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Month: April 2019 Page 7 of 12

Calgary teacher who preyed on dozens of underage girls pleads guilty to 17 sex offences

Calgary teacher who preyed on dozens of underage girls pleads guilty to 17 sex offences

Former Calgary teacher Christian Sarile has pleaded guilty to 17 charges involving dozens of child victims over an eight-year period. 

The sexual predator admitted to targeting girls as young as 12 whom he would pay to perform sexual acts. At the time of his first arrest, in May 2017, Sarile was a Grade 6 teacher and also taught music. 

The Calgary police investigation dubbed Operation Choir found Sarile would pay the underage girls in money, drugs, alcohol and vaporizers in exchange for sex and nude photos.

On Thursday, Court of Queen’s Bench Earl Wilson accepted the plea negotiated between prosecutors Martha O’Connor and Aurelie Beland and defence lawyer Yoav Niv.

He pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault, paying minors for sexual services, sexual extortion, luring and making child pornography.

A 78-page agreed statement of facts was read aloud by the two prosecutors, giving the disturbing details of each of Sarile’s crimes involving every victim.  

Threats and bribes

In several cases, Sarile targeted girls who were particularly vulnerable — one teen was drunk, another told Sarile she was cutting herself. He even targeted children who attended the schools where he worked. 

Sarile sent tens of thousands of messages to his victims over various social media sites like Snapchat, Instagram and AskFM.

When the girls stopped sending him sexual photos, Sarile threatened to send the nude images to their friends and families. 

In the summer of 2016, Sarile met one of his victims, whom he began paying for oral sex. She was 14 at the time; he was 26 years old. 

The girl had two friends who were 13 and 14 and both of those girls also began sexual relationships with Sarile, who was lying about his identity and age. 

On one occasion, Sarile made the girls wear blindfolds while they took turns giving him oral sex in the back of his father’s van. He made a video of the encounter, which was later recovered by police. 

In several cases, while pretending to be someone else, Sarile would contact his victims and threaten them if they did not perform sexual acts. Out of fear he would release their nude photos, some of the teens complied and had sexual contact with Sarile.

Taking advantage

After Sarile was arrested on May 2, 2017, he admitted he knew the girls he’d had contact with were underage and that he’d been taking advantage of them. He said he knew what he’d done was wrong. 

Calgary police were concerned about the possibility of more victims so a press release was sent out on May 3, 2017. Investigators were contacted by 30 people. 

He was released on bail but Sarile continued to prey on underage girls.

On Dec. 5, 2017, while under police surveillance, Sarile was observed picking up a 14-year-old at a Calgary junior high school. He drove to an LRT parking lot where she performed oral sex on Sarile before she got out of the car and he drove away.

Police accelerated their planned arrest of Sarile to Dec. 7, 2017. He has been in custody ever since.

A sentencing hearing will take place later this year. 

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SNC-Lavalin insider's bribery allegations spark probe by Crown agency that loaned the firm billions

SNC-Lavalin insider’s bribery allegations spark probe by Crown agency that loaned the firm billions

Export Development Canada has hired outside legal counsel to review some of its dealings with SNC-Lavalin. The review comes after a company insider told CBC News the engineering giant secured billions in loans from the Crown agency over the years, some of which he alleges was intended to pay bribes.

If true, it could mean taxpayers have unwittingly backed illegal payments.

Export Development Canada is a federal agency that provides financing and insurance to Canadian businesses operating abroad.

The insider, who worked on several large projects funded by EDC, claims it was an “open secret” within SNC-Lavalin that “technical fees” listed in budget proposals included cash to be used as bribes to secure international contracts.

Those line items could total millions of dollars. The insider says EDC’s internal due diligence policies should have detected something was going on.

He says “technical fees” were part of a larger “lexicon of bribes” used within SNC-Lavalin.

EDC has denied knowledge of any improper payments, but last Friday said it is taking a closer look at a 2011 deal with SNC-Lavalin involving a $250-million project to refurbish the Matala hydroelectric dam in Angola. EDC provided the Quebec-based company with “political risk insurance” for the project.

“We would never, under any circumstances, knowingly participate in a transaction tainted by bribery or corruption,” David Bhamjee, EDC’s vice-president of corporate communications, wrote in an email.

“This behaviour goes against EDC’s core values and deep-rooted culture of business integrity.”

The SNC-Lavalin insider’s allegations come as a political storm rages over accusations Prime Minister Justin Trudeau replaced his attorney general for refusing to intervene and spare the company a criminal prosecution on fraud and corruption charges.

CBC News has agreed not to identify the insider because he fears losing his job.

He says EDC support was vital for the success of construction projects in underdeveloped parts of the world known for corruption. The projects included airports, power plants and dams, and the EDC loans to SNC-Lavalin ranged from a few million dollars to upward of $500 million.

The insider alleges that, prior to 2012 — when the head of SNC-Lavalin’s construction division was arrested in Switzerland for bribery in Libya — EDC was funding numerous projects that featured “slush funds.”

Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould, appearing at the Commons justice committee on Feb. 27, says she resisted pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene in the fraud and corruption case against SNC-Lavalin and spare the Quebec-based engineering firm a potentially damaging prosecution. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

He says the problems with the technical fees should have been caught by EDC auditors for two reasons. First, he says, they were listed as Canadian expenses, but a portion flowed to consultants or “agents” on the ground in foreign countries to help the company win contracts.

The second red flag, he says, should have been the sheer size of the technical fees, which could total as much as 10 per cent of a project’s overall budget.

“That’s a lot of steak dinners,” the source quipped.

In 2013, CBC News and the Globe and Mail exposed a similar scheme inside SNC-Lavalin. Some budgets included items called “project consultancy costs” or “PCCs.” The code was used to mask secret payments for projects in Africa, India, Cambodia and Kazakhstan.

SNC-Lavalin admitted to CBC News those PCC payments were “improper,” and in 2015, paid a $1.5-million penalty to resolve allegations it bribed public officials to win road projects in Uganda and Mozambique that were funded by the African Development Bank.

None of the projects tied to PCC payments was funded by EDC.

Angola dam project under review

EDC insists that if it learns its funding is being used for bribes or corruption, it cancels the deal.

The Angola dam project first came under scrutiny in 2013, when an SNC-Lavalin employee fired from the job filed a lawsuit claiming the company had covertly paid a 10 per cent commission to win the contract.

SNC-Lavalin settled the suit out of court. It is unclear what steps, if any, EDC took to examine the deal at the time.

The insider recalls there was tension within SNC-Lavalin because numerous bribery scandals involving the company had made headlines.

“There was a lot of breath-holding,” he said. “Some of the projects that were investigated … were projects overseas that were financed by EDC.

“If it had been [exposed publicly], at that time, that a bribe had been paid, EDC would have been obliged never to allow SNC-Lavalin to have access to export credit funds.”

Export Development Canada, the country’s export credit agency, has loaned SNC-Lavalin billions of dollars since the mid-1990s. (CBC)

EDC announced last week it will now review its role in the Angola project, after receiving questions from CBC News. The agency says based on that review, it could expand its probe to look at other past agreements with SNC-Lavalin.

In the past, SNC-Lavalin has blamed rogue employees for problems with the Angola project. This week, the company declined to answer a list of questions about its use of technical fees on other EDC-backed projects.

‘Increasingly concerned’

EDC says it conducts due diligence and that “technical fees and agent fees are common and legitimate operational expenses.”

“We also appreciate that they can be used as one of many mechanisms to hide illegal or improper payments,” Bhamjee wrote. “Those who want to conceal payments take great pains to do so, making these payments extremely difficult to uncover.”

However, EDC says it did not begin scrutinizing these types of fees until 2006, when the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development issued a warning about their potential abuse.

“We remain confident that the processes we undertook throughout our financing history with the company were sound and adhered to best practices of the day,” wrote EDC spokesperson Jessica Draker.

Over the past 25 years, EDC has provided as much as $4.7 billion in loans to SNC-Lavalin for ventures in Europe, Africa and Latin America, making the company one of the largest recipients of taxpayer-backed loans.

EDC concedes it was slow to suspend funding for new SNC-Lavalin projects, which it did from late 2014 until 2017, as the company faced multiple scandals.

The World Bank sounded an alarm in 2012 over allegations SNC-Lavalin tried to bribe officials in Bangladesh. It has banned the company from bidding on World Bank projects until 2023.

“In the years leading up to our suspension, we became increasingly concerned about the myriad allegations facing the company,” said EDC’s David Bhamjee, noting EDC did beef up monitoring of SNC-Lavalin deals.

“We could have — and perhaps should have — suspended business earlier,” he said.

EDC only resumed doing business with SNC-Lavalin in 2017, after the company overhauled its internal accounting and whistleblower policies, he said.

‘Black box’

The head of Toronto-based watchdog group Probe International says if there’s any truth to the allegations EDC money was used for bribes, it implicates all Canadians.

“[EDC] operates on the Queen’s credit card,” said Patricia Adams. “That means that it operates on our credit cards.”

According to EDC’s website the Crown agency operates at arm’s length from government and is “self-financing.”

However, Adams says all of its debts and liabilities are backed by the government.

“It doesn’t exist but for the Canadian taxpayer.”

Adams says the public has very little idea of how the Crown agency operates.

“[It] is a secretive institution that sets its own rules and standards and regulates itself, with little public oversight,” she said.

“They’re a black box.”

Patricia Adams of the watchdog group Probe International says Canadians need to know more about how EDC operates. (Rachel Houlihan/CBC)

One EDC-backed SNC-Lavalin project is currently under investigation by the RCMP.

