'Pillar in our community': Head of Alberta food bank killed during police chase

'Pillar in our community'

A bystander killed in a hit-and-run during a high-speed police chase near Edmonton is being remembered for her unwavering dedication to helping those in need. 

Kassandra Gartner, 45, of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., was killed Saturday.

Police have said her vehicle was disabled by a police spike belt used during the chase. When she stopped and got out of her vehicle to check on the damage, she was struck by a truck police were pursuing.

Fort Saskatchewan Mayor Gale Katchur said she was notified the following day that Gartner was killed in the chase.

"(Gartner) has made a real impact in our community for people who are vulnerable ... always looking out for the needs of others," Katchur said in a phone interview Tuesday.

"She was a pillar in our community."

Gartner was executive director of the city's food bank for the past three years. She got her start there as a volunteer. 

The mother of three was recognized in 2023 for her work addressing food insecurity with the Changing the Face of Hunger award from Food Banks Alberta. 

"She was the heart and soul of our mission and the driving force for service to our community. Her unwavering dedication and compassion have left a mark not only on our clients and volunteers but on the entire community," Amanda Bell, president of the Fort Saskatchewan Food Gatherers Society, said in a statement. 

Police have said the pursuit began after RCMP in Beaumont, just south of Edmonton, tried to arrest a suspect in a parked truck. 

The driver sped off and later rammed an RCMP vehicle, they said. 

Police then deployed the spike belt, which disabled several civilian vehicles as well as the suspect's truck, which hit the woman. 

Police did not identify Gartner as the victim but said a 45-year-old woman from Fort Saskatchewan had stepped out of her car to see what happened and was hit.

They said the driver fled again, this time in a different vehicle with a child inside. The child was later found unharmed.

Officers found that stolen vehicle outside Edmonton on Monday, but have yet to find the suspect.  

Edmonton police and RCMP continue to investigate, while the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team has launched an investigation into the police response.

Bell said the food bank is committed to continuing the vital work that Gartner "passionately" led. Their doors will remain open and services will continue. 

She said it's what Gartner would have wanted. 

"As we mourn her tragic passing and honour her legacy, we also celebrate the remarkable life of a woman who dedicated herself to making the world a better place."

A candlelight vigil was set to take place outside Fort Saskatchewan City Hall on Thursday evening.


Toyota recalls 21,000 cars over flaws in axle raising crash concerns

Toyota recalls 21,000 cars

More than 21,000 Toyota vehicles have been recalled in Canada due to flaws in the rear axle that may cause a vehicle crash, says the auto manufacturer.

The company is recalling its 2022 and 2023 Toyota Tacoma due to manufacturing flaws in the rear axle assembly that could cause certain nuts to loosen over time and eventually fall off.

Toyota says in a news release this could cause a part to separate from the axle and affect the car's stability and brake performance, increasing the risk of a crash.

It adds Toyota dealers will inspect the rear axle assembly and tighten the parts free of cost for all affected vehicles.

Toyota says affected owners will be notified through mail by late April.

Last week, the auto manufacturer recalled 28,000 different vehicles due to a transmission problem.

Inquest hears Saskatchewan mass killer died from cocaine overdose

Mass killer died of overdose

A pathologist has told a Saskatchewan coroner's inquest that a man who killed 11 people and injured 17 others died from a cocaine overdose after he was taken into police custody.

Myles Sanderson, who was 32, had been on the run for several days when police caught up to him on Sept. 7, 2022.

He went into medical distress during his arrest and was pronounced dead in hospital.

RCMP dashboard camera video played at the inquest shows Sanderson was taken into custody after a high-speed chase.

He began to convulse and was given naloxone, a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

Three days before he was captured, Sanderson went from home to home on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, kicking in doors and attacking people.


Online harms against minors, victims must be criminalized, not regulated: Poilievre

Criminalized, not regulated

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre says he believes in a tough-on-crime approach to mitigate online safety issues affecting children, rather than regulating them.

Poilievre released a statement today after the Liberal government tabled its long-awaited Online Harms Act on Monday, which would create a new digital safety commission.

The bill would compel social-media platforms to outline how they're reducing risks and force them to quickly remove certain content, including child sex abuse images and intimate images shared without consent.

Poilievre says Conservatives believe in enforcing laws against sexually victimizing children, and they favour criminalizing "bullying a child online" and "inducing a child to harm themselves."

He also says existing criminal bans on the non-consensual sharing of intimate images "must be enforced and expanded," including when it comes to deepfakes generated by artificial intelligence.

