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Alberta Justice spokespeople deliver duelling statements on prosecutor email review

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Alberta premier's prosecutor

An email probe into whether Alberta Premier Danielle Smith’s office interfered with Crown prosecutors took a confusing turn Friday after two government spokespeople delivered duelling statements that raised questions over how far back the search went.

The review was ordered by Smith a week ago to respond to allegations in a CBC story that reported a staffer in the premier’s office emailed prosecutors last fall to question decisions and direction on cases stemming from a blockade at the Canada-U. S. border crossing at Coutts, Alta.

The Justice Department said Monday it had done a four-month search of ingoing, outgoing and deleted emails and found no evidence of contact.

Two days later, Alberta Justice communications director Charles Mainville said in a statement that deleted emails are wiped from the system after 30 days, meaning the search for deleted emails may not have covered the entire time period in question.

On Thursday night, Ethan Lecavalier-Kidney, a spokesman for Justice Minister Tyler Shandro, responded to questions about Mainville’s statement. He said while emails are deleted after 30 days, they live on in the system for another 30 and could have been checked that far back by investigators.

“For example, if an email was deleted on Oct. 17, 2022, the email would no longer be accessible to the user as of Nov. 16, 2022, but would continue to be available to our investigation team until Dec. 16, 2022,” said Lecavalier-Kidney in his statement.

A 60-day search would have stretched back to late November, capturing all but the first six weeks of Smith’s United Conservative Party government. Smith was sworn in as premier on Oct. 11.

But while Lecavalier-Kidney’s statement said investigators could go back 60 days, it did not state that they did so, leaving confusion on how far back they went.

When asked Friday to clarify whether investigators went back 30 or 60 days on the deleted emails, Lecavalier-Kidney did not respond to questions while Mainville reissued the original statements in an email.

The government has also delivered conflicting messages on who was investigated in the review.

Smith promised that emails from all Crown prosecutors and the 34 staffers in her office would be checked.

However, the Justice Department later said emails between “relevant” prosecutors and Smith staffers were checked. It did not say how it determined who was relevant.

The Coutts blockade and COVID-19 protest at the border crossing last year saw RCMP lay charges against several people, ranging from mischief to conspiracy to commit murder.

Smith has said she did not direct prosecutors in the Coutts cases and the email review exonerated her office from what she called “baseless” allegations in the CBC story.

The CBC has said that it has not seen the emails in question but stands by its reporting.

The Opposition NDP said questions stemming from the CBC story, coupled with multiple conflicting statements from the premier on what she has said to Justice Department officials about the COVID-19 cases, can only be resolved through an independent investigation.

Smith has given six versions in recent weeks of what she has said to justice officials about COVID-19 cases.

Smith has said she talked to prosecutors directly and did not talk to prosecutors directly. She has said she reminded justice officials of general prosecution guidelines, but at other times reminded them to consider factors unique to COVID-19 cases. She has also suggested the conversations are ongoing and that they have ended.

She has attributed the confusion to “imprecise” word choices.

Smith has long been openly critical of COVID-19 masking, gathering and vaccine mandate rules, questioning if they were needed to fight the pandemic and labelling them intolerable violations of personal freedoms.

She has also called those unvaccinated against COVID-19 the most discriminated group she has seen in her lifetime.

Last fall, Smith said charges in the cases were grounded in politics and should be open to political solutions. But she recently said it’s important to let the court process play out independently.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023.

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U.S. President Joe Biden steps aside as Democratic candidate, ending re-election bid

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WASHINGTON – U.S. President Joe Biden is removing his name as the Democratic candidate in the November election following weeks of mounting pressure over the 81-year-old’s mental acuity and ability to win the faceoff with Republican rival Donald Trump.

Biden says it has been his greatest honour to serve but he believes it is in the best interest of his party to stand down and focus solely on fulfilling his duties as president for the rest of his term.

Growing numbers of Democrats were urging Biden to drop out following a disastrous debate performance against Trump and multiple missteps on the world stage during the recent NATO leaders’ summit in Washington.

Biden told supporters Friday he was ready to get back on the road this week after recovering from COVID-19, which he contracted during a critical time for his campaign.

Biden criticized Trump’s acceptance speech at last week’s Republican National Convention, saying it presented a dark vision for the future, and indicated he would forge ahead with his own campaign.

But he issued a social media post on Sunday afternoon saying he would not be running, adding he will speak to the nation and provide more detail later this week.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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Joy in Newfoundland after ‘Lucky 7’ fishers survive harrowing days lost at sea

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NEW-WES-VALLEY, N.L. – There was a powerful word being repeated in the joyful Newfoundland community of New-Wes-Valley on Sunday: “Miracle.”

Over and over, residents out walking or chatting to one another in local stores said the fact that seven fishermen from the area had somehow survived roughly 48 hours in a life raft in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and were found by search and rescue crews was nothing short of miraculous.

“It’s once in a lifetime you’ll see something like this, when all the people survive,” said Frank Granter, who worked for the Canadian Coast Guard for 35 years. He was out walking through the sunny, seaside community on Sunday afternoon, stopping to talk to neighbours about the rescue ahead of an evening parade to celebrate the men’s survival.

