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Blackouts, gas bombs and gunplay: How the Canadian embassy is holding on in Venezuela

Blackouts, gas bombs and gunplay: How the Canadian embassy is holding on in Venezuela


The United States signed an accord yesterday that will allow for a U.S. ‘interests section’ in the Swiss embassy in Caracas, the same arrangement it has had at the Swiss embassy in Tehran for the past 40 years.

But the Canadians remain entrenched in their five-story embassy on the corner of Altamira Square, with no plans to go anywhere.

“I’m glad that Canada didn’t do the same thing as the U.S. because you need people on the ground in places like Venezuela to get a sense of what the citizens are saying on the ground,” said Ben Rowswell, the last person to serve as a full ambassador for Canada in Caracas.

“There’s a reason that the U.S. sometimes acts in foreign policy like it’s blind and deaf, and that’s because it actually ends up removing its eyes and ears from the places that matter the most, like Caracas.

“The core function of diplomacy is listening and that’s one thing our embassy excelled at. The embassy has probably had face-to-face conversations with tens of thousands of Venezuelans of every stripe over these past few years and that’s one of the reasons we’re so confident in our judgments of what Venezuelans really want.”

Live and let live

Canadian officials and their Venezuelan counterparts — both the ones who support current President Nicolás Maduro and those backing opposition leader Juan Guaido — have described a strange diplomatic equilibrium that allows Canada’s embassy to remain in Caracas despite government orders to leave, and also lets Maduro’s government retain five diplomatic properties in Canada, despite the fact that Ottawa doesn’t recognize it.

“I have an accreditation issued by the Government of Canada as a diplomat in this country,” Prof. Luis Acuna Cedeno told CBC News. The former graduate of the University of Western Ontario served as both a cabinet minister under President Hugo Chavez and as governor of Sucre state under Nicolas Maduro. Today, he retains control of Venezuela’s embassy in Sandy Hill, Ottawa, with the title of ‘charge d’affaires’.

“The diplomatic mission of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has its staff working at the embassy in the city of Ottawa, the general consulate of Montreal, the general consulate of Vancouver and the general consulate of Toronto. The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela does not have any other diplomatic staff working in Canada. As it is already known, in December 2017, Canada decided to downgrade diplomatic relations with Venezuela to the level of Chargé d’Affaires.”

Meanwhile, the man Canada does recognize as Venezuela’s legitimate representative is unable to set foot in his country’s embassy or official residence. He’s also barred from becoming a diplomat in Canada because of his immigration status as a Canadian permanent resident.

Orlando Viera Blanco told CBC News he plans to renounce his permanent resident status. “We are in the process, just to respect the protocols, and to improve our final status as an ambassador. The Vienna Convention requires us not to be a citizen or a permanent resident as part of the process that we have to comply (with).”

Viera Blanco said he’s also unable to visit the nation he represents because he faces a criminal charge of treason for accepting the post of representative for the man Canada has recognized as Venezuela’s acting president, Juan Guaidó.

The unusual modus vivendi the parties described to CBC News appears to have endured because — for the moment — it works for all three parties.

Canada’s toleration of the presence of two rival representatives from Venezuela is a pragmatic quid pro quo for Venezuela’s tolerance of the Canadian diplomatic presence in Caracas.

“It’s a unique situation. It’s an unprecedented situation. When you have people from Canada working in Venezuela, you have to be prudent,” says Viera Blanco. Partly for that reason, he told CBC News, taking possession of Venezuela’s diplomatic properties in Canada is a “low priority.”

“We respect the uniqueness of that situation and that’s why we have to move forward with diplomacy, prudence and moderation that are required in this unique situation.”

The situation stands in sharp contrast to that of some of the other key players in the fight over Venezuela’s future who have been unable to maintain a diplomatic presence in Venezuela.

‘Get back, Satan!’

“I have decided to break all political and diplomatic relations with the fascist government of Colombia and all its ambassadors and consuls must leave Venezuela within 24 hours. Get out of here, oligarchy!”

With those words on February 23, Maduro announced the end of all ties with the country many Venezuelans refer to as their “sister nation.”

“You are the devil Ivan Duque, you’re the devil,” Maduro said, referring to the Colombian president. “And you’re going to dry up for interfering in Venezuela. Get back Satan, get out of here devil!”

For six weeks now, the border has been closed between two countries that were, for the first twelve years of their independence, a single nation.

Colombia and Venezuela have since engaged in a war of words that occasionally has spilled over into border clashes, pitting the Colombian military against shadowy paramilitary groups that Bogota considers to be protegés of the Maduro government.

Colombia also has lost the ability to help its citizens in Venezuela, where they are by far the largest group of foreign residents.

