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AP analysis: Hundreds of companies excused from steel tariff

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 17:21
WASHINGTON - Despite President Donald Trump’s tough talk on trade, his administration has granted hundreds of companies permission to import millions of tons of steel made in China, Japan and other countries without paying the hefty tariff he put in place to protect U.S. manufacturers and jobs, according to an Associated Press analysis. The waivers from the import tax show how pliable his protectionist policies can be. Trump has positioned himself as an “America First” trade warrior, using tariffs as a club against countries he’s accused of playing unfairly. Although China has been the principal target of Trump’s ire, he also has criticized Japan and American allies in Europe. “I love tariffs, but I also love them to negotiate,” Trump said Friday during a Rose Garden news conference. Behind the scenes, however, his Commerce Department approved tariff exemption requests from 370 companies for up to 4.1 million tons of foreign steel, with roughly 8 per cent of the total coming from China and close to 30 per cent from Japan, according to AP’s review of thousands of applications for relief from the import tax on steel. Many recipients of the waivers are subsidiaries of foreign-owned businesses. Although Trump has sought to rebuild America’s steel industry by curbing imports, tariffs are fraught with economic risk - a message that came through loud and clear in many of the waiver applications. Companies that use steel in their products warned the Commerce Department that the 25 per cent tariff could do serious damage to their businesses. The numbers also provide a window into a steel tariff exemption program that has vexed many applicants as well as lawmakers who’ve questioned the pace, transparency and fairness of the process. The flood of applications overwhelmed the system the department set up nearly a year ago to review them, and more than 38,000 requests still await rulings. The Commerce Department has received waiver applications from 45 states and Puerto Rico, evidence of the geographic range of companies angling for exemptions. Tioga Pipe in Philadelphia, which supplies a variety of industrial customers with pipe, fittings and flanges, received approval to import as much as 86,500 tons of Chinese steel duty free; that was the most of any company with approved waivers. Tioga did not return calls and emails seeking comment, but its applications indicate the material isn’t available from domestic suppliers in the sizes and shapes it needs. DS Containers, a subsidiary of Japan’s Daiwa Can, makes aerosol and liquid pour cans at factories in Illinois using laminated tin-free steel that U.S. suppliers have shown no interest in manufacturing, CEO Bill Smith told the Commerce Department. Smith received the go-ahead to import up to 390,000 tons of the material from Japan, the Netherlands and United Kingdom. If the waivers had not been granted, Smith warned, DS Containers might have been forced to shut down production lines or lay off employees. A 25 per cent tariff “is a very heavy burden on any company,” Smith told AP last year. The department declined interview requests. A spokesman said in an emailed statement that exemptions can be approved if the department determines the metal “is not produced in the United States in a sufficient and reasonably available amount or of a satisfactory quality or should be excluded based upon specific national security considerations.” Overall, the department has so far approved nearly 14,000 requests for exemption from the steel duty, with 59 per cent of the total going to firms with a foreign corporate parent. Most of the waivers last for a year. More than 4,400 applications were denied. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who this month declared herself a Democratic candidate for president in 2020, told Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in late October that giving exemptions to foreign-owned businesses “appears to be massive loophole.” The purpose of tariffs, she said, is to benefit U.S. manufacturing, not undermine it. Warren said in a statement to AP that Trump “claims to be implementing trade policies that put America first, but here’s what the data show: this administration is handing out special tariff exemptions to foreign-owned companies at the expense of American companies.” But Scott Paul, the president of the pro-tariff Alliance for American Manufacturing, said a company’s lineage shouldn’t be a factor in whether it receives waivers. Paul said the volume of steel exempted from the duty is small compared with the U.S. market for steel. “You’d be hard pressed to find a bigger China trade hawk than me,” Paul said, “but I’m not overly concerned with the number of exemptions granted so far.” Two subsidiaries of Japanese companies, both in the suburbs of Indianapolis, had vastly different experiences as each tried to avoid the steel tariff. Nachi America, in Greenwood, Indiana, received close to 530 waivers for metal that included a heat-treated steel bar made in Japan with a “precision straightness” that U.S. suppliers can’t match, according to one of the company’s applications. Nachi America declined to comment. Indiana Automotive Fasteners in Greenfield, about 40 miles away, made a similar argument: only Japanese-made steel meets the exacting requirements for the bolts, nuts and screws it produces for the country’s largest automakers. Yet only 43 of its requests were approved while more than 100 were rejected on the grounds they weren’t completed properly. Nearly 150 requests are pending. The denials perplexed Mark Vance, vice-president for sales at Indiana Automotive Fasteners. Although the company is permitted to refile the rejected requests, Vance said Commerce Department officials couldn’t tell him what should be modified the second time around, leaving him to conclude the denials were due to the “subjectivity on the part of the person reviewing” the applications. To put the tariffs into effect, Trump employed a rarely used 1962 law that empowers him to put a levy on a particular product if the Commerce Department determines it threatens national security. The department posts the requests online to allow third parties to file objections - even from competitors who have an interest in seeing a rival’s bid rejected. The two most prolific protesters are also two of the country’s largest steel producers and key beneficiaries of the tariff. Nucor and U.S. Steel have filed more than 5,800 objections between them, according to numbers compiled by the office of Rep. Jackie Walorski, an Indiana Republican opposed to the steel tariff. Her data also shows requests that trigger objections are rarely approved. U.S. Steel announced Monday that due to Trump’s “strong trade actions” the company would be resuming construction of a new steelmaking plant in Alabama that had been suspended in late 2015 “due to unfavourable market conditions.” Nucor also is expanding and late last month reported record annual earnings for 2018. Among the thousands of requests hanging in the balance are the dozens submitted by NLMK USA, the U.S. subsidiary of the Russian steel company Novolipetsk Steel. NLMK imports huge slabs of steel from Russia and has paid nearly $150 million in tariffs so far as it awaits rulings, said Robert Miller, the company’s president and CEO. Miller told the Commerce Department that a domestic shortage of steel slab means he has no choice but to go overseas for the metal his facilities in Pennsylvania and Indiana need. But Nucor and U.S. Steel objected, contending there’s plenty of slab available in the U.S. Nucor said NLMK wants to rely on “cheap steel slab from Russia” to support a business model that is “classic outsourcing.” ___ Fenn reported from New York. ___ Follow Richard Lardner on Twitter at Richard Lardner And Larry Fenn, The Associated Press

