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Swedish artist threatened for Muhammad sketch dies in crash

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STOCKHOLM (AP) — Swedish artist Lars Vilks, who had lived under police protection since making a sketch of the Prophet Muhammad with a dog’s body in 2007, died in a weekend crash along with two police bodyguards, police said Monday. He was 75.

Vilks and two plainclothes police officers were killed in a head-on crash with a truck on Sunday afternoon, said Carina Persson, police chief for southern Sweden. All three died on the spot. The 45-year-old truck driver was flown to a hospital with serious injuries.

Persson said the police car, which had left Stockholm and was heading south, veered into the path of the truck and both vehicles burst into flames. The accident occurred near Markaryd, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Malmo, Sweden’s third largest city.

“There is nothing else for now that indicates that it was something else but a traffic accident,” Persson told a press conference.

Sweden’s top police chief, Anders Thornberg, said an investigation would take place, but was expected “to take a relatively long time.”

Sweden’s Culture Minister Amanda Lind called called it “an extremely tragic traffic accident.”

Vilks was largely unknown outside Sweden before 2007, when he drew a sketch of Muhammad with a dog’s body. Dogs are considered unclean by conservative Muslims, and Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

Al-Qaida put a bounty on Vilks’ head. In 2010, two men tried to burn down his house in southern Sweden.

Since that time Vilks was forced to live under police protection. As Lind put it Monday, “due to the fact that he made use of his freedom of expression and his artistic freedom.”

Over the years he continued to face threats to his life.

In 2014, a woman from Pennsylvania pleaded guilty in a plot to kill him.

The following year, a free-speech seminar that Vilks attended in Copenhagen, Denmark, was attacked by a lone gunman who killed a Danish film director and wounded three police officers.

Vilks, who was widely believed to have been the intended target of that 2015 attack, was whisked away unharmed by bodyguards. The gunman later killed a Jewish security guard outside a synagogue and wounded two more officers before he was killed in a firefight with police.

Police said Monday they did not know why the car drove into the wrong lane but they were investigating whether a tire might have exploded. The car transporting Vilks had puncture-proof tires, police said.

The accident happened on the north-south E4 highway Sunday afternoon. The unmarked police car apparently ploughed through a cable guardrail separating the north and south-bound lanes, senior police officer Stefan Siteus said at the news conference.

“We have found residues of tire on the E4 before the accident, and we are looking into the possibility that there could have been some kind of tire explosion,” Siteus said.

The vehicle weighed 4.5 tons, which could explain how the vehicle could drive through a cable guardrail, Siteus said. He added that the speed limit at the site was was 110 kilometers per hour (68 miles per hour). An ordinary large vehicle weighs less than 2 tons.

Born in 1946 in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden, Vilks worked as an artist for almost four decades, and rose to fame for challenging the boundaries of art through several controversial works.

His most famous pieces included “Nimis” — a sculpture of driftwood built without permission in Sweden’s Kullaberg nature reserve — as well as Prophet Muhammad drawings, including the one that showed the prophet as a dog.

Vilks initially planned to display the drawing at an exhibit at a Swedish cultural heritage center, but the drawing was removed over security concerns.

It went largely unnoticed until a Swedish newspaper printed the drawing with an editorial defending freedom of expression.

Several of his works, including driftwood sculptures and Mohammad drawings, including the one showing the Muslim prophet’s head on the body of a dog, are currently on display in Warsaw, Poland. The works are being shown as part an exhibition curated by a right-wing director which aims to challenge left-wing political correctness.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.

The Associated Press

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Privacy czar probing complaints about federal public service vaccination requirement

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OTTAWA — The federal privacy watchdog is investigating “a number of complaints” about the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for public servants.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement Friday his office was looking into the concerns, but provided no details given they are now the subject of “ongoing investigations.”

The Liberal government announced earlier this month that core public servants must be vaccinated against the virus or face suspension without pay as early as Nov. 15.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced this week that provinces and the federal government have agreed on a new national vaccine passport for domestic and international travel.

Therrien said his office has had “constructive discussions” with federal officials over the last few months on the standardized proof-of-vaccination for travel initiative.

“That being said, in recent days, our office has received a number of complaints related to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for federal public servants. We will therefore be investigating the application of privacy principles in this context.”

He added that although the initiatives are distinct, the principles applicable to vaccine passports for travel and to the vaccination requirement for federal public servants are the same.

“It would therefore be inappropriate to offer conclusions until we have completed our investigations,” Therrien said.

“Given the complaints about the public service vaccination requirement are now the subject of ongoing investigations, no further details can be provided.”

Therrien said Friday that vaccine passports might offer significant public health benefits but they remain exceptional measures. “They should only be imposed after careful consideration of privacy and other human rights principles.”

In May, Therrien and his counterparts across the country said respect for laws and principles governing personal information must guide introduction of proof-of-vaccination certificates that could smooth the transition to post-pandemic life.