Bolivarian National Guard ride their motorcycles over Fransisco de Miranda Avenue, painted with the word “resistance” and the names of protesters killed by statwe forces in 2014. The Canadian embassy is at top right. (Tomas Bravo/REUTERS)

U.S. throws in the towel

Just hours after a State Department briefing on Venezuela that made no mention of closing the U.S. embassy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo surprised many with a late-night tweet from Texas in which he announced that Washington was pulling out the last of its diplomats.

Non-essential staff and family members had departed two months previously. On January 24, Maduro gave the U.S. embassy 72 hours to either withdraw its recognition of Guaido or withdraw its diplomats.

When it became clear that the U.S. did not intend to comply, Maduro issued a face-saving 30-day extension, which he renewed for another 30 days in February, ostensibly to allow for negotiations on setting up a U.S. interests section in another country’s embassy.

But those talks (if they happened) went nowhere, and the U.S. pulled the plug on the embassy just before midnight on March 11.

The U.S., like Canada, has urged its citizens to leave Venezuela and has given the country its highest-level travel warning.

Gas, blackouts and threats

Canada’s embassy has stayed open despite logistical difficulties — including prolonged city-wide blackouts caused by the collapse of Venezuela’s electricity network — by running diesel generators and stockpiling water.

Its location on Plaza Altamira has put it at the heart of numerous protests, some of which have ended in gunfire, injuries and deaths.

“The protesters themselves were never a problem,” said Rowswell. “But when the police forces would enter the square to try to clear it, that would create a situation of tension in the plaza.

“There were some times when there were particularly intense protests or repression and we would have to suspend some of our public-facing operation such as providing consular service for a day or two, but we would get right back into action very quickly.”

When Rowswell finished his term as ambassador, the Venezuelan government refused to allow him to be replaced, as it had been angered by Magnitsky Act sanctions brought against certain members of the Maduro regime. A more junior diplomat, Craig Kowalik, took over as charge d’affairs. He lasted for about six months before he learned from social media that he had just been declared persona non grata — along with the fully-accredited ambassador from Brazil.

As 2017 turned into 2018, Kowalik found himself briefly camping out at his parents’ house in Canada before taking on a new assignment in Colombia, where much of his work these days involves Venezuelan exiles and migrants.

Diplomats in Caracas have grown used to a steady stream of denunciations, including trips to the Venezuelan foreign ministry to receive protest notes.

In a typical statement on May 30, Venezuela’s foreign minister Jorge Arreaza suggested that Canada’s criticisms of the Maduro regime were prompted by its desire to maintain the NAFTA accord with Washington:

“It is blindingly obvious that the obsessive conduct of the government of Canada against Venezuela results from its humiliating subordination to the foreign policy of the racist and supremacist administration of Donald Trump. The facts suggest that this servile policy of the Canadian authorities is the product of the desperation of that government to avoid losing benefits and preferences in its commercial treaties with the United States.”

Ultimatum ignored

As well as surviving downgrades and expulsions, the Canadian embassy managed to ride out one ultimatum to close up shop by simply ignoring it.

On January 9, the Venezuelan government gave Canada 72 hours to retract a statement saying that Maduro, whose presidential term had ended that day, was no longer a legitimate president. If Canada did not retract, Venezuela would break off relations.

Canada did nothing.

On the Saturday the deadline was to expire, Venezuela’s foreign ministry announced that President Maduro had decided to extend the deadline for Canada (and fellow miscreant Paraguay) to the following Monday.

Again, Canada did nothing. It’s position on Monday was the same as on Friday, and remains the same today.

The Parauguayan embassy is closed and its diplomats are gone. Canada’s are still there.

‘Performing for the cameras’

“(Members of the Maduro regime) are aware of how isolated they are,” said Rowswell, “and they sometimes lash out in anger in ways that aren’t entirely thought through. And they’re sometimes performing for the cameras, and not engaged in real conversations. Often you’ll see them making a threat on television without ever having communicated with the embassy.

“My experience was you never knew who they were going to pick on. You’d wake up one day and it would be the Italians, the next day it would be the Spanish, almost every day (it) would be the United States, and then regularly every single Latin American country would be singled out for abuse.

“It got to the point there was no observable pattern, just whoever Maduro was mad at from one day to the next.”

On March 4, Guaido returned to Caracas after a tour of South American capitals, during which he was fêted by the presidents of Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Colombia as the legitimate president of Venezuela.

Fearing that he would be arrested, diplomats from several countries, including Canada, went to the airport to greet him. Venezuela responded by giving German Ambassador Daniel Kriener 48 hours to leave the country, which he did.

Again, the Canadians escaped a sanction.

Rowswell said he hopes this unusual situation can be maintained, even though it rests on shaky diplomatic ground.

“Once you remove Canadian diplomats, over time the kind of granular feel we have for what is really happening on the ground would diminish. And that’s where I feel the Americans are really making a big mistake by losing their eyes and ears on the ground.”





