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Canada  

La Loche school shooter

A Saskatchewan judge is weighing whether a teenager who fatally shot four people and injured seven others at a school and a home in La Loche, Sask., should be sentenced as an adult or a youth.

His sentencing hearing wrapped up Friday; now it's up to Judge Janet McIvor to consider all the testimony and evidence that has been presented since the hearing started in May. Her decision is expected Feb. 23.

The prosecution argued the teen should be sentenced as an adult after pleading guilty to two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and seven counts of attempted murder for the attack in January 2016.

Crown prosecutor Pouria Tabrizi-Reardigan noted the teen researched school shootings and guns online. He also researched what it felt like to kill someone.

"(The teen's) school shooting was not this sudden, impulsive outburst ... rather the shooting had historical awareness and depth," Tabrizi-Reardigan told the court in Meadow Lake, Sask. "In our case, it seems that (the teen) knew exactly why he committed the offences."

He said the teen ultimately knew he was outgunned by police and gave himself up at the school — a sign he knew the consequences of his actions. The teen may have panicked but carried out his plan "with stark efficiency."

Tabrizi-Reardigan also argued that the teen has never expressed genuine remorse about the plan to shoot up the school.

The young man cannot be named because he was just shy of his 18th birthday when the shootings occurred.

The defence lawyer is seeking a youth sentence.

"The point being that simply because it's a serious offence doesn't obligate the court to sentence the person as an adult," said Aaron Fox, adding the teen suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome and has cognitive problems which have affected his maturity.

The teen also doesn't have a criminal record, he noted.

"This was not a person who had a history of violence," Fox told court.

The teen has said he wasn't bullied, but Fox said the youth hated school and was repeating Grade 10 for the third time.

In June, a neuropsychologist testified for the defence that the teen had an IQ of 68, which is considered well below average.

However, a child psychiatrist who testified for the Crown has already said the teen did not come across as being overtly developmentally delayed or slow.

The penalty if he is sentenced as a youth could be six years of custody and four years supervision; as an adult, he could face a life sentence, but would get credit for time already spent in custody, meaning he could be eligible for parole after 10 years.

Some victims have already told court that the teen should be sentenced as an adult because of the severity of his crimes.

An agreed statement of facts detailed the shooter's murderous path from the home in La Loche to the community's high school.

The teen first killed Dayne Fontaine, 17, and then his brother Drayden, who was 13. Dayne pleaded for his life before he was shot 11 times, including twice in the head. Drayden was shot twice.

The teen then drove to the high school, where surveillance footage captured his frightening walk through the halls, his shotgun raised, as students and staff ran in fear.

When police arrived, the shooter ran into a women's washroom where he put his weapon down and gave himself up.

The teen said he didn't know what he was thinking when he pulled the trigger.

Fox said his client has never blamed anyone else for his actions and did express remorse and apologize to his victims.

McIvor said she'll deliver the sentence in La Loche.

Mayor Robert St. Pierre said that could bring some closure to the community, but he does have some concerns.

"It's just two years and a month after the incident and it's back in La Loche, so the winter scenery, it's going to dredge up a lot of memories," St. Pierre told reporters outside the courthouse.



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Cannabis testing ongoing

Canada's health minister says pilot projects have begun on roadside police testing for marijuana, and the plan is to have rules in place for edible cannabis around July 2019.

"Our priority right now is to ensure that we can legalize cannabis by July 2018," Ginette Petitpas Taylor said Friday.

"There's no specific date (for edibles to be available), but I would say if you look a year after the legalization, that is the window that we're giving ourselves."

Petitpas Taylor made the comments to reporters after briefing her provincial and territorial counterparts on Ottawa's progress toward legalizing marijuana.

Ottawa will not allow edible cannabis in the marketplace until it has put in place the rules surrounding packaging, potency and health warnings.

The federal government is toughening up Criminal Code rules and will handle the overall health regime for cannabis, while the provinces will be in charge of distributing and selling the weed.

Police will be administering roadside saliva tests to check for drug-impaired driving.

The federal government has announced it will spend $161 million over the next five years to help train and equip the officers.

Petitpas Taylor said pilot tests for these checks have begun across the country with municipal police forces and the RCMP.

She said her department is also working on public education by setting up partnerships with non-profit outreach agencies such as Drug-Free Kids.

