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Party members take sides for, against Kenney at United Conservative meeting

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CALGARY — A motion that would have made it more difficult to hold an earlier review of Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership failed to get enough support Friday at the United Conservative Party annual general meeting.

Applause rang out when the motion to raise the number of constituency associations needed to trigger an earlier review didn’t pass with the required 75 per cent or more of the votes. The result was 57 per cent.

Kenney already faces a leadership review in April. Twenty-two UCP constituency associations have signed a letter to the party executive calling for an earlier vote. They represent the required percentage of boards under bylaws to fast-track a review. The motion Friday called for raising that number to 29.

The vote reflected the tension at the event as Kenney deals with rising discontent in his caucus, party and from Albertans.

Planned speeches delivered by Energy Minister Sonya Savage, party executive director Dustin van Vugt and others spoke to the difficulties of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic while also celebrating the party’s successes.

Meanwhile, attendees delivered less than subtle messages to show sides for or against Kenney.

Some attendees donned pins that said, “I stand with Jason Kenney” while others wore buttons that said “I’m With Kimmel,” a reference to an ongoing lawsuit against Kenney’s office.

Former UCP staffer Ariella Kimmel alleges the office fostered a “poisoned work environment” and repeatedly failed to address her complaint of sexual harassment involving a staff member. None of the allegations have been proven in court.

United Conservative MLA Leela Aheer, who has dropped from cabinet in July after calling for Kenney to resign, said the formal part of any program focuses on goals and objectives but the “real and honest conversations” are happening outside.

In the lobby of the Grey Eagle Resort and Casino, where the meeting is being held this weekend, many people spoke in hushed tones with vocal Kenney dissidents and supporters making rounds among the crowd.

“Any discussions around a leadership review are good,” said Aheer. “Right now, there has never been a better opportunity to rally the forces, unify us and find out who that person is supposed to be.”

Brian Jean, former leader of the Wildrose Party and UCP co-founder, said the best outcome of the meeting would be a resignation from Kenney.

“A lot of people, including myself, sacrificed a lot to have this party and to have this party move forward and win the trust, heart and minds of Albertans and it has not been successful,” said Jean.

“We all know what the problem is and we just need to make sure that problem is removed.”

Kenney greeted members on Friday night and is to return Saturday to deliver a keynote address.

Outside of the meeting, dozens of protesters held signs opposing COVID-19 vaccines and Kenney. Police barred anyone from entering the meeting until the situation came under control.

Party members will continue to debate and vote on a series of motions throughout the weekend. Socializing events, youth-focused meetings, a government bear pit session and a fiscal policy forum are also scheduled.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 19, 2021.

Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Judge decides ‘Freedom Convoy’ organizer Tamara Lich stays out on bail

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OTTAWA — Tamara Lich, a key organizer of the “Freedom Convoy” protest that gridlocked Ottawa for weeks, will remain released on bail while awaiting trial, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Kevin Phillips said he made his decision because she has followed her bail conditions, her surety has supervised her well and she’s already had a “taste of jail,” which he said lowered her risk to reoffend.

The judge said he does not accept that Lich breached her release conditions by agreeing to receive an award, and added Lich can be trusted to respect the conditions of her release.

She was released in March with a long list of conditions, including a ban from all social media and an order not to “support anything related to the Freedom Convoy.”

The terms of Lich’s release were intended to prevent a similar protest from happening in the national capital, the judge said, adding the court does not seek to control people’s political views.

“The courts are not a thought police. We seek only to control conduct to the extent that certain behaviour will violate or likely lead to violation of the law,” he said.

The protest is over and has left Ottawa, he said, adding it would be “practically impossible” to mount a similar protest in the city again.

Lich’s lawyer, Lawrence Greenspon, said in an interview Wednesday that he was pleased with the decision.

“She’ll be able to conduct her life in a lot more normal fashion as a result of the judge’s ruling,” said Greenspon.

Moiz Karimjee, a Crown prosecutor, said last week that Lich violated one of her bail conditions by agreeing to accept an award for her leadership during the Ottawa protest, and should be sent back behind bars to wait for her trial.

Greenspon argued last week her bail conditions should be loosened to allow her to come to Ontario and use social media.

He told the court that the social media ban imposed on Lich was unnecessarily broad and has had a huge impact on her life while she’s been out of custody.