The case dates back to the early 2000s. RCMP investigators believe SNC-Lavalin funnelled $2.3 million from a contract to build an airport hangar in Algeria to pay bribes in Canada, according to a search warrant issued last year.

Michel Fournier, the former head of Canada’s Federal Bridge Corporation, which maintains several of the country’s largest overpasses, has already pleaded guilty to accepting the money in exchange for helping SNC-Lavalin win a $127-million contract to refurbish Montreal’s Jacques Cartier Bridge.

When asked about the ongoing RCMP probe, SNC-Lavalin replied: “No comment.”

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Spearfishing Montrealer aims to equip world with eco-kits to combat plastic plague

Spearfishing Montrealer aims to equip world with eco-kits to combat plastic plague

About four years ago, a young Montrealer headed down to Costa Rica for a little sightseeing adventure with friends and quickly fell in love with the rainforests, beaches and way of life in Central America.

Though she only had a couple of hundred dollars to her name, Charlie Wade, now 25, decided to stay and learn how to live off the land, spear fish, speak Spanish and open coconuts with a machete.

Soon, other travellers were asking her to show them her ways and her first company, Sundara Tours, was born.

She guides ecotourists to off-the-beaten-path, secret locations where she teaches them how to camp, spear fish, surf, recognize edible plants and climb tropical trees — something Wade never saw herself doing while growing up in Canada.

Though she was a competitive swimmer in her teens, she always had a fear of the ocean.

Now she spends nearly every waking minute in it — but it breaks her heart to see the amount of plastic that plagues the very waters she’s come to love. 

“Plastic is a disease,” she said. “I see it everywhere now.”

‘When it comes to the people who are trying to embark on this zero-waste journey, I want them to feel empowered in their ability to make a difference in this world,’ says Charlie Wade. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

Wade sees it in the innards of fish she cleans. She sees it in the husks of dead birds decomposing on the shore. She sees it in the sand, rivers, jungles and reefs.

Sickened by the sights and realizing she herself was guilty of using takeout containers and single-use bags all too often, she decided to do something about it by creating compact, portable kits that are loaded with bamboo cutlery, collapsible bento boxes, beeswax food wraps, plant-fiber napkins, cloth sacks, borosilicate glass straws and more.

The kits also include a large, sturdy grocery bag made of recycled plastic that has been pulled from the sea.

“I want people to feel like they are their own hero, in their own life and for this larger organism that we are all apart of,” she said.

Wade, smiling brightly, described the kits she designed as “clown cars” because they carry so many different tools that people can use in place of plastic products. All the tools come in a neatly organized hemp-fabric case that zips up for easy portability.

Charlie Wade explains how she came up with the idea for her eco-kits. 0:57

If enough people are equipped with the kits, she hopes it will help stem the tide of plastic that has become an environmental catastrophe in many parts of the world.

Her aim is to work with companies, Canadian companies whenever possible, that employ environmentally sustainable harvesting and manufacturing practices.

She’s spent months doing research, ensuring no producer she partners with is “greenwashing” the public in an effort to profit off the growing movement toward greener lifestyles.

The bamboo cutlery she imports from Thailand comes from sustainable farms, though she admits she has had to do a bit of quality control herself, hand-sanding some rough spots on the thousands of custom-stamped forks, knives and spoons.

Montrealer Charlie Wade has been busy with the sandpaper, ensuring each sustainably harvested bamboo cutlery set she sends out is perfect. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

She calls her company Keep Gaia Wild, named after what, in Greek mythology, is the mother of all life — the primal Mother Earth.

New company supported by parents, crowdfunding

Wade got the project off the ground with the help of her parents who, still living in Montreal, have been supporting her venture that launched a successful Kickstarter campaign back in December.

She raised more than $20,000 in about a month and has been hard at work since.

Soon she’ll be sending out the kits, which start at about $50, to all who supported the crowdfunding campaign and she’ll begin stocking some beach-side boutiques in Costa Rica.

She hired her mother and her mother’s wife, who own a web design company together, to help get her website up so people can order the kits online. Wade’s father has been backing her efforts as well, providing the extra support she needs to lift the budding business off the ground.

Keep Gaia Wild kits include glass straws, bamboo cutlery, a plant-fibre napkin, a beeswax wrap and more. Ali, Charlie Wade’s loyal companion, keeps guard in the background. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

“A business venture is cool, but there’s a mission in mind here,” said Wade. “Is it going to solve the world’s problems? No. It won’t. But I think it’s a good step in the right direction.”

Empowering individuals to make a difference

Wade said she wants to empower individuals to make a difference — to give people everything they need to stop using plastic — plastic, she said, that always seems to make its way into the ocean no matter where it’s disposed of.

“People are overwhelmed. They don’t know where to start, but they know it’s an issue,” she said. “At least if these kits get out there, people can feel good about their step forward.”

She wants to bring the world back to her grandmother’s youth when plastic wasn’t encasing or wrapped around everything people bought, she said.

“The issue right now is our over-consumption of plastic.”

