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Canada imposes sanctions against Libya, including arms embargo, asset freeze

By The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Canada has joined the United Nations and a number of Western countries in slapping sanctions against Libya following the deadly crackdown on protesters by the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the sanctions on Sunday, while calling on Gadhafi to step down.

“It is clear that the only acceptable course of action for him is to halt the bloodshed and to immediately vacate his position and his authority,” Harper said in a televised statement.

The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Saturday to impose an arms embargo on Libya and urged UN member countries to freeze the assets of Gadhafi, four of his sons and a daughter.

The council also backed a travel ban on the Gadhafi family and close associates, including leaders of the revolutionary committees accused of much of the violence against regime opponents.

Harper said Canada will go beyond the UN resolution.

“Our government will impose an asset freeze on, and a prohibition of financial transactions with the government of Libya, its institutions and agencies, including the Libyan Central Bank.

“These actions will help restrict the movement of, and access to money and weapons for those responsible for the violence against the Libyan people.”

The 192-member UN General Assembly is meeting Tuesday to vote on a UN Human Rights Council recommendation to suspend Libya from the world organization’s top human rights body.

Harper said Gadhafi has betrayed his own people.

“A government’s first and most fundamental responsibility is to protect the safety and security of its citizens. Mr. Gadhafi has bluntly violated this most basic trust. Far from protecting the Libyan people against peril, he is the root cause of the dangers they face.”

The prime minister also announced that a second C-17 aircraft has arrived in Malta, ready to help evacuate Canadians still stranded in Libya. Two C-130 Hercules aircraft will also being deployed to the region to provide additional and flexible capacity, Harper said.

“The Canadian Armed Forces in co-ordination with our allies will deploy these aircraft as circumstances permit.”

About 100 Canadians are believed to still be in Libya, most of them oil workers.

Efforts continued all weekend to contact those Canadians, Harper said.

”The emergency operation centre of the department of foreign affairs is continuing to contact registered Canadians by phone, where possible, regarding opportunities to leave the country by any possible means.”

A Canadian Forces C-17 aircraft evacuated 46 people including its diplomatic staff from Libya on Saturday.

The Conservative government has faced criticism that it has not responded quickly enough to the needs of stranded Canadians.

Other countries engaged their military to evacuate their citizens from multiple locations in Libya, including the eastern desert, where many of the oil rigs are located.

The British military, including members of its special forces, used a Hercules to fly under the Libyan radar and rescue 150 Britons and foreign nationals in a desert area on Sunday. The British government said one of the RAF Hercules aircraft appeared to have suffered minor damage from small arms fire.

Two German military planes evacuated 132 people also from the desert during a secret military mission on Saturday, landing on a private runway belonging to the Wintershall AG company.

Ontario freezes mimimum wage


Ontario‘s lowest earners will see their wages frozen this year for the first time in seven years, sparking fierce criticism from labour groups.

The Liberal government decision announced Friday leaves the province’s minimum wage at $10.25 an hour, marking an end to a series of annual hikes that followed the party’s election in 2003.

“We’ve increased it, I think, seven times in seven years,” Premier Dalton McGuinty said after a speech in Oakville, Ont.

“It’s now the highest in the country.”

In fact, while Ontario’s minimum wage is highest among provinces, Nunavut leads the country at $11.00. By contrast, the $8 level in British Columbia is the lowest in the country.

McGuinty said many employers were only now recovering from the global economic downturn of the last few years, and the wage freeze would help them get back on their feet.

“We’ve just come through a terrible recession,” the premier said.

“Businesses are just beginning to grow at a very modest pace. We think that we’ve struck the appropriate balance, given the times.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour said minimum-wage earners were already struggling to cope with rising food, housing and other costs of living.

“The government is willing to give corporate tax breaks worth billions of dollars to very profitable corporations,” said federation president Sid Ryan.

“To then turn around and say to the most vulnerable in society ‘We can’t give you a modest little increase’ is a horrible decision.”

Labour Minister Charles Sousa said the provincial government would appoint a business and labour committee this fall to advise on any changes to the minimum wage for 2012.

Ontario’s minimum wage was among the lowest in Canada when the Liberals came to office in 2003. It had been frozen for nine years under the previous Conservative government at $6.85 an hour.

Anti-poverty activists warned the freeze could be a sign of austerity to come.

“It’s a severe warning to not expect much more in the province for working people and people living on social assistance,” said Cathy Crowe with the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee.

“My work is seeing more and more people … working many jobs, often at minimum wage, so it’s not any help to freeze it.”

While the Opposition Tories supported the status quo, the New Democrats were critical.