Mexican president announces bailout for cash-strapped Pemex

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 17:19
MEXICO CITY - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced a $3.9 billion bailout for the country’s cash-strapped, state-owned oil company Friday and promised it an additional $1.6 billion in revenue, making it a rescue package of up to $5.5 billion. Lopez Obrador has made rescuing Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, a centerpiece of his first 100 days in office, launching an offensive against fuel theft gangs that drill illegal taps into Pemex pipelines. The extra revenue is expected to come from increased sales for the company as sources of stolen fuel dry up. The government package includes assuming pension debt, injecting cash and cutting taxes for the company. But the assistance plan is tiny in comparison to the staggering $43.8 billion in debt the company has incurred since 2013. Lopez Obrador sees the company, which was nationalized in 1938 by his hero, ex-President Lazaro Cardenas, as a national symbol and engine for the economy. “In Pemex there has been bad management and a lot of corruption, looting,” Lopez Obrador said in announcing the plan. “If we end the corruption, Pemex will be reborn and that will apply to the country, as well.” In January, the Fitch ratings agency lowered the company’s credit rating one step to “AA,” with a negative outlook. It says Pemex is essentially insolvent, with negative cash flow and a debt exceeding the value of proven oil reserves. On Friday, Fitch said the bailout “would likely not be enough to prevent continued deterioration in company’s credit quality.” “The announced support measures are less than the $12 billion to $17 billion of additional annual cash requirements Fitch estimates Pemex needs to halt production and reserve level declines,” the company said. Mexico City-based oil analyst and consultant David Shield said: “They don’t have the policies in place to turn around Pemex, but at least they’re doing something.” To regain its position as a viable business, Pemex needs to invest more in exploration and production even though it has limited funds. “Somebody will have to bring it (money) in and that somebody will probably be private,” Shields said. Lopez Obrador has said that his goal is to raise crude output 45 per cent by 2025 to 2.4 million barrels per day, from the current 1.65 million barrels per day. But he has been highly critical of oil and gas concessionary contracts granted under the energy reform of former President Enrique Pena Nieto, saying that private companies have been slow to make promised investments or produce much oil. The president has also stressed the importance of investing government money in doing things like building refineries to reduce Mexico’s dependence on imported gasoline, although those plans involve huge investments that don’t immediately boost the company’s output. Lopez Obrador has also not shown a willingness to take on the oil workers’ union, which has kept Pemex payrolls swelled with more workers than needed, siphoned off money and saddled the company with huge liabilities. “I think there is still a battle to be fought there,” said Shields. “I think the union issues may be coming to a head in the short term.” A dissident group formed earlier this month to try to organize a new union at the oil company. Many pro-market critics in Mexico question the wisdom of sinking so much government money into the cumbersome giant. “They are now saying it can’t be done, that Pemex’s debt is too big, that it is going to be impossible to rescue Pemex,” said Lopez Obrador. “I accept the challenge. We are going to get Pemex back on its feet and it is going to be a productive company, a profitable one.” A rise in oil prices could help him prove the critics wrong. “If oil prices rebound, he may look like a genius,” Shields said. Mark Stevenson, The Associated Press

Airlines to give customers ‘nonbinary’ choice under gender

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 17:18
DALLAS - Major U.S. airlines say they will soon change their ticketing process to give passengers the option of identifying themselves as other than male or female. The gender option on airline sites will soon include choices such “undisclosed” or “unspecified.” There could also be the optional title of “Mx.” The airlines say they are making the change to be more inclusive in dealing with a diverse population of travellers. American, Delta and United confirmed Friday that they are in the process of updating their booking tools to add such an option. They said the change will be made in the next several weeks. “We certainly have a very diverse customer base. This will be well-received, and we’re happy to do it,” American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said. United Airlines plans to let people select M for male, F for female, U for undisclosed or X for unspecified from the gender menu when booking a ticket on its website or mobile app, said spokeswoman Andrea Hiller. They will also have the option of picking “Mx.” as a title. Hiller said the airline wants to make sure that “all of our customers feel comfortable and welcome no matter how they self-identify.” Delta Air Lines and Alaska Airlines plan to offer a nonbinary choice during booking, representatives said, and Southwest Airlines is looking into the technical requirement to do so, according to a spokesman. U.S. and international airline trade groups recently approved a new standard to handle customers with “nonbinary” IDs. The standard, which is not mandatory but more like guidance, takes effect June 1. Airlines for America and the International Air Transport Association say the change will let airlines comply with requirements under U.S. and foreign laws that passenger information must match what is on the person’s form of ID used for travel. In 2017, Oregon became the first state to let residents identify themselves as neither male nor female on driver licenses and other ID cards. California, Colorado, Maine and Minnesota have since begun allowing a nonbinary choice on their licenses. David Koenig, The Associated Press

US seeks ways to recycle lithium batteries in cars, phones

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 17:17
CHICAGO - The U.S. government will lead an ambitious effort to develop technologies to recycle lithium-ion batteries from electric vehicles, cellphones and other sources to ensure a reliable and affordable supply of metals crucial to battery production in anticipation of soaring global demand and potential shortages, Department of Energy officials said Friday. Calling the effort a national security issue, the agency announced a $15-billion, three-year research and development project housed at the Argonne National Laboratory outside of Chicago. The collaboration between Argonne, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and several universities also is an attempt to catch up with China and other countries that manufacture and recycle the vast majority of lithium-ion batteries, including those shipped back from the U.S., officials said. U.S. dependence on other countries for metals such as lithium, cobalt, nickel and graphite, as well as finished batteries, “undermines our national security” because the source countries are not always close allies, said Daniel R. Simmons, assistant secretary of the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Lithium salts primarily are extracted in a few South American and African countries, as well as Australia, and cobalt largely is mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo, experts said. The U.S. has a strained trading relationship with China, which produces a large share of the batteries and has been aggressively recycling them to recover metals it otherwise would have to import. But the demand for lithium-ion batteries also is driving the effort. With U.S. automakers set to expand production of electric vehicles over the next 10 years, and batteries from existing electric vehicles nearing the end of their useful lives, it’s time to figure out how to recycle them in the U.S, said Jeff Spangenberger, director of the new recycling centre, called the ReCell Center. The centre will focus on developing a process to allow recovered material to be put directly back into new batteries without having to break it down into their core components. “We’ve done a lot of analysis … and if we don’t recycle, we will run out of materials,” Spangenberger said. “(And) if we had a steady supply from recycled materials, we would reduce the risk.” But recycling raw materials won’t do the U.S. much good if it doesn’t also make the batteries and finished products here, experts said. “There is no sense to recycle in the U.S. and not be able to use (the material) in the U.S. … Otherwise you have to sell to China because that’s where they make the batteries,” said Hans Eric Melin, a consultant at London-based Creation Inn who researches the lithium-ion battery industry. He also said it’s important to figure out how to collect enough batteries for recycling in the first place. “To be able to get the batteries and keep them in the U.S. is really, really important,” he said. Melin said recycling also will become increasingly important as more companies use lithium-ion batteries in products. Big companies might be able to source enough raw materials, he said, but second-tier companies may have to rely on recycled material. In 2018, about 100,000 metric tons of lithium-ion batteries were recycled globally, Melin said, adding that about 14,000 metric tons of cobalt was recovered from the batteries, or about one-fifth of the market for the metal. Spangenberger said the government wants to eliminate the risk for U.S. companies to spur domestic battery production, other industries and jobs. “By end of this, we should be able show industry it’s doable, (then) let’s scale up and get commercialized,” he said. James Greenberger, executive director of NAATBatt, a consortium of companies promoting U.S. advanced-battery manufacturing, said it’s important that recycling is affordable enough that manufacturers of cars and other products won’t have to pass the costs on to customers. “Everybody’s waiting for a technological solution,” said Greenberger. “But I think we can absolutely catch up.” Tammy Webber, The Associated Press