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With Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the Commons' crew of Independent MPs enters uncharted territory

With Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the Commons’ crew of Independent MPs enters uncharted territory


If a group of crows is called a ‘murder’, an assembly of ferrets is a ‘business’ and a collection of owls is a ‘parliament’, what do you call a row of independent MPs?

A ‘schism’ of independents? A ‘motley’, perhaps? How about an ‘insurrection’?

With the ejection of Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus this week, the number of independent MPs in the House of Commons has exploded. Coupled with the other MPs representing an array of ‘unrecognized’ parties ranging from the secessionist to the populist and the extinct, the number of MPs in the House who do not belong to officially recognized parties is at an all-time high.

There are now seven Independents in the House. Along with Wilson-Raybould and Philpott, the list includes former Liberals Celina Caesar-Chavannes, Raj Grewal, Darshan Kang and Hunter Tootoo, as well as Tony Clement, a former Conservative.

That’s not an abnormally high number for the tail end of a majority government’s term. There were eight independents when the House was dissolved ahead of the 2015 federal election. There were nine just before the 2004 election.

The number of Independents hit a modern high in 1990 as well, when there were 11 of them in the House — the bulk of them former Liberal or PC MPs who eventually would form the Bloc Québécois.

But any party with less than 12 seats in the House of Commons goes “unrecognized” — which means it isn’t guaranteed slots in question period, seats on committees or the extra resources that are awarded to larger parties. Instead, these parties need to share their speaking time in the House with other Independents; in the current Parliament, that means 14 questions a week are divvied up between the 20 MPs from unrecognized parties or sitting as Independents.

Those unrecognized parties are the Bloc Québécois (10 MPs), Greens (Elizabeth May) and the People’s Party (Maxime Bernier).

Then there’s Erin Weir, who was booted from the New Democratic caucus last year. He is sitting as a self-appointed member of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, a forerunner party to the NDP that has not existed for more than half a century.

Weir wants more speaking time for independents

Weir has been pushing Speaker Geoff Regan for more questions for the growing crew of Independents.

“The independent group is by far the fastest-growing parliamentary caucus,” Weir said in a statement following Caesar-Chavannes’s departure from the Liberal caucus in March. “We need more spots in question period to reflect our numbers.”

He repeated that call this week when the cohort of Independents grew by two.

In an October 2018 ruling, Regan said that the 14 questions awarded to Independents was already high, adding that “never have independent members been recognized as much during question period.” He also reminded the House that question period is only supposed to last 45 minutes and the additional questions given to Independents are already routinely pushing question period well beyond that duration.

Small parties only began receiving recognition in the House in 1963, during a period of minority governments when the New Democrats and Social Credit held a lot of sway in the legislature. At the time, the bar of 12 seats was set to give leaders of these smaller parties a bump in salary, like the one given to the leader of the Official Opposition. The threshold of 12 seats then evolved to become the benchmark for a number of other parliamentary privileges.

Watch Vassy Kapelos explain what it means to be an independent MP.

Vassy Kapelos walks through some of the drawbacks to being an MP outside of an official party. 1:19

Less than the sum of its parts

Theoretically, Weir could acquire these privileges by getting his unrecognized colleagues to form a caucus of their own — like the Independent Senators Group in the Senate.

Of course, that would mean somehow uniting Caesar-Chavannes, Philpott and Wilson-Raybould with Kang, Tootoo, Clement and Grewal — Independents who are alleged to have committed, or have admitted to committing, various improprieties. It also would require finding common ground between May and Bernier and getting the Bloc on board.

Parliament has seen plenty of caucuses divided against themselves, but such an Independent caucus would set a new bar for internal turmoil. Obviously, it isn’t happening.

But the numbers make it possible — which is pretty remarkable on its own.

Former NDP MP Erin Weir is sitting in the House of Commons as a member of the defunct CCF. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

At the end of the last Parliament, the total number of Independents and MPs from unrecognized parties just ticked over the 12-seat threshold. But that also was a group of MPs with unreconcilable differences — representatives of the Greens, the Bloc and Strength in Democracy (remember them?), along with a clutch of cast-off Independents.

Before that, you have to go back to the 35th Parliament that sat between 1994 and 1997 and included nine New Democrats and two Progressive Conservatives. Add the handful of independents at that time to the mix, and you could have had an unrecognizable — but nevertheless ‘recognized’ — party.

Former cabinet ministers in the ‘nose-bleed’ section

But while it’s a bit odd to see so many MPs in the House who don’t belong to a recognized party, it’s far from unprecedented. What is unique about this group is the large number of them who have held high office in the past.

According to the database maintained by the Library of Parliament, only 18 former cabinet ministers have ever appeared in the Commons as Independents. Of those, four (five if we include Bernier, who briefly sat as an Independent before changing his affiliation to the People’s Party) are now sitting in the House of Commons. That’s twice the largest number of “honourable members” that ever sat previously as independents at the same time.

