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2nd woman accuses Virginia official of sexual assault

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  • WASHINGTON — A second woman accused Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax of sexual assault Friday, saying the Democrat raped her 19 years ago while they were both students at Duke University.

    Calls for his resignation grew steadily as the day wore on.

    A lawyer for Meredith Watson, 39, said in a statement that Fairfax had attacked Watson in 2000. The statement described the assault as “premeditated and aggressive,” and noted that while Watson and Fairfax had been social friends, they were never involved romantically.

    The lawyer, Nancy E. Smith, said her team had statements from former classmates who said Watson had “immediately” told friends that Fairfax had raped her. A New Jersey public relations firm representing Watson provided The Associated Press with a 2016 email exchange with a female friend and 2017 text exchanges in which Watson said Fairfax had raped her. She also expressed dismay about his run for political office.

    Watson’s representatives declined to provide further documentation and said their client would not be talking to journalists.

    Fairfax shot back at his accusers quickly: he said in a statement that he would not resign from office, and vowed to clear his name against what he described as a “vicious and co-ordinated smear campaign” being orchestrated against him.

    “I deny this latest unsubstantiated allegation,” the embattled Democrat said. “It is demonstrably false. I have never forced myself on anyone ever. I demand a full investigation into these unsubstantiated and false allegations. Such an investigation will confirm my account because I am telling the truth.”

    Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said the university’s police department has no criminal reports naming or involving Fairfaxe. Any accusation made through the student disciplinary process would be protected by student privacy laws, and Schoenfeld said the university couldn’t comment or release further information.

    Police officials in Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is, said they had no records of an accusation against Fairfax in 2000.

    This is not the first time Watson has accused someone of assault. Following inquiries from AP and other media, Watson’s lawyer confirmed that while in college she accused another man, a basketball player at Duke, of raping her when she was a sophomore. Smith said Watson reported it to a top-level university administrator but received no help and was discouraged from taking the claim any further. The lawyer said Watson also told friends — including Fairfax — about the earlier incident.

    Duke officials told AP on Friday they had no immediate knowledge of the accusation against the basketball player but were researching the matter.

    The latest accusation against Fairfax comes two days after Vanessa Tyson, a 42-year-old political science professor, said publicly that Fairfax sexually assaulted her in a Boston hotel room during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Tyson says Fairfaix , then a law student working as an aide to Democratic vice-presidential nominee John Edwards, forced her to perform oral sex.

    Fairfax says his sexual encounter with Tyson was consensual.

    At the time, Tyson was working as a student adviser at Harvard University and was a frequent speaker to Boston-area support groups for rape survivors. Tyson has said she was sexually molested by a family member as a child.

    A man who was romantically involved with Tyson in the late 1990s said Thursday that she disclosed the childhood abuse to him during a conversation about why she found certain kinds of physical intimacy difficult. The man spoke to AP on condition of anonymity out of concern publication of his name would damage his career.

    He said Tyson told him oral sex in particular brought back painful memories of her childhood trauma. The man said he finds it nearly impossible to believe that Tyson would have performed oral sex without being forced.

    Though the man also knows Fairfax and considered him a friend, he said he believes Tyson is telling the truth.

    The Associated Press typically does not identify those who say they were sexually assaulted, but both Tyson and Watson issued public statements using their names.

    Tyson said Wednesday the 2004 incident left her feeling deeply humiliated and ashamed. She only began to tell friends about the alleged assault in October 2017, after seeing a photo of Fairfax next to an article about his campaign.

    Watson also confided in a friend after seeing that Fairfax was running for office. Watson, who now lives in Maryland, did so after she received an email from a college friend in 2016 urging former Duke students to support the campaign of “our good friend Justin.”

    Watson replied: “Justin raped me in college and I don’t want to hear anything about him. Please, please remove me from any future emails about him please. Thank you!”

    Watson’s lawyer said the circumstances of the alleged assault in 2000 were similar to what Tyson had described happening four years later, but declined to provide further details.

    “At this time, Ms. Watson is reluctantly coming forward out of a strong sense of civic duty and her belief that those seeking or serving in public office should be of the highest character,” Smith said, according to the written statement. “She has no interest in becoming a media personality or reliving the trauma that has greatly affected her life. Similarly, she is not seeking any financial damages.”

    Smith added that Watson also hopes Fairfax will resign his elected position.

    Carliss Chatman, a Washington & Lee Law School professor who graduated from Duke in 2001, said she has remained friends with Fairfax and hosted a political fundraiser for him. She remembers Watson from parties but didn’t think Watson and Fairfax ran in the same social circles and was surprised that the statement from Watson’s attorneys had described them as friends.

    “It doesn’t feel plausible at all,” she said of Watson’s allegations.

    The accusations against Fairfax have rocked an administration that was already struggling amid calls for the resignation of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam over a racist photo that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page. Fairfax would be in line to become governor if Northam resigned.

    Following news of a second accuser against Fairfax, Democratic state lawmakers in Virginia issued a call for Fairfax to resign, as did the Virginia Black Legislative Caucus. Several members of the state’s congressional delegation, both black and white, also said Fairfax, who is black, can no longer serve in the office.

    ___

    Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace and reporter Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina, contributed to this report. Kunzelman reported from College Park, Maryland, and Suderman from Richmond, Virginia.