Ottawa, provincial governments commit to addressing abuse in sports

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 17:08
Canadian politicians are banding together to address harassment, abuse and discrimination in sports, but details on their plans remain slim.   Kirsty Duncan, Canada’s Minister of Science and Sport, announced in Red Deer, Alta., on Friday that the federal government, along with each province and territory, has signed a declaration to tackle and prevent harassment, abuse and discrimination in sport. She says the move brings all jurisdictions together on the issue and will drive action going forward, ensuring there are policies in place to address abuse, and concrete measures are implemented to prevent it.  While the declaration includes commitments to eliminate gender-based violence against women and girls in sport and work on concussion prevention and awareness, Duncan did not provide details on what steps would be taken next. The news comes amid headlines about Canadian athletes being subject to abuse, including a CBC investigation published on Sunday which reported that “at least 222 coaches” were convicted of sexual offences from 1998-2018. The report also said 34 other cases of accused coaches are currently before the courts. Duncan told reporters on Friday that she believes a “third-party mechanism” is important when it comes to investigating abuse cases, and she’s “working on it.” - By Gemma Karstens-Smith in Vancouver The Canadian Press

B.C. health minister urges parents to get kids vaccinated against measles

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:59
VANCOUVER - British Columbia’s health minister is urging people to get vaccinated to protect themselves from measles after a fourth case of the disease was confirmed in Vancouver. Adrian Dix says it’s the responsibility of parents to ensure their children are vaccinated and to also think of other people’s kids who could be infected with the contagious disease. He says vaccination rates could be higher and anyone who needs more information should contact their local health authority. Vancouver Coastal Health says three measles cases were confirmed this week and the first person who tested positive acquired the infection outside of North America. It says all the cases involve three French schools, two of the schools are connected by a door and all of them use the same school-bus company. The health authority says a case of measles confirmed last week is unrelated to the current cases and not linked to outbreaks in neighbouring Washington state or Europe.   The Canadian Press

‘Melrose Place’ actress to serve more time for fatal crash

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:53
SOMERVILLE, N.J. - A former “Melrose Place” actress was sentenced Friday to more prison time for a fatal 2010 auto accident after an appeals court ruled her initial sentence was too lenient. Amy Locane was given five years behind bars. She served about two-and-a-half years of a three-year sentence before her 2015 release. An appeals court ordered Locane to be re-sentenced after determining her initial sentence - and a subsequent, nearly identical re-sentencing - were insufficient for the crash that killed 60-year-old Helene Seeman and seriously injured Seeman’s husband, Fred Seeman. Locane’s blood-alcohol level was likely about three times the legal limit for driving at the time of the crash, according to a state expert. “There is not a day that has gone by that I have not thought of the pain that my actions caused the Seeman family and of course Helene Seeman,” Locane said in court Friday. “I have worked very hard to correct that behaviour and not be that person who did that on that day.” Locane, who was convicted of vehicular manslaughter and other offences, had faced up to 10 years on the most serious count. Fred Seeman told the judge he nearly died in the crash, and the injuries he suffered continue to cause problems for him. He said the original sentencing judge, Robert Reed, “elevated the suffering of defendant’s children above what we have suffered and continue to suffer.” Reed had cited Locane’s young children, including one daughter diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, as a mitigating factor in his sentencing. Locane’s defence contended the crash was an accident and that a third motorist, whose car the actress had bumped into at a traffic light before the accident, distracted her by honking at her and chasing her after being rear-ended. Though the indictment charging Locane didn’t mention intoxication, a state expert testified her blood-alcohol level was likely three times the legal limit for driving, and that she was speeding about 53 mph in a 35 mph zone at the time of the crash. A jury acquitted her of aggravated manslaughter, but convicted her of the lesser offence of vehicular manslaughter - a second-degree crime that carries a maximum 10-year sentence. But Reed downgraded that to a third-degree offence and imposed the lightest sentence available. That prompted an appeals court in 2016 to order a re-sentencing. The panel instructed Reed to offer additional justification for his decision to downgrade the charge. After Reed gave Locane essentially the same prison sentence in 2017, an appeals court wrote last year that the sentence was “a hair’s breath away from illegal,” and ordered the lower court to try yet again. It wasn’t immediately clear how much additional jail time Locane will wind up serving. Locane acted in 13 episodes of the popular Fox series and also appeared in several movies, including “Cry-Baby” with Johnny Depp. David Porter, The Associated Press

Former SNC executive has obstruction charge dropped because of excessive delays

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:49
MONTREAL - A former SNC-Lavalin executive and his lawyer had obstruction of justice charges against them stayed Friday on the grounds it took too long to bring the case to trial. Sami Bebawi, a former SNC-Lavalin executive vice-president, and his Montreal-based tax lawyer, Constantine Kyres, had been accused of offering a $10-million bribe to have a key witness change his testimony in a fraud and corruption case against Bebawi. The alleged recipient of the offer was Riadh Ben Aissa, another former SNC-Lavalin executive, who was detained in Switzerland at the time on charges of corrupting officials in Libya on behalf of the Canadian engineering firm. After Bebawi found out he was being investigated, he allegedly asked Kyres to travel to Switzerland and offer to pay off Ben Aissa, Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer Court wrote in a summary of the obstruction case. In exchange, Bebawi wanted Ben Aissa to offer authorities a version of events that would exonerate him. Bebawi and Kyres were charged with obstruction of justice in 2014.  A stay of proceedings was issued in February 2018 after evidence was ruled inadmissible, but the charges were reinstated by direct indictment last May. The trial had not begun, and it would have been more than 60 months after charges were laid before it concluded. The defendants invoked the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 Jordan decision, which set limits on how long a criminal cases can take, and Cournoyer agreed. The judge said Crown prosecutors did not show that the delays in the case were reasonable. Cournoyer wrote that even after the Jordan ruling, the case against Bebawi and Kyres “remained forgotten” for more than 11 months. “The prosecutors … were unable to explain what happened in the year that followed the Jordan decision,” Cournoyer wrote. “The file seemed to have been abandoned like a ship without a captain that is drifting slowly, but inexorably, towards a reef.” Bebawi is still facing charges including fraud and bribery of a public official in relation to SNC-Lavalin’s dealings with the regime of the late Libyan dictator, Moammar Gadhafi. The trial is upcoming. Ben Aissa has given statements to authorities implicating Bebawi in the Libyan bribery scheme, Cournoyer wrote. When asked as he left the courthouse how he felt about having one case completed with one to go, Bebawi crossed his arms over his chest and said: “It’s crazy, it’s crazy, it’s crazy.” The remaining case against Bebawi stems from the same Project Assistance investigation that led to charges against SNC-Lavalin in 2015. Those charges continue to fuel controversy in Ottawa following a report that the Prime Minister’s Office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to help the company avoid criminal prosecution. SNC-Lavalin and two of its subsidiaries were charged with paying nearly $48 million to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011 to influence government decisions. The company is also accused of fraud and corruption for allegedly defrauding various Libyan organizations of roughly $130 million. After Cournoyer’s ruling, Kyres’s lawyer, Frank Pappas, said justice was served. “We won this case about a year ago when a judge decided, a judicial ruling, that the RCMP operation was done illegally,” he told reporters. “Finally, the delays caused by the Crown’s decision and strategies is what sunk their ship.” Crown prosecutor Benoit Robert said he will analyze the decision before deciding whether to appeal. Giuseppe Valiante, The Canadian Press