"What we learned from the lessons of the United States when they started their rollout … was really to ensure that the prevention was rolled out before the actual legalization date became a reality," she said.

Eight states in the U.S. plus the District of Columbia have already legalized recreational use of marijuana.

Provinces, territories and some police agencies have cautioned that having Canada's regime in place by next July 1 is too ambitious.

Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman said while they're still consulting on their plans "we're working forward with that deadline in mind and we expect we will be able to achieve it."

Quebec Health Minister Gaetan Barrette said the public awareness campaign of marijuana's health impacts is key.

"An awareness campaign most of the time will take time to have a positive effect," said Barrette.

"We need to have that as soon as possible and I think Minister Petitpas Taylor is working in that direction."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government introduce the legalization legislation in the spring aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of youngsters and denying profits to black marketers.

The minimum age to buy and consume cannabis will be 18, but provinces are free to set it higher.



Kid in car, mom in the bar

A southern Alberta mother who left her child in a locked and freezing SUV while the woman went drinking has pleaded guilty to failing to provide the necessaries of life.

The 25-year-old entered the plea in a Lethbridge court and is to be sentenced Jan. 26. She cannot be named to protect the identity of the child.

Court heard that a passerby called police last December after hearing a child crying, and officers had to smash into the vehicle to rescue the three-year-old.

They found the intoxicated woman in a nearby bar and she told them she had forgotten about her child.

Another woman charged in the case is to go to trial in March.

An agreed statement of facts said officers first found a girl who was crying and cold to the touch. After they sent the girl to hospital, they searched the SUV and found a four-year-old boy curled-up in a ball under a pile of jackets and shivering.

Court heard both were wearing winter coats, but police noted it was snowing that night and the temperature was -18 C.

A report prepared by a pediatric specialist said both children were suffering from mild or early hypothermia, but that neither suffered any long-term physical harm. The specialist couldn't say how much longer the children would have lasted. It was noted that there was a risk of severe hypothermia, frostbite and even death.

The investigation revealed that the woman had been in the bar for about an hour.



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A 'berry' disappointed bear

It would have been one berry disappointed bear.

Kim Bouwman was sitting in her rural home Thursday in Ste. Anne, about 40 kilometres southeast of Winnipeg, when she caught something out of the corner of her eye.

A fairly large black bear — Bouwman guesses it was three or four years old — had made its way up to her door and was trying to eat the foam red berries on her fall wreath.

She grabbed her camera and started snapping pictures while hoping the animal wouldn't fall through the glass it was leaning against with its front paws.

"My heart was definitely pounding when I saw this, like, holy man, that's a fair size bear," she said.

"It was probably standing five-and-a-half to six-feet high at the window and had its two front paws on the window."

Once the bear realized he was gnawing on an artificial decoration, he settled back on all fours and sauntered off to the neighbour's yard.

Bouwman said when she posted her photo on Facebook, she heard from another neighbour whose garbage had been ransacked. She figures it was the same animal.

"I took the wreath down right away, just because I didn't want any other bears to come today or whenever else," she said.

"We'll keep that off the door for a while anyway."



Downie family feeling love

The outpouring of public support in the days since Gord Downie's death has been "unbelievable," says one of the brothers of the Tragically Hip frontman, adding he feels in "good company" with fans.

"It helps with the sadness because it's so uplifting," Mike Downie said through tears during an interview in Toronto on Friday.

"But it actually makes you a little sadder too because you realize there's a lot of people who are really hurting."

Shortly before the filmmaker and "Secret Path" collaborator left for a private family gathering to honour the singer, he spoke about his struggle to comprehend a week of heavy grief and complex emotions.

Downie died Tuesday night at age 53. Nearly two years ago, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an invasive brain tumour with one of the poorest survival rates of any cancer.

Within hours of his family announcing his death on Wednesday morning a memorial started forming in the Hip's hometown of Kingston, Ont. Candlelight vigils were organized that night in the city's market square and hours away in Bobcaygeon, Ont., a community immortalized in one of the Hip's most popular songs.

Fellow musicians spoke of Downie's talents in reverential tones, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau broke down while talking about his legacy, and Indigenous leaders spoke about his push for progress on reconciliation.

Mike Downie said the outpouring of messages left his family stunned and he's still processing it all himself.

"It was on a national level and on a personal level at the same time," he said. "It's a weird combination."

He said the family is considering a public memorial though it's too early to say for certain what would happen.

