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Fourteen “dream” homes ordered evacuated as sinkholes open in Sechelt, B.C.

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:45
Greg and Gerry Latham spent Friday morning scrambling to pack up family heirlooms as a series of sinkholes threatened to destroy their dream retirement home on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. The Lathams are among 14 families in an upscale seaside neighbourhood in Sechelt preparing to obey an evacuation order and they said they didn’t know if they would be allowed to return. “I’m standing in my beautiful home that has absolutely no furniture in it, looking out at the view, the eagles flying by,” Gerry Latham said through tears. “I’m just trying to figure out what to leave behind.” Although the sinkhole risk was documented before most of the homes were built, the Lathams said they weren’t told about the problem before buying. The situation has sparked lawsuits from several residents. Sinkholes throughout the Seawatch subdivision prompted the District of Sechelt to order the evacuation. The Lathams said they’ve been told RCMP would begin enforcing the order at 1 p.m. on Friday. The homes, with views overlooking Sechelt Inlet, are similar to others in a nearby subdivision valued at over $1 million, although the BC Assessment Authority values most of the buildings in the Seawatch subdivision at zero. An engineering report issued to the district Feb. 7 says future sinkholes or landslides within the subdivision could damage infrastructure or buildings, and injury or death are possible consequences.  A statement issued by the district says Concordia Seawatch Ltd. built and sold the subdivision despite engineering reports as early as 2006 describing the development of sinkholes. “The Seawatch subdivision was designed, built, marketed, and sold by a private company. The District of Sechelt cannot accept the argument that when a private sector venture falters, the cost should be borne by the Sechelt taxpayers,” the statement said. Concordia could not be reached for comment. After buying the property in 2004, Concordia submitted a geotechnical report before development began, then gave letters of assurance signed by several engineers certifying proper construction of the roads, water and sewer lines, the district said. It said Concordia’s geotechnical engineer issued a report in 2006 documenting sinkholes that had developed and setting out how the infrastructure should be designed. The company was required to register a restrictive covenant against title to all of the subdivided lots, the district said. “This means each property owner should have been aware of the geotechnical attributes of the land,” it said. The first major sinkhole to appear after residents moved in was in June 2012. In February 2015, another large sinkhole damaged a home, forcing the owners had to move out. The Lathams said their street began deteriorating early last year, leading to a road closure. In September 2018, another sinkhole appeared on an undeveloped property. The most recent large sinkhole appeared on Christmas Day. “There is a very high probability of at least one sinkhole collapse each year based on the recent history of the site,” an engineering report to the district says. Several homeowners have launched lawsuits against the district, Concordia, its contractor, engineering firms, the home warranty provider and real estate agents. Some have been dropped but two owners have ongoing litigation, the district said. A trial is set for March 23, 2020. The district’s statement says the most comprehensive solution to the problem would involve drilling wells, continuous pumping to remove groundwater, partial infrastructure replacement and repairing roads. But it says that would cost $10 million based on a 2015 estimate and the district cannot afford it without a referendum to raise property taxes immediately by 8.5 per cent. The provincial government will not offer assistance because the situation does not qualify under the emergency response program, the statement says. Despite early reports about the sinkhole risk, the Lathams said it was never disclosed to them by real estate agents, the developer, the district or the lawyer who conducted a title search for them. The couple said they can’t afford to enter the lawsuit, which has cost their neighbours $400,000 over four years.  The Lathams said they fear they’ve lost the $1 million plus $250,000 in improvements they sank into what they thought would be their retirement home. They’re now preparing to move into a 1,000-square-foot rental. “There’s been a lot of comments coming back to us saying, ‘Well you should have done your due diligence, you should have known better.’ People who live on the Sunshine Coast, who have lived here their entire lives, say, ‘Well we could have told you that,’ ” Gerry Latham said. None of the residents of the subdivision lived on the coast until they moved there, she said. They moved from Vancouver and she said they went through the same process as any other home they’ve purchased in their lives. “Where we erred, in my mind, was we trusted. We trusted the developer and the district that they were selling us a piece of property that had no issues,” she said. Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Alberta minor hockey team criticized for Indigenous dance video forfeits season

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:43
FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - Parents of Fort McMurray minor hockey players whose team was criticized for an Indigenous locker-room dance captured in a viral video say they’re forfeiting the rest of the season due to safety concerns. “We as parents are saddened for our children, as the rest of the season was compromised, and they couldn’t play the game they love due to fear from threats, anxiety and humiliation,” said a statement posted this week on Facebook. “Since this incident occurred, we as parents are left to pick up the pieces, restore our children’s reputations and try to salvage the rest of the year in the face of such adversity.” The video in January showed a boy beating his hockey stick against a trash-can lid as he and others jumped around and shouted to a song by Indigenous electronic group A Tribe Called Red. Shortly after, the Fort McMurray Minor Hockey Association apologized and called the actions by members of the Midget A Junior Oil Barons disrespectful. “It is wrong and will not be tolerated,” the association said in a statement at the time. “The display of ignorance is sad and gravely unfortunate.” The parents say some kids shown in the video are Indigenous and the dance was meant to be motivational, not derogatory or racist. Parent Shane Kearney said some people viewing the video may have assumed all the boys are white because many dyed their hair blond in support of a teammate’s mother who has cancer. The parents say the team has been threatened verbally and on social media, so they decided it was too dangerous to finish the season. “One of the comments made was ‘I hope that the next semi that collides with a bus is your guys’ hockey team,'” said Kearney. Sixteen people died and thirteen were injured last April when a semi-truck collided with a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team in rural Saskatchewan. “As a 15-16 year old, how do you deal with something like that? As parents, how do you deal with somebody making a comment like that towards your child.” Another parent, Roxanne Janes, said there have been social media posts identifying the team members and noting the times and locations of their games. The forfeiture means the team had to pay a $2,100 penalty to the league. There are six games left in the season. The hockey association did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. The parents say they’ve had “radio silence” since they expressed concern over the hockey association’s statement criticizing their children. “Those adults need to put out a public apology for how they mishandled this situation,” said Kearney. Janes said she still loves Fort McMurray’s minor hockey community. “The adults that were involved in writing, releasing this statement that condemned all of our kids - those are who we need to hold accountable for these actions,” she said. “But for Fort McMurray minor hockey - we are a family. We have amazing coaches, managers, players.” - by Lauren Krugel in Calgary The Canadian Press

