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Charges follow balloon stunt

A Calgary man got more than he bargained for when he flew over the city in a lawn chair attached to helium balloons and then had to parachute to safety.

Police have charged the man with mischief and say more charges could be on the way.

"It's the first time I've seen anything like it in my career," said Calgary Police acting Insp. Kyle Grant. "I usually see it on those crazy shows on TV of what not to do."

An person was spotted floating over the Stampede grounds Sunday in the chair, which was attached to more than 100 helium balloons. He was then seen gliding to Earth outside of the grounds using a parachute.

"He sat in the chair and began floating over Calgary. It's my understanding that he didn't have any sort of device to steer the craft and got to a point so high at cloud level that he became a little worried and decided to jump from the chair," Grant said.

"He deployed the parachute and ended up landing in a green space and rolled his ankle, causing minor injury. He was looked at by EMS, then taken into custody and eventually charged."

Daniel Boria, 26, of Calgary faces two charges: one count of mischief causing danger to life and one of mischief to property under $5,000. He has since been released.

"According to him, he was looking to use that as a platform to advertise for his company," said Grant.

The stunt brings to mind the 2009 animated movie "Up" in which an elderly widower ties thousands of balloons to his home and takes off on an adventure.

Grant said no one was hurt, but it could have ended up differently.

"Thankfully his parachute functioned properly and of course he wasn't seriously injured upon landing but there's still the question of the chair being up in the air," he said.

"It's my understanding that those balloons would pop once they get to a certain height and the chair would fall back to the Earth. At this point we have no reports of anybody finding anything or anybody being injured, but it's a big concern for us, and I don't think it's something he took into account."

The Canadian Press


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Law firm bomb charges

Winnipeg police have charged a man with sending explosive devices to law firms and other businesses in the city, and they caution that more packages may be discovered in the coming days.

Guido Amsel, 49, has been charged with two counts of attempted murder, one count of aggravated assault and a number of offences related to possessing explosives.

The hunt for Amsel started last Friday, when a bomb went off inside a small law firm south of the downtown area, severely injuring Maria Mitousis, 38.

Another bomb was found Saturday at a small business in another part of the city. Then Sunday night, yet another explosive device was detonated by police at a law firm closer to downtown.

Police say Amsel targeted law firms that had represented himself or his ex-wife in the past, and they warn that other packages may be delivered to lawyers or justice officials in the city.

"Police are imploring extreme caution if any suspicious packages are discovered," the city police service said in a release late Sunday.

Amsel has been remanded in custody, and police say they are continuing to search a business and a residence linked to the suspect.

Court records show he went through a divorce that dragged on for years, and was also sued by his ex-wife. In both cases, Amsel's ex-wife was represented by Mitousis, who remains in hospital in stable condition with serious injuries to her upper body.

Police have said Mitousis was alone in her office when a package delivered by Canada Post exploded.

Colleagues of the 38-year-old set up a fundraising website which had raised almost $15,000 in little over 24 hours. The site said Mitousis faces "a long road to recovery." A source in the legal community said Mitousis had undergone surgery and had lost one of her hands

The device that was detonated by police Sunday night was at a law firm connected to a lawsuit Amsel's ex-wife filed in 2010 that involved a numbered company the couple had set up more than a decade earlier.

Amsel has continued to operate the numbered company. Records from the Rural Municipality of Springfield, just outside Winnipeg, show he was granted the right last fall to set up a small car lot in the community. He was scheduled to apply for another business permit at the end of May, but his representative did not attend, according to minutes of the council meeting.

The Canadian Press


Off-road trail of destruction

Nearly a decade's worth of data and observation from an environmental group suggests Alberta's fragile backcountry is being damaged by unsustainable off-highway vehicle use.

Ruts deep enough to swallow a man and erosion that has relocated streambeds shows that some areas can't handle motorized traffic even if users do their best to be responsible, says the Alberta Wilderness Association.

"We have photographs of trenches that are so bad that a person is standing at the bottom of it and it's over their head," said Sean Nichols, who runs the association's trail-monitoring project.

"There are some areas where there are three or even four trails parallel because all but the most recent are essentially impassable."