"We'll pull something together in the coming days, I guess," he said.

"It'll be something that Gord would like and appreciate, so we'll just have to figure that out."

Gord and Mike Downie worked together on the "Secret Path" project, an album, graphic novel and animated film about Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died after escaping a residential school in 1966.

They also established the Gord Downie and Chanie Wenjack Fund to serve as a catalyst in the movement towards reconciliation. The initiatives include support for educational tools and grants that enable "reconcili-actions," or tangible efforts to help the lives of Indigenous people and unite communities.

"We want the fund to inspire people to find their own way to get involved and to make a difference," Downie said.

Their foundation worked with Hockey Cares to connect young players from the isolated Attawapiskat First Nation with peers from Oakville, Ont., west of Toronto. A week of educational and sporting events took place around Toronto in June and the Oakville students will head to the northern Ontario community in November.

"Gord started a lot of little fires," Downie said. "I hope all those fires keep burning for a long time."



More questions for Morneau

One day after he promised to sell off at least $21 million worth of family assets, Finance Minister Bill Morneau is facing still more questions over how he handled his personal fortune when he entered government in 2015.

In hope of quieting conflict of interest accusations, the former businessman said he would sell off about $21 million worth of shares in the family business, called Morneau Shepell, that he helped build over 25 years.

But despite those measures — he also promised to place his other substantial personal assets in a blind trust — the controversy refused to die today during a media event in Waterloo, Ont.

Morneau continued to insist that he followed the advice of the ethics commissioner to the letter after he was elected.

He says on Mary Dawson's advice, a conflict-of-interest screen was set up to ensure Morneau abstained from any discussions or decisions that could benefit his personal interests.

Morneau was in Waterloo to announce government plans to work with the venture capital and angel investment sectors to address concerns about Ottawa's controversial tax proposals and ensure investment in the country's fastest-growing companies can continue.



Putin pans Canada's 'games'

Russian President Vladimir Putin is accusing Canada of playing "unconstructive political games" by passing its own Magnitsky law this week.

Putin made the comments in Sochi at an international forum in which he fielded a wide range of questions.

The Russian embassy in Ottawa has posted a transcript of his remarks on Twitter.

The embassy has already said that Parliament's unanimous adoption this week of a Magnitsky act will cause irreparable harm to Canada-Russia relations.

The law targets the actions of gross human rights violators in all countries.

Canada's new sanctions regime and those of other countries, including the United States, have been closely linked to the Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after accusing officials of a $230-million tax fraud.

"What do I think about what you have just said, about Canada joining or wanting to join, or about somebody else wanting to do it?" Putin said Thursday.

"These are some very unconstructive political games over things, which are in essence not what they look like, to be treated in such a way or to fuss about so much."

Putin was responding to a question posed by a Carleton University professor who specializes in Russian affairs.

"Many countries have announced that they are ready to support this law too," said Piotr Dutkiewicz, former director of the Institute of European and Russian Studies at Carleton. "Are you not worried about the consequences of this process? Would you mind commenting on this fact?"

Liberal MP Bob Nault, the chair of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, said earlier this week there's no need for Russia to take personal offence to the passage of the new law.

"Unless you have a reason to take things personally," the veteran MP added in an interview with The Canadian Press.



Ottawa mulling Bill 62

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is again wading into the debate on Quebec's Bill 62, saying it is not a government's business to tell a woman what to wear and what not to wear.

Trudeau says the federal government is going to take its responsibilities seriously and look carefully at the implications of the law.

Campaigning today in the Quebec town of Alma ahead of a federal byelection Monday, Trudeau was asked if that means taking the law to court.

He replied it means studying its implications and continuing to stand up for Canadians' rights.

Bill 62 bans people from providing or receiving public services in Quebec with their faces covered and is widely seen as an attack on Muslim women.

On Thursday, Trudeau asserted it is not up to the federal government to challenge its constitutionality.



More deadly than smoking

Environmental lobbyists say a new report showing pollution kills more people around the world than war and infectious diseases is proof of why Canada needs to finally put in place enforceable national air quality standards.

The Lancet medical journal study suggests at least nine million people died around the globe in 2015 because of pollution.

It says air, soil and water pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals killed three times more people than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined and 15 times more people than war and violence.

While Canada has one of the lower death rates due to pollution compared with places like India and Somalia, Environmental Defence program manager Muhannad Malas says it is one of the few developed nations that doesn't have enforceable, legally binding national standards for air quality.