Canada’s Brayden Schnur posts another upset at New York Open

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:43
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Canadian qualifier Brayden Schnur has made an improbable run to the semifinals at the ATP Tour’s New York Open. Schnur, ranked 154th in the world, beat Italy’s Paolo Lorenzi 6-7 (7), 7-6 (5), 7-5 on Friday in a quarterfinal at the ATP 250 event. The 23-year-old native of Pickering, Ont., who had never won a main tour match before this week, how now triumphed in five straight matches - two in qualifying and three in the main draw. The biggest win was a three-set triumph over world No. 34 Steve Johnson of the U.S., in the second round. Schnur is projected to go up to around No. 120 in the world if he loses in the semifinals. Against Lorenzi, Schnur out-aced his opponent 24-6. He fought off all three break points for Lorenzi and recorded the decisive break late in the third set to take a 6-5 lead. The 37-year-old Lorenzi is now 111th in the world after reaching a career high of No. 33 in 2017. Schnur, who played three years of NCAA tennis at the University of North Carolina, will face No. 6 seed Sam Querrey of the U.S., in the semis.         The Canadian Press

Striker Terrence Boyd ready to put his body on the line for Toronto FC

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:37
TORONTO - With Sebastian Giovinco now picking up a paycheque eight time zones away and Jozy Altidore working his way back to match fitness after ankle surgery, Toronto FC fans are about to get a dose of Terrence Boyd. It should be fun. The physical Boyd is a larger-than-life character who promises to cause some havoc on the football field. But, after reading some of his own press recently, the German-born American striker offered up a caveat. “First of all, I’m not Giovinco. I’m not capable of what he can do,” Boyd said Friday with a chuckle. “I’m a guy who just throws himself into every tackle. I just try to sacrifice myself for the team.” “Off the pitch, I’m like a clown. I don’t take life seriously,” he added. “And then on the pitch, I’m not scared of anybody.” Toronto captain Michael Bradley has played with Boyd internationally. “He knows exactly who he is,” said Bradley “He’s a guy who’s going to be a physical presence. He’s not afraid of contact. He’s not afraid to put his body into people. He’s not afraid to make sure that every defender who walks off the field after playing against him understands that it’s not been an easy day.” Coach Greg Vanney calls Boyd a big physical forward “who likes to get a piece of defenders.” “I think he will drive centre backs crazy … He’s just a handful to deal with,” he added. And Vanney says with each game in pre-season, Boyd became more connected to his new team. After flying back from California on Wednesday and a day off Thursday, the Toronto players had a light workout indoors Friday. The games get real next week. Toronto leaves Sunday for Panama, where it will face Club Atletico Independiente on Tuesday in a round-of-16 Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League game. The return leg is Feb. 26 at BMO Field. TFC kicks off the MLS regular season March 2 in Philadelphia. With the departure of Giovinco (to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal FC) and Spanish playmaker Victor Vazquez (Qatar’s Al-Arabi SC), Toronto’s strike force remains a work in progress. Vanney says Altidore may be available for a few minutes in the Champions League return leg or MLS season opener. And reinforcements are expected although they may be more angled to the role of provider. The club has been linked to KRC Genk playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo, a 27-year Spaniard, as a possible designated player target. Argentine striker Jonathan (Jony) Menendez, a 24-year-old currently with Independiente of Argentina, also has been linked to a loan move. Vanney expects several more additions, including a new goalkeeper to join starter Alex Bono and Caleb Patterson-Sewell. Looking to create more width to his offence and to make Altidore the focal point of the attack with Giovinco gone, Vanney has used a 4-3-3 formation in pre-season with a centre forward flanked by wingers. Boyd can serve as understudy in that role, stepping up as needed to keep Altidore fresh during another busy season with action on three fronts - MLS, the Champions League and Canadian Championship. Vanney says while the two could play together, he doesn’t envision “playing them a ton together.” “I don’t think they’re extraordinarily complementary but I do think that they could a handful for any two centre backs who had to deal with them.”  Boyd was born in Bremen, Germany, to a German mother and U.S. father, a soldier who was stationed there. Apart from one year in the U.S., he grew up in Germany. He was out of contract after spending the last three seasons with SV Darmstadt 98 in the German second tier. He had five goals and two assists in 44 appearances there. Former Toronto captain Torsten Frings, then SV Darmstadt 98 manager, brought him to the club, Boyd began his career with Hertha BSC’s reserve squad in 2009. Two years later he signed with Borussia Dortmund, spending one season with its reserve side. Ahead of the 2012 season, Boyd signed with Austrian club Rapid Vienna where he flourished. He made 80 appearances in three seasons, scoring 37 goals and adding 11 assists in all competitions. He was sold to RB Leipzig in the summer of 2014 before joining Darmstadt. He has won 14 caps for the U.S., appearing most recently as a substitute in an October 2016 friendly against New Zealand. Away from the soccer field, Boyd lives in the Frankfurt area with his girlfriend and daughter and co-owns a cafe called Boyd’s in Mannheim. Asked how it’s doing, he laughed and replied: “Not well,” blaming the winter. He expects business to pick up in the summer. NOTES: Toronto is taking its chef on the road for the game in Panama … Scottish-born midfielder Adam Wilson, Toronto’s second-round draft pick last month, has left the club, looking to pursue other opportunities rather than join TFC 2 … Vanney says 19-year-old winger Jacob Shaffelburg of Port Williams, N.S., has a chance to make the first club after impressing in pre-season … Veteran defender Drew Moor, limited to just eight regular-season game last season, has been dealing with a minor hamstring issue.   Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