Since 2003, the association has buried traffic sensors at three trailheads connecting about 70 kilometres of designated off-highway vehicle trails in the Bighorn region in the Alberta foothills southwest of Edmonton. The group has also sent teams up the trails to photograph changes.

Its numbers show use has grown significantly. Although traffic dropped in flood years, the number of vehicles on those trails grew from 3,226 in 2007 to 5,544 in 2014.

Monitors also used GPS co-ordinates to document changes and measure the depth and length of ruts. They found many sections where up to 95 metres in every 100 were carved out at least 30 centimetres deep.

The erosion gets so bad it diverts streambeds, said Nichols.

"When the stream gets diverted down the trail, even (conscientious) riders end up driving in the streams because that's where the trail is."

Nichols said the data shows trail use during closed periods has actually declined and signs urging riders to stay on marked trails are largely heeded. The problem, he said, is that these trails — and others like them — are in the wrong place to begin with.

"There are areas where one could reasonably place trail networks and it would have a low impact," he said, adding the Bighorn area problems are common up and down the Alberta foothills.

"Worse in some areas, better in others."

Dave Coutts of the Alberta Off Highway Vehicle Association said the problem stems from increases in ownership and vehicle capability.

"The infrastructure just has not kept up."

He said his group has long sought a provincial network of sustainable and properly engineered trails that will keep the vehicles out of places where they cause damage.

"People have got to learn you can't just go everywhere with these machines."

Coutts said the activity needs to be properly managed by the government.

Ryan Heise of Alberta Environment said the province is dealing with the issue through its land-use frameworks. Two such agreements — including one that covers the Bighorn area — have been hammered out.

"It's a combination of consultation and looking at the cumulative effects of land usage," he said.

"Those marked trails have been developed based on consultation and cumulative effects management. If that's not working out, there may be a need to go back and re-evaluate some of these trails."

But the land-use plans have been a disappointment, said Nichols.

"There still is no access management plan as such, anywhere. We’re still waiting for an actual plan with implementation details, with any kinds of limits."

Nichols said the association has shown its data to Alberta Environment every fall, without effect.

"The first 80 per cent of the meeting is getting the land managers to grudgingly admit that maybe this isn't the right place.

"And nothing ever tends to happen, and we have the same meeting over again."

The Canadian Press


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Harper's Stampede speech

Justin Trudeau is no longer alone in Stephen Harper's crosshairs.

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is now there too.

The prime minister launched a blistering attack on his two main competitors in a speech to party faithful at his annual Calgary Stampede barbecue on Saturday in advance of this fall's federal election.

Harper used much of his speech to outline his government's response to national security, saying Canada was "brutally reminded" last October it is not immune to the threat of "jihadist terrorism."

He continued to refer to Mulcair and Trudeau simply as the "other guys" who he said refuse to acknowledge that Canadians are at risk and wouldn't have been willing to provide the necessary leadership to send Canadian troops to take part in the international battle against terrorism.

"Thomas Mulcair actually refused to admit the October attacks on Canadian soil were terrorism," Harper said.

"That's the NDP approach: if the facts don't fit your ideology, just pretend the facts don't exist.

"And, of course, both Mr. Mulcair and Mr. Trudeau have opposed the military mission, said they would withdraw our forces and our aircraft, in Justin Trudeau's case saying so, as you will remember, in terms laced with contempt for the Canadian military," Harper added.

"Friends, these guys just don't get it. We're living in a dangerous world."

Harper also chastised Trudeau for confirming he would take Canada out of the international coalition in the battle against the Islamic State and make strong diplomatic relations with Iran a priority.

The prime minister said the economic policies of both the Liberals and NDP are "remarkably similar" and neither leader appears to have even a working knowledge of budgeting and how job creation works.

"Friends, here is the bottom line: the Liberals and the NDP voted against every single tax break and every single family benefit we brought in. And their economic policies are remarkably similar," Harper said.

"They will tax away, in whole or large part, the universal child care benefit, income splitting, and tax-free savings accounts.

