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Hunter’s wife testifies she warned husband not to drink and drive the night he died

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EDMONTON — A hunter’s wife has testified she texted her husband not to drink and drive or get in a fight the night he and his uncle were shot to death on a rural Alberta road.

Sarah Sansom told a jury trial in Edmonton on Tuesday that alcohol consumption had previously caused problems in her marriage with Jacob Sansom, who had quit drinking two years before his death.

Crown lawyers have said Jacob Sansom and his uncle Maurice Cardinal were followed on a rural road northeast of Edmonton in March 2020 and shot after a confrontation.

Roger Bilodeau, 58, and his son Anthony Bilodeau, 33, have pleaded not guilty to two counts each of second-degree murder.

Brian Beresh, the younger Bilodeau’s lawyer, recounted a statement Sarah Sansom gave to police and read text messages she sent moments before a security camera captured her husband and the Bilodeaus as they confronted each other.

“You recall repeatedly telling the police that you were surprised or shocked when you learned that he had been drinking,” asked Beresh.

“Yes,” Sarah Sansom responded.

“You’re saying, ‘Don’t drive,'” he said, quoting the text messages she sent.

“Then you add, ‘No fighting, no driving … Please don’t hurt yourself or (do) anything dangerous or illegal’ … because you knew that when he drank he had a tendency to become aggressive, correct?” Beresh asked.

“He wasn’t aggressive. He just did stupid things like fighting very rarely,” Sarah Sansom responded.

“He got stupid sometimes, and did stupid things,” she later added during cross-examination.

“It was like falling down a set of stairs and stumbling all over the house … and making himself look stupid.”

Prosecutor Jordan Kerr said in his opening statement Monday that Sansom and Cardinal had gone moose hunting so they could fill the family’s freezer with meat as COVID-19 was shutting down the world.

He said the older Bilodeau saw the hunters’ pickup truck slowly go by his homeand it looked like one that had been on his property that day. While following the hunters in his truck, Bilodeau phoned his son and asked him to follow behind and to bring a gun, said the prosecutor.

Security footage from a nearby gas station shows the Bilodeau men in their trucks following Sansom and Cardinal in theirs, Kerr said.

Court heard Roger Bilodeau and the hunters first stopped their trucks on the road. Anthony Bilodeau arrived soon after. Within 26 seconds, he shot Sansom, then shot Cardinal as the hunter was walking to his truck, said Kerr.

A motorist called RCMP after finding Sansom dead in the middle of the road and Cardinal’s body in a ditch.

Autopsies determined that Sansom was shot once in the chest and Cardinal was shot three times in his left shoulder, said Kerr.

Defence lawyer Shawn Gerstel said Anthony Bilodeau shot at the hunters because Sansom had smashed a window of Roger Bilodeau’s truck and punched him. He had also punched his youngest son, who was 16 at the time and was sitting in the passenger seat, the lawyer said.

He said the hunters were drunk, loud and obnoxious.

On Tuesday, Sarah Sansom testified that she told police following her husband’s death that she felt the Bonnyville area had a lot of “toxicity.”

“Bad stuff always happened when we go out there,” she said on the witness stand.

She recounted the time her husband had confronted gang members who were selling drugs to hisbrother.

“Now (he) is sober and he thanks Jake for that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 17, 2022.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Alberta premier defends new rules on in-person learning, no mask mandates in schools

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By Dean Bennett and Colette Derworiz

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is defending new rules ordering schools to provide in-person learning during the current wave of viral illnesses, saying a clear, measured response is crucial for students and parents.

“We need a normal school environment for our children, and we need to make sure that the classrooms stay open to be able to support our parents,” Smith said at a news conference in Medicine Hat on Friday.

“That’s why we made the decision that we did — to give that clear direction.”

Her comments came a day after she announced regulatory changes saying school boards must provide in-person learning. Schools also can’t require students to wear masks in school or be forced to take classes online.

The changes take effect immediately.

“Anyone is welcome to wear a mask if they feel that that is the right choice for them, but we should not be forcing parents to mask their kids, and we shouldn’t be denying education to kids who turn up without a mask,” Smith said.

She has said mask rules and toggling from online to in-person learning adversely affected the mental health, development and education of students during the COVID-19 pandemic and strained parents scrambling to make child-care arrangements when schools shut down.

That’s over, Smith said.

“We’re just not going to normalize these kind of extreme measures every single respiratory virus season,” she said.

School boards have been asking for more direction as a slew of seasonal respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, along with some COVID-19 cases, have led to high classroom absentee rates and have jammed children’s hospitals.

In Edmonton, Trisha Estabrooks, board chair for Edmonton Public Schools, said the decision provided the clarity that the board was seeking.

“All Albertans now understand that it’s not within the jurisdiction, and nor should it ever have been within the jurisdiction of individual school boards, to make decisions that belong to health officials,” said Estabrooks.

She said the province has made it clear that any future public health order would supersede the new rules.

The in-person learning change applies to grades 1-12 in all school settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools.

The masking change applies to those same grades and schools, but also to early childhood services.

The Opposition NDP criticized the new rules, saying it’s unrealistic to force schools to be all things to all students while also handling a wave of viral illnesses and not providing additional supports to do it.

Jason Schilling, head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said the government needs to work with school boards to figure out how to make this work.

“You have schools that are struggling to staff the building, (they) can’t get substitute teachers, teachers are sick, they’re covering each other’s classes, principals are covering the classes,” Schilling said in an interview.

“And then to say if you go online, you are to still offer the same programming in person — we just don’t have the people to do that.”

Wing Li, communications director for public education advocacy organization, Support our Students, said it will be difficult for schools to offer hybrid learning without any additional resources.

“There are no teachers,” Li said in an interview. “Pivoting online was mostly due to staffing shortages, which is worse now three years in.”

Li said online learning is challenging for students but, when temporary and supported, can keep schools and communities safe from spreading illness.

“This is a quite aggressive use of the Education Act to enshrine an ideology,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022

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Alberta

Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage. 

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do. 

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

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

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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