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Man faces murder charges in slayings of two men, two women in Penticton, B.C.

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PENTICTON, B.C. — A former city employee described as a hard-working, civic-minded gentleman has been charged with four counts of murder after a series of daytime shootings that terrorized people in Penticton, B.C.

Dan McLaughlin of the B.C. prosecution service said Tuesday that three counts of first-degree murder and one count of second-degree murder have been laid against John Brittain, 68.

Mayor John Vassilaki said Brittain was an employee in the city’s engineering department for several years.

Vassilaki said he was “very saddened” when he learned of the charges.

“He was a gentleman. He did his job well,” the mayor told a news conference. “He was very in favour of what our community was doing, was always involved in community matters, him and his wife.”

Kelly Sherman, president of Ecora Engineering and Resource Group, said Brittain joined the company two years ago as a civil engineer. He said Brittain was in the office briefly on the day of the shooting, but declined to give any further details.

“He was just soft spoken, quiet engineer. We’re shocked and saddened by this,” Sherman said.

Brittain appeared in court on Tuesday morning, at one point taking off his glasses and looking into the public gallery. He is expected to make his next court appearance May 8. None of the allegations against him has been tested in court.

RCMP Supt. Ted De Jager said two men and two women in their 60s and 70s were killed, but police are not releasing any further information about the victims.

Rudi Winter, 71, was identified by his wife, Renate, as one of the victims. She told the Penticton Herald he was shot outside a duplex where he was doing maintenance work for a friend.

De Jager said the shootings were targeted and police are trying to determine a motive. The accused and the victims knew each other, he added, but wouldn’t elaborate.

De Jager said police received a call about a possible shooting at about 10:30 a.m. on Monday.

Police say after the first shooting on Heales Avenue, the suspect drove about five kilometres to a second location on Cornwall Drive where the other three people were attacked.

De Jager said a man was killed on Heales. A man and a woman were found in one home on Cornwall and a man was found in the neighbouring residence.

De Jager said an unarmed suspect walked into the RCMP detachment about an hour after the first report of a possible shooting and surrendered.

He said police are continuing to offer support to residents of the community who need it.

“I recognize that these heart-breaking events have deeply impacted our community and will continue to do so for some time,” he said.

A young buck wandered down the quiet residential street of Cornwall Drive as residents returned home from work and school on Tuesday.

Thuy Do, who lives a few doors down from the homes where the shootings took place, said she and her mother stayed home all day out of fear.

“I’m so scared,” she said, “I can’t sleep. My mom is scared, she can’t go outside.”

Sigrid Boersma said she has lived in the “very nice neighbourhood” for about 16 years and described the shootings as unbelievable.

“The whole thing makes people shaky, insecure. I feel that the whole street should get some help after this because we’re all shaking.”

Local legislature member Dan Ashton, who was mayor of Penticton between 2008 and 2013, said he didn’t remember Brittain from his time at city hall. But he said the community has been deeply affected by the violence.

“It’s been very traumatic for the community. It is a close-knit community with a lot of people who are long-term residents here and my heartfelt, sincere condolences go out to the individuals affected by this, family and friends.”

— With files from the Penticton Herald

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version based on information released by the RCMP said John Brittain is 60 years old.



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Trudeau to push trade pact in EU leaders’ summit as France moves ahead on CETA

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MONTREAL — Lawmakers in France begin their ratification of the comprehensive trade agreement between the European Union and Canada as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau welcomes the leaders of the 28-country bloc to Montreal today.

Trudeau has been pushing hard for a win on trade and foreign policy after two difficult years marked by a rough renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement with the Trump administration and the deterioration of political and trade relations with China.

Trudeau will talk up the merits of the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in a series of events in Montreal over the next two days.

But Wednesday’s legal development when the French National Assembly begins its consideration of France’s ratification bill is also a prime focus for Canada’s Liberal prime minister, who will be fighting a federal election this fall.

Sources in France and Canada, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the talks, say Trudeau lobbied French President Emmanuel Macron for more than a year to introduce the bill, and that those efforts finally paid off last month in Paris during their most recent face-to-face meeting.

Almost all of CETA — in excess of 90 per cent — went into force in September 2017 under what is known as provisional application, but individual ratifications by EU member countries will bring it fully into effect.

That would mean a win for the international trading order that has been under assault by U.S. President Donald Trump.

“It’s an essential step. We’re very pleased with our co-operation with the French government,” International Trade Minister Jim Carr said in an interview.

Carr will be meeting his EU counterpart Cecilia Malmstrom in Montreal. He said the French move towards ratification is a significant step in Canada’s broader goal of diversifying Canada’s export markets.