Allred contacted authorities about R Kelly tape

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:48
CHICAGO - Attorney Gloria Allred told The Associated Press Friday she has contacted law enforcement about concerns one of her clients may be the person in a VHS tape recently given to Chicago prosecutors that purportedly shows R&B star R. Kelly having sex with an underage girl. Allred, who represents multiple R. Kelly accusers, some of whom haven’t come forward publicly, spoke a day after attorney Michael Avenatti said he gave Chicago prosecutors the video. “I’ve made law enforcement in a different jurisdiction (other than Chicago) aware of my concerns that it may, in fact, be my client and I want to protect her privacy,” Allred told the AP in a telephone interview. Kelly has been dogged for decades with allegations of sexual misconduct. Through his lawyers, he has consistently denied them. His current attorney, Steve Greenberg, told the AP Allred’s comments were “speculative.” Greenberg also said he wasn’t aware of any moves afoot to charge Kelly with anything. “If R. Kelly is charged with anything, we will address it in court,” he said. “I am confident he will leave through the front door.” Avenatti has said the video is not the same evidence used in Kelly’s 2008 trial, when he was acquitted on child pornography charges. CNN reported that the nearly 45-minute VHS tape, which it said it viewed, shows a man who appears to be Kelly performing sex acts with a girl who refers to her body parts as 14 years old. In a written statement emailed to the AP, Allred added that she is bothered by reports the recording may have been more widely viewed. “I am very troubled that this tape has been viewed by the press and by other persons who are not law enforcement,” she said. “I plan to take all appropriate steps ASAP to confirm if one of my clients is on this reported tape, and if she is portrayed on the tape we will do everything legally possible to protect her and her rights.” The office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx hasn’t confirmed or denied that it is investigating Kelly. Avenatti is best known for representing porn star Stormy Daniels in a lawsuit against President Donald Trump. He said his office was retained in April 2018 by multiple people regarding allegations that Kelly, whose legal name is Robert Kelly, sexually assaulted minors. Avenatti said the video surfaced during a 10-month investigation that included witness interviews and examination of documents and evidence throughout the U.S. He told The Associated Press the person who provided the tape knew both Kelly and the female in the video. He also said he did not know where the person had kept the video or why it had not previously been provided to law enforcement. Avenatti said in a statement that both Kelly and the victim are “clearly visible” throughout the recording, as is an identifying mole on Kelly’s back. He said both of them refer multiple times to the girl being 14. Kelly can be heard on the tape directing the girl to perform sex acts. The singer also “takes great pains” to adjust the camera to ensure that the acts are recorded “with specificity and at a limited distance,” according to the statement. Foxx asked potential victims to come forward last month after Lifetime aired the documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” which revisited the allegations against the singer and put a spotlight on new ones. Activists from the #MeToo and #MuteRKelly social media movements used the renewed attention to call for streaming services to drop Kelly’s music and promoters not to book any more concerts. They also held protests outside Kelly’s Chicago studio. Kelly denied all the allegations, and Greenberg has said previously that Kelly was the victim of a TV hit piece. He said Kelly “never knowingly had sex with an underage woman, he never forced anyone to do anything, he never held anyone captive, he never abused anyone.” Avenatti did not say when the video was recorded but claimed that the acts depicted in it are within the Illinois statute of limitations for criminal charges. But questions about statutes of limitations are often complex, and the accuracy of Avenatti’s claim is difficult to establish without further details about the recording. Illinois lawmakers in 2017 eliminated time limits for felony criminal sexual assault and sexual abuse crimes against children, but those changes don’t necessarily include crimes committed years or decades before the law was amended. The new law was prompted in part by decades-old sex abuse allegations against former Rep. Dennis Hastert, who was charged with banking violations because under Illinois law victims of sex abuse had 20 years from their 18th birthday to report the crime so it could be prosecuted. ___ Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at ___ More of The Associated Press’ coverage of the investigations into R. Kelly can be found at: Michael Tarm, The Associated Press

IceDogs fined $250,000, stripped of draft picks for recruiting violations

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:37
TORONTO - The Ontario Hockey League has fined the Niagara IceDogs $250,000 and stripped the club of its first-round selections at the 2019 and 2021 OHL Priority drafts for what the league calls a “violation of player recruitment policies.” The OHL announced the discipline against the IceDogs in a release Friday but did not provide details of the team’s offence, which the league said was discovered after a third-party investigation by the law firm Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP. “The League takes our commitment to our players and their player experience very seriously, which includes ensuring a fair and competitive on-ice experience among all teams,” league commissioner David Branch said in the release. “In order to maintain the integrity of this player experience and competitiveness within the league, it is critical that all clubs operate within the league recruitment guidelines. “When a club ignores these guidelines, significant sanctions are required.” The league has cracked down on teams for similar transgressions in the past. In 2012, the Windsor Spitfires were fined $400,000 and stripped of five draft picks for recruitment and player benefit violations. The penalties were reduced to $250,000 and four picks after the Spitfires met with the league and accepted that violations occurred. The Canadian Press