Poilievre says such behaviours ought to be dealt with by the police and courts, "not pushed off to new bureaucracy" that he says would fail to better protect children.

Political eyes on Conservatives as MPs set to vote for ban on replacement workers

Political eyes on Tories

The House of Commons is expected to vote today on a bill that would ban replacement workers from being used during strikes and lockouts at federally regulated workplaces.

Liberals are watching to see how the Opposition votes, as Pierre Poilievre's surging Conservatives have yet to state an opinion on the legislation.

Some union leaders have cautioned their members in recent months about supporting Poilievre, saying he borrows the language of the working class but represents a threat to workers.

Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan says this is where the rubber hits the road on whether or not the Tories support labour rights.

O'Regan says he's had conversations with Conservative labour critic Chris Lewis about the legislation, but he and the party are keeping mum on their position.

Today's vote is expected to pass regardless of whether Tories support the bill, since the legislation advances policy the NDP included in their political pact with the governing Liberals.

Backlog of problems with federal Phoenix pay system bigger than ever: union

Phoenix pay saga persists

Three unions are calling on the government to provide additional compensation to federal public servants, as issues with the Phoenix pay system continue.

"This week marks the eighth anniversary of Phoenix," said Chris Aylward, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, at a Parliament Hill news conference on Tuesday.

"Unfortunately, eight years into the pay fiasco, there is nothing to celebrate no light at the end of the tunnel."

Since its launch in 2016, the number of unresolved problems has piled up to 444,000. Aylward said they've "never seen this many cases in the backlog."

Federal public service unions said in a press release Tuesday the standard waiting period for payroll problems to be addressed is two years.

PSAC, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees want the federal government to negotiate an extension of earlier agreements to compensate public servants for damages.

"The pay problems haven't stopped," Aylward said in an interview. "Every single pay week, we still have pay problems, and we're years out from getting a new pay system."

Aylward said his union negotiated an earlier agreement that gave members a $2,500 settlement for problems that happened between 2016 and 2020.

"Basically, we're saying it's time for us to negotiate another set of damages for the last four years."

Aylward said public servants are continuing to experience the same problems as they did in earlier years. "Not a whole lot has changed."

While there aren't many cases of people who aren't getting paid at all, PSAC members are still being overpaid or underpaid, and it takes two years for someone's pay file to catch up if they move departments or agencies, he said.

"(For) somebody that's contemplating retirement, that can be a real nightmare, not knowing whether my pension is going to be correct or not because of the pay issues," he said. "There's a lot of anxiety out there for sure."

The Phoenix system is "still a mess," he said.

"When the federal government can't pay its own employees properly and on time, there has to be consequences for that."

Aylward also criticized the government for focusing on claiming overpayments before the expiry of a six-year limitation period, a push that began in 2022.

Employers began asking PSAC members to repay hundreds dollars from years earlier — but without being able to explain why the overpayment occurred or even what paycheque it was on.

"Yet they expect our members just to sign on the dotted line to say yes, I owe you this money," Aylward said.

Aylward called for the government to hire more compensation advisors and for them to receive proper training.

There are problems with recruitment and retention of advisors who are "trying to work with a broken system," and the government should do more to recruit and retain them, he said.

Phoenix was introduced in 2016, and was supposed to consolidate dozens of separate and antiquated pay systems. The idea was it would save the government millions annually, but instead resulted in massive upheaval.

Jennifer Carr, the president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, suggested the system should be overhauled altogether.

"Any future pay system must prioritize accuracy, transparency and accountability," she said.

"We cannot afford a repeat of the mistakes of Phoenix."

'Not consulted': Alberta health minister questions Ottawa's national pharmacare plan

Alberta plans to opt out

Alberta's health minister is questioning the need for a national pharmacare plan, saying the province already has a comprehensive program for seniors, those on a low-income and those who receive disability benefits.

The federal NDP said last week it had reached a deal on pharmacare with the Liberal government that would allow every Canadian with a health card to access free diabetes medication and birth control.

The coverage is to be included in the first piece of a national pharmacare program — a key pillar of the supply-and-confidence agreement between the two parties — with legislation expected to be introduced in the House of Commons this week.

"We were not consulted about the federal government’s plan, and although information available to us is limited, we have concerns about the proposed limited scope," Alberta Health Minister Adriana LaGrange said in a statement Monday.

"The province is willing to work and discuss ways that the federal government can invest in Alberta’s pharmacare program to enhance the existing program that is comprehensive and currently available to Albertans."

