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New Zealanders reach out to Muslims in wake of mass shooting

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — New Zealand’s stricken residents reached out to Muslims in their neighbourhoods and around the country on Saturday, with a fierce determination to show kindness to a community in pain as a 28-year-old white supremacist stood…

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  • CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand — New Zealand’s stricken residents reached out to Muslims in their neighbourhoods and around the country on Saturday, with a fierce determination to show kindness to a community in pain as a 28-year-old white supremacist stood silently before a judge, accused in mass shootings at two mosques that left 49 people dead.

    Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared in court amid strict security, shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge. The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more such charges would follow. Tarrant, who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online and apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter in the city of Christchurch, appeared to make a hand sign, similar to an OK sign, that is sometimes associated with white nationalists.

    The massacre during Friday prayers prompted a heartfelt response from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who pronounced it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” and said the shooter, an Australian native, had chosen to strike in New Zealand “because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion.”

    Her fellow countrymen seemed to want to prove her right by volunteering acts of kindness. Some offered rides to the grocery store or volunteered to walk with their Muslim neighbours if they felt unsafe.

    In online forums, people discussed Muslim food restrictions as they prepared to drop off meals for those affected.

    “Love always wins over hate. Lots of love for our Muslim brothers” read a handwritten card on a wall of flowers in a historic part of the city that stretched a full block.

    Still, Muslims were advised to stay away from mosques while the nation’s security alert remained at the second-highest level a day after the deadliest shooting in modern New Zealand history.

    Ardern said 39 survivors remained hospitalized Saturday with 11 critically wounded. But updates were slow to come, and many families were still waiting for news of their missing loved ones.

    Outside one of the two mosques, 32-year-old Ash Mohammed pushed through police barricades in hopes of finding out what happened to his father and two brothers, whose cellphones rang unanswered. An officer stopped him.

    “We just want to know if they are dead or alive,” Mohammed told the officer.

    Hungry for any news, families and friends of the victims gathered at the city’s Hagley College, near the hospital.

    They included Asif Shaikh, 44, who said he was among more than 100 people at the Al Noor mosque when the attacker came in. He said he survived by played dead, but was desperate to know what happened to his friends who were there with him.

    “It’s been 36 hours, I haven’t heard anything about them,” he said.

    Nearby, Akhtar Khokhur leaned on the shoulders of her friend and cried as she held up her cellphone with an image of her husband.

    “I still don’t know where he is,” she said.

    Khokhur, 58, and husband Mehaboobbhai Khokhur, 65, had travelled from India to spend time with their son Imran, their first visit in the eight years since he moved to New Zealand. The couple was due to fly out Sunday.

    Imran had dropped off his father, an electrical engineer, at the Al Noor mosque on Friday and was looking for a parking space when the shooting began. They have not heard from him since.

    The gunman had posted a jumbled, 74-page manifesto on social media in which he identified himself as an Australian and white supremacist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.

    He livestreamed 17 minutes of the rampage at Al Noor mosque, where, armed with at least two assault rifles and a shotgun, he sprayed worshippers with bullets, killing at least 41 people. More people were killed in an attack on a second mosque a short time later.

    Facebook, Twitter and Google scrambled to take down the gunman’s video, which was widely available on social media for hours after the bloodbath.

    The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometres (3 miles) away.

    The video showed the killer was carrying a shotgun and two fully automatic military assault rifles, with an extra magazine taped to one of the weapons so that he could reload quickly. He also had more assault weapons in the trunk of his car, along with what appeared to be explosives.

    Two other armed suspects were taken into custody Friday while police tried to determine what role, if any, they played in the cold-blooded attack that stunned New Zealand, a country so peaceful that police officers rarely carry guns.

    Tarrant’s relatives in the Australian town of Grafton, in New South Wales, contacted police after learning of the shooting and were helping with the investigation, local authorities said. Tarrant has spent little time in Australia in the past four years and only had minor traffic infractions on his record.

    Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed Tarrant was involved in both shootings but stopped short of saying he was the sole gunman.

    During the Saturday morning hearing, a man who was not in court was charged with using writings to incite hatred against a race or ethnicity, but it was not clear if his case was related to the mosque attacks.

    “We appear to primarily be dealing with one primary perpetrator, but we want to make sure that we don’t take anything for granted in ensuring New Zealanders’ safety,” Ardern said.

    New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, has relatively loose gun laws and an estimated 1.5 million firearms, or roughly one for every three people. But it has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. In 2015, it had just eight.