Federal NDP not selling with unions, Canadians: labour leader

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 15:08
OTTAWA - The federal NDP is struggling to reach members of the labour movement and Canadians in general, says Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff. Organized labour is a crucial well of moral and practical support for the New Democrats. Criticism from one of Canada’s most prominent labour leaders is a jolt as leader Jagmeet Singh faces a critical byelection in less than two weeks. Polls put the NDP well behind the Liberals and Conservatives in popular support and the party’s recent fundraising has been poor. In a roundtable interview with The Canadian Press, Yussuff said Singh has acknowledged some of his shortcomings, adding he might find a “better groove” if he wins a seat in the House of Commons. Singh faces that test this month: securing the riding of Burnaby South in a byelection set for Feb. 25. During the race, Singh has faced internal and external questions about what will happen if he loses. He has insisted he’s in the NDP leadership for the long haul, even if he doesn’t get that much-desired seat. Yussuff - who leads what is billed as the largest labour organization in Canada, comprising unions with 3.3 million workers - said the congress values its relationship with the NDP. It was critical to founding the party in 1962 in a merger of the labour movement with the political Co-operative Commonwealth Federation. He stressed the party must figure out how to manage its relationship with the labour movement and the public. “I think the party is struggling with two things right now,” he said. “The public, they’re not resonating - the polls speak to that, it is not just me. And secondly, I think that reflects our own members’ connection to the party.” In response to Yussuff, Singh’s chief of staff Jennifer Howard issued a statement saying the party is actively engaged with workers across the country and has received lots of support in byelections, including in Burnaby South. “Just last week, Jagmeet was the only candidate to appear at a debate hosted by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, and a lot of volunteers signed up to help on his campaign,” Howard said. “As the labour movement has been working to bring pharmacare to Canadians, the NDP has been pressuring the government to implement a universal plan that would lower the costs of prescription drugs for all,” she added, emphasizing one of the party’s big policy promises. Mark Hancock, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said Friday that he was personally out door-knocking with Singh early this month. “The way Jagmeet carries himself, and the way he’s able to connect with individuals, was amazing,” he said in an interview on Friday. “The problem that we face, and I think Canadians are having, is they don’t really know Jagmeet yet.” Singh will shine when he’s in the House of Commons, Hancock added. His absence from Parliament has been an obvious disadvantage, Yussuff said. “Fundamentally, if he gets elected on the 25th, he’s got to get on to his best footing as quickly as he can because people are going to want to watch him perform … he doesn’t have a lot of time,” he said. “The House is going to adjourn (in June before the next election), we have 10 weeks or something by the time he gets into the House, if he’s lucky, to define his space and I think that’s going to be a huge challenge for him.” -Follow @kkirkup on Twitter Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Diane Rehm testifies for assisted-death bill in Maryland

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:57
ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Retired radio talk show host Diane Rehm is speaking in favour of a Maryland measure to allow the terminally ill to end their lives with a doctor’s help, but opponents say it could enable vulnerable people who aren’t terminally ill to kill themselves. Rehm, a former NPR host, has supported assisted-death legislation since her husband, John, died while in hospice care in 2014. She says he felt betrayed the law would not allow a physician to end his suffering. Paul Okerblom listened with opponents outside a crowded hearing room. He says elderly people could choose to end their lives because they feel they have become a burden. Medically assisted deaths are legal in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The Associated Press

10 days before show time, a full-on revolt over the Oscars

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:55
Would anyone - anyone at all - like to thank the academy? This is normally the time of year when Oscar hopefuls are readying acceptance speeches that almost always begin with a few words of gratitude for the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. But that sentiment has been hard to come by in the torturous and troubled lead-up to the 91st Academy Awards. After a litany of public-relations disasters, backtracks and missteps, the latest dust-up surrounds the film academy’s plans to remove four categories from the live portion of Feb. 24’s broadcast, including cinematography and editing, arguably the two most foundational components of moviemaking. The academy, desperate to reverse sliding ratings, says a shortened show must go on. On Wednesday evening, dozens of Hollywood heavyweights - including Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, Brad Pitt, cinematographer Roger Deakins and director Damien Chazelle - issued an open-letter to the academy’s leadership blasting the decision to not air the four awards, which also include live-action short and hairstyling and makeup, live on the ABC telecast. “Relegating these essential cinematic crafts to lesser status in this 91st Academy Awards ceremony is nothing less than an insult to those of us who have devoted our lives and passions to our chosen profession,” the group wrote. “When the recognition of those responsible for the creation of outstanding cinema is being diminished by the very institution whose purpose it is to protect it, then we are no longer upholding the spirit of the Academy’s promise to celebrate film as a collaborative art form.” The academy responded with a letter of its own, blaming “inaccurate reporting and social media posts” for “a chain of misinformation.” Signed by academy president John Bailey, a cinematographer, and other officers from the academy’s board of governors, the letter sought to assure members that the four winning speeches will be included in the broadcast (just not live, or with a walk to the stage) and that in future years, four to six different categories will be similarly truncated. After years of #OscarSoWhite backlash, one infamous envelope mix-up and the reckoning that followed the expulsion of Harvey Weinstein from the academy, this year’s Academy Awards drama has been self-inflicted. In response to last year’s all-time low of 26.5 million viewers, the Oscars - the grandest and most glamorous award show ever created - are shrinking. And nobody likes it. “People in general have a hard time with change. Change is sometimes hard to swallow. And I think the way that the news came out, it came out in the wrong way,” says Mary Zophres, one of the 54 members of the board of governors and a costume designer nominated this year for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” at an event celebrating nominees hosted by industry site The Wrap. “But there is a need to make sure that the ratings are competitive.” The academy’s headaches began after it last summer trotted out the induction of a “popular film Oscar.” The plan sparked such outrage (Rob Lowe pronounced the film industry dead, “survived by sequels, tent-poles and vertical integration”) that the new award was scuttled within a month. Then Kevin Hart announced, himself, that he was hosting this year’s awards. When many took issue with his old homophobic tweets, the comedian initially “chose to pass on the apology,” inflaming the backlash. Within hours, he withdrew as host and, finally supplied an apology to the LGBTQ community. The Oscars are now host-less for only the fifth time in its 91-year history. The most recent, in 1989, resulted in an infamous duet between Snow White and Rob Lowe. Other plans to tweak tradition also backfired. After first planning to limit the best song nominee performances, the academy confirmed that all songs will indeed be performed. “They made the right decision to include all the songs,” said Diane Warren, a nominee for the “RBG” song “I’ll Fight.” ”It wouldn’t be fair to just have two songs. That’s basically saying those other songs don’t matter.” Some have blamed ABC, which owns the Oscar broadcast rights for the next decade, for pressuring the academy into some of these measures. ABC declined to comment. Still, the negative response from prominent academy members was more than the academy’s leadership was expecting. Alfonso Cuaron, who’s nominated for four Oscars including best cinematography, has been among the most vocal critics, declaring: “No one single film has ever existed without CINEMAtography and editing.” Guillermo del Toro, whose “The Shape of Water” won best picture and best director at last year’s ceremony, said cinematography and editing “are cinema itself.” “I don’t like it. I don’t think that’s a cool deal. I’m an artist so I believe we’ve all worked really hard, we’ve nurtured our gifts and we should all be able to celebrate them with the world,” says Regina King, a nominee for best supporting actress. “It just doesn’t seem like 15 minutes is gonna make that big of a difference.” But the academy is insistent on getting the normally four hour-plus telecast down to three hours. Ratings for all award shows have declined in recent years, but it remains to be seen whether a shorter show will have any effect on larger viewing habit transformations. What is clear is that the challenges of producing a big-tent, for-everybody broadcast are growing as mass audiences continue to fracture. For an institution like the academy, which has year-round involvement in things like film preservation and a much-delayed $400 million Los Angeles museum, the Oscar broadcast is the primary revenue generator. “They make about six or seven million dollars a year off of the Academy Awards on television which pays for the academy,” says Michael Douglas, a two-time Oscar winner. “How do you put together an entertaining show versus (honour the winners)? So, I understand as far as a television viewing audience show, they don’t do a very good job.” “I just saw the Grammys - best opening I’ve seen in a long time,” Douglas added. “Theirs is a three-and-a-half hour show that only has nine awards, you know? Because it’s all musical productions.” But like the Oscars, Hollywood is getting smaller. This year, the 83-year-old 20th Century Fox, one of the “Big Six” major studios, will become part of the Walt Disney Co. More change is afoot. Netflix could this year win its first best picture Academy Award thanks to Cuaron’s “Roma.” The irony is that all the attention on the host-less, controversial Oscar broadcast has meant no one is talking about the movies. And this year’s nominees, including the year’s No. 1 domestic hit, “Black Panther,” are one of the most-watched groups in years - exactly what the academy craves. But with less than two weeks to go, some worry that the dust won’t settle by show time. “People need to calm down about it before the Oscars and we only have like 10 days,” says Zophres. “What worries me more is actual unrest in the building before, during or after. So they need to make sure that everybody is under control.” ___ Jill Dobson contributed to this report. Jake Coyle And Lindsey Bahr, The Associated Press