In the joint statement, federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners said that in order to be justified, vaccine passports must be necessary to achieve their intended public health purposes, and their effectiveness in meeting the goals should be evidence-based.

The commissioners also said privacy risks associated with the initiative must be proportionate to the purpose, the personal information collection limited, the data used only for the intended goal, and the program have an expiration date.

“The government has provided us with information relevant to each of these criteria,” Therrien said Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Warrant: Baldwin didn’t know weapon contained live round

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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — An assistant director unwittingly handed Alec Baldwin a loaded weapon and told him it was safe to use in the moments before the actor fatally shot a cinematographer, court records released Friday show.

“Cold gun,” the assistant director announced, according to a search warrant filed in a Santa Fe court.

Instead, the gun was loaded with live rounds, and when Baldwin pulled the trigger Thursday on the set of a Western, he killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her, was wounded, the records said.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office obtained the warrant Friday so investigators could document the scene at the ranch outside Santa Fe where the shooting took place. They sought to examine Baldwin’s blood-stained costume for the film “Rust,” as well as the weapon that was fired, other prop guns and ammunition, and any footage that might exist.

The gun was one of three that the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez, had set on a cart outside the wooden structure where a scene was being acted, according to the records. Assistant director Dave Halls grabbed the gun from the cart and brought it inside to Baldwin, unaware that it was loaded with live rounds, a detective wrote in the search warrant application.

It was unclear how many rounds were fired. Gutierrez removed a shell casing from the gun after the shooting, and she turned the weapon over to police when they arrived, the court records say.

Halls did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment. The Associated Press was unable to contact Gutierrez, and several messages sent to production companies affiliated with the film were not immediately returned Friday.

The film’s script supervisor, Mamie Mitchell, said she was standing next to Hutchins when she was shot.

“I ran out and called 911 and said ‘Bring everybody, send everybody,’” Mitchell told The Associated Press. “This woman is gone at the beginning of her career. She was an extraordinary, rare, very rare woman.”

Mitchell said she and other crew members were attending a private memorial service Friday night in Santa Fe.

Baldwin described the killing as a “tragic accident.”

“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation,” Baldwin wrote on Twitter. “My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”

No immediate charges were filed, and sheriff’s spokesman Juan Rios said Baldwin was permitted to travel.

“He’s a free man,” Rios said.

Images of the 63-year-old actor — known for his roles in “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” and his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live” — showed him distraught outside the sheriff’s office on Thursday.

Guns used in making movies are sometimes real weapons that can fire either bullets or blanks, which are gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang but no deadly projectile. Even blanks can eject hot gases and paper or plastic wadding from the barrel that can be lethal at close range. That proved to be the case in the death of an actor in 1984.

In another on-set accident in 1993, the actor Brandon Lee was killed after a bullet was left in a prop gun, and similar shootings have occurred involving stage weapons that were loaded with live rounds.

Gun-safety protocol on sets in the United States has improved since then, said Steven Hall, a veteran director of photography in Britain. But he said one of the riskiest positions to be in is behind the camera because that person is in the line of fire in scenes where an actor appears to point a gun at the audience.

Sheriff’s deputies responded about 2 p.m. to the movie set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch after 911 calls described a person being shot there, Rios said. The ranch has been used in dozens of films, including the recent Tom Hanks Western “News of the World.”

Hutchins, 42, worked as director of photography on the 2020 action film “Archenemy” starring Joe Manganiello. She was a 2015 graduate of the American Film Institute and was named a “rising star” by American Cinematographer in 2019.

“I’m so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set,” said “Archenemy” director Adam Egypt Mortimer on Twitter. “She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film.”

Manganiello called Hutchins “an incredible talent” and “a great person” on his Instagram account. He said he was lucky to have worked with her.

After the shooting, production was halted on “Rust.” The movie is about a 13-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother following the death of their parents in 1880s Kansas, according to the Internet Movie Database website. The teen goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.

Lee, son of martial arts star Bruce Lee, died in 1993 after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming a death scene for the movie “The Crow.” The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but an autopsy turned up a bullet lodged near his spine.

In 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun blank while pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum on the set of the television series “Cover Up.”

Such shootings have also happened during historical reenactments. In 2015, an actor staging a historical gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona, was shot and wounded with a live round during a show that was supposed to use blanks.

In Hill City, South Dakota, a tourist town that recreates an Old West experience, three spectators were wounded in 2011 when a re-enactor fired real bullets instead of blanks.

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Associated Press writers Jake Coyle and Jocelyn Noveck in New York; Lizzie Knight in London; Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine; Ryan Pearson in Los Angeles; Walter Berry in Phoenix; and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

Morgan Lee, Susan Montoya Bryan And Cedar Attanasio, The Associated Press

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