Daphne Crocker leaned over her balcony and spread out her hands. “What a mighty God we serve,” she said about the fishermen coming home.

Granter agreed it was a miracle the Lucky 7 returned. “But October, November, it would have been a different story,” he said.

The Elite Navigator fishing boat and its crew seemed to vanish on Wednesday night. The craft was reported missing on Thursday after transmitting its final signal at around 8:30 p.m. the night before, the Canadian Coast Guard said. The vessel had caught fire and sank, forcing the crew to hastily disembark and wait for rescue on the life raft.

A massive search soon followed, involving four coast guard ships, a Cormorant helicopter, a Hercules aircraft and many local fishing vessels.

In New-Wes-Valley, which is an amalgamation of three small fishing communities along Newfoundland’s northeast coast, people braced for the worst. Fishing is among Canada’s deadliest professions, and tragedy is a common thread linking people in fishing communities across Atlantic Canada.

But on Friday night, out on the Atlantic ocean, searchers saw a light from a flare. It brought them to a life raft, where the seven fishermen — the Lucky 7 — were waiting.

Fisher Toby Peddle was among them. He said he was terrified as he jumped off the sinking fishing boat as it was pulled down into the depths. He can’t swim, he said, and he didn’t have a survival suit on.

“It was either jump and risk drowning or stay and be burned,” he said in an interview Sunday. “There was no time to think about it. I just knew I had to jump.”

He said the captain and another crew member, Jordan Lee King, had made a plan to reach him as soon as they hit the water.

“Jordan had said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll catch you before you even get in the water,’” recalled Peddle.

Sure enough, when Peddle jumped, King kept him afloat and quickly brought him to the raft, the fisherman said.

“I was relieved I made it to the raft. I couldn’t swim a stroke to save my life,” he said.

Peddle praised the actions of the captain.

“He did the best job he could have possibly done. He kept everyone calm in the life raft for over 48 hours. He’s a hero.”

“He just kept telling us, ‘We’re going to be fine. They know where we are, they’ll find us,’” he added.

He said it was very hard hearing the sound of helicopters flying overhead and realizing pilots were unable to see the life raft through fog. It was “the worst feeling of all,” he said.

They fired the final smoke flare in the boat at dusk on Friday, and it was spotted by the coast guard, he said. When he saw a helicopter flying overhead, “it was a moment of relief.”

At the wharf in New-Wes-Valley on Sunday afternoon, Peter Barfoot’s phone was pinging relentlessly in his pocket. He is good friends with David Tiller, one of the rescued fishermen, and he’d just launched a fundraising campaign to buy Tiller a new guitar.

The instrument went down with the Elite Navigator and Barfoot said it was “a no-brainer” to mount an effort to buy him a new one. He’d raised about $1,600 by Sunday afternoon.

“They’re heroes,” Barfoot said, shaking his head in disbelief. “How often do you hear this? It was a dire situation that turned into what it is now … They’re alive. They got a second chance at their life.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2024.

— With files from Michael Tutton in Halifax

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Second B.C. university issues trespass notice to pro-Palestinian protesters

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VICTORIA – The University of Victoria in British Columbia says it has begun the process of removing the pro-Palestinian encampment on campus, telling protesters they are trespassing on school property.

The school says in its latest encampment update that it has “taken a calm, measured and reasoned approach” to the protest since it was set up on May 1, but administrators “see no further prospect for a successful dialogue.”

On its social media page, protesters naming themselves “People’s Park UVIC” confirm the school has issued them a trespass notice, adding the administration has told them to “vacate by 8 a.m. Monday.”

The group did not specify their plans while asking the public to “stay tuned for updates from camp and plans going forward.”

Protesters at the university have been demanding the school cut financial and academic ties with Israeli entities due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, and the latest development comes about a week after Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo, B.C. launched legal action against protesters there for allegedly ignoring a deadline to leave their camp.

Vancouver Island University says it had issued its trespass notice to protesters on July 11.

University of Victoria says in its update that the school had been working toward “a peaceful conclusion of the encampment” since June through facilitated discussions with protesters.

“Unfortunately, we have not successfully achieved agreement on the process and timeline for decampment,” the school update says. ”The university was disappointed to learn of this impasse through social media posts from People’s Park UVic.”

The protest group says on its social media page that protesters “have negotiated in good faith” but described the school’s last proposed resolution as having “no concrete commitments” and containing “ineffective policy” that fails to address what they are calling a genocide in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

The group also reposted a statement from July 19, saying it is “unfortunately no surprise to once again witness our administration betraying the integrity of this process and emphasizing that these negotiations have been and always will be on their terms.”

A camp at the University of British Columbia was vacated by protesters voluntarily on July 7.

The recent developments come after an Ontario court granted the University of Toronto an injunction on July 2 that ordered protesters there to dismantle their encampment on the grounds that it is a violation of the school’s property rights.

Legal experts have said the decision sets a powerful precedent and creates a road map for other schools to follow in seeking legal recourse in removing protest encampments on campus.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 21, 2024.

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