That’s a coincidence, of course: very little connects former cabinet ministers Tootoo and Clement to Philpott and Wilson-Raybould, apart from the bad view they now have in the House. But it’s another reminder, if any was needed, that the last two months have nudged federal politics into uncharted territory.



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Gas prices could jump another 15 cents by summer — and it's not because of the carbon tax

Gas prices could jump another 15 cents by summer — and it’s not because of the carbon tax


Drivers hit by the jump in gas prices at the pumps this week after the introduction of the carbon tax should brace themselves for even higher prices in the coming months.

Some analysts predict gas prices could rise by another 10 to 15 cents a litre by this summer, and that has nothing to do with the carbon tax.

A combination of higher world oil and an increase in demand for diesel, plus seasonal factors such as the shift from winter to summer gasoline and higher demand in the warmer months means the big drop in prices that started late last year could be a thing of the past.

Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, expects prices to raise another five cents as early as next week as the shift from winter to summer gasoline takes place across much of Eastern Canada.

“Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes are looking at a net five cent increase on top of Monday’s five cent increase,” McTeague said. That federal carbon levy at $20/tonne that applied in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick added about 4.4 cents per litre.

“Western Canada, sort of, is seeing this being phased in a little slower, and they’ve already started seeing [a rise of] probably about two cents worth.”

B.C. and Alberta already had a carbon tax and their gasoline is refined closer to home, making a difference in when price increases take effect. 

Big demand for diesel

Susan Bell, oil analyst at IHS Markit, expects gas prices to rise by 10 cents from now to the end of summer as a gasoline inventory glut in the market starts to ease, and crude oil prices head higher, in part due to demand for diesel fuel.

The IMO is introducing a sulphur limit rule for 2020, known as IMO 2020, which will decrease the amount of sulphur allowed in the fuel from 3.5 per cent to 0.5 per cent. This will affect large ships that use low grade fuel, which is considered the bottom of the barrel, because of its air-polluting qualities. In order to comply, many ships will likely have to switch to diesel, pushing up demand for heavy crude oil, which is used to make diesel.

“International factors such as the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) global bunker fuel oil specification change will require refiners to increase crude oil runs to meet strong diesel demand,” Bell said. 

“This, along with crude oil supply challenges that result from U.S. sanctions against Iran and Venezuela, will support crude oil price increases. Gasoline prices will respond in kind with the increase in crude oil prices.”

McTeague said a more-than-six-cents-a-litre jump in the price of diesel “will pretty much affect the price of everything.”

“It has direct and indirect costs, and I think it’s the indirect ones that we really haven’t calculated,” McTeague said. “But, I do get nervous when I see that food prices, the basket of goods that make up grocery prices have skyrocketed this year compared to last year, much of it driven by fuel.”

He said many people have already made the switch to smaller cars, but this kind of price rise may necessitate new ways to economize.

“Most people have moved to more efficient vehicles, but is there room for more efficiencies? For sure.”

The price of benchmark U.S. crude oil — West Texas Intermediate (WTI) — has surged nearly 47 per cent since hitting a one-year low in December, now trading around $62 US a barrel. Meanwhile, the price of Western Canadian Select (WCS) has quadrupled — jumping more than 300 per cent to around $54 US — since hitting a yearly low in November. 

Impact of the carbon tax

Meanwhile, analysts are split over how much of an impact the carbon tax on fuel will have on consumers. 

McTeague said those shrugging their shoulders over a five cent increase in gas prices this week need to remember that a 2.5 cent per litre increase annually over the next three years will result in gas prices higher by at least 12.5 cents when all is said and done.

“When there’s a component that pushes prices up that is discretionary such as the carbon tax, which is a policy decision as opposed to an economic factor, it means that price remains permanently cemented in place, and it will continue to build over the years,” McTeague said.

“We’ll have to see how that affects the bottom line — disposable incomes. The concern, of course, is if you’re not spending on gasoline — what other purchases are they foregoing, and in what parts of the economy and how will this cascade through the economy.”

Bell, however, said while higher prices at the pumps will affect the affordability of fuel, the overall impact of the carbon tax is relatively small when compared to the wild swings in the oil market.

With the carbon tax adding 4.4 cents per litre to the price of fuel, that equates to less than $100 per year of increased cost per vehicle (assuming a typical 20,000 km of driving per year at an average 10 litres/100 km fuel economy). 

“On a single [gas] fill of 60 litres, the carbon levy is less than $3. So, the overall impact is relatively small,” Bell said.

“Layering on the 10 cents per litre in expected gasoline price increase that is the result of increased crude oil costs and refining margins results in a more significant hit to the consumer.”

The 10-cents-per-litre increase will cost the consumer an additional $6 per fill-up, or about $200 a year using the same annual assumptions, Bell said. “At this cost increase, some consumers may back away from discretionary gasoline spending.”



