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Alberta

Alliances shift to Danielle Smith in final days to sign up for UCP leadership vote

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By Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Seven candidates scrambled Friday to sign up last-minute memberships in Alberta’s United Conservative Party leadership race while political observers say that without hard data on which contender has a leg up, follow the feet.

Danielle Smith, who started out with a handful of supporters in the United Conservative caucus and cabinet, has seen more in-house support in recent days, including some who had initially pledged to back rival Travis Toews.

“Sometimes when you see people starting to shift allegiances, it sort of gives you a sense of where the momentum is going,” political scientist Lori Williams, with Mount Royal University, said Friday in an interview.

“It’s those people who want to be in cabinet or in a position where they can work with whoever the new premier is. They think things are moving in that direction and they’re moving with them.”

Labour Minister Kaycee Madu was the latest convert, announcing his support for Smith at rally in Edmonton on Thursday.

Earlier Thursday, former cabinet minister Devin Dreeshen said he would support Smith. Earlier in the week, Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish switched his support from Toews to Smith.

Before that, Toews supporter Pat Rehn switched his support to Smith, joining fellow backbenchers Devinder Toor, Peter Guthrie and Nathan Neudorf.

Toews, who quit as finance minister to run in the contest, still has the lion’s share of support, with about two dozen cabinet and caucus members openly in his camp.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said even so, by any metric from crowd sizes to polling to the fact Smith is the focus of attacks by her opponents, she is clearly the one to beat as party members being voting next month, with results to be announced Oct. 6.

“She’s drawing the biggest crowds, we’ve got (MLA) endorsements that are now coming her way because they see her as the front-runner,” said Bratt, also with Mount Royal University.

“All the other candidates are responding to her in some fashion (and) some are adopting the same policies.

“I wonder after midnight, (when membership sales end) if there is some soul searching among the other candidates and whether they drop out or not.”

The party says hand-delivered-memberships were due by 5 p.m. Friday, with the cutoff for online memberships by midnight. These are to be the only memberships allowed to vote in the race.

Final count totals on memberships aren’t expected from the party for about two weeks.

Smith, a former Wildrose party leader, grabbed headlines out of the starting gate in the contest with her proposed Alberta sovereignty act. The act, as pitched by Smith, would seek to give Alberta the right to ignore federal laws and court rulings deemed not in its interest.

Legal scholars and most of the other candidates in the race have labelled it an outrageously inflammatory, bizarre and illegal scheme that would create a domino effect of economic and investment uncertainty bordering on chaos.

But Bratt noted the other two main contenders have excoriated Smith’s plan while adopting versions of it.

Toews has promised his government would seek to levy tariffs on goods and services or imports from specific regions to counter rules and policies deemed unfair to Alberta. Brian Jean has pledged to affirm that the Alberta Bill of Rights is paramount over Section 1 of the Constitution.

“It’s an attempt by the sovereignty act by a different name,” Bratt said.

Candidates Rajan Sawhney and Rebecca Schulz have been equally critical of Smith’s sovereignty act, but have in recent days adopted more combative policies when it comes to federal relations.

Schulz has promised a protecting provincial rights summit within two months of winning, while Sawhney is pledging to pursue go-it-alone initiatives such as a provincial pension plan and police force.

Both Bratt and Williams said Smith has done a better job capturing and harnessing latent anger within the party’s base when it comes to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal government

And they note Alberta’s 4.5 million people could, come Oct. 6, be propelled in a new direction dictated by 40,000 or so UCP voters.

“To me, it looks like it’s only the really animated, diehard, engaged and largely angry folks that are driving the narrative right now,” said Williams.

“They’re angry and they want to see change not just provincially but federally, and they want someone who is going to fight.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2022.

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Alberta

Edmonton police use DNA phenotyping to find sex assault suspect

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By Angela Amato in Edmonton

Edmonton police say they are using DNA phenotyping, for the first time in its history, in trying to solve a sexual assault.

DNA phenotyping predicts physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence, and police use that information to narrow suspects and generate leads in criminal investigations.

Det. Colleen Maynes says the method is a last resort after all other investigative avenues have been exhausted.

“This was a vicious assault,” said Maynes, adding she doesn’t want to see the perpetrator act again.

A woman lost consciousness after she was violently sexually assaulted by a man who followed her from a bus stop in the central Spruce Avenue neighbourhood in March of 2019.

She sustained serious injuries and was found wearing only a shirt when it was -27 C.

“This survivor deserves justice,” said Maynes.

There were no witnesses, surveillance video, public tips or DNA matches in the case.

