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Justice

RCMP officer, communications official stand by political-interference allegation

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OTTAWA — The two people who made allegations of political meddling in the investigation into a shooting spree in Nova Scotia are standing by their recollections.

Chief Supt. Darren Campbell and former RCMP strategic communications director Lia Scanlan were among the witnesses called to testify at the House of Commons public safety committee Tuesday.

The committee is sorting through conflicting reports about whether RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki was under pressure from the federal government to ensure the Mounties released details about the weapons used in the 13-hour-long shooting spree, which left 23 people dead, including the gunman.

A number of Nova Scotia RCMP officials say Lucki scolded them nine days after the killings.

Campbell’s handwritten notes about a meeting on April 28, 2020, say Lucki told them she made a promise to then-public safety minister Bill Blair that information about the firearms would be released in a news conference that day, and that it was connected to upcoming gun legislation.

Lucki has said she did not interfere in the investigation, but was frustrated with the Nova Scotia division over its communication with the public because media were reporting facts before the RCMP released them.

“I called the meeting to express my frustration and disappointment,” she told the committee in July.

Campbell told MPs on the committee Tuesday that Lucki “made me feel as if I was stupid” and as though he didn’t understand the importance of releasing the information.

The RCMP has been under intense scrutiny over its communication with the public and the families of victims during and after the killing spree. A public inquiry underway in Nova Scotia has been tasked with examining that issue, among others related to the shootings and the police response.

Campbell said he couldn’t release the makes and models of the weapons because it would “have a negative impact on the ongoing investigation.”

“There were investigative objectives, which included the investigation of any other individuals who may have assisted (gunman) Gabriel Wortman in any way,” Campbell said.

At the time, the RCMP was working with the FBI and other agencies to figure out how Wortman was able to smuggle weapons from the United States.

Scanlan said she felt Lucki did not care about the risk to the investigation.

No one has ever been charged, in Canada or in the U.S., with helping Wortman obtain or smuggle those firearms.

The committee has also focused attention on whether Lucki ought to have given that weapons inventory to federal government officials in late April.

Documents released through the public inquiry show she shared that inventory with Blair’s office on April 23, explaining that it shouldn’t be shared beyond the minister and prime minister.

But Campbell said he did not think it was appropriate for her to do so.

“From my understanding the direction was fairly clear that (the weapons information) could not be shared outside of the RCMP,” he said.

That direction, according to Campbell and Chief Supt. Chris Leather, who also testified before the committee in July, came from Nova Scotia’s police watchdog, the Serious Incident Response Team, known as SIRT.

SIRT was investigating the police killing of the gunman. Campbell and Leather say the SIRT director told them the weapons inventory could only be released internally due to that probe.

But Pat Curran, who was director of SIRT in April 2020, told The Canadian Press in an email that the gunman’s weapons were not part of the watchdog’s investigation and he did not give direction to the RCMP.

“I did not consider controlling disclosure of the weapon information to be a SIRT issue. Disclosing or not disclosing that information had no bearing on the matters SIRT was investigating,” Curran said.

In their testimony, Blair and Lucki adamantly denied there was any pressure from the federal government on the RCMP commissioner. Meanwhile, Nova Scotia RCMP officials including former assistant commissioner Lee Bergerman have been steadfast in saying Lucki was under pressure and that she expressed that in the meeting on April 28.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.

Sarah Ritchie, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

‘Short-term pain’: Group of Alberta lawyers escalate job action over legal aid cases

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By Bill Graveland in Calgary

Alberta criminal defence lawyers are taking another step in their dispute with the provincial government over the amount of compensation paid by Legal Aid Alberta.

Organizations representing lawyers in Edmonton, Calgary, Red Deer and southern Alberta began job action Aug. 8 by refusing to accept certain bail and duty counsel files from legal aid.

The lawyers also began refusing certificates for new cases for the most serious criminal charges, including sexual offences, firearms-related crimes and homicides.

Beginning Monday, they say all services will be withdrawn.

“We’re going to stop taking all certificates. That will include some our prior job actions still allowed us to take certificates for people who are already existing clients and there will be a very, very limited set of circumstances now where our members will do that,” said Kelsey Sitar, vice-president of the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association in Calgary.

“The default will be: ‘We are just not taking any new work from legal aid until the problem is fixed.'”

Sitar made her comments at a rally in front of the Calgary Courts Centre on Friday that drew about 50 criminal defence lawyers.

A table with a sign reading “Save Legal Aid” offered bake goods for sale. Lawyers carried signs reading “Access 2 Justice Must be Equal.” Another read: “This sign is too small to fit my outrage.”

“This is drastic. I mean, what we were doing up until now is something I know has happened in Ontario before, it did not last long, frankly,” Sitar said.

“I can tell you that none of us want to be out here. We all want to be in there doing our jobs.”

Justice Minister Tyler Shandro has said nothing is going to be done until a review of the Legal Aid Alberta administrative system is complete, which is scheduled for next month.

He said any budget changes for legal aid wouldn’t happen until next year.