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'A full circle since the crash': Families reflect on anniversary of Humboldt Broncos tragedy

‘A full circle since the crash’: Families reflect on anniversary of Humboldt Broncos tragedy


It’s a year in which families say they have lived through difficult firsts.

The first birthday since the crash. A first Thanksgiving. A first Christmas.

Today marks the first anniversary of the April 6, 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash.

Family members of the 29 people involved in the crash and nearly 3,000 members of the public are expected to gather at the Elgar Petersen arena, the heart of hockey in Humboldt, Sask., to mourn together.

“It’s hard for me to believe a year is gone but I also say to so many people, it feels like I’ve lived a lifetime because this past year as we grieve, we are grieving publicly,” said Laurie Thomas, mother of Evan Thomas, one of the  hockey players killed in the collision.

Indeed, it’s a grief that has unfolded at the forefront of public consciousness. Stories about the crash, the recovery of survivors and most recently, the emotionally-charged sentencing for truck driver Jaskirat Singh Sidhu, have dominated national news coverage.

Those daily reminders of the crash have been painful for Marilyn Hay, mother of Tyler Bieber, who said she needs today’s memorial for her healing.

“I miss my son immensely. I can feel him with me. We’ve just got to move on, I’m thinking, after Saturday,” she said.

“To me, it’s coming to the end. It’s a full circle since the crash.”

Marilyn Hay shows a tattoo of her son Tyler Bieber on her left arm. (Bonnie Allen/CBC)

For the family of Logan Boulet, Humboldt is calling them to come from their home in Lethbridge, Alta., to take part in the ceremony.

Logan is our son and we will always be here for him.– Toby Boulet , father of crash victim 

Toby Boulet told CBC News that he and his wife and daughter are drawn to come to any gathering that remembers the 29 people aboard the bus. His son and 15 others passed on, while 13 survived with life-changing physical and mental scars they will live with forever, he said.   

“When the community of Humboldt gathers to remember, then certainly a Boulet will be there,” Toby Boulet wrote in a message to CBC News.

“We cannot expect Humboldt to remember for us. Logan is our son and we will always be here for him.”

Bernadine and Toby Boulet, parents of the late Humboldt Broncos hockey player Logan Boulet, pose at their home in Lethbridge, Alta., on Dec. 6, 2018. (David Rossiter/The Canadian Press)

The game plays on

Thomas has spent the past year sharing photos and stories about her son on Facebook and Twitter, crafting a living reminder that survives beyond his death.

“Photos are such a good memory, but it’s also because I miss him at times, and I’m grieving because my heart is broken, because I physically miss his laughter, I miss his smile, I miss his hug,” she said.

Laurie Thomas (right) said she has to live and fight on, because that’s what her son, Evan Thomas, would want her to do. (Submitted by Laurie Thomas)

Like Hay, Thomas said she hopes the anniversary represents a turning point, where the focus shifts from the tragedy to allowing her to move forward.

“Evan would want that,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard because you don’t want to move forward, you don’t want to get out of bed.”

But life goes on after Humboldt. Thomas said she has a daughter to look after and her son’s legacy to uphold.

And there’s more left in the game to play.

“I can hear Evan go, ‘You’ve got to get up and conquer the world today mom — because that’s what you taught me.'”



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Canada's window to defend the Arctic is closing, MP warns

Canada’s window to defend the Arctic is closing, MP warns


An MP who has been looking into the militarization of the North warns that if Canada doesn’t act now, it could slowly lose its grip on the Arctic.

Liberal John McKaythe Canadian co-chair of the Permanent Joint Board on Defence with the U.S., says he fears Canada isn’t ready to defend its territory as the threat from Russia slowly expands.

“We are not very well prepared,” he said.

Russia already has missile launchers and air defence systems dotted along ice roads at various military outposts in remote areas along its northern coast.

In the last five years, the Kremlin has poured vast resources into revamping Soviet-era bases in the Arctic.

“There is a very dramatic buildup of Russian military capability right across the top end of Russia, starting with Norway, working right across, right through to Alaska,” McKay said Friday in an interview with Chris Hall airing today on CBC Radio’s The House.

Russia isn’t the only country expanding its command of the north as climate change opens access to resources and shipping lanes. The U.S., Canada, Denmark and Norway are all nudging their way into the polar region as well. 

This map shows the locations of Russian military outposts in the far North. (John McKay/Supplied)

However, Russia seems to be moving in quickly. Russian President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his goal to lay claim to a large portion of the Arctic, citing the estimated value of minerals in the north at $30 trillion.

The speed of Russia’s expansion is making other nations nervous.

Last month, the American commander of NORAD called on U.S. and Canadian policy makers to think about whether they’re doing enough to counter Russian threats in the far North.

“We haven’t seen this sort of systematic and methodical increase in threats since the height of the Cold War,” Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy told the group.

Missiles, ships, troops

McKay shares those concerns. “It’s not just simply the presence of significant numbers of troops but it’s also missiles, and ships, and ballistic missiles, and low altitude cruise missiles,” he said.

