A Calgary teen charged with first-degree murder in the death of a police officer in a hit and run testified Tuesday he feared for his life when he took off in his vehicle with Sgt. Andrew Harnett holding on.
Harnett of the Calgary Police Service died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.
The suspect vehicle’s alleged driver was 17 at the time. He turned 19 in January, but cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The accused took the witness stand in his own defence, describing an abusive childhood where his family moved 10 times over a decade between Montreal, Toronto and Calgary to get away from his birth father.
He said he, his mother and two older siblings lived mostly in homeless shelters during that time.
In his testimony, he described planning to go to a New Year’s Eve party on the day of Harnett’s death.
The vehicle was pulled over because it didn’t have its lights on, court heard.
As the traffic stop continued and a second police car arrived, the youth said his anxiety level began to rise. When another officer and Harnett approached the vehicle, the accused said he panicked.
“I observed Sgt. Harnett had his hand on his gun and as soon as I seen that, I took off. I was scared. My anxiety was through the roof at that time,” he said.
“I thought something bad was going to happen. I thought just the fact ‘why would he have his hand on his gun?’ I took off. I panicked. I was scared.”
The teen described how Harnett leaned inside the car, holding on to the steering wheel and punching him in the head all the while yelling to “stop the car.”
“The officer grabs onto my hair and starts punching. I’m getting punched and I’m getting punched. As I try to back away my foot hits the accelerator,” he testified.
“It was chaotic, honestly. People are screaming. I feel I have no control. I’m thinking ‘I’m done. I’m going to get dragged out and get killed or seriously injured.’ I was trying to protect myself at this point.”
The accused, wearing glasses with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, choked back tears several times during two hours of testimony.
He said he didn’t even notice when Harnett fell away from the car window and immediately drove home to his basement suite.
“I just kept on driving. Honestly, I was thinking about myself, quite frankly. I wasn’t thinking about the officer,” he testified.
“I didn’t think anything happened to him. I didn’t think about him.”
The teen said he decided to turn himself in after learning that Harnett had been killed. He said he regrets his actions and can only say he is sorry.
“I’m in jail for this. It’s not easy. I feel like people sometimes look at me as a monster. I’m not a monster. I’m sorry for the situation,” he said.
“For the rest of my life, I’m going to be known as someone who killed a police officer. No matter what happens. This is it.”
The Crown is expected to cross-examine the accused on Wednesday, with closing arguments scheduled for Thursday.
Amir Abdulrahman, 20, a passenger in the vehicle, pleaded guilty last December to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2022.
Two deputy chief medical officers resign from their positions with Alberta Health
Edmonton – Alberta’s two deputy chief medical officers of health are leaving their roles — less than a month after Dr. Deena Hinshaw was removed as the province’s top doctor.
Health Minister Jason Copping confirmed during question period Wednesday that both of the doctors have submitted letters of resignation.
“They are still continuing to work at this point in time,” he said in the legislature. “We are in the process of actually looking to fill those roles.”
A statement from Alberta Health said Dr. Rosana Salvaterra and Dr. Jing Hu, who are listed as public health physicians on the department’s website, have given notice.
When reached by her department email, Salvaterra responded: “Unfortunately, we are not able to comment.”
She later added that she respects and admires both Dr. Hinshaw and Dr. Hu.
“They are brilliant, hard-working, and compassionate public health physicians and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside them for these past 14 months.”
Salvaterra, who has extensive public health experience including as the medical officer of health for Peterborough, Ont., joined the office in October 2021.
Her career in public health includes work in “the COVID-19 response, mental health, the opioid response, women’s health, poverty reduction, health equity, community food security and building stronger relationships with First Nations.”
Hu’s out-of-office message said her “last day at work with Alberta Health was Nov. 18, 2022,” and noted she wouldn’t have access to the department email after that date.
She got extensive training in China and at the University of Calgary before joining the health department in January 2020.
Their resignations came within a month of Hinshaw, who became the face of Alberta’s public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic, being removed from her position.
Hinshaw was replaced by Dr. Mark Joffe, a senior executive member of Alberta Health Services, on an interim basis.
“Dr. Joffe will be supported by medical officers of health within AHS, by other staff in the Office of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, and by the Public Health Division,” said the statement from Alberta Health late Wednesday.
“We expect these changes to have no impact on the department’s and Dr. Joffe’s ability to meet the requirements of the Public Health Act.”
Hinshaw’s dismissal didn’t come as a surprise.
Premier Danielle Smith announced on her first day in office in October that she would be replaced.
Smith has made it clear that she blames both Hinshaw and Alberta Health Services for failing to deliver the best advice and care for Albertans as the hospital system came close to buckling in successive waves of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of the bad decisions were made by Alberta Health Services on the basis of bad advice from the chief medical officer of health,” Smith told reporters on Oct. 22.
Smith has not placed the blame on front-line doctors and nurses but broadly on AHS senior management. Joffe, while serving as chief medical officer of health, retains his role in AHS senior management as a vice-president responsible for areas in cancer and clinical care.
Hinshaw, an Alberta-trained public health specialist, became a celebrity of sorts in the first wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, as she delivered regular, sometimes daily, updates to Albertans on the virus, its spread and methods to contain it.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.
— By Colette Derworiz in Calgary.
Alberta introduces bill for $2.8 billion in inflation-fighting payouts, rollbacks
Edmonton – The Alberta government has introduced legislation to implement inflation-fighting rebates and payouts announced recently by Premier Danielle Smith.
Affordability Minister Matt Jones says the changes allow for help for families, seniors and the vulnerable soon.
Middle- to lower-income families, those with a household income of less than $180,000 a year, are to get $600 over six months for each child under 18 years of age.
The same income threshold and benefit applies to seniors, and the payout will also go to those on disability supports.
There will be electricity rebates and the 13 per cent provincial tax on gasoline is suspended from January to June.
The total cost of the package is pegged at $2.8 billion.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2022.
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