course, I paid it forward," she wrote.

Schofield's family released a statement Sunday that said her supporters "gave her hope that all the good and the bad of the past three years had a meaning, even at times when that was hard to see."

"You gave her the profound blessing of knowing in her too short life that she had made a difference," the statement said.

Thousands of dollars have been raised in Schofield's honour, in addition to donations of food, clothing and blood.

The New Brunswick government declared the third Saturday of September "Becca Schofield Day,'' and kicked off the inaugural event in 2017.

Fewer in 'middle class'

Computer programmer David Galvin should be the quintessential beneficiary of next week’s federal budget, which is expected to continue the Liberals' persistent rhetoric and focus on bolstering the middle class.

He is educated, has had a career in advanced technology and lives in the economic heartland of southern Ontario. But Galvin no longer includes himself in the middle class.

Like a growing number of Canadians, the 65-year-old from Hamilton says he has fallen behind — and that’s a challenge, experts say, to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's approach to fiscal policy.

A recent poll conducted by Ekos Research for The Canadian Press suggests fewer than half of all Canadians now identify as members of the middle class — a steep drop from nearly 70 per cent in 2002.

In Galvin's hometown of Hamilton, 22 per cent said they've fallen behind in their social class in the last five years. That was the highest concentration in the country, tied with Halifax and Kitchener.

Another 55 per cent of Hamilton respondents said their situations haven't improved over the last five years.

Ekos president Frank Graves said the numbers point to a large shift in what it means to be a member of the middle class in Canada.

"The whole notion of a middle-class dream — 'I work hard, build a better mousetrap, do better than my parents, my kids do better than me, I get a house, a car, retire in comfort' — that has all been shattered," said Graves.

Graves pointed to higher income inequality and slower economic growth as reasons for the shrinking middle class.

"A lot of people are stagnating or falling behind and they're not happy," he said.

Rewriting Canada's memory

Reconciliation is rewriting Canada's memory banks as archivists across the country work to make their collections more open to and sensitive towards Indigenous people.

Library and Archives Canada is leading the way with a $12-million project to hire Aboriginal archivists to work in First Nations communities and to give more control over materials gathered there to the people who created them.

"Decolonization" is a hot topic among those charged with storing, organizing and making accessible the country's historical record.

"It's huge," said Camille Callison, Indigenous service librarian at the University of Manitoba.

"It's like the biggest thing happening right now. A lot of people are making changes."

Several recommendations in the report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission urged libraries and archives to rethink their work in light of Indigenous people.

"Archives are instruments of bureaucracy, instruments of power," said Greg Bak, a historian and archivist at the University of Manitoba.

"The archives become one way in which colonial views of relationships tend to be fixed and preserved."

The national archives, for example, hold reams of residential school records. Few, said Bak, speak of the children who died there.

That institution is hiring seven Indigenous archivists to fan out across the country. They are to find out what materials are held locally and to record fresh oral history, said Johanna Smith, director of public services.

"That is brand-new for (Library and Archives Canada) to do," she said.

"There's definitely interest out there. When we talk about this, every time there's a community that says, 'Hey, we've got a freezer full of tapes that really need help.'"

Instead of being centralized in Ottawa, materials could remain in their community. So would the copyright — a big shift and a step toward recognizing the concept of "cultural copyright."

Currently, a recording belongs to the person who made it.

"The rights of that individual who was recorded are not as clear," Smith said.

Staff are also poring over old records to find those of interest to First Nations.

Other projects are also underway.

The Association of Canadian Archivists with 125 institutional members offers a scholarship for Indigenous archivists and has set up a working group to share best practices and to figure out how to best address the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action.

"There's no manual to follow," said director Jo-Anne McCutcheon.

Archivists in Manitoba are reworking the old U.S. Library of Congress subject headings, the access points to any collection.

"They call Indigenous spirituality things like shamanism — the really antiquated terms we don't use any longer," said Callison.

Edmonton's city archivists are rewriting catalogue descriptions so they don't repeat offensive language contained in the documents they refer to.

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