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National

Scheer demands PM let Wilson-Raybould talk about SNC-Lavalin discussions

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OTTAWA — Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has written directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asking him to waive solicitor-client privilege so former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould can publicly talk about what happened with SNC-Lavalin.

The request is contained in an open letter dated Sunday, in which Scheer says he also wants all communications to or from the prime minister or members of his staff about the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin to be opened up to public scrutiny.

“Solicitor-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality are important values in our legal system,” Scheer wrote.

“But in the present situation, they must be subordinated to a higher value: the confidence of Canadians in the integrity, fairness and impartiality of our criminal justice system.”

The request follows a Globe and Mail report last week that members of Trudeau’s office leaned on Wilson-Raybould to have federal prosecutors negotiate a “remediation agreement” with SNC-Lavalin rather than move ahead with a criminal prosecution.

The Quebec engineering and construction giant has faced legal trouble over allegations it paid millions of dollars in bribes to get government business in Libya, which would be a crime under Canadian law and threaten its ability to win future federal work.

Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted from her role as justice minister and attorney general last month, has said she cannot comment because in her role as the government’s top lawyer, she is bound by solicitor-client privilege.

Government officials have acknowledged to The Canadian Press that Wilson-Raybould was involved in extensive, internal discussions last month about whether SNC-Lavalin should be allowed to avoid criminal prosecution.

But they maintain there was nothing wrong with that, while Trudeau has publicly denied he or anyone in his office “directed” the minister on the matter.

Wilson-Raybould’s refusal to comment publicly has nonetheless added fuel to the political fire, sparking opposition demands for transparency and accusations of government interference in a criminal case.

In his letter, Scheer said Canadians deserve answers “as the allegations surrounding it strike at the very heart of fair and impartial law enforcement and prosecutorial functions, themselves vital to the rule of law and to our democracy.”

While the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to questions Sunday, a Toronto Star report cited unnamed senior government officials as saying the privilege would not be waived because the case against SNC-Lavalin remains before the courts.

One senior official also reportedly told the newspaper that the government would not agree to Opposition demands for an emergency meeting of the House of Commons justice committee to hear from Wilson-Raybould and members of Trudeau’s staff.

Parliamentary committees are supposed to be masters of their own domain because of their role in holding the government to account.

The chair of the committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, stated on Twitter on Sunday that “nobody has attempted to influence me” about the opposition’s attempts to hold hearings on SNC-Lavalin.

“I intend to independently determine whether committee study of the issue will be useful for Canadians (and) colleagues will do same,” Housefather wrote, adding the committee will convene on Wednesday to discuss the issue.

Liberal MPs nonetheless have a majority of members on the committee, meaning they could move to block any opposition request to conduct a probe.

Current Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould, told CTV’s Question Period in an interview broadcast Sunday that he did not believe there was any justification for a committee hearing into the matter.

“All we’ve heard are allegations in a newspaper,” said Lametti. “The prime minister has said that these allegations are false. We haven’t had any corroborating evidence there. There hasn’t been anything to my mind that justifies a committee investigation.”

Wilson-Raybould, now veterans affairs minister, released a statement on Friday saying she is bound as the former attorney general by solicitor-client privilege and cannot publicly talk about aspects of the case.

SNC-Lavalin has been charged with bribery and corruption over its efforts to secure government business in Libya and wants a deal, allowed under the law, to pay reparations rather than be prosecuted.

A guilty verdict on bribery and corruption charges would result in SNC-Lavalin being barred from government contracts in Canada for 10 years. Officials have said it could also cause foreign government contracts to dry up, potentially putting it out of business.

Consequently, they said, it was natural for internal discussions to have taken place after the director of public prosecutions, Kathleen Roussel, informed SNC-Lavalin last October that a remediation agreement would be inappropriate in this case.

The company is challenging her decision in court.

SNC-Lavalin has heavily lobbied ministers, government officials and even Scheer and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to make its case for avoiding a prosecution. Quebec Premier Francois Legault has also pressured Trudeau to intervene on the company’s behalf.

Scheer’s office confirmed to the Star on Sunday that the Conservative leader met with the head of SNC-Lavalin last year to discuss the case against the company and a possible remediation deal. Scheer’s spokesman Brock Harrison did not respond to emails.

Under the law, the attorney general may issue a directive to the director of public prosecutions on how to handle a specific case, provided the directive is in writing and made public.

— Follow @leeberthiaume on Twitter.

Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press


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National

A year after Danforth shooting, teens who lost friend grapple with anxiety

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Friends of Daniforth shooting victims one year later

TORONTO — They were eight care-free teenagers out celebrating a birthday when the bullets flew. The rampage that ensued on July 22, 2018, changed their lives.

Days before the first anniversary of the shooting in Greektown, four of the teens who survived the tragedy sit in the living room of an east Toronto home talking about their struggles with anxiety, depression and the feeling of loss. It’s better than therapy, they say.

“I feel like the people I am surrounded with is my therapy,” says Skye McLeod, as her friend Noor Samiei, whose 18th birthday they were celebrating the night of the shooting, gently holds her hand.

Their best friend, 18-year-old Reese Fallon, was one of two people who were killed when a deeply troubled 29-year-old man went on a shooting spree. Thirteen people were injured, including their other friend, Samantha Price.