The Lancet report notes specific areas of concern in Canada for First Nations in northern Alberta and Ontario due to oil and gas development and chemical manufacturing.

Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has committed to updating the Canadian Environmental Protection Act next year and Malas said that is the perfect vehicle and the perfect time to finally step up and put strict limits on air pollution and exposure to toxic chemicals to protect Canadians.



Stabbed cop back on job

The Edmonton police officer who was run down and then stabbed during an attack that also injured four other people on Sept. 30 is back on the job.

Const. Mike Chernyk, 48, had been handling crowd control at a Canadian Football League game at Commonwealth Stadium when he was hit by a speeding car that rammed through a barrier and sent him flying five metres through the air.

The driver then got out, pulled out a large knife and began stabbing the 10-year veteran, who fought back as he was lying on the ground.

Chernyk suffered stab wounds to the face and the head but was released from hospital relatively quickly.

Over the last couple of weeks he has been honoured at both CFL and National Hockey League games in the city, and returned to work Thursday.

Police Chief Rod Knecht credited the officer's recovery to his being "a real resilient individual."

"I know he asked to work the Eskimos game on Saturday night," Knecht told reporters. "He's back to work and doing well. He did a great job."

Hours after Chernyk was injured, a driver of a cube van with police cars in pursuit drove down Jasper Avenue and hit four pedestrians.

Abdulahi Hasan Sharif, a 30-year-old Somali refugee, is facing 11 charges including attempted murder, dangerous driving, criminal flight causing bodily harm and possession of a weapon for a dangerous purpose.



Trudeau's letter to Amazon

As Canadian cities compete with each other — and dozens of jurisdictions south of the border — for Amazon's new $5-billion headquarters, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pitched Canada to the company's founder.

In a letter addressed to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Trudeau makes a general case why any prospective Canadian suitors could prove attractive as the retail behemoth's next corporate home.

Trudeau's letter, which starts with "Dear Jeff," does not single out any of the bidding cities, which include major centres like Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa alongside acknowledged longshots like Halifax and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Instead, Trudeau outlines commercial, cultural and social reasons why Amazon should call Canada home to its new headquarters — dubbed HQ2 — and the 50,000 jobs expected to come with it.

"Canadian cities are progressive, confident, and natural homes for forward-thinking global leaders," Trudeau's letter reads. "They are consistently ranked as the best places to live, work and play in the world."

Canada's business advantages include costs among the lowest in the G7, universal health care that lowers the cost to employers, stable banking systems, and a deep pool of highly educated prospective workers from both at home and abroad, according to Trudeau.

The letter also touches on increased government investment in skills development, culturally diverse, walkable cities and streamlined immigration processes — an apparent dig at U.S. President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies.

At least one major bidder seized on that contrast as part of its formal proposal.

"We build doors, not walls," reads the cover letter from the group co-ordinating the bid from Toronto and several surrounding municipalities. "Those doors open to highly skilled economic immigrants and international students who can easily become permanent residents and citizens."



'Terry Fox of modern day'

Gord Downie's openness about his diagnosis with terminal brain cancer will leave a lasting legacy that makes him "a Terry Fox in the modern day," says a radiation oncologist who treated the late Tragically Hip frontman.

"He is an icon for Canadians everywhere. What Terry Fox did for cancer lives until this day, and what Gord has done for brain tumours I think will live on for generations to come," said Dr. Arjun Sahgal, director of the Cancer Ablation Therapy Program at Toronto's Sunnybrook Hospital, in a phone interview Thursday.

Downie revealed his diagnosis with glioblastoma — an invasive brain tumour with one of the poorest survival rates of any cancer — in May 2016. He died Tuesday night at age 53.

In the 24 hours after his death was announced, donation activity to a research fund named in his honour "increased notably," said Pamela Ross, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the Sunnybrook Foundation.

As of Thursday afternoon, donations for the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research had reached $1.8 million, up about $100,000 from the previous day.

"We have never had daily expectations for this fund," said Ross. "The activity has increased and I think that's obviously in response to the tragic news of his loss and people's interest in simply doing something."

The fund will support the Gord Downie Fellowship in Brain Oncology and construction of the G. Hurvitz Brain Sciences Centre.

"It's helped us and motivated us further to really try to invent the future of health care, now with brain tumours at the forefront," said Sahgal.



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