Former SNC executive has obstruction charge dropped because of excessive delays

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:54
MONTREAL - A former SNC-Lavalin executive and his lawyer had obstruction of justice charges against them stayed Friday on the grounds that it took too long to bring the case to trial. The engineering company’s former executive vice-president Sami Bebawi and his lawyer, Constantine Kyres, were initially charged with obstruction 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. Bebawi and his lawyer declined to speak to reporters after the ruling. Kyres’s lawyer, Frank Pappas, said he believes 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 after Superior Court Justice Guy Cournoyer read his ruling. “Finally, the delays caused by the Crown’s decision and strategies is what sunk their ship.” 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 could not demonstrate that the delays in the case were reasonable. “The file seemed to have been abandoned like a ship without a captain,” Cournoyer said, referring to the lengthy delays in the trial. Crown prosecutor Benoit Robert said he does not know if he will appeal Friday’s decision. “We will analyze it and we will decide afterwards if we will appeal it or not,” he said. 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. That case stems from the same Project Assistance investigation that led to charges against SNC-Lavalin. 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. The Canadian Press

Cat Lake leaders slam political inaction; warn mould may force evacuation

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:49
TORONTO - Angry and frustrated leaders of a remote northern Ontario reserve warned on Friday they will be forced to evacuate their community unless they receive immediate help dealing with mould-infested housing and their ailing children. A month after Cat Lake First Nation declared an emergency over the squalid conditions that have left more than 100 children ill with severe skin conditions and lung infections, the community said both the federal and provincial governments have done little to help. “Nothing has been done. No action has been taken,” Abigail Wesley, the deputy chief, said at the Ontario legislature. The situation, she said, was desperate. Almost 100 homes in the fly-in Ojibway community north of Sioux Lookout are in such bad shape due to mould, bare wiring and cracked foundations that they need to be demolished. The problem is that there are no other housing options. The roughly 450 residents of the community said they have been asking for help since 2006 to no avail. Poor health has become endemic, they said, with an average of one person every three days having to be medevaced out for health care. Treatment in the community comprises essentially of ointment and inhalers that can’t fix the underlying problem, residents said. Joyce Cook, a band councillor, said the skin and lung ailments are taking a toll on the mental health of those afflicted. The community urgently needs both the federal and provincial governments to step up - and right away, she said. “We’re not even being recognized or heard,” Cook said. “It’s just an echo through the woods.” For his part, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said on Friday that government officials and community representatives discussed an independent health assessment during a “technical meeting” on Feb. 7.  A pediatric respirologist and support staff arrived in the community on Thursday to conduct the assessment and provide treatment as needed, he said. Another team with another specialist was due next week. “We will address the results of the assessment as soon as they are available on an urgent basis,” O’Regan said in a statement. “We also reiterated and expanded upon our previous commitments to begin repairs immediately and to identify, with the community, units requiring replacement on an urgent basis.” Provincial Indigenous Affairs Minister Greg Rickford said he’s had discussions with the band leadership and was looking at the possibility of providing at least some immediate housing relief. He refused to discuss what specific measures the province was looking at. At the same time, Rickford accused the federal government of inactivity, and said he expected action. “They’ve done a lot of promising to these communities and delivered very little,” Rickford said of Ottawa. “We’ll continue to press them hard for it.” Provincial New Democrat Sol Mamakwa, who called the evacuation threat real, said the community could not keep living with a status quo that included federal-provincial bickering over responsibility for the situation while nothing changed. “Our people are always played in a game of jurisdictional ping pong,” said Mamakwa, who represents the northwestern riding of Kiiwetinoong. “They fall into this jurisdictional black hole.” Federal New Democrat Charlie Angus deplored the lack of action from both levels of government, saying people in Cat Lake have heard nothing but vague promises. Angus also called the threat of fire another unaddressed and critical issue, with children forced to sleep in basements beside unsafe wood stoves. “People can die and people will die if nothing is done,” Angus said. Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Roughriders re-sign all-star Canadian kicker Brett Lauther