LaGrange said Alberta intends to opt out of the national program and wants its full per capita share to add into the province's health-care system.

She said the Alberta government already sponsors drug plans that provide coverage for over 5,000 Health Canada approved drugs. That includes coverage in a number of drug classes to treat common conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma and other respiratory diseases, she said.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told reporters Monday he believes provinces that are planning to opt out will eventually opt in.

"I think it will be very difficult for the premier in Alberta to explain to people in Alberta who can’t afford their diabetes medication why they’re turning down an investment that would cover everyone in that province for their insulin and for their medical devices necessary for diabetes," he said.

Two dead after shooting near same Toronto intersection, police say

Two shot near intersection

Toronto police say two males are dead after a shooting in the city's Weston neighbourhood early Tuesday morning.

Police say they received numerous calls after gunshots were heard in the Hickory Tree Road and Lawrence Avenue West area just after 4:30 a.m.

Two males were found with multiple gunshot wounds and they died after being taken to hospital.

Toronto's homicide unit has taken over the investigation.

Police say it's unclear whether others were involved in the shooting.

Investigators were near the intersection Tuesday morning collecting evidence.

There is no indication at this point if police suspect a connection to what they described as the "indiscrimate" shootings of two people near another Toronto intersection earlier this month. One of those victims died. The other, a 16-year-old boy, suffered "potentially life altering injuries".


Five things to know about Canada's proposed law to guard against online harms

Online harms law explained

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government has tabled its long-awaited legislation to better protect Canadians, and particularly youth, against online harms. Here are five things Bill C-63 proposes to do.

1. Target specific types of harmful content

The government wants to target the non-consensual sharing of intimate images, including deepfakes generated by artificial intelligence and content that "sexually victimizes a child or revictimizes a survivor." The bill would also cover anything online that is used to bully a child or urge them to commit self-harm.

Content that incites violent extremism or terrorism, along with material that incites violence or stirs hatred, would also be subject to the new law.

There is overlap with five categories of content the government proposed tackling in a 2021 consultation document. One key difference: the earlier plan included provisions around hate speech writ large, whereas the new bill does not.

2. Add fresh responsibilities for online platforms

The bill would usher in new rules for online platforms, one of which is broadly defined as the "duty to act responsibly." Companies would be expected to reduce exposure to harmful content by "continuously" assessing risks, developing mitigation strategies and providing tools for users to flag harmful content.

The legislation would also require platforms to publish "digital safety plans" to outline measures to reduce the risk of exposing users to harmful content and track their effectiveness. Companies would also have to share data with researchers.

The government says the new rules would apply to social media sites, "user-uploaded adult content" and "live streaming services" with a certain number of users, a threshold that would be spelled out in detail in coming regulations. Cabinet would have the power to target smaller services "when they pose a significant risk of harm."

3. Create a new regulator and a new ombudsperson

The government seeks to create a new "digital safety commission" comprised of five individuals appointed by cabinet. It would have the power to order the removal within 24 hours of images shared without an individual's consent, as well as content that sexually victimizes a child or survivor of abuse.

The commission would be separate from the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, which regulates traditional broadcasters. "Frivolous" complaints would be screened out.

A new "independent" ombudsperson, also appointed by cabinet, would advocate on behalf of users. It would provide information about complaints they wish to file and make recommendations to social media services, the regulator and the government.

4. Strengthen reporting around child pornography

The government also plans to amend a current law that says it is mandatory for internet services to report instances of child sex abuse images on the internet. Changes would apply those rules to social media platforms and "create authority to centralize mandatory reporting" of such offences "through a designated law enforcement body."

The amendment would also extend how long such data can be preserved to assist in police investigations. It would also extend to five years the current two-year limitation period for prosecution.

5. Change the Canadian Human Rights Act and add stiffer sentences for hate crimes

The government plans to add online hate speech as a form of discrimination under the law and allow people to file complaints against individuals posting such content to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

It would also make changes to the Criminal Code, including by increasing the maximum punishment for four hate propaganda offences.

For example, someone found guilty of advocating genocide could face life imprisonment, up from five years in prison.

The government is also looking to create a new hate crime offence that could be applied to every other offence, instead of only listing it as an aggravating factor during sentencing.


Changes needed to ensure safer, more resilient RCMP, union mental-health report says

RCMP union wants change

The union representing front-line Mounties is urging the RCMP to move beyond "patchwork solutions" to ensure the mental health of officers amid concerns they face increasing risks to their well-being.