Price has largely recovered physically, but she says she cannot stop the morbid thoughts that often race through her mind. The 18-year-old will watch cars go by and think the driver will shoot her in the head. She’ll notice a stranger on the street and fear for her life. She thinks large crowds make for a perfect place for a bomb to go off.

“It’s horrible,” she says. “But I can’t help it.”

All four have tried various forms of therapy. Three say it didn’t help.

McLeod stopped after one session with a therapist. Samiei, 19, says she saw a therapist twice.

“The therapist would look at me and if she didn’t initiate the conversation, I would just look back at her,” Samiei says. “What I really wanted was feedback.”

“Tell me how to heal,” Price says. “It sucks to go outside and be this age and not have fun.”

Max Smith, however, says therapy has helped his recurring anxiety.

“We just talk about what I’m feeling,” he says. “(My therapist) is super helpful and gives me insight and has given me some breathing techniques.”

All four say they think about the shooting a lot.

The night of the celebration started with dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown. Then they moved to Greektown for gelato. They were chatting at a nearby parkette when some noticed a man across the street, staring at them.

Price remembers Faisal Hussain raising a gun and firing. A bullet shattered her right hip and she collapsed. Next to her, two of her friends were on the ground bleeding.

McLeod also went down, but wasn’t shot.

“I remember looking at him,” she says. “Do I get up to run? Will that make me a bigger target? Do I play dead?”

Smith, who was next to McLeod, says he crouched down when the bullets flew.

“It was like tunnel vision,” he says. “I remember saying ‘Skye, we have to go.'”

“You saved my life,” she says to Smith. He blushes.

In the commotion, Samiei ran straight onto Danforth Avenue, tripped and fell, smashing her chin and knee on the road.

“While on the ground, I looked behind me and saw him shooting,” she says.

Samiei noticed Smith, McLeod and another friend duck into a nearby cafe so she got up and followed. The four ended up in a basement bathroom with two strangers.

Price watched her friends dash into the cafe, but also noticed restaurants were closing their doors.

Somehow, despite her shattered hip, Price made her way to Christina’s, a restaurant where a waitress helped her in and called for a doctor. She’d spend the next five days in hospital.

Her friends, meanwhile, were trying to track down members of their group. Samiei, while still in the basement bathroom, called Fallon repeatedly but got no answer. McLeod called her father, who rushed over.

Patrick McLeod, a retired police officer, found his daughter and her three friends in the cafe bathroom. After speaking with police at the scene, he ended up identifying Fallon’s body.

The friends later learned that Fallon had run in one direction while they scrambled in another. Her body was found in the parkette where they had gathered.

“That’s when our lives changed forever,” Samiei says.

While three of them started university last September, McLeod chose to travel. She headed to Greece, but the horror of what happened soon took hold.

“I immediately had a panic attack,” she says. “I had never been so depressed in my life. Crying constantly. Everything just hit me.”

Her father flew over to help and McLeod eventually carried on to Italy, but delayed her trip to Australia.

“I realized I needed time at home to heal,” she says.

Her travels helped, but like Price, McLeod says she grapples with disturbing thoughts. At a recent concert, for instance, she found herself thinking “this is a great place for a shooting.”

Smith moved to Guelph, Ont., for university and said being away from Toronto has also helped.

“It’s easy to forget about the shooting because you’re just not there,” he said. “It hits you when you get home.”

Samiei, now a student at the University of Toronto, says commuting to the school’s downtown campus was a challenge because crowds on the subway distressed her. So her mother commuted with her for months. Now, she’s able to make the journey on her own.

“I will change cars if I see someone weird, though,” she says.

Price has also struggled with parts of city life — a walk around her neighbourhood on Canada Day triggered a panic attack when she heard fireworks.

“It’s become so difficult,” she says. “I’ve loved growing up here and loved living here, but I feel uncomfortable at any public event.”

Despite their issues, the friends say they try to be positive as much as they can, especially when it comes to remembering Fallon.

“Reese’s last meal was her favourite: raspberry and chocolate gelato,” Samiei says with a smile.

Smith shows a video of the group at the restaurant that night where Fallon makes a goofy face. Everyone laughs.

“As horrible as that night was, at least until then, we had such a good time,” Smith says.

Samiei visits the parkette regularly to keep Fallon’s memory alive. She puts photographs of her friend on a tree. Someone takes them down, but she returns to put them back up.

“It’s important,” Samiei said. “So people don’t forget.”

Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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Health

Lyme-infected ticks are so common in parts of Canada, testing no longer done

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OTTAWA — Lyme disease has settled so deeply into parts of Canada many public health units now just assume if you get bitten by a tick, you should be treated for the potentially debilitating bacteria.

In Ottawa, where more than half of the ticks tested in some neighbourhoods carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, the public-health unit no longer bothers to test ticks because it’s assumed they carry the illness.

Dr. Vera Etches, the top doctor at the health unit, says that means if a tick is found on a person, and is believed to have been there for more than 24 hours, then the patient should get antibiotics to prevent Lyme infection.

After three days, preventive treatment won’t work so patients then wait for symptoms or enough time for antibodies to evolve to show up on a test.

Similar rates of Lyme disease have been found in parts of every province except Alberta, Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, but the disease is marching further afield every year.

Lyme disease began appearing in Canada in the early 1980s but it has only been since about 2012 that the ticks that carry the bacteria have become plentiful, mostly due to warmer winters that allow more of them to survive.

The Canadian Press

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