Sitar said the ministry chose to undertake “an incomplete and, frankly, useless review” at a time when the governing United Conservative Party is about to go through a leadership change.

“So we have to act now and they need to respond now,” she said.

Sitar said she understands the people being affected the most by the job action will be people with lower incomes who need the services to afford legal representation.

“It’s short-term pain right now,” she said. “It’s really unfortunate, but I can tell you that most of the people I’ve talked to on the street who are finding themselves caught up in this understand and are grateful that we’re doing it.”

Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the problem has been growing over the last three years. She said when her party was in power, it committed to additional funding for Legal Aid, but the UCP government backtracked.

“We simply cannot be asking the Legal Aid bar to be doing what we are asking them to do at the rate that we are asking them to do it,” she told reporters.

“We have the lowest funding for Legal Aid in the country. What that means is that we don’t have equal access to justice. It undermines the integrity of our justice system and, overall, it undermines our ability to build a sense of community safety, community security and an overall respect for the rule of law — all of which are important to community health and economic growth.

“It sounds like a niche issue, but it’s not. It actually has knock-off effects to very, very important issues that affect all of us. So, the government needs to come to the table and negotiate decently with these lawyers.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2022.

— With files from Colette Derworiz in Calgary.

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International

Filipino victims: Justice elusive decades after martial law

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By Jim Gomez in Manila

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Survivors of torture and other atrocities under Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos on Wednesday marked his martial law declaration 50 years ago by pressing their demand for justice and apology from his son — now the country’s president in a stunning reversal of fortunes for the once reviled family.

Activists held street protests, a musical concert and unveiled a documentary at the state-run University of the Philippines. They say the manifestations were aimed at preventing a repeat of the abuses and plunder that began after Marcos imposed martial law in the Philippines in September 1972, a year before his term was to end.

The dictator was ousted in an army-backed “People Power” uprising in 1986 and died three years later in U.S. exile without admitting any wrongdoing, including accusations that he, his family and cronies amassed an estimated $5 billion to $10 billion while he was in power.

His son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June after a landslide electoral victory, delivered a speech at the U.N. General Assembly in New York. A small group of Filipino-American protesters hounded him and at one point managed to get close and booed him and repeatedly yelled “Never again to martial law!” as he alighted from a convoy and walked into a building with security escorts.

He or his key officials have not issued any statement about the martial law anniversary as of Wednesday afternoon.

For many of the survivors of abuses under Marcos, now mostly in their 70s and 80s, the anniversary brought back the trauma and painful memories of fellow victims, who either were killed by state forces or remain missing. They condemned efforts to gloss over the atrocities and portray the martial law years in pro-Marcos social media as a “golden era.”

“The scars may have healed but deep inside, the anger and the sorrow are still there not just because I went through this but because so many good and patriotic people died resisting the dictatorship,” said Judy Taguiwalo, a former Cabinet official and women’s rights activist who was jailed for two years and tortured in the 1980s.

Taguiwalo, 72, sought an apology from the president and asked him to “stop lying about the horrors of martial law because the killings, the imprisonment and bombings of Muslim communities actually happened.”

Marcos Jr., 65, has refused such calls. In a TV interview last week,he said his father’s decision to declare martial law, suspend Congress and rule by decree was necessary to fight communist and Muslim insurgencies. He also said that describing the late president as a dictator is “wrong” and denied that he and his family were whitewashing history.

Bonifacio Ilagan, a left-wing activist who was detained for more than two years starting in 1974 and often beaten and severely tortured, said he could never accept Marcos as president. His sister was abducted by government agents with several other anti-Marcos activists in 1977 in metropolitan Manila and has never been found.

“The trauma has returned with all its inhumanities,” Ilagan, 70, said, and renewed his call for justice and a clear Marcos apology. “That’s the reason why I could not, for the life of me, say that he is my president.”

Loretta Rosales, the former head of the independent Commission on Human Rights, was arrested with five other activists in 1976 by military agents and subjected to electrocution and sexual abuse.

She said that the president should comply with a provision of a 2013 law that she co-authored as a member of Congress that calls for the documentation of the atrocities and the construction of a museum to memorialize the sufferings of thousands of people.

The legislation was used to compensate victims of abuses. Separately, a Hawaii court found the elder Marcos liable for rights violations and awarded $2 billion from his estate to more than 9,000 Filipinos led by Rosales who filed a lawsuit against him for torture, extrajudicial killings, incarceration and disappearances.

The 1986 ouster of Marcos was a high point, Taguiwalo said, but poverty, inequality, injustice and other social ills remained pervasive in the country decades after. That allowed political dynasties, including the Marcoses, to exploit the deep discontent to their advantage.

“I think the biggest lesson which we have always emphasized is that it’s not enough that you overthrow a dictator or return a certain extent of free press and academic freedom, civil and political rights,” Taguiwalo told The Associated Press.

“You need to show that democracy works for the majority of the people in terms of their basic economic rights to have jobs, land and a decent livelihood,” she said.

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