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Canada extends Iraq and Ukraine military missions to 2021 and 2022

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OTTAWA — Canada is extending its military missions in Ukraine and Iraq, both of which were due to expire at the end of the month.

The extensions shore up Canada’s contributions to the global effort to curb Russian aggression in Eastern Europe and to the fight against Islamic militants in the Middle East.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland say the mission of about 200 Canadian Forces personnel in Ukraine will be extended to the end of March 2022.

The Forces have been involved in Ukraine since September 2015, helping train the country’s military, which is battling Russian-backed separatist forces.

Canada will extend the Canadian Forces’ contribution to the Global Coalition Against Daesh and the NATO mission in Iraq, until the end of March 2021.

Canada has about 500 military members in Iraq, including 200 who are part of a NATO training mission and 120 special forces who have been helping Iraqi forces root out Islamic State insurgents around the northern city of Mosul.

Those are parts of Canada’s larger Middle East strategy, which also includes humanitarian assistance and diplomatic engagement in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.

The decision to extend Canada’s commitment in Ukraine will be welcome news to that country as it continues to cope with Russia’s annexation of its Crimea region in 2014, and the continuing unrest in its eastern Donbass region, which is plagued by separatist rebels backed by Moscow.

“The people of Ukraine know they can count on Canada,” Freeland said in a statement. “We are steadfast in our commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as it works toward a stable, democratic and prosperous future.”

Ukraine is bracing for Russian interference in its upcoming presidential election on March 31.

Former foreign-affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy is leading a delegation of Canadian election monitors to Ukraine.

Freeland said Canada will host an international conference on Ukraine’s economy and political reforms in July that will include foreign ministers from the European Union, the G7 and NATO countries. 

The Canadian Press

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‘I’m choosing not to be a victim,’ Danforth shooting survivor says

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daniforth shooting survivor

TORONTO — Danielle Kane struggled with depression in her 20s and even contemplated suicide.

But then she fell in love, enrolled in nursing school and felt she was finally on her way — until a summer night last year when a disturbed man went on a shooting spree in Toronto’s Greektown and a bullet tore through her body.

“Not now,” she thought as she lay on the ground in a pool of blood. “My life is not over.”

Kane, 32, was one of 13 people wounded in the July 22, 2018 rampage that left two dead — Reese Fallon, 18, and Julianna Kozis, 10 — and shocked the city.

That night Kane and her partner, Jerry Pinksen, were celebrating a friend’s birthday on a restaurant patio on Danforth Avenue when they heard what sounded like fireworks. A waitress urged everyone to go inside because there was a shooter on the loose. Kane was incredulous, but she took her glass of wine and followed Pinksen inside.

“We were safe,” she said in a recent interview.

Another patron said there was a victim outside, so Pinksen, an emergency department nurse, rushed out to help. Kane pulled on his arm, briefly worried about his safety, then decided to join him.

“We work in ER together and when there is an emergency, it’s all hands on deck,” she said.

Kane took two steps outside before she saw a dark figure standing on the street, just metres from the pair.

“I do remember thinking how odd it was he was just standing there,” Kane said.

Then she saw the gunman, 29-year-old Faisal Hussain, open fire. She turned slightly and the bullet grazed her left forearm, burning it, before entering her body. It ripped through her abdomen, missed her aorta by a few centimetres and her spinal cord by a millimetre then ricocheted off her spine and exited her body through her right shoulder.

She collapsed and broke her ribs on the fall. She couldn’t feel her legs, and she had trouble breathing — her diaphragm and one lung collapsed, the other lung started to fill with blood.

Pinksen heard her scream and rushed back, carrying her inside the restaurant.

He remembered the shock and anger he felt at that moment.

“Then it clicked, she doesn’t need this, she needs Jerry the nurse now,” he said. He helped stabilize her and they waited until paramedics arrived.

Kane spent the next 11 days in a medically induced coma.

“That was the hardest, her in a coma, on a breathing machine, looking at the screen hoping things get better,” said Pinksen, 35.

Doctors performed four surgeries on Kane.

The first was to fuse her spine after the bullet shattered her T-11 vertebrae. The doctors told her the bullet didn’t sever her spinal cord, but passed so close that the energy from the bullet transferred to the spinal cord, causing massive cell death and leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

She had three surgeries to repair her abdomen. When surgeons went in to get a look inside, they found food — ceviche and lamb pasta from dinner — all over her chest wall.

“That would have been a huge source of infection,” Pinksen said. “Catching it early saved her life, too.”

The last year has been a journey for the pair.

She spent two months at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute learning to live as a paraplegic.

“Everything has changed for me,” Kane said.

Pain is her biggest problem now.

“The pain is more disabling than a lack of ability to walk,” Kane said. Her lower back hurts and she has a constant “tingly, burning sensation” in her legs.

“From a caregiver and a partner, sometimes it’s difficult playing those different roles and seeing someone you care about struggle with pain,” Pinksen said. “It’s such a preoccupying force in our lives.”

She said cannabis helps. Physiotherapy also helps, but she’s hit her OHIP-supported limit.

Fortunately, the couple received more than $200,000 from a GoFundMe campaign launched by a friend. With the money, they’re moving to Oshawa, Ont., to be closer to her school, where she hopes to take a few classes come January to ease back into the nursing program. She plans to join a centre where she’ll continue her physiotherapy.

The money has also allowed Pinksen to take a leave from work to help out at home.

“Without that money, I would have been stressed out and my recovery would have been more difficult,” she said. “Maybe that’s why I’m so relaxed. That and Jerry!”

They are renovating the house to make it accessible, the couple said.

Mentally, there have been ups and downs, Kane said. Depression rears its dark head from time to time. But she has found solace in meditation and the idea that life is suffering punctuated with moments of joy.

“I feel with all the suffering I’ve had, I have a great capacity for joy,” Kane said with a laugh.

She sometimes thinks about the past — what it was like to dance and run and jump — that can take her down to a dark place.

“I try to catch myself and distance myself from the thought and let it float away,” she said.

She also thinks about the shooter. Police said Hussain, who killed himself moments after the shooting spree, lived with severe mental health issues since childhood and had a history of harming himself along with a fascination with death and violence.

“I forgive him,” she said. “I definitely have moments where he’s not my favourite person, but I see him as a human being who struggled and didn’t get help. I can only imagine how awful his life must have been to be so isolated and tortured by violent thoughts.”

But she refuses to be kept down.

“I don’t feel traumatized because I’ve taken it back,” she said. “I feel like I don’t want to be a victim. I’m choosing not to be a victim.”

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press


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CRA program to help poor file taxes yields noticeable bump in people helped

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CRA headquarters

OTTAWA — A federal program designed to help low-income Canadians file their taxes has boosted the number of returns it’s handled in the year since the government increased its funding.

The extra money allows volunteer-driven clinics run by more than 3,000 groups to operate year-round.

Now, the agency is looking to improve the program to help more low-income Canadians qualify for supports administered through the tax system, including the Canada Child Benefit that goes up in value this weekend.

Figures provided by the Canada Revenue Agency show a six-per-cent increase in the number of tax returns filed through the program this year compared to last year.

In raw numbers, the CRA says more than 835,000 returns were filed by people who are homeless, Indigenous, newcomers, seniors or disabled.

The boost is double those seen in previous years, before the Liberals increased annual spending on the “community volunteer income-tax program” to $13 million in the 2018 budget.

The Canadian Press


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