Manitoba to look at connection between youth incarceration and child welfare

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:37
WINNIPEGOSIS, Man. - Manitoba is taking a hard look at youth justice and its connection to child welfare after a study found more than half of kids incarcerated had also been in care. Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announced Friday that the province will review why youth are bouncing between the two systems without having positive outcomes. “We have to end that cycle,” he said during a news conference. “The sooner we end that cycle, the better the outcomes for kids and hopefully (it will) keep them out of the adult justice system as well.” Cullen said the province has the highest rate of youth in custody in the country - four times the national average - and up to 90 per cent of them are Indigenous. The study of admissions at the Manitoba Youth Centre in October 2018 showed about 60 per cent of youth charged were also involved with child welfare services. “We know that youth in child and family services are far more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system, and they are more often to become repeat offenders as well,” Cullen said. There are more than 10,000 children in care in Manitoba and about 90 per cent are Indigenous. Cullen said a review will provide recommendations for reducing the rates of incarceration and recidivism. In addition, it will tackle how to better get treatment and support to youth. The review and recommendations are expected to be released by the end of 2019. Daphne Penrose, Manitoba’s children’s advocate, said the review must recognize that many youth are running into conflict with the law because there are not enough treatment options for addiction and mental health issues. She added that funding and resources will need to match the recommendations. The snapshot in October found one-third of youth were incarcerated for addiction-related matters. “A lot of these kids have come into CFS and have come into justice because of their lack of access to mental health services and addiction services,” Penrose said. “I see this as a positive step, but I see a piece missing from the important equation.” Incarceration of youth generally across Canada has declined slightly each year since 2012. But Statistics Canada data from 2017 shows the proportion of Indigenous youth in custody has steadily increased. In the provinces, the numbers are the highest in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Opposition NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said there have been many reports with recommendations around these issues, including the Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry. She said the government must act or “the number of children that get into conflict in the law will just grow.” “My strong suggestion is they are just trying to kick it down the street for another time instead of actually doing the real concerted effort and work that needs to be done now,” she said. The youth review will build on an adult justice system “modernization strategy” announced last March, Cullen said. But he could not share any examples from that strategy that may be applied to youth. Cullen did say the review would look to Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec for ideas and will include restorative justice practices. Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould snubbed Senate committee on corporate corruption bill

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:36
OTTAWA - Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould angered senators by refusing to give testimony on a change to the Criminal Code that is now at the centre of allegations that she was improperly pressured to help SNC-Lavalin avoid criminal prosecution. The Criminal Code amendment was stuffed into an omnibus budget implementation bill last year and got little scrutiny from MPs on the House of Commons finance committee. But when it got to the Senate, the upper chamber’s legal and constitutional affairs committee was tasked with scrutinizing the provision, which allows prosecutors to negotiate remediation agreements, a kind of plea bargain, in cases of corporate corruption. The committee held extensive hearings last May and heard from an array of expert witnesses, including Justice Department officials, who suggested that some questions were best put to the minister of justice. The committee invited Wilson-Raybould but she did not show up. In her stead, the government sent her parliamentary secretary, Liberal MP Marco Mendicino, and Public Services Minister Carla Qualtrough. “It’s very unusual to study a bill, especially in the criminal domain, and to not have the minister responsible appear before the committee,” Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu observed at the time. “I would like to know why the minister of justice is not here herself.” Qualtrough said it was her “understanding” that Wilson-Raybould “wasn’t available.” Qualtrough, who is responsible for the government’s broader corporate-integrity agenda, acknowledged that she was “not technically, obviously, representing Justice,” but nevertheless “felt myself capable to offer you some perspectives on our government’s position on these matters.” Senators on the committee were sufficiently miffed by Wilson-Raybould’s no-show to make an “observation” about it in their final report: “The committee notes it did not have the opportunity to hear the testimony of the minister of justice on the proposed amendments that are under her ministerial mandate, although she was invited to appear.” Independent Liberal Sen. Serge Joyal, the chair of the committee, said in an interview that he actually spoke to the government’s representative in the Senate, Peter Harder, to see if he could persuade Wilson-Raybould to appear at the committee - to no avail. “The members were rather frustrated by that,” he said. Joyal said the recent controversy over Wilson-Raybould’s role in the SNC-Lavalin case puts her refusal to testify in a different perspective. “Now, of course, in retrospect … I can understand that she might not have been at ease with the overall issue of remediation agreements and didn’t want to submit herself to questions in relation to that.” Wilson-Raybould, who was demoted to the veterans-affairs post in January, resigned altogether from cabinet on Tuesday. That followed an anonymously-sourced newspaper article that alleged she was improperly pressured by the Prime Minister’s Office last fall to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin rather than pursue a criminal prosecution that could cripple the company. The Montreal engineering giant has been charged with corruption and bribery in relation to government contracts in Libya; if found guilty it would be barred from bidding on government contracts in Canada for 10 years. She has thus far refused to comment on the allegation, citing solicitor-client privilege. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has denied there was any undue pressure and insists he specifically told Wilson-Raybould the decision whether to prosecute was hers alone as attorney general. The budget bill was not the only time Wilson-Raybould snubbed the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee. Throughout last fall, the committee tried repeatedly to get her to testify on the government’s access-to-information reforms - specifically on a provision that would require judges to publicly disclose their expenses, which some senators fear could undermine judicial independence. Joyal said Wilson-Raybould “systematically” refused repeated invitations to testify, even though the committee offered to be flexible on the timing to accommodate the minister’s schedule. The only response it received was that the minister was unavailable, he said. “We’re having a great deal of difficulty scheduling the minister’s appearance before our committee,” Boisvenu remarked during an Oct. 3 committee meeting. “It’s a habit of hers.” Unlike the budget bill, on which the committee was under pressure to report by a specific deadline, Joyal said he warned Harder that in the case of the access-to-information bill, the committee would sit on the legislation until it heard from Wilson-Raybould. “No minister, no bill.” Indeed, he said the committee was on the point of passing a motion to that effect when Wilson-Raybould was shuffled out of the justice portfolio in January. Within two weeks, he said, her successor David Lametti agreed to testify. He is now scheduled to appear on Thursday. Wilson-Raybould has appeared before the Senate on other bills, notably those on medical assistance in dying and legalization of cannabis. But her selective approach to which bills she chose to defend publicly raises potential questions about cabinet solidarity. Joyal, who served as a minister in the cabinets of Pierre Trudeau and John Turner, said disagreements are common around the cabinet table. But once a consensus decision is made, every minister is required to stand by it, whether or not he or she personally agrees with it. In the case of a minister who personally disagrees with a bill that falls under his or her responsibility, Joyal said: “If the decision of the government is to proceed with the bill, you have no choice than to stand by the bill. And if you don’t want to stand by the bill, well, the option is to resign from the portfolio. It’s quite clear.” Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

Veteran CFL defensive back Johnson tweets he’s becoming a college coach

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:36
Jovon Johnson is trading his cleats in for a whistle this season. The veteran CFL defensive back tweeted Friday he’s accepted an offer to become the defensive backs coach at Defiance College in Ohio. The 35-year-old is currently a free agent after spending the last two years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. “Now I teach the skills to the next generation!” he tweeted. However, Johnson said later he hasn’t necessarily retired. “When I actually do retire since I haven’t announced that and it’s been reported that I have!,” he tweeted. “Do I retire a BOMBER OR A RIDER? #Suggestions.” The five-foot-nine, 190-pound Johnson spent 12 seasons in the CFL with Saskatchewan (twice), Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Montreal. A two-time league all-star (2009, ’11), Johnson was named the CFL’s top defensive player in 2011. He was with the Riders when they won the Grey Cup in 2007. Johnson, a native of Erie, Pa., recorded 543 career tackles, 34 interceptions, nine forced fumbles and 14 fumble recoveries over his CFL tenure. “I would like to thank the CFL, Bombers, Redblacks, Alouettes and Riders organizations for allowing a small kid from Erie, PA to impact their ball clubs in a way probably no one, but me expected!” he tweeted. “Changed lives, mad ppl smile and cry in a heartbeat! You'll always be family.” The Canadian Press