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:49
REGINA - The Saskatchewan added a free agent, kept one of their own and signed Canadian kicker Brett Lauther to a one-year extension through 2020 on Friday. Lauther, of Truro, N.S., was named a West Division all-star last year after hitting 54-of-60 field-goal attempts. The 90 per cent success rate was the second-best mark in club history. Lauther, 28, was named the Riders’ outstanding special-teams player and top Canadian last year. He broke into the league with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in 2013, but didn’t get another shot in the regular season until last year. Saskatchewan also re-signed receiver Naaman Roosevelt and added fellow American Emmanuel Arceneaux. Both players signed one-year deals. Roosevelt is entering his fifth season with the Riders. In 2018, the 31-year-old Buffalo, N.Y., native had 48 catches for 570 yards and four TDs in 14 regular-season games, He added seven receptions for 79 yards in the West semifinal. Roosevelt has recorded 224 catches for 3,188 yards and 19 TDs over his CFL career. The six-foot-two, 210-pound Arceneaux joins the Riders after eight CFL seasons with the B.C. Lions. He has 556 career catches for 8,169 yards and 55 TDs over 129 career regular-season games, Last year, the 31-year-old had 32 catches for 553 yards and one touchdown in nine regular-season games.  Arceneaux was named a CFL all-star in 2015 and 2016, and a West Division all-star in 2015, 2016 and 2017.   BEHAR COMING BACK TO OTTAWA Former Carleton University star receiver Nate Behar is returning to Ottawa after signing a one-year deal with the Redblacks. Behar had 27 receptions for 257 yards and a touchdown last year for the Edmonton Eskimos, who drafted him fifth overall in 2017. The 24-year-old returns to Ottawa after a university career that saw him catch for 2,577 yards and 21 touchdowns in 30 games for the Ravens, twice earning all-Canadian honours. The Redblacks also re-signed American receiver Dominque Rhymes to a one-year deal. The 25-year-old Miami native has spent the past two seasons in Ottawa. Last season, Ryhmes caught 22 passes for 303 yards and a touchdown. He has 522 receiving yards in 19 career games in the CFL for Ottawa.   HAYES REJOINS STAMPEDERS American defensive back Gump Hayes has rejoined the Calgary Stampeders. Hayes originally signed with Calgary on May 9, 2018 but spent the entire season on the practice roster.   LIONS RE-SIGN PETERS The B.C. Lions have re-signed American defensive back Garry Peters to a one-year deal. The six-foot, 190-pound Peters had 73 tackles, two interceptions, one sack and a forced fumble in 18 regular-season games last season. “Garry's return along with T.J. Lee's extension and the addition of Aaron Grymes and Josh Woodman gives us a very strong starting point in the secondary,” Lions GM Ed Hervey said in a statement. “We still have some work to do but we're creating a very strong group back there." The Canadian Press

City reports active shooter situation in Aurora, Illinois

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:48
City officials say there is an active shooter situation at an industrial park in Aurora, Illinois. The city sent a tweet Friday afternoon saying police are on the scene. Live TV reports show dozens of first responder vehicles outside a building housing the Henry Pratt Co. Police have not said if anyone has been shot. The Associated Press

Alaska court strikes down ‘medically necessary’ abortion law

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:45
JUNEAU, Alaska - The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday struck down as unconstitutional a state law and regulation seeking to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions for purposes of Medicaid funding. The court, in a 4-1 decision, upheld a 2015 lower court ruling that had also barred the measures from being enforced. Both the law, passed in 2014, and regulation, penned during the administration of then-Gov. Sean Parnell, sought to define medically necessary abortions. Supporters argued the state should not be required to pay for elective abortions. The measures were challenged by Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. The majority opinion written by Justice Susan Carney states that disparate restrictions on government funding for women based on their choice of abortion or childbirth deter the exercise of a fundamental right because rejection of one option entails embrace of the other. The state argued the feasibility of a program like Medicaid depended on the ability to set limits, according to the decision. However, the legislative record contained no evidence that Medicaid had actually funded non-medically necessary abortions, the ruling states. The law and regulation violate the state constitution’s guarantee of equal protection, the court ruled. Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, saying he believes the Legislature can constitutionally determine as a matter of state policy what is medically necessary for purposes of Medicaid funding. He said the court in the majority opinion “goes to great lengths in construing the statute and regulation to ensure that the conclusion of unconstitutionality is inevitable.” Messages seeking comment were left with the state Department of Law and Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. The law defined medically necessary abortions as those needed to avoid a threat of serious risk to a woman’s life or physical health from continuation of a pregnancy. That could mean a serious risk of death or “impairment of a major bodily function” because of one of 21 different conditions, such as congestive heart failure, seizures and epilepsy. It also included a more general category: “another physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy that places the woman in danger of death or major bodily impairment if an abortion is not performed.” The regulation is similar but also included consideration of psychiatric disorders. Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press

Kaepernick, Eric Reid settle collusion grievances with NFL

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:41
NEW YORK - Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have settled collusion cases against the NFL. The league and Kaepernick’s lawyer sent out statements Friday saying that “the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances” and that a confidentiality agreement would prevent either side from commenting further. It remains unclear if the NFL admitted wrongdoing or how much money Reid, Kapernick or others may have received. Considering the lost salary both players claimed and legal costs, the settlement could have climbed into the tens of millions. “For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL,” the league statement said. “As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.” Kaepernick’s lawyer Mark Geragos tweeted a similar statement . Kaepernick and Reid filed collusion grievances against the league, saying they were blacklisted because of protests during the national anthem at games. Kaepernick has not played in the league since 2016, while Reid missed three games last season before signing with Carolina. Kaepernick contended the owners violated their collective bargaining agreement with players by conspiring to keep him off teams. A wave of protests by NFL players began in 2016 after Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem to call attention to police brutality and racial inequality. The protests grew into one of the most polarizing issues in sports, with President Donald Trump loudly urging the league to suspend or fire players who demonstrate during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Kaepernick filed his grievance in August 2017. Arbitrator Stephen B. Burbank sent it to trial, denying the league’s request to throw out the former 49ers quarterback’s claims. Burbank’s decision meant there was enough evidence of collusion to keep the grievances going. While he has been away from the playing field, Kaepernick has become an advocate for battling social and racial injustice. On Thursday, a person with knowledge of the conversations told the AP that Kaepernick turned down a chance to join the fledgling Alliance of American Football , seeking $20 million or more from the upstart league that pays its players $225,000 over three seasons. Safety Reid recently re-signed with the Panthers for three years and more than $22 million. He noted then that he got “fair market value” after making just $1.69 million last season from the Panthers. “If anything, it proves my point from last year,” Reid said. “I didn’t sign until the (fourth) week and did for almost the league minimum. And this year I signed a more substantial contract. And nothing has changed. I’m still the same player.” Officials with the players union said Friday afternoon that they had just learned of the settlement and had no details. “We continuously supported Colin and Eric from the start of their protests, participated with their lawyers throughout their legal proceedings and were prepared to participate in the upcoming trial in pursuit of both truth and justice for what we believe the NFL and its clubs did to them,” the NFLPA said in statement. “We are glad that Eric has earned a job and a new contract, we continue to hope that Colin gets his opportunity as well.” ___ More AP NFL: and Barry Wilner, The Associated Press

