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‘I’m not a monster’: Teen suspect in death of Calgary officer takes stand at trial

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A Calgary teen charged with first-degree murder in the death of a police officer in a hit and run testified Tuesday he feared for his life when he took off in his vehicle with Sgt. Andrew Harnett holding on.

Harnett of the Calgary Police Service died in hospital on Dec. 31, 2020, after being dragged by a fleeing SUV and falling into the path of an oncoming car.

The suspect vehicle’s alleged driver was 17 at the time. He turned 19 in January, but cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The accused took the witness stand in his own defence, describing an abusive childhood where his family moved 10 times over a decade between Montreal, Toronto and Calgary to get away from his birth father.

He said he, his mother and two older siblings lived mostly in homeless shelters during that time.

In his testimony, he described planning to go to a New Year’s Eve party on the day of Harnett’s death.

The vehicle was pulled over because it didn’t have its lights on, court heard.

As the traffic stop continued and a second police car arrived, the youth said his anxiety level began to rise. When another officer and Harnett approached the vehicle, the accused said he panicked.

“I observed Sgt. Harnett had his hand on his gun and as soon as I seen that, I took off. I was scared. My anxiety was through the roof at that time,” he said.

“I thought something bad was going to happen. I thought just the fact ‘why would he have his hand on his gun?’ I took off. I panicked. I was scared.”

The teen described how Harnett leaned inside the car, holding on to the steering wheel and punching him in the head all the while yelling to “stop the car.”

“The officer grabs onto my hair and starts punching. I’m getting punched and I’m getting punched. As I try to back away my foot hits the accelerator,” he testified.

“It was chaotic, honestly. People are screaming. I feel I have no control. I’m thinking ‘I’m done. I’m going to get dragged out and get killed or seriously injured.’ I was trying to protect myself at this point.”

The accused, wearing glasses with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, choked back tears several times during two hours of testimony.

He said he didn’t even notice when Harnett fell away from the car window and immediately drove home to his basement suite.

“I just kept on driving. Honestly, I was thinking about myself, quite frankly. I wasn’t thinking about the officer,” he testified.

“I didn’t think anything happened to him. I didn’t think about him.”

The teen said he decided to turn himself in after learning that Harnett had been killed. He said he regrets his actions and can only say he is sorry.

“I’m in jail for this. It’s not easy. I feel like people sometimes look at me as a monster. I’m not a monster. I’m sorry for the situation,” he said.

“For the rest of my life, I’m going to be known as someone who killed a police officer. No matter what happens. This is it.”

The Crown is expected to cross-examine the accused on Wednesday, with closing arguments scheduled for Thursday.

Amir Abdulrahman, 20, a passenger in the vehicle, pleaded guilty last December to a lesser charge of manslaughter and was sentenced to five years in prison.

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

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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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