"Friends, we've come too far to take risks with reckless policies. That's why I'm confident that this October Canadians will choose security over risk."

Harper's speech was a marked departure from last year where he focused almost exclusively on Trudeau and made scant mention of Mulcair and the NDP.

Harper and Mulcair met on a more congenial stage Saturday morning when they shook hands at Calgary's largest Stampede pancake breakfast. Mulcair actually replaced Harper at the flapjack station when the prime minister departed.

Mulcair, who has surged in the polls in recent weeks, told reporters on Friday that increased success usually does lead to negative attention.

"I guess it's the ultimate compliment in politics and it shows that you do have the status where you become the target but you know what? You take it in stride and it's par for the course," Mulcair said.

 

The Canadian Press


Thousands more evacuated

Thousands more people in northern Saskatchewan are being told that wildfires are too close for them to stay in their homes.

But this time they'll be heading to Alberta instead of an evacuation centre in their own province.

The Alberta government said in a news release that the province and the Red Cross were activating a plan to receive up to 5,000 evacuees in Cold Lake, and that the first ones were expected to arrive Saturday afternoon. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said the Canadian Forces base in Cold Lake would be assisting with the evacuation facilities.

Close to 5,200 people had already been forced from their homes in the past week due to the Saskatchewan fires.

Wall said he spoke with Prime Minister Stephen Harper on the phone Saturday afternoon about the possible need for further help from the military with such a large evacuation.

"The prime minister was very accommodating and willing to make sure that upon official request that the resources are there," Wall told a media briefing Saturday afternoon, adding that other federal help might be necessary.

Local officials in La Ronge, Air Ronge and the Lac La Ronge Indian Band issued a general evacuation order on Saturday afternoon when the flames from nearby fires threatened their communities.

Saskatchewan fire Chief Duane McKay said the order could affect close to 7,900 people.

Thomas Sierzycki, the mayor of La Ronge, said in a tweet that local councils made the decision shortly after noon on Saturday in order to take advantage of daylight.

The closest fire to the community was only eight kilometres away, he said, and weather wasn't favourable for attacking it.

"Residents are advised to leave with a sense of purpose and urgency, but not panic," Sierzycki said.

Sierzycki warned people who were leaving that the highway south out of town was smoky and there were small fires along the way. Highway crews, he said, would be monitoring junctions.

Wall said planning for the large, general evacuation had been underway for some time. He was in La Ronge to view the fire situation a day earlier, and saw how quickly things could change.

A number of homes on the Montreal Lake First Nation were destroyed Friday night when everyone, including firefighters, had to flee when strong winds brought a nearby fire into the community.

Provincial officials said they returned to Montreal Lake on Saturday and that they, along with local community members, were still assessing the damage.

Edward Henderson, chief of the Montreal Lake First Nation, said one of the structures that's burned in his community is a four-plex, which would leave multiple families homeless.

"The four-plex, originally it will hold four families, but in our case there's usually two or three families per unit," Henderson explained Saturday from Prince Albert, where many of the people from his community have spent the past week.

Further west, dozens of wildfires continue to force people to flee in B.C. and Alberta.

More than 150 wildfires are burning in B.C., including a 500-hectare fire about 23 kilometres northwest of Pemberton, where officials issued an evacuation order Saturday that affected two pumice mines and an independent power project.

An additional 40 firefighters and support staff were also brought in to battle an 80-hectare blaze in the Okanagan which has prompted the evacuation of 142 homes in the Joe Rich area of Kelowna. Port Hardy Mayor Hank Bood, meanwhile, said a state of emergency was issued on Saturday morning after a 16-hectare fire caused the evacuation of about 100 residences.

The Alberta government said Saturday that slower wind speeds and cooler temperatures over the next few days would help firefighters battle a blaze near the North Tallcree First Nation. That fire forced about 200 residents to seek safety in High River on Thursday.

The Canadian Press


Grimm's roast beef recalled

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency says a popular roast beef brand sold across the country is being recalled over possible Listeria monocytogenes contamination.

FG Deli Group Ltd. is recalling Grimm's Fine Foods brand Home Style Roast Beef and is advising Canadians not to eat the product over health concerns.