Sanchez feels back to old self after first bullpen session of spring training

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 14:39
DUNEDIN, Fla. - Aaron Sanchez is feeling like the pitcher he was back in 2016. And his new manager can’t stop smiling about that. The Blue Jays right-hander, who dealt with finger injuries over the last two seasons, threw his first bullpen session of spring training on Friday as manager Charlie Montoyo and pitching coach Pete Walker looked on. “I told him after he finished with the bullpen, I saw the guy that he was two years ago,” Montoyo told reporters at Dunedin Stadium Friday afternoon. “He looked good and I’m very happy about his bullpen today. “I was on the other side (as a coach with the Tampa Bay Rays) and I told him: ‘I’m hoping you get back to the way you used to be,’ because he was nasty. … If we get that guy back I’m going to keep smiling like this.” Sanchez was just as pleased with his first throwing session of 2019, even if he looked less enthusiastic about it than his naturally energetic manager did. “I felt good. For me I feel like I’m back to normal,” Sanchez said calmly. “There were a few years there I was battling things with my hand that didn’t allow me to be who I wanted to be. “It’s nice to finally feel like I’m back to who I am.” The 26-year-old Sanchez had surgery on his right middle finger in September, ending a disappointing season that included a lengthy stint on the disabled list after he got his finger stuck in his suitcase in June. Sanchez was shut down for 12 weeks after the surgery, meaning he couldn’t participate in any baseball activities, but he said he felt better immediately after undergoing the procedure. “My finger was killing me for the longest time so I felt it instantly,” Sanchez said. “At that point it was like: ‘all right, you have to relearn to move this finger in a way you haven’t been moving it for months now,’ so you just set your mind to it and realize how much work it’s going to take. “There’s a lot out there on the table that’s waiting for me to go grab so that was the easy part, going through that. … I knew probably two or three weeks after surgery when I could finally put my finger around a baseball, I think that was the point where it was like ‘all right, I’m back.'”  Sanchez had struggled with blisters and nail-related issues on his throwing hand since 2017. He finished 2018 with a 4-6 record, a 4.25 earned-run average and 86 strikeouts over 105 innings pitched. That was a far cry from his breakout 2016 season where he played in the all-star game and had an American-League best 3.00 ERA and 161 strikeouts over 192 innings. Sanchez said Friday that he noticed some changes in his delivery over the course of the last two years that contributed to a dip in performance. “Just subtle things, nothing crazy but things that altered the plane, altered the release point, things you don’t really know you do when you’re doing it,” Sanchez said. “It wasn’t anything major or drastic but it was something I found that needed to be cleaned up.” Sanchez’s first throwing session - which consisted of a few dozen pitches thrown to catcher Danny Jansen at Bobby Mattick Training Center - was recorded by small cameras attached to the bullpen fence. Montoyo said Walker would go through the data with the team’s analytics department and discuss their takeaways with the pitcher. But Sanchez didn’t seem too interested in that process, at least not right now. “I don’t really (use advanced data). I just do it myself,” he said. “If I have questions I’ll ask but I haven’t really dipped into that yet.” Sanchez said he’s using this training camp to get back to his pitching fundamentals and boost his velocity back up to where it was during his most dominant seasons. And he doesn’t foresee any problems with that.   “Yeah I got no concerns about that. … I feel good,” he said. “I didn’t leave, I just had a setback. What you guys have seen and what you guys witnessed in the past has not left, it’s not gone. “It’s just a matter of getting my arm back in throwing shape and we’ll see how it all shakes out.” Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press

Former SNC executive has obstruction charge dropped because of excessive delays

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:51
MONTREAL - A former SNC-Lavalin executive and his lawyer have had obstruction of justice charges against them stayed on the grounds that it took too long to bring the case to trial. The engineering company’s former executive vice-president Sami Bebawi and his lawyer, Constantine Kyres, were initially charged with obstruction 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 defendants invoked the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2016 Jordan decision, which set limits on how long a criminal cases can take, and a judge agreed today. 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. That case stems from the same Project Assistance investigation that led to charges against SNC-Lavalin. 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. The Canadian Press

Alaska court strikes down ‘medically necessary’ abortion law

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:33
JUNEAU, Alaska - The Alaska Supreme Court on Friday struck down as unconstitutional a state law and regulation seeking to define what constitutes medically necessary abortions. The court, in a 4-1 decision, upheld a 2015 lower court decision. Both the law and regulation sought to define what constitutes a medically necessary abortion for purposes of Medicaid funding. The high court ruled disparate restrictions on government funding for women based on their choice of abortion or childbirth deter the exercise of a fundamental right. That’s because, the court said, rejection of one option entails embrace of the other. “We therefore conclude that the statue and the regulation violate the Alaska Constitution’s guarantee of equal protect,” the ruling said. Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, saying he believes the Legislature can constitutionally determine as a matter of state policy what is medically necessary for purposes of Medicaid funding. The law defined medically necessary abortions as those needed to avoid a threat of serious risk to a woman’s life or physical health from continuation of a pregnancy. That could mean a serious risk of death or “impairment of a major bodily function” caused by one of 21 different conditions, such as coma, seizures and epilepsy. It also included a more general category: “another physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness, including a life-endangering physical condition caused by or arising from the pregnancy that places the woman in danger of death or major bodily impairment if an abortion is not performed.” The regulation is similar but also included consideration of psychiatric disorders. Becky Bohrer, The Associated Press

