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Chief military judge tells court martial presiding judge was his ‘confidant’

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OTTAWA — Canada’s chief military judge took the witness box during his own court martial on Tuesday, testifying about his personal and professional relationship with his deputy — who is also the presiding judge for his trial.

The surreal scene was the latest twist in an unprecedented legal case, in which Col. Mario Dutil is being tried on eight charges in the very military-court system he has served as the top judge since 2006.

The charges relate to allegations he had a consensual but inappropriate relationship with another subordinate and knowingly signed a travel claim for $927.60 that contained false information.

He is facing two counts of fraud, one of wilfully making a false entry in an official document, one of wilfully making a false statement in an official document, and four related to conduct or neglect to the prejudice of good order and discipline. Dutil has denied any wrongdoing.

A special committee of three judges dismissed a complaint about the relationship with the other subordinate in April 2016, saying it did not have any impact on his work.

The relationship between Dutil and deputy chief military judge Louis-Vincent d’Auteuil has figured prominently in the first two days of the court martial thanks to a motion for d’Auteuil to recuse himself from the case.

That motion was brought forward not by military prosecutors but Dutil’s own lawyer, Philippe-Luc-Boutin, who asked d’Auteuil to step away, saying the judge is too intertwined in the case involving his colleague on the military’s five-judge bench.

The prosecutors say they have confidence in d’Auteuil’s ability to preside over the case in an impartial manner — and that contrary to Boutin’s suggestions, the civilian system should not handle the matter.

Wearing a blue suit and sitting only metres away from d’Auteuil, who was dressed in his black judge’s robe with a red sash, Dutil described how the two military judges developed a close friendship after years working together.

“Over time, Judge d’Auteuil became my confidant,” Dutil said at one point in French in response to a question from Boutin, later adding: “Judge d’Auteuil is my closest colleague.”

Dutil acknowledged during his testimony that the two judges grew more distant following allegations about the relationship and travel claim, when he delegated much of his authority to d’Auteuil.

“We changed things,” said Dutil, whose demeanour shifted from combative to introspective and back through much of Tuesday’s testimony. “I kept a certain distance … We communicated, obviously. Life continued.”

The two judges nonetheless spoke about the complaint, Dutil said, adding d’Auteuil knew many of the facts of the case.

Boutin even served a subpoena on d’Auteuil shortly after the court martial commenced Monday, which in theory would mean the judge could end up presiding over the trial and testifying from the witness box.

“Judge d’Auteuil is an essential witness in this case,” Dutil said. “On the facts, but also on the dynamic, the complexity, the context of this file. And everything that happened after the investigation, and all the actions that followed.”

Dutil later spoke of his relationships with the military’s three other judges, including one with whom he does not get along.

Despite this, military prosecutor 2nd Lt. Cimon Senecal told The Canadian Press after the day’s proceedings that he remains confident in d’Auteuil’s ability to preside over the case in an impartial manner.

“We believe that Judge d’Auteuil, when he was appointed as a judge, he made his oath of office and he’s subject to the oath of office to be impartial,” Senecal said.

“We believe that with this presumption of impartiality and with these safeguards — the fact that it’s public, it’s recorded and subject to appeal — we are confident Judge d’Auteuil is in a position to make a fair decision without bias.”

—Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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Ethnic media aim to help maintain boost in voting by new Canadians

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OTTAWA — Zuhair Alshaer spends most of his day editing articles and organizing interviews with politicians for his Ottawa-based Arab Canada newspaper, to introduce Arabic-speaking new Canadians to federal politics.

The community Alshaer’s paper serves is growing — more immigrants are arriving in Canada from Africa, Asia and the Middle East than ever before, surpassing Europe that was once the dominant source.

And it is also becoming more politically engaged: The voting rate of immigrant from West Central Asia and the Middle East increased to 73 per cent in the 2015 election from the 57 per cent recorded four years earlier, the largest increase among the 10 immigrant regions studied by Statistics Canada.

For Alshaer, and other ethnic media outlets, all his efforts are aimed at helping Arabic-speaking new Canadians kick isolation and get involved in politics.

“We’re trying to encourage our audience to integrate,” he said. “We show them how important is to participate in politics.”

Research published by Statistics Canada in 2016 highlighted that new Canadians made up about one-fifth of the voting population. Their numbers are likely to increase in the coming years: Statistics Canada projects the proportion of foreign-born individuals who immigrated to Canada could reach between 25 per cent and 30 per cent by 2036.

Alshaer, a Palestinian immigrant who came to Canada 20 years ago, is hoping that his monthly newspaper, launched three years ago, will connect his community with federal politics, so more people cast a ballot on Oct. 21.

“We should believe that Canada is our country and behave accordingly,” he said.

