Connect with us

International

Tories urged to reconsider compromise on documents about fired scientists

Published

7 minute read

OTTAWA — Government House leader Mark Holland is urging the Conservatives to reconsider their rejection of a compromise proposal that would allow MPs to finally see unredacted documents related to the firing of two scientists at Canada’s highest-security laboratory.

In a letter Tuesday to his Conservative counterpart, Gerard Deltell, Holland reiterates his proposal to allow a special all-party, security-cleared committee to review all the documents, aided by three former senior judges who would decide whether or how any disputed material could be released publicly without jeopardizing national security.

He cites articles by several experts who’ve recently backed the government’s contention that Canada’s national security would be harmed by complying with opposition demands that the documents be turned over to a regular committee of MPs.

Under a House of Commons order passed by opposition parties last spring over the objections of the Liberal minority government, the documents would be vetted by the parliamentary law clerk for potential national security issues but committee members would retain the right to release whatever material they chose.

In his letter, Holland urges Deltell to read a recent article in the Globe and Mail penned by Michael Kergin, former ambassador to the United States, and two former senior officials in the Privy Council Office, Greg Fyffe and Jim Mitchell.

In it, the trio argued that prolonging the dispute over the documents “could be damaging for Canada’s intelligence and security agencies.”

They wrote that the release of information that appears innocuous could actually wind up “unmasking” foreign sources and could be “a gift to hostile intelligence powers.” It could also deter potential sources from sharing information for fear they could be identified.

Moreover, if the government were to lose control over the release of sensitive information, the trio argued that would violate Canada’s obligations to its “Five Eyes” intelligence partners, with whom sensitive information is shared under strict confidentiality conditions.

Canada’s intelligence relationship with the U.S. in particular “would also be gravely undermined by any loss of confidence in the government’s ability to safeguard its sensitive information,” they wrote.

Holland notes in his letter that the three experts backed his compromise proposal, which he calls reasonable and responsible.

“It acknowledges your fair and right request to be able to see all documents unredacted and recognizes the power of the House to order such documents. Our proposal does this without endangering our national security,” Holland says.

He cites another recent article penned by national security experts Leah West and Stephanie Carvin at Carleton University and Thomas Juneau at the University of Ottawa, in which the academics argue that all parties need to come together to agree on a process for Parliament to review classified documents.

The Conservatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Holland’s letter.

While the Tories have flatly rejected Holland’s compromise proposal, the Bloc Québécois and NDP have not categorically ruled it out.

“I know they’re considering it,” Holland said in an interview Tuesday.

Opposition parties believe the documents will shed light on why scientists Xiangguo Qiu and her husband, Keding Cheng, were escorted out of Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory in July 2019 and subsequently fired last January.

They also want to see documents related to the transfer, overseen by Qiu, of deadly Ebola and Henipah viruses to China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology in March 2019.

Just before Christmas, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole announced that he will not name any Tory MPs to the national security and intelligence committee of parliamentarians, known as NSICOP, until the wraps are taken off the documents.

In his letter, Holland urges Conservatives to reconsider that decision as well, arguing that NSICOP has been “a model of collaboration” where “partisan interests are not placed ahead of national security.”

NSICOP was created in 2017 specifically to allow MPs to review sensitive matters. It submits classified reports to the prime minister, which are later tabled in Parliament in edited form. Its members must have top security clearance and are bound to secrecy.

“To not participate in this essential oversight mechanism is to weaken its essential function,” Holland writes.

The battle over the documents has dragged on for a year, culminating in June with the head of the Public Health Agency of Canada being hauled before the bar of the House to be reprimanded for his refusal to hand them over.

After that, the government applied to the Federal Court of Canada to prohibit release of the documents on the grounds that disclosure would be “injurious to international relations or national defence or national security.” The case was dropped after an election was called in August, which terminated the House order to produce the documents, along with all other business before the Commons.

The Conservatives have vowed to continue pursuing the matter in the new parliamentary session.

Holland said it’s “extremely important” to find a resolution that respects the right of parliamentarians to see documents without jeopardizing national security and to have “broad public trust” that there’s a fair process for achieving that balance.

“I don’t think it’s healthy to leave these matters out there,” he said in an interview.

“The Conservatives have been in government and might be in government again one day and will have to face these same issues. And so I’m hopeful that they’ll take a look at it through the lens of precedent that they would be establishing with the position they’re taking and how injurious it could be to national security.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 18, 2022.

Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Storytelling is in our DNA. We provide credible, compelling multimedia storytelling and services in English and French to help captivate your digital, broadcast and print audiences. As Canada’s national news agency for 100 years, we give Canadians an unbiased news source, driven by truth, accuracy and timeliness.

Follow Author

Crime

Shooter warning signs get lost in sea of social media posts

Published on

WASHINGTON (AP) — The warning signs were there for anyone to stumble upon, days before the 18-year-old gunman entered a Texas elementary school and slaughtered 19 children and two teachers.

There was the Instagram photo of a hand holding a gun magazine, a TikTok profile that warned, “Kids be scared,” and the image of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles displayed on a rug, pinned to the top of the killer’s Instagram profile.

Shooters are leaving digital trails that hint at what’s to come long before they actually pull the trigger.

“When somebody starts posting pictures of guns they started purchasing, they’re announcing to the world that they’re changing who they are,” said Katherine Schweit, a retired FBI agent who spearheaded the agency’s active shooter program. “It absolutely is a cry for help. It’s a tease: can you catch me?”

The foreboding posts, however, are often lost in an endless grid of Instagram photos that feature semi-automatic rifles, handguns and ammunition. There’s even a popular hashtag devoted to encouraging Instagram users to upload daily photos of guns with more than 2 million posts attached to it.

For law enforcement and social media companies, spotting a gun post from a potential mass shooter is like sifting through quicksand, Schweit said. That’s why she tells people not to ignore those type of posts, especially from children or young adults. Report it, she advises, to a school counselor, the police or even the FBI tip line.

Increasingly, young men have taken to Instagram, which boasts a thriving gun community, to drop small hints of what’s to come with photos of their own weapons just days or weeks before executing a mass killing.

Before shooting 17 students and staff members dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, Nikolas Cruz posted on YouTube that he wanted to be a “professional school shooter” and shared photos of his face covered, posing with guns. The FBI took in a tip about Cruz’s YouTube comment but never followed up with Cruz.

In November, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley shared a photo of a semi-automatic handgun his dad had purchased with the caption, “Just got my new beauty today,” days before he went on to kill four students and injure seven others at his high school in Oxford Township, Michigan.

And days before entering a school classroom on Tuesday and killing 19 small children and two teachers, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos left similar clues across Instagram.

On May 20, the day that law enforcement officials say Ramos purchased a second rifle, a picture of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles appeared on his Instagram. He tagged another Instagram user with more than 10,000 followers in the photo. In an exchange, later shared by that user, she asks why he tagged her in the photo.

“I barely know you and u tag me in a picture with some guns,” the Instagram user wrote, adding, “It’s just scary.”

The school district in Uvalde had even spent money on software that, using geofencing technology, monitors for potential threats in the area.

Ramos, however, didn’t make a direct threat in posts. Having recently turned 18, he was legally allowed to own the weapons in Texas.

His photos of semi-automatic rifles are one of many on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube where it’s commonplace to post pictures or videos of guns and shooter training videos are prevalent. YouTube prohibits users from posting instructions on how to convert firearms to automatic. But Meta, the parent company of Instagram and Facebook, does not limit photos or hashtags around firearms.

That makes it difficult for platforms to separate people posting gun photos as part of a hobby from those with violent intent, said Sara Aniano, a social media and disinformation researcher, most recently at Monmouth University.

“In a perfect world, there would be some magical algorithm that could detect a worrisome photo of a gun on Instagram,” Aniano said. “For a lot of reasons, that’s a slippery slope and impossible to do when there are people like gun collectors and gunsmiths who have no plan to use their weapon with ill intent.”

Meta said it was working with law enforcement officials Wednesday to investigate Ramos’ accounts. The company declined to answer questions about reports it might have received on Ramos’ accounts.

___

More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings.

Amanda Seitz, The Associated Press

Continue Reading

Crime

Police: Texas gunman was inside the school for over an hour

Published on

By Jake Bleiberg, Jim Vertuno And Elliot Spagat in Uvalde

Texas authorities say the gunman who massacred 21 people at an elementary school was in the building for over an hour before he was killed by law enforcement officers.

The amount of time that elapsed has stirred anger and questions among family members, who demanded to know why they did not storm the place and put a stop to the rampage more quickly.

Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson Travis Considine said 18-year-old Salvador Ramos entered Robb Elementary School and began his rampage at 11:40 a.m. Tuesday.

A Border Patrol tactical unit began trying to get inside an hour later, and at 12:58 p.m., radio chatter noted he was dead.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

UVALDE, Texas (AP) — Law enforcement authorities faced mounting questions and criticism Thursday over how much time elapsed before they stormed a Texas elementary school classroom and put a stop to the rampage by a gunman who killed 19 children and two teachers.