“Freezing the minimum wage leaves struggling moms and dads behind,” said NDP member Cheri DiNovo.

“Hard work should be rewarded with fair pay — not with wages that keep families well below the poverty line.”

DiNovo cited Statistics Canada figures that show a full-time minimum wage earner in a large city falls $6,000 below the low-income cut-off line.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business warned earlier this week that raising the minimum wage would kill jobs.

Ryan said no credible studies support the view that a higher minimum wage costs jobs.

The head of the Oakville Chamber of Commerce said he supported the freeze.

“Minimum wage is an issue for us,” John Sawyer said.

“Given the economic times and from what I’m hearing from our members, yes, [a freeze is good].”


Marijuana law challenge denied by Ont. court


A judge has thrown out a legal challenge that claimed Canada‘s marijuana laws violate the freedom of religion provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The challenge was brought by two Toronto men — Peter Styrsky and Shahrooz Kharaghani — who are reverends in a group called the Church of the Universe.

The men allegedly sold pot to undercover police officers in 2006. They are facing charges of marijuana trafficking and their case is due back in court Feb. 21. The amount of pot sold was small and the officers buying it were posing as members of the church.

The church uses the drug as a sacrament and argues the law infringes on their freedom of religion rights under the charter.

Prosecutors, however, had argued that allowing the church’s application would effectively legalize marijuana, as others facing drug charges would claim a religious right as well.

In a decision released Monday, Justice Thea Herman of Ontario‘s Superior Court found that the church deserves protection under the charter as a religious group, even though some “may view the beliefs of the applicants and other members of the Church of the Universe as absurd.”

However, she ruled that Section 1 of the charter poses a reasonable limit on that religious freedom, particularly when it comes to trafficking the drug. She ruled that distributing marijuana is not an activity that deserves protection as a religious freedom.

“I do not accept that providing cannabis to people in the basement … was a religious act,” she wrote. “They may well believe that providing [marijuana] to others is a good thing to do. That does not, however, transform its distribution into a religious belief or practice.”

She also ruled that providing a legal exemption for those who use marijuana for religious purposes is “not feasible” due to “the difficulties in identifying both the religious user and the religious use of cannabis.

“The proposed institution of a system of state inquiries into people’s religious beliefs has the potential to undermine the value we place on freedom of religion rather than promote it.”

Styrsky said he is considering an appeal of Monday’s decision.

“I think the judge said that we do have the right to use it. She just didn’t know how to implement it for us,” said Styrsky.

Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an application from church founders Walter Tucker and Michael Baldasaro for leave to appeal their 2007 marijuana trafficking convictions.

On its website, the church refers to marijuana as God’s “Tree of Life” and that God’s children have a right to use it as a sacrament in “their lives and worship.”

“Church members are encouraged to surround themselves with the holy Tree of Life, not just inhaling it, but wearing it, growing it, writing on it, eating it, etc.,” the site reads.


Sgt. Ryan Russell….the unlucky hero

I’ve been meaning to share my two cents on this story for quite some time. I was hesitant at first because my views on the matter are slightly controversial. I would also like to add that my opinion of the Toronto police officers has been tainted ever since the G20 Summit and their abusive treatment of the citizens of this great city.

Sgt. Ryan Russell attempted to stop a man in a stolen snow-plow that was causing havoc throughout the city. He was unable to subdue both the vehicle and the individual driving, and died as a consequence. This event was headline news for a few days and Sgt. Russell was hailed as a hero by his peers and by the media.

When I understood the details of the story I reserved the right to call him a hero and considered a lot of other factors. I asked why he tried to do this on his lonesome, what the police procedures would be in such a scenario and why wasn’t something more concrete put in place in order to avoid tragedy. Nevertheless, the sad and horrific death of Sgt. Russell was the end result and now we all must deal with the aftermath.

My criticism towards the situation is simple. Sgt. Russell has left behind a wife and child. Who is to care for them? Days after the tragedy, the feeling was that the entire city would care for them, but when the dust settles I suspect they will be forgotten like many others who were hailed in such a light in the past. Secondly, Sgt. Russell funeral price tag was a cool quarter million, covered by yours truly, the tax payers. I’m not sure how I feel about that just yet, but I was not consulted on the matter and I think neither were you.

It’s easy to say that Sgt. Russell was overzealous in trying to apprehend the out of control plow. Perhaps he was following instructions, perhaps his own intuition. I don’t want to demean his actions because whether successful or not, his motive was noble. He was trying to do his job – protect and serve. In that sense, yes he is a hero, but maybe if the police department had been better organised and prepared, the headlines would have been different and slightly more positive.

One last thought….who determines our worth?