With these kits, she said, “people can actually make a difference.”

As much as she’d like to, Charlie Wade doesn’t spend all her time in the water. Recently, she visited Montreal to plug away at her website and put kits together. (Isaac Olson/CBC)

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Ontario can't block B.C.-based eyeglass company from selling there, Appeal Court rules

Ontario can’t block B.C.-based eyeglass company from selling there, Appeal Court rules

Ontario regulators have no right to block a company legally operating elsewhere in Canada from selling prescription eyewear to online customers in the province, an Appeal Court ruled on Thursday.

The decision means Ontario consumers can continue to order corrective glasses and contact lenses from British Columbia-based online retailer Essilor, which sells Coastal and Clearly products.

“The mere delivery in Ontario of an order for prescription eyewear that has been processed in compliance with the British Columbia regulatory regime, without more, does not establish a sufficient connection between Essilor’s online sales and the controlled acts proscribed by (Ontario’s laws),” the Appeal Court ruled.

“Where the supplier of the prescription eyewear operates in another province and complies with that province’s health-professions regulatory regime when filling an online order placed by an Ontario customer, the final act of delivering that product to the Ontario purchaser does not amount to the performance of a ‘controlled act’ by the supplier.”

The case arose in December 2016 when regulators in Ontario — the colleges of Optometrists and Opticians — alleged Essilor was acting illegally by accepting orders for prescription eyewear through its websites and shipping the products to patients in Ontario. It wanted the courts to end the practice.

In essence, the colleges argued only licensed professionals in Ontario could dispense prescription eyewear in the province. The colleges offered no evidence anyone was actually harmed by Essilor’s practices.

In January 2018, Superior Court Justice Thomas Lederer sided with the colleges. He ruled the company was dispensing corrective eyewear in Ontario and concluded the province’s rules should apply. Lederer ordered Essilor to stop the sales.

Essilor Group Canada, whose head office is in Quebec but runs its online operation out of B.C., appealed, also winning permission to continue its sales pending the outcome of the case. It argued that fulfilling Ontario orders did not amount to the controlled act of dispensing prescription eyewear.

The subsidiary of France-based international eyewear giant, Essilor International, also argued Lederer wrongly decided that Ontario’s regulations applied to its online sales.

According to court filings, the Canadian prescription eyewear market is estimated to be worth more than $4.5 billion a year. The Appeal Court noted that eyewear is part of a trend toward online retail sales.

“The explosion in the volume and variety of online consumer transactions over the past decade has included the emergence of an online market for the purchase and sale of prescription eye glasses and contact lenses,” the court said. “In some jurisdictions, friction has emerged between the online vendors of such products and the professional health-care bodies that historically have regulated the sale.”

In siding with Essilor, the appellate court found the company was acting lawfully in its home province, which has a similar regulatory framework to Ontario. Nor was it “dispensing” eyewear in Canada’s most populous province by fulfilling orders in B.C. and shipping them across the country.

Leaning on Quebec case law, the court also noted that providing prescription eyewear is a transaction with both health care and commercial aspects.

Barring the online sales would amount to using Ontario’s Regulated Health Professions Act to give the province’s optometrists and opticians a monopoly over the commercial importation of prescription eyewear.

That could only happen if the legislature passed a law to clearly allow such a monopoly — something current regulations do not do, the court said.

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Canada urges Brunei to drop new laws punishing adultery, gay sex with death by stoning

Canada urges Brunei to drop new laws punishing adultery, gay sex with death by stoning

Canada is urging Brunei to suspend “inhumane” new laws that punish gay sex and adultery with death by stoning.

A statement from Global Affairs said Canada has raised its human rights concerns directly with the country.

“Canada is appalled by Brunei’s imposition of severe punishments under its new Sharia penal code, which include corporal punishment and the death penalty,” reads a statement from Global Affairs Canada.

“We have raised our concerns directly with Brunei and we urge Brunei to suspend the implementation of its new penal code and to make changes to ensure that it is consistent with international human rights obligations.”

Travel risks

The government also has updated its travel advisory, warning that gay sex can lead to a death sentence in Brunei.

“LGBTQ2 travellers should carefully consider the risks of travelling to Brunei,” it reads, warning that the Shariah penal code applies regardless of a person’s religion or nationality.

NDP MP Randall Garrison issued a statement criticizing the new laws that took effect in the tiny southeast Asian country Wednesday.

“These actions further marginalize the LGBT community, making violence and death the reality for people living in Brunei,” he said. “Canada must stand with the United Nations and the many other countries around the world who have condemned this legislation and echo that this is a serious setback for human rights.”

Garrison said Canada also should create an “immediate path to safety” for LGBT people in Brunei whose lives are in danger.

Conservatives said Canada should take strong diplomatic steps to show its disdain for Brunei’s persecution of LGBT people.