Kaepernick, Eric Reid settle collusion lawsuits with NFL

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:33
NEW YORK - Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid have settled collusion lawsuits against the NFL. In a three-sentence statement released Friday, the NFL said: “For the past several months, counsel for Mr. Kaepernick and Mr. Reid have engaged in an ongoing dialogue with representatives of the NFL. As a result of those discussions, the parties have decided to resolve the pending grievances. The resolution of this matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement so there will be no further comment by any party.” Kaepernick’s lawyer tweeted an identical statement. Kaepernick and Reid filed collusion grievances against the league, saying they were blacklisted because of protests during the national anthem at games. Kaepernick has not played in the league since 2016, while Reid missed three games last season before signing with Carolina. ___ More AP NFL: and Barry Wilner, The Associated Press

Trump declares national emergency to get $8 billion for wall

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:32
WASHINGTON - Defiant in the face of a stinging budget defeat, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday to get more federal dollars for his long-promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, relying on a broad interpretation of his powers that was certain to trigger stiff legal challenges. Bypassing Congress, which approved far less money for his proposed wall than he had sought, Trump said he will use executive action to siphon billions of dollars from federal military construction and counterdrug efforts for the wall. The move drew immediate bipartisan criticism on Capitol Hill and is expected to face rounds of legal challenges. Trump made the announcement from the Rose Garden, as he claimed illegal immigration was “an invasion of our country.” In a comment that will surely be used to challenge the legal underpinnings of his emergency declaration, Trump hinted at the political realities behind his action. “I could do the wall over a longer period of time,” he said. “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” Trump’s move followed a rare show of bipartisanship when lawmakers voted Thursday to fund large swaths of the government and avoid a repeat of this winter’s debilitating five-week government shutdown. Trump’s insistence on wall funding has been a flashpoint in his negotiations with Congress for more than two years, as has the resistance of lawmakers in both parties to meeting the president’s request. West Wing aides acknowledged there was insufficient support among Republicans to sustain another shutdown fight, leading Trump to decide to test the limits of his presidential powers. The money in the bill for border barriers, about $1.4 billion, is far below the $5.7 billion Trump insisted he needed and would finance just a quarter of the more than 200 miles (322 kilometres) he wanted this year. To bridge the gap, Trump announced that he will be spending roughly $8 billion on border barriers - combining the money approved by Congress with funding he plans to repurpose through executive actions, including the national emergency. Despite widespread opposition in Congress to proclaiming an emergency, including by some Republicans, Trump was responding to pressure to act unilaterally to soothe his conservative base and avoid appearing like he’s lost his nerve on his defining promise to voters. Trump advisers on the campaign and inside the White House insist that, fulfilled or not, the promise of a wall is a winning issue for Trump as he heads into his re-election campaign as long as he doesn’t appear to be throwing in the towel. Word that Trump would declare the emergency prompted condemnations from Democrats and threats of lawsuits from states and others who might lose federal money or said Trump was abusing his authority. In a sing-songy tone of voice, Trump described how the decision will be challenged and work its way through the courts, including up to the U.S. Supreme Court. He said, “Sadly, we’ll be sued and sadly it will go through a process and happily we’ll win, I think.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called it an “unlawful declaration over a crisis that does not exist” and said it “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. “ “The President’s actions clearly violate the Congress’s exclusive power of the purse, which our Founders enshrined in the Constitution,” they said in a joint statement. “The Congress will defend our constitutional authorities in the Congress, in the Courts, and in the public, using every remedy available.” Democratic state attorneys general also said they’d consider legal action to block Trump. Even if his emergency declaration withstands scrutiny, Trump is still billions of dollars short of the overall funding needed to build the wall as he promised in 2016. After two years of effort, Trump has not added any new border mileage; all of the construction so far has gone to replacing and repairing existing structures. Ground is expected to be broken in South Texas soon on the first new mileage. Trump’s vision for the wall already has been substantially scaled down since his campaign for the White House, when it was to be built of concrete and span the length of the 1,900-mile border and be paid for by Mexico. Now, he’s looking to build “steel slats” along about half of the 1,900-mile stretch, relying on natural barriers for the rest. Previous administrations constructed over 650 miles of barriers. The White House said Trump would not try to redirect federal disaster aid to the wall, a proposal they had considered but rejected over fears of a political blowback. Some Republicans warn that future Democratic presidents could use his precedent to force spending on their own priorities, like gun control. GOP critics included Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who said emergency declarations are for “major natural disasters or catastrophic events” and said its use would be of “dubious constitutionality.” Trump argued that his immediate three predecessors had made emergency declarations, though the presidents he cited did not use emergency powers to pay for projects that Congress wouldn’t support. Congressional aides say there is $21 billion for military construction that Trump could tap, but by law it must be used to support U.S. armed forces. The Defence Department declined to provide details on available money. The declaration caps a tumultuous two months of negotiating and political warfare in the nation’s capital, with consequences likely to last through next year’s campaign. Trump sparked a shutdown before Christmas after Democrats snubbed his $5.7 billion demand for the wall. The closure denied paychecks to 800,000 federal workers, hurt contractors and people reliant on government services and was loathed by the public. With polls showing the public blamed him and GOP lawmakers, Trump folded on Jan. 25 without getting any of the wall funds. His capitulation was a political fiasco for Republicans and handed Pelosi a victory less than a month after Democrats took over the House and confronted Trump with a formidable rival for power. — Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Padmananda Rama, Andrew Taylor, Deb Riechmann, Colleen Long, Lolita Baldor and Matthew Daly contributed. Alan Fram, Catherine Lucey And Zeke Miller, The Associated Press

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

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:31
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. New Democrat Nathan Cullen called the comments “utter and total nonsense,” noting on Twitter there was a previous cabinet shuffle in July, the alleged pressure came in the fall, and then Wilson-Raybould “was fired” afterward. “Brison’s departure wasn’t the cause. It was a convenient excuse,” he wrote.   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. - Follow @jpress and @kkirkup on Twitter. Jordan Press and Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press