…Canada is still an active force in the ‘fight against terror’, and our soldiers are in the line of fire every day. Some make it, some do not. Where is their hero’s welcome? I would say that the role of a soldier is comparable to that of a police officer; in fact I would say that it’s probably more dangerous.  So why do they not get the same treatment?

I have spoken to a lot of people on the matter and most have a reserved opinion. They do not want to sound harsh and cold hearted, but many have similar views as my own.

Is Sgt. Russell a hero? Do you think the funeral costs are justified? Should that money have gone to a trust fund for the family instead? Please let me know what you guys think. Any comment is appreciated and valued.


Toronto Police Officer Sgt. Ryan Russell

Selflessness cost Toronto police officer his life, widow tells hushed mourners

By Allison Jones and Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press | The Canadian Press

TORONTO – Sgt. Ryan Russell‘s widow says the fallen officer always put others first, and that selflessness cost him his life.

Christine Russell, with a laboured voice and through tears, addressed thousands of mourners Tuesday at her husband’s memorial service.

“It is with Ryan’s courage and his bravery, and along with all of you and your support, I am able to stand here,” she said.

“I find so much comfort when I look at my little boy because I see so much of Ryan in him,” she added.

“We will love you forever and always.”

Russell was the first Toronto officer to be killed in the line of duty in almost a decade. The 35-year old was fatally struck by a stolen snowplow that led police on a wild chase through Toronto streets last Wednesday.

Russell’s widow walked hand-in-hand with the couple’s son, Nolan, as the memorial service for the fallen officer began at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Nolan, dressed in a dark suit, his blond hair newly cropped, talked innocently as his father’s casket was laid on the podium and his mother stroked the little boy’s head.

Staff Supt. Jeff McGuire told those assembled he first met Russell just one day before he was killed, on Yonge Street where police were dealing with a report of an armed man in a car.

McGuire said Russell, as the officer supervising the situation, smiled and was happy, and was clearly “in charge of his people.”

Christine nodded in agreement during accolades heaped on her husband and managed a brief laugh at a story of how he brought home a stray cat that turned out to be pregnant.

“I don’t think that there is a heart in Toronto so strong that it has not been touched by the images of Ryan Russell, husband and father, embracing his wife and his child,” police Chief Bill Blair told the service.

“It is an image that has defined the man for us. And it has helped us to understand the full extent of his sacrifice.”

Former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino, now a federal cabinet minister, called Russell a “modern day hero.”

The officer was a “remarkable person,” added Ontario Lt.-Gov. David Onley.

“In life and death, Ryan represented the virtues we admire most as a city, as a province, as a nation. The virtues are courage and character,” Onley said.

“Our outpouring of respect for him is a large part of who he was as a person and who we are as a people.”

Earlier Tuesday, hundreds of people lined the streets of Toronto to watch the funeral procession — clapping as his hearse moved past.

A pipe and drum band led the motorcade, which was preceded by a procession of 12,500 officers in full dress uniform from acrossCanada and the United States.

The massive turnout delayed the service, which was to begin at 1 p.m., for nearly one hour. Some 10,000 chairs were set out, yet hundreds more lined the walls of the cavernous convention centre. Still more were directed to an overflow room.

Chief Blair was to present the family with Russell’s forage cap and the Toronto Police Service flag.

Members of the public who watched the procession to the convention centre said the police support citizens, so it’s important to support them in a time of tragedy.

“They serve the country and it’s an honour to be here,” said Hamilton resident Linda Court.

“I was bothered to see how he died. It was tragic.”

One woman’s eyes filled with tears watching the procession go by, too emotional to put into words why she was so moved.

At the front of the huge convention hall above a display of plush bears and between several bouquets, there were photographs of Russell with his wife and infant son.

In front of one baby picture of Nolan was a small floral arrangement, with a white ribbon draped across it. On the band was just one word in gold letters: Daddy.

Officers gave each other hugs Tuesday morning at 52 Division, where members of the guns and gangs task force — Russell’s old unit — also gathered.

Const. Brenda MacIntosh, of Cornwall police, said she came to support the police “brotherhood” in a time of grief.

“We all feel that we’re part of one big family,” she said. “It’s overwhelming to see the sea of officers that are here.”

Det.-Const. Sheldon Steinke of the Regina police said he was “in awe” of the sight of thousands of uniformed police officers marching through the streets. He said he came a long way, but it’s important to show solidarity within the policing family.

Canadian tenor John McDermott performed “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and a family friend sang an original piece composed for the memorial, “Ryan’s Song.”

The service was broadcast on the big screen at the mid-town Yonge and Dundas Square and outside the Air Canada Centre.