The most recent issue of his newspaper, published earlier this month, included an op-ed signed by Environment Minister Catherine McKenna, and an extended interview with Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre, who are seeking re-election in their respective Ottawa-area seats.

“We worked on building trust between our audience and the politicians and candidates,” said Alshaer, the paper’s editor-in-chief. “We don’t have any affiliation with any candidate or political party.”

But newcomers from countries with no established democratic traditions is an obstacle that makes participating in Canadian politics more challenging. Research has also shown that lower-income individuals — a group that includes newcomers — may not see voting as a priority for because they are more focused on more immediate concerns, adding another obstacle.

“A lot of newcomers, in the first few years, are facing tremendous anxiety and challenges when it comes to economic and social integration,” said Liberal MP Omar Alghabra, who was born in Saudi Arabia to a Syrian family and immigrated to Canada about 30 years ago.

Statistics Canada data show that turnout rates for established immigrants, defined as those who lived in the country for at least 10 years, was a few points higher in 2015 than recent immigrants.

Overall, turnout rates were up by 14.4 percentage points in 2015 compared to the 2011 election, Statistics Canada said, with above-average increases recorded for newcomers from West Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Getting used to the idea of voting “takes a few years for newcomers to wrap their heads around it,” Algabra said. He added it was important to explain to new Canadians that the outcomes of the election “will have an immediate impact on their lives” and each outcome could mean different things to different people.

A few of the volunteers with Algabra’s re-election campaign are newcomers. Some don’t even have their permanent residency or citizenship, but are “excited about living in a country with a society that encourages participation and democratic practices,” Algabra said.

“I’ve also seen a group of newcomers who are extremely excited about earning their Canadian citizenship,” Alghabra said. “They are really keen on not only voting, but also participating in democratic process.”

Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press

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Saskatchewan abandons commitment to improve northern airport after crash: chief

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Louie Mercredi of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation

REGINA — A chief of a remote Saskatchewan First Nation says the province’s decision not to help improve an airport runway in his community while doing so in a city outside Regina shows racism.

Louie Mercredi of the Fond du Lac Denesuline First Nation says the province is abandoning its commitment to develop the runway near his isolated northern reserve.

He says the airport is in poor condition and the runway needs to be expanded. He’s been pushing for changes since one person died and nine were seriously injured following a plane crash there in December 2017.

Lori Carr, minister of government relations, says the province didn’t receive a completed application for the project.

She says officials requested in June that the First Nation hand in a full application, but it was not done.

“It should not come down to an application,” Mercredi told a news conference in Regina on Thursday.

“I have told my people that we are getting a runway upgraded so the province (has) created a liar. I’ve lied to my people.”

Mercredi said the province was almost done with the design of the project. He says the First Nation submitted an application in March, but it was incomplete because staff lacked technical expertise.

He wants the province to help finish the application and fund the project, since the government committed to doing so.

“Now that I’ve found out a Moose Jaw airport application was also late and that was accepted by the province, what is going on here?” he said.

“Are they just supporting their ridings? What I’m seeing is racism here.”

“This airport is the only access point for many northern communities and the fact that needed improvements still haven’t been made is ridiculous,” said Opposition infrastructure critic Buckley Belanger.

A runway expansion for Moose Jaw was one of nearly 30 projects the province brought to the federal government in a request for infrastructure funding, which has been the subject of an ongoing dispute between Saskatchewan and Ottawa.

The Saskatchewan NDP said the government has been engaged in “partisan finger-pointing” over infrastructure funding.

Mercredi said he has sent about a dozen letters to the provincial government seeking updates to his proposal and was under the impression the province was still committed to paying for runway improvements.

“Still ’til today no response.”

He said he learned through a news report that the runway wasn’t a priority for the province.

Deputy premier Gord Wyant has said the upgrades are not a priority for the government this budget year.

“What is more important than human lives?” Mercredi asked.

“What kind of government is this when they prioritize landfills before human lives?”

Bobby Cameron, chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, said applications shouldn’t be the issue and the province should focus on safety.

Mercredi said the Fond du Lac runway isn’t safe for larger aircraft, so people are transported on smaller planes and their flights are consistently delayed.

As well, he said, most of their food is flown in and that’s fallen behind due to having to downsize the planes being used.

Carr said Fond du Lac’s existing runway is safe and the Transportation Safety Board didn’t find the airstrip contributed to the 2017 crash.

The safety board said in a report in December that the pilot of the plane took off despite noticing ice on the aircraft during a pre-flight inspection.

The board said people using remote, northern airports are at substantial risk because of a lack of proper equipment for de-icing planes.

The federal government announced in February that it was spending $12 million for safety upgrades at the airport.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

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