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Ottawa police contact trucker convoy leaders

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Ottawa police say they have been in touch with leaders of a trucker convoy over weekend protest plans in the capital and are getting ready for several scenarios.

Chief Peter Sloly told the police services board Wednesday that he is working with the RCMP and intelligence bodies to prepare for the protests against a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers.

Sloly said the convoy organizers have been co-operative in telling police about their plans for the protest, which he predicts could last several days, but the situation is evolving rapidly.

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said police are “tracing parallel groups” that are preparing to join the truckers, as well as counter-protesters, and are monitoring social media.

Ottawa police estimate there could be up to 2,000 demonstrators, but this number is shifting quickly, and warn residents against travelling downtown during the event.

Sloly said while police support the right to peaceful protest, officers will be prepared to move protesters out of the demonstration zone should the situation become violent or threatening.

Some supporters of the convoy, including some Conservative MPs, have taken to social media to warn the vaccine mandate for truckers will leave store shelves empty. Some have gone so far as to predict Canadians will starve.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra has assured Canadians there’s no reason to fear food shortages will result from a small minority of truck drivers refusing to comply with the vaccine mandate.

In an interview, Alghabra said the large grocery store chains and other retailers have assured him they have plenty of goods to provide their customers, despite some labour shortages and supply chain bottlenecks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moreover, he said there’s been no “measurable impact” on the number of trucks crossing the border since the vaccine mandate went into effect on Jan. 15. Last week, he said almost 100,000 trucks crossed the border — about the same as usual for this time of year.

“I don’t want to minimize the fact that we have to remain vigilant and work together to address these issues (of supply chain disruptions),” Alghabra told The Canadian Press, adding he plans to hold a summit on the issue with retailers on Monday.

“But this notion that we’re going to starve is really unfortunate and does disservice to Canadians, to Canadian society and to the debate that we need to be having.”

Others with more extreme, far-right views have latched onto the protest. One online video includes a man expressing hope the rally will turn into the Canadian equivalent of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. took to social media Tuesday to endorse the Canadian truck convoy’s fight against “tyranny” and to urge Americans to follow suit.

A group called Canada Unity is organizing the movement, which its members refer to as the “freedom convoy.”

A “memorandum of understanding,” posted on the Canada Unity website, says its coalition is opposed to restrictions and mandates related to COVID-19, rules it deems are “unconstitutional, discriminatory and segregating.”

The memorandum’s goal, it says, is to form a committee with the Senate and Governor General that would override all levels of Canadian government to stop the use of vaccine passports, waive fines linked to COVID-19 and reinstate employees who were fired for breaking COVID-19 rules.

If the Senate and Governor General refuse to join such a committee, the group says they should “resign their lawful positions of authority immediately.”

Carissima Mathen, a professor of law at the University of Ottawa, said seeking to override all levels of government policy would not work, because the body who initially put the policy in place must be the one to reverse it. Alternatively, that policy could be undone by Parliament passing a law.

Mathen, who specializes in the Constitution, added the Governor General has very little involvement with the legal system in Canada.

Alghabra said he is “concerned about the small number of far-right, vocal opposition that is polluting much of our political debate.”

“It’s something that we all need to be aware of, we all need to call out,” he said.

“But at the same time, let’s not lose sight of this, that the vast majority of Canadians are vaccinated, the vast majority of truckers are vaccinated. Truckers as you and I are speaking today are delivering goods for Canadians.”

The Canadian Trucking Alliance has estimated that about 15 per cent of truckers — as many as 16,000 — are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19. It has strongly denounced any protests on public roadways, highways and bridges and has urged all truckers to get inoculated.

Alghabra said representatives of large grocery chains and other retailers have assured him the truckers’ vaccine mandate has had no measurable impact on their ability to stock their shelves.

“They are offended and hurt by this perception that people are trying to create that they are not able to deliver for their customers.”

Alghabra took particular aim at Conservative MPs, some of whom have offered full-throated support for the truck convoy. Some Conservatives have posted pictures of empty grocery store shelves, at least one of which turned out to be a stock photo of a British store.

“It’s irresponsible for anybody to spread fear … for political gains,” Alghabra said.

A day after refusing to say whether he supported the truck convoy heading to Ottawa, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole appeared in a Facebook live event Tuesday evening to say he understands why many truckers, especially independent ones, are upset.

“You can understand why there’s some frustration and why people are protesting,” O’Toole said.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business also urged the federal government to reverse its vaccination policy for truckers. The organization represents 95,000 small- and medium-sized businesses, including about 500 in the trucking sector.

Earlier, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce had urged the government to give truckers more time to get vaccinated while the Canadian Manufacturing Coalition has also called for the vaccine mandate to be scrapped entirely.

But Alghabra said it would accomplish nothing to postpone or scrap the requirement that truckers entering Canada be fully immunized, since the United States has imposed the same requirement on truckers entering that country.

“It won’t really make a difference. The U.S. has a mandate,” he said.

The best way to end supply chain disruptions is to end the pandemic and the best way to do that is to get vaccinated, which is what the vaccine mandate is all about, he argued.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2022.

— With files from Stephanie Taylor and Erika Ibrahim

Marie Woolf and Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

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Crime

A look at some recent convictions that have led to consecutive murder sentences

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The Supreme Court of Canada struck down a Criminal Code provision Friday that meant multiple murderers might have to wait 50 years or more to apply for parole.