Separately, after two days of unclear and contradictory accounts from police, a Texas law enforcement official said that an armed school district officer did not encounter or exchange fire with the attacker, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, before he entered Robb Elementary in the town of Uvalde, as previously reported.

But many other details about the timing of events and the police response remained murky. The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since Newtown, Connecticut, a decade ago — remained under investigation, with authorities saying Ramos had no known criminal or mental health history.

During the siege, which ended when a U.S. Border Patrol team burst in and shot the gunman to death, frustrated onlookers urged police officers to charge into the school, according to witnesses.

“Go in there! Go in there!” women shouted at the officers soon after the attack began, said Juan Carranza, 24, who watched the scene from outside a house across the street.

Carranza said the officers should have entered the school sooner: “There were more of them. There was just one of him.”

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Wednesday that 40 minutes to an hour elapsed from when Ramos opened fire on the school security officer to when the tactical team shot him.

“The bottom line is law enforcement was there,” McCraw said. “They did engage immediately. They did contain (Ramos) in the classroom.”

But a department spokesman said Thursday that authorities were still working to clarify the timeline of the attack, uncertain whether that period of 40 minutes to an hour began when the gunman reached the school, or earlier, when he shot his grandmother at home.

“Right now we do not have an accurate or confident timeline to provide to say the gunman was in the school for this period,” Lt. Christopher Olivarez told CNN.

Border Patrol Chief Raul Ortiz did not give a timeline but said repeatedly that the tactical officers from his agency who arrived at the school did not hesitate. He said they moved rapidly to enter the building, lining up in a “stack” behind an agent holding up a shield.

“What we wanted to make sure is to act quickly, act swiftly, and that’s exactly what those agents did,” Ortiz told Fox News.

But a law enforcement official said that once in the building, the Border Patrol agents had trouble breaching the classroom door and had to get a staff member to open the room with a key. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the investigation.

Olivarez said investigators were trying to establish whether the classroom was, in fact, locked or barricaded in some way.

Javier Cazares, whose fourth grade daughter, Jacklyn Cazares, was killed in the attack, said he raced to the school as the massacre unfolded. When he arrived, he saw two officers outside the school and about five others escorting students out of the building. But 15 or 20 minutes passed before the arrival of officers with shields, equipped to confront the gunman, he said.

As more parents flocked to the school, he and others pressed police to act, Cazares said. He heard about four gunshots before he and the others were ordered back to a parking lot.

“A lot of us were arguing with the police, ‘You all need to go in there. You all need to do your jobs.’ Their response was, ‘We can’t do our jobs because you guys are interfering,’” Cazares said.

Ramos crashed his truck into a ditch outside the school, grabbed his AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and shot at two people outside a funeral home, who ran away uninjured, according to authorities and witnesses.

As for the armed school officer, he was driving nearby but was not on campus when Ramos crashed his truck, according to a law enforcement official who was not authorized to discuss the case and spoke of condition of anonymity. Investigators have concluded that school officer was not positioned between the school and Ramos, leaving him unable to confront the shooter before he entered the building, the law enforcement official said.

As Ramos entered the school, two Uvalde police officers exchanged fire with him, and were wounded, according to Olivarez. Ramos began killing his victims in a classroom.

On Wednesday night, hundreds packed the bleachers at the town’s fairgrounds for a vigil. Some cried. Some closed their eyes tight, mouthing silent prayers. Parents wrapped their arms around their children as the speakers led prayers for healing.

Before attacking the school, Ramos shot and wounded his grandmother at the home they shared. Gilbert Gallegos, 82, who lives across the street and has known the family for decades, said he was puttering in his yard when he heard the shots.

Ramos ran out the front door and across the yard to a truck parked in front of the house and raced away: “He spun out, I mean fast,” spraying gravel in the air, Gallegos said.

Ramos’ grandmother emerged covered in blood: “She says, ‘Berto, this is what he did. He shot me.’” She was hospitalized.

Gallegos said he had heard no arguments before or after the shots, and knew of no history of bullying or abuse of Ramos, whom he rarely saw.

Lorena Auguste was substitute teaching at Uvalde High School when she heard about the shooting and began frantically texting her niece, a fourth grader at Robb Elementary. Eventually she found out the girl was OK.

But that night, her niece had a question.

“Why did they do this to us?” the girl asked. “We’re good kids. We didn’t do anything wrong.”

___

Bleiberg reported from Dallas.

___

More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas: https://apnews.com/hub/school-shootings

Continue Reading

Trending

X