McKay recently attended a meeting of the joint board where participants discussed the rapid expansion of Russia’s military presence in the region.

McKay said he’s still not convinced the White House understands what’s at stake.

A Russian military Pansyr-S1 air defence system leaves a garage during a military drill. (Vladimir Isachenkov/Associated Press)

“Clearly there is a certain indifference on the part of President (Donald) Trump.”

But McKay said he also wants to see Canada ramp up Arctic defence.

“I would like to see more resources applied to what has become a security issue for us, primarily driven by the fact that climate change has opened up the sea lanes.”

He also cautioned that the government needs to act quickly and decisively, before things get worse.

“I think the window of opportunity is closing quickly. And I’m not sure that many Canadians are actually aware how quickly it is closing.”



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Public Health Agency of Canada says salmonella outbreak hits 6 provinces, dozens sick

Public Health Agency of Canada says salmonella outbreak hits 6 provinces, dozens sick


Health officials are investigating an outbreak of salmonella in six provinces that has sickened 63 people, including 18 who have been hospitalized.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there are laboratory-confirmed cases in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec.

The agency says the source of the bacterial infection has not been identified.

“The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is conducting a food safety investigation,” a government release says. “If contaminated food products are identified, they will take the necessary steps to protect the public, including recalling food products as required.

“Currently there are no food recall warnings associated with this outbreak.”

It says the outbreak appears to be ongoing, as illnesses continue to be reported.

Two deaths have been reported, but the agency says it has not been determined whether salmonella was a contributing cause.

The agency says the people who became ill range in age from one to 87. Individuals became sick between November and March.

The agency said anyone can become sick from salmonella but infants, children, seniors and those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of serious illness.

Salmonella is a common bacteria that causes intestinal illness. Symptoms may include chills, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever, nausea, and vomiting. 

It is usually caused by eating contaminated foods that have not been cooked properly, but can also be spread from one person to another if people don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom.

The breakdown of known cases as of Friday includes 23 people in B.C., ten people each in Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario. There are eight cases in Saskatchewan and two in Quebec.

Deaths reported in Winnipeg

Earlier Friday, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority said two people had died after testing positive for salmonella at a personal care home in the city, but health officials said it has not been confirmed whether the bacterial infection contributed to the deaths.

Three residents of the Golden West Centennial Lodge tested positive last month and two of them later died in hospital. The third person recovered.

Joyce Kristjansson, the care home’s executive director, said staff brought in special measures while the outbreak was investigated. Residents were not allowed to move off their own floors, all group activities were cancelled and extra emphasis was put on hand-washing for people entering and leaving the building.

“What I would stress is that we do have a very frail population here and we did communicate with all of the families when we were first notified,” she said.

Public health inspectors worked with the care home to try to determine how the outbreak began. The investigation included a kitchen inspection, but no signs of contamination were found.

Health officials lifted the measures on Tuesday and the cases were reported to a national intestinal monitoring program and the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.

Three residents of the Golden West Centennial Lodge tested positive last month and two of them later died in hospital. The third person recovered. (CBC)

Food safety expert Rick Holley, professor emeritus in food science at the University of Manitoba, said the rate of hospitalizations due to salmonella in Canada is about 20 cases per 100,0000 people. The federal government estimates there are about 87,500 cases each year.

Most people recover from the infection after about three days of feeling ill.

“But in about 10 per cent of the population — these would be folks that are older or very young, or those that would suffer a health condition that affects the operation of their immune system — there can be very serious effects” including death, he said.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has recalled frozen chicken nuggets three times this year over fears of salmonella contamination.

If people cook their food properly and practice good hygiene, they can usually avoid serious issues with salmonella, Holley said.

“These organisms don’t fool around. They exist to multiply and grow, and they just love to grow at body temperature.”





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Sono Motors Introduces The SION Solar Powered Car

Sono Motors Introduces The SION Solar Powered Car


The fantasy of having the capacity to drive to work in a solar-powered car is at last turning into a reality. Sono Motors simply uncovered the SION solar-powered electric car gives you the ability to travel up to 18 miles utilizing only energy from the sun. Best of all, the SION isn’t only for the whealthy, since it just costs 16,000 Euros (around $18,600) in addition to the cost of the battery, and it is pressed with unbelievable components like built-in moss filtration, bi-directional charging and integrated solar panels.

Sono Motors Sion Solar Powered Car

A year ago, Sono Motors, a German startup raised over $200,000 create the SION. Utilizing 300 photovoltaic panels, the SION can store enough energy from the sun to give you the ability to travel up to 18 miles, however in the event that you have to travel further, the SION can likewise be energized utilizing a standard outlet, similar to a regular electric auto. Depending on the amount you want to spend, you can rent the battery month to month, or buy outright.