The unanimous high court decision came Friday in the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, allowing him to seek parole after serving 25 years behind bars for fatally shooting six people at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

Here is a look at some other cases where the law has been applied.

December 2018

Dellen Millard of Toronto is sentenced to a third life sentence for murder in the death of his father, Wayne Millard.

He was previously convicted along with his friend, Mark Smich, in the murders of Laura Babcock and Tim Bosma. He must serve 75 years before he can apply for parole.

February 2018

Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, who infamously escaped from a Quebec detention centre by helicopter, is sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 35 years for ordering two murders and two attempted murders at the hands of a hit man.

December 2017

Basil Borutski, convicted of killing three women during an hour-long rampage in the Ottawa Valley in 2015, is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 70 years.

Borutski was found guilty of first-degree murder in the slayings of Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, and of second-degree murder in the slaying of Carol Culleton.

Derek Saretzky of Blairmore, Alta., is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years.

A jury convicted him of three counts of first-degree murder in the 2015 deaths of Terry Blanchette, Blanchette’s two-year-old daughter, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, and Hanne Meketech.

February 2017

Douglas Garland is sentenced to life in prison without parole for 75 years for killing Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson, Nathan O’Brien.

Court heard Garland attacked the three victims in a Calgary home, then took them to his nearby farm, where he killed and dismembered them and burned their remains.

June 2016

John Ostamas, a homeless Winnipeg man who brutally beat three other transient men to death in separate attacks, is sent to prison for life with no chance of parole for 75 years.

Ostamas pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder for the 2015 killings that prompted police to warn the city’s homeless population to be careful.

October 2014

A judge in Moncton, N.B., sentences Justin Bourque to serve at least 75 years before he can request parole.

Bourque shot and killed three RCMP officers and wounded two others in June 2014.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

September 2013

A judge in Edmonton sentences Travis Baumgartner, an armoured-car guard, to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years for killing three colleagues during a bank machine robbery at the University of Alberta in 2012.

A fourth guard was badly hurt but survived.

Baumgartner pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and attempted murder.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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Crime

Quebec mosque disappointed with ruling allowing killer to seek parole after 25 years

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QUEBEC — Families of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooter say they fear Friday’s Supreme Court ruling means the 17 children who lost a father could one day meet the killer in the streets of Quebec’s capital.

Canada’s high court ruled that the killer who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque in 2017 can apply for parole after 25 years behind bars. The court declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed a judge, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.

Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where the killer shot dead six men on Jan. 29, 2017, said families of the victims expressed real concern the killer would be a free man within a relatively short period of time.

“Maybe parole (officials) will delay this release a bit (and) will take that into account, but that’s our real fear,” Labidi told a news conference.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec said in a statement Friday the high court decision did not give due consideration to “the atrocity and scourge of multiple murders” or to the hateful, Islamophobic, racist nature of the crime.

Members of the mosque said they were disappointed with the decision from the court, but they added it allows them to close the legal chapter and focus on the future.

“Philosophically, yes, we would like to turn the page and I, personally as an individual, want to turn the page,” mosque co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah told reporters. “I have been hurt enough and I have cried enough.”

Benabdallah said the Supreme Court decision “breaks the balance” between a criminal’s chance at reintegrating society and his or her victims’ sense of justice.

“We take into account the rehabilitation of an individual … and to not give a punishment that is inadmissible, unusual or cruel,” Benabdallah said. “But at the same time, the families who have been affected must also feel that they have won their case, that the killer is being punished for his crimes.”

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Five others were seriously injured in the January 2017 attack, including one man who was left paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. The six men who were shot dead left behind 17 children.

A trial judge found the 2011 parole ineligibility provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid, ultimately ruling Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal said the trial judge erred in making the ineligibility period 40 years and that the court must revert to the law as it stood before 2011, resulting in a total waiting period for Bissonnette of 25 years. The Crown appealed that decision.

The Supreme Court said the 2011 law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that in order to ensure respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, the Charter requires Parliament to leave a door open for rehabilitation, even in cases where this objective is of secondary importance.

One of Bissonnette’s lawyers, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, said his client was relieved by the ruling.

“It’s a second chance, a second life that Mr. Bissonnette can hope for to demonstrate to society that he can be an asset, that he can work on himself, move on and look forward,” Gosselin said at the courthouse in Quebec City.

Daniel Bélanger, the chief prosecutor for Quebec City, said he would not comment on the decision out of deference to the high court, but he spoke of the victims and their families.

“This day marks for them the end of a long judicial process, but we are aware that it is not the end of their grieving and healing process,” Bélanger said, reading from a prepared statement.

He said the Crown and police in Quebec City were diligent in their work all the way to the Supreme Court, demonstrating the capacity for the judicial system to conclude complex cases in the public’s interest.

Bélanger reminded reporters in Quebec City that Bissonnette received a life sentence and it will be up to the parole board to decide whether he is released, which now won’t come before 2042. The killer, he said, would be subject to strict conditions and surveillance by a parole officer for the rest of his life in the event he is freed from prison.

“Although this case has become a constitutional debate regarding the provisions of the Criminal Code, we need to remember, in closure, the six people murdered and the other victims of this attack on Jan. 29, 2017,” Bélanger said.

“Our thoughts are now with the victims and their families and the community affected by this crime that has marked the collective consciousness. We praise their courage, their resilience and their dignity in this moment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal, with files from Caroline Plante in Quebec City.

The Canadian Press

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