“The new laws in Brunei — particularly those targeting the #LGBTQ community — must be condemned,” Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole tweeted. “We stand ready to support the government in this effort and suggest the High Commissioner be summoned to make Canada’s position clear.”

The harsh new penalties are part of Brunei’s Shariah Penal Code, which also includes fines and jail terms for pregnancy outside of marriage and failing to pray on Fridays. Brunei’s leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, brought in the code in 2014 to boost the influence of Islam in the small, oil-rich monarchy on the island of Borneo.

Before 2014, someone convicted of homosexuality faced a prison term of up to 10 years. Under the new laws, which also apply to minors and foreigners, those found guilty of gay sex or adultery could be stoned to death or whipped.

Those found guilty of theft face amputation of a right hand for a first offence and a left foot for a second offence.

The new Islamic laws have sparked outrage from the United Nations, human rights groups and celebrities such as George Clooney, Elton John and Ellen Degeneres.

Clooney is pushing for a boycott of nine hotels in the U.S. and Europe with ties to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

Actor George Clooney is condemning new laws in Brunei that impose the death penalty for gay sex and adultery. (Willy Sanjuan/Invision/Associated Press)

Some LGBT advocates say they fear the crackdown could spread into the neighbouring countries of Indonesia and Malaysia.

‘Heinous’ and ‘unspeakably cruel’

Amnesty International Canada has called the penal code punishments “heinous” and “unspeakably cruel.”

“We hope that Canada is engaging with its partners in the Equal Rights Coalition, and other like-minded states, to explore all possible avenues to publicly and privately condemn Brunei’s new penal code punishments in the strongest possible terms,” said Amnesty’s gender rights campaigner Jackie Hansen in an email to CBC.

Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, said there are no special programs planned at the moment to help people fleeing persecution in Brunei.

“We work closely with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the selection of refugees to be resettled in Canada, which ensures that cases are properly reviewed and that applicants are being resettled in the country that best suits their circumstances,” he said.

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Paleontologists discover Arctic's 1st-ever lambeosaur fossil in Alaska

Paleontologists discover Arctic’s 1st-ever lambeosaur fossil in Alaska

Paleontologists have discovered the remains of the Arctic’s first-ever lambeosaur — a crested, duck-billed dinosaur — in Alaska’s North Slope.

Based on this new finding, scientists say the lambeosaur roamed the Arctic about 70 million years ago during the late Cretaceous Period, according to a new study published Friday in the journal Scientific Reports.

Paleontologists found the fossil in 2014 while excavating along the Colville River in Alaska, on the Liscomb Bonebed — bluffs along the river known to be rich in other dinosaur fossils.

Anthony Fiorillo, whose team has worked in the area for the past two decades, says it mainly produced fossils of flat-headed hadrosaurs — large, duck-billed, herbivores — like the Edmontosaurus. 

Perot Museum of Nature and Science field party excavating dinosaur bones at the Liscomb Bonebed near the Colville River in Alaska’s North Slope. (Submitted by Anthony Fiorillo)

“That is hands down the most commonly found dinosaur on the North Slope,” said Fiorillo, the chief curator and vice president of research and collections at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Texas.

So when his team examined a strange piece of a fossilized skull in the lab, Fiorillo said he wondered if it belonged to a species of predatory dinosaurs called theropods.

He came into my office one day and said ‘This is something different.’– Anthony Fiorillo , Perot Museum of Nature and Science

It turned out it wasn’t, so Fiorillo said he “catalogued it, put it in a drawer and forgot about it.”

Ryuji Takasaki of Hokkaido University looking for dinosaurs in northern Alaska. Takasaki noticed the particular dinosaur skull fragment at the Perot museum, which later sparked the discovery of the Arctic’s first lambeosaur. (Submitted by Anthony Fiorillo)

It wasn’t until a grad student from Japan’s Hokkaido University, Ryuji Takasaki, came to study the Perot museum’s dinosaur collection, that scientists put two and two together.

“This guy probably looked at more Edmontosaurus bones than anyone else on the planet,” said Fiorillo. “He came into my office one day and said, ‘This is something different.'”

They recorded the Arctic’s first definite lambeosaurine fossil.

“That’s cool,” was Fiorillo’s reaction to the discovery. 

“So exciting,” said Takasaki.

‘Cows of the Cretaceous’

Duck-billed dinosaurs are so common throughout western North America, that they’re often called “the cows of the Cretaceous,” said Fiorillo.

There are two main categories of the group — flat headed or crested. 

Fiorillo said the lambeosaur had a bony growth on the top of its head, and may have used it to communicate using sound amplification.

Dinosaur fossil-bearing rocks along the Colville River in Alaska. Though lambeosaurs were commonly found in the Alberta area, Fiorillo says he doesn’t think that particular group of dinosaurs migrated North. (Submitted by Anthony Fiorillo)

“Based on the one fossil that we have, we would speculate [the lambeosaur] is actually a very uncommon part of the the landscape.” 