However, Phillips said Wednesday the ban on Lich’s access to social media is warranted.

“Social media can be a problematic feedback loop where people get egged on and caught up in group activity they would never perform on their own,” he said.

Social media “undoubtedly contributed to and even drove” Lich’s conduct related to the protest, and her separation from it is necessary to lower her risk of reoffending, said Phillips.

Noting that Lich is in her late 40s, Phillips said she should be able to remember “how to use the social skills she surely built up before the advent of the internet.”

Lich is able to communicate by many other means, including email, phone or meeting in person, he said.

Greenspon said while he would have liked to see the social media ban reversed, “the most important thing was the rejection of the Crown’s efforts to to put her back in jail for agreeing to accept an award.”

The judge did amend her release conditions to allow her to visit Ottawa.

Lich’s motivation for coming to the city cannot be disclosed because it is under a court-ordered publication ban.

Phillips reiterated the high unlikelihood that Lich could organize an event resembling the convoy protest.

While she’s permitted to come to Ottawa, Lich is not allowed to visit the downtown core so as not “to walk around the very neighbourhoods she is alleged to have traumatized,” he said, except to attend court or meet with legal counsel.

Lich and fellow protest organizer Chris Barber are jointly accused of mischief, obstructing police, counselling others to commit mischief and intimidation.

The “Freedom Convoy” protest evolved into a weeks-long demonstration that congested the streets of Ottawa in February.

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

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

Erika Ibrahim, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

OSC withdraws some charges against former CannTrust leaders at pretrial hearing

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VAUGHAN, Ont. — Three former CannTrust Holdings Inc. leaders accused of securities offences have had some charges dropped, the Ontario Securities Commission said Tuesday, though the fraud charges remain.

The withdrawn charges against Peter Aceto, Mark Litwin and Eric Paul were linked to making false or misleading statements to the Ontario Securities Commission through CannTrust press releases, OSC spokesperson JP Vecsi said in an email.

The charges were withdrawn to reduce the length of the upcoming trial and help “focus the issues” because of what’s expected to be a “complex” prosecution, said Ontario Securities Commission lawyer Dihim Emami, in a virtual pretrial hearing held Tuesday.

“By doing so, we will save trial time and distraction that would be required to argue the securities law issue related to those counts,” Emami told judge Tim Lipson over a Zoom video conference.

Aceto, Paul and Litwin still face charges of fraud and ofauthorizing, permitting or acquiescing in the commission of an offence.

Litwin and Paul are also facing insider trading charges and Litwin and Aceto are charged with making a false prospectus and false preliminary prospectus.

The charges were first laid by the OSC in June 2021, roughly three years after CannTrust was found to be growing thousands of kilograms of cannabis in unlicensed rooms.

The OSC and Royal Canadian Mounted Police allege Litwin, Aceto and Paul did not disclose to investors that about 50 per cent of the growing space at CannTrust’s Pelham, Ont. facility was not licensed by Health Canada. They say the men used corporate disclosures to assert that they were compliant with regulatory approvals.

They also allege that Litwin and Aceto signed off on prospectuses used to raise money in the U.S., which stated that CannTrust was fully licensed and compliant with regulatory requirements, and that Litwin and Paul traded shares of CannTrust while in possession of material, undisclosed information regarding the unlicensed growing.

Aceto, who served as chief executive, was terminated for cause by CannTrust’s board in July 2019. Former chairman Paul resigned in response to a demand from the company’s board at the same time and former vice-chairman Litwin resigned in March 2021.

Scott Fenton, Litwin’s lawyer, said in an email to The Canadian Press that he and his client are “pleased” with the withdrawal of some charges and expect those remaining to be “vigorously contested at trial.”

Aceto and Paul’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Aceto’s counsel previously said “the evidence will show that he acted with integrity at all times.“ Paul’s counsel has said “the evidence will show (Paul) did nothing wrong.”

Their trial is set to begin in October and is expected to last until mid-December.

In the wake of the allegations, CannTrust was delisted from the Toronto Stock Exchange and filed for creditor protection.

It has since been trying to stage a comeback and exited creditor protection in March, after receiving $17 million in financing from a subsidiary of Kenzoll B.V., a Netherlands -based private equity investment company.

In May, it renamed itself Phoena Holdings Inc. and said it will continue to review alternatives to obtaining a stock exchange listing for its common shares.

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

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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