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Bail decision reserved for 4th suspect accused of conspiracy in Coutts, Alta.



LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA — A judge has reserved her decision on whether to grant bail for the fourth man charged with conspiracy to commit murder at a border blockade earlier this year in southern Alberta.

Jerry Morin, who is 40, attended the two-day hearing in Lethbridge, Alta., by video.

Queen’s Bench Justice Johnna Kubik says she would give her ruling on July 18.

Morin, Anthony Olienick, Chris Carbert and Christopher Lysak are accused of conspiring to kill police officers at a blockade near Coutts, Alta., in protest of COVID-19 vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions.

Olinieck, Carbert and Lysak have already been denied bail.

The Crown has already indicated it plans to try the four men together and a trial date is expected to be set July 11.

The four accused were among 14 people charged in February after RCMP found a cache of long guns, handguns, body armour, large amounts of ammunition and high-capacity magazines in three trailers at a protest near Coutts.

Police allege a group at the protest was willing to use force if the blockade was disrupted and described the threat as “very serious”.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 30, 2022


The Canadian Press


Amanda Todd sextortion case sets precedent, but more needs to be done, experts say



VANCOUVER — The conviction of Aydin Coban for the “sextortion” of British Columbia teenager Amanda Todd has prompted calls from lawyers and advocates for more regulation, resources and education in Canada to protect future victims.

Lianna McDonald, executive director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said Todd’s case served as a warning, but Canada “failed to act.”

“Looking back, essentially nothing has been done to be proactive and actually address the issues that put kids at risk every day: platforms that allow anonymous adults to interact with our children in unsupervised digital spaces, any time or anywhere,” she said in a statement.

Coban, a Dutch national, was convicted on Saturday of extortion, harassment, communication with a young person to commit a sexual offence and possession and distribution of child pornography in relation to Todd.

She was 15 when she died by suicide in 2012, after years of harassment from 22 social media accounts that Crown attorneys said were controlled by Coban.

His sentencing hearing will be held in B.C. Supreme Court in September.

The jury’s decision came days after Statistics Canada released data showing that police-reported extortion cases rose by nearly 300 per cent in the last decade. Police across the country have also been issuing warnings to the public about a drastic increase in sextortion scams targeting youth.

Monique St. Germain, general counsel with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, said the organization was “very pleased” with the Coban verdict.

But it is calling for more regulation of social media companies, like Snapchat and Instagram, where the organization has found most of the harm to children occurs.

“We need governments to step in, and to put some guardrails in place with the tech industry so that we have safer products in the marketplace,” she said in an interview.

“If we take our child to a playground and they play on a play structure, we have trust in the fact that the manufacturers of that play structure have had to abide by certain laws to make that structure safe for our children to play on. It shouldn’t be any different for the technology industry.”

Snapchat announced a new feature in Canada this week called Family Center that it says will “help parents get more insight into who their teens are friends with on Snapchat, and who they have been communicating with, without revealing any of the substance of those conversations.”

The Winnipeg-based Centre for Child Protection runs Cybertip, Canada’s tip line for reporting online child sexual abuse. It said it has received “an unprecedented volume of reports from youth and sometimes their concerned parents about falling prey to aggressive sextortion tactics,” amounting to about 300 online extortion cases a month.

“Parents cannot keep up. Police cannot keep up,” St. Germain said.

Todd’s mother, Carol Todd, has said the type of extortion her daughter suffered has become a global problem that needs to be better addressed by governments and law enforcement.

Her daughter’s suicide gained international attention in 2012. Amanda Todd had posted a video in which she used flash cards to describe being tormented by an anonymous harasser. It has been watched nearly 15 million times.

Bill C-13, the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, was first introduced in 2013, following Todd’s death, and aimed to combat online harassment by making it illegal to distribute intimate images of a person without their consent. At the time, Carol Todd criticized the privacy-related provisions in the bill.

“It’s been 10 years since Bill C-13 was introduced. It needs to be revamped, and the word sextortion needs to be put in the Criminal Code somewhere,” Carol Todd said in an interview Friday, before Coban’s conviction. “That’s what we’ll learn from this.”