In a new report, the National Police Federation calls on the RCMP to fully implement its employee well-being strategy, institute regular psychological health screening and make it simpler to access mental-health supports.

The federation is releasing the report, Behind the Badge, at a breakfast meeting in Ottawa today.

The report says RCMP members are confronted daily with a myriad of stressors, risks and emotionally taxing situations that invariably take a toll on their psychological well-being.

It highlights the fact the very nature of their profession exposes them to violence, trauma, high-pressure situations and a relentless demand for vigilance.

The report says this is compounded by everyday sources of stress such as negative comments from the public, fatigue, staff shortages, lack of resources and bureaucratic red tape.

In addition, RCMP officers face stigma related to psychological health issues and a lack of comprehensive and accessible mental-health services and supports, the report adds.

Over time, these factors have been shown to accumulate and lead to an array of mental-health challenges — from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression to anxiety and a heightened risk of suicidal behaviour, it says.

"The urgent need for increased government investment in mental-health guidance, training, and treatment programs for police officers, especially within the RCMP, is paramount."

The report includes the results of a survey by the federation and the University of Regina of a representative sample of RCMP members from June 2022 to February 2023.

It found members were six times as likely as the general population to screen positive for any mental-health disorder. Such figures are considered indicators, not actual diagnoses that require clinical interviews with supporting information.

Members were also far more likely than the general population to have contemplated or planned a suicide in the last year.

The report says the RCMP's employee well-being strategy for 2021 to 2024 put forward "several promising initiatives."

However, the national police force must do more by providing "a step-by-step approach" to address the current reality members face, the report adds.

"This plan ought to be transparent and the RCMP should update on its progress regularly."

As the recent well-being strategy is nearing its end, the federal auditor general should perform and publish an audit of the strategy, the report says.

It also calls for the RCMP to immediately fully staff all occupational health services offices, saying personnel shortages or limited availability of services leave many members "waiting far too long before receiving the help they need."

Among the other recommendations:

— immediately address "financial and logistical barriers" to fully implementing the RCMP's periodic psychological health screening program, to help identify post-traumatic stress injuries early on;

— once the program is fully in place and all members have received a screening, require them to have one annually;

— and implement mandatory wellness psychological training for officers.

The report acknowledges the RCMP has made significant strides in offering and supporting programs aimed at restorative mental-health support and treatment, as well as offering a variety of benefits with regard to occupational injuries and supplementary mental-health benefits.

However, the various mental-health supports and programs for members can be difficult to navigate, leaving members overwhelmed and unsupported, the report found.

"What is evident is that bureaucratic processes, stigmatization, and distrust of the RCMP as a health-care provider has resulted in an inefficient mental health support system and low access."

Investing in comprehensive mental-health initiatives can create a safer, healthier and more resilient police workforce, ensuring members "receive the care and guidance they rightfully deserve," the report says.

"In doing so, we contribute to the overall well-being of officers and the effectiveness of policing, which ultimately benefits society."


Saskatchewan coroner's inquest to hear more details about in-custody death of killer

Inquest hears about killings

A Saskatchewan coroner’s inquest will hear more details today about how a man who killed 11 people and injured 17 others during a stabbing rampage died in police custody.

Myles Sanderson had been on the run for several days when police caught up to him on Sept. 7, 2022, and during the first day of the inquest Monday, jurors were shown video from RCMP dashboard cameras of a high-speed police pursuit.

A Mountie used her vehicle to ram into the truck Sanderson was driving.

The vehicle lost control and went into a ditch on a highway north of Saskatoon, and the inquest heard Sanderson had a medical emergency while he was taken into custody and died in hospital.

Three days before he was captured, Sanderson went from home to home on the James Smith Cree Nation and in the nearby village of Weldon, kicking in doors and attacking people.

The second day of the inquest is expected to hear information from a member of Saskatoon police about what happened when Sanderson was apprehended.

The inquest is also scheduled to hear from a pathologist later in the day.

After the killings occurred, Sanderson travelled to Crystal Springs, a hamlet in east-central Saskatchewan near Wakaw, where he was able to evade capture for three days and seven hours.

The inquest heard how a call came in to police from a woman who said Sanderson had broken into her home and stolen her truck. It set off a rapid search throughout the area for the truck and Sanderson.

Video presented to the inquest shows Mounties close behind the racing truck as it weaved towards oncoming traffic before hitting the ditch.

Cindy Ghostkeeper-Whitehead, a family wellness worker for James Smith Cree Nation, said watching the videos was very difficult.