Trudeau was in Paris in early June after attending the 75th anniversary commemorations of D-Day in France and Britain, and he and Macron emerged with news that France would move forward with CETA’s ratification. The introduction of the bill in the National Assembly is a first step in a process that the French government hopes will lead to full ratification by the end of 2019.

Macron and Trudeau have talked about the agreement repeatedly — in Paris in April 2018, in a telephone conversation a year later, and other face-to-face meetings. Macron is a staunch Europhile and open supporter of CETA, but he has had to tread cautiously because of populist opposition to trade deals in France and across Europe.

Canada has lobbied French lawmakers, businesspeople and farmers, an effort that included more than two dozen visits to various regions of France by Isabelle Hudon, the Canadian ambassador.

Trudeau also made a direct appeal to French lawmakers in an April 2018 speech to the National Assembly, the first time a Canadian prime minister addressed that body.

“Let us ask ourselves this question: If France cannot ratify a free-trade agreement with Canada, what country can you imagine doing it with?” Trudeau asked.

CETA gives Canadian businesses preferred access to 500 million European consumers, and a $24 trillion market. In 2018, Canada’s exports to the EU increased by seven per cent to more than $44 billion.

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press


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Uncompetitive nomination races weaken parties and Canadian democracy, study warns

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OTTAWA — Nominations for federal elections are strikingly uncompetitive and opaque, according to a new study, which says that has profound consequences for Canadian democracy.

New research by the Toronto-based Samara Centre for Democracy shows only 17 per cent of more than 6,600 federal candidates from 2003 to 2015 faced competitive nomination races, while 2,700 candidates were directly appointed by parties.

“If you see the nomination as a moment in a chain of democratic moments” leading to the election of a member of Parliament, said Michael Morden, the director of research at Samara, “I think it’s notable that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, there’s no real decision being made by local people.”

Morden said through exit interviews with MPs Samara has found there is “broad, quiet understanding” in political circles of the deficiencies of the nomination process. 

But he said most Canadians have little access to or ability to scrutinize the “black box” of party nominations, despite the stake they have in how parties run their internal elections.

Political parties are private organizations, the Samara study says, but they’re also “public utilities” that have a profound effect on Canadian democracy.

And a lack of competition might signal a worrying disconnect with the Canadian public, the study suggests.

There are several reasons the study proposes for why races are so often uncompetitive. Snap elections account for some of it, while rules that benefit incumbents are also a factor. Then’s there’s the reality that many local party associations are just too disorganized or small to attract multiple candidates.

But the trend extends even to larger parties that are competitive across the country, Morden said.

“In our mind, that is still a stunning lack of competition,” he said.

Beyond the lack of competition, the study also found nominations rules also have significant effects on the diversity of nomination candidates and, consequently, the diversity of members elected to the House of Commons.

Morden noted parties occasionally justify appointing candidates on the basis of diversity, but this was not borne out in the data.

In particular, the study suggests appointed candidates were less likely to be from visible-minority or Indigenous backgrounds.

The issue of female representation in the nomination processes was even more stark.

In line with findings that women win elections at around the same rate as men, the study suggests female nomination candidates are just as likely to win internal races as men are.

But just 28 per cent of nomination contestants covered by the study were women.

“That shifts the focus right back to recruiting, to the general openness of the process, to the intangible factors that cause some people to find their way in and others to self-select out or to never have the option,” Morden said.

The study found that longer nomination races and races that didn’t require monetary investment were correlated with higher female participation.

Morden said parties essentially close themselves off from a majority of Canadians through rules that make it more difficult to participate in nomination processes: short races, monetary costs, lack of information and protections for incumbents.

The study recommends corresponding changes in party policies: standard opening and closing dates for races, the obligation to report the number of votes candidates receive, and holding contests even where there are incumbent MPs.

These changes are in the best interests of parties that want to stay internally strong and remain connected with the Canadian public, Morden argued.

The study also considers a potentially expanded role for Elections Canada in administering or regulating the races, something Morden acknowledges is not popular among the parties.

Parties can also be reticent to even provide information about their nomination processes, Morden said. For example, only the Green party provided information about how many candidates it screened out of its nominations in 2015.

“There’s just not a culture of openness,” Morden said. “The nomination process is still seen as a very internal one, rather than a vehicle for mass political engagement.”

The first step in a reform process is convincing Canadians to care, Morden said, because otherwise “you’re not going to convince parties to do much.

“It’s hard to regulate parties, because parties make the law.”

Christian Paas-Lang, The Canadian Press

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