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Alberta

Alberta records deadliest year for drug overdoses in 2021

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Alberta recorded its deadliest year on record for drug overdoses with more than 1,700 deaths in 2021.

The province released data late Thursday showing 176 people died in both November and December bringing the yearly total to 1,758.

Not only did both months hit grim milestones – the highest single-month totals ever – but they capped off the worst year since Alberta began collecting data in 2016.

Most overdose fatalities are linked to opioids and took place in Calgary and Edmonton.

But Lethbridge had the highest rate of drug poisoning deaths in those final two months, more than doubling the provincial average.

The two-month total is a 33 per cent increase compared to the same time period in 2020.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 18, 2022.

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Alberta

Edmonton police use DNA phenotyping to find sex assault suspect

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By Angela Amato in Edmonton

Edmonton police say they are using DNA phenotyping, for the first time in its history, in trying to solve a sexual assault.

DNA phenotyping predicts physical appearance and ancestry from unidentified DNA evidence, and police use that information to narrow suspects and generate leads in criminal investigations.

Det. Colleen Maynes says the method is a last resort after all other investigative avenues have been exhausted.

“This was a vicious assault,” said Maynes, adding she doesn’t want to see the perpetrator act again.

A woman lost consciousness after she was violently sexually assaulted by a man who followed her from a bus stop in the central Spruce Avenue neighbourhood in March of 2019.

She sustained serious injuries and was found wearing only a shirt when it was -27 C.

“This survivor deserves justice,” said Maynes.

There were no witnesses, surveillance video, public tips or DNA matches in the case.

Detectives enlisted DNA technology company Parabon NanoLabs in Virginia to help in the investigation. The lab has provided DNA phenotyping to help with other files in Saskatchewan and Ontario.

Most DNA testing in Canada goes through the RCMP’s lab. Maynes said this can take a long time, as the RCMP deals with cases across the country and doesn’t have the resources or technologies that other labs do.

“We are lacking with that technology here in Canada,” said Maynes.

Paula Armentrout with Parabon said that since 2018, its labs have helped solve 230 violent crimes in North America, although not all of them used DNA phenotyping.

DNA phenotyping is not exclusive to sexual assault cases. The analysis has also been used to find possible suspects in murder cases and to identify remains.

With a computer-generated snapshot in the Edmonton sex assault case, DNA phenotyping determined the suspect to be a Black man with dark brown to black hair and dark brown eyes who stands about five-foot-four.

Armentrout said the turnaround for this type of analysis is about 45 days after receiving a DNA sample.

Police said the suspect’s description may impact a marginalized community. After consulting with community stakeholders and considering the severity of the assault and the threat to public safety, police released the details with a computer-generated image.

Any leads generated from the image will require further investigative steps, said Maynes.

“It is by no means an immediate path to accusing a suspect,” she said. “What it does is potentially give us leads in a cold case, and we can follow up with DNA testing from there.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

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Alberta

Former head of Alberta Human Rights Commission suing justice minister over dismissal

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By Bob Weber in Edmonton

The former head of the Alberta Human Rights Commission is suing the province’s justice minister for wrongful dismissal, claiming Tyler Shandro caved in to carefully orchestrated political pressure.

Collin May’s statement of claim alleges members and supporters of the Opposition New Democratic Party feared May would expose sexual harassment problems at the commission that occurred when they were in government.

“This made the plaintiff a threat, and he was subsequently targeted by political opponents weeks before he was scheduled to start his term as chief,” the document says.

New Democrat justice critic Irfan Sabir called the charges a distraction.

“Collin May published overtly racist and Islamophobic views,” he said in an email Tuesday.

“The UCP government belatedly held him accountable for that. Mr. May’s innuendo is merely an attempt to distract from his own behaviour.”

May, a Calgary lawyer, was hired as chief of the commission on May 25.

Questions about his appointment began almost immediately. Some criticized his lack of experience in human rights law and others pointed to a book review he wrote in 2009 in which he quoted statements saying Islam was a fundamentally violent religion.

That review drew concerns from the National Council of Canadian Muslims. Members of the NDP caucus also called for May’s resignation.

The statement of claim accuses NDP supporters of stockpiling May’s book review years ago, then carefully co-ordinating and managing the public outcry against him to engineer his removal.

“The NDP were clearly co-ordinated for the purpose of smearing the plaintiff’s character,” the document says.

It goes on to allege the New Democrats went after May because they were afraid he would renew sexual harassment allegations against two senior members of the commission who had been appointed by NDP leader and then-premier Rachel Notley.

“(May) learned that there was also a culture of pervasive sexual harassment within the NDP during Notley’s time as premier,” says the claim.

“Notley therefore could not afford to have the public learn that … her own appointees had also allowed for a culture of pervasive sexual harassment and bullying.”

The document says Shandro neither defended May nor emphasized that the commission is an arm’s length agency, which he has no direct control over. In fact, it alleges senior officials in Shandro’s office were so insistent on getting May to apologize for statements he says he didn’t make that May had to block their numbers on his cellphone.

As well, the lawsuit alleges May was forbidden from meeting with Muslim organizations by Muhammad Yaseen, Alberta’s associate minister of immigration and multiculturalism. It says May was told to wait to await ministerial direction, which never came.

“Minister Shandro’s office was heavily involved in facilitating the smear campaign against Collin May,” said May’s lawyer Kathryn Marshall in an interview.

The situation got so bad that May received threatening phone calls at his home. May’s law firm removed his phone number from its website and for four days in July, the lawsuit says, May and his partner were afraid to leave their Calgary home.

“The (commission) and the defendant did nothing to support (May) during this difficult time,” the lawsuit says.

It says that on Sept. 15, May got a letter telling him his job was over on a “without cause” basis.

A spokesman for Shandro declined to comment, saying the matter is before the courts.

Marshall said May had signed a five-year contract on the same basis as any other civil servant and was not given the basic rights he was due under Canadian law.

“It’s not about deflecting criticism or playing political games,” she said. “This is about getting my clients’ rights enforced.

“(The government) fired him and are now falsely alleging he resigned.”

The lawsuit seeks to recover the money May would have earned over the five-year term as well as damages to his reputation — about $2.1 million.

The allegations in the statement of claim have not been tested in court.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 4, 2022.

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

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