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Gushue wins men’s final at Canada’s Olympic curling trials, Jones takes women’s berth

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SASKATOON — Late misses helped decide a wild, entertaining and rather shocking women’s final at Canada’s Olympic curling trials on Sunday.

Jennifer Jones stunningly blew a golden opportunity to win the game in the 10th end. The timing of Tracy Fleury’s error in the extra end proved even more costly.

When the dust settled, Jones escaped with an enthralling 6-5 victory to book her team’s ticket to the Beijing Games.

“We’re there to pick each other up when you miss,” Jones said. “Not everybody can say that and that’s really a big strength of our team.”

Brad Gushue earned the men’s title in the evening with a 4-3 victory over Brad Jacobs. That game also ended on a miscue as Jacobs overthrew his last stone in the 10th end, costing him a deuce that would have tied it.

Gushue and vice Mark Nichols will return to the Games for the first time since winning gold at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Their front end of Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker will make their Olympic debut at the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Games.

In the late-morning game, a gasp went up throughout SaskTel Centre when Jones missed an open takeout for the victory — usually a slam dunk for the veteran skip — with her stone rolling out to leave her with just a game-tying single.

Jones realized halfway down the sheet that the rock was in trouble. She furiously bellowed at her teammates to try to hold it but it curled a little too much.

A stunned Fleury put her hand over her mouth in astonishment.

“We thought we had lost in the 10th for sure,” Fleury said. “I think Jen makes that 99 per cent of the time, that shot. So we felt lucky to be able to go to an extra and we really wanted to pull it off there.

“But I didn’t make my last two shots.”

Jones refocused and put the pressure on Fleury, hoping to make her throw a challenging final shot. Jones drew to the side of the button behind a guard and Fleury missed a runback attempt.

Jones followed with a guard that Fleury rubbed on her final throw to give up the decisive point on a steal.

“I felt close but then it just kind of caught the curl,” Fleury said.

The men’s final was a tight defensive battle that looked like it was also heading to an extra end. Jacobs’ final stone rolled out to give Gushue the win.

“That was as textbook a game as we could have played against an unbelievable team,” said Nichols. “We needed all of it to win.”

The teams blanked four of the first seven ends. In the eighth, Jacobs lost hammer when he jammed on a double-takeout attempt and settled for a hit for one.

“We needed to be near-perfect today in order to win this game and we weren’t,” Jacobs said.

Gushue scored the game’s only deuce in the ninth end and Jacobs couldn’t build enough offence in the 10th.

“I don’t like to toot my own horn but this team is really good and we’ve been good for a long time,” Gushue said.

Jones and her team of Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen and Lisa Weagle entered the showdown of Manitoba-based teams with a big edge in experience.

Jones won Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games and has won six national women’s titles. Fleury and her team of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish, were making their first appearance in a trials final.

Early jitters seemed to be a factor.

Rollouts were common in the first end and Jones put early pressure on to generate a quick steal. Jones buried a draw to force Fleury to tap but she brushed her own stone and rolled off.

Jones made some mistakes too as she sent a draw through the rings in the third end, eventually settling for a hit for two. Fleury responded with a pair of her own and Lawes came through in the fifth end with a brilliant triple-takeout that set up a blank.

The top-ranked Fleury team wasn’t nearly as dominant as they were throughout most of round-robin play.

Her perfect 8-0 mark gave her the first seed and an off-day ahead of the final. Jones was 5-3 in round-robin play and defeated Krista McCarville in the semifinal on Saturday.

Jones gave away another point in the sixth end when her draw grazed the shot stone and settled on the edge of the four-foot ring. A measure confirmed a single instead of a pair.

Jones decided to retain hammer for the 10th end by giving up a single in the ninth that left Fleury with a 5-4 lead.

Announced attendance was 4,741 for the women’s final, bringing the weekly total for the women’s event to 57,266. The men’s final drew 4,813 spectators for an overall men’s total of 49,878.

Gushue and Jacobs were tied at 7-1 in round-robin play but Gushue took the top seed since he won their head-to-head matchup. Jacobs beat Kevin Koe in the semifinal.

Koe and Rachel Homan skipped the Canadian team entries at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games but both missed the podium. Weagle was Homan’s lead that year and joined Jones’s rink in March 2020 to form a five-player team.

It will be the third straight Olympic appearance for Lawes, who was Jones’s vice in Sochi and teamed with John Morris to win mixed doubles gold four years later in South Korea.

“Pinch me,” Lawes said. “I’m in shock and so happy.”

McEwen was also on the Sochi roster.

Jacobs vice Marc Kennedy won gold with Kevin Martin in 2010 and returned to the Games in 2018 with skip Kevin Koe. Jacobs, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden were victorious in Sochi.