    Ardern said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who bought the five guns used in the crimes legally.

    “I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern said.

    She did not offer too much detail, but said a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be looked at. Neighboring Australia has virtually banned semi-automatic rifles from private ownership since a lone gunman killed 35 people with assault rifles in 1996.

    Before Friday’s attack, New Zealand’s deadliest shooting in modern history took place in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbour.

    ___

    Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Christchurch and Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia contributed to this report.

    Juliet Williams And Nick Perry, The Associated Press















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    National

    Parties shop for housing ideas for platforms with issue high on voters’ lists

    OTTAWA — Federal parties are preparing to chase voters with ideas for dealing with what a new survey suggests is a major concern across the country: Housing affordability.
    The ideas being shopped around to stakeholders in the housing sector i…

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  • OTTAWA — Federal parties are preparing to chase voters with ideas for dealing with what a new survey suggests is a major concern across the country: Housing affordability.

    The ideas being shopped around to stakeholders in the housing sector include targeted spending towards certain groups, such as veterans, and more spending to increase the supply of lower-cost housing units to further cool housing prices.

    Last week, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he would ease the mortgage stress-test the Liberals brought in and make it easier for homebuyers to borrow money, while eliminating red tape to help provinces and municipalities build more low-cost housing.

    Sources who have heard the detailed pitch, and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, said they are still waiting on the details of Conservative plan.

    Meanwhile, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has repeatedly pushed the Liberals to immediately help build some 500,000 affordable housing units, but sources said the New Democrats are still working on how to pay for such a thing if they get elected and have to do it themselves.

    The struggle with affordability and the price of housing in some markets is shaping up to be a key campaign issue.

    A survey being released today, conducted for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, suggests the cost of housing is seen as having the largest effect on quality of life in Canadian cities.

    The polling from Abacus Data suggests that making housing more affordable is second only to improving roads and sewers as a priority voters have for all levels of government.

    Abacus chief executive David Coletto said worries about housing costs extend beyond big-city markets to rural communities as well.

    “There’s a sense that housing has become unaffordable and therefore that’s having an impact on the quality of life people have come to expect and seek,” he said.

    The survey of 5,106 Canadians aged 18 and over was conducted between March 14 and 28 using a random sample of members of online panels invited to complete the survey. Polling industry experts say online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not generate a random sample of the population.

    The municipal federation is hoping the results of the survey boost its bid in this election to secure a promise to revamp the financial relationship between Parliament and Canadian cities.

    Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2019 budget, the last before the fall vote, had a one-time doubling of federal transfers to municipalities from gas-tax revenues, to do an end-run around provincial governments that have been slow to apply for other infrastructure money. Municipalities have lobbied for that type of spending — cash transfers with few strings attached — to become the only way they receive funding, rather than requiring application-based programs.

    The survey results suggest that giving cities more direct money, rather than submitting specific projects for provincial and federal approval, has equal support from Liberal, Conservative and New Democrat voters and from respondents in urban, suburban and rural communities.

    “That doesn’t happen all that often. There are a handful of issues that I’ve been tracking over the last few years that show that kind of cross-party, cross-community-type consistency. It is really rare these days to find it,” Coletto said.

    “What this reflects is the quality of your roads, the quality of infrastructure, the quality of parks and communities you live in is not a Liberal, Conservative or New Democrat idea.”

    Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


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    National

    Ottawa will implement Senate proposals to strengthen accessibility law: minister

    Canada’s accessibility minister says the government will be acting on the Senate’s proposed recommendations to strengthen the country’s first piece of accessibility legislation for people with disabilities.
    Carla Qualtrough sent a letter to disabl…

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  • Canada’s accessibility minister says the government will be acting on the Senate’s proposed recommendations to strengthen the country’s first piece of accessibility legislation for people with disabilities.

    Carla Qualtrough sent a letter to disabled advocates saying the government planned to accept all the amendments senators had proposed for Bill C-81, also known as the Accessible Canada Act.

    Earlier this month, the Senate committee on social affairs, science and technology adopted several amendments that nearly a hundred disability organizations said were necessary to make the law effective.

    Chief among them was a call to set a timeline requiring the act to be fully implemented in all areas under federal jurisdiction by 2040, as well as recognition of sign language as an official language among deaf Canadians.

    The federal government had resisted some of those measures as the bill worked its way through the House of Commons, but Qualtrough says all proposed Senate amendments will now be included.

    The amended bill is expected to come back before Parliament for final consideration next week.

     

       

     

    The Canadian Press

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