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Advocates, police warn online ‘sextortion’ of youth is on the rise in Canada

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Mounties in Metro Vancouver have issued a warning about a recent increase in “sextortion,” saying police have received a “large number” of reports of money-motivated extortion targeting young girls and boys.

The statement issued by Coquitlam RCMP follows similar warnings from police departments in other provinces in recent months, including in Alberta and Ontario.

Stephen Sauer, the director of Cybertip.ca, a tip line operated by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, says the online sextortion of children is on the rise as criminals take advantage of pandemic-driven increases in the amount of time kids are spending online.

He says there’s also a “double-silencing effect” among victims, who often don’t tell anyone about the extortion because they’ve been convinced to share sexual images and are afraid of getting into trouble.

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The victims are pulled “deeper and deeper” into the extortion, he says, as the criminals continue harassing them, threatening to publicly share the personal images as they try to extract as much money as they can.

Sauer says his organization typically receives 200 or more sextortion tips each month, a number that’s been on the rise, particularly with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as children spent more time online for school and social connections.

Looking into “chatter amongst the offending community” early in the pandemic, he says they noticed the harassers “understood that they had more unfettered access to kids.”

“I think we’re seeing quite a boom in this type of exploitation,” he says.

Sauer says his organization has heard from law enforcement agencies that “there are pockets of these individuals, these extorters, that appear to be international.”

The majority of victims who contact the tip line seeking support are boys and young men between the ages of 15 and 25, Sauer says, adding most incidents are occurring over the social media platforms Instagram and Snapchat.

The statement from Coquitlam RCMP says a suspect often begins a “flirtatious” online relationship and convinces the victim to send nude photos or videos before threatening to distribute the images unless the child sends some kind of payment.

The suspects use techniques to protect their identities and they do not always live in Canada, which makes it difficult to investigate and prosecute, police say.

Cpl. Alexa Hodgins says in the statement the suspects rely on fear and shame to extort anything they can from the victim who may be too afraid to ask for help.

The police want young victims, who often attempt to deal with the extortion themselves because they’re too afraid to speak with their parents, to know that it’s OK and they’re encouraged to ask for help by speaking with an adult, she says.

The Mounties are urging parents to “be open about online behaviour” and work with their children to ensure they aren’t sharing sensitive personal images.

The statement from Coquitlam RCMP comes shortly after a similar warning by police in nearby New Westminster last month. The department says it had received “several reports of sextortion” and encourages parents to have conversations with their children about the potential risks of “using technology to experiment sexually.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 6, 2023.

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How much money is needed to retire in Canada

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Canadians now believe they need $1.7 million in savings in order to retire, a 20 per cent increase from 2020, according to a new BMO survey.

The eye-watering figure is the largest sum since BMO first started surveying Canadians about their retirement expectations 13 years ago. It’s also a drastic increase from the $1.4 million in savings Canadians expected to need for their nest eggs just two years ago.

The results reflect Canadians’ concerns about current economic conditions, particularly inflation and higher prices, said Caroline Dabu, head of wealth distribution and advisory services for BMO Financial Group.

“If you look at the average Canadian, they’re feeling the rising inflation costs,” said Dabu.

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“And so, not surprisingly, we are seeing that Canadians are feeling they absolutely will need more to retire.”

Canada’s annual inflation rate hit a four-decade high of 8.1 per cent in the summer of 2022 and has since fallen to 6.3 per cent as of December 2022. BMO Economics expects the country’s CPI to decline to around three per cent by the end of the year.

The sharp increase to Canada’s inflation rate in 2022 exceeded wage gains, eroding purchasing power for most families and heightening fears about the future. The BMO survey found that just 44 per cent of Canadians are confident they will have enough money to retire as planned — a 10 per cent decrease from 2020.

But while the $1.7 million figure may sound overwhelming to working-age Canadians, Dabu said the number says more about the economic mood of the country than it does about real-life retirement necessities.

“Certainly when we’re working with clients, we find that many overestimate the number that they need to retire,” she said.

“It really does have to be taken at an individual level, because circumstances are very different … But $1.7 million, I would say, is high.”

While rising inflation may require tweaks to a retirement plan — such as contributing slightly more to savings each month if you’re a young worker, or making cash flow adjustments if you’re nearing the end of your working career — Dabu said these changes don’t necessarily have to be drastic.

When it comes to retirement planning, Dabu said, knowledge is power. By working with a professional financial advisor and making a plan that encompasses individual circumstances and goals, Canadians can come up with their own retirement savings number.

“In the survey, we note that 53 per cent of Canadians didn’t know how much they will need to retire,” Dabu said.

“That increased confidence comes from knowing the exact number that I need to save for, and how I’m going to get there.”

The BMO survey also found that approximately 22 per cent of Canadians plan to retire between the ages of 60 and 69, with an average age of 62.