    ___

    Follow AP investigative reporter Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck , Kunzelman at http://twitter.com/Kunzelman75 and Suderman at http://twitter.com/AlanSuderman

    ___

    Contact the AP’s investigative team with tips about this or other matters: https://www.ap.org/tips

    Michael Biesecker, Michael Kunzelman And Alan Suderman, The Associated Press


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    Soldiers deploying to flood-prone areas as water levels rise in New Brunswick

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  • FREDERICTON — About 120 Canadian soldiers will soon be deployed in western New Brunswick to help residents threatened by rising floodwaters.

    The soldiers from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown in southern New Brunswick have been tasked with helping fill sandbags and assisting with evacuating homes, if necessary.

    Lt.-Col. Sean French, commander of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, says the soldiers are also prepared to conduct “wellness checks” in various communities, using heavy vehicles that can move through deep water.

    Water levels in the Saint John River Basin are expected to rise significantly over the next few days, reaching or passing flood stage in several areas.

    With heavy rain expected to continue through the day, particularly in northern New Brunswick, residents of 15 communities have been warned to remain on high alert.

    Greg MacCallum, director of New Brunswick’s Emergency Measures Organization, says the rising waters are sure to lead to road closures in several areas, particularly in the Fredericton area and communities farther south.

     

    The Canadian Press



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    Health

    Rain, wind equals no 4-20 blow out for Parliament Hill, but West Coast shines

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  • OTTAWA — It was a blow out, man, the kind that’s a total drag.

    Protesters dotted one half of Parliament Hill’s front lawn on a blustery, rainy Saturday at the climax the first 4-20 “Weed Day” demonstration since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

    The turnout disappointed organizers who expected thousands more, but a festive atmosphere prevailed as the Peace Tower clock struck 4:20 p.m., sparking simultaneous smart phone photography and the lighting of joints, bongs and pipes.

    “The weather didn’t co-operate. It kind of shut us down,” Shawn Mac, a program director for 4-20 Ottawa, said moments earlier. “Coming and going, we’ve probably seen about 3,000, but right now, probably about a thousand.”

    A bout of blowing rain earlier in the afternoon meant the shutdown of a public address system, and a made for a sparse gathering of perhaps several dozen people, most huddled under plastic ponchos or tarps.

    Sara Bakir, 29, of Ottawa was one of early arrivals, dressed in a dark hoodie under a black umbrella.

    “It’s still nice to be out with a few like-minded people,” she said laughing, and casting her eyes at the empty and soaked brownish yellow lawn. 

    Organizers learned a tough lesson even before the rain started falling — new freedoms bring great bureaucracy.

    Mac said his group is encountering more red tape Saturday than on past April 20 protests.

    Organizers can’t use the steps to the now-closed Centre Block, which means spectators will need a front row position on the lawn to see or hear — something Mac calls a “huge letdown.” 

    “Hearing is already a problem so not being able to see is a crushing blow,” he said.

    Organizers have also been told to limit musical performers to just two, Mac said, adding that isn’t in the rules of how to hold a public event on the Hill. 

    New limits on auto access also meant organizers had to haul equipment and material by hand up to the lawn from Wellington Street, he added.

    “It’s frustrating because legalization was supposed to … make things easier and not more complicated,” he said.

    Lingering post-legalization concerns are sustaining a sense of protest among 4-20 event organizers across the country.

    They include concerns over the government’s decision to tax medicinal marijuana, slow progress on legislation to expedite pardons for people previously convicted of simple pot possession, and the fact that provincial and municipal governments are grappling with retail sales and land-use laws for growing pot.

    The federal government also has yet to legalize edible marijuana products and has six more months to set rules to do so. 

    “Everything about legalization has made things harder, which is the opposite of what is was supposed to be,” said Mac.

    Others were more upbeat and saw Saturday’s event as an inspiration to the world.

    “Again, the world is watching, and I’m very proud of Canada today and Canadians,” said Kelly Coulter, a cannabis policy adviser based in British Columbia.

    She said Canada is helping change global attitudes and policies as the first G7 nation to legalize pot, and she expected people from Germany and Britain to take part in Saturday’s festivities on the Hill.

    It was a far cry from Ottawa’s subdued festivities on the West Coast, as hoards of people crowded Vancouver’s Sunset Beach to mark the city’s 25th annual 4-20 event warmed by rays of glorious spring sunshine amid a low lying marijuana haze.

    A much smaller crowd gathered at the front lawn of British Columbia’s legislature in Victoria, but the mood was equally celebratory and defiant.

    “Today, in many ways, is bittersweet for us,” said long-time marijuana activist Ted Smith, who led the countdown chant to 4:20 p.m. in Victoria. “We’re happy it’s legalized, sure, but there’s a lot of things to protest.”

    Smith, in between puffs from a large joint, said the current marijuana rules are biased against entrepreneurs who want to sell their products in much the same way as craft brewers and winemakers.

    And a downpour didn’t dampen the festivities at Woodbine Park in Toronto’s east end, where revellers trampled through the muddy grass to the steady thrum of house music.

    Cannabis artisans sold their wares at tarp-covered stands, many expressing hope that they could one day emerge from the “grey market” to set up shop at brick-and-mortar storefronts.

    Justin Loizos, owner of the Just Compassion marijuana dispensary in Toronto, said the mood Saturday was more celebratory than in past 4-20 gatherings, which felt more like protests.

    The current regime may not be the “legalization people asked for,” Loizos said, but the cannabis community should take heart in just how far Canada has come.

    “I see a lot of people complaining, whatever — don’t,” he said. “We’re just going to celebrate here and enjoy the day.”

    — with files from Adina Bresge and Dirk Meissner.

    Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press




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