Fiorillo said it’s possible that the lambeosaurs could have lived in better-drained, more upland areas of Alaska, where horned dinosaurs were prevalent — but more exploration of that area needs to be done to prove this.

And though lambeosaurs were commonly found in the Alberta area, Fiorillo said he doesn’t think that particular group of dinosaurs migrated North. 

Fiorillo said this discovery may help scientists understand the connection between the duck-billed dinosaurs of Asia and North America.

“It’s a piece that connects lambeosaurines of North America and Asia through Beringia,” Takasaki said in an email.

“Discovery of more materials in the future is expected to reveal if the Alaskan lambeosaurine is closely related to the North American or Asian taxonomy.” 

‘Ah at last!’ moment after hearing legends

Fiorillo said it was “particularly frustrating over the years” because he’s only heard of legends and rumours of crested, duck-billed dinosaurs from the Arctic. 

“It’s like, ‘Ah at last! We finally know for sure, the legend is true.'”

From left to right, Paul McCarthy of University of Alaska, Anthony R. Fiorillo of Perot Museum of Nature and Science, and Yoshitsugu Kobayashi of Hokkaido University in Alaska. (Submitted by Anthony Fiorillo)

Fiorillo says he’s also been hoping to find an Indigenous story that helps him better understand his studies in the North Slope.

Though he’s had several conversations with people from Indigenous communities in northern Alaska, the stories tend to focus on ice-age mammals, he said.

“I have not yet found an Indigenous story that connects that culture to these dinosaurs,” said Fiorillo.

Fiorillo says the significance in finding this unique dinosaur fossil increases people’s understanding of Arctic biodiversity.

“Even in an ancient Arctic, it was a very rich environment capable of animals that thrived in it,” he said, adding that the Arctic was much warmer during that period.

“Studying this ecosystem and understanding how it works, may help inform what a [modern] warming Arctic may look like.”

Fiorillo said the next step is to get back out in the field and hopefully discover more fossilized lambeosaurs.

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Russia revamps Arctic military base to stake claim on region

Russia revamps Arctic military base to stake claim on region

Missile launchers ply icy roads and air defence systems point menacingly into the sky at this Arctic military outpost, a key vantage point for Russia to project its power over the resource-rich polar region.

The base, dubbed Severny Klever (Northern Clover) for its trefoil shape, is painted in the white, blue and red colours of the Russian national flag. It has been designed so soldiers can reach all of its sprawling facilities without venturing outdoors — a useful precaution in an area where temperatures often plunge to minus 50 Celsius during the winter, and even in the short Arctic summer are often freezing at night.

It’s strategically located on Kotelny Island, between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on the Arctic shipping route, and permanently houses up to 250 military personnel responsible for maintaining air and sea surveillance facilities and coastal defences like anti-ship missiles.

In this photo taken on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, Russian military’s Bastion missile launchers are seen moving toward the Severny Klever (Northern Clover) Russian military base. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

The Russian base has enough supplies to remain fully autonomous for more than a year.

“Our task is to monitor the airspace and the northern sea route,” said base commander Lt. Col. Vladimir Pasechnik. “We have all we need for our service and comfortable living.”

Russia is not alone in trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, as shrinking polar ice opens fresh opportunities for resource exploration and new shipping lanes. The United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway are jostling for position, as well, and China also has shown an increasing interest in the polar region.

But while U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has seen the Arctic through the lens of security and economic competition with Russia and China, it has yet to demonstrate that the region is a significant priority in its overall foreign policy. The post of special U.S. representative for the Arctic has remained vacant since Trump assumed office.

Russia, however, has made reaffirming its presence in the Arctic a top goal, not the least because the region is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion.

Russian troops conduct training with a Bastion missile launcher. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

Neighbours worried

The move has alarmed Russia’s neighbours, analysts say.

“In Russia, the Northern sea route has been described as a bonanza with lots of potential of economic development,” said Flemming Splidsboel Hansen of the Danish Institute for International Studies. “And that’s why there is a need for military capacity in the area. It is likely meant as defensive, but it is being interpreted by the West as offensive.”

Kristian Soeby Kristensen, a researcher at Copenhagen University in Denmark, said the problem of Russian hegemony in the Arctic was most obvious to Norway.

“Norway is a small country, whose next-door neighbour is mighty Russia, which has placed the bulk of its military capacity right next to them,” Soeby Kristensen said. “Norway is extraordinarily worried.”

Russian solders stand as Pansyr-S1 air defense system is seen in the background on the Kotelny Island. Russia has made reaffirming its military presence in the Arctic the top priority amid an intensifying international rivalry over the region that is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

In 2015, Russia submitted to the United Nations a revised bid for vast territories in the Arctic. It claimed 1.2 million square kilometres of Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 650 kilometres from the shore.

As part of a multi-pronged effort to stake Russia’s claims on the Arctic region, the Kremlin has poured massive resources into modernizing Soviet-era installations there.

