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‘I love space,’ Belgian king tells former astronaut and Gov. Gen. Payette



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  • OTTAWA — Self-described space buff King Philippe of Belgium began a weeklong visit to Canada on Monday with his wife, Queen Mathilde, saying he wanted to view the country through the eyes of an astronaut.

    He was, of course, referring to his host, former space explorer-turned Gov. Gen. Julie Payette, who greeted the royal couple at Rideau Hall at the start of their whirlwind state visit.

    “I love space,” King Philippe said to the delight of Belgian flag-waving onlookers as he was formally welcomed to the nation’s capital.

    “So I’m very happy to see the country and the world through your eyes, the eyes of an astronaut,” he said to Payette.

    The king and his wife were scheduled to take part in more down-to-earth pursuits over the rest of the five full days of their tour — the first Belgian state visit to Canada in over 40 years.

    Monday’s events included the planting of a sugar maple tree in the frozen ground of Rideau Hall, a visit to a sugar bush, the placing of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the National War Memorial and meetings on Parliament Hill bringing together delegations from Canada and Belgium.

    A meeting planned with Heritage Minister Melanie Joly, to discuss cultural ties between the two countries, was cancelled, however, after Joly’s flight to Ottawa was abruptly grounded by computer system disruptions at Air Canada.

    And officials narrowly avoided a hitch in the tree-planting ceremony.

    “While we were preparing for the tree planting ceremony on the grounds of Rideau Hall, it was brought to our attention that there was a mix up with a small flag that was used to help identify the tree planted by Her Majesty Queen Fabiola in 1977,” Marie-Eve Letourneau wrote in an email, adding that the situation was rectified before the current royals arrived.

    One of the main thrusts of the state visit is a “thank you” of sorts for Canada’s involvement in the liberation of Belgium during the First World War, the king said.

    “We owe our freedom to the military men who came to our country 100 years ago to end the First World War,” he said as he was greeted by Payette.

    “We in Belgium, we don’t forget that.”

    To mark the closing of the centennial commemorations of the First World War in both countries, the royal couple was scheduled to attend a ceremony Tuesday where a cannon from the war was to be loaned to the Canadian War Museum.

    With Europe facing down a protectionist administration in Washington — the latest measure being steel and aluminum tariffs announced last week that Canada has seemingly, temporarily avoided — the royal visit also provided an opportunity for both Brussels and Ottawa to tout the positive impacts of free and open trade.

    “The globalization of (trade) is increasing,” Payette noted as she welcomed the couple.

    “And with the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement that has been made with Europe, we will increase and progress for the benefit of all countries.”

    Belgium was a holdout in signing CETA,  when one of its regions threatened to effectively veto the agreement, and has given indications recently that it could take a year or more to ratify the pact between Canada and the European Union.

    Later Monday, Payette gave the royals a glimpse of the planet through her eyes at a state dinner, where she spoke of the intricate connections that tie Canada, Belgium and the rest of the world together. And she encouraged everyone in the room to think of how people should live in harmony on the only planet they know, telling the gathering that “the world is not small.”

    The Belgian monarchs are also to visit Toronto and Montreal during their tour, accompanied by a delegation that includes political and business leaders and the rectors of the main Belgian universities.

    Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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    ‘Life-altering consequences:’ Edmonton busker jailed for assaulting man



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  • EDMONTON — A judge has sentenced a busker to 18 months in jail for attacking a man he thought had swiped some of his change.

    The assault left Donny Crier, 41, a quadriplegic.

    Court heard Allen Dakota Cardinal was playing his guitar inside a light rail transit station in downtown Edmonton last April.

    Crier was dancing nearby with a friend who had dropped some money onto a blanket that Cardinal was using to collect donations.

    Court was told Crier picked up some of the money and gave it to his friend, who then returned it to the blanket.

    Soon after, Cardinal started fighting with Crier and, when Crier turned to walk away, Cardinal punched him in the back of the head, sending him onto the train tracks.

    A police officer and passerby helped pull an unconscious Crier onto the platform and out of the way of an oncoming train.

    Crier woke up in hospital to discover he had an irreversible spinal injury.

    Cardinal, 32, pleaded guilty in November to aggravated assault.

    Provincial court Judge Greg Lepp said during his sentencing decision Thursday that Cardinal didn’t intend to put Crier in a wheelchair, but violence should never be a solution when someone feels they’ve been wronged.

    “It can — and in this case did — have life-altering consequences,” said Lepp. “Mr. Crier … needs constant care and will for the rest of his life.”

    The judge said Cardinal deserved a three-year sentence, but he took into account the time Cardinal had already spent in custody.

    Crier, sitting in his wheelchair outside court, disputed that he had tried to take money from Cardinal.

    He said he wasn’t happy with the sentence. The Crown had asked that Cardinal, who has two prior assault convictions, serve six to eight years behind bars.

    “He gets out. He’s walking,” said Crier. “I’m still in a wheelchair.”

    The Canadian Press

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    Mounties make arrest in 2015 death of mother in northern Manitoba



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  • WINNIPEG — RCMP have charged a man with second-degree murder 2 1/2 years after a woman’s body was found in an isolated area on a remote Manitoba reserve.

    Crystal Andrews of the Gods Lake First Nation was 22 when she disappeared after a social at a community club in November 2015. Her body was discovered in the woods a day later. RCMP said the mother of two died after a serious assault.

    “There is a lot of mixed emotions and feelings within my community. There is a sense of relief … but I am sure there is a lot of anger and frustration,” Gods Lake Chief Gilbert Andrews said after the charges were announced Thursday.

    Michael William Okemow, who is 37 and also from Gods Lake, was arrested earlier this week in Winnipeg.

    In the days following the discovery of the body, Okemow was arrested on unrelated charges. However, people suspected his involvement in the killing and were critical about how long the investigation was taking, Chief Andrews said.

    It has been difficult for the community of about 1,500 to move forward without any answers, the chief said, particularly since the 2013 killing of 15-year-old Leah Anderson in Gods Lake remains unsolved. Many people felt the RCMP were not taking the investigations seriously, he said.

    Crystal Andrews’s fiancé, two children and mother sat quietly, occasionally wiping tears from their eyes, as RCMP Chief Supt. Mark Fisher announced the arrest at a news conference.

    Fisher said officers conducted more than 200 interviews and sent DNA collected at the scene to labs for testing. He said he hopes the young woman’s family can get some closure now that there has been an arrest.

    “Charging the man … won’t bring her back, but it is one way we can honour her memory,” he said. “She is not being forgotten.”

    Gods Lake, about 1,000 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, is one of many communities across Canada in a state of trauma that still need to heal, said Sheila North, the grand chief who represents First Nations across northern Manitoba. More work must also be done to strengthen relationships with RCMP, she added.

    “We still have over 1,200 cases of murdered and missing (Indigenous) women across Canada and most of them are in Manitoba,” she said. “I think there is still a lot more work ahead for all of us.”

    Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

    Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled the first name of Crystal Andrews and said she was 23.

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