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In wake of shootings, group updating its security guidelines for Canadian mosques

In wake of shootings, group updating its security guidelines for Canadian mosques


The National Council of Canadian Muslims in Ottawa is updating its Muslim Community Safety Kit to include sections on lockdown drills, active shooter scenarios and bomb threats to be shared with mosques across the country.

The kit was first developed in 2011 to assist the Muslim community in preventing or responding to anti-Muslim incidents, such as vandalism and hate crimes.

“In the wake of the shootings in New Zealand and in Quebec City just over two years ago, NCCM is looking to revise its guide once again. This is the unfortunate reality of the world that we seem to be living in now,” said Ihsaan Gardee, the organization’s executive director.

Last month, 50 worshippers were killed at two mosques in New Zealand after a lone gunman armed with semi-automatic weapons targeted Muslims attending prayers. In January 2017, six men were killed by a gunman at a mosque in Quebec City.

Gardee said the council felt it was important for mosques to have the necessary resources to ensure their institutions and congregations are safe and secure.

The guide was last updated in 2015 and it included recommendations about how to build a community support network and make the mosque a more secure place. Some of the recommendations included that mosques and community centres trim shrubs and vines to have fewer concealed areas, request more police patrols and install fire and burglar alarms.

Imam Abdallah Yousri of the Ummah Masjid in Halifax says the mosque is looking at upgrading its security measures. (Stephanie Blanchet/Radio-Canada)

After the mosque shooting in New Zealand, the Ummah Masjid in Halifax decided to use the guide for its upcoming community gathering in April to discuss recommendations and to review its security plan.

“It’s better to be cautious,” said Imam AbdallahYousri. “We want to find all possible means to secure the mosque and feel like we did our best.”

He said the mosque is looking at upgrading its security measures.

‘Incidents are deeply troubling’

Gardee said the council doesn’t want to be alarmist.

“We don’t want to cause unnecessary fear in our communities, but I think that these incidents are deeply troubling,” he said.

Gardee said there has been “tremendous support” from Canadians of all backgrounds, but he believes more needs to be done.

More than prayers needed

“Thoughts and prayers are welcomed and appreciated, but we need to be looking at what are some policy solutions that government and other stakeholders can undertake to curb the growth of right-wing extremism and white supremacy, as well as the growth of online hate,” he said.

The launch date for the updated guide hasn’t been finalized, but Gardee said it would come out sometime this year.

“There is definitely a sense of urgency to this and we will be making it a priority,” he said.



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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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Canadian Arctic has all the mineral ingredients for prized blue gemstones

Canadian Arctic has all the mineral ingredients for prized blue gemstones


Baffin Island holds some of its treasures in plain sight with rocks that produce rare gems sitting exposed to the elements, scientists say.

A new study from the University of British Columbia shows the area is home to a mineral that is prized by jewellers and collectors.

Study co-author Philippe Belley said in an interview that cobalt-blue spinel, “which is a ridiculously rare gemstone” gets a lot of interest from gemologists and jewellers but there’s not enough supply.

The most significant source of the gems is Vietnam, and even then production is limited, said Belley, who’s a PhD graduate within the department of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences.

He and report co-author UBC mineralogist Lee Groat conducted the first scientific study of the cobalt-blue spinel in Canada.

Research campsite on Baffin Island. (Submitted/Lee Groat)

Easy to spot on the island

Baffin Island is “really unique” because it has all the “right ingredients” needed to produce coloured gemstones but the area is “virtually” unexplored, Belley said.

“The rock is extremely well exposed so not only is it easy to see if you have a gem occurrence by just walking on the surface and doing geological mapping, but its also suitable for remote detection methods using drones and satellites to collect data on the rocks.”

Using remote detection can’t be done in most other gem-producing areas because of plant cover or challenging terrain, Belley said.

The researchers analysed 14 occurrences of spinel on Baffin Island, including two of cobalt-blue spinel, to better understand how it forms.

“It’s finding the right chemical components in the right concentration,” he said. “We found that most gem occurrences on Baffin Island were formed from the transformation of a mixture of mud and magnesium-rich limestone under high temperature and pressure.”

Almost 2 billion years old

They found it was formed 1.8 billion years ago at temperatures of about 800 C, but cobalt was only present in high-enough concentrations to produce gem-quality stones in small, localized areas.

Baffin Island spinel contains up to 500 parts-per-million of cobalt, giving it a vivid blue colour comparable to the best sources worldwide, Belley said in the news release.

Spinel also comes in red, pink and violet, Belley said.

Other gems found on Baffin Island include beluga sapphires, used in the Queen’s sapphire jubilee brooch, and lapis lazuli, a rock used as a gemstone by the Egyptians, he said.

Mining for the gems on Baffin Island wouldn’t necessarily leave a large geographical footprint, he said.

“Most gemstones are either mined from a relatively small mine and a lot of them are mined by one or a few people or families around the world, which is called artisanal mining.”

Baffin Island, Nunavut





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Bridge: A Canadian school trying to smash the tech sector's glass ceiling

Bridge: A Canadian school trying to smash the tech sector’s glass ceiling


After graduating with a masters degree in chemical engineering from the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi, Meltem Kilic decided to pursue a different career path — in software development.

“Male colleagues of mine, developers, they’ve actually been so much in contact with technology since they were really young,” Kilic said. “That wasn’t the case for me.”

Although she now works as a software developer at Toronto-based software maker Rangle.io, the 28-year-old said advancing her career in the sector came with some doubts due to her late start.