The recalled meat may have been sold without a label at deli counters in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Yukon, and could have been distributed in other provinces or territories.

Consumers should look for products with an expiration date of July 24 and the company says it should be thrown out or returned to the store where it was purchased.

The CFIA says food contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes may not look or smell spoiled but can still make people sick. Symptoms can be fatal in severe cases and include vomiting, nausea, persistent fever, muscle aches, severe headache and neck stiffness.

Pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems are particularly at risk.

The Canadian Press


Five deaths linked

Two people shot in a law office north of Montreal on Thursday have died of their injuries, Quebec provincial police confirmed Saturday afternoon.

Police identified the victims as 51-year-old Benoit Cote and 30-year old Marie-Josée Sills, who were shot around 6 p.m. Thursday in the cabinet of a Terrebonne, Quebec law office.

The shooting has been linked to the deaths of three men found just after midnight Friday in a home that had been set ablaze in Boucherville, just south of Montreal.

Longueuil police spokesman Tommy Lacroix said the bodies were likely those of a father and his two sons but he wouldn't confirm the information because the corpses had not been officially identified. He confirmed the deaths were possibly the result of a murder-suicide and were linked to the Terrebonne shootings.

Reports have speculated the father killed his sons before making his way to the Terrebonne law office to kill his former lawyer and an employee.

Various reports said the father in Boucherville had filed a $1.2-million lawsuit against a lawyer who was one of the two people shot in Terrebonne.

Police have not confirmed the circumstances surrounding the deaths, saying there were "points" left to clarify.

Lacroix said the timeline of events and motives behind the shooting had yet to be established. He said autopsies had been ordered.

"What we know up to now is that one of the people inside the house — one of the victims — seems to have left the house at night and when he came back set the house on fire before committing suicide," he said Friday.

Lacroix said investigators found a large quantity of fire accelerant in the home, leading them to believe the fire was set deliberately, "but that remains to be determined."

Police said it's too early to conclude a motive for the crimes but added they are not looking for any other suspects in the case.

A vigil for Gabriel and Jeremie Dubuc has been organized for Saturday evening in Boucherville.

The Canadian Press


Sask. wildfire burns homes

Wind-whipped wildfires engulfed a northern Saskatchewan community Friday and burned at least two homes to the ground.

"Everybody's safe, but we just couldn't take on Mother Nature today," said Edward Henderson, chief of the Montreal Lake First Nation.

"There was no stopping it — four water bombers, two helicopters bucketing, crews on the ground doing whatever they could, but we just couldn't do anything when the wind picked up."

Henderson said when the massive wall of flames was less than a kilometre away, he and other leaders decided to pull everyone — firefighters, volunteers, out of the community, about 250 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon.

"It was like having a fire pit right in front of you and all around you, we had fires on the east side, we had fires on the south, we had fires on the west side, we had fires on the north, so we booted it out of there."

As they left, they saw two houses burn. Henderson said it was terrifying.

"We lost two houses so far, but material stuff can be replaced, we were blessed that we didn't lose any lives at this time so we're grateful," Henderson said.

He added that he and other officials hoped to return to the community Saturday to assess the damage.

"Hopefully it will be safe for us to go back and see what's standing," he said.

A week ago, about 1,000 residents of Montreal Lake were evacuated to Prince Albert due to the approaching fire. Henderson said about 20 volunteers stayed behind to watch over the homes and take care of pets left behind.

The province estimates forest fires have forced at least 5,200 people from their homes in the past week.

Fifty-one towns, villages and reserves around La Ronge and La Loche have been evacuated or partially evacuated as a precaution due to either nearby fires or harmful smoke.

More than 600 firefighters are in the area, including some from Ontario and New Brunswick.

The Canadian Press


Smoke clears, flames fanned

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall says wind is proving to be a "double-edged sword" in fighting wildfires in the northern part of the province.

Wall met Friday with emergency officials and community leaders in La Ronge, and also stopped to thank a group of firefighters for their efforts.

He said wind was threatening to spread the flames, while at the same time clearing enough dense smoke to get some firefighting aircraft off the ground.

