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EU military wants to partner with Canada in Mali as it races for exit

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OTTAWA —  As Canada’s military mission races to leave Mali and the United Nations pleads for it to stay, the European Union is making a fresh appeal to the Canadian Forces to partner with it in the West African country.

Gen. Esa Pulkkinen, director general of the EU’s military staff, told The Canadian Press that he has asked the Canadian government to bring its military training expertise to Mali as part of a broader effort to stamp out Islamic extremism in Africa’s Sahel region.

Pulkkinen said he’s aware of the context of his request — it comes as Canada faces pressure from the UN to extend its Mali peacekeeping mission in order to bridge a gap until Romanian replacements can arrive.

But he says Canada would make a great bilateral partner with the EU’s military training efforts in West Africa, which he says are crucial to stamping out security threats to Europe.

Those threats include the mass northward migration to Europe, an increase in the smuggling of arms, drugs and human trafficking, as well as terrorism.

Pulkkinen was in Ottawa this past week, and said he was planning to make a formal request to Canadian officials after raising the matter informally.

“I need brains. I don’t need the quantities,” he said.

“Your officer training is top level in the world. More importantly, you have French language skills as well, which we need when we provide advice for our Malian friends.”

Pulkkinen already commands 1,000 troops in Somalia, the Central African Republic and Mali, and is partnering with the United States on various missions on the continent. He said the EU wants to ramp up its presence in Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad as well. 

Joining forces with Canada would be a natural fit, he noted, because the EU mission is predicated on the same shared values.

“We try to find other partners that share the same universal Western values as we have. They are very important when you provide education for our African troops,” Pulkkinen said.

“The same understanding of the respect of human rights and other issues — you name it.”

But the mission will be a tough sell for the EU.

Canada is in the final throes of withdrawing its eight helicopters and 250 military personnel from Mali, where they have been providing emergency medical evacuations and transporting troops and equipment across the vast country.

The drawdown has moved the UN to formally ask Canada to extend its mission in what appears to be a final effort to prevent a gap in military medical evacuations for wounded peacekeepers and UN staff.

The UN sent a formal request, in writing, to the federal government late last month after months of behind-the-scenes prodding got them nowhere with Ottawa.

The letter marks an unusual step: the UN usually only makes such requests if it believes it stands a good chance of a positive response, which in this case is far from certain.

The government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, has repeatedly played down the gap it would be creating by leaving Mali on schedule.

Pulkkinen’s request on behalf of the EU will only increase the pressure on the Trudeau government, which has faced criticism for what has been seen as a relatively weak return to the business of UN peacekeeping due to the Mali mission’s modest scope. The Liberals made peacekeeping a signature foreign policy promise during the 2015 federal election.

Canada will face pressure this coming week when the UN hosts a major peacekeeping summit in New York, the first one since Vancouver hosted a similar gathering in November 2017.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland is expected to attend next week’s peacekeeping summit in New York, but her office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

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Tax credits, penalizing big polluters, key to Conservative climate plan

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OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer wants to give corporate tax breaks to companies that develop and patent green technology in Canada and introduce another federal tax credit for residential energy-efficiency projects.

Scheer is unveiling his long-awaited climate plan later today in a speech in Gatineau, Que.

It is the last of five big policy pronouncements he is making this spring in the lead-up to the fall election campaign.

A party official says the Conservatives intend to scrap the federal carbon tax but keep a price on pollution for heavy industrial emitters.

However their plan won’t tax emissions from major polluters, but will require them to invest in clean technology as a penalty for exceeding emissions limits.

Scheer intends to use his plan to reduce emissions in line with Canada’s targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change, but the Conservatives have been hinting that their plan will include taking credit when Canadian products reduce emissions overseas.

The Canadian Press

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Acts of kindness emerge at chaotic Raptors rally derailed by shooting

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TORONTO — When gunshots sparked panic and chaos at a massive outdoor celebration for Toronto’s NBA champions this week, some fans caught in the stampede worked to keep others out of danger, at times putting their own safety at risk.

As authorities now look to learn lessons from the event marred by overcrowding and violence on Monday, accounts of acts of kindness by complete strangers have emerged.

The shooting — which took place shortly after the Raptors went on stage during a victory rally at Nathan Phillips Square — injured four people, police said. Three people were arrested and two firearms were recovered, with investigators still looking for another suspect and firearm.

As hordes of fans scattered in fear, Mo Hussein said a group of young adults he had just met helped shield his three-year-old daughter from the crowd.

Hussein had gone to the rally with family members, including his niece and nephew, and ran into some of his niece’s friends, who he did not previously know. His daughter had just fallen asleep in her stroller when shots set off a wave of panic in the packed square, he said.

“All of a sudden the crowd started running towards us,” he said. “Fortunately I didn’t panic, my first thoughts were to protect my daughter who was asleep in the stroller. I just told people around me to come help me protect the stroller.”

Hussein said his niece’s friends formed a semi-circle around the stroller, protecting his daughter, who remained blissfully unaware of the commotion around her. When the crowd dispersed, “there were strollers around, there were shoes strewn all over the place, peoples’ hats and personal possessions all over the place,” he said.

That selfless act from the group prevented what could have been a terrible outcome, said Hussein, noting many children were put at risk at a purportedly family-friendly event.

“It basically means that even at the most evil point, humanity prevails,” he said. “(My niece’s friends) were afraid themselves and they were shivering after the fact, a lot of them had tears in their eyes and the fact that they were brave enough to actually help protect my daughter is something I really appreciate.”

Some who received a helping hand also witnessed other acts of kindness.

Kimi Marfa, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were separated from friends moments after the shooting, which occurred steps away from their group.

“It was so scary not knowing if my friends were hurt or if they were safe,” Marfa said.

The 16-year-old said they ran into the nearby Old City Hall courthouse and saw children who had lost track of their parents. The kids were crying and looked scared, particularly when security announced the building was under lockdown, Marfa said.

Other parents who were still with their children stepped in to console those who were alone, Marfa said. “There were mothers acting as mothers to these others kids, hugging them and singing to them,” Marfa said.

Marfa was also helped through a panic attack by a woman in the courthouse, they said.

Suzanne Bernier said she ran into a nearby Canadian Tire where employees told distraught Raptors fans to come inside and stay calm. Store employees acted professionally and with compassion despite not being prepared to deal with dozens of terrified people seeking shelter, she said.

“It was so nice to see people stepping up to help each other,” she said. “It was just everyday citizens coming together to help each other out.”

Alanna Rizza and Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press

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june, 2019

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