Officials: 1 dead, 4 police wounded in Illinois shooting

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:28
AURORA, Ill. - At least one person was killed and four police officers wounded when a shooter opened fire at an industrial park in Aurora, Illinois, officials said Friday. Kane County Coroner Chris Nelson confirmed one person was killed. City spokesman Clayton Muhammad said four officers were wounded and in stable condition, but did not say if they were shot. Muhammad also told ABC7 that the suspect had been “neutralized.” He did not elaborate. The Kane County coroner was at the scene. Live TV reports showed dozens of first responder vehicles outside a building housing the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, a city of about 200,000 people about 40 miles (65 kilometres) west of Chicago. Several ATF teams responded to the shooting and were at the scene, according to the agency’s Chicago spokeswoman, and the FBI said it also was responding. John Probst, an employee at the Henry Pratt Co. in Aurora, told ABC7 that he ran out of the back door as the shooting unfolded Friday afternoon.Probst says he recognized the gunman and that he works for the company. “What I saw was the guy running down the aisle with a pistol with a laser on it,” Probst said. He said the gunman had “a pistol with a laser.”Probst said he wasn’t hurt but that another colleague was “bleeding pretty bad.” The company makes valves for industrial purposes. Police said the situation had been contained and that there was “no ongoing threat to the public,” according to a statement issued by the Kane County Sheriff’s Department on behalf of the Aurora Police Department. The statement said the Aurora Police Department was expected to hold a news conference at 5 p.m. CST. The White House said President Donald Trump was briefed on a shooting in Illinois and monitoring the situation as he prepared to depart for a weekend trip to his home in Palm Beach, Florida. West Aurora School District 129 said on its website that it was keeping all students in their classrooms as police investigate, but that “teaching will continue with reduced movement.” Spokespeople for Mercy Medical Center and Rush Copley Medical Center in Aurora did not immediately return messages about whether either hospital was treating victims from the shooting. No victims had been sent to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in nearby Downers Grove as of Friday evening, spokeswoman Kate Eller told The Associated Press. The Associated Press

Crown stays sexual assault charge against Calgary chef Michael Noble

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:07
CALGARY - The Crown has stayed a sexual assault charge against prominent Calgary chef and restaurant owner Michael Noble because there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction. Police alleged that Noble followed an employee into a bathroom during a downtown Calgary social gathering in January of last year and sexually assaulted her. He pleaded not guilty and a trial had been scheduled for next month. “Circumstances have significantly changed over time and the existence of a reasonable likelihood of conviction no longer exists in this case,” Alberta Justice spokeswoman Katherine Thompson said in a statement Friday. “As such, the Crown had an obligation to terminate the prosecution.” She said the decision to report sexual assault is deeply personal and can be extremely difficult. “The survivors who come forward should be commended for their bravery. Crown prosecutors treat sexual assault cases with the utmost care and compassion.” Jennifer Ruttan, Noble’s lawyer, said her client was pleased the charge has been stayed. “Mr. Noble has been confident since entering a not guilty plea on his first court appearance that the court would properly dispose of the accusation against him,” she said in a statement.   “The Crown decision to stay the prosecution supports his confidence in the criminal justice system.” She said Noble is seeking privacy as he tries to “move forward and put this incredibly difficult and public ordeal behind him.” The stay halts the legal process for the case but the Crown could lift the stay within one year. Noble is known for running well-known Calgary restaurants The Nash and Notable.     Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Canadians make harrowing trek to Haiti airport as Ottawa advises against travel

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:06
MONTREAL - An Ottawa physician who navigated the dangerous roads of Haiti Friday to get to the Port-au-Prince airport with three Canadian colleagues says he feel lucky to be alive and is warning others stranded in the strife-torn country not to follow his lead. “Please do not do (what I did), because you can get killed,” Dr. Emilio Bazile told The Canadian Press from the airport after a harrowing seven-and-a-half hour journey that ended with his group hiring an ambulance driver to secure safe passage. “It was a dangerous game.” Bazile and his group, which included three health professionals from New Brunswick, decided they would set out early Friday in two vehicles, hopeful that negotiations between the Haitian president and the opposition would end the protests. But more barricades went up overnight Friday after negotiations failed. “We had false hope that things were going to improve,” Bazile said. “That’s why we went.” Instead, they drove into a lawless nightmare upon leaving Aquin, about 115 kilometres west of Port-au-Prince. They ran  into numerous roadblocks and had to detour onto secondary roads. “It was terrible,” Bazile said. “You have to pay every time you pass somewhere. You have to pay somebody $500, sometimes they ask $1,000 to allow you to pass.” The Canadian government issued a new advisory for Haiti late Thursday, saying Canadians should avoid all travel to the Caribbean country. Global Affairs Canada said it heightened its advisory due to ongoing civil unrest throughout the country. The notice warns that the “security situation could further deteriorate quickly” and that people should “consider leaving by commercial means while they are available.” The Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince has been closed since Wednesday. Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Friday that 113 tourists trapped at a Haitian resort are expected to be flown to safety Saturday. Legault told reporters in Montreal that helicopters will be used to ferry tourists from the Royal Decameron resort to the airport in the Haitian capital. Air Transat - the travel company with which they booked vacation packages before violence broke out  - will then fly them to Montreal. Legault said three helicopters with room for 20 passengers each will be deployed. They will make two trips to transport the 113 passengers. Air Transat said in a statement that the evacuation plan was made in co-operation with local authorities, the Canadian embassy in Haiti and the federal government. Earlier Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Ottawa and its diplomatic corps were working to help trapped Canadians get home. “We’re also obviously preoccupied with a number of Canadians who are in Haiti right now who are looking to come home to Canada in this crisis situation,” Trudeau said. Global Affairs didn’t provide an exact figure for the number of Canadians seeking to leave. Among them is a team of 26 aid workers with a missionary group from Quebec whose situation remained unchanged Friday. Another 24 missionaries from southern Alberta were in the country to host a women’s conference and work on a housing project. A co-ordinator for the group, Haiti Arise, said its people were safe in Grand-Goave, about 65 kilometres from the capital. They were waiting for a chartered helicopter to take them to the airport to catch a flight home later Friday as supplies ran low. “Everyone seems quite positive when I’m talking to them, but you know how it is when you want to go home, and they can’t at this time,” Michelle Guenther said in a phone interview. Haitians on Friday vowed to keep protesting until President Jovenel Moise resigns, despite his announcement of upcoming economic measures designed to quell more than a week of violent demonstrations across the country. Protesters are angry over skyrocketing inflation and the government’s failure to prosecute embezzlement from a multi-billion Venezuelan program that sent discounted oil to Haiti.  Moise said during a televised address late Thursday that he would not surrender the country to what he called armed gangs and drug dealers, and he accused people of freeing prisoners to kill him. It was the first time Moise had spoken since the demonstrations began, and he made another call for dialogue with the opposition. On Friday, the Canada Border Services Agency suspended deportations to Haiti. The agency said the stay is a temporary measure to defer removals in crisis situations and will be removed once the situation stabilizes. A CBSA spokesperson did not say how many people have been deported from Canada to Haiti since the beginning of the crisis. Bazile said amid the chaos, he was most concerned for his Canadian companions, who were very frightened by what was going on. At one point their vehicles were pelted with rocks and glass bottles. “I cried,” Bazile said. “When they were throwing things at us, I cried. It looked like there was no end to it, all the bad things. There was no end to it.” Taking a break at a home, they heard that emergency vehicles were passing barricades without problem. They decided to order an ambulance to provide safe passage for the final leg of the trip. “We ordered an ambulance, believe it or not, to go to the airport,” Bazile said. “We paid US$250 to the guy driving the ambulance - don’t tell me how an ambulance is charging you that.” Some members rode inside while the others drove behind. While waiting for the first of a series of flights scheduled to get him home to Ottawa by Saturday afternoon, Bazile expressed relief. “The most important thing - I’m out,” he said. Catherine Davies, a nurse from Woodstock, N.B. who was part of Bazile’s team wrote on Facebook Friday: “7.5 hours of a nightmare drive we are safely at the airport.” - with files from Morgan Lowrie in Montreal, Mylene Crete in Ottawa and The Associate Press. Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh votes in advance in Burnaby South byelection

