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Clement Gascon, high court justice who went missing, had panic attack

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OTTAWA — Supreme Court Justice Clement Gascon says he suffered a panic attack last week before he briefly went missing Wednesday night.

Gascon, who has already announced plans to retire in September, said in a statement Tuesday that he has long dealt with depression and anxiety, an “insidious illness” he has generally been able to manage, but led him to a crisis last week.

“On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 8, affected both by the recent announcement of a difficult and heart-rending career decision and by a change in medication, I conducted myself in an unprecedented and unaccustomed manner by going out without warning and remaining out of touch for several hours,” Gascon said. “I can neither explain nor justify what I understand to have been a panic attack, and I wish to apologize most profusely to all those who suffered as a result.”

Ottawa police sent a missing-person alert last Wednesday evening, saying the judge had been seen in early afternoon heading away from the courthouse near Parliament and his family was concerned for his safety. A short time later, the police said Gascon had been found safe and sound.

Until Tuesday, neither the police nor the Supreme Court would explain the incident, though the court’s executive legal officer — a top aide to Chief Justice Richard Wagner — said it wouldn’t affect his ability to continue on the bench.

“This health issue has been taken care of and treated with the necessary medical support,” Gascon said in his statement. “I confirm that I am in good health, and am fully capable of performing my duties as a judge.”

He can’t “erase what happened,” he said, but intends to put it behind him.

Wagner praised Gascon for speaking out.

“The statement made by Justice Gascon earlier today takes courage,” Wagner said in a release.

“My colleagues and I are very proud of Justice Gascon, and he has my full support and confidence. I look forward to seeing him back on the bench this week.”

Gascon, 58, is a specialist in business law and has been on the Supreme Court for five years, having been appointed by former prime minister Stephen Harper after 12 years as a judge in Quebec.

He announced his impending retirement in mid-April, citing personal and family reasons for quitting the top court at an age younger than many justices are when they join it.

Last year, the family of late justice Gerald Le Dain went public with the story of his departure from the Supreme Court in 1988, saying then-chief justice Brian Dickson forced Le Dain out after he was hospitalized with depression.

A former top aide to Dickson had previously written that the decision was made because the Supreme Court had a heavy load at the time and could not handle being short a judge; Le Dain’s family told the CBC he would have returned after a short time off to recuperate and called the court’s actions “unconscionable.”

Just after Gascon’s statement was released Tuesday, Independent MP and former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould thanked Gascon for sharing his struggle with depression and anxiety.

“Pleased to hear you are in good health and continuing to perform your duties as a judge,” she wrote on Twitter.

 

The Canadian Press

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Manitoba wants to attract Quebec civil servants worried about clothing law

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Manitoba wants to attract Quebec civil servants

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to recruit civil servants from Quebec who are concerned about a new law in the province banning religious symbols at work.

Manitoba has a shortage of bilingual civil servants, Premier Brian Pallister says, and will send letters to Quebec professional organizations, colleges and other entities to invite public-sector workers to move west.

“We think that there may be people in Quebec right now who want to come to a province where we don’t have clothing police, where their freedoms will be respected and their rights will be respected,” Pallister said Thursday.

The Quebec ban on religious symbols in the workplace applies only to some people in the civil service in positions of authority, including judges, police officers, court clerks and public school teachers.

Pallister’s office says the Manitoba recruitment effort will target a range of public workers in areas such as education, health care, social services and agriculture.

Critics say it unfairly targets Muslims, Sikhs and other religious minorities. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has said the law helps ensure secularism in the workplace and is supported by a majority of Quebecers.

Pallister raised his opposition to the law at a meeting of Canada’s premiers in Saskatoon earlier this month, although it was not part of the formal agenda and was not included in the communique issued by the premiers after the meeting.

Pallister said the letter to Quebec organizations will be finalized soon and will be made available publicly.

“I’m not trying to hide the fact that I disagree with Bill 21, and I’m not going to try to hide the fact that we’re going to use the threat of it to serve the needs of the people of Manitoba, and to give opportunity to people who feel at all concerned about that particular bill,” he said.

The Quebec law was a campaign promise by Legault and took effect last month. It is being challenged in court by a national Muslim organization and a civil liberties group.