Detectives enlisted DNA technology company Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia to help in the investigation. The lab has provided DNA phenotyping to help with other files in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Most DNA testing in Canada goes through the RCMP’s lab. Maynes said this can take a long time, as the RCMP deals with cases across the country and doesn’t have the resources or technologies that other labs do.

“We are lacking with that technology here in Canada,” said Maynes.

Paula Armentrout with Parabon said that since 2018, its labs have helped solve 230 violent crimes in North America, although not all of them used DNA phenotyping.

DNA phenotyping is not exclusive to sexual assault cases. The analysis has also been used to find possible suspects in murder cases and to identify remains.

With a computer-generated snapshot in the Edmonton sex assault case, DNA phenotyping determined the suspect to be a Black man with dark brown to black hair and dark brown eyes who stands about five-foot-four.

Armentrout said the turnaround for this type of analysis is about 45 days after receiving a DNA sample.

Police said the suspect’s description may impact a marginalized community. After consulting with community stakeholders and considering the severity of the assault and the threat to public safety, police released the details with a computer-generated image.

Any leads generated from the image will require further investigative steps, said Maynes.

“It is by no means an immediate path to accusing a suspect,” she said. “What it does is potentially give us leads in a cold case, and we can follow up with DNA testing from there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

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Alberta

Former head of Alberta Human Rights Commission suing justice minister over dismissal

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By Bob Weber in Edmonton

The former head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission is suing the province’s justice minister for wrongful dismissal, claiming Tyler Shandro caved in to carefully orchestrated political pressure.

Collin May’s statement of claim alleges members and supporters of the Opposition New Democratic Party feared May would expose sexual harassment problems at the commission that occurred when they were in government.

“This made the plaintiff a threat, and he was subsequently targeted by political opponents weeks before he was scheduled to start his term as chief,” the document says.

New Democrat justice critic Irfan Sabir called the charges a distraction.

“Collin May published overtly racist and Islamophobic views,” he said in an email Tuesday.

“The UCP government belatedly held him accountable for that. Mr. May’s innuendo is merely an attempt to distract from his own behaviour.”

May, a Calgary lawyer, was hired as chief of the commission on May 25.

Questions about his appointment began almost immediately. Some criticized his lack of experience in human rights law and others pointed to a book review he wrote in 2009 in which he quoted statements saying Islam was a fundamentally violent religion.

That review drew concerns from the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Members of the NDP caucus also called for May’s resignation.

The statement of claim accuses NDP supporters of stockpiling May’s book review years ago, then carefully co-ordinating and managing the public outcry against him to engineer his removal.

“The NDP were clearly co-ordinated for the purpose of smearing the plaintiff’s character,” the document says.

It goes on to allege the New Democrats went after May because they were afraid he would renew sexual harassment allegations against two senior members of the commission who had been appointed by NDP leader and then-premier Rachel Notley.

“(May) learned that there was also a culture of pervasive sexual harassment within the NDP during Notley’s time as premier,” says the claim.

“Notley therefore could not afford to have the public learn that … her own appointees had also allowed for a culture of pervasive sexual harassment and bullying.”

The document says Shandro neither defended May nor emphasized that the commission is an arm’s length agency, which he has no direct control over. In fact, it alleges senior officials in Shandro’s office were so insistent on getting May to apologize for statements he says he didn’t make that May had to block their numbers on his cellphone.

As well, the lawsuit alleges May was forbidden from meeting with Muslim organizations by Muhammad Yaseen, Alberta’s associate minister of immigration and multiculturalism. It says May was told to wait to await ministerial direction, which never came.

“Minister Shandro’s office was heavily involved in facilitating the smear campaign against Collin May,” said May’s lawyer Kathryn Marshall in an interview.

The situation got so bad that May received threatening phone calls at his home. May’s law firm removed his phone number from its website and for four days in July, the lawsuit says, May and his partner were afraid to leave their Calgary home.

“The (commission) and the defendant did nothing to support (May) during this difficult time,” the lawsuit says.

It says that on Sept. 15, May got a letter telling him his job was over on a “without cause” basis.

A spokesman for Shandro declined to comment, saying the matter is before the courts.

Marshall said May had signed a five-year contract on the same basis as any other civil servant and was not given the basic rights he was due under Canadian law.

“It’s not about deflecting criticism or playing political games,” she said. “This is about getting my clients’ rights enforced.

“(The government) fired him and are now falsely alleging he resigned.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover the money May would have earned over the five-year term as well as damages to his reputation — about $2.1 million.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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