Millennial and generation z Canadians are the most nervous about their ability to save and invest right now, the survey found. However, all age groups — 74 per cent of survey respondents — said they are concerned about how current economic conditions will affect their financial situation, and 59 per cent said economic conditions have affected their confidence in meeting their retirement goals.

The BMO survey was conducted between Nov. 4 and 7, 2022 by Pollara Strategic Insights via an online survey of 1,500. The survey’s margin of error is plus/minus 2.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 7, 2023.

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Driver arrested after city bus hits daycare in Laval, Que., at least five injured

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A 51-year-old man drove a city bus into a daycare in Laval, Que., on Wednesday morning, authorities said, killing two children and injuring six more.

Pierre Ny St-Amand, an employee of the Société de transport de Laval (STL), was arrested at the scene.

He has been charged with several crimes, including two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm.

Around 8:30 a.m., the Laval city bus crashed into the Garderie Éducative de Sainte-Rose in the Sainte-Rose neighbourhood on Terrasse Dufferin. There is a bus stop for the 151 line on the roundabout near the daycare.

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A neighbour who witnessed the crash said he and a group of parents tried to rescue children pinned under the bus and managed to subdue the driver, who was acting erratically.

Laval police spokesperson Erika Landry said two children are confirmed dead, one at the scene. Urgences-santé confirmed 12 people were injured, including six other children who were recovering in hospital but are expected to survive. One adult was also taken to hospital to be treated for shock.

Dr. Marc Girard, the director of professional services at Sainte-Justine Hospital, said at an afternoon news conference that the hospital received four victims, all preschool-age children, two boys and two girls.

The children were conscious when they arrived at the hospital, but were suffering from various traumatic injuries, Girard said. They are now recovering and in stable condition, he said.

Sébastien Rocheleau, director of medical services at the Laval regional health authority, said the Cité-de-la-Santé Hospital received three patients from the daycare. One child died. The other two are under observation and their injuries are not considered life-threatening. Nathalie Vaillancourt describes the scene at a daycare after a bush crashed into the building Wednesday morning.

Driver was in ‘another world,’ resident says

Hamdi Ben Chaabane, who lives in the neighbourhood and was one of the first on the scene, said the bus must have been travelling 30 or 40 km/h when it struck the daycare.

“From what I saw, it wasn’t an accident,” he said.

After the bus struck the daycare, the driver emerged and began acting erratically.

“He opened the door. He took off all his clothes. He was totally naked,” Ben Chaabane said. “We don’t know why he did that. We dove on him. We tried to subdue him.”

He described the driver as being “in another world.”

“It was a nightmare. It’s horrible. He didn’t stop yelling. He wasn’t saying words,” Ben Chaabane said.

Drone captures bird’s-eye view of Laval daycare bus crash scene

Police created a large perimeter around the Garderie Éducative de Sainte-Rose in Laval, Que., after a city bus crashed into the daycare.

When the group tried to pry children out from underneath the bus, Ben Chaabane said they reached one child, who was only lightly injured, but were unable to reach a girl who was stuck deeper beneath rubble.

He said they continued trying to reach the trapped children until firefighters arrived and told them to leave because the roof of the daycare was caving in.

According to the Stéphane Boyer, the mayor of Laval, the person who was arrested has worked for the STL for 10 years  but didn’t have any prior incidents on his record.

“There is a hypothesis that this was an intentional act but it will have to be confirmed by the investigation,” Boyer said, adding that it was unclear if the suspect had any connection to the daycare.

“It’s chaos,” said Julia Moreno, a mother whose child was in the daycare when the bus struck it. “There are injured children. It’s terrible.”

Nathalie Vaillancourt, another mother whose child was inside, said the bus destroyed the front facade of the daycare. Both mothers said their children were unscathed.

Urgences-santé dispatched seven ambulances, a “tactical medical vehicle” — which responds to unusual medical situations, often alongside police — and a rapid response team.

“It’s terrible what happened this morning in Laval,” Premier François Legault told a group of reporters at the National Assembly. “All my thoughts are with the children, with the parents and with the employees.”

Legault said Public Security Minister François Bonnardel, Family Minister Suzanne Roy and Christopher Skeete, the MNA for the Sainte-Rose riding, will be in Laval to assess the situation.

Cropped photo of man smiling.
Pierre Ny St-Amand faces charges of murder, attempted murder, aggravated assault and assault with a weapon or causing bodily harm. (Pierre Ny St-Amand/Facebook)

Laval’s mayor said psychologists would be available for those affected.

“It’s a tragic act,” Boyer said. “Obviously there are lots of parents right now wondering if their child was affected. I really want to be there for the families, show support.”

The STL said in a statement it was devastated by the “tragedy in Laval.”

“Our hearts go out to the families and employees affected by this tragedy,” the statement said. “The Service de police de la Ville de Laval is currently conducting an investigation in which we are actively collaborating.”