The military outpost on Kotelny Island fell into neglect after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but a massive effort to build a new base began in 2014 and took several years.

A Russian military’s Pansyr-S1 air defense system leaves a garage during a military drill. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

Rare look at expansion

A group of reporters brought to the island by the Russian Defence Ministry on Wednesday were shown Bastion anti-ship missile launchers positioned for a drill near the shore and Pantsyr-S1 air defence systems firing shots at a practice target.

The Russian military has kept Western media from visiting its Arctic facilities, so the trip offered a unique opportunity to watch the Russian expansion up close.

This photo shows a radar facility on Kotelny Island. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

A big radar dome looms on a hill overlooking the coast, underlining the base’s main mission of monitoring the strategic area.

In contrast with drab, Soviet-era facilities, the pristine new base features spacious living quarters, a gym and a sauna. Putin’s words about the importance of the Arctic for Russia dot the base’s walls and a symbolic border post sits in a hallway.

Soldiers at the base say they are proud of their mission despite the challenging Arctic environment.

“Proving to myself that I can do it raises my self-esteem,” said one of the soldiers, Sergei Belogov. “Weather is our enemy here, so we need to protect ourselves from it to serve the Motherland.”

Extreme cold and fierce winds often make it hard to venture outside, and even winterized vehicles may have trouble operating when temperatures plunge to extreme lows and even special lubricants freeze.

A Russian military snowmobile moves on Kotelny Island. Missile launchers ply icy roads and air defense systems point menacingly into the sky at this Arctic military outpost, a key vantage point for Russia to project power to the resource-rich polar region. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in December that the military has rebuilt or expanded numerous facilities across the polar region, revamping runways and deploying air defence assets. He said renovation works were conducted on a long string of Arctic territories.

The expanded infrastructure has allowed the Russian military to restore full radar coverage of the nation’s 22,600-kilometre Arctic frontier and deploy fighter jets to protect its airspace.

The military also has undertaken a cleanup effort across the region, working to remove tens of thousands of tons of waste from the Arctic territories, most of it rusty fuel tanks left behind by the Soviet military.

The Russian soldiers share the island with polar bears, arctic foxes and wolves.

Officers said that, soon after the base opened, curious bears regularly prowled near its walls, sometimes even peering into its windows. On some occasions, soldiers had to use a truck to spook away a particularly curious bear wandering nearby.

Soldiers interviewed at the base said they marveled at the area’s wildlife and its majestic Arctic landscapes.

“The nature here is extremely beautiful,” said Navy Lt. Umar Erkenov, who came from southern Russia. “Meeting a polar bear is an experience that fills you with emotions. We have established friendly ties with them from the start. We don’t touch them, they don’t touch us.”

He said he’s missing his wife and daughter, whom he can only see during his leave period once a year, but is proud of his mission.

“Few people do their job under such conditions,” he said. “I feel proud that I’m here with my unit, doing my duty and protecting the Motherland.”

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Baby news? Calgary zoo hoping for giant panda pregnancy

Baby news? Calgary zoo hoping for giant panda pregnancy

Panda handlers are on baby watch at the Calgary zoo after Er Shun, a giant panda on loan from China, was inseminated on Tuesday.

Colleen Baird, manager of animal care for the zoo, says it could take several weeks to find out if Calgary will be the birthplace of any panda babies. 

The process is delicate. For the past few weeks, handlers have been carefully monitoring the female’s estrogen and progesterone levels to pinpoint the narrow window of opportunity for pregnancy, Baird told the Calgary Eyeopener. Giant pandas ovulate only once per year.

“There’s a certain point when she cycles that it’s time to inseminate, and those values are what we need to make sure we have the right timing,” Baird said.

“It’s about two to three days. We have a Chinese specialist here with us who does insemination. We consult with him and make sure that we’re on the right track. And he felt really good about where we were, and the way that the insemination was — we’re feeling pretty confident.”

Preparations involved “a lot of collecting urine” and keeping Er Shun happy and calm during the spring mating season.

“That can be tough when pandas are going through cycles, because she’s experiencing quite a change in hormones,” Baird said.

Zoo staff are hoping Er Shun, the adult female giant panda, will soon become pregnant. Er Shun is one of four giant pandas on loan from China. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Gestation usually takes between 95 and 160 days. 

“One thing is that we we use frozen sperm, and that’s dictated by China,” Baird said. “And so we’ll see how our chances are, which is never as good as fresh. But I got to see the samples through a microscope and there’s lots of swimmers in there. So we’re hoping.”

The father is not Da Mao, the male giant panda who is also at the Calgary Zoo, but a donor from China, which Baird says has to do with lineage. 

“This go around, Da Mao might not be the best genetic match,” she said. “As the population changes and more of his lineage or relatives are producing more cubs and pandas, his value decreases. So this year using Da Mao wasn’t really an option. The frozen ones had a better genetic match with Er Shun for this go around. We’re hoping that we get cubs.”