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:06
BURNABY, B.C. - NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says he is taking nothing for granted as he continues to work hard to win a byelection in Burnaby, B.C., and gain a seat in Parliament. Singh made the comments after voting for himself in an advance poll on Friday ahead of the Feb. 25 byelection in Burnaby South. Asked whether recent Liberal government turmoil has helped his chances, he says Canadians are very disappointed with what’s happening. He says they’re troubled by the allegation that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to drop criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin. Trudeau has denied his office directed Wilson-Raybould and said Friday that the departure of former Treasury Board president Scott Brison necessitated a cabinet shuffle that prompted her move to Veteran’s Affairs. Singh says he is confident he will win in Burnaby South because he’s working his hardest to connect with people to let them know he’s on their side and fighting for a better Canada. “We’re going to go to Ottawa. We’re going to put some pressure on this government. We’re going to make sure they start investing in building housing, making our medication more affordable and actually push them to implement a universal medication coverage plan,” he said. “We want to see action on the environment. These are some of our priorities.” Liberal Richard T. Lee, Conservative Jay Shin and People’s Party of Canada candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson are also running in Burnaby South. The New Democrats beat the Liberals by just over 500 votes in the riding in the 2015 election. The Canadian Press

Trump’s national emergency: from shutdown frying pan to constitutional fire

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 16:05
WASHINGTON - With a few swipes of his Sharpie, Donald Trump assuaged America’s fears of another government shutdown Friday, but not before declaring a national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border. The move is a bid for billions of dollars in wall-building money that critics denounced as an illegal abuse of executive power. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted a photo of Trump signing the emergency declaration while the president was outside in the Rose Garden, hosting another combative, from-the-hip news conference that began with a lengthy celebration of his trade agenda and ended with the suggestion he should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Virtually from the outset, the president appeared to be in a defensive posture about the emergency declaration. He continued to frame it as an effort to block illegal migration, which he insists brings a steady flow of drugs, violence and crime. “It’s been signed many times before. It’s been signed by other presidents,” Trump said. “They signed it for far less important things, in some cases - in many cases. We’re talking about an invasion of our country with drugs, with human traffickers, with all types of criminals and gangs.” The move had congressional Democrats on a war footing. “The president’s unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist does great violence to our constitution and makes America less safe, stealing from urgently needed defence funds for the security of our military and our nation,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “The president is not above the law. The Congress cannot let the president shred the constitution.” Some Republicans weighed in against Trump: Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is not seeking re-election in Tennessee, called it “unnecessary, unwise and inconsistent” with the constitution, and warned against the risk of a Democratic president declaring emergencies to shut down coal plants or force working Americans into Medicare. Senators Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins and Rand Paul also broke ranks, albeit not for the first time.  Threats of legal action soon began pouring in - including from the American Civil Liberties Union and the state of California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom described Trump’s cherished border wall as “a monument to stupidity.” In a statement, the ACLU said it plans to argue that the president is overstepping both his authority and the parameters of the law he has invoked, which executive director Anthony Romero said is limited to military construction projects required to support the emergency use of U.S. armed forces. “This is a patently illegal power grab that hurts American communities and flouts the checks and balances that are hallmarks of our democracy.”  Friday was the deadline declared three weeks ago when Trump finally halted a 35-day government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history - a legacy of his dispute with congressional Democrats over demands for $5.7 billion for the wall. It was the centrepiece of his successful 2016 election campaign and something he’d initially insisted would be paid for by Mexico. Democrats and Republicans toiled well into the evening Thursday to come up with a compromise that provided Trump with $1.375 billion in border-security funding - well short of his total demand and even less than the original offer that triggered the Dec. 22 shutdown. Trump signed that bill later Friday, although he didn’t breathe a word about it in the Rose Garden. The ACLU also latched on to another peculiarity of Trump’s news conference that was making the rounds of Twitter feeds: that the president undermined his own argument by implying that there’s nothing particularly emergency-like about his national emergency. “I didn’t need to do this but I’d rather do it much faster,” he acknowledged. The move gives Trump access to a pool of funds totalling roughly $8 billion, including the $1.4 billion from Congress and some $6 billion in Department of Defense funding. But it also exposes prominent Republicans, including the president himself, to cries of hypocrisy, considering the outrage they showed at former president Barack Obama's frequent use of executive action. It’s also sure to put the White House in a protracted court battle.  “We will have a national emergency and we will then be sued,” Trump said in a melodic, sarcastic voice, not quite rolling his eyes. “We will possibly get a bad ruling, and then we’ll get another bad ruling, and then we’ll end up in the Supreme Court and hopefully we’ll get a fair shake and we’ll win in the Supreme Court.” Elizabeth Goitein, a co-director of the national security program at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, called Trump’s move a “grotesque abuse of power.”  “Emergency powers are for emergencies, not for circumventing the will of Congress on questions of policy,” Goitein said in a statement. “Congress should learn its lesson: gifting presidents with limitless discretion and hoping they won’t abuse it is taking dangerous risks with our democracy.” - Follow James McCarten on Twitter @CdnPressStyle James McCarten, The Canadian Press