"I think they are hopeful to use the assets in the air a little bit more," Wall said.

"This is an amazing effort that's happening ... we won't be able to thank them enough."

The province estimates the fires have forced at least 5,200 people from their homes since in the past week.

Fifty-one towns, villages and reserves around La Ronge and La Loche have been evacuated or partially-evacuated as a precaution due to either nearby fires or harmful smoke.

More than 600 firefighters are in the area, including some from Ontario and New Brunswick.

Crews were managing to keep fires out of the communities.

Officials had earlier reported that several remote cabins and one home south of La Ronge had been destroyed. But Daryl Jessop with the province's Wildfire Support Services clarified that the house burned down several weeks ago in an unrelated fire.

Environment Canada issued special air quality statements for the entire province, as well as much of Manitoba and northern Alberta.

In northern Alberta, where wildfire conditions were listed Friday as extreme, flames were threatening the remote community of North Tallcree First Nation.

About 200 people from the reserve were evacuated Thursday as a precaution.

Evacuees from northern Saskatchewan have been put up in hotels and evacuation centres in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon and Regina.

A pregnant woman staying at Evraz Place in Regina went to hospital earlier this week and delivered a healthy baby, said Merv Tippe with Health Emergency Management.

The Canadian Press


Parade kicks off stampede

Two-time Olympic bobsled champion Kaillie Humphries sported a gold-medal smile Friday as she presided over the kickoff to the Calgary Stampede.

An estimated 250,000 people took the morning off work, donned cowboy hats, boots and jeans, and lined up early for the parade, which marks the beginning of a 10-day celebration of the cowboy way of life.

"I'm super excited. This is honestly a dream come true, so I'm speechless. I really don't know what to say except it's going to be an amazing time," said Humphries, sitting on a horse named Que.

Humphries won the two-woman event at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and then successfully defended her title in 2014 in Sochi. Last November, she piloted a mixed-gender team to the bronze medal in the Canadian four-man bobsled championships.

Serving as parade marshal was clearly a highlight.

"This I prize very highly among the rest of all the other major accomplishments,'' she said.

"It made my day and my year so much better. I don't honestly think anything can top this.''

Previous marshals have included Canadian actor William Shatner, astronaut Chris Hadfield, country singer Ian Tyson, Man in Motion Rick Hansen, Mickey Mouse, actors Leslie Nielsen, Jack Palance and Sam Elliot, and former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Andrea Daye arrived at 5 a.m. with a fleece blanket and coffee to stake out a prime spot along the route.

"I think the excitement of the parade is really something that can't be missed. I like to get down here and get a good spot so my kids can watch it," she said, adding her sons are most excited about the cowboys and the tanks.

Walter Klingele nabbed his spot about a half-hour later. He said he was looking forward to seeing Humpries head up the parade.

"She did a great job and I'm glad she's doing the front today."

Shatner, last year's marshal, "didn't wave much" from his vintage convertible, Klingele recalled.

"He was in the car. I wish he was on a horse. I would have seen him better on a horse."

Rachel Notley, who was elected as Alberta's premier in May, was taking part in her first parade.

"This time last year, when I was here at the Stampede campaigning for the leadership of the NDP, I will say I did not plan to be (in the) parade on a horse the following year. It's very exciting. I feel very privileged," she said.

"I have ridden on a horse, although not for about 40 years."

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he doesn't expect a downturn in the energy sector to dampen the party mood.

"Will people spend quite as much money? Maybe not, but there's a quarter million people out there and they seem like it's time to celebrate."

The leaders of the three major federal parties, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, were also in attendance.

Follow @BillGraveland and @LaurenKrugel on Twitter

The Canadian Press


Strike delays, cancels flights

Dozens of flights at Toronto Pearson International Airport were delayed or cancelled Friday because of a labour dispute at a company that's losing a contract to fuel planes for multiple airlines.

A union spokesman says 30 of 47 workers scheduled for the Friday morning shift called in sick, while others refused to work overtime. He said the dispute could continue all day because more than half of the afternoon shift also called in sick.

