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‘This tragedy forced the light out:’ Toronto marks anniversary of van attack

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TORONTO — As family members, friends and strangers braved the rain Tuesday to honour the victims of the Yonge Street van attack, one man stood by the memorial marking the one-year anniversary of the horrific event making sure the flowers laid…


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  • TORONTO — As family members, friends and strangers braved the rain Tuesday to honour the victims of the Yonge Street van attack, one man stood by the memorial marking the one-year anniversary of the horrific event making sure the flowers laid there looked pretty.

    Omar Hassan couldn’t help it.

    The 25-year-old student didn’t witness the attack on April 23, 2018, and he didn’t know any of the 10 people killed and 16 others injured when a white rental van plowed into pedestrians along the busy street in north Toronto. But he took it upon himself to keep a growing makeshift memorial that popped up after the attack clean and tidy.

    With the help of a few friends, he would spend time every night in Mel Lastman Square making sure flowers and tributes the wind had blown away were back where people had laid them. That went on for 40 days until the impromptu memorial was removed by the city.

    “Even in the darkest of times, there’s some light that comes out,” he said. “This tragedy forced the light out.”

    That hope and positivity was everywhere Tuesday as dozens of people wrote messages about love and inspiration in chalk on the sidewalk at the site of the attack. Others painted canvases with messages about peace, growth and restoration.

    Esther Linetski placed an orange carnation by a temporary plaque. Linetski, who works in the area, said she meant to go out to the square for lunch on the day of the attack but was too busy to escape her office.

    “I could have been out here,” she said, fighting back tears. “Thankfully I wasn’t one of the unlucky ones.”

    Alek Minassian, now 26, is charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 16 counts of attempted murder. He is set to face trial next February.

    For the neighbourhood of Willowdale, where the attack took place, the tragedy led to people like Hassan and others banding together to help the community with its healing process.

    One woman donated hundreds of flowers so others could place them at two main memorial sites. Another woman came by every day to keep the candles lit and replace the ones that had burned down.

    A year later, members of the community hope they can keep that small-town-style spirit going, which can be difficult in a busy city like Toronto.

    Jesse James, a longtime community organizer, said he and his family have committed to learning languages spoken in the area in an attempt to further bring the neighbourhood together in the aftermath of the attack.

    The 31-year-old had been sitting at a nearby library when last year’s attack took place. After hearing the news from the friend, he went to pick up an 11-year-old boy he was mentoring. As the pair walked home they agreed on one thing — they needed to get everyone together.

    They put out a call out to various churches and Christian groups in the area. Seven of them got together that night and eventually started a Facebook group called “We Love Willowdale,” deciding to make music a central theme.

    “We framed it as helping turn our cries of sorrow into songs of healing,” said James.

    They asked Melissa Davis, the chair of the music and worship arts department at nearby Tyndale University, to co-ordinate a 100-strong choir that would get together for a vigil in six days. She also organized the choir for the one-year commemoration of the incident.

    “I hope through music people will receive that hope and healing they’ve been longing for and wrestling with the last year,” Davis said. “I really believe that music is able to inspire, console and heal and really speak to the soul of human beings.”

    Marion Goertz, a psychotherapist with the nearby Family Life Centre that provides counselling and mental health support, said she and her colleagues have spoken to many who were affected in one way or another by the events that day.

    Eight therapists went out the next day and each day for the next two weeks to makeshift comfort stations. Most who stopped by were witnesses, she said.

    “Many people just wanted to talk and tell us where they were that day,” Goertz said. “People like order in their lives and this has made people ask questions: How safe can I be? Can this happen to me?”

    That feeling was so prevalent that the group decided to organize an event dubbed “Reclaim Yonge” — about 6,000 people walked Yonge Street six days after the tragedy to a vigil held at Mel Lastman Square.

    On Tuesday, many continued to reclaim Yonge Street, determined not to let last year’s devastating attack hold them back.

    Jim Ba was one of them. He credited the community with giving him strength to deal with ongoing visions of the dead and injured — lingering effects of what he saw in the wake of the attack. 

    “It’s important to be strong,” he said. “Not afraid.”

    Liam Casey and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press




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    National

    Canadian Press NewsAlert: Canadian citizen killed in Honduras plane crash

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    TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Global Affairs is confirming that a Canadian citizen has been killed in a plane crash in Honduras.
    A spokesperson for the department says the crash happened in the Roatan Islands area.
    Stefano Maron says consular offic…


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  • TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Global Affairs is confirming that a Canadian citizen has been killed in a plane crash in Honduras.

