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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 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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Seamus O’Regan faces calls to visit Attawapiskat during state of emergency

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Dwelling in Attawapiskat

OTTAWA — Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan is facing calls from the federal NDP to visit the northern Ontario community of Attawapiskat First Nation.

Earlier this month, the community declared a state of emergency over concerns about chemical levels in tap water.

NDP MP Charlie Angus, who represents the federal riding encompassing the reserve, is meeting with the community today and says O’Regan needs to see the impacts of the issue first-hand, including that community members are worried about being able to safety bathe their children.

Attawapiskat has drawn national attention for its 2012 housing crisis and it has also faced issues with youth suicide.

Former chief Theresa Spence, who launched a high-profile protest over the housing situation, has also started a hunger strike over water concerns.

O’Regan’s office says that addressing the water issue in full partnership with the First Nation is a top priority, adding it knows recent test results have raised concerns.

 

 

The Canadian Press

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Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA

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Trudeau to push trade pact with EU

MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France have begun their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal on Wednesday.

Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.

Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.

The group is to visit a pier in the bustling Port of Montreal, the gateway for European sea shipments into Canada.

International trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said that’s a welcome break from the resort-style backdrops that Trudeau and other prime ministers have preferred when they host international visitors.

“Appearing at the Port of Montreal in this era is much better than appearing at Lake Louise or Banff. The message we want to give is Canada is a leading economic force in the world,” said Herman.

“Meeting in Montreal or in any major urban centre gives that message much better than the typical image of Canada being a wilderness country full of mountains and streams.”

Wednesday’s legal development, the French National Assembly’s consideration of France’s CETA ratification bill, is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.

Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.

Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.

That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.

Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.

Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.

Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.

Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.

Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.

Earlier this week, Trump signed an executive order strengthening his protectionist Buy American Act, which requires federal agencies to increase their use of American-made products from 50 to 75 per cent.

Herman said Canadian companies need to be more aggressive in taking advantage of the new opportunities now open to them in Europe, especially its new “privileged” access to national and sub national government contracts in a sector valued at $3.3 trillion annually.

“As the U.S. turns inward and as protectionism raises its ugly face in the U.S. we have to look at other opportunities. And I think procurement is one of the areas where we have great possibility in Europe.”

CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24-trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.

But the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance offered mixed reviews on the deal, saying EU agri-food exports to Canada jumped 10 per cent in 2018, compared with the previous year, which increased Canada’s trade deficit with the EU to $3.5 billion.

Meanwhile, Canadian agri-food exports to the EU have dropped 10 per cent since CETA’s 2017 entry into force, the alliance said.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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