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Accused in Toronto van attack faces mounting lawsuits from victims with traumatic injuries

Accused in Toronto van attack faces mounting lawsuits from victims with traumatic injuries


Traumatic brain injuries, spinal fractures and internal bleeding are among the litany of ailments described in a mounting number of lawsuits against a man accused of killing 10 people and injuring 16 others in a van attack in Toronto last year.

Lawyers involved in the suits against Alek Minassian believe the cases, which the court is working to pull together in one large proceeding, will take years to come to a resolution.

On April 23, 2018, police allege Minassian drove a white Ryder rental van south along Yonge Street in the city’s north end, hopped the curb and deliberately mowed people down.

While Minassian’s criminal case slowly makes its way through the system — his trial on 10 first-degree murder charges and 16 attempted murder charges has been scheduled for February 2020 — the 26-year-old already faces four civil suits, with more expected.

The lawsuits, from the families of one person who died and three who were injured, are seeking millions of dollars from Minassian and Ryder Truck Rental Canada, alleging the devastating injuries and deaths on that day were due to an intentional act by Minassian and negligence on his and the rental company’s part.

The unproven civil suits will be fought in the trenches of insurance law.

“This is going to drag on for a long, long time,” said Gus Triantafillopoulos, who represents the family of Anne Marie D’Amico, a young woman who died that day and whose family filed a $1-million suit in January against Minassian and Ryder.

Triantafillopoulos said if the family receives any money through the civil proceedings, it will all be donated to the Anne Marie D’Amico Foundation, which supports women who are victims of violence.

On April 23, 2018, police allege Alek Minassian drove a white Ryder rental van south along Yonge Street in Toronto’s north end, hopped the curb and deliberately mowed people down. Ten people were killed and 16 others were injured. (LinkedIn)

The first suit related to Minassian was filed in November 2018 by Amir Kiumarsi, a chemistry instructor at Ryerson University who is seeking $6 million in damages.

He suffered a traumatic brain injury and several skull fractures, spinal fractures, traumatic internal injuries including a displaced kidney, and numerous other injuries throughout his entire body, the claim says.

“These injuries have been accompanied by severe physical pain, suffering and a loss of enjoyment of life,” the claim alleges, noting that his future holds “numerous surgical and medical assessments, treatments and procedures.”

Since Kiumarsi filed his suit, the court is in the process of getting all the cases on one track, documents show.

Another suit was filed in mid-January by Amaresh Tesfamariam and her family, who are seeking $14 million. Tesfamariam has a complete spinal cord injury, multiple spinal fractures, rib fractures and a traumatic brain injury.

She cannot move her body below her neck, cannot breathe without a machine, suffers a total loss of independence and a “profound and permanent loss of her cognitive ability,” according to the claim.

Tesfamariam also has short-term memory loss, depression, anxiety, a “drastic personality change,” cannot communicate properly with others, and cannot return to her work as a nurse, the claim alleges.

Latest suit filed last week

The latest suit, filed last week by Catherine Riddell and her family, alleges the “sustained serious and permanent” injuries the woman suffered are the result of negligence on the part of Minassian and the rental company.

Riddell lost consciousness, suffered a brain injury, hurt her head, neck, shoulders, arms, back, legs and arms. She fractured her spine, ribs, pelvis, scapula, and suffered internal injuries including a collapsed lung, the $3.55-million suit alleges.

She lives with headaches, memory loss, difficulty finding words, dizziness, back and neck pain, loss of mobility, nausea, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and depression, her claim alleges, noting that she now faces a life of therapy, rehabilitation and medical treatment.

“Her enjoyment of life has been permanently lessened, and she has been forced to forgo numerous activities in which she formerly participated,” the claim reads.

Minassian does not yet have legal representation in the civil matters and has not responded to the claims, according to the documents. His criminal lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawyers for Ryder, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, detailed the expected complexities in the litigation in an affadavit filed with the court.

It notes that notice has been given for 12 claims and more are expected. There will be numerous parties in the case, from families of the dead to the injured and the various defendants. There will be examinations for all plaintiffs, and testimony is expected from numerous medical experts.

“It would be safe to assume this matter will require a lengthy trial,” said the affidavit.

Kiumarsi’s lawyer, Darcy Merkur, said there will be a slew of arguments brought forward.

“One interesting question is this: Is every different person hurt considered a separate accident?” Merkur said. “It’s a legal question, but also a philosophical one.”

The answer to that question will be important for potential payments, he said.



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Petal peddlers from across the world bring exotic beauties to St. Albert orchid show

Petal peddlers from across the world bring exotic beauties to St. Albert orchid show


Among the hundreds of orchids on display in St. Albert at the 42nd Annual Orchid Fair this weekend, it takes a special kind of flower to stand out.

“Something may have tiny little flowers in the same category as something with great big flowers,” orchid judge Sandy Bedford told CBC’s Radio Active on Friday, as she sized up the competition.