Wilson-Raybould asked me if I would tell her what to do with SNC case: Trudeau

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:54
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says it was former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould who asked him in the fall if he planned to tell her what to do in the prosecution of Quebec engineering giant SNC-Lavalin - a conversation, he says, that ended with him telling her any decision was hers alone. The meeting has become a key incident in the controversy over allegations that Wilson-Raybould was subjected to political arm-twisting to help the company avoid criminal prosecution. SNC-Lavalin faces the possibility of being banned from federal contracts - a key portion of its work - for a decade if the company is convicted of bribery and fraud linked to the company’s efforts to secure business in Libya. During an event in the Ottawa suburb of Kanata Friday morning, Trudeau talked about the discussions inside his government around the company, including questions asked of him by two different Quebec premiers, representatives of the company and unions and MPs. Trudeau said the conversations were appropriate given the economic effects of a conviction for a company that employs thousands of people at home and abroad. He said all those talks led to the fall conversation where Wilson-Raybould asked whether Trudeau would be directing her to take a particular decision, particularly whether to strike a remediation deal to let the company pay a fine and bypass criminal charges. “We take very seriously our responsibility of standing up for jobs, of protecting jobs, of growing the economy, of making sure there are good jobs right across the country as there are with SNC-Lavalin. But as we do that, we always need to make sure we’re standing up for the rule of law and protecting the independence of our justice system,” Trudeau said. “There were many discussions going on. Which is why Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her, or going to direct her, to take a particular decision and I, of course, said no, that it was her decision to make and I expected her to make it. I had full confidence in her role as attorney general to make the decision.” In October, federal prosecutors rejected the company’s request for the remediation deal. In January, Wilson-Raybould was moved to the veterans-affairs portfolio as part of a shuffle precipitated by former Treasury Board president Scott Brison’s decision to leave politics. Trudeau said Brison’s sudden resignation from cabinet resulted in having to “move things around” on the team, including shuffling Wilson-Raybould - a decision based on what the prime minister vaguely described as “a wide range of factors.” “If Scott Brison had not stepped down from cabinet, Jody Wilson-Raybould would still be minister of justice and attorney general,” Trudeau said. The opposition parties quickly rejected Trudeau’s explanation. “Every day we’re hearing the prime minister come up with a new excuse, a new explanation, and none of them add up,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in Burnaby, B.C. “What we’re seeing is an attorney general who was pressured, allegedly, by the prime minister to drop a criminal charge against a corporation that has deep ties with the Liberal party. All of this strikes Canadians as very troubling.” Conservative MP Michelle Rempel tweeted that she wasn’t sure “what is worse: the inanity of the statement itself, or the arrogance of thinking we’re all stupid enough to buy that pile of garbage.” Even Brison’s husband seemed to catch on to the comment. Max St-Pierre tweeted: “It's ok, I usually blame my husband for everything too.” Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould felt pressured to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. Monday, Trudeau suggested her continued presence in the cabinet meant nothing untoward had happened. Wilson-Raybould proceeded to quit the cabinet on Tuesday. Trudeau didn’t say what reasons she gave for her resignation, only that he accepted her decision, even if he didn’t totally understand it. For her part, Wilson-Raybould has cited solicitor-client privilege when asked to speak publicly on the matter. She has hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to advise her on what she can and cannot say publicly. Trudeau also slammed anonymous Liberals who made unflattering remarks about Wilson-Raybould by suggesting she was difficult to work with and didn’t seem to be a team player. He called the comments, some of which were made to The Canadian Press, “absolutely unacceptable.” “The sexist comments, the racist comments that have been made by anonymous sources are unacceptable and I condemn them in the strongest possible terms,” he said. - With files from Hina Alam in Burnaby - Follow @jpress and @kkirkup on Twitter. Jordan Press and Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Crown in Norman case releases notes, rejects allegations of political influence

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:52
OTTAWA - Seeking to rebut an allegation that they’re operating in concert with the top levels of the federal government, Crown prosecutors in the case of Vice-Admiral Mark Norman gave his defence lawyers a set of notes from a meeting they say was an ordinary part of preparing the case. They’d previously handed over an edited version of the notes covering a session between them and the Privy Council Office, the department that supports Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The notes’ contents have attracted attention from the judge, and a promise from the defence to examine them closely as the case goes on. Norman was suspended as the military’s second-in-command in 2017 and charged last March with one count of breach of trust. He’s accused of leaking government secrets to undermine cabinet’s decision-making process on a major shipbuilding deal. He denies any wrongdoing. His legal team raised concerns earlier in the week about the independence of the federal prosecution service after learning about several discussions between prosecutors and lawyers from the Privy Council Office. In particular, the defence team highlighted an email from lead prosecutor Barbara Mercier to Norman’s lawyer Christine Mainville. In the email, which was filed in court Monday, Mercier explained that some of the handwritten notes from the meetings between the Crown and lawyers from the Privy Council Office were redacted because they dealt with “trial strategy.” Mainville raised the idea that the prosecution service appeared to be devising its strategy with the body that reports to and executes the directions of the Prime Minister’s Office. On Friday, prosecutor John MacFarlane rejected any idea of high-level political interference, which he called “serious allegations of Crown misconduct.” “The Privy Council Office is not involved in devising trial strategy with the (Public Prosecution Service of Canada), there’s no direction from the Privy Council Office to the PPSC on how to run its case, there’s no direction or input from the Prime Minister’s Office to our office on how to run its case,” MacFarlane told the court. “We have and we will continue to prosecute this matter independently and free from all political or other outside influences.” On Tuesday, the PPSC released a statement insisting it never sought or received instructions from the government about the Norman case.  MacFarlane argued Friday that there was nothing untoward about the discussions between the Crown and Privy Council Office lawyers. He insisted the talks were about finding a witness for the trial because the office is responsible for handling cabinet confidences, whose sanctity is at the heart of the case. He also informed the court that the prosecution decided to waive its claim of privilege over the notes. He agreed to provide Norman’s lawyers with unredacted copies. The move, he added, was meant to show “complete transparency.” The judge raised an eyebrow Friday about one line in the notes that she said was attributed to Paul Shuttle, who is the top counsel to the clerk of the Privy Council. “How about comments from Paul Shuttle like: ‘Is there a way to engineer the issues at stake?’ ” Judge Heather Perkins-McVey asked as she read from the partially redacted version of the notes. In the notes, which were presented in court Monday, the same line attributed to Shuttle continued with: “Have them framed?” “You wonder what that’s about and that’s the difficulty with notes,” Perkins-McVey said Friday. “We don’t know the context, we don’t know exactly what they were speaking about.” Mainville argued that some passages in the notes have nothing to do with the selection of a Privy Council Office witness. “Indeed, a lot of it remains a bit ambiguous” she said. She added that Norman’s team “certainly” intends to return to the issue, likely during proceedings scheduled for next month. “The redactions and the fact that, from our perspective, they should never have been made means that we all have to take a close look at anything … if this is how the prosecution has approached those issues,” she said. On Monday, Mainville said the discussions between the Crown and Privy Council Office were “more concerning” than allegations the Prime Minister’s Office tried to intervene in the criminal case against engineering and construction giant SNC-Lavalin. Trudeau’s office is accused of trying to pressure former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to direct federal prosecutors to negotiate a remediation deal with the Quebec-based company rather than move ahead with criminal prosecution. Norman’s case will be back before the judge next Friday for another date in his pre-trial process, which has already spent 10 days in court.  His trial is scheduled to start in August. Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press