The Canadian mixed doubles trials are set for Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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Justice

Florida man charged in Canada-U. S. human-smuggling scheme freed on appearance bond

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FARGO, N.D. — A Florida man charged for his role in a human-smuggling scheme that turned deadly at the Canada-U. S. border will be allowed to go home to await trial. 

Steve Shand, 47, waived his right to a preliminary hearing before U.S. district court Judge Hildy Bowbeer agreed to release him from a North Dakota detention centre. 

He faces human-smuggling charges after he was arrested near the border last week behind the wheel of a rented passenger van, not far from where a family of four was found frozen to death in the snow on the Canadian side. 

Shand, clad in orange prison garb and a black face mask, said little throughout the virtual hearing beyond “Yes, your Honour” and “Yes, ma’am” in response to Bowbeer’s questions. 

Shand was released on an appearance bond, meaning that while he must abide by a number of release conditions, he will be required to make his own way back to Minnesota for any in-person court hearings.

“Sometimes we do it by Zoom and sometimes we may be doing it in person, but however it is that a court hearing happens in this case, you’re going to have to show up for it,” Bowbeer said. 

“The fact that you’re living in Florida is not going to be an excuse for not showing up in Minnesota.”

He will also be required to surrender his passport and other related travel documents, submit to a mental-health assessment and remain in his home district in Florida except for court hearings. 

He is also forbidden from possessing any weapons and from having any contact with any witnesses or others associated with the case, and will be expected to abide by the law, Bowbeer said. 

“There’s this kind of snowballing set of consequences, all of them bad, if you were to commit some new offence while you’re on release,” she said.

Monday’s court decision was the product of an agreement between U.S. prosecutors and Shand’s defence lawyers, and resulted in the accused opting to waive his right to a preliminary hearing. 

Shand was arrested Jan. 19, the same day the bodies of four people, including an infant and a teenage boy, were discovered in the snow on the Canadian side of the border near Emerson, Man.

Investigators believe the four were part of a larger group of undocumented migrants from India who were trying to enter the U.S. from Canada.

The bodies were discovered Wednesday, shortly after U.S. Border Patrol agents pulled over a passenger van on the American side and found two other undocumented Indian nationals inside. 

At about the same time, agents encountered another group of five migrants, one of whom told the agents they had been walking through the snow and bitter cold for more than 11 hours. 

Department of Justice officials say the deaths are likely linked to a larger human smuggling operation — a phenomenon that’s practically a fact of daily life in the southern U.S., but rarely seen up north. 

Agents encountered the van “in a rural area on a dirt road in an area far away from any services, homes or ports of entry into Canada,” according to an affidavit by John Stanley, a special agent with the Department of Homeland Security. 

“He was driving through blowing snow and snow drifts. The weather was severe at the time, with high winds, blowing snow and temperatures well below (-34 C).”

Evidence detailed in the documents also suggest the group was not the first to recently make the perilous trek: twice in December and once in January, border patrol agents found boot prints in the snow near where the van was later pulled over. 

On Jan. 12, agents found prints that “matched the brand of the types of boots worn by five of the seven foreign nationals arrested in the current smuggling event,” the documents say. 

On or about Dec. 12 and Dec. 22, “two groups of four appeared to have walked across the border into the U.S. and were picked up by someone in a vehicle.” 

In the first incident, RCMP officers found a backpack at a location in Manitoba “believed to be the drop-off point” that contained a price tag in Indian rupees. 

A court file from Florida that dates back to 2018 shows that Shand, a naturalized citizen originally from Jamaica, filed for bankruptcy more than three years ago, reporting assets worth $193,343 and liabilities of nearly $160,000. 

Describing himself as an Uber driver, Shand’s assets at the time included two vehicles — a 2016 Toyota SUV and a 2014 Honda Civic — and the $161,957 single-family home in the central Florida community where he lives. 

Consular officials met over the weekend in Winnipeg to assist with the investigation and to help identify the migrants and track down family members. 

“A special team, led by a senior consular officer from the Consulate General of India in Toronto, is in Manitoba to assist ongoing investigations by Canadian agencies and to render any required consular services for the victims,” the High Commission of India said in a statement. 

“Confirmation of identities will only be possible after investigations are completed this week.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.

— With files from Kelly Geraldine Malone in Winnipeg

James McCarten, The Canadian Press


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International

NATO outlines ‘deterrence’ plan as tensions with Russia soar

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Tensions soared Monday between Russia and the West, with NATO outlining a series of potential troop and ship deployments and Ireland warning that upcoming Russian war games off its coast would not be welcome while concerns abound that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

The Western alliance’s statement summed up moves already announced by individual member countries — but restating them under the NATO banner appeared aimed at showing the alliance’s resolve. It was just one of a series of announcements that signaled the West is ramping up its rhetoric in the information war that has accompanied the Ukraine standoff.

Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s border and is demanding that NATO promise it will never allow Ukraine to join and that other actions, such as stationing alliance troops in former Soviet bloc countries, be curtailed. Some of these, like any pledge to permanently bar Ukraine, are non-starters for NATO — creating a seemingly intractable standoff that many fear can only end in war.

Russia denies it is planning an invasion, and has said the Western accusations are merely a cover for NATO’s own planned provocations. Recent days have seen high-stakes diplomacy that failed to reach any breakthrough and maneuvering on both sides.

On Monday, NATO said that it is beefing up its “deterrence” in the Baltic Sea area. Denmark is sending a frigate and deploying F-16 war planes to Lithuania; Spain is sending four fighter jets to Bulgaria and three ships to the Black Sea to join NATO naval forces; and France stands ready to send troops to Romania. The Netherlands also plans to send two F-35 fighter aircraft to Bulgaria from April.

Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance will “take all necessary measures to protect and defend all allies.” He said: “We will always respond to any deterioration of our security environment, including through strengthening our collective defense.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov charged that it was NATO and the U.S. who were behind “tensions escalating” in Europe, not Russia.

“All this is happening not because of what we, Russia, are doing. This is happening because of what NATO, the U.S. are doing,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters. He also cited U.S. media reports suggesting that Russia is evacuating its diplomats from Ukraine, something officials in Moscow denied.

The NATO announcement came as European Union foreign ministers sought to put on a fresh display of unity in support of Ukraine, and paper over concerns about divisions on the best way to confront any Russian aggression.

In a statement, the ministers said the EU has stepped up sanction preparations and they warned that “any further military aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have massive consequences and severe costs.”

Separately, the EU also committed to increase financial support for embattled Ukraine, vowing to push through a special package of 1.2 billion euros ($1.4 billion) in loans and grants as soon as possible.

The West is nervously watching Russian troop movements and war games in Belarus for any signs that a new invasion of Ukraine is imminent. Russia has already invaded Ukraine once, annexing the Crimean Peninsula in 2014. Moscow has also supported pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists fighting the Kyiv government in the Donbass region. Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed around 14,000 people and still simmers.

Asked whether the EU would follow a U.S. move and order the families of European embassy personnel in Ukraine to leave, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said: “We are not going to do the same thing.” He said he is keen to hear from U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about that decision.

Britain on Monday also announced it is withdrawing some diplomats and dependents from its embassy in Kyiv. The Foreign Office said the move was “in response to the growing threat from Russia.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Oleg Nikolenko, said the U.S. decision was “a premature step” and a sign of “excessive caution.” He said that Russia is sowing panic among Ukrainians and foreigners in order to destabilize Ukraine.

Germany has issued no order, but it has announced that the families of embassy staffers may leave if they wish. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed that “we must not contribute to unsettling the situation further; we need to continue to support the Ukrainian government very clearly and above all maintain the stability of the country,”

Arriving at the EU meeting, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said he would inform his counterparts that Russia plans to holds war games 240 kilometers (150 miles) off Ireland’s southwest coast — in international waters but within Ireland’s exclusive economic zone.

“This isn’t a time to increase military activity and tension in the context of what’s happening with and in Ukraine.” Coveney said. “The fact that they are choosing to do it on the western borders, if you like, of the EU, off the Irish coast, is something that in our view is simply not welcome.”

Some of the member countries closest to Russia — Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — have confirmed that they plan to send U.S.-made anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to Ukraine, a move endorsed by the United States.

But questions have been raised about just how unified the EU is. Diverse political, business and energy interests have long divided the 27-country bloc in its approach to Moscow. Around 40% of the EU’s natural gas imports come from Russia, much of it via pipelines across Ukraine — and many are skittish about being cut off from that supply in winter, with prices already soaring.

The EU’s two major powers appear most cautious. French President Emmanuel Macron has renewed previously rejected calls for an EU summit with Putin.

Late on Saturday, the head of the German navy, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schoenbach, resigned after coming under fire for saying that Ukraine would not regain the Crimean Peninsula, and for suggesting that Putin deserves “respect.”

Still, diplomats and officials said hard-hitting sanctions are being drawn up with the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission. They were reluctant to say what the measures might be or what action by Russia might trigger them, but said they would come within days of any attack.

___

This story has been updated to correct that France has said it is ready to send troops to Romania, not Bulgaria. ___

Associated Press writers Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dasha Litvinova in Moscow, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Aritz Parra in Madrid, Mike Corder in The Hague, and Raf Casert in Brussels contributed.

Lorne Cook, The Associated Press

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