A Quebec Superior Court judge rejected their application Thursday to suspend the law until the court case can be heard.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press


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Appeal for calm as tensions mount in Oka over land transfer to Kanesatake

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Tensions mount in OKA over land transfer to Kanasatake

MONTREAL — There were appeals for calm Thursday amid steadily mounting tension in Oka, Que., over a private developer’s plan to return land to the Mohawks of Kanesatake.

Hundreds packed a church Wednesday night in the community, about 90 kilometres northwest of Montreal, to discuss the return of a pine forest central to the 1990 Oka crisis as part of a federal ecological donation to the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake.

The meeting was convened by Oka Mayor Pascal Quevillon, who said he was caught off guard by land developer Gregoire Gollin’s intention to donate the 60 hectares known as The Pines last month, ensuring its preservation.

Gollin said he acted in the spirit of reconciliation when he signed the agreement, and was also prepared to discuss the sale of an additional 150 hectares he owns to the federal government to transfer to the Mohawk community — nearly half of which he said is adjacent to land owned by Kanesatake.

Quevillon said he is concerned about Oka becoming “surrounded” by the Mohawk territory, and worried about property values. He implored the federal government to take the town’s concerns into consideration.

He said the adjacent Mohawk community has illegal dumps and numerous cannabis and cigarette merchants — things the village of Oka doesn’t want to see expanded.

“My comments are the reality — I would like to tell you otherwise but it’s the reality in Kanesatake,” Quevillon said.

Quevillon stressed he doesn’t want another Oka crisis but said he fears one could be triggered — this time led by Oka residents worried about encroachment.

“We don’t wish it, but if there is another one, it won’t come from the residents of Kanesatake because it’s the residents of Oka and their rights that are impacted,” Quevillon said.

Speaking to reporters in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he felt the mayor’s comments about being surrounded “lacked the necessary respect and understanding that is key to true reconciliation.”

“Reconciliation is extremely important for Canada and Canadians, that means overcoming difficult challenges, some loaded with historical significance,” Trudeau said.

“We know that the only way forward is through respectful partnership and dialogue and we certainly hope that all parties in Oka will engage in that respectful and constructive dialogue to allow us to move forward for the benefit of all.”

Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon said tensions with Oka’s leadership have worsened in recent months and he has sought intermediaries like the provincial government to help.

“There’s always been an underlying tension,” Simon said. “There’s always been the ghost of 1990 and a mistrust of each other.”

But Simon took particular issue with the idea that the repatriation of lands would result in a drop in properly values, calling the mayor’s remarks racist.

He also called the notion of invoking another Oka crisis inflammatory, given the historical precedent.

“It’s irresponsible of him knowing damn well what happened and how it happened (in 1990) and he’s following in the same footsteps,” Simon said. “He’s knowingly fomenting a crisis.”

“(It’s) dangerous, very dangerous,” Simon added. “My community, we don’t want to live through something like that again … people back home aren’t afraid to fight, but it comes at a heavy price.”

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador called Thursday for calm, noting the mayor’s comments are reminiscent of how tensions sparked between the Mohawk nation and Quebec some 29 years ago this summer.

Grand Chief Ghislain Picard said the priority is finding a way to talk.

“I certainly feel confident we’ll come to a resolution,” Picard said. “This obviously lies with the capacity of both Oka and Kanesatake to find a common space to engage in a constructive dialogue.”

Also Thursday, Quebec Indigenous Affairs Minister Sylvie D’Amours vowed to work with all sides, even though land claims are federal jurisdiction.

“In order to preserve social peace and ensure the safety of all, Minister D’Amours has been intensifying exchanges with the federal government, the mayor of Oka and the grand chief of Kanesatake for months,” spokeswoman Nadine Gros-Louis said in an email. “It is essential that the dialogue be open and positive.”

The donated land is part of lands central to the Oka crisis which began July 11, 1990.

Gunfire erupted between provincial police and Aboriginals defending a small stand of pine trees from the expansion of a golf course, resulting in the death of officer Marcel Lemay and sparking a 78-day showdown.

At the end of it, a deal was struck to bring down barricades in exchange for cancelling the expansion.

Simon said his own community held a meeting about the ecological gift and raised concerns about a gift of land that belongs to them. But he said it was a way to cut through red tape and keep the lands free from development, noting that part of the forest in question includes a wetland.

As for other future developments, Simon said Oka would be able to invest in projects that would be of use to both communities, like an arena for example, which could promote reconciliation through sport.

“We just need to find a way to work in harmony with our neighbours and promote more co-operation, peace and equality,” Simon said.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press



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