Bombshell book alleges a Vatican gay subculture, hypocrisy

Fri, 02/15/2019 - 13:26
PARIS - A gay French writer has lifted the lid on what he calls one of the world’s largest gay communities, the Vatican, estimating that most of its prelates are homosexually inclined and attributing much of the current crisis in the Catholic Church to an internal struggle. In the explosive book, “In the Closet of the Vatican,” author Frederic Martel describes a gay subculture at the Vatican and calls out the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops and cardinals who in public denounce homosexuality but in private lead double lives. Aside from the subject matter, the book is astonishing for the access Martel had to the inner sanctum of the Holy See. Martel writes that he spent four years researching it in 30 countries, including weeks at a time living inside the Vatican walls. He says the doors were opened by a key Vatican gatekeeper and friend of Pope Francis who was the subject of the pontiff’s famous remark about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?” In an interview Friday in a Paris hotel, Martel said he didn’t tell his subjects he was writing about homosexuality in the Vatican. But he said it should have been obvious to them since he is a gay man who was researching the inner world of the Vatican and has written about homosexuality before. He said it was easier for him, as a gay foreigner, to gain the trust of those inside the Vatican than it would have been for an Italian journalist or Vatican expert. “If you’re heterosexual it’s even harder. You don’t have the codes,” he told The Associated Press. “If you’re a woman, even more so.” Martel says he conducted nearly 1,500 in-person interviews with 41 cardinals, 52 bishops or monsignors, and 45 Vatican and foreign ambassadors, many of whom are quoted at length and in on-the-record interviews that he says were recorded. Martel said he was assisted by 80 researchers, translators, fixers and local journalists, as well as a team of 15 lawyers. The 555-page book is being published simultaneously in eight languages in 20 countries, many bearing the title “Sodom.” The Vatican didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Martel appears to want to bolster Francis’ efforts at reforming the Vatican by discrediting his biggest critics and removing the secrecy and scandal that surrounds homosexuality in the church. Church doctrine holds that gays are to be treated with respect and dignity, but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.” “Francis knows that he has to move on the church’s stance, and that he will only be able to do this at the cost of a ruthless battle against all those who use sexual morality and homophobia to conceal their own hypocrisies and double lives,” Martel writes. But the book’s Feb. 21 publication date coincides with the start of Francis’ summit of church leaders on preventing the sexual abuse of minors, a crisis that is undermining his papacy. The book isn’t about abuse, but the timing of its release could fuel the narrative, embraced by conservatives and rejected by the gay community, that the abuse scandal has been caused by homosexuals in the priesthood. Martel is quick to separate the two issues. But he echoes the analysis of the late abuse researcher and psychotherapist A.W. Richard Sipe that the hidden sex lives of priests has created a culture of secrecy that allowed the abuse of minors to flourish. According to that argument, since many prelates in positions of authority have their own hidden sexual skeletons, they have no interest in denouncing the criminal pedophiles in their midst lest their own secrets be revealed. “It’s a problem that it’s coming out at the same time (as the summit),” Martel acknowledged in the AP interview, adding that the book was finished last year but its release was delayed for translation. “But at the same time it’s, alas, the key to the problem. It’s both not the subject, and the subject.” The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “Building a Bridge” about how the Catholic Church should reach out more to the LGBT community, said that based on the excerpts he had read, Martel’s book “makes a convincing case that in the Vatican many priests bishops and even cardinals are gay, and that some of them are sexually active.” But Martin added that the book’s sarcastic tone belies its fatal flaw. “His extensive research is buried under so much gossip and innuendo that it makes it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction.” “There are many gay priests, bishops and cardinals in ministry today in the church,” Martin said. “But most of them are, like their straight counterparts, remaining faithful to a life of chastity and celibacy.” In the course of his research, Martel said he came to several conclusions about the reality of the Holy See that he calls the “rules,” chief among them that the more obviously gay the priest, bishop or cardinal, the more vehement his anti-gay rhetoric. Martel says his aim is not to “out” living prelates, though he makes some strong insinuations about those who are “in the parish,” a euphemism he learns is code for gay clergy. Martin said Martel “traffics in some of the worst gay stereotypes” by using sarcastic and derogatory terms, such as when he writes of Francis’ plight: “Francis is said to be ‘among the wolves.’ It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.” Martel moves from one scandal to another - from the current one over ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington to the priest-friendly gay migrant prostitute scene near Rome’s train station. He traces the reasons behind Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, and devotes a whole chapter to the coverup of the Mexican founder of the Legion of Christ, the pedophile Rev. Marcial Maciel. In each, Martel parses the scandal through the lens of the gay-friendly or homophobic prelates he says were involved. Equal parts investigative journalism and salacious gossip, Martel paints a picture of an institution almost at war with itself, rife with rumour and with leaders struggling to rationalize their own sexual appetites and orientations with official church teachings that require chastity and its unofficial tradition of hostility toward gays. “Never, perhaps, have the appearances of an institution been so deceptive,” Martel writes. “Equally deceptive are the pronouncements about celibacy and the vows of chastity that conceal a completely different reality.” Martel is not a household name in France, but is known in the French LGBT community as an advocate for gay rights. Those familiar with his work view it as rigorous, notably his 90-minute weekly show on public radio station France Culture called “Soft Power.” Recent episodes include investigations into global digital investment and the U.S.-China trade war. As a French government adviser in the 1990s, he played a prominent role in legislation allowing civil unions, which not only allowed gay couples to formalize their relationships and share assets, but also proved hugely popular among heterosexual French couples increasingly skeptical of marriage. His nonfiction books include a treatise on homosexuality in France over the past 50 years called “The Pink and the Black” (a sendup of Stendhal’s classic “The Red and the Black”), as well as an investigation of the internet industry and a study of culture in the United States. Martel attributes the high percentage of gays in the clergy to the fact that up until the homosexual liberation of the 1970s, gay Catholic men had few options. “So these pariahs became initiates and made a strength of a weakness,” he writes. That analysis helps explain the dramatic fall in vocations in recent decades, as gay Catholic men now have other options, not least to live their lives openly, even in marriage. Martel said no special interests financed the book, other than his advance from the publisher. ___ Winfield reported from Boston. Nicole Winfield And Angela Charlton, The Associated Press