“You could feel the emotions in the room,” she said. “There was mixed emotions for sure.”

A separate inquest into the massacre was last month, which examined each of the killings and issued more than two dozen recommendations.

Ghostkeeper-Whitehead said she hopes the second inquest helps provide insight into some of the unanswered questions the community still has.

The inquest, which is scheduled for a week in Saskatoon, is required under legislation because Sanderson died in police custody.

It is to establish when and where Sanderson died and the cause of his death. The six-person jury may provide recommendations.


Ontario euthanizes 84 raccoons and accuses rehabber of mistreating animals

84 raccoons euthanized

Ontario has euthanized 84 raccoons and laid dozens of charges in its investigation of a wildlife rehabilitation centre it accuses of allowing animals to suffer with no real hope of recovery, The Canadian Press has learned.

Mally's Third Chance Raccoon Rescue in Kawartha Lakes, Ont., says it is outraged and wants accountability from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry over its handling of the animals.

The rescue, a non-profit, says it helps rehabilitate injured and orphaned raccoons and returns them to the wild once they are able.

Court documents show the owners of Mally's, Derek Zavitsky and Barbara Zavitsky, face 18 counts and 23 counts, respectively, under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.

"A total of 93 raccoons were seized, with six found dead on-site, three succumbing to severe disease and 84 humanely euthanized," said Marcela Mayo, a spokeswoman with the ministry.

"All seized raccoons tested positive for canine distemper, with many displaying severe signs of the disease when MNRF took possession of them."

The province also revoked Mally's wildlife rehabilitator custodian licence.

Distemper is caused by a virus that is commonly found in wild raccoons and is fatal, usually killing animals in a matter of days or weeks.

On Sept. 26, 2023, more than 50 conservation officers with the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry raided Mally's Third Chance Raccoon Rescue, acting on a tip from the public. 

"We're absolutely devastated," said Tiffany Devon, a spokeswoman and volunteer with Mally's. 

"Our biggest fight, and our number one priority, was for the safety of those raccoons."

The majority of the raccoons were orphans Mally's had been caring for since the spring, Devon said.

The province alleges the Zavitskys failed to keep updated log books, lacked raccoon identification, kept the animals more than 12 months and provided rehabilitation to raccoons that "had no reasonable chance of surviving."

The province also alleges the pair allowed raccoons to be in contact with domestic animals, kept raccoons in their home and treated raccoons that displayed symptoms of distemper, and failed to euthanize those animals that displayed distemper symptoms.

Mally's will fight the charges, Devon said.

The mass seizure and subsequent euthanization sparked protests at Queen's Park. A small group of so-called "raccoon freedom fighters" have also demonstrated against Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Graydon Smith, including at a recent Progressive Conservative policy conference in Niagara Falls, Ont.

In November, Mally's took the government to court, seeking an injunction to return the seized raccoons. The injunction was denied. But the court documents portray two vastly different versions of events.

The province alleges the raccoons were "living in unsanitary, squalid conditions."

"Forty-nine raccoons were living in the same house as humans and domestic animals, including in bedrooms and bathrooms, causing significant biosecurity risks and depositing urine and feces everywhere," the Ministry of the Attorney General wrote in its factum.

One "very sick raccoon" was found in a cabinet under the bathroom sink. Investigators said they found a dead raccoon in a cage in the home "full of rigor mortis" and another was "infested with live maggots."

The ministry said it had to euthanize 15 raccoons that day because they "showed obvious signs of suffering including active seizing, head tremors, discharge from their eyes and nose, and open sores on their paws and bodies." 

The ministry alleged Mally's had "mistreated the raccoons for who knows how long." They say testing at the University of Guelph revealed all raccoons had distemper and all were eventually euthanized.

Mally's took issue with the government's characterization of its operations and the state of the animals on its property.

In court documents, Mally's owners say ministry conservation officers were rough with the raccoons that were "aggressively ripped out of cages" and "shoved into cages that were far too small."

The raccoons were left in those ministry cages for hours as the eight-hour raid unfolded, "where they were unable to move, struggled to breathe, and involuntarily defecated," Mally's factum said.

The officers "were heard laughing callously as they terrorized the raccoons," Mally's said.

The rescue organization said the ministry made "uncorroborated allegations" that all raccoons had contracted distemper.

The raccoons had all been vaccinated for distemper, Devon said, raising concerns over false-positives in the ministry's testing. They also question how raccoons could have lived for several months with distemper before they were euthanized.

"Things are not adding up at all," Devon said.


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