“But they both have different potential so it’s a matter of who is living up to their potential.”

This is the largest American Orchid Society judged show in Canada.

Judges train for seven years to meet the international standards for evaluating these flowers. 

For many orchids sellers, they’ve learned the trade over generations. 

Ivan Portilla came to Edmonton from Ecuador for the event. His family owns Ecuagenera, a family-run orchid company that was founded in the 1950s.

Ecuador is home to 4,500 native orchid species, giving his orchids an advantage when it comes attracting buyers.

“People find it interesting growing the Dracula, or monkey-face, orchid,” he said.

Dracula — or, if you want to get fancy, one of the Pleurothallidinae subtribe of orchids — grow in South and Central American forests. The species, known for its flower centre that eerily resembles the image of a monkey’s face, is just one variety of rare orchids that Portilla’s company sells at fairs around the world.

The Dracula Transilvania orchid which grows in Ecuador is known for its monkey face appearance. (Ecuagenera website)

The company travels to 72 different orchid shows every year, he said.

“I do about 24, in the U.S., Canada and Guatemala, some in Europe,” he said. The work is spread out among brothers, nephews and other members of his family. 

This weekend, for example, Portilla and his family are attending five orchid shows: in addition to the one in Alberta, there are shows in Houston, Pennsylvania, Nashville and the last sibling is in Europe.

Shui-En Kao has been selling orchids since the 1970s and he said travel is part of life on the orchid circuit.

He ships the delicate flowers from Taiwan to Vancouver each year, then sends them on flights from fair to fair in Canada for his operation, Ching Hua.

“One year we came to Canada five or six times for orchid shows,” he said.

“Me and my son are always travelling. Last week Montreal and right now here in Edmonton.”

The orchid show runs through Sunday at the Enjoy Centre.



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Keystone XL pipeline opponents ask U.S. judge to strike down Trump's permit

Keystone XL pipeline opponents ask U.S. judge to strike down Trump’s permit


Opponents of the long-stalled Keystone XL oil pipeline asked a U.S. federal court Friday in a lawsuit to declare President Donald Trump acted illegally when he issued a new permit for the project in a bid to get around an earlier court ruling.

In November, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris ruled that the Trump administration did not fully consider potential oil spills and other impacts when it approved the pipeline in 2017.

TransCanada disputes that, saying Keystone XL has been studied more than any other pipeline in history. “The environmental reviews are clear: the project can be built and operated in an environmentally sustainable and responsible way,” said Russ Girling, TransCanada’s president and CEO.

Trump’s new permit, issued last week, is intended to circumvent that ruling and kick-start the proposal to ship crude oil from the oilsands of western Canada to U.S. refineries.

White House officials have said the presidential permit is immune from court review. But legal experts say that’s an open question, and that the case could further test the limits of Trump’s use of presidential power to get his way.

Unlike previous orders from Trump involving immigration and other matters, his action on Keystone XL came after a court already had weighed in and blocked the administration’s plans.

“This is somewhat dumbfounding, the idea that a president would claim he can just say, ‘Never mind, I unilaterally call a do-over,”‘ said William Buzbee, a constitutional scholar and professor at Georgetown University Law Center.

The pipeline proposed by Calgary-based TransCanada has become a flashpoint in the debate over fossil fuel use and climate change.

Calgary-based TransCanada says Trump’s order ‘clarifies the national importance of Keystone XL.’ (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

Opponents say burning crude from the oilsands of Western Canada would make climate change worse. The $8 billion project’s supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and could be operated safely.

The line would carry up to 830,000 barrels (about 132 million litres) of crude daily along a 1,900-kilometre path from Canada to Nebraska.

Trump trying to ‘evade rule of law’: environmental groups

Stephan Volker, a lawyer for the environmental groups that filed Friday’s lawsuit, said Trump was trying to “evade the rule of law” with the new permit.

“We have confidence that the federal courts — long the protectors of our civil liberties — will once again rise to the challenge and enforce the Constitution and the laws of this land,” Volker said.

The pipeline, first proposed in 2008, would begin in Alberta and go to Nebraska, where it would join with an existing pipeline to shuttle more than 800,000 barrels a day of crude to terminals on the U.S. Gulf Coast. (Nati Harnik/Canadian Press)

The pipeline’s route passes through the ancestral homelands of the Rosebud Sioux in central South Dakota and the Gros Ventre and Assiniboine in Montana. Earlier this week, a court granted the tribes’ request to intervene in an appeal of Morris’s November ruling that was filed by TransCanada. That case is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Tribal officials contend a spill from the line could damage a South Dakota water supply system that serves more than 51,000 people including on the Rosebud, Pine Ridge and Lower Brule Reservations.

An existing TransCanada pipeline, also called Keystone, suffered a 2017 spill that released almost 10,000 barrels of oil near Amherst, S.D.



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