Justine Olmstead, a 24-year-old Humber College police student, showed up to lend her support. She said the tragedy has not deterred her from wanting to join the police force. If fact she is even more encouraged to do so.

“It’s brought a lot of joy to me to see how Toronto shows so much respect for the police force,” said Olmstead.

“This could be me one day. Hopefully I would have the same respect shown back to me.”

A 44-year-old drifter, Richard Kachkar, who was shot and seriously injured by police when arrested, faces first-degree murder charges and was expected in court Friday for a bail hearing.

Toronto police said Tuesday that Kachkar is out of hospital and being held at a Milton, Ont., detention centre.

And Ford takes the race

Ford next Toronto mayor, defeats Smitherman

By Maria Babbage, The Canadian Press

TORONTO -Right-wing juggernaut Rob Ford will take the top job in Canada’s most populous city, defeating former deputy premier George Smitherman in a bitter, 10-month race to become Toronto’s next mayor.

With 99 per cent of Toronto polls reporting Monday night, Ford took 47 per cent of the vote, compared to Smitherman’s 35 per cent and deputy mayor Joe Pantalone‘s 12 per cent.

Smitherman was considered an early favourite to win, but couldn’t compete against Ford, a scrappy city councillor who tapped into a potent well of voter fury with his promises to cut taxes and kill big spending at city hall.

“This victory is a clear call from the taxpayers, enough is enough,” Ford told cheering supporters. “The party with taxpayers’ money is over. We will respect the taxpayers again, and yes ladies and gentlemen we will stop the gravy train once and for all.”

The polarizing Toronto race was marred by ugly incidents, including homophobic ads targeting the openly gay Smitherman, and a newspaper article — later pulled from the Globe and Mail website — that took a shot at Ford’s weight.

His win is likely to send shockwaves all the way to Premier Dalton McGuinty‘s office. Many experts have predicted that a Ford victory could herald a Conservative sweep in next fall’s Ontario election. A grinning Mike Harris, Ontario’s former Conservative premier, called on both the provincial and federal governments to work with Toronto’s mayor-elect.

“It’s a good opportunity for Rob to reach out, for council to reach out to him, for the provincial-federal government to reach out to him, listen to what the voters of Toronto said and help him deliver,” Harris told TV station CP24 at Ford’s victory party.

After two terms of majority rule, recent polls suggest that McGuinty’s popularity is waning amid voter concerns with pocketbook issues, such as rising electricity bills and his controversial introduction of the harmonized sales tax. That may have played into the Toronto race, given Smitherman’s reputation as McGuinty’s former right-hand man and top enforcer.

“Differences aside, as a Torontonian who loves my city, I hope for your success Rob,” an emotional Smitherman told his supporters. “Toronto is too important, there are no boos tonight.”

Pantalone — the left-wing candidate endorsed by outgoing Mayor David Miller — was curt in his reaction to the night’s stunning outcome. “The people of Toronto have spoken and democracy is beautiful,” Pantalone said.

The night also saw Mike Layton, son of federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, walk in his father’s footsteps as he won Pantalone’s Trinity-Spadina ward — the same neighbourhood stepmother Olivia Chow represents federally. Meanwhile in Ottawa, another former provincial cabinet minister — Jim Watson — easily won the mayor’s race against businessman-turned-politician Larry O’Brien, in a race dominated by transit and urban development issues.

Watson, who served as the city’s mayor before a successful foray into provincial politics, took 49 per cent of the vote with nearly 98 per cent all polls reporting. Conservative incumbent O’Brien had 24 per cent.

Earlier this month, O’Brien made a startling admission that his first two years as mayor were a “disaster,” but implored voters to give him a second chance. His rocky term as mayor of Canada’s capital included allegations of influence peddling that forced him to step down temporarily as the matter went to trial. He resumed his duties after being acquitted.

By contrast, the race just west of the city in Mississauga has been decidedly uneventful, where voters simply watched to see how well 89-year-old Mayor Hazel McCallion performed in her 12th election campaign. “Hurricane” Hazel typically doesn’t campaign, put up signs or buy political ads. Her 31-year tenure as mayor is considered to be so rock solid, but a conflict-of-interest scandal appeared to put a dent in the 90 per cent voter support she’s known to command. With more than three-quarters of polls reporting Monday, McCallion had 76 per cent of the vote — a decisive victory for any politician but not the numbers of old.

In Vaughan, ex-Liberal MP Maurizio Bevilacqua took the mayor’s seat from incumbent Linda Jackson, who is headed to court to face Municipal Elections Act charges.