The bus drivers’ union released a statement this afternoon saying its members are in shock and wholeheartedly support the parents and the daycare workers affected by this “tragic event.” The union says it is co-operating with the authorities investigating the event.

The CISSS de Laval, the regional health board for that city, is inviting anyone who needs psychological help due to Wednesday’s events to contact the province’s telehealth services.

“Anyone who needs psychological help can dial 811, option two. They will be listened to and directed to the right resources,” the health board tweeted.

 

With files from Chloë Ranaldi, Sarah Leavitt, Radio-Canada

 

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Canada must be willing to expel Chinese diplomats over interference, harassment: ex-envoy

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The federal government must be prepared to expel Chinese diplomats if they are found to be involved in interference or harassment, Canada’s former ambassador to China says.

David Mulroney, who was the government’s envoy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) between 2009 and 2012, told MPs sitting on a committee studying foreign interference on Tuesday that China is the “primary threat” of that in Canada.

As a result, politicians should implement a series of measures to shore up the country’s protections against foreign meddling, including action up to diplomatic expulsions, he said.

“We must be prepared to expel Chinese diplomats involved in interference or harassment. Our failure to do so only encourages increasingly brazen meddling,” Mulroney told MPs.

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“This will trigger retaliation, but we must make it clear that expulsion is the inevitable consequence of such hostile behaviour.”

Click to play video: '2020 intel warned Trudeau government that China’s interference in Canadian elections will likely be ‘pervasive’'

2020 intel warned Trudeau government that China’s interference in Canadian elections will likely be ‘pervasive’

Canadian relations with China have been uneasy for several years, intensifying in recent months over allegations of attempts to influence and interfere in Canadian affairs.

Global News reported on Nov. 7 that Canadian intelligence officials have warned Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that China has allegedly been targeting Canada with a vast campaign of foreign interference, according to Global News sources.

Furthermore, the RCMP has asked anyone with experience of Chinese influence through so-called “police stations” believed to be operating in Canada to come forward.

After Global News’ report broke, Trudeau said the government has “taken significant measures to strengthen the integrity of our elections processes and our systems,” adding that Ottawa will “continue to invest in the fight against election interference, against foreign interference of our democracy and institutions.”

Trudeau also brought up alleged interference in interactions with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 in Bali, Indonesia, late last year. Xi later confronted Trudeau about how it was “not appropriate” that details of those conversations had been shared with news organizations.

Doing so is the norm in Canadian politics.

Late last year, Ottawa released its long-awaited Indo-Pacific strategy, with Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly calling China an “increasingly disruptive global power” in a region where multiple countries are showing major economic growth.

Mulroney told politicians China’s Canada policy is “being advanced aggressively,” with its objective being “a degree of influence in our democracy, our economy, our foreign policy, even daily life in some of our communities.”

He called China’s goals “beyond the ambitions of any other country,” but that it’s “not too late to push back.” China has called allegations of attempted interference “complete nonsense.”

Mulroney suggested that aside from the possibility of diplomatic expulsion, the federal government should consider three other measures, one of them being identifying China as the main threat of foreign interference in Canada.

“Therefore, our defences, including election security, must be designed to counter techniques favoured by Beijing, such as the use of proxies,” he said. Global News reported on Nov. 7 that China’s United Front Work Department operates through Chinese consulates in Canada, from which officials direct funds into Canada’s political system, using communist party proxies.

Click to play video: 'Did alleged foreign interference impact election results? Trudeau says ‘no’'

Did alleged foreign interference impact election results? Trudeau says ‘no’

Second, Ottawa should create a registry of foreign agents, something “that would simply require transparency of those who disperse funds for, lobby for, or speak for foreign states in Canada,” Mulroney said. In April 2021, a private members bill in the House of Commons called for a foreign influence registry, but it did not become law.

Ottawa has promised to launch consultations on a foreign agent registry, but Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino warned on Monday that such a database must be carefully considered, as it could stigmatize communities who have felt targeted by security agencies in the past.

Charles Burton, another former diplomat posted in China, appeared alongside Mulroney on Tuesday and said the registry should be communicated as being directed at the broad issue of interference, instead of the meddling of just one country.

Finally, Canadian police must be more present in diaspora communities, be better informed about PRC interference, and be enabled to protect people who are being “harassed and silenced’ by Chinese officials in Canada, Mulroney added.

“I believe that Beijing’s ambitions and capabilities are growing and because many of the victims of PRC interference in Canada are members of Han Chinese, Uyghur and Tibetan diaspora communities whom Beijing threatens with seeming impunity,” he said.

“A defining characteristic of a truly sovereign nation is the ability to shield its citizens and its institutions from foreign interference.”

— with files from Global News’ Sam Cooper and The Canadian Press

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