Baird says it could take a while to find out whether the panda has become pregnant. There’s no blood test, and giant pandas don’t necessarily show their pregnancies.

“Pandas are complicated because they’re delayed implanters. So if we were successful at fertilizing the egg, that egg can be floating around unattached to the uterus. And there’s a lot of environmental factors and hormonal factors that tell her when the right time is for that egg to implant, that says, ‘Hey, I can take care of this cub and I’m healthy enough, I’m safe enough to do so,'” she said. “So we don’t know when that moment happens. It’s kind of a mystery.”

Baird said the team will wait “several weeks” before checking via ultrasound.

“It could still be weeks and weeks before the egg will implant,” she said. “So it’s a guessing game, but we’ll start taking a peek probably in late May or early June.”

The Calgary Zoo welcomed four giant pandas last spring: Da Mao, Er Shun and her two cubs, Jia YueYue and Jia PanPan. The rare animals are on loan from China for five years, housed in an exhibit called Panda Passage.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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Alberta auditor probing relationship between energy regulator and not-for-profit centre

Alberta auditor probing relationship between energy regulator and not-for-profit centre

Alberta’s auditor general could complete its probe of the relationship between Alberta’s energy regulator and ICORE — a not-for-profit institute it helped launch — before summer amid a lawsuit between the organizations.

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) was a founding member of the International Centre of Regulatory Excellence, or ICORE, which began in 2017 as an independent, not-for-profit institute where regulators from around the world could train and exchange best practices.

The AER said that year it would offer expertise in the form of in-kind services provided by its experts, with the new initiative touted by its then-chief executive, Jim Ellis, as “an institute built by regulators for regulators.” 

The Office of Alberta Auditor-General Doug Wylie is now looking at the relationship between ICORE and the AER.

A spokeswoman for the auditor-general told CBC News that “we are conducting some audit work related to the Alberta Energy Regulator and its relationship with ICORE.”

She said she was unable to share any specific details while the audit is underway, nor could she say when the probe will be completed and made public, though it’s anticipated it will be complete before summer.

Alberta Auditor General Doug Wylie is examining the relationship between the Alberta Energy Regulator and ICORE, a not-for-profit institute that the AER helped launch in 2017.

The job of the auditor general is to examine and report publicly on the government’s management of public resources.

The auditor general’s work comes amid a lawsuit launched by the AER against ICORE.

In a statement of claim, the AER says the regulator and ICORE signed a memorandum of understanding where the two sides agreed the AER may provide in-kind services to ICORE, for which it would be compensated.

The AER later granted ICORE an exclusive licence to deliver training courses to third parties.  

Now, the AER alleges that ICORE Energy Services owes it $2.6 million in reimbursement for the development and delivery of training materials. 

“Notwithstanding the AER’s demand for payment, ICORE has refused or neglected to pay any amount of the [Memorandum of Understanding]  Invoice or the Licence Agreement Invoice,” according to the lawsuit filed March 7 at the Court of Queen’s Bench in Calgary.

None of the allegations have been proven in court. A statement of defence had not been filed as of Wednesday.

A spokesman for the AER confirmed details of the lawsuit, but would not elaborate as the matter is before the courts.

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Two hearts: Sherwood Parks students fashion love for hospital newborns

Two hearts: Sherwood Parks students fashion love for hospital newborns

Fashion studies students at Lakeland Ridge School have a lot of heart when it comes to helping families with newborns in hospital.

The junior high students have been sewing fabric hearts to give to the Misericordia Community Hospital for its neonatal intensive-care unit.

Once the hospital receives the fabric hearts, two are given to each family with an infant in the NICU, said Caroline McKay, fashion studies teacher at the Sherwood Park school.

The parent or caregiver wears one heart against their skin, and the other heart is wrapped in with the baby. After a few days, the hearts are exchanged.

The mother’s scent on the fabric gives the baby a sense of closeness and comfort when the parent is unable to be in direct contact, McKay said.

The scent of the baby helps stimulate milk in the mother, who is storing a supply for a hospitalized infant.

‘I feel a connection’

“When they’re sewing for themselves, that’s one thing,” McKay said of her students. “When they’re using their talents and their skills to sew for other people, it creates more empathy.

“We all love babies and our heart breaks when we hear stories of babies that have to stay in the hospital and are apart from their families. When we realize that we can do something to even just help a little bit, it’s easy to make that connection and to want to give back.”

Students have embraced the program, which started at the school in September. Some of them have continued to make more fabric hearts at home, McKay said.

“I feel a connection to this project because I have a little cousin who was born premature,” Makenzie Osmond, a Grade 9 student at Lakeland Ridge, said in a news release. “My aunt and cousin each received a bonding heart and I saw how important it was to them.”

McKay said she plans to continue the program with a new batch of students next year.

“The students are really motivated and they want to do a really good job, knowing that it’s going to go to somebody else and help somebody’s family out,” she said.

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