"Basically these guys are all going to lose their jobs Oct. 1 and so I think frustration is the key phrase," said Bill Trbovich, of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.

"It's one of those cases of they took matters into their own hands. We sure as hell don't condone this but the airlines are the ones that started this."

He said employees of Consolidated Aviation Fueling Services will have to apply for the same type of job at another employer at lower wages.

Workers currently earning between $18 and 23 per hour will start at minimum wage up to a high of $14 with no pensions, Trbovich added.

Consolidated Aviation Fueling didn't immediately return calls seeking comment.

The airlines are switching to Service International Group in Toronto as of Oct. 1 and moved to Swissport in Montreal as of July 1.

The Greater Toronto Airport Authority said 36 flights were cancelled as of mid-morning, accounting for about 4.3 per cent of departures. Other flights were delayed.

Some arrivals have also been affected, including two Air Canada flights from Trudeau International Airport even though an airport spokeswoman said there was no job action in Montreal.

Pearson spokeswoman Shabeen Hanifa said passengers should check their flight status online, but wouldn't how many airlines were affected.

The cancellations and delays primarily affected Air Canada, which uses Pearson as its main international hub. Air Transat said none of its flights have been affected. Several WestJet (TSX:WJA) flights were delayed but none was cancelled.

Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick said the dispute is between the airlines' current refuelling company and its Toronto workers.

"Delays and cancellations can be expected as a result and passengers should check on the status of their flight before getting to the airport," he said in an email.

Fitzpatrick said a fuel consortium, managed by the FSM Management Group for the airlines, notified Consolidated's parent last fall that it would not renew the agreement that was set to expire March 31. They extended the agreement until the work is taken over by the new fuel providers.

 

The Canadian Press


Explosion in law firm

Emergency crews have surrounded a law firm in south-central Winnipeg after reports of a possible explosion.

There are reports that a woman, who inadvertently triggered the bomb, was rushed to hospital with serious injuries to her upper body.

Police have put crime scene tape around the Petersen King law office.

A police tactical team, a bomb unit and a fire hazardous materials crew are on site.

Radio station CJOB says that some witnesses reported hearing an explosion.

The Canadian Press


Bernardo applies for parole

Paul Bernardo has applied for day parole in Toronto.

The lawyer for the families of Bernardo's murder victims, 14-year-old Leslie Mahaffy and 15-year-old Kristen French, says Correctional Service Canada sent out a form letter to the families last week advising them of his application.

Tim Danson says it is Bernardo's right to apply for parole three years before he is eligible, but this has left families of both girls devastated, even though they knew this day was coming.

Danson says he has told the families that there is no chance Bernardo will ever see the outside world again.

Bernardo was sentenced to life with no chance for parole for 25 years for raping and murdering Mahaffy and French.

He was also given a dangerous offender status, the most severe designation in Canadian law, for admitting to raping 14 other women.

The Canadian Press


Toonie marks poppy poem

The man who penned one of the most memorable poems in Canadian history is getting not one, but two commemorative coins.

The federal cabinet has approved the creation of commemorative toonies and two 25-cent coins depicting Lt.-Col. John McCrae writing "In Flanders Fields" to mark the poem's 100th anniversary.

"It is one of the First World War's most recognized poems and an integral part of Canadian culture," the Royal Canadian Mint explains in a notice published in the Canada Gazette.

"The poem's striking imagery has served to solidify both the poem and the poppy as enduring and powerful symbols of remembrance for all Canadians."

The coins will feature an image of McCrae writing his poem on the battlefield after the second battle of Ypres in early May 1915, surrounded by the symbols featured in the poem — birds, crosses and poppies.

The word "Remember" will also be inscribed around the edge of each coin.

The Gazette posting says the 25-cent coins will be produced in coloured and non-coloured versions and will prominently feature a "natural-looking poppy."

Public demand for the coins is expected to be high, it notes.

Spokesman Alex Reeves said the mint won't say anything about the coins until they are officially launched, and wouldn't specify when that would be.

The mint has already created limited-edition silver coins to commemorate the poem's anniversary that sell on its website for more than $500 in some cases.

The Canadian Press




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