    A spokesperson for the department says the crash happened in the Roatan Islands area.

    Stefano Maron says consular officials in the capital, Tegucigalpa, are in contact with local authorities and providing consular assistance to the victim’s family.

    Local media report that all five people who died in yesterday’s crash were foreigners.

    More coming.

    The Canadian Press


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    Environment

    ‘Rope-a-dope’: Environmentalists say Alberta war room threat won’t distract them

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    EDMONTON — Environmental groups targeted by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney are shrugging off the new government’s promised $30-million “war room” to fight criticisms of the province’s energy industry.
    “The war room makes for good theatre, but the people …


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  • EDMONTON — Environmental groups targeted by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney are shrugging off the new government’s promised $30-million “war room” to fight criticisms of the province’s energy industry.

    “The war room makes for good theatre, but the people who follow this closely are going to look at this as amateur hour,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace.

    “Chasing environmentalists might play well politically, but it’s not actually relevant to the discussion that Alberta and Canada need to be having,” added Simon Dyer of the clean-energy think tank Pembina Institute.

    Both groups have been singled out by Kenney as examples of ones distorting the truth about the impact of the oilsands. The premier has said government staff will be tasked with responding quickly to what he calls myths and lies.

    Kenney has also promised to fund lawsuits against offending environmentalists and to call a public inquiry into the role of money from U.S. foundations.

    “Stay tuned,” Energy Minister Sonya Savage said Tuesday. “We’ll have something to talk about next week.”

    Environmental groups have already been discussing informally what the United Conservative government might have in mind and how they should react.

    “We’ve been contacted,” said Devon Page of Ecojustice, an environmental law firm. “We’ve been saying to the groups, ‘We’re here. We’ll respond and represent you as we have in the past.’

    “What we’re trying hard not to do is to do what I think the Kenney government wants, which is to get distracted.”

    Dyer and Stewart said their groups are about 85 per cent funded by Canadians. The Pembina Institute was founded in Drayton Valley, Alta., and its headquarters remain in Calgary.

    Both called the war room political posturing aimed at the party’s base.

    “A lot of the rhetoric around our work and our contribution to Alberta has been based on complete misinformation,” said Dyer, who pointed out Pembina has worked with virtually every major energy company in the province.

    Stewart called the threats a rerun of the 2012 campaign against environmental groups fuelled by the right-wing The Rebel media group and led by Stephen Harper’s federal Conservatives.

    “We learned to play rope-a-dope,” said Stewart. “Stephen Harper was our best recruiter.

    “We had people contacting us saying, ‘How do I lie down in front of a bulldozer?’ We don’t usually get a lot of those calls but we were getting a lot of those calls.”

    Each group is confident in the accuracy of the facts it cites. Dyer said Pembina research has been used by investors, academics and governments.

    Stewart said the issue isn’t facts, but how they are understood. 

    “Often what it is is a disagreement over which fact is important. Industry will say, ‘We’re reducing emissions per barrel.’ We’ll say, ‘Emissions are going up.’ Both statements are true and it depends which you think is more important.”

    Cara Zwibel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the Kenney government must tread carefully. It’s OK to defend your position, but not to threaten, she said.

    “If we’re talking about initiating lawsuits against individuals or organizations on the basis of speaking out on issues of public importance, then that raises serious problems,” she said. “Then we have a much more obvious impact and potential violation on freedom of expression.”

    The province could possibly expose itself to legal action if its statements harm a group or individual — say, by putting them at the centre of a Twitter firestorm, said an Edmonton lawyer.

    “There’s certainly some kind of moral responsibility in terms of understanding that kind of highly charged rhetoric,” said Sean Ward, who practises media law. “You have to understand the consequences that are likely to follow.”

    Ward said any cases the government funds would also be tough to win. 

    “There are a lot of available defences. It’s difficult to see that this sort of general debate they’re going to be able to shut down with defamation law.”

    Environmentalists say their response will be to avoid distraction and carry on.

    “The vast majority active in this place don’t want to go back to a high conflict, polarizing environment,” Dyer said. “We’re not interested in polarizing this debate.”

    Bob Weber, The Canadian Press




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