Other interesting races include London, where former Liberal MP Joe Fontana was in a tight race to keep long-standing Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco-Best from winning a fourth term. In all, there were 444 municipal votes in Ontario.

B.C. will dump HST if voters demand

By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

VICTORIA – Premier Gordon Campbell says he will dump the much-hated harmonized sales tax if a majority of British Columbians vote to repeal the levy in a referendum next September.

Campbell said Monday he intends to toss aside the official referendum rules and turn the vote into an election-style simple majority vote that decides the future of the HST in the province.

Earlier Monday, an all-party legislative committee voted to send an anti-HST petition to a non-binding referendum that involved a difficult threshold of victory that included winning 50 per cent of the votes cast by registered voters in the 2009 B.C. election.

But Campbell said he will honour what the majority of British Columbians who vote in the referendum decide, meaning the majority vote will carry the day next year.

“Quite candidly, we don’t have any interest in trying to play games with this at all,” he said after the all-party committee opted to hold a referendum in September 2011.

“I think the fact of the matter is people want a direct say. If a majority of people that show up to the polls say they don’t want to have the HST, then they won’t have the HST.”

The province was forced into either holding a non-binding referendum or putting the issue to a vote in the legislature after anti-HST forces gathered more than half-a-million signatures on a petition.

“My bias right now is to say to people quite clearly that if they have a strong voice with regard to the HST and it fails, then it’s failed and we have to figure out what we do next,” said Campbell.

“This is about giving people a full say.”

He acknowledged that it would be difficult for anti-HST forces to achieve referendum success under British Columbia‘s current recall and initiative law that permits recalls of sitting politicians and referendum votes on issues.

“I recognize what the legislation says,” Campbell said. “I believe that it’s appropriate to say to people if 50 per cent of the people that show up to the polls and vote against the HST, then we’ll get rid of the HST.”

The HST deal British Columbia signed with Ottawa in July 2009 includes escape clauses, but reneging means the B.C. government will likely have to pay back the $1.6 billion Ottawa offered to cover the cost of transitioning to the blended tax.

Former premier Bill Vander Zalm stormed out of Monday’s committee meeting, noting that the referendum rules make it almost impossible to win.

The law requires 50 per cent of registered voters cast ballots in favour of ditching the tax. That same threshold must be met in at least two-thirds of the province’s 89 ridings.

Vander Zalm, who’s led the charge against the tax, commended Campbell Monday evening after hearing the premier will leave the fate of the HST up to the people.

“I guess the premier saw our frustrations, at least I’m hoping that might have been the reason,” Vander Zalm said in an interview.

“Some would say he’s finally come to his senses, but I would like to think that he’s finally beginning to give recognition to the voice of the people. That’s a good thing.”

Vander Zalm said the only way he’ll scrap plans for a recall campaign against Liberal MLAs is if the referendum is held in 2010, instead of 2011.

He expressed concern that if the referendum is held next year it will hurt the economy, because British Columbians will hold off on certain expenditures until the tax is gone.

The Opposition New Democrats, who ended up voting in favour of the referendum question, said they will be watching to ensure the B.C. cabinet does not become too involved in influencing the development and approval of the eventual referendum question.

University of Victoria political scientist Dennis Pilon said Campbell’s decision appears to be a bold act of political survival, while also honouring the efforts of the thousands of British Columbians who worked on the anti-HST petition.

“This is a major breakthrough'” said Pilon. “The premier should be commended for doing the right thing. The rules for this referendum were rigged to fail.”

Campbell’s government has faced a growing firestorm of criticism after it announced the tax just weeks after winning an election in May 2009 in which it said it wasn’t contemplating such a switch.

Finance Minister Colin Hansen has maintained the province wasn’t considering it until days after the election, when he was presented with documents that outlined the HST deal Ontario was about to enter into with the federal government.

Vander Zalm’s forces were out all summer gathering signatures.

The government received another blow when internal briefing notes revealed bureaucrats in the Finance Ministry were working on the HST well before the election. Hansen said they were doing their job and he was unaware of it.

The controversy prompted one cabinet minister to resign and several Liberal party supporters have come forward with calls for Campbell’s resignation.

Campbell said Monday he feels terrible about it all.

“I feel awful that people feel like we let them down.”

But Campbell isn’t conceding that the HST will eventually be repealed.

He said he still believes it’s the right move for the province and will vigorously campaign in hopes of convincing people to vote in favour of it.

He said by the time the referendum is held next fall, some of the benefits of the tax will already have set in, including the creation of thousands of jobs.

Vander Zalm can’t see how a majority of voters would elect to keep the tax.

“That’s impossible, in my view,” he said.

The referendum will cost $30 million.