But David Fraser, an internet and privacy lawyer with the Canadian law firm McInnes Cooper in Halifax, said creating a new law specific to sextortion isn’t necessary, something made evident by Coban’s conviction.

He said generalized laws allow police to pursue charges more freely, because technological advancements far outpace law-making. He did, however, identify two benefits to proscribing sextortion explicitly: clarity for law enforcement and recognition for victims and the emotional harm they endured.

“Extortion that takes place online is still Criminal Code extortion,” he said. “It’s worth a conversation, but I did say shortly after the death of Amanda Todd that our laws were sufficient to take care of that. What failed her, it appears, was the legal system rather than the laws.”

Fraser said police have often failed to translate existing laws into an online context and he is calling for more resources and training for law enforcement.

“I believe that what was not in place at the time, unfortunately, when Amanda Todd was alive, was the will to investigate and prosecute the offence,” he said. “The fact that it worked here will hopefully foster and spur on perhaps a higher level of willingness to engage in and pursue investigations where the victim is in Canada, but the perpetrator is likely outside of the country.”

Coban was extradited to Canada in 2020 from the Netherlands, where he had been convicted of similar allegations to those in the Todd case. He was sentenced in Amsterdam in 2017 to almost 11 years in prison for cyberbullying dozens of young girls and gay men.

Darren Laur, chief training officer at White Hatter, an internet safety and digital literacy education company based in Victoria, said he wasn’t surprised by the verdict given the evidence, and is pleased that it has established precedent.

“It’s good to see that with this conviction, it does create case law specific to sextortion under existing extortion laws. The laws have been there. We’ve just been waiting for cases to go to court to create case law to support the Criminal Code,” Laur said.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is that the laws in the Criminal Code are drafted by government, but it’s up to the courts to interpret the law and that’s what case law is all about.”

Laur, who is a retired Victoria police sergeant, echoed Fraser’s calls for more police resources and for more public education and understanding of virtual crimes.

“Police in our country don’t have the time, resources or training to investigate these types of crimes,” he said. “We also need to continue to educate our age-appropriate kids in a scaffolded way about what this type of crime and other crimes are.”

The Department of Canadian Heritage said in a statement the federal government is working to create an approach to address harmful content online, including the possibility of a regulatory body.

“Canadians should be able to express themselves freely and openly without fear of harm online,” it said in the statement. “The Government of Canada is committed to taking the time to get this issue right and continuing to engage Canadians, stakeholders, and affected groups every step of the way on the road to tabling legislation as soon as possible.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.


Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Poll suggests most Canadians view Pope’s apology as step toward reconciliation



Pope Francis on a six-day penitential pilgrimage to Canada

A poll suggests more than half of Canadians viewed the recent visit by Pope Francis and his apology for abuses at residential schools as a step toward reconciliation.

The Angus Reid Institute released the findings from its latest online poll in which nearly 60 percent of participants said they saw the Pope’s apology as a meaningful step toward reconciliation, while 32 percent said it did nothing to move reconciliation forward.

Respondents who self-identified as Indigenous were less likely to say the apology contributed to reconciliation, at 54 percent, and 36 percent said the gesture made no difference.

Francis spent six days last month visiting Alberta, Quebec and Nunavut for what he called a “penitential pilgrimage” and he apologized for the evils some members of the Roman Catholic Church inflicted on Indigenous Peoples during the residential school era.

The research institute said two-thirds of respondents whofollowed the Pope’s trip and his speeches viewed his apology as sincere.

Half the participants said the federal government, Christian churches and society hold equal responsibility for creating the residential school system and allowing it to persist.

An estimated 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend residential schools in Canada, where neglect and physical and sexual abuse were rampant. More than 60 per cent of the schools were run by the Catholic Church.

Francis met with Indigenous groups and residential school survivors during his stops in Canada, where he repeated his apology. Following his visit, he called what happened in residential schools a form of genocide.