Meltem Kilic, a graduate of Bridge, says she definitely sees less women in leadership roles and those who are new to the technology industry need more gender-diverse role models to look up to. (Submitted by Meltem Kilic)

That was compounded by the lack of gender diversity in leadership roles in her chosen field.

“When I look at the industry and community I see definitely less women in leadership roles,” Kilic said.

New people in the tech industry need more gender-diverse role models to look up to, she says, so the lack of them makes climbing the career ladder even harder than it would otherwise be.

After going to a coding bootcamp, Kilic decided to join Bridge School, a not-for-profit organization based in Toronto that offers free programs in advanced software development and product design to marginalized groups.

She is among 92 graduates from the school since it was founded in 2016.

“We started Bridge largely in response to a problem that is in the tech industry but in many male dominated industries,” said Emily Porta, executive director at Bridge School. “An issue where there is nowhere near enough women, agender and non-binary professionals working.”

Porta began Bridge as a passion project while also working at Rangle.io, which is one of the school’s lead sponsors, along with the Royal Bank of Canada. Bridge operates its business through funding from sponsors and donations. 

She said the organization is for those who are already in the technology industry, but don’t know what their next career step might be. The programs are meant to help professionals advance their careers in technology.

Emily Porta, the executive director of Bridge, says the Bridge team wanted to remove the economic barriers that many students in the technology industry face by offering the school’s programs for free. (Melissa Bennardo/CBC News)

Porta said the number one challenge the tech industry faces are people saying no to excellent talent, because they have preconceived gender-based biases that they may not even be aware of.

“You walk into a room and immediately you’re just labelled as a junior developer or junior in your career no matter how much experience you have,” said Purvi Kanal, the organization’s director of software development.

Removing economic barriers

Kanal said it’s common for marginalized groups to have to work exceptionally harder to get into the sector by paying for supplementary education like bootcamps that teach you skills to start a career in development and design.

Kanal said these bootcamps aren’t very cheap and they can cost about $10,000, which is why she wanted to ease that burden a little for people who already face an uphill struggle.

Economic disadvantage is just another way to marginalize  people.– Emily Porta , executive director of  Bridge School

“We really wanted to take those people who are willing to work so hard and give them those extra skills that they would need to stay in the industry and hopefully, eventually become leaders,” Kanal said.

There is a moral imperative to offer these programs for free, according to Porta.

“Economic disadvantage is just another way to marginalize people,” Porta said. “Coming from a low economic background myself … we didn’t want to put that barrier in front of our students.”

Tech’s diversity problem

Almost 80 per cent of companies globally haven’t fully prioritized putting more women in leadership roles, according to a recent study from the IBM Institute for Business Value

The study surveyed 2,300 executives and professionals — an equal amount of men and women — across 10 industries worldwide including the technology industry.

The study showed that only 18 per cent of the companies surveyed had women in top leadership positions.

Paul Papas, the global leader for IBM digital strategy & iX, said what gets in the way of a company having better gender diversity and representation in the workplace is the lack of urgency in making this a priority.

Papas said striving for gender equality in the workplace is not only the right thing to do, but there are real benefits to having more diverse representation at the top.

Only 12 per cent of the firms surveyed made advancing women in leadership roles a business priority. “They outperformed along key metrics of revenue growth, profitability and innovation,” Papas said.

He added that those people already in leadership roles should be fostering a culture of inclusion. According to the study, most of those leaders are men. 

No easy fix

Porta said this problem in the technology industry is not easy to fix, and companies need to be dedicated in order for change to happen.

“I think most companies and the people who run most companies don’t prioritize it anywhere near highly enough,” Porta said. “I don’t know why they don’t just look at the numbers and make some changes.”

In a short amount of time, both Porta and Kanal said they’ve seen graduates go on to advance their careers.

“Slowly we can see some progress there as well where we’ve seen a few of our graduates take on advance leadership roles in development and become team leads,” Kanal said.

Graduates like Kilic are still giving back to the place that helped kick-start their careers. She is now a mentor at Bridge, and she hopes she can share her story with other women beginning their careers in the tech sector.

I know a lot of women are in my situation where somehow in their careers they thought about tech, but they felt that they weren’t really caught up for that,” Kilic said.



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Canadian cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX seeks creditor protection after founder's death

Canadian cryptocurrency exchange QuadrigaCX seeks creditor protection after founder’s death


Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange is due in court on Tuesday as it seeks creditor protection in the wake of the sudden death of its founder and chief executive in December and missing cryptocurrency worth roughly $190 million.

Vancouver-based QuadrigaCX says it filed an application for creditor protection on Jan. 31 and the Nova Scotia Supreme Court will be asked on Feb. 5 to appoint a monitor to oversee the proceedings.

In an affidavit, the widow of Gerald Cotten, Quadriga’s founder, CEO and sole director, said he died suddenly on Dec. 9 due to complications from Crohn’s disease.

Court filings show that after his death, Quadriga employees have been unable to locate or access roughly $190 million worth of digital money.

The company says in a statement that it has been trying to “locate and secure our very significant cryptocurrency reserves,” for several weeks, but “unfortunately, these efforts have not been successful.”

In Quadriga’s legal filings it says it currently owes roughly 115,000 users $70 million in currency, plus an additional $180 million worth of cryptocurrencies, based on market prices in December — most of which can’t be accessed.

Court documents show that Quadriga had been facing liquidity issues over the past year but a major issue arose in January 2018 when CIBC froze roughly $25.7 million of its funds held in the account of a third-party processor.



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