The poll suggests respondents’ prior views on the relationship between Canada and Indigenous Peoples was a significant driver of whether they viewed the Pope’s trip and apology as something that represented a step toward reconciliation.

“If you’re of the view that it’s worsening, then you’re also more likely to think that the papal visit made no difference towards reconciliation,” said Shachi Kurl, president of the institute.

“If you’re somebody who thinks that that is a relationship that is improving, people express more optimism or a sense that yes, the trip did represent a meaningful step toward reconciliation.”

More than half of respondents said there needs to be more investigations into residential schools before the country can move forward. There was a generational and gender divide on the issue, as younger respondents and women said more work is needed.

The institute polled 2,279 Canadians, with 117 of those self-identifying as Indigenous from Aug. 8-10. The polling industry’s professional body, the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association, says online surveys cannot be assigned a margin of error because they do not randomly sample the population.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.


Brittany Hobson, The Canadian Press

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Alberta government members should resign over prize for sexist, racist essay: NDP



EDMONTON — Alberta’s Opposition is calling for the two top legislature leaders on women’s issues to quit for giving a prize for an essay that urges women to forgo careers and focus on baby-making so the province doesn’t have to bring in more foreigners.

NDP critic Rakhi Pancholi said Jackie Armstrong-Homeniuk, the United Conservative Party government’s associate minister for the Status of Women, and Jackie Lovely, the department’s parliamentary secretary, have lost all credibility to advance the cause of women and must resign.

“I don’t know how (they) can continue in these roles,” Pancholi said at a news conference in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., on Thursday.

“I don’t know what work they were doing. They won’t even stand up before cameras and take questions.

“They have no credibility … they are undermining — actively undermining — women’s interests in this province.”

Armstrong-Homeniuk is the member of the legislature for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville.

Public pressure had been growing on Armstrong-Homeniuk’s office to divulge the names of the judges. Some United Conservative female legislature members had begun issuing statements stating they were not on the panel.

Late Wednesday night, Lovely, the member for Camrose, issued a statement saying, “I can confirm that I was the only other MLA on the essay judging panel.”

“I regret that this essay was chosen, and I apologize for my role in that,” her statement said. “As a single mother who has pursued a wide variety of traditionally male-dominated careers, I deeply understand the strength and ability of women.

“Also, as a former ESL (English as a second language) teacher who has hosted 56 international students, I value and appreciate the role of newcomers in our province and will continue working to remove barriers to equity and prosperity for all.”

The essays were pulled from the legislative assembly website shortly after criticism of the contest emerged on social media Monday night.

Armstrong-Homeniuk has since declined interviews, but instead issued two statements saying she doesn’t support the sentiments in the essay.

“It’s clear that the process failed, and I apologize for my role in that,” Armstrong-Homeniuk wrote Tuesday. “The selection of this particular essay and awarding it with third prize was a failure on my part as the head of the judging panel.”

Pancholi said that prompts the question — if the two judges say the essay should not have won, why did they pick it?

“We still do not have a clear explanation as to what and why this happened,” Pancholi said.

The essay was part of the legislative contest, titled “Her Vision Inspires,” which asked young women to explore ways to make Alberta a better place.

The top two essays suggest ways to get more women, and the public in general, involved in public life.

The third-place winner – identified only as S. Silver — won a $200 prize to be spent at the legislature gift shop.

Silver’s essay posits that the governing mission of humanity is to reproduce itself, but that Alberta has lost its way to instead pursue “selfish and hedonistic goals.”

The solution, she argues, is to acknowledge that “women are not exactly equal to men.”

Society, she writes, should celebrate and embrace the birthing role of women and stop pushing them to put off prime procreation years while they “break into careers that men traditionally dominate.”

She says the idea that Alberta can put off procreation and instead “import foreigners to replace ourselves … is a sickly mentality that amounts to a drive for cultural suicide.”

Pancholi and other critics have likened that reference to 1930s Nazi Germany, when women were urged to be baby vessels to propagate the Aryan race.

Three female candidates in the United Conservative race to replace Premier Jason Kenney as party leader and premier have also taken to Twitter to criticize the award.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 11, 2022.


Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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